Blood Was Only For Bleeding
Alexander MacKirdy stood in the mouth of the cave watching the sunlight slowly fade in the west. Another day was dying. He closed his eyes and thought about his brother and the family of the man sleeping behind him, and asked all of the Saints and the angels to bless and watch over them. Then he turned and glanced at the big man where he leaned with his head against the stone wall and smiled. He knew the tall frontiersman saw him as something of a coxcomb or a dandy, and had had reservations about setting out with him. Perhaps it was his own fault. He had come to town dressed as a fop in his fine velvet suit and silvered tricorn hat, and made the mistake of admitting he was an actor. The effect of that dubious confession upon anyone who was not was always the same; if you were bold enough to claim a life on the boards, you were pegged as vain-glorious and just a wee bit odd. As he leaned on the tall rifle he had borrowed from his host, his grin widened. He wondered if Daniel applied that definition to his friend Mingo as well. If he did, he could not have been farther from the truth; on both accounts. Once upon a time they had hunted these woods together, two creatures of nature, and been at home nowhere else.
But that had been years before. Too many years.
So many, in fact, it sometimes seemed another lifetime.
The Scot stirred and decided it was time to make the rounds of the woods that encircled their dark haven once more. During the long day of chase and pursuit, they had finally managed to shake off the party of Muskogee that had been trailing them, but there was no telling when they—or any one of the other dozen Creek and Seminole war parties coming to meet their ‘savior’—might not happen upon them.
Alexander stepped through the narrow opening and glanced back, making certain nothing showed that might indicate its current occupant was anything other than a bear or pure wild creature. Sure nothing did, he cocked the hammer of the rifle, placed his finger on the trigger, and moved into the steamy foliage. A steady breeze was blowing, rustling the leaves about him. There was a fine mist in the air. This, along with the blanket of oppressive heat which had settled on the land, spoke of an approaching storm. As he walked slowly, feeling the heartbeat of the wilderness pulse about him, he tried not to become overly nostalgic. Still, there was really nothing he could do to stop the flow of memories, bawd and bad. He was here again, in Ken-tah-ten, where he had thought to never be. Ken-tah-ten; land of bounty. Dark and bloody ground. It was here he had found his mother’s people. Here, where his heart had found a home.
Here, where he had met Spicewood, and loved and married her.
Alexander drew to a halt and closed his eyes. Damn that Finlay. The boy had no earthly idea what the world could do to a man who dared to cross the barriers put in place by another’s blind hate. He had found out in the hardest possible way—losing both his young wife and her father, seemingly in the space of two heartbeats.
Of course, in reality, much more time had passed. Years in fact. But it seemed now that his time among the Cherokee had flown on eagle’s wings—that was after limping along on very human feet at the start. He gazed at the meandering stream that wound before him, gleaming in the late afternoon sun and laughed self-consciously; surprised to find that the inception of his native education still had the power to make him blush. He was pure grateful he had not known Spicewood then, though he had given the bonny Cherokee girl plenty of reason to laugh at him later on as he adjusted to life among her people. He could still feel her sweet presence in his heart; there she was eternally beautiful and vibrantly alive. But when he tried to picture her—to see her—there was nothing.
Only a bloodied corpse without a face.
Stirring, he turned back and began to make his way to the cave, forcing the horrors he had witnessed that night from his mind. A few minutes later, as he ducked his head and entered the darkened space, he heard the hammer of his pistol cock and knew Daniel Boone was awake.
“Daniel, ‘tis me.”
“Alexander.” The big man moved into the light. “Those hands of yours look mighty empty. And here I thought you were rustlin’ up some vittles.”
The Scot smiled ruefully. “I was nae rustlin’ oop onie thin’ boot bad memories.” He sighed. “Tis hard as th’ frozen earth o’er a grave tae be haur in this place.”
“Here in the Colonies, or here in Kentuck?” Dan stood and stretched his long lean arms wide, almost brushing the sides of the cave with his fingertips. “Seems to me you have quite a history here. More than you might have mentioned when we first met.”
Alec’s white teeth flashed in his tanned face. “Aye, I dinnae tell ye all. This was mah hom’ fur some tim’.”
Dan nodded. “I thought as much. Your brother said you lived with the Cherokee. I take it he meant with Mingo’s people....”
The Scot knelt and searched for his canteen. “Mingo’s folk? Aye, I bided wi’ them. They aur mah folk.” He took a sip and wiped his lips with his hand. Then he looked up at Dan. “Cara is ain o’ mah own.”
“Cause you’re both half-Cherokee, you mean?” Dan’s green eyes narrowed. “Or are you indicatin’ somethin’ more?”
“Aye. Somethin’ more.” The Scot’s dark eyes danced. “We had nae idee. Af’er th’ trooble in Williamsburg—when we fled booth th’ law an’ th’ men who had taken Cara, an’ I decided tae travel wi’ th’ three o’ them—we dinnae ken we waur cousins.”
One of Dan’s brown brows hid behind the lock of unruly hair that tumbled onto his forehead. “You don’t say? I thought you looked like Mingo.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“Ainother thin’ I learned amang th’ Cherokee.” Alexander laughed. “Bide a while afore ye gi’e a mon yer troost.”
“Wise words, friend, but then I always gave the Indians more credit for wisdom than I did my own.” Dan laughed as well. “So how is it you two are related?”
“Uir mithers. Talota was a cousin tae mah mither. Her nam’ is Una.” He stopped and corrected himself. “Unatsi. Thots her real—her Cherokee nam’. Th’ meanin’ o’ it is ‘snow’. She was born in th’ winter when th’ snow was thick on th’ groon’.”
“But how would you—or would she know that? You said she was raised by whites and didn’t remember her other life.”
“She was. She did.” Alexander closed his eyes briefly. Finlay had been wrong. Their mother did have a few memories of her time among the Cherokee, but they were so hazy and so horrible she rarely spoke of them. She recalled being torn from her own mother. She remembered the screams and a river of blood running under her bare feet. “There was a raid, mony lang years afore this. Cara’s mither was ta’en in it, an’ ended oop wi’ th’ Creek. Talota was stayin’ wi’ her aunt—mah mither’s mither. Uir mither was boot a wee little chiel. She wandered awa’ in th’ woods durin’ the fightin’, an’ was foond later by a white mon. He took her hom’ an’ let her bide wi’ his own.” He paused. “Her folk thooght she was dead, boot she was nae.”
“And how did you find this out? Who was left that remembered?” Daniel was aware that Mingo’s mother had died when he was a child, before he was taken to England. “It’d be my thinkin’ that no one else survived the raid.”
“Nae. Boot there waur others who remembered. Menewa fur ain. An’ the auld woman, Cornbeater.”
“Chief Menewa?” Dan had always respected the older man. He had been a wise and compassionate chief, and had governed the Cherokee of Chota for many long years. Cornbeater he did not know. “Mingo’s uncle? Oh.... And yours, of course.”
Alexander MacKirdy smiled as he reached into his haversack and drew out some cold beef. “If nae fur Menewa, I woulds nae be bidin’ haur taeday talkin’ tae ye.”
Dan accepted a bit of the hard cured meat. “No? And why is that?”
“Uir homecomin’ tae th’ Cherokee was nae a walk in a London park. We left in th’ dead o’ winter an’ had tae cross th’ land atween haur an’ Virginia. It was a hard an’ a dangeroos passage.”
“I’ve made the journey, Alexander. I know.”
The Scot took another sip of water. “By th’ time we cam’ to Ken-tah-ten, we waur nae th’ same dandies as when we worked fur ol’ saucy Stanbury.” He glanced up at Dan over the edge of the tin cup. “Arrowkeeper an’ Star saw tae thot quick enoof.”
“So you knew Arrowkeeper well. And still you think he might be involved in this conspiracy? Even though he was your friend and Mingo’s? ”
Alec frowned. “I dinnae ken what I thin’ aboot thot great tall angry mon. He was a friend—an’ an enemy.”
“Aye. A fierce ain.” Alec sighed as he hefted Dan’s rifle and tossed it to him. “I’ll tell ye o’ it sometim’—ur ye can ask Cara-Mingo. Thot braw cousin o’ mine is a chatterbox, ur dinnae ye ken?”
Dan laughed again and returned his pistol to him; butt first. “I’ll do that when I see him again.”
The Scot stared at him a minute and then nodded. “Aye, ye dae thot, when ye see him ag’in.”
Later as they moved with stealth and speed through the moist Kentucky underbrush, Alexander’s mind flew back unbidden to the day when he had first encountered the Cherokee and realized just what his choice to seek them out might mean. At the time they had parted from the others in Williamsburg—from the murdering savage who called himself James Harper and their fellow actors in Stanbury’s troupe—it had seemed almost a lark; a fairy tale adventure with a blushing princess and a pot of gold at the end. But that day, the day Cara almost died, it had become as hard and cold a reality as the endless ice on the face of the water and the crisp sparkling snow on the ground. His eyes flicked to Dan as the frontiersman spoke and his finger pointed to the horizon and the long line of green hills that ran unbroken from the west to the east.
The Scot nodded. He knew them well.
It had not been very far away from here where he had first encountered his mother’s people—and almost breathed his last.
Kentucky wilderness, near Chota 1767
“You have to be joking.”
Alec and Cara looked at each other. The sun was just cresting in the sky, casting its pale pink fingers over a land hesitating on the edge of Spring. The dew was frozen on the leaves and snow crusted the ground, snapping under the hard soles of their boots. The air was as frigid as the inside of an ice house and showed in clouds when they spoke. Both men were now warmly clad in buckskins and hunting shirts and had abandoned their city finery, though the Scot had retained the plaid sash he had brought with him from the Old World and his tricorn hat, as well as a deadly looking claymore which he said had belonged to his Jacobite grandfather. Alec found he liked the freedom of the less confining clothes. Cara complained constantly—when out of earshot of the two natives—about how the fur turned inside out on the deer-hide pants chaffed and irritated him. He swore the first chance he had, he would be out of them like a shot.
Well, now he had his chance.
“You are joking.... Aren’t you?” The dark-haired son of John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunsmore, repeated his question as he eyed the frozen river and hugged his arms tight about his lean frame.
Arrowkeeper’s dark eyebrows winged towards his forehead. He looked at the two young men, his striking face stern. “I do not joke. Such practices are sacred, not only to the Cherokee, but to the Creek.”
“Can’t we just....” Cara looked at his Scottish friend for support “...just splash water in our faces?”
“So only your face will be purified?” The Creek shook his head. “Today, tomorrow at the latest, you will meet your people once again. You must rid yourself of the uncleanness of the white world in which you have walked. All of you must be pure.”
Alec’s brown eyes flicked to the water’s icy surface and back. “Then ye migh’ as well furget it. Twill tak’ more water than thaur is in all th’ seas tae dee thot.”
Cara stuck his elbow in the Scot’s ribs. “Couldn’t we...er...at least wait until midday when it is warmer?”
“What if death comes this morning?” the tall man countered quickly.
Lord Dunsmore’s son’s black eyebrows peeked. “Are you planning on it?”
This time it was Alec who poked Cara and laughed as he ‘oomphed’. “I dinnae thin’ he is gaun tae gife. Look at him, mon. He’s like a great unmovable mountain o’ stone.”
His friend swallowed hard. “And you say we have to do this, every morning—seven times? Do we get that unclean each and every day? In England....”
“England stinks. White men stink. I know well. I have lived in their filth for almost four years. They drink water and it comes out of them, but they do not understand what it is for.”
Cara frowned. He glanced about. “Shouldn’t we wait on Star?”
Arrowkeeper shook his head. “No.”
He shivered and stamped his feet. “Are you...going to join us?”
The dark head shook again. “You are too unclean. First you must enter. Later I will follow.”
Cara glanced at Alec and shrugged. “Well, if we must.... We must.” He removed his outer jacket and shuddered as a cool breeze struck his exposed skin. “Must we?”
The tall Creek nodded solemnly and pointed toward the water. He watched as the two young men exchanged doleful glances and then, as they moved toward the stream, began to strip off their clothes.
He turned away before they could see him smile.
Star’s dark head came up. He had heard one blood-curdling scream. And then another. As he began to run through the trees and thick underbrush, he recognized the voices of his two young charges. He had been searching for the path to led to the Cherokee village of Chota. Many years had passed and most of the ways he had known had been abandoned for safety’s sake. Others had simply become overgrown and hazardous. He tensed as he heard another shriek and recognized Cara’s young tenor voice. Perhaps the Wyandot or the Shawnee had found them. So far they had been most fortunate. Throughout the long journey from Virginia they had managed to avoid bloodshed, choosing to hide with the two unseasoned youths whenever danger threatened rather than risk open warfare. But now it seemed something had gone terribly wrong. Where was Arrowkeeper? He could not believe the Creek would have let them come to harm. Still, he had not heard his voice.
Perhaps he was already dead.
Moving with extreme caution he approached the camp and was surprised to find the tall man standing in the open; his eyes trained on the broad stream that ran nearby. The screams continued and he was laughing.
Star broke through the bushes, his knife in his hand. “Arrowkeeper, what...?” He stopped as he saw the trail of clothing on the path that led to the water. His dark eyes flicked to the Creek and widened with understanding. He shook his head and sheathed his blade. “There is thick ice on the water still.”
Arrowkeeper shrugged. “They stink. They will no more.”
The older man stifled his smile. “You may well kill them. Such things are not common to them.”
“They will become common to them or they will die anyhow. This is not England.”
Star stared at the bank where the two very clean and very naked young men were standing and stamping their feet. He sighed. “No, it is not. But you might have told them to leave some clothing on or had a fire waiting. There is no hothouse here to warm them.”
Arrowkeeper shrugged as the pair turned and saw Star was with him.
“At least now they look like red men.”
Wrapped in thick woolen blankets the two young men sat staring with hatred at their Creek companion. Cara’s dark eyebrows arced as he whispered to Alec. “I will pay him back.”
“An’ will ye noo?” The Scot shuddered and pulled the blanket close about his shoulders. They were dressed again, but neither one of them had been able to stop shivering. “Thot I’d like tae see.”
At that moment Arrowkeeper stood and walked to their side. Once there he stared down at them from his over six and a half-foot vantage. “We are leaving now.”
Alec looked up, his face a portrait in innocence. “An’ will ye be comin’ back wi’ somethin’ tae eat? Ur waur ye thinkin’ mayhap we had caught some fish fur breakin’ uir fast?” He grinned as the severe Creek fought a smile. “I joost missed th’ ain thot wiggled throogh mah toes....”
“Tomorrow you hunt. Today Star and I will find food.” He gripped the bow he had made and nodded once. Then he turned and walked away, and he and Star disappeared into the trees.
“Take your time,” Cara called after him. “And why don’t you fall in a river while you are at it,” he added quietly.
“Can ye nae tak’ a joke? ‘Twas a guid ain.” Alec laughed and slapped him on the back. “An’ ye dae reek a warld less than afore.”
Cara hit him back. “That’s only because you can get past your own stink now, ye bluidy Scot.” He grinned as the other man put on an affronted face.
“Bluidy Scot? Those aur fightin’ words mah friend. Ye hae affronted nae only me, boot Bonnie Scotlain an’ mah bluid!” Alec tossed off the blanket and dove, knocking the other man over and pinning him to the ground. “Defend yerself, ye black-hearted sassenach!”
Cara feigned indignation. “Call me a lowlander, will you! And an Englishman! I will show you— ”
Seconds later the two men were rolling on the cold ground, working up a sweat and
warming themselves, laughing and verbally sparring all the while.
In the nearby brush two painted warriors crouched, watching them. Somewhat puzzled, they exchanged glances, and then turned back to stare.
“She-man-ese,” one whispered as he pointed at the white men.
“Wi-si,” the other nodded, calling them dogs. Then he reached for his knife and proclaimed that this was their day to die. “Ki-kah-ka mi-ka-tui nepwa!”
The other laughed. “Oui-sah oui-thai-ah.” He touched his black hair and then placed his tomahawk against it and laughed, calling the weapon his friend. “Te-ca-ca, ne-kah-noh.”
His companion laughed as well and then his feathered head snapped sharply as two other warriors rose as if by magic from the tall grasses to join them. At their look, he inclined his head toward the noisy grappling invaders and said with disgust, “English dogs.”
The newcomer held up his knife. Its blade was stained a deep shade of blue. “Long death for Englishmen,” he whispered, grinning at his superior knowledge of the language of the white devils. “Death with pain.”
“Hah-hah,” the first man nodded in agreement. He signaled the others, indicating they should follow, and slowly began to circle the camp, preparing to attack.
Star stopped suddenly. In his hand were a blowgun fashioned of river cane and several feathered darts made of locust and thistle-down. Arrowkeeper stood before him, poised to release an arrow straight into the heart of a deer. The Cherokee put his hand on the Creek’s arm and disturbed his shot. His companion grumbled as the animal started and bolted out of sight.
“What are you doing? Perhaps you are not hungry, old man. I am.”
“Something is not right.” He remained still, his black eyes searching the tall grass that ringed them, the silently shifting trees, and the sky above. A moment later thunder rumbled through the glade. “Ge-lis-gv hi-ya. War is coming. In the Heavens and on the earth.”
Arrowkeeper frowned and returned his arrow to its quiver. “Cherokee superstition.”
“Not superstition.” Star shook his head. “Knowledge.” Suddenly his eyes grew wide and he gripped the Creek’s shoulder. “Down!”
Without hesitation the tall man fell to his knees as four arrows flew over his head. Two struck the young oak trees behind them, one fell in the grass, and the other landed at their feet. Star picked it up to examine it, noting its color and markings.
He met Arrowkeeper’s eyes.
Cara was lying on the ground laughing so hard his sides hurt. He had just called Alec a ‘great thrawn Teuchter’ insinuating that Highlanders were by nature...well...a ‘wee’ bit perverse, and the Scot had drawn his claymore and was wielding it over his head.
“Thrawn, am I? The De’il wi’ ye, mon! If I dinnae ken better, I woulds thin’ ye waur peshed!”
Cara raised his hands above his head, preparing to effect a mock surrender, when suddenly he froze. A painted face had appeared behind Alec. Even though Arrowkeeper and Star were natives and the first time he had met them they had been in full regalia, he had grown so used to them that he had forgotten how horrifying a spectacle a fully-painted and outfitted brave on the warpath could be. His large brown eyes widened as he stared at the man, and his blood ran cold as he watched him lock a notched arrow against his bowstring and draw it back.
“Alec! Down! Now!” he screamed as he rose to his feet. Running several steps, he dove past the kneeling Scotsman and caught the man about the waist, knocking the bow out of his hands and him to the cold hard ground. His fist connected with the native’s jaw and he sighed as the man fell unconscious.
Then he saw the other three.
Star and Arrowkeeper were on the run. They were being driven farther and farther away from the camp and the two young men they traveled with. Arrows flew over their heads and war whoops filled the air as they moved swiftly through the ice-covered grass and leaves.
“We must circle back!” Star cried as he ducked yet another flying missile. “If we do not, Cara and Alec....”
The tall Creek shook his head. “They are dead men.”
Alec pulled his sword from the side of the dead warrior. The painted native had clambered to the top of a great boulder meaning to jump him and had instead come down on the point of his sharpened blade. He took a second to catch his breath and glanced at Cara where he rolled on the ground, fighting off yet another of the savage warriors; there was blood on his shirt. Alec swallowed hard. He had no way of knowing whether it was the native’s or his friend’s. The third and fourth members of the war party were not attacking, but stood—like him—staring into the distance. One of them put his hands to his mouth and mimicked the call of a whippoorwill. Too late the Scot realized it was a signal. As he watched, another six appeared. Then, just as a mixture of gall and fear rose up in his throat threatening to choke him, something unexpected happened; a dozen more followed, bearing fire-arms, dressed not in regular buckskins but in thigh-high boots and long breech-cloths. Their exposed skin was oiled and painted, and several had all of their hair plucked except for a small round patch on the top from which feathers flew. As he watched two of them lifted old British army muskets and pointed them in his direction. Knowing well they were not about to take the time to distinguish between one peaceable Scot and their intended targets, he dropped to his knees as the shots flew and began to crawl toward Cara who lay on the ground moaning. The brave who had been battling his friend had awakened and moved off to join his companions, as above, about, and beyond them the wilderness erupted into a full-blow war.
Star hesitated. They had circled the glade and were now on the other side. He lifted his head above the grasses to look. Arrowkeeper caught him and pulled him to the ground as musket balls and arrows flew.
“What are you doing? Do you want to die?”
“Listen.” The older man held his hand up. “That cry. It is my people.”
Alec made it to Cara’s side and saw that his shoulder had been pierced by a blade that had been withdrawn and left him bleeding. He hurriedly ripped a bit of cloth from his shirt and stuffed it into the wound. Then he took hold of his friend’s collar and began to draw him slowly back out of the line of fire, making for the tall grasses. Before he could, a pair of booted feet appeared before him. One of the warriors had stopped in mid-stride and turned to stare down at them. Alec held his claymore before him, but his hand was trembling so—and he was in such an awkward position—that he knew the man realized he posed little or no threat. As a rifle was pointed towards his head, he dropped the blade and raised his hands.
“Yo-ne-ga!” The warrior said sharply. “Ah-ha-ni!” He bent down and took hold of Alec’s shirt and looked into his eyes. He was an older man, about Star’s age, and decorated mightily with paint and feathers. There were bands of a some dark skin, probably otter, about his head, arms, and legs, and a cap of the same kind perched on his head, embellished with long white crane feathers. “O-gi-na-nili? Tso-tsi-da-na-wa?” The man waited a moment and then shook him hard. “Friend or foe?” he demanded.
Alec blinked. He stammered as he heard Cara moan beside him. “Whot? Ye ken English?”
The native frowned. His head jerked towards the far-off sound of rifle-fire. The battle had moved past the camp. “Wodi giasgoli!” he called suddenly. In answer, a muscular warrior dressed in broadcloth trousers and a well-worn British officer’s jacket came to his side. “Keep them here,” the first man said clearly in English. “Kill only if you must!”
The man in the deep red coat nodded once. “Osda,” he answered. He waited and watched as the older man sprinted away toward the fighting and then kneeling, balanced his rifle on his knees and stared into the white man’s deep brown eyes. A moment later he held his hand out for Alec’s weapon. The Scot picked up the claymore and surrendered it reluctantly. “Gal-lv-la-di,” the warrior said. He jerked his chin up and gestured with his hand to indicate he wanted him to rise. “Get up.”
Alec complied, but refused to leave Cara’s side. “Mah friend is hurt. I needs tae tak’ caur o’ him....”
“Later.” With nary a glance at the wounded man, the native led him by the arm to the boulder where the Shawnee warrior had made his abortive leap. He kicked the body out of the way and forced him to sit with his back against the stone. Taking a length of rope from the pouch at his waist, he tied his feet together and then began to bind his hands.
“I’ll nae be onie help tae ye, mon, if ye tie me oop.”
“An’ joost whot does thot mean?” the Scot shouted. He didn’t add ‘ye great stew-pit painted brute’, but he was sorely tempted.
“Quiet!” The native followed the rope with a piece of cloth and lifted it toward Alec’s lips. As he did the Scot studied him. He was a striking looking individual; handsome with strong noble features. He wore his hair longer than was the fashion for most natives in the region and it was a deep coppery-brown shade instead of blue-black. On each side there were two thin braids interwoven with a red ribbon and tiny gray and white feathers and, where the braiding began, he had decorated each with twin bands of silver and gold. About his long neck he wore bright glass beads, orange and emerald green, tightly twisted into a sort of collar. His was not the typical uniform of a warrior. In fact, it seemed rather flamboyant. Alec started to ask him who he was when unexpectedly a shadow fell across them. The Scot looked up to find his friend, pale and ghostly, rising up behind the warrior, the bloody claymore in his hand.
“God’s woonds, Cara... No!”
Even before he cried out, the warrior had pivoted and brought his elbow hard into the other man’s knee. Then he struck him in the stomach. As Cara folded, the man shoved him to the ground and pinned him with ease. Less than a heartbeat later the native’s knife had left its sheath and was at his throat.
Alec drew a deep breath and held it. He was going to watch his friend die.
Cara was trembling so hard he couldn’t hold still. He felt nauseous and his vision was blurred. He had been afraid the man was going to kill Alec and so he had struggled to his feet and palmed the Scottish sword meaning to save him, but now it looked like all he was going to do was manage to get them both killed. He stared into the dark face that hung above him and read in it a rage of which he had no part; a rage directed at his clothing and at his father’s race. He blinked trying to imagine why. And then from somewhere deep within him came an answer.
No, not an answer—
whispered, his throat dry and his voice hoarse. “Wodi giasgoli?”
The knife remained at his throat but its downward motion halted. The warrior paused and his dark eyes narrowed. “Ga-do?
“A-na...” Cara began, closing his eyes and almost screaming for the words to come. “A-na-da-nv-tli?”
The native’s head cocked. Then he jerked back in surprise. “Cara-Mingo? My brother?”
The other man laughed. He nodded. “Copperhead,” he whispered, and then he passed out.
When he awoke it was dark. He was wrapped in a blanket and a fire blazed nearby. His temples were throbbing and he felt curiously light-headed, but he tried to sit up anyhow. A firm hand pressed him back to the ground.
“Lie still, Cara-Mingo. So great a journey is worthy of one night’s rest.”
He looked up and saw a figure bending over him in the dark. The man was about Star’s age, but it wasn’t Star. At least, he didn’t think it was Star. His vision was so blurred he couldn’t be sure. “Do I know you?”
The man laughed gently, “You did once.”
Cara blinked and his eyes began to close again. “I don’t remember....”
The native rocked back on his heels and waited as the young man slipped once again into an uneasy sleep. Then he reached out and touched his face. As he did, a hand fell on his shoulder and he looked up. He grinned and rose to his feet and embraced the other man. “Star,” he said softly. “We feared you were dead.”
The Cherokee nodded. “And so I have been these four years. But I am alive now.” His smile was wistful. “I am home.”
The other man nodded solemnly. Then he pointed toward the white substance he held cupped in a leaf in his hand. “What is this?”
“Squirrel tail leaves. Crushed and made into a poultice. I must apply them to the wound quickly. They will cause the blood to clot.”
As the warrior moved out of his way and watched him tenderly minister to the wounded man, he felt his jaw tighten. In this battle, he was powerless. Bone-weary, he sighed and reached up to remove his otter skin cap. He slipped the fur bands from his arms and let them fall to the ground. Running his hands over his face, he smeared the paint and blood together. One of his men stepped up to him as he did and offered him the wand of his office; the one with the swan’s wings. As he took it, the man asked if he was coming to the stream. He nodded and then turned to Star.
“I must join my men at the water,” he began, “will he....”
The other man did not look up. His words were soft and sad. “I will take care of him. As you have taken care of mine.”
A shadow crossed the man’s face. He laid his hand on the other man’s shoulder again. “Old friend, I wish I could have done more.”
Star nodded and placed his hand over his. “You did all that was possible. If all enemies were only flesh and blood....”
“Yes.” His eyes returned to the dark-haired man on the ground. He drew a deep breath and held it several seconds. “It is good to have you back, but....” He paused. “This one.... I thought never to see him again.”
Star finished binding the wound on Cara’s shoulder and rose to meet Menewa face to face. “His heart is here, with his mother’s people. In this, he never left.” He frowned and shook his head. “In that other place, he would have withered and died.”
Arrowkeeper drew abreast of the two of them. He had a cloth bound about his forehead which was blood-soaked and one leg bandaged where a bullet had grazed it. He greeted Menewa, chief of the Chota Cherokee, and then gestured toward the injured man. “Will he live?”
Star answered. “The wound is clean. He should recover quickly....”
The Cherokee pursed his lips. “I do not know. Perhaps I am just being foolish.”
“You?” The tall Creek shook his head. “Never.”
“You fought valiantly, my Creek brother.”
Arrowkeeper turned to Menewa. His smile was wry. “Against our Shawnee enemies.” He tossed his long hair and lifted his head, scenting the forest air. “It is good to be back.”
“Is Ken-tah-ten your home?”
He paused. Then he shook his head. “I have no home.”
Menewa was silent a moment. He understood. Such was the story with many of their people. No words were necessary. “I have heard what you did for my sister’s son. You have one now. For as long as you desire.” He turned toward the stream that gurgled nearby where his warriors waited. “Come, join us.”
Arrowkeeper looked at Star.
“I will come later. I will not leave him until I know the leaves have done what they must.” He frowned suddenly and looked about, realizing there was a missing member of their party. “Where is Alexander?”
“Haur I am.” The Scot stepped out of the shadows and came to join them. “I joost took a walk.” He looked at Star. “Ye gae wi’ th’ others. I will watch o’er him.”
The Cherokee met his eyes and held them for a moment. Then he nodded to Arrowkeeper and Menewa as they began to move away, indicating he would follow. He laid his hand on the young man’s arm and said softly, “This is not what you expected when you chose to come with us to meet your mother’s people?”
Alec shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. He glanced at Cara where he lay unconscious. “Nae, tis whot I expected. Joost nae whot I had hoped I woulds find.” He glanced at the painted natives where they waited by the water, intent on beginning the first of the series of elaborate rituals that would return them to a state of cleanness. He glanced at Star sideways. “Did ye tell onie o’ them yet?”
“Tell them? About you, and who you are?” The older man shook his head. In reality there had been no time for idle talk. Only a few hours had passed since they had returned to the camp and found Copperhead standing with the bleeding Cara-Mingo in his arms. Before that he and Arrowkeeper had eluded the Shawnee and joined Menewa’s braves. Arrowkeeper had taken down a half dozen warriors on his own. “No. Your path must be for you to choose. Perhaps you will not wish to stay.” At Alec’s look he added, “Perhaps you will. For now, simply be a friend. You are welcome at their fire as one; as you are at mine.”
The Scot nodded. When they had left Williamsburg, he had had to make a choice. Like James Harper, he could have gone home. Or like Isabella—who had bid goodbye to Kerr in a tearful scene worthy of the Bard—he could have gone back to the troupe and traveled on into Canada. But there was something, deep within him, that was not content with either of those choices. There was a part of him that longed to escape the chaos of the world he had known and to find some sort of a deep lasting inner peace. He had thought perhaps his mother’s people held the key, and so—in the end—he had asked the trio if he could accompany them. Cara had readily agreed. Star’s consent had followed. Arrowkeeper had been slower to accept the idea, but in the end he had decided a companion for their green charge might not be such a bad idea. Soon the days had passed into weeks, and the weeks into months, and the knee-deep snow had fallen away to reveal brown grass tinged with green. The time of death and decay was gone; Spring was on the horizon.
He wondered what it would bring.
The Scot started out of his reverie. He smiled and then nodded toward the men at the stream. “Hads ye best nae join them?”
“Keep him warm. I will return shortly.”
The older man turned back. “Yes?”
“If ye get a chance, shove Arrowkeeper in. Fur him,” he nodded towards Cara,
“an’ fur me.”
Star laughed. “It is a promise.”
Alec gnawed at his upper lip as he watched the other man walk away. A moment later he dropped to the ground and positioned himself near his friend. He drew his knees up and laid his head on his arms.
Sometime later he was roused by a weak voice. “Alec?”
His head came up sharply. He gazed at his friend and was distressed to find him looking so pale. “Sae ye aur awake at last,” he said, reaching out and laying his hand on his arm. “An’ haw dae ye feel?”
“Like I’ve been cast out with the bath water.” Cara’s eyes opened and closed languidly. Then he stirred a bit, and his nose wrinkled at the scent of the poultice on his shoulder. “What is this?”
“Courtesy o’ Star. Crushed Squirrel tail, ur sae he nam’d it.” Alec coughed as he laughed. “Thaur is a distinc’ bouquet’.”
“I’ll need another dip in the stream....” Cara whispered.
Alec checked the binding and then laid his hand on his forehead. He winced at how hot he was. “God’s body, mon. Ye had me scared.”
Cara’s deep brown eyes fastened on his friend’s without focus. He lifted his hand but let it fall without accomplishing anything. “I think I scared myself.”
The Scot’s attention was momentarily diverted as several of the warriors plunged into the ice cold water screaming like banshees. He watched them a moment and then sighed.
The brown eyes found him. “Tis this whot ye expected? I mean...whot ye remembered?”
“I remember very little....” Cara lifted his hand again and shifted slightly. “Alec, help me sit up.”
“Mon, ye shoulds nae rise....”
“Let him. A warrior should always rise after being wounded in battle. If he does not do so quickly, he may never rise again.” Both dark heads turned to find a figure standing at the edge of the circle of light cast by the fire. The flames caught the brass buttons on his worn coat and the rings in his hair and seemed to make them dance.
“Ye learned English fast enaw, friend.”
“I do everything fast. Stay with us long enough, and you will find I speak the truth.” Copperhead moved into the light and stopped. For a moment he just looked at them, and then he asked Cara, “Do you really want to get up?”
The young man knelt before him. “How do you feel?”
His smile was chagrinned. “I’ve been better.”
Copperhead laughed as he caught him about the elbows and drew him to his feet. Then he stepped back and watched him as he swayed. “Well?”
The English Lord’s son frowned. He turned a wan smile on his childhood friend. “And what do you do with a warrior who stands and then falls flat on his face?”
“They moos’ likely advise him tae tak’ a dip in th’ stream,” Alec said as he reached out to steady him.
“You scoff and make light,” Copperhead turned to the Scot, “but you know. In your veins, you know.” He touched Alec’s chest with his finger and then pointed at his sick friend. “You are like Cara-Mingo. Part of us, and not part.”
Alec was stunned. “I dinna ken whot ye aur sayin’, mon.”
The Cherokee warrior held his gaze. “Yes, you do.”
For the longest moment, the two of them simply stared at one another, waging an unspoken battle. Just watching them made Cara tired. Finally he asked softly, “Have I been on my feet long enough?”
Copperhead laughed again and broke away from Alec. He glanced at the stream from which the warriors were beginning to emerge. “Yes. Your uncle will skin me like a bear if he finds I did not leave you lying on the ground to rest as if you were an unseasoned boy.”
As Alec took hold of his arm, intending to help him to the ground, Cara put a hand out to stop him. “My uncle?”
The Cherokee nodded his brown head. “Did you not know? Menewa is here.”
Even if he hadn’t been wounded—even if it hadn’t felt like a battalion of soldiers were marching through his brain and slamming every door on their way out of the castle—his feet would have gone out from under him at that moment. Without warning, his knees buckled and he fell to the ground. Suddenly it had hit him.
He was home.
“My God,” he whispered as the tears began to fall.
A moment later a hand closed on his shoulder and he looked up to find a face he had thought he would never see again; a wise face—ten years older—but unchanged from what he remembered. His mother’s brother, Menewa; the man who had been more of a father to him than John Murray had ever been or cared to be.
“Cara-Mingo. In the heat of the battle, I did not know you.” Menewa’s voice broke as he continued to speak. “You are now a man.”
“Uncle, I....” He lifted his hand to chase the tears away, embarrassed in front of the assembled warriors.
His uncle caught his hand and stopped him. “Let them fall.” Tears had entered his own eyes as well and were spilling down his deep red cheeks. “There is no shame to be found in the tears of joy,” he said as he embraced him. “You were dead, and are alive again, my sister’s son.”
The next morning the warriors carried him to the village on a litter. Overnight his fever had increased and he had become disoriented. He began to hallucinate and finally fell silent. In the end, Cara-Mingo’s homecoming turned out to be a slow and sad occasion when it should have been a celebration of joy. Alec walked beside his friend with his head down. Copperhead, the Cherokee, kept him company. Arrowkeeper and Star accompanied Menewa, telling the chief of their lives in England, their rescue, and what they knew of the lost years of Talota’s son.
Once when they paused to rest, and Alec sat with his hat over his eyes and his head against a tree, he had overheard the three of them speaking in low tones. He heard Cara’s uncle mention the ‘other’ and saw him gesture angrily. Later, before they set out again, he caught the tall Creek by the arm and asked him what it was all about.
Arrowkeeper shook his head. “There is another within the village. Wounded as well. He has been near death. There is something between him and Cara-Mingo. Menewa will say no more until he awakes.”
The Scot glanced at the chief where he stood silhouetted against the rising sun and frowned. “An’ why is thot?”
The Creek looked at him as if he was a child. “It is for him. It is not for us. That is enough.”
As the imposing man walked away, Alec returned to his friend. Copperhead rose from Cara’s side to face him, tossing his long hair over his shoulder. “You look as if someone just snatched your prize catch of beaver pelts,” he said.
The Scot glanced at him and then back at Arrowkeeper. He had rejoined Star and Menewa, who was calling on them to begin again. “An’ they say we Scots aur dour....”
The Cherokee frowned. “Doo-er...?”
Alec smiled wanly and knelt to place his hand on Cara’s forehead. “He’s burnin’ oop. It seems tae early fur infection....”
The warrior nodded. He crouched beside him and touched the poultice over the wound that had turned black. Then he met Alec’s eyes. “The knife is suspect. One of the warriors found one with a dark stain near where he fell. It was not blood.”
“I dinnae ken....” Then his brown eyes lit with understanding. “Envenomed, ye mean?”
“Most likely.” Copperhead shrugged and stood, seemingly unaffected by this new example of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.
“Th’ heathen bastards....” Alec rose to his feet infuriated. “Why woulds a body dee sooch at thing?”
The other man cocked his head and looked at him. “And do you show mercy to your enemies in this Scotland that you come from, Alexander MacKirdy?”
Alec just stared at him. “I despair o’ monkind,” he said at last.
The Cherokee touched his shoulder again. “Everything has its balance. Where there is evil, there is good as well. If we experience pain, then we will know pleasure. Sorrow makes joy the sweeter.”
The Scot’s dark eyebrows rose. “Ye aur pure eloquent fur a savage,” Alec said with a wry smile. “Next ye will be quotin’ the Bard....”
Copperhead straightened his jacket and brushed one of the brass buttons with his fingers. “I believe we, as a people, will only survive in this new world by understanding our enemy. I have been to the school of the white man. I have lived with him and learned his ways.”
“Is that the reason for the bonnie coat?”
“This?” Copperhead smiled crookedly. “This is a reminder.”
Alec blinked. “O’ whot?”
The handsome man laughed and then he sobered. “Ask me again one day. Perhaps I will tell you.” As he finished, Cara moaned and the two men turned toward him. Copperhead saw the fear in the Scot’s face. “When we arrive at the village, Galunadi will care for him.”
“Our healer. We will leave him in the place of healing so the spirit of the poison can be driven out.”
“An’ ye aur certain this ‘Gal-oon-ah-di’ will be thaur?” Alec’s eyes were fastened on his friend’s pale face. “I dinnae thin’ Cara has sae mooch tim’ left....”
Copperhead’s bright look darkened. “He will be there. He has another patient to tend to.”
Alec pressed him but he would say nothing more.
They arrived in the Cherokee village late that night when most everyone—other than those who were set to keep the night watch—was asleep. Menewa, Star, Arrowkeeper and Copperhead had taken over carrying the litter and they bore the wounded man to the door of the healer’s lodge. The chief greeted his old friend, Galunadi, and explained who the patient was. Alec noticed the healer seemed startled, but then that was to be expected, what with Cara returning out of the blue after so many years. Still, he heard mention of omens and evil spirits before the small party disappeared into the large thatched building. A few minutes later Menewa emerged, followed quickly by Star and Arrowkeeper. Alec watched as he took his leave of them, explaining he returned to his own home to seek the Creator’s will and to ask that his sister’s son be spared if it was within the master plan.
As the two men he had traveled with disappeared as well, Alec attempted to enter the healer’s lodge. Copperhead was just emerging and stopped him. He dropped the woven mat into place and indicated the side of the building with his hand. “We will sit here, together, and wait until he is done. Then, perhaps, we may go in.”
As the young Scot sank to the ground and rested his head on his knees, he heard the healer’s low voice begin to chant in rhythm with the pounding of an unseen drum. He closed his eyes and thought of his own home, of the Highlanders with all their superstitions and curious beliefs, and he had to admit that perhaps—much to his disappointment—men were the same everywhere after all.
Sometime later he opened his eyes and glanced round. Copperhead was gone. The moon had almost completed its journey to the far horizon, making way for the sun, and the birds were awaking in the trees about the village. Several young women walked by carrying water jugs on their heads and baskets of freshly baked bread on their hips. He rose, dropping the blanket someone had placed about his shoulders, and—with a quick glance around to make certain no one was watching—ducked into the lodge.
Cara lay alone at its center, stretched out all but naked by a blazing fire; only a small fur covering had been tossed across his middle. There was a fresh poultice on his shoulder. Beside him lay an odd assortment of items: a hollowed out gourd, a long thin reed, and several strange wooden sticks carved to look like bear claws on the end. He wasn’t moving and looked ghostly pale in the light that was thrown by the flames that leapt and crackled near his side.
Alec hesitated and then began to move forward through the smoke-filled space. As he did, the shadows near the back of the hut shifted and a figure emerged. He started to explain himself to the healer—but then he realized it was not Galunadi, but another man. Perhaps he was the other one they had spoken of on the trail; the one who had been wounded and had almost died. He opened his mouth to introduce himself, only to stop dead.
The man had stepped into the light cast by the fire. He stood with his head held high. His long dark hair was loose and framed a familiar face. Alec looked at the man lying on the floor and then back to the one who watched him warily, his dark eyes narrowed.
Cara had never told him he was a twin.
Near Boonesborough, KY 1776
And so it was he had first encountered Tara-Mingo, the other son of Talota. The man who, in time, would destroy his world.
Alexander sighed. He glanced at Daniel Boone who was kneeling in the center of the wet trail attempting to read what signs had been left after a brief down-pour. The tall frontiersman had been able to discern that a group of well-shod horses had passed this way not long before, headed toward a distant point where, against the back-drop of yet another fading day, they could see the smoke of a great many fires rising into the air. It was, no doubt, the meeting place of the Seminoles and Muskogee Creek his uncle had spoken of. These were the men who had chosen to gather together, heeding the call of their leaders—McInnery, Preacher and Tastanagi or Big Warrior—whose intention it was to drive the white men out of the still untamed wilderness and claim it as their own country, free and autonomous from Britain or France or any other power. And they did this with the blessing and the divine right granted them by possession of a savior; Kamassa Chaffaaka, the Powerful One.
The weary Scot drew another breath and ran a hand through his sopping black hair.
His uncle Dungan had possessed little pure knowledge about this Creek messiah. It was rumored he was young and that the visions he had were often true. There was great fear among the whites he had spoken to—both colonists and conquerors—that even if this ‘coup’ failed, many men and women would die before it was over. Children too.
The Scot frowned and took a step toward him. “Aye, Daniel? Whot is it?”
The big man walked over to him slowly, as if a weight had been placed on his shoulders, so large and so heavy that even his large frame could not bear it. He held out his hand. In it lay a woman’s brooch. It was covered with mud and had been trod on by the horse’s hooves until it was all but unrecognizable. Still, Alexander could just make out that it had once been in the shape of a clover. Most likely there had been a bit of coral for luck and health tucked into the gold, which now lay crushed and ground into the wet earth.
Dan’s green eyes flicked to his. “You reckon you’ve seen it before?”
“Nae.” Alexander shook his head. “Hae ye?”He nodded. “I bought it for Becky in Salem.” Dan’s fingers closed into a fist. “They have her.”
- Continued in Chapter Eight -