"'Night, Mrs. Boone. I'll come talk to you about that other matter in the morning. Hopefully Dan will be home by then." Jericho smiled as he turned away from her to take hold of her daughter's hand. "Goodnight, Jemima. Thanks for goin' with me." The girl giggled as he playfully kissed it and glanced at Becky who nodded, indicating it was okay for her to see him to the road. Surprised, Jemima gave a little whoop. A moment later she closed the door behind them and leaned on it.
Dear God, what was she going to do?
She walked deliberately across the room and pulled the curtain aside to stare at the man who lay nestled in the bed she shared with Dan. His skin was unnaturally pale and he was quite still, as if he didn't have the willpower left to muster a fight in order to beat whatever it was that was trying to kill him. She had cleaned the wound on his forehead and tended to the inflamed cuts on his side and back, but she had been unable to get any liquids into him. The herbs she had brewed sat by the bed, untouched.
She dropped the curtain as the door opened and her daughter came back in the room. "You think Pa will be home tonight, Ma?" the girl asked as she headed to the pantry. Her fingers closed on one of the apples and she bit into it with a crack, frowning as her mother jumped. "Ma?"
"Where was Jericho going?" She asked as casually as she was able.
"Home to sleep. He said, if Pa still wasn't here in the mornin', he might go look for him tomorrow. He has something he wants to tell him powerfully bad, but he wouldn't say what it was." She took another bite and tilted her head. "You're lookin' poorly, Ma. You aren't taking sick, are you?'
"No, I'm...." Becky hesitated. Her eyes darted to the covered alcove. Maybe that was the answer. She coughed and stepped away. "Well, yes - now that you mention it - I think I just might be coming down with something. I think maybe I should take you and your brother into the settlement and let you stay with Mrs. McGrady."
"Ma! No." Jemima started to wail. "She'll have me burning that old stinky stuff and making soap day and night. You know she's crazy like that."
The girl lowered her head. "I'm sorry, Ma." Her eyes were large and round. "Do we have to go? Who will look after you...?"
She felt bad lying to the girl, but she really had little choice. "I'll be fine, Jemima. Let me get my shawl and.... Wait a minute...." Becky dashed to the door and flung it open. She stepped out onto the porch. "Jericho! Jericho, can you hear me?" She waited a moment and then tried again. "Jericho?"
The boy's reply sounded from not too far away. He had either been dragging his heels or trying to make up his mind whether or not to go after Dan yet tonight. She breathed a sigh of relief. "Come back. I have something I need you to do."
Becky turned back into the room only to find Jemima reaching toward the fabric that concealed their bed. "Jemima!"
The girl started guiltily and turned around. "Ma'am?"
"I haven't changed the sheets yet. You get away from there. I won't have you getting sick as well."
Rebecca spun quickly. The boy had been closer than she thought. "Oh, Jericho. I'm not...." She coughed and touched her forehead. "...I'm not feeling well. I might have caught a touch of what Israel was fighting. I need you to take the children - "
Becky paused and nodded at her daughter. "I need you to take Israel and Jemima to widow McGrady's. Please ask Nan to look after them for a day or two until I get back on my feet."
The boy frowned. "But should you be alone, Ma'am?"
"Oh, don't you worry about me," she put her hand on his shoulder and steered him toward the ladder that led up to the loft, "I'll be fine. Dan will be back soon." She glanced at the curtain, praying with all her might that Mingo remained silent a little while longer. "I won't be alone."
He nodded. "Yes, Ma'am."
A minute later Jericho came down the ladder with her white-haired boy over his shoulder. As he passed her, Israel opened one eye. "Ma...."
"Hush," she kissed him on the forehead, "It's an adventure. You'll see in the morning."
As the trio moved out into the night and she pushed the door to behind them, she heard Jemima remark to Jericho Jones, "It'll be an adventure, all right. That old lady stinks like fat and her arms are brown up to the elbows!"
Becky hesitated on the threshold, her hands on her hips. She stared at the curtain a moment and then turned around and barred the door. After a second, she started toward the bed and then just stopped. Then, she went to sit by the fire.
She had no earthly idea what to do.
She knew she should probably go get Cincinnatus. He had helped with Yad when he had been shot the year before. He knew more about wounds than she did. Still, the tear the arrow had left in Mingo's flesh wasn't what was killing him. And she didn't think it had been poisoned. He was just plain sick; sick maybe with worry and grief as much as anything else. And those were two things that could kill a man, even if his body had the strength to go on.
She rose and went to retrieve her shawl, thinking she would go get the tavern-keeper, but as her hand touched the door, she froze. What had Jericho said? That some of the settlers were spreading rumors that Mingo was a traitor, and saying he was in league with the strangers who had come to the fort? She turned back towards the sick man. If someone saw her - if they got wind that he was here and unable to defend himself - they might take him out and hang him. They certainly had tried before.
She returned to the fire and leaned her head on the mantel. She could go to the Cherokee village and get Pitapuni, their medicine man. He might be able to help. But who would watch Mingo while she was gone? Who could she trust?
She closed her eyes and fought to find peace in the center of the storm she had unexpectedly found herself floundering in. As she waited, the words of a prayer Mingo had used came to her. He had taught it to her once, long ago, when Dan had been away and it had seemed the world had gone mad.
"Oh, Great Spirit," she whispered, "I pray for myself in order that I may be healed and in being healed, become a healer. Oh, Father God," she turned and looked across the room, "I pray for my close friend who is sick and in need of help."
Becky drew a breath and held it. Then she walked to the curtain and pulled it aside. Relieved to find that Mingo was still breathing, she sat on the bed and ran her hand along what was left of his jet-black hair realizing that - at least in this - Jericho had been telling the truth. Her lips parted again and she continued, "Oh Great Spirit, I pray for this world so that all of these weapons," she traced the wound on his forehead with her finger, "and other horrible things that we point at each other will someday soon be destroyed." She took his hand and held it, noting that it was unnaturally cold. "And I pray that adversaries will learn to communicate and that all of the...mistrust will be healed. Oh, Great Spirit, I pray for cleansing," she kissed his forehead and stood, "and for renewal."
A tear ran down her cheek as she slipped to the floor beside the bed.
"Dear God, show me what to do."
The fever raged within him; it ran in a broad red band before him, a dark and bloody river he could not ford. On the far side of it stood Rebecca, her hands about his waist, dragging him into her house and Daniel's bed, laying cool cloths on his forehead and urging him to drink. On the other side, much closer to him and much more tangible, was the past. He existed at this moment in two places - with his friend's wife in the land of his mother's people, and in that cellar, beside the cage where his brothers were kept, deep in the bowels of the Hell-hole called London that was his father's home.
And he no longer knew which one was real.
"My isn't this a charming sight. Family reunion, Kerr?"
Kerr lifted his dark head. Star's hand was still on it. He gazed into the shadows and saw the glint of a familiar silver pistol. Above it were a pair of eyes, savage and wild as any predator's. He started to shift, intending to stand, but stopped when he heard a 'click'. Gerard had cocked the hammer on his gun. Behind him Arrowkeeper moved forward into the light as if to proclaim his lack of fear.
"You stand in the shadows, white-eyes. Of what are you afraid?" The Creek lifted his long muscular arms and indicated the barred space that had become their world. "Is it not we who are caged?"
There was a moment of silence during which Kerr stiffened, waiting for the round to be fired. But it wasn't. Instead, the slender form of John Gerard appeared, moving forward until he was bathed in pale white moonlight.
"So it is true," he said with disgust.
Kerr disengaged his head from Star's hand, and with a glance at the older man, rose to his feet. He remained near the cage, his eyes on the gun in Gerard's hand. "John. What is it you want?"
"What is it I want?" The other man laughed. "I want justice."
"Truth then." He extended his arm and pointed the pistol at Kerr's head. "Tell me the truth. Who and what are you?"
Kerr heard the other natives in the cage behind him stir. One of them rose and spoke softly to Star. He heard an unfamiliar word. "Jish-cha." He didn't know the meaning, but the intent was clear. It carried a warning.
"What do you mean?" He kept his voice deliberately calm.
"What are you?" Gerard was trembling. "What are these savages to you?"
He felt Star's hand on his back. "Truth will only free you, Cara-Mingo."
The young man drew a deep breath and took a step forward, acting as a shield for the two men trapped in the cage. "My mother was what an Englishman might call a Cherokee 'princess'. My father met and fell in love with her when he was in the Colonies, leading a survey expedition. She died, and he brought me here to be his son."
Gerard was silent. He moved forward, closing the gap between them. "So you are a savage. Like them."
Kerr glanced at the older man behind him and met Arrowkeeper's eyes. He sighed and turned back, a wry smile on his lips. "There might be some debate as to who in this room that term best applies to." A moment later he was sitting on the floor, his head reeling from having been struck across the face with the butt of Gerard's gun.
"Shut up! Shut up!" John's eyes were ablaze. "Liar! Imposter! How dare you pretend to be one of us! How dare you act the young Lordling, attending Oxford, mixing in society," he raised his hand and moved to strike him again, "making love to a white girl, when you are nothing but an ignorant filthy savage!"
Arrowkeeper's hand shot through the bars. He grabbed Gerard's wrist and twisted it so the gun fell from his grasp. As it clattered to the stone floor, the tall man said evenly. "A promise white-eyes. You harm him, and I will see to it that your death is not an easy one."
Gerard shrieked. "Let go of me! Take your hands off of me!" He began to kick against the bars with his boots. "Release me!"
Kerr met the Creek's black eyes. "Let him go."
Arrowkeeper looked at him. "And why should I?"
"This is for me to do."
The native stared at him and then he laughed; his white teeth cutting a brilliant slash across his dark red face. He nodded. Then his fingers opened and Gerard slid to the floor.
Kerr moved to stand over him. "Get up, John."
Gerard was still. His head hung to his chest.
"John." The dark-haired man knelt beside him. "Why is it you hate me so?" He paused, and changed the question, "Why do you hate my people so?"
The other man lifted his chin and raised his eyes. For just a moment conflicted emotions registered in their dark blue depths as he remembered two years of friendship and the man he thought he had known, but then the shadows of the past loomed large and he began to tremble with rage. "Stinking murdering savages. You all deserve to die!"
"John - "
The young man twisted impossibly fast and stretched toward the gun. Kerr stood and kicked it a few feet away. Gerard reared up as he did and caught him by the foot. Snapping it sideways with savage fury, he threw him off-balance so he fell to the ground, the wind momentarily knocked out of him.
Then Gerard landed on top of him and began to pound.
As the two men rolled about the floor, flailing and kicking, Arrowkeeper watched in silence; his visage stone. Star sat quietly, his back to the bars; his eyes closed and his lips moving in constant prayer. The other natives who occupied their cell joined him, asking the Creator to give strength to this one they did not know.
Kerr's forehead was bleeding, but he had managed to regain his feet. His right ankle was screaming. He ignored it. Gerard was breathing heavily and his lip was split. "Give this up, John. I'm sorry I lied to you." He swallowed hard. "I'm sorry I lied to myself."
John's dark eyes found his. "I'm sorry you ever lived."
As Gerard wiped his hand across his lip, Arrowkeeper spoke. Kerr turned towards the brave and when he did, John jumped him. Catching his fingers in his collar he rammed his head into the iron bars and then flung him to the floor. As he lay stunned, Gerard grabbed the pistol and pointed it at his head.
Kerr looked up at him. "You did this...on purpose. Brought...me here...tonight?"
John's finger shifted on the gun. "Yes."
He nodded. "One of the men in my father's regiment.... One of these," he nodded toward the cage, "reminded him. When he heard the name, 'Cherokee'. Of course, it was only a rumor. Lord Dunsmore has always denied his shame."
"Shame?" Kerr laughed and wiped blood from his eye. "Thank you."
Gerard's lip curled. "For what??"
"For reminding me of who I was." He struggled to his knees. "Who I am."
The auburn-haired man shook his head. "Who you were...."
Kerr watched as John pressed the trigger. At the same time two things happened; a shadow appeared in the doorway directly behind him and Arrowkeeper reached through the bars and caught Gerard about the throat with both hands, squeezing tight. John's silver pistol went off in a blinding flash and there was a scream.
Kerr pivoted just as blood exploded from the chest of the Irish custodian as the bullet ripped through him. A moment later the man staggered forward and fell across him, pinning him to the floor.
"Mingo? Mingo, can you hear me?"
Becky wrung the cloth out in the wooden bowl and laid it across his forehead. She briefly touched her fingers to his face, and then ran them again over his short black hair.
"Mingo? Whatever happened to you?"
A knock on the door made her jump almost out of her skin. She stood and quickly pulled the curtain across the alcove. She did her best to straighten her hair and apron, so it wouldn't look like she had spent a night weeping and sleeping on the floor of the cabin, and then went to unbar the door. Opening it a crack, she looked out.
It was Cincinnatus.
"Rebecca. Is Dan'l home yet?"
She opened it further and stepped out on to the porch, pulling the door to behind her. "No." The older man's fingers were playing with the edge of his hat. Something she knew he did only when he was nervous. "Is something wrong?"
"Well, I meant to tell Dan'l...."
"You can tell me." Her words were quiet. She deliberately met his eyes. "Is it trouble?"
He shook his head and then stopped. Then he nodded. "It's that boy...."
She bit her lip. Then she asked, "Jericho?"
"Yep. He had a little too much to drink last night and started telling wild tales about some party of British soldiers he had seen in the area, about how they were spying on the settlement and making plans...." He glanced back over his shoulder; then his eyes returned to her. "You sure Dan'l isn't home?"
She allowed herself a heartfelt sigh. "You have no idea how much I wish he was, Cincinnatus." She stepped forward and leaned against one of the posts. "I don't think anyone does."
"I heard you sent the children in to stay with old Widow McGrady."
Her head jerked and she said, a little too quick, "So?"
"Something wrong, Rebecca?"
She almost laughed, but she knew better. Once she started, she might not be able to stop. "I'm not feeling well. A touch of whatever Israel had, most like."
The pale eyes which were fastened on her face seemed full of genuine concern. "Is that all it is? You haven't heard something about Dan?"
"No, really, I'm just tired. I was up with - " She drew a breath. She had heard a noise in the house. She glanced at Cincinnatus, but he seemed to have missed it. Still torn as to whether or not she should ask him for help, she moved quickly, taking his arm and walking him toward the trail. "Was there anything else you wanted me to tell Dan?"
He frowned and scratched his head, before putting his hat back on. "Any word from Mingo?"
She hoped he didn't feel her stiffen. "No. He'll probably be back with Dan. Why?"
"Well, warn him to stay away from the fort. There are some ugly rumors goin' round."
"About Mingo." He stopped and turned to look at her. "You know we've all been his friends. Well, Daniel spoke for him, and that was good enough for us."
She looked into his eyes. "But..."
"After that business with his father last year. You don't think he...." He fell silent, seemingly ashamed. "No. Forget it."
"What?" She gripped his arm. "Tell me."
"Well, there's talk these here English folk who were stayin' in the tavern came to meet with him, and that he's in cahoots with the Redcoats." He frowned and shook his head, and then fell silent.
He pursed his lips. "Well, Becky, I was just thinking about the settlers. Last year they wanted to hang him for bein' a savage. This time they want to hang him for bein' a 'gentleman'. Doesn't make much sense, does it?" He nodded to her and turned towards the path, facing into the sun. "If you see him, Rebecca, warn him to stay away. It's not safe for him at the fort right now."
Rebecca closed the door behind her and turned towards the bed.
Mingo was laying on the floor.
She ran to his side and fell to her knees. He was breathing heavily and his eyes were open. But he didn't see her. He saw someone else, and there was horror in his voice as he breathed the name.
It was not Kerr who spoke, but Arrowkeeper. His fingers were around the white-man's neck, pressing tight. "And what is the meaning of this name, 'Gerard?'? Efv efe? 'Dog', perhaps? Or maybe 'One-who-would-kill-a-friend' ?"
Gerard's head was pitched back against the bars and he was gasping. Kerr pushed the dying Irishman off his legs and staggered to his feet. "Arrowkeeper, no!"
The native's head was held high. His spine straight. "I made him a promise."
Kerr took a step forward. He shook his head, "No. There has already been one death." He glanced at the custodian. "And that's one too many. Arrowkeeper, you said you would kill him if he harmed me. He has not harmed me." John's face was red. His eyes were white and rolling back in his head. "He has set me free."
The Creek's eyes met his. "Truth?"
Kerr nodded. "Truth."
The other man lessened his grip, but didn't let go. "I will do as you ask. But know this - you are wrong."
He watched as Gerard sagged against the bars. "Wrong?"
"In the end, one of you will die. Here and now, or in another place. On another day."
Kerr moved close to him. He held his hands out and took his one-time friend's unconscious form in them. Slowly he lowered him to the floor. A moment later he rose and met the other man's eyes. "Then it will be another day."
Star had risen to stand beside the Creek. "You must go now."
The young man frowned. "Go? What do you mean, go?"
"When this one is discovered," the older man nodded towards the custodian, "we will be blamed."
"You're in a cage...."
"Do you think that would matter to the likes of him?" Arrowkeeper pointed at Gerard's unconscious form. "Do you think they will blame him?"
Kerr shook his head. "No. But I won't leave you." He glanced at the other natives who watched from the back of the cage. "None of you. I won't let them return you to that stage to be cheered and jeered and wagered on like animals!" His voice had risen. "I won't."
"You must. There is no hope for us." Star reached out and touched his arm. "I am wounded and cannot run. The Great Spirit has restored you, Cara-Mingo, for a purpose. A-ne-ga! Go! Before one of the white men comes and finds you here."
"No!" He spun around, staring at the walls, the door; the clothes that hung from the racks. He listened to the sounds of life outside the window; to the dock workers calling 'good morning' to one another and the voice of the ships' bells signaling their imminent departure. Suddenly he stopped and a slow smile spread across his handsome face. He pivoted and picked up John's pistol and stuck it in his waist-band. Then he bent and began to search the Irishman's corpse.
"What are you doing?"
His large dark eyes flicked up. "Perhaps he has a key...."
A short time later they stood without the cage. The two natives who were not members of a tribe he knew, were speaking in low hushed tones to one another. Star gazed at them and then back to him. "They are afraid. They do not trust you."
Kerr frowned as he pulled his bloodied jacket off and searched for a replacement among the dangling costumes. "You know their language? I have never heard it before."
"They are from far away. From the other side of the world where the lands are dry and there are no trees, where Mother Earth's hand gives and takes at one and the same time. I understand a little." He paused and drew a breath, laying his hand along the wound in his side. "We have traveled together for many cycles of the moon."
"How long ago were you taken?" He shook his head as he fingered a fine velvet coat. The century was wrong. "You said you saw my father come for me."
Star nodded and his eyes grew moist. "It was the year Oconostota went to make peace with the English at Fort Prince George, and was instead taken prisoner along with thirty-one other braves. Chief Attacullakulla freed him and two others, but the choice was made to kill the commander of the fort who had lied to them. When this was done, those still held captive were butchered and the Cherokee were at war." He drew a breath. "This was not in Go-na-da gi-ga-ha - what the white man calls Kentucky - but far away where my brother's people lived. In the raids that followed, many villages were destroyed. Many people died."
Kerr turned to look at him. "Your family?"
"My son, who had traveled there with me. My brother. Many more."
"And your wife?"
The man grew quiet. Arrowkeeper answered for him. "She was not with him. He does not know."
The young man fell silent as he began to search through the racks of clothes again. A moment later he turned to the imposing Creek. "And you? What is your story? How did you come to be captive among the 'barbarians' of London?"
Arrowkeeper glanced at Gerard who lay trussed on the floor. The two Star had called 'Navajo' were watching him. "I killed a white man."
Kerr's dark eyes went to his face. "With provocation?"
He smiled. "With pleasure."
"Do not let him pull a mask over your eyes." Star said as he came to stand beside the other man. "Arrowkeeper is no killer."
Kerr waited but neither man said anything more. "And?"
The Cherokee looked at him. "It is not for me to tell. The words are his to give you if he chooses." At the young man's frown, he added, "Your white world shares so quickly that words have little meaning. It is not so with us. Much cannot be expressed. Have you so soon forgotten?"
He frowned. His fingers closed on a different costume and he pulled it down. He stood with the rich silk in his hands. "Perhaps, Star, I do not belong with my mother's people any longer. Perhaps I do not belong anywhere."
The older man touched his shoulder. "You will always have your place. Every person in the tribe has his or her place; no one else can take it. Even though you go away - when you come back, your place is always there."
Kerr felt his eyes tear. He sniffed and shook himself and then held the rich cloth out to Arrowkeeper. "I need you to put these on."
The Creek eyed the garish cloth suspiciously. "What is this?"
He drew a breath and then began to explain, "I have an idea of how to get us out of here. I have money. I can get us on a ship to the Colonies."
Arrowkeeper's black brows lifted. He glanced at the Navajo and at his injured companion, and then back to him. "Us? They will not let 'us' on a ship, except as cargo or cattle."
"They will with me." He spoke quickly, desperate to convince the proud man, "if you are dressed as my servants or as what you have been - performers."
"Animals. We have been animals. We traveled here in darkness and filth. There was no light and what little food was tossed through the grates in the floor above us was old and rotten. We were eight when we began. Now we are four."
"And where will you be, Lord's son? Where will you lay your head? Will you join us in the dark?"
Kerr grew angry. "I cannot guarantee how you will be housed. I will do my best to see that it is not as animals. I would go with you if I could - would tear off this 'white-man's' clothing which I can no longer bear. But I can't. If we try to run...if we try to sneak on board, we will all end up in the hold or chained to an oar."
"Or dead." Star moved closer and took the costume from Kerr's hand. He held it out to the other man. "Do the Creek not say as well, 'Whenever the Creator gives you something, do not hesitate. Take it.' "
Arrowkeeper's fingers closed on the garment. He eyed them with disgust. "I will wait. I will see who is the true person - the white-eye son of the English Lord or the son of the Cherokee 'princess'. Given time, he will show himself. Time will provide the proof."
"I will not fail you," Kerr's voice was trembling, "I will get you home."
Star's voice was troubled. Kerr followed his eyes.
Gerard was waking up.
It had taken Becky a great deal of effort, but she had returned the sick man to their bed and with some striving had managed to work a little of the herbal broth between his lips. She sat now, holding his hand, thinking of the years they had spent in the wilderness and of how many good men she had seen die. And what for? For a parcel of land? A pasture? For a place where deer could run and sheep could graze? For loyalty to this country or that? Ten years before the English had been their allies. Now they had become their enemies. Today the Indians might call them brother and tomorrow - without provocation - raid and destroy. Tomorrow they might shake their red hands and then do the same.
Madness. That's what it was. Sheer madness.
All she wanted was a home and a place where she could raise her children in peace, where little boys could grow and learn honor and faith; where little girls could become young women and later wives and mothers. Where each and every man and woman was respected and held in honor regardless of the color of their skin or what they believed.
She sighed and laid Mingo's hand on the quilt. "And next, Rebecca Bryan Boone, you'll be asking for Heaven on Earth and the angels to come and sing you to sleep."
Becky actually gasped. She reached out and touched Mingo's face as his eyes flickered open and then closed again.
"Mingo? Can you hear me?"
His head barely moved. She thought it might have been an attempt at a nod. "Daniel?" he whispered.
She shook her head. "He's not here." She hesitated to add that he had gone looking for him and the girl. Perhaps he didn't even know she was gone. "Mingo, what happened?" She touched his temple. "Who cut off your hair? Why were you beaten?" She knew he had been. She could tell from the cuts and bruises on his torso, some of which had become infected. "Mingo?"
He drew a shuddering breath and seemed to pull himself back from another place. "Gerard...."
Horrified Becky put her hands on his shoulders. "Don't you dare try to get up again! You'll kill yourself."
"I am dead already, Rebecca," he whispered as he fell back, unable to withstand even her woman's strength. "And soon my name will be cursed by all that I know and love."
He closed his eyes and fell silent. No matter what she said, she couldn't get another word out of him. A few minutes later she stood and reached for the curtain.
She turned back. His eyes were still closed, but there were tears on his cheeks.
"Tell Daniel I am sorry."
It was later in the evening and Becky sat by the fire absent-mindedly repairing a pair of Israel's breeches. Jemima had come by earlier, but she had told her to give her another day. Not that that would do anything more than buy her a little time. Another twenty-four hours would hardly mend what was wrong with Mingo, and yet she felt she couldn't move him. Not without making matters worse.
A sharp rap on the door made her drop her needle and thread. She was shaking by the time she reached it. More than enough time had passed for someone to put two and two together and figure out that Mingo was here. She and Dan were, after all, his closest friends. If anyone was going to hide him....
She opened the door a crack. "Yes."
"Oh, Cincinnatus. It's you," she said with relief. "Dan isn't back yet - "
"I didn't come to see Dan." He was fidgeting with his hat. "I come to see you." The older man paused and then found the courage to look her in the eye. "He's here, ain't he?"
Rebecca put on her best innocent look. "Who..." She cleared her throat. She hadn't meant for it to come out as a squeak. "Who do you mean?"
"I don't know what...."
"Things at the fort are getting ugly, Becky. Those English soldiers who were nosing around have been found not five miles from here, slaughtered."
"And Mingo's vest and knife were there."
She steadied herself with a hand against the post. Her eyes flicked involuntarily towards the house.
"There were other Injuns involved as well, Shawnee...Creek maybe. Some of the settlers are saying Mingo's a double-agent, working for one against the other."
"Cincinnatus, how could they be so foolish?" She drew a breath and held it as Mingo's fevered words came back to her: ' Tell Daniel, I am sorry...soon my name will be cursed by all that I know and love. ' She let it out and finished, "Mingo would never work with the British, or with any Indians who would slaughter innocent men."
The older man leaned in close. "Well, you know that, and I know that.... But some of the others, well, they ain't so sure. Jeb Sampson is making a powerful lot of noise. If Mingo's here, you had better tell him to leave."
She ran her hand along her hair and tucked one of the errant strands behind her ear. She had to tell someone. She turned and put her hand on the door. "Cincinnatus, please come in."
"You let me talk to him, then," he said. "I'll see to it that - "
She had crossed the room and thrown the curtain back and was standing, staring at him. The tavern-keeper stepped forward. He gazed at the stricken man and then back to her.
"His hair's all gone."
"And he's been wounded." His pale eyes flicked to her face. "By an arrow, it looks like."
"And he was dressed in these clothes?" He fingered the dark suit which hung over the back to the chair next to the bed.
"Yes." She sighed. "Yes...."
She fell into the chair and placed her head in her hands. She didn't want to listen. Didn't want to hear. Couldn't believe it in spite of what Jericho had said. In spite of her own eyes.
Could Mingo be a traitor?
And dear God, where was Dan?
For a moment the white woman and her world had intruded. She had called him and he had answered. Now he returned to face the river that ran as his blood, and to face the others: Star, Arrowkeeper, and Gerard.
He could hear him screaming still.
"You filthy stinking savage, I will kill you for this! Get me out of here!" The nobleman's hands were white as paste on the iron bars. Arrowkeeper had picked him up as he began to wake and thrown him in the cage amidst the filth and debris. Then he had slammed the door. Locking it, he had shown him the key and then slowly placed it in the pocket of the brightly colored silk coat Mingo had given him to wear.
"I will pray," he whispered, "that you are not found until your bones are showing through your skin and you can feel them when you touch your belly. I will ask the Master of Breath to curse you so your ghost will wander without peace for eternity."
He turned to look at Star. "What is it, old man?"
Star winced with pain as he stood. "You are no better than the white-eye you hate if you speak so."
The proud Creek turned on him. "Sympathy for your killer, Cherokee? For this 'Efv efe'."
Gerard was still screaming. Kerr ducked his head in the door. He had gone to make certain there was no one in the theatre. It was near three in the morning and so far, they were alone. He regarded Gerard with distaste and said, "We need to silence him."
Arrowkeeper laughed. "Gladly."
Kerr caught his arm as the tall man turned toward the cage. "Gag him so he cannot cry out, nothing more, and move him to the back of the cell where they won't see him. That might buy us a little time. I will have to go back to my rooms for gold...."
Star laid his hand on his shoulder. "There is no time, Cara-Mingo. You should go. You, alone."
"I will not leave you here. What you said is true," he pointed to the Irishman whose corpse lay beneath a pile of costumes torn from the racks, "you will be blamed for this. We have to get out of here - all of us - now!" He turned as John began to scream hysterically again. Arrowkeeper was approaching the cage and he was terrified.
"Kerr! He'll kill me! Get him away from me! Kerr!"
"He won't kill you. Keep still and all he will do is bind your mouth and tie you feet."
"No!" The young man tried to scoot away through the filth, "I won't have him touch me. No, I...."
Gerard fell silent as the shadow of the tall warrior eclipsed him. Arrowkeeper knelt beside him and took his feet in his hands. "Give me a reason, white-eyes."
John's pale face turned towards his former friend as the native began to bind his boots together. "You will pay for this, Kerr. I don't care how long it takes, or what wilderness I have to cross - you will pay! I will destroy you - " He fell silent as the Creek pulled a silken cloth tight between his teeth and shoved him to the ground.
"Hug the foul dirt and straw, efv efe. It is where you belong."
Kerr fingered the keys he had appropriated from the dead custodian. It had taken several attempts to find the one that locked the cellar door. As it bolt fell into place, Arrowkeeper took the lantern from the stair and began to move up into the darkened theatre. The two Navajo followed in silence. Star had remained beside him, and when he offered, did not refuse to lean on his arm. The Cherokee had said little, but his color was not good and the bandage beneath his bright costume was stained with red.
Kerr let him lean into his strength. "Can you make it?"
He nodded. "I do not believe it is my day to die."
The young man smiled. "Nor do I. There is too much I need to learn. I had thought Cara-Mingo died on the ship that brought him to this God-forsaken place all those years ago. Now I know he did not die - but he is an orphan. An infant with no mother or father, who has no tribe."
Star stopped him. He turned the young man towards him and took his face in his hands. "That is true no longer. Until the day I can deliver you into your family's arms - or the day I die - you are mine."
Tears entered Cara-Mingo's eyes. He took one last look at the door behind which John Gerard lay, alone and weeping, and he knew there was another there, laying in the cage beside him in the dark.
Lord Dunsmore's son, Kerr, was no more.
Becky awoke. Another day was gone and she had slept for the greater part of it. She sat up on the cot Cincinnatus had helped her haul into the main room and looked around, confused.
She blinked and then she remembered. The older man had wrapped Mingo in blankets and then attempted to 'burn' the fever out of him. She closed her eyes and shuddered. The dark-haired man had screamed. She could hear him still, but later, the fever had broken and it seemed that - after all - he might not die.
She accepted the tavern-keeper's hand and rose to her feet. "How is he?"
"'Bout the same." He glanced at Mingo where he lay sleeping and then back to her, "I need to get back to town. Jericho came lookin' for me a little while ago - "
"He didn't come in?"
"No, but I had a whale of a time keepin' him out. You are going to have to get Mingo out of here."
"He's too sick...."
The tavern-keeper ran his fingers over his beard. "Well, if it was my neck, I'd rather risk it running through the woods than wake to find a rope around it." He paused. "I think we both remember what Mingo said when he had this sort of thing came up not so long ago."
"I don't know, Cincinnatus." She stared at the sleeping man. "Maybe another day and he can...."
He shrugged. "Your choice since he can't make it. But if you want me to, I'll go see his chief and see if they can send someone for him. He'd be safe there. Among his own."
She nodded. Then she reached up and kissed the older man on the forehead. "Thank you."
"If not for him, Rebecca," he smiled, "I'd a done it for you."
Becky helped him pull on his coat on and watched as he placed his hat on his head. Then she opened the door. As she did a shadow fell across the threshold, eclipsing them both. Seconds later, a ragged, dust-covered figure stumbled into the room.
Becky dropped to her knees beside him, "Mr. Oldham! Whatever has happened to - "
"Mrs. Boone," he gasped, "I regret I must inform you that your husband is in grave danger." He leaned on her arm as he struggled to his feet.
"Danger!" Cincinnatus handed him a cup of water. "What's happened to Dan?"
He took it and sipped the cool water and then splashed some on his face. "He has been captured by the French, my dear sir. And sentenced to be shot."
Continued in Chapter Nine