Rachel watched as Dulac closed the door behind him, leaving them alone. She smiled prettily as Dan indicated the stone bench, which was his only furniture. "How gallant, Mr. Boone," she remarked as she took a seat and arranged her skirts about her.
He frowned at her seemingly carefree manner. "Miss Cornell, I - "
"Well now, Miss Cornell," Dan said as he stepped to the window and glanced at the pair of soldiers who were keeping guard, "I don't believe we know each other well enough to be usin' first names."
"On the contrary, Mr. Boone, you think you know me all too well." Her small white hands were knit together on the top of the voluminous blue cloth. "You have already judged me guilty. I can see it in your eyes. You think I am - what is the word you Colonials use? You think I am in cahoots with John."
Dan couldn't help but smile at the way she pronounced it. He leaned back against the stone wall and stared at her. "Well, I am a mite suspicious that Dulac left you here alone to talk with me. Seems an odd thing to do. Makes me think maybe you are supposed to get some information out of me, or - " He stopped short as the Englishwoman began to laugh. "I wasn't aware I was telling a joke, Miss."
"Forgive me. This whole matter with Kerr...." she glanced at him and then began to pick at the ribbons on her dress "...well, it has left me a bit unnerved." She shook her head and lifted a hand to arrange the golden curls about her shoulders. "Dulac will learn nothing from me. He is to rendezvous with John at Fort Sandeski, and I am to be taken to await him there. As to why I am here," she indicated the cell, " I can only assume Captain Dulac decided it would be safer to keep us in one place."
The big man frowned. "Dulac will learn nothing from you? But you said - "
"That I worked with the French?" She nodded. "But not this French. Dulac is an obsessive madman, not a patriot."
Dan's mouth twisted with a smile. "Now that - at the very least - is one thing you and I agree on, Miss Cornell. So how do you fit in? Dulac mentioned, 'the heart of the matter....'"
She stood and began to pace. "He means I am pivotal to all that is happening about us. I have been used by John and now, am being used by this Frenchman as well. You remember my mentioning that my father was in prison?"
"Yes. And accused of being a spy."
"My father is - as dear uncle Hugh put it - highly principled, but not in the least artful. Nor is he particularly cautious. Something like you Mr. Boone," she smiled as she turned her large blue eyes on him, "I have never thanked you properly for attempting to rescue me."
Dan nodded. "I was hopin' to find Mingo too. Do you know where - "
She shook her head and looked away. Her white teeth found the edge of her lip and began to gnaw.
The big man crossed his arms. He guessed he'd have to accept that for now. "You were saying? About your father?"
Rachel tossed her head, grateful for the change of subject. "You have heard the expression, I am sure, that 'fools rush in where angels fear to tread?' That is my father. He believes with his whole heart in your budding revolution and has been working to promote the entry of the French into this war."
"So he was passing information? From the French to the Colonies?"
She shook her head again. "No. I was."
"I don't understand."
"I am loyal to my country, Mr. Boone, but that does not mean I agree with all that it does. The time has come to let you govern yourselves, if not as a new country, then certainly as an autonomous possession. I have many friends in France. The du Montiers, Le Viscomte de Mauroy, the Dubuyssons...all are very interested in your war and in the cause of 'liberte'. Due to my circumstances - being at home both in France and in England - I agreed to pass certain papers to those who were sympathetic to their cause in my homeland." She stopped and turned to face him. "When the soldiers came to our house, my father assumed responsibility. He would not see me go to prison or chance my being executed." The young woman drew a deep breath and ran her fingers through her hair, twisting one of the curls like a nervous little girl. "John supported him in this decision...."
"And now you think Gerard had something to do with that as well? With your father's arrest?"
She nodded. "I believe he was the one who alerted the authorities in the first place. I had never put it together before, but it is the only thing that makes sense."
Dan fell silent for a moment, thinking. Then his green eyes sought her face. "And he did this for what purpose? To make you do what he wanted?"
The Englishwoman stared out the window a moment and then returned to the stone bench. "It is very close in here, is it not? The air cannot penetrate." She began to fan herself with her hand. "And so very warm for Autumn."
She drew a deep breath and seemed to steady herself. A moment later, she looked up and met his eyes. "I think John had several ends in mind; controlling me was one of them. John has a desire - a need - to control everything around him. But I think, in the beginning at least, that part of it was duty to his country. He has been in his Majesty's service for some time. Kerr would never have spoken to you about him, would he? There would have been no reason...."
"No. I never heard of any of you until the day you set foot in Boonesborough."
He watched her, unsure of how that would set.
She smiled sadly and then the golden head bobbed again. "As I thought," she said in a small voice, "I am not certain Kerr knew, anyway. John only told me a year or so ago. John's mother remarried when he was about thirteen. The man Kerr knew as his father was actually his step-father. John rarely spoke of it."
"Didn't they get along? Gerard and this man?"
"Oh, yes. The man his mother married was kind and tried to befriend him. It was his own father he rarely spoke of."
Daniel shifted his shoulders against the cool stone. "And why is that?"
"He died a traitor, Mr. Boone. Executed in your own country, during your French and Indian war."
"Executed? Here? For what?"
"Treason. I don't know the details. Apparently, he was accused of collaborating with the Indians. The men in his care were slaughtered by savages, including his own brother and a cousin. It was kept quiet due to the family's connections."
"Well, now," Daniel ran his fingers across his chin, "I can see where Gerard would not exactly be over-fond of Indians then."
The young woman drew a breath and seemed to physically pull herself together. "And I did not know about Kerr. I swear...." She looked away, but before she did, he saw tears in her eyes. "Perhaps it begins to explain what happened in England. I don't know."
Dan wished he had Becky by his side. He wasn't good at the hand-holdin' parts. "Miss Cornell...."
"Yes?" Her voice was trembling.
"You said Gerard had several motives."
She nodded again and seemed to draw back from wherever her thoughts had taken her. "I was speaking of his work. I believe John was already headed to the Americas when he found Uncle Hugh and I were booked on the same ship. On the trip over he told me he would help to clear my father, if I would seek out Kerr in order to learn about the loyalties of the Indians in this area, about you and your fort...." She laughed. "I assumed Kerr was like you - a woodsman with friends among the savages. I agreed. It seemed Providence had provided a way to restore the two men most important to my life at one and the same time...."
Dan gave her a moment and then he said gently, "Go on."
"We came to your fort with the intention of seeking him out. You know what happened after that. I had no idea John hated him so." She shuddered. "After I saw...." Her eyes flicked up to Boone's face and then back down to her hands in shame. "After I saw the way he had beat him, I knew there was something more. Ruining Kerr was personal. Not for England, but for him. And then when he brought us here, and I heard the soldiers speaking French...." A tear ran down her cheek. "Why, Mr. Boone?"
"Why what? Miss Cornell?'
"Why would a man repeat his father's shame? Why do the very thing he hated most?"
Dan nodded. He had often pondered that question. "Different men are driven by different things, Miss. Sometimes they just don't make sense. I've seen it before; a young boy whose pa is a drunk, who swears he will never touch ale, and then ends a drunk himself. Another who regularly took whippins', who then beats his own." He shook his head. "Some rivers have currents runnin' so deep you can't fathom them. So you think he is a traitor to England? Workin' with the French?"
"A double-agent, yes. But more than that," she wrapped her arms about her slight frame, "I think he is mad. I think he will never stop until Kerr...your 'Mingo' is destroyed."
"And yet, you don't know why. He never told you?"
She stood and began to pace again. "No. Nothing specific. He has always called him a 'coward', and said he ran away. He told me Kerr never loved me, and that I was a fool to wait for him." She paused with a hand to one of the bars on the window. "John has always wanted to possess me - body and soul. Kerr, or his memory, stood in his way."
Dan drew a breath. It really wasn't his place to ask, but he did anyway. "Do you still love him, Miss? I'm sorry to ask - it bein' private business between you and Mingo - but...."
"I love his ghost. I love the man I knew." Her words were hushed, hesitant. She seemed more than ever like a small, lost child. "Your 'Mingo'...." For a moment she fell silent remembering the tall stranger with the long black hair, feathers and beads. "I don't know. Could you see me here, Mr. Boone?" She turned to face him. "As a frontier wife, or whatever it is the savages call their women?"
He shook his head. "No more than I can see Mingo in high-society in London, making small talk with politicians and hob-nobbin' with the nobility. Oh, he could do it. I've seen him do somethin' close before. But Mingo's heart is with his mother's people, and his soul walks with the trees and the streams."
She stared at him a moment and then turned away. "So you see? It is hopeless. You and I know that. If only I could make John see that it was, perhaps he would leave him alone."
"Miss Cornell, what do you think Gerard intends to do?"
Rachel drew a breath. "As the soldiers who kept watch over me had no way of knowing I am fluent in French, they did not always guard their speech. From what I overheard, John intends to foment a war, with your settlement as the prize. The problem is, I did not hear whose."
Dan frowned. "And what is Mingo's part in this?"
"John has led the British to believe that Kerr betrayed them - I think to ruin him in England as well. Perhaps to have him executed as a spy. I don't know." She hesitated. "Apparently, there was another deception as well; a Cherokee village supposedly attacked by English soldiers who were really these same Frenchmen of Dulac's in costume. John made certain Kerr's name was mentioned there. I think he hopes to turn the Indians against him, to leave him with no home, and no one who cares."
Except you, Dan thought as he looked at her. He drew a breath, "So he's going to get it from all sides. He won't be safe anywhere. Miss, your John won't have to kill him; someone else surely will." He pushed off the wall and took a step forward. "And where do I come into all of this?"
"You, Mr. Boone, I believe are Dulac's pet project." She shifted and laced her fingers together again. "It took me some time to piece together the things John said on the boat trip over, but I think I have finally made some sense of it. John met Dulac in France, sometime in seventeen-seventy-three or four, after the man was released from prison. Phillipe Dulac is a member of a party intent on retaking your country. They look to this war with the British as an opportunity. Dulac's personal hatred of you, coupled with John's original orders from the Crown to make certain you would in no way compromise their war efforts, have made them strange bedfellows." She straightened her skirts and looked up at him. "But bedfellows they are."
Dan paused, thinking it through. "Well, I know what Dulac gets out of this. Nothin' would please him more than gettin' back at me, and either driving the settlers out or taking the town for the French. But what does John get from it? I don't know him and he doesn't know me."
"The personal satisfaction of destroying Kerr, by destroying everything he knows and loves, and laying the responsibility at his feet."
He nodded. "And you think someone will attack the fort?"
"I know they will. I just don't know who will be the aggressor, nor do I know when." Her head went down. "But I do know they will be able to get in."
Dan came to stand by her; his imposing figure casting her into shadow. "And how is that? We have our own defenses, Miss Cornell. We've withstood the Shawnee before, and the British."
She fell silent for a moment, and when she spoke, her words were barely more than a whisper. "But they had no inside information. They do now."
Dan paused. "Rachel?"
Her head came up.
"What is it you are saying?"
She looked as if her heart were breaking. "Because of me, Mr. Boone, your friends, your children, your lovely wife... all are in jeopardy. John told me. In order to save my life, Kerr has given away your secrets. When they attack - whoever does - they will already know your strategies.
"Your settlement is doomed."
A lean muscular form hesitated before the open door of the Boone's cabin listening. A moment later it slipped inside and stood, searching the shadows for life. Finding none, it began to cast about for clues, seeking a sign of the one who had been there and where he had gone. It paused near the bed to examine a basket of blood-stained rags and picked up the pewter cup, nosing the strong herbal potion which had been served in it. A moment later it crossed to the rear door and prepared to return to the yard to search for prints. Then its head came up and it froze.
Someone was coming.
Moving with the speed of a young cougar, the figure melted into the shadows which lined the room.
"I won't be a minute." Becky Boone stepped into the cabin. "You just go back to the fort, Cincinnatus. I'll be fine. I need to get some things...." She paused and turned back towards the door and stuck her head outside. "I'll be fine. Go keep watch for the British...." Dan's wife closed the door and leaned on it. "Or the French, or the Indians, or whoever it is wants to possess us, or kill us, or keep us this time."
Rebecca sighed and moved towards her table. The dishes were still sitting out from the early morning meal. She rested her hand beside them, and then unexpectedly shuddered. Her head jerked and she looked about, a frown marring her lovely face. There was nothing there. She remained just so for perhaps half a minute and then, shaking off the feeling of unease, pivoted and headed for the small chest which held the remedies Mingo had given her. As her fingers closed on it, a dark shadow eclipsed the table it rested on. She drew a breath to cry out, and as she did, one strong hand clamped over her mouth and another encircled her waist.
"Mrs. Boone," a man whispered, his voice pitched low, "do not make a sound."
Becky squealed. She struggled in his grasp and twisted, trying to see who it was, and cursed herself for panicking when she saw his skin was red.
"I mean you no harm, Mrs. Boone. You or your family. I have come for Cara-Mingo."
She murmured something else and then fell silent.
"If I release you, will you hear me?"
Becky nodded slowly.
"And will you scream?"
She shook her head, 'No'.
"You are the Boone's wife. I will take you at your word." He was well-spoken. It was obvious English was not new to him. "But know this, if I am caught, you - as well as your children and your town - will die."
The man opened his fingers and Becky slid from his grasp. She steadied herself with a hand to the table in front of her and then turned around. He was a native. Feathers dangled from his long black hair which was pulled tight against his head and hung in a tail almost to his waist. One side of his face was decorated with tattoos. He wore buckskins, both leggings and a shirt, and around his neck was a thick cluster of brightly colored beads much like the ones Mingo wore. He was a handsome man and a keen intelligence shone from his black eyes. "Who are you?" she asked as her gaze fell on the dinner table and the butter knife that lay there, abandoned in haste just a few hours before. "What is your name?"
"My name is not important."
Becky held her ground. "I'd like to know who I am talking to. Mine is Rebecca."
The dark-skinned man hesitated as if unsure. Finally he said, "In your tongue, I am called 'Arrowkeeper'."
"Arrowkeeper? Well, Mr. Arrowkeeper - " Becky dove for the knife and pivoted with it in her hand. "I want you to get out of my house - " She stopped. The space he had occupied was empty. She spun in a circle and gasped as he appeared behind her and caught her wrist with his hand.
"I mean you no harm, Mrs. Boone. You must trust me."
"You sneak into my home and restrain me," she said fiercely, "and then say I have to trust you - "
"I did not sneak in. The door was open."
"Well... Yes...." Becky massaged her wrist as he let it go. "We had to leave quickly."
"To go into the fort?"
Her nod was hesitant. "Yes...."
"Then you know?"
Rebecca stared at him. His eyes were haunted. And though she instinctively knew the word 'fear' held no meaning for this man - still he was afraid. "Know? Know what?"
He stared at her, at war with himself. "This I can say - be wary, Mrs. Boone. Tell your townspeople to keep careful watch."
She swallowed hard. "Why are you here? To warn us?"
The native shifted, uneasy with her words. "Where is Cara-Mingo?"
Becky shook her head. "I don't know."
"He was here." Arrowkeeper pointed to the room where she had tended the wounded man. "He is hurt?"
Becky frowned. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Can you give me one reason why I should trust you? I don't know who you are. You could want to hurt Mingo."
The tall raven-haired man held her eyes, then he smiled. "You are wise, wife of Boone. Mingo's mother was Talota. His father, an English Lord. Dunsmore."
"Yes." She bit her lip. "Many people know that."
"He had a Creek brother, Tara-Mingo. I knew them both."
"Yes...." Becky frowned. Not too many people knew about Mingo's renegade brother. Dan had told her.
Arrowkeeper gazed out the window and it seemed a shadow fell over him. "He left this land as a boy and went back to the black pit that is London. There he met a woman. That same woman came to your settlement several days ago along with an English dog named Gerard. She was once Cara-Mingo's woman."
Becky was startled. "How do you know all of that? Who are you?"
Arrowkeeper turned back to her and smiled. It was not an entirely pleasant sight. "Where is Cara-Mingo?"
"I told you he is not here. He left about two hours ago. On foot." She hesitated to say more. "Why do you want to know?"
The tall native was silent a moment. "It is a matter of a promise. No more will I say. Anything more is between us - him and me. But know this, I would find him."
The answers he gave her did little to allay her fear. He was a strong man. Powerful. And Mingo was sick. "I don't know where he was going - "
"It is said the woman of Boone does not lie. Is this not true?"
"No. Yes. I don't know," Becky sputtered. "What do you want with Mingo?"
He shifted and turned towards the door, a frown on his face. "Things have been said in my village which I know to be untrue. Cara-Mingo is no traitor to his people. This 'efv efe', this dog lies about him and means him harm."
"Then you do care about him?"
Arrowkeeper fixed her with his dark eyes. "He is family."
Becky frowned. She looked at the man's garb. "But you are Creek, are you not? Mingo is Cherokee."
The man's eyes narrowed. He nodded towards the door. "Someone is coming. Will you tell me or do you condemn him to die?"
She closed her eyes and - for the thousandth time in the last hour - wished that Dan was home. "He is heading toward the French settlement. My husband has been taken captive. Mingo feels responsible, and he is determined to free him. But he's sick. He had a terrible fever and was wounded. I am not sure he can make it."
He nodded towards the chest. "Herbs?"
"Yes," she whispered as she heard a step fall on the porch. She picked the chest up and handed it to him before hastening to the door. "Take care of him," she whispered.
Arrowkeeper nodded and was gone.
Mingo stumbled forward and splashed water from the stream onto his face. His desire was to die, but his promise to Israel made him cling to life. Still, he knew it was all but hopeless. Even at full strength he could not have made the settlement in the time remaining before Daniel would be taken away. His only hope was that they might decide to travel by wagon and that he might find - or appropriate - a faster means of transportation. But that entailed stealing a horse, and though he had jokingly once told Daniel that such raids made life worth the living, today it was more than he could contemplate. He backed away from the water and propped his aching body against a boulder. The fever had abated, but in its passing it had left him so weak he could barely move. He was as the new-born - helpless and without means of caring for himself. Perhaps leaving the cabin had been foolish. Yet his honor had compelled him. He laughed. Honor. Something bred into both the Cherokee warrior and the son of the English Lord.
' To be two things at once is to be neither, ' he thought.
Slowly leaning his head back, he fought to keep the world from swimming and permitted himself to do something he had not done in the hours since he had heard of Daniel's capture; he thought of Rachel. He could only hope that she was with the frontiersman, and that his belief in Gerard's desire to possess her was real.
If she died....
He closed his eyes and sighed. Somehow all these years, the thought that she was there - in England - had given him some peace. He had imagined she had married and was happy and content in her chosen life, as he was in his. Once he had contemplated returning for her, but had known it was no use. She was not made for this life, to survive harsh winters and toil in the fields - nor would she have wanted to. She was a child of the Old World, and as such, he had no right to ask her to become a part of the New.
Drawing his coat up about his shoulders he remembered the last time, save one, he had kissed her. It had been that morning; the morning after the night which had irrevocably changed his life. He had had a decision to make, and when it was made....
She had been left behind.
He watched as she came to her window, still wearing her night-gown. She pulled the sheer curtains aside and stepped out onto the terrace, a puzzled expression on her face. The early morning light caught the golden hair which cascaded down her back and set it on fire.
"Is someone there?"
Cara-Mingo glanced at Arrowkeeper who waited in the shadows of the hedge supporting Star. It was just the three of them now. The Navajo who had not trusted him had bolted as soon as they left the city behind and disappeared into the woods. "I won't be a minute."
The tall Creek frowned. "Lack of wisdom is a part of your white heritage. It is the stronger of the two."
The young man who faced him clenched his fists. "I pledged to marry her! I can't just abandon her without...."
He turned back. She was at the balustrade. With one last glance at the natives who waited beside him, he limped into the rosy light and revealed himself. "Rachel."
She started. Pressing a hand to her chest she looked down and saw him then, standing on the lawn near a bank of bushes hemmed in on both sides by the thick-set trees. "Kerr? What is this?"
"I need to talk to you."
"Now?" She glanced back at the house. "My sister...."
"Can you come down?"
She frowned. "Is something wrong?"
He closed his eyes and sighed. And just how should I answer that? "I just need to see you. I am leaving soon and there will be no other time."
The frown remained on her face for a moment until it was replaced by a smile as she misinterpreted his words, taking them for those of a lovesick suitor. "You're mad," she laughed. "Give me a minute. I will meet you by the bower."
He watched her go and then turned back to face the two natives. "This won't take long."
"Cara-Mingo." Star laid his hand on his shoulder.
The Cherokee was pale, but holding his own. His wound had stopped bleeding, but the skin about it was angry looking and as soon as they made Southampton, he would have to buy some medical supplies to tend to him. "Yes?" he said.
"Do what you must. Walk in harmony, Cara-Mingo. If you do not, this will haunt you forever."
The man who had been Kerr nodded. "The carriage will be here shortly. I told the man to park it on the back street." He looked at the tall Creek. "If you make your way through the trees to the other side of the estate, you will see a large iron gate with a coat of arms bearing owls on it. Wait for me there."
Arrowkeeper nodded and began to draw the other man away.
"There are probably a few groundskeepers. Be careful."
The warrior glanced over his shoulder at him and smiled. "Better tell them than me."
Lord Dunsmore's son stared after the two men as they vanished into the woods and for just a moment was overwhelmed with fear. What was he thinking? To what was he committing himself? The memories of the years he had passed among his mother's people had faded almost to fable. What remained in his head were images of harsh winters and plague. His very bones remembered the hunger and the times of want. But even as the Englishman in him rebelled at the thought of the rigors of frontier life, his heart recalled the peace he had known there. The harmony. The balance of belonging.
He drew a deep breath and set his feet on the path to the bower where he and Rachel had met so many times over the last year. She had crept out of the house like this before, when the pebbles he tossed had struck her window and alerted her to his presence. They would sit and talk, away from her family and her sister, of the days ahead and the life they would live together.
The life that, now, would never be.
He frowned and rubbed his forehead hard and wondered if John had been discovered yet. If he had, it would be no time before the authorities were after the men he had with him, and - most likely - after him. Still, if they were never caught, there would be no proof. No one living other than John had seen him enter the cellar. No one but John knew the truth, and his father, Lord Dunsmore, would make certain it was kept quiet. Perhaps that would spare Rachel some embarrassment and shame - if not pain.
Upon escaping from the theatre he had hired a coach and gone straight to the school. There he had gathered the few things that were important to him -s ome books and personal effects - as well as what bank notes, coins and paper money he had. Paisley and Huntington had been sleeping it off and had not even seen him go. As he stood on the threshold of the grounds of Oxford looking back, he had realized there was not one thing he would regret leaving behind.
Not one thing, only some one.
He turned the corner and she was there. She had donned a light saffron gown and her long hair fell free about her shoulders. As he watched, she lifted a hand to catch a golden curl that was troubling her eye. She noticed him then, standing and staring at her, and as she did, a smile lit her face like the sun showing through clouds in the midst of a storm. "Kerr."
It nearly broke his heart. He caught her in his arms and laid his hand on her hair. Then he kissed her forehead. "Rachel."
She backed away from him. "Something is wrong. What is it?"
He smiled and shook his head. "I have to go away."
"Away? Has this to do with the Academy?"
He ran his fingers over her cheek. "No. Family."
"Family? A duty to your father?"
"No." His eyes were sad. "My mother."
She tilted her head and her bright blue eyes darted past him to a lark as it winged by singing out its heart. "Look! I must be in love."
He laughed with her. "You are so very beautiful."
She took his hand and led him to the wrought iron bench in the midst of the bower. The skeletal remains of Wisteria vines trailed about them, their brown leaves scratching as they brushed against the ancient wood. "You have never told me about your mother."
"I don't remember her." He consoled himself with the fact that it was only half a lie. Talota's face was clear before him. He could feel her hand on his cheek, but he had never known her; not as a son should. Not as a man.
"Did her family seek you out?"
He smiled. "Yes, in a way."
"Does your father know?"
Cara-Mingo stood. "No."
"Are you going now?" Her heart-shaped face turned towards him and she caught his hand. "Must you go?"
"Yes." He took her chin in his hands and stared into her eyes. "I must."
"When will I see you again?"
He hesitated. It was not in his nature to lie, and yet - gazing at her, feeling her heart beat against his own - he couldn't say goodbye. Couldn't end it as he had intended to.
"I will surprise you," he said, "you won't have seen me and then suddenly - one day - there I will be. I love you, Rachel." He leaned down and his lips found hers and he kissed her, and the world - for just one precious moment - stood still.
"Rachel!" a high-pitched voice called from seemingly far away. "The cat's pawing at the door!"
She pulled back and giggled. "It's Lutie. That's our new watch-word. Mother is coming."
He was hesitant to let her go. "Then you must leave?"
She kissed him quick on the cheek. "See you when you get back. I love you, Kerr. Don't be long."
"No more than ten or eleven years."
Mingo sighed and opened his eyes. The moon was riding high in the sky and he realized he had fallen asleep. He shifted, willing himself not to moan, and reached for his rifle.
It was missing.
With a start he realized a tall figure waited in the shadows holding it in its hands. His first thought was to make a pretense of sleeping still, but he realized his movements had already alerted the intruder to the fact that he was awake. Sitting up, he addressed the man who had become either his protector or his guard.
"Since you seem to have made yourself at home, is there something I can help you with?"
The shadow turned. "I see you are awake, Cara-Mingo. Lack of wisdom is a part of your white heritage. It is the stronger of the two."
The tall native silently washed and bound his wounds and fed him a warm herbal broth. Mingo recognized the medicine chest but said nothing. As the Creek finished and sat across from him, balancing the rifle on his knees, he began to sing gently to himself. Mingo stared at him, remembering the time they had traveled together and what this man had once meant to him. He sighed as the memories brought renewed pain. So many losses. Star. His brother. And now, perhaps, Daniel....
The big man could be halfway to the Ohio by now. He needed to move. Still, the English lord in him remembered his manners. "Thank you."
Arrowkeeper turned his black eyes on him. "One does not thank a man who owes him."
"You owe me nothing."
"That is not true, and we both know it."
"But you saved my life. My brother - "
Arrowkeeper held his hand up. "Do not speak his name. Do not call up his ghost. Do not remind me of my shame."
Mingo nodded. "Still...."
The Creek shook his head. "That was in payment for my freedom from the pit called London. What happened here, in this country, for that - I still owe."
The other man shifted. "Very well. A man's honor is a matter of his own understanding. I will not argue with you. But if this is true, then why have I not seen you until today?"
"Since that time, three years past, I have been with my people in the place the white-eyes now call Georgia. I have only now returned."
"Why?" There had been something in the way the other man looked at him. "Why now?"
Arrowkeeper's lip snarled. "For the 'efv efe'. The one called Gerard."
Dan ducked his head as he emerged from the French prison. Like most everything, it hadn't been meant to fit someone his size. He glanced up and saw the moon was riding high and realized they were getting a later start than had been anticipated. Something had delayed their departure until night. Hopefully that might work to their advantage. He glanced at Rachel as she lifted her skirts and primly took her place next to one of Dulac's soldiers on the seat to the front of the wagon. There was another one in its' bed, and several more waiting in the shadows of the commander's quarters. Phillipe Dulac, himself, was nowhere to be seen. The big frontiersman drew a breath and held it. If they all fell into place behind the wagon, it was goin' to be harder than skinnin' a cat with a dull knife to escape. One of the soldiers approached him and checked the cords that bound his hands and then shoved him toward the cart. He climbed with assistance into it and looked up to find the pale Englishwoman watching him. There was a fire in her eyes he had not seen before. It made her look kinda dangerous. He frowned as she tilted her head toward the man beside her. The soldier had carelessly propped his gun beside her and was reaching forward for the reins.
Dan shook his head but it was too late. The diminutive woman took hold of the rifle and brought the butt up under the soldier's chin. Then as she shouted for him to drop, she grabbed the reins and slapped them hard against the horse's rumps. With a jolt the wagon leapt forward. The soldier who had been standing in the bed tumbled out onto the ground and for one stunned second all of the French soldiers froze. Dan managed to lean against the seat and stare ahead. The gates had been opened and as he watched, they rumbled through them and out into the night.
And then the shooting started.
The big man worked feverishly to free his hands by rubbing the cords on a loose nail which protruded from one of the boards. As the road jolted him from side to side and musket-balls flew past his head, he shouted, "Rachel! Get down!"
The woman whipped the reins again. "And if I do that, Mr. Boone, who will drive?"
He glanced at her and saw she was smiling. "I didn't know you refined Englishwomen went in for this kind of thing."
She laughed. "You might be very surprised, Mr. Boone." She drew a breath as the wagon pitched to the side. One of the wheels had bumped over a rock. "I certainly am!"
Dan glanced behind them as he pulled the broken cords from his wrists. He could see lights behind them. The soldiers were gaining on them. "We need to get rid of the wagon and take to the woods. It will be harder for them to follow us on foot!" Though the thought of sneaking through the Kentucky back-woods with a woman in a formal dress was not exactly his idea of a hoe-down.
She nodded. "Perhaps we should keep the horses. We need to get back to your settlement and warn - "
There was a sharp crack and he watched her body jerk.
She drew a breath and then grew quite still. A moment later she whispered, "So that is what it feels like to be shot."
As Dan watched, her hands released the reins and the wagon careened wildly to the side of the road. A moment later it turned over, spilling them and its contents onto the cold ground.
Arrowkeeper nodded. He stood and walked to Mingo's side. The tip of the rifle pointed towards his head. "He did this to you?"
Mingo frowned. "This?"
"Your hair. The bruises."
Mingo's fingers went to his temple. "I had almost forgotten. Yes."
"So he could kill the other one; Kerr."
"Not kill, no. Destroy. Humiliate."
"It is your name he seeks to kill," the gun pivoted and the Creek gazed off into the trees, "to wipe you from the memory of mother Earth."
"Like your brother."
The other man drew a breath and held it. When he spoke, the words came slowly and were carefully chosen. "Yes. The hatred he feels for me is much the same. I would imagine John - as my brother did - lays the choices he has made at my feet."
Arrowkeeper's eyes sought his. "I will kill him."
Mingo shifted. He shook his head. "No. That is not for you, but for me."
"You cannot or you would have already. How much will you let him take from you? Your name? Your honor? The woman?" The tall native paused. "Your friend, Boone?"
"I saw the medicine chest," he said. "Are Becky and the children all right?"
The other man nodded. "For tonight."
"What do you mean?" Mingo sat up and winced, "For tonight?"
"Tomorrow when the moon rides high as it does now," the tall Creek rose and pointed toward the sky, "my people will attack this fort. Only a few are to be left alive." He paused. "Boone's woman is not one of them. Nor his son or daughter."
"Are to be left...." he began to stand, but winced and fell back. "Are they under orders?"
Arrowkeeper squatted beside him, balancing the gun on his knees, ever alert. "You know my people fought with the Dulac's in this war between the English and the French."
Mingo nodded. "I know."
"And they are still loyal to the French. This treaty means nothing to them."
"And they hate the white settlers. Yes. I have been grateful you have kept them from Daniel's door."
The Creek frowned. "It has not been easy. But Boone is your family and you are mine."
Mingo smiled. "You do not have to honor that debt. You are not Cherokee."
The other man shook his long hair. "It is a promise. I do not break promises."
"I know that." He shifted his sore body and sighed. "But now Boonesborough is in danger?"
"From my actions." He struck the ground with his fist. "From what I told Huntington - "
"No. You are wrong."
"What?" Mingo's eyes narrowed. "But I gave them specifics. I tried my best to be vague and to leave out small details, but - "
"While Gerard was in your Boone's settlement, he mapped it out. He pays men who will enter and wait until the signal is given. Then the attack will begin."
"He is using Frenchmen?" It seemed inconceivable. "But the British will come and wipe them out. They have no right...."
"You do not hear. Not the French. Only the Creek and the Shawnee and a few well-chosen white men who know no loyalty. It has been agreed. We will attack the fort. It will be breached. Then the Frenchmen will come to its aid and establish a presence there. It is their wish to control it as well as the land and the pass."
Mingo fell silent for a moment. "And what do the Creek and the Shawnee get in exchange? Why do they prefer one white man over another?"
Arrowkeeper stood. "They are promised the lands of the Cherokee, and that they will be left in peace."
Mingo laughed. "And your people believe this?"
"They hate the settlers who plow the land more than the white-eyes who march with guns. And their hate for the Cherokee is even greater."
"Why are you telling me this? Arrowkeeper, why are you here?"
"I do not believe the white-eyes. I alone knew the man who came from Dulac, who spoke these words to my people."
A pit opened in his stomach. "Gerard?"
A few minutes later Mingo stood beside the war-horse Arrowkeeper had kept tethered in the woods, far enough away that its noise would not reveal their position.
"Can you sit a horse?" the Creek asked.
"It matters little whether I can or not. I will." Mingo's voice was grim. Determined.
"This man Boone. He is worth dying for?"
Mingo leaned against the pale gray animal. "I don't believe you would know the white man's 'Proverbs', Arrowkeeper, but a very wise man once said, '...there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.' That friend is Daniel. I owe him my life ten times over."
"So you understand the debt."
He watched as the tall man leapt on the horse's back and then accepted a hand up and took his place behind him. "Yes. I honor your choice. But your own people - they will not understand. Not a debt to a Cherokee - or to a shadow from the past."
Arrowkeeper nodded. His lips formed a straight line. "We will rescue Boone and we will tell him what he needs to know to save his people. And then - "
Mingo nodded. "Together, we will hunt down the dog, Gerard."
Dan had found the young woman lying unconscious in the brown grass and had quickly rolled her into the shadows of a nearby ravine. Stepping into it, he had held her above the icy water that flowed through its center, hoping to prevent her from catching a chill. A quick examination of her shoulder had shown him that the bullet had gone through clean. She had lost blood though and had passed out. As he held her petite form close against him, the thought that she was no bigger than Jemima struck him. When Mingo had known her, she had been as young as well. What did the future hold for his child? Could he protect her? Shaking off a father's fears, he concentrated on the task at hand, carefully testing the bottom with the toe of his boot for uneven spots that might trip him. The last time he had seen the French soldiers, they had been pouring over the wagon, looking for them beneath its shattered boards, but they were sure to be on their trail by now.
There was little time.
Unexpectedly, Rachel moaned and her fingers dug into the flesh of his neck.
"Rachel," he whispered as he plowed through the hip-deep water. "Can you hear me?"
She nodded slowly.
"You have to keep quiet. There are soldiers all around."
A slight smile parted her lips. "Then we got away?"
Dan laughed. He had quickly come to admire the small woman's spunk. "Thanks to you." He adjusted his hold on her so it was more secure. "Did Mingo know what he had when he had you?"
She laughed and drew a sharp breath. "Perhaps I have the makings of a frontier wife, after all...."
Rebecca sat across the table from Hugh Oldham. It had been he who had come to her door instead of Cincinnatus. He had used his concern for her as a means to leave the stockade. It was his intention to follow Mingo and look for Rachel.
"Mr. Oldham, you can't go."
"I must. She is all I have. And I owe, Kerr...Mingo more than I can ever repay."
"He doesn't hold you responsible for taking him from his people. Surely, you know that by now?"
"Yes." He put his mug down. "But I do." The older man rose wearily and reached for his hat. "I have a horse. No one will care if I leave or stay - "
"I care. Mingo will care." She touched his hand. "Rachel will want you alive when she returns." Becky hesitated and then put it into words, "You know you are not well enough to go."
He looked at her, a startled look on his face. "What is it you are implying, Mrs. Boone?"
"Implying?" She shook her head. "I'm telling you. I know you are ill."
He dropped back into the chair. "How?"
"A woman's intuition."
"Ah...a more exact science cannot be found for the prediction of future events and the revelation of secrets." He ran a hand through his silvered hair. "How long have you known?"
"I suspected from the start. But I have known since you came back after leaving Dan. I could see it in your eyes."
"Yes." He pursed his lips. "It is a malignant growth; a cancer. I haven't a great deal of time left."
"Oh, Mr. Oldham. I am so sorry."
He smiled gently. "I am not. I have had a rich life, and a full one. My one desire...." He let the words fade and fell to looking at his hands.
"What? What is it?"
"Was to find Kerr and see him and Rachel reunited. I had hoped perhaps he would go back with her and take his rightful place. I had dreamed of children running about me in my final years. But those are the dreams of an old man...."
"They are the dreams of any man. I am sure they are Mingo's too. Someday he will have a family. He is too wonderful a man not too."
The Englishman laid his hand on hers. "Dear lady, will you not call me Hugh?"
Becky nodded. "And you call me Rebecca. Mrs. Boone was Dan's mother."
Oldham laughed. "And would you do one other thing?"
"What is that?"
"Say a prayer for those two whom fate and man have schemed so hard to keep apart."
Continued in Chapter Eleven