Blood Was Only For Bleeding
“’Tis somethin’ I needs tell ye.”
Spicewood turned from the bush where she had been gathering berries and gazed at the young man who stood behind her. Even though she had been attracted to him from the very start, their friendship had developed slowly, and it had taken nearly three moons for it to grow into something more. She found Alexander Calum MacKirdy a hard man to get to know. He was intensely introspective, and at times would go whole days without uttering a word. On other occasions he would be full of joy—so much so that he would laugh until he cried. She thought she loved him, but was uncertain of what that meant. He was a white man—not of the People—and even though he seemed to be content with them, more than likely one day he would want to return to his own. And when he returned, if he had a wife, he would expect her to go with him. Such was the way of the white world where men were the masters of all they surveyed, including the women and children they called their own. It was not a world she cared to know—not if there were people in it who placed so little value on life that they could take a man like her father and cage him like an animal, and place his life in jeopardy simply for their pleasure.
Spicewood glanced up at Alec. He grinned at her and his cheeks dimpled. She balanced the basket she had brought with her on her knees and sighed.
It was all so confusing.
“Something you need to tell me?” she echoed.
He knelt and took the basket from her and placed it at her side. As he did, a few of the red berries tumbled from it to become buried in the late summer grass. He caught her brown fingers as she reached for them and lifted them to his lips. Then he closed his eyes and breathed in her scent. Several heartbeats later his deep brown eyes opened. “Ye ken I loove ye,” he said in his thick brogue.
Spicewood’s slender form tensed. Then she nodded once.
“Frae th’ first day I laid eyes on ye, I kent thot I did.” He reached out and touched her hair. It shone in the late afternoon sun like the underside of a rook’s wing. “Dae ye caur fur me at all?” he asked quietly.
The lovely native girl gnawed her lip, hesitant to commit her heart. She looked at him over the hand he held. He was unbearably handsome. And he needed her so. Coming to a decision, she nodded again. “Yes.”
Alec sighed. Then he laughed. A moment later his face twisted with surprise. “An’ ye woulds be mah guidwife? Ye woulds marry someain like me...?” Before she could reply, he shook his head. “Nae, Spicewood, dinnae answer thot. I need tae tell ye aboot mahself afore ye dee.”
She raised her hand to his cheek. “No,” she whispered. “You do not need to tell me anything. I know you, Alexander...perhaps better than you know yourself.”
He laughed again, but it was not a sound of joy. “Dae ye noo?” He placed his hand over hers and squeezed her fingers before shifting away. As she watched, he reached inside the beaded bandoleer he wore and removed a small object wrapped in leather and bound with a ribbon. Releasing the bow, he allowed the soft skin to fall back to reveal a small metal box. His fingers brushed it reverently, and then he held it out to her. “Tak’ it,” he said softly.
She frowned. “Alexander, what is it?”
“Tak’ it in yer hand, Spicewood, an’ look at it.”
The young girl accepted the box, noting it was made of gold and embellished with shining paint that shone like jewels. In the middle of the lid was a portrait of a young dark-haired woman. Beneath the portrait was a small clasp.
“ ‘Tis mah mither, Una.” Alec drew a deep breath and held it a moment. “Nae,” he said at last, “her nam’ isnae Una, boot ‘Unatsi’.”
Spicewood’s ebon eyes sought his. “Unatsi is a Cherokee word.”
He nodded and looked chagrinned. “Aye, it means ‘snow’. Mah mither was born while th’ snow was flyin’, haur, in Ken-tah-ten.”
The girl continued to stare at him. Suddenly, it was as if a veil had been lifted. How could she not have seen? She touched his shoulder-length curls and pressed her fingers to the richly tanned skin that showed where his linen shirt had fallen away. “You are— ”
“Cherokee. Well, half.... Mah faither is definitely a Scot.” He caught her slender fingers and held them fast. “Boot ye hae tae un’erstand. I dinnae ken who she was. I dinnae hae onie idee who her folk waur.”
Spicewood’s young face sobered instantly. “You do not know her clan?” Her voice was small.
He shook his head. “Nae. An’ I ken thot is a problem.”
She drew a deep breath. “What if....”
Alec shifted and sat beside her. He was silent for a moment and then he voiced their common fear. “Uir clan coulds be th’ same.” He glanced at her—the woman he loved almost more than life itself. “I coulds be yer cousin.... Yer kin.”
“Yes....” Spicewood picked up the basket of berries and clung to it as though seeking to use it as a shield against this horrible turn of events. “In the before times,” she whispered, all too aware of his body next to hers, “if we had been seen like this and we were....”
“Woulds we be exiled?”
She shook her head. “We would have been killed.”
“Boot we hae nae done onie thin’.”
Spicewood was trembling. “They do not kill anymore, but there is still punishment and exile. Have you spoken to anyone? ”
“I hae nae told onie ain in th’ village boot ye.” He paused a moment. “Tis part o’ the reason I hae nae said I woulds stay. Frae whot I ken o’ the Cherokee, withou’ a clan I cannae truly belang.”
“So no one knows?” The girl drew a deep breath. Was it possible she would consider forgoing all she had been taught and held sacred for this man? If she married him as a white....
He placed his hand on hers. Her fingers were cold. “Cara an’ Arrowkeeper, they ken th’ truth.”
“And my father?”
“Aye, Star kent.” At her look, he added, “Whot can we dae....?”
Spicewood ran her long fingers over the portrait on the enameled lid. The young woman looked to be nineteen or twenty. She was lovely; her thick black hair braided and piled high on her head; her aspect intelligent. “Unatsi,” she whispered. Then she gazed at him, a determined look on her young face. “Alexander, what do you know for certain?”
He met her eyes. “Aboot mah mither?”
The Scot stared at her a moment and then turned away, looking towards the Cherokee village which was hidden from view by several miles of green trees. “I ken thot she cam’ frae somewhaur nearby. Thot she was born durin’ a snowst’rm, an’ thot when she was aicht ur nine, her village was destroyed by ainother tribe an’ her folk waur killed afore her eyes.” He swallowed and hesitated, remembering the one time she had spoken to him of the raid. It had been the evening of the day they had buried his brother. In their shared pain she had found comfort and courage to speak of the things that haunted her still. So far as he knew, she had never spoken of them again, and he had kept her secrets—until now. “She ran awa’. A white mon foond her wanderin’ in the woods an’ took her tae bide wi’ him an’ his family. A few years later mah faither met her. She was livin’ in ainother colony by then. He bought her frae th’ man, an’ married her.”
Spicewood frowned. “Bought her?”
Alec nodded. “ ‘Twas th’ only way he coulds tak’ her wi’ him tae Scotlain. She was a servant fur th’ mon, an’ thaur was nae other way he woulds let her gae. She was barely sixteen when Archie an’ I waur born.” The young man sighed. “An’ thot is all I ken.”
The girl bit her lip. She ran her fingers over the lid and jumped when it popped open. She gazed into the interior, puzzled, and then lifted her eyes to meet those of the man she loved. “What is this?” she asked.
He smiled and lifted the crucifix from its silk housing. Reverently he laid it across his fingers and kissed it.
Spicewood watched him close. He had done the same thing that first day at the stream, when he had worn the necklace with the little man on it about his throat. “Is it your god?”
Alec laughed. “Aye, in a way. ‘Tis His image—a portrait o’ whot He looked like while He was haur on Earth.”
She took his fingers and closed them about the silver cross. “Can you speak to him, and ask him for help?”
He sobered and nodded. “Always.”
“Then do so. Tell him we need a sign. We need to know.” She paused. “Perhaps someone will remember who she was.”
Alec looked startled. “Nae. Thot cannae be. She was a pure wee lassie when she was taken awa’. All in her village died. I dinnae believe onie ain woulds ken.....”
“Alexander,” Spicewood stopped him. “You have a name. You have a place, and this....” She lifted the box up. “Someone will remember. That is....” the girl drew a deep breath, “if you truly want to know the truth....”
She gazed at him and then leaned forward to kiss him quickly on the lips. “Yes. I need to know.”
Alec ran his hand along her hair and then accepted the box back from her. He raised the crucifix to his lips and kissed it again; then he replaced it and snapped the lid shut. He placed the bundle in the bandoleer and rose to his feet, and offered her his hand. She took it and stood as well. “If we find we aur nae related, lass,” he whispered softly, “will ye be mah guidwife?”
A tear trailed the length of the girl’s brown cheek. “First, I have a question.”
She drew a deep breath. “If you can find who you are, do you mean to stay with us? Or would you want me to go with you, to your Scotland, as your mother did?”
He reached out and touched her hair. “An’ woulds ye gae if I asked it o’ ye?”
Spicewood remained very still. She thought of her home; of the people she knew and loved, of the forests and the hills, and of her father—who for five years had been nothing but a hope and a memory.
She squeezed his hand and committed her future to this man. “I would.”
Alec MacKirdy smiled and pulled her close and planted a kiss on the top of her head. “Dearest heart, I woulds nae ask sooch a thin’ o’ ye. I woulds nae pluck a flower frae th’ bed, an’ hope fur it tae thrive. Mah mither looves mah faither—an’ all her bairns—boot she isnae canty ur content. I woulds bide haur wi’ ye—if ye an’ yers woulds hae me.” His hands went to her waist and he pulled her close, tossing any question of their kinship to the wind. “Mah heart, like yers, is in these woods. I ken thot noo.”
“Alexander, we should not....”
Someone coughed and the two dark heads snapped towards the sound. Spicewood stepped away as a slender sandy-haired man dressed in an embroidered hunting shirt and deep brown breeches emerged from the trees. Behind the wire-rimmed glasses, his hazel eyes danced with amusement. “Playing to the locals, Alec?”
Alec MacKirdy’s mouth dropped open. “God’s body! James? Whote’er aur ye doin’ haur, mon?”
The young man’s thin lips twisted in a smile. “Seeking to find my past...while it seems you are preparing for the future.” James Harper cleared his throat. “Well,” he said at last, “are you going to introduce me?”
The Scot stuttered and turned toward the Cherokee girl. He held his hand out to her. She took it and moved forward hesitantly.
“James, dae ye ken Star who traveled wi’ Cara an’ me?”
“Yes.” The cultured young man shifted his glasses to the end of his narrow nose and looked over them. “Your Cherokee friend.”
“Aye. Well, this is Spicewood, his daughter.” Alec glanced at the girl and frowned. Her hand was trembling. “Spicewood, this is James Harper; a friend. He saved Cara’s life when we waur in Williamsburg.” The Scot paused and his eyes returned to the newcomer. “An’ mine, if th’ truth be told.”
Harper held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Spicewood. Any friend of Alec’s is a friend of mine.”
The girl hesitated, uncertain. There was something about the man; something in his light green eyes that reminded her of the other one—the one who wanted her. “James Harper,” she said at last as she allowed him to catch her fingers.
“Just James.” He smiled as he bent over them and those eyes fixed on her face. “My, you are lovely,” he whispered.
An awkward moment of silence followed into which an oblivious Alec interjected, “Sae whot brin’s ye haur, mon? Aur ye seekin’ yer folk? I ken ye said ye waur part natife. Waur they Cherokee then?”
James shook his head. “No. Not Cherokee. My ‘folk’, as you put it, were Creek. My father’s father was a French trader. His mother a Creek. They made their home in a fort and he was raised as a white. My mother was also half-Creek, on her mother’s side, but she grew up as a native. Her father was French as well. I was taken from them during a Delaware raid and sold as spoils of war. My foster father was a wealthy Irish farmer who soldiered with General Washington. He paid handsomely for me, and took me to his home where I too was brought up as a white man.” He paused and looked toward the horizon where the sun was slipping behind the trees. “I am headed over the Ohio to see if any of my mother’s relatives are still living.”
“An’ dae yer foster parents ken ye aur haur? Dae ye hae thaur blessin’?”
James Harper was silent a moment and when he spoke—curiously enough—it was to quote Proverbs. “ ‘There is gold and a multitude of rubies, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.’ ” He shook himself and his thin lips curled in what appeared to be a smile, even though the words he spoke belied it. “They know everything now. They are dead.”
“Dead?” Alec was stunned. “Boot I thot... Waur ye nae goin’ back tae yer hom’ when we parted?”
The thin young man drew a deep breath. “According to the locals,” he said, his tongue rolling on the ‘r’ as his slight accent intensified, “they were massacred by ‘savages’ shortly after we went our separate ways.”
“God’s woonds, James. ‘Twas nae lang afore this. Ye mus’ still be grievin’.” Alec laid his hand on the other man’s arm. “‘I am sorry fur yer loss....”
“Not to worry,” James pulled free. “God has said, ‘And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity.’ ” He paused and an inner fire lit his eyes as he added in a whisper, “Andrew Harper was an evil man. He deserved everything he got.”
The Scot stared at the young man a moment before turning to the native girl. She was tugging at his sleeve. “Aye?”
“The day is flying. I should get home.”
He nodded and then turned back. James Harper was staring at the ground, a strange expression on his lean face. Alec hesitated, but courtesy compelled him to offer, “Will ye nae com’ wi’ us, James? Share a meal, an’ stay a day ur twa?”
The hazel eyes blinked slowly, as if their owner were emerging from a dream. When he spoke, his words came slowly. “I have a man I must meet near dawn who has information for me, but I would gladly return and visit your lovely friend’s village tomorrow. Is Cara there as well?” he asked with more animation as he shouldered his pack. “And Arrowkeeper?”
Alec frowned. “Arrowkeeper com’s an’ goes. His ways aur his own.” He knew the tall Creek and Cara-Mingo had had some sort of falling out. Since that time the imposing native had been seen less and less frequently among the Cherokee, and more and more often with the men of his own tribe. He and another warrior—a fierce man called Sharpknife—had gained quite a reputation for terrorizing any whites bold enough to try to settle within twenty miles of Indian land. “Cara is awa’ frae th’ village noo, boot shoulds be back in th’ mornin’.”
“I see.” James shifted the rifle that was slung over his shoulder and straightened the leather band that held it. “And what, pray tell, is he doing?”
Alec laughed. “Why, tryin’ mighty hard tae poot a feather in his cap.”
Copperhead shook his dark locks. “You are not listening.”
“Is this really necessary?”
“Do you want to eat?”
“What about deer or bear?” Cara frowned as he contemplated the tall leafy oak tree. “Are you trying to tell me that hunting turkeys is a part of a warrior’s training?”
The Cherokee sighed. “And what is wrong with turkeys?”
“Well,” the young man gripped his bow tightly with his long fingers, “somehow it doesn’t seem to have the same— ”
Cara’s dark eyes sought his friend’s. He was growing exasperated. He knew Copperhead was laughing at him. “Challenge.”
“Do you not remember tracking them in the wild as a boy?”
“No.” The fact that he might have, and had forgotten, bothered him. “Did I?”
Copperhead smiled. “You were often with the wise ones of the village, listening to their tales and learning of our people, and were young when you left. Perhaps you did not.” The Cherokee shifted his grip on his bow and knelt to the ground. “A deer will fall asleep in a thicket and may not hear you come. A bear as well. A wild turkey,” he fingered a pile of loose dirt and pointed to a row of toenail marks impressed in the damp earth, “is a wary and wise prey. He does not sleep on the ground. And though he cannot smell you, he can see you, even when his back is turned. Before you know he is there, he knows you are—and he is gone.”
Cara-Mingo dropped to his knees beside him. He shifted a few twigs, noticing that some of the leaves were stacked in rough piles, and that their undersides were still wet. He pinched a bit of pine straw and looked up at his friend. “These are fresh.”
“Good. And how did you know?”
“If they were old, the leaves would be compacted, not loose.”
Copperhead grinned. “You have been listening.”
“Yes. Anything to hasten this process.” He glanced at the dark sussurating foliage that surrounded them. “So can we shoot one now? And then go home?”
His friend’s black eyes pinned him. “Are you so anxious to see Cherry?”
Cara groaned and rocked back on his heels. “She tried to bring me corn cakes again the day we left. Copperhead, how can I make her understand? She is a sweet girl, but I — ”
“There is another who already holds your heart.” The Cherokee rose to his feet and dusted off his knees. “And so, you will have to break hers.”
The raven-haired man stood as well. “No. I can’t bear to do that....”
“You must. Already three moons have passed. You must make it clear, now.” He laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Later it will hurt even more.”
“I suppose you are right.” Cara fingered several damp feathers he had plucked from the ground. Changing the subject, he said, “If I remember right, you told me that finding feathers means they are close.”
Copperhead squeezed his flesh and then released it. “If you find fresh sign, then they are laughing at you, and all you will see are their tail feathers as they spread their wings and fly to the shelter of a leafy perch.”
Cara dropped the feathers. His voice was ragged. “Then what are we doing here?”
Copperhead inclined his head towards the woodland before them.
The pair spent the rest of the day following tracks and looking for sign that would lead them to the wild bird’s roosting area. Near a natural arbor of wild grapes that grew on the side of a steep incline and was fronted by a small body of quiet water, Copperhead knelt and pointed. This time he showed Cara the gobbler and the hen’s droppings, and taught him how you could tell by their different shapes which one you pursued. A fine mist hung in the air causing steam to rise from the hot ground as they circled the watering hole and the Cherokee explained why it was a likely place for the birds to flock. As they concealed themselves in a clump of tall grass, the teacher stopped his pupil by placing a hand on his arm.
“Listen,” he commanded.
Cara did. There was nothing at first but the soft sigh of the wind through the leaves as it heralded an approaching storm. Then he heard the sound of wings beating the air. He opened his mouth to comment, but was startled into silence when a large hen rose from the brown blades before them, cackling as she did. She was followed closely by half a dozen young gobblers doing a kee-kee run. A moment later they had all taken roost in a tall oak tree.
“Now what...?” he asked.
“We will wait until it is completely dark and then slip in under them.”
Cara’s dark brows rose. “And do what, invite them to tea?”
“I do not think they would have the proper manners for tea, Cara-Mingo.” Copperhead’s dark eyes danced. “You have heard of the celebration the white men in this land hold called a ‘hoe-down’, have you not?”
He nodded, confused. “Yes....”
“They dance and stomp their feet? And ‘holler’?”
Cara sighed. “Your point being....”
“That is what we will do. We will grab the vines that trail from the branches and shake them. Then we will scream like Red Hearts on the war path.” He laughed at his friend’s perplexed expression. “Perhaps we will even throw sticks and rocks.”
Cara shook his head. “My friend, as much good as that might do my soul, how will it accomplish anything other than scaring them away?”
The Cherokee smiled. “But that is what we want; we want to scare them away.”
“Whatever for? So we have to go looking for feathers and turkey scratchings and curled droppings all over again?” He frowned. “I should have stayed in England. All I had to do there was go to a tavern and ask for a beef and ale.”
Copperhead laughed as he tossed his dark braids over the shoulder of his deep red coat. “We will sit beneath the tree with our bows; when the dawn light comes, they will return.”
“Ah....” Cara smiled. “I begin to see....”
“If they are wary, we will call them,” his friend continued. “Most likely, they will come on their own, and we will have our feast.”
The raven-haired man grinned. “Then they are not quite so wise as you insist. Even though they have excellent sight and are quick and clever, they are easily frightened and just a bit foolish.”
“Perhaps.” Copperhead’s dark eyes danced in the waxing moonlight. “But the arrow is not loosed from your bow yet, and the prize is not won.”
Sometime later, having frightened the tail feathers off of the large hen and her gobbler companions, they fell to the ground beneath the great oak weak with laughter and the exhilaration of the hunt. As they quieted, they exchanged a few words, and then grew silent as each one became lost in his own thoughts as he prepared for sleep. Nearly an hour later Cara was still awake. He wished he could talk to his friend, but he didn’t want to disturb him. In the three months that had passed since Copperhead’s son, Adohi’s, birth, the two of them had had little chance to communicate. His friend had been away with Menewa for some time and once he had returned, was often to be found at the council fires. He had seen the red-coated Cherokee, on more than one occasion, leave the meetings of elders and chiefs early, his hands balled into fists and shaking with a barely controlled rage.
Cara sighed and shifted. He knew it had to do with his brother.
“Your restlessness speaks without words, my friend.”
He turned towards the other man who sat on the opposite side of the great tree. “Are you awake as well?”
There was a pause. “Yes. Sleep will not come.”
“May I ask you then....” Cara paused. “My brother..?.”
Copperhead echoed his earlier sigh. “Yes.”
“Your war did not come either.”
The other man gathered his knees in his arms and rested his chin on them. “Not yet.”
Cara moved closer. “You mean, you think it is still coming?”
“No.” Copperhead met his eyes. “I think it is here.”
“Is that why my uncle left again?”
The Cherokee nodded. “When we went to the Creek who live near the southern border of Ken-tah-ten before, the one who was head of their village was away with a hunting party. We had heard certain rumors we wished to confirm....”
“That the tale your brother told was a lie. That he did not leave them, as he said, after bravery in battle—but in disgrace.”
“So there was no battle....?”
Copperhead straightened. “Oh, there was a battle, but we believe it was one of his own devising; waged against his own people. If the words brought to us are true, the Creek turned him out, and he came to us.”
Cara could not hide his surprise. “The Creek banished him?”
The other man nodded. “It seems he grew too savage even for their red hearts. It is said Tara bribed men to kill their chief and his sons so the young men who followed him could declare him chief after their deaths. When his plan was discovered, there was a battle. Before it ended, many did die—including the chief’s sons. Your brother should have died. He did not.” Copperhead sighed. “Sometimes it seems....”
The Cherokee’s smile was bitter. “Sometimes it seems he is charmed; that nothing can stop him.”
Cara shook his head. “He is only a man....”
“That is not what Star says.”
“No. He calls him a devil.”
Cara shifted and leaned his head against the tree, remembering the times his brother had held a knife to his throat and he had witnessed the blood-lust in his eyes. “Perhaps Star is right....” He fell silent for a moment. “Why did you not hear about this before?” he asked at last.
“Because it happened far away. Word does not travel so swiftly through the wilderness as it does among white men, with their horses and messengers who bear tidings scratched in brown ink on parchment and tied up with ribbon.”
Cara had been thinking. “So you believe he is up to the same thing here? You think my uncle is in danger?”
“I know he is,” Copperhead’s voice sounded from the darkness. “As are you.”
“Me? Why me?”
“You are blood to Menewa. You are admired and respected for being honest and true. Many have seen how you work to become one of us, and have spoken of your love for your mother’s people. The older men remember One Feather, your grandfather well, and what he hoped for you; that one day you might be chief and the blood of the two worlds that runs in your veins might save our people from what was to come.” He drew a breath. “And Menewa has no sons.”
“Me, chief?” He laughed. “I hardly think the young men....”
“Our young men do not decide.”
Cara-Mingo thought for a moment. “So even though the Cherokee do not necessarily pass on the title of ‘War’ or any other chief from father to son—or nephew—you think that Tara thinks....”
“That in time you might be chosen; you who would bring peace with the white man, and seek reconciliation.”
He shook his head. “Well, I have no desire to be a chief—now or ever.”
“Your brother does not believe that. He thinks you are as him. Tara knows nothing but desire; he hungers for power and thinks all others do.” Copperhead shifted so he looked directly at his friend. “He will try to kill you or have you killed. You must be wary.”
“I am always wary.” Cara laughed as he glanced at the greenery where he knew the brown birds waited, fretting for the dawn. “Like the wild turkeys....”
His friend paused. Then he lifted his hands to the sky and looked up as the priests often did when seeking an omen. “It is a sign!” he declared. Then he laughed as well.
The relief was momentary. Soon the weight of the words he had spoken bore down on them and they grew sober. Cara thought of the sleepy village and of all who lay within its borders whom he had come to love: Star and his beautiful daughter, his friend’s wife, Miriam, and her tiny son, and the spirited and ever so vexing Cherry. He thought too of Arrowkeeper and wondered if the tall Creek was a willing part of all of this, or if somehow—as he had so many others—his brother had managed to dupe him. He knew Arrowkeeper hated all whites for what they had done to his family, but he found it hard to believe he would turn against those he considered his friends.
When he spoke at last, his voice was ragged with fatigue. “And what about you? Are you in danger? Do you think the involvement of my brother’s confederates with your wife’s father can be coincidental?”
Copperhead hesitated. “William is commander of the British forces stationed just beyond the river. Still, since the time I mentioned before, there has been no other contact. Or at least nothing our scouts have seen.”
There was a hesitation in his friend’s voice. “But...” he prompted.
“The dark one—the one who is painted with mystic signs and is rumored to be a Creek witch—Sharpknife, has been seen in the area.”
Cara drew a deep
breath. “And Arrowkeeper...?”
His friend looked at him again. “I do not think he is involved. He has been away, to the south, with others.”
The Cherokee was silent. Finally he said, “You do not want to know.”
Cara felt his fingers tighten into fists. Killing whites. At first the raids the tall Creek had led had been meant only to terrorize and frighten the incoming settlers, but of late he had heard some of the younger braves speaking of the actions of Arrowkeeper and Sharpknife with awe—as if their savagery made them some kind of saviors. He gnawed his lip for a moment and then asked, “Why would William Foxwell treat with someone like Sharpknife? I thought he hated Indians.”
“He does,” his friend said quietly. “He hates me more.”
“So you do think he is in collusion with them? That this plot to harm my uncle—and me—includes him?”
“But what would he gain? The Cherokee are at peace with the British. It makes no sense. Unless....” Cara fell silent as the full implications of his brother’s scheme began to crystallize in his mind.
Copperhead stood. He leaned against the tree and looked out towards the royal blue sky, which was peppered with glistening white stars. “What would William gain? Though it meant his commission, he would do it for my death alone. But, there is more. I think he means to betray the betrayers; to begin a war that will end only when there is no one left standing on the losing side.” He tossed his head and sighed. “Nothing is known for certain, but I fear for Miriam, and for my son.”
Cara stood and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Then why are you here with me? You should go back— ”
“One cannot walk with fear as his brother.” The handsome native turned and met his friend’s concerned eyes. “Besides, Star speaks for Menewa. He will watch them as he does his own.”
Apparently before his journey to his brother’s home and his subsequent capture by the white men, Star had held a higher position among the Cherokee than Cara had realized; the older man sat in the council now and wore the white of the Peace Chief. He nodded. “Star has been more than a brother to me; like a father in many ways.” He released his friend’s shoulder and lifted his face toward the sky. “I would not be here if it was not for him.”
“As Menewa has been to me.” Copperhead’s voice broke as he continued to speak, “I pray my own son will not need such a good man. My hope is that he may grow with his true father at his side.”
Cara could offer no easy words of comfort. They both knew they stood poised atop a great cliff which was slowly being undermined by a dark determined tide. There was no way of knowing what day—or even which hour—it might give beneath them, carrying them all over the edge and into the darkness below. “Do you know what he intends to do?”
“Destroy Menewa, and do it in such a way that it will seem it is not by his hand. He will be the aggrieved nephew who follows his uncle’s cold form to the grave. As he would do with you.” He paused. “After that? If he is made chief, he will lead the Cherokee into war. If he is not....”
“It will be war just the same.” Cara’s voice shook with both fear and rage. “Do you think we can stop it? Are there enough who will fight on our side?”
“If we can prove he plots with the British. If we can truly show them that he means only their harm.... Otherwise....”
“The young men will make him War Chief after my uncle is gone.”
“Yes.” Copperhead shook himself and glanced at the moon which was riding high. “The night is flying, Cara-Mingo. Soon the turkeys will as well.” He attempted to laugh, but apprehension and fatigue brought him perilously close to tears. “Tomorrow is another day.”
Cara stared at him for a moment and then nodded. “Yes.” As his friend turned away and settled beneath the tree with his head on his knees, he resumed his post on the opposite side, his fingers white on his bow.
Tomorrow would be another day, and as surely as the sun would rise to shine on the path they chose, the shadows cast by its brilliant light would continue to conceal his brother’s evil footsteps. Something was coming. He had a sense of it. Something momentous.
And before it was over, people he loved would die.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and started awake. Before he could say anything Copperhead’s voice came to him quiet and low.
“Pick up your bow. Slowly.”
He complied, wrapping his long slender fingers about the polished wood.
“Wait until the tom steps behind a bush or a tree before raising your bow and bringing it to a full draw; then aim for the center of the chest, where the wing joins the body, and hold your shot until he is within twenty paces or less.”
Cara watched as a feathery blur passed from one clump of brown grass to the next and did as he was told. He blinked sleep from his eyes and cursed his trembling hands as he waited.
“You want the arrow to remain in him. If it goes through, he will run or fly away.”
Cara fixed the bird with his dark eyes as it broke free of the underbrush and was almost sorry he had to kill it. It was not one of the young gobblers they had seen the night before, but a great tom nearly four feet in length, its feathers painted a deep burnished copper by the rising sun. The turkey had a gray beard, as long and full as a grandfather’s, that brushed the top of its golden claws, and a deep red wattle that swung from side to side in time with its gobbling. As he watched, its black eyes found him and it spread its great bronzed wings wide, preparing to take flight.
“Now, Cara! Shoot now!”
He was barely trembling anymore, but still, it was enough to ruin his aim. He hit the bird slightly off-center and the razor-sharp arrow passed right through the left side of its breast. For one stunned moment they stared at each other, and then the great fowl screeched and took to the air, disappearing into the thick waves of dying grass.
“Take your knife,” his friend commanded. “Follow and finish it.”
He glanced at the Cherokee who had found his feet and was headed for the bird he had dispatched with relative ease. “Finish it?”
“Yes.” Copperhead grinned. “I will follow soon.”
Cara nodded. He turned and listened for the sound of the floundering fowl. It was headed up the steep incline, its journey masked by the bountiful wild grapes. Out of fairness, he knew he had to kill it. It would have been cruel to let it live, wounded as it was. He drew a deep breath and unsheathed his hunting knife, and began to work his way through the vines. Soon he had risen above them and was headed for the top of the ridge. He could hear the bird gobbling, and thought he could feel the wind from its fluttering wings on his cheeks. He grasped a branch which dangled before him and pulled himself to the crest of the hill, only to find he was unexpectedly teetering on its edge. The wall of earth had fallen away at some time, leaving only a precarious shelf, perhaps two feet wide, overhanging a drop of some fourteen or fifteen feet. Drawing a sharp breath, he froze, recognizing how close he had come to toppling over. He heard Copperhead call his name and turned to answer, only to have the tom rise up without warning before him. It flew straight at him, its eyes and wings wild. Startled, he threw his hands over his face and took a step back.
A second later he was on his way to the bottom of the ravine.
The older man looked up from the leather he was working and hid his smile. The day had barely begun and already Yowa presented a new challenge. He had noticed his daughter had been restless during the night. Sleep had alluded her. Then she had arisen before dawn and disappeared into the mists that masked the nearby stream. Now she had returned and stood in the open door of the lodge they shared with the Scotsman by her side. The looks on their young faces might have been more appropriate if they had entered a cave and confronted a fierce bear. He placed the skin on the floor and rose.
So it had come.
“What is it you want, my daughter?”
Spicewood glanced at Alexander. He nodded and they both stepped inside. A moment later he lifted something from his bandoleer and gave it to her. It was a small ribbon-bound bundle.
Star frowned. This was not what he had expected. He met his daughter’s eyes and saw fear and expectation in them. It was much the same with the man.
“Gi’e it tae him,” Alec said softly.
The girl stepped forward. She unwrapped the skin and held out the small gleaming box. Her father took it in his fingers and examined it. “And what is this?”
Alec ran a hand through his hair nervously. “Tis mah mither. Th’ ain I told ye aboot afore, on th’ ship.”
Star gazed at the portrait that graced it and then his eyes returned to the dark-haired young man. “So you have told her at last?”
He nodded. “Aye.” The Scot drew a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “I woulds marry her—if ye nae object. Boot afore I can e’en ask ye....”
“You need to know who your mother’s people were.” Star gazed at the painted image of the young woman. He chose, for the moment, to ignore the young man’s remark. “Is it like her?”
Alec smiled. “Aye, ‘tis. Her hair is still black as th’ nicht sky, an’ her skin brown as a burnished coin. She is small—she nae com’s tae mah shoulders. I ne’er told ye, her nam’ is Una.” He shook his head. “Nae, thot is whot mah faither calls her. Her nam’ is Unatsi.”
Star popped the box open and touched the silver cross it held and frowned. Just such a talisman had hung about the neck of the man who had bought him and had him taken across the sea. He closed it again and raised his eyes to the man his daughter loved, thinking it a strange god who could have such disparate followers.
Putting that aside he asked quietly, “What else do you remember, Alexander?”
Alec told him what he had told Spicewood the night before, about the raid and the white man who spirited his mother off, and how his father had paid for her and taken her to Scotland to be his bride. “She has nae knowledge o’ her own mither uir faither. Mah faither told me she cam’ frae Kentucky.” The Scot paused. “He told me th’ mon whot sold her tae him said she cam’ frae th’ northern territories.”
“You did not say this before,” Spicewood said softly.
“I only noo remembered. Isnae a thin’ either o’ them spoke o’ often—ur wi’ ease.” He hesitated. “Thaur was somethin’ else as well. A word ....” Alec shook his head. “I dinnae recall.”
Star’s hand closed about the box. “We will ask the wise men and women of the village. This was how many years ago?”
The Scot met his eyes. “I hae been livin’ twenty years. She was foond wanderin’ when she was a wee chiel, aicht ur nine years o’ age—an’ was fifteen when mah faither claimed her.”
“By the white man’s counting, somewhere close to twenty-five years ago, then.” A strange expression crossed his face. “She would be about my age. I might have known her, but I do not remember the name. Perhaps she was from another village?”
Alec accepted the box back and returning it to its wrapping, placed it once again in the bandoleer. “Is thaur onie hope, Star?”
The older man stared at him a moment and then moved to stand squarely before him. “You have run from your Cherokee blood, Alexander, for some time now. You came here seeking something; have you found it?”
The young man shifted beneath his scrutiny. He glanced at Spicewood. “Aye...”
Star did not smile. “Besides my daughter.”
Alec laughed. “She woulds be enoof.”
“No.” The Cherokee’s voice was quiet and even, and his words carried great weight. “In time she would not be enough. Long ago there was a white man who lived among us, who loved one of our women, and promised he would stay with her always.”
The Scot shifted uncomfortably. “Yer speakin’ o’ Cara’s mither....”
“Yes. When his former life called, his duty to his people won out over the promise to his Cherokee wife. I watched her. In time the fire went out of her. The man’s life was full, filled with what mattered most to him; hers became an empty shell. I will not have this for my child.”
Alec closed his eyes a moment and then met the native’s black gaze. “Star, I will be honest wi’ ye. All my life has been a turmoil, as if I waur caught in a great storm thot tossed me first ain way, an’ then ainother. I cam’ haur hopin’ tae find th’ Cherokee waur different—an’ they waur nae. Boot I am. Frae thot first day when Arrowkeeper tricked us intae enterin’ th’ water, I kent this was whaur I belanged. I hae ne’er felt I belanged onie whaur afore. When I sit aside th’ fires an’ listen tae th’ drums.... When I feel th’ heat on mah skin.... When I gae tae th’ water an’ talk tae mah God; I am at peace.” He paused. “Tis haur I wont tae be.”
The Cherokee’s eyes examined him. “You still dress as a white man.”
“Aye. We Scots aur a stubborn race; nearly as stubborn as th’ Cherokee.” He grinned. “Alexander Calum MacKirdy poot up quite a fight, afore he died.”
“Tae his fears o’ belangin’.” He drew a deep breath. “Tae his fear o’ losing everythin’ he loves ance he dares tae poot his hand oot tae claim it.” He smiled at Spicewood and closed her fingers in his. Then he turned and looked at her father. “Did I answer yer question, Star?”
The older man was still a moment. Then he smiled and reached out to place his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Let us go and see if we can find who you are.”
Copperhead flung his catch aside and began to scale the hill. A moment before he had looked up and his friend had been at the top of the rise.
Now, he was gone.
The Cherokee came to a dead stop. His friend’s knife lay at his feet. He knelt and picked it up, and then saw the great winged tom he had pursued lying nearby. It was still breathing but loss of blood had grounded it. He took a moment to finish it off, and then turned and gazed at the top of the hill. Suddenly uneasy, he fell silent as he continued to make his way up. Near the crest he saw where a portion of the ground had recently given way; white roots which were not weathered thrust through the freshly exposed earth like the fingers of a corpse. Avoiding the pitfall as best he could, he completed his ascent. The sun was rising and the ravine was filled with a golden mist that made it hard to see, but as he leaned cautiously over the edge, it parted to show him Cara’s slender form lying some fifteen feet below.
He wasn’t moving.
Copperhead’s knuckles went white on the root he gripped. He would have to circle around and that would take time. Still, if he chanced going over the way the other man had, he would chance lying by his side. The Cherokee drew a deep breath and eased back down the hill. Once his feet hit even ground, he began to run.
And to pray.
The old woman raised her head. She was sitting near a fire kindled in a recessed pit at the heart of the women’s lodge. Several young girls sat at her feet, listening to her speak of the way things had been. A patterned blanket was wrapped about her narrow shoulders, and her once black hair spread across it like a silvered spider-web.
At the masculine voice, her face turned towards the open door. She blinked away the tears that came with extreme age and spoke sternly. “What man comes to this place?”
Star nodded to his daughter who stepped forward. She advanced a few feet into the structure and bowed her head. “Grandmother, it is I, Spicewood; daughter of Oologiluh, daughter of Kanvsita. I would seek permission for my father and another man to enter.”
The woman whose name was Cornbeater tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. Though the sight in them was failing, she could discern two figures behind the beautiful young girl. One she knew by his voice to be her father, and by the splash of red on the chest of the other, she recognized it as the young Scotsman who had come to their village with Talota’s son. A slight smile creased the wrinkled plane that was her ancient face. “The one you have spoken of?”
As his daughter nodded, Star glanced at the young man at his side and his black eyes seemed to say, ‘You have been had.”
The Scot cleared his throat and shifted his booted feet.
Cornbeater continued to stare at the trio. A moment later she spoke again, dismissing the young girls who had remained seated at her side; their dark eyes wide with the knowledge that they were privy to something special. As Star shooed them out of the lodge, they giggled and ducked past Alexander and ran into the common to spread the news. The Scot heaved a resigned sigh and moved into the room. The old woman caught his eye and invited him to sit by the fire. As he selected a spot opposite her, she called him to a stop.
Star hid his smile. “Call her grandmother,” he whispered as he took a seat on the floor.
The Scot glanced at him and then turned back. Imitating Spicewood’s bow, he inclined his head and said, “Gran’mither.”
She stared at him a moment and then slapped her withered hand on the ground. “You will sit by me.”
Her father had been successful in stifling his amusement; Spicewood was not. She laughed at his discomfort as he circled the blaze and took a seat on the old woman’s left side.
“And you, girl....”
Spicewood sobered instantly. “Grandmother?”
“You will sit on my other side.”
When the two of them had done as she said, the beloved woman fell silent. She took the hand of each and then, closing her eyes, began to hum. Several uncomfortable minutes later, her lids lifted to reveal veiled orbs which had once been as brown as tilled soil. Her face carefully impassive, she released them, and then sought Star’s eyes. As the eldest of the three who had entered, she chose to address him.
“What is it you desire, my son?”
Star drew a deep breath. “Grandmother Cornbeater, you are the wisest of all in the village....”
The old woman cackled. “You are polite, my son. I am the oldest....”
Spicewood’s father laughed. “Yes. And the wisest.” He paused, retracing his thoughts. “The young man who sits near you, wise grandmother, is Alexander MacKirdy. Though his father is a white man, his mother is of the People.”
Cornbeater turned slightly and gazed at Alexander. He stiffened under her scrutiny but didn’t move. A moment later she nodded her head. “Go on, my son.”
“Many years ago she lived either in this village or nearby. Alexander wishes....” The older man paused. He had glanced at his daughter. The fire that flickered between them, causing him to sweat, highlighted her dark beauty, and it had suddenly struck him how much she had grown to favor his late wife. Star drew a deep breath and closed his eyes. Soon. It was coming soon. It would not be long now before he saw her again, but before he did, he needed to know that his only surviving child was taken care of. He opened his eyes and glanced at the young man she had chosen. He could only pray the choice she made was a good one. “Alexander wishes to marry my daughter. He cannot do this if he does not know his clan. We had hoped your wisdom would contain this knowledge that we seek....”
The old woman looked straight at him. “And does this match have your blessing, father of Spicewood?”
Star fell silent again. Then he smiled and nodded once. “Her mother wishes her to be with the man she loves. As do I.”
Alec frowned. Spicewood’s mother was dead. How could she have given her approval?
“You have seen her?” Cornbeater said softly.
Star nodded. “Yes. She comes in my dreams.”
Spicewood’s breath caught. She met her father’s eyes. There were tears in them. He had loved, Cloud, her mother so. She remembered clearly the day he and her brother, Hawk, had left for the Carolinas, and how hard it had been for the two of them to part. Then her mother had died in the plague before he could return. Lately, he had spoken of her often. She did not realize he had seen her. Wrapping her arms about her small frame, she wondered what that might mean.
Alec wished for the first time since he had arrived in the colonies that he had a wee dram of Scotch to toss to the back of his throat. Why was it of all the Cherokee, this tiny wizened woman frightened him the most? “Ma’am? ...Gran’mither?”
She held her hand out and waited for him to take it. Her thin trembling fingers wrapped about his strong steady ones. “Tell me of your mother.”
“O’ mah mither?” He drew a deep breath. “Well, she was born in Ken-tah-ten thirty-six ur sae years afore this— ”
“No.” She stopped him. Her diseased eyes sought his face. “There will be time for that later. Tell me of her.”
He shook his head and looked at Star. “I dinnae un’erstand...”
“Tell her what she is like. As a woman,” he answered, “and not as if her life were to be recorded in brown ink on a talking leaf.”
“Ah, I see...” Alec nodded. He squeezed the ancient fingers and then began to speak as a son of the mother he loved. “She is a pure wee thin’, nae very tall. Dark as the nicht, fine-boned, an’ lovely as poetry in motion....”
“Go on,” Cornbeater said softly.
He smiled. “She looves tae sing, an’ she has ain o’ th’ most beautiful voices ye hae e’er heard. She paints. Th’ portrait on th’ box I showed ye, Star,” he looked at the other man, “she painted thot.” He paused, abruptly taken by his own thoughts.
Alec shook himself and glanced at the ancient woman. “Excuse me, Gran’mither. I wandered awa’ in th’ memory.”
Her keen eyes narrowed. “Share it so it haunts you no longer.”
He stared at her a moment and then nodded. “Th’ day I left Scotlain she was workin’ on a paintin’ o’ a green field wi’ trees. I asked her if it was onie o’ th’ lands near th’ manor. She said, ‘Nae.’ I asked her then whaur was it, an’ she told me it was her hom’.” He struck away a tear before it fell and sniffed before finishing. “She carries in her a sadness fur th’ loss o’ her folk, an’ fur th’ loss o’ a way o’ life she held very dear. I dinnae think she will e’er kent onie kind o’ peace ‘til she returns haur.”
The old woman was silent a moment. She released his hand. “And of all her children, you are like her.”
“Me?” He laughed and nodded again. “Aye. Can ye tell sae mooch, frae sae little?”
Corn-beater turned to Spicewood. “You will know much sorrow with this one,” she said gently.
Alec opened his mouth to speak, but Star’s look stopped him.
She placed her hand on the girl’s cheek. “And great joy.” She turned back to Alexander. “Now, what is her name?”
“Una,” he answered quickly. At her look, he amended it. “Unatsi.”
The old woman thought long and hard. At last she shook her head. “It is not familiar,” she held up her hand, “but the years are many, and so are the young girls I have known. Before you despair, tell me what you know of her history.”
Alec nodded and began to relate again, all he remembered. As he spoke, he recalled the one thing that had eluded him before; there was a word—Kanuga or Kanghi—that plagued his mother’s dreams, but whenever she tried to recall what it meant, a wall of red rose up before her eyes, and she ran away.
“Kanuga, kanghi.... These are not Cherokee words,” Star said, shaking his head.
Cornbeater became very still. She motioned to Spicewood to rise and then had the young woman help her to her feet. Alec glanced at Star as they moved away. The older man shook his head. “Wait,” his lips said, “she will let you know.”
When she returned she held a shred of beaded cloth in her hand. It might once have been a headband or bracelet. She waited as the Scot rose to his feet and then handed it to him. After a few seconds passed without her saying anything, he ventured, “Gran’mither?”
She stepped close so her ancient eyes could actually see him. He bent so she could reach his face and waited as she examined it. Her fingers ended up twisting a strand of his black hair. “The curls are your father’s?” she asked, a faint smile on her lips.
He grinned back. “Aye, Gran’mither.”
She nodded. “Your mother did not have curls. Nor did her mother.”
Alec felt his heart skip a beat. He glanced at Spicewood and then swallowed hard. “Ye kent them both?”
She nodded slowly. “Kanugahi. Blackberry, in your father’s tongue.” She closed his fingers about the beaded band. “This was your grandmother’s. I watched her grow from a child to a woman.”
“Blackberry?” Star rose as well. He frowned and then his hand went to his mouth. A moment later he said, “Sister to Dewa and Guhhe?”
Cornbeater nodded. “You knew the brothers. They were younger. Blackberry was much older and lived away, in another village. She chose to go with her husband’s people and live with clan members there. And for that choice she died, as did all those who were with her, save Talota. And it would seem, now—Unatsi.”
Alec turned to look at the older man. “Sae, ye did ken her?”
“We are of the same clan. Your mother and I.” Star smiled at him. “You, and I.”
The Scot’s face
fell. He stared at the woman he
loved. “Dae ye mean, Spicewood
an’ I aur related....?”
It was every horror he had been able to think of come to haunt him.
“Dinnae tell me thot, mon....” He
started to panic, but then he realized the woman he loved
was laughing. “Whot is it?
Why aur ye laughin’ at me?”
The girl glanced at Cornbeater who nodded and stepped back, and then she came to him and took both of his hands in hers. “My mother is of another clan. I am of her clan, not my father’s.” She grinned at his confusion. “It is all right, Alexander. We are not kin.”
“Soon you will be more than, it seems,” the old woman interjected, and then she laughed as well.
Alec’s head was spinning. “Sae I am related tae yer faither by clan, boot nae tae ye? I dinnae un’erstand....”
She glanced at her father and then kissed the bewildered Scot quickly on the lips. “There will be plenty of time to explain...later.”
He blinked and shook himself and then laughed joyously and hugged her tight. Then he pulled back, realizing the action had probably been inappropriate. Finding the old woman’s eyes were still on him, he turned to her and, indicating the dirt floor, asked softly, “Sae, Gran’mither Cornbeater, will ye tell me o’ mah folk? Who they waur? An’ aur?”
“You already know one of your kinsmen quite well,” Star said softly as he headed for the door, drawing his daughter after him.
Alec looked up. “An’ who woulds thot be?”
The older man stopped. His black eyes danced. “Blackberry—Kanugahi—was elder sister of Talota.”
“Talota?” The Scot frowned. He knew he had heard the name even before the old woman had mentioned it. Then he stopped dead. “Cara-Mingo’s mither? Ye mean thot Cara is— ”
Star nodded. “Your cousin.”
Copperhead drew a deep breath. He had almost reached his friend. Carefully he slid down the remaining three or four feet of rocks and earth and landed near his side. There was a gash on Cara’s forehead, which explained the fact that he was still unconscious even though it had taken him something over an hour to circumvent the hill and come to his aid. He knelt beside him and searched his ribs. They seemed to be intact. He ran his hands efficiently along his arms and legs and then stopped. The left one was bent at an odd angle. He swallowed and felt it more carefully. There was no bone through the flesh. Hopefully it was only strained or sprained, and not broken. Though the village was only half a day away, it would still be a long hard walk back for an injured man. But it was not the leg he was the most worried about. If Cara had struck his head too hard, there could be a concussion, or worse....
He laid his hand on the other man’s shoulder and spoke his name. There was no response. He brushed aside the black bangs. Feeling the cold sweat on his friend’s forehead, he knew he was experiencing some sort of shock. As he cursed himself for leaving their provisions beneath the oak tree, he began to remove his coat in order to cover him. Even as he did, the soft sound of a voice touched his ear.
Immediately he stiffened. The morning mist still filled the narrow ravine, but if someone were to look closely—there would be no missing them. Gazing at Cara, he made up his mind instantly. Moving so he knelt behind him, he lifted his friend’s body onto his knees. Then he planted his hand firmly across his lips and hauled up and back.
The moan that escaped the injured man was muffled, but he froze at the sound and waited. Several heartbeats later he released the breath he held and proceeded—as carefully as he could—to move him, stopping only when the two of them were concealed by the overhanging rock.
Within seconds a shower of rocks and dirt cascaded down like a hard rain.
“I tell you, I heard something.”
There was a pause. Then a deep voice. “There is no one there. See for yourself.”
More rocks and dirt fell. There was a stifled curse and then, “You nearly made me fall, you great oaf.”
Copperhead frowned. The first man spoke with an slight accent. He couldn’t quite place it. It was something like Alec’s, but not.
“You have much to learn,” the second man laughed.
The Cherokee waited. A moment later he heard a hammer cock. “So have you. Now, where is this other? The one I am to meet?”
“He sends me.”
“Why does he not come himself?”
“He does not come. You must go to him.”
Copperhead still had his hand over Cara’s mouth for fear he would wake and give away their position. It was covered with sweat; both the injured man’s and his own. It had taken a moment, but he had recognized the second voice.
It was the one called Sharpknife.
“And what if I will not?” the first man said.
“Then you die.”
“With the white men—or the red?”
There was another laugh. Deep and low. “With whoever you choose to stand by, metizo.”
A long pause followed that remark. Then, “Never call me that. You do so again, and it is you who will die.”
Sharpknife’s reply held approval. “You are fierce for one whose blood is not pure.”
“And you are apparently incredibly thick for one whose blood is. I have the superior weapon, and it is pointed at you.”
“I do not fear your weapons.” The Creek’s resonant voice traveled over the broken earth and down the fall of rocks. “They say you have betrayed your own. Is this true?”
The reply came quickly this time. “No. I am with my own.”
Copperhead tensed. The man in his arms was stirring. He closed his eyes and mouthed a prayer as he considered taking desperate action, but even as he trembled at the thought of having to strike Cara and render him unconscious again, the voices above grew faint—as if the men who spoke had begun to move away.
“I understand a decision has been made,” the first man said.
“If it is not now; it is soon,” Sharpknife answered.
And then, as they once again became a part of the wind, the words of the man who spoke with a slight accent came to him. They were strangely familiar. “ ‘The morning is come unto thee, o’ thou that dwellest in the land; the time is come, and the day of trouble is near....’ ”
His hand had fallen away. He glanced down and saw that his friend was awake. Cara’s skin was pale and his brow knit with pain. He eased him down and propped his back against the rock wall. Stretching his muscles, the Cherokee asked, “You heard?”
Cara frowned. Then he shook his head. “Heard what? You called me and then....” He paused and the slight smile that curled the end of his lip was chagrinned. “I believe the turkey attacked me, and I fell.”
His friend did not smile. Nor did he reply.
The other man started and looked at him. His face was sober. “You remember what I told you, Cara-Mingo, when you said catching turkeys did not present a challenge?”
Cara thought a moment. “You mean when you said the arrow had not been loosed,
and the prize was not yet won?”
His friend knelt to examine his leg. “I was wrong. The arrow has been loosed, and if we are not wary—and very careful—the prize will fall into another’s hand.”
Cara started as his friend touched his calf. “What is that supposed to mean?” he growled between gritted teeth.
“It means war.”
- Continued in Chapter Eleven -