"We counted about a dozen strangers in the fort, Dan. Maybe more." Cincinnatus ran his hand over his graying beard. "We caught two nosing around the wall and stuck 'em in the stockade. I've got men watching the rest."
Daniel nodded. He gazed out over the lush green hills surrounding Boonesborough and sighed, "Well, with the bolt holes boarded over, they're not going to be able to do much damage anyway. If one of the others causes any trouble, we can lock them up too and send them back to Dulac when this is over."
The older man inclined his head towards the silently shifting trees. "You seen anythin', yet, Dan? Indians or soldiers?"
He shook his head and shifted uncomfortably, "Nope. And I don't know whether to feel good or bad about that."
The tavern-keeper followed his eyes. His friend was looking at the Englishman, Hugh Oldham, who stood keeping watch perhaps thirty or forty feet away. He was leaning wearily against one of the pointed timbers that comprised the fence, his borrowed rifle at the ready. "You thinkin' about Mingo, Dan'l?"
"And Rachel," he said, "and Arrowkeeper."
"Arrowkeeper? Sounds like an In'jun name..."
"It is. He's a Creek who's traveling with Mingo. If not for him, Cincinnatus," Dan glanced at the moon shining bright overhead, "most likely we would be in the midst of a war right now. As it is," he sighed, "I'm beginning to think it might have been called off."
"You think so?" The older man's eyes narrowed. "You trust him - this Creek?"
Dan fingered the barrel of his rifle and nodded. "Mingo does. And I trust Mingo."
Cincinnatus tilted his head towards the trees. "There are men out there who don't; who still want to lynch him for bein' a spy. Jeb Sampson for one. You know that?"
The big man nodded again. "I know that, Cincinnatus, and it worries me. If I could be certain nothin' was going to happen here, I'd go after him, but I can't just yet. I can't open that gate until I'm sure there isn't going to be an attack." He paused and then added, "And that's another thing that bothers me."
"Well, if Mingo and Rachel do manage to escape - there's no way into the fort right now. All the passages he knows are boarded up." His green eyes flicked to the shadowy figures patrolling nearby. "And one of these good men is liable to shoot him in the dark if he approaches unannounced. Mingo doesn't exactly look like himself right now."
The older man laughed. "Funny seein' him with short hair like that. I always knew he was part English, but with the hair and the beads - well - he just seemed like any other Cherokee."
Dan sighed again. "Tonight I wish he was."
"Just like any other Cherokee, 'cause if he was, that madman out there would have no interest in him." He shifted and started to move through the dark toward the Englishman who was now looking his way. "As it is, Cincinnatus, someone is going to end up dead tonight.
"I just pray it isn't Mingo."
"I remember you," Gerard said.
Mingo laid his hand protectively on Arrowkeeper's shoulder as the other man approached them. John had Rachel's arm pinned behind her back, and as he propelled her before him, the moonlight struck her face, washing it out so she appeared frail and frightened. Deep shadows cradled her wide blue eyes as they sought him out and a single tear trailed down her cheek.
Gerard twisted her arm and, as she cried out in pain, ordered her to remain silent. Then he turned to the Creek. "You were in England."
Arrowkeeper looked up, his black eyes keen. "I remember you as well, white-eyes. I made you a promise."
The Englishman laughed. "So you did." His gaze flicked to Mingo. "I seem to remember making one myself."
The dark-haired man nodded. He could still hear him screaming across the gulf of years. 'You will pay for this, Kerr. I don't care how long it takes, or what wilderness I have to cross - you will pay! I will destroy you - " A sad smile touched his lips as he met his one-time friend's gaze. "And so, you have crossed the wilderness and done your best to destroy me, John. Yet, here I am. What now?"
Gerard glanced at the vast blue vault above them and then turned his eyes back to the Creek. "Where are your people? They were to have been here by now."
"They're not coming, John."
The Englishman's gaze returned to Lord Dunsmore's son. "What?"
Mingo drew a breath and when he spoke, his voice shook. "They are not coming. They have seen through your charade." He paused to wet his lips. "John, how could you have killed your own brother?"
As Rachel twisted in his grasp to stare into his face, Gerard paled. "How? Like I would destroy anything half-conceived, that was allowed to come into this world by mistake. Like I will kill you."
"Is that why you hate me so, John? For what you see as your father's shame? Because he was audacious enough to love an Indian woman? Because he cared for her and his child enough to choose to protect them - "
Mingo kept his voice even; his words quiet. "Or because he didn't protect you?"
The Englishman's hand was trembling as his finger sought the hammer. "I told you to shut up! Do it, or," he shifted the barrel towards Arrowkeeper's head, "I will kill him. Now."
"John," Rachel whispered as tears streamed down her face, "what is he talking about.... "
"I told you to keep quiet." He gripped her tight as he glanced over his shoulder at one of the silent natives, "Goingsnake?"
The Shawnee stepped forward into the circle of light cast by the rising moon. He was a powerfully-built man. His face was striped with war paint and there was a longbow over his shoulder, as well as a bright glistening knife anchored at his waist. "Take Miss Cornell and this Creek and hold them over there near the horses. And guard them with your life - for it will mean your life if they get away."
"John, no! I won't go. I won't - "
Gerard released her arm suddenly and spun her about. He caught her face in his fingers as the pistol shifted towards the man she called, 'Kerr'. "You can go and he might live another hour. Or stay and watch him die now."
As the Shawnee gestured towards him, Mingo helped Arrowkeeper to his feet. "Do you think you can make it?"
The Creek looked at him long and hard before he spoke. "Long after this efv efe is dust, I will walk the grass and the stars will see my passing. It is you who faces death, Cara-Mingo. I can see it in your face," he nodded towards the other man, "and in the dog's eyes."
Rachel was struggling in Gerard's grasp. He knew she wanted to be with him. He shook his head and waited for her to grow quiet. "I will be fine. Watch over Arrowkeeper for me. See if you can stop his side from bleeding. I owe him my life several times over."
She nodded and then, as Gerard released her, walked to the native's side. "If you will allow me...." she said as she offered him her good shoulder to lean on. A moment later the unlikely pair followed the Shawnee warrior across the glade.
Mingo watched them go and then turned to face Gerard. He sighed as he found himself feeling pity for the tortured man who stood before him. As he had told Daniel before, it was simply not in his nature to hate. "John, why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what?" Gerard growled. "That my father was a traitor who preferred his savage squaw and filthy half-breed child over me and my mother and brothers? Why would I have told you that?"
"You told me.... Well, you always acted as if Gerard was you father."
"He was. He was my father." The Englishman's voice faltered. "He was a good man."
"That's another lie, John, and you know it. He was a slaver." Mingo's jaw tightened. "A panderer of human flesh. Hardly what I would call a 'good' man."
John glared at him, his rage barely contained. "How did you....?" He stopped and glanced towards Arrowkeeper. "Ah, yes, your savage 'friend'. He would have told you. So you deduced at last how I found out about your shame?"
"My shame? Yes." Mingo frowned. How could he explain to this man that the only shame he had known had been found in pretending to be something other than what he was? "That night when you took me to the East End, for the 'show'. Had you known long?"
Gerard shook his head. "Not about you."
"And about your father?" Mingo hesitated as one of the Shawnee drew abreast them. The painted brave was leading a fine bay horse laden with saddlebags. He watched as John turned towards the man.
"Buck-scraper," he said, acknowledging his presence.
The native nodded. "Gerard."
"Is everything prepared for the journey?"
"Yes. Just as you said."
"Very well, then," the Englishman gestured him on. "I won't be long."
Mingo stared after the native as he disappeared into the shadows. "Planning on leaving tonight, John?"
Gerard pivoted. "What will it matter to you? You'll be dead."
His dark eyes found the other man's. "You were going to tell me about your father. Your real father...."
John snarled, "I knew my father had died a traitor during the war, and that his downfall was due to savages, but that was all. Shortly before the little 'outing' I took you on, my step-father decided I was old enough to know the rest. And," he glared at the man before him, "he decided I should know about you."
"About me? About my mother, you mean? How did he find out?"
John's smile was crooked. "He did some digging."
Mingo frowned. "Digging? I don't understand...."
"I wanted to marry Rachel and you were in the way. He told me he had always thought there was something about you that wasn't quite right. He had heard the rumors, and his men had told him how you suddenly appeared ten years before - as a long lost child of Lord Dunsmore's...."
"So what was his intention, John? To blackmail me?" His stomach sickened. "Or my father?"
Gerard paused a moment. "Since you ran away, we'll never know - now will we?"
Mingo clenched his fingers and fought to control the anger that was boiling in him. "If you knew all this, why did you take me to the show?"
"To prove it to myself. To prove that my friend - the one who shared my rooms, ate and drank with me, and made love to the woman I wanted to marry - was no better than the ignorant little savage my father had left behind running naked in the woods of Kentucky." He lifted the pistol and pointed it at Mingo's head. "And I was right."
"I may have wronged you, John, by leaving you alone in that place, bound and gagged. But Imala did you no harm - he was just a boy. Ignorant of who you were."
"He existed. That was harm enough."
Mingo drew a deep breath as he eyed the weapon. "So what are you going to do now? Kill me? I think not, otherwise I would already be dead."
"Don't bet on it." Gerard placed the barrel against his temple and cocked the hammer. "I could do it right now."
He heard Rachel cry out and knew without looking that she was being physically restrained. He braced himself for the shot, and as he did, a smile came to his lips. For all the times he had told Daniel death would be easier, he realized he really had no desire to die. Then a thought - past that which was desperate - presented itself. But would John go for it?
"That wouldn't be very sporting, now would it, John?"
"Sporting?" Gerard laughed. "What are you talking about?"
"It's all been a game, hasn't it, John? Ever since that last night in England? An elaborate game of chase with Rachel as the prize." He drew a deep breath. "You do realize that if you kill me outright, you will never have her?"
John's deep blue eyes pinned him. The gun had not wavered. "Go on...."
"Isn't that why you tried to ruin me instead? Isn't that why you didn't just come here and place a gun to my head, like you are now, and end my life? Look at her, John. Look!" He watched as the other man's eyes flicked to the figures beneath the trees and back. "She will hate you."
"You are just trying to save your life. You are afraid to die."
"No. You are, John." He deliberately kept his voice calm. "If I die, I will be mourned. Who will mourn you? Who is left that cares?" He paused and then added, "There is another way."
"What? What are you talking about?"
"You and I, John. We are alike in many ways...."
Gerard frowned. "We are nothing alike - "
Mingo bit back the response that leapt to his lips. "We are both men of breeding and culture," he said instead, "the product of our father's civilization. There are rules for settling such disputes."
The other man stared at him, puzzled, and then he began to laugh. "You are talking about a duel."
Lord Dunsmore's son nodded. "Yes."
The barrel came away from his head a fraction of an inch. Gerard seemed intrigued. "And who would serve as your second - your savage friend?"
"The same as yours, John. But I think we have no need of seconds. There will be no judgment call to make." He paused as he locked eyes with the other man. "By the end of the night, one of us will be dead."
"Okay, Jericho, open the gate. Now!"
Daniel trained Tick Licker on the narrow opening and watched as a thin moustached man slipped through. Jacob Lewis tipped his hat and turned to watch as the gate was barred behind him.
"What news do you have?" the big man asked.
"There's not a sign of an In'jun, Dan," Jacob answered. "But a troop of soldiers left the French settlement about an hour ago and are marchin' this way through the woods."
"Is Dulac with them?"
Lewis shook his head. "Can't tell for certain. They all look alike in those uniforms."
Dan ran a hand over his face and sighed. "Mingo and Arrowkeeper must have gotten to the Creek and made them see the truth. And if the Creek didn't show, then the Shawnee probably got suspicious. Or maybe they talked to them too."
"The Shawnee don't much like the Cherokee or the Creeks, Dan." The other man swatted his buckskins and sneezed with the dust of the trail. "You think Mingo's all right?"
"I sure hope so, Jacob." He glanced at the moon riding high above the fort and estimated the time. "It's been a while since the attack was supposed to have taken place." His eyes fell on Jericho. "You ready to take a little stroll in the woods?"
"You want me to come too, Dan?"
"No, Jacob. You go get an ale and rest a while. Then you can help keep watch in case Mingo tries to get back into the fort."
"May I come with you, Daniel?"
The big man looked up to find Hugh Oldham standing close by. "You feelin' up to it, Hugh?"
"Doing something to help Rachel and Kerr...Mingo will improve my health vastly over standing here worrying about them."
Dan nodded. "That makes three. You go get three more men, Jericho, and meet us back here in a quarter of an hour."
As Jacob Lewis moved off, heading for the tavern, the young man asked, "And what are we gonna do, Dan?"
The frontiersman's smile was crooked. "Well, I got a little issue to take up with a couple of Frenchmen. Seems they were flirtin' with my wife while I was gone."
Jericho's grin stretched from ear to ear. "And once you've taught them a lesson?"
He glanced at Hugh and added, "I got a couple more to teach John Gerard."
"Rachel, it's the only way." He glanced over his shoulder at Gerard. The other man had allowed him to speak with her, perhaps to foster the lie that he was attempting to be fair. "I only have a moment. Let's not waste it arguing."
"But it's barbaric!"
"Are those the words of a civilized Englishwoman?" He smiled and reached out to touch her hair. "I thought you believed this wilderness barbaric...."
She looked up. Her blue eyes were enormous. "Can you win? You used to be a champion...."
"John was always better with pistols; he won duels as easily as drawing a breath. Still, at least this way I stand a chance. " He glanced at Arrowkeeper. Rachel had bandaged his shoulder with strips torn from her dress, but the tall Creek was growing weaker. He leaned against the trunk of a tree, his eyes closed and his chest rising and falling with labored breath. "Take care of Arrowkeeper. And if I don't survive - "
She shook her head and placed her fingers on his lips. "No. Don't say that." Rising up on tip-toe, she took hold of his face and kissed him. At a curt word from Gerard, one of the Shawnee moved forward to catch his arm and began to drag him away. "Kerr," she called after him, "I love you."
Mingo held her eyes. "And I have always loved you...and always will."
John was standing in the middle of the clearing with a polished wooden box in his hands. As he approached, Mingo smiled. "So the one you carry is part of a pair?"
"One has to bring one's own 'civilization' into such a wasteland as this," Gerard answered as he opened the box and the moonlight caught the elegant silver tracery that overlaid the ebon wood on the remaining pistol. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
"As a coiled snake," Mingo remarked as his dark eyes found the other man's. "The challenge was mine. The choice of weapons is yours."
Gerard grinned. "And the first shot."
"Yes." He hesitated and then nodded towards the pair beneath the tree. "What about Rachel? And my friend?"
"Rachel will return to England and marry me as planned. Your friend, I will leave here. If his people find him, he may live. If not - " Gerard shrugged.
Mingo shook his head. "Would you mind very much, John, if I told you you were a bastard?"
"Would you mind very much if I told you that you were a fool, Kerr? You know I will kill you. I was always the better shot."
The dark-haired man smiled. "As James Thompson said, it is 'a lucky chance, that oft decides the fate of mighty monarchs.' "
"So the 'nobly born will nobly face his fate?' " Gerard handed the box to one of the Shawnee and ordered him to back away. He reached into his waistcoat then and withdrew his pistol. As he pointed it towards Mingo, the moonlight struck the metal and it flashed. "Twenty paces then?"
Mingo eyed the deadly weapon in his own hand. "Is it primed?"
Gerard laughed. "Always."
He nodded. "Twenty paces then. Who shall call the shot?"
John Gerard inclined his head towards the Shawnee. "I see no one here of equal status to act as second to either of us - less it be Rachel - and I have no intention of trusting my...future... to her hands at the moment. Shall I count off, or will you?"
"You may have that honor, John."
Gerard inclined his head. His white teeth flashed. "Goodbye, Kerr."
Mingo turned his back on the other man and closed his eyes as the Englishman's voice sounded, hammering the first nail in the coffin lid.
Rachel gazed past the single Shawnee who guarded them, her attention riveted on the two men who stood back to back in the center of the glade. The remaining braves watched as well, and like most white men she knew, they laughed and jostled one another, seemingly eager to wager on which of the contestants would win. She closed her eyes and began to pray as Kerr and John took one step away from each other. In doing so, she just missed seeing the tall dark shadow that fell beside her.
"Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. "
Mingo stared without seeing at the trees before him as his mind's eye flooded with images of the life he had lived: of his time among the Cherokee and his mother, Talota, as she called to him on her deathbed, pleading with him to heed her dying request; of his father's sad and bewildered stare as he faced him, first as a child and then later as a man, knowing he would not - or could not - be what the older man desired and needed him to be. He thought of the elders who had taught him, of White Cloud and Menewa, and of Star and his tragic death so many years before. And finally, of the tall frontiersman who called him friend, who had accepted him without question - even though his own divided heart was full of nothing but questions itself.
"Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven."
He drew a deep breath and allowed it all to slip away, forcibly shaking off the sorrow and the pain of choices never made, of those made in error, and the consequences of both. What kind of man would he have been if he had never left the Cherokee? What kind if he had stayed in England? And what was he now? What was it within him that had brought him to this pass, with a pistol in his hand and nine steps to go?
"Dear God," Rachel whispered as tears flowed down her cheeks, "protect him. You must protect him." She opened her eyes and took a step forward just as the Shawnee who guarded them pivoted. He lifted his knife and shouted something in his own language as surprise registered on his face. She followed his stare and then ducked, quickly moving out of the way.
Sometimes God wore an unexpected face.
"Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen...."
Mingo didn't know what alerted him - a change in tone or a subtle shift in the way Gerard pronounced the word - but suddenly, he knew he had been had. Even as he heard the crack of the pistol and the lead ball sped through the air towards him, he thought how sad it was that, even in this, John Gerard had lost all sense of right and wrong and of the meaning of honor.
The ball struck him in the shoulder and knocked him to the ground. As he hit the earth hard, the breath knocked out of him, the thought flashed through his mind that John must have missed him on purpose. Then he looked up to find the Englishman was no longer standing. He had fallen to his knees and was clawing at his back. Behind him, Rachel appeared white as a ghost. She shrieked and ran past as he fell forward. A moment later Arrowkeeper stepped from the shadows to straddle the prone form. The tall Creek leaned down slowly and pulled the Shawnee knife from his enemy's flesh. "Efv efe, I made you a promise long ago," he said as he lifted his head to the sky, "and today, it has been kept."
Mingo winced as Rachel's fingers probed the wound in his shoulder and then he passed out.
Sometime later, he awoke. His head was pounding and his arm ached to the bone, but he managed to stir and open his eyes, and attempted to sit up. Strong hands compelled him to lie still. He shifted and moaned. "What...?"
Arrowkeeper's look was keen. He kept his voice low. "Speak quietly. We are not alone."
Arrowkeeper shook his head. "They are gone."
"Gerard had paid them. They cared nothing for him or his plans. They laughed when he died and took his belongings to sell." The tall Creek frowned and glanced at Gerard's still form. "Honor has no meaning to such dogs."
"And I am certain they were able to deduce that their attack would be anticipated now that...." Mingo stopped. His brown eyes searched the glade. John's corpse lay where it had fallen, but the woman he loved was nowhere in sight. "Rachel.... Where is Rachel?"
"Gerard's horse. Before the Shawnee could stop her, she took it and went looking for Boone." White teeth flashed in the deep red face. "Before I could stop her."
"What?" Mingo lifted himself from the ground. "She what? Alone?"
"Right now, Cara-Mingo, alone she is safer than with us."
"Why? What do you mean?"
Arrowkeeper placed his hand on his back and helped him to sit. Then he inclined his head towards the thick trees. "Settlers."
"From Boonesborough? Is Daniel with them?"
The Creek shook his head. "I do not know them. I do not think it is wise to be seen. We are both injured and - " The native paused and his head pivoted towards the shadows that lined the clearing. "It is too late."
Into the silence that followed a harsh voice fell, "Over here! I seen something!"
Mingo drew a deep breath. If Cincinnatus or Jericho was with them, they were saved.
"That's done it, Dan'l. They're on the run!"
Daniel Boone tipped the cap on his head back and leaned forward. Tick Licker rested on his hip, its muzzle pointed at the commander of the French fort and his young aide-de-camp. "Well, Dulac, what do you think your superiors are going to say when I tell them you tried to stage a raid on a peaceful settlement? And were responsible for the deaths of those British soldiers?" He paused. "Then again, maybe I won't go to your superiors - maybe I'll just hand you over to the English. I'm sure Mr. Oldham here can make certain you get to the proper authorities."
Hugh looked down the barrel of his rifle. "With pleasure, Daniel."
They had come upon the French troops in the dark and surrounded them. After a short skirmish in which several of the soldiers had been injured, but none of the settlers, the commander had ordered they cease and desist. Now Phillipe Dulac stood in a circle of guns, his pale eyes filled with hatred and loathing. "You do and I will implicate your half-breed friend further, as well as exposing more of Miss Cornell's activities."
"Well, seeing as most of France is on our side against the British, I'm not sure that's much of a threat. As for Mingo...." he stepped up to Dulac, "...now, normally I am not a violent man. But - and this is a promise, Dulac - unless you clear Mingo of any suspicion as far as collaborating with you, I will just have to make an exception."
Dulac held his head high. "If you kill me, then there will be no one to speak against the charges...."
"Oh, I think this young gentleman could be persuaded to tell the tale," Oldham said softly as he nudged the youthful aide-de-camp with his gun.
"I agree," Dan added, "I think he may value his hide a little higher than you do. Give it up, Dulac. You've lost."
The commander frowned as he looked from one man to the other. Then with a sigh, he said, "Very well, what do you want me to do?"
"You go to the fort with Jericho and O'Neil here, and you just write down everything you and that Gerard fellow planned to do. That way I can get it to the English and clear Mingo." He paused and then added, "Better make two copies. I'll be needin' one for the Cherokee too."
"Well," Dan gazed out of narrowed eyes, "there is that little matter of two of your men flirtin' with my wife."
Dulac frowned. "What?"
"Since you're their commander, I guess I'll have to let you know just what I think about that." The big man handed his gun to Jericho and then, before the commander knew what was coming, punched him in the jaw and knocked him out. He glanced at Dulac's aide, but the young man only stepped back and raised his hands. Rubbing his knuckles, Dan nodded towards the Frenchman's prone form. "Pick him up and get him out of here."
"Mr. Boone! Uncle Hugh!"
Dan pivoted as a dark shadow emerged from the trees. He glanced at the Englishman when he realized it was Rachel and she was alone.
"Rachel, thank God!" her uncle cried. "Where is Kerr?"
"Daniel, you must come!" She was panting heavily and as she emerged into the light, he saw that her blue dress was torn and stained with blood.
Hugh came alongside the sweating animal and gripped the reins, steadying it. "Rachel, you've been hurt," he said as he noted the haphazard bandage on her shoulder.
"It is nothing, Uncle Hugh. Kerr is the one in danger...."
"Has he been wounded as well...?"
She nodded. "And Arrowkeeper. They've both been shot. The Shawnee and Creek have gone." She paused and a strange expression overtook her young face. "John is dead."
"Shot? Dear God, Rachel. What...?"
She shook her head as tears trailed down her cheeks. "There's no time to explain now. We need to get Kerr and Arrowkeeper to the fort so they can be looked after."
Hugh Oldham touched her hand and turned to look at Daniel. "What should we do?"
Dan moved to stand beside them. "I'm going to have to ask you to go back to the fort with Jericho and the others."
"No, Daniel, I must - "
"If both of them are wounded, we're going to need a wagon. And help. I'll go with Rachel and see what I can do. You make certain Dulac gets to the fort and is secure. Then come back here with a cart."
Oldham seemed torn, but the soldier in him knew and understood the necessity of obeying orders. He nodded, and releasing his niece's hand, moved towards the other men.
Dan caught his shoulder. "I'll take care of them."
Hugh nodded. "I know you will. Godspeed, Daniel."
The frontiersman paused as Oldham exchanged a few words with Jericho and then he watched as the aide-de-camp lifted his unconscious commander and began to drag him back towards the settlement. A moment later, he mounted the horse behind the girl and accepted the reins.
As they spurred off into the night his own prayer was that they would arrive in time.
"Well, look'ee here what we've got. A traitor and a savage, both wounded. Maybe we should just let 'em bleed to death and save ourselves some rope."
"Hang on, Jeb. Dan'l will want us to take 'em back to the settlement - "
"What for?" The burly man known as Jeb Sampson moved to tower over the two natives. He was a self-professed Indian-hater. Only Boone's influence had made him tolerate the half-breed before. "Jericho saw him with the British, he said so. And look at him, he looks like he's been half-scalped already," he reached towards Mingo as he palmed his knife. "Maybe I'll just finish the job."
Arrowkeeper rose to his feet and placed himself between the threatening settler and his friend. They were of similar size and weight, but the Creek's strength was fading fast. He was weak from loss of blood and could already feel the fever of infection burning through his veins. "You will stay back," he whispered.
Sampson laughed. "Why, you look like you could be knocked over with a feather, In'jun. You get out of my way or I'll finish the job started by whoever put that ball in your side." Jeb glanced back at several of the other men who had accompanied him and nodded his head. Instantly three of them came forward. They grabbed the Creek and pulled him away. He watched as with effort they wrestled him to the ground and pinned him there, and then he turned back to Mingo. "I never did like you, with your uppity attitude." Reaching down, he grabbed his jacket and hauled him to his feet. "Think you're better than us, don't you?"
Mingo drew a breath. "Are you planning on killing me, Sampson, because you think I am a spy, or simply because you don't like me?"
"What difference does it make?" The other man placed the tip of the blade beneath his ear and pressed in. "Either way, breed, you will be just as dead."
"Jeb. That's enough."
Sampson stiffened but the knife remained poised above Mingo's jugular. "That you, Boone?"
Daniel slipped from the horse. He shook his head as Rachel began to dismount and indicated she should remain seated. "Put the knife down, Jeb."
"And what if I don't? What if I just slit his throat before you can stop me? He's a traitor, ain't he?"
"Where's your proof?" Dan approached slowly, holding his rifle before him. "And even if you think Mingo here is guilty, what are you holdin' this other man for?"
"He's an In'jun. I don't need no reason."
Dan's eyes were on Mingo. His friend was pale and shaking. "You're about to become a murderer, Jeb. Is that the way you want that boy of yours to think of you?"
Sampson tensed and then his body seemed to deflate. "Ah, Dan," he shifted his hold on the knife and turned to meet the frontiersman's gaze, "you'll just let him talk his way out of it. Like you always do."
"I don't think Mingo will have to do any talking, Jeb. There's a Frenchman at the fort right now givin' testimony that will clear him. Now, either you let him go," he cocked the hammer on his rifle, "or you deal with me."
Sampson stared into Mingo's face for a moment and then released him so he fell to the ground. As he turned to face Daniel, Rachel slid off the horse and ran past him towards the fallen man.
"Let Arrowkeeper up as well."
"Who? Oh, the In'jun?"
Dan nodded. He watched as Jeb turned to his men and waved his hand, and then hid a smile as the settlers gladly backed off. Even wounded, Arrowkeeper was a figure to be reckoned with. The tall Creek was on his feet in an instant with a dark fire burning in his eyes. Seconds later a knife taken from one of the men appeared in his hand and he started towards Sampson. Dan turned Tick Licker sideways and barred his way. "Now don't you go startin' anything."
Arrowkeeper stared past him to the other man; then he lowered the knife. "For you, Boone. Because you ask it, and I honor you as brother to my friend."
Dan nodded and then turned back to Mingo as the settlers ran off into the woods. Rachel was holding him. Her small form trembled. He knelt beside her and laid a hand on his friend's chest. He was still breathing. "Rachel?"
She turned her heart-shaped face towards him. It was streaked with blood and tears. "It's over," she whispered as she looked at Gerard's body and shuddered, "it's over." Her eyes sought him then as she pulled Mingo close.
"Whatever are we going to do?"
Continued in the Epilogue