When I found you, there was no life left. I thought you were dead.
Tara: And you buried me. A shallow hole in the black mud of the Ken-tah-ten, wet with cold swamp water and warm blood... The sun was hot on my face, then you covered it with mud—and sang my death song.
Cara awoke with a start. He
glanced at the sky and then slammed his hand against the rough tree bark,
sending tiny fragments of it tumbling to the ground.
had doubled back as planned and found the bend in the river.
It had been swollen with the recent rain, but he had managed to cross it,
hopping from rock to rock;
fording the waist-deep waters to the other shore. Unfortunately the effort had left him exhausted.
Climbing high into the limbs of a sturdy tree a few hundred yards from
the bank, he had found a safe nest of intertwined branches and settled in,
permitting himself just a few minutes to lean his head back and gather his
strength. Apparently he had fallen
asleep. Now he had lost not only
several hours, but he’d also lost whatever lead he had had on his brother.
recrimination aside, he shifted and surveyed the ground beneath the tree.
For all he knew his brother had already arrived and was laying in wait
for him. If there was one thing
Tara had always excelled at it was the art of war; one important aspect of which
was superior skill in tracking. He
would follow hard and fast, and be
carrying multiple weapons. If he
could surprise him and wrest one of them from him—the whip or knife
perhaps—he might be able to hold his
own. Still, considering the condition he was in; cold, tired, and
famished, it was not likely he was going to be able to out-fight the
well-rested, well-fed Creek warrior.
spent several more minutes listening and observing the area before he lowered
himself to the grass. There he crouched, waiting; his muscles tense.
Then, when it seemed nothing was going to happen, he rose to his feet and
slipped quietly into the underbrush and began to run – back the way he had
come. In order to live to see the next sunrise he would have to stop reacting
and take action instead.
If he couldn’t out-fight Tara then he would simply have to out-think
him. Of course, that meant putting himself in Tara’s moccasins; an odious task
he was not certain he was capable of. Still,
if he guessed correctly, then he would be able to lay a trap and the battle
would come to him on his terms.
tall dark-skinned man knelt on a boulder that over-reached the river, staring at
his reflection. His black hair was parted and tied in two tails, each of
which was decorated with hawk feathers. He
was clothed in soft buckskins with the fur turned inward to stave off the chill
that had settled on the land early that year.
Across his narrow hips a low belt was slung from which a hunting knife
and pipe tomahawk hung, as well as a bag of shot and his coiled leather whip.
With a frown he reached towards the icy mirror and made a fist. Soon only
one would wear this face. Soon the
gods would know when they looked upon it, that it was him.
Soon he would be rid of this weak shadow, of Cara-Mingo, the living
reminder of the shame of a Cherokee mother who had taken to her bed a white man,
preferring him over his own full-blooded father, War Bonnet.
Tara growled low in his throat and gripped his British musket.
He pivoted towards the stand of trees behind him and lifting it, checked
the sight, and then cocked the hammer. A
moment later he let a volley fly. As
it struck the side of an ancient willow, sending bark and bugs alike flying, he
laughed loud and hard.
his little brother had not known he had arrived before; he did now.
into his bandoleer, he began to prime the weapon again.
He knew Cara.
He was lurking somewhere nearby, trying to reason out a plan; intending
to catch him unawares. So superior
and so smart, this son of a white man. And
so blind. He would allow the
Cherokee half-breed to think he had the upper hand and then, when he tried to
spring his trap, he would kill him.
leaned on the weapon and gazed at the lightening sky.
Policha had been wrong to forbid him to return to Ken-tah-ten.
What better place could there be to begin his reign?
As the ancient ones had known, blood was needed to line the stones of any
foundation that was to be sure—be it a building or a kingdom—and not just
any blood, but the blood of a prince or king or chief.
perhaps an Earl’s son.
dark head came up as the sound of the shot echoed through the trees and
resounded off the nearby hills. Could
it be Tara? If so, it seemed a stupid thing to do. But then as he began to move forward again, he thought about
it. His brother was not stupid, but
he was supremely arrogant.
If it was he, most likely he meant to frighten him; to terrify him by
announcing his arrival and make him do something rash.
It would never occur to the seasoned Creek warrior that he might decide
to turn back and fight. Tara considered him weak and incapable of such an action.
What his brother did not know was that five years in the wilderness had
taught him many things, not the least of which was how to kill when necessary.
It was not something he relished, but it was something he had learned to
the tall grasses that lined the river-bank, he slipped into the icy water and
continued to work his way back.
later Tara-Mingo sat with his chin on his chest, waiting and watching through
lidded eyes. He knew his brother would approach silent as the mountain
lion to try and steal one of his weapons. For
this purpose he had deliberately left his musket several feet away—just beyond
easy reach—propped against the bole of a tree. In his hand he held his whip, but over it he had placed the
fringed tail of his buckskin shirt. His
hunting knife and tomahawk both lay concealed beneath the patterned blanket he
had tossed seemingly at random over the fallen log he leaned against.
pretended to sleep.
hour at least had passed since he had fired the shot.
A quarter of an hour before he had seen movement in the underbrush and
leaves shifting where there was no wind. A
dozen birds had taken sudden flight and winged into the early morning sky.
He had stirred the fire and then, yawning and stretching, taken his
place. He had allowed his head to
nod twice, and finally appeared to succumb to sleep. In the time that had passed since then, he had listened
carefully. He knew his little
brother was also watching and waiting; trying to determine if his slumber was
if it was a trap.
brush rustled less than a yard from him. Several
branches were withdrawn. Tara’s
fingers tightened on the handle of his whip.
As they caressed the braided leather, he smiled. Whoever had taught Cara
had apparently neglected to warn him to look with suspicion upon anything the
wilderness gave with ease. His dark
lashes fluttered and he drew a deep breath as a tanned hand appeared, working
its way toward the musket and the bag
of shot that lay nearby. He
suppressed the laugh that the image of his brother’s perplexed face brought to
mind. What would the murderous
Lord’s son do when he went to prime the weapon and found only sand and pebbles
drawn from the riverbed?
watched as the barrel slipped into the shadows and then, fast as a serpent,
sprang up with the whip in his hand. The
lash licked out. The popper cracked
and there was a startled cry. Tara
thrust his deep red fingers through and they closed on the other man’s arm. With a triumphant shout he hauled him out of the bushes and
tossed him into the middle of the small clearing. The early morning light struck his captive’s handsome
features and he froze.
was not his brother.
gasped and slipped back into the shadows. He
watched the musket fall to the ground and the smirking face of his brother
appear momentarily before both men vanished, swallowed by branches and emerald
God,” he whispered. “Alexander.”
crouched close to Cherry. Shadowy
figures moved about them, whooping
and calling to one another. They
had continued to travel north, towards the village, and had come to within only
a few hundred yards of it before being cut off by the very men they had earlier
escaped. No longer frightened that a war party had come to destroy
them, the painted warriors had pursued them and were now beating the bushes with
their bayonets and spears; eager to take whatever revenge they could in order to
restore their honor. Already she
and Cherry had passed the corpses of several of the Cherokee women who had been
held with them. She was still
shaking from what they had seen. One
slender young woman about her age had been brutalized and left with little to
identify her. Only the beaded
bracelet still encircling her bloody arm had marked her as the one she had
nodded and pointed toward an opening in the trees.
Just beyond, a jutting cliff cast deep shadows in which they could seek
shelter. Unfortunately a golden prairie lay between them and it.
“What do you think?” she whispered.
glanced behind. She could hear the sounds of the Creek drawing closer.
“We should go. They are coming.”
will head for the village.”
Star’s daughter nodded. “We
must get there first....”
stared defiantly in the direction of the war party.
She was shaken and exhausted, but curiously energized.
“I do not mean to die.”
are a War Woman now.” Her friend laughed in spite of their danger.
Then she caught her hand. “I
do not think you will.
Come. We will go together.”
two young women rose to their feet. As
they did several arrows winged over their heads to embed their sharp tips in the
trees. Seconds later a deep male
voice cried out.
had been spotted.
lifted her voluminous skirts and screamed at her friend to run, but before she
could, the two women were surrounded by a dozen battle-crazed warriors.
As the men advanced, they backed up against each other and held their
ground. Cherry palmed a wrist-thick
branch and brandished it before her. She
jabbed at one of the natives as he darted towards her.
The man laughed and darted in again.
heart pounded hard in her chest. She
felt certain she was going to die. Her
only remaining hope was that she could somehow create a diversion so Cherry
could escape. One of the warriors caught her wrist from behind and pulled
her towards him. She pivoted and
clawed his eyes. He growled and
stumbled back. As he collapsed in
pain, his fall created an opening in the circle of warriors.
Seizing the moment, Spicewood dashed through and disappeared into the
trees, praying to Yowa that most of the men would follow her. She knew Tara
wanted her, as well as Policha, and that most likely the warriors had been
ordered to take her captive. As she
plunged into the green leaves she heard Cherry cry her name.
There was warning in her tone. Spicewood
turned, just in time to see the sun glint off the barrel of a musket. The weapon
discharged and she felt a fire in her shoulder.
When she touched it, her hand came away covered with blood.
She staggered and gasped as pain shot through her slender frame, and then
screamed as one of the warriors grabbed her and shoved her to her knees.
A moment later his knife was on her scalp.
they did not mean to take her alive after all.
Cherry gripped the branch and dashed towards her friend. One of the men shouted but she paid him no mind. The warrior who held Spicewood was grinning like a devil; his fingers twisted in her hair. There was blood on her forehead. Cherry called to her and their eyes locked, but only for an instant. The next thing she knew something heavy struck her from behind and she fell into darkness.
warrior who pressed his keen blade against Spicewood’s flesh remained on his
feet a mere instant longer than
Cherry. Only instead of being
struck from behind with the blunt end of a tomahawk, one was planted in his
head. The rich blue of the young
woman’s damask skirts deepened to purple as his blood soaked them.
She lost consciousness and fell to the ground.
A moment later trembling fingers found her.
They probed her head wound and then desperately ripped her stained
petticoats to fashion a makeshift bandage for it.
Several minutes of chaos followed during which orders were barked,
challenges made, and flintlocks fired. Then
there was silence.
stirred once. She frowned as strong arms circled her waist and someone
spoke her name in her ear. “Alexander?”
she whispered as she lifted her hand to the man’s face. “Uyahi?” Then
she passed out again.
slender sandy-haired man who knelt beside her stared at her a moment.
He touched her cheek tenderly and then began to systematically undo and
remove her blood-spattered gown. As
he did, a member of the war party came to stand before him. Instantly the Creek metizo’s demeanor changed.
“You were not to touch this one!” he barked.
“You knew that.”
dead Cherokee is the same as any other.”
The man held his head high as he watched Policha toss the top of the gown
aside and begin to work the skirts over her legs.
“What makes this one so different?”
orders for one,” the scripture-quoting metizo snapped as he rose to his feet,
cradling the wounded woman in his arms. He
inclined his head towards the damask garments
that lay on the ground. “Pick
those up and follow me.”
warrior frowned. “Why?”
I told you to.”
eyes locked for a moment; then the warrior backed down.
Even though he questioned the half-breed’s sanity, he knew it was not
wise to question his authority. The
man bent to gather the heavy gown in his arms, but as he did, he froze.
He had heard a sound; something like a sigh.
He followed it until he stood next a young Cherokee woman.
Her curly black hair framed a bloody face.
He shoved her with his toe and she moaned.
sandy-haired man turned back. “Yes?”
“What of this one? She lives.” The painted warrior’s hand went to his hunting
“Shall I finish her?”
“Leave her be.” He pulled Spicewood close as he turned back towards the trees.
will be our witness.”
The man turned. He plucked
the gown from the grass and followed him. “Witness to what?”
smiled softly as he brushed the young woman’s shining hair with his fingers.
“To the death of her friend.”
do not understand— ”
do you need to. But I will tell you
anyway.” The man who had been
James Harper pinned him with his fiery hazel eyes.
“It is simple. Tara wants this one. It
will be easier if they think she is dead. Then
they will not seek her....or those who attacked her.”
He paused to let that set in, then he added quietly, “You saw the
bodies of the Cherokee women back along the trail?”
warrior nodded. “Yes.”
saw the one who looks like this one; approximately the same size and shape?”
“Take those garments and put them on her.” Policha paused as though his plan was as of yet only half-conceived. “Then bring the body here. And Goingsnake....”
my bandoleer, you will find a silver chain.
Put it near her.”
man seemed puzzled, but finally he nodded.
“It will be as you say, Preacher.”
must make certain no one will be able to tell the body doesn’t belong to this
one.” He touched his lips to the
blood-stained bandage that covered Spicewood’s brow and nodded
towards Cherry. “According
to Horse Dance, her friend was watching. She
believes her scalped.” He glanced
at the young woman in his arms and then at the warrior to see if he took his
meaning. “Once that is done,
bring every corpse you find in the forest here...and burn them all.”
inclined his dark head once and then, bearing the remnants of the fine damask
gown Alexander had ordered for his wife and the chain from which her crucifix
had dangled, he headed into the trees.
held his breath. His brother was bearing down on Alec and he knew that, in the
other man’s present condition, the contest would be short and one the Scot
certainly could not win. His rich
brown eyes searched the area and then fastened on the forgotten flintlock near
his feet. With a prayer of
thanksgiving on his lips he picked it up and, even as his Creek brother struck
the first blow and knocked the wounded man towards the fire, he cocked the
hammer and stepped into the waxing sunlight.
Then he cleared his throat.
halted; his fist poised to strike again. His
back stiffened and then he began to laugh.
He pivoted sharply to find his little brother looking at him over the
shining barrel of the British musket. Behind
him Alexander coughed and spat blood and then shifted away, a hand to his
shoulder where the broken shaft of the arrow Waso had shot him with still
many heartbeats have I walked in the land of waiting.
The sun is high; the sky red like blood, and under its face we meet
again, little brother.” Tara took
a deliberate step, back towards the
exhausted Scot. “But not
where you are, Tara.” Cara closed one eye and took aim. “You know I will shoot.”
you kill me, brother?”
The tall Creek opened his arms wide and waited.
A black fire leapt deep within his cruel eyes. “Can you kill me?”
stared at him and his finger lingered on the trigger.
Then he lowered the musket to the ground and leaned on it.
“It is not loaded, is it?”
laughed. He cocked his head and
smiled. “Would I place a loaded
rifle in my enemy’s hands?”
eyes flicked to Alec, who had made his way to an ancient oak and propped himself
against its giant trunk. He was
will not reach him in time.” Tara
stepped to the side and took hold of the edge of a patterned blanket that lay
across a fallen trunk near the fire. He
flung it aside, revealing his hunting knife and tomahawk.
“But one of these will.”
Alec out of it. This is between you and me.”
brother’s words were quiet and full of menace.
“Alec should have left himself
out of it.” As he spoke he struck
like a viper, first catching up the hunting knife and then seizing the wounded
man by the arm. Remorselessly he
drew him to his feet.
of sweat broke out on the Scot’s forehead, but he refused to cry out.
“Cara,” he whispered, “I’m sorry....”
pulled him close, placing the knife at his throat.
Then his eyes met his brother’s. “What
will you give me, Cara, so I will not kill him as he so richly deserves?”
closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then
he opened them and held the flintlock out before him; butt first.
“Only what I offered before; my life.”
nae! Ye cannae— ”
Alec’s protest was cut short as Tara hauled up on his wounded arm and
twisted it mercilessly behind his back. The
Scot gave a sharp cry and then fell silent.
Tara scowled and dropped his limp form unceremoniously to the cold earth.
flinched as his friend struck the ground. There
was little hope for either of them. If
he failed—if his brother killed him—in all likelihood Alec would die as
well. As the Creek warrior gripped the rifle’s shining barrel and took it from
him, he sighed. “Now what?” he
said at last.
I do what I should have done before,” his brother answered.
barrel was laid against Alec’s head.
forget,” Talota’s half-English son said, “it is not loaded.”
grinned and pressed it into the Scotsman’s flesh.
“And you forget, it does not need to be.”
did as he was told. He turned and faced the trees and waited.
Behind him his brother smiled. He
hefted the flintlock and tapped its shining metal against his hand several
times, and then, using it as a club, struck his brother savagely from behind.
he awoke Cara became aware of the sound of rushing water and the fact that he
was ice-cold. He gingerly turned
his pounding head to find that his hands and feet had been staked to the swampy
ground. All about him lay the
shattered remnants of the thin icy skin that had covered it.
For a moment he thought his brother had abandoned him, leaving him to die
from exposure, but then as he clamped his chattering teeth together and turned
his head towards the dark trees, he saw three figures.
Tara was there—and Sharpknife—as well as a young boy.
His brother was giving instructions to the Creek aathollo.
They spoke for a moment and then all three disappeared into the forest.
Cara closed his eyes and tried to concentrate.
It wasn’t easy. He was
shaking from head to foot and could no longer feel his legs.
They were partially submerged and quite numb.
Still, he had feeling in his arms and, though his fingers were stiff, he
used them to work the stakes that pinned him down. The ground was soft. It
yielded, if somewhat slowly, to what little strength he had left.
His brother must have thought him senseless.
he anxiously worked to free himself, his gaze roamed the area he was confined
in. Tara had made camp.
There was a fire. Beside it
was much of his brother’s gear. He
didn’t see the musket, but his whip was there, coiled and dangling like a
black snake from the branch of a nearby tree.
Suddenly, one hand came free, but even as it did he sank further into the
mud. Its cold wet touch sent a
shiver through him that stopped him for a moment.
Then he gritted his teeth and, using his frozen fingers, gripped his
other hand and hauled back mightily. It,
too, came free. A moment later he
was sitting up and yet, even as he pulled up the stake that bound his right
foot, he heard his brother’s voice. Frantic,
he pulled the left one free as well and rose to his feet.
And immediately fell. Gasping,
he raised his head and saw Tara’s tall form poised at the edge of the trees.
Unable to stand, he crawled, clawing the mud as he pulled his body
towards the whip. Then, even as his
strength began to return and he stumbled to his feet, he heard his brother shout
and begin to run.
musket—no doubt loaded and primed—was in his hands.
caught the tree branch with one hand and felt the leather of the whip close in
his other. He looked up.
Tara was on the move; the rifle raised, his thumb cocking the hammer. He whispered a quick prayer and let the whip lash out.
It cracked. His brother
shouted and the rifle flew from his hand. Stunned,
the tall Creek stopped. They stared
at one another, and then at the weapon, and then both dove for the ground.
watched silently as the Cherokee of Chota occupied the camp he and the others
had made. He had left Spicewood in
the care of the Creek women who had traveled with them—their lodgings were
close by, but far enough away so as not to be compromised—and had returned
just in time to see it overrun. Tara
and his brother were nowhere to be seen. Neither
was Sharpknife. Perhaps that
explained how this had happened. With
their best and brightest committed to the tall Creek’s unending vendetta
against his English-bred half-brother, there had been no one but weary warriors
left to watch and defend. He
recognized several of the invaders as they passed close by, herding Tara’s
black-faced warriors into a tight group. Smoke was there, as well as the one who
wore the red coat and kept a white wife. As
Copperhead drew near, he withdrew into the shadows of the leaves and frowned.
Those who took matters into their own hands and ignored the voice of God
often had to be broken before they would listen.
This was a time of reckoning for them all.
Tara must be rid of this obsession before it destroyed them and their
shifted and stared through a chink in the leaves, watching as some of the older
Cherokee from the village freed the prisoners.
The powerful one called Arrowkeeper scowled as the ropes fell from his
hands and began to search the fallen bodies until he found and ax and bow.
He hunted for a quiver, filled it with arrows, and then took off at a run
in pursuit of Tara and his brother. The
one called Copperhead followed close behind.
shoved his glasses back on his nose and considered his options.
He had the woman and could just leave, but most likely—if Tara
lived—he would hunt him down. And
there was still the matter of the People, and of their future.
No, he told himself, he would see it through to the end, and if the tall
Creek did survive, he would take it as a
sign that God was truly with him.
whoever God was with, he couldn’t be
world had turned to icy water and cold black mud.
On the banks of the river the two brothers struggled, first one gaining
the upper hand and then the other. Tara
was the stronger but Cara, the more desperate, and his desperation lent him an
almost super-human will that fueled his weakened body and kept him moving when
by all rights he should have lain down and died.
He made a fist and, even though he couldn’t feel his fingers, smashed
it into his brother’s face. Blood
flew, but Tara rolled to his feet quickly.
They squared off again, each breathing heavily.
The tall Creek grinned and inclined his head.
whip was in his hands.
flintlock was in his brother’s.
will do you no good,” Tara panted, sucking air in between his teeth.
“The powder will be wet by now. It
will not fire.”
had his brother in his sights. The
weapon was primed and loaded, though as Tara suggested, it might be damp.
If that was the case it would misfire or explode in his face.
Maybe blind him. He closed his eyes for just a second and then opened them
with a shudder. He had to, but he
didn’t want to kill his brother. “Tara....” he whispered.
“Do not make me do this....”
cannot make you do what it is not in you to do.”
The Creek’s voice fell. When
he spoke it was like a chant. “We
are part of each other, you and I; two hearts but one face,” he touched his
chest and then his forehead, “two minds but one heart.
We need each other, you and I, if only so we can hate....”
barrel did not waver. “Brother....”
hand was held out. It beckoned him. The
voice was quiet and quite sane. “Think
what you do. Will you take the part
of Cain? Will you kill your
brother? Will you chose freely to
bear that mark for the rest of your days?”
He paused. “Would you be branded a murderer?”
are the murderer....”
am your brother.” Tara raised his
other hand. His arms were open; his
palms turned outward in surrender. “Blood
of your blood.”
cocked the hammer, but still hesitated. He
repeated the words. “Blood of my
Tara-Mingo took a step towards him.
Now only a yard separated them. He
met his little brother’s eyes and his own crackled with dark laughter as his
hand reached for the rifle. “Fool.”
jerked back. There was a loud
crack, as if lightning had struck from the heavens.
Tara’s hands flew up towards his face which was covered with spattered
blood. The musket dropped from Cara’s fingers and he staggered
back. His brother was on his feet
and gaping at him; his mouth open and his eyes wild. Blood poured between his fingers, running in a crimson tide
across his hand and down his buckskin shirt.
Cara took a step towards him and he stumbled back.
Tara’s feet hit the water and he hesitated.
Then slowly...almost deliberately...he pitched backwards.
The thin skin of ice that covered the river shattered and he disappeared
beneath the black waves.
remained frozen to the spot, unable to move.
He stared at his hands which were crimson with his brother’s blood.
He gazed at the water and then something broke in him and he fell to his
Between the two of them, blood had only been for bleeding.
and Arrowkeeper found him sometime later lying on the riverbank, shivering and
senseless. They wrapped him in warm woolen blankets and carried him back
to where they had left Alexander and tended to them both.
Late in the evening, as the moon began to rise, bathing the land and the
water with its silver light, Copperhead departed.
It was his intention to find word of the women and bring it back to them.
His wife was safe, he knew, sequestered in the caves with Cornbeater and
their son, but of Cherry and Spicewood they had had no word.
An hour or so later Cara awakened, trembling with shock and sweat.
Arrowkeeper caught him and held him tightly until the fit had passed;
then they talked and decided they should follow their friend.
Alexander, when he awoke, agreed. He
would be no worse for walking, he said, and Galunadi’s medicine would be
needed to make him better. So the
two tall men placed him between them and together, the trio began the long trek
back to Chota. Alexander and
Arrowkeeper spoke softly for a few minutes before falling silent, but Cara said
not a word. Instead he continued to
glance back over his shoulder, towards the river, as though he had unfinished
business at the water’s edge.
night was nearly gone before they met up with their friend again.
Their journey had been without incident.
They had seen no one, and Cara had wondered more than once what had
become of Sharpknife and the young boy he had seen beneath the trees.
Had Tara sent them back to the camp?
Had they been watching when the Cherokee attacked, and fled before they
could be caught? Perhaps they had
met with James Harper and even now were plotting their revenge.
Or perhaps the aathollo had left the boy with the metizo and walked even
now by the river’s side, searching for a sign of his dark leader.
He sighed at the memory of his brother’s bloody body being swallowed by
the black waves. It beckoned to him
and he knew, sooner or later, that he would have to answer the call. Once
Alexander was safe; once the women had been found, he would have to go back.
had to know for certain.
head came up at the tall Creek’s voice. Arrowkeeper
caught his eye and nodded towards the space before them.
The trees had given way to a path that led to a sheltered glade where a
great fire burned. An acrid scent
filled the air; as if meat had been passed too many times over a flame.
He looked and saw Copperhead advancing towards them.
The weary native passed a hand over his face and then stared hard at
Alec. The Scot was only half-aware of what went on about him and
missed the rueful look. Cara
didn’t and his heart went cold.
something, Alec stirred and lifted his head.
He had been walking, for the last hour or so, somewhere between
consciousness and that blessed realm of forgetfulness from which all men
hesitate to roam. His shoulder burned like the fires of Hell and his body was
wracked with fever and pain. He was
not certain it was worth the fight to live.
Only one thing had driven him on; one and one alone.
met the Cherokee’s deep brown eyes. “Spicewood?”
native in the deep red coat drew abreast him.
laid his hand gently on Alec’s bandaged shoulder.
“We have found her,” he said at last.
became very still. For a minute they feared he would collapse, but then—even
though he had lost a great deal of blood and was very weak—fear awakened in
him an inflexible strength. He
shook off his friends’ hands and stood on his own.
“Tak’ me tae her,” he said quietly.
Alexander. It is best if you do
Best fur who?” The wounded
man was breathing hard. “Fur me,
ur fur ye?
I will see her an’ I dare any ain tae try tae stoop me!”
knew it had to be worse than bad. The
grief in the Cherokee’s eyes was beyond expression.
He could not imagine what horrors he had witnessed.
“Alec,” he began, “perhaps it would be best— ”
Scot exploded and, moving faster than seemed possible for a man who seconds
before had been nearly incapacitated, he grabbed Arrowkeeper’s knife and
brandished it. “She isnae dead!
Dinnae tell me thot. I
wiltnae believe ye!”
Copperhead reached for him, but reared back as the knife nicked his
Cara was outraged. “Control
keep awa’ frae me!” His dark brown eyes were wild.
His voice had risen in pitch until it was high and shrill as a woman’s.
He trembled from head to foot. “Ye aur nae gaun tae stoop me— ”
reached for his wrist and, ignoring the knife, began to speak to him calmly,
seeking to draw his attention while Copperhead circled around.
“Alexander. This will not
help your wife. Alexander,
listen to me— ”
Alec was wise to them, he flipped the knife over so the handle was up and
pivoting, brought it up under Copperhead’s jaw knocking him momentarily
senseless. Then he shoved him
towards the tall Creek and began to run. Cara
started to pursue him, but Arrowkeeper caught his arm and held him back.
“No, Cara. Let him go.”
I can catch him....”
could. But the harm done in holding
him back can be no worse than that done by letting him go.”
staggered to his feet. “No man
should have to see that.” He
shuddered and then he met Arrowkeeper’s dark stare and remembered the way the
tall man’s wife had perished. “I
am sorry. I forgot.” He
sighed. “In this, you will be
able to help him more than either of us.”
is dead then?” Cara whispered.
as the Cherokee nodded a horrified cry; a scream of disbelief and unendurable
loss rent the air. Copperhead closed his eyes.
He had hoped to spare his friend; to leave him with his memories, but it
was not to be. Now all Alexander
would have to hold onto was the image of a charred corpse; a shapeless thing
without a face he once had loved.
was just after dawn. Alec had collapsed and fallen into a fevered sleep, but even
that brought the devastated Scot no rest. He
continued to toss and turn like one in torment and cried out often, reaching for
something he would never find again. Finally
one of the warriors who had training in herbs had had to drug him.
Copperhead and Arrowkeeper had left, returning to the village to bring
Cornbeater and some of the other women so they could attend to the bodies and
begin the mourning rituals that would hasten the departed spirits on their
journey to the next world. Smoke
remained in the temporary camp as well as Nighthawk.
They kept watch over both the wounded and the dead.
Cara sat motionless in the center of the camp near the fire, staring at
Cherry’s still form. She had been
found near Spicewood and the others; pale and weak from loss of blood. Someone had struck her so hard a jagged cut had opened
beneath her hair at the base of her neck. She
was fortunate to be alive. He
reached out and took her hand in his and felt a tear trail down his cheek.
wish I could have loved you as you wanted,” he whispered.
“I wish....” Cara closed
his eyes and thought of his father, with whom he had never really made any sort
of peace, and of his brother, whom he had killed.
...of Rachel, left behind without so much as a goodbye.
started and looked down. Cherry’s fingers were curled about his and her black eyes
were open, if unfocused.
brushed her forehead with his lips. “Shh,
lie still. You most likely have a concussion. You should not try to rise— ”
had shifted and raised up on one elbow. Her
dark eyes looked around with alarm. When
she saw no one but wounded warriors laying about her, she whispered,
hesitated. He did not know if it
was wise to tell her. She was so weak. “I
should get you some water.”
started to rise, but she caught his hand. “Cara?”
“She’s...dead, isn’t she?”
sat back down. Words would not
come. Finally he nodded as another
tear fell. He had helped to lift
Alec and to bear him away. He had
grew even paler as she lay back down. Her
fingers gripped his hard. She was
silent for a long time as the tears fell. Then
she stared at him and finally said, “And your brother?”
bit his lip. Then he looked away.
she asked. And then, “Cara,
was silent a moment. “I shot him, Cherry. He
fell in the water. I
didn’t....” He drew a deep
breath. “Copperhead and
Arrowkeeper came. Alec was wounded. You....” He
shuddered at the image of his brother’s corpse lying on the riverbank; at the
thought of buzzards and wolves.... “I
left him there.”
have not left him. You need to go back.”
turned back to meet her eyes. “What?”
need to go back; to bury him.” She
blinked slowly. “You must let him
shook his head. “No.”
“Yes. He is still here,” she touched his chest, “in your heart. He was your brother.”
was a monster— ”
your brother first.” Cherry frowned. It
was not easy for her to say. She
would have been happy to leave Tara-Mingo in the cold water; for his flesh to
rot and feed the fishes and birds, but she knew for the man she loved, this
could not be. If he did not care
for his own, it would haunt him eternally.
“Love does not have to make sense,” she blinked.
“It hopes where there is no hope.”
stared at her. “Cherry....”
trailed down her soiled cheeks. “Spicewood
is avenged. She will rest. You will not if you do
not do this thing. You must say
goodbye to your brother,” she pulled her fingers out of his and turned away,
“even as I have said goodbye to you.”
Cara frowned. He reached for
her. “You are not— ”
will not die, but I bear a wound which will never heal.”
She looked back. “Much as you. When
I am well I will go away....”
He shook his head. “You can’t— ”
must.” She reached up to touch
his cheek. “You cannot love me.
Spicewood is dead. There is
nothing and no one for me here anymore.”
is truth. And now, you must go.”
caught her hand. “I won’t leave
laughed gently. “You were never with me, Cara-Mingo.
And I do not need you anymore. I
will make my own way.” She paused
and her young face grew sober. “But
he needs you.
Go find your brother. Bury
him. Sing for him.”
shrank back as she withdrew her hand from his.
“Sing for him?
I killed him.”
nodded. “And that
is why you must sing.”
see, Cara,” she said as sleep began to call once again.
“I know you better than you know yourself.
You may not understand now,” she whispered, “but you will.”
He sat for a moment in silence, staring at her quiet form, and then he
leaned down and kissed her forehead. Then
he crossed her hands on her chest and pulled the blanket over them and rose to
much loss; so much grief—too much almost for him to bear, and all because of
his brother. And yet, she said to
sing for him.
remained in the camp for some time, walking and thinking; brooding on Cherry’s
words. Then, just as the sun topped
the green hills that surrounded them and its rays turned the wintry world to
gold, he made up his mind. He
waited until Nighthawk’s patrol took the Creek warrior to the far side of the
clearing and then he went. The air
was crisp and bracing. The grass
crunched beneath his feet as he did. He
had girded himself both with weapons and warm clothes, but he felt naked; cold
as the ice that crusted the river and dripped from the leaves.
What would he find?
what would he do when he found it?
The journey was shorter than the one the day before since there was no need to
back or conceal his movements. He
traveled quickly and soon found himself on the river-bank.
The dawning light made it a ribbon of fire.
He stood a moment, staring at it, relishing the warmth of the sun’s
rays on his cold skin, but tensed when something alerted him to the fact that he
was not alone. A brace of trees
loomed close to his right, painted black by the rising shadows of the morning. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of them move.
He gasped and pivoted, expecting to see his brother, alive and newly
risen from his watery grave. But it was not Tara. It
was Sharpknife. The Creek aathollo
sneered and raised his knife.
is he?” he demanded.
remained very still. “Where is who?”
not play games, half-breed.” Sharpknife’s
breath came in harsh gasps, as though he was winded.
“You know who.”
glanced from side to side. It
seemed the other man was alone. “Oh,
you mean my brother?”
Creek witch shifted forward into the light.
His chest was smeared with blood. He
had seen fighting somewhere during the night.
Perhaps he had been near the camp
when it was over-run. If so he
would be out for revenge.
Tara. You will take me to him.”
stood his ground. He had not come unarmed, but at the moment his whip was
locked on his belt beneath his heavy leather coat, as was his hunting knife.
All he had at hand was the slender blade in his boot.
He hid his smile. Old habits
died hard. The black dagger of
Alec’s Highland ancestors had always traveled with the Scot even though he had
adopted native clothes. Somehow it
had seemed appropriate to ‘borrow’ it for this journey.
Still, he would have to move fast if he was to palm it before the other
man’s knife could slice his throat. He
took a step back. “I am afraid I
cannot do that.”
followed, shifting his weapon so it was battle-ready.
“Where is he?”
bent and reached for the dagger. “Where
you are soon to follow. In Hell.”
aathollo growled and bowled into him before he could draw it.
Cara barely shifted out of the way and began to roll just as his
enemy’s knife sliced the air where he had been.
He came to his feet about a yard away.
Sharpknife stepped towards him, feinted to his left, and then jabbed to
the right and managed to nick his hand. Cara
pressed his fingers to the wound and winced.
As he backed away, his foot seemed to catch on one of the upraised roots
of the tree and he stumbled and fell to the ground.
The aathollo smiled and shifted the knife to his other hand and reached
for his tomahawk. As he did
Cara’s foot shot out and caught his ankle and tripped him so he fell to the
ground. Within a second the Cherokee was on top of him.
Sharpknife growled again and brought his fist up under Cara’s chin,
stunning him. Then he gripped the
slender man’s shoulders and rolled him over, gaining the upper hand.
As he did a small figure unexpectedly burst from the shelter of the trees
crying something in Creek and waving his hands.
attention was diverted. He looked
up. “Fofchokba,” he called, “keep away. You must not— ”
Creek froze. His eyes went wide and
he looked down. Cara had pulled the
concealed dagger from his boot and plunged it deep into the center of one of the
mystic symbols that coated Sharpknife’s deep coppery chest.
The aathollo gasped. Blood
bubbled up and ran from his lips even as the dark demented light that was in his
eyes dimmed. He gave a strangled
cry and fell back to the cold hard earth.
extricated himself and rose trembling to his feet.
He looked toward the trees. The
boy stood there, highlighted by the growing light.
Tears ran down his cheeks as he raised his fists in anger.
Their eyes met briefly and then he was gone.
stood a moment longer and then fell to his knees and placed his head on the cold
ground. Breathing hard he remained
still as death for several minutes, and then he rose again and began to stumble
along the river’s edge looking for his brother.
found him about a mile downstream; his corpse half-washed up on the shore.
He knelt beside him and placed his hand on his flesh and found him cold.
He put his cheek to his lips and felt no breath.
The jagged wound in his brother’s shoulder was thick with black mud and
blood that was no longer running red. Cara
staggered to his feet and simply stared at him; both relieved and horrified by
what he had done.
brother.... Tara was dead.
had killed blood.
turned away and gazed at the glistening waves for a long time.
What he had done was unforgivable by Cherokee law—killing someone of
his own clan, and a close relative at that—and yet, Menewa had pronounced Tara
an exile—no longer Cherokee. He
would be forgiven. Even praised.
looked back at his brother’s body. Their
uncle’s decree had severed him from the Cherokee, but nothing could sever the
ties that bound them; not even death. He
fell to the grass and the tears began to fall; not for his brother—not even
for himself—but for all they had never been and what each of them had lost.
later, his hands caked with blood and black mud, he lowered Tara’s body into
the shallow grave he had dug and pushed the wet earth over him, last of all
covering his face. As he did, the rising sun kissed the cold flesh; warming it
so it almost seemed alive. Cara shuddered.
he rocked back on his heels and began to sing.
Some time later, Copperhead found him sitting by the water’s edge,
nearly frozen through. He knelt
beside him and placed his hand on his shoulder.
The shallow grave at the river’s edge told the story.
He did not have to.
he said at last. “You must come away. It
is time to go home.”
other man was quiet for a moment. Then
he stirred. “Not Cara,” he said at last.
What do you mean, not ‘Cara?”
friend shifted and rose to his feet slowly.
His dark brown eyes were haunted. “There
is only one now.
Kamassa's Camp, 1776
from that day to this, that had been his name.
He had never gone by Cara again. It
seemed with his brother’s death, a chapter in his life had closed.
Alexander and Cherry both healed, at least outwardly, but within a year,
they were gone. The Scot returned
to his ancestral home on the isle of Bute.
He had written a few times, but soon the ocean between them swelled and
swallowed him, and it was as if he had never been. And Cherry.... Dear
Cherry traveled with Cornbeater to the village of her father’s mother and
never returned. He had no idea if
she was living or dead. Copperhead
and Miriam remained in Chota a bit longer.
Adohi grew straight and tall and a sister was born, but soon after her
birth a rider had come with a summons. Miriam’s
father’s death had left her an heiress, and she had to claim what by right was
hers or lose it. The family
journeyed to Pennsylvania and was gone many years.
Arrowkeeper came and went, and then went and did not come.
And now he knew why. The
tall Creek had found meaning in being a father to his sister’s adopted son; to
stood now glaring at him down the sight of his weapon.
drew a deep breath. He closed his eyes deliberately and then opened them.
“Now, Kamassa,” he said, spreading his hands wide, “if you wish to
kill me you may do so.”
boy’s brow was furrowed and he was shaking.
He tossed his head and his black hair flew in the wind.
“It is not true.”
is.” His uncle laughed gently.
“If you kill me, it must be in spite
of that truth.”
whispered, “You speak as if he was a monster....”
boy’s finger was on the hammer. He
began to pull it back, but then released it and let the weapon fall to his side.
There were tears in his eyes. “Then
what am I?”
hid his smile. “Very young,
Kamassa. Very young.”
shook his head. “No, if he was evil; I am evil.
The sins of the father, the talking leaves say, come to their sons.”
He touched his chest with his hand.
“He was my father.”
frowned. Policha had done his work
well. “The words you have heard
have been twisted by a madman to his own end.
Yes, you are Tara’s son; as I am my
father’s son. But Kamassa, I am not
could see the boy struggling to grasp his words.
I choose not to be.” He took a
step towards him. “You can choose
the same. You can be so many
things. You have a gift....”
boy stumbled as he turned away. “
I have nothing; I am nothing. My
visions are not true.” He dropped
the flintlock and took a step towards the water as if he desired to vanish
beneath the waves as his father had done all those years ago.
“My life means nothing....”
reached for him, but jerked back at the sound of a shot.
He started to turn but then saw the boy grasp his shoulder.
Kamassa staggered back and then, pivoted and fell.
As his brother’s son struck the surface of the water he meant to go to
him, but the muzzle of a pistol pressed against his ear stopped him.
He drew a breath as James McInnery’s voice, quiet and commanding, spoke
from close behind.
“But his death will mean so much.”
Continued in Nineteen -