Chapter Nineteen

Near Boonesborough, KY 1776

 

            Copperhead pivoted sharply towards the line of trees that separated them from the rushing river.  He had heard something unsettling.  He glanced at the red-headed wife of Daniel Boone, wondering if she had heard it as well.  The anxious look on her face told him she had. 

            “What was that?” she asked in a startled whisper.

            He frowned.  “A shot.  Definitely a shot.”

            Rebecca’s face went white.  She had told him of the boy’s vision; of how he had seen her holding him as he lay bleeding.  “Kamassa?”

            The Cherokee’s deep brown eyes narrowed.  “This is where we left him.  Still, I cannot say.  You will wait here.  I will go and see.”

            Her fingers caught the sleeve of his red coat and forced him to turn and look at her.  She was filthy and unkempt; her gown torn and her petticoats showing.  Her copper hair hung in clumps, caked with dirt and bracken, and there was a bruise on her left cheek that bothered her eye, but through it all she remained undaunted.  Deep within those blue wells, there was a fire that would not be quenched.  “No.  I won’t stay behind.  Kamassa needs me.”  And before the Cherokee warrior could say another word, she released his arm and began to run.

            Copperhead hesitated, stunned.  “Rebecca.  No!”

            With a weary smile, she called back over her shoulder.  “I’ll be fine.  We heard the weapon fire.  Whoever it was will have to take time to reload.”

            As she disappeared into the trees, he uttered a Tsalagi curse and drew his own weapon.

            They could have more than one.

                                                                                                ### 

            Rebecca emerged from the woods just as Kamassa’s slight form hit the water.  Even as it did, she called out and rushed towards him.  At the same moment, Mingo felt the flintlock pistol which had been pressed against the back of his neck shift.  Instantly he knew McInnery intended to shoot her.  He had a second or perhaps two to act before he did.  The tall Cherokee tensed, prepared to place himself between the barrel of the pistol and his dearest friend’s wife, but before he could a feathered arrow flew close by his cheek to embed itself in McInnery’s arm.  The dark-skinned man howled.  The pistol discharged but the shot went wide, and the weapon plummeted to the cold hard ground. Mingo drew a quick breath, collected himself, and then turned, not knowing whether he would find a friend or foe.  To his relief he saw Daniel Boone running towards him; a short lean Cherokee warrior at his side. 

The painted figure held a long-bow before its face, with another arrow raised and at the ready.  Even so McInnery was not cowed.  He screamed with frustration and, locking his hands together, used them to strike Mingo in the chest and knock him out of the way.  Then he waded past Rebecca where she knelt holding Tara’s son above the water, and committed his fate to the mad rushing river and whatever notion he had of God. 

            Just as he began to swim a second arrow went winging after him.  Mingo couldn’t tell whether it hit its target or not, but McInnery grunted and jerked, and then disappeared beneath the waves.  He continued to watch the current as it moved branches and leaves swiftly downstream, remembering another savage Creek who had trusted his fate to its dark embrace...and lived to rise again.

            Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder.  He turned to find his friend Daniel watching him closely; a concerned look on his face.  “Mingo, you’re all right....”

            The Cherokee gazed at him a moment and then, unexpectedly, he laughed.  “That, my friend, is an understatement.  And you?” 

Dan nodded at him; his eyes on Rebecca and her young charge. 

Mingo pulled back. “You should go to your wife, Daniel,” he said. “Take her away from here.  Kamassa is my concern....”

            “No.  He is mine.”

            The pair pivoted sharply.  A lean muscular Indian in a bright red British coat had silently come up behind them.  Daniel Boone’s thumb went to the hammer of his rifle as the man nodded a greeting to Mingo and then turned towards Rebecca.  “And just who— ”

            The Cherokee sought to calm his fears.  “It is all right, Daniel.  He is a friend.”

            Dan’s eyes were locked on the coat.  He pursed his lips and watched as the man knelt by his wife’s side  and helped her draw the boy out of the water.  Then his gaze went to Mingo.  “You sure about that?”

            “As certain as I am of anything.  Copperhead is a life-long friend, Daniel.  And before you ask why you have never met him then; he and his family have only recently returned to Chota.”  He watched as the Cherokee warrior gently laid the boy’s head in Becky’s lap.  She took him in her arms and spoke quietly to him, brushing the black hair back from his forehead as Copperhead examined his wound.  After a moment his friend looked at him.  He could tell from his look that the wound was not bad, and that Kamassa would live.  He drew a breath and held it a moment, and then let it out with the tension that had built up over the past hour.

“Mingo?”

He smiled and met his friend’s puzzled stare.  “As someone once said, ‘The past has been all too present’ these last few days, Daniel.  And it is not over yet.  Alexander is still missing.  Spicewood....”

            Dan’s green eyes were bright.  He nodded and then took a step back, revealing the warrior who had come with him who, until then, had been hidden by the shadow of his tall frame and all but forgotten. “I think there’s one more name you might be wantin’ to add to that list....”

            Mingo frowned.  The figure stepped forward into the light; their bow still raised with another arrow notched and at the ready.  He realized with a start that the deadly missile was aimed directly at his brother’s son.  Then, with another start, he saw that the warrior was a woman.

            And then he realized what woman.

            “Cherry?”  He had not recognized her at first.  Her hair was skinned tight, making her aspect severe, and her face stained with dark paint.  The buckskins she wore hid her ample figure, and she was booted and wore a breech-cloth like a man.  He reeled, but caught himself.  “Dear Lord,” he whispered. “Cherry, is it really you?” 

The young woman held her head high and met his eyes.  In them was a pain that had made her old before her time.  Her arm did not waiver; nor did she speak.  Somehow, he had the feeling she did not mean to leave Kamassa’s death to chance by infection. 

“What is this?” he asked at last.

            The young woman’s deep brown eyes narrowed.  When she spoke, her voice was pitched low and bore a great weight.  “This is your brother’s son?”

            Mingo stepped between them, so the arrow was pointed at his heart. “Yes.  Why?”

            Her jaw tightened.  So did her finger on the bowstring.  “Spicewood’s blood cries out yet.  Tara-Mingo did not die.  His son will.”

            He hesitated, then he asked her quietly, “So you have not been to Chota?” 

            Her dark stare pinned him.  “No.  I will not go there.  There are too many ghosts.”

His eyes went to Dan.  The big man shook his head.  Apparently the subject had not come up on their journey to the river.  There was really no reason it should have.  “Cherry....”

“Yes?”  She was wary; uncertain why he was protecting his brother’s whelp.

“Tara is dead.”  Mingo spoke softly.  He hoped it would force her to listen, and that reason might calm the fire in her veins.  “You knew he was in the south?”

“Yes.  I followed him there.”

“He came back to kill me.  Instead I killed him; nearly two years ago.”

            The arrow wavered, but she did not let it fall.  She held his eyes and dared him to lie to her.  “He is dead?”

            “Yes.  You can ask Daniel.  He was there as well.”

            Her gaze went to the tall white man. 

He nodded.  “Mingo saved my life.”

The Cherokee smiled.  “The life of my brother; my true brother.”

Cherry hesitated.  It seemed for a moment she was lost and without direction.  When she spoke again it was in a small light voice; the one he had known.  “Then it is over,” she said as she let the arrow slip from the bowstring and fall unheeded to the ground, “and Spicewood is avenged.”

            Mingo nodded to Daniel and the big man went to join his wife and Copperhead.  Then he glanced at Kamassa.  The boy was unconscious; his breathing shallow and his deep copper skin pale, but he was being cared for by the best.  Putting his fear for his brother’s son aside for the moment, he took hold of Cherry’s arm and drew her aside. 

She allowed him to lead her to a stand of trees.  As she pulled away from him her fingers rubbed her dark flesh where he had touched her, and her face took on a thoughtful look.  Then she raised her head and her eyes were hard again. “What would you tell me?”

            He was not certain how to break the news.  Finally he did so without preamble.  “Spicewood is not dead.”

            Cherry blinked.  “What?”

            Mingo held her stare.  “Spicewood is not dead.  It was an elaborate ruse; perpetrated upon all of us by Policha.  He desired her, and when he saw the opportunity....”

            She shook her head.  “No.  I saw her....”

            “The wound was real.  She bears a scar,” he touched his temple, “just here.  But the body we buried was not hers.  It belonged to another.  You remember, we knew her only by her clothes.”

            “And by the chain....”  She was silent a moment.  Then she realized what he had said.    “She bears a scar?  You mean you have seen her?  She is here?  Now?”

            He nodded.  Then he smiled.  “Yes.”

            The young woman paled.  Then she glanced about, as if she expected to find her friend hiding in the bushes, or rising from the river like a water sprite. “Where is she?  Tell me, Cara....  Where?”

            Mingo met her gaze.  “In danger.”

 

                                                                                                ###

           

            Spicewood held her breath.  Alexander lay on the ground.  Policha stood over him with the claymore gripped in his hand.  The sandy-haired man looked pained.  “How quickly you forget all I have done for you.  Without me, you would have been dead.”  He glanced down and kicked Alexander in the side.  The Scot’s head rolled but he didn’t make a sound.  “What did this one ever do for you?”

            “Why did you tell me he was dead?”

            Policha shrugged.  He shifted his grip on the weapon so the blade pointed towards the ground and leaned on it.  With his other hand he shifted his glasses back on his nose. “He was dead; to you.  It was kinder in the end— ”

            Her jaw tightened.  “To lie?  It was a lie.  And you knew it.”

            “I do not lie,” he countered quickly.  ‘For my mouth shall speak truth, and wickedness is an abomination to my lips.’ ”

            You are an abomination.  You do not know the truth.”  Spicewood took a step toward him.  She squared her shoulders and lifted her head.  Her dark eyes were wide and earnest.  “Let him go, Policha.  I will go with you.  If he cannot find me, he will return to Scotland....”

            The man who had kept her laughed.  “Now you lie, Istaasa Itto,” he answered, using the Creek form of her name.  “He knows you are alive.  He will never leave without you.”  The slender man grew suddenly sober.  He stepped away from Alec’s still form, giving himself room to wield the blade. “You remember the words I taught you.  ‘I have pursued mine enemies and destroyed them, and turned not again until I had consumed them.  And I have consumed them, and wounded them that they could not arise.  Yea, they are fallen under my feet.”  He locked the fingers of both hands about the claymore’s basket hilt and raised it high, while he used his foot to kick the Scot over onto his back.  “ ‘Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies, that I might destroy them that hate me.’ ”   He grinned as he looked at her.  “This, my love, is what is known as ‘divine justice’.”

            Spicewood gasped and lurched towards him as the blade descended towards Alexander’s heart.  Then she froze.  Her husband’s dark eyes had flown open.  They met hers briefly, and as they did, she was surprised to find that they were bright; not unfocused or bewildered.  It suddenly occurred to her that he had been feigning unconsciousness and biding his time until he felt free to act.  She watched as he twisted and rolled, coming to his feet less than a yard away from the startled Policha.  His black hair was tousled and the eyes it framed, wild.  Alexander brought his fist up under the other man’s chin with enough force to knock the glasses off his nose and to cause him to stagger back, and ordered her to move away even as Policha dropped the heavy claymore and groped for the flintlock pistol lodged behind his belt.  As he did, her husband let out a fierce battle-cry— one such as his ancestors had used to terrify and unnerve their English enemies—and dove for the abandoned blade.  Policha’s weapon discharged but the shot went wide, and even as the smell of burnt powder filled the air, the Scot’s hand closed on his grandfather’s weapon and he rolled to his feet and thrust it forward.

            Straight into the other man’s heart.

            Policha gasped.  The flintlock fell from his fingers and he stumbled forward.  With a look of disgust on his handsome face, Alexander reared back, pulling the blade free, and as he did the front of Creek metizo’s white hunting shirt was washed in a crimson tide.  The sandy-haired man clutched his chest and then fell to his knees.  His head came up, the hazel eyes uncomprehending, and then he reached towards Spicewood.  As she turned away his eyes went heavenward and his lips formed a single word.

            “Why?”

Alexander stepped away as he pitched forward into the grass, convulsed

twice, and then fell silent.  He stared at the corpse a moment, and then turned to look for his wife.  She ran to him and hugged him tightly.  He stroked her hair for a moment; kissed it, and then whispered.  “Dae ye ken which o’ th’ books o’ th’ Bible he was quotin’?”

            She shook her head and drew closer to him.

            “Secon’ Samuel.”  Alexander glanced at the body of his foe and felt no pity.  James Harper had been a sick, pernicious creature; driven by an inner fire even he did not understand.  “He didnae complete th’ chapter, boot spoke only th’ verses thot suited him.”  The Scot closed his eyes and spoke from his heart to his God. “ ‘An’ thot bringeth me forth frae mine enemies; thou also hae lifted me oop on high abofe them thot rose oop ag’in me.  Thou hae delivered me frae th’ violent mon; therefor’ I will gi’e thanks unto thee, o’ Lord, amang th’ heathen, an’ I will sing praises unto thy Nam’.”  He stepped back and held his wife at arm’s length and simply looked at her.  “He is th’ tower o’ salvation fur his king; an’ sheweth mercy tae his anointed; unto David, an’ tae his seed fur e’er more.’ ”

            Spicewood’s hand went to the cross at her neck.  Her fingers brushed it.  Alexander caught them and pulled them to his lips and kissed them.  She started to speak, but he hushed her.  Then, quickly he kissed her again.

            “Amen?” he whispered.

            The Cherokee woman smiled through her tears.

            “Amen.”

 

                                                                                             ###

           

            “The boy is my responsibility, Mingo” Copperhead shook his dark head.  “I cannot leave him.”

            Mingo frowned.  Cherry waited impatiently at the edge of the woods.  If he did not move quickly, she would go alone.  He glanced at his brother’s son.  Rebecca had bound his wounds and was talking to him quietly.  Kamassa was pale and exhausted, but he had not lost too much blood and would, barring infection, survive.  The ball had passed through the fleshy part of his shoulder and missed the bone.   “Someone must make certain McInnery is dead.”  He shuddered.  “And that, like Tara, he does not arise again....”

            The Cherokee’s jaw tightened.  “He may still live.  But I made a promise to Arrowkeeper.  As he would keep Adohi safe, so would I watch over Kamassa.”  Copperhead glanced at the boy who was rising unsteadily to his feet with Dan and Rebecca’s help.  “I can only hope he fulfills his promise better than I.”

            “Kamassa is not in danger from the wound,” Mingo insisted, “but he is in danger from McInnery.  You know what Daniel said.”  They had both listened with horror as Daniel had outlined the Creek’s dastardly scheme; unwilling and unable to believe even he was capable of such cold-blooded calculations.  “If he lives, he will rouse the warriors.  He will turn them on the boy.  Kamassa will have no chance.”

            “But I cannot go.”  Copperhead was torn.  “It is a debt.  You know I cannot— ”

            “Then turn him over to me.”

            The two Cherokee pivoted to find Daniel Boone had come up quietly behind them.  He tossed his head and shoved the tousled brown hair out of his eyes.  Mingo acknowledged his presence.   “Daniel.”  He nodded towards the pair behind him. “How is Rebecca?”

            The big man smiled.  “Happy as a hog in a mud-pit.”  Then he assumed a mock stricken expression.  “Just don’t tell her I said that.”

            As Copperhead laughed, Dan placed a hand on the Cherokee’s shoulder.  “Tell me something, Copperhead....  That’s quite a name you know.  Is it your war or your given name?”

The handsome native smiled.  “My war name.”

“And what did you do to earn it?”

This time it was Mingo who grinned. 

The frontiersman turned towards him.  “Mingo?”

“When he was very young, Copperhead followed my uncle into battle.  He was not a warrior and was not allowed to be there.  Menewa would have walked into a well-laid Shawnee trap had it not been for him.”

“And what did you do?”

“I struck quick and silent like the snake,” the man in the red coat answered with a wry grin.

Dan’s brown brows lifted towards his bangs as he turned to Mingo.  “I take it the Shawnee didn’t show up at the supper table that night.”

“Oh, they did, Daniel.  But it was not they who dined.”  His friend laughed.  “Menewa was in his debt for many years; a curious position for a seasoned warrior.”

“Ah, in his ‘debt’.”  Dan shifted on his feet and looked at Copperhead.  “That brings us back to the point at hand.”

The Cherokee’s dark eyes narrowed.  “And that would be?”

“Tell me, Copperhead. what do the Cherokee do when two warriors owe a debt to the same man?”

            Mingo frowned, wondering what his friend was up to.  Then his dark brown eyes lit with understanding.  He smiled and nodded. 

            The man in the deep red coat looked from one to the other, sensing he was about to be out-maneuvered.  “The one who first incurred the debt has precedence.”

       “Then you are free to leave.  Arrowkeeper saved my boy’s life days ago.  I told him I was in his debt.”  Dan paused and looked thoughtfully at Kamassa where he stood leaning on Becky’s arm, as though he had only just realized how great the cost of repaying that debt might prove.  “It looks like keeping his boy safe is going to be my job.”

            Suddenly Mingo looked less than amused.  “Daniel, what are you thinking of doing...?  Daniel?”

            “Not much.”  He smiled as Rebecca and her charge came to his side and nodded at the boy.  “Kamassa Chafaaka,” he said slowly, ‘that means ‘powerful one’, doesn’t it, son?”

            Kamassa did not look up. 

            “Son?”

            The boy’s head came up.  He glanced at Becky and then met Dan’s stare.  “Yes.  But I am not powerful; not anymore.”

            “Well now, I don’t know about that.  Seems to me that starting a fire is a pretty easy thing to do.”  Dan paused as a familiar light entered his eyes.  “Now, puttin’ it out—that’s the thing that will take both nerve and steel.”

            “Daniel.”  Mingo gripped his arm.  “What are you thinking?”

            Dan glanced at his friend and then his eyes flicked to Tara’s son. “Kamassa?”

The boy continued to stare at the big man. “Yes?”

“How about you and I see how good we are at livin’ up to the names we’ve been given.”

            Mingo met Rebecca’s steady blue gaze.  They had been here before; it was something you took for granted if you loved the tall implacable man.

            He was going to walk into the lion’s den.

 

                                                                                                ### 

            Mingo kept glancing back the way they had come.  He was uncomfortable with his decision to walk away.  Still, someone had to find Alexander and Spicewood.  Logically, he knew Daniel was capable of taking care of himself, as well as Rebecca and his brother’s son; but with McInnery and Policha unaccounted for and a war about to break loose, it felt wrong and just a little selfish to be heading in the opposite direction.  Still, Cherry would not wait, and he would not let her go alone.  In spite of her warrior’s garb, he felt she was too emotional and vulnerable, and feared she might make a deadly mistake.

            Some time later they halted near the bank of the river.  They had come to the place where they had buried Spicewood. As Cherry stood at the foot of the grave, lost in another world, he realized he had been right.  If someone had come up behind her, she would never have noticed.  She didn’t notice him now as he drew near and placed his hand on her shoulder.

            “Cherry?”

            After a moment she stirred.  She turned and looked at him, though her eyes were blind with tears. 

“Cherry....  You should be happy.  Spicewood is— ”

She struck the tears away.  “That is not why I cry.”

He frowned.  “No?”

“No.”  She pulled free of his hand and faced him squarely; meeting his eyes.  “I have come to ask you to release me.”

            Mingo frowned.  “Release you?”

            She nodded.  “From my promise.”

            He thought for a moment.  Then he shook his head.  “What promise is that?”

            “You do not remember?”  She winced as if he had struck her and turned away.  Her shoulders rose and fell with a shuddering breath.  “It meant....  I meant so little to you?”

            Mingo racked his brain.  A promise?  What promise?  As he set his mind to unraveling the mystery of her words, he asked her gently, “When did you turn from healing to this?”  He indicated her war-like garb; the lush black hair pulled taut as a bowstring and colors of war that darkened her flesh.  “When you went away, I thought....”

            “You remember that?” she snapped as she spun to look at him.  “Yes.  I meant to study the healing arts in my father’s village; to become like Galunadi.”  Her hands balled into fists.  “But then I found your brother had not died. It could not be so long as he lived. Spicewood’s blood cried out to me.  There was no one to avenge her; no brother, mother, or other kin.  Her husband was gone.”  Cherry drew a deep breath.  “I put aside healing and learned how to make others hurt.”  As she continued her voice trembled.  What she had done had been contrary to her nature and ruinous to her soul.  “I followed his dark footsteps for many moons.  I journeyed south.  Many times, I was close, but always the others would protect him; always he would escape.  One night I grew careless.  I was wounded and almost died.  A soldier found me at the side of the road and took me to a nearby fort.”  Her voice softened and it seemed a bit of the tension fled her taut frame as she continued to speak.  “I lay in bed with a fever for one moon.  It took many more before I could rise, and even more before I was able to lift a bow and hunt again.  Then I found Policha and the other—Sharpknife’s brother—and thought they would lead me to Tara-Mingo.  Instead they led me to his son.  I came here to kill him.”

            “Cherry?  Kill him?  He’s a child.”

            “Was Spicewood much more?”  She held his gaze.  “Was I?”

            Mingo was thoughtful.  “No,” he said at last as he took a step towards her.  Then, “I think I remember now.”

            She looked wary.  “Remember?”

            “Your promise; your vow.  I am sorry, I had not thought of it in those terms.  I thought it was just a young girl’s— ”

            “Fancy?”  She snapped off the word.  “I meant what I said.”

            He nodded.  “Yes.  So did I.  And that was the problem, was it not?”  He tilted his head and gazed at her.  Then he lifted his hand towards her.  “There is no more need for this now.  May I?”  He indicated her hair.

            Cherry stood very still.  Then she nodded. 

            Mingo stepped forward and reached around her neck and undid the thongs that bound her long black hair.  The curls spilled over her shoulders and cascaded down her back in a black wave.  She shuddered, and then, smiled like one set free.  He moved closer  and caught her chin in his fingers and lifted her face so he could look in her eyes.  Fear had made a fool of him for so long.  She could have been his, and no man could have asked for more.  “The day Star died,” he began, “you came to me at the edge of the village as I waited for Menewa to return with my brother.  I told you I was not prepared to love...to lose...and perhaps I never would be....”

            “And I said if I did not marry you, I would vow never to marry anyone.  I would stay with the healers.  I would become a wise woman, but I would not love....”

            “Cherry,” he smiled, “are you in love?”

            She caught his hand and kissed it.  Then she placed fingers on her heart.  “Cara, you will always be with me; here.  But your arms do not keep me warm.  You do not lie beside me in the night.  You cannot fill the ache that haunts my days....”  She pulled away and let his hand drop.  “You know well what I say.  You too wait for one who will never come.” 

            He frowned.  “Then you do not love him?”

            “I do, but it is with the heart of a woman, and not a girl.  He will be good for me, and me, for him.  We will do good things together.” Cherry smiled and shook her hair free.    “I am content.”

            Mingo nodded.  “That is all any of us can ever ask.”

            “So you will release me?”

            “Yes,” he whispered, “I will release you.”  Cherry smiled.  She raised up on tiptoe and kissed him quickly on the lips and then turned and headed for the stream to wash away the paint of war and cleanse her heart and soul.  He watched her until she disappeared and then he closed his eyes.

            He would release her; but he would never let her go.

 

                                                                                            ###

            A quarter of an hour later they were on their way again.  As they moved through the leaves and the waning night, they spoke quietly of all that had transpired in the last few years. Mingo answered her questions about Chota, and then he told her of his brother’s ‘resurrection’ and his end.  Last of all he spoke of Kamassa’s beginning, and the events that had brought them to this point. When Cherry realized what she had almost done, she bowed her head and wept.  Then, slowly, as he comforted her, she began to tell him about the man who had changed her life.  He had been the doctor at the fort she had been taken to.  He had cared for her throughout her long recovery.  He was a white man from Glasgow, Alistair Fraiser, a Highlander who understood all too well the tribal society and the primitive superstitions and customs that had made her what she was.  Slowly, he began to teach her that there was more.  She had learned her letters as she lay in bed, and once she could stand on her feet, had even begun to assist him in surgeries; sharing her knowledge of plants and herbs with him.  She had been happy.  But then he had been called to go with his company to Ken-tah-ten, and at about the same time, she had learned of Tara-Mingo’s son....

            Mingo opened his mouth to comment, but fell silent as a soft sound alerted him to the fact that they were not alone.  He held his hand out and quieted her, and then, with a nod, indicated they should leave the path.  Together they scrambled into the rustling leaves and crouched in the shadows as two figures passed by.  One was a man; the other, a slender woman.  The man had short hair and was dressed like a frontiersman, though he carried himself more like a lord’s son.  The woman wore a white blouse and dark skirt, and she clung tightly to the man’s arm as if she feared she might lose him in the dark.  Periodically she would turn and glance behind nervously.  Once when she did, the dying moonlight struck her strong-boned face and painted it white. 

Cherry gasped as her fingers dug into the flesh of his arm.  She glanced at him and he nodded. He caught her hand as she started to rise.  “Careful.  You may know it is them, but they do not know it is you.”

            The young woman acknowledged his words.  She drew a deep breath, steadying herself, and then left the nest of leaves behind to stand fully revealed on the pathway.  She watched them a moment and then called softly, counting on the wind to carry her voice. “Nodatsi?  Spicewood?” 

            Alexander heard nothing.  He continued forward.  His Cherokee wife stiffened and released his arm.  As he turned towards her, Spicewood frowned and took a step back along the trail.  Was it a trick of the light or was someone there?  “Who is it?” she called.  “Who is there?”

            Mingo watched and waited.  His popping out of the leaves at this point would only startle them more.  Besides, this was Cherry’s moment.  She had given much for this day.

            Alexander caught his wife’s hand.  He drew the claymore from behind his belt and held it before him.  The tartan sash he wore flashed like a cat’s eyes as he entered a bright patch of moonlight.  “Whoe’er ye aur, com’ forward an’ identify yerself.”

            His wife placed her hand on the arm that wielded his grandfather’s blade and shook her head.  “No, I think— ”

“Alexander, it is me.”  The young woman moved into the dappled silver light.   “Taya.  Cherry.”

            Spicewood’s intake of breath was audible.  Tears filled her eyes.  Before he could stop her, she stumbled forward; her hands out-stretched.  Policha had told her the other girl had died and been burned.  “Cherry?  Is it you?”

            Alexander came forward quickly.  He placed himself between the two women and turned to meet the other’s eyes.  Too much pain and too many mistakes had taught him to be wary.  Cherry did not take offense.  She remained very still and let him look.  Then she opened her arms and held them out before her.  The Scot smiled broadly.  He made a little bow, as if to apologize, and then stepped aside.

            The two young women fell into each others’ arms.  As they did Alexander hooked the claymore behind his belt and backed away.  He watched them as both began to speak at once, using their native tongue; chattering like two young girls out berry-picking on a sunny afternoon.  He would allow them a few minutes, but then they would have to move on.  The woods were full of danger.

Still, he was relieved it had not been a trap.  His encounter with Policha had taken a lot out of him and he was not certain how much more he could handle without rest and some sort of sustenance.  He was, by nature, not a violent man, and killing did not come easy to him.  The blood-lust of his Highland ancestors ran thin in his veins, and yet he knew—though this had proved a false alarm—there would be more fighting soon.  There was a war brewing and evil men afoot; bent on destroying everything his friends had built, as well as all they loved. 

Alexander ran a hand over his eyes and swayed.  His head ached almost as much as his heart.  Finding Spicewood alive had been a blessing beyond words, but he longed to know where his brother was, and if he was all right.  And his Uncle Dungan was probably dancing reels on the end of a pin by now; furious with him for having broken rank and gone off on his own.  The handsome Scot laughed gently.  Perhaps he had been around Daniel Boone too much of late.  The next thing he knew Dungan would be accusing him of being bone-headed.

 He glanced at his wife and her friend.  He would have to break them apart.  They needed to get going before someone spotted them.  

Unexpectedly a hand came down on his shoulder and he froze.  His fingers went for  the claymore.  Other fingers reached through the leaves and caught them before they found it.  Then a quiet voice remarked, “Better save that for when it’s needed, Alec MacKir-r-r-dy.  Soon, we both may well have need of a ‘razor’ well-sharpened.”

            The tension fled the Scot’s lean form.  He turned to find his old friend emerging from the dense foliage with a smile on his face.  “Alexander,” he said.

            Alexander beamed. 

“Cara-Mingo.”

 

                                                                                                ###

            The two women were sitting with their heads together, talking quietly.  The four of them  had started for the Creek talofa, covering the distance with haste, but had stopped on the far side of the final hill to rest and eat.  As they shared a cold meal, the men had fallen silent; all too aware that it might be their last.

            Who knew what the new day might bring?

            Alexander stirred.  He noticed his friend had been staring at him.  He finally asked him why. 

Mingo indicated the Scot’s short locks.  “So you never let it grow out?”

            “Mah hair?”  Alexander fingered his short curls.  “Nae.”  He swallowed the bit of roasted rabbit he had been chewing and discarded the bone.  His eyes went to his wife.  “I cut it off th’ nicht she ‘died’.  I hae been in mournin’ e’er since.”

            The Cherokee nodded.  As had Cherry.  Perhaps now both of them could begin to heal.  “What will you do?  You and Spicewood?”

            “If we life throogh th’ next four an’ twenty hours, ye mean?”  Alexander laughed.  “I hads nae thooght o’ it.”  He shrugged.  “Whotever she wonts.  Onie thin’ she wonts.”

            “Even if it means never returning to Scotland?”

            His friend looked at him.  “Aye, e’en thot.  Thoogh I hae nae reckoned wi’ Finlay.”  The dark-haired Scot paused.  “God’s woonds, I pray he is alife.”

            Mingo nodded.  Copperhead had told him what he knew of Alexander’s younger brother, and he had told Alexander.  Finlay had been wounded.  The wound had become infected and he had almost died, but was clinging to life in spite of it.  It seemed the MacKirdy’s were made of stern stuff.  Mingo wished he could offer some encouraging word, but was not one to make promises he could not keep.  “He is in Yowa’s care,” he said softly.

            His friend smiled.  He lifted the silver crucifix which hung about his neck and pressed it to his lips.  Spicewood had insisted he wear it now for protection against what was to come.  It had been decided; she and Cherry would remain behind out of harm’s way.

He only hoped the upcoming battle against the Creek would be more easily won.  “Aye,” he said at last, “as aur we all.”

            Mingo rose to his feet.  Alexander stood beside him.  The two women looked up and he nodded.

            Time to go.

 

                                                                                             ###

 

            “Finlay, no!  You ain’t goin’ nowhere no-how!  You just lay back down!  Adohi, help me!”

            Israel Boone was shouting at the top of his lungs.  The young Scot had risen from his sick bed and stood beside it, pale and trembling.  He had heard the drone of the pipes and knew his uncle’s men were marching to war, and he was shamed to be left behind.  He had found his breeches laying on the end of the bed and struggled into them, and then risen  only to have weakness slam into him like a fist.   It had almost been enough to stop him.

            Almost.

            Israel had been happening by the tent at the same time, trying to make his own escape from the Indian boy who had been sent to guard him and keep him out of trouble, and had seen the Scot rise like a specter over a grave.  The grim determined look on his face had put Daniel Boone’s young son in mind of the night he had set out from the cabin in search of his ma after that Mac-Innery had taken her, and he knew it would probably take the whole of Boonesborough to stop Finlay.  It would have taken that to stop him. 

Still, he had to try. 

He called Adohi again and glanced at the Indian boy as he came into the tent with a

scowl painted on his face, and planted his hands on his hips and his feet on the floor.  Israel knew he was mad, but he knew as well, he would get over it.  In the short time they had been together, they had become fast friends.  Thinking about Adohi made him remember the gift he had brought him.  He glanced at the ring on his finger.  He knew his ma was all right, and that by now his pa was either with her or had put her some place safe.

            Finlay had no such reassurances.  No one knew where his brother was.  And now, according to Arrowkeeper, who had brought the Cherokee boy to the camp, his brother’s wife was missing too.  He had to be awful scared, and Israel knew when he was scared he mostly did stupid things.

            Like trying to get out of a sickbed to go to war.

            “Get oot o’ mah way,” the young man breathed as he reached for his linen shirt which had been tossed over the back of the chair his uncle had only recently occupied.  “Ye will nae stop me frae followin’.  Alexander needs me— ”

            “He needs you here.”  The white-haired boy placed himself in front of the young man and shook his finger at him.  “He don’t need you out there where he has to worry about you.  Why, you might make him do somethin’ stupid.”

            Finlay had pulled the shirt over his head.  He swayed again and steadied himself with a hand to the chair.  “Israel.  I un’erstand whot ye aur tryin’ tae dee.  Boot I cannae stay haur.  I moost...”

            “...do what is best for your brother.”  Israel’s small face became very serious.  “Do you really think that means goin’ out when you ain’t able and gettin’ yourself killed?  What good would that do him?  Ain’t it enough he’s got to worry about Spicewood and keep her safe?  He can’t watch out for you and her.”

            The Scot frowned.  Something in him seemed to snap and he sank back on the bed.  “Those aur wise words, Israel Boone.  It seems I migh’ o’ heard them afore this.  Aur they yers?”

            The boy swallowed.  He was sure glad Finlay had sat back down.  He didn’t think he or Adohi could have really stopped him if he had insisted on leaving.  “Well, a couple of ‘em might belong to your uncle....”

            Finlay laughed.  “Tis as I thooght.”  His leaned his head in his hands and sighed.  “Boot there moost be somethin’ I can dee....” 

            “There is.”

            His dark head came up.  Arrowkeeper was standing in the doorway of the tent; his tall form eclipsing Copperhead’s young son.  He laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder and Adohi looked up.  “You can take these two and fly into the woods.  Seek shelter and safety in the cave you were first taken to, far away from here. 

            “You do not have to go find the battle.  It has come to us.”

 

                                                                                         ###

 

            Dan glanced down at the boy.  He lay in a bed of leaves asleep.  It was asking a lot of him, but the young man seemed determined.  He had even limped most of the way back to the talofa on his bent foot, leaning on Rebecca’s arm, but finally blood loss and exhaustion had caught up to him, and a short while ago he had stumbled and passed out.  Dan had picked him up from the ground and carried him the rest of the way.  He had let him sleep a few hours, and while he did, watched the Creek warriors coming and going.  About an hour before dawn the majority had turned and entered the talofa.  Now they stood in silence, gathered together in the center of the temporary town, hugging the base of a platform that rose some ten or twelve feet above the ground.  Behind them he could hear far off the sound of musket fire and the drone of the Scottish pipes.  Dungan MacDougall’s Highlanders were on the move. 

Time was running out.

Several times as they moved through the trees they had come across Creek warriors, dead or dying; killed no doubt by the grey-bearded Scot’s scouts.  Kamassa’s large dark eyes had taken it all in, but he had said nothing.  Dan knew what he was thinking.  These men had probably died with his name on their lips, and tonight—because of him— their women, and their sons and daughters would weep; because of him they would paint their faces with ash and wail.  And all because he had been ready and willing to be used.

            As he turned to check the boy, a strong voice cut through the early morning air.  He didn’t know a lot of Creek, but he understood well enough what the man said.  Dan parted the leaves and stared.  The broad Creek warrior wearing a feathered cloak spoke of an easy victory.  He promised the painted braves many scalps and much glory.  He assured them that, should they die, their reward would be a land free of the white man, and a stop to the slow inexorable death of their way of life.

            In other words, like any charlatan, what he promised was smoke and empty dreams.

But to the men who listened, smoke and empty dreams were better than a life where the streams ran dry and the animals they hunted were rounded up and branded, or hunted until they were gone; where they would be forced to do women’s work, to homestead and till the ground, and forget what it had been like to be warriors and men. 

Perhaps, in the end, it would be better if they died in battle.

            Dan squared his shoulders and looked at the Indian boy sleeping nearby.  What sort of a world would he inherit?  What kind of a man would he become?  He wasn’t that much older than Israel.  Could he adapt?  Could any of them?

Still, he had to think of his own, and as Kamassa’s world ended, that of his own began.  Israel and Jemima’s children would grow with the land, and the country they built would be counted as blessed.  From it they would bring forth bounty, and Kentucky would become a safe and secure place for all who came after them.  Israel’s and Jemima’s heirs would prosper long after he and Rebecca were gone. 

            Rebecca.  He turned and looked at her.  She had fallen asleep as well and he had let her, knowing she would need her strength for the hours to come. He didn’t like it that she  was here, so near to danger.  He knelt and brushed the hair back from her forehead.  Still, he would have kept her by his side if he could.  His strength was here; housed within a frame slightly over five feet; tall as the trees and rooted just as deep.

            “Dan?”  His wife stirred and blinked.  She sat up suddenly and glanced about.   Drums pounded nearby, shaking the ground.  “What is it?  What are you thinking?”

            He pursed his lips.  “Well, Rebecca, what I am goin’ to ask you won’t be to your likin’....”

            “Rebecca?”  Her hands found their familiar spot on her hips quicker than usual.   “Daniel Boone, you are not leaving me behind.”

            “Now, Becky,” he replied. “It won’t do to be lookin’ out for both you and the boy...”

            “And who will look out for you?” she countered.

“Well, they say God looks after fools....”  The grin he favored her with was one of his most charming, but it fell flat.  “...and you know that includes me.”

“Dan, no.  I have come this far.”  Her eyes filled with fear for him.  “You can’t make me go and wait somewhere while they...while they....”  Her voice fell and she shuddered.  “...while they tear you and Kamassa apart.  We have to— ”

 “To what?”  His green eyes were sober as they sought her face.  “Go back?  Run away?  Becky, you know as well as I do if this isn’t stopped here, there won’t be an acre of ground in Kentucky we can walk that won’t leave us ankle-deep in blood.”  He took hold of her hand.  “And where will that leave Israel, or ‘Mima and her family?”

The drum-beats had been deafening; now they fell silent.  The man began to speak again.  He was calling out Kamassa’s name.  The frenzied warriors answered him, their voices crying out in alarm.  Dan frowned and pivoted towards the sound. 

“Dan, what are they...?”

He shook his head and shushed her.  Then he glanced at Kamassa, but the boy was still sleeping.  A moment later he rose to his feet and pulled her after him.  Then he put his arm about her and together they approached the screen of leaves that hid them and listened.

“It is the one called Boone; he has done this thing.”  The man who spoke was clearly visible on a raised platform; he was a powerful Creek warrior of medium height.  The cloak he wore was ankle-length, made of turkey feathers, and it fell from his shoulders and billowed in the wind.  His hands were raised high above his head and in one of them was a ceremonial spear covered with feathers and ribbons of leather died black, red and yellow; the colors of war.  “He has called upon the white man’s magic and, like a shadow, evil has stolen into our midst.  He freed his friend and, while Kamassa Chafaaka slept, spirited him away.  You know what they will do if they can.  They will silence him!  They would not have you hear his words, for they know what they would be.  Hear me now!  He would tell you the white man must die!  He would send you out as wolves to rend the throats of the white sheep!  The time has come!  Take up your weapons, your tomahawks and spears, now is the time for war!”

Before the thunderous cry of the warriors could sound, a still small voice spoke into the silence.  “No, you are wrong.”

Dan started.  He gazed down and saw the space the boy had occupied was empty.  He glanced at Becky and then peered through the leaves to his left.  Kamassa was there. The dawning light struck his slender form.  His back was straight and his held high.

Kamassa steadied himself and stepped forward.  “You are wrong, Tastanagi,” he continued.  Then his piercing gaze fell on the crowd and his voice rose.  “You are all wrong.  It is not the time for war.”

“They have poisoned his mind,” Tastanagi Thulco cried out.  “Do not listen to him!”

“Listen to me; do not listen to me! You cannot have it both ways.  What this one says,” he raised his hand and pointed at the man in the cape, “is not true.  The fire that burns in his veins is not pure; it will destroy not only the white man, but the red as well.”  Kamassa drew a deep breath and winced as he lowered his arm.  “I have seen it.”

            “This is not Kamassa.”  The Creek’s voice was steady and even, and the words he spoke made a twisted sort of sense.  “He would not talk so.  Their priests and medicine men have worked dark magic.  The one who stands before you now is an evil spirit sent to confuse us and cause us to forget, so we will run away like old men who have no teeth.”  He lowered the spear and stepped towards the edge of the wooden platform.  As he did the pulsing red firelight lit his face and it leered down at them like a cathedral grotesque.  “You must destroy him!  Now!”

            The sea of warriors turned towards the boy, their uncertainty the only thing that lay between him and death.  They shuffled and fingered their weapons.  Dan held his breath and waited.  Kamassa had not moved.  He did not appear to be afraid.  He had closed his eyes and his lips were moving silently.  If Dan had not known better, he might have thought he was watching a very young native on a spirit quest.  But he did know better.  Still, there was something about the boy; something you couldn’t put your finger on, and these men knew it.   They might believe him and turn on the other man, but the decision rested of the edge of a knife.

            “Dan!”

            He glanced at his wife.  She had gone white as a sheet.  Her arm was extended and she was pointing towards the platform.  He looked up.  Tastanagi had stepped forward and tossed the spear.  It was headed straight for Kamassa who stood, as he had, with his eyes closed and his hands held out, palm up. 

Dan shot out of the greenery and tackled the boy and as the two of them fell to the ground and rolled over, all Hell broke loose.

    

                                                                                                    ###

 

            Arrowkeeper had remained in the camp to fight with Dungan MacDougall’s remaining soldiers.  He could only hope that Alexander’s young brother had had enough life left in him to get the two boys to safety; he had not been able to keep his promise to Copperhead, to guard Adohi himself.  MacDougall had only left a skeleton crew behind.  They, along with the soldiers who had returned from hunting Alexander, were fighting against over-whelming odds.  Even the camp doctor had been pressed into service; killing instead of healing.  Still, so far, most of the bodies on the wet grass were painted and not clad in kilts.  The Highlanders had proven as fierce and ruthless in war as he had heard rumored; much like the young Creek men they faced.

            He could still hear the pipes that went before MacDougall’s force.  The center of the battle was not far away.  It had started in small skirmishes in the out-lying areas and so was centered in the trees outside the talofa.  As swords clanged and flintlocks barked, and arrows flew about him, he wondered  where in the midst of this insanity Kamassa was.  He would have dearly loved to find him, but there was no time.  There was no way he could leave.  And there was very little hope he ever would.  

            Then, unexpectedly—as if there had been a change in the wind—the tide of battle shifted.  A shudder ran through their foes and they quailed and began to retreat.  As he dispatched the warrior who had been trying to take his head off with an ax, he glanced back towards the talofa and frowned.  It seemed a dark tide had spilled out of the trees, eclipsing the rising light of morning.  He squinted and saw that it was moving.  Then he recognized it; warriors, hundreds of warriors wearing paint, and all of them armed to the teeth.  He held his breath as he watched them advance.  Then he saw the top-knots and recognized their garments.

            The Cherokee had come.

 

                                                                                            ###

 

            At first Dan had feared the Creek would side with the man on the platform, but then he realized the native in the turkey feather cloak had misjudged them as much as he.  As one the crowd turned and rushed the raised structure, screaming for the blood of the one who would have them kill their prophet and hope.  The irony of the situation was, in their fanatic devotion, they had forgotten Kamassa himself.  The boy rested on the ground beside him,  his eyes open now and round with loss.  This was much more than he had bargained for when he had listened to a madman’s words and accepted the role of messiah.  Dan frowned and scratched his head.  Somehow, he had to get him up onto that platform.  Only the boy could quiet them down.  If he didn’t, a lot of fathers, brothers and husbands were going to die for no reason.  He caught the boy by the arm and brought him to his feet, and then began to drag him into the shelter of the leaves.  As he did, his eyes fell on Becky.  She was standing with her hands to her mouth.  What was he going to do with her? 

He couldn’t leave her alone....

            “Would it be acceptable if a friend were to offer some assistance at this point, Daniel?”  The cultured voice was laced with grim amusement. 

“Mingo!”  Dan grinned with relief. 

“Aye,” the Cherokee smiled as he stepped out of the trees.  “And Alexander.”

The Scot inclined his head as he joined them.  His black hair was tousled.  The hand that held his claymore was bloody and there was a fire in his eyes.  They had had to fight their way through, and he had passed through exhaustion to a sort of fey mood.  “Dan, yer guidwife can com’ wi’ me.  I will tak’ her tae be wi’ mine.”

“Spicewood is safe?”  Becky approached him. 

“Aye, she is safe as onie ain.  An’ Finlay?  Dae ye ken aught o’ him?”

She shook her head.  “I’m sorry, Alexander.  We don’t know.  McInnery....”

“Aye?”

She paused and looked at Dan.  He stepped up to the other man.  “McInnery said he was dead.”  As Alexander started, he held his hand up.  “He told me Rebecca was dead as well.  You can see she is not.”

Alexander nodded his head.  Then he smiled and held his hand out to Rebecca.  “We moost tak’ it ain miracle at a tim’.”

Becky turned to look at her husband.  “Must I go?”

Dan stepped up to her and placed his hand on her cheek.  Then he leaned down and kissed her.  As he drew back, he said softly, “Becky, I need you to be brave.  I need you to go.”

She stared at him a moment and then nodded.  And then without another word she followed Alexander into the leaves.

“You have quite a woman there, Daniel,” Mingo commented as he came to his side.

Dan grinned.  “Don’t I know it.  Of course, she reminds me every day.”

Mingo shook his head and turned to Kamassa.  “And you?  Are you ready to be your own man?  And not your father’s son?”

Kamassa frowned.  He was moving slowly, as though part of him still walked in a dream.  “I am ready,” he said.

Dan looked from one to the other and realized their words had to do with something that had passed between them before; something he was not privy to.  “I think he already did, Mingo.  You have Kamassa to thank for the little ‘party’ the Creek are throwing right now...and for the fact that they are throwing it at each other.”  The frontiersman laughed.  “He finally spoke to them like McInnery wanted, but I don’t think it was what he wanted them to hear.”   Then he frowned.  “I wonder where is he...”

Mingo’s dark eyes flashed as he and the boy bent their backs and began to move into the darkness, heading for the platform. 

“Hopefully writhing in Hell where he belongs.”

 

                                                                                ###

 

Copperhead shook the wet hair from his eyes and rose to his feet.  All about them was the noise of battle, though the war itself had not touched them yet.  He glanced down at the man who lay at his feet and frowned.  Dealing with this one was like dealing with a rabid dog.  No, not even that; a rabid dog one might feel some pity for.  Even though it caused much harm, it was not to blame.  James McInnery did nothing that was not carefully calculated, well thought out, and then executed with precision.  The evil he had done had been intentional.  If he escaped, it would go on.  

The charge Boone had given him was indeed an important one, and it had almost claimed his life.

The handsome Cherokee fingered the bandage on his shoulder and shuddered to think what Miriam would do when she saw his red coat, rent, and so much darker now for all the blood.  He had been walking along the river-bank, searching for McInnery’s body, when suddenly it had come hurtling out of a tree and landed on top of him.  Apparently the second arrow Cherry had let fly had missed him.  He had floated with the current and then scrambled to the shore where he had rested and regained his strength.  The two of them scuffled and the half-Scot’s blade had pierced his shoulder, passing through the fleshy part between his chest and arm.  If not for fate—or more likely, the hand of God—his body would have been the one his friends found later, lying in the mud beside the rushing river.   McInnery had made a misstep.  He had slipped and fallen and dropped his weapon, and that had allowed him to gain the upper hand.  They had been on their way back to the talofa just now, when McInnery had suddenly lurched and tried to knock him off his feet.  Copperhead had struck him hard, knocking the wind out of him, and then flipped him over so he could check that he was still securely bound.  The half-Scot was moving slowly.  They both were.  Both had bled more than they should have and traveled far without rest.  They were about equal in strength at this point.  Still, he had one thing McInnery did not, and it drove him on.

Righteous indignation and a determination to see justice done.

Copperhead had returned here with his family seeking peace.  They had tried to live in the white man’s world, but prejudice—both hidden and overt—had brought his children and his wife pain he could not bear.  Here, no matter the color of their skin, they would be accepted.  Here, no one would use the word ‘breed’ to taunt or excuse abuse.  Here, in Ken-tah-ten, Adohi could still hunt and run and believe as his Cherokee ancestors had believed for untold centuries, and Sunalei or Morning, his infant daughter, would be free to grow into a woman with property and power of her own.  That was, if savages like Tastanagi and McInnery, and madmen like James Harper did not have their way. 

He glanced down and kicked the man who lay on the ground and heard him grunt.

Good.  He was awake.

Time to move on.

 

                                                                                ###

 

“I will stand with you.”

            “No, Uncle.”  Kamassa shook his head.  They lingered at the base of the platform, concealed by its cast shadow; beside the ladder that led to the top.  All about them there were small pockets of fighting where warriors whooped and hollered, and struck one another, drawing blood.  Some supported Kamassa.  Others Tastanagi.  And still others did not even know why they fought; they only knew they wanted to hurt someone else in their confusion and pain.  “I must go alone.”

            Mingo glanced back at Daniel Boone where he waited near the trees; his rifle in hand.  He had asked the frontiersman to let him take Kamassa forward alone, so they could speak.  “There is no need for that....”

            “Yes, there is.”  The boy’s face wore a curious expression; as if his thoughts were far away and he had somehow disconnected himself from the turmoil that raged about them.  “I must claim my destiny.”

            The Cherokee frowned.  His destiny?  What was this?  “Kamassa?  What do you mean?”

            The boy turned and looked at him.  “I am my own man, but I am also my father’s son.”  He put his hand on the ladder’s rung and lifted his twisted foot.  Hiding the grimace of pain that shot through him, he began to pull himself up.    

            Mingo reached out for him.  “But Tastanagi....  You will be in great danger.”

            “He cannot harm me now.  No man can.”  The words floated down.

            “Kamassa?”  Mingo put his hand to the ladder.  “What are you doing?”

The boy had reached the top and was looking down over the platform’s edge.  Quickly he  began to draw the ladder up.  Mingo watched it disappear and then frowned at the boy’s  smiling face. “Kamassa?”

“Goodbye, Uncle.”

            “Kamassa!  What are you...?”  Mingo froze.   He had heard Dan call his name.  His attention divided, he hesitated, and then turned back towards his friend.  The tall frontiersman was signaling him, and had started to run towards the platform.  The Cherokee frowned.  Then it dawned on him.

            Kamassa was not in danger from Tastanagi, Sharpknife’s brother.

            He was. 

            Even as he felt the knife scrape against his ribs, he heard the report of a flintlock and felt the ball pass close by him.  Tastanagi gasped.  He let go and backed away from him; his hands flying to his painted chest.  The knife went with him.  Mingo drew a sharp breath and fell to his knees.  Dan rushed in and, leaning down, picked his friend’s loaded flintlock up from the wet grass where it had fallen.  With his finger on the trigger and his eye in the sight, he faced down the native man.  Tastanagi looked at him.  He spat on the ground, showing his defiance, and then raised the knife and aimed for Mingo’s back.  The flintlock sounded again.  Another ball flew.  It hit Sharpknife’s brother in the chest and threw him back against one of the wooden poles that supported the platform.  The Creek warrior breathed a final curse, and then he died.

            Dan fell to his knees beside his friend.  Mingo’s hands were red with his own blood.  The frontiersman waited until the Cherokee looked up and then he said quietly, “Would it be acceptable if I were to offer you some assistance at this point?”

            Mingo laughed and then sucked in air as the gesture cost him in pain.  “I reckon,” he whispered and then he passed out.

 

                                                                                                  ###

 

            Arrowkeeper stopped dead.  With the arrival of the Cherokee he had deserted the Highlander’s camp and flown through the woods in pursuit of Kamassa and his friends.  On the way to the talofa he had engaged in hand to hand combat, and had had to fight his way to the platform, killing and almost being killed.  But then, as he arrived at its foot, the men about him fell silent and looked up.

            So did he. 

Kamassa stood at the edge of the wooden stage, the turkey feather cape slung about his narrow shoulders.  On either side of him fires blazed, glinting off his long raven hair and casting his wide hawkish eyes into shadow.  He waited until all about him fell silent, and then raised his hands high above his head.

            “I am Kamassa Chafaaka,” he said in a strong, commanding tone, “the powerful one, chosen by the Master of Breath to lead you.”  He lowered his hands and stepped forward, his eyes going from one angry face to another. “You have left your homes and your lives; your wives and children to follow me.  Some of you knew my father, Tara-Mingo.  You saw the tail of the star that filled the sky the night he came back to his people.  You wept when he ‘died’, and cried tears of joy when he was reborn—when he was allowed to return because the task he had been given was incomplete, and his time had not yet come.”

            Kamassa hesitated.  His eyes had found his adoptive father.  Arrowkeeper’s strong-boned face was turned towards him and there were tears in his dark eyes.  Kamassa met them.  He wished now he could take back the words he had spoken before.  Who knew if they would live to speak again?  He shook his head as the tall Creek began to move towards him.  He did not want Arrowkeeper in this. 

He did not want anyone else to die because of him. 

The young Creek closed his eyes and began to speak again.  “Some of you were here when that time did come at last.  You have been told he surrendered up his life so I could come—the ‘powerful one’ who would free you, his people, and give you a land where the whites would be no more; where you and your children could live in peace, till the fields,  hunt the wild beasts, and speak to your god as before.”  He drew a deep breath and looked directly into Arrowkeeper’s eyes.  “It is all a lie.”

            There was a moment of stunned silence and then, even as Kamassa continued, a wave of whispers washed over the crowd, wetting their appetite for violence and revenge.  “My father was an evil man who cared for no one but himself.  He wanted only to be chief; to rule and to own with an iron hand.  And these men who followed him: McInnery,  Tastanagi, Policha....”  The boy hesitated.  Of them all, Policha had truly believed in him and in the cause he had groomed him for; perhaps more than he had believed in it himself.  Still, he was evil.  He cared little for the men he used or for their loss.  Kamassa drew a breath and continued, “Their hearts were not red for their people; only for their enemie’s blood, and their eyes saw neither red nor white; only power.  They are your enemies.”  His voice fell and he trembled and wrapped his arms about his thin frame.  “I am your enemy,” he shook his head, “not the white man Boone, nor his wife or children, or their friends or their settlement.”

            The crowd had grown very quiet.  They shifted, uncertain of what to do.  In the distance the sounds of battle continued, but they, too, would soon fall silent.  Men were running; women and children, carrying the news.

Finally a strong young warrior covered in yellow and black paint stepped forward and lifted his spear.  “Kamassa Chafaaka, what should we do?” he cried.  “Tell us.”

            Kamassa blinked and took a halting step back.  “No.  I am nothing.  I should not tell you.”

            The man shook his head.  He glanced about and some of his fellows nodded in agreement.  “You are Kamassa.  We follow you.  Tell us what to do!”  The warrior beside him lifted his tomahawk and began to shout as well.  Soon they were all crying out; for direction, for hope; for the blood of the men he had named. 

            The boy staggered back, at a loss.  Unexpectedly a hand fell on his shoulder.  He twisted about to find Daniel Boone.  “Son,” the frontiersman said quietly, “they are waiting for your word.”

            Kamassa glanced at the seething crowd.  My word?  What more can I say?”

            Dan had left Mingo in the cool darkness with his ribs temporarily bound and quickly  scaled one of the poles to the top of the platform, hoping to protect the boy.  Now he stood beside him, looking at the sea of faces; seeing their suspicion and doubt and yet sensing their desire to put it all behind them—if only they could find something else to cling to.  Right now Kamassa and his visions were it.  “Give them what they want.”

“And what is that, Mister Boone?”

“What any man wants.  What he needs to survive; hope.”

            The boy stared at him a minute and then he turned back to the seething crowd.  He closed his eyes and grew very still, until he became a rock in the midst of that rushing stream.  Then he began to speak; so softly at first that the warriors had to grow quiet once again to hear him. 

            “You see this man beside me.  He is white.  I am red, and yet, we stand here, both part of this land.  We cannot go back, and if we seek to go back, we cannot then go forward.”  Still with his eyes closed, he went on, “I can see this great land, stretching from sea to sea; it is a vast land, filled with bounty and abundant harvests; where men walk as brothers, hand in hand, in spite of the color of their skin.  Their wives wear many beads and cannot work the land fast enough.  Their children do not die of the cold, or of want or hunger; and men do not walk in fear.”  He raised his head and tilted his young face toward the sky.  “The road to this will not be easy.  All who stand here today will die before it comes.  But for your children’s children’s children, there will be peace with the white man, and we will live as one.”  Tears slipped down Kamassa’s cheeks as he spoke, for he could not tell them all; he could not speak of the ones who would be driven from their land, of the long forced marches; of the camps which were not homes but prisons where cholera and dysentery reigned; nor of the children who would be taken from their fathers and mothers, whose long beautiful hair would be cut; who would be forced to take white names and forget who and what they were.  Or of how long it would take their people to once again be proud and free.  “I ask you, today, in the name of the ‘powerful One’, to put away your hatred.  Put down your weapons.”  His voice was strained. He choked and then whispered.  “Go home.” 

            Dan watched as the boy’s hand went to his injured shoulder.  He could tell he was about to collapse.  He wasn’t certain of all he had said, but he had caught the gist of it and knew it had affected the men before him in a powerful way.  He took a step forward to steady him and heard the old hatred fly through the crowd.  Kamassa stirred and seemed to wake.  He turned moist eyes on him and smiled.  Then he held out his hand.  Dan took it and came to stand beside him.

            “This is the Boone,” Kamassa said quietly in English, “the one you were to hate.  He saved my life.  Him, and his friends.  James McInnery meant to kill me; to make you all hate the white man even more.”  His eyes went to Arrowkeeper where he waited, breathless and still concerned for the safety of his ‘son’.  “Color does not make the man; the man makes the color.”

            There was a renewed silence.  One of the men who had supported the evil trio before, suddenly spoke up also using the white man’s tongue.  “Where is he?  You speak against him and he is not here to defend himself.”  Soon other voices demanded to know, “Where are they?  Where is McInnery?  Where is Policha?  Tastanagi?”  And someone called out, “We would hear them speak!”

            Dan held up his hand and stepped in front of Kamassa, shielding him.  “Tastanagi is dead.  I killed him when he tried to kill my friend.  His body lies below this platform.  I don’t know about this Preacher, but I watched as James McInnery fell into the river after trying to kill Kamassa.  He may be dead as well.”
            They were not satisfied; he could tell.  More angry voices cried for proof.  Dan stiffened.  Crowds were curious things.  One minute they could be for you, and the next....  He glanced at Kamassa who had gone white with fatigue and knew he might well be their next target.  In one thing history was consistent.  When it came to a ‘messiah’, false or true, if he gave them what they wanted, he would be carried on their shoulders and blessed.

If he didn’t....

Dan turned back to the crowd.  They were not going to be satisfied until they had a scapegoat for their failure and disillusionment. 

            “You’ll just have to take my word for it,” he began.

            “No.  They will not.”

            The frontiersman pivoted to find a familiar figure in a red coat standing just without the trees holding another man at rifle-point.  His prisoner was bedraggled; his fine English garments rent and muddied, his hair loose and tangled. Still, his bearing had not changed.  He was as arrogant as ever.

            James McInnery.

            The man’s eyes took in the crowd.  Then they flicked to Kamassa.  He acknowledged Dan’s presence with a curt nod, as if admitting defeat, and then seemed to come to a decision.  He turned towards Copperhead, who had raised his weapon.

“That will no longer be necessary.”

“What?”

“The game is over.  Checkmate.  You have won.”

“McInnery....”

The half-Scot ignored him and turned back to the milling warriors.  “Fools,” he called out, “easily led, blind gullible fools. Did you think men such as we—educated,

well-bred, intelligent men who have climbed out of the pit of superstition and squalor you choose to live in and protect, could possibly care for any of you or your savage desires?  You were useful.  We needed the white man out, and your hatred and willingness to die were what we needed to make that happen.  You were willing to give your lives quickly enough, and well you should, for they are without value.”  He paused even as he heard Copperhead draw a quick breath behind him and ask him what he was doing.  He ignored the question; it would soon be all too clear.  “Honor?  Glory?  You do not know the meaning of the words.  They are nothing but empty smoke to a savage heart, and as easily dispersed and blown upon the wind as will be your villages, your families and your lives.”

            The crowd drew a collective breath, and then as one, rushed towards the trees.  Even as Copperhead backed away, seeking the shadows and concealment, McInnery turned to him and smiled.  “I would advise you to run, Cherokee.”

            Copperhead’s deep brown eyes were wide.  “Why?”

            McInnery shrugged.  “Better this than a white man’s court and the end of a rope.”  And with that he turned around and plunged into the heart of the rolling, swarming crowd.

            The Cherokee warrior watched him disappear and then turned and ran for his life.

 

                                                                                                    ###                                                                                                          

           

            Alexander and Rebecca had made their way through the woods slowly, clinging to one another and to the darkness that cloaked them from eyes full of hate and hearts full of fire.  First they had had to move through the bands of warriors who watched the outskirts of the talofa, and then they had had to avoid the pockets of fierce fighting all along the way.  Once a Creek warrior had dashed at them with pipe tomahawk in hand.  Alexander’s flintlock had stopped him, but it had also alerted others in the area to their presence, and for a short time, they had had to run for their lives.  Even as Kamassa began to speak, hoping to reach the hearts of his brothers, they entered the area before the cave.  The Scot stared at it, knowing his heart should still rest safe within its dark embrace.  But these were hard and dangerous times, and he had no proof of that.  He laid his hand on the woman’s sleeve and told her to remain concealed while he checked it out. 

She refused.  “We have come this far together,” she said, “we go on the same way.”

            Alexander grinned.  “Aur ye pure certain ye aur nae frae Glasgow, Rebecca Bryan Boone?  Ye aur as stubborn as a Scot.”

            Becky’s blue eyes narrowed.  My mother always told me the Scots were once Irish.  Perhaps you got it from us.”

            The man with the dark curly hair laughed this time.  “Aye.  Perhaps ye aur richt.”  Then, abruptly he caught her hand and pulled her down.  A man had appeared and stood silhouetted in the cave’s mouth.  His face was turned toward the east where the first flickers of the approaching dawn were turning the leaves to gold.  The mounting light also glinted off the flintlock rifle in his hand. 

            Becky frowned.  “I thought only Cherry and Spicewood were to be here.”

            He nodded.  “Aye.  Somethin’ isnae richt.  Stay haur whiles I— ”

            The handsome Scot fell silent and went pale.  Becky reached out and placed her hand on his arm.  “Alexander, are you all right?”

            He nodded.  He seemed stunned; almost in shock.  Then he roused himself and smiled.  “Ne’er more, dear lady.”  He stood up and stepped boldly out of the leaves, ignoring her words of protest.  “Trobhad a-mach, Finlay,” he called in Gaelic.  ‘Come on out’.  “Tha Alexander.” 

            The young man’s head turned their way and the rising light struck it fully.  He was much thinner than Rebecca remembered; wasted from fever and infection, but he was on his feet and alive.  Finlay’s lips moved.  “Alec?” he whispered.  Relief brought tears to his eyes and a sudden weakness to his knees, and forced him to sit down.  Instantly two small figures appeared beside him.  One was light-haired and the other very dark.  The smaller of the two caught his arm and asked him if he was all right.  Then he followed his astonished stare.  He saw a man standing in front of the trees, and beside him a slender woman, filthy and disheveled, with bright blazing copper hair.

            “Ma!” Israel cried out.  He turned from one friend to the other.  “Adohi, Finlay, it’s my ma!”  And then, before either could find an answer; even as Cherry and Spicewood came to the mouth of the cave, he bolted towards the trees. 

            Cherry went to the pale Scot.  In a skilled way her fingers found his forehead and checked it for fever.  Spicewood watched her until the young man caught her eye, and then inclined his head towards the woods.  She looked and saw her husband.  Her hand went to throat out of habit and her lips moved in thanks as he approached. 

            “Is it over?” she asked in a soft voice as he took her in one arm and placed his other around his brother’s shoulder. 

            “I cannae be certain, loove, boot I thin’ if ‘tis nae o’er, it soon will be.  Listen,” he turned back towards the trees, “th’ woods hae fallen silent.”

              

                                                                                                 ### 

            Arrowkeeper supported Mingo and Dan carried Kamassa.  Together with Copperhead, the quartet moved steadily away from the talofa where fires continued to burn and the pent-up rage of the past months and years was visited out on the flesh of one man.  They moved silently, uncertain how many hostiles remained between them and safety, men  who might be unaware of what had just transpired; who would kill first and think perhaps to ask questions later.  It was with great relief that they soon found they worried needlessly.  Just without the talofa waited General Dungan MacDougall, surrounded by his Highlanders and several hundred fierce, painted Cherokee.  The combined force had routed the remaining Creek who had patrolled the forests, defeating them, or at the very least sending them running.  MacDougall had actually arrived in time to confront Tastanagi, but warily and wisely he had held his men in check and waited as Dan and Kamassa played out their hand.   Now that the five men were safe, his troops would move in and disperse the Creek renegades, arresting some, and sending the others home to their wives and children.

            The burly Highlander nodded to the frontiersman as he drew abreast.  A smile brightened his grizzled face.  “Still troostin’ tae at th’ same bone-headed gambles, eh, Boone?  Ye’ve mor’ luck an’ lifes than onie mon I ken.”

            Dan smiled.  He glanced at Mingo who was pale, but on his feet, and at the others who surrounded him.  Then he turned back to the general.  “I have all the luck any man could ask for, General; good men to guard my back and fight at my side, and good friends to share my table.” 

He paused to wink at Kamassa and then added quietly, “Dungan, are you hungry?”

 

  - Completed in the Epilogue -