Was Only For Bleeding
Thinking of Mrs. Boone in the Creek’s hands caused him to tremble from head to foot with fear. Fear for the woman but even more, for his brother. If Finlay had been keeping watch at the cabin and she was here—where was he?
Was he dead?
Alexander felt the reality of that hit him like a ten-ton weight. He sat down hard on the ground where he was and placed his head in his hands. Was one man born to bear so many sorrows? He had brought his bonnie brother here to save him, not to hasten the end of his young life. And yet, if there was one thing he had learned in the thirty-odd years he had walked the Earth, it was that nothing and nowhere was safe.
Nowhere at all.
Daniel Boone had seen men collapse before, during the war, when the killing and the senseless letting of blood had become too much for them to bear. They often became very pale and very quiet; their flesh shining like the dew on the leaves and trembling like those same leaves before a storm. Just like the Scot was now. “Alexander,” he said softly, “are you goin’ to be all right?”
The young man didn’t answer. He just shook his head, unable to find any words.
Dan crouched down beside him and balanced his rifle on his knees. “You’re worried about your brother.”
The dark head nodded. When he finally looked up, his deep brown eyes were haunted. “I am ashamed tae admit it—whot wi’ yer bawd family missin’.”
“There’s no shame, Alexander, in worryin’ about your own.” The big man laid his hand on the Scot’s shoulder. They had stopped short of the last rise to rest. Once over the top of the next green hill they would begin to descend, following a path that would lead them in time to the heavily guarded talofa which had been recently built by the Creek under the supervision of their new chief, Tastanagi or Big Warrior. The commander of the fort across the river had made him aware of its construction the last time they had talked. He had wondered then if something big might be not be brewing.
‘Big’ had been an under-estimation.
Deliberately keeping his voice soft and even, Dan said, “You’ve had more than your fair share of grief, haven’t you?”
The Scot’s sigh was a bitter laugh. “It seems tae follaw me like broken dreams an’ poor choices.”
Dan’s fingers squeezed the muscular shoulder. “You fear your brother is dead.”
Alexander shuddered. “Daur I hope onie thin’ else? Why else woulds yer guidwife be in th’ hands o’ these de’ils?”
“We don’t know that he wasn’t with them as well. On account of the rain, I couldn’t tell how much weight the horses were carryin’.” Dan’s throat grew tight. “I have to believe Israel was too. Otherwise....”
“Och!” Alexander looked up at him. “I am sorry, Daniel. An’ here I am thinkin’ o’ only mahself:” Dan offered him a hand and he took it. Rising to his feet, he paused to search the vast rolling hills that surrounded them. When he looked back, there were tears in his eyes. “Tis joost thot th’ past has ne’er seemed quite sae present as ‘tis noo.”
“You said comin’ back here was hard as the earth over a frozen grave.” The frontiersman watched the other man closely. He seemed to have recovered somewhat. “Any grave in particular? Or would you rather not talk about it....”
Alexander eyed the hill before them. “’Tis safe tae talk whiles we walk?”
Dan frowned and pushed his cap back. “For a bit. Two hours, maybe three. Those fires we saw are ten or fifteen miles away at most. We’ll reach them long before sun-up and with little time to rest. Much as I don’t want to stop....” He closed his eyes and thought of his wife. Most likely she was safe for the time being, since her abductor’s plan was to hold her as a hostage against him. “It might be wise....”
“I think I woulds rather keep goin’, if ye dinnae min’.” Alexander touched the silver cross beneath his linen shirt. “May th’ Saints preserve th’ three o’ them frae those madmen. An’ Cara-Mingo as well, where’er he may be.”
“Who is this Indian, this James McInnery?” Dan asked as he gripped his rifle and they began to move forward once again. “A Scot you said, and— ”
“A Muskogee Creek. Some call him a Seminole.” Alexander ran his hand through his thick black hair. “I call him a de’il wi’ an English accent, an’ a red heart o’ hate thot will burn its way throogh yer wilderness, Daniel, an’ leave nae boot death in its wake.”
“You know him?”
He frowned. Then he shook his head. “I ken th’ Creek. They ur all th’ same.”
“There’s hate in that tone, Alexander. It’s dangerous to hate all because of one, or even a few. That’s the mistake these men are makin’.” Dan stopped to look at him. “And what about Arrowkeeper? You include him in that? You said he had been an enemy—but a friend as well.”
“Arrowkeeper? Thot mon was a mystery frae th’ day I kent him. First, a stranger, then an enemy...an’ then a brither. An’ noo—which is he?” The Scot hesitated. “I ken thot Cara-Mingo is a pure private mon, boot.... Has he nae tol’ ye o’ his brither afore, an’ o’ the war they fooght?”
“No. Before Tara-Mingo’s return, he never even mentioned that he had a brother.” Dan frowned. “And if he hadn’t beaten Mingo to within an inch of his life and left him for me to find, I think I still wouldn’t know.”
“So ye dinnae ken whot happened; why Cara-Mingo shot him four years afore this?”
Dan remembered the words, spoken slowly and with pain, as though they had to be torn from his friend. “Mingo said his brother was ambitious; that he wanted to be a chief and would let nothin’ stand in his way. He said he lied, cheated, and bribed. And finally killed.” Daniel Boone drew a breath and pursed his lips. “I took it from the way he said it, that the one killed was kin. Or at least of his clan.” He glanced at the troubled man. He was still pale. Still trembling. “Why? Do you know?”
“Aye, I ken,” Alexander sighed. “He waur mah kin as well. I was thaur.”
Dan pursed his lips. “At the end?”
A tear escaped Alexander’s eye and ran down his cheek. He struck it away. “An’ at th’ beginnin’.”
“Do I need to know?” the big man asked.
“Or is it that you need to
The Scot shifted uncomfortably. “It may be I dee. Maybe I needs tae tell someain.” He glanced back at the verdant hills. “It began haur. Some six years afore this.” Alexander paused and his face became clouded with a pain for which there was no words. “She’s buried near haur. In these hills, next tae a crystal clear stream.”
The frontiersman shifted. “She?”
“Mah guidwife. Spicewood.” Alexander drew a deep breath. “Th’ moos’ bonnie creature these woods hae e’er seen.”
Dan waited a moment. “What happened, Alexander? What happened to her? And to you?”
The raven-haired man’s fingers formed a fist and his jaw grew tight.
Village of Chota, 1767
The two Cherokee girls concealed themselves in the thick green bushes and stared at the stranger. They had only just learned that the war party had returned during the night bringing with them men who did not belong—and not as captives or enemies, but as friends. So far the man sitting by the stream was the only one they had seen. Cornbeater had told them another lay in the healer’s tent near death; still another was an older Cherokee, close to their chief’s age, and the fourth was said to be a Creek warrior. The younger of the two girls poked the ribs of the older and then placed her hands over her mouth. The stranger had taken off his shirt and was standing contemplating the river, watching the dawn light ripple across its darkly reflective surface.
Her companion was not laughing. Her large brown eyes were fastened on his lean frame. She thought him very handsome with his muscled chest and arms, and long curly black hair. She shifted, trying to see what was in his hand. He held it out and away from his body and in his fingers something flashed. She noticed his eyes were closed and his lips moved like a priest’s in prayer.
“Show respect,” she whispered. “He is going to the water.”
“Why would he do that?” Her companion frowned. “Is he one of us?” She pushed a few dew-covered leaves aside so she could see better. “He does not dress like one of us.”
The older girl bit her lip as she pointed. “There. Cherry, do you see that?”
“What?” The girl followed her finger. On top of the rock lay a splash of colored cloth, red and green. “It is not his shirt?”
“No. It is like the blanket in Menewa’s house. The one that belonged to his sister, that was a gift from the father of her son that is dead.” She looked at her friend. “It is called ‘plaid’.”
The other girl rolled the word about on her tongue. “Pill-aid? What is that?”
“A clan mark; like the color blue or wearing the hair long and straight.” She frowned. “Do you suppose he is the same clan as the one who lived here long ago? The Englishman?”
Her friend wasn’t paying attention. “Spicewood,” she grinned and pointed, “look.” The stranger had begun to undo his trousers.
The older girl blushed and turned away.
“What is wrong with you?” Cherry laughed. “You have seen many warriors before. Men of the village....”
The girl shook her head. “I do not know....” She glanced at the stranger again as he slipped into the water. “Something....”
“So there you are.”
Both girls jumped and turned back to find Menewa waiting behind them. They rose immediately and came to stand before him with their heads down.
“And what is so interesting by the side of the stream that you go there before coming home?”
The two girls exchanged guilty glances. Spicewood gnawed her lip but made no answer. Cherry—being younger—attempted to talk her way out of what she supposed was going to be trouble. “We thought we would come here first to...gather berries before going to my mother’s lodge. She asked us to find plump red ones. She needs them to cook— ”
“And who told you of this need? Since you have only now returned to the village from your mother’s sister’s lodge, and not gone home to speak with her?”
The girl’s dark brows knitted together. She swallowed hard. “Cornbeater told us.”
“Cornbeater. The old woman. She told you what?”
Cherry opened her mouth to elaborate but her friend stopped her. Spicewood lifted her head then and met Menewa’s eyes. “Cornbeater told us strangers had been brought to the village, and that one of them was by the water. We were curious.” She paused and looked at her friend. She shook her head. “It is not good to lie.”
“But it is good, my daughter, to hear you speak so.”
Spicewood’s young body stiffened. Her brown eyes darted from side to side, trying to find who had spoken. A moment later another of the strangers stepped out from the shadows behind her chief. He was of a moderate build and dressed in white man’s clothes. Still, the moment the light struck him, she knew. Even though it had been nearly five years since he had disappeared, she knew.
Star smiled and opened his arms. “Spicewood. I have come home.”
The girl was stunned. She had been eleven when her father and brother had left for North Carolina to visit with her uncle. Since that day there had been no word. Rumor had whispered they had been killed by white men. But now, here he was—alive and standing before her.
“My brother?” she whispered.
“Is with your mother. With the Great Spirit as in the beginning.”
She drew a deep breath and a shudder ran the length of her. She wanted to laugh, to cry, to scream...but for some reason, she could only stand rooted to the spot.
Star lowered his arms. He approached her slowly and stopped several feet away. A smile lit his face as he held out one hand, but stopped short of touching her. “I am real. I am here. You are not alone any more.”
She lifted her own hand. It was trembling. Her father’s shifted so it lay palm open, and he waited until she laid hers atop it. Then his fingers closed. At his touch, the girl burst into tears and fell into his arms.
Menewa looked at Cherry who was standing with her mouth open. “Child,” he said softly, “come. Let us leave them alone.”
Alec shook his hair free of water and sat down on the rock to pull his buckskin trousers back on. He smiled at his choice to immerse himself without any coercion. The water was as frigid as the day before, the ice as thick, but somehow...it just seemed right. He felt clean now; ready to start the new day and face whatever might come with it. He stood and slipped into his shirt, tucking the crucifix he wore about his neck under the soft fabric. Then he grabbed his sash. He had just pulled it over his head and refastened the brooch when he heard someone begin to sob.
Curious, he left the bank of the stream to push his way through the tangled bushes. As he emerged, he almost tripped over Star and the young Indian girl who was leaning against him. She was crying so hard she was shaking.
“I beg yer pardon,” he said softly. “I dinnae mean tae introod.”
The Cherokee looked up at him and smiled. “It is no intrusion. Alexander, this is my child, Spicewood.”
“Yer child?” His face broke into a grin. “Ye mean ye foond yer daughter....?”
As his friend nodded, the young man looked at her, sitting where she was on the soft brown grass with her skirts spread about her. She was of medium height but slender for her age, which must have been about fifteen or sixteen. Her hair was black like all native’s, but it seemed to him that hers was blacker than most, for it shone like the pelt of a thoroughbred, glistening blue in the dappled sunlight. Her face as she lifted it toward him was narrow at the chin and wide at the cheeks, bearing two great eyes of brown that were rimmed red as a berry from tears. His heart went out to her and impulsively, he knelt and began to speak.
“ ‘She doth teach th’ torches tae burn bricht,” he breathed, quoting Shakespeare. “ ‘It seems she hangs upon th’ cheek o’ nicht, as a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear; a beauty tae rich fur use, fur earth tae dear.’”
The girl had stopped crying and was looking at him. “Al-ex-ander?” she said hesitantly, as though the sound of the name was foreign to her tongue.
His smile was brilliant. “Aye, boot ye may call me ‘Alec’. Nearly everyain does.”
Star looked from one to the other and a bittersweet sadness passed through him.
It seemed she was not to be his for long.
Cara awoke to smoke and soft chanting. He opened his eyes and tried to remember where he was. For a moment, he had thought his mother was dying and he lay on the floor beside the bed that held her withered form, but then he recalled that had been many years before. He was no longer a child, but a man; grown and on his own. He shifted his head and a moan escaped his lips. He licked them.
The chanting stopped.
A shadow bent over him—large, out of focus—and someone spoke, using words he didn’t understand. “Ga-do de-tsa-do-a?” The voice hesitated. The figure shifted and turned away. “Ga-ga-na?” it asked someone else. There was a moment of silence. Then, “Ay-a ge-ga, Menewa.”
“Vs-ka-ga,” a deep voice answered from nearby. “Ay-a a-ga-se-s-do-di!”
The shadow moved. It rose and then faded into the gray smoke that filled the air. He blinked and tears ran down his cheeks as he drew a shallow breath and tried to speak. It took everything within him to form five simple words.
“May I...have...some water....”
Someone moved. Seconds later another shadow appeared. It towered over him a moment and then knelt at his side. Placing a hand about his shoulders, it lifted him. Then a carved gourd touched his lips and the cool refreshing liquid coursed over them and down his throat. He swallowed and fell back as the hands lowered him once again to the floor.
“Thank you,” he whispered as the effort proved too great and he slipped into a restive sleep.
The face that was his own stared down at him, one dark eyebrow arced. A smile curled the full lips.
“You are welcome, brother.”
Moments later Tara-Mingo emerged from the healer’s hut. He had been mostly confined there for one full journey of the moon and felt if he had to remain another second, he would lose his mind. He was not used to inaction. He stood still a moment, gazing at the rising sun, and then wrapping the warm woolen blanket about his broad shoulders, walked to the stream that danced not far from the village. The covering shamed him, but he could not stand the cold as he once had. Much of his strength and muscle-tone had been fed to the fever that had almost claimed his life. The wounds he had suffered in the last battle should have taken him. The fact that they didn’t—that he was alive—could mean only one thing; he was favored. The gods expected as much of him as he did of them. He paused to draw a breath of the crisp cool air and turned back towards the hut.
So his little brother had returned. Was this the hand of the gods as well?
As he arrived at the stream, he threw the blanket off with a grunt and fell to the earth, working his muscles until he was sweating and straining with the effort. Too soon he collapsed, exhausted. For a moment he lay there, panting hard, and then he picked himself up and forced his atrophied muscles to pump again—rising and falling, rising and falling—until he could do so no more. As he leaned back against an aged tree he thought of the old healer, Galunadi. He would not have approved. But Galunadi was a fool whose teeth could no longer chew meat; who deserved only a place before the fire with the old women as they prepared food. A warrior could not lie in bed. A warrior must be constantly on the move, seeking power and glory even in his daily life.
After a few minutes he rose and crossed to a rock that overlooked the stream’s shining surface. He stared at the water and saw a face—the pale, thin face of his brother—its long hair hanging free and unadorned. He frowned. Catching up a stone from the ground, he threw it hard, shattering the image. Then his long fingers balled into fists and he closed his eyes. Not now. Not yet. He must contain the anger, the bitterness, and the
pent-up fury. He could not let Cara’s sudden reappearance alter his plans. The Cherokee had to believe he had changed and was a new man, grateful for the welcome and the home they had given him—the prodigal. And even if he could not abide them and the way they licked the boots of the English dogs, becoming a part of his mother’s people was necessary. Even if it meant looking at that face, hour upon hour, day after day.
Still, there were many things that could happen to a man in the course of a day, a week, or a month; things that need not seem to have come from his hand. After all, Cara was only a Cherokee, and one who did not even know how to be a Cherokee. A sudden fall. A bite from a snake. Natives died each day. Many were killed by settlers and white soldiers.
If his brother chose to stay among his people, that stay would not have to be long.
As he snatched the blanket off the ground and tossed it about his shoulders again, he saw Menewa, his uncle, walking with the healer. He stared after them as they disappeared beneath the trees. So the old man had been told his sister’s precious half-English son was awake at last. Tara smiled. Let them enjoy their time together. Once he was well.... Once his strength had returned and Sharpknife had had time to complete his mission, Menewa’s time would end.
And his would begin.
Cara’s brown eyes fluttered. He coughed and rolled his head from side to side. A hand on his chest made him stop and look up. He blinked again and tried to focus. “Menewa?”
His uncle smiled. “Yes. You have come back.”
The young man frowned. “Back?”
“The knife that wounded you was poisoned. You have been near death many times.” The Cherokee chief fell silent for a moment. “We asked the Great Spirit to heal you, and our prayers have been listened to.”
“So I am going to live?”
Menewa’s dark eyes lit with humor. “Is this not a good thing?”
“At the moment,” his nephew laughed weakly, “I think I would rather die.”
The older man touched his forehead and then laid his hand on his cheek. “My sister’s son. I did not think to ever see you again.”
Cara closed his eyes. “I wish I had never left.”
“You honored your mother’s wishes as did I.”
“And now you have come home. We will celebrate as soon as you are able.” His hand went to his chest. “Galunadi says many days are needed still before you are well. I must leave, but will return with the new moon.”
“Are my friends still here?”
“Yes. Star and the Creek—Arrowkeeper—as well as the white man.”
Cara frowned, then he realized he meant Alec. He lifted his hand and caught his uncle’s arm. “They have helped me, Menewa. Meant much to me— ”
“They are as family,” he said to quiet him. “Star is of our clan. The other two remain as friends of Menewa. That is enough.”
The chief glanced up and turned. Copperhead was standing in the door. “Yes?”
Alec stood with his claymore drawn, facing a living ghost. Star stood between them, calling for both he and the tall lean warrior to keep their heads. His daughter, Spicewood, had retreated to the shadows and stood shivering as she always did when Menewa’s sister’s son walked the village. He had spoken to her often, but she had not answered. Still, he had told her she would be his. She gazed at the trio that stood bathed in the rising sunlight and a slight smile touched her full lips.
But that had been before her father returned.
“Alexander, put your weapon away.”
The Scot’s dark eyes flicked to his friend and then back to the other man. “Sae soon as ye tell this ain tae dae th’ same.”
Tara had caught a spear up from the ground and held it pointed at the Scotsman. He had grown angry when he saw him walking side by side with Spicewood. “Who is this white man?” He stared at the Cherokee who was with him. “Who are you, old man?”
Star paused, taking the measure of the man before him and not liking what he found. Then he turned and held his hand out to his child. Timidly, she came to his side, trembling as Tara-Mingo’s shadow touched her. He placed his arm possessively about her shoulders. “She is my daughter.”
Tara’s eyes flicked to the girl. “You told me your father was dead.”
She jumped. Then she shook her head.
The older man moved between them. “I was dead. I am no more.” He met Tara-Mingo’s dark intense stare. “Does my child say she is yours?”
Tara opened his mouth to answer, but paused as his gaze fell on a tall stranger who was approaching the group. A deer was slung over his shoulders. His long dark hair was pulled tight in a tail. Though he was dressed much as a white man, he was not, and his bearing and his manner did not speak of the Cherokee.
Their eyes met and something was exchanged.
Tara started, his attention abruptly brought back to the matter at hand. He looked at the girl’s father. “No. Not yet.” He paused. “But I would that she will.”
Star stepped up to him. This man’s resemblance to the one who lay in the healer’s lodge was uncanny. So like and yet so, unalike. “Then you have no claim on her. You will leave.”
Menewa arrived with Copperhead. He looked from his sister’s son to Star, and then to the white man. “Is there trouble here?”
Star’s black eyes held the gaze of Cara-Mingo’s brother. “Is there?”
Tara returned the look. Then he shoved the spear into the earth, point down. “No,” he answered as he turned to face his uncle. Instantly, his demeanor changed. He bent his head. “I ask your forgiveness, uncle. I forget at times that I am among my own again. That I do not need to fight to survive.”
Menewa nodded. Tara had told him of his time among the Creek—of how he had had to prove himself again and again. “Understand, these men are here under my protection. Star is of your mother’s clan. You will respect him as an elder, and as a father when it comes to his child. Is that understood?”
Talota’s oldest son inclined his head. “Yes.” He turned to Star. “I ask your forgiveness as well.”
Star hesitated, then he nodded. “It is yours.” Still, he was not at ease. Even as the young man walked away, his arm returned to his child and he pulled her to his side.
Arrowkeeper had paused beneath the trees and waited for the dispute to end. Now he drew alongside them. Patting the deer’s haunches, he smiled at his friends. “The Master of Breath is good to us. Tonight we will feast.” When Star said nothing, he followed the older man’s eyes. The figure in the blanket was returning to the village.
Star frowned and shook his head. “No. A devil.”
Cara continued to crawl in and out of consciousness for several more days. Finally, on the fifth night of Menewa’s absence, he awoke. It was near dawn and Galunadi had left to gather herbs and blossoms. One of the young girls who helped him from time to time had gone with him and, as their voices faded into the night, the invalid rose and tossed off the fur coverlet. Standing, shaking, he looked about for his clothes, only to find they seemed to have vanished. A brightly patterned blanket lay in one corner. He opened it and wrapped it about his naked frame. Then, cautiously, he pulled the mat that acted as a door aside and looked about.
The way was clear.
Ducking, he stepped out and lifted his face to the sky. The moon was riding the back of the clouds and the stars which glistened above were tears in ebon eyes. He walked a little distance from the lodge before stopping. Once he did, he closed his eyes and remained silent, soaking in the sounds of the sleeping village. Somewhere a dog was barking, and far away a kindred wolf howled in reply. An owl hooted from the concealing branches of a tree as a baby cried, and as he continued to listen, the gentle voice of its mother rose in a soft soothing song.
A tear trailed down his cheek and he sighed.
He was home.
“So you rise. Like a pale ghost you stand before me, my brother, the reflection of all that I see when I look at the river’s face.”
His eyes snapped open. He turned and tried to mask his surprise. “Tara?”
“Yes, little brother. It is me.” The tall half-Creek, half-Cherokee came to rest before him. He was dressed now in richly tanned skins and had his hair pulled back in a tight tail. From one side of his head a hawk’s feathers flew. “You did not know I was here?”
Cara laughed. He should have known he could hide nothing from him. He had never been able to. “No. I did not know that my homecoming would be reflected by yours.”
“Or yours by mine. I have been here one full moon.”
A month. Four weeks in which to work his mischief. Cara shifted on his feet. “And what brought about my brother’s return?”
The other man frowned. He turned away and looked at the stars. “I walked with my brothers in the Bear Clan for many years—far from here. The path was not easy, but I made my father’s clan my own; until the white man wiped them out.” His brought up his fist as he frowned. “The English. Your father’s people.” He paused. “Your people.”
Cara shook his head. “These are my people—the Cherokee. My father’s people are dead to me now. I want no part of them.”
Tara poked his finger into his brother’s chest and watched him wince. His words were not filled with hate as they had always been, but were still bitter; each one bitten off with distaste like a piece of bad meat. “They are not dead. They are here. In you.”
“Do you hate me, brother?”
Tara-Mingo laughed. “Once. Once I hated you and wanted nothing but your death, but now....” He offered his hand. “Now I choose to be brothers.”
Cara looked at it. Then he met his brother’s eyes. “What? What do you mean?”
“Did they not tell you who tended you in the healer’s lodge? Or who has not left your side these five days?”
Tara shook his head. “No. Me.”
“You?” Cara closed his eyes briefly, feeling faint. “No, I saw the old man....”
“He prepared the herbs. He sang the songs.” Tara struck his chest with his fist. “It was I who brought the water and the food. I, who warmed you. Ask him; he will say.”
“Why? Why would you do this?” The sick man’s voice trembled.
“Our mother is dead. My father is dead and, as you say, your father may as well be. Menewa is old.” He paused. “There is only us. We two. Between us there is blood that is between no other. We should not fight.”
Cara swayed. He was weak. He passed a hand over his face. “I wish that I could trust you.”
“You can.” Tara reached out as his brother began to collapse. He caught him and lowered him to the ground. As he did, he heard someone shout and knew Menewa had returned.
He smiled as he caught Cara’s chin in his fingers. “You will.”
“Tonight we hold a feast in your honor.”
Cara looked up. Menewa had finally granted him permission to leave the healer’s lodge. He sat without his uncle’s home, wrapped in blankets. The weather was cool, but it seemed that at last Spring was in the air. In honor of this—as well as his own rebirth—the Cherokee chief had commanded a dance. He smiled at his mother’s brother and then waved at Star as he approached with a young girl on his arm. Behind the pair another girl trailed. She was laughing and flirting with Alec.
Cara smiled wistfully as they drew abreast him. He met Alec’s eyes. “Somehow I think this is going to be rather different from the party my father threw on my last birthday.” He laughed, and then, unexpectedly, grew sober.
“You are sad?”
He glanced up. The eyes of the native girl who walked with Star were searching his face. As he met her gaze, she unexpectedly shrank back. Cara frowned as he watched the older Cherokee steady her. “Sad?” He drew a breath and forced a wistful smile before he answered her question. “Why, yes. I am a little.”
He shook his head. There were no words.
“If you do not speak the sorrow, it will poison your heart like the worm in the fruit that cannot be seen,” the girl said softly.
Cara laughed gently. “You are wise for one so young.” He noted Star as he released his hold on her and retreated into the shadows cast by the lodge. “I had to leave someone behind in England; someone very important to me.”
“A woman?” It was the other girl. She was about the same size as her friend but a great deal more endowed. Her round curves would have turned any man’s head—native or otherwise. As she tilted her own, examining him while he examined her, he noted the black hair that framed her round face was not straight but spiraled like a child’s ringlets. She was very young and very lovely and full of life. “Was she pretty?”
Cara nodded. He paused and then added solemnly, “But not nearly so pretty as you.”
As the girl giggled, her companion seemed to rouse herself. She rolled her eyes and swatted her. “Cherry, do not flirt.”
“And what is your name?”
Alec caught his eye. He was grinning. “Tis Spicewood. A nam’ as loovely as its possessor.” He glanced at the older man who waited nearby. “She is Star’s daughter.”
He turned a brilliant smile on Star.
“So your family is still living?”
Star stepped forward to touch the girl’s shoulder. “Just this one. She has been with Menewa, in his lodge. My wife died in the smallpox epidemic of three years ago.”
“I am sorry. Truly.” He turned from Star to look at the girl. “But how wonderful, you have her.”
Spicewood stared at him for a moment. Then she said bluntly, “We were told you were dead.”
He blinked. “Well, I am not. But I can understand why everyone believed I was. I am sorry for the pain I caused them.”
She bit her lip and her eyes went to her father. “You are right. He is not like the other one.”
Cara frowned, and then he understood the fear she had shown earlier. “I take it you mean my brother? No, I am not like him. Not at all.”
“Boot ye aur a twin?” The Scot’s hand came down on his shoulder. “Aur ye not?”
He shook his head. “No, Alec. I would have told you if I had been—especially after what you told me about Archie.”
The young man seemed puzzled. “Boot he looks joost like ye.”
“It is a mystery. A face from my mother’s past, perhaps, that we both are cursed to wear.” He shifted, suddenly uncomfortable. “Normally I am paler, and lighter in weight, but with his recent illness....”
“Aye. Ye are identical.” Alec straightened. “If nay fur th’ hair an’ ye bein’ still unwell....”
Cara frowned. “Oh, there is far more than that. Once you have been around Tara long enough, you will see there are many difference.” He looked at the other man. “I take it he is living here again, with my mother’s people?”
The Scot nodded. “I asked aboot. Thaur was fightin’ whaur he bided. Ainother tribe droove th’ Creek oot wi’ th’ help o’ th’ British. He nearly died. I tak’ it some o’ yer folk foond him makin’ his way tae them, an’ brooght him haur.”
“Nearly....” Cara ran a hand through his long black hair. He sighed. “Would that he had been.”
“Cara! Dinnae say thot. He’s yer brither nae matter whot.”
The sick man looked up at his friend. “Alec. He is not Archie. Not anything like.”
The Scot frowned. He seemed shaken. “He’s haur. Ye aur haur. Dinnae ye waste it. Sooner than ye ken, ain o’ ye coulds be gone.” Alec glanced at Spicewood as she reached out towards him, shook his dark head, and without another word walked away.
She watched him for a moment and then turned back to the one who had risen from the dead. “Who is Ar-chie?” she asked.
“His twin. He died three years ago.” He added softly, but only to himself, ‘And Alec blames himself.”
Alec walked to the water’s edge and stared at the face reflected there. It was his brother’s and his own. As a twin he had grown used to seeing what many of his fellow Highlanders would have considered a doppelganger; a harbinger of death and doom. He ran his hand across his chin and watched as his mirror-image did the same. A moment later he jumped as another face appeared, looming behind his shoulder.
The face of his friend and yet, not his friend.
He pivoted quickly and his hand went to his sword. The native held up his hands in a gesture of peace.
“Whot dae ye wont?”
“To apologize. For before.”
The Scot frowned. “So ye intend tae leave Spicewood alone. ‘Til she wonts ain else?”
The tall man nodded once, then added, “But I come for another purpose as well. Will you hear me out?”
Alec stared at him. By God’s body, it was hard to believe he and Cara were not twins. “Aye, I’ll hear ye.”
“I overheard you speaking to my brother before. I come,” Tara lowered his voice as he moved closer, “I come to ask your help.”
The black brows lifted. “Mah help? Fur whot?”
“To change his mind. To mend what is between us.”
“An’ whot is thot?” The Scot kept his hand on his claymore, but loosely. “Whot is atween ye?”
“Blood. Bad blood from our fathers. Good from our mother.” Tara-Mingo held out his hands, the palms open and turned towards the sky. “But the blood in these veins is one. When we bleed, it should be as one.”
Alec nodded. “I heard ye took caur o’ him while he was ailin’.”
“Yes. I thought that would prove I had changed. It has not.” The tall man met Alec’s brown eyes. He raised one of the hands and struck his chest. “He is my brother;
flesh of my flesh. I would that we walked together and not apart. But he will not trust me. He will not even listen.”
“An’ whot is it ye aur expectin’ me tae dee aboot thot?”
Tara smiled, the disarming smile both brothers shared. “Be my brother while you are with us. If you are, perhaps he will see.”
“What about Spicewood?”
The half-Creek shrugged. “She is a woman. Among the Cherokee, the choice is hers. I will abide by her decision.” He stared at the Scot, gauging his reaction and then asked, “Do you mean to stay with us some time then, white man?”
“Mah nam’ is Alec,” the Scot answered slowly. “An’ I hae nae made oop mah mind.”
The sacred fire pulsed as the rays of the late afternoon sun bathed the center of the village in blood. Within a circle the women’s feet began to pound the earth, driven by ancient rhythms and desires. Cara sat at Menewa’s side in the place of honor with his friends around him, honored as well for their devotion to him. Star and Arrowkeeper were to the chief’s left. Alec to Cara’s right. The Scot was uncharacteristically quiet for such a joyous occasion and seemed to be lost in his own dark thoughts. Across the circle Copperhead and the other young braves who had battled the Shawnee and emerged victorious smiled and laughed, clapping their hands as their eyes followed the women’s lithe forms. Tara-Mingo leaned against a tree close behind them.
Watching. Ever watching and waiting.
Within the circle the women chanted, lifting their voices—young and old—in celebration. This dance was a social one and as such was entered into in the spirit of joy. Wearing beads about their slender throats and feathers in their long hair, their dresses ornamented with shells and bits of tin rolled tight, they beat their thighs and whooped to the pounding of the drums and the steady rhythm of life.
Cara glanced at Alec. He nudged him in the side. “Are you all right?”
The Scot didn’t look at him.
The curly head jerked and came up. His brown eyes were inexpressibly weary. “Aye?”
“Are you angry with me?”
He gazed at the women a moment and then met his friend’s stare. “Nae. I am nae angry onie mair.”
Cara watched as Cherry whirled past him. He smiled as she thrust her hands out towards him and then drew them back. Then he laughed. “I am glad.”
“Boot I still thin’ ye aur wrang.”
Cara sighed. His eyes sought out his brother. Tara had moved closer to the circle and his keen gaze was on Star’s daughter, watching every move she made. There was a hunger in him that was all too familiar. He shook his head. “I only wish I was.”
“Can ye nae gi’e him a chance? Th’ benefit o’ th’ doobt?” He glanced up as Spicewood pounded past. She stopped suddenly and returned to his side. He turned to look at Cara as she did, and set his arms in an actor’s pose—one hand on his chest and the other in the air. “’Sae shows a dove troopin’ wi’ crows, as yonder lady o’er her fellaws shows....’”
His friend couldn’t help but laugh. “I doubt Spicewood is familiar with the Bard.”
“Aye,” the Scot remarked, leaning towards him, “boot I woulds like tae mak’ her sae.”
Without warning Star’s amused voice touched Cara’s ear. “I believe your friend is about to get his chance.”
Spicewood waited in front of Alec with her hands out. She was breathing hard and her eyes were on fire. The Scot stared at her, confused. He glanced at her father. “Whot is it she wonts me tae dee?”
“Dance with her.”
He frowned. “Whot?”
“This is the women’s dance,” Star added soberly. “You may not refuse.”
“May nae?” He cleared his throat. “Ye mean yer women ge’ tae choose?”
The older man nodded and as he did the girl reached out and grabbed the young man’s shirt, hauling him to feet. He met her dark merry eyes, a mock look of indignation in his own, and then let her lead him into the madly whirling circle of light and noise. As he began to move with her, he called back to his friends. “Whot a civilized culture ye hae haur!”
Cara laughed until his sides hurt. With tears running down his cheeks he watched as Alec joined in, stamping his booted feet and mimicking the women’s hand movements. Then, after a few minutes, the devil took him. He drew his claymore and laid it on the ground, crossing it with a spear he had taken from one of the warriors, and then began to dance the ‘Gille Calum’ or sword dance. Little did the natives who watched him with puzzled frowns know that in his homeland what he did had once been a call to war. The dark-skinned men pointed and laughed at the crazy white man as some of the women began to imitate him.
Cara was clapping his hands, but stopped when he felt Star’s touch on his arm. He looked at the older man and then followed his finger, which was pointing up. The busty Cherry was standing before him, panting, her hands held out. He shook his head, indicating he was not well enough, and glanced at his uncle for confirmation. Menewa turned to Galunadi. The invalid nearly fainted when the old man smiled and nodded, giving his permission. Before he knew what he was doing, he had been hauled to his feet and propelled into the circle. As he caught his breath, he stared at the young woman. She was grinning at him. He gnawed his lip and thought furiously for a moment; then he stepped back and bowed. Seconds later he offered her his hand. Cherry’s head tilted and she frowned, but she reached out and took it anyway. He placed his other hand in the hollow of her back and laughed as he began to spin her about the pulsing fire in a slow waltz.
Star chuckled and leaned over to speak with Menewa. As he did, Arrowkeeper excused himself and rose. He stood for a moment at the edge of the light, gazing at the couples; suddenly feeling very alone. Like Star, he had lost his wife and family. Unlike him, he did not have a child still living. Not one. They had all fallen to the white man’s insatiable greed for the red man’s land and his hatred of any who were different; and though the two men who danced in the circle were his friends, still they had tainted blood in their veins. He began to walk away, his chin on his chest. If not for men like their fathers, who were not content to stay where they were— with what they had—his family would have been alive.
“We have not spoken yet...brother.”
The tall man stopped. Even without looking, he knew who addressed him. He drew a breath and pivoted to find a face he was familiar with that held a stranger’s eyes. “Brother? I am called Arrowkeeper.”
“I know. I have watched you, and I have asked. You are Creek.”
“And your clan?” Tara tilted his head. “I would guess Tyger or Bear....”
Arrowkeeper tossed his head. “Bear.”
The other man nodded as if he had already known. “My father’s mother was Bear. It is the clan I claim. Not this one.” He inclined his head toward the circle. “Not the peace-loving Cherokee who bend like willows and choose to become as the white man to keep at bay the dogs of war.” His dark eyes went to the other man’s face. “I believe you and I understand one another.”
“Is that so?”
“I am told the white man killed your family.”
The tall Creek frowned. “Someone has a loose tongue.”
Tara laughed. “I can be very persuasive.” His hand went to his side as he shifted forward. The other man’s eyes followed. Beside his sheathed knife, a coil of black leather hung like a scintillating snake on his hip.
Arrowkeeper’s black brows rose. “You carry a whip. You use it?”
“While with my father’s people I learned the art. It is very useful.” His eyes flicked back to the dance as his fingers tightened on the lethal weapon. “And mastery of it is rare among our people.”
“I have used one. The men who came in wagons with mules taught me as a boy.” He shook his head. “I prefer a more honest weapon; the bow or the knife.”
“Or your bare hands?”
Arrowkeeper studied his smile. He crossed his arms. “What is it you want, brother of my friend?”
Tara held his hand out to him. “Simply to be another friend.”
Cara fell to the ground with the girl Cherry practically on top of him. He was light-headed and breathing hard. He looked up at her as she caught his arms. “No. No more.” He shook his head. “I can not....”
Star rose and touched the girl’s shoulder. “It is your right. But not tonight. Not this one.”
The buxom girl looked at him and nodded once out of respect.
Cara sought her eyes as he rose to his feet. “It was delightful. But I really think I should go to the lodge and rest.” He glanced at his friend. “I have no desire to end the celebration of my return by expiring.”
“Cherry will see you to your bed.”
Cara’s black eyebrows peaked. He glanced at her and didn’t like the look in her eyes. Momentarily, he cleared his throat. “I can find my own way.”
Star shook his head. “You know the medicines,” he told the girl. “Galunadi has shown you.”
“Is she in training?” the young man asked.
The girl’s bright eyes fixed him. “Every woman is in training.”
As Spicewood and Alec reeled past again, laughing, he allowed the girl to lead him from the circle of light. As he did, he was surprised to find he had to hold on to her to walk. By the time they reached his uncle’s lodge, he was more than ready to fall into the bed and let her do whatever was needed.
As he lay on the soft matting, he felt her draw his shirt away to check his bandage. Then she disappeared. A few minutes later he roused to find she had boiled water and brewed some hideous-smelling potion that she was applying to the wound. Gently, professionally, she bound it once again. Then she leaned over him and looked into his eyes.
He blinked sleepily. “Yes, Cherry?”
Her lustrous spiraling curls brushed his slightly feverish skin. “Do you really think that I am pretty?
He shook his head. “No. No, I do not.”
She pouted. “No?”
“No. You are not pretty, you...are...beautiful. Lovely as Venus. Delightful as Aphrodite.”
The girl laughed. “And you are crazy. Menewa says you are Cherokee, but you do not seem Cherokee.”
“What do I seem?” he asked as his eyes began to close.
She touched his face. “Handsome. Strong. Different.” She kissed his chest just below the bandage and then lingered over him, her lips posed above his own. “Mine.”
He had almost fallen asleep until that last word. “What?”
She kissed him on the lips and then rose quickly as the medicine man entered the lodge. She dipped in respect, reported what she had done, and then skittered out the door.
The old man came to him and grunted after checking her work. He looked over the supply of medicines and then left as well.
Cara lay on his back, exhausted.
Copperhead had just returned to the festivities. His wife was not among the dancing women and he had gone to check on her, knowing her time was near. He halted as one of the other warriors caught his attention and then came to his side. As he listened to his words, his expression grew grim. He nodded and then went to his chief.
Approaching Menewa from behind, he touched him on the shoulder. The older man looked up. Copperhead whispered in his ear. Menewa turned his face towards the two tall strong figures who lingered beneath the trees, deep in conversation, and then touched Star’s arm and made him aware. A moment later, at an order from his war chief, the man in the red coat moved off. He was to draw as near as he could and see if he could catch their words.
Star turned back to face the fire and the dance, seeking his daughter and the Scot. “This does not bode well.”
Menewa was still gazing at the two Creeks. “No. What do you suppose it is about....”
- Continued in Chapter Nine -