"Ma? I think his fever's broke."
Becky jerked. She blinked and wiped her fingers across her eyes. She hadn't realized she had fallen asleep. Pushing off the surface of the rough wooden table, she stood and glanced at Israel. He seemed to be sleeping, and so she took a moment to walk to the cabin door. Opening it, she drew in a breath of the fresh morning air. The sun was about three hours old and still riding low on the horizon, casting long red stripes across the cold land. She could hear birds singing, and far away, the sound of someone chopping wood.
Israel hadn't really been in any danger. Not from this fever. It had come with the dowsing and she had expected it to run its course quickly. Still, a chill was a dangerous thing. One minute a person could be fine, and the next thing you knew, it would turn into pneumonia and they would die. She had seen it too many times. As she turned back, she smiled at the pile of herbs and medicines that lay on the table. Many of them had come from Mingo. In his gentle way he had insisted she keep a medicine chest and made certain it was always well-supplied. Some of the items were store-bought, but most had come from Pitapuni, his tribe's medicine man. With them, she had been able to halt the progress of the illness and make her boy well.
She closed the door again and crossed to the bedroom she shared with Dan. Sitting on the bed beside her son, she ran her fingers through the boy's white-blond hair. His eyelids fluttered and his lips parted. He murmured something, but it was so soft she couldn't understand. She leaned down and kissed his forehead. "Israel?"
"Ma?" His voice was sleepy and small. "Where's Pa? Gotta talk to Pa...."
The red-head stiffened. There was nothing wrong with the boy wanting his father, but for some reason, his tone sent a shiver up her spine. "Israel, your Pa isn't here. You know that. He left with Mr. Oldham to hunt for Mingo."
The boy mumbled and turned over onto his side, seeming to drift off again. Then suddenly his eyes flew open and he sat up. "Ma! I saw him! I gotta find him!"
"Israel, calm down! You've had a fever." She took hold of the boy and forced him towards the sheets. "You lay back down in that bed, now."
"Now, young man."
Israel complied, sinking into the big feather pillow with a sigh. "But I saw him, Ma. He's in trouble."
Becky frowned. She narrowed her eyes. Was he pulling her leg? She knew he had been asleep all night. "Saw who?"
He swallowed hard. "Pa." His blue eyes sought hers. They were frightened.
Jemima came to stand beside them. Her hand was on her hip-an unconscious imitation of her mother. "You've been layin' here since you got home. You must have been dreaming."
"Was not..." The boy began to protest, but then he realized he was at home and in his parent's bed. He leaned forward on his fists. "Well, maybe it was a dream. But gosh-al'mighty, it was real."
"Israel. You watch your tongue or you'll be tasting some of that soap Mrs. McGrady and I made last summer."
The boy gulped and shifted under the covers, pulling them up to his chin. "Yes, m'm."
"Now," Rebecca Boone drew a breath, "tell me all about this dream that has you so all-fired up."
The little boy's eyes grew wide. His voice became hushed and he spoke slowly, as if still in the nightmare's spell. "Pa went to this place. There was a lady in trouble. He wanted to help her, but there was In'juns and soldiers, and all kinds of funny talkin' folk. And because of what happened, he got caught."
Becky gazed at her pale son. All of those things had happened to Daniel before. The fever had just turned the boy's fears into a false reality. She ran her hand across his feather-light bangs. "Your Pa is fine. It was just a dream."
Israel pursed his lips. "Ma?"
"Can I have a drink?"
Rebecca Boone laid her hand on her son's chest. He had that look in his eyes. Like the one his father would get when he had something he wanted to say, but didn't know how to say it. She saw his eyes flick to his sister and then back to his hands on top of the coverlet.
"Go get your brother some fresh water from the well."
The brown-haired girl started to protest, but at her mother's look nodded instead and began to move toward the door. A moment later, she stepped outside.
Becky closed her eyes. She could hear the birds. They were still singing. The world was marching on as it usually did. Boonesborough was waking, and somewhere her husband was once again facing the unknown. After a second she sighed and opened them again. Then she reached out to touch her son's face. "Israel. What is it?"
The boy's eyes remained on his hands. "Mingo's Pa's friend, ain't he?"
She was taken aback. "Yes, of course, he is, Israel. And ours. Why would you even ask?"
The boy twitched his nose and shifted so he sat against the back of the bed. "Well, all them soldiers were marching towards Pa, and he was lookin' mighty skeered." His eyes darted to her face. "And you know, Ma, it takes an awful great lot to skeer, Pa...."
"Yes, it does," she said soberly, but stifling a smile. "What does that have to do with Mingo?"
"Well...." The boy looked away from her and towards the window where the blue sky was chasing away the crimson dawn. "Mingo was there, but he wasn't doin' anything. He was just watchin', Ma. Like he didn't care."
The red-head's voice was quiet. "Mingo would never do anything to harm your father, Israel. You know that."
"I know, Ma." The boy turned his eyes back to her. "But it was so real...."
She stood and kissed her son on the forehead a second time. "What utter nonsense," she laughed. "Now go back to sleep."
"Can't I get up- " Israel asked as his boyish exuberance quickly banished the remnants of the night terror.
"No. You are staying right where you are until I am certain that fever is gone for good."
Jemima had returned with the water and stood waiting just beyond the curtain that separated the main part of the house from their room. Becky nodded to her. "Give your brother a drink, and then why don't you read to him? I'm going to step outside."
"All right, Ma." Jemima watched her mother as she headed for the door, pausing only to toss a light shawl about her narrow shoulders. "Ma?"
"Are you okay?"
The red-head smiled. "I'm fine, dear. Back in a minute."
Rebecca Boone crossed the porch and stood staring to the east, towards the place where they had walked that first night with the young Englishwoman and her uncle, and as she did, she shuddered. Even though she believed her son had simply had a nightmare, the matter of it struck too near the fear in her heart. How well did they know Mingo? How much had his past formed him - the past they knew so little of.
If it came to it, and a choice had to be made - whom would Mingo choose? The beloved ghost who had returned to haunt him, or the man he had chosen to call his friend in the here and now?
"What exactly are you intimating, Mr. Boone...." Oldham corrected himself, "Daniel?"
The frontiersman tilted his head, all too aware of the righteous indignation stirring in his companion's breast. He didn't really want to upset the Englishman, but from the direction the tracks they were following had taken, he was beginning to wonder if there wasn't some truth to the Crown's charges against Miss Cornell and her father.
"Well, Hugh. Look down this trail. What do you see?"
Oldham's brown eyes followed the wagon tracks and the dozens of hoof-prints. Not far away a thin line of trees eclipsed the view. He shook his head. "Nothing."
Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Well, just beyond that 'nothing' is a French settlement. There's a garrison stationed there. It dates back to the war with the Indians a decade or so ago."
"Ah...I see. And you are suspicious of the fact that Rachel and Mingo seem to be headed there."
"And Gerard, I presume." Boone paused. "Now Mingo was wounded, so I assume he had no choice. But your niece...."
"Daniel, I assure you on my honor as a God-fearing man that Rachel has had nothing whatsoever to do with the French cause." Oldham looked genuinely distressed. "Yes, she has friends there. She spent most of her childhood in the country. But she has no political ambitions, and no interest whatsoever in the rising tide of war."
The tall man pursed his lips. "But her father is in prison. Suppose someone on the French side had come to her and wanted information about this area, about the fortifications and defenses of - not only Boonesborough - but other towns. The Wilderness Road is a mighty important stretch of highway and we sit smack in the middle of it."
"Rachel knows nothing of such things."
The woodsman removed his hat and wiped his brow. His green eyes were pained. "But Mingo knows plenty. More than me, most like, because of his connection to the Cherokee and the other tribes."
Oldham looked shocked. "You aren't suggesting- "
Daniel put his hat back on and lifted the butt of his gun from the ground. "I'm thinking out loud, Hugh. I'm not accusing anyone of- " Abruptly, he fell silent.
"What? What is it?"
"Someone is coming. Run!"
The two men dashed into the thick underbrush which lined the trail just as a contingent of British soldiers rounded the bend, headed back the way they had just traveled-west towards Boonesborough. By the time Daniel got turned around and managed to peer out through the leaves, the foremost part of the group had passed them by. Still, he could see there was an officer in the lead, followed closely by a civilian-possibly an advisor or a spy. Unfortunately, the sun was behind them, so he hadn't been able to see their faces. He didn't think he knew either of them. The officer was overweight-not a common sight on the frontier. The civilian was dark but trim, and from the way he sat his horse, appeared to be unwell.
Dan started to stand, hoping to get a better look, but as he did, Hugh caught his arm and pulled him back down. Another quartet of soldiers had just appeared from behind the trees. As they watched, they urged their mounts to catch up to the other ten or twelve.
Two minutes later the entire group had vanished into the woods.
Oldham let out the breath he had been holding. "Did you get a good look at them?"
The tall man shook his head. He was frowning.
"I don't know. Something...." He paused. "The officer was unfamiliar to me. But the civilian- "
"There was a civilian? I missed him. All I could see by the time I rose were soldiers."
He nodded. "There was a civilian, all right. Thin. Dark."
"Gerard?" Hugh suggested.
Dan pursed his lips. "Could have been. He had the same size and shape. But that was all I could see." The frontiersman stood and stepped onto the trail. "Well, they're headed that way, and we're headed this one." He stared after them a moment, allowing the rising sun to strike his face. "Can't say as it makes me feel good to know that a group of British soldiers are headed towards Boonesborough...."
"Are you at war with the Crown here then as well? I know in the east things have turned ugly...."
"Not as you might put it like that." Dan rested his rifle on his shoulder and the two of them began to walk again. "Things around here get a mite complicated. The French wanted to own this territory - did own a lot of the places up north, stretching down to here. I was part of the fightin' that caused them to lose it to the British and, I can tell you, they were none too happy. Then we came up with this idea to make it ours, legal-like, and both of them have been mighty sore at us ever since." The big man drew a breath. "Then you have to throw the Indians into the mix. Some of them are loyal to the Crown, and even more to the French, 'cause the French treat them something like people." He hesitated. "And others are loyal only to their own."
"And all three groups are hostile towards the colonists?"
Dan laughed. "Well, if you're lookin' for peace, Hugh, Kaintuck is not the place to come. Still, the French and the British are mostly bent on outfoxing one other and for the most part, leave us be. We had some trouble last year with your Lord Dunsmore."
"You said you know him."
"What sort of a chess player would you say he is?"
Oldham smiled. "An excellent one."
Daniel shifted his gun. "Me too. He almost won this match. If not for Mingo finding an older treaty with the Cherokee for the land of Virginia, there would have been another war here. The settlers wouldn't have left their land." He paused. "And I am not sure who would have benefited the most. The British, or that French settlement down the road. The man there is a bit of a renegade. Dulac, by name. I fought him in the war. He might have moved right in and made Boonesborough into a French holding."
"With you gone...."
Daniel laughed. "Well, he'd have to have gone through me first. That's for sure."
"And this is part of what you fear.... Why you think Rachel may be involved? Her connection to the French and to Kerr?"
"Hugh, I've found out one thing about the British and the French, they can be willing to put their feud on hold if it means they can take out a settlement or destroy one of the Indian tribes that are friendly to us, like the Cherokee. And with this war coming - as Lord Dunsmore put it so eloquently last year - both of them are looking to protect their backs...."
Hugh shook his head. "Rachel and the French. The British..." He took a step forward and gazed down the road. "Boonesborough, and the Indians...."
Dan nodded as he began to move again. "All wrapped up in one neat tidy package.
He raised his head and let the mid-morning sun wash over him, willing away the sickness that clung to him like death's shadow. His fever had risen, but what was worse, so had his sense of despair. He no longer believed Daniel lay in waiting somewhere along the trail. He had listened day and night for the familiar bird-calls and had searched desperately for a glimpse of the coonskin cap or Tick Licker's gleaming muzzle. But the woods remained silent and there was no sign.
Daniel either did not know he was missing or thought he was dead. It must be so. Otherwise, he would have been here.
Mingo sighed. Boonesborough now lay, at the most, ten hours before them. He had been brought here to give away her secrets-to show Huntington her defenses and give his soldiers graphic details of her fortifications. Most likely the Empire had no intention of harming the settlers. At the moment they were no threat to the Crown. But the fort's location was strategic - as his father's attempt to possess it and the surrounding lands the year before had shown - and the British government made it a policy to be safe instead of sorry whenever humanly possible. In the end they would probably try to run Daniel out and take over the fort, swallowing it whole as the Great Empire did everything that lay in its path.
He shuddered as the cool morning air struck him and gripped the edge of the saddle to keep from falling. What would happen, he wondered, to Gerard's schemes if he died before they bore fruit? Perhaps they would backfire. The thought brought a grim smile to his lips. A moment later, he realized Valentine was watching him-wondering, no doubt, why he was here and what part he had truly chosen to play.
How could he tell him when he didn't know himself?
Mid-afternoon the corpulent officer called a halt. They had traveled all of the morning and, as befits a group of English gentlemen, decided to stop to have a light lunch and a spot of tea. Mingo shook his head when food was offered to him and excused himself. Lowering his weary body to the ground, he leaned back against a tree and was soon sound asleep.
Some time later, he didn't know how long - the sun had begun to set and there were one or two stars winking in the sky - the sound of voices raised in anger wakened him. He had been drifting in and out of consciousness, only partially aware of what went on about him. Without opening his eyes, he listened to them, and soon the disconnected words began to flow together to make a sort of frightening sense.
"...for the French? You...not possible."
"...true....take to convince...."
"...is an Earl's son. Poppycock!"
There was a moment of silence and then-as the leaves called on him to wake-even more words were carried to him on the back of their sister, the wind.
"...tried to warn you...won't...responsible for...happens... Listen!"
Mingo dragged his body away from the tree and, fighting the wave of nausea that rolled over him like a black tide, found his feet. "Gerard!" he called. "Gerard. Show yourself!" There was a moment of silence and then he called again, "Gerard!"
"Kerr, whatever are you about?"
His head jerked. Huntington had come to stand beside him and he had been unaware of it. He looked for Gerard, but the man was nowhere to be found. Had it been a dream?
"You will bring half the natives in the territory down on our heads." The British officer eyed him suspiciously. "Or the French."
Mingo steadied himself with a hand against the tree. "I thought I heard Gerard. I thought...perhaps he had come to join us."
The other man frowned and fingered his double-chin. "You must have been dreaming. Or feverish." Huntington studied his old friend, noting the soft sheen which coated his tanned skin. "Kerr, you seem to be ill."
Mingo nodded. "The first night away from the fort, I took a chill."
"There is a little time yet. You should rest."
He laughed. "Valentine, when this business is ended, I will rest." Most likely in the grave.
"Such loyalty to the crown will be rewarded and your father will hear of it." The pale watery eyes narrowed as he laid a hand on Mingo's shoulder. "But are you certain you are well enough to go on?"
There was a moment of silence. The dark-haired man sighed. "Yes."
"Very well. We will be leaving soon." Huntington signaled one of his men. As he moved with haste to join them, he added, "You will provide this soldier with information regarding the preferred approach to the settlement. Once there we will begin our assessment of the fortifications, and start to map out possible strategies for future occupation."
The dark-haired man nodded. Then he looked about. He had lost all sense of where he was. "How far is it to the fort from here?"
Valentine looked to the soldier. "Approximately three hours, sir."
Mingo turned to look towards Boonesborough and thought of Becky sitting by the fire sewing, with brown-haired Jemima by her side. Of Israel chasing Hannibal in the yard. Of young Jericho blustering and bragging in the tavern, and wily Cincinnatus making an extra coin or two on the side while not *actually* cheating his customers.
Three hours. Three hours in which to choose whom he would save.
And whom he would lose.
"You aren't thinking of going in?"
"Well, I don't see any way around it, Hugh." Daniel eyed the gate through which several uniformed men and a wagon load of supplies were passing. "There's no other way for me to find out if Mingo and Rachel are inside."
"Then I will go in with you."
"No." As the other man started to protest, Dan added, "I thank you, but if I don't come back out in say-four hours-then I need you to head back to Boonesborough and alert the settlers to what is going on. It will mean trouble for them whether the British or the French get ahold of me. Or Mingo. Now, I know you're not a woodsman, and you won't be able to keep to the path for fear of being seen.... Still, if I'm taken.... "
"Heaven forfend, Daniel."
The big man laughed. "Well, I can't say as Dulac will take too kindly to me sneaking around his settlement. I know what I would think if I caught him on my land...."
"He will say you are a spy."
"That's probably just what he's saying about Mingo. That he's spying for the Cherokee, or me." Dan's brow furrowed. "Unless...."
He cocked his head and his smile was chagrined. "Well, Hugh, there's always the possibility that he went willingly with Miss Cornell."
Hugh Oldham frowned. "Of course, he would have gone willingly with Rachel - Oh," the Englishman looked shocked, "you mean as in collaborating with her and Gerard as regards the French?"
The frontiersman drew a deep breath. "I've seen men do stranger things for the love of a woman before."
"But you said he was wounded."
Daniel nodded. "Yes. And I'm mighty glad that does put a different spin on it." He held out his hand. Oldham took it. "Been a pleasure getting to know you, Hugh. Thanks for all you did for Mingo all those years ago."
"This is not goodbye, Daniel. You will be back. God would not desert so great a heart as yours. Nor Kerr's. And I am certain you will find that neither he, nor my niece, had any part in this." He moved to sit on a boulder at the side of the road, "I will meet you here, in less than four hours, with the two of them in hand."
The big Kentuckian stared at him a moment and then nodded, before disappearing into the woods.
Jericho Jones yawned and stretched. He had spent the day hunting and was about ready to head back to the fort. Boone's daughter, Jemima had promised to go walking with him and since her father was away, that meant they could actually take a little extra time and maybe go down by the stream. A smile split the boy's face. He started to laugh. Then he instantly sobered. Rebecca was at home, and sometimes he was more afraid of her than Dan.
Tossing the rabbit and squirrel carcasses over his shoulder he began to move through the thick trees. The light was fading and it would be near dark by the time he reached the fort. He drew in a breath of the crisp autumn air and pursed his lips, meaning to whistle a tune, but then he stopped. Someone was approaching. A good-size party from the sound of it; a dozen men and horses, maybe more. He frowned and ducked down behind a clump of shrub and leaves. Parting several of the branches, he peered through.
Soon the shadowy figures came into view. He had been right. There were at least a dozen of them, and he could tell by the way their bright red uniforms shone in the early evening light that they were British. What were they doing here, marching towards the fort? He knew there had been Englishmen at the tavern a few days before, two men and a woman; now he wondered if their visit could have been connected with this. The fat man in the lead was obviously an officer, so it wasn't just a routine patrol. As he drew his bay to a halt and dismounted with a sigh, Jericho wondered who was the more relieved that he was out of the saddle; him or the horse. The officer turned then and spoke to someone beside him. It was a civilian. He couldn't see his face, but wondered if it was one of the ones from the fort. The man slid from his mount and hung there a second, clinging to the reins. Then, he joined the Redcoat and lifted his hand to point towards Boonesborough. From the way the fat man listened and nodded his head, he seemed to be instructing him. Jericho dropped the animal carcasses he carried and, clutching his rifle, moved closer so he could hear what they were saying.
"The guards are posted in six hour over-lapping shifts. Someone is always on the battlements, though towards morning, they tend to be less vigilant."
The boy frowned at the cultured voice. He seemed to know it.
"And are there any weaknesses? Ways in which are not commonly known?"
As the other man began to speak again, Jericho shifted so he was immediately to their left. The moon was rising, but-as yet-did little to illuminate the scene. It was that time of the night when the sun folds the blanket of trees over its head and the world hesitates for a heartbeat or two on the edge of night. He couldn't see them, but he continued to listen and as he did, his heart pounded with the knowledge that something was dreadfully wrong.
The man who was speaking put his hand to his head and swayed. The fat man reached out to steady him and just as he did, the moon broke free of the clouds and he could see.
Jericho gasped. The informant had raised his head and was gazing soberly at the fort.
It was Mingo.
The boy followed them as Mingo slowly walked the man around the fort, detailing its structure and design. Jericho couldn't hear the words clearly, but he caught enough to know that Daniel's friend must have gone over to the British side. Or maybe he had been working for them all along. He was dressed as an Englishman and had even cut his hair.
As they returned to their horses and mounted, he decided he had better track them for a bit. Hopefully by the time he returned to Boonesborough, Daniel would have come home from wherever he had gone.
He would need to know.
The moon was riding the clouds, painting the Kentucky landscape a silver-white. Mingo gazed at its serene face and then turned his own away. He felt dirty, contaminated by the men he traveled with and by his own actions. As much as he could, he had lied. Still, there were basic truths which could not be denied. Huntington was a shrewd man in spite of his excessive appetites. He would have gleaned enough from his words to enable him to mount a fairly able campaign in the future-if not enough to breach the fort. If he survived this, he would first have some explaining to do, and then Daniel would have to make some changes in his strategy.
As he was doing.
If the fever had not clouded his mind, he might have thought of it sooner. It was likely Gerard was bluffing about killing Rachel. First of all, he claimed to love her-even if his notion of love was something his former friend could in no way comprehend. Secondly, if he killed her, his leverage would be gone. There would be nothing left to prevent him from ending this charade and seeking revenge as only a full-grown Cherokee warrior knew how.
He sighed and shook himself. The stars were dancing in the night sky promising another clear but cold day to come. Huntington moved in silhouette beside him, deep in thought. The soldiers were silent. He opened his mouth, hoping to undo some of the damage he had done, but stopped when he heard a bobwhite call from the shadows of the trees.
A moment later an arrow flew through the air and pierced Huntington's heart.
Jericho had been watching from the safety of the branches of a tree thick with brown leaves. He had followed the Englishmen, but had been forced to fall back as they reached the bend in the road near the old Willow Crick. The woods there were dotted with French soldiers. And with the soldiers were, at the very least, a half dozen Indian braves. He hadn't recognized their clothing, but thought they might be Shawnee - or maybe Creek. As he continued to stare, they had begun to move forward with stealth, creeping towards the path Mingo and the British troops were traveling.
Torn, he had hesitated a moment too long. Now it was too late to warn them. He watched in horror as the braves rose up and fit their arrows to their bows. A moment later as he slipped quietly down the rough hide of the tree and began to run towards Boonesborough with all of his might, he rehearsed the words he would have to say to the man whose daughter had stolen his heart.
"Dan, I'm sorry. Mingo was a traitor and he's dead.
"He was a traitor.
Mingo pulled back on the reins and brought his mount to an abrupt halt as war cries filled the air and more arrows flew past him. After a moment of stunned inaction, he dropped from his horse and fell to his knees at Huntington's side. He could tell by the officer's coloring and the blood running between his lips that he was dying. All about them chaos ensued. French soldiers in their pink and green uniforms had followed close behind the native warriors and were adding to the carnage-running their razor-sharp bayonets through the bodies of other young men just like themselves who were stupid enough to believe that their government actually cared whether they lived or died. He glanced up as Huntington's horse took a bullet through the neck. It reared and danced dangerously close and then fell to the earth several yards nearer the woods.
Gripping Valentine's pistol, he dashed for the cover the horse's bulk provided and peering over its heaving chest, tried to discern his enemies. He thought the braves were Shawnee, though in the half-light of the moon he couldn't make out their paint and markings well enough to be certain. If so, it only added to the mystery. They were not camped close by. How would they have known...? Then he saw him. Standing to the side, safely concealed in the tree's dark embrace. Gerard. His silver pistol was in his hand and he was laughing.
Overcome with anger and loathing, Mingo stood up and pointed Huntington's weapon at him, cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened.
Valentine had carried it unloaded.
A moment later an arrow grazed his forehead and he fell to the ground.
Dan had spent the better part of one of his four hours scouting out the French settlement to determine the most likely spot where sensitive prisoners might be held. He had come up with three, and finally opted to check out the one that was the least heavily guarded. Dulac was a sneaky character. If he suspected he might come looking for Mingo, he would have put him in an inconspicuous place. The jail was too obvious. He had eliminated it almost immediately. There had been a shed used to detain prisoner's near the major's quarters, but it was watched by two sets of guards. Almost like an invitation to trouble. The third was a small cabin with boarded up windows and one civilian sitting on a chair by the door holding a gun. And if that hadn't been enough to make him suspicious, he had found a small piece of blue ribbon dangling from a chink in the boards.
If there was one thing he could say for Miss Cornell, she was resourceful.
It was just after midnight and the moon had hunkered down in a blanket of clouds and so the night was pitch-black - about the best cover for infiltratin' a French garrison town that he could ask for. Creeping close to the cabin, he rounded its eastern side - which faced the trees-and listened carefully. The fellow who was keeping watch was snoring. He decided to leave him where he was, as his absence might arouse suspicions. Retreating to the window, he whispered, "Mingo? Miss Cornell?"
He waited, but there was no reply.
"Mingo, are you in there?"
"Mr. Boone?" A young woman's voice sounded close by, frightened and weak. "Is that you? What are you doing here? You must get out of here."
Daniel drew a breath. "Well, now, that's about what I was going to say to you. I think it's you who need to be gotten out. Is Mingo with you?"
"No. They took him to the English fort on the eastern side of your settlement. Mr. Boone, you must go."
"The British fort? Whatever for?" Daniel paused and took a step forward, checking the sleeping man; he was still snoring away. When he returned he added, "I thought Mingo was hurt."
"He was. John beat him savagely. He hates him. He wants to humiliate and destroy him and nothing, nothing will stop him." She drew a breath and it seemed to him she moved away from the window, for he had to strain to hear her the next time she spoke. "For his sake, Mr. Boone, you must go!"
Dan shifted his hands on his gun. "For his sake? I don't- "
"Ah, Monsieur Boone."
Daniel felt the tip of a bayonet between his shoulder-blades. He straightened up and raised his hands and his rifle in the air.
"Nous vous prévoyons. We have been expecting you."
Mingo slowly opened his eyes. He was lying on the ground not far from where he had fallen. All about him was death and destruction. Huntington's massive form lay close by, his head turned sideways; the pale blue eyes staring into his. Mingo closed his dark brown ones and looked away so as not to call himself to Death's attention.
There was still much to do.
He shifted slightly, lifting his arm so it came free of a thorny weed, and found he had to bite his lip to remain silent as pain unexpectedly pounded through his weakened frame. He lay still a moment, panting. Trying to think. It seemed reasonable to assume, from the fact that he was as yet lying on the field, that Gerard thought he was dead. If so, it was imperative he do nothing to change that. Drawing a breath, he opened his eyes again and searched the immediate area. There were no boots-at least not upright ones. So, it seemed he was not under guard. Further proof the other man thought the arrow had killed him. Daring to lift his head a little, he glanced towards the place where he had last seen his foe. He wasn't at all surprised to find him sitting beside a French officer, spreading out before him the plans that Huntington's man had drawn up the afternoon before.
Giving thanks for what had at first seemed a disaster, he slowly found his knees and, inch by desperate inch, began to drag his weary body towards the shadows that lined the edge of the path. After what seemed an eternity, he let himself fall and rolled off the side into the brittle autumn grass. After that he began to crawl.
One of the French soldiers near Gerard pivoted and raised his weapon. He pointed toward the trees and started to move forward. The Englishman caught his arm and shook his head. Then he walked slowly across the killing field and stood above the body of one old schoolmate as he watched the other stagger to his feet just this side of a small stream. A moment later, Mingo disappeared into the woods.
And John Gerard smiled.
"I tell you, Mrs. Boone. I saw it with my own eyes!" Jericho had pitched his voice low. He kept glancing over his shoulder as if expecting someone to come up behind him any minute. "You know me. When we went through that other trouble with Mingo - when Zack Morgan's brother and his family were killed - I supported him. It ain't because he's part savage." The boy stopped to breathe. "I don't think he even is anymore. He was with the British. Maybe he's been with them all along."
"Well, how would you know? There's been rumors in the settlement ever since these other Englishmen showed up that that's what he's been here for. To spy on us for his father. Did you know his father was governor of Virginia?"
Becky sighed. "Yes. I met him. Here. In this cabin."
The boy's eyes went wide. "Then Dan knows....?"
Rebecca pushed her red bangs back and frowned. That chill she had felt as Israel related his dream had returned. She shivered and pulled her shawl close. Yet, another day had passed without any word from her husband. "For a while everybody knew. But settlers come and go, and others have forgotten. Just because he is his father doesn't mean Mingo is working for him." She smiled sadly. "As I remember, he and his father didn't trade a civil word the entire time he was here...."
"And for another thing, Mingo didn't come to Boonesborough looking for us. Daniel saved his life. They met by chance."
"Or maybe it was planned that way; to gain your confidence. The British can be awful sneaky. And thick like thieves." The boy glanced behind him again. "They always say blood is thicker than water."
Becky shook her head. "Sometimes blood runs so thick in the veins a creature dies. I will never believe Mingo would betray us. Still, Dan will have to decide what to do. You haven't said anything to anyone, have you?"
"Not yet. I was headed into the fort- " He stopped at her look. "Okay. Okay. I'll keep my mouth clamped shut for now. But when will Dan be back?"
"I'm not sure. He went to find Mingo and the Englishwoman who disappeared." She sighed as she met the young man's eyes; in them she saw everything she didn't want to hear. "Now, Jericho, you have no proof. Don't go starting rumors. You know how the settlers can be. They are easily frightened and- "
"Mrs. Boone, I hate to say it, but I have all the proof I could possibly need."
Becky glanced behind her as Jemima spotted Jericho and called to him from inside the cabin.
"I seen it with my own eyes."
Half an hour later Rebecca descended the ladder that led to the loft. She had let Israel go back to his own bed and, even though it was early evening, he was already fast asleep. She returned to the table and began to pack up the medicines and herbs. The boy was doing fine. There were no lingering signs of illness, and she imagined that the next day or two he would be his usual buoyant self and begin to run her in circles again. Glancing out the window, she realized the day was dying. Jemima would be back from her walk soon. She only hoped Jericho had kept his suspicions-and his hands-to himself.
Walking to the door, she opened it and breathed in the crisp air, thinking of her husband. If Jericho had seen Mingo amongst the British troops, then where did that leave Dan? Tracking a phantom? And if so, why hadn't he returned?
Suddenly the boys' fears seemed all too well-founded.
Stepping onto the porch she retrieved the basket of apples she had been peeling when Israel had called and pivoted, intending to return inside. Then she stopped. Remaining still, she listened carefully. She had heard a noise. Something like the whimper of a wounded animal. Thinking of Jemima and Jericho who should be on their way back, she went to the cupboard and pulled out Dan's other gun. Carefully loading it, she rested it on her hip and stepped back outside.
She stood a moment, scanning the horizon, but there was nothing there. With a frown marring the perfection of her white forehead, she walked from one side of the cabin to the other, ending near Dan's improbable rubbish bin. She waited what seemed to be several minutes and then shook her head, deciding Jericho's words must have spooked her. Then, as she turned to leave there was movement in the shadows. She drew a breath and lifted the rifle to the level of her waist, careful to keep both hands firmly on it.
"Who is that? Who's there?" Suddenly she felt foolish. It might have been nothing more than one of the raccoons that seemed to enjoy fishing and swimming outside her window now in the rainwater Dan's tarp collected. "Come out right now."
A second later a ragged figure stumbled out of the darkness beside the house. It seemed to reach for her and then tumbled to the ground.
Rebecca stifled a scream. It was a man. When she had collected her wits, she left the protection of the trees and moved forward so the moonlight fell across his prostrate form, illuminating it. Whoever he was, he was dressed like a gentleman, though his dark suit was torn and there were blood-stains on it, as well as on the skin beneath his short black hair. She reached out with the rifle and touched his shoulder.
He didn't move.
She tried her foot with the same result. A moment later she knelt, and laying the gun beside her, placed her hands under his body and flipped him over onto his side.
It was Mingo.