"I lost my head that first night," Gerard reached over and took hold of his chin, turning his head so the morning light struck his jaw and revealed the angry bruise behind the bone. "Pity. Still, you could have gotten that in any brawl."
"John," Mingo used his one-time friend's Christian name on purpose, "why is it you hate me so? What did I do to you? "
Gerard sneered. "If you have to ask, savage," the other man growled, "you would never understand."
He released his chin and then spurred his horse forward expecting Mingo to do the same. The dark-haired man sighed. He really had little choice. He and Gerard were traveling side by side and alone - with the exception of the small army which trailed less than one hundred feet behind.
Mingo fell silent. He gazed at the rising sun as they continued on and breathed the air of freedom, knowing its promise was not for him. At first he had thought this was all about Rachel, and had believed John jealous - perhaps insanely so. Now he realized the other man coveted far more than the love of a single woman. If that had been all he wanted, he could have simply killed him. Kentucky was a wilderness. Natives died everyday. He could have said that, in his native garb, he had been mistaken for a renegade savage by a trapper or bounty hunter and shot.
No, Gerard didn't want to kill him; he wanted to humiliate him, to break him and cast him down like Lucifer Morningstar before the hosts of Heaven.
His reverie ended abruptly as one of the soldiers called out Gerard's name and quickly drew abreast of them. The auburn-haired man glanced at him and grasped the reins of his mount, drawing it to a halt. Still holding them loosely in his hand, he turned towards the soldier and accepted a small packet of letters. Mingo watched as John raised both hands to unfasten the ribbon which bound them. A moment later, he shifted in his saddle and glanced behind. The soldiers who shadowed them were taking advantage of the unexpected break. Several of them had headed into the trees. Two others were dismounting.
Only one was watching him.
Quickly he assessed the situation. His hands were tied together, but he was not secured to the horse. Gerard knew he had to have mobility to ride. His legs were free. He closed his eyes and sought to find his center, fighting down the fire that licked at the edge of his consciousness. He was ill. If he waited, he might not have the strength to fly if and when another opportunity presented itself, and yet - if he tried to escape at all - he placed Rachel in jeopardy. In the time it took Gerard to send someone back to the French encampment, could he manage to locate help? Knowing Daniel, he was not far behind. And yet, even ten minutes might prove too much.
He glanced at the other man. He was deep in conversation with the French soldier. Would he harm her? Had he fallen that far into the abyss?
Mingo glanced back again and found the soldiers were still at ease. The one who had been watching him had traded places with another, and that one was talking and laughing with the other men. With a whispered prayer to the Great Spirit who guided all, he drove his heels into the horse's sides and headed for the trees.
Within seconds they were after him. Curiously, there were no shots. Apparently Gerard didn't think he would get very far-not with the beating he had taken, and the fever, and his hands securely bound.
Unfortunately, his adversary's thinking might prove all too prophetic for his taste.
He had abandoned the horse at the first opportunity and sent it plunging ahead, hoping at least a few of the rigidly-trained soldiers would follow its trail. Now he was moving slowly through the underbrush, breathing hard; his only advantage the training he had undergone first as a child, and then once again, as a full grown man when he had been welcomed home. He remembered how his mother's people had wept upon his return. There had been no questions, no condemnation - only joy. He thought of the faces of his Oxford school-mates in the East End that final night and wondered how he had ever dared to walk in the world his father's kind had made.
Unexpectedly his booted foot caught on a root and he tumbled. He lay for a moment with his head on his hands. He had barely eaten for two days and even with the warrior's training he had undergone - learning to survive on the spirit alone - he knew that all too soon the lack of nourishment would compel him to stop. He could only hope that along the trail there would be berries and nuts which might sustain him. Shrinking back into the embrace of an aged oak, he closed his eyes and listened. Those who hunted him were close. He could hear Gerard's voice. It was not angry. He did not yell or scream. Instead he seemed strangely calm.
As if he knew he had no hope of escape.
Mingo drew a breath and held it.
"Kerr. Come out. Now." There was a pause. "I will not ask a second time."
Mingo remained still and listened to the voice of the leaves about him. If only he had known their language, he could have asked them for word of Daniel. And if they had answered, 'Yes, brother, he is coming,' then he might have believed there was a chance.
"You will come out now or I will return to the village and take Rachel and turn her over to the British. She will be executed as a spy. And it will be your fault. Your choice, Kerr. You will have made me do it."
He knew that sort of reasoning - it had been tried on him in the Academy. Fortunately the Cherokee had taught him where true responsibility lay. "And how is that? Have you no will of your own?" He spoke the words quickly and then moved away from the tree, halting near another that was bent like an old warrior of many seasons.
"When you left, who do you think picked up the pieces? Who watched her weep and sigh and waste away to nothing? Who held her hand and walked with her in the sun while she grew strong again?" John's voice had taken on an edge, high-pitched and manic. Still, Mingo could tell he believed his own lies. "And still, she called for you. Still, she wanted you. Even when we told her you were dead, she would not forget. You hold her in your hands, you ungrateful bastard. You are responsible for what she is. It is you who will bear the blame if she dies." There was another pause. A moment later Gerard's voice rang out, "Roberts!"
Mingo listened to the footsteps of the soldier as he moved from the hunt to his leader's side. He listened even more intently to the silence that followed. What was John thinking?
"I have given Roberts his orders. If he leaves, it is over; Rachel will die and I will hunt you down. Then I will destroy your friend and his town and - in the end - it will all come out the same." He hesitated and his voice fell so even the leaves had to attend closely. "You do as I want and only you have to die."
Mingo leaned against the rough bark of the tree and sighed. It wasn't true. He knew that, as surely as he knew the sun would rise the morning after he had been laid high above the earth and sung over. Either way someone he loved would die, and he would be responsible. Still, at the moment, Daniel and his family were safe. There was time yet to thwart Gerard's insane schemes where Boonesborough was concerned.
On the other hand, Rachel's life hung on the frayed thread of a madman's sanity.
He heard the soldier call for his mount. Without hesitation he stood and showed himself. "Here," he said clearly, "I am here."
Two soldiers immediately grabbed him and brought him to heel before Gerard. The other man stared at him in silence and then back-handed him across the face. He frowned at the red mark his ring had left. "You will just have to tell Huntington that you were in a brawl."
"Huntington?" Mingo's hand went to his cheek. "Valentine, you mean? Is he here?"
Gerard's gaze was steady. "You will learn soon enough." He snorted and then shook his head as if disappointed. "You know, that was the act of a coward; running away. But then, why should that surprise me? You were always very good at running.
"Now, weren't you?"
Daniel frowned as he rolled a bit of the rich Kentucky earth between his fingers, and his head came up as Hugh Oldham emerged from the trees to the east side of the clearing. The Englishman was holding something in his hand; he crossed the open ground to show it to the frontiersman.
"It is Rachel's." He held out a bit of shimmering blue ribbon. "I found it near the place where you said there had been a tent...."
"They pitched camp here, all right. I reckon they've got about an eight to ten hour lead." Daniel released the dirt from his fingers and watched it thoughtfully as it fell to the ground. A moment later he crossed to where he had noted the imprint of a heavily laden wagon. "They can't be moving too fast if they are carrying a cargo." He leaned on his gun and removed his coonskin cap, and then ran his long fingers through his hair. "There's a passel of 'em. See, here. And here. There." He pointed to the wet ground. "Horse's hooves. Plenty of heavy boots. Soldiers, most like. And here's Mingo." He indicated a set of soft shoe prints. "These are his moccasins."
"So they were both here."
"Yes, and I would say from the signs in the soil that someone did some bleedin'. I think Mingo was hurt."
"Gerard wouldn't- "
Dan's green eyes were clear as the Kentucky sky and he pinned the other man with them. "Just how well do you know this John Gerard?"
"He has attended Rachel for years, even when she and Kerr were...." Oldham hesitated, hearing his own words. "Well, I have known him since he was a child...."
"But lately. How well do you know the man he is now?"
He shook his head. "He has been away for some time. Upon his return, their engagement was announced. I assumed - "
"Mr. Oldham, a man can change a lot in a day, let alone in 'some time'. The man who came here with you looking for Mingo, may very well not be the man you thought he was."
The Englishman's face fell. He gripped Daniel's arm. "If I have brought this upon you all by my naivete...."
Dan shrugged. "Well, no one can condemn a man for bein' too trusting."
"Except for those whose trust he betrays by that ingenuousness."
"Chalk it up to experience," the big man answered as he began to move again, "and know better the next time."
The Englishman laughed. "A wise man once said, 'There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience.' I suppose I must consider myself an older and wiser man for all of this. Still," he sighed, "the price may prove too high..."
Dan stopped. He knew that pain. Nothing in the world could wash it away. "Mr. Oldham- "
"Hugh. Please." His brown eyes sought Daniel's. "We know each other well enough, I think, for you to call me by my name, Mr. Boone."
The big man cocked his head. He had every reason to doubt this man, but his gut instinct remained. Deliberately, he stretched out his hand, "And you can call me Daniel."
"I don't know that I deserve...."
"I'm extending my trust, Hugh." His smile was crooked and took the edge off of his words. "There's plenty of time yet for you to prove whether you've earned it."
Mingo stood outside the fort, his heart pounding and the blood ringing in his ears. Part of it he knew was illness, but it was not only that. It was fear. He had been sent here on a mission and if he failed - Rachel died. If he succeeded, then Daniel and his family and every man, woman, and child in Boonesborough might share a similar fate.
If he did nothing...
A weary British soldier opened the small door beside the gate. Mingo placed his orders in the man's hand. As he did, he noticed his own was trembling. Gerard had forced him to eat, but it had done little more than sicken his stomach. Now, as he waited for the man to read the note, he shivered as the chill autumn wind whispered down the collar of his shirt. He had not realized how much his long hair had insulated him. Running a hand over the tip of his ear, he touched the back of his neck.
If he lived, it would be some time before he would be able once again to braid his hair and wear the feathers of honor that were his.
The man assessed him one last time before stepping aside to admit him. Mingo nodded to him and then slipped through the door. A moment later he began to walk across the courtyard. It was near two in the morning and the bailey was understandably deserted. Most of the garrison fort's inhabitants were fast asleep. Still, a light burned bright in the commandant's office and so, it seemed, he was expected.
Approaching the door slowly, he raised his hand to knock. Before he could, it opened to reveal a jowled face perched above an ample stomach that indicated the man's predilection for rich foods. The commander greeted him and invited him in with a gruff voice and a few hurried words. Then he stepped over to the table and using two thick fingers, turned up the wick on the lantern. As the light illuminated the tidy room, he faced him. There was a moment of silence as his mouth fell open. "By all that is holy, Kerr, it is you!"
Mingo looked at the man who had been barely more than a boy the last time they had met. "Huntington."
The Englishman sputtered. "We thought you were dead."
"Ah, yes, well...the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
"So I see." Valentine Huntington, the schoolmate of his youth, picked up a thick sheet of paper and pinched it between his fat fingers. "Do you know what this says?"
That I am a traitor to all I know? Mingo thought. He nodded. "Yes."
"It says you have been working undercover for the British for some time now." Huntington perched a pair of wire-rimmed glasses on his nose and shifted so the light fell across the note. "Several years."
The other man was silent.
"And that you befriended this man, Boone, for the sole purpose of gathering knowledge that is strategic to our continued control of this area. Especially so, now that this war has erupted." His eyes seemed to increase in size as he continued to read. "And that you've done this while pretending to be part Indian so you might spy on the Cherokee as well?"
Mingo's eyes closed. That was the irony of this. Gerard's scheme depended on the British believing he had knowledge of Daniel's plans and defenses, and of his chief's. He could have done that as he was before, without the loss of his identity. But it was Kerr whom Gerard wanted to destroy. Not Mingo.
"You claimed your mother was a Cherokee woman?" Huntington looked over the rims of his glasses at his former friend. "Ah, well, the dark complexion."
"Inherited from my mother...."
"The Spanish were the forerunners of our own empire in many ways. Left that dark hair everywhere or so it seems." The portly man laughed. "And Boone believed this? An Oxford-educated Indian?"
Mingo steeled himself. He had met with ignorance before. It was just that he was ill and his nerves were raw, and he was on the edge of losing control. "There have been...a few others," he muttered.
"Valentine," he began, "it has been a long and a trying day." He placed his hand to his head. "I am...weary from the road. Do you think I might be shown to some lodgings?"
The other man continued to regard him, almost warily. "It says here you are to have a guard...."
"Yes." Gerard had been very clever in his thinking. Not only were there French soldiers in the wood watching in case he made an attempt to escape, but John had asked 'Old Val' to grant him a personal guard as well for his own protection. "I would be more than grateful. If those I have lived among learn that I am here..." He placed his hand on the desk to steady himself, knowing the words he spoke were all too true. "Well, the knowledge I have, could be used to destroy them."
Less than an hour later he lay on a simple bed pressed against the wall of one of the buildings annexed to the commander's quarters. He had stumbled in almost beyond caring, only to be unexpectedly confronted by the vision of the man he had once been. A mirror stood in a darkened corner, reflecting the fire's light. He stepped up to it and placed his hand upon its shining surface.
"Kerr..." he whispered.
A moment later he stripped off the clothes Gerard had given him and splashed off the stink of the trail, wishing he could wash the lingering scent of betrayal from himself as easily. Trembling, he stoked the fire and then wrapped himself in several warm blankets and lay down.
As he lingered on the edge of sleep, he reflected on his life and the curious circumstances which had led to his return to the Colonies. One callous act-intended to harm him-had instead changed his life forever and brought him to the only peace he had ever known.
Kerr stared at the playbill, his mind awhirl. Gerard had vanished like the Pied Piper into the darkened theatre leaving him alone and confused. What should he do? If he refused to enter, to share in this 'sport', then he would likely be suspect. And yet, as he felt the cries of the mob wash over him in wave after wave, he wondered-if he walked through the door what would he find? Was this some tawdry entertainment where brightly painted Spaniards pretended to be native warriors, spilling pig's blood and whooping like matriculating students after two many pints, or was it something more?
His head jerked up. Paisley stood in the doorway. "You have to see this! What are you waiting for? John has seats in the front. Come on!"
Kerr shuddered as the shadow of the boy who had once been Cara-Mingo seemed to appear before his eyes, blocking his path and reminding him that he, too, had once walked the dark and bloody ground of Ken-tuck-ee. He had thought him banished forever. Shaking himself, he moved forward and passed through the phantom.
The stink and heat of the crowd struck him like the back-side of a hand. The theatre was small and packed with men, both young and old. Every class was represented. Nobleman and commoner sat side by side, united it seemed in their blood-lust. Paisley grabbed his arm as he hesitated and began to steer him forward. It had occurred to him then that it seemed odd there was room in the front, but the sights and the smells had so overwhelmed him that the instincts of the warrior which had lain dormant for so long had been snuffed out as easily as a wick between moistened fingers. Gerard smiled and waved them down, and before he knew it he was wedged between a fat butcher with a grimy apron and John, the nobleman's son. The curtain had closed and the master of ceremonies was speaking. He couldn't make out all the words but it seemed the man was elaborating on the next act, barking some well-rehearsed rubbish about American savages and their inner tribal battles. With a flourish he announced that they were about to witness the final contest between the chieftains of two great tribes.
He glanced at Gerard and found he was watching him. "Really, John. Such puerile entertainment," he made an effort to sound disinterested and unaffected, "watching a bunch of Spaniards pretend at being warriors. I can't imagine who in your father's regiment would have been interested in such a charade."
The curtain was drawn back and as it was, the patrons roared and the wagers flew as another man towards the back called out the odds on this or that name. It startled him when the sound of one of them was familiar, 'Nan-quees-see' or 'Star' - for some reason he seemed to recognize it.
"Oh, but that is the point," Gerard's blue eyes gleamed in the footlights, "it's not a charade. It's real." His laugh was loud. "Actually this sort of thing has been banned in merry old England. That's why they advertise it as if it was an exhibition. It isn't. Every spot, every drop of blood you see is real. They have brought the ignorant savages from the Colonies so they can die for our entertainment." John leaned in close, his lips near his friend's ear. "After all, they are no better than animals. They have no heart, no soul. So, why not?"
Kerr closed his eyes as the tribal drums began to pound. And then he did another thing which he had not allowed himself to do in ten years - he thought of his mother and of her people: of Talota, Menewa and White Cloud. He remembered again running with his uncle through the forest hunting deer, and recalled his quiet voice teaching him to offer thanks to the Great Spirit for providing what he needed - not what he wanted or desired. He thought of White Cloud, strong and brave, weeping for his people after a party of Creek raiders had devastated one of the villages, seeking not revenge but balance as he instructed his braves to wait and allow the other tribe time to make restitution. And Talota. His eyes misted as he thought of her and remembered her last words to him and the promise he had made.
Opening his eyes, he returned to the present - to his father's world. "I have tried, Mother," he whispered, "I have tried."
Kerr quickly ran a finger beneath his eye and shook his head. He meant to stand, to leave, but before he could, the crowd erupted in a frenzy as two men were thrust onto the stage. One was young; the other nearer his father's age. As they began to circle, passing before him, he gasped and sat ramrod straight in the chair. John had told the truth. These were not actors but actual natives, and the weapons they carried were real. They wore breechcloths and their skin was painted. One was Creek.
The other Cherokee.
As their war cries soundly thinly through the theatre - howled not so much in tribal rage as in despair - his fingers went white on the edge of the seat before him. His lips parted and not knowing that he spoke, he whispered, "My God, what am I doing here?"
John Gerard's eyes never left him; the expression he wore caught somewhere between vindication, and sick, overwhelming despair.
Two hours later three dark shadows lingered outside the deserted theatre. Paisley and Huntington were wandering up and down the filthy avenue calling their missing companion's name. The auburn-haired Gerard stood with his back to the playbill, his lips drawn into a taut line. Finally he straightened and spoke. "You aren't going to find him. I told you he's run off."
Paisley turned. He stood beneath one of the half dozen gas lamps that lit the street, his freckled face showing from beneath a mop of sandy hair. "He said he needed to relieve himself and would be back. You know Kerr, he is a man of his word." The thin young man suddenly looked frightened, "What if someone has kidnapped him?"
Gerard scoffed. "If that happened, it was a long time ago."
He rolled his eyes. "Nothing. The carriages are here. Gather up Huntington. Dawn will be here soon enough and we will be missed."
Paisley nodded and turned to trot drunkenly down the cobbled street after their thickset friend. As he did, John Gerard pivoted to stare at the theatre door. A moment later his blue eyes narrowed and his lip curled in disgust. Then he turned on his heel and followed the pair towards the brighter world beyond.
Kerr watched him go. He stood entrenched in the shadows just to the left of the theatre's side door. Soon after the fighting had begun, he had excused himself and plunged into the seething mob. Breaking free of it, he had rushed past the attendants in a blind panic and burst into the open air. As he stumbled into the shadows, he had fallen to his knees and begun to heave. Finally, exhausted, he had leaned against the wall, and wrapping the darkness about him, willed himself to disappear. Sometime later as the theatre doors opened and the human animals who frequented its' abominable spectacles began to filter out into the night, he had come to himself. Sucking in air, he had risen shakily and watched as they returned home to their wives and lives seemingly unchanged.
Sometime later the actors - those who had portrayed the white-eye conquerors of the New World, as well as the whores and thieves who attended them - had appeared through the side door, laughing and singing. They hadn't seen him. Self-serving and preoccupied, they had moved down the lane towards the nearest tavern. Finally, John and his companions appeared. They had called for him and he had watched their fruitless search.
And then they too were gone.
As their carriages pulled away, he roused himself and moved to face the wooden door. A grim determined look settled on his handsome face as he put his hand in his pocket and jingled it, relishing the sound of the coins it contained. A moment later he lifted his hand and, bringing his sweat-soaked knuckles down on the door, pounded until someone came.
A gnarled gray-haired man opened the door a crack so the greasy light and smoke cut like a thin knife across the back alley. Kerr stared into his watery eyes and said, as light-heartedly as he could, "I'd like to see the savages up close."
The man looked at him as if he were a spoiled child asking for an extra cracker at Christmas. "And it's sorry, I'm being, son. Everyone's gone," he said in a thick brogue, "and 'tisn't worth me job to let in the likes of you..." The Irishman fell silent as Kerr opened his fingers and waved half a dozen gold coins under his bulbous nose.
"I'd like to see the savages up close."
Kerr's nostrils flared as the man walked him through the darkened theatre and led him down a flight of rough steps into a damp cellar. He stood back as the custodian opened the door and reached inside to hook his lantern on a metal post. "This is where we'll be partin' company. They're in the back. Only don't go getting to close, m'lord," he sniffed and looked down his reddened nose with the sort of contempt only an Irishman could muster, "or they're liable to take your blue head off." The man laughed and spit. "I've got to go finish me chores. I'll be back in half an hour or so - and if you still be here - I'll show you to the door."
The man moved away muttering something to himself about the madness of the English. Kerr ignored him. He remained where he was, his dark eyes taking in the room. It was used for the storage of unnecessary props and costumes. They hung on racks and dangled from hooks on the ceiling, creating the impression of a shadow army keeping watch. He stifled a cough. The air was foul, thick with the scent of sweat and dung - animal and human. Steeling himself, he moved forward but remained hidden. Before him was a cage; the kind normally reserved for bears or circus animals. Only this one held several men. Kerr licked his lips and shifted one of the gowns out of his line of sight only to find one of the natives watching him.
"White-eyes. Come here."
Kerr ran a hand over his face and wiped his lip. He was sweating. He remained where he was.
"I would see your face, white-eyes. I would see the face of one who finds pleasure in the pain of other men."
He swallowed hard, hesitating a moment. Then, he passed through the silk and linen wall to emerge on the other side. Still clinging to the shadows, he drew to a halt some ten feet from the cage. Two of the men had not stirred. He assumed they were either not interested in taunting him or had been wounded during the exhibition. A fourth sat in the corner, shaking his head.
"Are you afraid, white-eyes?"
"No," he cleared his throat as his voice shook, "I am a trained military officer. I am afraid of nothing..."
"Then come closer."
Kerr drew a breath in spite of the stench and held it. Moonlight streamed through a small window set high in the wall. He moved forward a few steps, stopping just short of allowing it to strike his face. A soft breeze carrying the scent of the sea flowed through it, lifting his hair, reminding him that the docks were not far away. Feigning indifference, he lifted his head and met the native's eyes.
It was the Creek. He was, perhaps, a year or two older than himself.
"What is your name, white-eyes?"
Kerr blinked. "You speak English."
The native glanced at the man in the corner. He had his head in his hands. "Some of us do."
"And why is that?"
"Why do you?"
The young man stuttered, "It...it is the language of my father." He stared at the man before him, at his handsome strong-boned face and rich black hair. He could not help but note that - though the Creek was the prisoner - he seemed to be the one in command. Kerr shook himself and forced an edge that he did not feel into his voice, "Why do you?"
The native laughed and tossed his head. "It is the language of your father," his eyes were dark and filled with hate, "and it is your father who has killed my father and taken my land and destroyed my people. And so, in order to kill him, I have learned his tongue." He laughed. "In order to kill you, white-eyes."
"My father hasn't killed any ...."
"Your father is all white men. All white men are the same." The Creek held his head high. "All are killers and breakers of their word."
Kerr took a step forward. "No, not all...."
The tall powerful native released the bars and turned to look at the man in the corner.
"Leave him be."
"No!" He pivoted sharply and wrapped his dark fingers about the iron again. "Look at him! Well-fed, with money in his pockets, and blood on his hands like all of them."
The other man rose slowly and as he moved into the light, Kerr could see that he had been wounded. His side was bandaged with a filthy rag that had been haphazardly wound around his waist. He gripped one of the bars for support and stared into the young man's face. "Not this one."
"What do you know, Nan-quees-see? Is one white man different from another? Why? Because one locks us in the cage and the other pays to see us die?" The broad-shouldered man's voice broke with rage. "Tell me!" He thrust his arm through the bars and pointed his finger at Kerr. "Tell me how he is different!"
The older man pinned Kerr with his jet-black eyes.
"He is one of us."
In the moment that the world stood still for a young man an ocean and a world away from all he had known as a child, a slender figure emerged from a carriage to move through the darkened alley in Whitechapel, heading for the actors' door. He hesitated, listening to the rattle of the wheels on the cobblestones as the driver rolled out of sight, and then drew a silver pistol from his pocket. Clutching the weapon with trembling fingers, he moved forward until he reached the door. Unexpectedly, it opened at his touch. As he entered the deserted theatre, he paused again, surprised to find no one barring his way. Seconds later he moved unerringly through the dark, heading for the stair that led to the lower level. Even if his father's mate had not told him, he would have known by the stink where they were.
It was where he would be as well.
Angered, frightened, chagrinned and terrified, John Gerard began to descend the steps, prepared to confront the man he had once called 'friend'.
"One of us?" Arrowkeeper's voice rang through the damp cellar. "Has madness taken you? He is a white-eye!"
"No." The man who spoke, whose name meant 'Star' in the language of Lord Dunsmore, shifted so his face was between the bars. "Have you forgotten as well, Cara-Mingo?"
At the sound of the name, Arrowkeeper froze. "Cara-Mingo?" His stare was hard. "You. Step into the light."
Kerr hesitated and as he paused, he thought he heard a step on the stair. His heart pounding, he turned to find the doorway empty. The sound of the Irishman whistling a jaunty tune drifted towards him, but it came from far away. There was no one there.
He turned back, but remained where he was. "Why do you call me that?"
"It is your name. Or it was. Does Cara-Mingo live no more?" The Cherokee pressed even closer to the bars, extending his hand through them in invitation. "Come here to me."
The steps were faltering, but he took them, for he found he could not stay away. As he approached, the two natives who had not identified themselves shifted into the shadows as if afraid. Their whispers reached his ears, but theirs was a language he did not understand. They were not Cherokee. Stopping just outside the cage, he fixed his dark eyes on the fingers stretched toward him. They were strong and supple, and red as the heart of the Earth. He placed his in them and looked into the other man's eyes.
"Do you truly know me?" Star was older than he was, perhaps by fifteen or twenty years. A scar ran the length of his right cheek, starting at his forehead and ending near his ear; it was obvious he had seen many battles and not a few beatings. But there was about him a sense of peace, as if - no matter what - he remained the same, unchanging as the earth and sky and sea. "I don't know you...."
"I knew your mother. Menewa was my friend. I was there when your white father came for you." He closed his fingers about Kerr's. "We wept for many moons."
"I don't remember."
"Do not try. Only be." Star reached out with his other hand. Kerr jerked, but remained where he was as the rough fingers reached for his eyes. "Close these, Cara-Mingo. See with you heart."
The young man drew a breath and his eyes flicked to Arrowkeeper. The tall brave had fallen silent. He was staring at him, a wary look on his face.
Star laughed as he followed his gaze. "Do not fear him. Arrowkeeper's words are stone, but his heart is as the pelt of the rabbit."
The Creek warrior frowned. "You say too much, Nan-quees-see." He met Kerr's stare briefly and then retreated from the light.
Star's fingers touched Kerr's eyelids and pressed them shut. "These must be closed to all you have learned, to all that has been taught to you. You must remember the pulse of the earth and the rhythm of the stars moving above you, the voice of the stream and the leaves in the wind." His words were soft and almost chanted. There was magic in them. "Cara-Mingo, remember who you are."
The young man stood still for a moment as the sights and sounds and smells of his forested home and the people he had left behind flooded through him, and then he began to shake. Without warning, he fell to his knees. He shook his head as tears streamed down his cheeks. "But that is not who I am anymore." His voice was weak; his soul shattered. "I am dead to the leaves and the waters of my home. I no longer know the earth." He drew a deep sobbing breath. "I no longer have the knowledge it takes to walk among the stars. I am Kerr, Lord Dunsmore's heir. I am where I belong - "
As he paused to draw another breath, Star began to do a strange thing. He laughed.
"What?" A sudden tide of anger flared in him. "What are you laughing at. It is the truth!"
"Is it? I think not. Only one thing do you have right."
Kerr wiped his face with his free hand. "And what is that?"
Star placed his fingers on the young man's face, touching it with infinite love as a father would, and as Lord Dunsmore's heir fell against the bars, exhausted, he placed his other hand on his dark hair. "Only now have you found where you belong."
Into the silence that followed, an angry voice spoke. "My isn't this a charming sight. Family reunion, Kerr?"
The black head jerked. There was a figure standing close by the racks, a pistol in his hand.
Mingo jerked awake. Someone was pounding on his door.
He sighed and sat up, drawing the blanket close.
And so now it began.
Continued in Chapter Seven