Journeys End by Marla F. Fair
Kentucky, Spring 1796
Dan’s head came up. He, along with Monlutha, had been keeping watch. Everyone else was supposed to have been asleep. “How come you ain’t sleepin’, Mingo?” he asked.
“Most likely for the same reason you volunteered to keep the watch. I could not.”
Dan nodded. He lifted his face toward the sky. “It’ll be dawn soon. Time to move on.”
“Yes. Before that happens, I wanted to talk to you,” Mingo said as he came to stand beside him.
Dan looked at his old friend and saw worry written across his face.
Worry for him.
The frontiersman deliberately straightened his bent back and forced a smile even though, in reality, he was weary beyond words. “‘Bout what?” he asked.
The name fell between them like a stone.
“No,” Dan said.
“Daniel. You must.” Mingo shook his head. “I still cannot quite believe what you said back there, at the edge of the woods. You called your own son a stranger. I have been in Israel’s boots, Daniel, I know what pain such words can cause. Surely you did not mean it.”
“He is a stranger, Mingo. To me. To his Ma. To ‘Mima. None of us know him anymore.”
“But, he is your son.”
The tall frontiersman moved to sit on a nearby boulder. He was silent a moment, and when he spoke, he didn’t look at his friend but at the rising sun. “Nothin’ can ever change that. Neither words or actions. But the man he has become, is not the boy I knew.” Dan glanced at him. “Or the one I raised him to be.”
“I beg to differ, Daniel,” Mingo countered. “As you admitted earlier, he is exactly the boy you raised him to be; fiercely independent and deeply committed. A man who is making a stand for what is right.”
“He’s part of a band of criminals, Mingo. A fugitive. He’s broken the law.”
“The white man’s law,” Mingo said evenly. “An unfair law. One based on lies and broken promises.”
Dan rose to his feet. “The law’s the law, Mingo. Without it there would be no frontier. Without it, there would be anarchy.”
“If a law is unfair, a man is duty bound to break it—if he cannot change it,” he countered quickly.
The big man was silent a moment. He had sensed a change in his friend since Copperhead’s wife had appeared and told her story. A new resolution. Dan shook his head. “You and I don’t see eye to eye on that.”
“No,” Mingo agreed quickly. “We never have.”
Dan’s green eyes flicked to his friend. “You’re not talking about Israel now.”
Mingo drew a deep breath. He paused, as if only now realizing it himself. Softly, he acknowledged that truth. “No. I am not.”
“Did runnin’ into Zach Morgan stir this up?”
The dark-haired man sighed. “It did serve as a ‘gentle’ reminder that there is one kind of justice in this country for the white man, and another for his red ‘brother’.”
“Mingo, you know that’s not true.”
His answer was sharp. “Daniel, you know it is. Look at what has happened to Copperhead.”
“Well now, that’s wrong. He was trying mighty hard to fit in. To become— ”
“Something he is not? For the sake of his family?” Mingo was growing heated. “You do not have to tell me about that, Daniel. Look at me!” He stepped back and indicated his European clothing. “I have done what he has done. I know. I gave up a part of myself to wear this costume; to fit in for the sake of those I loved. I have never regretted it, but it is wrong. I should have been able to bring my family here, to the land I loved, to live in peace. Now, I even question bringing them here at all. It seems the frontier is still the same untamed wilderness peopled by ignorant, prejudiced brutal white savages.”
“Now hold on, Mingo....”
“What? Will you seek to silence me? Will you tell me you no longer know me because we disagree?” Mingo drew a sharp breath. “Will you tell me I am wrong?”
Dan was silent for some time; not because he had any hope his old friend would calm down, but because the words he had to speak would be hard, and he knew they would probably drive a wedge between them as similar ones had with his son not long before. “Mingo, all those years ago, I know I hurt you. I know you were scared and rightly so. Scared Zach Morgan would hang you without askin’ a single question.”
“And he would have.”
“Yes.” Dan rose to his feet. “But he didn’t. Through the Good Lord’s timing, I arrived and stopped him. You gotta understand Mingo. In my life there are certain lines that have been drawn. I don’t break the law. I believe, with God’s grace, that the law is the best thing we have, and that if we honor it, it will honor us.”
“Tell that to all the Cherokee whose rotting corpses hang from the trees outside your civilized towns.” Mingo shook his head. “The law is for those who can afford it, Daniel. And for those who make it.”
“Breakin’ it has never done your mother’s people any good.”
“No.” Mingo’s words were bitter. “But breakin’ it has done your people a world of good. First one treaty and then another, signed, sealed with blood and a paltry sum of money, and then broken. And another. And another. And another.” He paused. “When will it end, Daniel? Now it is ‘take up the plow’ and we will let you be one of us. Look at Copperhead. That is but another lie. Another treaty to be honored only when it is convenient.” Mingo spread his arms wide. “Where are the Cherokee, Daniel? Where is Chota?” His voice cracked. “Gone. Destroyed. My People’s spirits cry out from this ground. It is their home and they are no more.”
Dan was silent a moment. “So you agree with Israel?”
His friend drew a shuddering breath and steadied himself. “Yes.”
The big man’s lips pursed. “You mean to help them break Copperhead out of jail?”
Mingo closed his eyes. “What else can I do, Daniel?”
“You’re no longer a man alone, Mingo. This decision will affect others. Your wife…your children.”
“And yet, it is something I must do. Will you look after Daniel? And Archie? And see that they get back to their mothers?”
Dan nodded without hesitation. Then he added softly, “A fugitive is a hard thing to have for a father.”
The dark-haired man’s smile was grim. “He has known it before.”
“And if you’re killed? Will Danny think it was worth it?” Dan’s words were hard. “What if the next Cherokee corpse we find hangin’ from a tree is yours? Is that somethin’ you want your son to see?”
“Dying for a friend, Daniel? And for a cause I believe in?” Mingo was silent for a moment. “I would hope Danny would believe it was worth it. It is the kind of a man I have raised him to be.”
Dan held his gaze. “You know this will put us on the opposite sides of the law.”
“Yes.” He nodded. “I regret that.”
“So do I.”
Mingo turned to leave, but pivoted and spoke again. “I have already packed my belongings. After listening to Miriam’s tale, I knew this was coming. There was nowhere else the path could lead. I am going with Monlutha. I do not want her to know, or she will insist on coming with us, and.... I do not think she should be there. If we free Copperhead, she will see him soon enough.”
“You’ll have a run-in with Copperhead’s son. He’s gone back, you know. To talk with his father again.”
Mingo nodded. “I know. I hope the native blood running in Adohi’s veins will allow him to understand the path we have chosen.” He paused. “Will you tell Rachel....”
“Tell her I do what I must. She will understand…. Even if you cannot.”
Dan watched him go, feeling an ache in his heart that was second only to the one he had felt when he had lost Israel. Then he closed his eyes. It was out of his hands and in the Lord’s, and he had to accept that. In a quiet prayer Dan asked the Almighty to watch over his friend and his son, and to keep them out of harm’s way.
And to keep him from being the one whose hand might have to put them there.
Then, with a heavy heart, he returned to the watch.
Mingo leaned over his son’s sleeping form and kissed him gently on the forehead. The boy shifted and caught his hand. Danny came out of his dream to smile at him, and then rolled quickly onto his other side and went back to sleep. His father stood and looked at him, and at Alec’s son, not knowing if he would ever see them again. If he was caught, it was not likely he would be thrown in a jail cell as Copperhead had been. He would be lynched. There was too much hatred in Zach Morgan for it to come to any other end.
As Mingo stepped away, he became aware of Monlutha watching him. The native had come out of nowhere, like a wraith, and waited at the edge of the shadows with his small son at his feet. Dragonfly lived everyday with such a threat. It was the least he could do, to try to help them; to make some small stand against the evil that had destroyed his mother’s people and that was, even now, threatening to destroy the remnant of the Cherokee of Chota.
He only hoped that in doing so he would not sacrifice his own.
Picking up his bag and rifle and other belongings, Mingo joined the Cherokee warrior at the edge of the clearing. Monlutha spoke as they vanished into the shadows. “Welcome back, cousin.”
Mingo nodded solemnly. He dropped to his knees and lifted a handful or earth, and then let it shift slowly through his fingers.
“My fathers,” he whispered as he did, “you will be avenged.”
“You must listen to me. Father.”
Copperhead looked at his son. Adohi had grown into a handsome, intelligent young man, filled with fiery conviction. He believed in what he was doing. He believed he could make a difference for his People. His son believed he could make a difference for him, and that the papers he clutched in his hand would be the key. Copperhead knew better. The only use the papers proclaiming him innocent would find, was when they were burned to light his funeral pyre. He rose slowly and came to the bars. “What did your mother say?”
Adohi stiffened. “She has little faith in the law.”
Copperhead nodded. “And the others?”
His watched his son glance at the jailer who was eyeing the two of them with distaste from across the small jail. The golden light of the early morning filtered through the dirty window pane to glint off the primed pistol on the desk before him. He had refused to leave and grant them privacy. Adohi lowered his voice. “Monlutha is a reactionary. You know that. Israel wants justice and sees this as the only way.”
“And Cara-Mingo?” Copperhead still could not believe his friend had come back. They had corresponded sporadically for a few years and then lost touch as the needs of the present took precedence over friendships from the past. Now, Cara was here; at this time and in this place. It seemed, somehow both appropriate and sad. “What does he say?”
“He is torn, even as I am, Father. My Cherokee blood cries out against these men.” Adohi pointed the papers toward the jailer and whispered fiercely, “Against this place. You are not being cared for. I told that man to deal with the filth and vermin. When he laughed in my face, I wanted to kill him. I could have killed him. That is my heart. But my head,” Adohi knocked the papers against his clipped auburn hair, “my head knows better. If you run from this place, you will be a fugitive. So will Mother. You will never be free of it. You will have to hide and cower— ”
Copperhead’s fingers went white on the bars. “This is cowering.” He indicated the jail. “Being in this place. Not fighting back. This,” he indicated his own truncated hair and soiled and bloodied suit, “is hiding. I am tired, Adohi. Tired of it all. If I do not fight, if I do not escape, I will die.” Copperhead placed his hand on the one native thing that remained, the animal totem that hung about his neck. “This I swear by my fathers who went before me.”
Adohi looked at him. His father had lost weight. His black eyes were haunted, and the glow of his coppery flesh dimmed. There was a scar on the right side of his face near his temple, pale as the skin of the men who had struck the blow, that had remained from the beating. While Copperhead had not been defeated, he had been bent about as far as he could go without breaking.
The young man stepped forward and covered his father’s hands with his own. He leaned his head against the bars. “I cannot,” he began, and his voice broke, “I cannot in good conscience tell you to go.” Then he looked up. “But I will not stand in your way.”
Even as the jailer rose and yelled for Adohi to move back, Copperhead touched his son’s head. “The Creator watch over you, my son, if we do not meet again.”
Adohi straightened even as the jailer came abreast him. He pivoted sharply; an almost uncontrollable anger filling him. “Where does the Justice of the Peace dwell in this place?” he snapped. “I must see him.”
“Ain’t no Justice of the Peace here, boy.” The man grinned. “One’ll be comin’ through in three months or so. I wouldn’t recommend hangin’ around that long, waitin’ for him though.” The man’s dark gaze went to him in the cell. “Sides afore that happens, there’ll probably be a ‘hangin’’ of a different kind.”
He watched Adohi fight for control. “Who is in charge of the law in this settlement now?” his son demanded.
“Ain’t no one. Ain’t never been. Not since ol’ Dan’l left us.”
“You have a sheriff, surely.”
The jailer’s hazel eyes narrowed. “You talk mighty fancy for an Injun, boy. And are mighty demandin’. Maybe I should arrest you for assaultin’ an officer of the law.”
“Assaulting him with what? Words?” Adohi growled. “I hardly think that would hold up in a court of law.”
“Who said anythin’ about a court?”
“Adohi,” Copperhead’s hand caught his elbow. There was real fear in his voice. “No. Do not give them reason to take you. ”
At that moment the door to the jail opened and a slender figure wearing a deep wine cloak and an unflapped cocked hat of black wool entered. The wind blew in behind him, carrying the scent of coming rain and dry leaves. He stopped and shook himself, and then removed the hat and turned toward them. He was a striking looking individual with high cheekbones, coal-black hair and large deep-set, dark brown eyes. The lines around them suggested he laughed often.
He was not laughing now. He quickly surveyed the scene. His eyes fastened on the man in the jail cell. “Copperhead?”
The Cherokee nodded. “Yes.”
Adohi stepped between them. “And who might you be?”
“I’ll ask the questions here, boy.” The jailer drew his flintlock. He waved it in the young lawyer’s direction. “What he said.”
“Mah nam’ is Finlay MacKirdy.” Finlay’s eyes never left the Cherokee. “I came tae warn ye.”
“Finlay!” Adohi visibly relaxed. “What brings you here?”
“Thaur’s nae time fur tha’ noo,” he said as he turned. In three steps he had reached the door and pushed it too. “Tis an angry mob nae far behin’ me. Woulds ye be th’ constable?” he asked the man with the weapon. “If ye be, ye needs mus’ call fur help.” Finlay walked briskly to Copperhead’s cell. “I heard o’ yer trooble. Tis th’ talk o’ th’ villages haur aboot. I came as quickly as I coulds.”
As the jailer moved toward the door, Adohi asked quietly, “These men, what are they saying?”
“They’re full o’ it. Peshed, th’ lot o’ them,” Finlay answered; his voice low. “They waur shoutin’ aboot some mon whot waur murdered years ago. An’, I think, talkin’ o’ ye. A yoong city lawyer. They waur sayin’ ye had some papers?”
Adohi held them up. “Proof of my father’s innocence.”
“They mean tae light a fire wi’ them, an’ maybe burn this place tae th’ groond.”
“Adohi. Get out.” Copperhead pressed up against the bars. “Leave this place! Now!”
As the boy spun, Finlay said, “Tis tae late fur tha’ noo. Th’ de’il is a’ th’ door.”
Copperhead looked up. He could see the torches burning beyond the warped window panes. “My Creator, no,” he whispered. “Not my son.”
Finlay looked from father to son and then turned back to the jailer. The man had opened the door and was eagerly waiting for the advancing mob to arrive. He nodded toward him. “Will the jailer be wi’ us, ur ag’in us?”
Adohi shoved the papers in his satchel. “Against.”
The Scot nodded. “Tis whot I thooght. Will ye excuse me fur ain minute?” With that he walked deliberately across the small space and stopped next to the jailer. Finlay inclined his head toward the growing mob outside. “Aur these yer friends then, whot aur comin’ this way?”
The man nodded. “They’ll fix his wagon, that uppity Cherokee. Imagine him tryin’ to act like a white man.”
Finlay tapped him on the shoulder. “Woulds ye turn this way an’ look a’ me?”
The man blinked and did as he was asked. “What? What is it?”
“Ye see this dirk?” The Scot had pulled his sgian dubh from his hose. He raised its tip and placed it under the man’s chin.
“Tis th’ Scottish match fur th’ tomahawk mah grandfaither used when scalpin’ th’ likes o’ yers.” He lowered his voice. “Woulds be mah advice tae ye, tha’ ye walk oot this door an’ close it tight behin’ ye as ye dee. Dae we ha’e an understandin’?”
As Finlay removed the dirk the man nodded. A second later he scooted out the door and down the steps. The Scot stared after him a moment in disgust and then slammed the door shut. He located the bar and dropped it into place, and then indicated to Adohi that he would like help overturning the desk and placing it in front of the window.
The young man came to his side. “You did not have to stay.”
They lifted the desk and flipped it on its side. As they shoved it into place, Finlay stopped to look at him. “Aye, laddie, I did. I coulds nae ha’e faced mahself in the mornin’ otherwise.”
“I remember you as being a good man. You, and your brother.”
“Ha’e ye seen Alec?” Finlay asked. “He was tae come haur wi’ ur mither an’ th’ others.”
“They are on their way. I spoke with Cara-Mingo last night. He and Daniel Boone, along with Mingo’s son and Alexander’s, came ahead. Alec and your father are traveling more slowly with the women.”
The Scot nodded. “Because o’ mither.”
“Yes.” Adohi turned toward his father. He had been watching their progress from the cell. “Dear God,” his son exclaimed as he looked at the door, “I forgot. We have no key.”
Finlay’s hand came down on his shoulder. “Thaur’s more than ain way tae break a lock, laddie.” As he stepped toward the cell, a rock burst through the top of the window, shattering the glass. Copperhead tensed as Adohi side-stepped it quickly, but then continued to stare at it as it rolled across the floor. Then, as the Creator answered his unspoken prayer, Finlay grabbed his son and pulled him onto his knees. “Get doon, laddie!” Finlay cried. “Next tim’ it may well be a bullet come flyin’ throogh.”
“I wasn’t thinking.” Adohi turned then and propped his back against the up-turned desk so he was facing his father. “I’m sorry,” his son said, meeting his eyes. “I was wrong.”
“No,” Copperhead answered, still gripping the bars. “You were right.
“It is they who are wrong.”
Six hours had passed since Mingo had left Daniel and the others behind. He crouched in the underbrush just outside the fort. Monlutha was to one side of him and Israel to the other. The young man, known as Whitehair to his band, turned toward him and said quietly, “This wasn’t exactly how I planned to meet up with you again, Mingo. But I’m glad. I’m glad you’re with us.”
“In the end, I could not have been anywhere else,” the dark-haired man answered slowly. “Even if Copperhead was not a friend, and he had not saved my life half a dozen times over, I would have to have been here. It is right.”
Israel grinned. “I bet Pa didn’t think so.”
“You would win the bet.” Mingo frowned. “I may have destroyed what was left of my friendship with your father by this act.”
The young man shook his head. “I don’t think so. For all his talk about ‘drawin’ a line’, Pa can be a mighty forgivin’ man.” As Mingo turned toward him, astonished, Israel continued with a smile. “You know how it is with a line. It has to have a beginnin’ and an end. There’s always a place on both sides where men can meet.”
“Israel. If you believe this way, then why— ”
“Haven’t Pa and me talked in three years?” He shrugged. “Plain old bull-headed stubbornness. Me as much as him. In the beginnin’ I meant to say I was sorry for those things I said. But every time I tried, he’d start lecturin’ me, and I’d get hoppin’ mad and say somethin’ else I’d later come to regret.” The young man smiled. “You remember? Like when Ma got the smallpox ‘cause that baby you tried to save was carryin’ it.”
Mingo nodded. “Yes, you said you hated me. Wanted me dead, in fact.”
“I have this tendency....” Israel paused as one of his lieutenants whispered something in his ear. He nodded and then finished his thought, “I have this tendency to shout first and then think better of it later, and by the time I think better of it, my pride rears up like a ornery mule and shuts my mouth tight. I’m glad I told you I was sorry right away.”
“So am I.”
“That could have been my baby now.” Israel was silent a moment. Then he said, “I’m sorry too, for what I said to you yesterday.”
Mingo shook his head. “Yesterday?”
“‘Bout you runnin’ away. It hurt when you left, Mingo. I guess I wanted to give some of that ‘hurt’ back to you.”
Mingo placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “I understand. There were times in my life when I said things I regretted. Israel....”
“Don’t wait twenty years to settle this with your father. You will waste so much time, and lose so much more. That child of yours deserves to have both its’ grandfathers.”
Israel nodded. “I’ll think about it. And speakin’ of Sunalei’s father, White Wolf is inside.”
The young man nodded. “‘Bout ten minutes before we got here, a mob entered the fort. They’ve been whipped into a frenzy by Zach Morgan. I guess he didn’t take that dressin’ down you gave him, or my interferin’, too well. He’s raised a group of Indian haters and they’ve gone in to take Copperhead and hang him.”
“Dear God, we have to go!”
“Mingo, like I said, White Wolf got through. He can pass for white and they’re used to seein’ him in the settlement. He sent word out that Adohi and his father are trapped in the jail buildin’ with some other man. They’re safe for the moment.” Israel shifted. “We figure it this way. Either they won’t be able to get to them and they’ll give up when they sober up, or....”
“They’ll bring him outside to hang him. Can’t do it very well in the fort. They’ve placed a guard at the gates. Ain’t no more of us gonna get in. They know us.”
“They don’t know me. Not anymore.”
“Mingo, no.” Israel shook his head. “You can’t be sure of that. There are still some old-timers here.”
“But most of the original settlers are gone. Your father told me so.”
“Mingo, Zach knows you.”
“Zach is otherwise occupied.” He shifted uneasily. “I am not content to sit here, Israel. Something tells me I am needed inside.”
The young man’s blue eyes widened. “That your mother’s blood speakin’?”
Mingo nodded. “And her father’s fathers’. Call it the sense of a warrior. In spite of these clothes, I am still that.”
Israel glanced at him. Mingo had doffed his elegant jacket but still wore the breeches and boots, as well as a fine linen shirt. “You still look like an Indian to me, Mingo.”
He nodded. “For the first time, in a long time, Israel, I feel like one.
Not far away, perhaps six or seven miles, a weary band of travelers had stopped to mend a broken axle. Alexander MacKirdy frowned as he and his father stared at the wagon which listed to one side. He raised one eyebrow and cast a doubtful look at the older man. “Sae, how aur yer Blacksmithin’ skills, Faither?”
His father pursed his lips. “Rusty, at best, Alexander. And yours?”
The elder MacKirdy shook his head. “All that money. Wasted. What good is a university education if it fails to ready one for the real world?”
Alec laughed. “Tis somethin’ I ha’e asked mahself time an’ time ag’in.”
A soft voice spoke from close behind them. “Father?”
Alexander spun, even as his father did. It was his sister. As usual, she seemed distressed. “Yes, Margaret?” his father asked.
“You need to talk to her.”
“Mother. She is insisting on walking the rest of the way.”
Their father took a step toward her. “Walking? She isn’t well enough— ”
“I told her that. She won’t listen to me.” Margaret frowned. “Maybe she will to you.”
Archibald MacKirdy frowned. “I have not found that to be the pattern of our lives up until this point, but I shall certainly try. Alexander?”
“Perhaps you should ride on to the fort and bring a blacksmith back here.”
He nodded. “Tis whot I was thinkin’. I’ll take th’ extra horse. Tha’ way I shoulds be back afore noon.”
“Margaret? Mr. MacKirdy?”
The pair turned. Rebecca Boone was walking toward them. “Madame,” Archibald said.
“Unatsi has already started to walk. Spicewood and Rachel and the girls are with her.”
Archibald MacKirdy smiled sadly as he glanced at his daughter. “I do not think, Margaret, that anything will hold your mother back now.” Then he turned to him. “Alexander?”
“Faither?” He had mounted the horse and was ready to depart..
“Do you have enough gold on you to purchase another horse?”
“Aye?” He frowned. “Fur whot?”
“I am going to unhitch the one from the wagon and take it to your mother. If she will not wait, she can at least ride. Bring another one for the wagon, just in case.”
The Scot frowned. “In case o’ whot?”
“This is the real world, my son. We seldom draw a breath without an ‘in case’ or a ‘what if’. Just bring a third horse. And do it soon.”
“Aye. I’ll see, as well, if I cannae find Finlay. He shoulds ha’e arrived at th’ settlement by noo.”
The older man nodded. As Margaret linked her arm with his, he added, “God grant he has arrived safely. But do not tarry. I do not think your mother has long.”
Alexander quieted the horse as it shifted from side to side. They had all known in their hearts that their mother would never board the ship for home. Still, he had booked her return passage. “Is she in pain?”
“Not that you would know, but yes. It has grown increasingly severe. I think only her desire to see her home once more has kept her going.” His father turned then and looked toward the northeast. “In some ways, I had hoped we would never reach it.” The elder MacKirdy drew a deep breath and patted his daughter’s hand. “Margaret, shall we go see if we can induce your mother to sit the horse and save what little strength she has?”
The blond woman nodded. She glanced at Becky as she walked past her. “Mrs. Boone. Are you coming with us?”
“I’ll be along. I need to get something from the wagon first. Your mother forgot her reticule.”
“It was kind of you to offer to retrieve it for her.” Margaret was silent a moment. She looked up at their father and then broke away from him to go to Becky’s side. “Mrs. Boone, I would like to apologize for my rude behavior,” she began. “It was not seemly. It is just that I am....” Margaret frowned again. “That is, my mother....”
Becky touched her sleeve. “It’s all right. I lost my mother when I was a young woman. And my father was a traveler. He drifted in and out of my life only a few times before he died.” Alexander watched as she squeezed his sister’s arm. “Be grateful for what you do have.”
Margaret smiled wanly. “I am.” She nodded to her as she turned to go, “Mrs. Boone.”
“Rebecca,” Margaret repeated as she turned to him. “Alec, take care. Hurry back.”
Alexander nodded and watched as she rejoined their father. The older man had unhitched the other horse and was leading it across the grass toward the spot in the trees where their mother and the other women had disappeared.
Becky came to stand near him. “Do you think Unatsi will be able to make it?”
He smiled. “She is Cherokee by birth, an’ Highlander by choice. Thaur cannae be a sterner, nor stronger mix. Aye, she’ll make it tae her home,” Alexander paused, “an’ then she’ll die.”
She touched his leg. “I am so sorry.”
“Tis her wish. ‘Twill make her happy. Who am I tae say it shoulds be otherwise? God’s blessin’, Rebecca,” he said. “Ye shoulds nae tarry lang. Tis nae safe.”
“I just need to fetch your mother’s bag from the wagon. I’ll be fine.”
He nodded. “Then, I needs tae fly. God willin’, I’ll see ye ag’in afore noon.” And with that he put his heels to the horse’s sides and urged his mount forward, and disappeared down the road in a cloud of dust.
Becky stood watching him for a moment. Then she turned and climbed into the
wagon. She had just located the reticule when she heard hooves pounding in the distance. At first she thought it might be Alexander returning, but then she realized the sound was coming from the opposite direction. Straightening up, she shaded her eyes against the sun’s rising light and peered down the road. A single rider had appeared on the horizon. Becky glanced at the others. Margaret and her father were at the edge of the trees. Even if she shouted and they heard her, it would take them some time to come to her aid.
Remembering what had happened to Danny and Archie earlier, she bitterly regretted her decision not to carry a weapon.
Becky remained still as the man drew abreast her. He stopped and doffed his hat. “Are you Mrs. Rebecca Boone?” he asked.
She stared at him. He was a handsome man in his late twenties, with dark hair and a hawkish face; narrow at the chin with wide-set eyes. He was wearing a heavy green hunting shirt, and breeches with leggings and grey wool spatterdashes. “Who wants to know?” she asked, even though she knew it was a bit rude.
“James Payton, Madame. I stopped in Brushy Forks first, but it appears I was too late.” He dismounted and walked up to the side of the wagon. “Is Margaret MacKirdy with you?”
Becky frowned. How would anyone on this side of the Atlantic know Margaret? “Yes,” she answered slowly.
“Thank God. I thought perhaps I had missed her.”
He laughed. “You seem puzzled, Mrs. Boone. I take it Maggie has not told you about me?”
Becky blinked. Somehow the idea of anyone calling that stern, straight-laced, uptight young woman ‘Maggie’ seemed utterly absurd. “Maggie?”
“Yes.” He reached into his waistcoat. As she flinched, he apologized, “No. Please don’t worry. I have no concealed weapon here.” He produced a packet of letters tied with a pale blue ribbon. “See?” He held one out to her.
On it, in elegant script, was written ‘Mister James Payton, esq., Number thirty-four, Turner Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. United States.’ She looked at the return on the back. “From Miss Margaret MacKirdy?”
He grinned. “Yes. We have been carrying on a correspondence for some time.”
Becky glanced back toward the trees. Now two small figures were headed her way. It was Rachel and her youngest. They must have missed her. “Does her family know?”
He nodded. “Yes. They know. Her father does not approve. But I no longer care. This is America. The old goat can complain all he wants. Maggie is of age and here, he has no power over her.”
Becky sat down on the tilted wagon seat. “Oh, my.”
Daniel Boone frowned. Mingo’s son was being rebellious. It was something that had surprised him. The boy had seemed very polite and somewhat reserved when he had first met him; tall and blond, and sort of on the shy side. Now Danny was showing a stubborn streak that might have made some believe his ancestors had been Irish, instead of Cherokee or English.
“Danny!” he called again.
The boy turned and looked at him. It was obvious from his look that he knew he was being disrespectful, but he had made it clear he no intention of letting his father go to Boonesborough without him. “I told you, Mr. Boone, I can’t explain it. I have this feeling that something terrible is going to happen. I’m not going any farther.”
Dan fought off a sigh. He glanced at Alexander’s son and the boy just shrugged his shoulders.
“Tis usually me causin’ th’ trooble,” Archie said.
“I’ll see if I can talk some sense into him,” Dan said in reply. He glanced at Danny again. “Though he’s a mite tall for me to pick up and carry, and too old to spank.”
Archie laughed. “Better ye than me.”
The big man turned. Copperhead’s wife had come up behind them. Her children were seated on the pack horse close by. She too had been upset when she had found Mingo and Monlutha had gone on without her, but being older and wiser than the recalcitrant boy, had bowed to their wisdom. Miriam knew her presence would have only complicated things.
Now if Danny could only understand the same thing.
“Miriam? What can I do for you?”
“Maybe I can do something for you. Let me talk to him.” She nodded toward Danny. “He and I have something in common right now.”
Dan nodded. He knew Becky had always been able to work her magic with their son when he was at a loss. “Archie, you come with me. You seem to be good at entertainin’ the troops.”
“Aye, Mr. Boone.”
Miriam covered the short distance quickly and called his name, “Danny?”
Mingo’s son turned toward her. He was standing on the top of a gentle rise. Behind him, nestled in a shallow bowl, lay Boonesborough. Miriam’s hand went to her heart as she saw smoke rising above the town, but then she realized it was only the early morning fires that had been lit to bake bread and prepare other food for the coming day.
Danny took a step toward her. “If Mr. Boone has sent you to change my mind, you may as well save your breath, Ma’am.” The look out of his blue eyes was intense. “I am not going on. I will not desert my father.”
“I see,” Miriam said as she took his offered hand and came to stand beside him. With a nod, she indicated a grassy spot. “Will you sit, Danny?” she asked. “I am weary. I would like to rest before I go on, and I would appreciate some company.”
“You don’t mean to force me to go?”
Miriam spread her skirts about her. “Heavens, no. I have no power over you. Neither does Daniel. You have to make your own choices.” As the boy sat beside her, she added almost as an afterthought, “Just be certain they are wise ones.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“There are consequences, Danny, for every choice we make; every action we take. And our actions do not affect only us, but those around us. I want more than anything to be with my husband now.” She looked at the boy. He reminded her so of her friend, Cara. Danny would grow into a passionate, caring young man; one the world would use ill if he gave it half a chance. “But I know I cannot do what I want, but must do as he asks.”
“How do you know what he wants? You didn’t talk to him.”
“I don’t have to. I know him.” Miriam smiled gently. “Do you think you know your father?”
“Is he a strong man?”
“Aye...” The boy frowned. “Yes.”
Miriam paused. “Why do you do that?”
“Correct yourself when you say, ‘Aye’.”
He shrugged. “My father wishes me to speak correctly.”
“He isn’t here. He won’t know.”
Danny frowned. “It still wouldn’t be right. He has asked it of me....” His voice trailed off. “You tricked me.”
“No.” She placed her hand on his. “You already know what is right. Danny, tell me this: do you believe Daniel when he says your father asked him to see you back to your mother?”
The boy nodded again. “Yes.”
She touched his cheek briefly and then rose. “Then you must do what you think is best. For your father, and your mother. And, sisters, I hear?”
“Two,” he moaned.
Miriam laughed. “Danny, you are a fine boy, on the verge of becoming a man. This is a man’s choice. You can act like a child and brood and kick and scream until you get your way, or you can act like a man, and do that which is the more difficult; obey. Honor your father by honoring his wishes.”
Danny was silent for a minute. Then he rose to his feet. “I’ll go apologize to Mr. Boone. I’ve delayed us. The quicker we reach the others and Archie’s father, the quicker they can return and help mine.” The he added, hesitantly, “Maybe...”
“Maybe they will let me go with them?”
“Maybe. It will take a man to ride into that. Show them that is what you are.”
Danny nodded again and left her standing on the rise. She watched him go and then
turned back toward the town. The smoke was darker now and curling high into the sky.
She remained still and watched it with mounting dread.
Dan put Copperhead’s young daughter down and watched her run toward her brother and Archie. Then he turned and faced the slender boy. “Yes, son?”
Danny held his head high. “I apologize for my behavior, sir. I acted like a child before. I am sorry.”
Dan nodded. “Apology accepted.”
The boy seemed
taken aback. “It is?
Just like that?”
“Just like that. No use beatin’ around the bush.” Dan held his hand out. “You want
to shake on it?”
Mingo’s son extended his hand. After Dan had taken it and given it a work-out, Danny linked it with the other one behind his back. “I have a request, Mr. Boone.”
“And what might that be?”
“When we reach the others....” Danny paused. “I assume, sir, that you and Archie’s father will return to aid mine?”
Dan had a sense of what was coming. “Yes.”
“May I go with you?”
“Well, now, your mother might have something to say about that.”
“I know,” the boy admitted, “but if I have your blessing, she might yield.”
Dan kept the smile he felt from showing on his lips. “She might. Though if I know mothers, it will take a mite more than my blessin’ to get her to agree to you ridin’ into danger.”
“I know that too.” Danny drew a deep breath. “And if she says ‘no’, I will abide by her decision.”
The big man nodded again. “Fair enough.”
Danny seemed to relax and grow suddenly weary. “Thank you, Mr. Boone.”
The two of them looked up. His cousin was approaching them. “What is it, Archie?” Danny asked.
“Talia’s askin’ after ye.” Then Alexander’s son added with a wicked grin, “I think she’s sweet on ye.”
The boy’s blue eyes went wide. “She can’t be more than six years old!”
“Take it easy, son,” Dan said, laying a hand on his shoulder. “I raised one of those myself. She’ll forget you exist by next week.” His green eyes went to Archie. “And then she’ll be lookin’ for someone new.” As Alexander’s son blanched, Dan added, “You two get them set on the horse again. We’ll be heading out in a minute.”
“Daniel.” Miriam’s voice was strained. “Will you come here?”
He looked at her and could immediately tell something was wrong. “What is it?”
“Smoke,” she said. “Over the settlement.”
Dan glanced at the boys. They were occupied and paying him and Copperhead’s wife no mind. He let her lead him to the rise and show him the steady gray plume winding into the sky. “Could be a fire in the bakehouse,” he suggested.
“Perhaps I am unduly alarmed,” Miriam said. “It seems darker and heavier than usual.”
He studied it a moment. “I agree.”
“Dear God. What can we do?”
Dan turned back. “I better go. Can you lead the children to the area where Chota was? That’s where the others will be.”
“I am sure I can. But— ” The sound of pounding hooves silenced her. “What is that?”
Dan had left his flintlock behind and he used his long legs to move down the hill with haste to retrieve it. Seconds before he could, a sleek brown horse burst through the trees. On its back was Alexander MacKirdy.
“Faither!” Archie exclaimed as he ran toward him.
Alec dismounted quickly and caught his son in a running embrace. With his arm about Archie, he headed for the others. Tobias and Talia ran ahead of them and Danny trailed behind. “Daniel. Miriam. I thooght I heard voices. I expected tae find ye an’ th’ boys. Boot ye, Miriam? Whot aur ye doen haur?”
She caught his hand. “Copperhead is in jail. In the fort.” Her eyes shot to Danny as she added, “Mingo has gone with Israel and the others to free him. And now....” She turned. “There is smoke in the air over the settlement. I fear some tragedy. ”
“Smoke?” It was Danny. He had come to stand beside Archie and his father.
The Scot shook his head. “It seems a grea’ deal has happened since we bid ainother farewell.”
“What brought you here, Alexander?” Dan asked; concern in his voice. “And alone?”
“Forgife me. Tis nae trooble thaur. Th’ wagon broke an axle. I was headin’ tae th’ settlement tae retrieve a blacksmith.” Alexander met the other man’s green eyes. “I take it ye means tae gae? Noo?”
It was Danny. He knew what was coming. Dan stepped over to the boy and placed his hand on his shoulder. “I know you want to go, son, but I need you to do something for me. Something important.”
The boy looked at him as if he knew he was going to treat him as a child. “What?”
“I need you to go with Miriam and her children, to protect them, and see that they get back to the others.”
“You and Archie,” Alexander added. “Th’ twa of ye travelin’ taegether will be safer than ain alone.” He stopped his son before his protest could begin. “Tis an important thing I am askin’ of ye, Archie.”
The two boys looked at one another. As they hesitated Miriam walked up to them with her children. Talia moved to hang off of Danny, even as Tobias went to Archie. “Come with us,” the boy pleaded. “Please?”
“Besides,” Alexander added quietly. “I think yer mither needs ye richt aboot noo.”
Archie’s eyes went wide. “Grandmither?”
“Aye,” he answered, “tis nae a way tae say it other than this—yer Grandmither is dyin’. If ye wont tae say guidbye....” He let the sentence trail off.
Danny put his hand on Archie’s shoulder. Alexander knew Mingo’s son loved Unatsi as well. She had been like a grandmother to him, as he and his sisters had none. “Archie?”
The boy nodded.
“Alexander, do you have an extra weapon?” Dan asked.
“Aye, on th’ horse. I carry mah pistol and dirk,” he patted his coat. “Thaur’s a rifle behind the saddle.”
“You better give it to one of the boys. Miriam, did you have anything with you?”
“No.” She shook her head. “We ran so quickly.”
Dan unfastened his knife and sheath. “Take this. It’ll only work up close, but,” he grinned, “I know you know how to use one.”
“I have not forgotten my years as a Cherokee wife, Daniel. Certainly I can use one.” Her blue eyes sparkled as she added, “And use it well.”
Dan looked at the petite blond woman and never for a minute doubted that she meant it. “God bless you all,” he said as he pressed her hand. “Alec, can that horse of yours bear two?”
Alexander nodded. “Aye.”
Dan frowned. “I think we need to move as fast as we can. Archie, Danny, you watch over these three.”
As the boys nodded in tandem, Miriam caught his arm. “Bring them home,” she whispered.
He just hoped it was alive.
Adohi coughed as he glanced at the broken window and saw the smoke rising beyond it. “What are they doing?” he asked, his voice rough.
“Hopin’ tae smoke us oot,” Finlay answered. Then with a wry smile, he added, “It appears they aur nae sae stupid as they look.”
The young man turned back to his father. Copperhead was still in the barred cell. “I found a set of keys on the floor. It must have been hidden beneath one of the drawers.” He started to try one in the lock, but his father caught his hand.
“You must let them in. Let them take me. It is the only way they will stop.” His dark eyes sought his son’s. “I will not have you and this man die for me.”
Finlay was watching the crowd through the window. “Tis nae different, whot they aur doen tae ye, than whot th’ moneyed lairds did tae th’ Crofters. I am stayin’ put.”
Adohi nodded. “Father, how many times were you willing to die for me? I’m not leaving you.”
Copperhead shook his head. “You are as stubborn as your mother.”
The young man’s lips twitched. “I come from good English stock, don’t you know?”
Even as Copperhead reached through the bars to touch his son’s face, a fiery missile flew through one of the broken windows to imbed itself in the far wall. Finlay started to rush across to put it out, but then thought better of it and stopped and dropped to the floor. Once under it, he took the rifle the jailer had left behind and placed his black hat on it, and lifted it up. At the first sign of movement, a shot rang out. The musket ball buried itself in the wall next to the flame. Finlay stood then and using his hat, knocked the arrow to the floor and stamped it out. “They aur growin’ impatient,” he said.
Copperhead nodded. “Adohi, listen to me.”
He was trying another key. He didn’t look up.
Frustrated, the young man shoved another one in. “What?”
“If you free me, what then? Do you think they will let you leave with me?”
“Father. I....” Adohi froze. His eyes filled with tears. Then he shook his head. “I will die here before I turn you over to that mob.”
They continued to stare at one another as the sound of angry voices grew louder and
even more smoke billowed in the windows. Then Adohi began to try the keys again.
Copperhead leaned back against the cell wall and rested his head on it. “Creator,” he
whispered, “I do not care if I die. But spare Adohi, he is young. Spare this good man who is with him.” He glanced at the door. Finlay was hovering close by it with his pistol out.
“Send us a miracle.”
Mingo nodded and tipped his hat to the man who opened the gate. He kept his hand up as he walked in and prayed the settler was not one of the ones he had met recently in the forest. Most likely those men would be at the heart of the mob with Zachary Morgan. “Thank you, friend,” Mingo said, doing his best to imitate a Yankee accent.
The man nodded. “You here to watch the Injun roast?”
Mingo halted. So he had been right. He had smelled smoke on the air. And now that he thought about it, it had intensified since he entered the fort. “I thought Zach meant to hang him,” he said quickly.
“Did. But them Injuns are stubborn. Those three won’t come out.”
His heart skipped a beat. “Three?”
“The murderer, another young one, all dressed up in fancy clothes, and some other man. Talks funny. He chased Mack out of the jail. Threatened to stick him like a pig with some knife no bigger than a knittin’ needle. Said he had an Injun ma.”
“Finlay,” Mingo breathed. Then he tipped his hat again. “Obliged to you for the information, friend. Think I’ll go join in the fun.”
“Watch yourself. There’s some here what don’t hold with what Zach’s tryin’ to do.” The man paused to take a swig from a jug. “That old tavern-keeper for one. But he won’t be causin’ no more trouble. Matter of fact, Zach’s got about a dozen of ‘em locked up in the tavern.”
Old tavern-keeper? Could he mean Cincinnatus? Israel hadn’t mentioned whether or not the older man was still living in the settlement. As he continued along the main concourse, Mingo saw faces peering out at him from cabins darkened with fear. There were many here who obviously did not agree with Zach Morgan, but were too afraid to do anything to stop him. Apparently a few brave souls had tried, however, and been confined for their pains. He paused in the shadows of one of the outbuildings and peered around its corner at the structure that served as a jail.
It was on fire.
No. Not the jail itself yet. Bales of hay had been set alight, and then pushed up as close to the windows as possible so the black smoke would pour inside. He could see Zachary Morgan on the steps, inciting the mob. Mingo had just decided to challenge him and had started to step into the light, when a hand came down on his shoulder and pulled him back. It was White Wolf. He was dressed as a hunter and if he had not known better, he would have thought him a white man.
“You have been watching?”
“Yes.” The Miami inclined his head toward the tavern. “I had hoped to free the men trapped within. They would stop this if they could. Not all here believe as Zach does.”
“Is Cincinnatus still keeping the tavern? And is he inside?”
White Wolf laughed and nodded. “Old as the trees and just as tough, is that one. He broke a jug over Hank Ketchum’s head before Hank tried to knife him.”
“Dear God, is he all right?”
The native sobered. “Yes. It is fortunate he is so skinny. It did not find his flesh, but cut his clothes.”
“How do you know this?”
“I was there. I managed to get out the door before they barred it and set the guard outside.”
“Have you spoken to Israel?”
“Through the stockade wall. He is waiting for a sign. If I shoot a flaming arrow over the gate, it means they must come.”
“You will open it?” As White Wolf nodded, Mingo added thoughtfully, “If we had the help of the others, we might be able to free them. And escape.”
White Wolf’s eyes followed his to the jail. “We have little hope otherwise. We are not enough to overcome them alone, without complete surprise. They have more rifles, and the liquor in their veins makes them dangerous.”
“And stupid.” Mingo straightened his shirt and handed the other man his hat. “Well, it seems I shall have to create a diversion at the tavern so you can overcome the guard.”
“What will you do?”
He shook his head. Then he laughed. “I will tell you after I figure it out.”
The old tavern-keeper had his hand on his side. He was hobbling back and forth in front of his counter and shaking his head. “I told you that Zach Morgan ain’t been right for years. But would you listen? Any of you?” He stopped and slapped his hand on the water and ale-stained wood. “Tarnation, if’n it don’t make a body wonder each and every day why the good Lord chose to put it down in the midst of such a group of such bone-headed, thick-skulled, dim-witted dunderheads!” Cincinnatus looked from one face to the other. “Well? Jim? Jacob?” He used his cane to cross to the table where the two men sat with one of their neighbors. “Matthew? Didn’t Miriam nurse your wife back to health when she had the bronchitis? And Joseph, weren’t it George Fox who taught you how to make corn grow on that useless land you bought?” He slapped the cane on the table with a sharp crack. “Well, weren’t it?”
“We all know they’re good people, you old coot!” Jacob Lewis who was with two of his sons stood up and came to the front of the room. “That’s why we’re locked in here, instead of being out there with them!”
Cincinnatus pulled at his beard. “Well, Jacob, you got a point there. Still, I can’t see as any of you really tried to help them. This has been going on for years. Somethin’ shoulda been done when that fancy lawyer came through here how many years back and accused Fox falsely. George Fox is your neighbor, and ain’t one of you stood up for him.”
“It’s not that simple,” Jim Monroe rose to his feet. “I stood up to Zach. And all it got me was a barn burnt to the ground. I lost a dozen animals. We can’t afford that kind of neighbor.” He shook his head. “You know the Indians are all gonna be driven out sooner or later. Why fight a losin’ battle?”
“What are you doing here, then, Jim?” Jacob shot back.
The sandy-haired man slapped his hand on the table. “I don’t want to see any man lynched. I may not be willing to fight to keep him as a neighbor, but I don’t want to see him hanging by the neck at the side of the road.”
The others murmured and nodded their agreement.
Cincinnatus moved slowly, with one hand on his aching back, to the barred door and then peered out the window next to it. His white head shook from side to side. “Don’t look like there’ll be much left to hang.”
Jacob came up beside him. The flames were now licking at the wooden structure. It wouldn’t be long before it went up. “You suppose his boy is in there too?”
The old man frowned. “You suppose they care?”
“Wait. What’s that?”
The tavern-keeper turned back. A figure was approaching the tavern. It had appeared from out the shadows and was walking quickly toward them. Cincinnatus shook his head.
“A dad-blamed fool.”
Mingo drew a sharp breath. There were two men on the porch. Not one. And one of them was Hank Ketchum. He had a bandage wrapped around his head and as the wiry old man who had brained him with the jug would have said, looked ‘meaner than a snake’. It had been his hope that he would be unknown to the guard and would be able to distract him, allowing White Wolf to slip in behind. That hope had now evaporated. Mingo knew now the only way to create a diversion large enough to draw the two of them away, was to become the diversion himself. He glanced at White Wolf where he waited in the shadows. Somehow the man seemed to sense what he was thinking. The native pulled his knife and indicated he would slip up behind them and cut their throats. Mingo shook his head. There had been enough mindless killing. No, he would draw them away. And then White Wolf could free the others and fire the arrow that would alert Israel to the fact that the time had come.
Mingo stopped before the tavern and cleared his throat. “Excuse me.”
The two men on the porch were half-asleep and all drunk. They stirred and stood up slowly. Each was clutching a rifle in his hands. Hank Ketchum stumbled forward a few feet and pointed his at his head. “What do you want?”
“I would like to talk to Zachary Morgan.”
The other man trained his rifle on him as well. “You want to what?”
“Talk to Zachary Morgan.” He paused and then added. “Are you deaf as well as stupid?”
“Say,” Hank stepped off the porch, “ain’t you that Injun? The one we was gonna string up yesterday?”
Mingo’s dark eyebrows lifted. “Do I look like an Indian?”
“You ain’t got no feathers in your hair. Nor no beads around your neck, but you still look like one to me.” Ketchum moved closer. “Mingo, ain’t it?”
“Yes. Mingo. You remembered. Score one for you.”
“Boone’s Injun,” Hank said menacingly as he drew closer. He reached out and caught his arm and then raised his voice in a yell. “We got us Boone’s Injun! Zach! Look’ee here!”
“Dear God in Heaven, it is Mingo. What does he think he’s doing? They’ll tear him apart.” Jacob Lewis was staring out the window, standing close behind the old tavern-keeper. He watched as the two men who had been keeping guard grabbed the Cherokee’s arms and began to haul him toward the mob surrounding the jail.
Cincinnatus pulled at his beard. “Knowin’ Mingo, he’s got a plan.”
Jacob shook his head. “I hope he’s also got a plot of land lined up to lay his bones in. Zach’ll kill him. Quicker than you can skin a hog.”
“I don’t know, Jacob. If Mingo’s here,” the tavern-keeper turned and looked the other man in the eye, “can Dan’l Boone be far behind?”
As the older man spoke they heard the sound of a board being pulled off the door. Hank Ketchum had nailed it shut. A moment later the firewood that had been piled against it began to fall away. Every man in the tavern rose to his feet.
Cincinnatus grinned from ear to ear. “I told you! That’ll be Dan’l. Good ol’ Dan’l! Always comin’ through in a pinch.” The tavern-keeper picked up an oil lamp and held it to the door as it began to swing in. He opened his mouth to welcome his old friend.
Jacob Lewis’s hand came down on the old man’s shoulder and drew him back. A slender figure of medium height, wearing a hunting shirt and carrying an Indian longbow, was standing there; silhouetted by the fires that burned on the other side of the compound.
“Cincinnatus, if that’s Daniel Boone,” Jacob said, “I’ll eat his coonskin cap.”
“Zach! Zach! Look what we got! Zach!”
Zach Morgan turned as the sound of Hank Ketchum’s voice rose above the cries of the angry, drunken men around him. For once he, himself, was sober. He had been planning this for a long time. If he couldn’t catch and kill the Indians that had murdered his friends and left him bleeding and a hair’s breadth from dying, then he would kill every one he could get his hands on. They were animals. None of them deserved to live. One of them had murdered his brother’s family. The high-talking uppity one that was Daniel Boone’s friend had made a fool of him. And this one—the one in the jail—he had killed a White man years before and never faced justice for it.
Well, Copperhead would face justice now, in the form of a rope.
Zach’s watery eyes searched the crowd again, looking for the man who had come to him, offering to help. He thought he would have been here. After all, it was his father who was the lawyer who had died in the raid this man’s savage kin had staged. He should want to see him pay. As Zach shook his head, not understanding, Hank Ketchum pushed his way through the crowd and along with Josiah Barrows, mounted the steps. There was another man between them. Dark-haired. Dressed in fancy clothes.
A slow smile spread across Zach’s beefy face as he recognized him. He stepped down to face Daniel Boone’s Indian friend.
“Looks like we’re gonna have us a double-hangin’”
“You mean Dan’l Boone ain’t here?”
“No. Not Daniel Boone.” White Wolf had closed the door part way and was watching the mob through the crack. He turned to Jacob Lewis. “I must light this arrow and send it into the sky. Then the others will come.”
“Others?” Jacob was not too sure of this intense young man. “What others? Who are you?”
“Who I am does not matter. Whitehair leads us.” White Wolf paused. “I see you recognize the name. Will you aid us then? And help us defeat these men?”
“I will,” Jacob said. “I don’t hold with what you or Dan’s boy have been doin’, but I hold with hangin’ even less. I ain’t sayin’ we’ll set Fox free once we stopped them, but we’ll help you save him—and the others—from the likes of Zach.”
White Wolf nodded. “That is enough for now.” The native stepped over to Cincinnatus and indicated the lantern. The old man opened the tin flap and pushed it toward him. As White Wolf pressed the tip of his arrow into it and it burst into flame, he asked, “You have a timepiece?”
“Matthew,” the tavern-keeper yelled, “you carryin’ that pocketwatch your sister sent you?”
The man nodded.
“Five minutes,” White Wolf said as he stepped out the door, “no more. No less.” And with that word he disappeared into the shadows that masked the side of the building.
“Five minutes,” the old man was muttering, “five minutes.... Time enough to get my old blunderbuss and prime her.”
“You’ll kill yourself with that antique, old man,” Jacob said as the tavern-keeper lovingly and reverently lifted it from the hook on the wall behind the counter where it had hung for almost twenty years. “It’ll explode in your face.”
Cincinnatus grinned. “Well then, I’ll just hold it backwards. That way it can blow up in Zach’s.”
“You heard me,” Zach was shouting, “you got one minute to come out here with your hands high or he swings.”
Mingo held very still and tried to mask the terror those words unleashed within him. The old fear was still there, not of death, but of death by hanging. He had never told anyone. Only his mother and uncle had known. Once, when he had been a very little boy, he had stumbled into a hunter’s noose. It had tightened on his throat, cutting off his air. His uncle had found him in time and cut him loose, but since that day he had had an unnatural fear of being hanged. He still felt shamed by the way the threat of it had unmanned him the first time Zachary Morgan had come after him. He knew Daniel had not understood. And he had not explained. It was hard, as a grown man, to explain how much remained of the little boy you had been. Mingo tensed as one of Morgan’s brutes held a knotted rope above his head and laughed.
Israel had better come soon.
As that thought came into his head two things happened. First, the door to the jail opened and Finlay MacKirdy appeared with his hands above his head. As Finlay stepped onto the porch, a man grabbed him and pulled his hands behind his back and bound them quickly. At that same time another man yelled something and pointed toward the sky. Mingo followed the gesture and saw a single fiery arrow blazing a path across it like a comet.
Zach Morgan noticed it to. He watched it for a moment and then saw Mingo doing the same. He came to him and took him by the throat. “What is that? Is it a signal? Who is it meant for?” Zach looked from Hank Ketchum to Josiah Barrows and Mingo saw it dawn on him. “Who’s guardin’ the tavern?” Zach shouted suddenly.
“Ain’t no one guarding it,” Hank answered. “They ain’t gettin’ out. We nailed the door shut and heaped the whole woodpile ag’in it.”
“You, idiots! Did you see that?” They looked up, but the arrow was gone. “That was a signal!” Zach turned away from Mingo. “Someone’s comin’!”
“Can’t be, Zach,” Josiah countered. “Ain’t no one left to come.”
Adohi had come to the door and been taken as well. Last of all, Copperhead appeared, freed, no doubt, by Adohi from his prison cell. Mingo was startled when he saw his friend. If it hadn’t been for his skin color, at first sight he wouldn’t have known he was a native at all. Copperhead’s hair was short. His clothing colonial. He was dressed in a simple coat and breeches that had been torn and were stained with filth and blood. He looked like any white man. And still they hated him.
Maybe because he did, they hated him.
“There ain’t no time!” Zach shouted, pulling his flintlock pistol. “We gotta kill ‘em here and now.”
“You just gonna shoot ‘em?” Hank’s blue eyes were wide.
Zach looked at him and then at the rest of his men. Some of them were backing away. “What’s the matter with you? What does it matter how they die? Just so they do.” He reached out and caught Copperhead by the arm and began to draw him toward Mingo.
Adohi cried out and even as Mingo heard Finlay caution him, moved to take hold of his father. One of Zach’s men struck the boy savagely on the back of the head with his gun and Adohi fell, unconscious. Finlay knelt beside him.
Copperhead called out to the Scot. “Watch over him,” he pleaded.
Finlay nodded, “I wills.”
Zach stepped forward and grabbed Copperhead’s bound arms. He pulled him forward and placed him at his side. Mingo looked at his old friend. The Cherokee smiled grimly. “Cara-Mingo, it is good to see you again. Let us hope it is not for the first, and last time,” Copperhead said.
Mingo tensed as Zachary Morgan leveled his pistol at his friend. Then he swung it on him. “Which one first I wonder?” Zach teased.
“I’d think twice about pullin’ that trigger if I was you, Zach.”
Morgan tensed. He pivoted. It took him a moment, but then he picked the white-haired man out of the crowd. “You!”
“Yeah, it’s me, Zach. Seems like we just keep meetin’ up like this.” Mingo watched as Israel Boone moved to the front of the column of men. Behind him were White Wolf and Monlutha, and behind them and his other warriors, Jacob Lewis, Cincinnatus, and the men from the tavern. “You can’t take us all on, Zach. Give it up. Half of your men have deserted you already. They wanted a lynchin’. It’s clean, and you don’t have to get your hands dirty.” Israel paused. “But you know all about dirty hands, don’t you, Zach? How many Indians have you killed? How many families? How many mothers, fathers, daughters and sons have died, just like your kin?”
“Shut up, boy. Shut up.” Zach held the pistol to Mingo’s head. “I’ll kill ‘em both.”
“Not before I kill you, Zach. You can’t do more than shoot one. Which one? You hate ‘em both.” Israel moved even closer. “You hate everyone, Zach, but most of all, I think you hate yourself.”
“You’re wrong, boy,” Morgan whispered. “Most of all I hate you.”
Mingo heard it in his voice, but he couldn’t move. He was held too tightly. He opened his mouth to cry out.
Morgan pivoted. His flintlock fired.And Israel fell to the ground.
- Continued in Chapter Ten -