The French-Canadian adventurer, explorer, and trapper makes his mark on a wide, frontier land… and it’s Native inhabitants.
My latest hero is my favorite… hands down folks, no regrets, sorry to the others I have left behind, but..I simply cannot help it. Nicholas Belline is the whole historical package. (This is how I image him – the cleaned-up version soon after he receives a sexy shave from the woman he desires and a crisp, refreshing skinny-dip in the running waters of the Hudson River.) Nick is a Coeur de Bois – a French-Canadian runner-of-the-woods… the original mountain man…a hunter, explorer, and the ultimate adventurer.
So what is Nicholas’s back-story?
Without spilling all the beans, Nicholas Belline was born into the unfortunate life of harsh and abject misery. He received no loving mother’s embrace or a father’s gentle guidance. Everything he acquires in the first twelve years of his life is through pure grit, determination, and quite a bit of skill as a thief. But Nicholas is loyal to the other homeless children and exists with them as best as he can on the cold back alleys of the south side portage of Lachine, Montreal.
But as a result of one, critical mistake, Nicholas is forced into indentured servitude among the roughest and most deadly men he has ever known – the French-Canadian Voyageurs. These men paddled canoes laboriously down the massive St. Lawrence river, facing danger at every moment of the day. In this wild land, Nicholas grows to manhood, and learns to survive in any way that he can. Nicholas becomes a Runner-of-the-Woods.
Nicholas has one particular advantage. He is keenly bright and perceptive. He adapts, he grows, and he prospers. He learns languages and the ability to read from Jesuit priests. But he is lonely.
A Sneak-Peek into the Life of Nicholas Belline
Nicholas has a penchant for getting himself into extreme situations that may or may not be harmful to his health. It was wonderfully entertaining for me to write his scenes…
Nicholas Belline sported a black eye, a sore jaw, and most likely a busted knuckle judging from the speed of its bruising. The bleeding man sprawled on the floor of the tent had fared much worse, however. Nick spat and tasted blood. Not that it bothered him much, for he was quite used to its familiar tang.
The tent flap opened behind him. He tensed for more fighting, but it was only Pétant. “Where the hell were you ten minutes ago?” Nicholas grumbled over his shoulder.
Pétant laughed as he took in the carnage, and the smell of jack-whiskey filling the musky tent gave Nick the answer. “Where ever you go, you manage to locate yourself some of the same sort of trouble, boy.”
Nicholas looked at the cowering squaw in the corner, and silently cursed. He knew that both he and Pétant scared the shit out of most Native women. They were both barrel-chested White men, dirty, with thick beards even grizzlier than the beasts of the forests.
Nicholas ground his teeth. “Këshinalùkw?” he questioned the girl gently as possible. Did he hurt you? Looking closer, he saw the young squaw could be no more than fourteen or so. Of course the brute of a man had hurt her.
The girl was crying, but she shook her head no. She still cowered in the corner as would a whipped dog, with her arms wrapped tightly around her knees. Her skirt was askew and there were bruises on her arms. Fingerprints. She stared with wide eyes at the unconscious man on the floor.
“Do you think I should leave?” Pétant questioned. The Frenchman was an ugly giant, with a visage that frightened all but the toughest of the trade post women. Yet he was of a gentler nature than Nicholas would ever have imagined fifteen years earlier. The man had been his protector and comrade ever since that first, frigid night along the St. Lawrence River.
Nicholas gestured to the girl, making firm eye contact, and then pointed at Pétant, as well as himself.“No hurt you. Ku hitehùkw.” The girl nodded, but she pointed to the man on the floor.
“Don’t tell me that’s that Le Tousse?” barked Pétant. When Nicholas nodded, the man shook his head in dismay. “Jesus Christ man, what’s it gonna take to keep you out of the bastille?”
“Me leaving,” returned Nicholas grimly. “I’ve stayed my fill here.” They had been at this particular portage, or trading outpost, on the lake known as Seneca for two full years now, making forays into the outlying territories for beaver, mink, and river otter. They trapped, camped, and traded with whatever Natives were willing to talk business peacefully.
But Nicholas had ended up in more brawls and spent more time in the rough-hewn brigades under the torment of self-appointed lawmen than he would have liked. He didn’t seek out trouble, but it seemed to follow him doggedly. Fur traders were a rough lot, and their penchant for heavy drink never helped matters. The fact that there was no civilized justice system out in the frontier wilds of the New France had cut short many a man’s life for no good reason.
“Ah, come on boy. I was just settling in with a new missus too,” Pétant moaned.
“I can only imagine her superb capabilities,” Nicholas grumbled. He approached the girl slowly, holding out his hand. She looked as if she might bite him. “No teeth, perhaps?” he tossed back over his shoulder.
When Pétant guffawed loudly, the Indian girl actually hissed at him in response. Nicholas sighed, and struggled for some words to use. Finding the right Native language, not to mention the dialect, was nearly impossible. He knelt, then pointed at her, and then back at his chest. “Hnakewsëwakàn.” Help.
She could be Huron, Lenape, Ojibwe, or even one of the many Iroquois peoples that abounded in the wilderness. Trappers didn’t squabble over clanship or language barriers when they took their country wives. They wanted female bodies to cook, make clothes, and share their beds during their forays into the wilds, and a connection with her Native family members – who were oft extremely skilled trappers. That is, until they chose to return to civilization.
“Well, we should skip along in a hurry, Nick, no matter what the case may be with la petite fils here. Le Tousse is going to wake soon. You can bet his friends aren’t far behind, and ready for piss and vinegar for sure, seeing that it’s you and all in the mix. You should’ve left well enough alone, tonight of all nights.”
The outpost had only today seen the arrival of a new spring brigade from the north, bringing alcohol and all manner of provisions in abundance. The ribald drunkenness was rampant.
“Couldn’t,” he shot back. “She’s just too young to be humiliated that way, and then raped by that stinking cul. I’m willing to bet her family didn’t sanction this one.”
By the Native traditions, there would be an agreement between the girl’s family and the white man who wanted to make her his “country wife.” There was usually an exchange of gifts to celebrate the arrangement. With these customs, the fur trader would become, through marriage, an honorary member of the girl’s family. Thus, he would gain the loyalty of the woman’s kin when it came to trading furs and supplying game. It put coin in a man’s pockets, made Native allies, and warmed his bed in the process.
It worked, sometimes. In other situations, well, it just didn’t, not for the bride anyway. It depended on the quality of the man, and Le Tousse was both a prick and a cheat. He likely stole this girl without her family’s approval. The Natives treated their women well, and would not tolerate such abuses.
But Le Tousse was good at his game, and had plenty of supporters. For months, the arrogant and foul-mouthed bastard had been making every effort possible to get under Nicholas’s skin. Ripping off the girl’s tunic in the cold night, and fondling her in public before dragging her, crying, to his tent had pushed Nick’s temper a little too far. He had snapped. Again.
He stood and sighed. But surprisingly, the girl rose too, and adjusted her torn tunic and skirt, gaining her composure. She located her rawhide bundle of personal items and her coyote pelt cloak. She nodded at Nicholas.
“I’ll pack my things quick,” sighed Pétant. “Where are we headed then, boy? You got any great ideas?”
“I think it’s time to journey to the New Netherlands,” Nicholas mused.
“What the hell? Why?”
“I’ve been hearing things. Good things. It’s a place of merging cultures, and it’s quite a bit more civilized than this shithole. The Dutch are tradesmen. They’re shipping in tools, clothing, better firearms, household items, liquor, sugar, salt, and other luxuries that we haven’t seen in years, man.” Nicholas laughed. “We’ve got the coin now, why not put it to use?”
“Oui, but why not venture back to Montreal?” grumbled Pétant. Why the New Netherlands?”
Nicholas visibly darkened. “I won’t go back to Montreal.” He had paid off his indentured servitude in less than three years, and grew twice his size in the process. There were no good memories for him in that city. At all. And what no one would realize was how much he had come to love the wilds. He was born for it. He was an adventurer.
“After the New Netherlands, I’ll be heading south,” Nicholas continued. “New land, new peoples, more furs.”
“Hell, you outta just become a Jesuit.” Pétant shook his head. “It’s practically how you live, anyway.” Nicholas had enjoyed the company of many Jesuits over the years, and learned much in the process. Reading, writing, history… and the lust for continual journey into new land.
“I just like my solitude,” Nicholas returned. The Native girl tugged on his arm. They were taking too long. He knelt to check the level of unconsciousness of Le Tousse, and then shoved the body underneath the cot in the corner with a booted foot, allowing the blankets to drape over him. With the extreme level of alcohol in his body, Le Tousse could be out cold for hours, buying them plenty of time.
Exiting into the night, Nick felt that familiar tingle of excitement in his belly. He was a natural coureurs des bois, a “runner of the woods,” an adventurer who hunted and explored, continually moving, always seeking that elusive something that he could never quite find. The night he was caught stealing a pelt in Lachine, and indentured as a voyageur, had actually been a blessing.
“Alàps,” voiced the girl sternly, at his side. Hurry.
“Huh,” snorted Pétant, “I’d bet by tomorrow she’ll be yapping off our ears. Typical.”
They gathered their provisions and their mounts. The darkened night beyond the sprawling rings of tents and raucously attended bonfires slipped away behind them as they melded into the forest.
What do you think of my leading man and Coeur de Bois, Nicholas Belline?
Feel free to leave some comments below, or check out the book in its entirety!
About the Author:
Jessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. The sequel, Savage Journey, was newly released in June of 2014. Jessica’s 2014 contemporary romantic suspense release, Waiting for Eden, is also available on Kindle.
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