Blood Was Only For Bleeding
Mingo rose to his feet and looked about. He had been led to a low structure, much like a lodge only larger—on the order of the dwellings of the Iroquois he had seen while traveling in the northeast— and thrust through its open door. Before him rough-hewn poles marched like obedient soldiers, joined together by plastered branches and bark to form crude walls. At the end of their progression lay a raised dais, framed on each side by half a dozen guttering torches. Pale thin tendrils of smoke rose from them, drifting towards the crude opening in the ceiling like discarnate spirits seeking to escape. The Cherokee in him shuddered as he backed away and pressed his ear to the wall, attempting to discern the nature of the guard placed without the door. To his surprise, he could hear Arrowkeeper and Policha. The two men were still outside. As he listened, their voices rose in anger. Arrowkeeper called the other man an ‘atlooska—a liar—and then there was silence.
Mingo closed his eyes, remembering the night the two had first met. Star had told him there had been an instant connection between them; an understanding of a singularity of purpose that went beyond words. And yet, in spite of the fact that it appeared the Creek had gone back to his old ways—and in spite of his own disappointment and anger—he knew there had to be more to it; there had to be a reason for the choices the other man was making. With Star’s death, Arrowkeeper had forsworn his allegiance to the Red Hearts and begun to walk the white path of peace. He could not believe he had turned his back on so profound a lesson. This had to do with the boy—with Tara’s son.
Even from the grave his brother’s dark shadow continued to reach out, tainting all he had touched.
He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then he fingered his jaw. It was still sore and aching. His dark eyes darted toward the woven mat behind him that sealed the door and he smiled grimly. “Life is a jest and all things show it,” he whispered to himself. “I thought so once, but now I know it.” The quote came from a piece by John Gay entitled, ‘My Own Epitaph.’
The thought was not a comforting one.
He listened intently as the voices rose again. This time he caught his name. Finally, the tall Creek shouted something, and then he could tell he moved away. Apparently his ‘friend’ was not on the winning end of the argument. Mingo shook his head as he turned back to face the bare room. In another lifetime, or so it seemed, he had believed both Policha and Arrowkeeper to be his friends, even though from the very beginning he had had misgivings about the one whose chosen war name was Preacher. He had been known as James Harper then, an educated young Virginian, full of fiery beliefs and ideals. When first they met, he had believed him to be a white man. He frowned now as he tried to recall the details. It had been the winter of seventeen-sixty-six. Geoffrey Stanbury’s production of “The Provoked Wife’ was coming to the end of its run. It was the dead of winter and fate had landed them in the capitol, in Williamsburg, where they were to give their final—and most perilous—performance.
He hesitated a moment, hoping to catch another word or phrase, but as the silence lengthened into minutes, he chose to move away and to begin to explore the space he found himself trapped within. It appeared to be deserted. As he moved forward with caution, his mind returned to that last season, to the endless days of travel through the snow-covered wilderness, to the cheering and jeering crowds; to the footlights and the fancy dress and the world he had chosen to forsake—in the end, not by choice, but by necessity. Star had been right. Yowa had known. If his hand had not forced, he might never have found the courage to leave it all behind.
He and Star and Arrowkeeper had traveled with the actors for nearly six months—two on shipboard and four in the New World—waiting for a break in the weather and an excuse to move on. It was their intention to journey to the Kentucky territory which had been his and Star’s home as soon as Spring arrived. Arrowkeeper did not wish to go to back to his people. He said there was nothing there for him, though in time—due to circumstances that even the mystical Star could not foresee—he changed his mind. Over the course of half a year the two Indians had become valued members of the troupe. The tall Creek had even appeared on the stage now and again, standing silent and imposing as a soldier or palace guard. The Cherokee had no desire to act or to be seen, and so he had chosen to help with the productions themselves, sewing costumes and creating wigs and other props with his deft fingers. The older native’s health had steadily improved so that by the time they reached the virgin colony, he had become the man he had been before his abduction; stalwart and proud, a being of strength and internal power. Still, there was a sorrow that never left his ebon eyes.
He longed to go home.
Young Cara-Mingo, on the other hand, had been surprised to find at the time that the closer they came to parting with the company and journeying into the wilderness to seek his mother’s people, the more a part of him clung to his father’s notion of civilization like a life-line. The older and wiser Mingo laughed at the child he had been then. His fear had spoken with a voice louder than his heart. At twenty-two he barely remembered the life of the twelve year old boy who had grown-up among the Cherokee, and what he could remember was not good; famine and disease, war and loss and hardship. The closer it came to the time of their departure, the more he delayed. And when at last Star spoke of omens and portents indicating it was time for them to go, the Englishman in him rebelled.
He glanced back towards the covered door again. If it hadn’t been for James Harper—and curiously enough, for his father—he might never have left Kerr Murray behind. He paused just in front of the dais and grinned in spite of the danger he was in. The irony did not escape him, though he doubted Lord Dunsmore would have appreciated it.
Ever alert, he turned and sat on the lowest step, hanging his long hands between his knees. Apparently at this moment it was his destiny to wait.
There was nothing else to do.
Williamsburg, VA 1767
“He make’s quite th’ impressife ghost.”
Cara’s black eyebrow arced. Alec had no idea how long it had taken him to persuade Arrowkeeper to take the part. At the request of the current governor of Virginia, Francis Fauquier, they were to give a command performance and he had requested Shakespeare. So, instead of performing the play they had rehearsed, they had scrambled to assemble a group of scenes from some of the Bard’s best-known works to present. When it came to ‘Hamlet’, they had been one man shy, and so he had managed to convince the tall Creek to enact the non-speaking part of the troubled Dane’s father. The voice of the late Hamlet would be supplied by Middleton from behind the rack to add a ghostly quality to the proceedings. As he stared at the imposing man—bedecked from head to toe in a full panoply of stage armor—he knew his instinct had been correct. In this way the native was masked; his dark skin and shining black hair concealed from any prying eyes that might hazard a guess as to his true nature. Star he was not concerned about. The older man had a way of blending and becoming one with his surroundings. His eyes returned to his Creek companion. Arrowkeeper did not.
He stuck out like any prince would in a crowd of commoners.
“Aur ye ready then?”
Cara-Mingo turned and looked at his Scottish friend. He pursed his lips and shook his head. He had tried to talk Stanbury out of it, but he had cast him as Hamlet. That meant he had to go out on the stage, sans the concealing grace of any character make-up, and speak and move about in full view of the cream of Virginia’s very proper English society. He knew his father had friends in the colony; regiment mates and other noblemen who had come to the New World vying for political office and power as well as some of their wives with whom the handsome Earl had, once upon a time, had dalliances. Fortunately, as the current governor was of Huguenot descent, he did not have quite as many connections in England as John Campbell who had come before him. Still, the man had been born in London, and he was certain that he and Lord Dunsmore were—at the very least—acquaintances. He had begged Geoffrey to allow him to perform one of the lesser roles, but the temperamental man had thrown a fit, exclaiming that it would ruin him if one of the other actors undertook either Romeo or Hamlet. He had become their leading man and there was nothing for it but to draw a deep breath and to take center stage when called. His fate awaited only the end of Stanbury’s speech and a role of the dice.
“Nae? An’ why is thot?”
Cara drew a deep breath. It was hard to explain. He glanced back at Star. The Cherokee was replacing beads on the gown Isabella wore as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother. Their eyes met. Two nights before an owl had flown from the west to the north, crossing their path as they walked. The older man had told him it was a portent of defeat and meant it was time for them to go. Cara had refused. Then the summons had come from the governor. Now he wondered if the Cherokee had not been right. If something happened, would it not be his fault? He turned back to Alec and considered whether or not to tell him. The Gael in him might understand, but the English-educated Scot would not. He shook off the superstitious uneasiness that gripped him and said instead, “You remember what I told you of my father?”
Alec nodded. They had spoken on and off over the last few months of their families and their fathers, and the fact that neither one of them had been able to connect. “Aye, m’lord,” he said with a little bow.
Cara struck his shoulder. “Stop that.” Then he smiled. “The only thing I want to be ‘lord’ of is my own destiny. This post—Governor of Virginia—is one my father is interested in.”
“Och. So thot is why ye hae been as nervoos as a rabbit afore th’ hounds th’ last puckle days.”
“He isnae haur noo, is he? Yer faither?’
The young man’s deep brown eyes went wide. “Dear God, I hope not. I hadn’t thought of that.” He shifted forward and peeked through a gap in the temporary curtain they had created by tossing a drape over a wooden rack. He gazed at the crowd, searching the painted faces hanging beneath both powdered and pomaded hair. “No. I don’t think it could have happened so quickly. He had other duties at home.” He sighed as he leaned back. “Still, that is not to say there will not be someone here who will recognize me.”
Alec touched his friend’s head. “Ye dinnae look yerself wi’ th’ lecht skin an’ hair.”
He shrugged. He had applied a pale makeup and dusted his black hair with a light yellow powder. “It was all I could do—other than run.”
The Scot looked surprised. His hand went to his friend’s arm. “An’ aur ye thinkin’ o’ runnin’, then?”
Cara turned to answer him, but fell silent as he inclined his head toward the stage. Stanbury was citing the act and the scene. “That’s it. Time to go.” He moved to take his place behind the curtain and glanced at Arrowkeeper who had been waiting silently in the wings. The tall man’s black eyes sought his, giving voice to words unspoken.
Tonight might make a believer of him after all.
“What are you doing, hiding in the shadows, love? Afraid someone might take a fancy to you and cart you away?”
Cara’s dark head snapped up. Isabella was standing before him, her hands on her shapely hips. He had quickly gravitated to the nest of shadows cast by the massive draperies that lined the Palace’s high windows, hoping to avoid the notice of any of the various military and political dignitaries attending the governor’s reception for the troupe. So far he had managed to remain where he was, successfully fighting off the attentions of one rather well-endowed and endowered widow and a pair of young sisters who had giggled and blushed as he kissed their hands and pointed them towards Alec. Gazing at the handsome actress who stood awash in the moon’s pale light, he knew distracting her would not prove so easy. After a rather rocky start he and the young woman had actually become friends. She had a quick mind and a big heart. And except for the occasional moments when her Irish temper and impish sense of humor got the better of her, she managed to behave.
Tonight had all the markings of one of those ‘moments’.
“I thought you were busy charming the Governor....” he sighed.
The redhead glanced back over her shoulder. “I was. I did. But I grow weary of old men and their wandering hands.” She drew close to him, allowing the shadows to cloak her attractive form. “If it’s anonymity you want, you and I could just disappear— ” She placed one hand against his cheek and the other on her breast and smiled.
“Isabella,” he chided gently. “You know what I have told you.”
She sighed and crossed her arms. “Yes. Yes, I know. You left your heart in London with a pale doe-eyed primrose-haired blue-blooded child who can’t possibly compare to the warm-blooded full-bodied woman you have right here.” She took his hand and placed it on her waist. “You don’t know what you are missing.”
He laughed aloud and withdrew his hand. “Oh, I am quite sure that I do....”
Isabella laughed as well and swung about so she faced into the large ornate room. Then she leaned back against him and looked up to meet his eyes. “Do you see the fellow with the governor?”
He nodded. Fauquier stood before the great fireplace, holding audience, accepting the attentions of his guests as if he were a king. A slender well-dressed young man in a brown velvet coat and breeches was shaking his hand. “Yes. Why?”
Isabella caught his hand and wrapped it about her waist. She was still a moment, and then asked, “Is he the one you are hiding from?”
Cara frowned and his dark eyes narrowed as he looked at the man, attempting to see if he could place him. He had a slight build and was of an average height. His hair, which was pulled in a tail and tied, was sandy and worn shorter than the current fashion. Wire-rim glasses glinted from a perch on a narrow nose. His garments were expensive, reflecting a moneyed background, and seemed to indicate that he was what he appeared to be; the son of a wealthy Virginian, possibly a tobacco farmer or cotton merchant. As he continued to stare, the young man turned, and it seemed his eyes lingered on the shadowed alcove by the windows for just a moment before moving on to Alec who stood near the hearth charming the governor’s overweight wife with his broad accent and easy manner.
He shook his head. “I don’t know him. Why would you ask if I was hiding from him?”
She twisted in his arms and ran a finger down his chest. “What will you give me for the answer?”
Preoccupied, he grumbled, “You never give up, do you?”
She stared at him a moment and then raised up on tiptoe to kiss him quick. As he jerked back, she grinned. “Not until I win.” She turned around and watched as the young man left the governor’s side to join Alec. “Kerr....” she began, her husky voice suddenly serious.
“Are you in trouble?”
His hand stiffened on her waist, the fingers pressing into the stays of her corset. “Trouble?”
“With the law, perhaps?” she said.
“Why would you ask that?” He tried to keep his voice light and casual.
She shrugged her pale shoulders and then gestured broadly, encompassing the shadowed alcove that concealed them. “You are Prince Hamlet, the Dane, remember? Not the Ghost of Hamlet, ‘doomed for a certain term to walk the night’. Why are you not out there, with your adoring fans?”
He relaxed. “Is that all? Isabella, you know I am not— ”
She stopped him by placing her fingers on his lips. “And you know I am no fool. You are in danger.”
He shook his head. “No. Not really. It is just...” He glanced at Alec who was talking to the other man. The stranger was quite animate. “My father did not approve of my leaving England. He would not approve of my...choice of profession. He might have friends here; powerful men who would recognize me and get word back to him.”
She cocked her head. “I see. And are you someone worth pursuing, then, Kerr? Someone important?”
He looked down and met her large blue eyes. When Isabella became very intense she often lapsed into the speech patterns learned at her Irish mother’s knee. “A son,” he answered with a wistful smile, “is that not important enough?”
Her bright eyes narrowed. “’Tis more than that.” She pulled away from him. “I heard that one say something about an Earl.”
“That one?” Involuntarily he retreated further into the shadows.
“The slender fellow over there who was asking after you.”
Cara drew a deep breath. “I need to go, Isabella.”
She caught his hand as he began to move away. “So you are in trouble.”
He shook his head. “No. I need to get back to my servants. That’s all.”
“I noticed you were alone tonight. Just who are you? And who and what are they? I’ve always known there was something mysterious about that great tall silent man who travels with you.” Her hands went to her hips again. “What is it you are hiding, Kerr Montagne? Was I right when I thought you were a highwayman? Can you be wanted for stealing something more than a poor girl’s heart?”
He touched her shoulder briefly and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. “Thank you, Isabella. I owe you.”
As she watched him slip from the shadows into the hall, she called after him. “And I’ll not be letting you forget it, love.” She stared after him a moment, a pensive expression on her striking face, and then turned back to rejoin the governor’s party. A short time later as she worked her way through the crowd, laughing and jesting, she unexpectedly found herself face to face with Alexander MacKirdy and the curious young man who had been inquiring after her friend.
Kerr?” the Scot asked. His tone
“How should I know?” She tossed her lustrous copper curls and began to shift past
the pair. “Much as I would like to be, I am not his keeper.”
The stranger caught her wrist and pulled her back, forcing her to meet his intense hazel eyes. “Do you know where he’s gone?”
She jerked her arm down and away. Her back stiffened and her head came up like a prideful mare. “What makes you think I would tell you if I did know?” She turned on Alec. “What is this? Who is he?”
The man held up his hand. “I apologize for treating you roughly. Time is of the essence. My name is James Harper.” His voice was cultured and educated, with just the hint of her mother’s native land. “And I have come to help. Your friend is in danger. You must take me to him before it is too late.”
Cara-Mingo lingered in the silver-blue shadows of the trees near the end of the Palace Green, his dark eyes searching the ground between it and the narrow street that led to the boarding house where Arrowkeeper and Star awaited him. As usual, he had rented rooms instead of lodging with the other actors in order to provide the three of them with a modicum of privacy in which to continue his fledgling Cherokee education. His practice of always doing so had given him a bit of a reputation for being a snob, but that had been all right with him. The few who really mattered—Alec, Isabella, and one or two of the others—knew better. They simply understood him to be a private person and accepted him as such.
As he left the Palace Green he chose a different path from the one he normally preferred, moving down several dimly lit avenues, deliberately avoiding the popular street the locals called ‘Dog’. Upon arriving at his destination, he hesitated. Southall’s tavern, which lay to left of the boarding house, was completely dark and all of its patrons gone. Not so the Inn; its lamps were ablaze and there were people moving about within. Kerr frowned. It was near three in the morning. The Innkeeper and his guests should have been long abed. Shifting behind a broad oak tree, he glanced at the upper rooms where he had left his friends. They too were well lit and there were men moving at the windows.
He closed his eyes for just a second, gathering his wits. Both natives were perceptive beyond what he was able to comprehend. If danger had come their way, most likely they would have sensed it and left before they were discovered. It could be they were waiting outside the inn for him. He shook himself and began to move stealthily towards the side of the square building, hugging the wavering shadows cast by the guttering street-lamps. Soon he found himself behind the establishment. He stopped and looked about. Across the way, a thicket of trees rose from a broad brown lawn peppered with light dusting of snow. They would have made a perfect place to hide. Approaching them warily, he called out his friends’ names.
Kerr paused just without the looming shadows of the trees and listened. A moment later he breathed a sigh of relief as two men emerged from under them. “I was afraid they had taken you— ” he began.
A brace of soldiers entered the moonlight. The first was grizzled, perhaps forty years of age, and of a broad stocky build. The other was older, taller, and leaner. There was a musket in his hands, but it was pointed at the brittle grass and not at him.
For the moment.
As he met their eyes, the taller of the two nodded. “Milord,” he said in a low voice.
Cara stiffened. He cleared his throat and glanced back towards the Inn. The lawn was empty. “You must have me confused with someone else. I am an actor— ”
The lean man laughed. “Aye, that you are, my lord. I remember well from Oxford.”
“Oxford?” He swallowed hard. “You were at Oxford?”
A shadow passed over the man’s face as his hand tightened on the musket. “Nay, milord. Not me. Born and bred in the back-alleys of London, I was. Had to claw my way up through the ranks to make first sergeant. I worked hard for everything I had. Unlike some others.... ”
“I didn’t mean to imply— ”
The man stepped closer to him until the moonlight fully revealed a battle-scarred face that seemed vaguely familiar. “But I attended some of the shows. And kept watch on your father’s estate for a time.” He nodded slowly. “I remember the heir of Lord Dunsmore right enough.”
Cara met the man’s eyes and what he saw in them sent chills through him. For some reason, unknown to him, this man hated him. And while he was in uniform, by its markings he was regular army and in the Virginia militia, not in the King’s service as apparently he had once been. All of those facts put together on the same page read as trouble.
“You’ll be coming with us, milord,” the man said quietly as he lifted the musket and pointed its barrel towards him.
“If it’s money you are after,” he replied, “I have funds in my rooms.”
The other man laughed and patted his breast pocket. “Not anymore.”
Cara stiffened. So that was what the buzz had been about. His rooms had been ransacked. He glanced about worriedly and noted a wooden cart tucked away in the thicket of trees. So far as he could tell its bed was empty. Still there was a tarp bunched up in one corner, though he didn’t think it was large enough to hide two men. “What have you done with my friends?”
The two soldiers exchanged a quick glance.
“Griffiths, you said there was no one else— ”
“There wasn’t!” The short stocky rogue quickly grew angry. He stepped in front of the older man and jabbed his chest with a stubby finger. In doing so, he moved into the silvery moonlight so that it struck his heavy coat, revealing a filthy, tattered uniform from which the rank insignia had been ripped, indicating he had been dishonored and dismissed, or was a thief. “I tell you, I rummaged through the rooms right enough,” his voice rose, “and there was no one there!”
“Still,” the older man shoved him out of the way, “this means someone may come looking for him. And keep your voice down— ”
Cara hesitated only a second. He glanced over his shoulder. There was no one between him and the inn. If he could just make it to the street....
He heard Griffiths cry out as he sprinted across the green lawn. He held his breath and whispered a prayer, even though he was certain the other man wouldn’t shoot as he was worth too much to them alive. As he rounded the corner, the irony of the situation struck him. Here he had been worried one of his father’s friends might carry tales back to England of his whereabouts. Instead, these men intended to carry him back. Probably in chains.
“Good evenin’, guv’nur.”
Cara glanced up. A moment later everything went black.
Slightly out of breath the other two men caught up with him. The older nodded to the third member of their party. “Jenkins.” His greeting was followed by a frown. “Think you hit him hard enough?”
“O’Neal.” The newcomer fingered his cudgel as he acknowledged the former sergeant’s presence, if not his authority over him. He kicked the young man in the side and smiled as he moaned. “ ‘E’s still alive, ain’t ‘e?”
O’Neal sighed and knelt beside the unconscious man. He grasped his collar and lifted him so his face fell into the light. “I think Lord Dunsmore will pay right handsomely to have his little half-breed back in one piece.” He glanced up. “Don’t you?”
Isabella stepped onto the lawn of the governor’s mansion and shrieked. As she caught her breath, the petite woman anchored her hands on her ample hips and marched up to the imposing Creek warrior who was lurking in the shadows. Then she slapped him with her folded fan. “You great oaf, you scared me out of ten years of my life. What are you doing hiding in the bushes?”
He ignored her and addressed Alec. “Where is Kerr?”
The Scot glanced at the stranger who accompanied them and then asked, “Whot is wrang? Why aur ye haur?”
“Men came. We were not in the rooms.” He and Star had been in the woods, seeking a sign, and had proceeded to the Palace by way of Dog Street as soon as they realized something was wrong. “One went in the inn.”
“An’ did they tak’ onie thin’?”
“We did not return,” Star said quietly. “We came here to seek Cara-Mingo. Where is he?”
Alec’s eyes flicked to Isabella. Her coppery brows were arced and her bright blue eyes wide. She had not missed the change in names. “He left afore. I was joost gettin’ ready tae tak’ James tae meet him.”
The Scot turned. “This is James....” He fell silent. The slender stranger was gone. “Noo, whot dae ye suppose thot is all aboot?” He jumped as Isabella’s hand came down on his shoulder.
He closed his eyes and sighed. “Aye, lass.”
“Who is Kerr-a-Mingo?”
James Harper hid in the trees at the back of the milliner’s shop and watched as two uniformed men loaded a limp form into the empty bed of a medium-sized cart and covered it with a tarp. So the information he had been given was correct. He had overheard his adopted father speaking with this man, O’Neal, about turning a profit on the side, and had heard mention of a half-breed English Lord’s son. His jaw tightened and his fists clenched at the derogatory term. They would not succeed. Such evil men could not be allowed to prosper. It promised in the Good Book that the wicked would be punished.
“Psalms 37:20,” he whispered to himself as he closed his eyes and felt the ecstasy that God’s Word always brought him. “‘But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of the lambs they shall consume; into smoke shall they
He opened his hazel eyes and continued to stare as one of the soldiers took the driver’s seat and another planted himself in the bed, sitting with a hand on the tarp and a musket over his knee. The third man, shorter and stockier than the other two, saluted as the reins were slapped against the horse’s hind quarters and the cart rumbled off into the night. James whispered a prayer. He knew he couldn’t keep up on foot, but he could capture the remaining villain and force him to reveal their plans.
Slipping his dirk from his dark brown leather boot, he gripped the narrow handle and melted into the shadows. He trailed the third man until he paused outside the silversmith’s window to gaze at its contents with avarice and ill intent, and then he jumped him.
Isabella wouldn’t leave Alec alone as they hurried down Duke of Gloucester Street. “Who is he?” she whispered, pulling at his sleeve. “Alec, tell me!”
“Nae noo, Isabella. Kerr coulds be in danger....”
“Kerr-a-Mingo, you mean.” She huffed, lifting her skirts to avoid a pile of horse droppings. “And what kind of a name is that? Mingo? It isn’t proper English.”
Alec caught her arm and pulled her back into the shadows as they reached the inn. Its’ keeper was blocking the opening, his wide form all but eclipsing the light that spilled unnaturally from it. There were men in uniforms speaking with him. They were too late. Something had already happened. “Ye moost let me gae, Issie. I needs tae talk tae th’ mon thaur. These twa cannae show themselves tae th’ guard.” He indicated Star and Arrowkeeper who had trailed close behind them.
She glanced up at the tall man and narrowed her eyes dramatically. “And why not?”
Star nodded to Alec as the Scot began to move away. Then the Cherokee moved forward until he stood next to the young woman. He, like Arrowkeeper, was dressed as a colonial in breeches with leggings and a laborer’s shirt. About his neck beneath the rough cloth was his medicine bundle. Beyond that, the only thing that marked him as different was his dark copper skin and black eyes. He reached out and laid his hand on her arm. “Isabella, you see, but you do not see.”
Her accent broadened. “Oh, so now we are playin’ at riddles.... And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”
Arrowkeeper frowned even as his own dark eyes followed the Scotsman’s progress toward the inn. “Do you think they know? The ones who have done this?”
Star looked at him. “That he is valuable?” He paused. Value to the white man meant only gold and silver and the worthless things they could buy with it. Then he nodded. “They know....”
“No.” The Creek made a cutting gesture with his hand. “That he is one of us.”
The older man sighed as he released Isabella’s arm. “I think our time among the white men is finished. I cannot say for me it comes too soon.”
“White men? What are you talking about?” The redhead bunched her fingers and planted them on her hips. “Star....”
The Cherokee turned to look at her.
“I am giving one of you to the count of ten to tell me what is going on, otherwise I will start screaming and you can explain to the soldiers over there instead.”
Arrowkeeper looked down at her, dismissing her threat as an empty one. He nodded towards the thicket behind the inn. “I will go into the trees and see what I can find....”
“You listen here, all seven foot of you, you great big brute of a man,” Isabella went toe to toe with him as her Irish brogue intensified. “Tis not a jest, I’m makin’.” She stabbed his chest with her fingers as her eyes narrowed and her jaw tightened. “If I want to, I can make them hear me all the way back to County Sligo.”
The tall Creek hesitated, not quite certain what to do with the five-foot-six inch fireball. Even though he had held his ground before the Choctaw and the Wyandot, he took a step back.
“I’ll be warning you,” she growled, “if somethin’ happens to him because you have left me in the dark....” She paused as a coppery hand came down on her shoulder. A moment later she turned tearful eyes on Star. Her voice broke as she whispered, “Won’t someone tell me....”
Star nodded to Arrowkeeper. The tall Creek nodded back and slipped into the night. A moment later the older man turned to her. He smiled as he wiped one of her tears away. “You are in love with him, are you not?”
The beautiful woman stiffened. “In love? Who, me? What are you— ”
“You know him as Kerr Montagne. Once, long ago, he was Cara-Mingo; to me and to the other members of his tribe.”
“You see, but you do not see,” the dark-skinned man repeated. “When Cara-Mingo was young, he lived here—in this country. He was taken away from his people, over the ocean by his white father when yet a boy.”
Isabella’s jaw dropped. “White father?”
Star nodded as he watched the Scot make his way back to them. “His mother was Cherokee. As am I.” He touched her shoulder to offer comfort. She had grown quiet and pale as the words he spoke sank in. “The time has come for him to return to his own.”
Alec looked from one to the other. “Thaur has been a mon murdered. Th’ sodgers aur lookin’ fur Kerr. They think he is somehaw involved.”
“But he was with us....” Isabella countered “...at the Palace....”
“They ken he left afore us. Dam’ the governor fur slowin’ us doon.” He ran a hand through his thick dark hair. “Someain saw him leave th’ street an’ enter th’ woods whaur th’ body was foond.”
“Who was this man?” Star asked. “The one who was killed....”
As Alec shook his head, an unfamiliar voice spoke from nearby. “I can tell you.”
The trio jumped. Star turned to face the man and his hand touched the concealed weapon beneath his long shirt. The Scot drew a breath and after assuring Isabella there was nothing to worry about, stepped between the two men. “ ‘Tis the ain I mentioned; James Harper.” He turned to the newcomer and then exclaimed, “God’s body, mon! Aur ye hurt? Yer shirt is covered in bluid.”
James’ rich hazel eyes found his. They danced with an inner fire. “It is said,” he answered, “that ‘the righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.’ ”
Alec frowned. “Whot aur ye talkin’ aboot, mon?”
The young man smiled. “I questioned the third member of the ‘party’ that took your friend.” He held up his hands. “He chose not to be as co-operative as I wanted. I was not able to get the answers I needed without...some persuasion.”
Star touched his arm. When James turned, he met his eyes and held them. Finally he said, “You killed this man? The one the soldiers found near the inn....”
The slender man did not flinch beneath his scrutiny. He returned the stare without shame or fear. “You are a native, are you not?”
The older man nodded slowly. “Yes.”
“From here? From Virginia or...” James’ voice trailed off and he took a step back as Arrowkeeper emerged from the concealing shadows of the softly sussurating trees.
The tall man’s black eyes brushed him, but settled on Star. “There are cart tracks behind the inn. Fresh. Bearing much weight.”
“They carried your friend away in it.”
The three men turned to look at him as Isabella, who had remained uncharacteristically quiet, stepped forward. She lifted her face toward him. “Why? Where are they taking him?”
The intense young man frowned and adjusted the glasses on his narrow nose. “I am afraid my adopted father is involved. Apparently he, as well as this man O’Neal, have had dealings with your friend’s father. They are not overly fond of the man. My father considers him a rival for political office, and O’Neal.... Well, his hatred is personal as well as mercenary. Apparently there is a large reward for your Kerr’s return...intact.”
“Reward?” The redhead exclaimed. “His own father put a price on his head?”
“Yes. But for his safe return.” He gazed at the quartet. “You didn’t know?”
Alec shook his head. “We hae been in th’ colonies fur some tim’ noo.”
“And for the last few weeks you have been watched.” James paused. “In the beginning it was the promise of the reward that drew the likes of O’Neal and Griffiths and Jenkins.” His voice darkened as he spoke their names and his fingers clenched into a fist. “I think my father abducted your friend in order to coerce or blackmail Lord Dunsmore into remaining out of Virginia’s political field— ”
“Lord Dunsmore? The Earl?” Isabella swung on Alec. “Is that who he is?”
Kerr awoke in darkness. He found it hard to breathe. The air about him was thick and stifling. He held still and listened closely, trying to discern if he was still in the city. After a moment, he decided he was not. The only voices he could hear were those of the wilderness; birds on the wing, chirruping insects, and the soft rustle of a million unseen leaves. There might have been a stream murmuring nearby, but he couldn’t tell for certain.
Shifting his head he attempted to move and instantly regretted it. Not only did his head start pounding and a moan escape his lips, but the sound and motion alerted his abductors to the fact that he was awake.
Abruptly the tarp was withdrawn and he was grasped by the elbows and hauled roughly to the edge of the cart and tossed onto the frozen ground.
“An’ how did ya find yer accommodations, me lord?” The brutish man named Jenkins towered above him. “Not quite what yaur lordship is used to?”
“I have known better,” he said as he shifted and sat up. “And worse.”
“That’s right. ‘Ow could I forget? Ya started yaur life as one of those stinkin’ savages who turned on us and fought with the Frenchies. I lost many a comrade in th’ Seven Year’s War.”
“So did the savages,” Cara shot back before he thought better of it.
The man struck him viciously across the face. “If ya weren’t worth so much alive, I would kill ya here and now, you filthy breed.”
“Jenkins. That’s enough.” O’Neal stepped forward and caught his hand. “We have a long way to go and we need him fit to travel. You will have to rein in your temper and your rancor towards the red men of this continent.” He stared hard at the man on the ground, taking his measure. “He is in good physical shape as well as young. It will be hard enough getting him to the shipyard as it is.”
O’Neal smiled at their prisoner. “We’re takin’ you home, boy. And once Lord Dunsmore pays up, we’ll set you free.”
Kerr glanced at the man called Jenkins. He was fingering his knife and looking towards the stream that ran nearby. If they got him on the ship, he wouldn’t live to complete the voyage. “What makes you think he wants me back?” he asked suddenly. O’Neal laughed. “Well, if he doesn’t, we can always turn you over to the man whose property you stole; those two Indians that went missing the same night you did. Once Gerard’s step-son was found, the story went through the ranks quickly enough.” At Cara’s look he added, “What’s the matter, boy? You didn’t know you had two prices on your head, eh? You are a valuable commodity.”
The older man pivoted towards his companion. “What?”
Jenkins nodded towards a brace of trees. “Over there, I heard something.”
“Gag him and get him back in the cart. Tie his feet as well.” He hefted his musket and held it before him. “I’ll go see.”
Arrowkeeper glanced at Star. Together they watched as the soldier manhandled Kerr into the wooden cart, bound him, and tossed the tarp over him. The tall man’s muscles tensed, but his friend held him back.
“Let them try it their way. Perhaps there will be no need for killing.”
The Creek’s face was stone. “Left alive, they will bring others.”
“Not if we bind them and leave them. We will be many miles away by morning.” He shook his head. “Killing is not always the answer.”
James Harper stood a little apart from them. He spoke softly. “There is a time to kill, and a time to heal.” He glanced at the Cherokee, but his hazel eyes lingered on Arrowkeeper. “I agree. If these men live, they will only bring our people more woe.”
“Our people?” Star turned to look at him.
The intense stare returned to him. “I may look white, but I am not. I am a native like you.”
“Aur ye ready, Issie?”
Isabella turned to look at him. She had undone the bodice of her dress and pulled the blue fabric aside so her undergarments showed. As he watched she reached up and unfastened her hair, so the coppery waves fell loosely about her shoulders. She drew a deep breath and met his eyes. “As I will ever be.”
“Ye dinnae hae tae gae. ‘Tis dangeroos...”
She bit her lip and looked away towards the trees. “If it will keep the blue blood in those veins of his,” she said in a jesting tone, “I’m more than willing....”
She held up her hand and shook her head. “Leave it, Alec.”
He paused and then nodded. “Th’ others aur watchin’. If ye can only distract them fur a moment— ”
Her handsome face lit with a smile. “Well, Alexander-r-r Mac-Kir-r-dy.... Distractin’ men is what I be best at.”
Alec laughed nervously as he glanced behind them. James and the two natives were on the move through the trees, taking up the positions the five of them had agreed upon. It was their hope that they would be able to rescue Cara without any further bloodshed. He gazed at Isabella. She had insisted on doing her part. “I dinnae thin’ this is wise...”
She laid her hand on his arm. “Ye need to listen to bawd King Richard, Alec. ‘So wise so young, they say, do never live long.’ And I intend to live to a ripe old age and have battalions of handsome young men prostrate at my feet.”
He smiled. “Thot ye will, Isabella. Thot ye will.”
She leaned down to scoop up a handful of dirt and bracken and deposited it in his hands. “Decorate my copper tresses then, my Scottish boy, and it’s off I will be.”
O’Neal worked his way slowly through the underbrush, not straying far from the camp. When Andrew Harper had come to him several weeks before and brought up the idea of kidnapping the Lord’s son, it had seemed a simple enough thing—and a right and proper way to get back at that bastard Dunsmore who had humiliated him and cost him his commission in the English army. Now, suddenly, it seemed a monumental task. Already Jenkins was balking. The very thought of savage blood in a man’s veins was enough to set him off. It was doubtful he could keep both of them alive on a long sea voyage.
Perhaps killing the breed would be sweet enough. The money was tempting, but what little he would see of it was most likely not worth the effort or the risk.
He stopped at the sound of someone running through the trees and raised his musket. A moment later the night air was shattered by a woman’s scream as a whirlwind of red hair and petticoats flew from the underbrush like a startled hen. “Indians!” she shrieked as she tossed a frightened look over her shoulder. “God in Heaven preserve us! Indians!”
O’Neal gripped his weapon. He stared at the woman as she headed for him. Her beautiful face was scratched and her elegant clothing askew. Her bright blue eyes were wide and her flesh pale as the risen moon. She looked terrified. “Miss?”
Isabella fell on him, pushing the musket aside and clinging to his neck; her chest heaving with well-rehearsed sobs. “Oh, help me! I barely escaped. I was walking home when suddenly I was seized and pulled off the path. They dragged me here. It was so horrible... Then I saw you and I knew I was saved.” She paused dramatically and drew a deep breath, pulling back so the moonlight struck her ample breasts; her black eyelashes fluttering like butterfly’s wings. “I am...safe with you.... Aren’t I?”
O’Neal’s hand went to her waist. “As safe as anywhere, my girl.” He pulled her tight and as she made a little contented noise, tilted the barrel of his musket so the end rested just beneath her pointed chin. “A fine performance, Miss Pursglove, but not nearly so fine as the one you gave earlier tonight at the Palace.”
Alec stopped Star with a hand to his sleeve. They had been circling the clearing, heading for the cart and Jenkins. James and Arrowkeeper were slightly ahead of them. The Scot pointed toward the trees on the opposite side.
“Issie!” he whispered.
O’Neal had just entered the open space. He held the redhead tight to his chest; the fingers of one hand wrapped about her throat. “Whoever you are...wherever you are...come out now! I have the woman.”
“We hae tae show uirselves....”
Star shook his head. “Not yet. Wait.”
The Scot watched as the soldier dragged the young woman to the center of the clearing. Once there, O’Neal nodded to Jenkins who was positioned on the cart, and then turned back to the trees. “Don’t try me,” he called out. “I will kill her.”
Alec started to move.
“No,” the Cherokee laid his hand on his shoulder, “you will die as well. You must learn to wait, and to listen; to sense what is happening about you and to become a part of it.”
The young man shook his head. “Nae! He’ll kill her!”
Star inclined his head towards the field. “Not tonight.”
Alec followed his gaze and gasped as he saw James rise up like an avenging spirit behind the man named Jenkins. There was a flash at his throat and the two of them fell back into the darkness. Star nodded towards the now unguarded cart and started to move towards it. Alec turned back in time to see a shadow tall as a tree appear at the edge of the clearing behind the man who held Isabella. At the same instant O’Neal shifted as if sensing his presence. Drawing a deep breath, Alec cleared his throat and stepped into the cold revealing moonlight.
“Haur. I’m haur. Dinnae ye harm her.”
Arrowkeeper glanced at James Harper as he dropped the body of the white man on the ground and shoved it with his booted foot into a gully filled with fetid water. As he rose, their eyes exchanged words with no speech. The Creek nodded once, and then brushing aside the leaves that masked him, moved towards the one he meant to kill.
“I know you. You are another of the actors.” O’Neal tightened his grip on Isabella’s neck. “Is he the only one?”
Issie’s eyes went wide. She tore at his fingers, seeking to pry them from her throat. “Alec, go back!” she called hoarsely. “He’ll kill you!”
The Scot shook his head as he watched the tall native move out of the trees. “I wilt nae be leavin’ withoot ye.”
O’Neal leveled his musket at the young man. “Oh, but you will, boy. Leavin’ this life. Right about now. Jenkins...”
As the man turned towards the cart, Arrowkeeper called out, “Alexander, to the ground! Now!”
He didn’t have to say it twice. The Scot dropped without hesitation. A moment later O’Neal jerked. The musket fell to the ground and his hands flew from Isabella’s throat to his back. The actress shrieked as blood began to run from the soldier’s lips and he pitched forward into the dirt, revealing the bone handle of the hunting knife that had penetrated his heart.
Alec looked up and saw that Star was on the cart, casting the heavy tarp aside. He rose to his feet and ran to Isabella. Dropping to his knees, he wrapped his arms about her as James and Arrowkeeper moved into the clearing.
Kerr sat up, his brown eyes wide. As Star removed the gag and set about freeing his hands and feet, he asked, “What is happening?”
Star looked at the two men standing by O’Neal’s body and the pair of shaken young people on the ground.
“It has begun.”
Near Boonesborough, KY 1776
So many of the threads that comprised the rest of his life had been taken in hand and woven into the tapestry that night, including the end of his time as a white man and the beginning of the return of the Cherokee. Even if he had wanted to, there could have been no going back. The law in the colony of Virginia was seeking Kerr Montagne. Other men were set on finding Kerr Murray and claiming the prize on his head. And as if that had not been enough, there were three dead soldiers to be accounted for. They did manage to retrieve enough of his money from Jenkins and O’Neal’s corpses to purchase supplies, as well as several horses for the first leg of the journey back to Ken-tah-ten, but he left Virginia with little more than the clothes on his back and a vague notion that returning to the colonies was not, perhaps, going to be quite as simple as he had thought it would be.
He sighed and rose to his feet. “‘But man, proud man,” he whispered, “dressed in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he is most assured; his glassy essence, like an angry ape, plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep.’”
“I have felt their tears strike my skin,” a soft voice remarked behind him. “Their sorrows burn in my blood, and the fever blinds my eyes.”
Mingo pivoted. A shadow had separated from the darkness and moved to stand center-stage of the dais. He could not see its face, but the voice was male and not fully developed. There was no shape but that of a floor-length feathered cape falling from narrow shoulders unevenly pitched. He took a deep breath and whispered, “Kamassa?”
The boy lifted his head and favoring his right leg, moved forward until the flickering light of the torches struck him. Mingo gazed at him and then closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. It was not the face of his brother—of himself—come to haunt him yet again. Though the boy was tall and slender, like the two of them, his visage was smooth and narrow as a woman’s, with wide deep-set eyes and dark brows that winged above them, lending him the appearance of a young hawk. A dark red cloth was bound about his forehead from which several finger-thin feathers hung, and a beaded choker encircled his throat. His chest was bare and decorated with symbols; his long legs bound in buckskins and his deformity masked by a painted breech-cloth fringed with tiny bells that fell well below his knees.
“I am he.” Kamassa descended a step. “And you are Cara-Mingo. My uncle.”
Mingo drew a breath. He nodded. “So they have told you.”
The boy moved slowly down the remaining steps until they were of a height. His face remained masked in shadows. “No,” he said, “no one told me. But I know. You are my father’s brother.
“And his killer.”
- Continued in Six -