face from the grave, a memory, a ghost
with vengeance as his shroud. My
A long time ago, Daniel, a Cherokee princess had a son. A Creek son they called Tara-Mingo. That Princess later married an English officer, and another son was born. He was called Cara-Mingo. Creek, Cherokee, and English — a fusion of three alien cultures;
But to the two Mingos, blood was only for bleeding.”
BLOOD WAS ONLY FOR BLEEDING
Near Boonesborough, KY 1776
Two black-brown eyes narrowed slightly and a deeply tanned hand cocked the hammer of the rifle. His other hand lay on the boy’s white hair. As the child opened his mouth to question him, he shook his dark head and called for silence. Close by, half a dozen feathered shadows moved like spirits through the verdant Kentucky woods, following a well-worn path forged by their father’s fathers who had walked the land long before them. He waited for the last one to pass, fearful that same sixth sense which governed many of his own actions would alert them to the close proximity of a lone warrior far from home, and one young and very precious child.
“Not a word, Israel.”
The boy’s blue eyes fastened on the tall man who lowered the rifle and knelt beside him. A moment later a strong arm was placed about his shoulders and he was drawn back, away from the trail and into the concealing depths of the lush blue-green foliage. Within seconds the shining barrel of a British flintlock musket appeared, parting the underbrush, only to be followed by a savage face streaked with red paint. As its owner passed beneath the rustling trees, Daniel Boone’s small son swallowed hard. Up until a few days before, he had never seen anything quite like this Indian. He was wearing a shirt that reached almost to his knees and his pants were a rich blue and cut like an English gentleman’s. On his arms were broad silver bands that matched the great disks that dangled from his pierced ears. There were multiple strands of glass beads about his throat, and on his head he wore a funny wrapped hat the color of blood, decorated with even more beads and clusters of small fine feathers. His skin was red as the heart of the earth, but unlike the man who crouched behind him—keeping him safe—that heart was as hard and unyielding as stone. Israel shivered and fought the urge to cry out as the man advanced towards them, probing the underbrush with his bayoneted weapon.
“Do not fear,” his protector whispered near his ear, “before you die—he will.”
Israel felt the muscles in his guardian’s arms tense and knew he was about to spring. Then, suddenly, there was a cry and the crack of a whip, followed by the sharp report of a familiar rifle. The man before them pivoted and dropped to his knees as the whip cracked again. Several more shots were fired and then there was silence. A moment later someone spoke and Israel heard his name. The boy started as he recognized the voice and leapt to his feet. Strong hands pulled him back down.
“Wait. All may not be as it seems.”
“The other two have run away.” A man spoke. His voice was cultured and lyrical. “Shall I follow and find where they are going?”
“No. Right now we’ve got more important things to think about.” There was a pause. “You were right though, Mingo. They were Creek, not Shawnee.”
“Yes, and not all local Creek. Look at this one’s clothing. This is a wealthy landed man. Muskogee from the look of him.”
“Did you see any sign of Israel?”
Another pause. “No. But this is where the trail ends. They arrived by canoe, made camp by the side of the stream, and then set out along the path. This is the group that raided the Jacob’s homestead; I recognize some of the belongings from their cabin. Israel has to be here...somewhere.”
The object of their search watched in horror as the Indian in the bushes rose to point his musket at the two men. He opened his mouth to scream a warning, but found there was no need; the tall man who guarded him was already on his feet and moving. Within seconds his broad hands were around the native’s throat. As the Muskogee’s weapon fell to the earth unfired, he glanced at Israel and nodded towards the boy’s father. “Go to him. I will see to this one and then join you.”
“Pa! Pa!” At his word Israel burst forth from their place of concealment and bolted across the glade faster than a frightened rabbit. Within seconds he was in the circle of his startled, but thankful, father’s arms. “I’m here. I’m here!”
As his pa spoke his name and pulled him close, Mingo came to their side and took note of the boy’s condition. His night-shirt was torn and there were multiple scratches on his hands and face, but otherwise he appeared to be unharmed. “Israel?” he asked, “are you all right?”
The little boy shifted so he could look at the Cherokee without leaving the security of his father’s embrace. He nodded and suddenly found he had to fight back tears. He hadn’t even thought about crying the whole time he had been dragged through the woods— not even when one of the Indians had shoved him so hard he had fallen and taken the skin off both knees; not even when they had taken Charlie Jacobs and carried him off into the trees kicking and screaming. But now that his pa had found him, his resolve was weakening. He nodded and sniffed. “I’m all right,” he said at last, “but I don’t know about Charlie. Did you find him?”
The two men exchanged glances. Mingo touched Israel’s sleeve briefly and then stood and turned toward the water. Dan laid his hand on his son’s head and said softly, “We found him.”
Israel was quiet a moment. “He.... He’s dead, ain’t he, Pa?”
The big man nodded. “Yes, son. I’m afraid he is.” He glanced at Mingo before he asked gently, “Did you see it happen?”
The white head shook. “They took him away. He wouldn’t keep quiet. He kept screamin’, Pa. I told him. I told him to keep quiet.” A tear trailed down his pale face. “I’m sorry, Pa.”
Dan’s relief at knowing his boy had not been witness to such savagery abruptly turned to puzzlement. “Sorry, son? Why would you be sorry?”
“I couldn’t protect him. I couldn’t get him to un’erstand.” The boy shook his head sadly. “I tried, Pa. I tried mighty hard....”
The boy looked at Mingo as he knelt beside him. “We are all made of different stuff; some of silk and some of steel. Not all can survive in this harsh land. You cannot hold yourself responsible for another’s choice.”
“Curious words to come from you, Cara-Mingo.”
Mingo was on his feet in an instant. He pointed his rifle towards the dark shadow that stood silhouetted against the moon-bathed trees. “Who is it? Who is there?”
Israel’s face lit. He glanced at his Pa and then wriggled out of his arms and ran across the thick grass. “Arrowkeeper! Pa, its Arrowkeeper! He saved me!”
The Creek knelt and opened his arms. He caught the boy as he dove into them and lifted him up, allowing him to rest his white-blond head on the shoulder of the loose-weave linen shirt he wore. He was dressed much as the other Creeks—in a long belted shirt over white man’s breeches—though he wore no turban and his shining waist-length ebon hair was not bound but fell free. As Israel’s small fingers traced the etchings on the silver gorget at his throat, the tall man moved with him from the shadows into the diffused moonlight.
Mingo lowered his rifle. He had not seen the imposing Creek in nearly a year; not since the end of both John Gerard and the insane schemes the Englishman had devised to destroy him and everything he held dear. He took a moment to glance at Daniel who had arrived at his side and then turned back to the other man. “I was not aware you had returned.”
Dan studied the tall figure carefully. The last time he had seen Mingo’s friend, he had been shirtless and wearing buckskins. Now he was dressed like a gentleman. “Arrowkeeper. You travelin’ alone,” his green eyes flicked to the dead man at his feet, “or keepin’ other company these days?”
“Daniel....” Mingo cautioned.
“It is a fair question, Cara-Mingo. I travel alone, Boone. I came here seeking someone,” he shifted his hold on the little boy, “only to have these dogs cross my path. By the time I realized what they were about, it was too late. The other boy was dead.”
Dan leaned on Tick Licker and pushed his coonskin cap back. “You the one who put the body in the cave?”
Arrowkeeper nodded. “I would not have left it, had it not been for this one—but the living must come before the dead. Still, I would not have the animals take him. There should be more for a father to bury than bleached bones.”
The big man drew a breath and held it. He knew the Creek was thinking of his own family, murdered some thirteen or fourteen years before. Arrowkeeper had lived in Georgia as a young man, had married and settled on his own land. One day a white colonel set on proving himself had lied about his village, claiming the peaceful citizens of Moss Creek had been raiding nearby settlements, stealing cattle and scalping the inhabitants. The soldiers had overtaken him at the edge of the town, beaten him, and then moved on to set fire to his father-in-law’s lodge, burning his wife and three children alive. Since that day Arrowkeeper’s truce with the white man had been a tenuous one at best. Still, Dan felt he had come to know him well enough to count him as a friend. For several months after the whole affair with John Gerard—throughout the harsh winter—he had remained in Kentucky, often coming to the cabin with Mingo and forming a firm friendship with his son. It had been a curious sight to see the exceedingly tall red-man come up over the hill with the small white-haired boy skipping merrily at his side. Dan glanced at his son, content in Arrowkeeper’s arms, and allowed a slight smile to part his lips. “I take it you recognized Israel?”
The Creek glanced at the boy. “One cannot mistake that hair. I knew him, Boone.” His black eyes sought Daniel’s and held them. “So did they.”
Dan understood his unspoken warning. He nodded. Then he called his son softly, “Israel.”
The boy jerked. He had almost fallen asleep. “Pa?”
“Why don’t you come and help me gather some firewood.” He caught Mingo’s eye and inclined his head towards the bodies that lay scattered about the glade. “We’ll go back to where we found the canoe and set up camp.”
His friend nodded. “We will—clean up here—and then follow as soon as we can.”
“Fair enough.” Dan took his son’s hand as the boy came to his side, his long fingers closing about the small white ones. Then he waited until Arrowkeeper met his eyes. “I thank you for takin’ care of my young’un. I’m in your debt.”
A strange expression crossed the Creek’s handsome face. He glanced at Mingo and then nodded. “A debt is something I understand.”
“And something I won’t forget,” Dan said as he turned and began to pull Israel after him. “I think I saw plenty of dry branches over this way, son....”
Mingo watched them go and then turned to face the other man. There was something to Arrowkeeper’s spirit, almost a restiveness, as if he were troubled and ill at ease. “Why are you here? I do not mean to say I am not pleased to see you, but I thought after Hukstalgi’s death that you had decided to resettle in Georgia. I understood you and Tastanagi did not see eye to eye.”
“Tastanagi does not see ‘eye to eye’ with any man.” The imposing Creek drew himself up to his full height. “He may be chief now, but he is a wild man—an ‘ishi semoli’ like these who died here. His hatred for the white man grows, fueled only by its own fire. And he hates Boone more than any other white man.”
Mingo did not know this. “And why is that? Tastanagi may be a mercenary and a man without honor, but why hate Daniel?”
“You know why, Cara-Mingo. Boone is more than just a ‘man’. He is a symbol of the white man’s triumph. And the native’s doom.”
The dark head shook. “Daniel would never purposefully harm our people....”
Arrowkeeper’s black eyes narrowed. “It will not be him, but those who would use him—use his name and his success— to further their own cause. You know what I speak is true. Your people, the Cherokee, know it is true. It is only a matter of time.” He caught his long hair in his hand and wound a thong about it, pulling it into a tail. “Nothing will stop them, as nothing has stopped him.”
Mingo frowned. “You spoke the truth before, did you not? You were not with these men?”
“These dogs?” The tall Creek shook his head. “No. I would not share a bone with them. I was on my way to Boonesborough when they crossed my path.” He sobered and his deep voice shook with fury. “I followed them and saw them kill the other boy. And then I saw Boone’s white-haired son. I waited until they had their bellies full and they slept deeply, and then I took him. One of them awoke and they began to track us. Then you came.”
“On your way to Boonesborough? What brought you back?”
Arrowkeeper met his eyes. “You. Boone spoke of a debt. I have owed you one these many years.”
Mingo sighed. “You know what I think of that.”
“Yes. But there is another debt. One you do not know. There is something I must tell you. Something I should have told you before. Now, it may be too late.”
“Should have told me?” He shook his head. “Too late for what? What is this about?”
“Family? Yours or mine?”
“But yours is dead, or so you said.”
“Yes.” The tall native did not look away. “As is much of yours: your mother, your brother....”
Mingo’s jaw tightened. “Why do you mention him?”
Arrowkeeper looked away, gazing in the direction Daniel and Israel had gone. Then he sighed. When at last he turned back to the other man, his black eyes were haunted.
“I have news of Tara-Mingo’s son.”
“Pa, why’d they haf’ta go and kill Charlie? He didn’t do nothin’ to them.” Israel laid his head on his father’s broad shoulder. “He was just scared....”
“Were you scared, son?”
The little boy hesitated. He bit his lip and thought about it a moment. Finally he answered honestly, “I was, Pa.”
They were sitting beneath a hoary old oak tree. Several animal carcasses as well as the remnants of a fat roasted pheasant lay beside them. The two of them had shared a light supper and now, after some idle talk, had finally come around to talking about the ordeal the seven year old had lived through. Dan placed his hand on the boy’s head and said softly, “So was I.”
Israel shifted and looked up at him. “You, Pa? You ain’t scared of nothin’.”
“Son, that’s not quite true. In some ways, I’m scared each and every day of my life. Every time I walk out of that cabin and leave you and your Ma behind to fend for yourselves, I’m scared. Each time I pick up Tick Licker and head out into the woods, not knowin’ what I’ll find there, I’m scared.”
“I don’t believe it.” Israel was indignant. “You can’t be scared. You’re the bravest man alive, Pa.”
“Yes, and a brave man lives with fear, Israel. The difference is, he is its master and not its slave.”
“Mingo!” The little boy spun to look at him, but when he saw he was alone, the smile on his face faded. “Where’s Arrowkeeper?”
“He is...attending...to other matters.” His dark eyes flicked to his friend promising he would explain later. “We will join him near dawn.”
Dan frowned. He could tell something was wrong. “You all right, Mingo?”
The Cherokee nodded as he came to sit by the fire. “I am fine, Daniel.”
“Are you sure...?”
“I said, ‘I am fine.’ Leave it be.”
As a strained silence descended on the glade, Israel looked from one man to the
other, wondering what he had missed. Then, without warning, he was overtaken by a powerful yawn. His father laughed as the tension faded from the air. “I think it’s about time for you to get some sleep, young man.”
The boy shook his head and forced his eyes wide open. “Gosh, Pa. I ain’t half tired. Do I haf’ta?”
Dan hid his smile as he glanced at his friend. “It’s been a long day for all of us, son. I think it would be best. We need you all rested and ready to travel tomorrow so we can get you back to your ma. I reckon she’s plumb beside herself with worry by now.”
“I will take the first watch, Daniel,” Mingo said quietly. “You sleep as well.”
“Are you sure?”
The Cherokee nodded. “I am sure.”
There was much he had to think about.
The dark-haired man started guiltily. “Israel?” He was mortified that he hadn’t heard the boy approach. He glanced at Daniel and saw he was still sleeping. “What is it?”
“I can’t sleep, Mingo. I didn’t want to wake Pa.”
The boy was pale and shaking. Evidently, the events of the preceding day had begun to catch up with him. “Come here, Israel. Sit with me and help me keep watch.” The Cherokee opened his arms and then added with a wry expression, “Apparently, I could use another set of eyes.”
The boy’s face broke into a smile. He had expected to be chastised and sent back to his rough bed. Seconds later he settled into the dark-haired man’s embrace and leaned back against his muscled chest. He remained silent for a few minutes and then whispered, “Mingo?”
“Why’d God let Charlie die?”
The native drew a deep breath. “Well, now. You do not ask the easy questions, do you?”
“Oh, you have nothing to be sorry for, Israel.” He placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “What do you think?”
“Well...” Israel shifted uneasily. “I know what Ma says....”
“And that is?”
“That God knows best. That we can’t see everything and understand it like He does. She showed me her quilt, you know the big one that she and Pa have on the bed now?”
Mingo thought he knew where this was leading. “Yes, I know. It is quite lovely.”
“On the top it is. But underneath.... Gosh, Mingo, before she put the backing on it,
it was a mess. Just a bunch of threads, all twisted and mixed-up. Ma said our lives are like that. Some are straight and easy. Others tangled. Some are long, and some cut off short....”
“Like Charlie’s.” The boy wet his lips. “Ma said only God can know for sure what it will look like on the other side.”
Mingo was silent a moment. “Your mother is a wise woman, Israel.” He drew a breath. “And what does your Pa say?”
“He says that those that goes before us are watchin’ and cheerin’ us on. In a cloud of witlessness...”
The Cherokee stifled a laugh. “Er, I think that is ‘witnesses’, Israel.”
“Yeah, that’s it. In a cloud of witnesses.” The boy turned his head so he could look at him as surprise registered on his young face. “You know the Bible, Mingo?”
“I certainly do. When I was a boy, we had one in our lodge.”
“It was my father’s. He used to read to me from it. And I read the entire book when I was at Oxford. And attended church.” He didn’t add to the boy that it had been mandatory to do so. Still, as he closed his eyes and remembered the peace found within the ancient stone walls and the beauty of the English sunlight streaming through the tall stained glass windows, he imagined he would have attended anyway.
“But you’re an Indian!”
“Yes, but I am also half-English. My father was a Christian. He wanted me to be the same. Just as your father does.”
“And are you?” The little boy actually shifted on his knees so he could look into the Cherokee’s face. “There’s powerful bad things in the Good Book that are s’posed to happen to people who aren’t.” He laid his hand on Mingo’s. “I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to you Mingo. Now or ever.”
The dark-haired man smiled. “Don’t worry, Israel. I believe in God. Oh, I might call him by a different name, but I know Him in my heart. Who could live in this world and see all the beauty of His creation and not do so?” He paused and tilted his head. “Do you know what the Cherokee believe?”
The little white-haired boy turned and nestled in his arms again. He shook his head wearily and yawned. “Un-uh....”
“We believe that when our bodies die and are buried, they return to Mother Earth, from which we came. But we believe, as the Christians do, that the Spirit lives on. When our bodies decay, they nurture the ground and become the grass that we see and the flowers that we smell and the air that we breathe. This is how those we love come back to us.”
“Will Charlie come back as a flower, Mingo?” Dan’s son asked as he rubbed his nose. His words were beginning to slur.
“I do not know Israel.” He smiled as he brushed the boy’s blond bangs back
from his eyes. “But I do know his spirit will always be with us.”
“I’m glad. Cause I’m gonna miss him.” Israel closed his eyes and his head fell against Mingo’s chest. As it did, the Cherokee began to softly sing one of the rebellious tunes dubbed ‘hymns’ that had been making the rounds of the small towns in England when he was a young man, offending everyone from the Baptists to the Anglicans with their brash sincerity.
“The busy tribes of flesh and blood, with all their cares and fears,
carried downward by the flood, and lost in following years.
Word commands our flesh to dust: ‘Return, ye sons of men!’
nations rose from earth at first and turn to earth again.
Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away;
fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day.
flowery fields the nations stand, pleased with the morning light;
flowers beneath the mower's hand lie withering ere 'tis night.
Our God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last, and our eternal home.
“Even so, let it be, Great Spirit,” he whispered. Then he looked down and saw that Israel was fast asleep and he smiled.
“Daniel?” He glanced up. The big man was rising from his bed of leaves. “Did I wake you....”
“No.” Dan stood and came to his side. He knelt and laid his hand across one of his son’s, eclipsing it. “I thought the boy would never tucker out.”
“Too much excitement. The Creek...the Jacobs’ boy....”
“Yes.” He nodded and hesitated just a second. “It could have been Israel.”
Mingo held the boy tight and felt his steady heartbeat again his own, sharing his father’s fear for a moment before surrendering him to his arms. No words were necessary. He watched as Daniel placed Israel on a pallet of soft grass and leaves and then tucked a blanket up about his chin. The big man leaned forward and kissed his son’s forehead; then he rocked back on his heels and just stared at him. Several minutes later, he returned to Mingo’s side.
“Where did Arrowkeeper go?”
“Ah, Daniel, there is no need for you to worry. He was not with the Muskogee.” He glanced up at his friend. “His concern was for the body of the Jacob’s boy. I told him we had left it in the cave, but covered it well so the animals would not desecrate it. He went back to keep watch until we could return.”
“To keep watch? Why?”
“Among the Creek, a body is never left unattended until it is buried. For four days friends and relatives keep watch, and then on the night of the funeral, the family holds a vigil. Arrowkeeper is keeping watch until we return to Boonesborough.”
Dan thought about it for a moment. “Does this have to do with his own children, and the fact that he couldn’t do the same for them?”
“In part.” Mingo acknowledged. Then he fell silent.
Dan stared at his friend, surprised that the emotion he sensed in him was anger. “Mingo? What is it? What’s wrong?”
The Cherokee pursed his lips. His words were short and succinct. “Arrowkeeper has suffered another loss. It is what has brought him here.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“Well, Daniel....” The brown eyes flicked to his face. “Neither do I. I thought I knew him, but....” He shook his head.
“And yet, you say he wasn’t with these other men?”
“No. No. This is personal, Daniel. It has nothing to do with Israel or Boonesborough.”
“But it has to do with you.”
The dark-haired man hesitated and then nodded. He ran a hand along the back of his neck and felt the thick hair that just barely brushed his shoulders. A year had done little to repair the damage John Gerard had left in his wake. Physically or emotionally. “Yes,” he admitted at last.
“Are you going to tell me what it is?”
Mingo glanced at him. “Daniel....”
The big man held up his hand. “Look, I know you’re a private man, Mingo. But sometimes your need to handle things alone leads to trouble....”
The Cherokee laughed suddenly. “You are being kind, Daniel. Sometimes? It always leads to trouble.”
His friend laughed with him. “Well, I wasn’t goin’ to be quite so blunt about it.”
“Allow me tonight to think, my friend. Tomorrow, when the sun rises and the black shadow passes from my heart, perhaps I will tell you more.”
Dan nodded. That was enough for now. “Will Arrowkeeper be back?”
“I told him we would meet him there. It is on the path back to the settlement. He did not wish to leave the boy’s body....”
“Tomorrow then.” He stood and glanced about the glade. “And as for that other matter,” Dan’s green eyes narrowed as he turned back to his friend, “I plan to hold you to it. Now you get some sleep and I’ll take over the watch.”
Mingo wasn’t listening to him. He was staring at Israel. A moment later he said softly, “Daniel?”
“What did you feel, when Israel was born?”
The big man frowned. It seemed a curious question coming as it did on the heels of their conversation, but he answered it anyway. “Pride. Joy.” He hesitated and then added softly, “Eternal.”
“I felt as if there was a part of me that would continue on, no matter what happened. I felt that with the birth of each of my children. It’s kinda hard to describe. I hope you’ll get to feel it for yourself one day.” He reached down and lifted Tick Licker from the grass. “Why?”
“No reason. Good night, Daniel.”
Dan watched as his friend pulled his jacket close about his shoulders and turned over so his face was masked in shadow.
Several miles away Arrowkeeper sat cross-legged beside the corpse of the small boy his brothers of the Bear clan had killed. He had freed the body from the temporary shelter of rocks and stones Boone and Mingo had erected, and laid him out according to the fashion of the Creek. Next he had rubbed his hands over the child’s face and then his own in order to prevent grief from overcoming him, and then built a fire near his head before settling into an uneasy watch. As its heat warmed his skin, he asked the Master of Breath to understand, to be willing to accept the boy’s wandering spirit and to guide it to the next world now—this day—since he could not wait the four days that were proper to perform the ritual.
Some time later he rose stiffly from the ground and walked to the mouth of the cave. Standing there, he leaned against the hard stone and listened to the wind whisper through the trees. As he did, his thoughts flew to Kamassa. He wondered where the boy was and what the men who took him intended. He drew a deep breath, holding it as he turned to look at the Jacob’s boy’s cold body. At least this one was safe in the Master’s arms. Kamassa was in danger. And not only in danger of losing his life.
But his soul.
Sometime near dawn Daniel awakened his friend. The Cherokee arose and together they broke camp, packing what few possessions they had brought with them along with the remnants of the Jacob’s household they had found among the dead Muskogee Creeks. At this time there was no one to take them back to, but Dan knew someday someone might come looking. Carver had a brother in Philadelphia if he remembered right. His wife, Sara had been an orphan; her own people killed by Indians. They had only had the one child. He sighed as he pulled the strap tight on the pack he carried. Perhaps it was best the boy had died. They were all together now and far from this world and all of its pain.
Mingo touched his arm and inclined his head toward Israel. Dan nodded and watched as the Cherokee slipped his arms beneath the boy and gently lifted him up. They began the trip back along the river in silence, each lost in his own thoughts.
As the sun rose Israel awoke. He was hungry and not in the best humor. He walked with his head down, and if his father hadn’t stopped him, would have stomped on every twig, bug and stone that got in his way. His little fists were clenched and both men knew he had passed through grief to anger; a silent rage filled him and he didn’t know what to do with it. Dan just hoped he could get him home where it would be safe for him to deal with the emotions that churned in him. Here, on the trail, they were dangerous. The Muskogee might have doubled back, and every unnecessary noise they made was one that might tip their enemies off and reveal their position.
Near noon they reached the cave. Dan stopped and pushed his coonskin cap back and waited with Israel as Mingo entered the cave. His son had not wanted to see the boy’s body and the Cherokee had offered to take a blanket and cover it before removing it from the dark recess. A moment after he entered Arrowkeeper emerged and started toward them. Dan hid his surprise. He had half expected the tall Creek to be gone. There was something he wasn’t telling them. Something not even Mingo knew. He wasn’t certain what it was, but he knew what his Cherokee friend had read as grief, he saw as guilt.
“Boone.” His dark eyes went to the small boy kicking stones at the edge of the clearing. “How is your son?”
“Angry. Upset. With time, he’ll be fine. How are you?”
“How am I, Boone? Why do you ask?”
“Because I get the sense that you are a troubled man.” Dan drew a breath and then, as was his nature, plunged ahead. “What do you know about this that you haven’t told us?”
The tall Creek was taken aback. He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You say you weren’t with these men, and I take you at your word.” The big man leaned his full weight on Tick Licker. “But you know them. Don’t you?”
Arrowkeeper looked away. His black hair whipped in the wind, framing his face like raven’s wings. He was staring at the cave, waiting for Mingo to reappear. Finally, he nodded. “I know them.”
“Are they from your village?”
The tall man laughed bitterly. “From both my villages.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“They are my brothers. Some from the far south. Others from here.” At Daniel’s look he added, “Oh, not brothers as you think. To the Creek, anyone who bears the same clan name is our brother or sister. These men are of the Bear clan, as am I.”
Dan’s eyebrows peaked. “Mingo never told me you were of the Bear clan.” He had heard of it. It was one of the greatest of the Creek clans; its members comparable to the high-born royalty of the Old World.
“I asked him not to speak of it.”
The tall Creek hesitated. Then he sighed. “There is much shame attached to that name for me, Boone.”
“I thought the Bear clan was a thing of pride to its members. Is it not one of the mightiest of the clans? Are not its people powerful and wise?”
“Powerful, yes. Wise?” He paused. “The old are as you say, but the young.... The young men are vicious and cruel. Ungovernable.”
“Were you vicious and cruel when you were young, Arrowkeeper?”
The dark head turned towards him. “Yes.”
Dan frowned. “Does this touch on that thing of which Mingo will not speak? And on why you say you ‘owe’ him?”
Arrowkeeper nodded. “Yes.”
“And is it a part of why you are here now?”
The native shifted on his feet. “You ask many questions.”
“I reckon that’s ‘cause I care about my friend. I don’t want to see him hurt.” He glanced at Israel, making certain he was still in sight. The boy had settled on a log and was pitching stones with a vengeance into a small puddle left by the passing rain that had fallen several nights before. “I don’t want to see anyone I love hurt. Can I trust that you won’t allow that to happen?”
“I am not here to cause harm, Boone.”
“Then why are you here?”
The big man looked
up. Mingo was standing in the cave
mouth. He held the boy’s small,
blanketed form in his arms. Dan’s
eyes flicked to his son who had become quite still.
He knew the reality of his friend’s body would hit him like a fist.
It would anyone. A moment later he turned back to Arrowkeeper.
“I’d like to finish this conversation later.
You’re comin’ to the settlement with us....”
The Creek’s jaw was tight. “Is that an invitation, Boone. Or an order?”
“Make of it what you will.”
Arrowkeeper nodded to Mingo as he drew alongside them. “I will come.”
They found the canoe the Muskogee had used where they had left it and another hidden nearby. Together they paddled downstream towards the settlement and home. They had to pass the remnants of the Jacob’s burnt out farm on the way and there they paused to bury the boy alongside his parents. Arrowkeeper placed several items on the child’s corpse before they lowered it into the ground: some food, a knife, and a small amount of tobacco. Mingo explained to Israel that it was part of the Creek tradition. Dan suspected there was something more.
Near sundown they arrived home. Cincinnatus was at the cabin with Becky. She had been nearly beside herself with worry. It had been three full days since the boys had disappeared. The minute Israel saw his mother he burst into tears and the three trail-weary men left him alone with her, not so much to save him from embarrassment as to let her work her soothing magic on his wounded soul.
Once he was certain his son was in good hands, Daniel left for the settlement, accompanying the spry tavern-keeper. He knew he would have to inform the settlers of what they had found. He hadn’t decided whether or not to mention the fact that he had a Creek staying at his home. If the men were in an ugly mood, they might fail to make the distinction between the ones who had done the marauding and murdering, and the innocent.
If Arrowkeeper was innocent.
He bid farewell to the two natives, leaving them on the porch of his home, knowing that his wife and his son, at the very least, were safe with both men.
The Creek watched him go. “He does not trust me.”
Mingo’s voice was quiet. “No.” He paused. “Does he have reason?”
Arrowkeeper met his black stare. “Do you?” When the other man failed to reply, he added, “You have not answered me.”
“No.” The Cherokee sat on the step and laced his hands over his knees. “I have not. Nor have I decided whether to forgive you for your silence.”
The tall man
nodded. “That is your right.
But know this; the decision was not mine. It was the clans’.”
“ ‘And oftentimes excusing of a fault doth make the fault the worse by the excuse.’ ” Mingo said, quoting Shakespeare. “You could have protested.”
The other man remained still. “And what makes you think I did not?”
Mingo looked up at him. It was difficult in the dark to read his face. “I am sorry. I do not mean to sound judgmental. It is just such a shock. I did not know my brother had a wife, let alone a son....”
“Ilhicha Kano. A chief’s daughter. Of the Tyger clan.”
The Cherokee snorted. “Why
does that not surprise me? Tara
would have settled for nothing less. His
one ambition was to be a chief.” He
stopped and corrected himself. “To
be the chief.”
“I understand he did not die in the shallow mud of Ken-tah-ten as we thought.”
“No. He did not die. His hatred kept him alive and, shortly before your own return, he came back for me, to destroy me. In the process innocent people died, including many Cherokee. And they died without honor.”
“But you did not die.”
“No. Thanks to Daniel. Though I gave him every reason to turn his back on me. I was not honest with him. I did not tell him the truth.”
“And will you tell him the truth now?”
Mingo glanced at the Creek. “He has his own family to care for. Israel could have died. Rebecca needs him. I cannot ask him to leave again so soon.” He shook his head. “No. I will not tell him.”
“But you will go with me. To seek the boy?”
The dark-haired man was silent a moment. “Give me time to say goodbye to them.”
“I can only hope he will be sensible, and leave well enough alone.”
“He’s gone, Becky.”
“Who’s gone?” After finally getting Israel to sleep and leaving him in their bed, she had followed her husband out onto the porch and stood now with her hand on his arm. “You mean Mingo?”
“Didn’t you say Arrowkeeper was here? Maybe they went off together.”
The big man shifted and drew her into his embrace. As she rested her head on his chest, he said softly, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
She looked up into her husband’s eyes. “Don’t you trust him? He’s been a friend to us. He saved Mingo’s life. And you said he saved Israel from the men who took him.”
“I know that, Becky. But there is somethin’ else. Somethin’ Mingo refuses to see. You know how it is when a storm-cloud hangs over a field, and even though the sun is dancin’ on the grass, a chill will run through you if you happen to walk under it?”
“Arrowkeeper is walkin’ under one of those clouds. And I am afraid he is goin’ to take Mingo with him into whatever is causin’ the darkness.”
Becky stepped away from him and sighed. “Are you going alone?”
Dan laughed. “Now who said I was goin’ anywhere?”
She shook her head. “I haven’t lived with you and borne your children, raised them and seen one of them married, and not come to know you. You’re going after him.”
“Well, yes, I am. If you and Israel....”
“We’ll be fine. At least I know you can take care of yourself. When Israel was gone....” She drew a sharp breath. “I can’t believe the Jacobs are dead. And what they did to that little boy....”
“Arrowkeeper called them ‘vicious and cruel’, and said they were ‘ungovernable’. The Muskogee are on the warpath, Becky. Young ones. Aided by rich men and by their brothers who live around here. I want you to take Israel and go to the settlement.”
“For me. So I don’t have to worry.”
Becky hesitated. She turned and looked at the cabin and thought of her small boy, sleeping and feeling secure for perhaps the first time since he had been taken from them. She turned back to her husband. “Please don’t ask me to do that.”
Dan touched her copper curls and pushed them away from her face. “Why not?”
She caught his hand and held it. “Dan, that little boy was ripped from the Jacob’s home. He listened while his friend was...” She paused, and her voice broke on the word, “...murdered. You’re not his mother, so maybe you haven’t noticed.” She looked up and met his eyes. “Something’s wrong. Israel is not himself.”
Her husband stared at the cabin door. “I know that Becky, but....”
“Dan, he feels safe here. This is his home. If I have to wake him and take him now—in the middle of the night—and terrify him all over again....”
“Then go tomorrow....”
“And place him in the middle of strangers? Do I let him go out to play? How can I watch everyone in the fort? Or do I keep him trapped inside, away from his friends, and frighten him all over again?”
He looked at his beautiful wife. Her voice had risen and her hands gone to her hips; a sure sign that moving her would be about the same thing as single-handedly shifting the fort a few feet towards the river. He laughed and shook his head. “Can I at least ask Cincinnatus to come check on you every mornin’ and evenin’?”
She frowned and thought a moment. Then she nodded. “That would be acceptable, Mr. Boone, so long as you tell him to act as if things are normal.”
He kissed her forehead lightly and reached for her. “I’ll tell him. Now, you keep the door barred and my extra gun by it, and don’t go wanderin’ about even in the daylight— ”
“Daniel Boone.” She stepped back. “What do you think I am going to do? Go picking posies when there are dangerous men in the woods?”
He gazed at her and grinned. “Well, now, if you felt the table needed dressin’ up, you just might.”
“Men,” she uttered as she pivoted and walked towards the door. When she realized he had failed to follow, she paused in the doorway and turned back to find him staring at the trees. “Dan, are you coming?” Becky cocked her head and frowned as she recognized the determined look on his face. “You are going to sleep in your own home one night at least, aren’t you?”
He remained silent; his eyes trained on the path the two men had taken.
Becky sighed. “I’ll pack your haversack.” Returning to his side, she balanced on his arm and, raising up on tip-toe, kissed him on the lips. “It’s no wonder we only have one child left at home....”
He laughed and caught her in his arms.
“I promise I’ll make up for it when I get back.”
“See that you do.”
An hour later Daniel Boone placed his coonskin cap on his head and
disappeared into the dark Kentucky night.
- Continued in Chapter two -