The Boone family burst out of their cabin en masse as he and Daniel stepped out of the trees and started down the path to the door. It had taken the two of them several days to wend their way back from the Cherokee lands. They had gone there to seek Menewa and his men, but they had not found them. Mingo smiled and stepped aside as Rebecca, Israel and Jemima claimed and then hugged and kissed their father. He watched them with longing for a moment and then turned to make his way into the cabin. As he did, a small hand locked in his and he looked down to find Israel looking up at him.
The boy's wide blue eyes were filled with tears.
"Israel?" he asked. "What is it?"
"Menewa was here," Rebecca said softly, coming to stand beside them. "We know what happened."
"About Kestrel," Jemima added with a small sigh.
"Ah, I see." Mingo knelt so he was on a level with the boy. "I am sorry about Kestrel, Israel. I know you were very fond of him. I.... I was as well."
Israel nodded. "Menewa didn't know if you was alive or dead," he said abruptly.
"You can see that I am not only alive, but well," Mingo said as he regained his feet. Then he winced as pain shot through his leg.
"Well?" Rebecca's hands went to her hips as she sized him up. "Mr. Murray, you are as bone-thin as a hog that's been walked overland to market, and pale as freshly churned butter. And I noticed that limp as you walked up. Men!" Her blue eyes flicked to her husband as the end of her lip lifted in a familiar teasing smile. "How can you expect to heal if you insist on gallivanting all over the territory before you're mended? I insist you get back in that cabin and take the proper time to mend. You hear me?"
Mingo swallowed. He glanced from Rebecca to her husband. "Are there any female generals in that Continental Army of yours, Daniel?"
Dan laughed. "Nope. You think there should be?"
Mingo nodded. "It would be one way to make certain you win the war. Now if you will excuse me...."
"And just where do you think you are going?" Rebecca asked.
He looked at her. "To join my People. Menewa went to -- "
"Take back Chota," she broke in. "I know. It's been done."
"It has?" Dan asked with a grin. "Already?"
"We chased them fake Cher-o-kee out of there lickety-split," Yadkin pronounced loudly as he emerged from the cabin. He took a swig from the pewter mug he held and stopped at the edge of the porch. "Where have the two of you been? It sure is plain as the nose on my face that you ain't been to town to see the tailor." The blond approached them. He reached out and pinched the sleeve of the buckskin jacket he wore. "What happened to that there fancy red coat of yours, Kerr?"
Mingo smiled. The gruff frontiersman would not understand. Before he left the graveyard he had placed it across his mother's shrunken form in repayment for the blanket she had given Kestrel. Somehow, it had seemed appropriate. "I left it behind, Yadkin. Along with that name. I am Mingo now."
Yad's eyebrows peaked. "Mingo? Seems a funny sort of name for an Englishman."
"But not for a Cherokee. And that is what I am now." Mingo nodded and then turned to Daniel and his family. "And now if you will excuse me...."
"Not so quick, Captain Kerr Murray-Mingo," Rebecca said as she hooked his arm in hers. "Even if you won't listen to me, you'll want to go in the cabin before you leave. Your chief left a message for you. It's inside."
"A message?" he asked suspiciously.
Rebecca' coppery brows winged toward her bangs and she looked affronted. "Are you insinuating that I am not telling the truth?"
Mingo shook his head. "No. I would never defame any lady in such a way, let alone you, Rebecca. I am merely surprised."
The lovely redhead smiled. "Well, come inside, then, and get it. Then you can leave us if you like."
Mingo frowned as she began to draw him toward the cabin. He glanced at Daniel. The tall frontiersman shrugged. His look said he might as well humor her.
As if he had a choice.
As they reached the door Rebecca stepped back and waved him in. Puzzled, he frowned, and then stepped inside only to find out he wasn't alone. Someone was standing before the fire. The man wore a deep green hunting frock and buckskin leggings. As Mingo moved into the room, he turned toward him.
It was Thomas Strong.
"T-Thomas?" Mingo stuttered. "Dear Lord, Thomas?"
"Sir!" Thomas Strong shouted as he set his mug down. Three large steps brought the burly man across the room where he caught him in an unexpected embrace. Then Thomas stepped back to inspect him. Mingo knew his Cherokee garb must have seemed odd to the English soldier. After a minute Thomas grinned broadly. "Sir?"
Mingo laughed. "No, not 'Sir'. It shall never be 'Sir' again. But, Thomas, what are you doing here? You should be back on the ship. You'll be considered derelict of duty and hunted down."
"I 'ave a new assignment. Orders that came from the Governor General 'imself." Thomas's grin softened to a protective smile. "I'm to look after you, Sir."
Mingo bristled. "Thomas. Now don't you start. I don't need looking after."
Rebecca Boone cleared her throat as she came up behind him and gently poked him in the leg. As he winced and faltered, she said softly, "I'd take him up on it if I were you. At least for a while."
"Bein' a Cherokee ain't all that easy, Mingo. Might be as you will need some help," a friendly voice remarked as a hand came down on his shoulder. Mingo turned to find that Yadkin had come to stand beside him. "Better listen, there, Kerr....er...Mingo. Daniel and I cain't always be around to pull your half-British, half-Cher-o-kee bacon out of the fire."
Mingo looked at his former sergeant. "But what about your family, Thomas?"
" 'E said 'e would send them over."
"My father, you mean?" Mingo asked. "He intends to pay for your family's passage?"
Thomas Strong nodded. "I want to stay with you," he said. Then he frowned.
The sergeant cleared his throat. "Do I 'ave to call you 'Mingo', Sir?"
Mingo shook his head and let out a long, heartfelt sigh. "You're hopeless, Thomas. Call me what you will." He hesitated a moment, considering the unexpected course his life had taken, then, suddenly, he remembered. He turned toward Rebecca Boone. "You said there was a 'message'?"
She nodded. "Thomas has it."
He frowned as he turned back. "Thomas?"
"It's from your uncle, Menewa, Sir. 'E said you were to stay 'ere until you were mended."
"He what? Stay here?"
"With the Boones. Chief Menewa said you should not go 'ome to the Cherokee until you were in full strength."
Mingo frowned. He was anxious to join his mother's people, and to begin to relearn all the things he had forgotten. "But, I had intended...." He hesitated as he felt a tug on the bottom of his jacket. When he glanced down, he found Israel Boone. "What is it, Israel?" he asked.
"Would you read to me? From that book you had? I want to find out what happened to that man who wanted so bad to be King."
Mingo stared into the boy's eyes and saw that there was a place in them -- and in his young heart -- for him. He looked at the other members of his family and saw the same invitation there.
This was it.
The chance to belong.
To finally fit in.
The man who had been Kerr Murray -- the heir to centuries of prestige and honor, the son of wealth and ease, the man who would be an Earl -- nodded as he placed his arm around the small boy's shoulders. "Israel, that man found out too late that being King really mattered very little, because in order to become King, he had to become someone he was not. Sadly, MacBeth never found out who he really was."
Mingo paused. How wise God had made them. There was nothing so poignant -- or pointed -- as the question of a child.
He glanced at Daniel Boone and found him smiling.
"Yes, Israel. At last, I know who I am."