Blood Was Only For Bleeding
The cabin door slammed and a bolt of white lightning shot down the steps, heading for the concealing shadows of the tangled woodlands nearby. Finlay Dougal MacKirdy stood, watching in silence, and noted with care the point where the boy disappeared. He turned to follow, but at that moment the door opened again and Daniel Boone’s handsome wife stepped onto the porch. She raised a hand to shade her eyes and called loudly, “Israel! Israel Boone you come back here! You know what your father said about staying near the cabin! Israel!” A sigh escaped her as she moved forward. “That boy. I don’t know what is wrong with him. Now, I suppose, I am going to have to go after him.”
“Allaw me, Mrs. Boone.”
Becky jumped. Her hand went to the blue fabric of her dress and clutched the gold and coral brooch anchored there. She turned quickly and gazed into the shadows that masked the eastern half of the porch. “Mr. MacKirdy?”
“Aye, Ma’am. ‘Tis me.”
“That’s the second time you’ve taken several years off of my life in as many days. Whatever are you doing here? I thought you had gone this morning with Dan and your brother.”
“Oh, aye. I began wi’ them, boot I was nae feelin’ well, sae they sent me awa’.”
The young man approached her. He removed his hat and nervously ran a hand over his dark hair as he stepped into the light. “I’ll catch up wi’ th’ twa in puckle days.”
Becky’s red eyebrows arced and she suppressed a smile. “ ‘Puckle’ days?”
“Aye. Puckle.” Finlay frowned. “Dae ye mean tae say thot ye dinnae ken whot ‘puckle’ means?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
The young Scot appeared to be confused. “Aur ye nae a Bryan, then, Ma’am?”
“A Bryan? Well, yes.... That was my name before I married Dan.”
“Aur’ ye nae frae Glasgaw then?” he asked. “Dinnae ye ken Matthew Hendrie Bryan?”
“No. My parents were from County Clare in Ireland,” Becky answered as she stepped off the porch and causally looked away from him. She drew a deep breath and counted to ten before turning back, promising herself that she would not laugh. “And I am sorry, but I don’t know your Mr. Matthew Hendrie Bryan.”
“Whot a shame.” He shook his head and his great dark eyes sought hers. “In all o’ bonnie Scotlain thaur’s nae a mon sae braw as he.”
At the word ‘braw’ Becky began to shake. She lifted her hand to her mouth and bit her lip, waging a battle she knew was doomed to failure. A moment later a single tear trailed down her cheek and she began to laugh.
“Mrs. Boone? Whot is it? Did I say somethin’ wrang?”
“Oh, Mr. MacKirdy, forgive me.” She laid her hand on his sleeve as she wiped away another tear. “You are just so....”
“Sae whot? Ma’am?”
She smiled at him. “You are just so sweet.”
“Sweet?” The young Scot’s indignant look was almost enough to set her off again. “Thots nae a thin’ a groon mon likes tae be called.”
“Well, take it for what you will, it’s meant as a compliment.” She chewed her lip thoughtfully. “It’s just a shame you didn’t show up before Jemima went and got herself married.”
“Our daughter. She moved out a short time ago.” A moment later Becky nodded towards the line of trees at the edge of their property. “Excuse me, Mr. MacKirdy, I need to go find Israel. I don’t want him to go too far, not with what has been happening.”
The slender dark-haired man moved quickly to block her way. “Allaw me tae gae, Ma’am. I’ll fin’ th’ laddie an’ brin’ him hom’.”
The redhead planted her hands on her hips and tilted her head. “I thought you weren’t feeling well and needed a ‘puckle’ days to rest.”
Finlay looked chagrinned; something like Israel did when he was caught with his hand in the sugar tin. “Weel, Ma’am....”
“Or is that just what my husband told you to tell me so I would let you stay and look after Israel and me while he was gone? I presume Dan sent you back since I refused to go to the fort.”
The Scot stood his ground for a moment and then bowed his head in defeat. “Och! Aye, Ma’am. Thot ‘tis.”
She hesitated a moment, smiling at her husband’s stubborn nature and the depth of the love he had for her. She had thought he had given in too easily. A moment later she said softly, “Rebecca.”
The dark head came up. “Ma’am?”
“You are to stop all of this ‘ma’am’ nonsense,” she said sternly, “and call me Rebecca.”
He fingered his hat nervously. “I coulds nae dae thot, Ma’am. Its woulds nae be richt.”
“And whot would be ‘richt’, Mr. MacKirdy? Lying? Staying here under false pretenses?” She tapped her toe and waited for an answer. “Well?”
A smile slowly crept across his handsome face. “Nae, Ma’am. Thot would nae be richt either. Rebecca, ‘tis then...boot only if ye agree tae call me Finlay ur Dougall. I gae by either ain.”
“Which does your mother call you?”
The smile broadened. “Och, Finlay. ‘Tis mah faither’s faither’s nam’.”
Becky laughed. “Then Finlay it is. Well, Finlay Dougal, while you go find Israel, I will fix you some food. I imagine you are hungry, what with walking all the way to Boonesborough and back, and you not feeling well.”
The young Scot looked uncomfortable again. “Thots nae fur me tae say, Ma’am.... Rebecca.”
“Well then, who is it for ‘to say?’ It’s your stomach.”
“It woulds nae be richt tae ask fur—”
“Finlay Dougal MacKirdy, those fine manners of yours might serve you well and good in Scotland, but here they will only serve to help you starve to death. Let this be your first lesson in frontier life; when someone offers you a home-cooked meal, don’t turn it down. You might go two or three days before you get another chance. Now,” she pinned him with her bright blue eyes, “are you hungry?”
He grinned. “Aye. Thot I am, Rebecca.”
She nodded. “So how do I make this ‘cock-a-leekie’ soup?”
Bark flew into the air scattering bugs and birds alike as the small boy slammed the sturdy branch into the trunk of the aged tree again and again. He stopped, breathing hard, and then began once more; pounding until the noise of his anger and confusion reverberated throughout the forest, jolting rabbits from their holes and one silver fox from its lair. All too soon the branch shattered, and when it did, he began to hammer away at the battered trunk with his clenched fists until the skin split and his knuckles bled. Finally, spent, he fell to the ground where his small body began to shake. Cloaked in shadows, away from his Ma and Pa and the prying eyes of neighbors and unexpected strangers, Israel Boone placed his head in his hands and allowed the tears to fall.
A moment later he stiffened. A twig had snapped and he heard the sound of branches being thrust aside. Just as he began to panic, fearful of the return of the strange red men who had snatched him from the Jacob’s cabin five days before, a light lilting voice began to sing. Israel moved into the underbrush beside the ancient oak and watched as one of the two men who had been in the cabin when Mr. Lewis brought him home came into view. His Pa had explained they were friends of Mingo’s. He remembered one of them had said they had come to warn him.
Israel sniffed and a tremor ran the length of his slight seven year old frame. He remembered the times before when Mingo had been accused of things—horrible things—just because he was an Indian; when the settlers had tried to hang him for stuff he hadn’t done. And Mingo was only half-Indian. So that meant people would be even more likely to believe bad things of Arrowkeeper who was all Indian and not only that, but a Creek. He frowned and pulled back into the shadows as the young man stopped in front of the big tree and looked about. He watched him remove his hat and run a hand across his forehead. Then he leaned against the tree and, turning his face toward the dying sun, finished his song.
“I'll nae be
peculiar fur beauty ur wealth
Joost a clean tidy body in perfect guid health,
An’ her I will promise, oh com’ ur ye see;
Oh, com’ bonnie lassie tak' pity on me.
“Sae com’, bonnie lassie, oh com’ in the noo,
I'll call ye mah dearie, mah duckie, mah doo.
Mah sweet little lammie, tho' big ye may be;
Oh, com’ bonnie lassie tak' pity on me.”
Finlay Dougal MacKirdy paused. He listened to the sound of the small boy moving through the underbrush and smiled. A moment later he lowered himself to the soft grass and propped his back against the oak. Then he reached into his fine burgundy coat and carefully withdrew a folded piece of paper bound with a ribbon. Still humming, he breathed in the scent of its owner. Afterwards he opened it and pretended to intently peruse its contents.
Israel bit his lip. He watched the man for several minutes and then, his curiosity getting the better of him, left the bushes and moved close to the tree so he could gaze over the stranger’s shoulder. The light was fading, but he could tell what he held was a letter. There was something else laying on top of it that looked sorta funny; something dark, also tied up with a ribbon. As he inched forward, trying to see, he caught his foot on an exposed root and fell to the ground.
Finlay feigned surprise. “Master Boone,” he exclaimed, “whaur did ye com’ frae?”
Israel stood and dusted off his knees. “Behind the tree,” he answered honestly.
The young Scot hid his smile. He waved his hand toward the verdant landscape about them, which was kissed with the golden rays of the setting sun. “‘Tis a bonnie forenight tae be oot in th’ woods,” he said, “thoogh nae sae bonnie as in Scotlain.”
The little boy frowned as he came to stand beside him. “My Pa says there ain’t no place on God’s green earth as beautiful as Kentucky.”
Finlay Dougal shifted. He laid the paper on his lap and gazed out toward the horizon. “Mah mither oft says th’ same. Thaur isnae a place so bonnie as yer hom’, whaurever it may be.”
“Is your Ma really an Indian?”
Finlay arced one black eyebrow and turned to look at the Boone’s young son. His pretense had worked. By acting disinterested, he had brought the boy to him rather than pursuing him and risking his running away again. In answer to the question he reached up and pulled the ribbon from his hair and tossed his head, allowing the straight blue-black locks to fall about his shoulders in a wave. “Can ye see it noo?” he asked.
Israel’s mouth dropped open. “Gosh, yes. If you had feathers, you’d look just like Mingo.”
The young man grinned. “Cara-Mingo, ye mean? Boot ye call him only ‘Mingo’?”
The boy looked puzzled. “Don’t you? I thought you was his friend.”
“Nae, Israel, I dinnae ken him. Mah brither dee, boot he calls him Cara, ur Cara-Mingo.” Finlay paused and then added with a smile, “Lookin’ up at ye is makin’ mah neck hurt, laddie. Will ye nae sit doon an’ gab wi’ me awhile?”
Israel pursed his lips. He hesitated a moment and then nodded. As he settled in beside the elegantly-dressed Scotsman, he pointed at the letter in his hand. “What’s that?”
“This?” Finlay’s dark eyes danced. “‘Tis a letter frae mah jo.”
“Mah sweetheart. Th’ lassie I am gaun tae marry.”
The boy could see now that what he held in his hand, besides the folded paper, was a bit of hair as black as his own bound up in a ribbon. “That hers?”
The Scot fingered the lock. “Och! Aye.” He lifted the paper to his nose and then held it out for Israel to smell. “An’ thot tis her scent. She aye smells o’ lavender on a May mornin’.”
Israel sniffed and then scrunched up his face. “Is that a good thing?”
Finlay’s eyes went wide and he laughed long and hard. “Forgife me,” he said as he wiped the tears away and then laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Aye, ‘tis a bonnie thin’.”
The Boone’s son stared at him a moment and then fell quiet. He looked at his hands and shifted in the grass as if uncomfortable.
“Is thaur somethin’ ye wan’ tae say, laddie?”
Israel nodded. “I like you, Mr. MacKirdy....” he began.
The white-haired boy looked up and met his eyes. “Finlay. But I don’t understand.”
The boy frowned. “Why are you tellin’ tales about Arrowkeeper?”
“Tellin’ tales?” The young Scot sobered instantly. “Aboot who?”
“Arrowkeeper. Mingo’s friend.” The deep blue eyes challenged him. “My friend.”
“Oh, th’ tall Indian whot mah brither kent’ afore?” He shook his dark head. “I dinnae ken yer friend, nor hae I onie thin’ ag’in him. ‘Tis joost thot aur uncle sent us tae warn yer faither an’....”
The boy raised his battered hands and clenched them into fists. “Arrowkeeper wouldn’t do anything to hurt Mingo or my Pa! He wouldn’t!” His head turned swiftly toward the young Scot. “Your uncle is a liar!”
Finlay placed his hand over the boy’s. “Nae, Israel. He’s a bawd mon. A bonnie mon. He woulds nae hae sent us haur withoot reason.” At the boy’s look he added, “Boot e’en braw men can be misinformed ur wrang. Yer faither an’ Alec will find th’ truth.” He watched as the white-blond head fell to the boy’s chest and he seemed to withdraw into himself again. After a moment, he removed his hand and asked quietly, “Whot happened tae yer hands?”
Israel wrapped them about his dark brown jacket, concealing the damaged skin under his arms. “Nothin’.”
“Yer knuckles aur bleedin’.”
“It ain’t nothin’. I hit ‘em on a tree, that’s all.”
“I see.” Finlay shook his head. He gathered his dark locks into a tail and tossed it over his shoulder. “Aur ye mad aboot somethin’ then?”
The little boy looked up. “Criminetly, you sure ask a lotta questions. Why would you think that?”
Finlay Dougal carefully folded the letter that rested on his lap and tucked it away safely in his pocket. Then he said, “When I was a wee laddie, aboot yer age, I lost ain o’ mah brithers.”
“Lost? You mean....”
“Aye, he died.”
Israel hesitated. There was that word. He didn’t want to think about dyin’—about anybody dyin’—but still he had to know. “What happened to him?”
The young Scot leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “We had been oot in th’ woods an’ waur on aur way hom’—Archie, Alec an’ me. A turrible storm cam’ up. Th’ water poured frae th’ heavens an’ all boot washed awa’ th’ path we waur on.” He sighed as the memory of that day filled his mind’s eye; a memory he had tried so hard to lock away. “We waur crossin’ o’er th’ bridge when th’ earth gate way. Archie an’ me, we fell....”
“Gosh.... What happened?”
Finlay opened his eyes, surprised to find there were still tears to be cried after so many years. He wiped one away. “Alec saved mah life.”
Israel waited. When Finlay volunteered nothing more, he asked, “But not Archie’s?”
The young man sighed. “Nae. Alec an’ Archie waur older than me. They waur born at th’ same time— ”
“Twins, ya mean?”
“Aye, twins. Alec thot Archie coulds look oot fur himself. I was nae eight years auld.”
“...about my age.”
He turned and looked at the boy. “Aye. Sae ye see, I ken haw ye feel aboot yer friend; angry an’ sad, an’ guilty thot is was nae ye.” Finlay’s smile was bittersweet. “I didnae dash mah fists ag’in a tree ‘til they bled, boot fur a time, I did mony a wild thin’ I shoulds nae.”
Israel drew a deep breath. His whole body seemed to shudder and then the words tumbled out one upon the other. “Charlie was younger than me. He hadn’t lived here very long. He and his folks only came last winter. He was so scared. He wouldn’t keep quiet. When they took hold of him, he yelled and yelled. I told him to keep quiet. I told him!” The tears began to spill down the boy’s cheeks again and he shook from the sob that came with them. “Why wouldn’t he listen. I could of— ”
Finlay put his arm about the little boy and said softly, “Ye coulds nae hae done onie thin’, Israel. Isnae yer fault. Ye hae tae beliefe thot.” The Scot drew a deep breath and looked out towards the dying light. “I hae tae beliefe thot.”
They fell silent for a moment, simply sitting, each dealing in his own way with his private grief. Finally Finlay stirred and said softly, “Noo ain more thin’, Israel, an’ then we hads best gae, ur yer mither will skin us booth.”
The boy wiped his dirty face with his sleeve and looked up. “What’s that?”
“Dae ye ken whot a ‘motto’ is, ur a ‘creed’?”
Israel thought hard for a moment. “You mean like bein’ a Baptist or a Quaker?”
Finlay laughed. “Nae. More like whot a Baptist ur a Quaker beliefes.”
He thought again. “I think so.”
“I cam’ frae a lang line o’ folk who hae seen mony a hard day. Aur hom’ is on an isle—th’ bonnie isle o’ Bute. Uir clan owes all tae them whot hae protected us fur centuries; th’ Stuarts.”
“Like the kings? Are they the ones who wear skirts?”
Finlay laughed gently. “Aye, thaur hae been mony a Stuart king. An’ they hae worn skirts.”
“Do you wear a skirt?”
Smiling at the power of a child to move on, the young man replied solemnly. “I hae been kent to, noo an’ ag’in—tho’ isnae allawed in uir land noo. Dae ye ken whot th’ Stuart creed might be?”
Israel shook his head. “Nae,” he said seriously.
The young man tousled the boy’s hair with a laugh and then rose to his
“Courage grows strang at a woond.”
The Scot reached around and gathered his
black hair into its tail once again and bound it with the golden ribbon.
“Whot dae nae kill a mon, strengthens him.”
He drew a deep breath and then met Israel’s eyes.
“I woulds like tae be yer friend, Israel Boone.
Dae ye thin’ thot woulds be all richt?”
boy considered it. “So long as
you don’t think Arrowkeeper’s bad.”
dinnae ken him. I woulds nae judge
a man bad ur braw ‘til I did.”
“Then I guess it’s all right.” Israel held his hand out and waited
for Finlay to take it. He winced as
the young man’s fingers closed over his own.
Pulling away, he brought his knuckles to his lips and sucked at the
broken skin. “That hurt,” he
said with a frown.
Finlay got a far away look in his eyes as he laid his hand on the boy’s
shoulder and steered him toward the cabin.
“Aye, laddie. Thaur’s e’er a price tae be paid.”
As the two of them set foot on the path that would lead them back to the
Boone cabin and one slightly agitated and exasperated Rebecca Boone, several
dark feathered heads lifted and eyes black as midnight followed their progress.
One hand was raised and a whispered word was shared, and then their forms
faded into the shadows as if they had never been.
Daniel Boone stared at the young man who sat across from him.
During the final hours of their day’s march he had fallen silent and,
by the time they had decided to make camp for the night, had become almost
melancholy. The frontiersman sipped
the rich coffee he had boiled over the fire and stretched his long legs before
him. It was amusing to think of
this one and Mingo as very young men. At
the time he was homesteading and having children, sleeping under the stars and
exploring uncharted territories, they were just leaving the Old World behind,
traveling the country wearing fancy costumes and singing and speaking other
people’s words. He looked again
at the handsome Scot. He had
changed out of the elegant clothes he had worn when they first met and was now
dressed in buckskins and a simple linen hunting shirt that gave him the more
common appearance of a settler or trapper.
Still, there was no missing the Indian blood once you knew it was there.
As he watched him reach for a bit of the squirrel they had roasted and
the light struck his strong-boned face, he was unexpectedly reminded of his
missing friend and the danger he was in.
Unaware that he did so, Dan sighed.
“Mr. Boone...? Is
somethin’ botherin’ ye?”
He glanced up. Then he
laughed. “If it is, it must be catchin’.
And call me Dan.”
Alexander frowned. Then his
white teeth flashed. “I divna
been th’ best o’ companions, Dan. Forgife
“I take it your mind is far away.
The young man shook his head. “Nae.
Moost like whaur yers is. First
wi’ mah brither an’ yer folk, an’ then wi’ Cara-Mingo.”
Dan sat up suddenly alert. “Are
you worried about your brother? If
you don’t think he can watch out for Becky and Israel, I had best—”
“Nae, Dan.” The Scot
held up his hand. “Finlay will
guard yer folk well; wi’ his life. He’s
a braw lad.”
Relaxing a bit, the frontiersman asked quietly, “Then what is it
Alexander drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I wiltnae trooble ye wi’ a lesson in th’ politics o’ Scotlain, boot I brooght Finlay haur because his life was in danger at hom’.”
“I was rebellious in mah choice o’ profession. Finlay is rebellious in loove. Her nam’ is Aileen. Aileen Campbell.”
Dan waited, but the young man said nothing more. “I take it your people don’t cotton to the Campbells.”
“If ‘cotton tae’ means ‘get alang wi’, then, nae. Thaur’s bad bluid atween th’ Stuarts an’ th’ Campbells, an’ sae mus’ be th’ same wi’ th’ MacKirdys.” The young man accepted a tin cup from the tall woodsman. “Finlay is yoong. He dinnae understan’.”
Dan shifted back and leaned his weight against the fallen tree trunk behind him that was firmly mired in the Kentucky earth. His rifle and his haversack lay close by, within easy reach. “Does he love this girl?”
Alexander sighed. “Aye.”
“And does she love him?”
The dark eyes flicked to his face. “Aye...”
The big man pursed his lips and paused. Then he said, “So what is it he doesn’t understand, Alexander?”
The Scot fell silent. He turned away for a moment, seemingly transported.
The younger man turned back. “Och, Daniel, somethin’ ‘tis hard fur th’ pure yoong an’ inexperienced tae ken; th’ colour o’ men’s hearts.”
Dan frowned. It was not the answer he had expected. “Meanin’?”
The dark-haired man polished off the last of his coffee and then tossed the grounds into the brush. His long fingers played with the edge of the cup. Finally he began to speak, slowly, as if the words had to be pulled from him. “I cam’ tae yer country as a yoong man, barely twenty—aboot Finlay’s age—an’ like mah brither, I was naife. I beliefed thot somewhaur men coulds be different; thot somewhaur ambition an’ power might nae govern thaur hearts. I was wrang.”
“You said you came here with Mingo. Does this have to do with what happened after you left your acting troupe behind?”
The Scot nodded. “Aye.” He glanced at Dan. “Ye ken th’ nam’ Culloden an’ whot it means tae us?”
Dan tossed the remains of his own coffee. “Yes. The end of a way of life centuries old. Many men have come here to the Colonies, to Kentuck, who were once men of property and power, but who now own nothing more than their courage and the determination to start again.”
“I dinnae intend tae gae intae th’ horrors an’ atrocities, Daniel, an’ th’ savagery o’ whot was doon tae th’ Highlanders loyal tae th’ Stuarts af’er th’ battle. I dinnae see it mahself, tho’ mah faither did. Still, th’ choices he mad’ meant mah folk fared better than most; e’en sae, we grew oop in th’ shadaw o’ other men’s hate.” Alexander MacKirdy grew quiet. He bit his lip and then looked up to meet Dan’s sharp green eyes. “Boot whot I found haur in Ken-tah-ten.... Well, e’en Stinkin’ Willy paled by comparison.”
“Th’ Duke o’ Cumberland; th’ mon whot butchered Charlie’s men on th’ field as they lay dyin’.” The younger man stirred. He rose and turned to stare at the moon, which was rising pale and ghostly above the lush blue-green trees. “I ran awa’ frae all o’ thot; frae blind loyalty an’ unquestionin’ duty tae whot I hae been taught. Highland. Lawland. Gael an’ Scot. It seemed sae pointless! I becam’ an actur an’ lost mahself in other men’s words, an’ in th’ lifes they dreamed o’. I sailed tae th’ New Worl’ whaur I believed I woulds leave all o’ thot behin’, only tae find it ag’in...” The Scot shuddered and wrapped his arms about his lean frame. “ ...wearin’ th’ black face of death, an’ walkin’ on th’ yellow legs o’ war.”
“You’re talkin’ about the Creek. The young ones.” Dan knew what he referred to. It was the war paint the Red Hearts donned when going into battle. “And Mingo’s brother,” he added quietly. “You said you ended up in the middle of a war. So you meant you knew him personally?”
The younger man swung towards him. “Personally? Aye, it waur personal.” Alexander clenched his fists and drew a calming breath. “If ye ken o’ him, I am sorry fur ye. I am surprised Cara-Mingo mad’ mention o’ him. Thaur was bad bluid atween them.”
Dan’s look was grim. “It’s not that I know of him. I met him. Must be, two years ago now.”
Alexander MacKirdy shook his dark head. “Nae. Tara died at leest three years afore this. Afore I returned tae Scotlain.”
The frontiersman’s voice was quiet. In his mind’s eye he could still see his friend, battered and beaten, flailed like an animal and laid out to dry and to die. “No. I think it was in seventy-six. I followed the trail of blood Tara-Mingo left until it led me to his brother. He’d been whipped to within an inch of his life, bound, and left to bleed and starve to death.”
Alexander was horrified. “God’s woonds, mon! Dinnae tell me thot monster is still alife....”
Dan closed his eyes for a moment as the memory of that day overwhelmed him. He had never gotten over standing on that rock, gazing down at that broken body. If he hadn’t known otherwise, he would have thought it was Mingo. It was a fear he carried with him to this day—that somehow his brother’s evil would reach out from the grave to claim him still. After a moment he said simply, “Mingo saved my life.”
Alexander understood. “Sorry I am fur Cara then thot he had tae face th’ pain twa times. An’ sorry fur ye thot ye had tae share th’ same air thot monster breathed.” He shuddered. “Lookin’ in his eyes waur like facin’ th’ de’il himself.”
The big man waited a moment and then said softly, “Alexander, do you need to talk about it?”
“Dae I?” The young man’s laugh was an uneasy one. “Haur? In th’ dark?” He shook his head. “I am tae mooch th’ Gael. I wiltnae call oop a spirit sae fierce by givin’ it voice.” He returned to the side of the modest fire they had kindled and sat, lacing his hands about his knees “Boot I will tell ye aboot th’ trip we mad’ back tae America, if ye like. Those waur happier days.”
Dan drew a deep breath and hesitated, listening for a moment to the sound of the sussurating trees and wondering what secrets they carried. There was nothing to be done tonight. For good or ill Mingo and Arrowkeeper were beyond his reach and his power, and though his friend was a private man, he thought he would understand. Even the reserved Cherokee had admitted that keeping his secrets often led them into trouble. As he poured another cup of coffee, Dan nodded to the intense young man.
On a ship sailing to the Colonies, 1767
“Ooh, isn’t he splendid, Isabella, and so handsome.”
The young woman’s companion tilted her coppery head. She took a moment to run her blue eyes slowly up and down the actor’s lean frame. Then she placed the tip of her finger on the beauty spot that accentuated her full lips and remarked dispassionately, “Passable.” At her friend’s surprised look Isabella burst into laughter and, fanning herself, glanced behind to wink at the dark-haired young man who leaned against the ship’s wall, sulking. “I, for one, Emma, prefer our own Alec.” The young English-bred Irishwoman stood and, lifting her voluminous skirts, crossed to where he stood. Drawing close, she pressed her tightly bound breasts into the soft fabric of his dark green coat and asked softly, “An’ dae ye prefer me, Alexander MacKirdy?” She rolled the ‘r’s’ in his name as she reached out towards him. Deftly, he slipped away before her fingers made contact.
“Lae off, Isabella. Ye ken I am nae interested.”
The tall buxom redhead pouted as she followed his gaze to the newest member of their troupe. As she turned back, her striking face assumed a well-rehearsed look of bewilderment. Then, with her husky voice carefully lowered, but pitched just loud enough to be overheard, she inquired sharply, “Well then, are ye interested in him?”
He couldn’t miss Emma’s stifled laugh. She waved an apology to him before wrapping her arms about her stomach and stamping her petite feet on the floor. Alexander sighed and met Isabella’s impish eyes. A moment later he smiled and crooked his little finger at her, indicating she should draw near again.
“And what would you be wanting, Alec MacKir-r-r-rdy?” she asked, her suspicions aroused.
“Com’ tae me, lass,” was all he said.
Her painted eyes narrowed. “Why? What for?”
“I hae somethin’ tae tell ye....”
The redhead planted her hands on the firm edge of the stuffed roll that rested beneath her overskirt and gazed at him warily. Then she shrugged. Coming close, she allowed him to encircle her tiny waist with his hands and laughed as he pulled her to him and nibbled the top of her ear. As she ran her hand along the outside of his thigh, he nodded toward the small stage they had rigged in the stern quarter gallery of the great sailing ship.
Isabella giggled like a little girl, “Yes....”
He whispered softly in her ear. “Ye joost missed yer cue.”
The petite blond in front of them burst out laughing. “Better hurry, Issie, or more will be ‘provoked’ than Sir John Vanbrugh’s guidwife....”
The young woman who was portraying Vanbrugh’s ‘Mademoiselle’ in his popular play ‘The Provoked Wife’ made a rude gesture in the Scot’s face and then flounced off toward the stage, making certain the bum roll that rode her shapely hips did a tidy little dance as she went. She held her head high as she joined the newcomer on the boards and accepted with relish the stage kiss he planted on her polished lips. As he glanced from side to side, ascertaining whether or not they were alone, she sighed audibly and pretended to melt. A moment later her back stiffened. She thrust her hands out and in one of the worst German accents known to man proclaimed, “How now, convidence!”
“How now, modesty!” he replied.
She turned her back on him, indignant. “Zo who makes you zo familiar, sirrah?”
He put his arms about her waist and pulled her to his taut frame. “My impudence, hussy.”
Isabella pivoted and acted as if she would strike him. “Stand ov, rogue-face!” she declared. Then she laughed and flung herself at him again.
He caught her and caressed her hair. “Ah! Mademoiselle, great news at our house!”
“Vhy, vat be de madder?”
“The matter?” he laughed. “Why, up-tails, all’s the matter.”
“Tu te mocque de moi,” she answered coyly, adopting a passing French intonation.
“Now do you long to know the particulars—the time when—the place where—the manner how....” He gazed deeply into her wide dark eyes and touched his finger to her lips. “But I won’t tell you a word more.”
“Nae,” she whispered, switching out of character to employ a thick Scots’ brogue that made Alec wince, “then ye keel me, Razor.”
The newcomer ignored her jest. He swung her about as had been rehearsed and dipped her half-way to the floor as he finished with a flourish. “Come, kiss me, then!” he declared and, as she threw her arms about his neck, he kissed her once again and held the pose.
Before he could even think to come up for air, the director began to complain. Geoffrey Stanbury raised his voice dramatically and, pacing back and forth in front of the stage in a seeming frenzy, began to whine, complaining that his blocking had been irretrievably mangled and demanding that someone please explain to him what major offense he had committed against God and his country to be saddled with such an inept and incompetent troupe of actors. A full minute into the tirade he stopped to draw a breath and used the opportunity to pin the latest addition to their cast with his beady brown eyes. And what was he thinking, Stanbury hinted with a raised eyebrow and one hand perched saucily on his hip, had he never kissed a woman before? As the tall slender man sighed and began to straighten up Isabella tossed a wicked look at Emma and Alexander and, hooking her fingers in his waist-band, pulled him off-balance so he tumbled to the floor. Then she rolled over until she was on top of him. As he blushed and attempted to extricate himself, she pressed her finger to his lips and followed it with a passionate kiss. A moment later she lifted her head and caught the Scot’s eye.
“Now there’s a ‘Razor’ worth sharpening,” she proclaimed and then burst into laughter.
Alec MacKirdy did his best not to, but he lost his temper. He pushed off the wall and—after hurling a lengthy well-projected Gaelic curse at her—stormed out of the gallery. He knew she was taunting him; trying to get a rise. Razor had been his part. It had been agreed upon before they set sail.
But that had been before his ‘Lordship’ had arrived.
Fuming Alec took the steps two at a time, working his way up them until he stood beneath the black sky and the white stars and could feel the cool sea-spray strike his hot skin. He quickly walked the length of the main course, ignoring the sailors who kept the night watch and their rude comments, and stopped only when he reached the taffrail. Leaning upon it, he watched the starlight dance carefree across the billowing waves and then noted, almost by accident, the ship’s Jacob’s Ladder dangling below. A sly smile brushed his lips. For a moment—just a moment—he had imagined the newcomer hanging off of it. One slip of the foot was all it would take.
“Alexander? Alexander MacKirdy?”
He pivoted. The soft-spoken raven-haired stranger was behind him. Sucking in some of the salt air, he answered sharply, “Aye. Whot dae ye want?”
The man took a step forward and held out his hand. “To apologize, it seems.”
The Scot ignored it. “Fur whot? It was nae ye who mad’ th’ decision. Waur Geoffrey. He said he coulds nae sae Razor as a Scot.”
“But you had been cast before.”
“Aye.” The dark eyes narrowed. “An’ I would nae hae been bumped, had it nae been fur ye. Middleton’s tae fat, an’ Bammard stutters.”
“Just so. That is why I came up here to apologize.” The elegant man smiled sheepishly. “Well, that, and one other reason....”
The Scot’s jaw tightened. Here it came. The buxom redhead had put him up to something for sure. “An’ thot is?”
He cleared his throat. “I felt an urgent need to escape Isabella’s...attentions.”
Alec paused. Perhaps the man’s sincerity was real. Perhaps not. Drawing a deep breath, he crossed his arms and pretended to be affronted. “Sae ye nae took tae her?”
The stranger’s strong-boned face lit with confusion. “What? You mean you...?” His manners and speech were courtly; they made him stand out as something different—a cut above the rest of them. “Please accept my apologies, I didn’t mean any offense. I...”
As he continued to stammer Alec took a step closer. “She thooght perhaps ye fancied me.”
The Scot drew even closer. “Perhaps I fancy ye...”
“I...I beg your pardon?” The dark brown eyes were wide. “If I have done something to mislead you, I am...” The newcomer fell silent as he noted the spark in the actor’s eyes and the quirk at the edge of his lips. He paused, and then shook his head and laughed. “And am I considered ‘paid up’ now?”
Alec grinned. “Aye. Th’ look on yer face waur worth th’ losin’ o’ th’ part.” He paused and then added quietly, “Anyhoo, noo Isabella can bedevil ye instead o’ me.”
“There’ll be no need.” The other man cleared his throat and then remarked dryly, “Her acting will kill me long before her attentions.”
The Scot met the gaze of the one he had been told went by the name of Kerr Montagne and laughed long and hard. Then he held out his hand. “I am sorry I hae behaved as a wee spoilt chiel. We hae ne’er been properly introduced. I am Alexander Calum MacKirdy, o’ th’ MacKirdys o’ Bute, boot mah friends call me Alec. An’ ye be?”
“Kerr. Kerr Montagne.” There was a short pause. “Late of London.”
Alec eyed him, seeking to take his measure. Since the stranger had boarded the ship with his two exotic attendants he had kept mostly to himself, spending all of his extra time in the private quarters he had engaged, supposedly caring for the older man. According to the actor’s gossip, his dark-skinned servant had been alternately shot, stabbed or poisoned. No one knew for certain. In fact, after two weeks on the high seas, the only thing anyone knew for certain about the curious trio was that they knew nothing.
Oh, everyone had their theories. Geoffrey Stanbury, their director, thought he was a nobleman’s son fleeing a disastrous love affair with another man’s wife. Isabella Pursglove, as expected, had a more colorful and novel explanation; she said Kerr was actually a notorious bandit. She was positive he had joined their troupe to avoid detection and capture. Andrew Middleton believed he was a soldier fleeing military service. But it was Emma—dear quiet thoughtful Emma—who probably came the closest. She remarked she had noted an inexplicable sadness in his eyes, and that he looked like a man who was running from nothing more than himself.
Alec met those eyes, gazing steadily into them. Unlike the women, they did not create in him a desire to swoon, but there was something there; something ineffable and curiously familiar.
The subject of his scrutiny shifted as if uncomfortable and remarked at last, “Well, I had best get back.”
Kerr sighed. “Act Five again,” he sighed, ‘until we get it right.”
Alec laughed. “An’ sae ye get tae kiss Issie ag’in?”
“And again. And again....” Kerr laid his hand on his forehead and cried in an exaggerated voice, “Then ye keel me, Iz-a-bella!” He laughed, executed a deep bow, and disappeared into the gathering darkness.
The young Scot stared after him, struck dumb. There was something about him, something in the way he moved, that—for just a moment—had put him in mind of his brother Archibald. He frowned and shook himself and then turned back to the undulating waves and stared into the fathomless blackness. Archie had been dead only three and a half years. He still expected to turn a corner and find him. In many ways, he needed to find him. Archie had been the other half of his soul.
Alec leaned on the taffrail and placed his hands over his head. Never again. He would never see him again. He had let Archie die and nothing would ever be the same.
A minute or two later he straightened up and began to walk the course once more. He wondered what his other brothers and sisters were doing. It had pained him to leave them all—especially young Finlay—but if he had not, their home would not have known a moment’s peace. His father was a good man, but there was no possible way the two of them would ever see eye to eye. No, his leaving had been for the best...for all of them. Besides, he couldn’t bear to bring his mother any more pain; not when he had to look into those deep brown eyes and know he was the cause of it. Not when....
Like a thunder-clap it struck him. Kerr’s dark eyes and his raven hair. The way he held himself and moved. But even more than that, it was the other two—the tall one who carried himself like a foreign prince, and the older injured man. He knew now where he had seen their like before, and it wasn’t in the West Indies, or Venice, or Spain or Rome.
But in Scotland.
In his own home.
Another week had passed and the troupe was engaged in final rehearsals for ‘The Provoked Wife’. As he felt they were a captive audience, it was Stanbury’s intention to perform it for the ship’s officers so that he could gauge their reactions and adjust the comedic timing accordingly before reaching the Colonies. The evening’s third run-through of Act I had just come to an end and, as the actors began to chatter and break out the cards and the bottles of wine, Alec slipped away in order to seek a quiet spot where he could think. For a while he wandered the upper decks, but the sea air was thick with the promise of a storm and the crewmen stared at him as if he was daft, and soon—as they began to batten down the sails and other loose items—they told him in no uncertain terms that he was in the way. He had no desire to return to the gallery or to chance running into Isabella, and so he continued to wander, finally ending up on the leeward side of the ship near the private cabins. It had not been his intention, but as usual, his steps had led him to the shadows outside Kerr Montagne’s door. Several times in the last week he had secreted himself there, watching as the mysterious newcomer and his tall companion came and went. He knew now that they were not servant and master. If anything, his fellow actor seemed to defer to the other man, as if he was in the presence of someone far more masterful, with greater knowledge and wisdom than him. Kerr had not been in rehearsal today. In fact, Alec had not seen him at all since the night before when the tall exotic man in the royal blue silk banyan had come to claim him.
As he stood in the hallway contemplating the meaning of it all, he became aware of two voices raised in anger. A moment later the cabin door opened and Kerr stormed into the hallway. He stopped dead as someone called his name and pivoted sharply, turning so the golden light of the ship’s lantern struck him. His shirt was off and his hair unbound so it fell in dark waves about his shoulders. His fists were clenched in anger and when he spoke, his voice shook.
“I will never be able to do this. I don’t remember. I was too young. You can’t expect....” He fell silent and his jaw grew tight as he listened to someone. “I know you are trying to help, but I told you, that is not who I am anymore. I am dead to the leaves and the waters of my home. I no longer know the earth. I no longer have the knowledge that it takes to walk in harmony with the stars and the sun and the moon.”
He turned away and retreated into the shadows that lined the corridor to lean his head against the wall. A moment later the tall regal-looking man emerged from the cabin. He remained silent for some time and then, when he spoke, it was only to say, “Cara-Mingo....”
The man Alec knew as Kerr turned but he continued to hug the cloak of darkness. “What?” His voice was ragged. Tired. “Arrowkeeper, leave it be.... Leave me be.”
“Perhaps you are right.”
Alec drew a deep breath as he looked at the tall man. Could a body’s blood speak to him so? He gazed at him, at his deep red skin and jet-black hair, and he knew; he knew this man was at one with himself and with the land his soul walked, and he wanted to understand and be the same.
Kerr had turned. He moved forward until the light struck his agitated face. “What? What are you trying to say?”
“Perhaps you cannot go back.”
“No...” The young man seemed puzzled. “...I want to. I need to.... I am trying....”
“That is your trouble. You try,” Arrowkeeper reached out and touched his furrowed brow, “here.” Then he touched his chest. “Not here. This is what you have forgotten how to listen to.”
“But I can learn....”
“No. You must feel. Not learn. If you learn; you will die.” The tall man shook his dark head and made a cutting gesture. “Knowledge of the head is for the white man. Knowledge of the heart...that is what makes a man red.”
The Scot’s fingers slid across the polished wood as he moved closer. So his guess had been right; they were Indians. Like his mother. Only not like her—raised as a white by whites—but natives as her folk must have been.
But what did that make Kerr?
“Spoken like a Red Heart, Arrowkeeper.”
The tall imposing man swung about. “Do not use your words to put a balm on the wound he feels, Star. Let him feel!”
Alec had rarely seen the older man who traveled with the wealthy young actor. He was of an average height and seemed slight compared to the other two—but that could have been due to his injury and the subsequent loss of weight and body mass. His long hair was as black as the starless waves and his skin a rich copper, like the silken coat of a prized chestnut. There was a bright red scarf wrapped about his head and he wore a simple shirt and breeches. The shirt was open and Alec could see there was some sort of bundle with feathers tied about his neck.
He watched as the older man crossed the hallway to lay his hand on Kerr’s shoulder. “Is your heart in England with your father’s people? Or in the forests with Talota’s tribe?”
The young man answered without hesitation. “You know the answer to that. I despise London. I wish I had never seen it.” His whole body seemed to sigh. “Star, I want to go home.”
The native man smiled. “In your heart you have never left. You will find the way again in time, Cara-Mingo.”
The young man drew a deep breath and nodded towards their other companion. “He doesn’t seem to think so.”
Star gazed at Arrowkeeper. “He only wants to keep you alive.”
“Alive? I don’t understand....”
“Many are the years that have been lost to you, Cara-Mingo” the tall man spoke, his voice deep and rich as the forested world into which he had been born, “years in which you would have learned to listen, to run and to hunt. Years which would have taught you how to survive.”
“I learned as a boy....” the young man countered.
“And do you remember what you learned?”
“No. Well.... A little.” He raised his dark head and met his companion’s eyes. “Won’t it come back to me?”
The man he called Arrowkeeper laughed. “Only if you do not...try.”
Kerr opened his mouth to answer, but the older man stopped him. “No. Enough for tonight. Tomorrow we will meditate again and seek a sign. For tonight, you must rest.”
The young man ran a hand through his hair. “I can’t. Not just yet. Star, I thank you. And Arrowkeeper, you too. I value your friendship—and your wisdom—more than you can know.”
The tall man nodded once. He glanced at the other native and then turned and disappeared into the room.
“Are you coming?” the older man asked quietly.
Kerr shook his head. “In a minute. I need to think...to be alone.”
Star briefly touched his face. “Think with your heart, Cara-Mingo. Let it govern your head, and you will soon know.”
The young man remained still as his companions returned to the room they all shared. He watched the door close and then, after a moment, shook himself and seemed to come back from wherever his thoughts had taken him. Head down, he started for the stairs. Alec drew a deep breath and stepped into his path, barring his way. Instantly the dark head came up and his brown eyes—wary and perceptive—widened with the knowledge that his fellow thespian had heard every word.
“Kerr.” He greeted him with a nod.
“Alec...” He winced. “Have you been there...long?”
The Scot pursed his lips and paused. “Lang enoof.”
“I can explain....”
“Cara-Mingo?” he repeated the foreign-sounding name slowly, “an’ whot sort o’ a nam’ is thot?”
He started to lie. But then his thoughts went to Star and to the words he had just spoken and, somehow, it didn’t seem right. Besides, he was simply too tired to keep up the pretense any more. “Cherokee,” he said at last.
Alec fell silent. He drew another breath and let it out slowly. Then he shook his own dark head. “An’ dae ye believe in fate, Cara-Mingo...? Cara-Mingo whot? Nae Montagne, I’ll wager. Ye ne’er said who yer folk aur....”
“Murray. My father’s name is John Murray.”
“Och.” Alec knew the name. Murrays had fought on both sides in the Jacobite conflict, some helping and some hindering his own people.
“William Murray was my grandfather.”
The Scot pursed his lips. “The ain whot was in prison?”
“Boot ye aur English.”
Kerr agreed. “Through and through. My ‘faither’ and his father never saw eye to eye.”
“A pure familiar story,” Alec said softly. “Sae ye aur on th’ run? Boot nae frae th’ law ur th’ service, ur a broken loove affair....”
The young man smiled unexpectedly. “Actually, in some ways, from all three—as well as from my father.” He paused and sobered. “And from myself.”
“Dae ye feel oop tae takin’ a walk?”
Kerr shook his head at first, then he changed his mind and nodded. He gathered his shoulder-length hair in his hand and tossed it over his shoulder and then remembered he was shirtless. His dark eyes darted to the cabin behind him. “You won’t say anything about them, will you? About who and what they really are? They would put them in the hold and....”
The Scot smiled. “Look at me, Kerr. Pure look at me. Whot dae ye see?”
His fellow actor shrugged as one black eyebrow arced towards his hair. “Someone who knows too much about me for his own good?”
Alec frowned. “Whot?”
Kerr laughed wearily. “I do have Arrowkeeper on my side.”
“Och! Aye,” he laughed. “I woulds nae want tae cross thot great tall angry mon. Boot ye nae answered me.”
John Murray’s son shook his head. He took hold of Alec’s shoulders and turned him towards the light and then stepped back. After considering his face and form for a moment, he said softly, “I see a handsome man. Dark-haired and dark-eyed. With a deep complexion and....” His voice trailed off. He looked stunned. “Dear God. You?”
The Scot nodded. “Is thaur somewhaur we can talk?”
Outside Boonesborough 1776
The fire had long since burned out and Daniel Boone was only a tall silhouette framed by a moonlit sky. “Aye?”
Dan shifted to his knees and raised his hand, calling for silence. “Men. Quite a few of them. Comin’ this way.”
The Scot withdrew his pistol from his jacket and moved so he knelt beside him. “Natives?”
“By the sound of it.” The frontiersman’s look was grim.
“Friendly ones?” Alexander asked with a hopeful smile.
Dan’s green eyes lit with amusement. “Well, if you’d like to we can wait and find out, but it’s not somethin’ I would recommend, ‘cause if they ain’t that short haircut of yours is bound to get a mite shorter.” Unexpectedly his jest seemed to strike the Scotsman like the back of a hand. He watched as his eyes closed briefly and his lean body seemed to shudder. “Alexander?”
The other man shook his head. “I hae seen someain scalped, Daniel. Someain dear. I dinnae care tae e’er see it ag’in.” His white teeth flashed as his fingers closed about the handle of his shining pistol. “Unless it be ain o’ them.”
“I think they’re comin’...” The big man paused and listened. “...from the South. Come this way....”
As Alexander followed him into the underbrush a pale light fell upon the patch of ground they had just vacated. The two of them crouched in the shadows and watched as several well-dressed men and half a dozen warriors in breech-cloths entered the small clearing. One of the ones attired as a white man knelt by the fire. He felt the stones and stirred the ashes and then signaled to the others with a sharp gesture.
The chase was on.
The young man turned to look at her. He was sitting on the porch, in the dark, staring out at the stars that winked and danced above the rich Kentucky landscape. “Aye, Ma’am?” He stopped and corrected himself with a smile. “Aye, Rebecca?”
“There’s more pie. Would you like—?”
“Nae. I coulds nae eat ainother bite.” He glanced toward the cabin and saw there was no small shape in the doorway. “Is th’ wee laddie asleep at last then?”
Becky nodded. She moved forward and laid her hand on his shoulder as she indicated the space to his right. “May I?”
Finlay shifted to the edge to make more room for her as he nodded. “Aye, Rebecca, ‘tis yer porch.”
She laughed as she settled in beside him and then wrapped her hands about her knees. “Thank you for going after Israel. After all that has happened, I can’t bear to let him get more than a few yards away from me.” She paused and then added quietly, “And thank you as well for what you told him. I think it helped him understand.”
“Aboot mah brither, ye mean?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
The young man sighed. His face was turned away from her, the elegant profile cut against the silver light of the risen moon. “’Twas a lang time afore this.”
Becky touched his arm. “And yet like yesterday.”
“Aye...” He closed his eyes and breathed in the clean scent of the wilderness, wishing it could ease the pain that had reawakened in his heart. “‘Tis worse for Alec.... ”
“Have you forgiven yourself, Finlay?”
The young man turned to look at her. “Forgifen mahself? Fur whot?”
“You know....” Her eyes were dark and all-seeing in the night. “For surviving.”
The Scot stood abruptly and advanced down the steps and stood looking at the night sky. After a moment he said, “Moost days I hae, boot noo an’ ag’in, I forget. An’ then th’ sorrow rushes oop like a tide, seekin’ tae droon me.” He pivoted so he faced her and laid his hand on his silk vest. His long fingers tapped the letter firmly secured beneath. “When thot happens, thooghts o’ Aileen help me tae keep mah head abofe th’ water.”
Becky laughed. “Israel mentioned there was a girl. He said she wrote ‘stinky’ notes.” As Finlay grinned, she added, “Is she at home—in Scotland?”
“Aye. On th’ mainland. Nae on Bute. She isnae welcom’ thaur.”
“Your people—your folk as you call them—are against this girl? And you?”
“They aur ag’inst her nam an’ her folk.” He shook his dark head. “They dinnae e’en ken her.”
“How sad. Do you miss her very much?”
Finlay paused, and when he spoke, his voice was gentle as a breeze on a fine spring morning. “’Tis an ache in my heart thot wiltnae gae awa’.” His dark eyes sparkled as his fingers reached inside his vest. “Woulds ye like tae see her?”
“See her?” Becky stood. She looked puzzled, but then as he withdrew a gold chain and locket from under his lace cravat, she understood. As his elegant fingers closed about it, she held out her hand and nodded towards the house. “Come inside where there is more light.”
Finlay nodded. “Aye.” Then he paused. “An’ Rebecca?”
She turned back and recognized the look. “You’re ready for the pie?”
“Thot I am,” he laughed.
The young Scot nodded to Daniel Boone’s wife and waited as she closed the door and lowered the bar. He didn’t stir until he heard it fall into place.
“Finlay,” she called to him through the open window, “I don’t like this.”
“Keep it barred ‘til I return, Rebecca. I wiltnae be lang.”
“But what if something happens to you?”
He stood with his back to the cabin door and eyed the surrounding foliage. There were shadows within shadows. It was now the wee hours of the night, near the witching hour; the time when nothing was ever what it seemed. “Then I will ken ye an’ th’ laddie aur safe. Bide inside. They want ye as hostages. They wiltnae dae onie thin’ tae harm ye.”
“But what about you? Finlay?” There was a pause. “Finlay?”
The young man could no longer hear her. He had slipped off the porch and rounded the corner of the cabin and was moving forward warily, hugging the concealing shadows. Only minutes before he had been standing near the window, watching as Rebecca descended the ladder that led to the loft. She had just checked on her small son and the two of them had been preparing to retire for the night, when he had heard something. He wasn’t sure what. It might have been a bat or a bird on the wing, or the sound of soft leather-soled shoes on the wooden slats just beyond the door. He would have dismissed it had it not been followed by an owl hooting suspiciously nearby. He had waited while Rebecca retrieved and loaded her husband’s spare rifle and then, palming his own flintlock pistol and cocking the hammer, had ordered her to bar the door behind him and keep watch while he searched the yard. The night was still. There was no wind. A heavy pall hung over the green grass and tall quiet trees, and a ghostly mist rose from the hot wet ground. The Scotsman drew a breath and held it, and then swiftly rounded the next corner.
He let the breath out. Two more to go.
As he moved stealthily along the cabin’s rear wall, he thought of his brother and Daniel Boone, and wondered where they were and if they were in any danger. It seemed something was in the air; something bigger than anything Kentucky had ever seen before. Their uncle Dungan had warned them there were Muskogee ‘princes’ involved; men like them, half-white and half-native, educated in white schools in both the Old World and the New, and trained in the battle tactics of the great strategists of old; tormented men who had hate bred into them and were fueled with the burning desire to prove themselves before their red brethren. James McInnery, a half-Scot, was one of them. He had been the first to speak the name of this ‘Kamassa aloud. His brother Alec had explained it was the Creek word for power, and that Kamassa was not only a real person but a symbol of hope for the young Creek warriors who called themselves Red Hearts.
Red as in blood.
He bit his lip and placed his finger on the trigger as he prepared to round the next corner. After that, the next turn would bring him back to the porch again. With a little luck and the blessing of the Saints, he would make it there without incident. Perhaps he had imagined the sound. The responsibility of looking out for Boone’s lovely wife and his son weighed heavily on his young shoulders. He didn’t want to let his brother down.
Shifting forward, he moved into a patch of black shadows and as he did the owl hooted again, so close its wings might have brushed his face. He stopped as he felt something sharp press into his back and a voice commanded him not to move.
Becky heard Finlay’s pistol go off.
“Oh, dear God, no!” she exclaimed. She crossed the room and her hand went to the wooden bar. Then she stopped and looked back at the ladder that stood in the middle of the room and remembered her son. Reluctantly, she lifted her hand and moved to the window. “Finlay?” she called. “Finlay, are you there?”
There was nothing but silence.
“Finlay?” Her voice was
small and shaking. “Please say
“Mrs. Boone. We need you to open the door.”
The voice startled her. It was cultured and seemingly English. She backed away from the window and raised Dan’s gun. “Who are you?”
“I am afraid your young friend has been...injured.” There was a pause. “He is bleeding rather badly, and if you would rather not see him die, I would open the door now and let us in.”
Rebecca turned her back to the door and braced herself. Then she stiffened as her young son’s sleepy head appeared at the top of the ladder. Her eyes went wide as she held a finger to her lips and shook her head wildly.
She ran to the bottom of the ladder and spoke as quietly as she could. “Israel, pull up the ladder and close the hatch.”
“Do it now, young man, and not a sound out of you.” She helped the boy as he began to struggle with it and added quietly, “And Israel...?”
“You remember what your father showed you?”
As the boy nodded and she gave a final little push that allowed him to draw the heavy ladder up, the educated voice spoke again. “Mrs. Boone, I fear you did not hear me.”
Becky hesitated as her son’s pale face disappeared and the hatch closed, and then she jumped as a startled cry issued from familiar lips. Crossing quickly to the window, she called, “Finlay?”
“You will open the door now, Mrs. Boone, or your young friend dies.”
“Rebecca, nae,” the Scot cried. “Dinnae dae as he— ”
There was another abrupt cry and then silence.
“No!” Becky called out. “No, don’t hurt him! I will let you in.” She glanced at the cabin’s seemingly solid ceiling and whispered a small prayer that the savage men who had come to take them would not think to look for her small son above it. “I’m opening the door now.” She grasped the bar and struggled to remove it from its moorings. Her hands were shaking so it seemed to take an eternity. Finally, as it came free and she tossed it to the floor, she threw the door open and stepped back out of the way.
A well-dressed man entered. He was taller than she was, but not nearly so tall as her husband. He wore the clothes of an Englishman with one exception; there was a short patterned blanket over his shoulders, worn like a shawl. About his neck was a stock collar with a black solitaire tie and upon his dark head, a hat that most resembled a turban, decorated with eagle feathers. He was obviously a man of importance and had been raised as a white, even though his color was a deep red and he had the appearance of being a full-blooded Indian.
Becky lifted her husband’s rifle and pointed it at him. She swallowed hard and then she whispered, “Where is Finlay?”
A slight smile creased the man’s thin lips and he gestured. Two muscular warriors with their faces painted black and their arms and legs a bright shade of yellow, entered the cabin dragging the wounded Scot between them. Without ceremony they dropped him to the floor. Becky winced as he moaned and her eyes flicked from his prone form to their hands.
There was blood on them.
“What have you done to him?” she whispered.
“Where is your son, Mrs. Boone?”
Becky shook her head. She gripped the rifle to keep it from shaking. There was no way she was going to give them anything—let alone Israel. “He’s not here,” she answered quietly.
“You lie, Mrs. Boone.” The man gazed about the cabin. “We have been observing your home since sunset the day before yesterday. Tonight, you—this one— ” he shoved Finlay with his leather boot, “and the boy came in. This one was the only one to leave. And now, even he is here.”
“He went out the back.” She glanced at the young Scot again, torn between making a desperate stand with her husband’s gun and tossing it aside to tend to his injuries before he bled to death. “I tell you, he’s not here.”
The man gestured again and one of the painted warriors moved forward, stepping over the injured Scot as if he was a sack of potatoes. No words were exchanged as he began to move through the cabin, tossing furniture and opening cupboard doors as he searched any nook or cranny large enough to conceal a small child. As he tore the curtain which concealed their bed from its hooks, Becky gnawed the inside of her cheek and waited. Dear God, she prayed, at least allow Israel to get away....
Abruptly the warrior stopped. He smiled and pointed to the ceiling.
The elegantly dressed Indian followed his finger and his thinking. “Very clever, Mrs. Boone. But not quite clever enough. Tell the boy to come down or I will send Horse Dance up there to bring him down.”
Becky’s palms were sweating. She moved back a few feet so she stood near where the ladder normally touched the cabin floor. Still aiming the rifle at the leader of the band of warriors, she called, “Israel, come down.”
They waited, but there wasn’t a sound.
The well-dressed man nodded to the one he had called Horse Dance. As the painted warrior took hold of the table and began to drag it over so he could use it to reach the ceiling, Becky turned toward him and pleaded, “He’s just a little boy. He’s frightened. Don’t— ”
The instant her back was turned, the other warrior who had helped drag Finlay through the door moved forward to catch her about the waist. He twisted her arm and the rifle clattered to the floor. Becky struggled in his grasp. Her tone was indignant. “You are lucky I didn’t have the hammer cocked, or one of you could be dead.”
The man walked up to her and took her by the chin, forcing her to meet his brown eyes. He had a scar that ran the length of his lower lip and caused it to twist in a perpetual smile. “You should heed your own words, Mrs. Boone. You be careful, or one of you could be dead.”
She watched out of the corner of her eye as the warrior pulled himself up and disappeared into the loft. “You won’t harm us. You need us alive.”
His gaze followed hers and then returned to her face. “Yes. But I only need one of you.”
Becky froze, suddenly terrified. A moment later the warrior swung down out of the loft. He landed in a squatting position and then rose to shake his head. “There is no one there, Aatinaa.”
The man turned back to her. He caught her chin once again in his strong fingers and pinched her pale skin so it bruised. Then he stepped back and struck her savagely across the face, rendering her unconscious.
“One will have to do.”
Cincinnatus gripped his blunderbuss tightly and carefully assessed the shadows as he walked the path to the Boone’s cabin. He had promised Dan that he would check on Becky each night after the tavern closed for as long as he and the stranger were gone. Tonight he was running late as a fight had broken out and it had taken him some time to sort out who owed for the damages.
As he drew near he paused, immediately sensing that something was wrong. The front door stood wide open and there was no light inside. Cocking the hammer on his trusty old weapon, he raised it before him and advanced toward the cabin.
“Ree-becca?” he called. “Rebecca Boone, are you there?”
He stopped and listened, but heard no reply.
Drawing a little closer, so he stood within the shadow of the porch, he tried again. “Becky? Israel?”
This time he heard a moan, and the soft sound of cloth dragged across wood.
As he watched a shadow shifted within the darker shadows that lined the door and then a figure stumbled forward. It made it to the steps and then tumbled down them to land in a heap on the dirt path. Advancing carefully, he probed the body with the end of his weapon and realized it was the Scotsman; the young one named Finlay who had stayed behind when Dan and his brother had gone looking for Mingo and his Creek friend. He placed his blunderbuss on the ground and knelt beside him, laying his hand on his embroidered vest.
It was soaked with blood.
“Mr. MacKirdy....” he began.Unexpectedly, the Scot’s hand caught his and his cracked lips whispered, “Tell Alec...McInnery’s here an’...he has Mrs. Boone an’ his son.”
- Continued in Chapter Five -