Blood Was Only For Bleeding
Cara crouched in the shadows and sought to pierce the darkness that enfolded the unbroken foliage before him with his keen eyes. He waited, watching for any sign of movement, choosing not to call again for fear of alerting some unseen adversary to his friend’s or his own position. He knew the Cherokee warrior was somewhere close by, on some sort of a scouting mission for Menewa. His uncle had given him the approximate location when he had sent him out to find him. The memory of that request brought a smile to his lips; less than two weeks had passed since Galunadi had pronounced him fit to join in the everyday life of his mother’s tribe and already he was trusted enough to carry out such a mission alone.
Somehow stealth seemed to come naturally to him.
He only wished all of the other things that made one an ‘Indian’ would come as easily. He still felt out of place in many ways—as if he walked in a dream from which he would one day wake to find himself back at Oxford, or in his bed at his father’s house. Shifting, he eased the pain in his legs.
That would be the nightmare.
He gazed at the risen moon and the blazing stars overhead and calculated the hours. Two, at least, had passed since Cherry had come to him and told him Menewa wished him to seek his friend out; two hours in which anything could have happened. His mind strayed to the buxom young woman for a just a moment and as it did, a hand unexpectedly closed on his shoulder. Pivoting sharply, he found the dark-skinned native crouching next to him, a smile on his face.
“Never allow yourself to become distracted by thoughts of something other than what you are doing,” Copperhead remarked.
“Your footsteps fall like a spirit’s.” Cara laughed self-consciously, surprised that he could be surprised.
His friend shook his head. “We do not speak of such things in the dark. Naming them will call them to you, and there is more than enough danger in these woods without inviting the ones who have already fallen to your knife or bow.” Copperhead frowned and glanced back the way he had come. He held his hand up for silence and listened. A moment later he seemed to relax and turned back to Cara. There was an unexpected edge to his voice. “Why are you here?”
“Why? Menewa sent me.”
His friend seemed puzzled. “Menewa?”
Cara shrugged. “Well, in a roundabout fashion. Cherry sought me out. She needed to find you. I went to my uncle and he permitted me to come. I think I am more than capable— ”
“I have great confidence in your growing skills.” The handsome native stared at him a moment. Finally he nodded. “So, the time has come.”
“Yes,” he answered, realizing the other man must have deduced his mission involved his pregnant wife. “You need to— ”
Copperhead held up his hand up once again. “Do you hear anything?”
His companion fell silent. After a moment he whispered, “No. Did you? Do you think someone is near?”
The dark eyes that sought his face were wise with years spent in the wilderness. “There is always someone near.” He drew a breath and rocked back on his heels. “What is it Cherry needed? Something to do with my wife?”
“Yes,” he answered, keeping his voice pitched low, “her labor began this morning. They think her time is close. Cherry said she was in the lodge and that you were to go there as quickly as possible...?” He phrased it as a question. Among the things that he did remember from his childhood was the fact that Cherokee women had their babies on the banks of the river so the infant could be immersed in its purifying waters immediately following birth. Most often, if the child was to be born elsewhere, it meant the mother was in trouble. “Is there a problem with the pregnancy?”
His friend turned towards him and unexpectedly grinned. “Have you met my wife yet?”
“No. She has been sequestered since Galunadi ‘liberated’ me.” All Cara knew about her was that her Cherokee name—Kamama—meant ‘Butterfly’, and that she and Copperhead had not been married long.
“She can be...rather determined.” He laughed as only a husband could, with joy and aggravation combined in love. “She said it was not ‘proper’ for our child to be born on a riverbank.”
Cara frowned. “That seems an odd thing for a Cherokee to say....”
Copperhead laughed. He shook his head and began to rise. “It would be if she were Cherokee— ” Abruptly he stopped.
“What? What do you— ” Then he heard it; the shifting of leaves followed by a soft footfall on the hard earth. “Someone is coming,” he whispered.
“What are you doing out here anyway?”
“There is no time,” he whispered. “We must....”
Cara watched as his friend’s lean form grew taut as a bowstring. He followed his gaze. Since his return he had seen many natives—mostly Cherokee, some Creek and Shawnee, and a few Wyandot—but he had never seen anything like the man who seemed to have sprung up fully grown from the green grass behind them. His very being was arrogance. He stood fully revealed by the cool silver moonlight, young and well-muscled, dressed only in a breech-cloth and boots; his bare flesh embellished with arcane symbols—red hands, black stripes and yellow spirals. His hair fell to the middle of his back; its black locks intermittently bound in tiny feathered braids which danced against his deep copper skin. He was of a moderate height, shorter than Cara himself, but taller than Copperhead, and there was something about him that spoke of a dark magic—the kind that bled the life from its victims and used the power it gained to destroy and control. In his hand was a long-rifle, and at his waist a tomahawk and gunstick-shaped war club.
Copperhead’s fingers went to his knife.
“Try it, Cherokee,” the man’s deep voice seemed to rumble through the woods like thunder, “and there will be nothing but cold meat and bones to return to your clan.”
Copperhead lifted his hand. “We mean you no harm, friend.”
“An enemy conceals himself in bushes and watches without words, not a friend.” The painted warrior’s eyes flicked to Cara where he crouched on the ground. “You. Stand up.” He shifted and raised the rifle and pointed it at him. “Face me.”
As Cara rose slowly and pivoted to meet the stranger’s gaze, a shudder passed through him. The native’s eyes were as black as the starless sky and void of all the things that marked a man as human. Where mercy, grace, and compassion should have had a seat, he had chosen instead to enthrone rage and a mindless bitter hate.
A frown creased the stranger’s weather-beaten face. He gestured with the gun’s barrel. “Step into the light.”
Copperhead started forward but halted as the weapon was suddenly leveled at him. He hesitated and then said quietly, “Do as he says, Cara.”
“Cara...?” The warrior shifted back and beckoned him forward. “Come to me, Cara.”
Cara-Mingo followed him into the argent light and waited as the other man inspected him, taking note of his lightly-tanned skin and his long black hair which was loose and unadorned, as well as the light-weight hunting shirt belted with leather and beads that he wore over a pair of soft broadcloth trousers decorated with leather strips and shells. Both had been gifts from Copperhead. Still, even though he had begun to adopt the dress of his mother’s people, he could not help but have the bearing of an Englishman.
The warrior circled him, careful to keep one eye trained on the full-blooded Cherokee who waited close by, his every muscle tense. Finally he stopped and threw his head back and laughed.
“He is as ugly as you said,” the stranger called out loudly. “You were right.”
A voice issued from the brush behind them. The words were lost, but there was no mistaking the mocking sound of it. Cara tensed. Those silken tones had haunted him for as long as he could remember. As he turned slowly, the night rolled back to reveal a face he knew all too well. The tall lean figure emerging from the trees was dressed in painted buckskins; his hair pulled tight in a tail that fell over one shoulder. From its ebon waves a dozen feathers dangled—all from predatory birds. As his elder brother drew abreast him, Cara glanced at Copperhead.
The native did not seem surprised.
“As you did when small, you follow me in secret. Have you not outgrown such childish games, little brother?” Tara’s dark eyes danced. “If you had come to me, I would have brought you here. You, and your friend.” He paused to look at the Cherokee. “You would both have been welcome to join us.”
Cara watched as the stranger took a position near Copperhead. He held his rifle loosely, but at the ready. “Welcome? To join you in what? What are you doing here, brother? And with one such as him?”
Tara’s lips curled. “I come here to practice in private, brother. To regain what the sickness took from me.” He lifted his hand and in it was a coil of black leather, silent and deadly as a sleeping snake. “You are curious about this?”
Cara shook his head. “I don’t know what you are talking about— ”
His brother’s black eyes danced. “This.” The tall man pivoted almost faster than the eye could follow and the whip’s thong and fall licked out, making the popper crack sharply. Copperhead bit his lip and stepped back. It had come within an inch of his face.
Tara faced his brother with a grin. “Perhaps you would like me to teach you?”
Cara’s eyes were on his friend. The Cherokee’s hands were balled into fists. His own rage was not so quiet; it exploded in words. “Teach me? There is nothing you could teach me that I would care to know, brother. I have no interest in the skills you excel at—lying and deceit, treachery and dishonor.”
The shining black eyes narrowed in the face that was the twin of his own. “Then you are a fool. I know things they did not teach you in this...London. Things that will help you survive, as I have survived.”
His younger brother drew a deep breath. “I would not care to survive if I had to do it as you have.” Cara glanced at the silent warrior who guarded his friend. “Or as he has. Too much blood is on your hands, and the joy of the taking taints your soul and your reason.”
Tara held very still as if summoning from some deep reservoir the willpower not to kill him where he stood. Ten heartbeats passed before he spoke again. “You wound me, brother,” he said softly. “You drive a blackened arrow through this heart with the poison of your words.”
For a moment they simply stared at one another, not speaking; mirror-images reflected as if on still water; brush-strokes of silver-grey and white drawn by the cold starlight. About them the forested world heaved a sigh and the wind whispered through the trees, pregnant with the knowledge of an end that would come—an end both men sensed, but neither yet had sight of.
A full minute later Cara drew a breath to speak. He nodded towards the stranger. “Who is he?” he demanded.
Tara turned towards his comrade and smiled. “Talkoosibaksakaali; Sharpknife. One of the greatest members of the Bear clan of the Creek. A warrior among warriors.”
Cara suppressed another shudder as he stepped towards the other man. “You are painted for war, Sharpknife.”
The Creek’s lips parted in an acid smile. He raised his hands and crossed them at the wrists and brought them together with such force the sound of it cracked through the empty night. “Every day is a day for war.”
“The only man Sharpknife is a peace with is himself,” his brother laughed as he laid his hand on the warrior’s painted flesh. “When I went south with my father’s people as a boy, he was with me. He has been with me ever since.” Tara’s black eyes sought his sibling’s. “We are brothers,” he said simply as he lifted his head.
Cara heard the accusation; ‘As you and I should be.’
Unnerved, he backed away from the pair and nodded to Copperhead who had remained silent, observing and gathering what information he could. “Well, this has been a ‘happy chance’, brother. But it is time for us to go.” He opened his hands wide and forced his lips to smile. “I wish we could stay and...join you. Perhaps another day. Copperhead and I need to get back to the village.”
Tara’s eyes went to his brother’s companion. “So the time has come?”
The Cherokee met his gaze. It was all he could do to be civil. “Yes.”
The dark reflection of his friend smiled. “You do not seemed pleased.”
“Not that you have any interest in the matter.”
Tara laughed. He deliberately reached out and laid his hand on the arm of the man’s red coat. “You misjudge me, friend Copperhead. I wish you and your chosen mate well.” One dark brow arced and the tip of his upper lip twisted. “You will have a son, perhaps. One who can grow up to wear a jacket like yours, and bed his father’s enemies.”
Cara saw it coming and moved in between the two men even as his friend’s hand went for his knife and his brother’s for his whip. He shoved the Cherokee back and spoke quickly, “Your wife needs you. I didn’t get a chance to tell you. The baby may not be positioned correctly.” He searched his eyes. “Copperhead!” he pleaded. “He is not worth it.”
His companion seemed to come back from wherever his anger had taken him. He shook himself and drew a deep breath. Then he nodded once as his eyes sought his friend’s dark brother. “One day, Tara-Mingo, this will be settled between us.”
Tara hefted his whip and let the long black lash slide through his fingers. “It is a promise.” Then he nodded to his brother. “Keep a close watch on your friend. He seems to stumble upon unwanted trouble like a child abandoned in the night.” The smile returned as he inclined his head. “Until we face one another again, Cara.”
As his brother and the warrior called Sharpknife began to move away, Cara-Mingo turned to his friend. “What was that all about?”
The dark brown head shook. “Later. There is no time now. Miriam needs me.”
Cara remained still as he moved past him. “Miriam?” Then, as some unrecognized sense alerted him to the danger, he took a step back just as a loud ‘crack’ sounded near his ear. The long thin thread of the popper of his brother’s whip caught his cheek and split the skin over the bone. As he reached for it and felt the blood ooze between his fingers, the weapon lashed out again. He felt it catch his ankles. There was a jerk and he fell to the ground.
His brother’s laughter boomed through the forest as he disappeared. “The invitation is still open, little brother. It seems you may have need of the skills I have mastered after all.”
Cara felt Copperhead’s arm ring his shoulder. The blood from the wound reached his lips and he tasted iron.
“Cara-Mingo? Are you hurt?”
The young man shook his head as he rose to his feet. His fingers clenched into fists. “Copperhead?”
“Where can I get a whip?”
They heard the woman screaming as they entered the village. Alec met them at its edge and led them to the lodge where she was housed, informing them that Cherry and Spicewood were already within. The two girls were working alongside the elder women of the clan, rubbing the pregnant woman’s skin with oils and offering her herbal potions which would speed delivery and ease her pain. As his friend Copperhead disappeared into the structure, Cara winced. Another sharp cry rang through the night.
“Is the baby breached?” he asked, his eyes trained on the entrance. He could not help but wonder at a time like this about the lack of modern medical knowledge and skills among his mother’s people. Still, he had to remind himself, Cherokee women had been having babies in this fashion since the beginning of history. But then, many of them died in childbirth. “She seems in terrible pain.”
The skin around Alec’s brown eyes crinkled. “I can tell ye dinnae hae onie yoonger brithers ur sisters. Nae, ‘tis a noormal labor. I thin’ th’ bonnie braw woman is joost a wee bit undone.” He shifted the plaid sash he wore and straightened the silver brooch that held it in place. “An’ I ken she is aye a wee bit vocal....”
Cara nodded towards the lodge. “Copperhead is still inside. I thought I remembered men were not allowed....”
“Sometimes it is permitted. Exceptions are made when the circumstances are uncommon.”
The young men turned as one to find Star approaching them. He had shed his English clothes at last and was dressed in a decorated leather vest and buckskin pants. The cloth tied about his forehead remained, but now feathers dangled from it, cascading down the long black waves. He wore a necklace of multi-colored beads about his throat that ended in a silver circlet, and several more beaded pieces were tied tightly about his muscled arms. His skin was rich and coppery as a harvest sunset. To look at him one would never have believed he was the same man who had been rescued from an animal’s cage in the black heart of London less than a year before. Then he had been sick, pale, and near to death. Now he stood strong and proud; an elder of power and wisdom.
Cara smiled as he drew alongside them. “And are the circumstances special?”
His black eyes were amused. “I take it you have not met Kamama?”
“No. Copperhead only had time to say she is not Cherokee. What tribe is she then? Creek? Shawnee? And why did he call her ‘Miriam’? I thought her name was Kamama....”
He frowned. “But that is a Cherokee name....” A moment later a loud scream pierced the air and then was suddenly cut off.
Star met his eyes. “That is either a good, or a very bad thing.”
Cara drew a deep breath. The idea of listening to the woman he loved cry out so seemed incomprehensible. He would have to think long and hard before he dared to become a father.
The three men waited uneasily in the stillness that fell beneath the stars. Several minutes passed before Alec touched his arm and whispered, “Cara....”
He looked up. Copperhead stood outside the tent, beckoning to them. At their questioning stares, he smiled broadly and then disappeared inside.
The trio breathed a collective sigh. Alec slapped his friend on the back. “Sae it seems congratulations aur in order.”
The men moved quickly toward the lodge where the pregnant woman had been sequestered so the power of her blood would neither taint nor affect any other members of the tribe. During the time the child had grown within her, many of the normal activities of both she and her husband had been curtailed for this very reason. Cara knew now—with his English education—that such fears were primitive and unfounded. He also knew, however, that though there was no special power in her blood, women were still to be feared and respected for the unique gift that God had given them—the power of life.
It was not the usual custom for the husband to be in attendance, but it was permitted—if he so desired—for him to stand behind his wife; out of sight of the actual birth. So Cara was surprised to find, as he entered the lodge, that his friend was sitting on the floor, holding his newborn infant and his young wife in his arms.
His young white wife.
Cara tried to conceal his surprise as Copperhead turned his face towards him, but he could tell by the glint in his friend’s black eyes that he was failing miserably. He watched as the other man ran a hand over his wife’s forehead and leaned down to kiss it. She was near sleep.
“Miriam,” Copperhead whispered.
Her eyes flickered open. She looked up at him dreamily and smiled. “Mm-hmm?”
“Before I take the child to the water, I would have you meet Cara.”
She licked her lips and shifted in his embrace. “The one you have spoken of? From your childhood?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
Cara wondered what his friend was doing. Why he would—at this moment—choose to introduce him. Then, as their eyes met over the woman’s blond head, he understood. Her child stood on the threshold of the life he had lived; part of two worlds, belonging in both, and in neither. He nodded and came to stand by them. Then he knelt.
“Do I call you Kamama or Miriam?” he asked gently.
She turned to face him, and as she did, his breath caught in his throat. She was petite; hardly bigger than a child. Her skin was white as cream. Her eyes were a rich deep blue and inordinately large, and the ringlets that fell about her shoulders, the color of spun honey.
She could have been Rachel.
“Copperhead calls me Miriam.” The woman smiled as she laid her hand protectively across her sleeping child. “The Cherokee gave me the name Kamama when I was adopted into the tribe.”
“The women said she reminded them of the tiny butterflies that flutter from one flower to another in the Spring,” his friend explained.
“But which do you prefer?” Her accent had been English and he placed it as coming from somewhere in Devonshire, perhaps near Uffculme.
Her intense blue eyes seemed curiously sad. “Miriam.”
“Miriam it is, then.” He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to find Cherry beaming at him. Her dark eyes were sparkling in her round face, filled with a joy only a woman could understand. “It is time for the ceremony to begin.”
Cara nodded, then he rose and moved out of the way. He watched as his friend kissed his wife again and then gently eased her onto the matting before taking the infant from her arms. Apparently she was not going to go to the water as was the Cherokee custom. But then being a cultured British woman she would hardly have understood the concept of rising so soon after labor, or giving birth one day and returning to work in the fields the next. The women of the tribe who had attended her, chanting and urging the child to come from the womb—telling it to make haste and claim the gifts the Creator and its family held in store for it—hurried out the door before his friend, hastening to prepare the path to the stream where the infant would be immersed in the ice cold water and purified. As Copperhead turned with the small bundle in his hands and headed for the entrance, he called upon his friends to follow him. Cara glanced at Miriam. Spicewood had settled in beside her and was holding her hand, speaking soft words. The lovely Cherokee girl sensed his eyes upon her and looked up. As he smiled and nodded, her gaze went past him to Alec. He watched as their eyes met. If his Scottish friend decided to stay, he did not think it would be long before he attended a similar event for the two of them. He noticed Star by the door and knew his thoughts were the same.
Laying his hand on the Scot’s shoulder, he said, “Are you coming, Alec?”
The young man started and looked at him. “Oh.... Aye.”
“You should keep careful watch of what Copperhead is doing,” he said soberly.
puzzled. “I shoulds?”
Cara laughed and inclined his head towards Spicewood. “You never
know when it might come in handy.”
“Whot? Och, nae. Ain such as she woulds nae be interested in me. I am nae a warrior.” He ran a hand self-consciously through his thick curly hair. “An’ I doobt th’ Cherokee hae mooch need fur Thespians.”
Cara’s fingers gripped his shoulder. “No. Not for Thespians. But there is always need of a good man. And you are one, Alec.”
As the brilliant white starlight rained down to the echoing song of the women’s deep husky voices, coating the banks of the broad river that coursed not far from the Cherokee village, Cara watched his childhood friend step into the silent waters carrying his newborn child wrapped tightly in a thick warm cloth. Once the dark liquid had reached his waist, Copperhead paused, and with his lips moving in a silent prayer, held the tiny infant out before him. Seconds later he plunged it beneath the sparkling surface and quickly drew it out. There was a moment of stunned silence and then the baby opened its mouth and began to scream. As it did, its father did the same, throwing his dark head back and emitting a loud ululating cry of victory.
All about him the men and women of the village who lined the banks joined in, expressing their thanks to the Creator for this new life and their joy at its safe delivery.
As Alec listened to them, he said softly, “Thaur aur nae onie pipes dronin’ on th’ hill , boot ‘tis mooch th’ same. Mah own folk plunge th’ wee babe in th’ water first thing, tae mak’ it strang.” He smiled wistfully and then laughed. “Boot tis nothin’ says I cannae gi’e the little chiel a Highland welcom’, e’en withoot thot bonnie music!”
The Scot drew a deep breath and then raised his lyrical voice in a long full cry that Cara recognized as a joyous call to battle. He thought it poignant and all too appropriate; Copperhead’s child’s life would be just that—a daily battle to find a place in a world which neither understood nor condoned his parent’s love.
He opened his mouth to join in, but as he did, his gaze fell on a trio of figures that had appeared on the opposite bank. He recognized them immediately. One was his brother. To his left was Sharpknife.
And to his right, Arrowkeeper.
As Copperhead stepped from the water and began to unwrap his tiny child, accepting a dry blanket from Cherry’s hands, he continued to watch the triad. They did not move. They were not shouting or singing. They stood immovable as a wall—three tall imposing Creek warriors drawn together by their hatred of the white man and their contempt for any who would embrace him or his ways.
The ceremony ended, they returned to the village. Any feasting or celebration would wait another seven days until the mother and child were ritually clean and could join in. Copperhead had attended to the duties which were his alone and then gone to find Menewa, asking Cara to wait for him by the lodge. As he did, he considered the puzzle before him. As the child’s father, Copperhead too was considered unclean. Days of rituals should have lain before him, but again it seemed he was to be excused. He watched as his friend appeared on the path, his head down; his striking features set in a frown. Drawing abreast, he said he would be with him in a moment and then went to check on his wife.
Cara waited outside the lodge. The women of the village were cooking and singing, preparing to feed their men and children as the new day began. Cherry had passed him a few moments before, carrying corn cakes and fresh water for Miriam. He had refused when she offered to feed him, remembering well what such a gesture could mean. She had laughed and tossed her head, and given him a look such as Alexander the Great must have worn when facing the Persian army; a look that promised eventually she would emerge victorious.
He was still chuckling about it when Copperhead returned to his side with a sigh and a weary shake of his head.
The native’s smile was hard won. “Battle is as nothing compared to the sound of one you love in such pain. It is not the way of the warrior—to stand by and do nothing.”
“But the child is all right?”
The Cherokee nodded. “Healthy. Hungry.” He laughed. “Loud.”
Cara smiled. “I never heard—boy or girl?”
The look in his friend’s eyes as they met his was hard to read. “He is a boy.”
“Copperhead, what are you...?” Suddenly, he understood. “Ah, I see. It would be easier for a girl.”
“Yes. As a boy there will not— ” The dark-skinned man stopped. Then as he ran his hand over his face, he laughed. “Of all here, I do not need to tell you. You know there will not be a day he lives where he will not have to prove himself.”
Cara nodded. “Yes. And he will be stronger for it.”
His friend’s eyes met his. “Are you?”
He answered without hesitation. “For having fought my demons and won? Yes.”
Copperhead continued to stare at him. “I am grateful the Creator saw fit to return you to us. I have missed you.” Before Cara could form a reply he added, “Will you speak with her?”
“Her? With Miriam?” He almost stuttered. “Now?”
The native’s dark eyes sought the lodge his wife lay within. “She is very alone.”
“But you are with her— ”
He laughed. “I am her husband. What do I know?”
Cara laughed with him. That at least seemed the same no matter what the culture. “How did you two meet? And how did you ever come to marry?”
Copperhead’s handsome face darkened. He absent-mindedly fingered the red coat he wore. “The tale is a long one. Once you have spoken with her, I will tell you.”
“You do not have to....”
“No. You need to know.”
Cara gazed at him, wondering if this had something to do with the rage he had sensed in him that first day—a rage that had seemed not directed at him, but at his father’s race. After bearing the brunt of that misdirected anger, it had seemed a curious paradox to him that Copperhead had a white wife. If someone had asked him to guess, he would have said the Cherokee hated whites.
He nodded to his
friend and turned towards the lodge.
He turned back. “Yes?”
“If Cherry gives you any trouble, send her out. You may not be a seasoned enough
warrior yet to deal with her.”
He saw the look in his friend’s eye—the one that warned he was doomed to defeat. “I’ll do that,” he answered. “Are there any charms I should take with me?”
Copperhead shook his dark head. “Against that one—they would be useless.”
Cara laughed again. He left the exhausted man behind and walked to the door of the lodge. Before entering, he laid his hand on the door-frame and paused. Then he drew a deep breath. He couldn’t let his friend know just how much dealing with his lovely English wife unnerved him. Closing his eyes for a second, he steeled himself and then called out lightly, “Cherry, it is Cara. I have come to speak with Kamama if she is able.”
There was no answer, but a second later the mat was pulled back from the doorway and the young woman’s face appeared. She met his eyes and beamed broadly. Then she gasped and reached towards his face. “I saw that before, but I did not realize....” Her brown eyes were filled with concern for him. “What happened to you?”
His hand went to his cheek. He had almost forgotten Tara’s parting gesture. Remembering it filled him with an unwanted fury. “It is nothing. A stray branch,” he lied.
She held his gaze. “So deep a cut must mean a branch wielded by an angry tree.”
“Cherry is wise,” he said softly. “Still, it is nothing. May I come in?”
She stared at him a moment longer and then nodded. “Kamama is awake,” she said as she moved past him to wait outside.
He smiled at the unasked for gesture, thinking she really was a most remarkable young woman and, nodding his thanks, ducked inside. The lodge was warm, but not unbearable. Miriam was sitting on a bed made of white oak branches bound together that was raised above the dirt floor on short posts. Hemlock boughs and Broomsage placed under a thin matting provided a soft haven for the small infant who lay sleeping at her side. She patted the beaver skin covering and motioned him over. He perched on the edge of the bed and smiled at her.
“Cara.” Her head tilted as she looked at him. “Is that really your name?”
“Cara-Mingo was the name my mother chose for me.” He shifted under her scrutiny. “In England, I was known as Kerr.”
“You are English then?” she asked.
“My father is. From London. I lived there for a time.”
“But came back...here.”
He noticed the slight hesitation. “Yes.”
“By your own choice?”
“Yes.” He hid his smile. She was very direct. He tried to imagine her in the polite society of London and almost laughed.
“And are you happy? Here?”
“I hardly know yet. I have only just arrived.” He shook his head. “But there is one thing I do know...”
“And that is?”
This time he did smile. “That I am home.”
She straightened her son’s blanket, tucking it about his bare shoulders. Without looking up she asked quietly, “You did not like London?”
Cara-Mingo paused and looked away, remembering. “There is much to recommend the city to the eye of the world; its’ history, its’ culture, the graceful architecture and art. But they cannot compare to God’s creation—the mountains, the crystal streams, the stars in the sky and the unending green forests of Kentucky. And you know, if you have been there, that for the most part London’s beauty is a sham. Her air and water are unclean; her streets lined with filth. The people who live there operate in shades of gray—with graft, greed and the desire for power fueling their actions and desires.”
“And is it so different here, in the Colonies?”
He turned towards her. Her pale hand was resting on her child and she looked very small and very lost. “Sadly, I must answer, ‘no’. I will not lie to you. To be blunt, men are men, and it is men who have settled this new world. But for the most part, you will find among my mother’s people—among Copperhead’s—an honesty which to those not native-born can be disarming. Even brutal at times.” He paused. “Still, even in their hate, they are honest. The Cherokee do not play games as my father’s—as our father’s people do. They are what they say. And what you see.”
At the mention of her father Miriam’s white teeth began to gnaw her lip. A second later a tear trailed unhindered down her cheek.
“I am sorry. I did not mean to cause you distress.”
She shook her head. “It isn’t you. My father— ”
“Did not approve of your marriage?”
She looked up. “That, Cara-Mingo, is an understatement. If he could, he would kill Copperhead.”
Cara was stunned. “Kill?”
“He hates him. He hates all Indians.” She picked her child up and cradled the little murmuring boy against her breast. “And now he hates me.”
“I don’t understand. How could a father hate his own child?”
Her smile was sad. “His eyes have always been blinded by his own need. And in that blindness, he is not able to see mine.”
He felt at a loss. “What can I say to put you at ease, Miriam?”
She brushed aside the downy black hair that covered her son’s small forehead and kissed it. Then she turned her tear-filled eyes on him again. “You can assure me he will be accepted by my husband’s people, in spite of the fact that he is my son.”
Cara reached out and touched the boy’s fingers, marveling that his hand was hardly as big as a buckeye. He smiled as he met her anxious gaze. “That I can tell you. Before I left—when I lived here with my mother—I was honored and loved as every other Cherokee boy. There was no joy when I went away...but there was great joy upon my return.”
She glanced towards the door and the world beyond. “Not all feel that way.”
He sighed, knowing one of those she spoke of was his brother. “No. But, is it any different in London? My father’s family has been ‘English’ for some time—and yet we are still prejudiced against for being Scots. Man will make a difference if there is none.”
Miriam drew a deep breath and nodded. “I ask too much. It is just....” She paused and then her heart-shaped face lit with a wistful smile. “It is just that a mother wants to make the world a safe place for her child.”
He shook his head. “That you cannot do. But you can make him strong enough to survive what he will find in it, and offer him a safe harbor to return to. That is a mother’s—a woman’s special gift.” Cara stared at her a moment, all but mesmerized by the way the firelight glinted off her golden hair and highlighted her patrician features. Then he drew a breath and tore himself away. A second later he began to rise.
Miriam caught his hand and stopped him. He had not realized she had been studying him as well. “What was her name?” she asked softly.
“I beg your pardon?” he said, lifting one black brow.
“The one you left behind.” She smiled as she released him. “The one you see when you look at me.”
He laughed self-consciously. “Am I so transparent?”
She nodded. “Yes. To a woman.”
Cara looked away. His hands fell between his knees and he knit his fingers together. “Rachel. Rachel Cornell.”
“Did you get to say goodbye?”
He glanced at her. “In a way....” At her look, he admitted, “No.”
“Then you will carry her with you always.”
He straightened. “You sound like a Cherokee wise-woman.”
She smiled again as she touched his hand. “It does not take much wisdom to recognize a divided heart. I will pray for the day when it will once more be whole.”
He stood then and stared down at her. If he ever returned for Rachel, this would be her lot: a bare earthen floor, a cot made of twigs held together with twine, a fire, a blanket, and the green hills of Kentucky beneath a clear blue sky.
“And you, Miriam, are you happy?”
She glanced up as her husband appeared at the door and touched her son’s tiny hand. “I am more than happy. I am content.”
Cara sat with his hands gripping a rifle, his dark eyes trained on the shifting foliage that surrounded them. Another day had passed and now, after resting and eating, he and Copperhead were keeping each other company as they watched over the sleeping village. Alec and Spicewood had returned to the lodge bearing food and volunteered to stay with Miriam. The bright and ebullient Cherry had finally worn out and been carried to her mother’s home by Star to sleep.
He glanced at his childhood friend. Copperhead sat across from him, his erect form cut in silhouette against a sheet of starlight. It seemed odd to him that the new father was not with his wife and child. Still, the order for the two of them to keep the night watch had come straight from his uncle’s lips. Unaccountably ill-at-ease, he rested his musket against the boulder he occupied and stretched his arms before him, shaking them to relieve the tension.
“You are weary.”
“No, not weary,” he countered. “Better say, ‘wary’. I have a sense of something....” He laughed. “I sound like a child—frightened by its own shadow.”
“You sound like a Cherokee. Do you remember? Talota wished you to be a priest....”
“Or a healer.” Cara laughed again. “My mother had high aspirations. Nearly as high as my father....”
“Do not laugh. You have a gift. You are often aware of events that are in shape around you. Do not ignore it. Heed the warning when it comes. Follow your heart.”
“Very well.” He paused. “I will follow my heart. Do you know what it is saying now?”
The dark head pivoted towards him. “No.”
“My heart says you are troubled, my friend. Will you not tell me what it is that lays on you like a blanket?”
Copperhead’s face lifted so the starlight struck it. “You have not asked again,” he said at last.
“Asked?” Cara picked up his weapon and laid it across his knees. “Oh, about how you met Miriam....” He hesitated. “You will tell me when you want me to know.”
His Cherokee friend nodded. For a moment he was silent. “The wound still festers; it has not healed. Nor will it any time soon.”
“Is that the reason for the anger I saw in your eyes when you attacked me that first day?”
“I am sorry for that.” Copperhead sighed. “But yes. My anger is two-fold. It is as the moon and its reflection on the water.”
Cara thought he understood. “For Miriam...and for yourself. She mentioned her father’s disapproval....”
“Yes.” The eyes that sought his were unforgiving. “She has been disowned. Her father told her if she married me; she was dead to him.”
“And her mother? What did she say?”
“Her mother’s voice is that of the grave,” he answered. “She is long dead. When I met Miriam, she was cared for by her father’s mother.”
Cara shifted on the boulder so he faced his friend. “I am sure you know I was surprised to find your wife was white. It took me some time to remember, but I finally did. Wasn’t your family— ”
“Massacred by whites?” Copperhead nodded. “They were. And you remember right—as a boy, I hated all white men.” He held his gaze. “I never hated you, but I hated your white father for taking you from us. After you left, I was filled with a rage that burned like the ember in the heart of the fire, waiting to explode. It threatened to consume me.” The brown-haired native sighed. “In the end I defied our chief, and together with half a dozen other angry young braves, traveled over the Ohio—we said it was to hunt, but he knew better. He knew we went to kill.”
Cara had remained silent until then. “And did you?”
Copperhead shifted and rose. “No. We were killed. Like deer running on an open plain, we were gunned down by those within the safety of solid cabin walls. Of the seven of us who began this thing, I was the only one to survive.” He came to stand beside his friend. “While you traveled the ocean shut in your cabin, sick and wishing you would die—I was dying. A bullet pierced my thigh and blood ran as a river.”
“But you did not die....”
“No. I had crawled away into the safety of the trees before the white men came from the cabin to desecrate my brother’s bodies.” He closed his eyes. “Night had fallen. There was shouting and rifle fire, and the smell of burning flesh....” He straightened and looked at his friend. “I thought I only dreamed someone lifted my head and poured water between my parched lips. When I opened my eyes, I knew I was right—the world had vanished and all I could see was red.” He fingered his jacket and smiled. “I was too weak to see beyond it to the man; the man who wore the English officer’s coat.”
Cara nodded. “So you were found by soldiers?”
“No. By one soldier. And he was no longer in the King’s employ. He had retired from active duty and chosen to live in the Colonies—in this land he had come to love. His home was in Pennsylvania.” Copperhead smiled. “He always said it was Providence that led him to the woods that night. He had come to Kentucky to learn about its natives. He took me home so he could learn first hand.”
“You make it sound as if your life meant little to him; as if finding you was a mere convenience’.”
“I do not think I will ever know why he saved me. It matters little now. He is dead.” Copperhead paused. “Foxwell. George Foxwell was his name. He was Miriam’s grandfather.” The Cherokee returned to the boulder opposite him. His smile was chagrinned. “When I grew strong enough, I paid him back for his kindness. I was angry. I wanted to go home and he would not let me, and so when he gave me fine clothing, I ripped it. When he provided a bed, I chose to sleep on the floor. When he came to speak or read to me—seeking to teach me his language so we might communicate—I would not listen. I covered my ears and screamed or sang, or chanted and beat upon the floor.
“But he would not give up on me. He read words to me from the Bible about forgiveness. I did not know it was the Bible then. It was simply a white man’s book with white man’s words. But after a time—when his actions and the words remained the same—I began to change.” The native sighed. “Six moons later I had a room of my own, books, and all the other things the white man considers important.”
“And you did not try to run away—once you were no longer confined?”
“I did not know the way home. But even more, I came to love the old man as the father I never had. Still, I did not trust other white men. They did not accept me as he did, and many were the times I was beaten and abused. He chided me for being in fights, and each time I promised, I would not fight again. He was a kind man; he did not understand the evil in others.” Copperhead sighed. “Finally, I convinced myself that by living among my enemies I would come to understand them, and in understanding them, be able to overcome them when one day I did manage to find my way home.”
Cara’s voice was quietly amused. “And then one of them overcame you instead.”
His friend smiled. “Miriam came to live with the old man when her father was granted a commission in the Seven Years War. He fought here, in the Ohio valley, against the French as well as the tribes who were allied with them. Miriam—along with her brother and sister—stayed with her grandparents in Pennsylvania...and with me. We studied together. We played together. We quickly became fast friends. And then, one day,” he shrugged, “it was something more. We realized we were in love.” Copperhead’s hands tightened on his rifle. “By that time her father, William, had returned to administer his father’s lands. The old man had become ill; he could no longer manage alone. I worked in the house, caring for him. I wore English clothes with my hair much shorter and in a ribboned tail. It was some time before William even took notice of me. But when he did—when he asked about and found out what I was—he demanded his father send me away.”
Cara-Mingo shifted. “And did he?”
His friend was silent a moment. “For his sake, he should have—but no. He would not.”
“And Miriam’s father....”
“Made my life as unbearable as he could. But the old man had faith in me, and so I had faith in myself. I continued to sit with him and to read to him out of his Bible, and he continued to choose passages that showed me the Creator is on the side of the one who loves Him the most, though they be the least. His belief in His God gave me strength.” He paused; his thoughts far away. “I think, if it had not been for Miriam, William might have waited for the old man to die before trying to destroy me. But he did not, and in the end, it destroyed the old man.”
Copperhead fell silent. Cara waited a moment. It took little to guess. “He found you together?”
“Innocent as children; reading in a loft of one of the barns by lantern-light.” His fingers closed into fists. “He struck her and forced her down the ladder. And then he beat me with his fists and his crop until I could not stand.” Copperhead drew a deep breath, remembering. “And then he had me thrown in jail.”
“Stealing. He lied and they believed him. I was never to see the light of day again.”
“Dear God.” Cara was stunned. In all the time he had been in England he had not thought about his friend; had not realized he might have been suffering as much—if not more—than him. “Who rescued you?”
The Cherokee shook his head. “No one. I escaped six months after being imprisoned, while they were moving me to a different fort.” He drew another breath. “I went back to kill him.”
“But you didn’t....” Miriam’s words to him had indicated her father was still living. “Why?”
“I went to the house. It was night. No one saw me enter. I reached the top of the stairs and turned towards his room, but then, I heard someone crying. Quiet as the wolf I moved to the door of the old man’s room. He was lying in his bed. Miriam was sitting at his side. He suffered from what the white man calls ‘apoplexy’. But that was not what killed him; the lies his son had told had taken what life was left in him.” Copperhead paused. “Miriam almost fainted when she saw me. She tells me now I appeared as an avenging spirit risen from the grave; gaunt, pale, and filled with rage.” The young man opened his fingers and looked at his hands. “But even with the loss of weight and the lack of sun, with my hair matted and my skin gray as tree-bark, the old man knew me. He called me to his side. He apologized for his son, and asked my forgiveness....” His voice quivered and he fell silent.
Cara stood and walked to his side. “You don’t have to go on.”
His friend shook his head. “You should know. For what is coming, you should know.” With that ominous warning he continued. “He took my hand and hers and joined them, and gave us his blessing. And then he died.” Copperhead touched the frayed golden braid on the cuff of the red coat he wore. “This was his. He gave it to me when I was too small to wear it, or to understand what it was I had received.”
“How long ago did all of this happen?”
“Two years?” Cara was surprised. “But I thought you said you had only been here, in the village, less than one.”
“Like fugitives we ran, Miriam and I. We hid our faces from the sun and did not come out for fear he would find us. Her father had heard his father’s tales. William knew where I came from. He knew I was Cherokee.” Copperhead drew in air and let it out in a slow sigh. “I did not return here at first for our protection, as well as for our people’s.”
“But you are here now. You are home.”
Copperhead shook his dark head. “So we thought. So I believed. I believed we were home.”
“Believed? You no longer do...?”
Copperhead looked straight into his eyes. “Do you know what I was doing when you found me last night?”
Cara nodded. “Spying on my brother. Yes....”
“And do you know why I was spying on Tara-Mingo?”
One dark eyebrow leapt high. “Because every breath Tara takes is one expelled in treason? Because the very ground his feet tread upon feels betrayed?”
It was Copperhead’s turn to smile grimly. “You put it well.”
“Why did my uncle allow him to return?”
The native shrugged. “He is your mother’s son, and there was hope he had changed.”
“Like the ashes of a fire, that hope has blown away. Menewa knows. He keeps him close so he may know what mischief he plans, and may stop him before he is able to carry out his devious schemes.”
“But is that not dangerous? The other young braves, I have watched them....”
His friend agreed. “The young men are angry as I was. And they have had no George Foxwell to show them white men can be kind as well as cruel; to prove they can keep their word. Many fall in line with your brother, swayed by his eloquent speeches. He tells them we will rid the land of the whites. He tells them that with him as War Chief someday they will be powerful, and promises many scalps and much glory.” He frowned with disgust. “And then he bows his head when your uncle walks by, and says he wants nothing but ‘peace’ and a ‘home’.”
Cara felt his stomach sicken. So, it was as he thought. “So you have been acting as Menewa’s ‘eyes’? That is why you have been excused from the rituals attending your son’s birth? Because you are the only one he trusts. ”
“I was the only one.” Copperhead smiled. “Now there is you. And Star.”
“What of Alec and Arrowkeeper?”
“Alec?” The Cherokee shifted. “He is one of us, is he not?”
Cara hesitated before telling another man’s secrets. At last, he said, “It is as you have guessed.”
Copperhead nodded. “Alexander’s heart is like a native’s, but he thinks with his head like a white man. He would never knowingly cause harm, but harm may come through him, nonetheless.”
His friend’s fingers tightened on his rifle. “The Creek has a red heart.”
Cara felt his chest constrict. “You think he is with my brother? I have seen them together, but....”
“Before Sharpknife found us,” he said quietly, “earlier when I was watching—there were three.”
It didn’t seem possible. Arrowkeeper in league with Tara? “But he is my friend. I have spent nearly a year with him I know him well— ”
“Do you? Or do you know the man he was in captivity?” Copperhead paused. “In the white man’s prison I was not the man I am now. And when I was freed, I would have killed them all—all the white men. They were all the same to me.”
The Cherokee smiled. “No. It is because of her I did not kill.”
Cara rose. “Arrowkeeper will stop for me. He will listen to me. He is a good man.”
“Then you speak to him. Explain what your brother is.” Copperhead paused. “I would rather have him on our side than against.”
“Side? You make it sound like a war is coming.”
Copperhead rose. The feathers in his long brown hair fluttered in the rising breeze. “If it is within the wisdom of the Creator to halt it, I will be happy to be proven wrong. Menewa will as well. Those in the council tell us we jump at shadows, but they are old men and easily swayed by lies and flattery. There have been rumors. Some in the village have wealth that they have not earned.” He moved so the starlight caught his hair and it flashed like weathered bronze. “But we are not wrong. If it is not now; it will be later.”
“You mean they have been bribed? So they will turn against my uncle?”
He nodded again. “There is more. Your brother and his renegades have been followed beyond the Kentucky. Always on the move is that one. Plotting. Planning.”
“Where does he go?”
“To the Creek, to the Shawnee. Beyond to the Miami and Wyandot. And now, it is rumored, his agents have met with the English near the Ohio.”
“The English? Whatever for?”
“We do not know. We are at peace with the soldiers and their King. We have a treaty. It would seem to make no sense, but they have been seen, speaking with the new commander of the territory.” Copperhead’s look was grim.
“This man,” Cara had a terrible sinking feeling in his stomach, “do you know him?”
“I should,” his friend answered grimly, “he is the father of my wife.”
The tall Creek was sharpening his knife. He sat with his back against the bole of a large willow, gazing at the dawning sunlight as it struck the river’s surface and fell through the leaves to dapple the green land. He did not turn to look at him, but answered. “Sit.”
Cara did so. He linked his fingers about his knees and sat in silence, searching for the words he wished to speak. Star had given him their friend’s location. When he asked the older man about the Creek’s loyalties, he had shaken his head, saying only that Arrowkeeper’s heart was divided, but the stronger part beat in fire for the blood shed by his murdered family.
Finally the tall Creek spoke, “How is the child?”
The question surprised him. “Fine. Healthy. I am glad you asked.” He paused. “Copperhead thought— ”
“That I am against his marriage and his white wife?” Arrowkeeper turned and looked at him. There were hollow dark places beneath the big man’s eyes. They seemed haunted. “I am.”
“What? I don’t....”
“Like Alexander. Like you....” the Creek drew a breath “...this child and others like him will walk in two worlds, and be forced to choose. Some will choose to stay with the people—to be Cherokee, Creek, Shawnee.... Others will go into the white world of their father’s or mother’s and take our secrets, our beliefs, our red hearts to our enemies so they can come and—with that knowledge—rip them out.” His voice had grown in intensity as he spoke words Cara knew were not his own. “And like you and Alexander,” he added more gently, “others will return and bring the white man’s ways back to the people, so they will no longer be the same. This is not a good thing.”
Cara rose to his feet. “Growth. Change. These are not good things?”
“Not for the People.”
His friend drew a deep breath, seeking to rein in his temper. “You speak with my brother’s voice.”
Arrowkeeper’s mouth drew into a tight line. “Your brother has watched and seen. He has been here these past ten years—you have not. You have not watched the white man murder and massacre your children, nor witnessed him looting and burning your village, nor seen the way the red man hungers for his goods or his easy ways. The father of the woman Copperhead married even now destroys our brother Shawnee. First he bribes them and promises them wealth and power, telling them they will keep their lands, and then he slaughters them in their beds at night without warning. He cares little who he kills.” His trembling finger pointed towards the women’s lodge. “He would kill his own grandson without a thought.”
“He is an evil man. There are evil men among the ‘People’ as well.” Cara drew a deep breath to steady himself. “My brother is one of them. You must listen to me. I know him. He is using you— ”
“No! I will not listen to you. I listen to no man who carries the blood of my family’s killers in his veins.” The tall imposing man drew a deep breath as his eyes sought the eyes of the man who had freed him. “I hold nothing against you, Cara-Mingo, but— ”
“You lie.” Cara’s jaw tightened. “You hold against me the choice of my parents of which I had no part. Will you hold against innocent white men the choice of those few who wish us harm? Must all pay for the injuries inflicted by a few?”
The tall Creek looked at him long and hard. Finally, he nodded his head.
They did not speak again for nearly half a year.
- Continued in Ten -