Council Of Fire – Snippet 24
Still, it was hard to keep a calm face as his bateau came close to the dock where three ghostly figures stood, awaiting the boat’s arrival. The figures were substantial, but not completely opaque: the town’s buildings could be seen behind and through them. All wore the distinctive Highland dress, and each bore the evidence of having sustained terrible wounds. One had a face with a gaping hole–probably a musket-ball discharged at close range; the other had a horrible chest wound, visible through his tunic; and the leader had a round bullet-hole directly above his left temple–the shot that had felled him.
Before LÃ©vis’ boat bumped up against the dock, the leader lifted his left hand; his right arm hung at his side, the sleeve empty below the elbow. A breeze kicked up at just that moment, blowing into the faces of the Frenchmen.
“This is no longer your place,” the man said in English, of which LÃ©vis had a good command, unlike most of the men who accompanied him. “Turn back, while you are still able.”
“I have not come this far to turn back,” LÃ©vis replied. “I am FranÃ§ois de Gaston, Chevalier de LÃ©vis, and I am here in the name of the governor and intendant of New France, and His Most Christian Majesty Louis, King of France.”
“I know who you are,” the ghost replied. “My name is Major Duncan Campbell. Your men killed me and mine here, in this place, last summer. I saw you on the battlements, on the French right flank. You were a prominent target,” he added, touching the bullet-wound on his temple. “But your marksmen were more proficient than ours.”
“I am unaccustomed to speaking to dead men,” LÃ©vis answered. “Major Campbell, your time on this earth is done. You . . . died as a soldier, in service to king and country; as a fellow brother of the sword, I honor your sacrifice. But you must yield to the living.”
“And why should I do that?”
LÃ©vis was unsure how to answer. “I ask in return,” he said at last, “why your spirit is unquiet.”
“Abercromby,” Campbell said, and LÃ©vis–and the others in the French boats–heard the name echoed, over and over, from out of the mists. “Abercromby. The general who ordered us to our deaths. We seek our revenge against him. Bring him to us, Chevalier, and we shall retire to the Beyond and give you back this cursed place, for all that it does you good.”
“Aye. Tell the British commanders that if he does not come to us, we will come to him, and nothing shall stop us: not wall, nor musket, nor cannon.”
“What about an ocean? We understand that General Abercromby was recalled to England. He is not here any longer, Major Campbell. It is not possible for you to exact your personal revenge here in the New World.”
The expression on the face of the shade of Major Duncan Campbell did not change as he said, “Abercromby is gone.”
“Back to England. Unless you are prepared to cross the ocean–”
“That is not possible, Chevalier. That route is closed.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is all the world there is now, Frenchman. You should go back to your land and tell your governor and intendant that news.”
“This land is our land as well.”
“No, Chevalier. It is not. This land belongs to us. The unquiet spirits of those who died here, killed by the cruelty and incompetence of a Sassenach general who sent the Highlanders against your fortress. But it is your fortress no longer.”
“My governor will not welcome this news.”
“I have no dispute with you, Chevalier. But do not doubt that I–and my many, many countrymen–will fight you if you come ashore. We can hurt you . . . but we are beyond hurt.
“But . . .” Campbell looked aside at his two companions, then back at the Frenchmen. “But you are a fellow soldier, and a man of honor. You ceased to be an enemy when I ceased to draw breath. Out of respect, we will permit you to go safely to the fortress above and take down your flag. You can take that back to your governor and explain to him how you came by it. But you may not reinvest Carillon–that the Indians call Ticonderoga–nor can the English, and neither can the natives. As long as we remain in this world, this place remains ours.”
“You . . . will guarantee my safety.”
“Yes. You only. Your soldiers remain on their boats.”
“I would like to take my aide,” LÃ©vis said, gesturing toward d’Egremont, who stood in a bateau just a few feet from the dock.
Campbell hesitated for a moment and then said, “Agreed. But you will go up to the fort and return by nightfall; after that I cannot speak for the other Highlanders. Their pain and resentment run deep, and they may not forbear by night what is ordered by day.”
LÃ©vis and d’Egremont walked in silence through the deserted lower town; later LÃ©vis would remember it as the strangest, most eerie experience of his life. Ghostly figures watched their progress, sometimes quiet, sometimes murmuring something inarticulate or indistinguishable. The bagpipe sounds faded in and out as they walked up to the open gate to the fortress proper.
When they came into the place des armes, where no Highlander was in sight, LÃ©vis turned to d’Egremont.
“You have some command of English.”
“I had a tutor,” the young man said. “He taught me dancing and English. Beastly language, but my father thought it might come in useful.”
“And so it has. How much did you understand of my conversation?”
“Enough to make my knees shake, Monsieur. But I am here.”
“Good man.” LÃ©vis squinted at the sky; the sun was visible from here, clear of the mists below, and it stood at midafternoon. He did not want to stay much longer than necessary, but there was at least time to take a look around.
“Are you going to take the flag and return?”
“I think that I am left with no other choice, d’Egremont. Even if I believed that there was anything that could damage or destroy ghosts, I don’t think most of the men would stand and fight.”
“Why did you bring me along, Monsieur?”
“I wanted at least one other person to see whatever I saw, to corroborate my story. It will be difficult enough for them to believe as it is. Come on, then. Let’s get the flag down and make our way back.”
On the highest bastion of Fort Carillon, with all of Lake Champlain and the vista of the New York wilderness spread out before them, the two French officers slowly lowered the flag that had flown over the fortress since it had been erected a handful of years earlier. When it came into their hands, they carefully and respectfully folded it in the correct manner, so that it was a small blue triangular bundle with the Bourbon fleur-de-lys marching across it in gold.
“We will be the last of His Majesty’s soldiers to take in this view, Monsieur,” d’Egremont said, leaning on the battlement in front of him.
LÃ©vis’ was not sure he could see that deeply into the future. Instead of answering his young aide, he merely took in the view, wondering about what Campbell had said.
This is all the world there is now, Frenchman.
Looking down at the bundle he held in his hands, he tried to imagine what that meant.