Blood Was Only For Bleeding

Chapter eleven

  

            “The marriage ceremony is tomorrow, you know.”

            The ebon head nodded.  “So it is.”

            “Everything is as it was?  Nothing has changed?” 

            “Everything is in order.”  The tall native turned and fixed his companion with his keen black eyes.  “The day will dawn.  The celebration will continue into the night.  They will feast and dance and grow weary.  And the day after that....”

            “Yes.”  The slender sandy-haired man used the tail of his embroidered hunting shirt to polish his wire-rimmed glasses, and then repositioned them on his slender nose. “And the day after that will dawn on a very different kind of celebration.  The plan is good.  We will catch them unawares.”

            The native laughed and shook the hawk feathers in his hair.  He glanced at the pale man beside him, still finding it hard to believe that his heritage was Creek.  “Sharpknife was right about you.  Though you do not look it; your heart is red.”

            “ ‘A wise man’s eyes are in his head,’ ” James Harper smiled, “and he uses them to see the truth.” 

Tara-Mingo nodded. “With the information you have brought us, we cannot fail.”  He closed his fingers in a fist and brought it up before his face.  “Using the trust my brother and his white Scottish friend have in you has served us well. ”

            The slender man’s eyes narrowed.  “Aren’t you forgetting, my friend, how it was my white blood that paved the way for me to treat with Colonel Foxwell?  I don’t believe you could have accomplished this without me.  You were dead in the water when I came.”  He tossed his head and ran a hand through his short hair.  “He doesn’t trust you.  And he disdains Sharpknife.”

            “Foxwell wants only one thing, which we will give him,” the Creek’s predatory eyes gleamed as he contemplated the events unfolding even as they spoke, and his own insatiable hunger that had fueled them, “and then we will take it away.”  He coiled the whip he held in his hand and hooked it on his beaded belt.  “You have not said what you want, Harper.  What is your reward?”

            James Harper lifted his glasses and passed a hand before his eyes.  When he looked up, the hazel orbs were lit by an inner fire.  “Reward?  My reward comes from doing what is right.  The white man doesn’t belong in this place.  This is our Promised Land; yours and mine.  It belongs to our people.”  He breathed deeply of the morning air and then expelled the breath slowly.  “ ‘Be ye strong therefore and let not your hands be weak; for your work shall be rewarded.’  My reward will come later, Tara-Mingo, in another place; in another life.”  His mood was pensive.  “Let that be between me and my God.”

            The tall muscular native frowned.  Shrewd as the fox and crazed as a rabid beast was this one.  “There is nothing else you desire?”

            James Harper fingered his glasses and then he smiled.  “Well, there is that dark-eyed filly who’s getting married tomorrow.  But I suppose her husband might object if I was to whisk her away—providing he’s still alive at the end of the day.”

“You speak of the Cherokee woman, Spicewood?”

“Aye, that’s her name.”  The sandy-haired man drew a breath.  “Daughter of the older man who came back with your brother.”

Tara did not move. Even so his presence seemed to grow more menacing.  “She is mine, Harper. You will not mention her again.  And you will not touch her.”

The slight man lifted his hands and took a step back.  “I didn’t know you had staked a prior claim.  Hands off, it is. She’s all yours.”  His hazel eyes narrowed to slits as the renegade Creek nodded once and then turned away, moving to join a band of ten or so warriors who had only just returned with news of Arrowkeeper and Sharpknife’s latest raids.  “For as long as you can keep her, you scurrilous bastard,” he added as he fingered the small flintlock pistol concealed inside his hunting shirt.  

“And for as long as I have need of you.”

 

                                                                                ###

 

“I am sorry I cannot be here, Alexander.”  Copperhead said.  “If there was a choice....”

Alec was sitting on the lodge floor.  He looked up.  The other man remained on the threshold, as if uncertain of his welcome.  “I ken.  Truly, I dae.”

            “Menewa makes camp nearby.  I must go and— ”

            Laying the wooden flute he had been fingering on the hard earth, the Scot rose to his feet.  “Ye moost dae whot ye moost.”  He crossed to his friend and placed his hand on the shoulder of his deep-red coat.  “Dae ye fear danger then?”

            The Cherokee’s smile was rueful.  “So long as one lives there is danger.  Only with death comes lasting security.”

            Alec ran a hand through the thick black curls that brushed his bare shoulders.  “Noo thaur’s a cheerin’ thooght....”

            “I am sorry.”  Copperhead sighed.  “I do not come to bring sadness on the eve of your marriage.  I come to bring something else....” The handsome native paused.  “Though now that I see you, the gift may not be quite so appropriate as I first believed.”

            The Scot grinned.  He stepped back and turned in a tight circle, showing off his new attire.  He was wearing his usual soft buckskin trousers, but over the top had added a breech-cloth.  His feet were shod in moccasins instead of boots.  His chest was bare; his muscular arms, as well as his neck, encircled with silver, and there were fine pheasant feathers decorating his hair.  His English clothes lay on his bed, with the plaid sash topping off the pile.  “Dae I looks like a natife?”

            His friend took a moment to size him up.  He shook his head and frowned.  “While I lived with the old man in Pennsylvania, there were many parties.  Full-blooded white men dressed just so on certain occasions, and they looked more at ease....”

            Alec groaned.  “Sae ye aur sayin’ I looks like I am gaun tae a masque?”

            “You look uncomfortable, Alexander.  Incomplete.”  Copperhead crossed the room and picked up his tartan sash.  He brought it to him.  With a smile he wrapped it about his friend’s chest and then fastened the silver thistle brooch at his shoulder.

            “Whot’s this then?”

            The Cherokee stepped back and nodded.  “Part of who you are.  Do not try to deny it.”

            “Boot fur Spicewood, I woulds be all Cherokee....”

            “She did not fall in love with a man who is all Cherokee.  There were more than enough for her to do so. She picked you.” Copperhead laughed. “Be yourself, Alexander.”

            The Scot fingered the plaid that was his family’s pride and then glanced up, his eyes misting.  “I thank ye....”  He fell silent.  Cara had entered the lodge carrying a cumbersome bundle in his arms.  He was still limping.  Stepping towards him, Alec asked, “Aur ye all richt, mon?  Shoulds ye be on yer feet sae soon?”

            Cara-Mingo crossed to the bed and laid the bundle down.  Then he sat beside it and reached down to rub the muscles in his left calf.  “I am fine,” he smiled.  “Near a week’s rest has put me right.”

            “Along with Cherry’s ministrations,” Copperhead added quietly.

            Cara caught the wicked gleam in the dark brown eyes.  He sighed.  “Yes, well...she is very...attentive.”

            The Scot laughed.  “She’d mak’ a bonny guidwife, Cara.  Ye cannae pine all yer life lang fur thot pure wee thing in Englain’.  Ur dae ye intend tae gae back someday?”

            “No.”  He shook his dark head.  “And I can’t—I won’t ask her to come here.  Rachel is not made of the stuff of a frontier wife.  She deserves finer things.  Her upper-class upbringing and....”  He fell silent as his eyes came to rest on his Cherokee friend.  “Copperhead, I apologize.  I meant no....”

            The dark eyes were no longer amused.  “Perhaps you underestimate this woman you say you love, Cara-Mingo.”

            Alec looked from one to the other.  He drew a quick breath and then clapped his hands together, startling them both.  “Sae whot is in yon package?”

            Cara laid his hand on the bulky blanket that was bound with leather thongs. “A present.  From Copperhead and me.”

            The Scot looked bewildered.  “A present?  Fur th’ weddin’, ye mean?”

            “No.”  He rose and, still favoring his left leg, limped to his friend’s side.  “No.  Just for you.  For our friend on the eve of his marriage—‘tae mark his passage frae th’ worl’ o’ bachelors’.”  Cara laughed. 

            Alec did too, and then he crossed to the bed and stared at the bundle.  A moment later he turned back towards the two men.  “An’ whot is it, then?”

            Cara-Mingo shrugged.  “You must find out for yourself.”

            Alec hesitated, chewing the inside of his lip.  He glanced from the one of them to the other.  “Thaur isnae a wee beastie waitin’ tae ginger it, is thaur?”

            The Cherokee snorted.  Ginger it?”

            “Pop out, you mean?”  Cara laughed long and hard.  When he sobered, his face was innocence itself.  “Would we do that?”

            Copperhead shrugged and said, “Perhaps.”

            Cara elbowed him.  “Shh, you’ll give it away.”

            The native sighed dramatically.   “Soon all will know.”  There was resignation in his tone.  “Open it, Alexander.”

            “Whatever aur ye twa oop tae?”  The Scot laid his hand on the bundle and began to pull the ties.  As he unrolled it, a long wooden tube resembling his hand-carved flute flopped onto the bed’s bear-skin covering.  He stopped, stunned.  It was a chanter with eight finger-holes.  His eyes were moist when he lifted them to his friend’s faces.  “Whaur in all th’ wilderness....” he began.

            Cara was grinning from ear to ear.  “Where?  From a Major Patterson who was passing through the area some time ago.  I am afraid he rather over-estimated his skill at cards.”   He took a step towards his friend.  “We  kept them until now.  I remembered, ” he laid his hand on the Scot’s shoulder, “that you once said your grandfather had taught you how to play, and that you had to leave your own instrument in Scotland.”

“Aye,” the Scot swallowed over the enormity of emotion that threatened to choke him. “I feel incomplete withou’ them.”

            Copperhead agreed.  “As you are without your sash.”

            Alec was on the move again, freeing the animal skin bag which held the air that would force the blessed drone from the rough cloth.  He laid his hand reverently on it.  “Th’ pipes,” he breathed.  ‘It has indeed been a lang time.  They aur nae allawed at hom’.  Mah grandfaither coulds hae been imprisoned....”

            “You have nothing to fear in the Colonies,” Cara said softly.

            “Unless it be the Cherokee.”  Both men turned to look at the brown-haired native. Copperhead’s arms were folded and his face registered a mild form of disgust.  “I suppose this means that now you will have to play them.”

“Aye, tae accompany thot caterwaulin’ ye Cherokees call singin’,” Alec shot back without pause, “thot I will.”

            The three friends laughed long together.  They sat and talked quietly until the sun had dipped below the banks of green trees that surrounded the sleepy village.  As darkness claimed the land, Copperhead rose.  He said goodbye to Alexander, wishing him and his bride all happiness, and then ducked out the door.  A moment later Cara followed him, and as he did, the soft drone of the bagpipes filled the air. 

            Leaving the Scot to his pleasure, Cara-Mingo walked a little way with his full-blooded Cherokee friend. “You will tell Menewa what you overheard while I was unconscious?”

            “Yes.  And if the news he brings is what we feared,” Copperhead stopped and turned to meet his eyes, “then we will have to move against your brother.  Perhaps as soon as the day after tomorrow.”

            Cara glanced back at the lodge and sighed as the soft sounds of his father’s boyhood home were borne to him by a New World breeze.  “Should they postpone the marriage ceremony?”

            His friend shook his head.  “Let them have their joy.  Let tomorrow be a day of celebration.”  He paused and his jaw tightened.  “Who knows what the next day—or the next week may bring.”

            “Good evening, you two.”

            The Cherokee pivoted, concerned that he had not sensed the stranger’s approach.  As he watched, James Harper emerged from the shadows of the trees.  He nodded a greeting, careful to control his reaction.  The day he had returned, half-carrying and half- dragging the injured Cara-Mingo, this man had been in the village—come at the invitation of the Scot who sat playing the pipes, even now unaware of the momentous events unfolding about them.  His lips formed a forced half-smile as he glanced at Cara-Mingo and wondered once again if he should have made him aware of his suspicions.  Still, the possession of a slight accent was hardly enough to condemn a man; most traders, settlers and soldiers had one since many of them had come from the Old World, and most had a similar sound.  And yet, the fact that this one had appeared on the very day he had overheard the conversation between the Creek, Sharpknife, and the mystery man left him uneasy.  He would make Menewa aware of it, now that he had returned, and he would let the chief decide.  Then, if necessary, he would suggest to Cara-Mingo that his pale friend was not all he seemed.

            “James.”  Cara smiled and stepped forward to take his hand.  “How are you?”

            “Whatever is that sound?”  The thin man frowned as he clasped it.  “By all the Saints and their followers, is that the pipes?”

            “Or something dying,” the Cherokee remarked dryly.

            Cara jabbed his friend’s arm.  “You had best go say goodbye to your wife and son, and leave Alec to his own idea of Heaven.”  He laughed and then sobered.  “I am sorry you will miss the wedding.”

            Copperhead winced as the Scot gained confidence on the instrument and the wail of the pipes intensified  “Before this,” he said as he inclined his brown head towards the lodge, “I was too.  But you are right; Miriam is waiting.”  He laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder and stared into his face, growing sober.  “Be like the turkey,” he advised him softly.

            Cara placed his hand over his friend’s.  “I know.  Wary and wise; with eyes in the back of my head.”

            The Cherokee nodded.  “Harper,” he said as he nodded towards the stranger.  “You are staying for the ceremony?”

            “I wouldn’t miss it,” the young man grinned. “Though I’ll have to be leaving before the festivities come to an end.  I have business with a man elsewhere.”

            Copperhead stared long and hard at him.  “Business?”

            “Family business.”

            Cara looked from one of them to the other.  “Copperhead, is something wrong?”

            The Cherokee shook himself.  “Wary and wise, Cara-Mingo.   Do not forget even in the midst of celebration to be on guard.”  He pivoted to go and then turned back, a question on his lips.  “Is there any word you would have me carry to your uncle?”

            Cara looked chagrinned.  He shook his dark head.  “Just promise me you will not let him know I was bested by a turkey.”

            Copperhead fingered the single gobbler feather which dangled in Cara’s shining black hair.  “Is that the reason for this?”

            Cara-Mingo nodded.  “A reminder.”  He smiled.  “That I am not yet so wise nor so wary as I should be.”

            The Cherokee laughed.  “The Creator keep you safe and well until we meet again,  my friend.”  He nodded to the other man.  “Harper.”

            “Pleasant journey, Copperhead,” the other man replied.  “I hope the new day brings all you expect, and more.”

            As the brown-haired native moved towards his own home,  James Harper turned towards the lodge Cara shared with the Scotsman.  He stood quite still, listening to the even drone of the pipes and then laid his hand on the other man’s shoulder.  A moment later he asked with a grin, “And do you suppose he knows ‘After the Battle?’ ”

 

                                                                                                    ###

 

The day dawned bright and beautiful and full of promise as if nature either chose to overlook, or paid no heed to the petty schemes of a few evil men.  The late summer sun, rising in glory, transformed the meandering stream that flowed near the Cherokee village  to pure gold as the young couple came to rest beside it.  Cara, along with several male members of Spicewood’s clan, stood with them as they anxiously awaited the reappearance of the tribe’s priest.  The older man had gone into the heart of the woods nearby to pluck two roots from the ground and hold them in his hand.  Alone and facing east, he would ask the Creator whether the bride and groom were intended for one another, and whether they would live a long and happy life together.  He would judge this by the action of the roots.  If they drew together in his hand, the omen was good.  If they withered, or touched but did not remain conjoined, the omen was bad and the marriage would be forbidden.

Cara cleared his throat and shifted his feet, at war with himself.  His English upbringing demanded he scoff at such superstitions, but the blood that flowed the strongest in his veins—his mother’s Cherokee blood—compelled him to wait with bated breath for the Holy Man’s return.

Would these two disparate sides ever find peace within him?

He heaved an audible sigh just as the priest emerged, appearing as if by magic from the shadowed embrace of the trees.  The couple and their friends—as well as those who had followed from the village—fell silent, awaiting his word.  The Holy Man paused dramatically and lifted his aged arm above his head so a beam of bright white light fell upon his open palm. In it were the two roots; a sure sign that the reading had been good.   Alec whooped and pulled Spicewood close and kissed her.  A moment later the women came between them.  They laughed and pushed him away and, catching her hand, drew the beautiful girl from his side.  She grinned and reached out towards him as the older married women, including Copperhead’s wife Miriam, playfully shoved her towards the trail. 

Cara grinned.  They would see each other soon, but first Spicewood would be conducted to one side of the town and Alexander to the other, there to feast and make their preparations in separate lodges.  After they had eaten and rested, they would be clothed by members of their own clan, and then escorted to the great council house where the solemn ceremony would take place in front of the entire village.  There the priest would speak a few words, and their own actions would bind them together forever in the eyes of God.

He placed his arm about his friend’s shoulders and the two of them walked in silence  back towards the lodge they shared, which would now be Cara’s alone.  The Scot was wearing his clan sash over a bright white hunting shirt.  He still wore the buckskins and breech-cloth, and the pheasant feathers had a place of honor in his curly black hair.  He had chosen the best of both worlds and seemed to be at peace. 

As he longed to be.

            Cara’s dark head came up just as Cherry crossed in front of them, trailing after the women’s party.  She met his eyes briefly.  He broke away from Alec and attempted to speak to her, but she avoided him and ran away.  The day before he had talked to her and she had done the same thing; run from him in tears.  He regretted now the words he had spoken, even though they had been necessary, and regretted even more the fact that he could not give her what she desired.  Still, leading her on would have been unconscionable.  Though he thought she was sweet—and would have made any man a wonderful mate—his heart belonged to another.  Remembering Copperhead’s words, and considering his friend’s blessed union, he wondered if perhaps he had not been wrong.  Perhaps he should allow Rachel to make her own choice after all.

            “A sovereign for your thoughts, Cara.”

He looked up.  Alec had moved away with the other men and James Harper now stood at his side.  The slender young man was dressed in Cherokee attire in honor of the occasion.  Cara grinned.

He still didn’t look like a native.

James’ hazel eyes followed the departure of the well-built girl.  “She’s a fine looking colleen, Cara-Mingo.”

            “What?”  Cara’s gaze followed his.  “Oh, Cherry?  Yes, she’s lovely.”

            “I take it, she’s taken a fancy to you?”

            He shook his head.  “I am afraid her feelings run a little deeper than a ‘fancy’.”

            James shrugged.  “I wouldn’t worry about it too much.  Life is unpredictable at best. By this time tomorrow, everything could be different.”  He paused as he shifted his glasses on his narrow nose.  “ ‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ ”  He nodded once and then pushed past him to join a group of men as they made their way towards the lodge where Alexander waited.

            Cara frowned.  Heavy words, with a portent of doom.  Much as Copperhead had spoken.

Now what was that all about?

 

                                                                                    ###

 

            The married men of the village occupied one side of the great council house; the married women the other.  They remained still, their lined faces stern as if they went to battle, but every once in a while one of them would laugh or smile, giving lie to the pretense of the war.  When they did, another in the line would poke or scold them, reminding them of the solemnity of the occasion—and then they too would smile as they turned away.

At a prearranged signal the priest led Alexander Calum MacKirdy in and left him standing with his clansmen at one end of the great open space in the center of the council house.  Since his own mother could not stand with him, the oldest mother of the clan he shared with Cara-Mingo and Star took her place.  Her name was Talasgewi or Mouse, and she presented him with a fine leg of venison and a beautiful multi-colored wool blanket for his bride.  On the other side of the space Cornbeater, as elder mother of Spicewood’s clan, handed her an ear of corn and a similar blanket.  The young couple was then escorted by the women to the sacred fire at the heart of the chamber and there they exchanged the corn and the venison, and then joined their blankets together to symbolize their union.  Alexander beamed as Spicewood slipped her brown arm about his waist, and he kissed her for the first time as his ‘guidwife’.

            As was traditional, the young couple left the ceremony alone and headed for the lodge that Alexander had built along with help from his wife’s father and his friends, and as they did, the soft sound of the pipes accompanied them.  The Scot turned and saw his friend Cara, whom he had noticed had left the ceremony early, standing alone on a nearby rise.  It seemed his grandfather had taught him to ‘skell oot th’ music divine’ as well.  He grinned and waved as the strains of ‘Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair,’ flowed on the warm breeze towards them.  Spicewood laughed and did the same. 

For them, the joy of the day would be found privately in each others arms, but for the town and for their friends, the celebration was just beginning and it would wear long into the night as they danced and sang, ate and drank, and thanked the Creator for this new beginning.

 

                                                                                    ###

 

            Later that day, as the dying rays of the sun painted the murmuring stream the color of blood once again, James Harper prepared to leave the Cherokee village.  At its edge he stopped and turned back.  He closed his eyes as regret washed over him.  It was a pity, he thought to himself, that all too often—with humanity—you had to be cruel to be kind.  So it would be with these people.  So it had been with the whites who had raised him.  Before he left Virginia, he had tried to make Andrew Harper see reason, but his foster-father had refused.  And in refusing, he had brought the wrath of God down upon his head.             It seemed it was both his blessing and his curse to be the instrument of the Almighty’s fury.  After the elder Harper had struck him and attempted to have him locked away, he had known.  He had broken free of the men his surrogate father had handed him over to, and returned to the plantation to face him.  He had informed him that trouble followed sin as surely as a fever followed chill, and then he had set the house—and the old man—on fire.

As Andrew Harper had said upon more than one occasion, there was a purpose to each life created, and he, James Harper—Policha, or Preacher to his Creek brothers—had been placed on this earth for a grand one. 

            Tomorrow, it began.

            He drew a deep breath and chewed the inside of his lip.  There was only one thing left to do before it could.

            Figure out how to spirit Cara-Mingo away.

 

                                                                                              ###

 

            A gentle rain fell to the ground, causing a wraithlike mist to rise from the damp grass where the two women walked.  Cherry tossed her long black curls and adjusted the carrier on her shoulders.  As she did Adohi’s tiny hands reached out towards hers and he murmured.  The buxom Cherokee girl laughed and touched his fingers.  “You will have to wait, little one.  We are busy.”

            The white woman who traveled with her was kneeling by the edge of the stream, a half-filled water jug in her fine-boned hands.  The early morning light caught her golden curls as she looked up and set them aflame.  “He cannot be hungry again,” Miriam protested as she rose to her feet and balanced the black jug on her hip.  “The day has only just begun.”

            Cherry shrugged.  Adohi laughed as he bounced and so she repeated the action until he was gurgling with joy.  “I think he is already twice as heavy as he was,” she sighed. “Soon he will be taller than his father.”

            The woman the Cherokee called Kamama laughed as she set the heavy jug down.  “As tall as Cara perhaps?”  At the dark-skinned girl’s mournful look, she added apologetically,  “I am sorry.  I didn’t think.  I did not mean....”

            The Cherokee girl shook her head and looked away. 

            “I am sorry.”  Miriam moved to her side.  She briefly touched her son’s downy head and then laid her hand alongside her friend’s cheek.  “Cara feels things deeply.  Another has already won his heart.  He will not desert her lightly.”  She drew a breath, remembering the words that had passed between them the night her son had been born.  “Even if you are very patient and wait for him, it may be in vain.  I do not think he will ever forget her.”

            The girl’s eyes were moist.  “Then I do not think I will ever marry.”

            The Englishwoman smiled sadly.  “My dear, then both of you will be miserable.  I don’t think that is what Cara would want, and it is certainly not what you should want for yourself.... ”  She frowned.  “What?  What is it?”  The Cherokee’s eyes had gone wide, as the rich brown skin about them paled.  “Cherry?”

            There was a soft step behind her.  Miriam closed her eyes, summoning courage, and then pivoted to find herself face to face with two tall painted warriors.

Who were not Cherokee. 

Taking a step back, she examined their faces and their garments.  They wore only breech-cloths and moccasins.  Their arms and legs were painted a dull mustard yellow and their faces striped with black.  Her heart sank as she thought of the young girl with her and of her infant son.  Then, just as she thought of ordering Cherry to run and charging the men, a third figure emerged from the leafy underbrush.  He wore no paint, but his face and chest were tattooed.  Under his breechcloth he wore buckskins; a broad beaded belt, heavy with weapons, circled his waist.  He had lost weight since she had seen him last, and his once keen eyes had grown haunted as if he were in constant pain.  She heard her young friend draw a breath and her son, Adohi, whimper.  She knew any minute the baby would begin to cry as he sensed the girl’s growing fear.

            The tall native stepped up to her.  His lean body was tense; his face veiled.  “You will come with me,” he said softly.

            She lifted her blonde head and held her ground.  “And why would I do that?  Do you come as a friend, Arrowkeeper?  Or as an enemy?”

             His black eyes closed and for a moment, he seemed to hesitate.  Then he stepped closer to her and, with his eyes on Cherry and Copperhead’s son, said, “You will come with me, or I will tell them about the child.”

            Her blue eyes flicked to the two Creek warriors who accompanied him.  “They do not know he is mine?”

            “No.  Nor do they need to.”  His black eyes held hers.  “I am only here for you.”

            Miriam swallowed over the lump in her throat.  “Me.  Why me?”

            Arrowkeeper’s jaw tensed.  He looked away.  “All whites will leave, or they will die.”

            She thought it sad how his handsome features had grown severe and sharp.  Still, the way the words seemed forced from him indicated that the tall Creek was a man at war with himself.  Sensing this, she dared to challenge him.  “Then perhaps I would choose to die.”

            “Do not be a fool, woman,” he growled as he glanced at his companions.  “I have come to take you out of harm’s way— ”

            “You are the fool if you believe that,” she shot back.  “Look at them!  Look!”  She nodded towards the two warriors who were watching them closely.  “Their kind of hatred knows no color or boundary; it will not end with whites.  Their murderous savagery will spill over to destroy anyone who does not agree with them.”  She drew a deep breath.  “I know. I know what you are doing.  I know what that monster you walk with is planning.”      

            “Monster?”

“Tara-Mingo.”

 Arrowkeeper frowned.  “He is the one who sent me.  You are to be taken to the talofa for safety, and then to the fort over the Ohio....”

            The petite woman paled.  “The fort?  Over the Ohio...?” Behind her, her tiny son began to wail.  She closed her blue eyes to steady herself and then opened them again to meet the tall native’s severe gaze.  “If I go with you, without protest—will you let her go?”  She glanced at Cherry.  “With the child?”

            The Creek seemed to sigh.  “My war is not with children....”

            “No?  Are you sure?”  Her words were very quiet.  “Do you really think once war has been loosed upon this land that these men with you will care who dies?  Does Tara?”  She paused.  “Do you?”

            The tall man seemed to falter.  “There is no other way.  It is too late.  If one such as you lives among the Cherokee, more will come.  We cannot allow— ”

            “You cannot allow what?”  Miriam was near tears.  Love?”

            He shook his head.  “Contamination.”

            “I am afraid that has already happened.  The next time you go to the water, Arrowkeeper, look in the stream.  When you see your reflection; notice how it has changed.” Miriam drew another breath as a tear slipped down her cheek.  “No.  I forget.  You can no longer do that....”

            He stared at her.  “And why is that?”

            She laughed bitterly.  “Because you are blind.”

One of the painted warriors behind them spoke sharply to him and began to advance on Cherry.  The young girl had not moved.  She had watched the exchange with fear, all too aware of who and what the fort over the Ohio held for the young white woman.

“No,” Arrowkeeper commanded, “leave her be.”  As the Creek flung a few fiery words at him, he shook his head and added, “This Cherokee woman and her child, are not our concern.  We have what we came for.  She is free to go.”  He caught the native by the arm as he continued to move forward.  “I said, ‘she is free to go’.  I  will answer to Tara-Mingo.  You answer to me.”

Miriam whispered a silent prayer of thanks as the man began to move away.  She turned towards Cherry then and felt sorrow stab her heart like a dagger.  Her tiny son was wailing and reaching for her.  “Cherry, go,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.  “Go, before they change their minds.”

            “Kamama...  No....”

            “Yes.”  She turned her back on the girl and faced her abductor.  He was watching her carefully, a curious expression on his face.  “I am ready to go.”

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            “And where are you headed on such a fine lovely morning?”

            Cara turned to find James Harper watching him.  “James.  I thought you were leaving us.”

            The slender man ran a hand through his hair.  “I am afraid I became carried away by the Cherokee’s enthusiasm.  The festivities went to my head,” he lied, “and I just woke up.”  He nodded towards the lush green trees and the beaten footpath that ran before them.  “You didn’t say....”

            “Where I am going?”  Cara’s grin was sheepish.  He hefted the sleek black bullwhip in his hand.  “A mile or so from here there is a spot where I can practice in peace.”

“May I travel with you?”

He shrugged.  “If you like.  We will not travel very far.”

            James stepped towards him and held his hand out.  Cara placed the whip in it and watched as the other man fingered the fine braided leather.  “It’s beautiful.”  The hazel eyes found his.  “A skill you learned in England?”

            “Hardly.  A skill I am just learning, from necessity.  My first lesson came from my brother....”  Cara’s jaw tightened and his hand involuntarily went to his cheek where a faint scar still showed.  “The second, from the mule skinner who sold me this.  I had hoped to have Arrowkeeper....”  He fell silent.  “Well,” he said at last, “I have had teach myself.”

            “What happened to that tall Creek?” James asked innocently.  “Alexander made mention of a falling out...”

            Cara’s dark brows drew together.  He sighed.  “Let us say, we came to a point where our philosophies were no longer compatible.”  He shook his head.  “I have not seen him in....  Oh, I would imagine it has been three or four months.”

            James narrow shoulders lifted and fell.  “Philosophies change.  Perhaps one day they will again be the same.”

            The raven-haired man laughed.  “Oh, no.  I do not believe so.  Some men experience pain and it opens their eyes.  Others it blinds permanently.”

            “And so, you are saying this Arrowkeeper is blind?”

            Cara nodded.  He took the whip back and then held his hand out before him, indicating they should move along.  “As a man in a long dark tunnel who has permitted the fire in his lantern to die.”

            The foster son of the Irish plantation owner smiled and clapped him on the shoulder.  “I would lay odds he feels the same way about you.  Is his philosophy so different you cannot even entertain the possibility that he might be right?”

            “You do not know what that philosophy is, James.”  Cara’s dark eyes pinned him.  “He is wrong.  Dead wrong.”

            The other man lifted his hands in surrender.  “I meant no disrespect, Cara.  Perhaps you could fill me in on what brought you to this parting on the way to your practice range.”

            Cara fastened the whip on his belt and then tossed his long black hair over his shoulder, jostling the turkey feather.  “Perhaps.”

 

                                                                                                    ###

 

            As was her custom, the beloved woman Cornbeater kept watch at the edge of the Cherokee village, shooing the birds away from the corn-fields.  She sat on a high platform, half-veiled in mist, with her piles of rocks and sticks about her, waiting for trouble. 

Sooner than she thought, it came, but not in the form of a bird.   

It came as a human.

Her wrinkled lips pursed and she frowned as the son of Talota disappeared into the dark shadows that lined the trees with the stranger by his side.  The night before she had had a dream.  In it the one called Cara-Mingo had been walking to the west as he was now, while behind him in the village, men and women chanted and danced. 

            Both omens that many would soon die.

            Rising to her feet she called to one of the younger women working the fields and waited as the slender girl ran to the foot of the platform.  The child would have to help her down and then take her place.  It was imperative she return to Chota and find one of the chiefs.

            An ill wind was blowing towards them and someone needed to know.

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            Star stood in the door of his home watching the gathering clouds.  He glanced towards the lodge where his daughter slept soundly with her new husband and sighed.  While the priest’s omens had promised them a long and happy life; his own visions had been less clear.  Last night in his sleep he had seen a stream rising, filling the streets of their village and entering his daughter’s dwelling as an unwelcome guest.  And though the waters had receded with the promise that neither she nor Alexander would die, the shadow of death had remained, watching him from the doorway and taunting him.

            And then he had seen his wife, walking down the path.  Cloud had held out her hands and beckoned him.

            A sure sign that he was soon to die.

            He closed his eyes and leaned against the wooden pole that supported the doorframe.  He was not afraid.  In some ways, he would welcome it.  Still, he would have liked to have remained longer for his child, and for the grandchildren who would follow. 

 Like any man.

            At that moment the stillness of the morning was rent by a horrific cry.  He opened his eyes to see his daughter’s friend stumble into the village with Copperhead’s tiny son in her arms.  Both were filthy; the baby was wailing and Cherry sobbing, and the girl’s garments were rent from running recklessly through the trees and underbrush. As the village began to wake to the fact that danger had come unexpectedly  upon them, the heavens opened wide and a gentle rain began to fall.

            Star lifted his face into it and whispered a prayer. 

And then he ran.

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            “Hold.”

            The man wearing the otter-skin cap halted immediately and turned towards his companion.  He lifted his hand and the two dozen braves behind him froze as well.  Menewa’s darkly handsome face was puzzled.  They were headed for the village and his men were anxious to see their homes, their wives and their children, and to resume their lives.   

“What?  Copperhead....”

            The Cherokee’s keen eyes narrowed as he searched the green valley before them which ran at a gentle slope towards the foothills beyond.  Finally, he pointed.  “There.  Cara....”  He paused and then added, “And the one I told you about.  Harper.  James Harper.”

            His chief nodded.  “I see them.  They are headed away from the village.  Towards....”   

            “Yes.”  Copperhead sighed.  “And Cara promised he would be wary.”

            “Should we— ”

            The younger man rose to his feet.  “I will go alone.  I will follow and see where they end.  I can approach the two of them as a friend.”  He laid his hand on Menewa’s shoulder.  “Your duty is with your people.  You must go to the village and raise the alarm.  You must make the council see, and if they will not—you must take control.  Tell them all we have learned....”

            The older man spat on the ground.  “This Policha.  A snake in the grass is he.  One who eats and breathes lies.”

            “And all in the name of the white man’s God.”  Copperhead’s voice held contempt.  “He is well-suited to have dealings with William Foxwell.  They are two of a kind.”

            “You will be careful.”  Menewa met his eyes.  “You and yours are in the greatest danger.”

             “Tell Miriam to take Adohi and go to the caves.  Her father will be coming for her.  Soon.”  Copperhead’s deep brown eyes sought the path that his friend and the false one had taken.  “Tell her, the time I spoke of is here.  Tell her, I love her, and will come as soon as I can.”

            Menewa nodded.  No other words were necessary.  He turned and signaled the men under his command, and then as one they slipped silently into the softly sighing trees and vanished. 

            Copperhead stood tall on the edge of the grassy knoll.   A rising breeze lifted his dark brown hair and whipped it so it struck his cheeks.  He shuddered and pulled the collar of his red coat close and gazed up. 

The sky shed tears.

            “May yours be the only ones,” he whispered and then was gone.

 

                                                                                            ###

 

            The lash cracked and popped, stripping an unopened bud off of a tree limb some eight or nine feet away.  James Harper’s sandy eyebrows lifted and he whistled.  “And you say you are new to this?”

            “I have been practicing for several months, when time and duty have allowed.”  He coiled the whip and placed it over his shoulder and then went to set up another target.  As he did, he frowned at the rain that had begun to fall from the sky. 

            “You seem to be a natural.  I don’t believe I have ever seen anyone with so little experience handle one quite so well.”  At Cara’s look he added, “The Creek are fond of bullwhips.  It is a quiet weapon and one that strikes out of the darkness with no warning.  In the fort where I grew up many men carried them.”

            “And no one employed one as well as me?”

            The slender man shook his head.  “Not as a novice.”

            “You will have to tell my brother that—if you ever have the misfortune to meet him.”  The raven-haired man seemed genuinely effected by the compliment.  “Tara will be pleased,” he added with a wry smile.

            “I didn’t realize you had a brother, Cara.  I don’t think you ever mentioned him before today.  Why is that?”

            “We haven’t always seen eye to eye.”  He placed a row of pinecones on a flat-topped boulder and stepped back to check the angle.  Then he glanced at the other man. “No.  That is not true.  We never have, and never will.”

            “Because it is his belief that Kentucky is only for the red man?”

            They had talked about his mother’s Creek son on the short walk through the light rain to the area he had chosen for his practice range.  It was not too far from the village, but was private; surrounded with trees and cut off from the Cherokee by a series of low easily traversed hills.   He had been attempting to explain what had come between him and Arrowkeeper, and invariably Tara had come up.  “No.  Because my brother is a brute and a renegade, and he doesn’t care who he kills or what he has to destroy to have his way.”  He leaned back and then cracked the whip, and the first of the cones flew into the air.

            “Even a brute can follow a true cause, Cara.  Perhaps he is wrong, but what he believes is right.

            He had been in mid-strike when James’ comment made him pull up short.  He missed the cone.  Winding the lash in his hand, he turned to look at the other man, his handsome face registering surprise.  “Right?”

            The slender man fingered his wire-rim glasses.  “The white man has no place here.”

            “James,” Cara walked towards him.  “How can you say that?  You are white.  At least in part.”

            The other man’s sandy head nodded.  “Like you.  But that doesn’t mean I have to claim the tainted blood in my veins.  If I have a full-blooded wife some day, and our children marry full-bloods, soon—so long as there are no more white men—the pollution will be gone.”  He lowered his glasses to the end of his nose and looked over them.  “Exorcised.”

            “How can you deny what you are?”

             “By claiming what I really am, my friend.  A native.”  A sly smile lifted the corner of his narrow lips. “Creek.”

            “Do not argue with him, Cara.  He speaks the truth.  His heart is as red as your brother’s, and the path he walks as black.”

            James Harper pivoted to find Copperhead’s lean muscular form sliding down the last of the gentle slopes.  Several heartbeats later he stood by their side. The Cherokee’s brown hair was plastered to his cheeks and his skin wet from the rain.  He had unsheathed his knife and held it before him in a defensive position.

            Cara turned to look at him, puzzled.  “Copperhead, I— ”

            “Wise and wary, Cara-Mingo.  You have not learned yet, else you would not be here with this wolf who wears the garments of a civilized white sheep.”

            The Creek metizo smiled.  He slid his glasses back along his nose and stared at the newcomer, seemingly unimpressed by his threatening posture and weapon.  Then he ran a hand through his short wet hair.  “An apt pupil, it seems, since his teacher has failed to remember that wolves rarely travel alone.”  The slender man pivoted sharply.  Himaakayaali!” he cried, ‘now!’, and as he did six black shadows separated from the tall trees.  Two held bows and three others, bright shining flintlocks.  All were trained on the Cherokee and his companion.  The sixth walked towards them carrying a long-bow lance and pipe iron tomahawk.  He was covered from head to foot in swirling symbols of red, black and yellow, and wore only a breechcloth and boots.  His empty black eyes were all too familiar.

            Copperhead snarled as the slender man turned back to him.  “I see you have your Creek witch-dog with you.”

            James Harper smiled.  “I would never go anywhere without him.  Sharpknife?”

            The dark head came up.  “Policha?”

            The Creek metizo nodded towards the brown-haired native.  “This one is yours.  Only you can’t kill him.  We....  Tara has need of him alive—for now.”  He paused and then added quietly as his eyes sought Cara-Mingo’s astounded face, “and if you are thinking of employing that whip, my fine English-bred friend, I would think again.  Those flintlocks are just off the boat, and the hands holding them have been well-trained.  You would be dead before the lash fell silent.”

            “He called you Policha.  That means ‘Preacher’ in Creek if I remember correctly.”  Cara was trembling with anger and disgust, shamed that he had been so easily manipulated.  “Surely you must remember these words then, James.  ‘Trust ye not in a friend. Put ye not confidence in a guide; keep the doors of thy mouth from he that lies.’ ”

            “Paraphrased, but essentially correct.”  The slender man approached him and held out his hand.  “It doesn’t have to be this way.  You can join us.  I would like nothing better, and your brother would rather have you with us than against us.”

            Cara glanced at Copperhead.  His knife had been taken from him, but he stood poised for action.  The tall brooding Creek, Sharpknife, waited behind him, but he was distracted, speaking to one of his men.  Cara drew a deep breath and chewed his lip, seeming  to consider it for a moment.  Then he shook his head.  “I would rather die.”

            The whip lashed out and caught Harper’s feet.  Cara jerked and the madman slipped in the wet grass and toppled to the ground, striking his cheek on a stone.  As he did, Copperhead dropped and rolled, knocking Sharpknife’s feet out from under him.  True to James’ word the Creek warriors fired their flintlocks—but they had not been so well-trained as he thought.  

            “It will take them a minute to reload,” Cara called as he sprinted past his friend, knocking down one of the men who held a bow.  “Run!”

            Copperhead was on his feet in a second.  But it was a second too late.  Cara heard a sharp cry and turned to see him fall.  The single remaining Creek had scored a hit.  An arrow protruded from the Cherokee’s leg, just above the knee.

            “Copperhead!” he cried as he turned back.

“Cara, no!”  His friend had risen to his knees.  “Run!”

“I won’t....”  The raven-haired man fell silent.  A moment later he lifted his hands towards the weeping sky. 

            James Harper approached him, one hand pressed to his bleeding face; the other holding a small flintlock pistol which was trained on his heart.  As he drew abreast, he paused; his hazel eyes blazing with a hellish light.  Then, without warning, the slender man lashed out and struck him across the face with the gun, knocking him not only to the ground, but out cold.

            Placing his finely-tooled leather boot on the unconscious man’s chest, Harper pointed the pistol at his head, as behind him, Sharpknife pulled the wounded Cherokee to his feet.  “So you’d rather die, would you, son of a white man?  Ask, and ye shall receive,” he said softly as he pulled the trigger.

            The gun was not loaded.

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            It had taken him some time, but finally he understood what had happened.  And now that he did, a fury filled him such as he had not known since his son had been put to death before his eyes.  Star committed the devastated Cherry to Cornbeater’s able hands as he rose and left the women’s lodge.  He paused outside the door and drew a deep breath of the cool clean air.  The rain had halted momentarily, but a storm was on the horizon—a fitting counterpoint to the tumultuous events of the day.  He shook himself and taking up his bow, began to move towards the edge of the town and the deep woods beyond.

            “Star!  Whaur dae ye thin’ ye aur gaun?”

            The older man halted.  He did not turn around but waited for the man who had married his daughter to catch up to him.  It was obvious someone had taken word to him of what he intended to do; Alexander’s clothing had been hastily pulled on and his curly black hair was tousled and uncombed.  The Cherokee shook his head.  “You should be with your wife.”

            The Scot ran a hand through his thick hair, trying to tame it.  He grinned sheepishly.  “She’s th’ ain sent me tae be wi’ ye.”

            “Alexander.  No....”

            “I told her tae tak’ Cherry an’ th’ baby an’ gae.  Th’ auld woman is gaun tae tak’ them tae th’ caves whaur they will be safe.”  He drew a deep breath as he straightened his sash.   “Safe as can be.”  At the older man’s look, he added, “Ye cannae gae alone.”

            “I can and I will.”  Star closed his eyes as yet another vision of the rising water filled them.  The death to come was to have been his—not this young man’s.  Still, the spirit before the door mocked him.  It danced and reached for this one.  “No.”

            “I will follaw whether ye will ur nae.  Ye cannae stop me.”  Alec stood his ground.  “I ken I am nae a warrior, boot I am a mon.  I cannae stan’ by while those thot I loove aur dyin’; while they risk thaur lifes fur me an’ mine.”

            “Stay.  Protect my daughter.”

            “Father?”

            Star sighed.  He turned and looked at his child.  She had approached them quietly.  Moving between the two men she loved, she faced him and laid her hand alongside his cheek.  “Do not do this.”

            He glanced at her husband.  “You send your husband to keep me from harm?  The price is too high....”

            “I send my heart.”  Her brown eyes were wide and filled with unspent tears.  “You must both return.”

            Her father caught her fingers and squeezed them.  “As the Creator wishes, so will it be.  Now you must go.”

Alec laid his hand on her shoulder.  “Cornbeater is waitin’.”

            She glanced at him and then at the clan mother.  She had followed and was standing nearby with one arm about Cherry’s shoulders.  Miriam’s small son was in her other, sucking on her papery brown fingers.  He had fallen quiet as he sensed the confidence and peace in the beloved woman.  She turned back to her father.  “Will I see you again?  Or does mother wait in the woods?”

            Star touched her hair.  “My child, death waits in the woods this day.”  He held her dark eyes for a moment and then his gaze went to her young husband.  “I do not know for whom.”

            Alec shook his head.  “Nae matter whot ye say, I am still gaun wi’ ye.  I wiltnae let ye gae agin thot grea’ fierce Creek an’ his men on yer ain.”

            “And you agree?”

            Spicewood took Alexander’s hand.  “The choice is not mine.  But I would have him go.  It is his desire, and mine.”

            Star touched her face briefly and planted a kiss on her black hair.  “Go with love, daughter,” he whispered and then turned and began to walk from the village, following the path Miriam and Cherry had traveled not long before. 

            She turned to her husband of less than one day.  “You will find Kamama,” she said.

“Aye.”

“And you will come back to me?”

            Alec gazed at his wife.  The morning sun had forced its way through the storm clouds and a golden wash of light had transformed the Kentucky landscape into a faerie land. It shone on her heart-shaped face and made her so beautiful it brought tears to his eyes.  “Tis th’ day after mah weddin’.  Whaur else woulds I gae?”  He kissed her long and hard and with passion.  Then he stepped away.  “Now, ye needs gae wi’ th’ auld woman.  Tak’ caur o’ yerself. I’ll mind yer faither, an’ brin’ him back.”  He caressed her cheek tenderly, and then turned and began to run.  Once he had caught up with Star near the edge of the village, he glanced back.  Then, as the two of them broke into a sprint, he let the rising wind carry back his words.

            “I loove ye, Spicewood.”

As soon as he was out of sight the tears began to fall.  They trailed the length

of her face and spilled onto her gown as the old woman, Cornbeater, came to her

side. 

“Daughter.”

            She stifled a sob.  “Grandmother?”

            “He is out of your hands, child.”  She took the girl’s fingers and joined them with her friend’s.  As the two young women hugged one another, the elderly woman gazed down the trail, remembering the morning she had done the same thing with her man.  He had never come home.  But that had been another battle, another day.

Perhaps the Creator would see fit to spare the young Scotsman, even though her own had not been spared.

“Leave him in the hands of the One who knows.

            “Come.”

 

                                                                                        ###

 

            Cara opened his eyes and lifted his head slowly.  He put a hand to his jaw and shifted it from side to side.  The action brought tears to his eyes and relief to his mind.  With the force James had put behind the blow, he was afraid it might have been broken.  Rolling  onto his side, he waited a moment and then rose to his knees.  Once on his feet, he looked about.  The building he was in was most likely Creek.  It had been hastily constructed from branches and mud, as was their custom, as a temporary dwelling place.  There was no fire, but a single bright beam of light fell through the smoke hole in the ceiling.  By its angle, he estimated he had been unconscious for four or five hours. 

            Half the day was gone.

            As he paused, uncertain of what to do, someone spoke.  The voice that carried through the walls was low and resonant.  It paused and then spoke again.  Silence followed.  There was the sound of something striking the lodge and a cry—almost a whimper, like that of a wounded child—and then a moment later the door to his prison opened and the midday sun flooded in, blinding him.  He raised his hand before his eyes and blinked back tears.  The painted Creek Sharpknife stepped through the doorway to stare at him.  He didn’t say a word, only grunted and gestured sharply with his head.  Seconds later a body was tossed through the door.  The all but naked man landed on the floor with a thud as his brother’s adherent crossed the room to face him.

            “Look well.  See what awaits you when your brother returns.”

            Cara stiffened.  There was a raw power that exuded from the lean muscular native; a power well-cultivated and steeped in ancient mysteries. He didn’t breathe freely again until Sharpknife had left the lodge, pulling the mat into place and posting a well-armed guard at the door.  As he shook off the affect of the Creek’s evil presence, he fell to his knees beside the quiet form huddled on the floor.  Copperhead’s red coat had been stripped from him; his broadcloth pants torn and all but ripped away.  The flesh on his back was raw and bleeding.

            He had been whipped mercilessly.

            “Copperhead?”  Cara shifted the sweat-soaked hair from his friend

’s eyes.  “Can you hear me?”

            At first the Cherokee didn’t respond.  Then he groaned and his eyelashes fluttered.  Cara rose to his feet and crossed to where he had seen a bowl of water and a plate of dry bread.  He brought the water to his friend’s side and placed a few drops on his lips.  Then he tore a strip of the cloth from his ragged pants and wet it.  With it he began to gently clean his wounds.  A moment later Copperhead’s deep brown eyes opened and his lips moved, but without sound.

            Cara leaned closer.  He caught the Cherokee’s hand as he raised it.  “Yes?”

            “I...did not...tell them...anything.  Menewa....  The village should be safe...”

            Cara slipped his hand beneath his friend’s head and raised it so he could take more water.  A silent rage began to fill him as he eased him back to the ground. “Did my brother do this?”

            The Cherokee drew a deep shuddering breath.  “No....”

            “No?”  Cara was stunned.  “Then who?”

            Copperhead’s answer was breathed as a sigh.

            “Foxwell.”

 

 - Continued in Chapter Twelve -