The door closed behind her without a sound. Rachel drew a deep breath and gazed at the night sky, bidding a silent farewell to the family sleeping within. She looked towards the horizon and saw the rider waiting for her, silhouetted against the moon. Stepping from the porch, she crossed the yard, passing the barn and other outbuildings until she reached his side. Then, reluctantly, she accepted a hand up. Taking her place behind him, she wrapped her arms about his waist.
"They will wonder why I have left without telling them goodbye," she whispered.
"Tomorrow we will be far away from here."
"Poor Uncle Hugh," she said quietly. "What will he think?"
"Do you want your father to live or not?" Gerard turned to gaze at her, noticing how appealing she looked in the argent light.
"You know I do, else I would not have come. I would never have sought out Kerr for any other reason."
"That's a lie and you know it. The minute you heard he was alive you were eager to set sail - in spite of the fact that we were engaged." The man laughed and tossed his auburn head. "Still, the love-sick school-girl."
"You are a bastard, do you know that, John?" Her blue eyes flashed in the moonlight.
"No, I'm legitimate. Your, Kerr, is the bastard." He spurred the horse and began to move away from the cabin. "Or were you impugning my delightful personality?"
Rachel fell silent. "I hate you," she growled at last.
"Get used to it. I am going to be around for a long time."
Daniel Boone sat up in his bed. He had a sense that something was wrong. Not a clear sense, but the kind that sets the teeth on edge and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. He glanced at Becky, but she was sleeping peacefully; her even breathing adding to the peace of the night and his home.
"Jemima?" He called softly. "Israel?"
When there was no answer, he rose and, silently thrusting aside the curtain which separated their bedroom from the common area of the cabin, moved to its center. The moon's beams were passing through the windows, casting small squares of light on the floor. He walked forward until the pale white light washed over his bare feet. Earlier, he had rigged a screen to give their genteel guest some privacy. She should be behind it, sleeping soundly. He stared at the thick blanket tossed across a wooden pole bound with leather thongs. It really wasn't his place to go looking to see if she was in her bed.
He stood a moment in silence weighing his inner demons against propriety. He considered getting Becky. He could hear her shifting, becoming aware that his half of the bed was unoccupied. He turned to tell her why and froze.
The bar he had secured across the cabin door before retiring had been lifted from its moorings and carefully placed against the wall. Crossing the room quickly, he thrust the blanket aside.
As he suspected, their unanticipated guest was gone.
He stood staring at the empty bed, unable to move. A darkness, like cloud-shadow, moved over him as he reached out and steadied himself against the mantel.
What a fool he had been. What a gullible fool.
He only hoped Mingo didn't pay for his folly with his life.
He awoke in darkness, his hands bound behind his back and his feet cuffed and linked with chain. His chin was throbbing as well as his side, and he was slightly disoriented. He blinked and tried to recall just where he had been when the world had suddenly gone black; then he remembered.
Gerard. And the British soldier.
And where there was one British soldier, there were certain to be a dozen more.
He drew a deep breath and attempted to sit, but had to lie back down as the tent swam about him and his stomach threatened to reject what little food it had taken in the last two days. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on something other than feeling sick, and as he did, his mind flew back in time to that day in London.
The day when he had run.
When Dayunisi, the little Water-beetle had offered to leave Galunlati - the world above - to explore the waters below and had made dive after dive, bringing mud back with it to form the earth, it must have chosen the bits that were blackest out of which to form London. Still, as a boy he had been blind, and the city had seemed both wondrous and strange; like something from the books in his father's study which he learned to read in time. And even though he missed his home, he had soon come to appreciate that Lord Dunsmore's house meant more than enough food and always a warm place to sleep. He was never without, and day and night there were others to tend to his every need - his every desire.
Life was no longer a struggle merely to survive; soon it became a game.
If he wanted a bowl of fruit in the wee hours of the morning, all he had to do was pull a bell and a small red-cheeked boy would be roused from his sleep and made to go running to the kitchen to fetch it. If he felt a chill, another would bring a blanket and stoke the fire. It wasn't until he was older that he realized these children did not care for him or love him. That they in fact hated him, as well as his half-brothers and sisters, even though they demanded nothing from their servants that any other noble would not have expected as his right. In fact, Lord Dunsmore was noted for his kindness among his peers, for his generosity to those in his control.
In time, he began to forget about the forest and the hills, the deer leaping lightly over the springs, the wisdom of the ancient ones and his mother's people. Hugh Oldham continued to visit whenever he could, adding to the education his father was giving him a measure of grace and humility. There were times when the older man despaired, when he shook his head and looked at him, chiding him for growing too like his father. Hugh often reminded him that if he was to be an good Earl, he must know and understand the people he ruled - that he was obliged by birth to do so.
But he looked at his father and he did not see such understanding. He saw a man born to rule, whom people respected and feared. And for a brief time, he wanted to be the same.
It was at this time that he met John Gerard. They came to Oxford in the same year and their rooms were side by side. John was a nobleman's son, like him, wearing a silk gown and golden tassel. They both had servants who woke them in the morning, fetched their breakfasts and their shoes, brushed down their clothes and tended their fires as well as seeing to their every need. He remembered those years with shame now. His acceptance of his place in life as that above others was totally contrary to the Cherokee way. But then, at Oxford, it was his native life which was a constant source of shame. Beneath the facade of laughter, past the handsome young man who danced and drank, who fought duels and played at cards, there was still a child terrified he would be found out. His father assured him there was no one left who knew. The soldiers who had traveled with him had been sent away - including by this time, Hugh Oldham - and he was safe.
And then he met Rachel. Gerard was dating her sister, Lucia. He met her first in the open air, at a light supper served on the lawn of his father's house in honor of the birthday they had chosen for him; the day he had stepped onto English soil as Kerr.
The day Cara-Mingo had died.
Rachel had been very young then, just shy of seventeen. He had just turned twenty-one. They had taken a walk while John and her sister slipped away, and laughed together when the girl's mother sought them out and boxed their ears for what she had caught them doing. After that he saw her whenever he could - whenever he returned home or had days away from school. Between Oxford and the military, there really was little time, but they spent enough of it together to know they were in love. And finally, when he asked her to marry him, she had said yes.
And then - in one frightful night - the world he knew had disintegrated, and he had learned that London was not a part of the domain of light and life which had been created when the Great Buzzard struck the ground with his wings to carve the valleys and the mountains, but a part of the darkness left behind. And in that moment, his heart began to long for that other life - the memory of which was buried deep within his heart and remembered only vaguely as the soft touch of a hand, a pair of deep brown eyes, and a whispered promise which should never have been made.
If Talota had known what she was asking, if she could have foreseen the man he would become she would have wept.
As he did now.
Light flooded his eyes and he blinked. A slight form eclipsed the doorway, its hand resting on the pole that supported the tent. As he watched, its head turned back towards the outside world and a few whispered words were exchanged, then the flap was dropped and he could see once again.
Breath failed him.
It was she.
Daniel had roused his wife. "Yep. Out the door and off on horse-back from the tracks that were left behind."
Rebecca tossed the braid she nightly worked her long red hair into over her shoulder and walked to the other side of the room. Her hands went to her hips and she huffed as she stared at the empty bed. "I don't believe it."
"Neither do I," Dan had retrieved his gun from the cupboard and was pulling on his leather jacket. He nodded his thanks as Becky handed him a full powder-horn. "I don't believe I was so gullible. Blind as a bat in the noon-day sun. Becky, if Mingo is hurt...."
"Dan, you can't hold yourself responsible. You couldn't know."
"I could have." He fixed her with his green eyes. "I should have. And I can."
"Mingo is a grown man. He can take care of himself."
He touched his wife's face. "Can he?" At her look he continued, "Becky, in some ways Mingo isn't a whole lot older than Israel."
"What? Daniel Boone, he's as old as you or I...."
"I've been thinking about what that Englishman, Hugh Oldham, told me about him." Dan paused. He had shared some of what the man had said with his wife, but not all. He didn't have Mingo's permission, and he felt bad enough knowing what he did himself. "Mingo was only twelve when he was taken from his kin. In some ways I think he stopped growing then. In some ways, it is like Cara-Mingo died when he stepped on that ship that was headed to London. And only just started living again when he returned to his people. "
"You know how he is, Becky. Almost naive sometimes."
She laughed. "It's part of his charm. He's such a gentle soul."
"And the world isn't kind to gentle souls. They get broken, and when it comes to mending.... Well, that's something else they don't do well."
"Ma? Is something wrong?" Jemima stood on the ladder that led up to the loft she shared with her brother. "Pa?"
Her mother turned and walked over, placing her hand on the rung. "No, dear - heart, go back to sleep. Your father thought he heard something outside, that's all. It's a few hours until morning. Go back to sleep."
Her brown-haired daughter nodded and disappeared through the hole into the darkness.
By the time she had turned around, Daniel was gone.
"I know. You no longer use that name. John told me."
He forced himself to sit up. Her face was hidden in the darkness, but her small form was stiff, as if she held herself together for fear of breaking. "Rachel," he began.
"So you do remember my name."
"I could never forget."
"You've done that well enough. Ten years in this horrid place. Ten years with no word. I prayed for your return," she whispered, "but feared you were dead."
He licked his lips. "How did you find out?"
"That you were alive?" Her tone was harsh. "John told me."
Mingo said nothing. Somehow he suspected that fact was important. "John. Gerard, you mean?"
"Who else?" Her skirts rustled as she moved about the tent. She still had not looked directly at him. "Even then, I thought he might have been wrong. Soldiers had come back from this, Ken-tuck-ee, speaking of the man, Daniel Boone, and his Oxford-educated Indian friend. Indian!" She stepped closer to him. "I never knew," she whispered. "Is this why you left?"
He sighed again. "A part of it. I didn't want you to know. I couldn't...." He fell silent as the emotions that had threatened to carry him away that night so long ago flooded through him again: anger, bitterness...and shame. "You know, 'It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend,' " he quoted.
"You blame John."
"I blame myself. John was the instrument that allowed me to see what I had become." He laughed again. "Perhaps I should thank him."
The young woman glanced back over her shoulder and shifted nervously. She seemed jumpy and ill-at-ease.
"Rachel, why are you here?"
"To find you....
"No, here. Now. With me like this."
Her voice was puzzled. "Like what?"
She couldn't see. She didn't know he was chained.
He drew a breath. "Held captive. What is it Gerard wants?"
She remained still a moment. When she spoke, her voice was small. "It is not for John. It is for me."
"What do you mean?"
"You have been brought here because of me. Because of my father."
"Your father?" Mingo remembered the older man, Hugh's brother. He had been a diplomat. Rachel had spent much of her childhood in France. "What about your father?"
"He is in prison." Her voice broke. "Awaiting execution."
"Rachel. Why? What is he accused of?"
"Collaborating with the French. Certain papers were found." She was quiet a moment. "I have been implicated as well."
"Why didn't you tell me this?"
Her head snapped up. "And when would I? When the cat was laying on top of me or while I was sleeping in the Boone's bed?" Her words were harsh. Angry. "You never came to see me, and now...." She hesitated. "It is too late." She glanced at the tent door again and Mingo thought he could just make out a shape waiting outside, listening or guarding them - he knew not which. "I have come to claim what you owe me."
He shifted. His arms were burning and his legs ached. "What I owe?"
"John has been educating me on the Cherokee ideas of balance and harmony. I had a promise from you, to marry me, which you broke the night you ran away. I claim the right to recompense." Her hands were clenched tight at her sides. Her spine stiff. "You owe me."
He drew a breath to speak, but remained silent. She was right.
"You took my life when you left. I have been dead ever since that night. Now I claim a life in return - my father's."
He sighed. "What is it you want me to do?"
"The British government sent us here to gather information on renegade Indians who are working with the French. They fear this Henderson Purchase will stir up the natives. They want to make certain the might of your people does not turn to supporting their enemies. With the war brewing between the Colonies and our King, they want to know that the Cherokee - and the other tribes - are on their side. After they heard you were still living, and here with Mr. Boone, they sent John and me to find you and enlist you in their cause." She laughed. "I thought you would be living in a house as a civilized man. I never realized you would desire this." Her voice was filled with bitterness. "I need you to spy on your people."
In the darkness she couldn't see him frown. He knew she believed what she said, but it didn't add up. The British had agents everywhere. He had seen several in the Cherokee village the last time he had visited. They already knew which tribes were still allied with the French and which were not. There had to be something more.
Something John had not told her.
"Rachel, I - " He stopped. The flap had opened and Gerard had walked in.
"Kerr," he snarled.
"John. I would shake your hand, but...." he shifted his arms and for the first time Rachel realized he was bound. Then she saw the chains glint, reflected in the light of Gerard's lantern.
"John, what is this?"
"A precaution, my dear. In case our old friend did not see things our way." He set the lantern on a table. "Has he agreed?"
Before she could answer, Mingo spoke. "I have not given her an answer."
The other man smiled and spread his arms wide, enjoying the power he had over his former friend and rival. "Well, there is no time like the present."
Mingo's dark eyes fastened on the young woman. When Gerard had entered, she had wilted like a flower in the sun. "I would speak to you alone."
"No, I...." she began to protest.
"Rachel." Gerard's dark blue eyes never left his foe. "Go to my tent and wait for me there."
"Go now!" The girl drew a breath to speak again, but he stopped her. "Remember, I hold your father's life in my hands."
As Rachel slumped and left the tent, brushing silently past the red-coated guard outside, Mingo shifted, sitting as tall as he could. When Gerard turned back to face him, he said, "This has nothing to do with gathering intelligence for the British government, does it John?"
The other man came to stand close by him. He lifted the lantern high and stared into Mingo's face. Then he clenched his fingers and slammed them into his jaw, knocking him to the ground.
"God, I hate you."
And everything to do with revenge.
Daniel stood on a knoll just outside of Boonesborough staring at the rising sun as it painted the treetops the shade of gold coins laying near a fire. He took his coonskin cap off and rubbed his forehead and sighed. The man he had been following had been smart. He must have known he would be followed and had had someone waiting to plant a false trail. It had almost fooled him. And even though, in the end, he had figured it out - it was too late to help his friend. Mingo was gone and he had no earthly idea of where he had gone to. And by the time he had retraced his steps, any original tracks had been trampled by Cincinnatus' visit and his own children doing their daily chores.
He turned back to the trail that led to his cabin and was surprised to see someone hastening towards him. He lifted a hand to his eyes and squinted against the sun.
It was Hugh Oldham.
Mingo lay on the floor of the tent, his head spinning. Gerard's anger had poured out of him like a raging torrent and he had kicked and beaten him until his blood had run red. Several hours had passed and still he had not been able to raise himself up to lie on the cot. As he lay there, tears came into his eyes. This was a just punishment for the sins of his youth. For the choices he had made. For the things he had done.
And for deserting Rachel.
He closed his eyes and whispered a prayer to the One who had created him, that he might have the time to make it right.
A sudden intake of breath startled him. A small form dropped beside him and lifted his chin with its hand. A moment later a tear spilled onto his cheek.
"Kerr," she whispered.
"Rachel. What are you - "
"Shh, not a word." She put her arms about him and laid her golden head on his shoulder and then she wept.
In the morning John found them just so, laying in the middle of the tent as one.