Blood Was Only For Bleeding

Chapter Two

             

“Who are these men?  The ones who took Israel...”

“Red Heart warriors.  Ishi semoli.”

Mingo frowned, remembering with difficulty the language his older brother had spoken.  “The people...not loved?”

“The ones whom the Sun God does not love,” Arrowkeeper corrected. His jaw tightened and he frowned as his fingers closed on his rifle.  “Runaways.  Seceders.  Your white friends have begun to call them ‘Seminoles.”

“Seminoles?  Daniel and I had contact with such men in Florida.  They are creatures of the British.  They do not live this far north.”

“That is your white blood speaking, Cara-Mingo.”

The Cherokee shifted and looked at him.  “I beg your pardon?”

“The white man sets up boundaries and then believes all men will choose to live within them.”  Arrowkeeper brushed aside some low-lying branches and nodded towards the smoke on the horizon that indicated the presence of men other than themselves.  “I have traveled between Ken-tah-ten and the colony of Georgia many times, as well as making a voyage on a ship to the black pit called London and back.  As have you.  And you say you have been to this Florida.  Cannot these men come from this place and return there, if they will?”

“Yes.”  Mingo agreed, acknowledging his point.  “But the path is long and dangerous. We were surveying new land.  What would bring them here?”

The tall Creek turned away.  He stared at the distant smoke as it dissipated on the wind.   “Hate.  Hate for the white man, and a hope of deliverance from under the shadow of his hand.”

“Deliverance?  I don’t understand. Why Kentucky?  What is here?”

Arrowkeeper backed away from the blue-green foliage and indicated with a nod that Mingo should follow him.  They had traveled long into the night, stopping only when they spotted the camp-fire below and realized they would have to make a decision; would they  confront the marauding Muskogee now, or follow them and see where their path led?  As the war party had bedded down for the night, they agreed they should take the time as well to rest and gather strength for whatever lay ahead.  Returning to the place where they had stowed their meager belongings, they set their backs to an overhanging cliff and shared a cold supper.  As they finished, the Cherokee turned to his friend, intent on resuming the conversation that had begun at the edge of the hill.

“I ask again, why Kentucky?”

Arrowkeeper tossed a bone into the long grass.  “Tell me first what you remember of the Lower Creek and of their ways.”  As his companion frowned, he added, “And I do not mean what you have learned from me.”

Mingo snorted.  “From my brother then?  Only that after he returned from his time with them, he was worse than before.  What had been an unmanageable ill-tempered youth, became a blood-thirsty monster that could not hear the sound of war without participating.”

The tall Creek drew his knees up and circled them with his arms.  “And when did Tara go to live with his father’s people?”

You know that.  Shortly before I was taken to England by my father,” Mingo tossed the remnants of the rabbit he had been slowly chewing into the brush, “when our mother was dying.  It was then the men of the clan came for him.”

“And he went with them gladly.”

“If Tara did anything with gladness—other than kill.”

“You remain bitter.”

Mingo’s dark brows shot up. “You of all should know I have reason.”

Arrowkeeper nodded.  For a moment he was silent.  Then he asked, “Do you remember the clan of his ancestors?”

“Yes.  At least the one he claimed.  Bear.  The same as you.”  He was growing angry.  “Why do you continue to ask questions to which you already know the answers?”

“I ask to make you remember; to make you give voice to what you know, but what has been buried,” he touched his chest, “here, inside.  Tara-Mingo’s father’s mother was of the Bear clan, as my mother was.  Even though his mother was Cherokee, we were brothers; as you and I became with Star’s death.”

The Cherokee nodded.  “Yes.  In the end you put honor before blood.  Still, at the time....”

“At that time, he and I were alike; Red Hearts, both of us.  Angry and full of hate.”  He paused and held up his long elegant hands.  “These were the tools of a red-hearted warrior, and they were not red with paint, but with blood.  White man’s blood.”

“And red,” Mingo said softly.

Arrowkeeper nodded slowly.  “And red.”  He shifted and leaned his dark head back against the earthen wall.  “There was no red in Star’s heart.  Like you, he chose the white path of peace.”

Mingo scoffed.  “I am not so peaceful.  I have killed many men....”

“But not for gain, Cara-Mingo, or for pleasure.”  The black eyes closed.  “I have done both.”

The two men fell silent.  Mingo remained still, listening to the cry of the birds in the trees and its sister-wind rushing through the myriad leaves above and about them. He thought of the years he had passed beneath them as a boy, and of the black shadow that had walked and run at his side; a shadow which for a time had tainted the tender heart and keen intellect of the man who sat beside him.  Finally he drew a breath and said, “You have yet to tell me what brings these men to Kentucky, and what this all has to do with the boy.”  He still could not quite believe his brother had left a son.  Arrowkeeper had said little about Kamassa so far, except to tell him that he had grown up in a village in Georgia and not with his renegade brother.  He had not explained why.

“You remember the one who walked closely with Tara-Mingo?  The one whose war name was Talkoosibaksakaali?”

“Sharpknife?”  Mingo’s fingers tightened into a fist.  “Yes.  How could I forget?”

“You remember he had a brother?”  The Creek glanced at him.  “Too young to have a war name....”

“Yes, now that you mention it.  I do not remember him well.”  Mingo paused.  These were things he had not allowed himself to think about for years.  “He was with his brother the night Tara ‘died’ for the first time.  If I remember right, the name his mother gave him was Fofchokba.”

Arrowkeeper’s laugh was bitter.  “Like the green hornet he was called after, his anger knew no reason.  And anyone who came near him was stung.”  The tall Creek sobered.  “As a man, he is no different.”
            “You know him?”  Mingo leaned forward to draw another bit of meat from the cooked rabbit they had been sharing.

You know him.  He is now called Big Warrior.”

Mingo stopped cold.  He turned to look into Arrowkeeper’s eyes. “Tastanagi Thulco?”

“Yes.”

The dark-haired man leaned back and ran a hand across his face.  “I had no idea.  Dear God....”

“He did not know you either.  Not with your hair cut and the English clothes.  And the dog Gerard, who had paid him to make war on Boone’s settlement, called you by a different name—your English name....”

“Kerr....”

“Yes.”  Arrowkeeper fingered Mingo’s hair where it brushed the collar of his jacket.  Now he would know you.”

“So, he is involved in this?”

“He wears the turkey feather cloak as chief of the ishi semoli in Ken-tah-ten.  He has called these other men here; powerful men.  Many have white fathers and have been educated by the ones who wear the red coats, and well have they learned the art of war.  They are sharp men—shrewd—and though white blood flows through their veins, as it does yours, they hate their white fathers and seek to drive them out.”

“And what does he want with the boy; with my brother’s son?”

Arrowkeeper drew a deep breath.  There was pain in his black eyes. “Do you know what the name ‘Kamassa means?”

Mingo thought a moment.  “No.  I am not familiar with that word.  We spoke English and Cherokee in our household.  Not Creek.”  He hesitated, and then laughed and shook his head.

“What?  What is it?”

The Cherokee’s smile was chagrined.  “For a moment I felt sympathy for my brother.  It took me by surprise, that is all.”

“Sympathy for the devil, Cara-Mingo?”

“Tara was in many ways more of an outsider than I.  After my father married my mother, we lived in the Cherokee village with her people.  While John Murray was with us, we spoke English—though I had all but forgotten the language by the time he and Hugh came back for me.”  He paused and his face darkened with a rage that was not his own.  “My mother preferred not to speak of the brief time she spent among the Creek as Aayanchaka’s woman.”

“War Bonnet.  I know the name.  He is remembered as a great warrior and still spoken of with honor among the Red Hearts.”

“Your young men would admire him,” Mingo snarled.  “He was a killer and a brute.  He single-handedly destroyed the village my mother was visiting.  All who were there that day died—except for her—and that was only because he desired her and took her as a prize.”

“War is war.  You admit you have killed.  You have chosen sides and slain others only because their choice was different.  Was he not the same?”

Mingo’s jaw tightened and his heart began to pound.  He would never forget the look in his mother’s eyes when she was compelled, for some reason, to speak of her time with the man who was his brother’s father.  “This was not war.  It was savagery.  Tara-Mingo did not inherit his blood-thirsty nature from his mother’s people.”  He stopped and drew a deep breath to steady himself and purposefully unclenched his fingers.  “But, enough of that.  I know the Creek are your people and that you have different ways.  And that not all of your people embrace the savage joy of the Red Hearts.”  He glanced at his friend.  “You were telling me about Kamassa...  About his name....”

Arrowkeeper nodded.  “Kamassa Chaffaaka.  His name means ‘powerful one’.  It is what your brother wanted; what he expected from a son.  Among the Creek the child’s mother chooses their name at birth, but Ilhicha Kano did not.  Even in this Tara-Mingo was a renegade.”

“Expected?  But not what he received?”  Mingo shifted his position.  He checked that his rifle was within easy reach and then settled with his back against a smooth stone.  “Was there something wrong with the boy?”

 “His leg was not right.  It turned like this.”  Arrowkeeper held his hand down, made a fist, and twisted it in towards his body. “Your brother....”

“Yes?”

“When he saw it, he rejected the child.  He took him to a hillside and left him to die.”

Mingo felt his blood run cold.  “Go on,” he said quietly.

“The boy’s mother was grief-stricken.  She was not strong to begin with.  The birth was not an easy one.  Soon she died.”

“It was probably a blessing,” the Cherokee muttered.  “So he tried to murder his own son....  But the child did not die.”

Arrowkeeper shook his head.  “Ilhicha Kano had lived in my village when very young.  She came to Ken-tah-ten with her family.  She met and married your brother while he lived with his Creek brothers, before he returned to the Cherokee.  Her people had come to tend her during the birth.  When this terrible thing happened, one of them rescued the boy.  Kamassa was taken in secret to Georgia.”  The tall man sighed.  “When first we met—you and I—I did not know who he was.  When we returned to this country, with Star, I still did not know.”

“But last year, when you came looking for me, you did?”

“Yes.  But my brothers did not want me to reveal who he was.”  The tall Creek stood and stared off towards the distant horizon.  He tossed his head and allowed the wind to play with his long black hair. “He did not know he was not the son of the man and woman who raised him.”

“How has he survived if he is crippled?  Especially among men with such red hearts, who value strength and perfection above all else?”

Arrowkeeper’s smile was wistful.  “The choosing of the child’s name was not in error.  Kamassa’s power lies not in his twisted body, but in his spirit.”  He glanced at Mingo and a fierce pride shone in his dark eyes.  “He is as your friend, Boone; a symbol other men are drawn too.  He dreams dreams....  It has been prophesied among our people that he is meant for greatness.”

Mingo rose to stand beside him.  He noticed the smoke was gone from the sky.  “And this is why Tastanagi took him?  To use him?”

“Yes.  To unite the Upper and the Lower Creek as well as the other tribes against the whites; to give them hope as Boone gives his people hope.”  He paused and a shadow passed over his strong-boned face.  “He means to use the boy to stir the Red Hearts to hate, but there is one thing he fails to understand.”
            “And what is that?”

“The boy’s heart is red on only one side.  On the other it is white.  He is young and his ears are filled with the fiery words of his brothers, but he is a thinker.  He does not hate without reason.  There is hope yet he may be turned from the path of death.”

“How old is he now?”

“Fourteen years by the white’s reckoning.”

“You sound like you know him well.”

Arrowkeeper lowered his head.  Then he turned and met Mingo’s dark questioning eyes.  “Yes, I know him well. 

“He is my son.”

                                                                                    ### 

Mingo couldn’t sleep.  Arrowkeeper’s words haunted him still.  He had continued to speak, explaining that it was his elder sister who had taken in this small deformed orphan and raised him as her own.  When he had returned to his home village, after his captivity in both the New World and the Old as well as the time he had spent with Mingo and Star in Kentucky, he had assumed the role his clan ascribed to him—that of maternal uncle.  It was he who had taught the boy to hunt, who stood beside him in their ceremonies, and who had come to love him as if he had been his own.  Later, when his sister and her husband had been killed in inter-tribal warfare, he had adopted him.  When he had made the choice to return to Kentucky, to honor the debt he believed he owed Mingo, he had only just learned of the boy’s true heritage from one who had been given the knowledge by a dying elder and sent to bring word to the village.  The men of the Bear clan had urged him to remain silent and, in the end, he had done so; not because he feared them, but because he feared losing Kamassa to the only relative the boy had who was still alive.

Mingo.

The Cherokee drew a deep breath as his thoughts turned to the complex issue of fathers and sons.  He thought of Daniel and Israel, and smiled as the image of the two of them sitting before the fire filled his mind’s eye.  He could see the big man with the small white-haired boy on his knee, lovingly teaching him to carve or to read from a book. 

He had few such fond memories of his own father.  The tall dark-haired man had been an officer in the British army, and as such, had been subject to his duty and his King.  He had only been able to stay with them for a few days or weeks at a time, and shortly after his small son’s third birthday, had been called back to England.  By the time his father returned a year or so later, he had forgotten who he was.  Still, with John Murray’s new assignment had come a new commission, which allowed him a greater freedom to choose where he stationed his men, and so he had chosen to camp near the Cherokee village.  For the next three years he had visited them as often as he could, but the damage was already done. 

Then one day, his father had left their lodge never to return.  It seemed the nobleman’s inbred sense of duty had finally won out over his youthful passion and desires.  Of course, now he knew as well that in the intervening years he had married a young Englishwoman who had borne him other children.

Other sons.

Mingo closed his eyes and sighed.  After his talk with Israel a memory had surfaced; one that had not come to mind in years.  It was not only of his father, but of his mother and her other son.  A sad smile twisted the corner of his full lips.  In some ways the Englishman and the son of the Creek warrior had had more in common than the two of them, who had shared the same blood.  

He could see him still, sitting on a stool near the fire with the ancient words of his God cradled in his hand.

 

                                                                                          ###

                                                            Village of Chota, home of the Cherokee 1751

 

“Genesis twenty-five, verses twenty-one through thirty-three,” the deep voice intoned.  ‘And Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren, and Rebekah his wife conceived.  And the children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If it be so, why am I thus?’ And the Lord said unto her, ‘Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels, and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.’ ”

Talota’s dark eyes went to her handsome husband.  He sat near the fire with the talking leaves in his hand.  Her two small sons sat obediently at his feet, listening to words that held no meaning for them but drove a dagger through her own heart.  She laid her hands atop her beadwork and stared at the two boys—so like they might have been twins and yet, so unalike.  Tara-Mingo, the son of War Bonnet, the Creek, was slightly taller.  He was older as well and, due to his nature and his desire to excel at running and hunting and all the skills of war, was burnt the deep red of the earth from exposure to the sun.  Cara-Mingo was smaller and lighter-skinned, not only from his white blood, but from the fact that he tended to stay by her side.  His joy was found in hearing the tales of the old ones and learning his people’s history and their ways.  When he was not in the lodge with her, she would find him walking with his elders beneath the swaying trees, listening to their wisdom and their songs.  And though he, too, loved to run with his uncle, her brother, and the other men, and was skilled as much as any small child could be with their tools, she dreamed that one day he would be a medicine man or storyteller, for Cara-Mingo’s soul was that of a poet or a priest.

            “ ‘And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb’,” the Englishman continued in his cultured voice, not so much reading as speaking the verses from memory. “And the first came out red all over like an hairy garment, and they called his name Esau.  And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob.”  He paused to stare at his son, still marveling that he existed and that he was here, in this place, with this woman whom fate had joined him to and whom he had grown to love.
            “And the boys grew, and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field, and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.  And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison, but Rebekah loved Jacob.  And Jacob sod pottage, and Esau came from the field, and he was faint. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Feed me, I pray thee, for I am faint.’  And Jacob said, ‘Sell me this day thy birthright.’  And Esau said, ‘Behold, I am at the point to die, and what profit shall this birthright do to me?’  And Jacob said, ‘Swear to me this day’; and he swear unto him, and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.”

John Murray closed the Bible and laid his hand upon it.  He had finished the story and now, as was his fashion, he questioned the young men before him.  “And what is the meaning of this story?  Tara?”

The dark-skinned boy thought a moment.  Then he lifted his head and met the white man’s steady gaze with defiance. “Do not trust those you think you know.”

The Englishman pursed his lips as his pale blue eyes narrowed.  “Anything else?”

“If you have a thing and it is yours,” the boy said slowly, thinking it through, “do not surrender it, for you may not know how great a thing it is until you have lost it.”

John Murray gazed at the tall eight year old.  Their relationship had become even more strained in recent days since a party of Creek had come into the area and begun to court the boy.  Tara was sharp.  He already understood the basics of sound military philosophy and, in a child, that was frightening.  His eyes shifted to his own son.  The boy was quiet as usual, his thoughts taking him elsewhere.  “Cara?”

The dark head came up.  “Father?”

The Englishman stared at him.  In some ways they were strangers.  His duties to the Crown called him away so often that at times he felt more like a visiting uncle than a father.  He had tried, when he could, to instill the proper values in the child, and to ground him in the fundamentals of honor and duty, but there was in him a streak of rebelliousness that had led them to the point of confrontation many times.  His dark-skinned wife had wept when he disciplined the boy, but it was necessary.  He was a dreamer, and as such, the world would quickly destroy him if it could.

“And what are your thoughts?”

As the child was two years younger than his half-brother, his thoughts did not turn on betrayal or gain.  He stood and laid his hand reverently on the calf-skin binding and smiled—his father knew—as much at the soft touch of the leather as at the powerful words captured between the skins.  His dark brown eyes sought his father’s and he said, “Jacob’s mother loved him.  His father did not.”

The older man blinked.  “Is that so?  And, Cara, why do you think that was?”

“Esau was strong.  Jacob was weak.  That is why a woman loved him.”  Tara rose as well.  He stood with his back stiff and his head held high.  “And that is why he sat in the tents all day like a woman.

“I did not ask you.  You will remain silent until spoken to.”  The Englishman’s voice was stern.  “Cara, why do you think Rachel loved Jacob more than Esau.”

The boy thought for a moment.  He looked at his mother and then he said softly, “Because he loved her more than he loved his father.”

John Murray’s eyes narrowed.  His fingers touched the boy’s briefly and he said, “Yes, I suppose he did.”  The tall man rose then and adjusted the waist-belt that held his sword.  He glanced at Talota where she sat quietly in the corner.  Their eyes met and hers spoke volumes without words.  He cleared his throat and then said smartly,  “I must go.  A courier is due from the fort today, and there may be news from Scotland of my father.  Talota, come and see me off.”

As the Cherokee woman rose and went obediently to his side, she glanced at the two boys.  Her fingers touched her youngest’s head and she smiled.  Then she turned and followed her husband out the door. 

The moment the blanket fell across the opening Tara pivoted and shoved his small brother hard, knocking him to the ground.  The slender boy shook himself and quickly regained his feet.  Then he backed away.  His brother pursued him until he had him pinned against the side of the lodge.

“Leave me alone,” he whimpered.  “Mother! ”

The other boy’s hand went over his mouth.  “A warning,” he said, his black eyes fierce.  “If I had been Esau I would have taken a knife and slit Jacob’s throat, and then bathed my hands in his blood.”

Cara-Mingo’s eyes grew wide. 

“And I will do the same to you, if you ever cross me or stand in my way.”

 

                                                                                ###

                                                            Near Boonesborough, KY 1776

 

Like stones in a clear stream, the memory of that day was lodged in his heart.  He had not known it then, but it had been the beginning of a long road with a premature burial at its end.  It had also been the day his father had ridden away never to return.  His grandfather, William Murray, an imprisoned Jacobite, had suffered a stroke.  Unsure of how long he would live, the family had called his only surviving son, John, home to assume his duties and to prepare for the time when he would become the fourth Earl of Dunmore, Viscount Of Fincastle; Lord Murray Of Blair, Moulin and Tillemot.  In England lay his duty and his future, and even though his heart remained behind in the Kentucky wilderness with his dark-eyed Cherokee wife, in time that heart grew hard, until Singing Wind was nothing more than a memory and the small son they had created together, only a promise unfulfilled.

“Cara-Mingo?”

His dark head came up sharply.  Arrowkeeper had returned from the woods.  He had gone to spy on the Creek, to see if their number had grown from the three or four who had escaped his whip and Tick Licker’s sharp teeth.

            “Well?” he said.

            “They are on the move.  Now there are a dozen or more.”

            “Is Tastanagi with them?”

            The tall man shook his head.  “No.  Most are Muskogee.  Most I do not know.”

            “Most?”

            “Goingsnake is there.”  Arrowkeeper tossed his head and fixed him with his dark eyes.  “As is Policha.”

            “Policha?”  A shudder passed through him.  “You mean Preacher?”  They had first known him as James Harper, an intense young man from Virginia who had helped them out of a bad situation. Once he had mistakenly considered him a friend. “So he’s returned at last.  I suppose he still insists on quoting the white man’s scriptures and twisting them to his own ends.”

            “Yes.  Even though he continues to deny his white heritage.”  Arrowkeeper looked away.  “Once I thought he was my friend; my brother.”

            The Cherokee was silent a moment.  “This is as difficult for you as it is for me, is it not?”

            The tall man met his eyes.  He shook his head slowly.  “More.  It is more difficult than you can know.  You are who you have always been, Cara-Mingo.  There is no shame in days past, in decisions made or paths taken.  No shadow haunts you.  Like Star, you could not betray who and what you are if you wanted to.”

            Mingo stared at his friend.  The memory of that day was another written in stone.  He could still see the older man, lying on the wet grass; his life blood pouring out.  “If I remember right, that is what got him killed,” he said softly.

            Arrowkeeper nodded.  He had turned his face away from the light.  “By my hand....”

            “You did not kill him.”

            “Did I not?  This hand may be clean....  It may not have struck the death-blow, but this heart....”  The Creek paused.  “This heart was not, and is not still.”

            The two men fell silent, caught for a moment in their own memories.  About them the day marched on towards the night and the late summer sun set in blood.  Mingo stirred at last and said quietly, “Hadn’t we better move on?  The Muskogee will outpace us.”

            “They will not leave us behind.”  Arrowkeeper reached down and retrieved his rifle from the grass.  He watched silently as Mingo gathered his belongings and shouldered them.  Then as the Cherokee came to his side, he caught his arm.  “Know this, Cara-Mingo....”

            “What?”

            “Kamassa is more dear to me than my own life, but dearer still is the promise I made Star as he died.  I will not let harm befall you, though it means I must betray those whose trust I hold.”  And with that the tall man moved past him to disappear into the rustling trees.

            Mingo hesitated.  Betray those whose trust he held?

            Now what was that supposed to mean? 

 

                                                                                            ###

 

            Daniel Boone halted and drew a deep breath.  He had been keeping the same pace since he left Boonesborough—half-running and half-walking—so he would not become winded and need to stop for any length of time.  Knowing Mingo and Arrowkeeper, they had traveled through the night, stopping to sleep perhaps a few hours at most.  That was one advantage to bedding down under the stars on a regular basis and using the hard earth for a pillow; the thought of seven or eight hours of comfort on a soft feather mattress was not one that appealed to them.

            Not like it did to him.

            He took his coonskin cap off and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.  It was late August and as usual, the weather was as changeable as a woman’s mind.  Two days before it had been chilly.  He and Mingo had worn their jackets when they set out to hunt Israel, and had needed a fire at night.  Today, even though it was near nightfall, it was hot as blazes, and he thought he might just have to strip down to his shirt and put his jacket in his pack.  Crossing over to where the stream paralleled his path, he waded through the cattails and tall grasses to kneel on its bank and dip his hand in the water.  As he rested there a moment, watching a slender heron lift from a dead branch into the clear blue Kentucky sky,  he became aware of the sound of voices.  Careful to keep his powder and shot high, he slid into the water and quickly slipped behind the thick curtain of living green.

            As he suspected, it was a group of Indians and, like the Creek who had taken his boy and murdered the Jacob’s family, they were mostly Lower Creeks or what men termed ‘Muskogee’.  Unlike the ones who had kidnapped Israel, these men were not headed south toward their own villages, but back the way he had come, towards Boonesborough.  He shifted in the water as several small fish wriggled through the gap between his elbow and his kit of provisions, and then moved towards the bank hoping to catch a few words as they jogged past.  Unfortunately the ones he caught were in their own language.  Still he had treated with the Creek before and was not entirely ignorant of the tongue.  ‘Istayapka,’ one had said.  If he remembered right, that meant to take something from someone—something important.  And ‘halki’.  He was pretty sure that meant ‘wife.’ 

A chill ran down his spine and it had nothing to do with the ice cold water he was standing in.

            A minute later the Indians faded into the lush green woods as if they had never been.  Dan waited another five and then climbed out onto the bank and stood dripping, unsure of what course to pursue.  He gazed in the direction they had taken.  Then he turned towards the south and the path he knew Mingo and Arrowkeeper walked.  A moment later he closed his eyes and sighed.  He had no choice.  No matter how much Mingo meant to him; no matter what his feelings about the tall Creek and his divided loyalties, his duty was clear.  After all, Mingo was a grown man—he could look out for himself.  Becky, on the other hand....  Dan chuckled in spite of the grave situation.  It was good thing his wife couldn’t read his mind. She would have reminded him she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.  Most times, he would have agreed.  But not today.  Not when a dozen or so Creeks were headed her way with some sort of deadly mischief on their minds.  Once he got home he would have to figure out something to do about her stubborn nature.  It wasn’t going to be safe to leave her alone with Israel at the cabin after this.

            He shook himself and watched the water strike the hard earth.  Then he positioned Tick Licker over his shoulder and started back towards his home.

            And this time he ran.

 

                                                                                            ###

            “There is a gathering of the Bear and Tyger Clans.  These men go there.”

            “Do you know where it is to be?”

            Arrowkeeper nodded.  “Hahpa Chiaha.  New Chewa; the talofa of Tastanagi.”

            Mingo knew a talofa was a town without a ceremonial center.  Most likely it was not a permanent settlement, but one hastily erected on the banks of some river or creek, as was Arrowkeeper’s people’s way.  He gazed at his friend and frowned.  As the last of the daylight had faded and the night fallen, the tall Creek had grown restless.  He did not know if the words they had spoken the day before were still with him or if something else troubled his spirit—perhaps the same cloud he had sensed he walked under when they had spoken that first night, before he had told him of Tara-Mingo’s son.  “Arrowkeeper?”

            His friend turned towards him.  “Yes?”

            “You said you came here because of this debt you owe me?”

            The black eyes flicked to him and quickly back to the path they followed.  “Yes.”

            “But you also said you came here seeking the boy, my brother’s son, and you asked my help in finding him.”

            Arrowkeeper stopped.  He faced him.  “Yes.”

            “Then why do we follow the men who took Israel?  Why did we not go straight to this village, New Chewa, and seek Kamassa there?”  He paused to draw a breath, giving voice to the questions that had arisen in his mind during their long silent march.  “And when and how was the boy taken?  You have never said.  Arrowkeeper, was Daniel right?  Is there something you are not telling me?”

            The only answer he received was silence.

“Arrowkeeper?  What is this?  I don’t— ”  The Cherokee’s fingers tightened on his rifle and his eyes went to the murmuring leaves about them.  “You spoke of protecting me. Did you want to get me away from Boonesborough?  Is something going to happen there?  Is Daniel in danger?”  He reached out and caught the Creek’s arm with his free hand.  “And what did you mean by your words last night, that you would let no harm come to me even if it meant betraying those whose trust you hold?”

            Arrowkeeper would not meet his eyes.

Mingo’s knuckles went white.  “What have you done?”

The tall Creek laid his hand on his friend’s.  Mingo was surprised to find that it was shaking.  As he met the black eyes, Arrowkeeper spoke, keeping his voice pitched low so the words were only for his ears. 

“I could not keep Star from death,” the tall man said. “He would not listen.”  He stared at his friend and then a moment later brought his fist up and struck the Cherokee hard, knocking him senseless.  As he caught him and lowered his body to the ground, he added quietly, “Neither would you.”

            Lakiahhiicha?”

            Arrowkeeper straddled his friend’s form and raised his head.  His fingers gripped his weapon as he answered the man who had used his Creek name.  “I am here, Policha.”

            A slight man with wire-rimmed glasses, dressed in buckskin trousers and a long white shirt elaborately decorated with beads and gold thread emerged from the trees.  His skin was uncommonly pale for a Creek and his features refined, and from his deep hazel eyes  shone a keen intelligence tinged with madness.  He stopped when he saw the Cherokee’s body on the ground.  “ ‘For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away?’ ”  He smiled as he sought the other man’s gaze.  “Does he live still?”

            Arrowkeeper held the eyes of the man he had once called ‘friend’.  “While I live, he lives.  I have told you this.”

            The half-blood Creek whose chosen war name meant ‘Preacher’ turned as another of their brothers broke through the foliage to train his rifle on the tall man.  He nodded a greeting and then turned back.  “You walk in the valley of decision, my brother.  Have you made your choice?” he asked.  “ ‘Be thou with us...or against us’?”

            “I will speak with Kamassa.  Not with you.  Nor with that dog,” he nodded towards Goingsnake.  “I have told you what I feel; this is wrong.”

            “And yet it is the council’s choice,” the newcomer replied as he moved to stand beside Policha. 

            “The council....”

“Would you betray your brothers then?”  The slender man spoke with a slight Irish accent; the heritage of the foster family that had raised him.  ‘And David went out to meet them, and answered and said unto them, ‘If ye be come peaceably unto me to help me, mine heart shall be knit unto you, but if ye betray me to mine enemies, the God of our fathers look upon you and rebuke you.’ ”

            Arrowkeeper stared at the one he knew as Policha.  Many years before they had walked together under the shadow of the Red Heart known as Tara-Mingo, and for a short time they had been brothers in purpose and in blood.  Since then his own heart had grown white.  He had tired of the killing.  Not so with Policha; he continued to take the words of the white man’s God and to use them to add fuel to a fire that was already burning out of hand. 

            Goingsnake stepped forward.  He leveled the rifle at Arrowkeeper and then, a moment later, dropped the barrel so it pointed toward Mingo’s head.  “What is your answer?”

            Policha grinned.  “Yes.  What is your answer, brother?”

            Arrowkeeper closed his eyes.  His lips formed the words that gave lie to the truth held safe within his soul.

            “I am with you.” 

 

 - Continued in Chapter Three -