"Kerr, no. I won't go."
"Yes, you will." Mingo said, struggling to keep his voice even. "You must go back to the fort with Daniel where you will be safe and - "
"I am not seventeen years old anymore. You can't just order me to do something as if I was in your regiment and expect me to 'hop' to it" Rachel planted her feet and faced him squarely. "You are not well and I am staying with you."
Mingo heard a slightly strangled sound and looked over his shoulder to find Daniel working hard to stifle his laughter. "And you. You are not helping matters any."
The big man shrugged. "Did I say anything?"
"Perhaps I have developed a sixth sense," the son of the English Lord replied, biting back the sarcasm, "I thought I distinctly heard an, 'I told you so,' aimed in my direction."
Dan shook his head and leaned on Tick Licker. "I only suggested you should try it some time, Mingo. It just happened a mite sooner than I was thinkin'."
"This is no laughing matter, Daniel. Rachel has been injured."
"So have you."
He turned towards her. "You are weak...."
"So...are...you." Her words were like nails in the coffin lid.
"Send your friend here," she gestured in Arrowkeeper's direction, "along with Daniel to find John. You come with me to warn the settlers. If I need to rest, you certainly do..."
"Rachel, I can't go back to the fort. Not yet." He was trying his best not to become exasperated. "You know that. And Daniel must go - "
"Then we'll go somewhere else until this is over." She took his hand and lifted her eyes to his face. "Come away with me. "
He shook his head. "No."
"It's John, isn't it?" Her tone darkened as she grew angry. "You won't leave because you feel you have to face him."
He paused. How could he make her understand? "Yes, I do. I can't leave this to anyone else."
"And why not? You are the one he wants to kill. You are the one in danger. Allow your friends protect you." She gripped his fingers tight in her own. "Allow me to take care of you."
Mingo drew a deep breath and shook his head. "I can't."
She glanced at Daniel and then at the tall Creek who stood cloaked by the shadows of the leaves. "And what do you two say?"
Arrowkeeper shook his head while Daniel tipped his coonskin cap back. "This is between Mingo and Gerard, Miss. It wouldn't be right - "
"Men! You are all the same." She threw her hands up in the air. "Why is it between them? What good can it possibly do to let him go off like this and get killed!" Tears started to flow down her cheeks. She turned back to him. "You will get killed. I know it."
"Rachel..." He reached for her hand but she shook her head violently and walked away. With a glance at Daniel he followed until she stopped just without the circle of pale light cast by the late afternoon sun. They had all traveled together to this point, near where the path that led to the Creek village split off; it was time now for him and Arrowkeeper to seek out his people and to convince them not to take part in the attack on the fort. Rachel was supposed to go with Daniel, back to the relative safety of Boonesborough. "I promise you, I won't - "
"No." She snapped the word off. "No promises."
He placed his hand on her shoulder and felt her flinch. "Why? Because I broke the last one I made you?"
She looked up and stared into a face she had thought never to see again. A soft sound escaped her. Then she shook her head and looked away. "Kerr, whatever are we to do?"
"What do you mean? You have to go with - "
"Not that." She lifted her heart-shaped face again and gazed into his deep brown eyes. "Would you come back to London with me?"
"Rachel, this is not the time...."
"Yes, it is." She touched his vest; the feathers in his hair. "Would you leave this behind? Could you ever?"
Mingo drew a breath. He looked down. When he answered, his voice was quiet. "I do not belong in London."
"And I don't belong here. But that is not the question."
"Then what is?"
She brushed his cheek with her fingers. "Do we belong together?"
He caught her hand with his. For a moment he fell silent, studying her, and then he nodded. "Yes."
Rachel smiled wearily. She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. "Do you remember the play we saw that last week? And the words of Lord Lyttleton?"
He looked puzzled. "Lord Lyttleton...?"
"Never mind." She touched her fingers to his lips. "So you won't come with me now? To the fort?"
He kissed her fingers and pressed them tight. "No."
Rachel bit her lip and a tear ran down her cheek. Then she nodded. "Come back to me."
She stared at him a moment longer and then turned to look across the glade. "Daniel?"
"Are you ready then?"
Dan inclined his head as he accepted the reins of Arrowkeeper's gray mount from the Creek. "Whenever you are, Rachel."
She turned back to Mingo. "I will take that promise now," she said softly.
He kissed her gently. "I promise I will come back to you. And I do remember...."
"Yes?" Another tear ran the length of her cheek.
"Lord Lyttleton's words," he said as he wiped it away. 'But love can hope where reason would despair.'"
She laid her head on his chest for just a moment and then let him lead her to the horse. As she took Daniel's hand, the dark-haired man gripped her waist and helped her to mount behind him.
"Daniel, I cannot say again how sorry I am."
"Don't take blame where it isn't yours, Mingo. Like I told your friend," his green eyes flicked to the silent Creek, "if there is blame, it is on John Gerard's head - not yours."
"Vary the watch. Don't follow the normal procedures you have established, and for God's sake, Daniel, change the secret passages through the stockade fence. If anything were to happen to Rebecca or Israel or Jemima - or one of the settlers - I would never forgive myself."
"You just stop those Indians. And you let me take care of Dulac and his ambitions."
Mingo nodded. "Take care, Daniel. Godspeed."
Dan turned to Arrowkeeper and called him by name. As the Creek warrior stepped forward into the light, he asked, "Do you think you can convince your people to call off the attack?"
The Creek was silent a moment. Then he said, "If words can do it, Boone, then I will do it."
"Good enough." Dan let his eyes fall to his friend who lingered still beside the gray, his hand on its side. "And take care of Mingo for me."
"Daniel - " he protested.
"Mingo, if things weren't so serious, I would sling you over this saddle myself, haul you back to the fort and tie you to a bed. You are in no shape to be chasing a madman like John Gerard." He held his hand up before the other man could object. "But things are that serious. I'm needed in Boonesborough, and you're needed here." He tipped his hat towards the tall Creek. "Still, if it wasn't for your friend...."
Mingo glanced at Arrowkeeper and then back to Dan. He opened his mouth to speak, but in the end, words failed him. He caught Rachel's hand one last time as she held it out towards him and then he backed away. As the two disappeared into the river of shadows that ran beneath the trees he managed to whisper, "May he that hath the steerage of your course, direct your sails."
"The night comes, Cara-Mingo. Time is running out."
He turned back to the native and nodded. Arrowkeeper tossed his rifle to him and he caught it. Then the tall Creek shouldered his longbow and together they became one with the land.
Dan glanced at the young woman seated behind him. She had fallen silent as they moved through the dense trees, lost in her own thoughts. He couldn't blame her. So much had happened in the last few days - and he still didn't know the half of it. Once again he considered what this meeting might mean to Mingo, and - not for the first time - wondered if he might not lose his friend; if perhaps his ties to this woman weren't stronger than the ties of blood and tribe that had called him back all those years ago to his mother's people and his wilderness home.
He frowned and concentrated as he walked the horse around a downed tree. He had decided it was best to avoid the road, even though it meant they would lose some time. In navigating the rough terrain, Rachel had had to put her arms about his waist. They were still there now, and the touch reminded him of Becky. Even if they made the fort - if they weren't waylaid by highwaymen or attacked by Indians or recaptured by the French - he still wasn't certain what they faced. According to Arrowkeeper there were spies inside Boonesborough already. Men paid by Dulac. Their job was first to cause terror, and then to get the gates open as soon as possible once the signal was given that the raiding party was on its way. The tall Creek had told him he had warned Becky of danger, but had said nothing that would betray his people or their plans. So that meant no one but the four of them knew just how much danger the settlers were in. Dan sighed. He hoped Mingo had the strength to face the renegade braves. He had hated to leave him, but his duty was clear. The settlement and the people who counted on him to protect them had to come first. Besides, he had left him in capable hands. The Creek was not a friend to the white man, but he was a thinking man, and he seemed dedicated to Mingo.
Someday he would have to ask his friend why.
Rachel moaned as they circumvented another log and the horse shied and its hooves struck the ground hard jolting them in the saddle. He reined the gray in and turned to look at her. "You okay, Miss?"
She nodded as she laid a hand against her shoulder. "I am quite all right. My shoulder is a little sore...." Her voice trailed off and the color seemed to drain from her face. "Daniel...."
The frontiersman turned back. A figure blocked their path; the light of a lantern glinting off the weapon in its hand. As he watched, John Gerard stepped forward. A moment later a half dozen French soldiers emerged from the trees to form a semi-circle about the three of them.
"If you would be so kind as to dismount, Mr. Boone...."
"So how long have you been a traitor, Mr. Gerard?"
"If you think bating me will make me lose control, Mr. Boone, you are sadly mistaken." Gerard made certain the cords that bound Dan's wrists were secure and then turned back to face Rachel. "I know what I am."
"And what is that, John," she spat, "if not a traitor...."
He laughed as something like cloud-shadow passed over his face. "Let's just say, a 'loyal' son."
Rachel's eyes narrowed. "What?"
"Was it Dulac your father worked for during the war? Your real father...."
John glared at the big frontiersman and then turned back to Rachel. "I see someone's tongue has been wagging."
"You didn't answer me - "
"Is that it? Is this about your father, John?" Rachel was filled with loathing. "Is that why you have betrayed your country?"
"And what about you? What were you willing to do for your father? Betray your beloved Kerr?" He threw the words at her like knife blades. "And what about this intrigue with the papers you had in the house? If I am a traitor, then surely, so are you."
She paled but shook her head. "No. There is a difference. For one thing, we were not at war with the Colonies then. And besides that, John, what I did was for the good of others - to try to shorten this bloody conflict, to save England from herself. You do nothing that will not benefit you."
"And what about what you came to this country to do?"
"That was a mistake." Her voice fell almost to a whisper. "I am beginning to see that coming here was a mistake in many ways...."
"You're a fool, Rachel. If you don't seize what you want when it is presented to you, it will slip through your fingers like sand and fall to someone else."
"And what is it you want, John? To be like your father?" She drew a breath. "What are they paying you, John? What did they pay him?"
Gerard remained still a moment and then lifted his hand and struck her so hard she fell to the ground. Dan started for him, but two soldiers grabbed his arms and held him back.
John remained standing over her. "You know nothing. My father was loyal to the Crown, for all of the good it did him. He came here to fight for his King, and his King killed him."
"What happened, Gerard?" Dan had stopped struggling as he realized words might prove the better weapon. "Why did your father betray his country? Why did he betray you?"
The auburn-haired man pivoted. He held the pistol straight out, pointing it at Dan's head. "Why do you care?"
"Well, I'd like to understand what could drive a man so hard he would feel he had to destroy everything about him that was good. And what could make him so mean he would strike the woman he says he 'loves'." Dan's eyes went to Rachel and then returned to meet the cold stare, "Or beat a bound man until he's almost dead like I hear you did Mingo."
"Shut up, Boone."
"Miss Cornell tells me your father was accused of collaborating with the Indians. Was that it, Gerard? Was he like his son? Did he sell out the British to the French with the Indians help? Did he - ?"
Gerard moved like lightning. He gripped Dan's collar and rammed the knuckles of his hand into his throat. "I told you to shut up. My father wasn't collaborating with anyone. There was a massacre, and afterwards, they found him in the Indian village. That's all. Now drop it!"
Dan kept his voice maddeningly even. "And what was he doin' there, John? What was he doin' in an Indian village without his men...." He met Gerard's eyes and saw the shame and the pain in them and suddenly he knew. The piece that had been missing fell into place. "The village was your father's home here, wasn't it?"
"One more word, Boone." John pressed the muzzle of his gun under Dan's chin. "One...more...word...."
"Is that why you hate Mingo so? Did your father have an Indian woman?" As Gerard blinked, he added, "And maybe even an Indian son?"
The Englishman was shaking. He shifted the grip on his pistol so he held it by the barrel and then slammed the handle into Dan's cheek, knocking him to his knees. Then he brought both hands down on the back of his neck with savage fury.
Rachel squealed and stepped toward him. "John, no!"
"Secure him and take him back to Dulac!" he screamed to one of the soldiers as the big man fell to the earth. Then he turned on her and his deep blue eyes flashed. "And as for you...." He caught her wrist with one hand and twisted it up behind her back. "You are coming with me. It's time to watch your precious 'Kerr' die."
"Do you think the Creek will allow you to speak? Will they even listen?"
Arrowkeeper gazed at the man who stood beside him. He was breathing heavily and his skin was covered with a thin sheen of sweat. They had been running for several hours and already Mingo's strength was ebbing. "I do not know. Once they would have listened, but that was when I was one of them. They will not understand that I do not wish to kill the white-eye settlers."
"Even though it is Boonesborough?"
"Even though." The tall Creek smiled. "Do you know what they call you?"
"My Cherokee dog."
Mingo's smile was lop-sided. "I have been called that before..."
"They do not understand the bond between us."
He shook his head. "I am not sure I have always understood it, either."
Arrowkeeper's eyes remained fixed on his. "When Star was killed, you became mine. Mine to teach and to care for; my son. My brother."
"You did not have to honor that request."
Arrowkeeper nodded. "No. I am not Cherokee. But I am a man, and I keep my promises."
"And so you are willing to have your own people turn against you, to save me? To save my white friend whom you distrust so much?"
Arrowkeeper was silent a moment. "I have given my word."
"Well, perhaps it will all work out in the end, if they understand that Gerard means to betray them." He drew a deep breath. "Will they believe that these French soldiers mean them harm?"
His friend hesitated. "When I tell them who this man is, they will."
Mingo caught the Creek's arm. "Who he is? What do you mean by that?"
"You remember how Star spoke of life? Of everything moving in cycles with no ending or beginning? Like a wheel...."
"Yes. Such thought is sacred to the Cherokee."
"We, you and I, stand at the end of one cycle and the beginning of another." Arrowkeeper's fingers went white on his bow. "Do you remember the two young braves killed when Gerard's dogs attacked your people to dishonor your name?"
"In the recent raid on the Cherokee village?"
"Yes, I remember. I was recovering at Daniel's house. I have not been home since then. I know nothing other than what Jericho told me." He met his friend's eyes. "But how do you know about it?"
"Only one boy was Cherokee. The other was Creek. They were friends; hunting in the woods together. They saw the men and tried to raise an alarm. They were caught and killed."
"My God.... Did you know this boy well? The Creek?"
He nodded. "Imala. A boy not yet a man." Arrowkeeper stared at him as if considering whether to say more.
"And? What is it?"
"Imala was a metizo."
Mingo's dark brows arched. "Part white?"
"Part English." The tall Creek paused, giving Cara-Mingo time to digest his words. "He was born before I came to this territory. His father was a British soldier, stationed here during the war with the French. The warriors of Imala's village attacked an English fort and afterwards, its commander vowed to destroy them. The soldier found out and chose to warn the Creek. Then he took his Indian wife and his son, and he hid them. While he was away, the men of the village attacked the English soldiers on route to the village and killed many of them. When the soldier finally returned, it was as a traitor, and his life was taken by his own."
"And you are telling me this because...?" Mingo hesitated. Then he remembered. A vague reference Paisley had made once to Gerard's 'step-father'. He had questioned his friend about it later, but John had laughed it off, admitting nothing, and so he had dismissed it. "Was this man....?"
Arrowkeeper nodded again. "The dog's father. And the boy who died, Imala, was his brother."
Dan awoke slowly. He peeked out from under lowered lashes and counted the soldiers who lingered near the fire in the middle of the glade. Six to one - pretty fair odds considering it was one Kentuckian to six Frenchmen. He tried his hands. They were tightly tied. Then he shifted his feet.
They were free.
The big man drew a breath and let it out slowly as he waited for his head to clear. He needed to get away, and then he needed a horse.
His green eyes narrowed and he shook his head. The blow he took must have been worse than he thought; he was hearin' things.
"Dan. It's me, Jericho."
The voice was barely loud enough to carry the four or five feet from the foliage to his ears. He glanced at the soldiers but they hadn't moved. "Jericho?"
"It's me, Dan. There are a couple of others here too. Ward and Tyler. Lewis." The boy paused as a French soldier looked in their direction. When he looked away, he spoke again. "We were scoutin' for trouble." Jericho hesitated and then laughed. "Guess we found it."
"Can you get me...?" He felt a knife slide down between his hands.
"Already done. Are you hurt, Dan?"
"Only my pride, boy," he whispered as the blade began to saw through the cords, "this is the second time Dulac's soldiers have tied me up. I think I may be owin' them something about - "
The frontiersman held his breath as one of the soldiers approached him. The uniformed man towered over him and shoved his body with the tip of his musket. When he didn't respond, he kicked him with the toe of his highly-polished boot. Satisfied, he grunted and returned to the fire.
A moment later Daniel's hands came free. Without rising, he rolled into the shadows that lined the trees. Seconds after that the five of them were on the run. He grinned at Jericho as they headed towards the settlement.
"Forget that part about maybe owin' them. There's no doubt about it."
"Gerard had his own brother killed?"
Arrowkeeper glanced at the other man. They were on the move again. "That surprises you, Cara-Mingo?"
"A child who had never harmed him? Yes, it surprises me. Though I am not certain why." Mingo stopped to draw a breath. "How did he find out about the boy in the first place?"
The Creek frowned. "That is Gerard's secret. Before I kill him, I will ask."
"Arrowkeeper - "
"Do not tell me you seek to protect this efv efe still?"
"No. But I need him alive. I need him to clear my name with the settlers and the Cherokee. Without Gerard it is only my word - and Daniel's faith in me." He paused. "And in the past that has never seemed to be enough to keep a rope from being thrust about my neck."
"And still you stay with these people...."
"The settlers? Oh, they are brutes - some of them - but then there are brutes in the Cherokee village as well. And in the Creek." He smiled. "If we survive this, I will have to take you with me to meet them. I think they would find you...fascinating. I know Israel would."
"Daniel's son. When I left, I thought I would never see him again. Or Boonesborough." He fingered the puckering scar on his arm. "I made him a promise. I hope that with Daniel on the road to the fort, it has been fulfilled." Mingo drew a deep breath and swept his hand before him. "As you said, 'time is running out'. Shall we - "
"Remain still, Cherokee dog."
He pivoted. Like spirits, a band of Creek warriors had magically appeared to surround them. He glanced at Arrowkeeper and then back to the one who seemed to be their leader - a powerfully-muscled warrior whose bare chest was covered with scars of honor. "Are the Shawnee with you as well?"
"I do not speak to you, dog." The Creek lifted his rifle and pointed it at Arrowkeeper. "What are you doing with this one who is a traitor to his own?"
"I am not - "
The tall Creek caught Mingo's arm and shook his head. "He is no traitor. The tale is long and there is no time to tell it. You know me, Tastanagi Thlucco. Do I lie like the white eyes?"
The man he spoke to was of an age with them. His dark eyes narrowed. "I knew you once. I do not know you now."
Arrowkeeper moved from Mingo's side to face him. He struck his chest with a clenched fist. "This heart that beats within me is the one that was broken thirteen years ago when the white-eyes murdered my family and left their bones for the scavenging birds. This body is the one put in chains and sold like meat to the highest bidder. These hands," he opened and closed his fingers, "are the ones that let loose the arrows, that fired shot, and crushed the life from many settler's throats. And it is these lips that tell you, you are wrong. If you do this thing...." He glanced at Mingo. "If you believe the words of the lying white-eye Gerard over this one whose heart is like our own; you are as the young girl-child who has no sense, who thinks with her eyes and does not heed what her heart knows."
As Tastanagi paused, fire in his eyes at the insult, Mingo came to stand beside the tall Creek. He asked again quietly, "Where are the Shawnee?"
The native gripped his rifle. "Your dog is afraid. Best tether him outside the lodge before you leave the next time." He held his head high. "We are to meet them near the fort." The Creek glanced at the moon. "Three hours from now."
"Three hours?" Mingo caught his friend's shoulder. "We have to go. Now."
"Even if we believe you, Arrowkeeper," the one called Tastanagi, or 'Great Warrior' said, "it makes no difference. This way the white-eyes who plow the fields will be gone and the land will once again be ours. And then, the land of this one as well."
"So Gerard promised you the Cherokee lands? Don't be a fool, Tastanagi!" Mingo said, "My people will never surrender their land. Their brothers from far away will come and there will be a new war between our peoples. In the end both the Creek and the Cherokee will walk the grass no more, and there will be nothing left but white-eyes who will take your bones and cast them into the fire to fuel their stew-pots!"
Arrowkeeper placed his hand on Mingo's arm. "He speaks truth. This one is not to be trusted, this Gerard. I have known him before. The man who raised him was the one who bought me from the trappers and took me far away across the sea. The French soldiers will be waiting to kill you when you take the fort."
"How do you know this?" A full dozen Creek had moved up behind the other man. They stood in silence, their weapons in their hands and hatred in their eyes.
"After the raid in which Imala died, I trailed this man. I have heard him speak with this Dulac. The soldiers are to wait, and then they will attack. It will seem they have saved the fort. Boone and his family will be dead and the soldiers will move in and make it their own." He drew a breath. "And then from its safety, they will destroy any who do not belong to them. They will take the land for their own people. There will be no more treaties, no peace, and the rivers will run red with Creek and Cherokee blood."
Mingo nodded. "It is true. You must believe us."
Arrowkeeper caught Tastanagi's arm. "Is Hukstalgi with you?"
The other man nodded.
"Call him here."
As Mingo watched the scarred Creek frowned and then turning his face towards the shadows, made an abrupt gesture. "Hukstalgi?" he asked.
"The one who raised Imala as his own."
The redhead froze in the midst of what she was doing. Her heart skipped a beat. She pivoted and stared open-mouthed at the tall lean figure that occupied the doorway of Cincinnatus' tavern. "Dan?"
His grin stretched from ear to ear as he opened his arms and she flew into them.
"Dan!" She laid her head against his chest and inhaled the familiar smell of the road, of leather and sweat, and the scent of dry pine. "Oh Dan...."
"What's this I hear about you takin' up with a couple of Frenchmen?"
Rebecca reared back. For a moment she looked horrified, and then a smile spread across her handsome face. "Well, what's a woman to do? I didn't know if you were coming back, and it gets mighty cold in the autumn around here."
He laughed and kissed her on the lips. Then with his hands still about her waist, he turned and looked at the wily tavern-keeper who was busy minding his own business behind the bar. "Have you seen Jericho since we got back?"
"Sure thing, Dan'l. He said he was going to board up the passage you used to get into the fort. He and Lewis are busy securing all the other bolt-holes now."
"I don't like bein' hemmed in with no way out, but considerin' what Arrowkeeper said, I think we had better not take any chances." He released Becky and took a step forward, "That still means - "
"Arrowkeeper? You mean that tall Creek?"
Her husband nodded. " I can see he made an impression on you, Becky."
"If you've seen him, you know why," she said quietly, remembering she had thought he might even be a hair taller than Dan. "He was quite fierce, not like Mingo at all." She drew a breath, "Dan, what about Mingo...?"
"Well, Becky, I had to - "
The big man spun about just as his knees were attacked by the arms of a small white-haired boy. He caught him about the waist and lifted him into his arms. "Israel! Let me look at you. I think you've grown pert near two inches since I last saw you."
"You're back! He said you would be." The little boy's expression was intense. "So that means everybody is wrong."
Dan looked at Becky. "He?"
"Put me down, Pa. I gotta go get something."
He let the boy go and turned to his wife. She was pale. "Becky? What is this?"
"He's not with you. Mingo. Is he...?"
"He's alive, Becky." As he saw her begin to relax, he added, "He's with Arrowkeeper tryin' to head off the Indians that are set to attack the fort tonight."
"So that's what the Creek was hinting at."
He nodded. "He couldn't tell you without betrayin' his people. But he told me. It had somethin' to do with bein' obligated to Mingo. Apparently he has been protectin' us for some time. That's why the Creek have never raided the settlement."
"And now? Why do it now?"
"These are renegades, Becky. Apparently he knows them well enough to think they will listen to him. Still, there were Shawnee involved too. I don't know if they will - "
"This is yours, Pa."
Daniel looked down to find his small son holding a bloodied knife before him. He knelt and took it. After a quick examination, he recognized the weapon as one of Jericho's. "What are you doin' with this, Israel?"
"Mingo gave it to me."
"Mingo? But it's not his knife."
"I know. He borrowed it from Jericho, Pa."
"When he was here, sick and wounded?"
"Yes, sir. He made a promise on it that he would save you or die tryin', and then he told me not to give it to anybody but you." Israel grabbed his neck and squeezed it tight. "And here you are, Pa."
Dan laid a hand on the boy's head as he rose. He held the knife before him and stared at the dark red trail that ran the length of the steel.
"It's Mingo's, Dan."
His green eyes met hers. He nodded. "Let's hope it's the last he sheds."
Imala's adoptive father was an old man, bent with illness and grief. He came forward slowly to face Arrowkeeper and Mingo. The Cherokee met his eyes and held them, and then he inclined his head in honor. "Father."
The gray-haired native looked at him. After a moment's study, he said, "I have seen you before."
Mingo nodded. "Yes. In your village with my friend here."
"Like Imala, you have white blood in your veins."
"Yes." He swallowed. The man had every right to hate whites. He had every right to charge Arrowkeeper to kill the one who had killed his adopted son. If that happened, Gerard would have managed to drive a wedge between him and yet another that he cared for. "My father was English."
"I remember. You were known as a boy to me, before you went away." The man drew a breath and let it out in a sigh. "Long years ago it was, when I was a young warrior, like these who stand beside me. And like them, the fire in my blood blinded my eyes. White men then did not plow, but came to look at the land and to draw with sticks on the paper leaves they call maps."
"Yes, they were surveyors. My father led such men."
"And you have walked in his world?"
Mingo nodded. "But I did not stay. There was nothing there for me."
The old man's eyes teared. "Can you explain then, why this white man has done what he has done?"
"I wish I could. Hukstalgi, this is not a white man's evil. It is a man's evil. John Gerard is a sick man. He is sick with the disease of hate. It has eaten away his bones and taken his reason. It colors everything he sees and all he does. I intend to stop him, but I will not kill him. I will not stop evil with more evil." He drew a breath. "I will find him and I will take him back to Boonesborough where he will face the white man's justice. To kill him is only to give the fire of hate more fuel. Soldiers will come and seek your people and mine, and they will kill us for the death of one who does not deserve to be mourned."
The old man was silent. Then a tear trailed the length of his cheek.
"Hukstalgi? Father, if I have offended you - "
"What Arrowkeeper has spoken of you, Cara-Mingo, is true. I had hoped my son would be much like you, one who could help his people because he was of both worlds."
"That hope is lost now," Tastanagi spoke from the shadows. "Now there is only revenge."
The old man turned to him. He lifted a hand that was shaking and spoke a few words in the Creek language. As the warrior bowed his head and backed away, he said in English, "No. We will give Arrowkeeper and his friend time. Until the moon rises again. Then if this man is not within Boone's fort, he will die." He turned and looked at Mingo one last time, and then began to slowly make his way back towards the Creek village.
"He is not well. His body dies each day."
"Who is he?"
The tall Creek shook his head and stepped forward to face Tastanagi. "Will you abide by his word?"
The warrior glared at the two of them, but he nodded. "I honor his wisdom. But do not fail - you or your dog."
Arrowkeeper remained silent as the men from his village began to filter into the trees. A moment later they vanished as if they had never been.
He met Mingo's stare and then nodded toward the road that led to Boonesborough. "He is our chief. Come now, your friend is waiting."
"He has Rachel? Oh Dan, no...." Becky wrapped her arms about her husband's waist. He had been headed out the door to take up a position on the walkway that ran along the high stockade wall. "Does Mingo know?"
Dan shook his head. "Maybe. By now he could have them both."
The big man pivoted. Hugh Oldham had descended the stair from the rooms let by the tavern-keeper. He was standing near the bar. "Did I hear you correctly?"
The big man released his wife and walked up to the other man. "You look tired, Mr. Oldham."
"Does John have Rachel and Kerr?"
"Well, I don't rightly know, sir. Odds are he does by now. But Mingo has a friend with him. I'm hopin' they can take care of themselves."
"And you are here to take care of the fort?"
"Give me a rifle, Daniel. Let me go with you."
"Mr. Oldham.... Hugh, no!"
Her husband turned toward her, "Becky?"
"He's not well, Dan."
The Englishman held up his hand. "Dear lady, I am well enough to hold a rifle and to defend my friends. If I cannot help Rachel and Kerr, may I not at least assist you?"
"But - "
"Becky." Dan's tone told her to drop the matter. As she fell silent, he walked to the fireplace and took one of the extra rifles down. Then he handed it to the Englishman. "You know how to use one of these?"
Hugh smiled. "I am a veteran of the wilderness, Daniel. Certainly."
"Well, we can use all the help we can get. Becky, you keep the children inside and tell the women to keep fillin' the powder horns and makin' shot. It's liable to be a long night."
Mingo was breathing hard. He stood looking out over the trees, watching as the moonlight painted them silver. They were about an hour out of Boonesborough. So far they had seen no sign of the Shawnee. It was his hope that they had somehow got wind of Gerard's plans and would never show - though he knew that was probably wishful thinking. Still, if the Creek did not appear, they might at least become suspicious and call the attack off for the moment. He glanced at Arrowkeeper as the tall man came to stand beside him. One last sprint and they would be at the fort.
"I'm rested," he said, "let's finish it."
"You do not look rested."
"Not to worry. If I survive this, between Daniel's wife, Rebecca, and Rachel, I won't be allowed to leave the cabin for a month. They'll probably - "
Unexpectedly a shot rang out. Mingo watched in horror as the tall Creek grabbed his side and fell to his knees. Blood ran between his fingers. Arrowkeeper gritted his teeth and whispered, "Like the coward he is, he attacks without honor. The efv efe. Gerard...."
Mingo rose and swung about, his rifle in his hands.
John Gerard stood fully revealed in the moonlight, backed by half a dozen silent Shawnee.
And Rachel was in his arms.
Continued in Chapter Thirteen