"You will tell me why he is here." The tall native lifted his hand and watched with pleasure as the Englishman grimaced, awaiting the blow. When it fell, it was all the soldier could do to remain upright.
"I told you, we came 'ere to meet with you," Thomas gasped. "The captain 'as papers promising both muskets and gold. Our King wants to be your friend - "
"Your king wants to use me. He will promise the sun and moon and then, when we defeat the Americans for him, he will forget his promise and grudge us even the dirt it takes to cover the faces of our dead."
The soldier shook his head. "That ain't the way it is."
"It is always the way it is with the white man." The chief of the Cherokee gestured sharply and watched as one of his men hauled to English sergeant to his feet. He addressed the warrior. "You will take this man to the place we spoke of. See to it you are not followed. I do not want the other, or any of Menewa's scouts to find him before it is time." He paused. "You know what will happen to you if he is discovered."
"Yes, Firemaker." The muscular Creek nodded as he passed the soldier to another man who took him outside. "I have no desire to die. I will see he is not."
Firemaker grinned. "I knew I could count on you. That is why you are still with me, Nitabitka." He clamped his hand on the bare shoulder of the man whose name meant, 'Bear Dance' in the white man's tongue. "How long have we walked together?"
"A long time. You had not yet seen six summers when you were returned to our people."
The tall native's jaw tightened. "And to my father."
Bear Dance frowned at his tone. "War Bonnet was a great warrior," he asserted.
Firemaker's words were cold and hard as the heart behind them. "He was an old man who lived in shame because he had no stomach to take on the English, or to take back what was rightfully his." When the other man remained silent, he laughed. "It is an old argument between us. Is it not, my friend?"
Bear Dance nodded. "Yes," he said softly. "Firemaker?"
The warrior's dark eyes met his chief's. "When the Redcoat dies, it will be over?"
Firemaker knew his old friend thought his thirst for revenge jeopardized the control they had gained over the Cherokee and their fertile lands. Bear Dance did not like the game he was playing with the British. But then the Creek warrior could not see the future as he could. Firemaker struck his chest with his fist. "It will end with his death. This I promise."
Bear Dance nodded. "That is good. Then we can put up the tools of war. I have no desire for my sons to die." With that he turned and exited the lodge. Firemaker watched him go. Then he returned to the place where the English sergeant had been beaten. The man's blood stained the earth. With a whispered prayer to the Master of Breath, he placed the toe of his moccasin in the crimson liquid and ground it into the dirt. Then he lifted his head and stared at the red coat that had been stripped from the soldier's back. John Murray had worn such a garment when he had come to their village and killed its women and children; when he had wounded his father, almost to the death. The Englishman had worn it when he had stolen his mother away from the adopted people she loved, and taken her by force back to the weak-minded Cherokee.
Firemaker closed his eyes. He had been very young then, but he remembered. And what he had not been able to remember for himself, his father's mother, Naani Aatibii, had told him before she died. The old woman, Mankiller, had been the one who had seen to it that he was rescued from his mother's captors years later. If she had not done so, he would have grown up in the Cherokee village like his metizo brother and been raised by the English soldier, and ended up just as weak and worthless.
Walking to the open door, Firemaker leaned against one of the strong poles that supported the thatched roof and turned his face toward the risen sun. He realized now how foolish he had been several days before. News of his brother's return had made him rash. Attempting to kill Cara had been a mistake. The arrival of the British major had made it clear just how much more valuable he was alive. Firemaker shifted and stepped into the sunlight. Cara's father had been a junior officer then - a simple soldier and surveyor. No longer. Now he was Governor General of Virginia; an important man who made important decisions. One who loved his English son well, and would most likely do anything to save him from torment and death.
The tall native's teeth showed in a feral grin as he began to move forward. He wondered if his brother even remembered him. Cara had been a little more than a babe the last time he had seen him. He wondered as well if the English Governor's son was aware of the promise he had made him all those years ago. Firemaker could still see the pale son of the white man lying on the skins, wrapped in a blanket the Englishman had called 'tartan'. The women had come to take their mother to the water for the rituals that followed giving birth. John Murray had accompanied them, leaving Firemaker and his new brother, Cara, alone in the lodge. As he walked to the baby's side and stood staring down at him, hate had flooded through him.
It was then he had vowed Cara would never live to become a man.
But fate had laughed at Firemaker instead. All too soon it had spirited his brother over the ocean and deposited him out of his reach. And now that Cara had returned? Still, fate laughed at him. Even though his hands and his heart ached to take revenge, he was forced to wait.
As Firemaker turned to look toward the southeast and the white man's settlement, a sly smile lifted the corner of his lips once again. He would obey the will Master of Breath, but he would have the last laugh. If he was patient.... If he took his time....
He would have them both.
Kerr raised his eyes above the rim of the horn cup he held and stared at the man who stood beside the water. They had decided to break their fast and had taken shelter in a rocky area near the bend in the river, hoping the noisy tumble of water over stone would mask their presence. Throughout their journey they had spoken little, and each time he had glanced at the tall frontiersman, Daniel Boone's lips had been drawn in the thin straight line. Kerr knew he had been trying to decide whether or not he could trust him.
He only wished he had the answer to that unspoken question.
Tossing the remainder of the liquid into the rushes, Kerr returned his cup to the regulation kit he wore. He had donned his red coat again, but found it sat uncomfortably on his shoulders. With a frown, he called the other man. "Daniel?" At first it seemed he hadn't heard him. Then, several heartbeats later, the tall man stirred. Daniel inclined his head in his direction and motioned that he should join him.
Kerr placed his hat on his head and limped to his side. His wound was still bothering him, though fortunately it had not seemed prone to mortify as the older man, Cincinnatus, had feared. Still, it put him off his stride. The keen edge that had served him so well in France and the West Indies seemed to be gone. He felt vulnerable and ill at ease. Nodding his head in greeting, Kerr stopped beside the tall American. Of course, those feelings could have been the result of pangs of conscience. He liked Daniel Boone. He was a good man. One he would have liked to have called a friend, rather than judged a worthy opponent.
Such were the ironies of life.
"Shh. Take a look over there."
Kerr frowned as he gazed at the tall swaying trees and the blue sky beyond. "What?"
"There." Daniel pointed. "At the top of the rise."
Kerr's frown deepened. All he could see was a large predatory bird hovering near the horizon, its broad wings spread wide. "What? The eagle?"
Daniel nodded. "Flying against the wind."
Kerr smiled. "I take it that holds some particular significance for you?"
The tall man turned and looked at him. "You might say he's a kind of a rebel."
One dark eyebrow lifted. "Oh, I see. Is this where you seek to employ your home-spun, plain-spoken truths and axioms in a thinly-veiled attempt to convince me that the Colonies rebellion against their Sovereign and most gracious King is, in fact, a noble thing?"
The frontiersman's lips quirked. "Yep. I find you an intelligent man, Kerr, and a passionate one. It's hard to believe you agree with what your King and his agents have done here."
"And what has His Majesty done that you find so offensive, Daniel? Offered the colonies his protection? Brought them prosperity and wealth? Where would your merchants be without England?" He shook his head. "The Spaniards have no demand for your staves and planks, or your farm produce, and the French little or none. No, Daniel, Britain is the principal mart for your lumber and a part of your grain, tobacco, and many other articles. Where will you go if not to England?"
Dan's gaze returned to the eagle. It was spiraling now, each turn bringing it closer to them. "We'll fly alone."
"And protect yourself alone? Come now. You are not a naive man. You were in the conflict with the French. You know how little it takes for a nation to move from a position of power to that of a conquered land."
"No, I am not naive. But you are right, I am a man. And as such I demand the rights of a man." Daniel turned toward him. "To make my own way and my own choices, and to defend them to the death."
"And just where does your idea of what is it to be a man come from, Daniel? Not reality," Kerr countered. "The reality of man is a desperate state. Those in power laud it over those who are not. It is that way in England, I will admit, but you must admit it is the same here. If you wantonly throw off subordination to the British Parliament, you will inevitably fall under the dominion of some foreign tyrant, or the more intolerable despotism of a few American demagogues. You have to admit, Daniel, that the English constitution with all of its imperfections, is, and ever will be the pride and envy of mankind. Individualism is safer in England than in any other part of Europe."
"For Englishmen, maybe. Not for those who disagree with them, or who they look upon as willful children." Dan's green eyes narrowed. " 'Monarchy and succession have laid the world in blood and ashes,' " he quoted.
Kerr smirked. "I too have read Thomas Paine. He is a reactionary. Yes, there are things that are in want of changing, but calling the monarchy the 'most prosperous invention the Devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry', is treasonous."
"Paine knows what it is to fly against the wind. His words are plain truth. It is the pride of Kings that throws Mankind into confusion."
"And it is pride that comes before a fall when a nation forgets to be grateful to those who founded it, and comes to think it can survive without a King." Kerr bristled. "And the pride of a man."
Dan was silent a moment. When he spoke, his words seemed to take on a more personal tone. "It seems to me, Kerr, that a man has to grow up and take care of himself. There comes a day when he has to leave those who gave him life behind and make his own choices, if he is going to be worthy of being called a man."
"In England those words would have been enough to bring out the dueling pistols." Kerr drew a deep, steadying breath. He had realized he was being bated, but he was not certain to what end. "How unfortunate I left my pair with my valet on the ship."
The frontiersman's eyes sparkled. He pursed his lips. "I make it a habit not to take on a wounded man."
"Oh, really? Then why do I feel as if I have just survived an attack?" Kerr shook his head. And he had thought this man uneducated. "I think perhaps it would be best if we moved on."
"In a minute." Daniel remained where he was. He cocked his head and seemed to study him.
"What?" Kerr looked at his feet, his clothes, and then behind him. "What? What is it?" he asked as he turned back.
The tall man raised one brown eyebrow. "Becky thinks you are part Cherokee."
He froze. "Does she now?" he said softly.
"Is she right?"
Kerr paused. His dark eyes locked on the other man's face and found no judgement there. When he answered at last, the effort left him breathless. "Yes."
Daniel nodded. "That's a hard road you've chosen to walk, Kerr. Livin' with a secret. Hidin' what you are."
"Why would you say that? How do you know I have hidden it? Why, the whole of London might know...."
"Well, other than that hair," Daniel nodded toward his shoulder-length black locks, "you seem every bit the proper Englishman. And I bet there aren't too many half-Cherokee captains in the British Army, or attending Oxford for that matter."
Kerr's smile was self-deprecating. "You'd win that bet."
Daniel shifted and leaned his weight on Ticklicker. "So how did you end up in England? Or was your mother there?"
"No." He grew silent as his gaze went to the trees and he thought of what lay beyond them.
"No, she is here."
"Is? Still livin', you mean?"
"No." Kerr shook his head. "I know you wondered where Kestrel took me yesterday. I believe it was not far from here. A graveyard. The bier was still there...."
"I see." Daniel nodded solemnly. "So this trip to Chota you are so bent on makin', is that personal, or business for the Crown?"
"I will tell you what I told Kestrel," Kerr answered as he turned back toward him. "I honestly do not know." Then he frowned. His companion was staring at the sky. He followed his gaze. The eagle had come close and was circling over their heads.
"You see that?" Daniel asked.
"The eagle? What of it?"
"Maybe you don't remember, but the Cherokee place a lot of significance in animals and birds. To them the Eagle is a symbol of peace." Daniel pointed toward the bird. "You suppose that's because it takes an ability to fly against the wind, to be your own man, to make and keep the peace?"
Kerr laughed. "Are you suggesting that I have been chosen and brought here by some other-worldly force, to work some kind of magic? To make peace between the Americans and the British, or the British and the Cherokee?"
Daniel shrugged. "Well, I think there might be somethin' to that. It seems he's chosen you."
"He?" Kerr pivoted and looked up. The eagle had taken roost in a mighty oak and was watching him. As he met its gaze, it seemed to nod, and then it spread its wings wide and took flight, heading for the village of Chota. He noticed it was still defying the wind.
"What is it you want, Kerr?" Daniel asked him softly. "Do you know?"
Kerr stared at him. After a moment he shook his head. Then he returned to their camp and shouldered his pack.
Daniel Boone did the same, and the two of them disappeared into the trees.
A coppery hand snaked out. Bear Dance's head shook as he took hold of his companion, Green Snake's, bow and pressed the tip of it down. "No arrows. We will cut them off before they can cross the water."
"So close to the river?" the warrior asked. "What of the others who dwell near there? What of the Shawnee?"
"There can be no more than half a dozen here. We have had scouts watching. Besides, this is not their fight." Bear Dance shook his head. "Would they give their lives to save a white man and an Englishman?"
"Kestrel could be with them. They are of his sept."
"He is not." Red Cedar, another warrior, asserted as he joined the two men. "Kestrel was last seen at the settlement. Word has just come that he met with Menewa and went northeast."
"Northeast?" Green Snake was surprised. "What is there that would call him?"
"Only death. No matter where he goes, there will be death," Bear Dance said as he turned toward the trees. Red Cedar's appearance signaled that the warriors who traveled with them had completed their ritual. They were cleansed and ready for battle. "We will form two lines and travel single-file on either side of the path." Bear Dance caught Green Snake by the arm as he started to move away. "Remember, the Englishman is not to be harmed. He is to be taken to Firemaker, whole and unspoiled."
"And the white man, Boone?" the warrior asked.
Bear Dance's grin stretched from ear to ear. "He will be ours."
"What is it, Kerr?"
He had stopped and was staring at the trees that surrounded them. "I don't know. Something...."
"That an Englishman's 'somethin'?" Daniel asked. "Or you thinkin' like a Cherokee?"
Kerr shot him a mildly annoyed glance. "I don't remember how to think like a Cherokee. Or no, wait. According to Kestrel the Cherokee don't think. They feel."
"Well, what are you feelin'?"
He frowned. "Like we should be anywhere but here."
"I must have a mite of Cherokee in me too. I'm feelin' the same thing." Daniel's eyes were on the shadows that shifted beneath the trees. "You think we should split?"
Kerr shook his head.
"Me neither. I think we'll be safer together."
"A Redcoat and a rebel kept 'safe' by watching each other's backs?" Kerr laughed. "I would say that was flying in the face of the wind."
Daniel shrugged. "Well, I'm not really known for doin' what's expected."
"Neither am I." Kerr frowned even as the words passed his lips. But was that true? It was true that his father thought he was incorrigible, and his commanding officers had branded him 'willful' and 'stiff-necked'. And yet in so many ways he had never challenged the mold the older man had wanted him to fit in to. He had been the dutiful son and followed in John Murray's footsteps - first at the academy, then at Oxford, and now in the army. It seemed odd to be considered a rebel and yet, to be such an obedient son. Kerr drew his Scottish flintlock from behind his belt and cocked the hammer. "In the trees," he whispered as he nodded toward them.
Daniel agreed. "I know. A couple dozen by the sound of it."
"The odds are not in our favor." Kerr shook his head. "If we were playing cards, the prudent thing would be to toss in our hands."
Daniel's green eyes sparkled. "Somehow, Mr. Murray, I never took you for a prudent man."
"You, my friend, are a good judge of character." His other hand went to the whip that rested on his hip. "Shall we?"
"Why not?" Daniel raised his rifle and took aim. As he fired, Kerr's flintlock pistol spat and two feathered forms tumbled out of the trees. "Only eleven to one now," the frontiersman grinned.
"Better and better." Kerr lifted his whip and flicked its long black tail behind him. "I would suggest you reload while I...."
Daniel had been doing just that. He glanced up as Kerr fell silent. "What is it?" he asked.
Kerr had gone pale. He dropped his whip and pistol and raised both hands above his head. "The stakes have just been upped," he said.
As Daniel Boone followed his gaze, Kerr drew a deep breath and held it. Ringed about them was a solid wall of copper flesh. He counted twenty warriors in all. Slightly fewer than they had guessed, but the numbers really mattered little anymore. Two of the painted figures had stepped forward to thrust a bedraggled figure to the ground. He watched as one of them lifted the man's head and placed a knife at his throat.
Daniel came to stand beside him. "I guess I don't have to ask. The answer is written on your face. I take it that's your friend."
Kerr nodded even as the tall frontiersman tossed his rifle to the ground and raised his hands.
Two hours later Kerr found himself alone in one of the native lodges. After they had surrendered their weapons, both he and Daniel Boone had been bound. Then they, along with his sergeant, had been forced to march single-file to the Cherokee village. Thomas had stumbled several times and once, had fallen. When Kerr had turned back to ascertain that his friend was all right one of the warriors had struck him in the face, drawing blood. He had feared a knife or tomahawk was next, but then the broad muscular savage who led them had noticed the altercation and quickly moved between them. The two natives traded words he could not understand in a language other than Cherokee. Bear Dance, as he was called, won the argument. Kerr waited, arms crossed, as the warrior grudgingly assisted Thomas to his feet, and then ordered them to move on. He had gotten a grim smile out of his friend, and a nod. Then, above Thomas's battered head, his eyes had met those of the native who had struck him.
The man's coal black eyes had been filled not with hate, but with fear.
When they reached the village, they had been separated. Daniel Boone and Thomas had been placed in a lodge close to where they entered. He, on the other hand, was taken to the opposite side. Kerr frowned as he thought of the women and children he had passed on his forced march through the village streets. Their faces had been haggard; their forms thin. They had winced and ducked behind the blankets that covered their lodge doors at the slightest gesture or sound from one of his captors.
It was obvious the Cherokee of Chota were a people under occupation by a hostile force.
One slender girl's face still haunted him. She had stepped boldly into their path to stare at him. She had not seemed angry, but rather, curious. Green Snake had struck her down without a thought. She had risen to her feet, pale and shaking, and cursed the warrior soundly. Even though he hadn't been able to understand many of her words, Kerr had recognized the spirit behind them. By the time Green Snake had turned back, the girl had disappeared into the shadows that danced beneath the trees. He had seen her again though, just before they had thrust him into the lodge he now occupied. The girl had remained, becoming one with those shadows, and she had been watching.
Kerr's hands were bound but his feet were free, and so he paced the simple structure, attempting to collect his thoughts. He was where his father had wanted him, in Chota, and it was his duty as both an officer and a son to treat with this man, Firemaker, and to make him an ally. And yet it was obvious the man was a bully and a murderer, plus a usurper to boot. His mother's brother should be the chief here. After all, it was Menewa his father had mentioned to him back in Virginia. Abruptly Kerr stopped pacing and one black eyebrow peaked. His father had sent him to deal with Menewa. Ergo, it was his duty as well to see that the Cherokee's proper chief was restored. Once Menewa was in power again, he could - in all good conscience - offer him the muskets and gold and ask him to support the King. Kerr smiled and nodded. If his father was right Menewa would refuse, and that would be the end of it. And then he could go. He would not have to have a hand in Daniel Boone's destruction, nor in the destruction of Boone's home and settlement. He could return to his father and tell him in all truth that the plan had failed, and then sail back to England and the life he had known.
Kerr glanced toward the ceiling and the smoke-hole through which a beam of the late afternoon sun streamed. Above in the clear blue sky the eagle was drawing lazy circles, still keeping watch over him. A slight frown turned down the corner of his full lips as he pondered the words Kestrel had spoken when they had come to the fork in the road. Should he choose the easy or the arduous path? Kerr laughed softly. He had already chosen. He had just not admitted it to himself.
He would never return.
He would never stand in the House of Lords as his father's heir, Kerr Murray, the fifth Earl of Dunsmore. He would never marry a beautiful, giggling heiress and have ten empty-headed children of his own. He would not be the link his father so desperately needed, the one that would assure the continuation of a heritage and tradition centuries old. Whether gift or curse, that task would now fall to George, or Alexander, or one of his father's other sons. It was not for him.
Still, he wondered what task was his.
"You seem troubled, my brother," a quiet voice spoke from out of the shadows. "What is it you see? Your future?"
Kerr started. He glanced about but there was no one to be seen. "Who are you? Show yourself," he demanded.
"In time. First, I would see you."
The voice was rich and deep, and impossibly familiar. "Why do you call me 'brother'? Do I know you?"
"Are we not all brothers? We who are of the red skin, and you who wear the red coats? Is this not what the Great Father tells us?"
"Then why am I bound? And why has Thomas been mistreated?" Kerr remembered his sergeant's haunted eyes, as well as the bruises both above and beneath them. It was obvious he had been beaten. "The Great Father in Virginia will not be happy with his red brothers' behavior."
"And will the Great Father be happy to learn his own son has befriended one of the Americans? That he has been in his home, and walks at his side?"
Kerr frowned at the use of the term 'son'. It had not been one he had employed. "I was sent to contact Daniel Boone. The Governor knew of this."
"Yes, but did your father know that the blood of your ancestors, those who walked this ground, would call to you so that you would have to heed them? Did he know the weak, white blood in your veins would not be strong enough to still the voice of the Cherokee?"
Kerr frowned. Whoever it was stood near the door, clinging to the shadows. "Who are you?" he demanded again, an impatient edge entering his voice. "I insist you - " Faster than he would have thought possible, a figure leapt from the dark. It took him by the throat and propelled him backward. His knees encountered a low structure made of interlocked branches and he fell over it. A second later Kerr was pinned down and the sharpened edge of a hunting knife was pressed against his throat.
"Is this not familiar, brother? Now, do you not remember who I am?"
Kerr blinked. His attacker was tall and powerful, and reeked of damp leather, sweat, and blood. His face was masked in shadow. Framing it two unbraided raven tails hung, ending below his shoulders. From them beads and feathers dangled. "I cannot see you...."
"You do not need to see." The man's rough hand covered his eyes. Even as Kerr squirmed, trying to shake it free, the voice continued. "You do not need eyes to remember me. Your spirit will remember. Think, brother, of the snake in your cradle. Do you remember it crawling over your belly and sliding across your neck? If the white man had not come when he did, you would have died then. Do you remember?"
Kerr was breathing hard. He almost did. He could recall something dry and warm sliding across his neck, but the memory was vague. Almost as if it was something he had been told. "No...."
"No?" The man put more force behind the knife. The blade nicked Kerr's skin. "Perhaps, then, you will remember this. The sky was a brilliant blue and the corn, green and golden. It was the time of the harvest feast; a time of rejoicing. You sat with the old ones, listening to their stories. I was with the older boys, learning how to hunt, and how to make the bow and string it. How to pull back and release the arrow. How to let it fly and strike...."
Kerr grew silent. He did remember. He could see his grandfather's face staring at him. It had been frozen in horror. It had taken him several heartbeats after he had followed the old man's gaze and glanced down, to realize that an arrow had penetrated his side. When he had looked up, he thought he had seen his brother grin. But then the look was gone and his older brother had been at his side, whispering apologies and pleading that his fingers had slipped on the bowstring.
At the time Kerr had thought it nothing more than an accident. His brother loved him. He knew that. It could have been nothing else.
Now he knew he had been wrong.
"Tara?" Kerr whispered as the other man leaned back and the beam of light that penetrated the smoke-hole illuminated his face.
His brother laughed as he gripped his collar and pulled him up.
"Welcome home, little brother."
"So the captain, 'e's all right then?"
"He's been worried about you." Dan looked at the English soldier. Thomas was in bad shape, but then that didn't surprise him. What did was the fact that the man was still alive. The Cherokee chief was not known for being merciful. In fact, the only mercy Firemaker had been known to show was when he let his prisoners die quickly instead of torturing them for days. "How are you feelin'?"
"Ready to mop up the bleedin' forest floor with that devil." Sergeant Strong winced as he righted himself against one of the poles that supported the branch and mud roof of the lodge. "You think the captain will be all right?"
Dan nodded. He had noticed the Indians had taken special care not to harm the English officer, and that when one of them had struck him, the man had been dressed down by their leader. Obviously someone wanted Kerr alive. He wasn't certain though that the same would hold true for him or Kerr's enlisted friend. "You think you're up to a good fight, Thomas?"
The soldier grinned. "You thinkin' of startin' one?"
The frontiersman nodded again. "We need to get out of here."
"I won't leave the captain."
"Your captain will be safer if we're not bein' held hostage against him. I don't mean to leave him, Thomas, but I don't mean to let the Cherokee decide when we'll meet up again." Dan's green eyes flicked to the other man. "If I read him right, your captain won't do anything so long as he thinks his actions might get one or both of us killed. Am I right?"
The sergeant nodded. "'The Captain's like that, 'e is. 'E'll never make it to be a general. 'E's got too much 'eart in 'im. Cares too much for the men." Thomas was silent a moment. "And for the likes of someone like me."
"So it's up to us to free him to act."
"Aye. But I don't see 'ow we can."
"Well, on occasion I have been accused of bein' a man without a plan." Dan winked. "But this time, I thought ahead."
Thomas shook his head. "I don't get it, guv'nur. What are you...?"
A whippoorwill called out suddenly from close by. As the Englishman fell silent, Dan grinned. "Well, seein' as I was travelin' with a Redcoat - beggin' your pardon,
Sergeant Strong, you bein' one and all - I thought it best I have someone watchin' my tail who I knew to be friendly." His grin broadened as a familiar voice spoke from just outside the lodge.
"You in there, Dan'l?"
Dan shifted so he was close to the mud and branch wall. "What'd you do, Yad? Decide to stay in Boonesborough long enough to give that woman of yours a kiss? What took you so long?"
"That dang Injun of yours made me wait 'til he prayed to that heathen god of his. He spent half the morning wading in the river. I told him your scalp'd be hangin' from Firemaker's belt if he didn't get his hind end out of the water and on the road lickety-split."
"Kestrel's with you?"
"He's checkin' out the rest of the village. There's two men guardin' your door, Dan'l. You think you can act real nice and get one of them to poke his little plucked head inside?"
"You tellin' me you can't handle two Cherokee on your own, Yad?" Dan winked at the sergeant who was frowning at him as if he had a few screws loose.
"And leave you out of the fun? Now what kind of a friend would a man be if'n he did that? You tell me."
"Give me a couple of minutes, and then circle 'round," Dan said as he shifted and rose to his knees.
"Will do. You all in there? You and both them Lobsterbacks?"
"No. Kerr's not here."
There was a pause. "He treatin' with them savages, you think?"
Dan's eyes flicked to the soldier beside him. He noted again his bloodied and bent nose, his swollen eyes, and the obvious whip marks on his chest and chin. "I don't think so, Yad."
"I thought that was what he was here for."
The frontiersman shook his head. "Not anymore."
Yad frowned as he edged around the side of the lodge. It seemed he had passed half the Cherokee nation on his way through the village. He hadn't seen so many of the painted savages in one place since the time they had tried to overrun the settlement back in 'seventy-five. That had been the same year Kestrel had come to Boonesborough and made him think twice about believing all Injuns were the same. And now there was this here Redcoat about to do the same thing.
It had got to the place where a man just plain didn't know who to shoot anymore.
Yad gripped his rifle tightly as one of the two men guarding the lodge turned toward the door. He didn't know what Daniel had said, but the savage quickly ducked inside and disappeared. Yad scratched his mustache and twitched his nose as he crouched in the shadows cast by the round-roofed structure and waited for several heartbeats. Then he puckered his lips and whistled low. The remaining Cherokee turned toward the sound with a frown. Yad backed off a little further off and then whistled again. Then he counted to five and turned, and faced in the opposite direction.
As expected the guard came flying around the lodge with his knife in his hand. When he saw the rifle pointed at his chest, the native hesitated, and then continued on. Yad shook his head even as his thumb cocked the hammer. Leave it up to Dan to choose the wrong savage. This one evidently wanted to be a martyr. He was willing to die just so's he could sound the alarm and warn the rest of them.
Squeezing the trigger Yad obliged him, and then darted around the building and peered inside. The other Injun was on the ground. Dan was kneeling beside him. He noted the big man's forehead was bleeding. "We're for it, Dan'l," Yad cried as his friend looked up. "Your feet free?"
Dan nodded as he helped Sergeant Strong to stand.
"Then you best get to usin' them, cause the whole of the Cher-o-kee nation is bearin' down on us, and they're madder than wet hornets."
"The captain?" Thomas asked.
"We'll come back for him. I promise," Dan said.
"No time for promises." Yad grabbed the tall man by the arm and propelled him out the door. Then he nodded to the English soldier. "And you, you'd best get your Red-coated rump out of this here lodge and start runnin'!"
"So you do remember. That is good, brother. I want you to remember."
Kerr held very still, ever mindful of the knife at his throat. "I think I always knew you hated me and wanted me dead. I think, perhaps, that is why I tried so hard to forget you existed. I never understood why you hated me so."
"Why?" Tara laughed. "Why does the sun rise in the morning? Why do the stars shine at night? Why does the river run, or the rain fall?"
"It is God's will that all those things happen."
"Perhaps then, it is also God's will that you die," his brother answered.
Kerr shook his head carefully. "Not at your hand."
"No?" His brother hesitated. Then his dark brows arched as he lifted the knife and straightened up. Tara cocked his head and smiled as he released him. "No. You will not die. At least not now."
"What do you want with me? Why am I here?" Kerr shifted, seeking to ease the tension in his long frame just a little bit. He was still bent over the low framework of branches. His back was aching and his wounded leg on fire.
"Why are you here? Because you are weak, brother. Because you could not resist the bait I placed before you."
"You mean Thomas."
"Yes. Thomas. He is a strong man, this friend of yours. He did not betray you or your secrets." Tara paused. "But then he did not need to, as I know you well."
"You do not know me at all," Kerr countered. "We have not spoken since I was four years old. If that."
"Still I know you." Tara plucked at his red coat. "You are like your white father. You think you are better than the red man. You think you will come here and tempt us with your trinkets, with your offers of guns, and beads and needles for our women. You bring gold to buy liquor from the traders you own. Liquor which will weaken us and make us easy to overcome. Then you will take our women and get children on them, and weaken us further still."
"No. That is not my intention...."
Tara's dark eyes were keen. "You did not come here to offer us muskets and gold for loyalty to your King?"
"No. Well, yes.... That was the reason." He hesitated. "I was only doing my duty."
His brother caught his collar in his fingers again and drew him close. "Your duty," Tara spat. "Like the 'duty' your white father was performing when he raided my father's village, sought to kill him, and stole his wife because she was beautiful to look upon?"
"No!" Kerr protested vehemently. "That was not the way it happened."
"Was it not? Then you tell me how it happened."
"My mother was already a captive," he insisted. "She didn't want to be with the Creek. She told me that my father rescued her."
Tara shook his head. "She was afraid of him; afraid of this superior Englishman with his power and his might, and his men and horses. When those Talota had lived with lay dead around her - my father included for all she knew - what would you have had her do? Spit in his face? Die as well?" He gripped his bound arms and drew him to his feet. "She hated him. He was her captor."
"You are lying. You want to hurt me. You have always wanted to hurt me."
"I hate you as I hate him." Tara frowned. "Still I look at you and see him. But it does not have to be that way. Our mother's blood flows in both our veins." His brother released him and walked away. Then he pivoted sharply and held out his hand. "Join me."
Kerr scoffed. "Join you?"
Tara's hand remained extended. "You knew a man was here looking for you?"
He nodded. "Yes. A soldier."
"He had come to meet you and your man but he could not find you, and so he came here with his message."
"What message?" His brother's manner caused him to shudder. "What did he say?"
"He said, 'Tell Captain Murray he is to wait. The Governor General has decided to join him. He rides swift and hard, and will arrive in three days.' " Tara grinned. "That is tomorrow."
Kerr's heart sank as he watched his brother circle round him. "You mean to kill my father. Don't you?"
Tara nodded. "It is what I have lived for. And it is what you must do, if you wish to live."
He shook his head. "I do not understand."
"Tomorrow Lord Dunsmore will ride into this village seeking his son. He will meet him in the shadow of the trees that hug the river." Tara reached out and touched Kerr's shoulder. "Wearing his coat that is as red as blood."
"I give you tonight to decide if it will be you who wears it, or me. If you choose not to, then yours will be the blood that makes it red." Tara's dark eyes danced with a devilish delight. "Which will it be, brother?"
Kerr opened his mouth to reply, but was prevented by the appearance of the one called Bear Dance. As the powerful warrior stepped into the lodge shouts rang out through the village beyond. Tara crossed to his man and listened. He frowned, as if weighing his options, and then turned back to stare at him. Several long strides brought him quickly to his side. Kerr winced and ducked as his brother lifted his hand.
And then everything went dark.
"Is he still inside?" Dan asked.
Kestrel shook his head as he looked at his friend. "I do not know, Daniel. There were many men." The native tightened the cloth bandage on his lower arm. "There was much fighting. I could not keep watch."
Dan nodded. They had barely made it into the trees before the woods had exploded with Cherokee. He and the sergeant had managed to tumble into a dry gully and waited as Yad drew the Indians away. A short time later Kestrel had found them and freed their hands. The three of them had run and fought, and run some more before meeting up with the blond man again. Once reunited the quartet had faded into the trees and waited until finally, frustrated, Firemaker's warriors had given up the chase. Now, some two hours later, they had crept back through the gathering darkness to the edge of the village and were crouching behind the lodge where Kestrel said Kerr was being held captive. There was no one guarding it at the moment. In fact, the village seemed strangely quiet, as if all of its inhabitants were asleep. Dan placed his hand on his friend's shoulder. "You're certain this is the right place?"
Kestrel was frowning. A moment later he seemed to shake off whatever was troubling him and nodded. "Yes. I saw him enter. And the other."
"You mean the one that looks like the captain?" Thomas asked quietly. "Bleedin' bizarre that is."
Dan frowned. "Looks like the captain?" He turned to Kestrel. "What is he talkin' about?"
His friend shook his head. "It should be for Menewa to say."
"It's too late to wait for Menewa. Kestrel, what do you know? You mean Firemaker? What does this have to do with him? Tell me. Tell me now," Dan insisted.
The native started to rise. "I should go now. Something is happening."
The native hesitated and then turned to face him. A moment later he said without preamble, "Firemaker and the Englishman, they are brothers."
"Brothers?" It was Yad. "You mean, real honest-to-gosh blood brothers?"
Kestrel nodded. "Their mother was the same. She was Menewa's sister. They are both of his clan and his blood."
" 'Ere now, what are you talkin' about? The captain, 'e ain't no savage. 'E's a peer's son, born and bred. A nobleman."
Dan met the English soldier's astonished stare. "Think about it, Thomas. Strip off the coat and the years of culture, and what do you see?"
Thomas was silent a minute. When he answered, his voice was quiet. "All I need to see. A friend. An' one who is in trouble."
As Dan shifted forward and accepted a musket from Yad, he frowned. His fingers ached for Ticklicker, but he knew this one would have to do. "You ready then?"
The trio nodded. They rose as one and followed him to the door of the lodge. As the others brandished their weapons, Dan pushed the blanket aside and all four rushed inside.
"It is too late," Kestrel said. "I knew it was too quiet."
Thomas gasped. "The captain...where is 'e?"
Dan lowered his rifle and surveyed the empty lodge.
Continued Chapter Five