Rosemary Rowe, A Roman Ransom (2006), about a mosaic-maker in second century Roman Britain who is rousted from his sickbed to find a man's missing wife and baby son; #8 in the Libertus mystery series.
In the border between history and legend, historical novelists have taken up the challenge of defining who Arthur and the men and women around him may have been. Rosemary Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset was the earliest and is still among the best portrayals of an Arthur figure in a realistic fifth century setting, and more recent novelists have followed her lead. Others have been inspired by the legend to create fantasy worlds which borrow, to a greater or lesser degree, from what we know of the history. In The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley reimagined the Arthurian legends from a pagan, feminist perspective. Though her novel includes many fantasy elements, it also incorporates ideas from early Welsh sources that show Arthur at odds with the Christian church. Her novel brought a new perspective to the King Arthur legend that reflects glimmers of what may have been a real controversy between Celtic pagans and Christians during the post-Roman period.
La Chine was the starting-point; and the combined parties, in all twenty-four men with seven canoes, embarked on the Lake of St. Louis. With them were two other canoes, bearing the party of Senecas who had wintered at La Salle's settlement, and who were now to act as guides. Father Galinée recounts the journey. He was no woodsman: the river, the forests, the rapids, were all new to him, and he dilates on them with the minuteness of a novice. Above all, he admired the Indian birch canoes. "If God," he says, "grants me the grace of returning to France, I shall try to carry one with me." Then he describes the bivouac: "Your lodging is as extraordinary as your vessels; for, after paddling or carrying the canoes all day, you find mother earth ready to receive your wearied body. If the weather is fair, you make a fire and lie down [Pg 20] to sleep without further trouble; but if it rains, you must peel bark from the trees, and make a shed by laying it on a frame of sticks. As for your food, it is enough to make you burn all the cookery books that ever were written; for in the woods of Canada one finds means to live well without bread, wine, salt, pepper, or spice. The ordinary food is Indian corn, or Turkey wheat as they call it in France, which is crushed between two stones and boiled, seasoning it with meat or fish, when you can get them. This sort of life seemed so strange to us that we all felt the effects of it; and before we were a hundred leagues from Montreal, not one of us was free from some malady or other. At last, after all our misery, on the second of August, we discovered Lake Ontario, like a great sea with no land beyond it."
Besides the Saut Ste. Marie and Michilimackinac, both noted fishing-places, there was another spot, no less famous for game and fish, and therefore a favorite resort of Indians. This was the head of the Green Bay of Lake Michigan. Here and in adjacent districts several distinct tribes had made their abode. The Menomonies were on the river which bears their name; the Pottawattamies and Winnebagoes were [Pg 43] near the borders of the bay; the Sacs, on Fox River; the Mascoutins, Miamis, and Kickapoos, on the same river, above Lake Winnebago; and the Outagamies, or Foxes, on a tributary of it flowing from the north. Green Bay was manifestly suited for a mission; and, as early as the autumn of 1669, Father Claude Allouez was sent thither to found one. After nearly perishing by the way, he set out to explore the destined field of his labors, and went as far as the town of the Mascoutins. Early in the autumn of 1670, having been joined by Dablon, Superior of the missions on the Upper Lakes, he made another journey, but not until the two fathers had held a council with the congregated tribes at St. François Xavier; for so they named their mission of Green Bay. Here, as they harangued their naked audience, their gravity was put to the proof; for a band of warriors, anxious to do them honor, walked incessantly up and down, aping the movements of the soldiers on guard before the governor's tent at Montreal. "We could hardly keep from laughing," writes Dablon, "though, we were discoursing on very important subjects; namely, the mysteries of our religion, and the things necessary to escaping from eternal fire."
When the uproar was over, Father Allouez addressed the Indians in a solemn harangue; and these were his words: "It is a good work, my brothers, an important work, a great work, that brings us together in council to-day. Look up at the cross which rises so high above your heads. It was there that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, after making himself a man for the love of men, was nailed and died, to satisfy his Eternal Father for our sins. He is the master of our lives; the ruler of Heaven, Earth, and Hell. It is he of whom I am continually speaking to you, and whose name and word I have borne through all your country. But look at this post to which are fixed the arms of the great chief of France, whom we call King. He lives across the sea. He is the chief of the greatest chiefs, and has no equal on earth. All the chiefs whom you have ever seen are but children [Pg 54] beside him. He is like a great tree, and they are but the little herbs that one walks over and tramples under foot. You know Onontio, that famous chief at Quebec; you know and you have seen that he is the terror of the Iroquois, and that his very name makes them tremble, since he has laid their country waste and burned their towns with fire. Across the sea there are ten thousand Onontios like him, who are but the warriors of our great King, of whom I have told you. When he says, 'I am going to war,' everybody obeys his orders; and each of these ten thousand chiefs raises a troop of a hundred warriors, some on sea and some on land. Some embark in great ships, such as you have seen at Quebec. Your canoes carry only four or five men, or, at the most, ten or twelve; but our ships carry four or five hundred, and sometimes a thousand. Others go to war by land, and in such numbers that if they stood in a double file they would reach from here to Mississaquenk, which is more than twenty leagues off. When our King attacks his enemies, he is more terrible than the thunder: the earth trembles; the air and the sea are all on fire with the blaze of his cannon: he is seen in the midst of his warriors, covered over with the blood of his enemies, whom he kills in such numbers that he does not reckon them by the scalps, but by the streams of blood which he causes to flow. He takes so many prisoners that he holds them in no account, but lets them go where they will, to show [Pg 55] that he is not afraid of them. But now nobody dares make war on him. All the nations beyond the sea have submitted to him and begged humbly for peace. Men come from every quarter of the earth to listen to him and admire him. All that is done in the world is decided by him alone.
The outfit of the travellers was very simple. They provided themselves with two birch canoes, and a supply of smoked meat and Indian corn; embarked with five men, and began their voyage on the seventeenth of May. They had obtained all possible information from the Indians, and had made, by means [Pg 61] of it, a species of map of their intended route. "Above all," writes Marquette, "I placed our voyage under the protection of the Holy Virgin Immaculate, promising that if she granted us the favor of discovering the great river, I would give it the name of the Conception." Their course was westward; and, plying their paddles, they passed the Straits of Michilimackinac, and coasted the northern shores of Lake Michigan, landing at evening to build their camp-fire at the edge of the forest, and draw up their canoes on the strand. They soon reached the river Menomonie, and ascended it to the village of the Menomonies, or Wild-rice Indians. When they told them the object of their voyage, they were filled with astonishment, and used their best ingenuity to dissuade them. The banks of the Mississippi, they said, were inhabited by ferocious tribes, who put every stranger to death, tomahawking all new-comers without cause or provocation. They added that there was a demon in a certain part of the river, whose roar could be heard at a great distance, and who would engulf them in the abyss where he dwelt; that its waters were full of frightful monsters, who would devour them and their canoe; and, finally, that the [Pg 62] heat was so great that they would perish inevitably. Marquette set their counsel at naught, gave them a few words of instruction in the mysteries of the Faith, taught them a prayer, and bade them farewell.
They advanced with extreme caution, landed at night, and made a fire to cook their evening meal; then extinguished it, embarked again, paddled some way farther, and anchored in the stream, keeping a man on the watch till morning. They had journeyed more than a fortnight without meeting a human being, when, on the twenty-fifth, they discovered footprints of men in the mud of the western bank, and a well-trodden path that led to the adjacent prairie. Joliet and Marquette resolved to follow it; and leaving the canoes in charge of their men, they set out on their hazardous adventure. The day was fair, and they walked two leagues in silence, following the path through the forest and across the sunny prairie, till they discovered an Indian village on the banks of a river, and two others on a hill half a league distant. Now, with beating hearts, they invoked the aid of Heaven, and, again advancing, came so near, without being seen, that they could [Pg 66] hear the voices of the Indians among the wigwams. Then they stood forth in full view, and shouted to attract attention. There was great commotion in the village. The inmates swarmed out of their huts, and four of their chief men presently came forward to meet the strangers, advancing very deliberately, and holding up toward the sun two calumets, or peace-pipes, decorated with feathers. They stopped abruptly before the two Frenchmen, and stood gazing at them without speaking a word. Marquette was much relieved on seeing that they wore French cloth, whence he judged that they must be friends and allies. He broke the silence, and asked them who they were; whereupon they answered that they were Illinois, and offered the pipe; which having been duly smoked, they all went together to the village. Here the chief received the travellers after a singular fashion, meant to do them honor. He stood stark naked at the door of a large wigwam, holding up both hands as if to shield his eyes. "Frenchmen, how bright the sun shines when you come to visit us! All our village awaits you; and you shall enter our wigwams in peace." So saying, he led them into his own, which was crowded to suffocation with savages, staring at their guests in silence. Having smoked with the chiefs and old men, they were invited to visit the great chief of all the Illinois, at one of the villages they had seen in the distance; and thither they proceeded, followed by a throng of warriors, squaws, and children. On [Pg 67] arriving, they were forced to smoke again, and listen to a speech of welcome from the great chief, who delivered it standing between two old men, naked like himself. His lodge was crowded with the dignitaries of the tribe, whom Marquette addressed in Algonquin, announcing himself as a messenger sent by the God who had made them, and whom it behooves them to recognize and obey. He added a few words touching the power and glory of Count Frontenac, and concluded by asking information concerning the Mississippi, and the tribes along its banks, whom he was on his way to visit. The chief replied with a speech of compliment; assuring his guests that their presence added flavor to his tobacco, made the river more calm, the sky more serene, and the earth more beautiful. In conclusion, he gave them a young slave and a calumet, begging them at the same time to abandon their purpose of descending the Mississippi. 2b1af7f3a8