Council Of Fire – Snippet 34

Chapter 24

The situation has changed

Montréal, New France

On a large, flat table in the Arsenal, pitted and scarred from years of serving as a work-table and an idle carving surface for bored artillerymen, Lévis had carefully laid out the Bourbon banner he had recovered from Fort Carillon.

Truly, Lévis had no idea what the marquis might say about his tale; it was no bold or brave account, but rather the evidence of surrender, as if it was one more defeat in the series of defeats that the patrie had suffered in the last year and a half. Nominally, losing Carillon meant that the English could put Montréal, and thus all of New France, in their sights–except that they had not lost Carillon to the English.

“I am surprised that you accept my report, Monsieur,” Lévis said when he finished. He had provided a written letter with the details of his expedition; Montcalm had asked him to describe it in more detail.

“Why would that be?”

“It is . . . somewhat hard to believe.”

Montcalm ran his finger along the edge of the banner without looking up. “You might be surprised what I would be prepared to believe. After what I have seen in the last few weeks, and what intelligence has recently come to me, I would be willing to accept it just as you describe.”

“Ghost Highlanders, Monsieur? I was in no position to gainsay them when they told me I must depart. But a concerted force–”

“No.” The Marquis de Montcalm looked up. “That is not an option. We will not undertake such an expedition against Carillon–it clearly is not in the hands of the English. It is in enemy hands, but not English hands.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Bring that map here,” Montcalm said. He carefully folded up the banner and set it on one corner of the table.

Lévis picked up a rolled map and spread it out, weighing down each corner with a cartridge-box. Montcalm took out his jack-knife and pointed to Montréal.

“Here we are, at the center of our pitiful domain of New France. Below us on the Saint-Laurent is Québec, our isolated but–for the moment–well-defended capital. The coast is lost to us, as of last summer. Beauséjour and Louisbourg, all of Acadia.” He gestured toward the east, and then along the Atlantic coast. “Here are the English, from Annapolis-Royal to Charleston, and beyond into the West Indies. We have New Orleans and the great river, forts in the interior, and footholds wherever our couriers de bois and bateaux can travel. We were heading toward a great confrontation this coming year, one which we most certainly would have lost.”

“Monsieur!” Lévis said. “We–”

“We are outnumbered ten to one in America,” Montcalm said, sighing. “As a patriotic Frenchman, and servant of his Most Christian Majesty, I would never venture such an opinion. But when the English king, damn his black heart, decided to take the matter seriously, our efforts seemed ultimately doomed to failure. It might have taken some time, but they would find their way to victory.”

“I have never heard you speak thus.” Lévis seemed so genuinely shocked that he even forgot to end the sentence with an honorific.

“I have refrained from doing so and would not do so now . . . except that the situation has changed.” He pointed to the Maritimes again. “From what I have learned, the expected armada that Britain was sending to invade New France was destroyed at sea. They will not be coming to reinforce our enemy. They say there is some manner of barrier out in the ocean–as hard as it is to believe, it is the truth.

“But we have our own problems. Not too far downriver from here, some . . . thing has declared a limit to our hegemony. It is powerful in ways I do not understand–and while it has designated a boundary between their dominion and ours, I have no confidence that they will keep to that bargain.”

“This is why you received my report with favor,” Lévis said. “This is why you were willing to accept what I told you.”

“And it is why the situation is changed, my friend. We are isolated here–but so are they.”

Lévis did not answer; he knew Montcalm was coming to a point.

“For decades we have considered them the enemy–but I believe that our enemy is now the things that create barriers in the oceans, or assert their power to our west, or haunt fortresses to our south. This is the enemy of the British here as well. In order for either of us to survive, we must reach an accord.”

“That is surely up to monarchs to decide.”

“No,” Montcalm answered. “It is not. They are not here. They cannot be here. We cannot ask them. Have you not heard what I said? We are all isolated here, perhaps permanently, opposed by forces we scarcely understand. There are no kings to make those decisions.”

Lévis looked from the marquis to the Bourbon banner, carefully folded on the corner of the table.

“You have a plan, Monsieur.”

“I do. And it begins with Monsieur Bigot.”


It took two days for Soleil to travel downriver to the capital. Québec was even more crowded with refugees from the western villages; normally, the arrival of someone as consequential as the Marquis de Montcalm would have been met with reverence and deference–but under the circumstances, it was no more than an inconvenience.

Montcalm, with Lévis and the young Lieutenant D’Egremont in tow, made his way to the intendant’s palace in the low town. Despite the crowding in the city, the street outside the palace was clear; two soldiers in Bigot’s service were standing on the steps. The three men walked past without stopping, and past the obsequious servant waiting to take their hats and cloaks. Montcalm led his companions up the stairs and into the audience hall, which they found disturbingly empty, a stark contrast to the crowded streets of the town.

A great table was burdened with books and papers, the records of the colony and the intendant’s office. Montcalm pointed to the table. “Do not let a single document be taken away,” he said, just as Bigot came through an arched doorway, speaking over his shoulder.

“Domitien,” he was saying, “be sure you set aside the–”

He stopped abruptly when he saw the three men in the room. His disdainful expression disappeared, and even his posture changed.

“My lord Marquis,” he said, offering a slight bow. “I did not know you had returned.”

Montcalm could smell the ozène from where he stood; as always, it made him dislike the man all the more. “Just a short while ago, Monsieur Intendant. It is time we had a discussion.”

“Oh? On what subject?”

Montcalm picked up one of the record-books from the table. Bigot took a single step forward, then froze as he saw the expression on Montcalm’s face.

“I have been looking into your . . . activities over the past few years,” Montcalm said. “The colony receives considerable supplies from the mother country, and yet we always seem short of something, this or that, which you are miraculously able to procure . . . at considerable cost to the colonial authority.”

“Governor Vaudreuil considers it to be the greatest of my talents, Monsieur. He has complete confidence in me.” He reached into the sleeve of his coat and drew out a lavender-scented handkerchief and dabbed his nose.

“He has had little choice.”

“His Most Christian Majesty has full confidence in me as well,” he added with what Montcalm could only describe as a smirk.

“That opinion is no longer of any consequence.”

“I cannot divine your meaning, Monsieur.”