Heyward and David walk into the center of the village, and the children give long shouts, alerting warriors standing in a lodge nearby to the two white men’s presence. David and Heyward walk up to the warriors and into their lodge. Heyward speaks first, in French, and asks if anyone there also speaks the language of “The Grand Monarque,” or French king, to whom the Hurons, nominally, are allied. One warrior speaks French back to Heyward, and Heyward says that he is a healer, come to this Huron village, dressed in native garb, to see if anyone might want his services. Heyward also compliments the Hurons for their recent “victory” against the English in the massacre at Fort William Henry.
Heyward’s disguise, although it does not seem so convincing to the reader, is apparently good enough to trick the Hurons into believing that he does, in fact, have the powers of a medical practitioner. In native societies like that of the Hurons, it seems that medicine men were part medical doctors, part spiritual healers, and Heyward does a fine job of imitating the particular, preacher-like rhetoric of someone in this field. Here, again, Heyward’s command of the French language becomes quite useful.
Heyward walks outside with the other warriors in the main lodge when he hears a large party of Huron men returning to the village. They are bringing with him two captives, one Delaware, one Huron, both of whom appear to have been caught out in the woods. Heyward watches from the edge of a large ring of people—the men, women, and children of the Huron village—as the captured Delaware, who Heyward realizes is Uncas, dodges a line of attacking Hurons and manages to escape the ceremonial “ring.” Heyward, confused by the nature of the ritual, eventually understands that Uncas has, according to this test of evasive skill, earned his right to survival—a right afforded to prisoners who manage to evade capture during this “ordeal of the ring.”
A very interesting point in the novel, one that, like some other native rituals, is not fully explained by Fenimore Cooper, but is rather allowed to develop organically, throughout the course of the narrative, and is then somewhat clarified later on. This method of narration, in which explication is sometimes left to the reader, occasionally makes moments in the text difficult to follow, but it also causes the narrator to recede into the background of the novel, and convinces the reader that she or he is, in fact, experiencing these events as they happen.
Heyward also realizes that the other Huron brought with Uncas, who does not manage to escape the “ordeal of the ring,” is being “tried” according to Huron custom for his cowardice in battle. A young, powerfully-built woman of the tribe, and the tribes eldest male chieftain, both examine this young Huron, named “Reed-that-bends,” and after pronouncing a sentence of cowardice, the chief slowly, ceremonially stabs the young Huron in the heart with a knife, killing him. Heyward notices with revulsion that, as he is being killed, the young Huron appears to smile, happy, finally, at least to die with honor, despite having his lack of courage announced to the whole tribe. After the ritual slaying, the fires of the ordeal-ring are put out, and the mass of Hurons begins walking back to their huts.
A shocking moment of violence. Here, the violence is perhaps even more foregrounded than it was during the “massacre” sequence, outside Fort William Henry. In that latter scene, the violence was in some sense explained, rather than described vividly. Here, the violence, directed at one man, assumes the foreground of the narrative, and the narrator himself (or herself) seems shocked even in the re-telling of these events. Hewyard, too, wonders whether this form of violence might be directed toward him, if he is found out.