Another Life, Chapter 2

by Marla F. Fair

 

"What are you lookin' at?" The small boy ducked under the man's arm and poked his head through the curtain that shielded the cloistered bed in the alcove. When he saw what lay within, he drew a sharp breath. "Then it is true." Israel glanced up at the man. "Gosh, what do you think Pa was thinkin', bringin' him here?"

"I am not certain. But it does not bode well."

"It's a bad omen, you mean? Havin' a Redcoat in the cabin?"

The raven-haired man shifted uncomfortably. "It is a bad omen, Israel."

"You can't tell, can you? Just by lookin' at him?"

"Tell what?"

"That he's English. Or that he's a bad man."

His companion was silent a moment. Then he turned and laid a copper hand on Israel's clean white shirt. "Do not be so quick to judge, Israel. A man is not the sum of the clothes he wears, the way he speaks, or the color of his skin."

Israel's blue eyes narrowed. "Now you are talkin' about yourself, ain't you?"

The man didn't answer. He wasn't paying attention. His black eyes were on the man in the bed again.

"Kestrel?"

The native started. He shifted his feet, which were shod in soft leather boots heavily decorated with beads, and drew the boy away from the alcove and toward the door. "Where is your father?"

"Pa went to the fort to get Cincinnatus. He's the closest thing we got to a doctor."

Kestrel shook his head. "I do not think this man needs a doctor. The wound he suffers from is an old one. No medicine will cure it."

The boy scrunched up his freckled nose and crossed his arms. "You sure talk funny sometimes. He just got shot this afternoon."

Kestrel smiled. "Yes." He laid a hand Israel's head. "You are right, of course."

"Israel!"

"Ah, shucks," the boy scuffed his foot on the uneven floor and glanced toward the open door. "That's Ma."

"Israel Boone!"

A smile lit Kestrel's broad face. "Chores?"

"A million of 'em." Israel gave an exagerated sigh as he moved toward the front of the cabin. "Comin', Ma!" Turning back to the native the boy asked him, "You be here when I get done?"

Kestrel shook his head. "I do not think so. But I will return. Look for me tomorrow near dusk."

Israel smiled. "Promise?"

The native seemed to think for a moment. Then he nodded. "Promise."

That was good enough. The small boy shot off and, after bounding down the steps, turned a cartwheel before heading for his mother. The native watched him go and then turned back towards the alcove and the still figure that lay concealed within it.

He could not be certain. The light was gone and the man was pale with fatigue and loss of blood. Walking to the bed, Kestrel thrust the curtain aside and lifted the single candle Rebecca had placed beside it before leaving the cabin and the wounded man's side. Holding it steady, the native leaned over the prone form to study the Englishman's face. After a moment he came to a conclusion. It had to be him. It was not possible that three men could look so.

The impossible had happened.

The dead was alive again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dan drew alongside his wife and circled her waist with his hands. Then he kissed her long and hard. Israel paused in his water-toting to shake his head and make a sound of disgust as the wiry tavern-keeper who had accompanied his father home crossed his arms and pulled at his beard.

"It's amazin', Dan'l Boone, that you ain't got a whole army of children as much kissin' as you do with that wife of yours."

"Why Cincinnatus, don't you know it takes more than a little kiss to make a baby?" Dan grinned.

"And," Becky said, arching one red eyebrow, "don't you know, Cincinnatus, that Dan never stays home long enough to do anything more?"

Dan cocked his head and shook it. "Rebecca Bryan Boone, you just wait...."

"Wait? That's all I ever seem to do." His handsome wife placed her hands on her hips and feigned indignation. "And then when you do come home, it's to put some strange man in my bed!"

" 'For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in.' Just doin' my Christian duty."

"First it was a half-Cherokee, half-Shawnee, and now a Redcoat? Dan," Becky's brows now formed a deep 'v', "why can't you be like the other boys and just bring home the occasional frog?"

Dan laughed. "Where is Kestrel? I thought he was- "

A low-throated scream cut his sentence short. It came from the cabin.

Becky shook her head at his questioning look and then pointed. "Kestrel's in there...."

Dan was already on the move. He entered the cabin at top speed and almost immediately stumbled to a halt. The Englishman was standing, breathing heavily, with his back against the wall. Kestrel was about a yard away from him; his hands in the air.

The native turned and smiled at him. "I promise, Daniel, I did not try to scalp him."

Kerr Murray's deep brown eyes were wild with fever and fatigue. "Kerr," Dan called out to him. "Kerr, it's all right. You are in my home."

The Englishman's dark eyes focused on him and, for the first time, he seemed to realize that he was no longer in the wild. "Mr. Boone?" Kerr managed to gasp.

Dan stepped past his Indian friend and extended a hand. "Daniel. We don't stand on ceremony here. Becky?"

Rebecca ordered her son to wait by the door and then came to her husband's side. "Yes, Dan?"

"Help me get him back to bed."

Kerr was staring at Kestrel who was watching him just as closely. Dan glanced at his friend and realized that, if you weren't used to him, the native just might give you a fright. Kestrel was tall and strongly built. His long black hair was skinned back in a tail and two silver hawk feathers dangled from its right-hand side. He was dressed in a rich blue hunting shirt, a small breechcloth, and buckskin leggings. There were silver ornaments about his neck and upper arms. A beaded belt held his knife and a very lethal-looking tomahawk.

"Don't mind him," Dan laughed, speaking to the Englishman. "He doesn't bite."

"I'm sorry," Kerr addressed the brooding native. "You startled me."

Dan grinned as the wounded man accepted his help and let him lead him to the bed. "Kestrel had that effect on me the first time I met him as well. I got over it quick though, when he talked a party of Shawnee out of roasting me."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kerr sat heavily on the bed. He shuddered and then steadied himself. "Again," he said, "I apologize. I am not usually given to such outbursts. It was just that you appeared like some vengeful spirit out of a dream."

"Oh dear!"

The Englishman pivoted sharply toward Rebecca. So did Dan. His wife seemed distressed. "Becky?" Dan asked.

"He's bleeding again."

Dan watched as Kerr glanced at his thigh. What Becky said was true. The bandage on the stranger's thigh was soaked through again. A wave of weakness seemed to wash over the man and he leaned heavily on his hand. "I am sorry to be so much trouble," Kerr whispered.

"Why, you are no trouble at all," Rebecca assured him as she beckoned Cincinnatus to her side. As the older man started toward her, she turned to glance at Kestrel and then at him. "Well, you two...."

Dan frowned. "Well, what?"

"We have no need of an audience," his wife declared and with both hands illustrated her next word, "Shoo!"

Daniel Boone laughed. He placed his hand on his Indian friend's shoulder and then nodded to his son. "We have our orders, men. March!"

As the trio made their way outside, Dan glanced back. Kerr Murray had settled against the pillows. His eyes were closed and his jaw set against the pain. Cincinnatus had moved to his side and begun to unwrap his soiled dressings. Dan pushed Israel before him and stepped onto the porch. Kestrel had stopped in the open door. He was staring at the Englishman.

"Kestrel?"

The native turned and their eyes met briefly.

"What is it?" Dan asked him.

Kestrel shook his head. Without a word he moved past him. As his son placed his arm about the native's waist, Dan looked back.

Rebecca shut the door in his face.

Outside the sun was just setting and the golden light of late afternoon was giving way to dusky night. Dan sent Israel chasing after his pet goose, which he had spied heading toward the trees and the stream that lay beyond, before turning to his friend and asking, "What is it? What's wrong?"

Kestrel's strong-boned face was silhouetted against the dying sun. He shook his head. "I must go," he said at last.

"Can't you tell me?"

The native drew a deep breath and turned his black eyes on his friend. "No."

Dan nodded toward the cabin. "Does it have to do with him? With this Kerr Murray?"

His friend's face registered mild surprise. "Is that what he calls himself?"

Dan frowned. "That's his name. What do you mean?"

Kestrel was silent a moment. "It is not for me to say, Daniel. It is a...family matter. A matter of clan." The native adjusted the strap of his bandoleer and slung his rifle over his shoulder. "If it is to be said, it is for Menewa, not me."

Dan pursed his lips. Clan matters were not for outsiders, though he did have some claim to kinship with the tall warrior whose father had been Shawnee, since Dan himself had been adopted by Blackfish into the tribe. He thought about it a moment and then nodded. If the Englishman posed any threat, Dan was certain the native would have told him. "How is Menewa?"

"Well." Kestrel smiled. "Watching. Waiting."

"You tell him we're with him?"

Kestrel nodded. "He knows and is grateful, but this too is a family matter."

"Firemaker, you mean?"

"Yes," Kestrel's eyes flicked to the cabin, "the one who calls himself chief of the Cherokee now. Daniel, I must go. With Menewa and the others on the move, if I do not meet them at the appointed time -- "

"You might end up orphaned and have to join Boonesborough's little family?"

The native shook his head. "I do not think the settlers would 'cotton' to that idea, Daniel."

"Never know if you don't try."

Kestrel laid his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I know. As do you." He nodded toward the cabin. "As will he."

"What?"

"Dan?"

The frontiersman spun in place to find his wife standing on the porch. "Becky?"

"He'd like to talk to you, Dan. He's very agitated. I don't think he'll settle until he has."

Dan nodded and then turned back to his friend. "Is'rul says you are comin' back tomorrow?"

The native nodded again. "Look for me at dusk."

"We'll save you some supper."

Kestrel laughed. "The bribe is most welcome, though unnecessary. Good night, Rebecca," he called.

"Good night." Becky watched the native go and then looked at Dan as he came alongside her. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"With him?" Dan frowned. "I don't know."

She continued to stare after Kestrel. "He seemed preoccupied."

"Yep. Said it had to do with family."

"Oh."

"Now, what is our guest's desire?" Dan asked.

Cincinnatus appeared in the door just as he did. "More like what is his demand." The older man paused in wiping his hands clean to meet the frontiersman's eyes. "I think that man is used to getting his own way."

"He's very polite," Becky offered.

"And persuasive," Cincinnatus laughed. "I just get the feelin' he's used to givin' orders and havin' them obeyed without question."

Dan ran his fingers over his chin. He glanced at Israel where he was coming with Hannibal in hand. "You keep the boy occupied for a few minutes, Becky, while I talk to our 'guest'. Say...."

As she stepped off the porch, his wife turned back, "Yes?"

"Where's his coat?"

"Israel's?" she asked.

"No. Mr. Murray's."

"The red one, you mean? It's in the chest at the end of the bed. I was going to mend it while he recovered. It had several rents," Becky answered.

Dan nodded, and then he turned to the older man. "Cincinnatus, you leavin' or stayin'?"

"I got time to get back to the settlement, Dan'l. I left Becky some medicine and instructions on what to do. I'll check on him again in the mornin'. The main thing is just to make certain mortification don't set in." Cincinnatus placed his hat on his head and tipped it. "Night, Dan'l. Rebecca."

"Good night, Cincinnatus." Dan watched the tavern-keeper for a moment and then turned to confront the enigma in their cabin.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kerr sat up as the tall man crossed the threshold and came to stand at the foot of his bed. "Mr. Boone," he said, acknowledging his presence.

"Now, I told you we don't stand on ceremony here...."

"Daniel, then." Kerr shifted uncomfortably. "I must be allowed to go."

The frontiersman shook his head. "I don't think so. You wouldn't get very far in the condition you're in."

"But my man...." Kerr paused. "I had a friend with me. He had only just left me when the Indians attacked."

"Just?"

"A quarter of an hour, perhaps. Maybe a little longer. I..." Kerr disliked conceding that he had been so foolish. "I was distracted and lost track of time."

The tall man frowned. "I hate to say this, Kerr, but he's more than likely dead. We didn't happen on him on the way back to the cabin."

"He wouldn't necessarily have been...." Again Kerr paused, thinking through what he said before saying it. "He was to be away a few hours, scouting. He might have returned after we left."

"Wouldn't he have tracked you here then?"

Kerr's face fell. "I suppose he would have." He lowered his head into his hands. "Dear God, Thomas...."

"What were you doing out here, in the wilderness, in the first place?" Dan asked softly.

"I told you," his dark eyes sought the other man's face, "we were seeking the Cherokee."

"For?"

He blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

"Trade? Information?" The tall man paused and his eyes narrowed. "Sanctuary?"

Kerr hoped his smile didn't appear as forced as it was. "An Englishman seeking sanctuary among the savages? Come now, Mr. Boone. Daniel. I hardly think -- "

"I've known Englishmen to live among the Cherokee. Some as captives." The green eyes narrowed. "Some as choose to."

"Yes, well...."

He watched as Daniel Boone opened the chest and drew his red coat from it and held it out to him. Kerr took the garment with a frown. "That yours?" the frontiersman asked.

"You know it is," he said.

"That's an officer's coat. Or it was once."

"Yes."

"So you're an officer?"

Kerr laughed. "I was once."

"Then you are the one the major was huntin' the other day. I thought you might be."

Kerr stiffened. That had to have been Major Halpen, come to set the stage for his arrival. "Yes."

"You've deserted then?"

He tried not to blanch under the scrutiny of those eyes. Even though Kerr had learned to do it after a fashion, lying had never come easy to him. It was one of the reasons he had proven such a disappointment to his father in the intrigues of His Majesty's court. "Let us just say, I have no desire to return to England."

Daniel Boone grinned. Then he did a strange thing. He took a step forward and extended a hand. "Well, you are right welcome, Kerr. Any enemy of King George is a friend of mine. You just lean back there and rest." The tall man started toward the door. "As soon as it's light, I promise we'll go lookin' for your friend."

"Thank you. Oh," he said, calling him back, "this Kestrel...."

"Yes?"

"Interesting name."

Boone nodded. "It's not his real one."

"No?"

"No. Kestrel spent a good many years with a white family. When he first told them his name, they couldn't understand it. He pointed at a silver-tailed hawk flying overhead and said it was the same. Silver Hawk. They were from England...."

"And they called him 'kestrel', I see. And the older man who cared for my wound...."

"Cincinnatus."

"Cincinnatus said Kestrel was a Cherokee."

Dan nodded. "His mother was Cherokee. He lived with her in Chota as a young boy. She was killed in a raid, and for a while after that Kestrel lived with his father among the Shawnee. But not for long. A white farmer's cattle were stolen and his village was blamed." Daniel Boone shook his head. "He escaped the massacre that followed, but he was taken and sold as a slave. The Jenkins' bought him. Kestrel worked for them, and then lived with them as a son. When they returned to England, they freed him, and he came back to Kentucky to seek his people. Why do you ask?"

"Why?" Kerr shrugged his shoulders. "I am as curious about him as he seemed to be about me, is all. I don't think he liked me very much."

"Kestrel is wary. He's had to be to survive. Still, you couldn't ask for a better friend-or a more ferocious enemy." Dan took hold of the curtain that closed off the alcove. "That's enough jawin' for a wounded man for one night. You need anythin' else?"

Kerr shook his head. "No. Thank you again for your kindness."

"Anythin' for a friend. Good night."

"Good night."

Kerr watched the tall frontiersman go with some regret and then leaned his head back on the pillows, exhausted. What was it Louis the Fourteenth had once said? 'Defend me from my friends. I can defend myself from my enemies.'

This was not going to be as easy as he thought.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kerr stirred and opened his eyes, aroused by the scent of freshly-baked bread. The curtain was still drawn but he could see sunlight under it, streaming across the floor of the Boone cabin. He frowned, tossed the coverlet back, and attempted to rise. If he was to get on with this business, it was time he began. As he stood, though, his head spun and he fell back into a seated position.

Daniel Boone's wife evidently heard him since her shoes appeared beneath the curtain momentarily and her light voice asked. "May I?

He drew a deep breath and nodded. "Yes."

As she thrust the curtain aside, he almost gasped. The sunlight was streaming in through the open door and it backlit her slender figure and flaming red hair. She was a beautiful woman.

She noted his expression and frowned. "Is something wrong?"

"No. No." His dark brown eyes took in the cabin's interior. "Your husband is not here?"

"Oh, no. Dan is long gone. Cincinnatus has been here, checked on you, and gone back to the fort. You've been asleep some time. It's almost noon."

He started to rise and swayed. "But I thought we were going to look for Thomas...."

She came to his side and placed her hands on his shoulders and pushed him back down. "Dan and Yadkin are looking for your friend. You need to stay right where you are and mend." She backed off and looked him over from head to toe. "My goodness, you could use some meat on those thin bones of yours."

Kerr laughed. "I have not had the good fortune in my life to be granted a ministering angel such as you. A soldier's life is hardly prone to put 'meat' on one's bones."

"Oh, I don't know." Rebecca Boone met his gaze. "It seems to me most British officers I have met are.... Well, I wouldn't call them skinny."

"Ah, yes. Well...."

"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "Here you are, a guest in my house, and I am insulting your people. And before you have had breakfast." She gestured toward the table which had a place set and waiting. "Are you hungry?"

Kerr nodded as he rose shakily to his feet. "I haven't had any food since Thomas and I shared the midday meal yesterday." He grimaced not only with pain, but with fear for his missing friend. "You are certain- "

She put her arm around his waist and let him lean on her as he limped to the table. "Dan and Yad are out looking. If he can be found; they will do it."

Kerr sat heavily on the wooden chair and glanced about. "You have a lovely home."

Rebecca Boone smiled as she placed a slice of bread and a slab of butter before him, and then scooted the jam towards both. "Thank you. I would imagine it is a far cry from the place where you grew up."

He took a bite of bread and swallowed, and then looked up. "You would be right."

"You have a cultured accent. Are you from London?"

"My father was born near there. I was educated at Oxford, and have lived close by all my adult life." He took a drink. "Except for when I have been soldiering."

"And how long have you been doing that?"

Kerr shook his head as she offered him some meat. "No, thank you. The bread is fine. How long?" He hesitated to launch into his fabricated tale, but it was-in many ways-the truth. "Too long. I am weary of killing."

She sat down across from him. "When I mended your coat, I found this...." She drew a single silver epaulet from beneath her apron and held it out, "...in the pocket. Captain. Should I sew it back on?"

He reached out and closed her fingers about it. "Leave it there. I have no use for it anymore."

"Ma!"

Rebecca Boone looked up to find her son standing in the doorway. The boy's mother quickly withdrew her hand lest the child get the wrong impression. Kerr watched as she rose and walked toward the white-haired boy who was staring open-mouthed at him. When she reached her son, she placed two fingers under his chin and shut his jaw so hard his teeth must have rattled.

"Manners, Israel," she said. "Mr. Murray is our guest."

"Kerr," he insisted, shifting the long nightshirt he was clothed in so it covered his bare legs. "Please. And Mrs. Boone, let the boy ask what he will. A British Officer - even one on 'unofficial' leave - would make a poor show for his King if he did not have the courage to face down such a worthy opponent."

She smiled and pushed her son toward the table. "I'll be outside if you need me - either of you."

The little boy frowned as he slowly walked to the table and sat opposite him. Then he leaned his face on his hands, and his hands on the table, and studied him long and hard. Finally Kerr asked, "Well, do I pass inspection?"

"You a Redcoat?"

He saw no sense in denying it. "Yes."

"You killed any Americans?"

Kerr was thankful to be able to honestly say, "No. I have not."

"Indians?"

"Yes, a few. Yesterday when I was attacked."

The boy nodded. "That's all right. If they shot at you, you gotta shoot back."

"I will remember I have your permission next time," Kerr remarked, hiding his smile. "Have you shot any Englishmen?"

The boy jerked. "Who me? Criminetly, no. My Pa has though."

"I thought your father worked with the British. With General Braddock, wasn't it?"

"That was a long time ago, afore you British decided you wanted to own us, lock, stock and barrel, and tell us what we could and couldn't do afore we even thought of doing it."

Kerr frowned. "Have we done that? Really?"

"And taxed us when we did it," the little boy emphasized the words he had obviously heard his father speak with a sharp nod of his head. "Or when we didn't."

"Master Boone," Kerr said, scooting his chair back and sitting up straight, before extending his hand to him, "I hereby apologize for His Majesty, King George the Third of England."

The boy stared at his hand. "Huh?"

"His Majesty. I apologize for him."

"Do you know him?"

Kerr smiled. "We've met." He retracted his hand for the moment. "Tell me, Israel, do you always like what your father and mother tell you to do? Do you, say, like to come in before it is dark, or enjoy having an adult accompany you to the river when you want to go fishing or swimming?"

The boy didn't have to think long on that one. "No."

"But aren't the things they say-and make you do-for your own good?"

That one took him a minute. Finally he said, "Yes. Otherwise I might get captured, or killed by Indians or bad men."

Kerr nodded. "Yes. Well, many of the things King George has done have been for the 'good' of the Colonies. And good men, like your father, sometimes cannot see that." At the boy's frown he raised his hand and added, "Oh, don't get me wrong. I do not agree with all the Crown's decisions. Concord and Lexington were unnecessary. The taxes are excessive, and far too great for a young country to bear. Still, the last war had to be paid for somehow, and that is how the King's advisors suggested it be done."

"An interesting theory."

Kerr pivoted to find Daniel Boone's Indian friend standing in the open doorway.

"Kestrel! You're early!" the boy cried as he rose and ran to the native's side.

The copper-skinned man laid a hand on the boy's head and asked him, "Israel, is your father here?"

"No. He's out looking for his friend," Israel indicated Kerr with a nod, "the one who is missing."

The tall native nodded. "Your mother wants you outside."

"Now?"

"Yes, now." Kestrel waited until the boy had disappeared and then walked to his side. Looking down at him, he said, "They will not find him."

Kerr shifted. "Who?"

"Your friend."

He drew a deep breath. "Is he dead?"

The native shook his head. "No. He was captured and taken to Chota."

"Captured?" Kerr's heart sank. He had few memories left of his time among his mother's people, but one of them was of a night a white captive had been brought before the council and condemned for the slaughter of an innocent family. He could still remember the man's screams. Often, in times of war, enemy prisoners were tortured. "Dear God, I must free him- "

Kestrel's hand came down on his shoulder. "You cannot go."

"To Perdition with this leg," Kerr growled as he stood up and swayed. "I had worse in sixty-seven and I kept fighting."

"No. I did not mean to say you were not able. I meant you cannot go. Not if you hope to remain alive."

Kerr frowned. Did this man somehow know he had been sent by his father to offer the Cherokee chief not only gold, but land-free and clear-for his loyalty and service to the Crown, and to Virginia's governor general? With Kestrel's people, as well as the other major tribes in the area, in their pocket, they would be able to deal with the Colonials swiftly and surely, as well as to keep open the vital access roads they needed. When the War ended, as soon it must, a new British Empire would be established of which his father had assured him the Indian nations would be a part.

"What are you trying to say?"

Kestrel looked hard at him. "I know who you are."

Kerr frowned. Perhaps they had already tortured Thomas. If this man knew.... "Who I am?"

"Yes. You are Cara-Mingo. The son of Talota, and sister-son to Menewa, the true war chief of the Cherokee."

It was a name out of a dream. One Kerr had not heard in more than twenty years. "Cara-Mingo?" he repeated.

The native nodded. "The question is, do you know who you are?"

"Kestrel?"

The native turned. "Yes?"

It was Rebecca Boone. "Jemima just came home," she told him. "She said she saw some Indians on the road, headed this way. Were you expecting any of your people?"

Kestrel shook his head. "They are not my people. I will leave through the back door. Do not tell them I was here. This is as much for your sake as mine."

As she nodded, Kerr said to him, "You and I need to talk further. About Thomas and," his dark brown eyes flicked to Daniel Boone's wife, "about this other matter."

"I will return when I can," Kestrel assured him.

"Ma!"

Rebecca Boone spun towards the door. "That must be them." By the time she had turned back, the native man was gone.

Kerr noticed the concern on her face. "What is this?"

"Cherokee. From the village. They consider Kestrel a renegade. Him and anyone else who remains loyal to Menewa." Her blue eyes went to her husband's extra rifle that hung suspended from a peg over the hearth. "I wish Dan was here."

"Where is my pistol?"

"No. You're wounded, and this is not your fight." She started for the gun.

Kerr caught her arm. "It is mine as much as the one your husband entered into was his - when he saved my life. Allow me to return the favor."

She stared at him a moment and then nodded. Then both of them jumped as Israel called out again, "Ma, they're comin' across the field."

"You and Jemima get in here." She glanced back at him. "Your pistol is in the chest."

"Never mind it. Give me the rifle. I will meet them. You and the children stay inside."

"I can use it you know."

He frowned. "What?"

"The rifle!" she exclaimed.

Kerr laughed. "And no doubt, use it well. Let us hope you do not have need." He accepted the weapon from her and then walked to the open door as quickly as he was able, stepping aside to let the Boone's small son and a brown-haired girl he took to be their daughter, enter. Deliberately Kerr stepped across the threshold and showed himself, careful not to reveal any weakness.

Before him stood a half dozen warriors. Several of them looked like the Cherokee who had attacked him the day before. Others did not. He wished again that he had taken more time to educate himself about the various tribes that roamed the Kentucky territory.

"Can I help you?" he asked.

The natives looked at one another, and then one of the different ones stepped forward. He was of a moderate height and wore a breechcloth and leggings like his Cherokee companions, but the leather had been dyed black and the leggings were laced up the side with white thongs. Fringes of colored leather bordered them. His hair was shaved in a roach that widened at the back, covering the nape of his neck, and he wore copper earrings as well as a nose ring of silver. When he spoke it was with authority.

"We seek the man Kestrel," the native said.

Kerr held the rifle steady. "There is no one here by that name."

The man frowned. "Who are you? You are not Daniel Boone."

He smiled in return. "No. I am not."

"He is English," another of the Indians said.

"What is your name?" the first man asked.

"Kerr. Kerr Murray. And you might be?"

"Black Sun." The man gestured toward the fierce natives that backed him. "And these are my men."

Kerr nodded, acknowledging both the men and the threat. "And what is your mission?"

"Our chief has sent us to find this man, and to bring him back to answer for his crimes against the People."

"Well," Kerr answered, careful to keep his finger on the trigger of the flintlock as he lowered it, "as I have said, he is not here. You may go on your way."

Black Sun considered that. Then he asked, "Is Boone's woman within?"

"I don't see why I should tell -- "

"Yes. She is." As Kerr frowned, Rebecca Boone slipped out of the cabin and came to stand by his side. "How can I help you?"

"You can give your husband a message from Chief Firemaker."

"And what message would that be?" she asked.

Black Sun's dark eyes flicked to the man with the gun. "That he should be careful whom he chooses to befriend." The native inclined his head. "Mrs. Boone. Mr. Murray."

As one, the men turned to depart. Kerr watched them for a moment and then stepped down off the porch. Daniel Boone's wife called out to him as he did. Hearing her, Black Sun turned back to face him.

"Yes?" the native asked. "Do you want something of me?"

"Are you from Chota?"

Black Sun nodded. "Yes."

Kerr drew a deep breath. "Tell your chief I must meet with him."

"Kerr...don't." It was Rebecca Boone. She was frightened.

He held his hand out to silence her. "You have a man of mine, named Thomas. Do you not?"

"The English soldier. Yes. Our chief has welcomed him to our village."

"I want him released."

Black Sun smiled. "And what will you give my chief to release him?"

Kerr met the other man's eyes. Not only was it his duty to do as his father had ordered and meet with the chief of the Chota Cherokee, but he had a higher duty to his friend. Thomas had only been captured because he had been with him.

What would he give?

"Myself."

 

Continued in Chapter Three