Was Only For Bleeding
Mingo glanced sideways at his friend. They had both been bound and gagged, but had been permitted to walk side by side on their forced journey through the woods. He understood from McInnery’s demeanor and the few vague references the warriors who marched close beside them had made before they drew to a halt, that something had changed. Apparently Kamassa had gone missing and—for some reason he could not fathom—they were taking him and Daniel along on the search to find him. It had been about three hours since he had awakened and realized what a fool he had been. James McInnery might have been a brute and a scoundrel, but he was sharp as the whetted edge of a hunting knife when it came to anticipating the actions of those around him.
Except, it seemed, when it came to young boys.
Mingo contained his smile. Apparently at the moment the military strategist was at a loss. He was standing with his brown hands locked behind his back and his chin on his chest deep in thought. He seemed to have no idea what direction Kamassa had taken. Mingo couldn’t help but wonder himself where the boy was going and why. He wondered even more if Tara’s young son was alone, or if Policha traveled with him. As Daniel shifted beside him, his glance returned to his old friend. He had tried to communicate with the tall frontiersman without words as they had often been forced to do, by a look or a subtle gesture, but had found it impossible. Daniel Boone seemed preoccupied; he refused to make eye contact and stood, like McInnery, with his head down. The only difference was the big man’s shoulders were stooped almost as if in defeat.
Mingo cursed the gag between his teeth and wished he could have just one word with him, but then he remembered how his father had often chided him for such unprofitable dreaming, and had reminded him that if wishes were horses, beggars would have ridden like kings. He snorted, surprised to find the thought of his father could bring a smile to his lips at this inopportune moment. Then he frowned. Fathers and sons. How long ago had he asked Daniel about his feelings the day his children had been born? How long had it been since he had found out his brother had a child? He glanced again at his friend and wished he could inform him that his son—that Israel was safe. And Rebecca. His thoughts suddenly flew unbidden to another cherished face, and he saw it once again beside the redhead’s...and Spicewood. Dear Lord, Spicewood... Alive. It still seemed impossible.
How easily they had all been fooled.
And then, abruptly, he had it. Rage boiled in him as he realized what McInnery had done. Only one thing could have taken the fire out of a man like Daniel Boone. The half-Scot had lied about Rebecca, and most likely Israel.
Daniel believed his family dead. Their deaths brought about, most likely, by his own actions.
Mingo closed his eyes, uncertain of what he could do. Then he opened them and looked surreptitiously around. Neither he nor Daniel were being watched very closely. Still, even if he had been willing to risk it, he couldn’t speak. McInnery had seen to it that he had no way of informing his friend of his family’s continued well-being.
Gazing down, he noticed the earth was still moist from the passing rains. A shift in balance easily impressed the print of his moccasin in the dirt. Fortunately it was his custom to wear the soft doeskin shoes instead of the thick buckskin boots shod with leather soles his friend preferred; it meant his toe was able to dig into the sodden ground.
Now if no one noticed and he just had enough time....
Daniel Boone fought the urge to sigh. The possibility of what might have occurred weighed him down like a millstone around the neck, threatening to drown him in sorrow. He knew it was foolish. He shouldn’t let it get to him. McInnery was a liar. The native had probably made it all up simply to demoralize him. But he was also a killer. Plain and simple. And if he was capable of plotting the death of Kamassa, who was just a child, then he was more than capable of murdering a white woman who was the wife of his enemy.
It was the not knowing that was killing him.
He shifted and tested his bonds. The action made him wince. The hastily-tied ropes were biting into his wrists where he had singed them as he held them over the fire and tried to free himself. Tossing his head back so the hank of hair that often troubled his eyes returned where it belonged, he glanced at Mingo. He seemed to be all right now. The Cherokee had staggered the first few miles after waking, and he had wondered then if his friend had had something of a concussion, but as the hours passed he had regained his usual grace and once again began to move like a panther on the prowl; silent and sure. As his eyes shifted to his friend’s feet, one of which was moving, Dan frowned and one eyebrow winged towards his tousled brown hair.
What in the world was Mingo doing? It looked like he was playing in the mud.
Maybe that blow had been harder than he thought.
Glancing at their guard, he dared to move a step closer. The man gripped his rifle tight and shook his head. Dan shrugged his shoulders and stopped, but was close enough to see. The Cherokee noticed him and lifted his dark head. As he did, he managed to smile around the gag. One black eyebrow peaked and he nodded towards the ground.
Dan shook his head, uncertain of what he wanted.
Mingo slid back effortlessly so the dawning light struck the earth where he had been standing, and even as the warrior who watched them began to pivot—a suspicious expression on his dark face—he saw it, painstakingly impressed into the sodden ground, its letters uneven and barely legible.
Another hour found them on the move again. McInnery held the lead, with five or six of his men following him and another two bringing up the rear behind his captives. Dan and Mingo remained side by side, but this time several years of close friendship walked with them and, even without words, they managed to communicate. One of them had to escape, and it had to be Mingo. He was the most familiar with the territory they traversed as it bordered Cherokee land, and even though Dan had walked it often with him and was welcome in the nearby village of Chota, he was not one of the People. He would not be able to convince them to raise a war party and follow him as his friend could do. The truth had to be faced. Even if they could manage to save the boy and overcome McInnery and his painted adherents, there were still several hundred zealous Creek warriors just itching for a battle not all that far behind them, and they would have to be dealt with.
Dan drew a deep breath and chewed the inside of his lip. No. Not if they managed to overcome McInnery.; when. The well-dressed, battle-wise son of a gun owed him twice over now; first for striking his wife and then for professing he had killed her. And he had lied about Israel too, as well as apparently wounding Alexander MacKirdy’s young brother.
It was going to feel real good to make him pay his debt.
Mingo grunted and Dan’s head swung in his direction. His eyebrows winged above his green eyes. “Now?” they asked.
The Cherokee nodded. He inclined his feathered head towards the land before them. Dan knew it. They were being forced to walk along a thin ridge. A steep incline and a deadly drop of perhaps ten to twenty feet loomed mere inches away. He shook his head. “It’s too dangerous,” the gesture said.
Mingo’s dark brown eyes lit with that daredevil grin he knew so well. He nodded again and then waited.
Dan drew a deep breath and then took another step. He was ahead of the Cherokee. As his foot came down, he pretended to stumble. Seemingly without intention, he bumped into the native man and sent him reeling. Without a sound Mingo disappeared over the lip of the incline.
McInnery heard his man shout. He turned back and saw the frontiersman was alone. As soon as the tall white man reached the other side, he took hold of Daniel’s gag and savagely pulled it down so it ringed his throat. Then he placed the tip of the small black dagger he always carried in his boot under his chin. “Where has he gone?”
Dan pretended to be concerned. “You have to help him. I didn’t mean to....”
The knife came up under his jaw. “You do nothing by accident, Mr. Boone. I am wise to you. Northstar,” he called to one of the men who waited behind him, “take two others and pursue the Cherokee. Do not let him escape.” He pinned Dan with his ebon eyes. “Kill him when you find him. I no longer need him. This one alone will do.” He paused a moment and then added, “So you see, Mr. Boone. This is yet another death you will have on your hands.”
Dan’s reply came without hesitation. “It would take me more time than you have left on this earth, McInnery, to have as much blood on my hands as you do on yours.”
The native held his gaze a moment. “And is that supposed to trouble me?”
“Maybe not now,” the tall man didn’t flinch, “but it might
He laughed. “I take it, you mean when I meet my maker?”
“No. When you meet your master in Hell.”
McInnery’s lip curled. Dan thought for a moment he was going to strike him, but he held himself in control. Then he laughed again. “You will so richly deserve what is coming to you, Mr. Boone. Those men in the talofa will tear you limb from limb when they discover what you have done to their ‘messiah.’ And I shall take great pleasure in watching.”
Dan shrugged. “You have to find the boy first, don’t you; before you can kill him? I take it from our wandering like the children of Israel in the wilderness, that you are having a mite of trouble following his trail.”
The man turned his back on him. “He is a child. He will not outwit me.”
The frontiersman frowned. “Do you have any children?” Secretly he hoped he would answer ‘no’. Somehow he couldn’t imagine this savage man raising a child; influencing a young impressionable mind.
The native glanced over his shoulder. “Yes. In England.” Pivoting he asked him, “Why?”
McInnery growled but he answered. “Both quite young. Under five.”
“And you’ve been in the colonies...?”
“Two years. Boone,” he spat impatiently, “what is this?”
“That explains it then. You can’t know them very well.” Dan replied with a twinkle in his eye. “I’m afraid you will find—if you ever return to England—that there is nothing so unpredictable as a child.... Unless....”
McInnery waited. He didn’t want to bite, but in the end, he did. “Yes. Unless what?”
Dan’s face lit with a grin.
“...unless it be victory.”
Mingo rolled back under the overhang and bit his lip in order to remain silent as the party above him began to move again. He had recognized the ridge and, though it had changed a great deal in the seven or eight years since he had done battle with the great tom turkey and suffered his first ‘defeat’ as a warrior, he had remembered the recess Copperhead had drawn him into and knew he could use it to conceal himself from the eyes of his enemies. He also knew there was no way down other than the rather ‘uncomfortable’ one he had taken, and that the path that led around and into the hollow was a long and exhausting one. The cuts and bruises his body had taken in the fall had bought him at the very least an hour or two in which to begin his journey. Fortunately he had not broken anything, though his right shoulder—having taken the brunt of the fall—burned and ached. He could only hope it wouldn’t affect his aim. If, that was, he somehow managed to find a rifle. At the moment, he was weaponless.
Not the best thing to be in the middle of the Kentucky wilderness.
He sat on a boulder and stared at the rising sun, taking just a moment to get his bearings and to decide on the best course of action. As he began to work his bonds on the sharp edge of the stone, he wondered if he should make for the cave where he knew Spicewood and Rebecca waited, to help them with Alexander’s wounded brother and Israel. Or, if he should instead go to the Cherokee village and rouse his people, warning them of imminent danger. Perhaps he should seek out Alexander and find out about his uncle’s men. Were they in position? Had they come at all?
Mingo sighed as he tossed the ropes away. And what of Kamassa? What of his brother’s young son?
Almost paralyzed by indecision, he closed his eyes and tried to reason things out as his straight-forward thinking friend would have done had he been by his side. Spicewood was a native woman, well-trained, and able to look out for Rebecca and herself as well as the others. And even if she had not been, Rebecca was not some delicate porcelain figurine one had to handle with care. She had often proven her worth in battle. He opened his eyes and ran his hands over his face. And as to his people, the Cherokee were most certainly already aware of what was happening. They had look-outs in this area; Copperhead and his young son walked it often now that they had returned. Someone would know. And even if they did not, other natives would tell them. The Creek were not well-liked on Cherokee land, or welcome.
And as to Alexander; he was a grown man. He had been a warrior and a scout. He could take care of himself.
That left Kamassa; young, vulnerable, lost and confused. His brother’s son was just a child, and he, his only living relative.
He stood with the decision.
He had to find the boy.
Kamassa lingered by the river, his eyes turned inward. He had not known where he was going, he had only known he had to go away; away from the throngs screaming his name; away from their expectations; away from McInnery and his greed.
Away from Policha and his need.
His hands were clenched in fists and his feet ankle-deep in water, but he did not feel the stream as it rushed by and pulled at his twisted leg. He did not see the dawning light or hear the birds as they awoke and began to call to one another in the trees, nor feel the leaves as they swirled about him and brushed his fevered skin. Instead his inner sight revealed another gleaming snake; a shining river flowing on a different day, and his spirit shivered as the pounding rain soaked him to the skin and the late summer wind chilled him. He blinked and gazed at his reflection and once again saw the face of his father; saw the harsh uncompromising visage and unyielding eyes framed by straight black hair bound with hawk and eagle feathers. For some reason as he looked into those eyes, he shuddered. Then his father’s hand reached for him and he lifted his own to take it. Something cold crossed his palm. He started and looked down. In it was a musket. As he stared at it, confused, the shining barrel flashed in his eyes and all but blinded him. When he could see again, it was through another man’s eyes. He was looking past the sight on the weapon and had it trained on a man slowly rising from the ground. The native was stained with mud and blood; his chest bare; his long black hair loose and adorned with two bedraggled turkey feathers. As he watched, the man held up a hand and spoke one word; only one.
And then the world turned upside-down. Suddenly the man with the loose hair was holding the weapon and it was trained on him. Kamassa took a step back. The other man’s hands trembled and there were tears in his eyes as he cocked the hammer. He heard the word again, breathed in a sigh as the weapon discharged, and then he felt himself sinking beneath the cruel black swamp water as it mingled with his life’s blood and his sanity began to slip away....
Kamassa awoke with the ice-cold stream rushing madly around him, threatening to carry him away. As the waves reached his chin, he gasped and flung himself towards the shore to escape drowning, and then lay there breathing heavily, disoriented and shaken to the core. Some minutes passed before his vision cleared and he returned to the present reality. Then, just as he began to struggle to his knees, he heard a sound. It was not far off, but close; the sound of someone moving hurriedly through the trees. He rose to his feet and looked about frantically. He had been followed. He did not know who it was, but he did know it was not his desire to be captured and returned to the talofa, or arrested and imprisoned in some dark cell among unbelievers who would mock him; who would cut his hair and burn his clothes, and try to make him forget who he was.
If, he thought, they did not simply kill him for what he was.
Rising shakily to his feet, Kamassa stumbled into the shadowed woods just as Alexander MacKirdy left them and stepped into the growing light to stare at the spot where the vision had been. As was the custom with such spirits, the unnatural creature had vanished with the coming of the sun. Quickly, he knelt by the river and splashed cold water on his face. Then he stood, at a loss as to where to go and what to do. The talofa he and Daniel Boone had been heading for was back to the east. It was likely the tall frontiersman could still use his help. And then there was his Uncle Dungan. The big braw man was undoubtedly on the march. He could head back now and join his soldiers in the coming fray. Taking his tricorn hat from his head, Alexander ran a hand through his short curly locks and shook his head. He was bone weary and sick at heart and well beyond either traveling or fighting at the moment. He would have to rest for just a wee bit. Turning in a circle, he surveyed the surrounding countryside, trying to remember. Then he had it. The bend in the river was no more than half a mile back and there was a small cave not too far away....
Spicewood and Rebecca Boone had started to move as soon as the light had grown bright enough to see the signs Israel and the young Scot had left in passing. Unfortunately, they included blood. The native woman had fingered it and shaken her head. Becky knew what she feared. If Finlay was bleeding again, it was likely they would stumble over his body somewhere along the way.
And where would that leave Israel?
She noted with relief as they continued to follow the trail that they were headed away from the cave and back towards the talofa. Apparently the young Scot had decided he would pursue the native woman who had rescued him; stubbornly refusing to be obedient or to remain immobile and safely out of harm’s way. As she and Spicewood moved quickly through the woods, the redhead wondered if they would find him lying cold at the side of the trail with her small son keeping vigil over his body, and if they did, what new scars that would leave on Israel’s tender soul.
Her new friend’s head came up and then she held her hand out. The gesture signaled to Becky that she should stop. She did so immediately and listened intently, but heard nothing. As she started to say so, Spicewood shook her head, shushing her. The native woman then nodded towards a nearby clump of decaying cat-tails and indicated they should step inside. Becky frowned but, being a good soldier, did as she was ordered. As the cat-tails snapped back into place behind them leaving a trail of pollen and dust, a tall figure appeared at the edge of the clearing they had been crossing. She drew her breath and held it as it drew closer.
And then she sneezed.
Spicewood’s brown eyes widened in horror. A moment later two bronzed hands took hold of the stalks and pulled them back to reveal the women’s hiding place. Then a deep male voice pronounced their names with shock and relief. “Rebecca. Spicewood....”
The native woman had crouched in fear, expecting Policha or McInnery. The voice she heard belonged to neither of them; it belonged instead to a face from the past, to a man she had not seen in almost eight years. She looked up and smiled.
The tall Creek stared at the two women, astonished. He had been trailing Alexander and had lost him near the bend in the river. Apparently the Scot remembered enough of his Cherokee training not to leave any significant signs of his passing. After that he had searched futilely in the trees lining both banks, and then, frustrated and at a loss, had decided to return to the talofa to see if he could assist Cara-Mingo or Daniel Boone. Moving swiftly through the forest he had heard the sound of voices and turned towards the small clearing. As he paused near its center, someone sneezed. When he had taken hold of the cattails and thrust them aside, he had never expected to find the wife of Daniel Boone, along with a ghost newly risen from the grave.
As Becky took his hand and left the swampy nest, her Irish temper snapped. “This
is one fine mess you have gotten us all into, mister,” she said curtly.
The Creek’s dark eyebrows winged. “Rebecca?”
The redhead pulled her hand away and used it to dust herself off as Spicewood moved to stand beside her. Then she pinned him with her clear blue eyes. “I understand you have been in the thick of things with these monsters....”
He shook his head. “No. I am not with them. Kamassa....” he began.
“And all to save a child you love.”
Becky bit her lip and thrust a lock of copper hair out of her eyes as she
continued to stare at him. “And
they say an Irishman carries his heart in his hand.”
She shook her head then and planted herself in front of him, her hands on
her hips. “And why didn’t you tell
us about the boy? We would have
helped. You could have saved us all
so much trouble.”
“I did not think— ”
Becky frowned. “I would say you didn’t. Next time, please talk to Dan and me.... Agreed?”
Creek’s smile was chagrinned. “Agreed.”
“What are you doing out here anyway?” Becky ran a hand across her face and
fought a wave of vertigo. “You couldn’t have been looking for us; no one but Mingo knows we are here....”
His eyes shot to Spicewood. “I was tracking Alexander.”
The native woman’s spine stiffened. She wrapped her arms about her body as though suddenly cold. “Alexander? Here....?” Her voice was small and filled with wonder.
Arrowkeeper nodded. “He wished to return to your...grave. To say goodbye. This was before we knew from Israel that you were alive— ”
“Israel?” Becky took hold of his arm. “Then we were right to think McInnery was lying. Is he safe? Where is he?”
The Creek smiled. “He is safe.”
Becky had another question to ask, but she was afraid; she was terribly frightened the brave young man who had defended her and her home was dead. “And Finlay?”
“Badly hurt, but alive. Israel is with him,” Arrowkeeper answered. “They are in a camp not far from here with many soldiers.”
He nodded towards Spicewood and looked at her as he replied. “They are as her husband; Highlanders. A man—MacDougall—commands them.”
His frown deepened as he turned back to Becky. “Yes. How did you know?”
“When Alexander came to our house with his brother, he mentioned him. Dan knows him. He is a good man.” Her aspect brightened considerably as she digested this news. “So he has men with him. Many men?”
“Perhaps fifty. And more should come; soon.”
Becky recognized the hesitation in his voice. “Will they come soon enough?”
He shook his head. “I do not think so. Though there is always hope that I am wrong.”
The redhead closed her eyes and allowed some of the tension to drain from her. It seemed forever since she had slept. As she thought about it, she actually staggered, and when she came to herself, Arrowkeeper had her by the waist. Spicewood stood nearby watching her, an odd expression on her young face.
“You should rest,” the Creek said softly.
She looked up at him. “I can’t.” She indicated Spicewood with a weary nod. “We must find her husband. Reunite them....”
Spicewood came to his side and touched his arm. Her fingers were wrapped about the silver cross at her throat. “I must rest as well. I do not want to, but I cannot travel; not now.”
Arrowkeeper frowned. It seemed odd she did not want to journey on immediately, but then he realized she was trembling from head to foot and her rich brown skin had taken on a sickly hue. She looked as if she might be in shock. He nodded at her sensible choice and then turned back to the redhead. Now if only Boone’s wife....
He had thought it out of character for her to remain silent. As he met her eyes they rolled back in her head and she slumped, falling unconscious. Relief had brought about a fatigue she could not, even with her indomitable spirit, overcome. Swinging her up into his arms, he inclined his head towards an outcropping of rock nearby. “Come. You must rest. I will build a fire and then seek food.”
Three-quarters of an hour later he returned to find Spicewood gone.
The young woman glanced back the way she had come. It had been a mean trick to play on the kind Creek, but she knew Arrowkeeper to be naive when it came to women and she had used that to her advantage. She knew as well he would have to make a choice, and that in the end, he would feel responsible for the white woman and would stay at her side rather than hunting her down. Not that it would have mattered if he had. She would have fought him, if she had to, and won. No one and nothing would keep her from finding Alexander now that she knew he was alive.
Before she left, she had tied up the items Policha had kept, the sash and claymore, and then balancing the heavy bundle on her head, had moved quickly into the woods. She knew Alexander would remember the area with some clarity. They had passed many hours here, hunting and playing; simply living the life they loved. From the little Arrowkeeper had told her before he left to forage for food, her husband would be weary and most likely seeking shelter. If that was true, he might turn to the very cave in which she had lodged his brother and the Boone’s young son. It was not that far from the river or the place where the one who was not her had been buried.
Her fingers formed fists where they clenched the heavy bundle. She knew of the grave. Policha had told her how he had taken the clothes from her unconscious form and placed them on the body of a Cherokee woman Tara-Mingo’s savage allies had killed so no one would think to pursue her. He had not lied about that, but he had lied when he told her that Alexander was buried there as well. Her only consolation in her years of captivity had been that he had not been left alive to mourn her. Now she knew his pain had been as great as hers, and that knowledge fueled her hatred of the man who had once been known as James Harper.
Even when he had saved her and been kind to her, she had hated him. But as the days turned to months and the months to years, she had consoled herself with the fact that life as his woman was better than the alternative. After Alexander’s death.... After she believed him dead, she had cared little whether she lived or died. Policha had fed and clothed her. He had tended her wound and treated her with care, keeping her hidden from Tara-Mingo as she recovered, and then claiming her as his own when the vile creature lost interest in her as his madness increased and he began to believe the tales woven about him. Now she knew Policha’s kindness to have been the greatest lie of all. He had used her fear and terror of the other man to control her, and to bind her to him.
As she came to this conclusion, she felt the need for revenge rise in her like a living thing. She removed one of her hands from the bundle and, as she paused near the river’s edge, gripped the silver cross at her throat, remembering the words the sandy-haired man had read to her from the talking leaves he called the ‘Bible’.
‘The righteous will
rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will wash his feet in the blood of the
Her eyes went to the Heavens and she spoke aloud.
God.... I hold You to Your
Alexander Calum MacKirdy had stumbled into the cave, hoping to find some
peace. Instead he found himself all
but overcome by despair. In his hand was the locket with the portrait of Aileen
Campbell his brother had worn about his neck the last time he had seen him.
Its’ clasp was broken and the golden ornament was covered with dried
blood. He knew Finlay would never
have been parted from it had he been alive.
McInnery’s men must have taken him and killed him, and then left here
with their ill-gotten gains, dropping the locket in haste or indifference.
He sat with the bloody object clutched in his fingers and sobbed. Life had taken everything from him he had ever really cared
about; first his brother, Archie, then Star and Spicewood, and now braw young
Finlay. He wasn’t entirely
certain he could go on. He knew it
was cowardly to feel as he did; to be unable to put aside his own grief
and move on to help those who were in need—now—this very minute.
Somewhere nearby his new friends were facing death.
Their very way of life imperiled. And
that the danger reached beyond the white men in Boonesborough and the
surrounding towns and villages, into the heart of Ken-tah-ten, threatening the
Cherokee as well. What sort of love
had he born Spicewood if he was willing to let the renegade Creek destroy her
people and the place she had called home?
He tossed his head back against the wall and let the tears fall.
He was trembling and exhausted and perhaps not quite in his right mind.
He couldn’t remember when he had last slept or eaten. Though his uncle
had offered both food and a bed, he hadn’t had the stomach for the victuals
and, even before his return to his wife’s native land, his sleep had been
troubled by nightmares and walking shades.
He had hoped his ‘homecoming’ would
exorcise them; instead it seemed to have given them new life.
A soft sound brought his head up. Someone
was outside the cave. He reached
for his weapon and then laughed. For
a man who only a moment before had not cared whether he lived or died, it was a
very defensive move. He placed his
finger on the hammer and pointed it toward the cave’s mouth as a slender
figure filled it. A moment later
Alexander drew a startled breath and laid the flintlock at his side. It would do no good against such a spirit.
As he looked at the banshee, whose face was masked in shadow, he
shuddered. Soon she would call him
to enter the dark waters of death. As the ghostly woman took another step and her long dark hair
wafted in the late summer breeze, he closed his eyes and waited for the touch of
her icy fingers.
“Be quick aboot it, will ye?” he whispered at last.
“I hae mony waitin’ fur me on th’ other side.”
Warm fingers touched his cheek and a soft voice replied, “None who have
waited so long as I.”
His deep brown eyes flew open and he drew so deep a breath it brought him
Nearly an hour had passed. The
pair remained very still. Alexander
simply held his wife, his hand on her dark head, listening as she wept. He hadn’t even asked her why, or how. It didn’t matter.
Nothing mattered now.
He smiled as she lifted her face towards his, and just looked at her. Then he kissed her forehead softly. “Aye?”
“I need to tell you....”
“Tis nae a thin’
ye needs tell me.”
“Yes, there is.”
She drew a deep breath and whimpered as if the very action pained her.
“I am not clean.”
His ebon brows formed a deep ‘v’ as he reached out towards her face. “Whot? Whot
dae ye mean by thot?”
She turned away from him, not leaving the circle of his arms, but not
looking at him; not meeting his eyes. “After
I was taken, Policha....” She let
the breath out in a sigh. “I have
been his woman for many moons now.”
He could feel her trembling. He
knew she had felt him stiffen. Quickly,
so she would not misunderstand why, he replied, “Tis nae yer fault.
Spicewood pivoted. Her large
dark eyes were filled with tears. “It
does not matter?”
Alec’s jaw was tight. He
reached out and caught her and pulled her to him and held her tight.
“Dear heart, tis nae a thin’ coulds keep me frae yer side.
Ye waur lost tae me, an’ aur foond.”
He paused, waiting for his heart to calm and his breathing to grow even
once again. “Boot aye, it
She whimpered but fell silent as he continued.
“Tara-Mingo is dead; killed by his brither nae sae lang afore this.
Sae his part in th’ savagery is paid fur. Boot Policha....”
“Alexander, no!” Spicewood
touched his face. “No.
He is mad.”
“Sae am I.” His laugh
“No.” Her words were
deadly serious. “Truly
He will kill you without thought.”
“An’ sae ye thin’ I am an easy mark?”
He shook his dark head. “I
hae nae been awa’ sae lang.”
Her eyes clouded with the memory of that terrible day when she thought
she had lost him forever. “I
believed he had killed you before. And
when you did not come....”
Alexander drew a deep breath and held it.
When he let it out, it was to explain.
“I coulds nae com’ aftae ye.”
He touched her face. “I
had left ye in yer grave.”
A tear ran from her eye and down the back of his hand.
She caught his fingers and kissed them, drinking in the familiar scent of
his skin. Then she smiled and
placed her other hand on the cross at her neck.
“Like this one,” she said softly, “I am reborn.”
He smiled as he fingered the silver crucifix which had been his
mother’s, and then suddenly grew sober and paled.
He shook his head again, momentarily at a loss for words, then he
haltingly began, “I joost...remembered....”
He groped in his pocket and drew out the blood-stained locket. “This is...was mah brither’s.
Alexander’s dark brown eyes sought her face.
How dae ye....?”
She laughed and closed her fingers around his and the golden ornament.
“I brought him here.
I found him in the forest. At
first I thought....” She shook
her head and placed her hand against her temple where the deep black waves
cascaded down, masking her disfigurement. “At
first I thought he was you. It was
as if the years had fallen away.”
“I wish...” She turned
and settled into his arms. “I
wish I could say he was all right.” As
he tensed again, she added hastily, “He was alive when I left him, but
wounded. The Boone’s son was with
him. I left them here.
When Mrs. Boone and I returned, they were gone.
We started to follow their trail, but then Arrowkeeper found us and said
he had been with you, and you were going to the grave.
He nodded. “He’s a braw
lad. If thaur is onie way he can, he will survive.
I dinnae thin’ God saved him all those years afore this joost tae hae
him die haur, aloyn, an’ withoot meanin’.”
Alexander laid his chin on her head and then said softly, “Ye ken we
hae tae gae?”
Spicewood was silent a moment. “I
wish we could stay here forever.”
“Aye, mah Heart, sae dae I.” He
turned her and kissed her softly once, and then again with passion before
standing up and offering her his hand. “Still
‘nae mon is an islan’, boot a ‘part o’ th’ main.’
We needs moost help aur friends. Tis
nae happiness we will hae if th’ others die fur aur selfishness.
Noo ye stay haur fur a moment whiles I scout th’ groond afore th’
“No.” She shook her dark
head. “I will go with you— ”
“Nae. Ye will stay haur. I wiltnae be losin’ ye ag’in sae soon.”
“Alexander. I am
He turned and kissed her again, and then laughed.
“Fur th’ first tim’ in mony a year, I am free o’ fear.
I wiltnae be boot a moment. Wait
She watched him go, passing from the false twilight of the cave into the
awakening day beyond, and once he had vanished, suddenly it was as if he had
never been. She held herself still
for a moment, trying to obey, and then bolted like a deer abruptly struck by a
presentiment of danger. Once
outside she paused to call his name.
There was no answer.
She moved to the side of the cave mouth where she had left the bundle
with her husband’s sash and sword and began to turn in a circle, searching the
sun-struck land with her rich brown eyes.
“I called for my lover, but she deceived me... ” a light voice
whispered softly, paraphrasing Lamentations.
“One pretty face from the past reappears, and how quickly you forget
all I have done for you.”
The native woman pivoted.
It was Policha. Alexander’s
claymore was in his hand and Alexander at his feet.
“I can certainly
tell you have no experience with women,” Becky Boone remarked, once again
firmly anchoring her hands on her hips. “I
was sleeping and you left? How
could you possibly think a woman who had just found out that the man she loved
was alive would stay put?”
“She said she needed to rest. She seemed to be acting sensibly.”
The redhead tilted her head and stared at the tall Creek.
Then she shook it and her voice grew soft. “That depends on your definition of sensible,
He pursed his lips, pausing momentarily as he thought of his own wife,
lost so long before, and what he would have been capable of had he thought her
alive. Finally he nodded. Changing the subject he said simply, “We must go.”
Rebecca Boone’s red brows peaked in the center.
“Back to the camp where the general waits.
Spicewood knows these woods. She
will find Alexander and guide him back. We
must get you to safety— ”
“Safety? And just where
would that be with all of this going on around us?”
Becky planted her feet firmly. “You
are not taking me anywhere. I am
going after my husband.”
“And what of your son?”
The redhead’s bright blue
eyes narrowed. “You are not
playing fair. You said Israel is
surrounded by soldiers.” She drew
a deep breath. “He is as safe as
safe can get right now. It’s Dan
who is in danger....”
“And capable of looking out for himself,” Arrowkeeper countered. “Israel is not.”
She laughed and her
smile once again softened her angry countenance.
“Don’t you go telling him
“I will go after
She stared at the
tall man and chewed her lip. She
wouldn’t want to be labeled as a person who refused to give a man another
“You do not trust
“I want to. And from what
you have told me, the mistakes you made
were based on fear for Kamassa.” She
took a step forward and laid her hand on his arm.
“Even if I don’t agree, I understand that.”
Then she smiled. “He is a
special young man.”
“You have spoken
with him?” He seemed surprised.
She nodded again.
“Yes.” She didn’t tell
him that Kamassa had sought her out because he felt there was a link between
them, and that perhaps her life had been spared because of it.
Instead she wrapped her arms about her chest and smiled ruefully,
remembering their conversation. “I
think I gave him a few things to think about.”
as well. “I am sure you did.”
“And just what does that mean?”
He shook his head as
he took hold of her arm. “We must
go, Rebecca. I do not think it is
safe in these woods.”
“You are right,”
a strong voice agreed from close behind.
and his hand went to his hunting knife. As
it came free of its sheath, two figures emerged from the rustling leaves and
stepped into the growing light. When
he saw them, he replaced it and relaxed. “Copperhead,”
he said. “Adohi.”
The handsome native
was wearing his tattered British coat open so the muscles of his deeply bronzed
chest showed. He wore a pair of
deep blue breeches that ended not in boots, but were tucked into knee-high
doe-skin moccasins that allowed him to move with less noise. His rich brown-black hair was worn long and free and as
liberally decorated with feathers as his neck was with beads. Beside him stood a lighter-skinned bare-chested boy whose own
hair was much the same, though it tended toward red in the growing light.
Becky drew a
startled breath and took a step back. Ages
ago, it seemed, she had described their new Scottish acquaintances as exotic.
They certainly paled
next to this man.
She turned to look
He smiled. “Rebecca. This
is Copperhead, and Adohi, his son. He
is Cherokee. From Chota.”
to Chota,” the man in the deep red coat corrected as he stepped forward to
greet her. “I am a friend of
Cara-Mingo. And you are Mrs.
“Yes. Why have we never met
before if you know Mingo?”
Chota?” Arrowkeeper added.
at his son. “For a time we lived
in Pennsylvania. Miriam had lands
there. Now we live here, on our own
lands, purchased with her inheritance.” He
turned to Becky. “Miriam is my
wife, and as you can probably tell she— ”
“Is a white
nodded. “Does that bother you,
rose. “It takes no butter off my
bread,” she responded quickly, rapidly assessing the obviously well-educated
Does it bother you?”
out loud. “I see what Cara-Mingo
has said of you is true. You must meet Miriam sometime. I
have a feeling you are kindred spirits.” The handsome native hesitated as he felt his son tugging at
his sleeve. He turned to the boy
and listened to words whispered in his ear.
Then he nodded. “Are you
seeking a youth, older than Adohi but not yet a man?”
The redhead glanced at her companion.
A shiver; almost a premonition ran down her spine.
“We are only just now returning with information for General
MacDougall.” He met the tall
Creek’s eyes. “The Cherokee are
on their way, over a hundred strong, perhaps two hours behind us.
They come to fight; to save their land.” He smiled again at Becky, “And their friends.”
“And this boy you mention?” Arrowkeeper prodded.
“Stumbling through the woods as if blind.
We came upon him near the stream, somewhere beyond the bend.”
Copperhead’s look was dark. “I
tried to speak to him, but it was as if he did not—or could not hear me. I
did not want to leave him. I think
he was injured....”
Adohi spoke up. “He was
Becky met the boy’s deep blue eyes.
“Was his skin painted with symbols?
Did he have a cape of feathers?”
“No,” Adohi answered. “He
was wet like a fish and shivering. He
wore only what I do; a breechcloth and leggings.”
She turned to Arrowkeeper. “It
still has to be Kamassa.”
Copperhead started. His gaze
went to the tall Creek. “Kamassa?
Tara-Mingo’s son?” The other man had told him something about the boy while they
waited in MacDougall’s camp. “What would he be doing alone in the woods?”
Becky answered for him. “Running
from what he has become.” She
took a step towards the strange Cherokee. “You
must take me to him.”
She pivoted sharply and faced Arrowkeeper.
“Do you believe he can really see things?
The Creek nodded hesitantly. “Yes.”
“Well, then.” She pursed
her lips. “There is something
I didn’t tell you before....”
“And what is
me,” Becky’s voice was soft, “with him in the woods.”
Copperhead’s hand was on his own son’s shoulder. “What do you
mean—saw you?” “In a
vision. There was a stream. He
said I was running and crying.” She
glanced from him to the tall man who had become, in many ways, Kamassa’s
father. “Then he told me he saw me holding someone who had been hurt.”
She paused before finishing. “It
Arrowkeeper stiffened. He
was silent a moment. “Rebecca....”
“I will take her. I know
where the boy was.”
He looked at Copperhead. “No.
I must go— ”
The Cherokee squeezed his child’s shoulder.
“I commit my son to you. Have
faith and do the same for me. I
will take her and find him. You take Adohi back to MacDougall.
He is privy to all I know. He
will give the general the information he needs.”
At first Adohi had started to protest, but as he realized the
responsibility his father was placing on his young shoulders, he grew quiet and
held his head high. “I will not
fail you, my father.”
Becky smiled at him; reminded of her own son.
On more than one occasion he had lived up to expectations far too adult
for his tender years. She thought a
moment and then slipped a small ring off of one of her fingers. She handed it to the puzzled boy. As he accepted it, she asked, “Will you take this to my
son, Adohi? And let him know I am all right?”
The young Cherokee boy answered solemnly.
She nodded and stepped back. “Thank
you.” Then she turned on
What do you say?”
The tall Creek closed his eyes, seeking to steady himself. “It seems
the Master of Breath wills that Kamassa’s fate lies in other hands than
mine.” He looked at Copperhead.
“I will deliver your son and
your message, but then I will come back to find you.”
The Cherokee nodded once. “Agreed.
He knelt by his son and looked in his eyes.
“After you deliver your message, you will stay with the general.”
“I want you to stay with Mrs. Boone’s son.
Someone wise and forest-wary will be needed to guard him once the
fighting begins. The soldiers will
have other things to do. He is a
young boy and will be in their way. Keeping
him out of their way is your job.”
When the boy realized he was not being sent out of harm’s way, but
rather into it, he nodded smartly. “I
will not fail.”
Copperhead smiled and ruffled his hair.
“I have no doubt,” he said as embraced him before rising.
Once on his feet, he turned towards Arrowkeeper.
“He is in your hands, my old friend.
Guard him well.”
The Creek nodded. “With my
The two men locked arms and then as Arrowkeeper and the boy vanished into
the shadows of the trees, Copperhead turned to Rebecca.
She let out a dramatic sigh. “That’s
Dan’s mother.” Then she smiled.
“Please call me Rebecca.”
“Rebecca,” he grinned. “Come
grudgingly paused in his relentless pursuit of the boy Kamassa to permit his men
to rest, after having driven them mercilessly throughout the night and on into
the dawning day until even the strongest of them had begun to stumble with
fatigue. Between celebration and
search, most of them had had little opportunity to sleep. Dan on the other hand,
having been held captive in a small warm lodge, had had little else to do.
So while the painted natives who guarded him had become weary and
exhausted—and perhaps just a mite
dull around the edges—he had grown sharp.
Of course he
continued to act as if he hadn’t.
Dan pursed his lips
as he continued to work at the leather straps that bound his wrists. He was worried about Mingo.
He knew the drop the Cherokee had taken and it was a mean one; one that
could easily twist a man’s leg or snap his ribs. Of course, Mingo had known that too. The best he could hope for was that his friend had timed it
right and escaped without injury. With
any luck by now he was on his way and would find Kamassa before McInnery did.
The two of them had not been able to discuss a course of action, but he
knew in the end that was what his friend would try to do.
This whole thing—from the time Israel had been kidnapped to this
moment—was all about the boy. Arrowkeeper’s
actions, Mingo’s silence, the man Policha’s dreams and McInnery’s devilish
schemes; all of them revolved around Tara-Mingo’s young son.
The boy might be innocent, but his father’s blood was still screaming
with rage, seeking to taint everyone and everything it touched; seeking to suck
them into the same black pit that had, in the end, consumed his own demonic
He glanced up
quickly as his hands came free. No
one seemed to have noticed. Then he
drew a deep breath and held it, considering which was the wisest course. He couldn’t really take on the dozen or so highly-strung
warriors who accompanied James McInnery all by himself.
Even a Kentuckian had his limits. It
seemed this situation called for more brains than brawn—and while Becky would
have ribbed him and said he had best give up before he started—he was still
going to have to try to outsmart them.
Dan paused for just
a moment to whisper thanks. ‘Alive’,
Mingo had written in the earth. Becky
was alive. He didn’t know how the
Cherokee had known, but that one word had meant the difference between him
giving up, and him taking them down.
His green eyes
returned to the man who guarded him. He
was a lithe thin native, not as muscular as his fellows.
He didn’t look like he would offer too much resistance.
Still, the others were close and every one of them was armed with a
bright shining flintlock as well as knifes and tomahawks and other aboriginal
weapons. He just couldn’t see his
way clear to....
attention was drawn to the foliage behind the guard.
Someone was moving through the trees.
He wondered briefly if Mingo had circled around and returned, but then he
realized there wasn’t one shadowy form shifting through the underbrush, but a
half a dozen. He glanced at James
McInnery. As if the man possessed
some sort of a sixth sense, the half-Scot caught wind that something was up at
the same moment. He barked several
sharp orders and unsheathed his claymore and pivoted, running through the first
of a rushing tide of natives who quickly emerged from the forest’s dark
embrace. Like cats caught napping
by a pack of dogs his painted warriors flew to their feet and raised their
weapons and then—as the parson might have said if it had been a day for
preachifying and sermonizing about damnation—all Hell broke loose.
Dan rose to his feet
and rubbed his hands together.
Just what he had been waiting for.
Mingo paused to
catch his breath. He had sought
concealment within a tall stand of
the winding river as the dawning light had risen to paint the rushing water a
fiery red, quickly dispelling the shadows which had once cloaked him from view.
From his wet perch he watched with keen interest the small band of
soldiers he had spied earlier. They
were resting on the bank, gathering strength before proceeding.
By their Highland dress he knew they must be Dungan MacDougall’s men;
the very ones he had sent Arrowkeeper to find.
But what were they doing here? Why
were they not at the talofa?
Were they searching
His dark eyes
narrowed as he watched the nearest of them walk towards him. The young man chose
a soft spot and then sat down, placing his weapon at his side and his hands
behind his head. Then he laid back
and closed his eyes. Mingo chewed
his lip and hesitated. The growing light glinted temptingly off of the
soldier’s highly polished musket. Having
attended a military academy for a brief time, he knew what losing one’s weapon
would mean to a soldier; demotion, and perhaps dismissal from his unit.
Still, it was necessary he acquire
one if he was to continue his pursuit of Kamassa.
Even if he didn’t run into any of the Ishi Semoli or their leaders,
there were plenty of predators in the forest other than the two legged kind who
were just as deadly and could bring about an abrupt and unpleasant end to his
forward, he laid his tanned fingers on the barrel of the musket and began to
draw it and the attached bag of powder and shot into the tall grass. For his own sake, he hoped both the soldier and his
companions proved something less than vigilant.
He could just imagine what they would do if they caught him—a
native—stealing a weapon from them. A
sound thrashing would only be the
Holding his breath
he palmed the musket, but as it slipped into his fingers its owner shifted and
began to turn his way. Horrified he
froze. A moment later the Scot
pulled his black bonnet down over his nose and began to snore.
Perhaps he deserved to be demoted after all.
Several miles away
and knee-deep in bodies, Daniel Boone paused to survey the circle of warriors
that lay about him. There were
twelve in all. It had taken about
half an hour, but he—along with a group of ten or eleven Cherokee warriors
painted for war and dressed in breechcloths and boots—had mopped the forest
floor with most of the Creek who accompanied McInnery.
He had managed to fight his way close to the half-Scot once or twice, but
always the tide of battle had carried him away from his intended target.
He had personally dispatched six of the dozen Creek and was working on
the seventh when suddenly something made him look up to find an arrow pointed
straight at his heart.
There wasn’t time
to move out of its way.
Even as that thought
crossed his mind time slowed, and the faces of his wife and children flashed
before his eyes. Then he heard the
warrior cry out and watched as he lurched sideways.
The arrow the native held was loosed, but it went wide as blood began to
pour down his side from the gash a well-placed ax had left as it penetrated his
shoulder. Dan whispered a quick
prayer of thanks and then pivoted to acknowledge the one who had saved him.
Surprise froze him
in his tracks. It was a woman; an
Indian woman in full battle regalia. Her
long hair was skinned tight against her head and tied, its ends falling to her
waist in a cascade of errant curls. Her
round face was scored with stripes of black and white paint. She wore a breechcloth and thigh-high boots like the men, but
unlike them, sported a buckskin tunic decorated mightily with beads and paint.
She was not tall, but was well-built, and gave the appearance of being
powerful. Those who moved about her
treated her with respect. He
swallowed hard and wiped the sweat-soaked hair out of his eyes.
He had heard of war women before, though he had never seen one. Often such a woman had been driven, through some grave or
dire circumstance, to cross the all but inviolate line the Cherokee drew between
the sexes. Most often it was a
matter of revenge. She nodded to
him and then shouted something in her own language and pointed her lance towards
the nearby trees.
following her gesture. McInnery’s
svelte form was just disappearing into the darkness.
Without hesitation he started after him, but the woman soon caught up to
him and held him back. “My men
will watch where he goes. You are
frontiersman turned back towards her. “You
She nodded. A strange light entered her eyes. “Is Cara-Mingo with you?”
He noticed she spoke
English well. “He was,” he
answered as he dusted off his jacket and his pants.
She smiled at the
quaint word and was suddenly transformed into a very young and very pretty girl.
“Taya,” she said as she shook her long hair.
“Cherry.” She watched as
Dan glanced once again at the trees which had swallowed their enemy and read his
thought. “He will not get
“All the same,
Miss Cherry, I have a personal score to settle with that man.
So if you don’t mind....?”
“Where is Cara?”
Dan retrieved an
abandoned flintlock from the ground and checked its sight as he
answered. “Somewhere, here, in the forest. We parted ways a few miles back on the trail.”
He frowned as he looked down at her. “Why?”
“I would speak to
reached up to tip his coonskin cap back, but then he remembered it was missing.
That was another thing McInnery
owed him for. “I guess since you
are all gussied up and ready for a fight, you might as well come along with me.
I’m bound to run into him sooner or later.”
As she nodded and began to move with him, he stopped and turned to face
her. His green eyes narrowed as he
asked, “You are a friend? I mean,
you ain’t fixin’ to hurt him?”
The lovely young
woman smiled sadly. “I could
never hurt Cara. I love him.”
That made his
eyebrows go up. He cleared his
throat and then asked quietly, “And what exactly might it be you want with
She hesitated as she
shifted her quiver so the strap lay more comfortably across her ample breasts.
“I made a promise once. I
need to be freed of it.”
“Does this have to
do with why you are here? Dressed
like this and in battle, I mean?”
towards the trees and they started to move forward again.
“In part. I seek revenge
for one I lost many years ago. Once
it is found, I will fight no more.” Suddenly
she appeared very weary, as if what she did went against her heart.
They walked a few more steps and then, at the edge of the forest, came
across one of her men. She exchanged a few words with him and then nodded.
Looking at Dan she asked, “Do you want the others to come with us?”
He shook his head.
“This is between him and me.”
She knew the look.
“Tla,” she said sharply to the other man, ‘we go alone.
You are fortunate, Mr. Boone.”
“And why is
The young woman
gazed off into the distance. “The
one who owes you is ahead. The one
who owes me is dead.”
“And that would
She gripped the
beechwood handle of her pipe tomahawk. “I
do not speak his name. The brother
of Cara; the one the sun god would not love.”
“I knew him.”
Dan squinted into the rising sun. It
was still a few hours until noon. Odds
were the renegade Creek would not attack until dark.
There was still time to find Kamassa and get back.
“So why is it you are
Cherry drew a deep
breath and shuddered.
“To kill his
Mingo stood beside
the stream watching the light sparkle as it leapt from wave to wave. He had rested the flintlock against the trunk of a nearby
tree and knelt to splash water on his face.
He had had very little time to rest, and though he had spent some time sleeping off the blow to his head while still in
the Creek camp, somehow unconsciousness did not refresh a person quite as one
might have thought it would. Shaking
his wet hair back, he straightened and reached for the weapon.
Then he heard the
His gaze flew to the
tree and he realized the musket was gone. Slowly
and deliberately he rose and turned, only to find it pointed directly at his
chest. He raised his head and held
it high and moved forward until the shining barrel touched his bare skin. From
that precarious position, he addressed the trembling figure that held it.
“Are you going to
eyes were filled with tears. He was
soaked to the skin and appeared feverish. Leaves
and small branches decorated his tangled hair, and his rich copper skin was
covered with tiny scratches and abrasions as though he had been running
recklessly through the trees. “It
is my right,” he said at last.
Mingo drew a deep
breath and let it out slowly. “Yes,
it is. But will you hear me out
The boy shook his
head. “Why should I listen to you
tell lies about my father?”
“I do not lie.”
Mingo’s voice was even. “Kamassa,
I never lie. If I speak, you will
hear the truth.”
“How do I know it
is the truth? How do I know this?
All men will lie to save their lives.”
“You will know it
is the truth because, if anything, what I tell you will make you want to kill me
even more.” Mingo paused as he
reflected on the events that had brought the two of them to this pass.
“But it is the truth, Kamassa, and whether I die or whether I live, you
should hear it. It will...”
The barrel wavered.
“Set me free?”
Mingo’s smile was
Perhaps it will set us both free.”
He lifted a hand and wiped away beads of sweat.
“Shall we move under the tree? The
sun grows hot....”
The boy shook his head violently. “I
want to be here, where my eyes can see the water.”
“May I ask why?”
Kamassa shifted, planting his feet firmly on the muddy ground.
Mingo closed his
eyes. It had happened, not so long
ago, not so far away from this place. Two
men had met at the water’s edge, brothers like Jacob and Esau, both ripe with
flaws and imperfections; both determined to live, and both destined—in
a way—to die.
He drew another breath and began to speak slowly,
choosing his words carefully,
“It was late autumn, the grass was brown, the leaves were dead, and smoke filled the sky....”
-Continued in Seventeen -