"It donít look good, Daníl."
Daniel Boone was squatting, examining the ground just off the path. "No, it donít. Someone was waylaid here. They took a hard fall and then were dragged off." He stood and held his hand out before the other man. In it were several bright beads.
"Mingoís?" Yad asked.
Dan nodded. "One of the strands broke when he fell." His fingers closed on the colorful glass. "You notice they didnít take much care to conceal which way they went?"
The blond was pulling his moustache. "I figured you noticed that. What do you think it means?"
"I think it means weíd best recruit a few others to go with us. Will may have a bigger party planned then weíd care to attend alone." He frowned. "Besides, weíre gonna have to split up to track both Mingo and Jemima."
Yad looked at his friend. He could see the concern written across his face. They had returned from cutting timber to find Danielís wife, Rebecca, and their distant neighbor, Helen McColl, in a state. The two women met them at the door and let loose with such a barrage of words and worry that it had taken him and Daniel half the night to sort out what had happened. After that, none of them had gotten much sleep. At the break of day they had left the cabin and set off in search of signs. Yad shifted his hat and scratched his head. "Daníl...."
At first the tall man appeared not to hear him. Then he glanced up. "What is it, Yad?"
"Well, pardon me for beiní the one to break this to you, but ainít too many of the folk in Boonesborough gonna be too upset to hear that Mingoís gone. Any party Will might be organiziní is bound to be bigger than the one we can rustle up."
Dan was silent a moment. "No. I canít believe that. Theyíre good people."
"Good people or no, theyíre as like to think Mingo done stole Jemima as to believe someone else took the two of them." Yad drew a deep breath and then finished. "I oughta know. Werenít too long ago, Iíd a been one of Ďem."
"But you arenít anymore, Yad. Thatís what I was hopiní for." Dan stood and laid his hand on his shoulder. "If Boonesborough is to survive, we will have to learn how to live with the Indians." He grinned wearily. "After all, thereís more of them than us."
"Right now there is, but mark my word, Daníl, in the end itíll be them or us. We just donít think the same. What we want ainít what they want, even though what they have is what we need."
The big man lifted his hand. "Are you sayiní I should just give up on Mingo?"
"Consarn, it, Daníl Boone, whatíya take me for? A friend is a friend. I donít care if his skin is red as a berry or blue as that moonshine Cincinnatus calls ĎThunderí. I ainít sayiní give up." Yadkin secured his tricorn cap on his blond head. "Iím just sayiní I wouldnít expect any help. Ifín you do, youíre bound to be disappointed."
Daniel Boone drew a slow, long breath and counted to ten. He wasnít disappointed; he was disgusted. Even as a vein popped on his forehead and he opened his mouth to address one of the men facing him, he caught Yadkinís eye and acknowledged he had been right.
The blond nodded his head in reply and then shifted through the crowd. He took up a position behind the wooden counter and thoughtfully fingered his empty mug. Then he called out, "Cincinnatus," drawing the tavern-keeperís attention.
"Yad?" The older man was distracted. He had just returned from dealing with a trapper who had claimed he had been shorted a bag of flour. He was busy checking his inventory sheet. "Eh?"
"Ifín I was you, Iíd be moviní my breakables and puttiní Ďem under this here
counter about now." "What?" Cincinnatus frowned and glanced at the crowd that had gathered in the tavernís main room while he had been outside. There were about a dozen men standing in a semi-circle around Daniel Boone. He eyed the tall frontiersman. "Somethiní botheriní Daníl?"
The blond narrowed his eyes and leaned in close. "Iíll tell ya a secret, old man, ifín youíll fill this here pint for free."
The tavern-keeperís hands went to his hips. "And just why would I do that?"
"Filliní my tankard will cost you a sight less than what it will take to replace all these here bottles and mugs." He indicated the shelves that lined the wall behind the counter.
"And just what is going to happen to all my tankards and bottles?"
Yad eyed the crowd. His blue eyes flicked to Daniel Boone and then back to the older man. "You got about two minutes to decide, ĎNatus."
"Tarnation!" Cincinnatus sputtered as he slapped the inventory list on the counter. "Oh, all right, I canít stand a mystery." He grabbed a pitcher and grudgingly filled the blondís pewter mug to within an inch of the top. "Now, what is this blasted secret? And it better be worth the cost of a tankard of ale."
Yad eyed the golden liquid. Then he nodded towards his friend. "You see that vein poppiní out on Danílís forehead?"
"Vein? What vein? Yadkin, what are you talkiní about?"
"Look." Yad rolled his eyes toward the tall man. "Well, take a look, old man. You see it?"
Cincinnatus scowled, but he looked. "I see it. What about it?"
The blond took a long swig of his ale. He wiped his mustache. "Thatís whatís known as a three minute alarm, only you took so long to fill this," he tipped the mug back and drained it, "that you only got about a minute left."
"A minute before what?"
Yad wiped his lips with the soiled sleeve of his buckskin jacket. He opened his mouth to speak, and then ducked beneath the counter. As he did, a body went flying over him to strike the wall, knocking down one shelf and half a dozen pewter mugs. He rose up and shook his head in disbelief. "Aní here I always thought Daniel Boone was a predictable man. Heís half a minute early."
"Now all of you, you listen to me! Iím ashamed of you." Dan straightened the front of his buckskin shirt and pulled his sleeves down. He glanced at the counter. Yad was helping the semi-conscious settler out the door. "A man is missiní. Somebody waylaid him. And I am fairly certain that somebody was William McColl."
"So you say, Daniel," one of the settlers challenged him, "but whereís your proof? We all know what Injuns are like. Most like heís just got drunk and gone somewhere to sleep it off."
"Yeah," another agreed, "or maybe he just changed his mind. They ainít trustworthy. Everyone knows you canít count on Ďem for nothiní."
"I donít believe youíre sayiní these things. How many times have the Indians helped us? You wouldnít even be here if it hadnít been for Mingo. He showed us this place."
"And how do we know that wasnít a trick?" Yet another man called from the back. "Maybe he was settiní us up. Maybe he wants us to think weíre safe and sound, soís he can give them Injunsóor the Englishóall our secrets. It ainít like you, Daníl, to be so blind."
"Blind?" Danís jaw was set and his fingers balled into fists. "Blind! Itís you, John, and you, Patrick, who are blind. And the rest of you, if you canít see the quality of a man for the color of his skin."
"It ainít the color of his skin, Daníl, that worries me the most," Patrick Malone countered. "This here Mingo you brung back with you is blood to them Cherokee, and to the English. My brother, Edward, died at Concord; killed by them Redcoats. My brother, Thomas, died on the way here at the hands of a different kind of savage." He drew a breath. "What I want to know is, what is it about this half-English, half-Cherokee that makes you trust him? Either way you look at it, he ainít one of us, Daniel."
"And what exactly does it mean to be Ďone of usí?" Dan pushed up his sleeve to where the pale white skin showed above his deep tan. "Is it this? Does beiní white-skinned make me Ďone of us?í We ainít all from the same place. My folks were English. Your family came from Ireland, Patrick, and Johnís from Germany. Anders," he pointed to another man in the back who had remained silent so far, "your people came from Sweden. We speak different languages and have different customs. So, who are we? What makes each of us, Ďoneí?" He shifted and raised his foot to balance it on a chair. "Is it the color of our skin or where we were born? Or who our fathers were? No. Itís whatís in our hearts. What we hope to accomplish here. Why we have banded together. Weíre all different," he opened his arms to encompass every man in the room, "and weíre all the same. Now, the
"Donít want what we want, Daniel." Patrick had stepped forward. "Listen to yourself, youíre fightiní our fight for us. They donít want to plow, or plant, or homestead. You know that. Theyíre like animals. All they want to do is hunt and make war on innocent people who are just trying to pull their fair share from the land."
"You sayiní they donít want a home, Patrick; a safe place to raise their youngíuns, and in peace?"
"What Iím sayiní, Daniel, is that they want ours."
Daniel Boone closed his eyes. When he opened them, they sought his friend, Yadkin. The blond man was leaning on the counter, shaking his head. Dan agreed. Talking to these men was like talking to a stone. "Cincinnatus," he said as his gaze shifted to the tavern-keeper, "fix a kit for me and Yad. Weíre headiní out. Now."
The older man nodded. "Sure thing, Daníl. Have it ready in a minute."
"You need help huntiní your daughter, Boone?"
He turned back. Anders Linstrom had moved to the front of the crowd. Dan looked at the man, and then at all of those around him. "No thank you," he said, "Iím sure you all think when I find Mingo, Iíll find ĎMima. I just hope that if youíre right, I donít find one or both of Ďem dead."
Jemima held her breath and moved several feet closer to the tree where her País friend was tied. She tried not to make a sound as she moved through the dark night. She glanced at the man on guard. He was skinny and had a hooked nose. She thought it was Isaac Clay. She had seen him in the fort before with Billyís Pa, and knew he was a friend of the McColls. He was holding a rifle and walking back and forth a dozen or so yards away, whistling quietly to himself. She didnít think heíd hear her if she whispered something to the tall Indian. She let the breath out and quickly sprinted across an open space between two trees. One short run and she would be there. She narrowed her brown eyes and peered around the trunk of the tree. Mingo wasnít moving. His chin was on his chest, and his body was hanging at an odd angle.
He looked dead. Still, she could tell by the rise and fall of his chest that he was probably just unconscious.
Jemima shifted again and positioned herself so the moonlight that broke through the foliage over her head could illuminate his face. Then she winced. One of his eyes was swollen. It looked like his lip was split, and a dark stain, probably blood, soaked the front of the leather vest he wore. His beads had been broken, and the feathers that had once stood tall on his head, were dangling at its side. She leaned back and closed her eyes, remembering how he had looked that first day when she had turned her back and walked away from him. She hadnít struck him with a fist or made him bleed or anything, but she had hurt him just the same. Shame flooded through her, but it quickly turned to rage, and that rage steeled her resolve. She glanced at Isaac Clay and saw he had stopped and was sitting on a boulder with his head thrown back, staring at the stars. Most likely he didnít expect anybody to come looking for the tall Cherokee. Especially her.
Quickly slipping through the shadows she made her way to the tree her País friend was tied to. Once there she halted just behind it and crouched in the underbrush. "Mingo?" she whispered. "Mingo, are you awake? Can you hear me?"
The native didnít shift or give any other indication that he was aware of his surroundings, but his voice answered her without hesitation. "Jemima? Is that you?"
She realized he must have been pretending to be unconscious in the hopes he could somehow escape. Still, his wounds were all too real. She could see blood on his hands that were bound to either side of the tree. Jemima paused and then reached out to touch his fingers with her own. "Yes. Itís me."
"You must go." His whisper was fierce. "These men are dangerous."
She shook her head. "Not without you."
There was a pause, during which she figured he must have glanced at Mr. Clay. "Go back. Bring your father."
"You know I canít do that." Her tone was firm. "Theyíre gonna.... They mean to kill you, donít they?"
Mingo paused as though choosing his words. "I believe it is their intention to profit from me rather than dispose of me."
The girl frowned. Then she gasped. "You mean, sell you? Like you were property?"
He shifted slightly and suppressed a moan. "To them, I am property."
"This is all my fault," she whispered. "And Iíve gotta set it right. Iíll be back. Iím going to find something to cut these ropes."
"Jemima, no. Jemima!" Mingo felt her fingers squeeze his and then pull away. He straightened to see if he could tell where she had gone, and as he did a groan involuntarily escaped his lips. At the sound, the shadowy figure on the ground stirred and sat up to look at him.
Billy McColl rose to his feet and walked across the clearing to stand before him. Mingo gritted his teeth against the pain and met his eyes. "Billy."
"Whatíd you do?" the boy asked.
"What do you mean?" the native asked.
"For him to hit you. To do that." Billy indicated his face.
Mingo lifted an eyebrow. "I was born." As he continued to speak, his dark eyes sought Daniel Booneís young daughter. He had no idea where she had gone or what she was thinking of doing. He was frightened for her. "So far as I am aware, that is my only offense."
"He donít treat the dog like that." The boyís voice was quiet. His head had been
down. When he looked up, there were tears in his eyes. "I wish I could help you, Mister, but I canít. My Paó "
The boy jumped. He turned to find Jemima staring at him from out of the leaves. She had returned to the tree. "ĎMima?"
"I need your help. Iím getting Mingo out of here."
Billy glanced at the man his father had left on guard. Isaac Clay was on the move again. He turned back and shook his head. "You canít."
Her face was pale in the wash of moonlight. "Iím not leaving without him. Now, whereís Mingoís rifle and bag? I couldnít find them."
The boy looked chagrinned. "Pa took Ďem."
Mingoís dark eyes evaluated Isaac Clayís movements. "Both of you. Clay is returning."
"Billy?" Jemima reached out and touched the boyís hand. "Please. You canít let them sell him like heís an animal, or kill him. Billy," she glanced at the tall Cherokee, "heís my friend. Please?"
"I donít know. Iím not.... Get down, Jemima," he said suddenly. "Hide!"
The boy pivoted. He looked at the skinny man stepping out of the trees and then glanced back at the Indian. He had overheard his Pa and Isaac talking before he fell asleep. His Pa was meeting with the Shawnee right now. He was gonna offer to turn the Indian over to them, and then pull a double-cross, killing both them and Daniel Booneís friend. That way the Cherokee and the Shawnee would blame each other and, most likely, there would be a war. His Pa had laughed as he explained to the other man that he was gonna Ďset one rabid dog to kill the other.í
"Isaac. I heard him struggliní to get free," Billy said as he swallowed hard. "You better come check the ropes. If he got away," he turned and faced Jemima in the bushes, "Paíd have your skin and mine."
"Infernal Redskins, canít even trust Ďem to stay trussed up like they oughta," Clay said as he came to stand by the boy. He leaned his rifle against the tree and then stepped around it to check the cords that bound Mingoís wrists. He took hold of the Cherokeeís hands and pulled up and out on them.
Mingo sucked in air and bit back a cry.
"You got some problem, Redskin?"
"He donít. But you do."
Isaac Clay stiffened. He pivoted sharply to find Jemima Boone standing behind him with his rifle in her hands. She had cocked the hammer and her slender finger was on the trigger.
"And donít think I donít know how to shoot this, Mr. Clay. I do. My Pa taught me how." Jemimaís grin was grim. "And even if I didnít, I donít think I could miss at this range. Do you?"
The skinny man looked at his friendís son. "Billy, what is this?"
"Iím sorry, Isaac. I canít let you do it." Billy shook his head. I canít let you kill him, let alone let you or Pa start a war. People will die."
"People wonít die, boy. Just Injuns."
Billy stared at him, thinking how close he had come to growing up to be the same kind of man. A second later he held out his hand. "Give my your knife, Isaac. Iím cuttiní him free. Now."
"Can you walk all right, Mingo?" Jemima stared at the tall Cherokee. It seemed like he was having some trouble breathing.
Mingo nodded as he placed Isaac Clayís knife behind his belt. He rose unsteadily to his feet and stared down at the skinny man whom he had bound hand and foot and rolled into the tall grass. "I will manage. Billy," he turned to the boy, "have you come to a decision?"
The boy ran a hand through his dark-blond hair. "Iím cominí with you." He glanced around. "There ainít nothiní for me here. My Pa died a long time ago," he said quietly, "when we lost my Ma."
Mingo placed his hand on the boyís shoulder. "I think it is for the best. You understand there will be repercussions from this act?"
The tall Cherokee paused. Too often he forgot his grasp of the Kingís English was not the same as the common manís. He rephrased it. "Your father will not forgive you for releasing me."
Billy was silent a moment. "But I couldnít have forgiven myself, if I hadnít let you go."
Mingo nodded as Jemima handed him Isaac Clayís rifle. He gripped it, feeling its weight, and then lifted it slowly and looked down the sight. As he did, he winced. The girl watched him closely; her eyes focused on his bloodied vest. A moment later her hand darted forward, almost with a will of its own, to pull the buckskin away.
"Jemima!" She saw the bruising on his flesh. "He kicked you, didnít he? Mingo, have you got a broken rib?"
The Cherokee smiled wanly. "Let us hope not. It is nothing. I have traveled far with worse injuries before."
"You want me to carry the rifle?"
Mingo turned and looked at Billy McColl. The boy was pale and frightened, but determined. He nodded and handed the weapon to the boy. "I think, for the moment, that would fine. Now, we need to go."
Jemima nodded and turned in the direction of Boonesborough.
"Jemima. No. Not that way."
She turned back puzzled. "Why not? Pa will be coming. I know he will. Donít you want to meet him?"
"It is the possibility of someone else coming after us that compels me to choose another path." Mingoís dark eyes went to Billy. "We will circle around and head for my village. Not only will that have us traveling in the opposite direction from what Mr. McColl should expect, but it will allow me to make contact with my Uncle before the Shawnee are able to. Even if they fail to secure me, they might try to trick Menewa somehow using my things. And, if I understand correctly what you have told me, Billy, that might mean war."
The trio had not been gone long when William McColl returned to the seemingly abandoned camp with two broad-shouldered and well-armed Shawnee. At first he was at a loss to explain what had happened, but then he found Isaac Clay, and soon he understood everything. He nodded to the Shawnee as they set out to track their escaped prize. He had told them the Cherokee had been beaten and couldnít be moving too fast; not without food and rest. They assured him they would have the Injun in hand before the next dawn.
He watched them go, no longer compelled to mask his disgust, and contemplated his next move. It was obvious Billy had been forced to go with the Injun in spite of what Isaac had said. He glanced at the other man where he stood beside him, sullenly staring at the ground. Isaacís lower lip was swollen from where he had struck him for that lie. His son would never have freed the Injun. Never. Billy knew. Billy understood. Just like Mary and Alice, and all of his other children, he knew. Just like Helen. Never trust an Injun. Never give one an inch.
If you did they would take everything you had and leave you with nothing but empty arms.
William McColl drew himself back from the edge of the nightmare and called, "Isaac."
The skinny manís eyes darted to his face. "What is it?"
"I want you to head back to the settlement. Tell Ďem whatís happened; how Booneís Injun done took off with his girl and my son. Tell Ďem how he hit you when you tried to stop him, and how you tried to fight back, but lost. And watch out for Boone himself. Avoid him if you see him on the way."
"Sure, Will. Iíll do that," Clay nodded hesitantly. He started to go, but then turned back. "Wait. Ainít you cominí with me? The Injunís bound to be headiní for Boone himself."
Will McCollís light eyes narrowed. "No, he ainít. Them Injuns, theyíre sneaky. Heíll know thatís what weíd expect him to do." He fingered the short whip on his hip. "If I guess right, heís headiní for his own. Heíll rouse them Cherokee and send Ďem against the settlement for what we done. You be sure to tell Ďem that. You tell them, itís them...
"What is it, Daníl?" Yadkin was leaning over the damped fire, checking the embers to see if he could tell how long it had been out. He stood and walked to his friendís side. Daniel Boone was standing beside a tree, fingering its bark. "Daníl?"
Dan frowned. The early morning sun struck the treeís hide and illuminated the places where some of it was missing. It was obvious someone had been tied there and the rope had stripped away the bark. He also noted several places where it looked like a knife-point had been driven into the treeís soft flesh, just about where a tall manís head would have been. His frown deepened as he scraped a rust-colored substance from the exposed surface with his nail. He tasted it and spit it out.
"Blood?" Yad asked as he shifted his hat to the back of his head.
"Yep." Dan pointed to the ground. "What do you make of those?"
The blond man squatted over the prints. "Two... No, three people. One pair of moccasins and two other prints, kinda small." He whistled. "Them looks like a womanís slippers. You thinkiní what Iím thinkiní?"
"Has to be ĎMima." Dan scratched his head. "I donít understand whatís got into that girl. What could she be thinkiní, cominí out here on her own? And why was she trackiní Mingo?"
Danís green eyes narrowed as they sought his friendís face. "Yad. You know somethiní? Somethiní you shoulda told me afore this?"
"Well, now, I donít know nothiní for certain. Just have a suspicion, is all. You remember when I was talkiní to ĎMima at the well?"
Her father nodded. "I do."
"Well, I didnít rightly know what she was talking about. She kept makiní all kinds of noises about the Injuns, askiní how come we shot Ďem, and whether they or us was right or wrong. Then she said she knew somethiní. But she was close-mouthed as a clam about what it was."
"Did this have to do with Mingo?"
Yad nodded. He looked almost sick. "And Will McColl. I asked her if what she knew would put anyone in the way of danger. She told me Ďnoí."
Daniel Boone shook his head and placed his hand on Yadís shoulder. With a wry smile, he asked, "How long since you been around that sister of yours?"
"Virginia?" Yad shook his head. "Not long enough."
The tall man laughed. "Well, take it from a man who lives with two women everyday of the week; if a woman says Ďnoí...."
"She most likely means Ďyes.í" Yadkin drew a breath. "So what now?"
"Those tracks we saw earlier...."
Yad nodded. There had been two sets. One leading towards Boonesborough, and the other away from it. "Yep?"
"I figure Mingoís headiní for home."
"To the Cherokee village? Why?"
"Mingoís smart. Heíd know McColl would think he would come lookiní for me."
"But Daníl. There were three sets of moccasins going Northwest."
"And two sets of boots, one headiní northeast, and the other just plain north. You figure you know why?"
Yadkin shook his head.
"I figure Will was making some kind of deal, maybe with the Shawnee. This is part of the territory theyíre claiminí. Heís sent Isaac back to the settlement and the Shawnee after Mingo, and heís headed toward that group of outlayiní cabins to rouse men against them both."
"You remember. That group of stubborn homesteaders who came through and insisted on settliní right next to the Cherokee land. Patrick Malloneís one of them...."
The blond indicated he did. "Just goes to show what kind of a man Menewa is, toleratiní Ďem there."
"Toleratiní is the word. Mingoís headed off trouble with them a half a dozen times."
"You think McColl...."
"I think Will McColl is a man who knows how to fan a fire, and like Nero, heís like as not to pull out a fiddle and watch while Boonesborough and the Cherokee village, and maybe all those peopleís homes burn."
"Iíd like to take the strings on that fiddle and wrap Ďem around his scrawny neck."
"Yad," Dan said as he hefted his rifle and pointed it in the direction Mingo and the children, as well as the unnamed men in moccasins had gone, indicating they should follow. "Now, that ainít a very charitable thing to say."
"Well, I ainít in a very charitable mood."
"I donít know," the frontiersman slapped him on the back, "seems to me a little music might be called for in this situation."
"Daníl? What are you talking about."
He smiled grimly. "I mean to find William McColl, and make him dance to my tune."
"Mingo?" The Cherokee was holding his side and breathing hard. They had traveled through the night and now, as the sun began to rise, had paused to catch their breath and share a meager meal of berries and nuts. He had not wanted to risk firing the rifle for fear it would draw their pursuers, and he was too unsteady to track and kill something on foot with the knife. Billy McColl had refused food and fallen asleep immediately in the shade of a giant oak tree, while he and Danielís daughter had temporarily taken shelter within the embrace of a cluster of green bushes going brown.
He straightened up and looked at her sideways. "Yes, Jemima?" She stared straight at him. The right side of his face was bruised and bloodied. It made her wince. "Iím sorry."
Mingo shook his head. "I believe that is the fourth or fifth time you have said that to me."
"I canít say it enough. I was so stupid."
The girl had finished her food and was twisting her tattered skirt between her fingers.
"I thought.... Well, I was scared. I mean," she glanced at him, "you seemed so different from me at first, but youíre not. Not really."
"No?" He hid his smile as he turned toward her. "But I have copper-skin and black
hair, and almost black eyes. I wear feathers and beads." He nodded towards his feet. "And moccasins. I donít plow the fields, or till, or work in a mill, oró "
"Thatís not what matters." Her fingers paused and she looked up at him. "I tried,
but I couldnít do it."
"Couldnít do what?"
"What the others wanted. Think of you as something other than a man." Tears entered her eyes. "Mingo, I am soó "
He stopped her. "Jemima, do you remember the story of the woman taken in adultery in the Bible?"
She blinked. "Yes...."
"Do you recall what the woman answered when Jesus of Nazareth asked her where her accusers were, and if anyone had condemned her?"
Jemima nodded. "She said, ĎNo man, Lord."
The Cherokee smiled. "And what did Jesus say after that?"
One of the tears fell. "He said, ĎThen neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more."
He placed his hand over hers. "Jemima, I forgive you. Now, you must forgive yourself. And that is the hardest part."
She was silent a moment, and then she asked, "So, do you still want to be friends?"
He nodded. "Yes. Very much."
After wiping it on her skirt, she held out her hand. "Friends?"
Mingo took it and squeezed her fingers. "Friends."
"Mingo. ĎMima." Billy McColl scooted into the leaves beside them. "Someoneís cominí."
The pair turned toward him. Mingo shifted sideways and reached for his rifle. As his fingers closed on it, a foot clad in soft doeskin came down on the barrel and pinned it to the ground. The Cherokee looked up just as the Shawnee warrior raised his other foot. He raised his arm to shield his wounded side even as the man used it to thrust him back and pin him to the ground.
The Shawnee nodded to his companion who reached out and hauled Jemima to her feet. Billy rose on his own and found himself looking down the barrel of a flintlock. At the sight of the two bare-chested, painted warriors he went pale and began to shake.
"You are Mingo?" the warrior demanded.
He didnít see much sense in denying what they obviously already knew. "Yes."
"You were to meet with the Shawnee at dawn with an answer. Will the Cherokee leave the land we claim as ours? You did not come, but a white man did." The Shawnee warrior cocked his head and asked, "You are the son of Menewaís sister, Talota? The son of the Englishman? Is this not true?"
Mingo shook his head and refused to answer.
The warrior raised his hand as if to strike him. He did not, but gestured instead to his companion. Jemima squealed as a knife was placed against her scalp.
"Yes. Menewa is my uncle. And my father is English," he said quickly. "Do not harm the girl."
The Shawneeís smile broadened. "Good. Now, we will see how much your life is worth."
Rebecca Boone stood in the doorway of her home, staring toward the horizon. Another day had passed and still there was no sign of her husband or her daughter. She glanced toward the curtained alcove where she had left Helen McColl the night before and wondered if she was sleeping. The small dark-haired woman had been overwrought and half out of her mind. Helen had wanted to go after her husband, but she had talked her out of it, reminding her that Yad and Dan were already on his trail, and she could only get in the way.
Becky turned to find her son entering the cabin. He had risen early and done both his and his sisterís chores, as if somehow, that might help bring her home. "Is Jemima back?" he asked as he came to stand beside her.
"No," she combed his white hair with her fingers, even as he ducked, "not yet."
"Do you think Mr. McColl will hurt her?"
"I donít think so, Israel. He has children of his own."
"What about Mingo?"
She kissed the top of his head and then led him by the hand over to the table where his breakfast was waiting. As he sat down, she gazed out the door again.
"You didnít answer me," he said as he took a bite of a cornmeal cake.
"Thatís because I donít have an answer, Israel. I donít know." She shoved her hair out of her eyes. "But I do know your father will do everything he can to bring them both home."
The boy turned and looked at the curtain behind him. "Is Mrs. McColl gonna eat with us?"
Becky nodded. "Yes. I was just going to let her sleep as long as she could. Poor thing. She was so exhaustedó "
His mother frowned at him. "Yes, sleep. I hadnít called her yet."
"She ainít in there, Ma. Sheís up and gone."
"What?" The redhead crossed the room quickly and pulled the curtain aside. The bed had been slept in; in fact, it looked as if a battle had been fought there, but it was empty now. She turned and stared open-mouthed at her son.
Israel rose to his feet and came to her side. "I saw her outside when I went to fetch the water. She was walkiní by the trees with her head down. And when I looked back, she was gone."
Continued in Chapter Four