"Here, Yad. What is it?"
"I think you better take a look at this."
Dan shifted forward through the trees. They were near the holy place where the Cherokee buried their dead. They had just paused to reconnoiter when a band of natives had suddenly appeared. They had watched them as they passed. Dan was almost certain it had been Menewa and his men. The curious thing was, they had been masked; their faces painted and then covered by ceremonial representations of animals. That meant theirs was a war party and not a group sent out to bury or honor the dead. He noticed that only three of the four -- the owl, fox, and wolf -- were there. Kestrel had always acted as the raven. Dan swallowed over a lump in his throat. He hoped that meant they had come to join his friend and that Kestrel would be waiting ahead with them, inside the Cherokee graveyard.
Hopefully Kerr and Thomas would be there as well.
Dan stopped next to Yadkin. "What is it you want to show me?"
Yad didn't speak. He nodded as he pointed through the thick covering of leaves. They opened on a glade and in its center stood Sergeant Strong. Thomas's back was against a tree. His hands were raised defensively in front of him. Six feet away one of Menewa's warriors was taking aim, pointing an arrow at the English soldier's heart.
Dan stood and brushed aside the leaves. Yad reached out to catch his arm, but he shook him off. A second later Dan stepped into the clearing. "Now hold on!" he called out as he moved forward. "Menewa, whatever you're thinkin', it's wrong. That's not your man!"
As one the Indians turned to look at him. Their faces were grave. The warrior with the bow did not lower it, but looked to his chief for direction. Menewa held his hand up. The older man glanced at Thomas and then slowly walked away from him. As Menewa approached, Dan frowned. The chief was walking as if the weight of the world had settled on his shoulders.
"Menewa," Dan said. "I greet you. You and your men are dressed for war. What news has brought you from your sanctuary?"
The rightful chief of the Cherokee was not dressed as Dan was accustomed to seeing him. He was not wearing red, nor was the usual raven's skin wrapped about his throat. His cap of otter skin was not on his head and he was not carrying a swan's wing wand. Instead Menewa was dressed, as were his men, in a leather shirt and breechcloth, with thigh-high deerskin boots. All wore bands of otter skin on their arms, legs, and head with red feathers stuck under the bands. The warriors were heavily armed with tomahawks and striking weapons, as well as bows and rifles.
Menewa came to a stop directly before him. The Cherokee met his eyes and searched them for some time. Then he said, "First you tell me this, Daniel Boone. What brings you here, and why do you defend this man?"
Dan glanced at Thomas. "I defend him because he is my friend."
The chief's dark brows rose but he said nothing.
Dan frowned. Menewa was playing it close, giving away nothing by his expression. "And as to what brings me here, I was seeking this one and another Englishman. Another who has become my friend." Dan paused and then added, "One I think Menewa would like to meet as well."
"Who is this other Englishman?" Menewa demanded.
Dan hesitated as his eyes went to the dozen or so men with the chief. Kestrel had said the truth of Kerr's heritage was a clan matter. And that meant it was a subject best not broached by a white man. "I will let Kestrel tell Menewa. It is not for me. I am not of your clan."
"Daniel. I need to tell you -- "
Dan turned toward Thomas. The sergeant had started to speak but a look from Menewa had silenced him. Dan frowned. Kerr's sergeant seemed agitated. But then again, so would he have been if he had been surrounded by a band of a dozen or more angry Cherokee.
"Do you know where Kestrel is, Daniel Boone?" Menewa asked softly.
Dan shook his head. "The Englishman I speak of was taken captive by Firemaker. Kestrel and this man, Thomas Strong, went to find and to free him. Since Thomas is here, I would have thought...." Dan's voice trailed off. A pit opened in his stomach. Even before he asked, Menewa nodded slowly. "Is Kestrel here?"
"Kestrel is here," the Cherokee chief said.
Dan swallowed hard. "Where?"
"You trust this man?" Menewa indicated Sergeant Thomas.
It seemed odd to admit that he did. "Yes," Dan whispered.
"Even though he is your enemy?"
Dan nodded. "As I said, he is no longer my enemy, but my friend."
"Go to your friend then. He will tell us both together how Kestrel came to be here."
Dan glanced back. Yad was still in the trees, watching. He didn't want the chief to think they were planning anything. "Menewa, I did not come here alone. "
Menewa nodded. "He is being watched. No harm will come to him if your friend speaks the truth."
Dan followed the Cherokee chief forward until he stood only a few feet away from Thomas Strong. The English solider looked sick. Thomas was obviously exhausted. But there was something else. His eyes were rimmed with shadows. Unspent tears filled his eyes.
Sergeant Strong was grieving.
"Thomas," Dan said with a nod.
"Is your captain all right, Thomas?"
"I don't rightly know. 'E took off without me. Left me 'ere to keep watch."
"Watch. Watch over what --" Dan stopped. His gaze had fallen on the wrapped figure lying silent behind the tree. If it wasn't Kerr, then it had to be Kestrel. The words trembled as he spoke them. "Thomas, what happened?"
Thomas Strong shook his head. "When we found 'im, the captain and I, 'e was in bad shape but still able to speak. Kestrel told us 'e 'ad been left as a warning." The sergeant's grief took an abrupt turn into rage. "It was that bloody beast, the one they call Firemaker! 'E took the captain's father. 'E knew 'e would follow. 'E wants 'im dead!"
"The Captain?" Menewa asked, turning to him. "Who is this 'captain', Daniel Boone?"
Dan shook himself. The enormity of the loss he had suffered was only now beginning to penetrate his tired brain, and already he had to move on -- had to keep it from happening again. "Menewa," he began, "I feel I must speak for Kestrel since he can no longer speak for himself. Do I have your permission?"
Menewa thought about it and then nodded. "You were his friend."
Dan shook his head. "No. I was his brother." He glanced then at the warriors surrounding them. "This is of your clan. Do you want the others to hear?"
The chief smiled grimly. "All who follow me now are of my clan. You may speak."
"Very well. Does Menewa remember another of his clan? A young boy, taken from his people by his white father some twenty years ago? A young boy who was Menewa's sister's son?"
In the years he had known the Cherokee chief, Dan had never seem him falter. He did now. Menewa paled and stepped back as if he had received a physical blow. "Talota's son?"
"Talota's other son. Kestrel knew him right away."
"CaraMingo," Menewa breathed. "He has been dead to us these many years."
Dan's gaze settled involuntarily on the still figure behind the tree. "Yes, but he is alive now."
Menewa's dark eyes followed Dan's. "One lost. One gained, Daniel Boone. Such is the balance and harmony of the Creator's world."
Dan choked back tears as he indicated Sergeant Strong with a nod of his head. "This man had nothing to do with Kestrel's death. That is a promise I place my life on as a seal."
The chief nodded. Then he signaled to his man to lower his bow. His dark eyes went to Sergeant Strong. "Look at me, Thomas Strong?"
The English soldier drew himself up. He met Menewa's gaze. "Yes, Sir," he snapped.
Dan smiled. Thomas had reacted instinctively to the chief's authority. He could see it impressed Menewa.
"You are fond of your captain, Thomas Strong?" Menewa asked.
"Captain Murray's the best man I know."
"Menewa?" Dan called softly.
The chief turned toward him. "Yes?"
"I must find this man -- the one you call 'CaraMingo'. Will you and your men come with me?"
"CaraMingo." When Menewa repeated the name it was as if he spoke of a ghost. "Would that we could, Daniel Boone. You see my men; the owl, wolf and fox. The true Cherokee of Chota go to war."
Menewa had barely finished speaking when an explosion of sound and twigs and leaves caused the two of them to pivot toward the edge of the clearing. Yadkin was on the ground inside the ring of trees and above him, with her foot on his chest, was the skinny, brown-haired Cherokee girl, Tekawitha.
"Consarn it, woman," Yad complained loudly. "Ain't you got no place better to put that foot of your'n than on some part of my body?"
"Tekawitha," Menewa said. "Come here, my daughter."
The young girl scowled at Yad and then left him to go to her father's side. Yadkin rose and followed close behind her. Dan wasn't certain if Yad had heard the conversation he had had with Menewa, or if he knew what had happened, until he saw his eyes. They were haunted, and within seconds locked on Kestrel's still form.
"I'm sorry, Dan'l," Yad said without looking at him.
Dan nodded. "So am I." Then he spoke to the girl. "Tekawitha, what are you doing here?"
As she glanced up at her father, the chief answered for her, "My daughter came to tell us Firemaker is away from the village. While he is occupied, we will take it back for the People."
Dan looked thoughtful. Then he turned to Yad. "You better go with them."
A look, somewhere between surprise and horror, registered on the blond's face. Yad glanced at Tekawitha. "Me? Go with them?"
"I need you to go back to the settlement, Yad. To warn the settlers."
"This is not your fight, Daniel Boone. It is the Cherokee's," Menewa said.
Dan looked at him. He nodded toward Kestrel's still form. "It is my fight now. Someone has killed my brother." He turned toward Sergeant Strong. "Well, Thomas, I guess it's just you and me."
Thomas Strong looked physically ill.
"What is it?"
The Englishman shook his head. "I can't."
"Can't what?" Dan asked.
"Can't go with you. It'd be against the captain's orders. I 'ave to stay with Kestrel. I promised I'd see 'im 'ome."
Dan looked at Menewa. He didn't know if the Cherokee's laws would allow Thomas to honor that promise. The dark-skinned man merely nodded. "We will start back soon, so as to arrive before the sun rises in the sky and shines on the new day," Menewa said.
"You sure you don't want me to go with you, Dan'l?"
Dan turned to his friend. "I need you in Boonesborough, Yad. Besides, I think it's right. I think this is somethin' I have to do alone." He moved past the blond and Menewa, and crossed to the opposite side of the tree. There he knelt beside the still form. Dan hesitated, lost in thought, and then gently pulled the faded blanket back and stared at Kestrel's face.
It was at peace.
Dan laid his hand on the native's and whispered, "Donada govi, vg oginallii. Goodbye, my friend."
A day later, as the sun was setting behind the thick bank of trees that lined the horizon, Dan stumbled quite unexpectedly across Sergeant Strong's missing captain. He had parted with Yad and the others and struck off toward the west as the sun rose in the sky, following the tracks left by two sets of English boots and a single pair of moccasins. The storm that had threatened the night before had finally materialized, drenching the land and everything on it, in some places causing the Kentucky to overflow its banks. The mud made the tracking easier. The two sets of prints had followed one another for some time, with the moccasins dogging the boots. At first there had been a lag between them of a few minutes, but soon the boots had outpaced the moccasins, and the man with the limp who wore them had fallen hours behind. Then, abruptly, the English boots disappeared. The moccasins continued the hunt, walking to the bank of the river and back several times at different points. Dan had stopped when this happened, forced to make a choice. He decided quickly that finding Kerr was what mattered. Once he did, they could deal with Tara-Mingo together. Dan had just rounded a bend, expecting the hunt to continue, when the sight that greeted him drew him to a halt.
Kerr was camped in plain sight on a hillock near the river. The Englishman had a fire lit and was sitting with his back to an open space, either oblivious of -- or inviting -- danger.
Dan remained still a moment and then approached silently. As he drew near, Kerr spoke softly.
"You know, Daniel, when an Indian moves up on a camp that quietly, he is usually only looking for one thing....an enemy's scalp."
"Not bein' Indian, I never was much for scalp huntin', Kerr," Dan answered. "Friend or enemy."
Kerr did not move. "And which am I, Daniel? Friend or foe?"
Dan rounded the fire and looked at him. Kerr was pale and haggard. It looked as if it had been weeks since he had slept. He was dressed like an Indian in buckskins and a hunting shirt, and the bandage wound around his thigh was thick with old blood. Dan frowned as the Englishman looked up. His deep brown eyes were feverish and wild with unspoken grief.
Dan sat down across the fire from him. "Which do you want to be?" he asked, his voice quiet.
Kerr laughed. A short harsh sound. "You would still ask me that? After what has happened?"
"You didn't kill Kestrel."
"Didn't I? Are you so sure? If not for me -- "
Dan shook his head. "You flatter yourself."
Kerr blinked. "What?"
"I said, 'You flatter yourself.' Firemaker is just plain evil. If it wasn't you as an excuse, it'd be someone else. He and Kestrel had crossed paths before. Firemaker hated him for who and what he was, not because of you."
The Englishman's head went down. "Still, there is little enough reason for you to call me friend."
"Oh? Is there something else you ain't told me?"
Kerr looked up. His smile was grim. "There are a few things."
Dan leaned back against a fallen tree trunk. "Well, seems there's no time like the present. I ain't got anythin' else to do."
"You amaze me, Daniel. You sit here, in the open, with a man whom you should regard as your sworn enemy.... Aren't you afraid of betrayal?"
"I'm a trustin' man, Kerr. 'Til someone proves false."
"And have I not proven 'false'?"
Dan pursed his lips. He shook his head. "You have been true to your word. True to your man." He paused. "And true to your promises to me."
Kerr grew angry. "But I have been false from the beginning. Do you have any idea why I am here? Why I came here in the first place?"
Dan nodded. "It had something to do with those papers you were carrying. With seeking out the Cherokee and trying to recruit them for the English."
"Yes. But those weren't my only orders. Those came from the Crown. The others, the most important ones, came from my father."
"The one you said 'despaired' of you ever conformin' to his ideas?"
"Well, yes. That was true. Father has never approved of the way I have conducted myself in so far as manner of dress or lack of 'social' graces. But we are close. And he is not only my father, but my superior." Kerr shifted uncomfortably. "And your Governor General."
Dan's brown brows near topped his head. "Lord Dunsmore? He's your father?"
Kerr nodded. "Yes. And it is from him that I received my orders. I was to come to Ken-tah-ten to seek out a man named 'Daniel Boone'. A man, I might add, who had become something of a thorn in the Governor General's paw. I was to befriend him. Find out what made him tick. Find out what he wanted. Why he was here." Kerr paused and his voice fell low. "Find out if he could be bought."
"Is that all?"
"Is that all? I tell you I have come here to befriend and betray you, and you ask me, 'Is that all?' Isn't it enough?"
Dan thought about it a moment. "Well then, have you?"
"Have I what?" Kerr was almost shouting.
Dan hid in his smile. At least some life had returned to the Englishman's face. "Have you betrayed me?"
Kerr Murray froze. He held his gaze for perhaps half a minute, and then he seemed to relax. The Englishman leaned back against the boulder that braced him and placed a hand over his eyes. "No." He almost smiled. "At least not yet."
Dan nodded again. Slowly. "Mind lettin' me know if you decide to?" he asked. "Before you do?"
Kerr shook his head. "I will never betray you, Daniel. You, or your family, or settlement." Kerr laughed. "And even if I had a desire to do so, I doubt I will live long enough."
"You plannin' on dyin' soon?" Dan kept his tone light, but it surprised him as he asked the question just how much the thought of something happening to this man troubled him.
"If my brother has anything to do with it, I will have little choice in the matter."
Dan remained silent for a moment and then indicated the rabbit spitted over the fire with a wave of his hand. "You gonna eat that?"
Kerr glanced at the meat and shook his head. "No."
"Don't you think maybe you should?"
"I have no appetite."
Dan reached out and twisted one of the legs of the roasted carcass and held it out to him. "I bet your brother is feasting tonight," he said.
Kerr frowned. But he took the meat and began to eat.
"Tell me about him."
He looked up. "Who? My father?"
Dan nodded as he settled back. "And your brother."
Kerr was silent for some time. Then he began to speak, slowly, haltingly. "A long time ago, Daniel, a Cherokee chief's daughter...." Kerr smiled wistfully. "In England she would have been a princess. She had a son they called Tara-Mingo. That same woman later married an English officer, and another son was born. He was called CaraMingo. Creek, Cherokee and English. A fusion of three alien cultures. But to the two Mingos, their shared blood was only for bleeding. For a brief time they were brothers in every sense. Then they were parted. Each grew to be a man and there the similarity ended. For Tara-Mingo lived only to be a great warrior, from what I have been told, and a great chief. While Cara wanted no such thing. CaraMingo became Kerr, and chose to live a life of service, of duty and honor. To Tara honor was only a word, and loyalty, no more than ashes in a dead fire. He has bribed, Daniel, cheated...."
"Who told you all of this?"
The rabbit leg lay forgotten on Kerr's lap. "And killed." Kerr looked at him. "Kestrel told me, Daniel. Kestrel whom my brother killed."
"Is that why you are sitting here, with a fire burnin', and in the open? Are you asking him to come?"
"I have hunted Tara, Daniel, but he eludes me. He leaves a trail and then vanishes, seeking to wear me down. And he has succeeded. I do not have it in me to go on." Kerr tossed the charred rabbit leg into the tall grasses. "I am waiting now. Waiting for him to come to me."
"Takin' the easy way out, you mean?"
Kerr stiffened. "I beg your pardon?"
"Dyin' is easy. It's livin' that takes a man's strength. Pressin' on from day to day no matter what. You let your brother kill you and all the pain is over. For you. Not for those you leave behind. Not for Thomas. Not for your father." Dan paused. He didn't know why -- maybe he felt like he was betraying Kestrel -- but the last admission was the hardest of all. "Not for me."
"You would say that, even now? After all that has happened?"
Dan nodded. He held out his hand. "Friend or foe, Kerr. It's your choice."
It was the dark eyes of the Cherokee that met Dan's as Kerr Murray reached out and clasped his fingers in his own. "Friend. And it is CaraMingo. Kerr belongs to another place. Another time."
"What will your father say?"
CaraMingo shook his head. "What can a father say, at the death of his son?" And with that he turned away.
Dan rose to his feet and damped the fire. Then he sat back down and leaned his head against the log.
A short time later he was asleep.
CaraMingo remained awake and lost in thought. High above his and Daniel Boone's heads the stars blazed. The sky here in Ken-tah-ten was as he remembered it, a black sheet dusted with diamonds; the air crisp and thick with the scent of wet grass and growing things. As he sat there, staring at it, he pondered the frontiersman's words. They were as wise as any he had heard from the learned men at Oxford - wiser perhaps than most. He should have been offended. In a way, Daniel Boone had called him a coward. But the words had come softly, as a reminder of what he had wanted to be, instead of a judgement of what he had become.
CaraMingo thought back on all the years of loneliness, of being a part of a world that wanted none of him. Of not fitting in. Of not understanding, and being understood even less. Out here, under the stars, all of that meant nothing. Here he belonged to everything.
Here he and the world were one.
CaraMingo stretched and rose soundlessly to his feet. He glanced at the frontiersman. Daniel didn't twitch or move. Even in the stiff black boots of the British army he knew he had always moved like a panther. It was one of the things about him his men had remarked on. CaraMingo quickly left the camp and plunged into the shadows that circled it. There he closed his eyes and listened. All about him were the sounds of the forest; insects and birds chirping, snakes slithering, animals on the prowl. It was a symphony, far greater than any composed by Mozart or Scarlatti.
Opening his eyes CaraMingo continued forward, never losing sight of the camp and the sleeping man. Before him rose the mud-covered bank of the Kentucky River. As he approached it, the moon -- which had been hiding its face in a low bank of clouds -- broke free to shine on the water below. As it did, a lone figure appeared silhouetted against the sky. It was a man.
Holding a whip.
The man beckoned once before disappearing down the bank.
CaraMingo held very still. The world about him was the same as before, but his view of it had shifted. It was no longer green, but red.
Blood cried out to blood for vengeance.
CaraMingo turned back toward the camp and the man he now called 'friend'. "I'm sorry, Daniel," he whispered. "It has come to this, because there can be no other road for me."
Tara was waiting for him a few hundred yards down the bank. He was wearing the uniform and unflapped cocked hat that were all that was left of the British Redcoat, Kerr Murray. CaraMingo glanced from side to side. His father was nowhere in sight.
"Where is Lord Dunsmore?" he asked.
"The Englishman is here behind me," his brother replied. Then he raised his rifle and pointed it at him. "And here, before me." Tara smiled. "One rifle. One bullet. Who will claim it?"
CaraMingo shuddered. "You will not kill my father."
"Then I will kill you."
"Perhaps. And perhaps I will kill you."
Tara laughed. "Perhaps." His brother turned and nodded once. Black Sun emerged from the shadows, pushing Lord Dunsmore before him. His father looked haggard. His face was bruised and his military coat, tattered and caked with mud. It was obvious he had been roughly handled. CaraMingo smiled grimly. Still, the older man's back was stiff and his dignity intact.
Just as he would have expected.
CaraMingo watched his father look from Tara to him. The vision they presented must have been startling. His full-blood Indian brother was dressed as the English Officer, while he was attired in buckskins as suited Talota's son. For a second uncertainty narrowed his father's eyes. 'Which is which?' they seemed to ask.
But only for a second.
Lord Dunsmore nodded and held his gaze. "Kerr, thank Providence you are alive."
CaraMingo turned to his brother. "Let him go, Tara. It is me you want. And me you now have. I will not run."
Tara's smile was evil. "Are you so sure, English man, that it is you I want? If not for him, you would not be."
"Mine is the face that stares back at you when you look in the water, Brother. Not his. Lord Dunsmore will go back across the sea. His face will be hidden." CaraMingo lowered his voice. "Mine will be with you always. Unless you bury it."
"Kerr. Don't goad him."
Black Sun spoke from behind his father. "Be quiet, old man. Or I will silence you forever." The native raised his hand. There was a long hunting knife in it.
CaraMingo set aside his fear for his father and concentrated on his brother. Tara's ego was something he knew he could use; manipulate. "This is between you and me. Brother to brother. A hand for a hand. A foot for a foot...."
"A grave for a grave. I have dug yours, Brother." Tara indicated the bank of the Kentucky that rose behind him, blanketed in rich black mud. "It is waiting."
CaraMingo's dark brows rose. He smiled. " 'Count no man happy 'til he dies'."
Tara laughed again.
"Tonight, Brother, you will find your happiness."
Dan awoke to find that Kerr, or CaraMingo as he had said to call him, was gone. He was surprised the Englishman had been able to sneak off without him hearing. But then, maybe the Englishman hadn't.
Maybe it had been the Cherokee.
Dan rose to his feet and looked for his friend's tracks. They led to the top of the rise where they were joined by a second set of prints. Whoever had met him had been wearing English Army boots. Dan looked closer and recognized the print. As he suspected, they were the ones Kerr had worn when he arrived. He followed the tracks until they led him to a glade skirted by a thick ring trees. He entered the trees and paused just within the shelter of their leaves. In the middle of the glade a half dozen or so Indians were camped. Dan recognized Black Sun and the Cherokee called Red Cedar. Seated on the ground between them was a gray-haired man dressed in a military uniform. British by the look of it. The epaulets and fancy braid indicated he was a man of substance and rank.
Dan figured he must be looking at the Governor General of Virginia. Lord Dunsmore.
He scanned the clearing, both sun and shadow, for a sign of either of the Mingos. Neither of them seemed to be there and that was not a comforting thought. Dan frowned. He hated to leave the most powerful man in the Virginia territory trussed up like a prize pig, but he didn't figure he could free him alone. Besides it seemed the English Lord's life was not in danger at the moment.
He wasn't sure the same thing could be said for the English Lord's son.
Dan backed away from the clearing and then circled it, seeking the familiar tracks. Along the way he managed to avoid several sentinels. Finally he found the two sets -- boots and moccasins -- headed out and away from the camp. Moving quickly, he followed their trail. After about a half hour Dan paused and bent to examine the earth. There had been some sort of a scuffle. He picked a little of the dirt up and rubbed it between his fingertips. Then he sniffed it.
Dan rose. He glanced about. The forest seemed quiet. Following the crimson trail he began to move forward again. As he went, he called out softly, "Kerr? CaraMingo? Are you here?"
At first he heard nothing. Then there was a soft sigh. It was followed by the sound of a breath drawn sharply and a weak laugh. "You must have a streak of mule somewhere in your ancestry...."
"Where are you?" Dan called.
"Here. Over here."
Dan turned toward the sound of his voice and then he saw him; propped against the bole of a tree. CaraMingo's shirt was missing. His skin was striped with welts.
He had been whipped.
"It's finished, Daniel," CaraMingo whispered as he nodded toward the bank of the Kentucky. "I put my brother in the earth and left him there."
Dan came to stand over him. CaraMingo was pale. He was breathing hard and had obviously been savagely treated. Beside him lay a British flintlock. Dan knew he hadn't had it with him when he left.
"I shot him, Daniel. And I buried him. There, on the bank of the river." CaraMingo started to struggle to his feet. "I must go to my father now."
Dan caught hold of him. "You ain't goin' anywhere until I bind those wounds. Your father's all right. I saw him. Firemaker's men are watching over him until their chief returns."
"Which will never happen." CaraMingo's eyes were desperate. "When Tara does not return...."
"I'll go get Lord Dunsmore. But you can't travel. Not in the condition you are in." Dan pressed him back against the tree. "Now you stay there. I'll get some moss and herbs and be back." He rose to his feet and then paused. "Where'd you leave your brother?"
CaraMingo was looking toward the horizon. When he spoke, the words came slowly, and with effort. "We fought, Daniel. Hand to hand. I took the rifle from him, but he won it back. Tara used it to knock me down, then stripped me and did this." He indicated the trails the whip's lash had left with shaking fingers. "While he was gloating, I caught his feet and pulled him down. I got the rifle. And I shot him."
CaraMingo's dark eyes flicked to his face and then he turned toward the bank. "Several hundred yards from here. Where the river bends and falls. There is a pile of rocks and a cliff."
Dan nodded. "I know it."
CaraMingo turned back to stare at him. "You are going there? Why?"
Dan picked up the rifle that had belonged to TaraMingo and laid it at his friend's side. "I have to. I need to be able to face Menewa and the others and say I have looked on Firemaker's dead face. Otherwise, it will not be ended."
CaraMingo hesitated. Then he nodded. "You will find Tara near the bank of the river. Just below the rocks. I dug a shallow grave and marked it with stones." His dark eyes closed. "I could still see his face...his open eyes...when I crawled away."
Dan put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Rest. It's over now. Once I have seen him, I will go and free your father. And then we can go home." He straightened up. "Becky's probably wonderin' where I am about now." When his friend didn't answer, he glanced down at him. CaraMingo had fallen into a much needed sleep.
Dan shouldered Ticklicker and moved on.
Daniel Boone walked quickly. He knew the place CaraMingo had described. It had been the scene of a legendary ambush and was avoided by both settlers and Indians alike. Somehow he was not surprised that Firemaker had led his brother there. Dan paused as he approached the tall tumble of rocks that overlooked the place where a series of short waterfalls marked the descent of the river. On the earth before him was a cross made of stones....
And an empty hollow.
Without warning an arm, water-soaked and caked with mud, caught him. Slimy fingers closed about his throat, even as the tip of a knife was applied to the tender skin beneath his chin. Dan shifted his weight and twisted. Almost quick enough. He managed to break free, but not before he felt the steel cut into his flesh. Dropping to his knees Dan rolled and came up facing his assailant.
If he hadn't know better, he would have thought it was Kerr.
It was true, he and Firemaker could have been twins.
CaraMingo had awakened and found his friend missing. He had staggered to his feet and begun to limp in the direction of the camp where his father was being held, using the gun as a crutch. Then, abruptly, he had stopped and turned back, looking the way Daniel Boone had gone.
He couldn't deny it. Something was calling him in that direction. Perhaps it was the need to see for himself that his brother was really dead. Perhaps it was the need to know that Daniel was all right. CaraMingo stood still for a moment, uncertain, and then turned in his tracks and began to draw his weary body forward.
He wasn't certain which it was. He only knew he had to go.
Dan rolled again and came up breathing hard. Tara was fast. His strength, almost inhuman. Like a vengeful ghost the Indian had risen from the grave to wreak havoc and seek revenge, and Dan had had the misfortune to stumble into his path. He ducked and feinted left, and then dove for his rifle, managing to catch hold of Ticklicker where she had fallen to the ground. Rolling again, Dan ended on his knees and took aim at the crazed native.
Tara stepped in front of the barrel as if he feared neither pain or death. Then the Indian took hold of Ticklicker and pulled, wrenching the rifle from his muddy grasp. Dan watched as he wrapped all ten fingers around the barrel and then raised it above his head. A moment later the native swung the butt down.
And everything went black.
CaraMingo slowed as he approached the bend and the falls of the river. He was breathing hard. Just continuing to move was an effort, but he managed somehow through sheer force of will to go on. Halting at the base of the cliff he closed his eyes, gathering strength, and then looked at the spot where he had laid his brother's mortal remains.
Tara was gone.
He looked up. Tara's lean, tall form was silhouetted against the risen moon. He was standing on the topmost boulder. At his feet, a figure lay.
It was Daniel Boone.
CaraMingo watched as his brother entwined his deep red fingers in the frontiersman's hair and lifted his head. Then Tara placed a knife against Daniel's temple. "First I will scalp this one, Brother," he called. "Then the old man with the silver hair." Tara pointed the knife at him. "You, I will let live. For now. You will live so you will know only grief and pain and shame."
CaraMingo shook his head. "But you were dead. I buried you."
"The grave is empty, but not what you left there." Tara touched his forehead with his fist. "It feeds behind my eyes...." He struck his chest hard. "And here, where your rifle gave it life."
As his brother spoke, CaraMingo noticed Daniel's weapon lying nearby. The Kentucky long-rifle had been abandoned and was half-buried in the mud at his feet. He thought he could drop and have it in his fingers in seconds. The only problem was, he had no way of knowing whether or not it was primed, and if it was, whether or not it would fire.
Tara must have sensed what he was thinking. His brother's words dripped contempt. "You pulled a trigger once, my brother. You will not pull it again. You have you 'honor'...."
CaraMingo watched as Tara lifted Daniel's unconscious form and began to pull it toward the edge of the boulder. Behind it he knew there lay a fifty-foot drop. CaraMingo's fingers tensed and then he decided. Dropping to his knees he picked up the rifle, poured some powder into the pan and sighted along it's barrel.
Then he pulled the trigger and prayed.
Sometime later Dan opened his eyes. He looked up to find CaraMingo bending over him. "Say," he whispered hoarsely, "ain't we got this backwards?"
CaraMingo smiled. Then he winced and leaned back. "How do you feel, Daniel?"
"Like my head met with the back-shoe of a mule." Dan started and looked around. "Firemaker? Your brother, Tara.... Is he -- "
"Dead. Truly dead this time."
Dan nodded. "What happened?" he asked softly.
His friend's smile was grim. "Tara had knocked you out, and was intent on sending you on a short but abrupt trip to the bottom of the cliff. I shot him. Through the heart this time." CaraMingo was silent for a moment. "It seems I am my brother's keeper, after all."
Dan was silent a moment. Finally he said, "I'm sorry about your brother, CaraMingo. Even if you didn't get along -- "
The man who had spent his life as Kerr Murray laughed. He shook his head. "I didn't mean Tara." CaraMingo held his hand out. "Brother."
Dan was taken aback. Then he smiled as he gripped his fingers. "I like the sound of that."
CaraMingo nodded. "Now, somehow we must free my father before Tara's men suspect."
Dan shook his head. The two of them were a sorry sight; him with a strip of linen wrapped around his throat and a goose-egg on his forehead, and CaraMingo with a mixture of herbs, moss and willow bark tied around his bare chest. Neither one of them had the least idea how they were going to free Lord Dunsmore. They just knew they had to try.
"What if I just walk into the camp?" Dan asked. "It's worked before."
"It has?" CaraMingo's dark eyebrows arched. "That doesn't sound like anything in His Majesty's rules of engagement."
"It ain't," Dan grinned. "And that's why His Majesty is going to lose the war."
"I suppose I shall have to learn not to think of myself as an Englishman," Kerr said softly. "It is not going to be easy."
"Nothin' worth havin' is."
CaraMingo smiled and nodded. "I suppose not."
Dan turned his eyes toward the forested land before them. "There. In the shadows. One of the sentinels."
"He's wearin' a shirt like you had on. Was that your brother's?"
CaraMingo nodded again. "I think so."
Dan thought about it a minute. "Do you think you could pretend to be him? To be Firemaker? For just a few minutes? At least long enough to create a distraction?"
CaraMingo shrugged. "I am sure I could. But Tara was wearing my uniform, remember? Not dressed as a native."
"He could've changed." Dan grinned. "Right? I mean, if he had defeated you, wouldn't he want to look like an Indian again?"
"It is hard to say. Unfortunately," he laughed, "or rather, fortunately, I cannot seem to think like my brother. My late brother."
Dan shrugged. "You got a better plan?"
CaraMingo thought about it for a moment. "No. I am afraid I am fresh out. So we will do it your way. Let me have your gun, Daniel."
"Why?" he asked as he handed over Ticklicker.
"Spoils of war. These men will know your weapon." He rose to his feet. "If I pull this off, I may be able to walk my father out of there without further bloodshed."
"And if you don't? Pull it off, that is?"
CaraMingo sighed resignedly. "I think there is more than enough room on the banks of the Kentucky for the whole family."
Lord Dunsmore shifted and tried his bonds again. They were tight. He glanced from side to side. He was sandwiched between two of Firemaker's savages anyhow. There was really little hope of escape.
Still, he had to try.
Black Sun, the leader of the band in the absence of their chief, was pacing back and forth across the clearing, obviously nervous. From the conversation Dunsmore had overheard, he gathered that Tara had missed some sort of a rendezvous. He didn't know if any contingency had been made for such an event, but he feared the worst. If Tara didn't show soon, these brutes would most likely cut their losses and run.
After killing him on the spot.
Lord Dunsmore shifted his position and used his fingers to seek a sharp rock or bit of discarded metal; anything that he might use to free himself. Just as they locked on something that felt like the bent and broken frizzen of a musket, the leaves near the edge of the clearing parted to reveal Talota's Creek son. Tara proclaimed his arrival with loud bravado as he stepped into the light.
Dunsmore looked. Tara was not wearing the English officer's uniform as he had been before, but was dressed in filthy buckskins. His dark hair was parted and gathered in two tails. It, as were his face and hands, was covered in black mud. Tara paused to greet the others and then began to move forward, slowly, as if he was either very tired or in pain. Lord Dunsmore felt the man's contemptuous gaze fall on him as he passed. Then it returned to Black Sun. Dunsmore had been about to speak, to ask him about Kerr, but there was something.... Something about the way Tara moved that was familiar.
Lord Dunsmore drew a sharp breath and held it. It was a dangerous game his son had chosen to play. Still, it might work if Kerr had enough knowledge to pull off the masquerade.
His son stopped and lifted a Kentucky long-rifle above him. He threw his head back and let loose with a victory cry. Then he approached Black Sun. "Boone is dead," he declared gruffly. "As is my weakling brother."
Black Sun frowned. "We did not think you would come. The time is gone."
"What is time?" The familiar voice was pitched low. The words almost grunted. "The time is ripe. The time is now. We have won." Without waiting for an answer, Kerr pivoted. He quickly crossed the glade and came to a stop before him. His son's eyes pleaded for forgiveness as he lifted his hand and brought the back of it down hard across his cheek. "English dog!" he shouted. "If I did not have a use for you...."
Lord Dunsmore blinked. The blow had been hard enough to bring tears to his eyes. Most likely as Kerr intended. "What will you do?"
"I will dress as your son again, and you will lead me into the British camp. I will open the gates and my men will come in, and then...." Kerr dropped to one knee before him and caught his chin in his hand. "And then, English man, you will all die. It is only a matter of time. No one will suspect." His son's right hand dipped to the ground and twisted quickly, driving something into the ground near his left thigh. Then Kerr was on his feet again.
It was Black Sun calling him. Lord Dunsmore watched his son's face carefully. Kerr closed his eyes as if summoning strength, and then turned to face the Indian, careful to keep to the shadows. Dunsmore knew why. Beneath the mud Kerr's skin was not so dark as his older brother's. Also, his body had less mass.
"What is it?" Kerr demanded.
"You were not dressed in those clothes when you left this place," Black Sun said.
"My brother was not dead when I left. He is now," Kerr spat, as if daring the other man to challenge him. When Black Sun failed to say anything more, Kerr turned away and began to swagger back across the glade.
His father watched him walk away, fearing for him. Then he remembered Kerr had driven something into the ground. He glanced down.
It was a knife.
As Black Sun followed after his son, Lord Dunsmore shifted his tailcoats until the knife was concealed beneath them. Then he placed the rope that bound his hands against the blade and began to saw up and down.
"Firemaker does not seem himself tonight," Black Sun said. "Why does he not bring the body of the Englishman? And Daniel Boone?"
"Do you doubt me?" Kerr displayed the rifle he held. "Is this not Daniel Boone's gun?"
Black Sun's eyes examined it. "Yes."
"And how would I have it, if I had not overcome him?"
"You would have it," the native said as he reached for his own weapon, "if you were not Firemaker, but Daniel Boone's friend.'
"CaraMingo, now! Get down!"
Lord Dunsmore's head came up. A tall, lean frontiersman had stepped out of the trees and was taking aim. As the first shot sounded, the two natives guarding Dunsmore turned toward him menacingly. But his hands were free now and he was ready for them. Within seconds one lay on the ground, the knife in his chest, and the other was on the run. By the time he had loosened the ropes binding his feet, most of Tara's men had fled. John Murray rose then and crossed to the frontiersman who was standing with his rifle pointed at Black Sun, a grim look on his face.
As Dunsmore approached, the man said to the Indian, "You had a hand in Kestrel's death."
"I did. And took pleasure from it," Black Sun answered, holding his head high.
The frontiersman's finger pulled back the trigger, but before he could fire, Kerr came to his side and laid a hand on the rifle's barrel. "No, my friend. This is not the way."
"He deserves to die," the other man said.
"Yes. And that is why you should let him live. Send him back to his people disgraced. Let them deal with him." Kerr paused. "Daniel, let your conscience be free."
Lord Dunsmore cleared his throat. Both men looked at him. He stepped forward with his hand out. "Daniel Boone, I presume?"
The man's green eyes met his over the barrel of the rifle. Then he lowered it. "I'm Daniel Boone. I take it you are Lord Dunsmore."
Dunsmore nodded. "Yes."
"Your Lordship," Boone said with a nod. "I hear you've been wantin' to meet me."
Dunsmore's eyes flicked to his son's face. It gave no indication of how much Boone knew of their designs. "Yes. I have heard of you," Dunsmore remarked. "It seems we have some things in common. I was once a surveyor. And walked these lands as a young man."
Daniel Boone nodded. "So I've heard." His eyes flicked to Kerr.
Dunsmore shifted uneasily as his gaze moved to his son. Kerr had been standing by, silent. He couldn't read his mood. "Kerr," he said. "How are you?
His son sighed and then turned toward him. The look on Kerr's face was unreadable. "I am afraid, Sir, that I have bad news," he said.
"Indeed?" Lord Dunsmore asked.
"Yes, Sir. I regret to inform you that Captain Murray is no more. And CaraMingo is returning to his own."
"Do you want me to come with you?" Dan asked.
Cara-Mingo turned to look at him. His eyes were haunted. He paused a moment and then shook his head. "I must do this alone."
Dan nodded. "I understand. You want me to wait?"
His friend drew a deep breath as he glanced at the sky. The sun was just dawning. A light breeze ruffled the dark wave of his hair. Finally, he smiled. "Yes. And thank you, my friend. I know Rebecca must be worried about you."
"A few more hours won't make much difference." Dan said. "Though I have worried one or two times that I've been gone so long that when I got home I'd find out she'd mistaken me for dead, packed up the young'uns, and gone back to the Carolinas."
"I will not keep you that long, Daniel. I promise" Cara-Mingo turned toward the thick tree-line that masked the Cherokee graveyard where his father waited. "There cannot be enough words, and so, our words will be few."
Cara-Mingo frowned as he turned back. "Did I say something amusing?"
Dan shook his head. His smile was sad. "You sounded just like Kestrel. Talkin' in riddles."
Cara-Mingo nodded. He touched his chest. "Kestrel is here, with me. It is because of him that I am able to do this."
"Will you seek out Menewa?"
"Yes. As soon as I am done here. I mean to help him win the Cherokee homeland back, if he has not already." CaraMingo's sadness disappeared in determination. "I think the training His Majesty provided me with might come in handy, might it not?"
"I think you might end up chief yourself someday, CaraMingo."
The other man shook his head. "Oh, no. I have no desire to be chief. Now, or in the future. And Daniel...."
CaraMingo was silent for a moment. "Call me Mingo. There is only one now, and I find the name 'Cara' contains ties that bind me to the man I was. I need a fresh start. I need to leave 'Kerr' behind."
"Mingo it is then. But can you ever really put Kerr behind?" Dan's voice softened. "And should you?"
Mingo nodded. "Yes. And now I go to bury him, and to offer what comfort I can to the only one who will mourn."
His father didn't turn as he approached, even though he knew he had to have heard him. Mingo halted at the foot of the rise that led up to the graves to stare at him. The older man stood at the foot of his late wife's bier -- his spine stiff, his gloved hands clasped tightly behind his back. His father gazed at the skin-wrapped, desiccated form; a look of longing on his patrician face.
Mingo started to speak, but before he could, Lord Dunsmore did. "Did you know this was once a lord's castle?" he asked.
"Yes," Mingo admitted softly as he approached.
His father turned to look at him. Surprise registered on the older man's face when he saw him, as he knew it would. Mingo let him look. The mud and blood were gone from his now deeply-tanned face. They had been replaced with war-paint. He had also taken items from his late brother's camp and used them to transform himself. He now wore an open buckskin jacket decorated with paint and beads over his bare chest. Below it he had opted for a pair of military-style blue cloth pants and moccasins. His long black hair hung free as it had always longed to, though he had captured and contained a small portion of it on each side of his face and bound it in braids and leather thongs. Last, and most important of all, two eagle feathers crowned his head.
Lord Dunsmore was silent for a long time. Then he cleared his throat. "What do I call you? Kerr, or Cara-Mingo?" he asked at last.
Mingo smiled sadly. "Just Mingo."
His father shook his head slowly. "And so you choose to deny your heritage? To deny who you are?"
Mingo frowned. There was an edge to his father's voice. The older man was angry. But then, how could he hope to make Lord Dunsmore, a heir to all that came with being a member of the Peerage, understand? "Sir," Mingo answered, genuinely meaning the respect that title carried, "I do not deny my heritage. In fact, for the first time I embrace it. You know as well as I, that if I am to be true to myself, I have only one heritage. And it is here." Mingo nodded toward his mother's bier. "It is the one she left me." A sad smile crossed his lips. "Father, England is for Englishmen. You know I could never fit in there." Mingo watched the color drain from his father's face. He knew the older man had only that moment come to understand that Kerr, Lord Dunsmore's son -- his son -- was truly lost to him. "There are many words for it, Father - Kismet, fate, moira. This was meant to be. If it had not been now, and this way, still it would have been. You have to believe that."
"I should never have brought you here," the older man whispered.
Mingo took a step toward him. "Father...."
Tears had entered his father's eyes. Without another word, the older man nodded curtly and then moved to take a seat on a nearby boulder. As Mingo watched, his father folded his hands and turned his face toward the rising sun. "I never told you how we met, did I? It was while Talota was still a prisoner in the Creek camp. I was a junior officer surveying the land. My commander had had some dealings with War Bonnet, her captor. I saw the way he treated her." Lord Dunsmore paused, as if seeking to control an anger decades old. "After one of my men reported War Bonnet's duplicity to me -- he had cheated the Captain -- I sought and received permission to return with some of the men. We rescued Talota as well as the other Cherokee women who had been taken captive some years before. She rode before me on my horse, carrying her small son." His father was thoughtful. Then he smiled. "Talota was so slender; so fragile in my arms. I covered her with my cloak as we rode through the night. I can still remember the way she trembled, not from the cold but from fear. Your mother was just as afraid of me and my men as she was of the horrors from which she had so suddenly been freed."
Mingo watched as Lord Dunsmore stood and moved toward his mother's final resting place. "I took Talota back to her village. I assisted her from the horse and set her feet firmly on the path. She looked at me, and when she saw I truly meant to let her go -- and not to ravish or to use her -- she fell weeping at my feet. I told her I did not want to take advantage of her. I only wanted to protect her...." His father stood and pivoted sharply. "I only wanted to protect you, Talota's son. My son."
Mingo nodded. "I know that. And I thank you for all you have done for me. But now, Father, it is time to free me as well."
The older man stared at him hard. "I suppose in a way, you have been a prisoner all these years. A man trapped in an enemy camp."
Mingo moved to join him. "I would never count myself as your enemy. You are my father and I am, and always will be, your son."
Lord Dunsmore's smile was forced. "And this," the older man indicated the lush forest about them, "this will be your castle now?"
"Yes, Father." Mingo smiled. "I am home."
Continued in the Epilogue