A question we have all asked ourselves from time to time. What if I had been born in another country? What if my parents had stayed together, or split up? What if I had chosen to pursue art instead of music, science instead of math?
This is a story of 'what if'. What if Mingo had not returned to the Colonies as a young man to live his life as a Cherokee warrior. What if instead he had grown up in England and accepted the role of a son of the Peerage? What if he had entered the army and risen through the ranks as any good English nobleman should?
What if Mingo was a Redcoat?
This is the story of Daniel Boone and Kerr Murray's (CaraMingo) first meeting and how their friendship might have fared if things had been different...
If Mingo had lived another life.
The tall dark-haired man stared at the approaching shoreline. The journey across had been rough at times; hard on the men who sailed with him who had left behind not only children and wives, but their very lives. For him, it was different. For him it was a fresh beginning; a chance to cast off the old and embrace something new. He adjusted his unflapped cocked hat and straightened his unadorned regimental coat. Though his men had at first looked at him with bemusement and chagrin, they had soon come to understand what lay at the bottom of his utter and complete rejection of the usual foppery and finery that went with being a British officer. He had been born to wealth and ostentatious show, had known it for two-thirds of his life, and had no need of it. He was who he was. He didn't need to prove his worth to himself or anyone else.
He nodded to the private who brought him the official word that they would make landfall within the half-hour. Like most Light Company enlisted men, Ames was an agile active man with a quick mind, capable of making immediate and accurate assessments and decisions. They would need that here, in this New World, where the children of the Mother country had risen in revolt against their caring parent, choosing to strike out at the very hand that fed them. After giving the young man a sealed envelope, he sent him on his way. As soon as they debarked Ames was to take one of the horses and speed to the capital. Lord Dunsmore was awaiting word of their arrival. Just as he awaited word from Lord Dunsmore of what his assignment would be. He was not here as a part of the Light Infantry or the regular regiment to which they were attached. He was here to do the bidding of the Governor General of Virginia.
Whatever that might be.
One of the seamen shouted something and the anchor was dropped. Soon the smaller boats would be lowered and he, as the highest-ranking officer on board, would take the first one and it would all begin. As he gazed out on the virgin forests he had not seen since he had been a small ragged boy clothed in filthy buckskins, with beads around his neck and feathers in his hair, he drew a sharp breath. What was it he felt? Could it be fear? A moment later he laughed aloud. He was the veteran of several campaigns against the French and had seen his fair share of action. He had taken a musket-ball through the left thigh and still continued fighting. He didn't fear pain or death. Or the enemy. So what was it made his heart lurch? What was it about the green trees and blue skies of Virginia that caused his legs to turn to jelly and his hands to shake?
He drew himself up to his full height and nodded as the sergeant of the light company told him the boat was ready. He knew what it was. Out there, in those trees, lay the secret he and his father had endeavored to conceal for nearly twenty years. The secret of his heritage. The secret of who he really was.
He wondered briefly if his mission would take him to the dark and bloody ground, and if it did, if he possessed the courage to seek out his mother's people. They would not know him. Not now. To them he would be but one more British officer come to offer them muskets and other wares for their loyalty and lives.
The dark-haired man started. "Yes, sergeant?"
"The boat, sir. It's waiting."
"Thank you, sergeant." He reached down and grabbed his cartridge pouch and knapsack and slung them over his shoulder. "Will I see you on shore?"
"Yes, sir. Later today."
"Be certain to bring my other things."
"Very good. You are dismissed."
As he started to go, the other man called him back. "Captain Murray?"
Kerr Murray turned to face him. He and the sergeant had developed a friendship while on board - something else he knew went against type. "What is it, Thomas?"
"Give those Yanks 'ell, sir."
Kerr stood at attention. He raised his arm and saluted smartly. Then his face split with its familiar grin.
"We'll make them bleed for good old King George."
"Lord Dunsmore, Captain Murray is here."
The handsome silver-haired man stood staring out of the window of the Governor's Palace. Beyond it the late Summer sun was setting, turning the lawn and the trees that lined it the color of gold. Though Lord Dunsmore missed London there was something about this place, about this 'New World', that was at once both intoxicating and invigorating. He had known it many years before as a young man, and had only lately returned as an old one-somewhat wiser, but not perhaps the better for all the years he had been away. He drew a deep breath and turned to his aide, Major Halpen. "Thank you, Edward. Show him in and then you may go."
"Sir." Halpen spun on his heel and moved swiftly through the double-doors.
A moment later a tall slender figure entered the room only to pause on the threshold with its head held high. The man reached up and removed his black tricorn hat in deference to the position of the one before him and then, shifting his cartridge pouch, powder horn and ornamental sword, executed an effortless bow. He replaced his hat with a smile. "Lord Governor."
Dunsmore sized him up. Murray's uniform was immaculate, but extremely plain; the regimental jacket cut down and stripped of both its lace and lapels. His hat was regulation, but just barely, and it sat atop long black hair that should have been plaited or clubbed, but was not. He seemed to have taken time to put on a fresh pair of white breeches and stockings and to polish his spatterdashes, but the captain was, as always, unconventional.
And, as always, himself.
"Captain Murray." Dunsmore put down the paper he was holding and walked around his desk. "The trip over was....?"
"Long. It would have been kind of Providence to found this New World a little closer to the Old one."
The Governor smiled. "Ah yes, but then She would not have presented such a challenge, or provided a proving ground for able and adventurous men. I take it you did not spend the entire voyage below decks this time?"
"Sir." Captain Murray seemed a bit put out. "I have not been seasick since I was a small boy."
The older man's left eyebrow rose. "You have not made this particular journey since you were a small boy. What do you remember?"
Captain Murray frowned. "Very little."
Lord Dunsmore ran a finger over his chin. "Do you remember your mother?"
"Not really. A face, perhaps. A voice." The young man shifted uncomfortably. "Why do you ask?"
The Governor recognized the lie. His son was playing the game well, telling him only what he thought he expected-or wanted to hear. "Have you considered why I brought you here?" he asked at last.
The grin was impulsive, as was his answer. "You missed me?"
"Not nearly so much as the ladies of the court will, now that you are here with me. Did you choose one yet?"
The black eyebrows peaked. "One what?"
"Kerr," his father said, employing his son's Christian name for the first time, "you are not so young as you were. I want grandchildren while I am still young enough to run after them. Did you choose one?"
"You make it sound as if I were purchasing a horse."
Lord Dunsmore moved to stand before him and met his gaze. "You are. And you need to choose a good breeder; one who will give you many fine sons."
The Governor raised his lace-lined hand. "I know. I know. But what of love?" He laid the hand on his son's strong shoulder. "It is a dangerous thing. It makes a man lose his head and forget his place in the scheme of things."
Kerr's dark eyes narrowed. "Even the son of an English Peer?"
"Especially the son of an English Peer," Dunsmore laughed, and then changed the subject. "How was your stepmother when you departed?"
"Healthy. Happy." Kerr took off his hat and ran a hand through his long, straight hair. "And surrounded by your legitimate heirs."
His father's lips pursed as he stared at the unruly black locks. "You should cut that."
"So you have told me."
"And you ignored me, as you always ignore me. What am I to do with you?" The governor moved to the side of the desk and leaned there.
"Exile me to some primitive wilderness far more suitable to my temperament than the royal courts and palaces of England?"
Dunsmore nodded. "Precisely."
"So I am to go to Kentucky?"
"Kentucky? Kerr, these are the Colonies, Philadelphia is a primitive wilderness. Even their most civilized city is filled with monkeys and jack-a-napes." As his son laughed, he sobered. "Ken-tah-ten is another matter. What makes you think I would send you there?"
The young man nodded his head towards the chair that rested before the desk. "May I, sir?"
Dunsmore started. "Yes. I am sorry. You must be tired. Some Port?"
His son declined. "No, thank you. I seldom drink this early in the day. It is only that we rode through the night- "
"Yes. Yes. Your courier arrived several hours before you. The men of the light company have been assigned, as have the regulars...."
"And I am still here." Kerr took a seat and then looked up at him. "I take it you have a special assignment for me?"
"One uniquely suited to your talents." Lord Dunsmore took a sip of the Port wine he had poured and shifted so he stood behind the desk; directly across from his son. "You know this 'Kentucky' is a county of Virginia and therefor under my dominion?"
"Under your dominion?" Kerr lifted his hand to his mouth. "Yes.."
Dunsmore watched as his son hid a smile. He knew Kerr had little patience with anything that smacked of pretension. In fact Major Halpen had reported overhearing him remark one time that his father-John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunsmore and Governor General of Virginia-thought he was an empire unto himself. The Governor's lips curled in a wry smile. The comment had not made him angry. His son was right. He was an empire unto himself-and one to be reckoned with. Dunsmore glanced at the young man over the rim of his glass of port. Theirs had not always been an easy relationship. Only in the last few years had they come to be anything close to what he would have called 'friends'. His half- Cherokee son's life had, unfortunately, been an endless series of tutors and nannies, servants and maids, commanders and kings. The governor knew Kerr had often felt as if he had neither a mother or father. Dunsmore finished his port and set the glass down on the desk.
It was true. There had been sacrifices. But then sacrifices had to be made to preserve a heritage centuries old; a heritage that would be his son's future.
"Has there been some trouble then?" Kerr asked, breaking into his reverie.
"Trouble? No." Dunsmore twisted the glass between his fingers. "I would not call it trouble. I would say, perhaps, that a stone has been tossed into the still waters of Virginia's tranquil pond. At the moment the ripples are small and can be easily contained. But in time...."
"And the name of this 'stone'?"
His father sat in his chair. "Daniel Boone."
Kerr frowned. "I do not believe I have heard of him."
"No?" Dunsmore sat back and locked his fingers together. "He is a self-educated woodsman who distinguished himself in the conflict with the French that took place on this continent a decade ago. Since then he has taken to a life of exploration, and has been instrumental in opening up routes both south and west."
"Is he a young man?"
"Your age. Older by half a decade, perhaps. Maybe more." The governor laughed and pointed to himself. "Any way you put it, younger than this old man."
"Has this stone been thrown down in challenge?"
"That is what you are here to determine." Dunsmore rose to his feet again. "I have a scheme in mind-one that might very well secure the territory this Boone claims for the Crown. Territory, I might add, that is vital to our cause and to this war we are fighting."
"Then you know, sir, I will do everything I can to aid you."
"Even go back? To Ken-tah-ten? To the land of Singing Wind; the home of Talota, your mother?"
Kerr stiffened in his seat. He watched as he glanced toward the door.
"Halpen is not there," Dunsmore assured him. "I dismissed him when I sent him to bring you in. Well?"
His son was silent for some time. The Governor regretted now the years he had forbidden Kerr to speak of her. At the time the decision had seemed a wise one. Now, as an older man, he realized how deep that wounding might have been. Dunsmore moved to stand once again before him and placed his hand on Kerr's shoulder. The young man's eyes were closed. "What is it you see?" he asked softly.
The color had drained out of Kerr's deeply tanned face. "A hill," he answered in a tremulous voice. "A bier raised on stilts. There is a voice, singing a sad song, and a boy with ashes on his face."
"That boy was you," Dunsmore told him. "The voice belongs to Menewa, your mother's brother. I must tell you, Kerr, he is a strong man. He does not like the British."
Kerr's dark eyes snapped open and pinned him. "Did he like you?"
His father laughed. "No. Menewa tolerated me for his sister's sake, and for yours. Can you see his face?"
His son closed his eyes again. "Only as if I see him through smoke. Or, perhaps," Kerr paused, "a veil of tears."
Dunsmore's fingers tightened on his shoulder. "Enough to know him?"
Kerr looked up at him again. "You are sending me to the Cherokee?" Dunsmore could tell he was trying to keep the panic from his voice. "Why?"
Lord Dunsmore drew a deep breath. When he spoke the words were labored, as if each carried a great weight. "My son, you have spent your entire life running from a ghost; a phantom called 'Cherokee'. You will never be free to be the man you were meant to be until you lay it to rest. This Boone has built his settlement near the village of Chota where your mother came from and where you, as a small boy, lived. It is time for you to return. Time for you to see that you are no part of that. Only then will you know you have nothing to fear."
Kerr swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Good." The governor squeezed his son's shoulder again and then released him. "You will go to Chota first and see if you can secure the Cherokee chief's loyalty. I will supply you with papers promising both gold and land. And then you will seek out this man, 'Boone'. You will befriend him."
His son seemed startled. "Befriend him? An uneducated frontiersman? What could we possibly have in common? How would we even carry on a conversation? Father, what you ask is...."
"Those are your orders, Captain Murray." The Lord Governor of Virginia drew himself up to his full height. "Do you chose to disobey them?"
He watched as Kerr rose wearily to his feet. "No, my Lord. I am, and will always be, your humble servant," he said with a smile.
Dunsmore gazed hard at him a moment. Then he opened his arms and, stepping forward, drew his son into an embrace.
"No. You are, and ever will be, my son."
Kerr pivoted with a start to find his sergeant breaking through the underbrush behind him. He had been preoccupied and had not heard him coming. It was a mistake which, had it proven to be any of the local inhabitants-colonial or native, might well have proven fatal. He smiled with chagrin. "Thomas, you must remember that it is 'Kerr' here, and not 'Captain'," he said. "I am a deserter, sympathetic to the Rebel's cause. You are with me as a friend, not a fellow officer. I am just a simple Englishman, hoping to find a new start in the New World."
"An' I'm the bleedin' King of England." Thomas who, having been born in Cheapside was about as far from being royal as was possible, grinned. "You could never be 'just a simple Englishman,' no matter 'ow 'ard you tried." The young man drew a breath and added with some difficulty, "Kerr."
"Practice will make perfect," Kerr laughed as he planted a hand on Thomas's shoulder. "But you must learn not to wince as though you were in pain as you say it."
"Yes, sir. Er, Kerr." This time Thomas managed to do no more than wrinkle his nose.
"That's better," Kerr said. "I think." The tall dark-haired man then turned away from his friend to gaze at the rolling hills of Kentucky. They had crossed the Ohio several days before and were, they thought, about a half day out from the settlement Daniel Boone had founded less than a year before. The Cherokee village of Chota lay somewhere nearby. His orders had been to reach this point, make camp, and then await a courier from the nearby British fort to make certain there had been no change in plans since he had bid farewell to his father. Knowing the older man and how well he thought out his schemes before hatching them, it was unlikely there would be-unless Daniel Boone had decided to pull up stakes and return passively to the Carolinas, which he very much doubted.
"Was there any sign of the courier at the rendezvous point?" Kerr asked.
"No." Thomas swallowed the 'sir' this time. "You want I should wait longer?"
Kerr thought a moment. "Yes. I think so." He glanced toward the sky. It was late afternoon and the sun's golden light had just begun to paint the autumn leaves a fiery red. "We will wait until dawn and then proceed, courier or no courier." He found now that he was this near the land his mother's people walked, he was anxious to seek them out. Kerr watched his sergeant's face as the man nodded. There was hesitation in it. "Thomas? What is it?"
The stocky Londoner shifted uncomfortably and glanced about. "I don't like leavin' you 'ere alone. God Almighty alone knows what could be 'idin' in these trees."
"Despite whatever it was my father told you when he briefed you before we left, I am a grown man. I can take care of myself." Kerr smiled and patted his hip. "Besides, I have my own things now."
The sergeant's blue eyes followed the gesture. A lean black snake-whip hung coiled beneath Kerr's fingers, its lead-weighted butt dangling beside the thigh of his white leggings. "That isn't regulation, sir," Thomas said observing it.
Kerr laughed. "Neither am I. And- "
"Don't call you 'Sir'." Thomas seemed to think for a moment. "Beggin' your pardon, er, Kerr...."
"You're still supposed to be a gentleman? Aren't you?"
The taller man nodded. "Yes. I think it might be a bit of a stretch for me to 'play' a country bumpkin, don't you?"
"Then, shouldn't you be accompanied by a valet? Or a man-servant?"
"What? Well, yes, but...." Kerr frowned. "You mean you? Why would you want to assume such a demeaning position?" The look on the other man's face stopped him and he laughed heartily. "Oh, I see. Very well then. Thomas, my valet," Kerr said, his voice all business, "you are dismissed to go about your duties."
Sergeant Thomas Strong executed a swift bow. He straightened up and a grin split his broad face as he saluted. "Yes, sir!"
Kerr waved him away and then turned back to the horizon, shaking his head. The class system was so deeply ingrained in Englishmen that even when they were invited to forgo it, most could not. Calling him 'sir' came as easily to Thomas as taking a breath. Kerr had watched with mild displeasure, as a boy and then a young man, the deference accorded him merely because he was a Peer's son. Fleetingly he had thought of fleeing his responsibilities, but then he had decided he could do more good from within the system then without.
Taking the map his father had given him from his breast pocket, Kerr knelt and spread it across the top of a boulder. Lifting his head, he eyed the tree-line valley before him. Boonesborough must be just on the other side of the ridge. He took his tricorn hat off and ran a hand through his hair, loosing a portion of it from the leather band that bound it. Kerr had not figured out just how he would work an introduction to Daniel Boone, though from all accounts, he should recognize him easily enough. The frontiersman was reputed to be tall as the trees and to wear a quaint cap made of coonskin. His father's informants had assured him both of these assertions were true. They had also warned him that Boone was prone to trust easily, but seldom fooled in the same manner.
Rolling the map up and tying it off with a string, Kerr placed it in his pouch. Then he rounded the boulder and sat on it. He cocked the hammer of his pistol as a precaution and laid it across his knees before closing his eyes. Then he tried to remember. He had run through these woods as a boy; had explored them and known every nook and cranny. But he had forgotten-he had forgotten everything except a woman's corpse, his white father's hand taking his, and the small boy who had chosen to walk away.
Or so he thought. And yet, from deep within came sounds; words he had once known. Opening his eyes, Kerr rose to his feet.
"Talota, my mother, a-ya e-hu," he whispered. "I have come home."
Close behind him, in the bushes, a feathered head turned. A native lowered his rifle and frowned. He thought he had heard the Englishman speaking words in the tongue of the Cherokee. The native watched as the slender man walked toward the horizon, and then shook his head as their leader ordered the attack.
It must have been the voice of the wind.
"It just ain't right, Dan'l. I tell you. It ain't right."
Daniel Boone grinned as he glanced sideways at his blond companion. He wondered briefly if Yad ever thought anything was right. Then he asked, "And what would that be, Yad? Is the sun too low in the sky? The moon too high?" Dan paused and listened carefully for a moment. "Or are the crickets not chirpin' quite loud enough to suit you?"
Yad crossed his arms over his chest and huffed. "Don't go makin' fun of a man afore you know what he's at."
The tall man sobered instantly and formed his face into a frown. "Yadkin, I apologize. I should have known that out here in the wild, with natives on one side and hungry bears and wolves on the other, you wouldn't be wastin' my time with idle complaints. What is it?"
"Well, Dan'l, when you put it that way...."
Dan's mock frown deepened. He cocked one eyebrow and tried hard not to break into a smile. "Yad..."
His friend cleared his throat. "I was thinkin' about that there snot of a Redcoat what came into the settlement last week wearin' his fancy sword, and throwin' his weight around like he was the King of all England."
Dan hid his surprise. A British major had come riding into Boonesborough nearly a week before, inquiring if they had seen any other Redcoats in the area of late. Dan had greeted him and offered him a chance to rest his feet while he wet his whistle with a pint in the tavern. Yadkin had growled and grumbled. After the man left, Dan had explained to his friend that sometimes charity was the surest way to make a man say more than he intended. Thanks to the ale the major had told him he was hunting a British captain who had gone missing. Dan shifted his cap back on his head and, this time, the frown that turned the corner of his lips down was a real one. From the look on the major's face the man must have gone missing with the Crown jewels in hand.
Whoever he was and whatever he had done, he was a wanted man.
"And just why were you thinkin' about him?" Dan said at last.
"Well...." The blond frowned. "Donna was mighty impressed by him."
Dan laughed and slapped his friend on the back. Yad's one-time fiancée, Donna Marshall, had only recently arrived in the settlement having decided to remain in North Carolina through the first winter. "Why, I'd think you'd take that as a blessin', Yad. I saw the look in her eye when she stepped off that buckboard and caught sight of you."
"I know. I know. Ready or not, here she comes." Yadkin sighed. "Afore you know it that woman will force a ring on my finger and hang a yoke around my neck."
"You think so?"
Yad frowned. "Don't you?"
"No." The tall man beamed. "I think she'll save the ring for your nose."
His friend growled a warning. "Dan'l...."
Dan took his cap off and tucked it behind his belt. Then he nodded toward the trees in front of them and they began to move again. "So what were you thinkin'? Maybe you should emulate this major?"
"Em-u-what him?" Yadkin's blue eyes narrowed to slits. "That got anythin' to do with fillin' him full of holes?"
Dan grinned again. "Jealous?"
The blond sputtered and drew to a halt. "Me? Jealous of one of them high-falutin', funny-talkin', nose-in-the-air foreigners? Consarn it, Dan'l Boone, what can you be thinkin'? If that woman don't know a real man from a Lobsterback, then there ain't any hope for her. You mark me, she'll come to her senses and she'll still be there waitin' when we get back from this...here...trip...." The blond's face fell. He swallowed hard. "I don't suppose, Dan'l, we might just happen on any other Redcoats while we're out here in this wilderness?"
Dan shook his head as they moved past a brace of tall trees. "Not unless we happen on that missin' captain the major was pursuin'- "
"I see 'em, and hear 'em, Yad. Indians!" He glanced at his friend. "Fight or fly?"
The blond's blue eyes grew wide as a dozen painted warriors came running over the hill, whooping and screaming. "Well, I don't know about you, Dan'l, but I think I'll choose to fight another day. When the odds are a little better."
The tall man nodded. "Quick. Behind the trees."
Yad moved even as Daniel spoke. As he squatted beside him, Yadkin raised his rifle and took aim. "They're huntin' us," he said.
Dan put his hand on the barrel of the other man's gun. "No. Not us. Him."
As he spoke another figure appeared. A tall dark-haired man in a bright red coat and white breeches broke from the cover of the leaves and quickly dashed across the open ground to crouch behind a boulder. Protected momentarily, the man began to load his pistol as quickly and efficiently as possible.
"He's slow to load," Yad said. "That's what he gets for carryin' one of them guns belongin' to fat old King George. They'll rush him next time he fires." The blond couldn't contain his smile. "Then he'll be just another dead Redcoat."
Dan was still staring ahead. "I don't know about that, Yad."
"What?" Yadkin's head came up at a sudden crack that was followed by a scream as one of the natives grabbed his throat and fell. Dan laughed even as his friend protested. "A whip? Why that ain't decent! Who'd save his scalp with a whip?"
The tall frontiersman rose to his feet. "I would," Dan said softly, impressed. "If I knew how."
Yad looked up as Dan raised his loaded rifle and sighted a target. As the shot rang out the blond growled, "I knew you'd do somethin' stupid. Now they're gonna come after us. Ain't no Redcoat worth riskin' your neck for, Dan'l, you know that. They'd as soon shoot you as say 'Howdy.'" Yad paused as Dan stepped out of the protection of the leaves. "You mark me, Dan'l, you save him and he'll turn around and knife you in the back with one of them bayonets those Lobsterbacks always carry!"
Dan glanced back and winked. "Maybe this one is different."
"Different? He ain't no diff.... Dan'l! Dan'l?"
As he joined the fray Dan heard his old friend break cover and begin to follow.
"Must'a been you got too much sun, Dan'l. Oh well, the party's gettin' on without me. Can't have that."
Behind him Yadkin's rifle spat and another native fell.
Kerr drew a deep breath and narrowed his eyes as he lashed out with the whip. This was not how he had intended to meet his mother's people-if these were his mother's people. He had asked some of the veteran campaigners on the ship, men who had served in the New World before, just how he would know a Cherokee from a Shawnee or Wyandot. They had laughed and told him it didn't really matter. He just needed to be able to tell an enemy from a friend. As the native's tomahawk fell from his hand to the green grass Kerr remembered the old Quartermaster's answer to his second question. 'How do I tell a friendly Indian from an enemy?' The man had grinned and clapped him on the shoulder.
It all depends on which way their weapon is pointed.
Kerr drew a deep breath as he reached for his cartridge bag. There were eight more. They were coming fast; much faster than he was able to load the Scottish flintlock pistol he carried. He placed it behind his belt and coiled the whip in his hand.
Ah well, perhaps it would be his mother he would be meeting, in Heaven, instead of her people here on Earth.
Grinning, Kerr released the lash and snapped it backward, ready to strike again. At that moment there was a loud report and the native rushing toward him fell. He glanced across the clearing, which was dotted with clusters of trees, and saw a tall man dressed in the manner of a frontiersman approaching. The man had his rifle raised and was taking aim again. Puzzled, Kerr dropped the whip and took the opportunity to reload his weapon. Even as he did another rifle sounded, and he looked up to see another man had appeared in the break between the trees.
That left only half a dozen of the screaming dark-skinned men alive.
Two each. He could deal with those odds.
Dan fired another shot and then took a moment to glance at the object of the native's fury. The man wore a military coat and, though it had none of the usual embellishments, he was fairly certain it was-or had been-a British officer's. The man wore his dark hair loose and was tall and lean. And that was about all Dan had time to notice before a feathered form rose up before him, wielding a pipe tomahawk.
Yadkin dropped the man where he stood. Dan reached up to tip his cap to his friend, and then remembered he had tucked it beneath his belt as they walked. He heard the Englishman's pistol fire and looked up to see the last of the natives exercising the better part of valor.
In other words, they were running for the hills.
Dan turned and smiled at Yadkin before advancing toward the stranger in the red coat who was coiling his whip and returning it to its place on his hip. They stopped several paces away from each other. As their eyes met Dan realized a keen intellect burned behind the man's deep brown stare.
The stranger smiled. When he spoke, his accent was thick. "It was not your fight. Why did you help me?"
"To keep you alive."
The Englishman straightened his coat and tossed his long black hair back. His manner was wary. "And just why would you want to do that?"
Dan shrugged in his usual way. He pointed toward the whip. "Well, I figured a dead man can't teach a friend how to use one of those."
"A friend?" The man nodded his head in greeting to Yadkin who had drawn up alongside them. Yad had been checking the natives on the ground to make certain there wouldn't be any surprises. "Sir," the stranger said.
Dan laughed at the blond's incredulous expression. It was probably the first time in Yad's life that he had been called 'sir'. "I take a man as he is. Until he proves he 'ain't," Dan said.
"Ah. I see."
"What you doing out here in that red coat, stranger?" Yadkin's face was formed into a frown, but his eyes danced. "Why, we might easily have taken you for one of them painted savages and shot you where you stood."
One black eyebrow danced towards the man's bangs. "Well you might have. I am most grateful that you did not."
"What'd you do to make those heathen creatures so all-fired angry at you?"
The Englishman shook his head. "Absolutely nothing. I was endeavoring to find the least circuitous route to their village, in hopes of contacting them and establishing some sort of rapport with their chief." He met Yadkin's gaze. "Perhaps I trod on some spot of earth that was sacrosanct without my knowledge."
The blond pulled at his ear and his eyes flicked to his friend. "Eh? What'd he say?"
Dan shook his head. He was frowning. The man was obviously well-educated and cultured, but there was something about him that didn't set right, as if there was more to him than met the eye. "Later, Yad. You ain't tryin' to link up with the local Cherokee are you?" Dan nodded toward one of the bodies on the green grass.
"Are these Cherokee?"
Dan watched as the man gazed around in something that seemed to amount to horror. "Yep."
The dark eyes were puzzled. "I thought the Cherokee were friendly to the Crown. I had been told there was a treaty, not only between the English and them, but as concerns you Colonials."
The tall frontiersman nodded. "There was. Still is as far as I am concerned."
"But that new chief of theirs." Yadkin shook his head. "He's another matter."
"New chief?" the stranger asked.
"Happened about the same time we came here," Dan answered. "Power struggle of some kind. The old chief and his men are still here, but they are constantly on the move. There's a lot of inner-tribal warfare. A man has to watch his head."
"And his hair." Yad pointed toward the tall man. "Ain't you got a lot of it for a British officer?"
The Englishman's grin was wry. "So I have been told. Well, gentlemen, I thank you again. I must be on my way."
"Still goin' to try to see the Cherokee chief?"
He shrugged. "I must.
"Well, then," Yadkin said. "Been nice knowin' you. Tell Saint Peter when you see him that I don't intend to follow any time soon."
"I take you mean I am not long for this world."
"I mean you're dead, mister. If'n you decide to mess with that lunatic who's in charge of the Cher-o-kee right now."
"Lunatic? Who is he?"
Dan shook his head. "No one really knows. He came from out of the south and there are rumors he isn't even really Cherokee himself. No white man has seen him."
"And his name?"
Dan noticed the Englishman was almost physically distressed. "Some call him Atsi Svti. Others by the English translation, Firemaker. Most just call him trouble."
The man was silent a moment. Then he said, "I have to go."
"Suit yourself." Dan held out his hand. "Good luck, friend."
The Englishman took it and shook it. "And to you as well."
Dan leaned on his rifle and watched as the tall dark-haired man in the red coat turned and began to walk back the way he had come. The frontiersman frowned and then reached down and pulled his cap from his belt and put it on his head.
"What'd you make of that, Dan'l? You think he's really lookin' for the Cherokee?" Yad asked.
Dan tipped the cap back. "I think he's lookin' for something, Yad, but I'm not sure even he knows what." He hefted Ticklicker and started to turn. "Come on, Yad, we've miles to go before we get- "
"What is it?" He looked where his friend was pointing.
Kerr paused and turned back to stare at the two men and the natives who lay dead at their feet. A frown marred his handsome face. What did his father mean by sending him to make contact with a native who could only be considered a 'usurper'? Though now that he thought about it, Lord Dunsmore had not said Menewa was chief. What he had said was that his mother's brother did not like the English. Perhaps this new chief did and that was the reason for him undertaking this mission at this time.
Kerr removed his hat and ran a hand through his hair. As he did, he noted the tall man in the distance had donned a cap. His frown deepened as he stared at him. It was made of fur. As it occurred to him who he had just spent the last quarter of an hour conversing with, Kerr took a step forward.
The arrow missed him by a hair's breadth.
"They were layin' in wait for him, Dan'l. He must of done somethin' to rile them that bad."
Dan nodded. "And I think I'd like to know just what that was."
"Wait a minute. You ain't...."
"You comin', Yad?" Dan asked as he began to run.
Yadkin crossed his arms and sat heavily on a boulder. "Heck, no. There's only three of 'em left. Ain't a fair fight as it is."
Dan laughed and then sobered instantly as a shot ran out.
Kerr staggered back. He gripped his leg and winced. The ball had penetrated not far from where he had been wounded before and the pain was intense. He noted with irony that the musket which had shot him was one issued by his own King. He had managed to drop the one native almost immediately, but now his flintlock was empty and he was in too close a proximity to the remaining pair for his whip to do him much good.
In other words, as the frontiersman had put it so succinctly...
He was dead.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, the tall man in the fur cap broke through the trees. He fired and one of the two remaining natives fell in his tracks. As he loped past, the big man tipped his cap and said, "I think its best we don't let any of these fellers get back to their chief. Be with you in a minute."
Kerr nodded and then fell to the earth. Blood was pouring from between his fingers. With shaking hands he pulled off his jacket and scrambled to free his linen shirt of his pants. He knew he had only minutes to apply a tourniquet or he might well bleed to death. As Kerr began to shake and his teeth began to chatter, he felt a strong hand fall on his. Looking up he saw a friendly, concerned face. The tall man was crouching beside him, one hand still gripping his rifle whose butt was balanced on the ground.
"That looks bad," the man said.
"One's own blood is never a welcome sight," Kerr gasped. "I need to- "
"You need to lay still." The tall man rose to his feet and walked to the edge of the path, just beyond the trees. "Yad!" he called.
From somewhere below the other American answered. "So which one did you kill? The Redcoat or the Injun?"
Kerr watched as the tall man shook his head. "Go back to the camp and get the horses. This man...." The frontiersman looked back at him and grinned. "I am afraid I don't know your name, friend."
"Kerr." He swallowed hard. "Kerr Murray."
The tall man turned back to his friend. "Kerr here is wounded. He's gonna need a horse if we are goin' to get him back to the settlement."
"Don't argue, Yad. You were wantin' a new Redcoat for Donna to swoon over. Now you got him."
As the blond grumbled and turned back toward the camp the two had apparently abandoned that morning, the frontiersman returned to his side. "Here," he said, taking one of the linen strips Kerr had torn from his shirt, "let me do that."
Kerr winced as the man expertly wound the white strip about his leg and pulled it tight. Then he watched as he took a knife and slit the cloth over his thigh so he could examine the wound. "You've had this happen before," the tall man said, pointing to his scar. "Fightin'?"
Kerr nodded. "Yes. The French."
"Well, there's one thing we have in common. I'm not too fond of the French myself." The man smiled and then sobered almost instantly. "You know that ball needs to come out, don't you?"
He sighed. "Yes."
The frontiersman nodded toward a nearby tree. "First let's get you leanin' against something. It will give you a little- "
"Leverage?" Kerr laughed weakly as the tall man pulled him to his feet and half-lifted, half-hauled him to the tree and positioned him with his back against it. As he watched the man lifted his knife again and examined it, making certain it was clean. Kerr smiled grimly.
The frontiersman's brown brows lifted. "Now, that's as odd a reaction to a man drawin' a knife as I've ever seen."
Kerr shrugged. "I was musing on the ironies of life."
The tall man shook his head. "Well, at least you seem to stay true to form. I don't know as I would be thinkin' about irony at a time like this either. Now you lay still. I need to heat this."
Kerr nodded as the man quickly set about building a small fire. He closed his eyes and rested for a few moments before saying, "I take it I have the privilege of going 'under the knife' of Daniel Boone."
The frontiersman's keen green eyes flicked to his face. "How'd you know that?"
Kerr nodded. "The cap. I believe that ringed tail is a raccoon's, is it not?"
"'Raccoon' must be their fancy English cousins' name. Just a coon here. But yep, you're right, that's what it is."
"And you are Daniel Boone?"
"Right again. That mean somethin' to you?"
Kerr shook his head. "No," he lied. "It is simply that I have never met a living 'legend' before."
Daniel Boone laughed as he turned back toward him. "Well, you're right about the 'livin' part, but seems to me it's a mite early to be callin' me a 'legend'." He held up the knife. "You ready for this?"
The dark-haired man eyed the glowing blade and nodded slowly. "I hope your reputation for wielding a knife is also as well-deserved."
When Yadkin returned several hours later with the horses, Daniel Boone was sitting with his back to a tree staring at the Englishman. He had removed the man's red coat and left him lying on the ground on his side. His thigh was bandaged, and the bandage was soaked with blood. The blond tethered the horses and then walked past Dan to stare down at the stranger. Seconds later he turned back.
"I see he ain't dead."
Dan shook his head. "Nope. Still breathin'."
Yadkin waited. When Dan didn't say anything more, his friend crossed to his side and squatted next to him. "You got that look, Dan'l," he said.
Dan frowned. "What look?"
Yad shook his head. "I ain't rightly sure what to name it, but it always means trouble. You had the same look when we met that Injun you are so fond of."
The tall frontiersman laughed and leaned back. "And that turned out all right."
Yadkin was silent a moment. Then he nodded. "I guess you could rightly say it has. So you mean to make a friend of this enemy too?"
Dan rose to his feet. He crossed to the stranger's side and stood looking down at him. While waiting for Yad's return, the Englishman had drifted in and out of consciousness. The words Kerr Murray had spoken were odd. He had called out to someone named Thomas, and seemed concerned for him. He had also whispered the name of the renegade Cherokee chief, Firemaker. Once Dan had thought he had even caught mention of old Menewa's name. He wondered what that was all about. As Yad came to his side, Dan looked at him. "You know that old expression, Yad...."
"And which one would that be, Dan'l?"
"Keep your friends close," Dan said as he knelt beside the stranger and laid his hand on his forehead, checking it for fever. "...but keep your enemies closer."
Continued in Chapter Two