Blood Was Only For Bleeding
“What’s your pleasure, gentlemen?”
The elegant stranger turned and looked at the older man standing behind the rough wooden counter. He removed his silver-laced tricorn hat and ran a hand through his short curly ebon locks. “An’ waur ye speakin’ tae me?”
Cincinnatus shifted an empty mug and ran a rough cloth over the level surface. This man and a younger companion had entered the tavern sometime before but so far had made no move to order either food or drink. Instead they had remained on their feet and searched the face of each patron as they entered, as though expecting one of them to magically transform into someone else. “Speaking to you? Yes, sir, I was. And to your friend.” The tavern-keeper smiled broadly as he nodded towards the other man and added, “You must be mighty thirsty after travelin’ so far. I take it from your accent that you’re not from around here?”
The man, who was clothed in a close-fitting knee-length coat of a rich blue velvet with turned-back cuffs, gazed steadily at his host. “Ma brither an’ I aur waitin’ on someain,” he replied. “If ye woulds brin’ twa pints tae th’ table by th’ windaw, we woulds be mair than canty tae mak’ recompense.”
Cincinnatus’ owlish brows leapt towards his balding pate. “Eh?”
The younger of the two approached him and held out his hand. There were several coins in it. “We will be payin’ ye fur them,” he laughed.
“Oh. Oh, I see. No need, gentlemen. You pay when you’re done.” He winked. “You never know when one pint just won’t quite quench the thirst earned by a day in the saddle...or the coach?” He paused as his pale eyes traveled the length of the second man’s courtly form, taking in his fine embroidered waistcoat and silver-buckled shoes. “You come far?”
The elder of the pair, who appeared to be around thirty, nodded. “Aye,” he answered.
Cincinnatus waited, but that was all he got. He drew a breath and doggedly tried again. “If you care to tell me what your...eh...friend looks like, I might be able to point him out. ”
The man turned away. “We’ll ken when we see them.” He paused and then inclined his dark head towards a table in the far corner of the tavern; one that was away from the boisterous riff-raff and common everyday sweat-soaked settlers. “Noo if ye woulds be sae kind...”
The tavern-keeper nodded. As he watched the pair walk away, a puzzled expression settled on his bewhiskered face. Both had strong accents—Scottish by the sound of them—but there was something else; something about the cut of them that didn’t set quite right. And even though a lot of Scots had black hair, most he had met had light-colored eyes, and he knew for certain he had never seen one with such deeply-tanned skin before. With their dark looks, fancy words and even fancier ways, they reminded him of Mingo.
Cincinnatus shook his head and turned to the liquor cask behind him, intent on filling their mugs. He meant to hurry to their table so he could engage them in conversation again and wheedle out of them just who they were and what their business was in Boonesborough. He was turning to go when he heard someone call his name. Looking up he saw Rebecca Boone dressed in a pretty blue dress, leaning over the railing of the stair that led to the second floor. She was trying to get his attention.
“What can I do for you, Becky?” he asked.
“Have you seen Israel?”
He thought a moment. “Can’t say as I have. Why? Is he missing?”
She rolled her bright blue eyes and descended the rest of the way to the tavern floor. At Cincinnatus’ insistence she had come into the settlement for the day. He had walked them there that morning, and while Israel had gone to play outside—with strict instructions to stay well within calling distance—she had offered to lend a hand at the inn. Now it was evening and the small boy was nowhere to be found. Becky shook herself, certain that she was over-reacting. If there had been any strange Indians in the fort, someone would have been sure to notice. Wouldn’t they?
“When isn’t he missing? Sometimes I don’t know what I will do with that child....” She grew silent as her gaze fell on the two strangers seated on the far side of the busy tavern. She nodded towards them. “I see we have visitors.”
Cincinnatus rested the mugs on the edge of the counter. “That we do, Rebecca. Mighty curious visitors, if you know what I mean. Would you watch the counter for me for a minute while I dee-liver their ale?”
She nodded, somewhat distracted. “Certainly,” she said. Then she caught his arm. “What are they here for?”
“Waitin’ on someone.” He glanced at the pair and then back to her. “Or so they say. Why? You think you know them?”
“No.” Becky stared at the younger one. He might have been twenty or at most twenty-one. He was dressed like a gentleman in a sprigged velvet coat with a military cut and wore a black silk hat with a white cockade tilted jauntily on his dark head. An ornamented sword hung at his side. “My,” she added softly, “they certainly are exotic.”
The tavern-keeper had been on his way but he stopped dead and turned back to stare at her. He put the mugs down on a nearby table and then pressed his fists into his narrow hips. “Becky Boone,” he said sternly.
She started and looked at him. “Yes?”
“Next time Mingo comes by your place, you tell him to go away.”
The redhead frowned. “Mingo? Why?”
“That’s a mighty high-falutin’ word for the wife of Dan’l Boone to use.” He pulled himself up to his full height, lifted his nose in the air, and did his best imitation of the Cherokee’s cultured Oxford accent. “‘Eggs-ah-tick’, are they?”
Becky laughed. She grabbed the damp towel from the counter and slapped his arm with it. Then she gave him a gentle shove. “Go take care of your customers.”
He made a little bow. “Right away, milady.” Then, retrieving the mugs, he headed for the table in the corner.
Becky laughed again and shifted behind the counter. She smiled and poured a glass of ale for Dale Meriweather, the blacksmith, and asked him about his wife, Ellen. He replied that she was much better—the cough had all but gone away—but might she be able to find time to come to see her soon? The poor woman had been house-bound for two weeks and was sorely in need of some female talk. Becky nodded absent-mindedly as he continued to prattle on and her eyes returned to the table near the window and the curious pair. She didn’t know what it was about them that troubled her, but suddenly she wished Dan had not gone off after Mingo and his friend. In his easy agreeable way her husband would have sidled over to them, pulled up a chair and—quicker than you could say ‘how’d you do’—have known not only their business in Boonesborough, but the route they had taken to reach it, where they had come from and where they were going, as well as their wives’ names and the ages of their children—if they had any.
She watched as the younger of the two removed his hat and rose to follow Cincinnatus up the stair. As he walked past, his rich brown eyes met hers and he nodded. He was a striking young man, dark-complected, with straight blue-black hair pulled into a tail and tied with a golden ribbon. She watched him mount the stair and frowned. It seemed the two of them would be letting a room for the night. Hopefully Dan would return in the morning and he could figure everything out.
With a sigh she turned back to the busy tavern and pushed her red bangs from her forehead. Then she planted her hands on her hips. Her clear blue eyes made a quick circuit of the room, lingering for only a moment on the unfamiliar man who remained seated by the window, before returning to the stair. Israel was nowhere in sight. “That boy,” she murmured. Since his sister had moved out, he had gotten away with so many things. She missed Jemima being there to keep him in line.
Nodding to Cincinnatus as he slipped behind the counter and refilled Mr. Meriweather’s cup, she headed out of the door and into the compound beyond. The sun had set but it had done little to alleviate the sweltering late summer heat. As a steady breeze blew across the green, lifting her copper hair and tossing it about her shoulders, she thanked God for small favors. At least it kept the smell tolerable.
Though she didn’t know what the Cherokee must be thinking. Their village was downwind.
Moving away from the entrance to the tavern she left its dull roar behind and, lifting her hands to her mouth, called her wayward son. “Israel! Israel Boone! If you can hear me, you had best come here right now!”
Stepping into the wash of light cast by the open door, she waited. Most likely he had forgotten her warning and gone off with one of the other boys to play in the shadows that lined the settlement’s walls. Still, she was worried about him, and not only because so little time had passed since he had gone missing—though that alone was enough to send shivers up her spine. He hadn’t been himself since he had returned with his father and the other two men; not since he had been taken by the Indians and Charlie Jacobs and his family had been killed. She shuddered and wrapped her arms about her thin frame. In spite of the heat, a distinct chill had crept down her spine.
Drawing a breath, she tried again. “Israel, answer me! If you can hear me, answer me right— ” Becky stopped as a shadow fell across her path. She pivoted to find the elder of the two strangers standing in the doorway watching her. For some reason her hand went to her throat and she began to back away.
Slowly and deliberately the man stepped out of the tavern. “Mrs. Boone?” he inquired, his voice pitched low. He spoke softly, as if he feared someone might hear. “Rebecca Bryan Boone?”
“Y...yes,” she whispered. “Who are you?”
“Ye wiltnae ken mah nam’, Mrs. Boone.” He took another step towards her. “Is thaur somewhaur we coulds talk in private?”
The redhead shook her head. “Anything you have to say to me can be said here. I....” She drew another breath. The younger man was crossing the threshold and heading towards them.
He stopped beside the man in the blue coat and whispered something in his ear. Then he turned to look at her. “Mrs. Boone,” his words, unlike his companion’s, came quickly and were spoken with an unmasked urgency, “ye hae nae reason tae troost us, boot we aur askin’ thot ye might.” He glanced about the compound, as if making certain they were alone, and then held out his hand. “Will ye nae com’ wi’ us?”
Becky’s gaze flew to the tavern door. Surely Cincinnatus would wonder what had happened to her. If she didn’t return either he—or someone else—would come looking. Her eyes went to the two men. They were young and in fit shape. Even if someone did come, it might well prove too late. She took another step back. “If either of you come any closer, I will scream.”
The younger man lifted his hands in alarm. “Nae, Mrs. Boone, nae! Ye dinnae ken.” He moved forward quickly and laid hold of her arm. “Ye cannae dee thot!”
Becky reared back. She attempted to pull free and, as she did, opened her mouth to scream. The older man drew his pistol and stepped close. “We hae nae desire tae harm ye, boot we cannae let ye cry oot. Too mooch depends on uir nae bein’ taken.” He nodded to the other man who covered her mouth with his hand and proceeded to haul her into the darkness that clung to the tavern’s side.
“Dinnae be sae a bampot, woman,” he whispered, “we aur tryin’ tae help. It is ye who aur in danger!”
Even as Cincinnatus’ slight form appeared in the doorway and he called her name, Becky heard the hammer of a rifle cock. Her eyes went wide and then closed in relief as a familiar voice spoke from the shadows. “I don’t take too kindly to strange men handlin’ my wife, mister. If I was you, I would let her go real slow like, and move back out into the light.”
man’s eyes were black pools. They
gazed over Becky’s head, seeking to pierce
the darkness. “Mr. Boone?
The frontiersman stepped into the light. Tick Licker was in his broad hand and his long finger was on the trigger. “I think I’d be lettin’ her go right about now.”
He turned towards his companion. “Alec?” he asked.
The elder of the two removed his tricorn hat and ran a hand through his dark curls. “Mr. Boone. This isnae whot it seems....”
“Well, if put to it I’d say that was a good thing, ‘cause at this moment it seems to be a kidnappin’, and that gives me every right to shoot the two of you where you stand without askin’ any questions.” Dan pointed the muzzle of his rifle at the younger man’s chest. “And if your friend doesn’t let my wife go in the next five seconds, I reckon that is just what I’m aimin’ to do.”
The two men glanced at one another.
He held perfectly still. “Well?”
“Mr. Boone,” the older of the two pleaded, “if ye will only listen....”
Dan shifted and corrected his aim.
“Mr. Boone, if ye pull thot trigger, ye’ll be doomin’ nae only yerself an’ yer lovely guidwife, boot yer entire settlement.”
“An’ every white chiel, mon, an’ woman in th’ territory o’ Kentucky,” his companion added with a dramatic flourish.
Dan’s green eyes narrowed. These two seemed more like traveling players than kidnappers. Still, circumstances didn’t exactly work in their favor for him to trust them. He had been in the brush just beyond the fort when they arrived. He couldn’t be certain they were connected with the Muskogee band he had been tracking, but they had come from the same direction— up-river from the fort, near the lands both the Creek and the Cherokee claimed.
He met his wife’s stare and hid his smile. She was shaking, but the look on her beautiful face was fierce. It might have been interesting to leave these two popinjays to her.
Looking down Tick Licker’s long shining barrel, he said at last, “And how’s that?”
The older man replaced his hat and then deliberately stepped between the frontiersman and his companion. He faced Dan and his rifle without fear, even though the sight was set squarely between his eyes. “If ye are gaun tae shoot, Mr. Boone, dae it noo. If nae, I woulds ask ye tae lower yer weapon an’ listen tae whot I hae tae say.”
He was a striking individual. Short black ringlets framed high-set cheek-bones and a pair of piercing deep-set eyes. Dan paused, taking the measure of the man, and then lowered his rifle, but kept his finger on the trigger. “Well,” he said at last, “I’m listenin’.”
“Ur nam’ is MacKirdy. We cam’ frae General MacDougall tae speak wi’ ye.”
“Aye, thot be he. An’ noo I hae a question fur ye....”
Dan’s lips quirked at the stranger’s boldness. “And that might be?”
MacKirdy smiled and, when he did, his white teeth were cut in startling contrast to his deeply-tanned skin. “Woulds ye ken, by onie chance, whaur we coulds find Lord Dunsmore’s son?”
Village of Chota, 1758
Starlight filtered through the gaps in the skins that covered the cane walls of the lodge. A patterned blanket covered the door, containing not only the smoke from the burning quinine bark but the soft chanting of the medicine man and the constant weeping of the women. A young boy lay on the floor beside the sick-bed, his cheeks smeared with ashes and wet with tears. They had tried to make him leave, but he would not. Galunadi, the tribe’s medicine man, feared contagion, but he did not. He knew what killed his mother was not the fire in her veins, but the grief that leeched her heart. In the past six years, since his white father had deserted them, Talota had suffered one loss after another. Her mother’s sister—the woman who had raised her after her own mother had died long before in an attack on their village—had fallen prey to the smallpox epidemic that had devastated the Cherokee three years before, as had several of her cousins and her only surviving sister. Her brothers, Wildcat and Flying Squirrel—who had been far from the village that fateful day—had fallen in battle within the year, fighting with the French against their own people. And now her father, his grandfather, the wise old kind man who had taught him the ancient songs and chants of their people, had been brought home upon the shoulders of younger braves. Even though he had spoken against it in council, the warriors of the village had promised their bows and rifles to the British, and One Feather’s honor had compelled him to fight.
And to die.
Talota lay on the low bed, murmuring in a fitful sleep. Her breath came hard. Her face was pale and drawn; the rich beauty which had been hers fled before so much sorrow. Her thin fingers clawed the blanket that covered her, clenching spasmodically as they gripped the fine wool plaid John Murray had carried with him from his ancestral home in Scotland to wrap about the shoulders of his Indian bride. Cara-Mingo rose to his knees and took one of her hands in his, marveling at how small it seemed to have become. He brushed her hair back and kissed her hot forehead as Galunadi looked on in disapproval.
“I see you still remain in the tent, my brother. Why is your face streaked with tears and ashes, and not paint? Do you not hear the call of war?” The thick blanket had been shoved aside and a tall youth had entered. As his dark eyes fell on the dying woman, he snarled, “You do her no good sitting here weeping like a woman while the white men fight each other over the land which is, by rights, ours. Take up your bow and your knife; come with us. If we are cunning as the fox and wise as the owl who strikes in the dead of night, we cannot help but win.”
Cara-Mingo pressed his lips to his mother’s fingers and then rose. He inclined his head towards the open door and drew the other boy out and away from the tent and into the trees beyond, past the prying eyes of the inhabitants of the village who stood like statues beneath the crystal clear sky waiting for Talota to die. Once the shadows had claimed them, the slender youth stopped. He drew a deep breath and then turned to face his brother. They were of a height now and so like they were often mistaken for twins, though Tara-Mingo outweighed him by several stone and was still darker-skinned. With those two exceptions, each time the other appeared it was as if he looked into a mirror; a mirror that reflected not the young man he was, but the one he might have been had he allowed his heart to be filled with hate as his brother had.
“I see you wear the paint of war, Tara. Has the council consented to let you go with them?”
The older boy spat. “No. They are like old women. They pull their hair and shake their heads and say I am too young.” He lifted his chin and struck his chest with the flat side of his hand. “We go anyway.”
Cara’s dark brows rose. “We?”
His brother paused and his eyes went to the woods behind them. “My brothers of the Bear clan.”
“The Bear clan? The Creek, you mean?” The younger boy shook his head. “So you will fight with them, for the French and against our mother’s people? Even as she lays dying...?”
“Your mother’s people give aid to those who kill my father’s people. My father’s people are murdered day after day by your father’s people.” Tara pulled his knife and swifter than thought pressed his brother against one of the trees. He lodged the tip of it just below his ear with the blade facing his chin. “I should kill you.”
Cara-Mingo swallowed. He tried his best to keep his voice from shaking. “Why? Why would you kill your brother?”
The dark eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. “Because when I look at you I see weakness. It is as if I have been cursed to walk this land, haunted by a sick shadow that mocks my strength; a shadow that will pull me down and destroy me if I do not destroy it first.”
The same pair of eyes, set in a different face stared back at him. “Then why ask me to join you— ”
“You are my brother.” Tara shoved him and pulled the knife away. “We should walk as one in the light of the sun, not as two beneath the moon and the stars.” His Creek brother lowered the blade and, for just a moment, the black eyes seemed to plead. “Come with us tonight, Cara. Do this, and I will know we are of the same blood.”
He shook his head. “Mother is dying. I can’t— ”
“Let her die. Become a man. Be free of her. Take this,” Tara-Mingo pressed the handle of the knife into his brother’s hand, “cut the white throats of the English and be free as well of the blood that weakens and taints you” He nodded toward the shadowed woods. ‘They wait within; my brothers. Let them be your brothers too.”
Cara-Mingo gazed at the knife in his hand. He clenched his fingers about it, feeling its weight, sensing the lives it had taken unjustly, and he sighed. A moment later he cast it to the ground. Then he lifted his head and met his brother’s eyes. “No.”
Tara remained still as stone as the wind rushed about them, howling like a living thing. A star shot across the sky and clouds eclipsed the moon. “You will not?” the older boy said.
“I will not.” Cara took a step back. “Not now or ever. I will never be like you.”
His brother stared at him and then he laughed. “You say this, but you do not know. One day your heart will burn and you will know the fire that is in mine. You will kill, and you will do it because it brings you pleasure, not because you must.” Tara retrieved his knife and slid it in its sheath. “One day, you will look into this face, at these eyes, and they will be your own.”
The younger boy shook his head. “No. Never.”
Tara-Mingo laughed again. “We will see.”
As the two boys remained still, staring at one another, a fresh round of wailing arose from within the tent of sickness. Cara-Mingo swayed. He passed a hand over his face and whispered, “I must go.”
His brother watched him as he walked away and then called after him, “Save a handful of ashes for your own deathbed, brother. It will come to you soon.”
Cara turned back to look at him. “No sooner than yours. They will carry you back as they did grandfather, on the shoulders of your Creek brothers.”
“Will you tell them?”
He was surprised to see fear in his brother’s eyes. “Tell them?”
The youth frowned. Then he understood. “That you fight with the Creek?” He glanced toward the tent where his mother lay dying. “I care little what they think. Today we fight with the British, tomorrow with the French. Both take our land and both give us nothing.” He sighed. “I will tell them nothing.”
“Will you fight with the Cherokee?”
Cara-Mingo glanced toward the hill where he knew his grandfather’s body lay, beginning the slow road of decay and the return to Mother Earth. He nodded. “When my mother is dead, I will join with my uncle, and I will fight.”
The older boy watched him a moment and then he smiled. “Then we will meet again. On the field of battle. Die well, little brother.” Tara started to move away, towards a half-dozen tall shadows that had emerged from the heart of the woods. Just before joining them he turned back and called, “And may it be my arrow that pierces your heart.” Then he laughed and was gone.
Cara-Mingo closed his eyes to stop the world from spinning out of control. Everything was in chaos. He could not find any harmony. There was no balance anymore. All about him was death and more death and the insanity of war. The elders of the village wept and cried. The warriors died. The women gnashed their teeth and chanted the names of those they had lost over and over and over until the sky and the lakes, the grass and the earth could no longer contain the sound. His grandfather was dead. His uncle, Menewa, away in battle. His mother dying. And soon—as the husbands and fathers of the tribe were carried back on the shoulders of their sons—even the boys as young as he would be called on to fight and to die.
He drew a breath of the cold clean air, opened his eyes, and returned to the tent. As he entered the heat of the holy fire and the scent of death struck him hard. His fingers clenched as he walked to his mother’s side.
Her eyes were open.
“Cara....” she whispered.
He fell to his knees beside her. A tear escaped his eye and ran slowly down his cheek. “Mother.”
“Where did you go?”
Her lips were parched and dry, her voice weak, but still she commanded an answer. “Tara was here. I spoke with him. He— ”
“He goes to war like his father, War Bonnet, and his father before him.”
He masked his surprise. She had not spoken the name of the Creek who had taken her in years. “Yes.”
Her fingers sought his face and he took them in his hand. “And do you go to war?” she asked.
“So long as you live— ” he began.
“After I die.”
“Mother, you will not— ”
“I am dead already.” She drew a deep shuddering breath and coughed. “And do you go to war, son of John Murray and Talota?”
His head fell to his chest. “Yes,” he murmured.
The fingers he held gripped his hard. “No,” she said.
His dark eyes found her face. “No?”
“You will not fight.” Her other hand lifted from the blanket to close about his. “You will not die. I have spoken to Menewa.”
“Mother...” He thought she must be hallucinating. “My uncle is not here.”
“Before.” Her head rolled from side to side and she grew angry. “Before. He did not agree. He said I was wrong, but he did as I asked.”
Cara-Mingo stiffened. “Did not agree?”
She nodded and her deep brown eyes sought her child’s. “I have sent for your father. You will go with him.”
“My father?” He barely remembered the man who had given him life. And he knew nothing of the world from which he came. He shook his head, suddenly frightened. “I will not— ”
“You will. And you will promise me that you will.”
“Mother, no!” His dark eyes flooded with tears. “I will not leave my home; my people. Your people. Do not ask this of me.”
“The world is changing, Cara-Mingo.” Talota grimaced and her grip on his fingers weakened. “The white man is here to stay, and he has brought with him death and disease. He is greedy and cares not for the land, nor for the red children of the Great Spirit who walk upon its face. Too many have died.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “You will not. You will not die nameless on a field of battle, shedding your blood to buy some white man a piece of ground that he will trade or sell or lose the next day.” Her back arched with a spasm of pain. “Promise me,” she demanded. “Promise me you will go with him.”
Talota’s eyes opened and she looked at the boy who was so much his father’s son. “John Murray is a good man. When he rescued me, he could have taken me and used me as did War Bonnet. He did not. He brought me, and your brother, to my people. He did not have to; he could have sold me or kept me as a slave.” She smiled and, for just a moment, was beautiful again. “He married me. He loved me.” It faded as she again gripped the soft wool blanket hard. “He loves you. You must believe that.”
How could a man he did not remember love him? How could he, in turn, love that man? “But to leave my people....”
“He is your people, as much as I.” She looked at him once more. “Promise me. Promise me, Cara-Mingo, and let me die.”
The boy laid his head on her shoulder, pressing his tear-streaked face into the folds of the soft skin gown that covered her small frame. “I promise, Mother,” he whispered. “I promise I will go with him.”
Talota’s hand lifted and touched his dark head. “That is my good son,” she said softly, and then she died.
Near Boonesborough, KY 1776
Near Boonesborough, KY 1776
Mingo awoke with a start. His cheeks were covered with tears. It took him a moment to remember he was not in the Cherokee village and that he was no longer a boy, but a man. Once he did, he rose quickly and then had to lean back against the wall of the lodge for fear of falling. Fingering his jaw, he recalled why he was dizzy. Arrowkeeper had knocked him out.
Fighting a wave of anger and nausea that threatened to overwhelm him, he slowly crossed the open space to the lodge door. Through the cracks beside it he could see two powerful well-armed braves. He backed away quietly as one turned his head, and retreated to the other side of the room. Once there, he pressed his ear to the skins and listened. He could hear chanting; the sound of many deep voices lifted in a single cry.
“Kamassa,” they shouted. “Kamassa Chaffaaka!”
They were crying for his brother’s son.
“Finlay Dougal MacKirdy, Ma’am. An’ this is mah brither, Alexander Calum.” The young man accepted a bowl of stew from Rebecca with gratitude as he sat at her table. “Ye put me in mind o’ mah ain Ma. She makes a fine bowl at cock-a-leekie.” He met Becky’s icy stare and lowered his head like a little boy. “Can ye e’er forgife us? We dinnae mean tae frighten ye.”
“Who says I was frightened?” Rebecca glanced at her husband as one of her red brows winged toward her bangs. “I knew Dan was there all along. I was just...trying to get you to say what you wanted.”
The older of the two Scots gazed at her and a brilliant smile set his brown eyes blazing. “An’ this career ye had, in th’ theatre, Mrs. Boone.... Was thot when ye waur a wee bonnie lass?”
Becky laughed. She put a bowl down in front of him. “You two took ten years off of my life. Whatever were you thinking, approaching me in the dark like that?”
“Well, now, Becky,” her husband said quietly, “I imagine the frontier is a mite different from the fine cities of Scotland.”
Finlay smiled. “Joost sae. I hae put mah arms aroond a great mony lasses in mirk alleys, an’ neene complained.” The young man ‘oomphed’ and the smile faded from his lips as his older brother brought his heel down on the soft fleshy part of his foot. He glanced up at Becky, chagrinned. “Forgife me, Ma’am. I forget mahself.”
Dan laughed and then he glanced out the door. They were expecting Jake Lewis to bring Israel by any time. Soon after they had sorted things out with the two Scots, the little boy had come flying towards the tavern with his tail between his legs, looking out for his mother and expecting a lecture. He had nearly fainted when he saw his Pa had come home. He had been even more surprised when Dan had taken him by the hand and walked him back to the Lewis’s cabin, asking their friends if they could keep him for another hour or so. He turned back and fixed Alexander MacKirdy with his keen eyes. “So you come from General MacDougall?”
“Aye, Mr. Boone, thot we dee.”
Dan had served with MacDougall in the Seven Year’s War. He had been an able man. Stern, but fair. “And how might you have made his acquaintance?”
“He is uir grandmither’s brither,” Finlay Dougal spoke up. “An’ I served undor him while doen mah service fur Scotlain.”
“And you have a message from him for me?”
The elder of the two Scots nodded. “An’ fur Lord Dunsmore’s son. Dae ye ken whaur he is?”
Becky glanced at Dan from behind the man’s back as she served him a helping of corn bread. She knew her husband wasn’t quite ready to trust the unusual pair enough to give them any information that might put their friend in danger.
“So you know Mingo?”
Finlay downed his ale and looked at his brother. Alexander MacKirdy nodded. “Aye, Mr. Boone, thot I dee.”
Dan kicked his chair back. His grin was lop-sided. “Now don’t go telling me you both went to Oxford with him. I might believe it of you,” he inclined his brown head toward the man with the bountiful black curls, “but your brother seems a mite young.”
“Oxford? Thot den o’ iniquity? Isnae more than a playgroond fur rich nobleman’s sons.” Alexander leaned back and stretched his long legs as he laughed. “I imagine he regales ye on a regular basis wi’ tales o’ his time thaur.”
“Actually,” Becky said softly, “Mingo speaks very little of his time in England.”
MacKirdy frowned and was silent a moment. “Aye. I suppose he woulds nae, noo thot I thin’ aboot it. Unlike mah brither an’ I, Cara-Mingo’s heart has aye been wi’ his mither’s folk.”
“Unlike you?” Daniel Boone’s redheaded wife was taken by surprise. “And what do you mean, his mother’s folk?” She gasped. “You don’t mean to say...”
“They’re Indian, Becky. At least by half.”
Alexander’s deep-brown eyes met Dan’s. He laughed again. “Is it sae obvioos?”
The big man laughed as well. “Not by those clothes. And for sure, not by your speech. It’s somethin’ in your eyes and the way you move.”
Becky nodded. Now that she thought about it, it was plain as the nose on her face. “And that hair.”
Finlay smiled as he accepted another drink. “Alec got faither’s curls.” He fingered his own long pony-tail. “Mine is as streacht as a proctor’s rod.”
Dan leaned forward and stared hard at the two men. He wanted to know what word they had brought from the general, but felt he had to trust them first. “So your mother was an Indian, like Mingo’s?”
“Aye. Cherokee,” the younger man continued, “boot she was ta’en frae her folk when pure yoong an’ raised as a white. Uir faither mit her when he was stationed haur, an’ when he goed hom’ tae Scotland, she goed wi’ him.”
“And was accepted?” Now that she had finished serving them, Becky sat down beside the men. “An Indian woman?”
“Thaur was nae way a body coulds hae knoon.” Finlay shook his head. “She has nae memory o’ her folk. An’ she was lecht-skinned; coppery, uir faither called it. If a body guessed, they ne’er said aught.”
Appreciating his wife’s contribution to the questioning, Dan pressed for the answer he wanted. “So how did you meet Mingo?”
Finlay’s eyes went to his older brother. “Alexander bided amang uir mither’s folk fur a tim’.”
“Here?” The frontiersman was startled. “In Kentuck?”
“With that accent?” Becky blurted out. As the two men looked at her, she pressed her hands to her mouth.
Then all four of them laughed.
Alexander MacKirdy answered a moment later. “Aye, kind lady. Wi’ this accent.”
He knit his fingers together and placed them on the table. “I was a cheil, rebellious, ur so uir faither said. His desire was frae me tae follaw in his footsteps, an’ tae be a sodger.”
Becky’s brows peaked. “Sodger?”
Dan smiled at his wife’s perplexed expression. “A soldier, Becky. I take it you didn’t agree.”
The dark-haired man looked at him. “Nae.” He tossed his tousled head and spread his arms wide. “As yer guidwife, Mr. Boone, I formerly trod th’ boards. I was an actur.”
The frontiersman suppressed a smile. Now why didn’t that surprise him? “And how did bein’ an actor acquaint you with Mingo?”
Finlay had been facing toward the door. He turned back with a surprised look on his young face. “Did Cara-Mingo ne’er tell ye?”
“How he returned tae th’ New Worl’,” Alexander answered. “Nae, I see he dinnae. He an’ his twa Indian friends—thot Cherokee an’ th’ tall angry body by th’ nam’ o’ Arrowkeeper—joined th’ troupe I belonged tae. We waur comin’ tae America tae perform.” He pushed back from the table. “We traveled taegether in th’ East, boot when we cam’ tae th’ wilderness, they said they woulds be leavin’. I decided tae go wi’ them, tae meet mah mither’s folk.”
“And what did you find when you got there?” Becky asked softly. “Did you have any relatives still living?”
Abruptly the Scot’s demeanor changed. “Aye. They waur still livin’ when I got thaur.”
Becky sensed more than sadness in his words. There was anger. And hate.
“Call me Alexander, Ma’am.” He shifted then and reached into the pocket of his deep-blue coat. “Noo, Mr. Boone, I hae somethin’ fur ye,” he said, changing the subject.
Dan accepted the envelope with a raised eyebrow noting the official seal. “You’ve had this all the time?”
Alexander Calum MacKirdy grinned. “Well, I had tae be sure I coulds troost ye, noo dinnae I?”
Becky turned to Alexander’s younger brother. “Yes?”
“Thaur’s a wee white-haired laddie comin’ doon th’ path like a hous’ on fire. Dae he belang tae ye?”
Rebecca stood and wiped her hands on her apron. “That’ll be Israel,” she sighed.
Finlay backed out of the doorway before the small boy barreled through it and retreated into the shadows behind the door. Israel stopped at the sight of the strange man seated at the table with his father and then made a bee-line for his Ma. He grabbed her hard about the waist and just hung there. Becky put her hand on his head and glanced at his father as Jacob Lewis followed him through the door. The sandy-haired man took his hat off and nodded to her. Then he addressed Dan. “He heard some of the men talkin’ about what happened.” Lewis’s eyes flicked to the two strangers. “You may be cosyin’ up to these two, Dan, but some of the men in the town don’t half-trust them. Not after what happened.”
The big man shifted his chair back and stood. He held the note out that Alexander had handed him. “This is from General MacDougall.”
Jacob Lewis had served with the Scot during the war as well. “Dungan MacDougall?”
“Yep. These men’s uncle. He’s sent them here to warn us.”
“Dan?” Becky met his eyes and indicated her small son.
“It’s all right, Becky. If anyone knows about this, it’s Israel.” He laid the letter on the table where Jacob could see the official seal. “It seems someone has decided to rile up the Indians around here—the Creek mostly—although I take it from this there are other tribes involved.” He frowned. “Still, it appears most of them are related to the Creek in one way or another.”
“And what does that have to do with you, Dan?”
“Well, I’m not quite certain, Jake.” He looked at the MacKirdy brothers. “It says I have become some sort of a ‘symbol’ of the white man’s victory over the red-man.”
“Nae o’ victory, Mr. Boone, boot o’ th’ promise o’ it. Th’ new chief o’ th’ Creeks in Kentucky—a body whot calls himself a ‘Red Heart’ an’ leads a groop o’ Red-Hearted warriors—has decided yer success haur in Boonesborough is addin’ fuel tae th’ fire of th’ white mon’s greed.” Alexander paused. “He has it in his mind tae mak’ ye a different kind o’ symbol.”
The frontiersman’s eyes went to his family.
“Dan?” Becky’s voice was shaking. “What does he mean?”
He locked eyes with her and shook his head. Allowing Israel to hear about what he already knew was one thing. Telling the boy the Indians meant to use him and his ma to get to him was another. “On my way here, I overheard a band of Creek. I caught the words ‘istayapka and ‘halki’.”
Alexander stood. “Sae thot is why ye do’bted us. Ye thooght we meant tae kidnap yer guidwife.”
Dan stared at the Scot. “You know Creek?”
“Aye, Mr. Boone,” the dark-haired man nodded. “I dinnae hae onie choice. When I cam’ wi’ Cara-Mingo intae th’ wilderness, I ended oop in th’ middle o’ a war; ain created by a Creek an’ fueled by his madness an’ hatred fur his brither an’ his brither’s folk—both th’ Cherokee an’ th’ English.”
The big man felt a chill run down his spine. “Tara-Mingo?” he asked softly.
“Aye. Him an’ his band o’ renegades.” Alexander frowned at the memory. It was still crystal clear and painful after many years and a life lived half a world away. “Sharpknife, an’ a body called ‘ Preacher’. An’ thot great tall ain Cara-Mingo brooght wi’ him frae th’ auld Worl’; Arrowkeeper.”
“Pa? What’s he mean? What about Arrowkeeper?”
The big man watched his small son’s eyes grow round. He held his hand up to silence the boy. “ We talkin’ about the same man, Mr. MacKirdy? ‘Bout your age, but tall as me?”
“Aye.” The Scot looked puzzled. “Ye ken him?”
Dan nodded. “He just rescued my son from a party of Muskogee. He’s with Mingo. They took off soon after we got home with Israel.”
Finlay came to stand beside his brother. “Then we hae com’ tae late, Alec.”
“Tae warn him,” the older man said softly. “Uir uncle has it frae troosted sources thot th’ twa o’ them—this Preacher an’ th’ body ye ken as Arrowkeeper—may hae joined forces ag’in.”
The Cherokee’s dark head came up. Arrowkeeper was standing in the doorway of the lodge backlit by the fires that burned throughout the Creek talofa of New Chewa. “Ah,” he sighed, “my friend. My brother.
The tall man did not look away. “There is much we must talk about.”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
The Creek glanced behind him and then raised his hand and held it out in a gesture of peace. “You do not understand— ”
“What is there to understand?” Mingo rose to his feet. He was outraged. Not only by the Creek’s current actions, but at the man’s seeming repetition of an error made a decade before. “You lure me out of Boonesborough on false pretenses. You are in with the men who took Israel. You knock me senseless and imprison me.” He strode over to the man he had rescued from a cage in London eleven years before and struck him hard across the face. “What was between us is dead. We are brothers no more.”
“ ‘And he said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.’ ”
Mingo froze. He pivoted and stared into a face he had hoped never to see again. It belonged to the man who had been his brother’s advisor and one of his inner circle. His eyes went from the black leather book in Policha’s hands to the fire in his hazel eyes, and then to Arrowkeeper as the truth slowly dawned on him. “This is about Tara’s child....”
The scripture-quoting son of Creek metizo parents shifted the glasses on his nose.
“ ‘If there arise among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder...thou shalt...hearken unto the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams.’ ”
“I am sorry, Cara-Mingo.” Arrowkeeper’s jaw was tight. His head shook imperceptibly. “There was nothing I could do.”
Policha turned to the two natives who guarded the door and then he inclined his head towards the Cherokee.
- Continued in Chapter Four -