Helen McColl stumbled blindly through the trees. The more she thought about it, the more she had begun to fear—not only for the man it seemed her husband was consumed with destroying—but for the two children who had inadvertently become involved. She had known for some time that Will was standing on the edge of a precipice; unwilling or unable to let go of the events that had transpired half a decade before. It seemed now, with the arrival of this native man Daniel Boone had befriended, that he had taken the final step and plunged into the abyss.
She wiped away the tears that fell as she remembered the Will she had known when they were courting. He had been kind and loving to her; never showing any sign of the man he would eventually become. But then, they had lived in a town where there had been little occasion for contact with the local native population. She had known what had happened; how his first wife, Lydia, had been killed by a group of Seneca seeking blood revenge. The older ladies in the town who had nothing better to do than nose into other people’s business had told her. That knowledge had kept her from sharing her secret with him. She knew now that had been wrong. If she had told him; if he had known she had Native blood, perhaps then he would have been able to see past his hatred.
She frowned as she lifted her skirts and prepared to step over a tree trunk that had fallen and blocked the path. A sound made her pause. She closed her eyes immediately and hearkened to the voice of the wood, knowing it would tell its tale to any who bothered to listen. It took only a few seconds to realize that someone was working their way through the underbrush toward her. When she had been a little girl, her Wyandot grandfather had taken her into the woods and taught her many things. The first one was to always presume danger, and then give thanks to the Creator if you were proven wrong. Turning on her heel, she slipped into the shadows just as a man appeared. He was unkempt and seemed to be lost. He spun in a circle several times and then sat heavily on the trunk, and rested his head in his hands. Helen shifted through the leaves until she was abreast him, and then parted them to get a better look.
A second later she stepped onto the path. "Isaac?"
The man started and stood straight up. It took him a moment to see her, and a moment more to recognize her. "Helen? What are you doing out here?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing. I thought you were with Will and Billy. Hunting."
He didn’t look at her. "I was with Will all right."
"Isaac? What is it?"
The thin man shook his head. "I ain’t rightly sure, Helen." He hesitated a moment and then looked at her. "You see this?" He indicated his swollen lower lip. "Will did that. Called me a liar."
Isaac seemed to suddenly regret his words. He looked away. "Ain’t nothin’ important."
Helen hesitated only a moment before saying, "Isaac, I know."
His eyes narrowed as he looked at her again. "What do you think you know?"
She stepped toward him. Her grandfather had taught her as well to look into the eyes of an enemy. ‘If you show no fear,’ he had said, ‘the fear that is meant for you, will come to them.’ "I know you took that man, the one Daniel Boone brought to the settlement. I know Will hated him, and wanted him dead. Isaac," she paused, "he isn’t dead, is he?"
The man shook his head slowly. "Weren’t for lack of tryin’. Will beat him bad enough."
"Beat him?" she whispered.
"Split his skin with his knuckles like he did mine. I don’t rightly know what’s wrong with him. He ain’t never liked Injuns, but I ain’t never seen him so mad as he was at this one. That durn Injun, he had to go and be uppity in the tavern. Called Will a ‘devil’. I agreed we ought to teach him a lesson. Will says to me, he says, ‘We’ll take him, and sell him to the Shawnee. Make some money and get rid of him all at once.’ But then, when we catches up to him, he sends me and the boy away, and beats him ‘til he bleeds." Isaac paused. "Helen, I don’t think Will’s right in the head anymore."
"He sent Billy away?" She glanced frantically around. "But he’s not with you."
"The boy, and Boone’s girl, they tricked me and freed the Injun. They ran with him. I told Will what they did and that’s when he did this." He pointed to his lip. "He said I was lyin’. That Billy wouldn’t never do nothin’ like that. Then he told me to go back to Boonesborough and tell the settlers that the Injun run off with them young’uns." He shook his head. "It ain’t the truth. The boy couldn’t stomach killin’ the Injun in the end."
"But I thought you said he was just going to sell him?" Helen’s stomach grew tight. "To teach him a lesson."
"That’s what I thought. But Will, once we gets him, he comes up with this other idea. He’s gonna let the Shawnee take him, and then we was supposed to go after them and kill not only Boone’s Injun, but those two Shawnee as well."
Helen paled. "But that would start a war.... Dear God. Doesn’t he realize the settlement would get caught in the middle? Tens of innocent lives could be lost. Women and children; both red and white."
"He don’t care Helen. He just wants to make them pay."
"No." She shook her head. "He still wants to make Two Skies pay. Even though he’s dead."
"Who?" "Never mind." She reached out toward him. "Isaac, you must make me a promise."
He frowned as he held his hands up and backed away. "Now, Helen, I ain’t gonna betray Will, no matter how bad he treated me."
"I am not asking you to. I am simply asking you to wait. Give me time to find Will and talk to him. Don’t raise the settlers, Isaac. Don’t be the hand that brings death to all those innocents."
"Isaac, please." She caught his sleeve with her hand. "This is for Will as much as anything. I don’t want to see him go to jail for killing a man."
"He ain’t a man. He’s an Injun."
Helen swallowed her anger. Arguing with Isaac would be a waste, not only of energy, but of time. "Do you think that will stop Daniel Boone from taking revenge? This man is his friend. Just wait until dusk tomorrow, Isaac. Give me one day."
The thin man was silent for a moment. Then he nodded. Slowly, he said, "I’d like to have the Will I know back."
She smiled wearily and shoved her black hair out of her eyes. "So would I."
"Billy? Billy, you awake?"
Jemima shifted. She and Billy were sitting beneath a tree. The Shawnee had tied their hands and feet and placed them there, and then proceeded to act as if they didn’t exist. She knew, in part, that it was because they didn’t think of them as adults. She had noticed, though, that they paid more attention to Billy’s restraints then they had hers. Her Pa had explained to her that even at twelve, a Shawnee boy was considered a man. So they must have thought the same thing of Billy, and figured he posed more of a threat. She wiggled her fingers again and grinned as the ropes about her wrists gave way—just a bit. In time, she would be free.
After the warriors had surprised them, they had forced the three of them to march for most of the day without stopping. It had been hard on Mingo and he had stumbled a couple of times. Near dusk they had finally halted and made camp. Tired and hungry, the three of them had shared some dry corn cakes and water, and then one of the Shawnee had come for Mingo. She frowned and glanced up. About ten yards away a fire was blazing. She could see the Cherokee’s tall form silhouetted against the flames. It looked like they were interrogating him.
She turned toward her companion. "Billy?"
"What?" The boy’s head jerked. "Oh, Jemima. Sorry. I guess I fell asleep."
She indicated the scene playing out before them. "I’m worried about Mingo."
"From what that Shawnee said who tied me up, I think you have cause. They mean what they say. If he ain’t that important to old chief Menewa...."
"Oh, I think he’s important enough. You heard them. Menewa’s his maternal uncle—his ma’s brother—and that puts them in the same clan." She shook her head. "But I don’t think he’ll trade the land for him."
"Because. My Pa told me once about something like this that happened during the war with the French. One of the soldiers traveling with his group—a young man related to their captain—was taken prisoner. The French offered to give him up if the British would leave the area. They didn’t. And the captain let them kill him."
Billy seemed appalled. "His own kin? How come?"
"Because, if you give in to one demand, there will just be another. Once you show you’re afraid, it’s all over." She drew a breath. "Least that’s what Pa says."
"My Pa told me...." Billy’s face got a funny look on it, and he fell silent.
She waited. "What? What were you going to say?"
"Nothin’." He shrugged. "You don’t wanta hear anythin’ my Pa had to say. Not after what he’s done."
"Billy," Jemima said, and waited until he looked at her to go on, "just ‘cause your Pa isn’t acting right now, that’s doesn’t mean you have to throw away everything he ever taught or told you." She hesitated, waiting for that to sink in. "What did he say?"
"He always told me, ‘Fear is a faker’. He said if you just pretend you ain’t afraid, then you won’t be." The boy’s eyes were wide as they locked on the two Shawnee. "I sure hope he’s right."
"My Pa says something like that too. When he gets stuck like this, he never gives up. He comes up with a plan."
Billy’s eyes flicked to her face. "You got a plan?"
Jemima frowned. "Not yet. You?"
He shook his head and then fell silent. A minute later he said softly, "I suppose they’ll take us to live with them."
"The Shawnee. They adopt White people into their tribe all the time. Make ‘em Shawnee." Billy brightened just a little bit. "Might be kind of fun."
"For you, maybe. You’re a boy. You’d get to hunt and fish and fight. I’d just end up married to some old Indian, and cookin’ corn all day long. When my Pa was adopted by Chief Blackfish, there was this woman...." The girl’s voice trailed off and she fell silent.
Billy looked at her again. She was frowning, and there was a curious glint in her eye. "What is it?"
She smiled and held her hands up. They were free.
"I have a plan."
Mingo grunted as the Shawnee struck him again. He frowned as he straightened up. "You may beat me all you want," he said through gritted teeth, "but it will not change the facts. Menewa will not concede the land. That is the message I was sent to bring to you."
"But we did not hold you then. When we meet with him tomorrow— "
"It will make no difference."
"Does your Uncle not care if you die?"
Mingo’s dark eyes sparked. "If you kill me, you will find out just how much he cares."
The second Shawnee walked up to him and lifted his chin with the handle of his knife. "You are not afraid to die. You do not cower like a dog, Cherokee. Why is that, when all Cherokee are dogs?"
"He is English, White Horse" the other one said. "Englishmen do not cower. They hide behind their wigs, their fancy clothes, and their muskets. They order others to do their fighting, and then when the others fall, the mighty English run away." He reached out and shoved Mingo so he fell backward and, reaching down, took hold of the ropes that bound his feet. "He cannot run."
Mingo sighed. It seemed neither blind prejudice nor bullies were peculiar to the White race. He was wasting his time trying to reason with them. If only he could think of some way to separate the two of them, he might be able to overcome one. He had been pretended—well, mostly pretended— to be weak and unable to defend himself. They would not expect him to try anything. He had actually managed to work the ropes on his hands loose and, though they were not free, he thought he might be able to grab a knife and hold it to one’s throat; forcing the other to untie him and the two children. Unfortunately, so far White Horse and his cohort, Little Fog, had stuck together as if they had been glued.
He frowned as one of them grabbed his arms and pulled him to his feet. Tomorrow, they had boasted, they would meet up with the rest of their war party which was camped just below Chota. If that happened, he knew there would be little hope of escape. His keen eyes darted to the area where the two children had been deposited beneath the trees like unwanted baggage. He did not so much fear for himself as for Jemima and her young friend. More than likely, if they lived, they would be sold to other Shawnee and taken far away.
Jemima might never see her family again.
He took a deep breath and braced himself. He would have to chance making them angry. Angry men often grew careless and.... A sudden ruckus caused him to forget what he had been thinking. He pivoted toward the sound and at first saw nothing. Then, he noticed Jemima Boone. Daniel’s daughter was scooting forward into the circle of light; her hands and feet still bound. She seemed to be carrying on a conversation with herself. He frowned. What in the world was she doing?
"What do you mean, tying me up like this? Do you know who I am?" she was shouting. "If my Pa were here, he’d whup you good. And if his Pa was here, he’d have your scalps. Do you hear me? Are you listening?"
White Horse and Little Fog had turned as one toward the girl. They seemed to be stunned.
"I demand you let my Indian go!"
Mingo’s dark eyebrows hit his bangs. Her Indian?
White Horse frowned. "You will be silent."
"I will not be silent! My Pa is Sheltowee, Big Turtle. Do you know who that is?"
"Jemima," Mingo began.
She had managed to struggle to her feet and stood now, fully revealed in the light. She was disheveled, but determined. "And you be quiet. I haven’t told you that you can say anything, have I?"
The tall man shook his head. "No, you have not."
"Then mind that you do as I say. If I want to hear from you, I’ll tell you. Is that clear?"
He nodded. "Yes, Ma’am. Perfectly."
Jemima hid her smile as she turned back to White Horse. "My Pa is Sheltowee. This Cherokee was his prisoner. He gave him to me, and that makes him my Indian." She held her hands out. "Now take these off."
The two men had been talking. They knew of Sheltowee. He was a formidable warrior; strong and fast as the panther, tall as the trees, and wise and wily like the fox. It was said he spit bullets through his teeth across great distances, and that they always struck and killed whatever he had aimed them at. He had lived with Chief Blackfish as his son for a time. Little Fog stepped forward. "Why should we free you?"
"Because," she drew a deep breath, "I am challenging you for my Indian. My Pa told me you Shawnee think you are the best shots in all Kentucky. I say you aren’t." She took another breath. "I am."
Mingo tensed. He thought he knew what she was doing. Daniel had told him that when he had been with the Shawnee, he had been careful not to exceed many of them in shooting, for it was well-known that no people were more envious in that sport. Undoubtedly Jemima had heard the same stories and was counting on that.
"You are a woman-child," the Shawnee warrior countered. "We do not battle women or children; there is no honor in it."
Her brown eyebrows peaked. "You afraid I might beat you?"
Mingo struggled not to laugh. The situation was extremely serious, and the game Daniel’s daughter was playing, extremely dangerous, but the sight of the two Shawnee warriors stumbling into her trap was almost more than he could stand.
"Well?" she insisted, holding her hands out again.
White Horse raised his rifle. "Untie her." He looked at her. "But only her hands."
"Well, I sure as shootin’ don’t need my feet to fire a rifle. You Shawnee must have some awful funny hunting rituals."
This time Mingo did laugh, but he sobered instantly as White Horse crossed to him and placed his blade against his throat. "You laugh now, Cherokee. You will not soon." He pressed the knife into his flesh. "Is what this one says true? You are Sheltowee’s Cherokee?"
He cleared his throat. "Sheltowee brought me to Boonesborough," he answered truthfully. "You can ask Chief Blackfish."
"And he gave you to this one?"
Mingo watched Little Fog place his rifle in Jemima’s hands. "She is Sheltowee’s daughter," he replied. "Do you doubt she is worthy?"
Jemima hefted the rifle and tried to get the feel of it. She was still hoping she wouldn’t actually have to fire it. Luckily the Shawnee who had untied her was not the one who had put the ropes around her wrists in the first place. If he had been, he might have realized they had been retied. She had freed herself, and then freed Billy. Her eyes darted to the woods. He was out there, somewhere. Nearby. She had had him tie her back up and then scooted out in the light, hoping to distract the warriors with her ‘challenge’ so he could slip in and free Mingo, and then together, they could overpower the pair.
She closed her eyes briefly and whispered a prayer. "Please God, put fire in Billy’s feet, and make the bullets fly straight." She knew how to shoot, but she very much doubted she could outshoot either of the seasoned warriors who had taken them. She glanced sideways at the two muscular natives. Thank goodness they were seasoned only in warfare and not in women.
Boy, were they dumb.
"Little Fog will position the targets," White Horse said as he came to stand beside her. "You will hit them."
"Or what?" she asked as she closed one eye and looked down the sight of the barrel.
"You will die."
Jemima swallowed. She lowered the gun so he couldn’t see she was shaking. As she did, her eyes flicked to Mingo. His handsome face was drawn. His dark eyes went to the rifle in her hands. She knew what he was thinking. She had thought of it too. But she hadn’t ever had to kill anybody before, and she wasn’t sure she could.
Looking up at White Horse, she asked, "Are you gonna shoot too?"
"After you," he answered.
"And if you miss? He goes free?"
"I will not miss," the native said.
She squared her shoulders. "Neither will I."
He smiled grimly and then nodded to his companion, who had set a series of progressively smaller pinecones on the back of a fairly level boulder. As Little Fog stepped away, he held his hand out, indicating she should begin. "Daughter of Sheltowee," he said.
She swallowed hard. "The big one first?"
White Horse nodded. "Yes."
Jemima took aim. She prayed for her finger not to tremble on the trigger. Then she did as her Pa had taught her. She counted to three and then relaxed, and pulled it. The first pinecone exploded in a shower of debris.
White Horse nodded. He took aim and fired. The second one did the same.
Before he reloaded, he handed her Little Fog’s powder bag and ramrod, and then he watched as she did the same. He seemed to be impressed that she knew what she was doing. Jemima just hoped she wouldn’t pass out. Her hands were trembling and her knees felt like jelly. She drew a deep breath as she raised the rifle again. All she had to do was turn toward him and fire. The other one was far enough away. He would be surprised. Mingo could probably take him out, even with his hands tied. She closed her eyes.
Where was Billy?
"Again," White Horse insisted. He seemed surprised she had managed the first shot. Apparently, he didn’t think White women knew such things.
Jemima aimed at the target and fired. The third cone disintegrated. As the Indian man repeated her action, hitting the fourth, her eyes shot to Mingo, pleading with him to tell her what to do.
The tall Cherokee understood her dilemma. Killing did not come easy, and the first kill was always the hardest—especially if the one you killed was close, and you had to look into his eyes.
He growled with frustration. He had continued to struggle against his bonds, but the ropes simply would not give. He felt all but useless. He glanced at Little Fog. The warrior’s back was turned. If Jemima did shoot White Horse, it would take the other man a few seconds to cross the ground between the target area and where she was. Still, what could he do, bound as he was? Little Fog would most likely take her hostage or kill her before he could intervene. He drew a deep breath and tensed his muscles, and tried his bonds again. Then he coughed and wrinkled his nose.
What was that smell?
Jemima had just taken aim at the fifth pinecone, when a hand on the barrel of her rifle stopped her. She looked up. White Horse was watching her with new respect. "You do not lie."
"I am Sheltowee’s daughter," she said as she held her head high. "Do the Shawnee believe he would lie?"
The warrior frowned, and then he shouted something in his own language to his companion. "The challenge was not worthy of Big Turtle’s child," he said, addressing her again. "Now you will have one worthy of your skill."
Jemima turned toward the other man. Little Fog had tied the tiny pinecone to a rawhide strip and set it swinging in the wind.
She swallowed hard. "Oh, gee," she whispered, "thanks...."
Mingo massaged his wrists. He nodded to Billy, and then his dark eyes took in the scene before him. Both Jemima and White Horse’s rifles were loaded. He couldn’t chance making a move until both had fired again. He glanced at the swinging target. Unless she missed. If she did, he would have to move quickly, before the Shawnee decided to harm her.
The sight of Daniel’s daughter with the borrowed rifle bravely pressed against her shoulder made him smile, even though the smile was grim.
She was a very brave girl.
"Shoot!" White Horse demanded.
She was hesitating, trying to figure out how to predict the cone’s path. Concentrating was making her head spin. She was hungry and tired, and having to shoot with her feet tied together was throwing her off balance. She was also growing weary of the game she was playing. She closed her eyes again and whispered a prayer. "Please Lord," she breathed, "make the bullet fly straight as this prayer to Heaven." And with that, she pulled the trigger.
Her eyes were still closed.
The ball from the musket struck the cone and carried it, and the branch it had been tied to, several feet from the tree.
As Little Fog turned to search for it, a finger tapped White Horse’s shoulder. The warrior frowned, and then pivoted; startled.
"Excuse me," Mingo said softly, "I believe this is my dance."
A moment later the native lay prostrate on the ground.
Little Fog had returned just in time to watch his companion fall. He was charging the pair now, with his tomahawk in hand. Mingo took hold of Jemima and flung her out of the way, and then he side-stepped and brought his bound fists down on the back of the other man’s neck. As the Shawnee fell, he did too; breathing hard.
Jemima untied her feet as quick as she could and ran to his side. She knelt by him. "Mingo, are you all right?"
He nodded. "Just...weak." He glanced at the two prone Shawnee and then held his hands out to her. "Commendable work, Miss Boone."
She grinned from ear to ear as she took hold of his copper hands and shook them. "Thanks." She started to untie him but then stopped as a sound brought her to her feet. It was Billy, emerging from the trees nearby.
"We better get them tied up," Billy said as he approached. He was holding a coil of rope in his hands that he had found in one of the native’s bandoleers. "Wouldn’t want them to wake up before we do."
Jemima’s hands went to her hips. "Billy McColl! Whatever took you so long? If they had made those targets any smaller, I would have— " She paused and sniffed. Her nose wrinkled. "What’s that smell?"
Mingo climbed slowly to his feet. "Mr. McColl was unavoidably delayed. He had a momentary run-in with the local fauna."
"Dang skunks! That mother one wouldn’t leave me alone," the boy complained. "I had to run halfway to Boonesborough and back to get away from her."
Jemima pinched her nose. "Well, you certainly didn’t get away from her stink."
"That ain’t the skunk," a dark voice spoke from the trees.
The trio whirled. Jemima felt her heart sink. She stepped in front of Mingo and faced the man who had emerged from the shadows. He was holding a gun on them.
Daniel Boone was standing, staring north. His friend Yadkin finished tossing what remained of his coffee on the fire and went to join him. The tall man turned and looked at him as he drew abreast. "You hear that, Yad?"
The blond frowned. "The only thing I heard since we been here, Dan’l, is the locust and the crickets chirpin’ loud enough to wake them Injuns what are dead and buried near here."
Dan held up his hand. "There it is again. There’ll be another one soon."
Yad nodded. He had heard it this time. "A shot," he said. "Rifle by the sound of it. Not too far away. Maybe a quarter day’s walk."
"Maybe less. The ground’s pretty flat between here and Chota. A man can move fast if needs be."
Yad slipped his tricorn hat back on his head. "Do that mean you’re about to suggest we move fast, Dan’l?"
The big man didn’t answer. He was thinking. The first two times there had been two shots. This last time there had only been one. The whole thing was puzzling. It hadn’t sounded as much like a fight as someone training. Or maybe having a shooting contest.
"Dan’l?" Yad cleared his throat. "Er, Dan’l?"
He turned toward him. "Yad?"
"My legs.... Well, they’ve grown a mite weary tryin’ to keep up with those long shanks of your’n. Seems like we’ve been movin’ without stoppin’ for days on end." He pulled at his mustache. "Now it ain’t that I mean we should stop—not what with Jemima out there somewheres—but don’t you think we oughta sit a spell and think this out? We’ve been followin’ tracks. If we just take off across the open field at the first sound of gunfire, we’re liable to find ourselves smack in the middle of some war party what ain’t got nothin’ to do with Mingo or Jemima, or Will McColl. Odds are, if we do that, we’ll end up sleepin’ back there with them dead Cher-o-kee."
Dan replaced his coonskin cap and rested Ticklicker on his shoulder. "Seems to me, if someone is holdin’ a shootin’ contest, I ought to have been invited. Don’t you feel slighted, Yadkin?" He slapped his friend on the back as he began to move toward the field. "I know I do. And I think I am gonna go and tell whoever was doing that shootin’ just that."
Yadkin stood on the low rise and watched his friend walk away. After a minute, he took his tricorn hat off and wiped his forehead free of sweat. The sun was climbing high in the sky. It was just after noon. If he turned back, he could be home by suppertime. And he knew if he did, his friend would never say a word. On the frontier each man made his own calls, and explanations weren’t needed between those who knew each other well. He thought about Boonesborough, and Cincinnatus and the tavern. He could be there, tossing back an ale, and enjoying a companionable silence with the old goat—or here, wearing his legs out runnin’ after a man who was tall as the timber and seemingly just as unmovable.
He glanced at the sun again.
An ale sure would taste good.
Then he remembered the faces of the settlers that had filled the tavern the day they left. He saw their ugly mugs again, foaming over with hate and pure blind ignorance, and he knew he had to do something. He wasn’t eloquent like Dan’l Boone. He couldn’t really express how he felt about it, or about the tall Indian who had gone missing. But he could kill himself a few Shawnee, and hope to Hell they found him and the two children alive.
"Dan’l!" he called loudly. "Wait for me!"
"You leave him alone, you monster!" Jemima screamed and kicked with her bound feet as Will McColl shoved her into a small narrow opening in the side of a hill. Seconds later he did the same with his son.
"Pa," the boy cried as he did, "don’t do this, Pa! It ain’t right!"
Billy’s father stopped to stare at them. He had returned alone; his trip to rouse the settlers only partially successful. When he had arrived at the Malone’s homestead, he had found that the men had just set out for the Salt Licks. He told Patrick’s wife what had happened—how Boone’s Injun had upped and gone crazy, kidnapping the frontiersman’s daughter and his son, Billy. She had sent her youngest son to find his father, promising help would soon be on its way. He had thanked her, and then headed back, intent to find the Shawnee and setting the rest of his plan in motion.
He had found them all right. Bound hand and foot, and about to let the Injun escape.
They were dead now. And Boone’s Injun was soon to follow.
"You shut up, Billy," he snapped. "It’s a sad thing when a man has to tie up his own son."
"But Pa, this is wrong! You know it is. The Shawnee and the Cherokee won’t let you get by with— "
"Soon there won’t be no more Shawnee or Cherokee." Will passed a hand over his face. "They’ll wipe each other out. The animals will be gone, and the settlements will be safe."
Jemima frowned as she looked at him. He was tattered and unkempt, and there were times when it seemed his eyes looked right through her. It was frightening. She had seen a raccoon once that had gone mad with rabies.
He looked the same.
"Mr. McColl," she said softly, "what are you going to do with Mingo?"
He had started to pile rocks at the entrance to the narrow cave. "Take him closer to his own. Kill him. Leave the Shawnees weapons on his corpse." He spoke almost without emotion. "You’ll be safe here, Jemima. You’ll be safe, Billy." He drew a breath as he lifted a larger stone. "Two Skies won’t be able to hurt you like he did your Ma."
Billy glanced at his friend and then back to his father. His voice was very small. "Pa, Two Skies is dead."
McColl’s hand lingered on the stone he had just put in place. His son’s words had made him pause. "Of course, he is. I meant to say Mingo...."
"Pa." Billy pleaded, "please. Let’s go home. Forget about him."
His father gazed into his blue eyes and then began to close up the small gaps in the wall he had made.
Mingo’s head came up as Will McColl walked back into the clearing. The madman had tied him up and then herded the children off into the trees. McColl was alone now. He prayed he had not become so deranged that he would be willing to harm his own child, and that he had just taken them somewhere and left them, out of harm’s way. If that was so, Billy’s safety would insure Jemima’s. He glanced at the two Shawnee who lay dead close by him. McColl had shot them while they were still tied; as if they had been animals.
He knew he meant to do the same to him.
He stiffened as McColl walked slowly to his side and placed the barrel of the flintlock he held against his forehead. Mingo refused to close his eyes, and instead raised them to meet McColl’s. The sandy-haired man toyed with the trigger. Then, suddenly, he shifted the rifle away and, using it as a prop, crouched beside him. With his free hand McColl caught the ropes that bound his hands and pulled him to his feet.
"What are you doing?" Mingo dared to ask.
McColl didn’t answer at first. Instead he turned him around and placed the barrel in the center of his back. "Walk, Injun. And keep walkin’ ‘til I tell you not to."
The sun was setting by the time they neared Chota. They had actually had to double back as the Shawnee’s intended rendezvous with their own people had been set somewhat east of the village. While they traveled no words had passed between them. The only time McColl had said anything was when Mingo had attempted to escape. When the other man had overtaken him, Mingo had watched fascinated from his purchase on the ground as McColl cursed him, and then summoned willpower from some unknown reservoir to keep from killing him on the spot. Instead, he had beaten him again and then forced him to march another three-quarters of an hour. Since they had reached their destination and McColl had shoved him to the ground and told him to stay put, he had not stirred.
Neither had McColl.
Mingo frowned as he shifted slightly. His rib was screaming. He tried to ignore it and concentrated on his captor. In some ways, since he had beaten him, McColl seemed to have forgotten he existed. He sat on a nearby boulder, compulsively turning his knife over and over in his hands and speaking to himself. He had only caught two words. The name of the man whom his son had said had once been Will McColl’s close friend.
The man, it seemed, for whose supposed crimes he had been sentenced to die.
Mingo closed his eyes. He didn’t seek sleep, but it came nonetheless.
He had no way of knowing if it would be permanent.
Helen McColl limped through the underbrush. She was heading for the Cherokee village. She had borrowed a horse from one of the outlying farms and, after leaving Isaac Clay, had struck out at a breakneck pace, hoping to reach Chota before her husband and the settlers he was sure to have inflamed with his venom.
Unfortunately, the term ‘break neck’ had almost proven prophetic. The horse she had driven so hard had thrown a shoe, and then thrown her. She had tumbled down into a gully and lain for some minutes, semi-conscious. When she came to herself again, she had risen and immediately started out on foot. Then, she had heard two shots. Terrified, she had headed for the source of the sound. It might have been a hunting party, but the rapid manner in which the shots had been fired had reminded her all too much of the sound of her father’s rifle as he had put down the old mare she had been fond of.
Merciful, he had called it.
But murder none the less.
Helen pressed on. Her hair was hanging in great dark hanks before her eyes. Her dress was torn; its fine fabric encrusted with nettles and cockleburs. She had lost the heels to both shoes, and then thrown the shoes themselves away when they made her turn her ankles. Her grandfather and his people had moved well enough on bare feet. She could to.
She had been traveling nearly an hour when she turned a corner and pushed aside a thick hedge bursting with red berries. What she saw as she did, stopped her in her tracks.
It was Will. He was standing over a man who seemed to be asleep on the ground. Will’s rifle was in hand and pointed towards the man’s chest.
Helen stepped into the small clearing. Slowly, she began to inch forward; careful less she startle him. Once she was within ten yards of the pair, she halted. She drew a single breath and let it out, long and slow, steadying herself.
They had buried the two Shawnee and kept moving, hoping to find some sign that might indicate Mingo and the two children were still alive. Now they had been forced by hunger and fatigue to stop for a few minutes, taking time to eat a bite of jerky and splash some water on their faces so they could continue on. Yadkin looked at Daniel Boone’s back. He was bending down, searching the ground; unable to rest. What they had found had hit him hard. He didn’t really understand the tall frontiersman’s affection for the English-speaking Cherokee, but he respected it nonetheless. Mingo’s beaded bandoleer had been clenched in the hand of one of the two warrior’s. It, and the warrior, had been bathed in blood. And even though they both had been shot, execution-style, the native’s small dagger had been sheathed in the other Shawnee’s heart. Dan reasoned McColl had left it that way to make it look as if Mingo had killed them out of pure hatred. Still, they didn’t know if the blood on the bag was the Shawnee’s, or the Cherokee’s. They had scoured the area for a body, but found nothing. Still, it looked like Mingo might be dead. And if he wasn’t dead, he was in Will McColl’s hands.
Which amounted to the same thing.
Of Jemima and Billy, there was nary a sign. The tracks in the clearing where the bodies had been were a mass of confusion. It was a crossroads and there were moccasin prints covered by boot prints, covered by more moccasins. They had spent a quarter of an hour searching for something that might have confirmed the children had been there, but after finding nothing concrete, had started out toward the Cherokee village. They hadn’t really known what else to do.
Yadkin glanced at the sky. The sun was setting on another day and the night didn’t seem to hold much promise. He shook his head and then walked up to his friend. "Dan’l?"
The big man looked up. His green eyes were ringed with fatigue, but seemed to hold some hope. "Yad?"
The blond placed his hand on the big man’s shoulder. "You find somethin’?"
Dan nodded as he rose to his feet. "Yep."
"Well, why in tarnation didn’t you say so?" Yad protested even as he grinned. "What is it?"
The frontiersman’s tall form seemed to relax as he said the words, "Mingo’s alive."
Yad frowned and stared at the uneven ground. "How’d you know?"
"Two men. Walking close. Single-file. One in boots, the other in moccasins."
"McColl. Probably holdin’ a gun on him." As his friend nodded, Yad added, "What about the kids?"
Dan pointed east. "That way, I think. McColl was with them." He was silent a moment. "He was alone when he came back."
Yadkin fidgeted with his hat. He knew where the other man’s thoughts were flying. "You want I should go alone to look, Dan’l?" he offered.
Dan shook his head. "We’ll go together."
The blond nodded. "Best way to do anythin’."
Several minutes later they found themselves in a small gully, fronted by trees and backed by a low hill.
"I don’t see nothin’, Dan’l," Yad declared.
"No, but I hear somethin’." Dan held up his hand. "Don’t you?" He cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled, " ‘Mima, is that you?"
Almost instantly a high-pitched voice called back, "Pa, Pa! Over here! Over here!"
A grin spread across Dan’s rugged face. As the blond nodded, he called out again, "Jemima, where are you?"
"In the cave, Pa! Behind a pile of rocks. Mr. McColl shut us in."
Dan frowned and looked around. Then, at the same instant, both he and Yad saw the wall of freshly piled stones. He ran to it and fell to his knees and began to pull them away. Almost instantly his daughter’s wide brown eyes appeared.
"Pa! No!" She reached out through the gap and caught his fingers. "Go after Mingo! Mr. McColl’s got him. He’s gonna kill him!"
His hand froze on the stones. "You know where he’s takin’ him?"
"Somewhere close to Chota, Pa. That’s all he said."
"You go ahead, Dan’l," Yad said as he knelt and began to remove some of the stones. "I’ll get these two young’uns out."
Dan nodded. "Mima, you all right? Billy?"
There was a second of silence. "We’re fine, Pa. Go save Mingo."
The big man stood. He took a few of the precious seconds he knew were ticking by to examine the ground. He had noticed that McColl’s heels had worn a certain way, and he was able to identify his print. He turned back toward the cave. "Be back as soon as I can, Yad. Mima, you help Yad as much as you can from inside."
"I will, Pa." Her fingers wiggled through the ever-widening gap and grabbed one of the stones.
The blond rose and crossed to his friend. "What is it, Dan’l?"
He frowned toward the woods beyond. "No tellin’ what I’ll find. You— "
"I’ll keep ‘em here ‘til you come back, Dan’l."
The tall frontiersman nodded and was gone.
"Will, it’s me, Helen. Do you know who I am? Will?"
Her husband’s head came up slowly. He turned to look at her. "Lydia?"
She shook her head. "No, Will. It’s me, Helen. You remember, Lydia is dead."
"Helen?" He seemed to come to himself. "Of course, I know Lydia’s dead. He killed her." He indicated the man at his feet who was just starting to stir.
"No, Will. That’s Mingo, Daniel Boone’s friend, not Two Skies. Mingo has never hurt you."
Will laughed. "He’s an Injun, ain’t he?"
Helen closed her eyes for a moment. This was it. She opened them and took a step forward. "Are all Indians bad, Will?"
He nodded. "Yes."
"Am I bad?"
He frowned and really looked at her for the first time. "You? What are you talking about?"
She took another step. The man on the ground had opened his eyes and was looking at her. There was blood on his face. It ran from his lip and nose to his neck, and soaked his vest. And yet, even in this battered state, she could tell his concern was for her. She shook her head slowly and moved forward again. "Will, there’s something I need to tell you."
The tip of his rifle was resting on the man’s heart. She had to assume it was loaded. Will’s finger was on the trigger, so that meant the hammer had probably already been cocked. "You remember, when we first met, how often you commented on my eyes and my black hair? You ever used to sing that song to me, the English one."
" ‘Black, black is the color of my true love’s hair,’" he whispered. "Two Skies hair was black. It was black when I killed him, and black when I cut it off his head." He looked straight at her. "They paid me for it, did you know that? The government?"
Helen met his eyes and what she saw in them told her he was lost; lost to madness and to her. She understood now that it was not only grief over his wife’s death that fueled it, but guilt at what he had done to his friend. "Are you going to take his scalp, Will?"
He looked back at Mingo. The rifle moved to his hair and he used it to spread it out. "It’s black."
"Like mine," she said as she took another step. The man on the ground had still not moved. He seemed to be waiting to see what she was up too. "Would you scalp me, Will?"
He didn’t move for a moment. Then he looked up and frowned. "You? Why would I want to scalp you, Helen? You’re my wife."
She drew a deep breath. Her finger shook, but she pointed at Mingo with it anyhow. "What color is his blood, Will?"
He laughed again; an odd laugh, full of wind and wild things. "Red."
"The same as mine."
"It ain’t the same as yours. He’s an Injun. An animal." The rifle barrel hovered over Mingo’s chest again. "Animal’s have red blood too."
"It is the same as mine." She was only about two yards away from him now. She glanced down and the Cherokee man’s eyes met hers. They were filled with fear. For her. He imperceptibly shook his head. She smiled and nodded. This was right. Even if she died, it was right.
They both had to confront their demons.
"I’m Indian too, Will."
His eyes narrowed. At first it seemed he hadn’t heard her. Then he asked, "You’re what?"
"Indian. The same as him. My grandfather was like him, Will, half-white. Half-Wyandot." As she saw it sink in; saw him accept what she said as an impossible truth, she drew even closer. "Are you going to kill me, Will?"
He stumbled back a few steps. "Helen, don’t lie to me...."
"You’ve lied to yourself, Will. All these years. You ignored Lydia. You spent more time with the men in the settlement than her. And then, when she found innocent comfort in a friendship with another man, you killed him. You murdered Two Skies, Will. Spilled innocent blood, just as you are about to do again now." She swallowed hard. "You murdered him and scalped him, and sold him—sold your friend Will, for gold." She shook her head. "You quote scripture to justify your actions. You are no better than Judas, who sold his friend for thirty pieces of silver."
"No," he whispered.
"And you know it. That’s the reason you are so angry. That’s the reason you have to run, have to strike out so hard, have to remain so blind." She was pleading now. "Will, let it go. Let Lydia go. Let Two Skies go. Please, Will. We can go home. We can start again...." She pointed to the man on the ground. "Will, let him go. Please..."
For a moment he remained perfectly still. Then he turned and raised the rifle as if he would hand it to her. He took three or four staggering steps away from the Cherokee. His eyes met his wife’s and, as they did, he pivoted and pointed the barrel at the man on the ground. "No."
"Will!" she screamed as she ran toward the injured man and threw herself in front of him. "For the love of God in Heaven, Will.... No!"
It was too late for him to stop the motion of his finger. Horror filled him as it pulled the trigger back. "Helen," he whispered as her beautiful face stared up at him.
It was the last thing he was ever to see.
Dan walked over slowly and knelt beside Helen McColl. She was shaken, but thank God the blast from Will’s rifle had missed both her and Mingo. The weapon lay smoking where it had fallen, as he did, to the left of the pair.
He had come upon the trio some minutes before and had let her talk to her husband, hoping she could make him see sense. It hadn’t worked, and now the man lay on the ground, bleeding. Shot dead before her eyes. Dan put his hand on her shoulder. "Helen, I’m sorry. I had to— "
She caught his hand and nodded. Between sobs she whispered, "I know."
As Helen crawled to her husband’s side, Dan rose and turned to his friend. The Cherokee was sitting up, staring at the pair. Dan reached out and offered him a hand. Mingo took it, and as he found his feet, the tall frontiersman walked him a few yards away. He untied his hands and then looked him over from top to bottom. He shook his brown head. "You sure are a sight, Mingo."
The Cherokee nodded as he noted his soiled vest as well as the blood stains on his tanned arms and blue pants. "Not my usual attire, Daniel, blood and dirt."
"No," Dan said softly. "I mean a sight for sore eyes."
Mingo grinned. Then he sobered. "Daniel. McColl took Jemima and Billy away. I don’t know what he did with— "
"They’re fine, Mingo. Yad has them. Will left them in a cave." He glanced at the dead man. "Away from all of this."
"Will they be coming?"
Dan shook his head. "I told Yad to keep them there. I didn’t know that it might not be you lyin’ there. And Jemima, well, I think she’s become mighty fond of you."
The tall Cherokee smiled, remembering the day not long before when Daniel’s young daughter would not even call him by name. "I have grown fond of her too."
He turned immediately at the sound. It was Helen and her voice was low. "What?" he asked her.
She nodded her head toward the trees.
Both men turned to look. A band of Shawnee had appeared as if by magic. Moving silently they had entered the clearing and were standing, staring at the strange tableau. Dan noticed they were heavily armed, and their angry faces had been hastily painted for war. He watched them take note of him and Mingo. One of them stepped forward with his pipe tomahawk raised, but as he did a clamor arose on the other side of the clearing and Patrick Malone and half a dozen armed settlers burst through the trees. Each side raised their rifles and trained them on the other.
Dan steeled himself to step into the middle of the fray, but he found he didn’t need to.
Helen McColl had risen to her feet.
She stepped over Will’s silent form and planted herself squarely between the two lines. Her dark eyes flashed as she faced the Shawnee and then turned to confront the settlers. "Well?" she asked, her voice high-pitched and almost hysterical. "Why don’t you shoot? Just go ahead. Kill each other, and then your children and their children and their children’s children can kill one another to avenge your deaths, and on and on it will go until we are all dead and buried and no one is left to mourn." She drew a great sobbing breath and pointed to her husband. "Are you going to let one man’s blindness; one man’s torment, destroy you all? Because Will thought one Indian had betrayed him, he believed all Indians were monsters." She swung on the Shawnee. "Will killed your men back there. Not these men. Don’t make the same mistake. My husband is dead. Your family’s blood does not cry out from the earth anymore. It is avenged."
The painted faces looked at her. The feathered heads turned as the men spoke among themselves. Then one, who seemed to be the leader, gestured and the others eased their grips on their rifles and bows. He stepped forward. He nodded his head at Daniel and then looked to the battered Cherokee. "Is what the woman says true?" he asked.
Mingo nodded his head. "Yes."
"You are Cara-Mingo, are you not?"
The Shawnee took a step toward him. Behind him, the settlers and the natives eyed each other nervously, but neither made a move. "You were to bring word from Menewa."
Mingo nodded. He drew a breath. "My Uncle’s word is that he will not cede the land. But," he added as the Shawnee began to murmur among themselves, "he also understands that the last winter was hard for all, and that many Shawnee families have been driven here from the Ohio territory by the coming of the long knives and their families. He will cede its’ use for twelve moons."
The Shawnee warrior seemed to relax. "As before the White man came, perhaps one day our people will be allies, and not enemies."
Mingo smiled wearily. "Perhaps."
He turned back to Daniel. "The first shot fired will not be ours, Boone. But be warned; the second will be."
As Dan watched the tall native walk back to his men and then order them to follow him into the trees, he deliberately moved between them and the White men. When the settlers grumbled, he nodded toward the man who seemed to be leading them. "Patrick," he said, "you gonna be outdone by a bunch of ‘savages’? Put your rifles down."
The man nodded toward the body on the ground. "What happened to Will?"
"He tried to start a war," Dan said softly, "and ended up its only casualty."
"Helen?" Patrick Malone asked.
She was sitting at her husband’s side, holding his hand. "Mingo didn’t do anything, Pat. Will took him. He beat him. He meant to kill him. He thought it would take away his pain." She looked up with tears in her eyes. "Well, he’s free of it at last."
"Your daughter, Boone," Malone asked as he lowered his rifle and nodded to the rest to do the same, "and Will’s boy?"
"Safe with Yad."
Patrick Malone shook his head as he stared at the corpse on the ground. "What were you thinkin’, Will?"
Dan answered, "He meant to make the Shawnee believe Mingo had killed their men, and their men had killed Mingo. All to cause what just about happened here a minute ago. Go home, Patrick. Hug your wife and your children, and thank God for that woman there. If not for her, this all might have come out very different."
The woman turned her tear-streaked face up to find Daniel Boone’s Cherokee friend kneeling beside her.
"I am Cara— "
"Mingo, I know. I am so sorry."
"You have nothing to apologize for. You saved my life. I am sorry he would not allow you to save his."
She placed Will’s hand on his chest and stroked the hair back from his closed eyes. "He was a good man once. He just lost his way."
Mingo nodded. "And we shall bear him home as such. And honor him for the man you knew him to be."
She smiled sadly. "Thank you."
The tall Cherokee was silent a moment. "Your secret is safe with me."
Helen frowned. Then she realized what he was talking about. "Oh, my heritage, you mean?"
"There won’t be any secrets anymore. Thank God. Like Will," she placed her hand on the one that was growing cold, and whispered, "I am finally free."
Continued in the Epilogue