By Any Other Name
A Doctor Who/Daniel Boone Crossover
In the heart of the earth, deep in a dark womb of a cave, an eerie emerald light pulsed. It was hard to say whether the light responded to the intake of breath, or the beat of the creature’s heart. It had lain there for some time seeking, searching, learning, and waiting. Now, its time had come. Recently it had sent out runners – feelers – drawing the ignorant to itself. Now its fleshly vessels walked the rain soaked earth above. It could feel them, feel their bare feet connected to the fertile land that was its current home, tying them by tentacle, root, and soil to it mind and soul, making them the hands and feet it lacked. The creature stirred, pulsing with pleasure. This cave, deep in the heart of the Kentucky wilderness, was as much tomb as womb. Behind the enormous mass of its emerald self the physical remains of those it had taken and used rotted, replenishing that land. The creature rumbled, musing, its hideous hide glowing a sickly yellow-green for several long heartbeats. When this planet was theirs such momentary pleasures would become all too commonplace; the exquisite joy of the kill lost in the mundane.
Such were the spoils of war.
The creature quieted such thoughts and concentrated on the now. It drew the mass of its gelatinous self back into the crevice near the rear of the natural underground amphitheatre, so that only its elegant light gleamed, lighting the barren, broken floor. Humans were such pathetic creatures, incapable of accepting the concept of any shape but that of their own pale, pink flesh; all limbs and locomotion. Fortunately, the same mind that lacked the aesthetics to understand the superiority of its amoebas shape, allowed them to accept the fiction it had created. They had seen its starship fall to the earth in a ball of fire. The band that approached now had bent their knees to worship even before it spoke, believing themselves privy to the visit of a god. These primitive cultures were all the same, the creature thought as it waited, fire was sacred to them; acting as a messenger, and proving a gift from the Great Mystery.
Nothing could be more perfect for its purpose.
A rival light struck the cold stone floor, a lack-luster golden glow that paled in the face of its emerald magnificence. The fleshy one carrying the blazing stick that broadcast it whispered the name the primitives had naively given the alien – Yo Ho Waah – and then he, along with his fellows, fell prostrate on the floor.
“Arise”, the gelatinous creature hissed, its harsh, tinny voice ringing throughout the hollowed space. What fools! it thought as it watched the six men obey. “You have come to tell us that our will has been done. This is true?”
For a moment, none responded. Then the one who bore the torch lifted his head to reply. “Mother. Creator of us all,” he breathed. “Those who seek to deny your will are here. We have seen them. They wear coats of red as you foretold.”
The man glanced behind at another who answered. “Perhaps two dozen –”
“Find them!” it shrieked, its temper rising with its tone. “Their god is false! It and they must be destroyed!” The creature quieted, remembering the part it now played. Pitching its tone low, making it intimate, it whispered, “We cannot let our people bend their knee to a false god. Now can we, Gawonii?”
The leader of the human band – they called themselves ‘Cherokee’ – raised his furry head. His eyes glistened with the liquid known as ‘tears’ – an act that proclaimed the specie’s weakness to its enemy. “We live only to work your will, Yo Ho Waah,” he breathed.
“As it should be,” the creature gloated. “As it should be. Now, go! And remember, do not return without the one who is called ‘He Who Dances in Lonely Places’. Do you remember what you must do if those who hold him resist?”
The Cherokee medicine man rose to his feet and approached, stepping into a pool of emerald light. His close proximity made the stink of his filthy human flesh clothed in dead hides offensive, though no more so than the fact that such a repulsive thing existed at all. “I remember, Mighty One,” he replied, keeping his eyes averted.
Gawonii spoke as if entranced. “The ones wearing red coats that we seek will appear as the others, but they are not the same. They will use weapons we have not seen; weapons that speak words we cannot understand and shine as your glorious light even under the noon day sky. They are as the mountains. Though they cannot easily be broken, as rain can destroy rock, they can be overcome by those who know the secret.”
“And what is the secret?” it prompted. “Choose one of your fellows, and show me.”
The human turned as ordered and signaled to one of its band. The unsuspecting man rose to his feet and approached, stopping just short of where Gawonii stood bathed in green light. The medicine man took hold of the other man’s shoulders, pivoted him so he faced the cave wall, and then took a step back. Reaching for his weapons belt, the Gawonii gripped the handle of his hunting knife and in one swift movement, plunged it into the base of his comrade’s neck, killing him instantly. As the man’s body crumpled, Gawonii wiped the knife on his buckskin leggings and then turned stone-faced to seek his god.
“Excellent,” the mass of emerald green biomatter known to the galaxies as the Rutan Ranee chuckled. “Excellent.”
Victory was assured.
The Time Lord would be theirs.
The woman with spiraling blonde hair hesitated outside the crude tavern door. She sniffed, scowled, and then sneezed. Such a place to find a nobleman in! It made her doubt their source. But then, their source had implied that this particular man was a bit of a law unto himself – something like the one she was so fond of. And so she found herself here in a frontier fort on the edge of nowhere, knee-deep in pigs and poultry; her nose rankling with their combined odor, hand hesitating above a wooden latch, wondering if she was doing the right thing. The woman’s pert painted lips crinkled with wry amusement.
Now wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?
As she hesitated considering her options, there was a sound, something like a bull bellowing - well, really more like a mangled moo – and a thin beam of light spilled out of the tavern’s interior to illuminate the not so neat night. It was raining cats and dogs. Of course, not literally – though she had seen that before – but the heavens had opened and since she had spied this particular hellhole a few hours back out of the stagecoach window, the rain had not ceased. The dirt path she trod in her fine if ruined black boots might as well have been a mud bath.
“But it is soooooo good for the complexion,” she cooed to herself as she flung a spiral of blonde hair sodden to brown out of her eyes.
A second later, as if psychic, she stepped back clearing the spot before the wooden door just as a man’s body hurtled out of it. His wide blue eyes assessed her and shone with approval as he flew by. At least they did before they ended up, along with the rest of his hide-tanned aspect, face-down in the mud. Sputtering, he righted himself, and then let loose with a string of curses that were worthy of a seasoned pirate discovering that termites had infested his peg leg. The blonde woman listened, noting the few she did not know, filing them away for future use. She reached inside her cloak and pulled out a gold watch. Opening it, she glanced at the face. Yes, it wouldn’t be too long before that other man she kept track of stepped into the thick of it.
She’d have need of a few good curses then.
Four point two seconds later the light spilling out of the tavern – full force now that the door was open – was eclipsed by a mountain of a man. He was quaintly dressed in a pair of brown pants and a red shirt, with a pair of braces binding the one to the other. The woman winced. Suspenders, not braces. Her accent would bring her enough trouble without using words considered not only odd, but undeniably British while in this place. Eighteenth century America was a melting pot, but that was in the big cities. Here in the wilderness a stranger – someone suspect – most likely wouldn’t melt, but burn.
The man halted once he realized she was standing there, in the shadows. He turned slightly and the golden light revealed what turned out to be an attractive well-proportioned face, made handsome by a brilliant lop-sided smile and just a hint of dimples. He reached up and tipped the curious fur hat he wore perched on his brown head, hesitating a second before his long legs carried him off the porch, down the stairs, and into the expanding pool of mud that had, at one time, served as a road. The blonde woman watched, more than faintly amused, as the giant bent and lifted the other man out of the mud with no more effort that it would have taken to lift a baby. As another string of curses painted the air in the frontier fort blue, the man in the fur hat leaned over and whispered something in the mud man’s ear. As he did so, he tossed a glance in her direction. Chastising the poor creature, no doubt. Mind your manners. There’s a lady present.
She laughed. Little did he know.
As the fur capped giant wrapped one impossibly long arm about the mud man’s shoulder and turned him away from the tavern, he tossed words back over his shoulder in the way someone superstitious did salt – almost as a charm against evil. “I’ll take him home. We don’t need no more trouble,” he shouted. “’Natus, you tell the boy to follow.” And with that, the pair disappeared into the night.
The blonde woman turned and looked inside. She could see several men locked in a heated debate. At least two wore crimson coats signifying that they were in His Majesty King George’s army, and another four looked like they were, at the very least, his Majesty’s cheerleaders. The epaulet on one of the redcoat’s shoulders indicated he was an officer of some rank. There was a tough old bird of a man hovering near the group, flapping his arms like a chicken in sight of a knife. Probably the tavern keeper. He seemed to be offering free spirits to the soldiers – seeking to keep their custom no doubt – though the offer had little effect. The British soldiers soon followed the mud man out the door. The woman’s blue eyes narrowed as she watched them go, wondering if the one she sought was among them. But no, there had been no mention of a military career. The blonde woman stepped into the pool of light spilling out of the door and looked into the ill-lit room, searching it with her eyes. There were a few women, several other men, hide-tanned as well – it seemed to be a hazard of the area – and a few children. But, she didn’t find the object of her search. Maybe her source had been wrong.
As she shifted, preparing to enter the tavern, a sudden sense of something stopped her. There was no sound. No movement. But, abruptly, she was keenly aware of being watched. Unnerved, the blonde woman laughed again – a touch nervously this time – and said softly, “Oly Oly Oxen free.”
A tall form separated from the darkness masking the far side of the porch – a form topped by two soldier-straight feathers riding high on a head of hair black as midnight’s shadows. It fell in a single shining wave to a pair of broad, bronzed shoulders; the lush dark ends brushing the painted leather vest that only partially concealed the man tightly muscled chest. Not really her type, she thought with an appreciative sigh. Pity.
As the man stepped forward, she saw that he was handsome as well, with dancing eyes black as his midnight hair and a generous mouth that, though rather stern at the moment, betrayed itself by its desire to smile. A noose of colored beads circled his throat, ending in a knot of silver. Dark fingers gripped the handle of a deadly looking knife, and several other weapons hung from a belt anchored low at his waist. The blonde smiled at the arsenal. She might have been wrong. Maybe he was her kind of man. The stranger remained still as she assessed him – which amused her even more. The vest she had noted earlier was a soft ivory leather, and the pants that it topped – well, they were odd. Blue cloth with a single red stripe running down the outside seam. They had the look of a military man’s, but seemed curiously out of place.
Just like her.
The blonde extended her hand. “You’re my first native,” she remarked as she waited for him to take it. His response was to look puzzled. Perhaps he didn’t understand the language. “You, native,” she tried again. “Me, English.”
He shook his head. “Me, English.”
“No, me speak English. You, speak native.”
“No. You, English.” He pointed this time. “Me, English too.”
She sighed. This might take a while. The woman reached out and fingered his beads. With a nod, she indicated the feathers in his hair. “You, my friend, are native. An Indian. What some in this day and age call a savage. While I am –”
He caught her hand in his and then, in a mellifluous voice, quoted, “What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” And with that, he ducked his head and gallantly kissed the fingers that he held. When he straightened up, he favored her with a brilliant smile. “Though, I fear, I cannot lay claim to being Romeo – not to a Juliet whom I have just met.” The smile grew into a grin. “Oft times silence hath more eloquence than speech.”
Seldom had she been rendered speechless. This was one of those times. This was not what she had expected. Not at all.
River Song lifted one eyebrow, punctuating her surprise.
“Lord Murray, I presume?”
The man sat up abruptly and blinked. Then he blinked again. And again. Maybe, he thought, blinking in time with the klaxon sounding through his brain would break the cycle of intolerable noise and unbearable pain. But it didn’t. Suddenly sick to his stomach, the man lay down in the long wet grass and breathed with it instead. Ah-wooga. Breathe. Ah-wooga. Breathe.
“Ow! – wooga,” he sighed and lost consciousness again.
The next time he woke it was to bird song. A shiver ran through him at the sound, though he couldn’t imagine why. Reaching up, he checked his hair for the aftermath of their passing. “Ah!” he said as his long fingers encountered a mass of goo, “that explains it! Birds bulging with –” He disengaged the sticky mass and brought his fingers before his face. There were five of them, he noted, which was a good thing. At least, he thought it was a good thing. But they were covered with a dark substance, not the pale poo he had expected. Involuntarily, he stuck the longest finger into his mouth, sucked, and then spat out what amounted to a medieval delicacy.
“Blood!” There was a second’s pause. “Mine, I wonder? Or someone else’s….”
Imprudently – as he was about to find out – he leapt to his feet and turned about in a tight circle, seeking something reflective. The action set his stomach churning and the klaxon sounding again. Falling to his knees he retched but brought up nothing, indicating it had been some time since he had eaten. Not that he wanted food.
But he did have the strangest craving for a good dark cup of tea.
Lifting his head, the man glanced around. Trees. Lots of trees. Many, many trees. In fact, the whole landscape was possessed of a sort of tree-ness. Dark. Forbidding. Really rather threatening. Like the old braided-bark hoary-headed things might suddenly come alive and eat him.
“May their stomach feel like mine,” he wished as he climbed to his feet...slowly this time.
This time as well, instead of moving, he remained still and listened as a soft rain began to pelt down around him. The klaxon of pain was less noticeable now. Unfortunately, what made it so was the upsurge of an incessant ringing in his ears that, coupled with the unending bird song, was just about enough to drive him mad! “Oh,” he told himself as he came to a decision, “I am soooo going to regret this.” With that, the man raised his face into the rain and toward the ceiling of leaves that nearly blotted out the newly risen moon and shouted, “Will you shut up?”
It worked. Silence fell. But so did he, to his knees again. Panting, he waited a moment and then began to rise for a third time, moving like a man of several hundred years age. Once on his feet he listened again – and, this time, found what he had been seeking. Somewhere, not too far away, there was a stream. Still, he had a problem. Hearing the sound of running, burbling water had not been too hard – orienting himself in which direction it lay was going to prove far more difficult.
After a moment, on impulse, the man licked his finger and raised it in the air – as if that would help. He whooped when, surprisingly, it did – even though the exclamation made him wince. For some reason, he knew he had to turn to the right, proceed ninety two paces, and he would be there.
“Queer, that,” he muttered as he started to move. “Must be part Pointer.”
The band of silver water turned out to be less of a stream and more of a creek, but it was wide enough and slow running enough for what he needed. Dropping to his knees – on purpose this time, imagine that! – he knelt on its bank and leaned forward in order to examine the visage it reflected.
He didn’t know it.
A long pale face with a high forehead, crested by a mop of unruly black or deep brown hair; eyes that were neither dark nor light, rather full lips, and a nose that, while it would never be classified as ‘Roman’, would never be labeled ‘pert’ or ‘cute’ either. It rested in the middle of his face like a stone monument. The remnants of a ragged shirt hung on his lean, almost gaunt frame. The tattered garment was stained about the shoulders. Looking away from the creek and down, he saw he was wearing a pair of dark trousers and short boots, also showing signs of distress. Glancing again at the visage riding on the water, he noted his white skin was stained as well, especially about the high forehead. Reaching up he gingerly felt the area of his hair thickest with the dark goo. When his probing fingers struck its center, they sent a shock wave of pain rippling through his body and he momentarily blacked out.
Fortunately he fell sideways onto the wet grass and not into the water.
Darkness. With wild, gyrating lights. He was being held. Tightly. His hands and feet and waist all caught in bands of cold steel. There was a harsh grating voice, gloating with triumph, shrieking, shouting, ringing through a head that could no longer think. Think. Where was she? Where was he?
Why couldn’t he think?
Panting, the man sat bolt upright even as the vision faded. This time he didn’t lose consciousness, but the nausea gripped him and would not let go. He dropped back to the rain sodden grass gasping like a fish out of its element, waiting for it to pass, growing weaker and more exasperated with himself each second that his body failed to obey his unspoken commands. Closing his not light not dark eyes, he fought…what? To gather his strength? No. To gather his thoughts. He had to think, had to put everything together, had to make his mind work –
“Mister? You all right?” a small worried voice inquired.
The man’s eyes opened. He frowned as they focused on the speaker. Why had he expected to find a little redheaded girl? Instead, a white-haired boy with one hand anchored on each side of a dark brown, fringed, thigh-brushing buckskin jacket stood staring down at him, a slightly judgmental if marginally concerned look wrinkling his moon-pale freckled face. Words formed. An answer of sorts, but they made no sense. Something about a box and a swimming pool. The man drew a breath against the pain and replied, “You know how grownups always tell you everything is all right, even when it isn’t?”
A man – albeit a small one – of few words. That was good, considering the circumstances. “I’m fine,” the man grunted as he forced himself into a seated position.
“You don’t look fine,” the boy countered, squinting as he assessed his ragged condition.
That brought on a twist of the boy’s pale rose-petal pink lips. “Ma says lyin’s against the Good Book and only bad men lie.” He paused as if reassessing him. “You a bad man?”
“I….” The man paused. There was a flash of the image of him being held in metal bonds. With it came a sharp pain in his head. “Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know.”
“From England. You sound English. You ain’t a redcoat, are you?”
“Would it be a bad thing if I was?” he asked, still wincing with pain.
The boy pondered it for a moment before answering. “Well, from what Yad says about them Englishmen we got in town now, I should leave you here to die.” The white-haired boy’s brow furrowed deep as freshly tilled ground. “But then there’s Ma and that Good Book. She says we gotta love our enemies, and do good to those who prostitute us.”
In spite of his pain, the man grinned. “I think that’s ‘persecute’. But your mother is right, that is a good book, full of lots of talk of peace. Sandwiched, of course, between some really rather nasty stuff. Violence, when avoidable, is to be avoided at all costs, and each man used to his just deserts. No, not to his just deserts. I’m sorry. Not making much sense. Now….” He frowned. “What did you say your name was? Or did you say?”
“Nope. It’s Israel. Israel Boone.” The boy waited as if expecting some reaction. When he got none, he continued, “And who are you?”
“Who am I? Who am I?” He laughed almost giddily. “I have absolutely no idea. Let me see if I have any identification.”
As he began to rummage in his pants pockets, the boy frowned, puzzled. “Eye-dent-i-fi-cay-shun? What’s that?”
“Missing, it seems,” he groaned when the pockets turned out to hold some odd bits including a wind-up toy, but no paper. “I had a coat. It seems to be missing as well. Must have been in the pocket.”
The boy shook his white head. “You sure don’t know much, mister. Don’t know where you came from or how you got here, or who you are.” Israel placed one hand on his chin and began to stroke it, as if ordinary thinking was not enough and he could, somehow, draw superior thought out of it. “I got walloped once, when I fell out of a tree and hit my head on a rock. My eyes went all funny like yours are now. Ma sent for that city slicker doctor who was visitin’ the fort. That doctor, he didn’t know nothin’. Mingo’s medicine took care of it.”
The boy’s information flew almost as fast as his words, and the effect of both was punitive. Walloped. Fell. Hit head. Funny eyes.
No. Couldn’t go there. Mustn’t go there.
Gritting his teeth, the man asked, “What do you mean, my eyes look funny? Isn’t it rather hard to be biased against not light but not dark eyes?”
The white head shook and the scowl returned. “Ma says it ain’t polite to cuss.”
“What? Oh, bi-assed….”
“You done it again. Maybe you are a bad man.”
The man stared at the boy for a moment. “Your mother seems very wise. Perhaps we should let her decide.” He rose shakily to his feet. “Do you live near here?” He paused after asking in order to assess the boy who barely crested at thigh height compared to him. “Say, aren’t you a bit young to be running around in the woods after dark on your own? How old are you?”
Seven. There it was again. The echo of…something. “Well,” he sniffed, “that’s a good age. Seven. Old enough to know what you are about, but not old enough to feel the need to tell everyone else what they should be. Tell me, seven year old Israel Boone, does your mother keep any celery at your house? No. That’s no good. No celery on the frontier. How about tea? I feel an urgent need of a good, strong cup of tea.”
“Tea? Pshaw!” The boy struck the thought away. “You are one of them Englishmen, ain’t you? We ain’t had no tea for a year. Tossed it all out.”
“Whatever for?” he asked, as shocked as if the boy had just told him that his Good Book toting ma had packed up her petticoats, deserted her frontier family, and taken to walking the streets.
“Ain’t patriotic to drink tea. Not with the war goin’ on.”
“War? Oh, dear. There’s a war?” He pressed a hand to his aching head. “Of course, there’s a war. There’s always a war. What year is it?”
The freckled nose wrinkled. “Seventeen seventy-six. You mean you don’t know that neither? What do you know?”
“Very little, I am afraid, my fine young man,” he replied, laying a hand on the boy’s white head, “but I do know one thing – one very important thing – that thing which will make it nigh on impossible for us to reach your mother’s home and rummage through her cupboards in hopes of finding one ounce, one blessed ounce of tea leaves that have not yet been sacrificed upon the altar of patriotic jingoism.” He paused expectantly. “Well, do you want to know what that thing is?”
“Course I do. I was waiting for you to draw a breath so’s I could ask,” the child harrumphed.
“Yes, well. That thing would be this – you don’t happen to have any local fauna sporting boots, do you?”
“Brutes? Beasts? Creatures? Animals, my lad!”
The white head shook, though whether in reply or with sheer disbelief he couldn’t tell. “Animals don’t wear no boots.”
“I didn’t think so.” He held out his hand to the boy, wiggling his long fingers. “Then I would suggest you take hold.”
“Why’d I want to do that?”
“Because at this moment – at this very moment – there are ten, no, twelve pairs of boots striding toward us, and I believe – yes – I can hear a fife and drum and – yes – the sound of hammers being cocked….”
The boy’s eyes went wide. Not with fear, but with a familiar sort of excitement. “Redcoats!”
The man nodded, even as a barmy grin broke out on his face. “Redcoats! Basically, Israel Boone, run!”
“Well, isn’t this nice,” River remarked as she watched the tall man with the raven-black hair take a seat across from her. When she got back to Octavian, she was going to strangle whoever it was had sent her in search of a nobleman, only to find…well…Geronimo. Though, truth be told, the joke was a rich one and worthy of…well…her. As an appreciative smile quirked at the edges of her rouged lips – both for the man and the joke – the blonde woman accepted the cup of cider Mingo, as she had learned he preferred to be called instead of the traditional title for a son of an earl, had gallantly purchased for her. “You. Me. A warm fire and a mug of cider in what can only be described as,” her eyes flicked to the surrounding tables, occupied by a gallimaufry of filthy, stinking, clamorous and unrestrained, ignorant and inebriated humanity, “as a pedestrian potpourri. So tell me again why it is you prefer this to the salons of the Pineapple House?”
He took a sip of his own mug. “It is honest,” he said.
“And the aristocracy is….”
“Not.” Mingo put his mug down and leaned back. His keen eyes appraised her, apparently liking what he saw enough to light their black depths with a smile. “It is like maple syrup.”
She sputtered on her sip. “I beg your pardon?”
“Boil away the forty gallons of petticoats, face paint, puffs, and pretensions, and you still get one gallon of syrup. The only difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is they tell better lies.”
“Mm-mm,” she replied. “Not bitter, are we?”
His grin was dazzling. “How could I be bitter? I have that gallon of syrup.”
“More like a gallon and a half,” she muttered, finding herself warming to him – which was a bad thing considering what she had come here to do. “So you have no intention of returning to England…any time soon?”
“Why would I want to do that?” he asked.
Putting her mug on the table, she leaned over it and laid her hand atop his. It didn’t matter what she really thought – people were people, though this particular lot did have a particularly unpleasant smell that ranked right up there with the molting shellfish of Omicron Beta Four – she had to convince him to go. Once she had his attention, River asked, “Have you looked at you lately?” Then she nodded toward the riffraff occupying the table closest to theirs. “And have you looked at them?”
As she spoke, one of a group of five crusty mountain men stood up, drunkenly knocking his chair over in the process. As its top rail thudded against the well-worn and obviously oft maligned white oak floor, he bellowed. “Hey, you! Savage! Get your red mitts off that white woman!”
“Ah, the homely hidebound hack with its habitual humdrum expressions,” River sighed, starting to rise. “Let me handle this.”
Mingo shook his head slowly as he shifted his chair back and rose to his full height, which was rather impressive. The native loomed above the hack in question – unfortunately, the uncultured cad had friends.
“Now, now, now!” the bandy-legged old bird of a tavern keeper shouted as he came around the corner of the bar, flapping furiously. “I’ll have none of that here. Mingo’s a regular customer. He’s got as much right to be here as you do. He ain’t done nothin’ wrong –”
“He’s breathing, old man,” the cad growled. “That’s enough wrong for me. Ain’t an Injun alive deserves to breathe….”
River glanced from the five-point rabble to the man in question. Mingo hadn’t moved – with one exception. As if by magic a black bullwhip had appeared at his side. He did nothing threatening. His free hand simply rested on the whip’s plaited handle.
“Ain’t bad enough he’s one of them savages. I seen him talking to those Lobsterbacks what left like he was one of them.” The cad paused. Then his lip curled in a lascivious sneer. “Oh, that’s right, he is one of them. Seems red hands on white flesh runs in the family.”
Her eyes went to the riffraff’s guns, and then to Mingo’s hand. The bronzed knuckles clutching the whip’s handle had gone white as Devon cream. The air in the tavern was electric. One spark was all it would take to set off a chain of events that might well do her work for her.
“Would anyone care to hear my opinion?” she asked sweetly, breaking the silence that had descended within the room. As all eyes turned to her, River batted her augmented eyelashes and crooked her index finger coyly at the brute in buckskins. “How about you?” She swallowed hard before adding, “Handsome.”
River felt a hand on her shoulder. “Madame Song, what do you think you are doing?”
Her lips quirked with an irreverent smile as she met Mingo’s puzzled gaze. “Singing my usual tune,” she replied. Turning back to the fur-clad cad, she sashayed her way to his side. As she drew near her nose wrinkled and she felt another sneeze coming on – no doubt due to the fact that the mountain man gave off the same odour as the pigs and poultry. “Hey there, handsome,” she said, employing her huskiest tone. “How about a little kiss?”
The brute actually blushed.
River laughed. “Oh, don’t worry. I only kiss people I don’t like.” With that, she caught his moth-eaten, flea-infested hunter’s frock in her hands and pulled him into a deep, passionless kiss. Then she glanced at her chronometer. “Three. Two. One.” Looking back, she asked, “Now, do you still feel like shooting the nice Indian?”
The cad stuttered. “Do…do you want…want me to?”
“No.” She wrinkled her nose again and sneezed. “What I want you to do is take a bath – maybe two – and then go back to wherever it is you came from and take a little lie down. Oh, and call off your dogs.”
The man moved like a somnambulist, which of course, for all intents and purposes he was due to the influence of her hallucinogenic lipstick. Turning, he faced his men. “Down, boys,” he ordered. “Let’s head for the river.”
“But Jake!” one of the men – a young one – protested, “what about that uppity Injun and what he done?”
“What about him, Ma’am?” Jake asked, turning back.
River batted her eyelashes. “Who?”
He nodded toward Mingo. “Him.”
She pivoted and then turned back. “I don’t see anyone. Do you see anyone?”
Jake shook his head obediently.
“Good boy. Now, go wash off the stink.”
Grumbling and growling, Jake’s conspirators lowered their weapons like tails between their legs and followed him out the door. River watched until she was certain they were gone and then turned back to Lord Dunsmore’s son, smiling brightly. “Now, where were we?”
“What…what just happened?” the tavern keeper who had been standing close by throughout the exchange stammered. “Did you bewitch him?”
She laughed. “Hardly. A parlor trick taught to me by Herr Mesmer. You know the fellow in France? He had a friend of mine wearing a collar and barking like a poodle. And she really hates dogs….” River leaned in brushing the older man’s ear with her lips as she whispered, “We’re rather close. Now…what is your name?”
“Cincinnatus,” he answered dreamily as the mild wash of chemicals entered his bloodstream.
“Quite right. A good man, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus. And a good name.” She paused to pick up her mug. “Cincinnatus, will you be a dear and fetch me another cider?”
The old bird turned into a fledgling and flew the coop, leaving her facing a rather suspicious Mingo.
“That was no parlor trick,” he said.
“Oh. Then what was it?”
He pursed his lips and shook his head. “I don’t know. But I will.”
It was both a threat and a promise.
As River opened her mouth to answer, the door to the tavern opened admitting a chilling breeze and a thirty-something female with the figure of a young woman wearing a deep burnt orange cloak. When she lowered its hood, the woman’s hair matched in color. She was really quite lovely; pale-skinned, with a complexion like cream and wide blue eyes. River felt a shiver snake along her corseted and stayed spine at the sight. The newcomer looked like an older version of Amy Pond.
Amy. The gods alone knew where she was in this mess.
The newcomer surveyed the ill-lit room and then rushed over to their table. “Mingo, have you seen Israel?”
The native had still not relaxed. The redhead’s words tightened what had already been a rather taut bow. “Israel left here some hours before, Rebecca, shortly after Daniel took Yadkin home. He said he was going to catch up his father. I offered to go with him, but as it was light and as he is now a young man….”
She nodded. “He should have been able to find his way to Yad’s cabin without any trouble. Dan came home. Israel didn’t.”
“Where is Daniel now?”
“Searching the woods. I told him I would come here. I….” The woman faltered. “I’m sorry, Mingo. I am forgetting my manners. Who is your lady friend?”
“No, it is I who am at fault,” the English Cherokee replied. “Madame River Song, late of New York. Madame Song this is –”
Israel. Rebecca. Daniel. “Rebecca Boone,” the blonde supplied, sucking air between her teeth.
By all that was holy. It had begun.