Blood Was Only For Bleeding

Chapter Sixteen

  

            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. 

Unless.... 

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.

            One word.

            Only one.

            “Alive.”

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            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 later.”
            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?”

            “How old?”

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.

            ‘Brother?’

            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.

            “Arrowkeeper?”

 

                                                                                        ###

            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?”

The tall 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.”

            “Soldiers?”

            He nodded towards Spicewood and looked at her as he replied. “They are as her husband; Highlanders.  A man—MacDougall—commands them.”

            “Dungan MacDougall?”

            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....

“Rebecca?”

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.

            No one.

            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 wicked.’

            Her eyes went to the Heavens and she spoke aloud.

“Alexander’s God....  I hold You to Your promise.”

 

                                                                                            $$$

 

            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 pain.

            “Spicewood?”

 

                                                                                            ###

 

            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.

            “Alexander?”

            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.  Tis his.”

            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 matters.”

            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 was dark.

            “No.”  Her words were deadly serious.  Truly mad.  U-nas-tis-gi.  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.

            “Alexander?”

            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.  I fear....”

            “Finlay?”

            Alexander’s dark brown eyes sought her face.  “Aye.  Finlay.  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.”

            “Then he’s...?”

            “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.  I...”

            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’ cave.”

            “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 afraid....”

            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 haur.”

            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.

            “Alexander?”

            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. 

            “Alexander?”

            “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, Arrowkeeper.”

            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.  “Go where?”

            “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 that.”

“I will go after your husband.”

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 chance.  Still....

“You do not trust me.”

Becky hesitated.  “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.”

Arrowkeeper grinned as well.  “I am sure you did.”

Becky started.  “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.

Arrowkeeper whirled 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 at Arrowkeeper. 

He smiled.  “Rebecca.  This is Copperhead, and Adohi, his son.  He is Cherokee. From Chota.”

“Lately returned 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. Boone?”

Becky nodded. “Yes.  Why have we never met before if you know Mingo?”

“You left Chota?” Arrowkeeper added.

Copperhead glanced 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 woman.”

            He nodded.  “Does that bother you, Mrs. Boone?”

Becky’s brows rose.  “It takes no butter off my bread,” she responded quickly, rapidly assessing the obviously well-educated man.  “Why?  Does it bother you?”

Copperhead laughed 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.  “No.  Why?”

            “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....”

            “Injured how?”

            Adohi spoke up.  “He was limping.”

            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.”

            “Rebecca.  No.”

            She pivoted sharply and faced Arrowkeeper.  “Do you believe he can really see things?  True things?”
            The Creek nodded hesitantly.  “Yes.”

            “Well, then.”  She pursed her lips.  “There is something  I didn’t tell you before....”

“And what is that?”

“Kamassa saw 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 was him.”

            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.  “I will.”

            She nodded and stepped back.  “Thank you.”  Then she turned on Arrowkeeper.  “Well?  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.  Adohi?”

            “Yes, father?”

            He knelt by his son and looked in his eyes.  “After you deliver your message, you will stay with the general.”

            “A-do-da, no....”

            “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 life.”

            The two men locked arms and then as Arrowkeeper and the boy vanished into the shadows of the trees, Copperhead turned to Rebecca.  “Mrs. Boone....”

            She let out a dramatic sigh.  “That’s Dan’s mother.”  Then she smiled.  Please call me Rebecca.”

            “Rebecca,” he grinned.  “Come with me.”

 

                                                                                            ### 

McInnery had 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 soul.

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.... 

Abruptly his 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

cat-tails bordering 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 for someone?

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 journey. 

Shifting silently 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 beginning.

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.

Mingo laughed.  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.

Dan turned, 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 Boone?”

The tall frontiersman turned back towards her.  “You know me?”

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.  “Miss...?”

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 away.”

“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 him.”

“Well,” Dan 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 him?”

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?”

Cherry nodded 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 that?”

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 be?”

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 here?”

Cherry drew a deep breath and shuddered.

“To kill his son.”

 

                                                                                                    ### 

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 hammer cock.

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 kill me?”

Kamassa’s dark 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 first?”

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 chagrinned.  “Perhaps.  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....”

“No.”  The boy shook his head violently.  “I want to be here, where my eyes can see the water.”

“May I ask why?”

“No.”  Kamassa shifted, planting his feet firmly on the muddy ground.  “Speak.”

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 -