The Country of the Blind: Chapter 2

by Marla F. Fair

 

 

The woman lifted her head. The man was sitting in the mouth of the cave. His copper fingers were white against the wall of stone, and tears were running down his cheeks. She kept very still. She did not know if she wanted him to be aware that she, too, was in the cave. When she had found him lying on the cold wet ground, she had been moved by pity. Now she was not so certain what she had done had been for the best; for her best. She had only just escaped the other men and, though he was not one of them, she did not know his tribe or his purpose for being at the meeting place.

She jumped and frowned as he shifted and placed his head in his hands. She remembered the markings on his vest and, staring at him now, thought perhaps he was Cherokee. She could not be certain. There was something about him that was different.

As quietly as she could, she inched forward. Her bare feet made no sound. The soft leather of her dress sighed as she did, but she hoped he might think it was the wind. Outside the cave the rain continued to pound and, just beyond the trees, smoke rose into the sky. The soldiers in the red coats were gone, but they had left the burnt skeleton of their wagon behind. Still, she knew—out there somewhere—were the ones who had brought her to this place to be traded for the black powder the lightning had claimed. She frowned again as her eyes went to the silver veil of rain that scintillated in the moonlight. It was not as dense as it had been. The storm was passing. They would come looking for her soon.

She edged her way around a rock and headed for the entrance.

“Who is it? Who is there?”

The woman froze. The man had heard her.

“Please? Who is there?”

She held very still and watched him as he turned towards her. The words he spoke were not Cherokee or Shawnee, but were in the White man’s tongue. She waited as he rose to his feet and stumbled forward a few feet, holding his hands out before him.

“You are there. Are you not?”

The woman took a step back as he moved toward her. Then, suddenly, he caught his foot on a stone and fell to the hard cave floor. He did not cry out, but sat in silence afterwards, as though stunned.

She took a step toward him. When he did not move, she shifted silently so she stood in front of him. He did not look at her. She narrowed her eyes and examined him, noting again the burnt flesh on the right side of his face and the black smudges on his chest and hands.

Moving even closer, she passed her hand in front of his eyes.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mingo started as the air before him stirred. Tears were streaming down his

cheeks, partly from fatigue, but mostly from frustration. “Please,” he whispered, “if you are there, say something.

“Who you?” a woman answered in broken English.

He closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. Someone was there. He wasn’t crazy.

But he was blind.

“Hello,” he said. “Did you bring me here? If you did; I thank you.” He waited, but his mysterious savior said nothing. He heard the sound of leather whispering against stone and realized she had taken a seat not far away from him. He turned in the direction he thought she was. “Hello?”

“You can no see?” she asked softly.

Mingo was silent a moment. “I can ‘no’ see,” he answered. Pray God, he would again. As panic started to seize him, he thrust the fear aside and asked the question that was uppermost in his mind. “I was with two children— ”

“Men in red have them. Took them away.”

“Men in red? You mean the British soldiers?”

“Yama. Yes.”

“Were they all right? Did they seem to be in danger?” He waited, but the woman made no reply. “Please, what did you see?”

She answered him. “A girl; walking. The boy they carried. The soldiers said he hit his head on a stone.”

Mingo paled. If Israel was hurt it was his fault, though he didn’t know what he could have done other than toss him out of the way. “Did they say anything else?”

“They thought he would wake soon.”

“Thank God.” As he spoke, he heard her shift again. She was on her feet and walking around him. He held very still.

“You are Cherokee?” she asked at last.

“Yes. From Chota. And you?”

She waited a moment. “Not from Chota. Not Cherokee.”

He suppressed a sigh. That one he could have guessed for himself. “Where are you from?”

“Not belong here. Brought here by men.” She stopped just behind him.

“Then where do you belong?”

There was a long silence. When she spoke again she had moved. Her voice came from somewhere between him and the rain. “Not belong anywhere.”

Mingo blinked. He had a monumental headache and his eyes burned like coals. He realized now that the tears which were flowing from them had as much to do with his physical as his emotional state. He lifted a hand to wipe them away and, as he did, slender fingers caught it.

“You hurt.”

He nodded. “As you guessed, I have lost my sight. I do not know if it is permanent.”

The woman’s fingers brushed his cheek. “You have woman in Chota?”

Mingo looked up at her in spite of the fact that he couldn’t see her. “What?”

“Who look after you?”

The Cherokee warrior frowned as a gulf opened up in front of him. Who would look after him indeed? If the blindness was permanent, what would that mean? Unexpectedly he began to shake.

“You need sleep. Food. More sleep.”

“I cannot rest,” he pushed off the floor and began to rise to his feet. “I must find the children. Even if I cannot see— ”

“If you cannot see,” she caught his arm as he stood and swayed, “you cannot find them. I go. You stay.”

“No! I will not remain here while Daniel’s children are in danger.” He pulled away from her and began to stumble towards what he thought was the mouth of the cave. He ran into the wall beside it instead. A moment later he felt her physically insert herself between him and the stone. He took her by the shoulders and tried to shove her out of the way. “Please! Let me go. I must go.”

“No.” She placed her hands on his chest. “We will go.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Captain Cummins?”

The young man paused and waited. His commander hadn’t seemed to hear. The older man was standing with his back to him, staring down the path they had traveled. He wondered if he was still expecting the Indians who had been coming to make the exchange of gunpowder for information.

“Sir?”

Cummins ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair and turned to greet him. His blue eyes were set in cradles of pale flesh that wrinkled as he smiled wearily. “Sergeant Tailor.”

He saluted. “Sir. You asked me to inform you when the child had calmed down sufficiently for you to speak with her. She has, sir.”

“And the boy?”

“Sleeping, sir. Milligan said he seemed to be recovering. Apparently when the savage threw him, he hit his head on a stone.”

Cummins stared at the other man and frowned. The savage. Could it have been him? Somehow he had not expected him to appear so...native.

“Do you think it was wise to just leave him there, sir?” When his captain’s eyes flicked to his face, Tailor straightened. “Not meaning to question your judgement, sir. But won’t it enrage the other savages?”

“It appeared the others cared little enough about him,” he answered. “They ran off without checking his condition. Apparently the promise of several casks of gunpowder was insufficient to offset their ancient fear of the gods’ fury actualized in lightning and thunder.” The captain took a step toward the tent where the two as yet unidentified children waited. “Did the lieutenant see any of the natives afterwards?”

Tailor shook his head. “No, Sir. He watched for two hours per your order.”

Cummins nodded. This ruse of carrying the powder and rifles overland to a destination which he had never intended to reach was growing more complicated by the hour.

“Very well. I am going to interrogate,” he chuckled, ‘to speak with the children. Dear Lord, I have been in the army too long.”

“Yes, sir.”

The pale blue eyes that shot to the young man’s face were mildly amused. “I beg your pardon, Sergeant Tailor?”

As it dawned on the soldier what he had said, he began to splutter, “I...sir....I ask forgiveness. I didn’t mean....”

Cummins put his hand on Tailor’s shoulder. “It’s all right, John. You took it as I meant it.”

Several minutes later he pulled aside the flap and stepped into the small tent. A young girl, about fifteen years of age, was sitting on the cot. In it lay a white-haired boy. When she saw him enter, she stood and backed away.

He held up his hand. “You have nothing to fear from me, young lady.”

Her brown eyes were wide. “You’re British.”

“Yes,” he removed his hat and tucked it under his arm. “And I take it from your expression that that is not a popular thing to be around here.”

“Not anymore.”

He turned the chair beside the cot around and sat on it. “I see. And why is that?”

She seemed puzzled. “We’re at war.”

“You and I?” he asked.

She frowned, seemingly disconcerted by his answer. “You know what I mean.”

“If you mean that I desire to see you harmed—you or your family—you are entirely mistaken.” He shifted and placed his hat on the floor. “What were you doing out in the woods on a night like tonight?” He paused and a smiled cracked his tanned face. “Or on any night for that matter.”

“My brother and I,” her eyes darted to the boy’s sleeping figure, “we were lookin’ for someone.”

“Someone?” He cleared his throat and straightened up. “Who?”

She planted her feet. “I don’t see as it’s any of your business what folks do in their own back yard. You’re not from around here. What were you doin’ out in the woods on a night like tonight?” She paused and placed her hands on her hips. “Or any night?”

Cummins was silent a moment; then he laughed. “Touché.”

She wrinkled her upturned nose. “What?”

“You have me there.” He leaned back in the chair. “I was granted permission from your neighbors, the Cherokee, to carry my cargo across their lands. We were resting the horses when a sudden storm arose, and then the lightning struck— ” He watched as she went pale and her lower lip began to tremble. Very quietly he finished, “I am sorry about your friend.”

“What’d you do with him?”

Cummins resisted the urge to tell her. What he had done with him—hopefully—was save his life. He had strict orders to shoot on sight anyone approaching the supply wagons or seeking to detain them. It seemed these arms were desperately needed by the British troops training in the southern colonies, and the Crown was taking no chances. If he had admitted the man was alive; his ‘loyal soldiers’ might very well have finished him off. And there was still the very real possibility that his ulterior motives would be discovered. If he had brought him into camp and that had happened, the Cherokee might have been thought his accomplice and shot as a spy. As he was likely to be.

Still, one had to keep up appearances. “I left him in a cave nearby,” he said at last. “I intend to send someone back to inform his people of where he is.”

The girl’s lip trembled even more and a sob escaped her. Cummins steeled himself to withstand the onslaught of her tears. As they started to fall, he rose and went to her, and put his arm around her shoulders. In spite of her fear, and her distrust of him, she leaned into his support and began to cry uncontrollably. As the British officer held her, he fought again the urge to tell her the truth. Then, as the torrent of emotion began to ebb, he stepped back and, withdrawing his handkerchief from his pocket, handed it to her. A moment later he helped her to sit on the edge of the bed and knelt on the floor beside her.

“Better?” he asked.

She shook her head vehemently from side to side. “I can’t believe he’s dead.”

“He was a friend of yours? A good friend?”

She nodded. Then she blew her nose. Her eyes flicked to him over the silk handkerchief and he waved that she should keep it. “The best,” she whispered.

“How long had you known him?”

“Not long. My Pa met him here about two years ago. We came after that.”

“We?”

She looked behind at her brother. “Israel, Ma and Pa, and me.”

Israel. Well, that was one name at least. “And you might be?”

The young girl looked into his kind blue eyes. If he was who she thought he was, she remembered Israel saying Mingo had liked the man, and that he had been kind to him when he was a child. “Jemima.”

“Jemima...?”

“Boone. My Pa is Daniel Boone.”

Cummins rocked back on his heels. “Ah, Daniel Boone; the pioneer.” He had heard of the man. His antecedents were British. “You are far from your father’s settlement, are you not, Miss Boone?”

She nodded.

“You have still not answered my question.”

Jemima frowned. “Oh, what was I doin’ out here with my brother?” She appeared chagrinned. “We were looking for someone.”

“Yes? This Mingo?”

Pain stabbed her face. She shook her head. “No.”

“Then who?”

The young girl’s nose scrunched again. “What’s your name?”

He stood to ease the pain in his legs. “My name?”

She nodded again.

He could see no harm in telling her. Soon—if he could salvage anything of his hopes— it would have no meaning anyway. “Cummins. Captain Andrew Cummins of her Majesty’s Royal Army at your service, Miss Boone.”

“Andrew Cummins?” she repeated. “Yes.”

A strange look crossed her face. She glanced at her brother again and then back to the officer.

“We were lookin’ for you.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dan stopped and frowned. It was still raining cats and dogs, and following his children’s trail had proven next to impossible. It was all he could do to see. As he bided a moment beneath a stony outcropping, he removed his cap and wiped his eyes. He might as well have been blind for all the good they were doing him on a night like tonight. Luckily, he wasn’t deaf. He had heard horses and men’s voices, and had followed them. There was a camp not too far ahead; British by the look of the stiff young man patrolling its outskirts. He wondered if this contingent of soldiers was the one Mingo had mentioned; the one commanded by the man his friend had known when he was a boy. Though, even if it was, he wasn’t entirely certain what that meant. Was Cummins just here doing his duty to the country that had shackled him and sent him home in disgrace? Or was there something else? Mingo seemed to think him capable of just about anything.

He put his cap back on his head and then reached down and checked his shot bag. The powder was dry so far, though the dampness had most likely rendered it all but useless. The only good thing about the rain was that it was indiscriminate; the British wouldn’t be able to fire either.

Smiling grimly, he stepped into the torrent once again and winced as the cold stuff went running down his neck. At this moment, none of that mattered. What mattered was finding his children.

And getting them home.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“It doesn’t matter any more,” the girl sniffed and wiped her nose with the handkerchief. She was quickly running out of dry places to use. “We just wanted to find out when Mingo’s birthday was. He’s always....” She stopped and the tears began to flow with renewed vigor, “he was always so kind to us.”

This time Andrew Cummins almost relented and told her that the man had been alive when he left him, but then he thought better of it. He had no way of knowing if the Cherokee still was. His injuries had not seemed life-threatening, but there were the Shawnee to consider, and he might have misjudged the gravity of his condition. “I am a bit confused,” he said at last. “Even if this Mingo is the one I knew when I was here before; why would you think I would have knowledge of his birth? He was a young boy then.” His eyes went to Israel where he lay sleeping. “I would guess, not that much older than your brother. I was still in England when he was born.”

“Because of that woman,” she answered quickly.

“Woman?”

“The one Mingo mentioned you knew.” Jemima paused and tried to remember. “It wasn’t Cherokee,” she mused softly. “What was it? Tula? Tooka?”

“Tutka?”

She nodded. “Yeah, that’s it. Tutka. That’s Creek, isn’t it?”

If she had taken a knife and suddenly driven it through his heart, he could not have been more surprised. “You came here seeking me, so you could find Tutka?

Jemima sniffed again and, since the handkerchief was soaked, wiped her face with her sleeve. “We thought maybe, since you had come back, you would know where she was. Mingo didn’t seem to — ” She stopped and turned to look behind her.

Israel was waking up.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Andrew Cummins straightened up outside the tent. He had ducked through the opening and stood now, allowing the gentle rain to cleanse his upturned face. The worst of the storm had passed while he had spoken with the child. He was not as great a scholar of the classics as he might have been, but he knew enough to recognize the almost Divine irony of the situation he found himself in at present. The two children had thought he would know where Tutka was. He laughed. If he had, this whole thing might have played out quite differently. As it was, it had taken him over twenty years to work his way back up through the ranks, to secure patronage from the son of a British Peer who had himself accomplished the same almost impossible feat, and to arrange to be in that officer’s regiment so he would be among the first to be deployed to the New World when the time came to suppress the colonist’s fledgling uprising. In reality, he didn’t care a fig whether or not the Empire held onto its’ possession. In fact, he was sympathetic towards the young emerging nation. What he did care about was finding the Indian woman he had loved all those years before; finding her, and making certain she was all right. And if she was all right, he wanted to know if she still loved him, as he did her.

His hope in accepting this assignment to ferry rifles and powder across the Kentucky wilderness had been that he would be able to locate her or, at the very least, information about her. He had stopped every band of natives they met along the way, supposedly to interrogate them and confirm their loyalty and continued service to the Crown, but he had always taken their leader and their oldest members to his tent and spoken to them privately. In this way, after a week or so, he had found out what had become of her. Tutka, he found, had been made to pay for her heinous ‘crime’ of collaboration with the enemy. She had been living with the Cherokee at the time. Some of them had told the British she was passing information to the Creek. And since the Creek were allies of the French....

He lowered his head and began to walk. The rain had fallen off to a light drizzle and he felt the need to be alone. He nodded to the corporal who patrolled the edge of the camp and told him that, barring an emergency, he was not to be disturbed. He also assured the concerned young man that he would not go far.

Locking his fingers together behind his back, he proceeded to walk a narrow footpath. He wondered which of the native peoples had left it. Not Tutka’s certainly. Her people were from the south. Most likely it had been made by the Shawnee. He glanced at the sky and saw that the storm-clouds were breaking. Soon the early morning sun would shine through. When it did, would the Shawnee he had come to treat with return? He knew their myths, it was probable they had taken the lightning strike as a bad omen. If Tutka had been with them, there was a chance she was gone forever. He frowned as he thought of the intervening years she had spent with the Shawnee. Apparently she had been sold to them as a slave after what had happened.

He removed his hat and ran a hand through his silvered hair. He had wandered some distance. It was time he go back. He needed to send Milligan to check on Lord Dunsmore’s son. Pray God, he was still—

“Evenin’, Captain.”

Cummins froze. He glanced around. At first, he saw no one, but then the emerging daylight caught the barrel of a rifle hidden just within the leaves and glinted. He turned to face the tall man in sodden buckskins who was pointing the weapon at him and raised his hands.

“Mr. Boone, I presume?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Criminetly! What’d you go and tell him that for?”

Jemima glanced at the front of the tent. “Keep your voice down.”

“Leave it to a girl to tell a Redcoat her business. The next thing you know, you’ll be handin’ over the key to the fort!”

His sister’s hands found her hips. “The fort doesn’t have a key, Israel Boone. And, besides, you were the one that wanted to come here in the first place.”

“That was to ask him where Tutka was so we could find out about Mingo.”

A pained look settled on her pretty face. “Mingo. Oh, Israel, I can’t believe....”

“Did you see him?”

Jemima blinked. “Who? Mingo? You saw him....”

“No. I don’t mean saw him ‘there’. I mean did you see him ‘dead’?”

She shuddered. “Israel! Don’t even say such a thing.”

“Wimmen!” The boy rolled his eyes and then regretted it as it made his head hurt. “You don’t take no Redcoat’s word about somethin’ like that. You gotta see for yourself.”

Jemima stared at him. She remained silent for a moment and then hope, a tiny little impossible hope, was born within her that blossomed as a slight smile on her lips. “You think....”

He nodded adamantly. “You gotta see it with your own eyes before you believe it.” He swung his feet over the side of the bed. “Where’s my boots?”

She took hold of his shoulders. “You ain’t gettin’ out of that bed.”

“Sure I am!.” The boy ducked out from under her hands and crouched on the ground to look under the field cot. He winced as the sudden change of position made his head pound.

But he found his beaded boots.

“Israel Boone,” his sister said as she rose to stand beside him. “What would a Redcoat have to gain by lying about Mingo being dead? And him supposed to be Mingo’s friend...and...all....” Her words slowed as it dawned on her. Her hand went to her lips. “Oh.”

Israel turned around with his boots in his hand and smiled in triumph. “Oh.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Your children are quite safe, Mr. Boone. I am not holding them prisoner. The boy was injured and I thought it only prudent to— ”

“Injured?” Dan’s fingers tightened on Ticklicker. “How injured?”

“He fell and struck his head. He is fine. I had my camp surgeon look at him. The story is long, and I will gladly tell it to you as we walk back to the camp.” Cummins indicated with his hand that the frontiersman should join him. “I assure you, we are alone. I told my man I was taking a walk, and was not to be disturbed.” As he watched the Kentucky legend move cautiously onto the path, he asked him, “Do you believe in fate, Mr. Boone?”

Dan’s green eyes narrowed. “I reckon I believe that things that are meant to will turn out that way, whether we want them to or not.”

The British officer nodded. “Well, I think fate has had a hand in our meeting tonight. By the way, my name is— ”

“Cummins. Andrew Cummins.”

The officer laughed. “I see my reputation has proceeded me.”

Dan nodded. He had not lowered the rifle. “You might say that. Why are you here, Captain Cummins?”

“The official reason? Or the truth?”

The tall frontiersman stared at him a moment. He seemed remarkably likable for a Redcoat. “I have found the truth is always the best place to start. It makes for a surer foundation.”

Cummins answering smile was weary. “I am a career soldier, Mr. Boone. I have known nothing but death, and more death for more than thirty-five of my fifty-odd years. I find I have grown quite tired of it. I want out.”

“You could just leave.”

“The British Empire? Ah, if it were only that simple.” He frowned. “To ‘regain’ my current rank and secure this command, I had to make certain promises...certain compromises. I owe a good many people a great deal that I don’t intend to pay.”

Dan frowned. Mingo had said Cummins was a rascal. “No?”

“No. I have more than made amends with thirty plus years of loyal service to the Crown, Mr. Boone. I can say, with a clear conscience, that I feel I owe no man in England,” his smile took on a rakish quality, “at least none who deserves it.”

“Then why are you here?” Dan indicated the camp. “With these men?”

“Ah, well, there are reasons; the chief of which is that this vast wilderness of yours offers ample opportunity for a man to disappear without a trace.” The officer shifted uncomfortably. “That had been my intention in accepting this assignment.”

“Had? What’s different now?”

Cummins was silent a moment. He nodded towards the path and, as Dan agreed, they began to walk. “In ancient times there was a belief that when the great god Zeus grew angry, he would toss thunderbolts at those who had displeased him. If I were to take what happened last night as a ‘sign’, I would alter my course.” He shook his head. “I shall not, of course, though I am not certain now that this endeavor will bring about anything other than my death.”

Dan glanced at him. He had been watching the trees beside the path for flashes of red. Even though he found he liked Cummins, he was still not certain he could trust him. “You talking about those other Redcoats?”

The officer stopped and looked at him. “Other Redcoats? What other Redcoats”

“I ran across a group of you fellers at dawn; just south of Boonesborough,” Dan answered. “I listened and heard mention of a Captain Banks being in charge, and as there weren’t any wagons or powder kegs I could see, I figured it wasn’t your group.” He met the other man’s eyes. There was something in them; he might have called it ‘resignation’. “You not know they were here?”

Cummins drew a deep breath. “Oh, I knew. It was only a matter of time. However, this complicates an already complicated matter, Mr. Boone. You need to get your children and take them away from here. Come, I will explain to the corporal that you are my guest and then.... Oh,” he struck his forehead with the palm of his hand, “how could I have forgotten? There is another urgent matter. I was going to send one of my men, but since you are headed back to the settlement....”

“You askin’ me for a favor, Captain?”

He nodded. “Your friend, Mingo. He is in desperate need of your help.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mingo felt like an infant. He had to be led by the hand, and even then, he constantly faltered; bumping into the woman who directed his steps, and stumbling over roots and stones. It was almost more than he could bear. For more than a decade he had been a warrior, swift and certain; his every movement calculated, orchestrated and executed with grace. Now it seemed he was back where he had been when his father had transported him to England. He had been stripped then of everything; his clothes, his feathers, his long black hair and his mother’s tongue, and left naked; dependent on the generosity of strangers.

Just as he was now.

The woman still had not identified herself. He could tell she was afraid. Periodically as they walked she would stop and pull him from the path, and force him into the underbrush. Each time this happened he had listened carefully, but never heard a sound. From his experience, that meant the ones they were avoiding were native. He had found that white men usually walked with arrogance, and trod underfoot whatever was in their way, announcing their arrival long before it was necessary or prudent.

Once when he had moved too slowly for her, she had scolded him in Creek. After that he had taken to calling her ‘Tayki’ which, if he remembered correctly, meant ‘woman’ in that language. She had seemed to accept that and alternately had begun to call him ‘Naani’ or ‘man’; when she had called him anything at all. She had not asked his name and he had not given it to her, respecting her unspoken desire to preserve one another’s anonymity.

Now, they were hiding again. They had been working their way down a fairly steep incline when, suddenly, she had shoved him into a thicket of some kind of tall thorny weeds and then rolled over the top of him to his other side. She had taken hold of his shoulders and told him to remain quiet. He could hear her panting, and knew she was truly frightened this time.

“Tayki,” he whispered, “who is it?”

“Shh.” Her breath tickled his ear. “Enemy. Shawnee.”

Mingo frowned. This time he could hear them. There were at least three; maybe more. From the few words he managed to catch, it seemed they were searching for something that had gone missing. One of them called it his ‘property’. As the woman’s fingers dug into his flesh, he felt her begin to tremble. It didn’t take an Oxford education to imagine just what—or who that property was. For a long time, the two of them remained absolutely still. Finally, perhaps a quarter of an hour later, she relaxed. He heard her stand and take a few steps away.

“Tayki? Are they gone?”

“Yama, Naani. Yes. Gone.”

Mingo rose to his feet. The breeze ruffled his hair. He believed he could scent the dawning light in it, but could not be certain. He had no idea whether it was day or night as everything about him was a dim, indistinct blur, and he found that quite disconcerting. Shaking off the melancholy that came with that thought, he asked her, “Did you know them?”

“Yama.”

There was sadness in her voice and an untold story. “Are they looking for you?”

The woman took his hand and began to draw him forward. She had promised they would follow the trail left by the soldiers, but he had no way of knowing if that was what they were doing. They journeyed on in silence for another hour or so and then, abruptly she released him and said, “We rest here.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The glade they sat in was shaded. On three sides it was banked with trees and on the fourth, bordered by rocks and a steep ravine through which a rain-swollen stream flowed. The sun was high over their heads and the day was hot and steamy. The woman had brought him water and some berries and as they sat sharing a meager meal, she began to speak.

“Long ago,” she said softly, “when I was young, my people came to this place. There was no food in the place we were, and so we came here.”

Mingo nodded. His brother’s people, the Creek, had never had permanent settlements in Kentucky; only talofas—temporary villages without a ceremonial center which they established along the rivers. “And how long ago was it that Tayki was young?”

She glanced at the man. “It was the year the waters would not come; when our Seneca brothers sold their land to the men in red coats. Many of our people were afraid. They feared our lands would be next.”

That would have made it about seventeen-forty one or two. “But there were others,” he asked, “who were not so afraid?”

“Yama. They were angry.” She paused to swallow as the memory overwhelmed her. “My brother was angry. He hated the White man, but hated even more the red who made the White man his friend. The people here in this place, the Cherokee,” her eyes flicked to him, “had done this.”

Mingo nodded. His people had allied themselves with the British early on. It was one reason his mother and father had come in contact with each other. In fact, around the time she was speaking of, several Cherokee had traveled to England to meet with King George, the Second. “And what did the woman’s brother do?”

She shuddered. “He killed. He destroyed. And those he did not destroy, he took captive or sold. There was one Cherokee woman. He took her for his own.”

He frowned, “And why does the woman tell me this?”

Her answer seemed almost curt. “You ask me, ‘Who are these men?’ I tell you who they are.”

“I am sorry,” he said softly. “Go on.”

The woman nodded. “She lived in my lodge. I was her friend. When white men in red coats came and killed my brother, she spoke for me. She was weak; injured. I went with her to care for her and my brother’s son. Then, when she was stronger, I left. A Cherokee man from another village took me. He was kind.” She fell silent.

“And then?” he prompted. “How does this involve the Shawnee?”

“The Cherokee man died, and then the ones in red coats came again. This time one came with them who looked at this woman and found her beautiful. He promised to take me away. But the men in my dead husband’s village did not want this. They did not like him or the ones who were with him. And so, they said I had done a bad thing.”

It seemed a familiar story. “And had the woman done something bad?”

She rose to her feet and turned away from him. “No. Only love where it was not....”

Her English failed and he finished for her. “Allowed?”

“Yama. I watched them,” she went on, her voice trembling, “take him away in chains. After that, the people of my husband’s village did not want me. They sold me to the Shawnee and I was taken far away. Only now do I come back again,” she paused, “and that is again to be sold.”

Mingo had listened intently, but it was only as she fell silent that the words she had spoken began to fall into place. A Cherokee woman who had been stolen by her Creek brother, and rescued by a British officer. A son brought with her back to her home. Suddenly he stiffened.

The story was too familiar.

He drew a deep breath, almost afraid to ask. “Tutka?”

He was met with silence. He waited a moment, hoping he had not offended her by speaking her name. It had to be her. It had to be the woman who had cared for his mother after her captor, War Bonnet, was killed; the one who had been present at his own birth, who had loved and lost Andrew Cummins.

“Tutka?” he called again.

“She cannot answer you, Cherokee. War Club holds her tongue.”

Unseen the Shawnee had doubled-back and come upon them unawares. The triumphant warrior ordered one of his men to watch the native man and then turned to face the woman who was being held in his brother’s arms. “You thought you could escape, but no one escapes P’catewah Achqua, Black Kettle!”

Mingo winced as he heard a sharp crack and the woman whimper. He rose to his feet and struck out at the spot the man’s voice had come from. Unfortunately, the Shawnee had moved and he did nothing more than grasp thin air and fall to the ground.

Black Kettle waved off his warrior and pressed his own foot into the middle of the Cherokee’s back and held him down. “What is this? Can the Cherokee not see?” He raised his foot and nodded, and two of his men flipped the fallen man over. Pulling him to his knees, they held him. He crouched before him and noted the blackened skin around his eyes and the burns on the right side of his face. He pinched the tender skin between his fingers and watched the other man wince. “You were the one in the camp of the Redcoats. The one by the wagon.”

Mingo was breathing hard. “Yes. What of it?”

There was a touch of awe in the Shawnee’s voice. “Papapanawe came from the sky. It was the Thunderbird blinking his eye as he fought the Evil One; warning his people. He tells us the white men in the red coats must die.” The Shawnee thrust Mingo’s head to the side and stood up. “We will kill them all.”

Mingo knew the myths of the Thunderbirds. The Shawnee believed the birds, much like gigantic eagles or hawks, fought with the Great Horned Serpent and other evil creatures, and guarded the entrance to Heaven. Their passage could be heard in the thunder and their power felt in the lightning. Their beliefs about the planet’s interaction with man went far beyond the Cherokee’s, though some of his own people too regarded the fire from the sky as an evil omen. “No. You must not. Other men like them will follow if you do. Many men with guns.”

“You do not sound Cherokee. You sound like them; like the Shemanese; the white men.” Black Kettle nodded and the two men hauled the captive to his feet. He stepped up to him and examined him. There was a pause. “Are you one of the Shemanese, Cherokee?”

He saw no purpose in lying. The truth was, literally, written in his face. “My father is English.”

The Shawnee spat at the ground. “Then you are not worth the effort it would take to draw my knife. War Club, bring the woman.” His eyes met his men’s and he indicated the land that lay behind them.

Abruptly, even as Tutka screamed, Mingo was dragged backward. He struck out with his feet, but they were soon captured by yet another man and held tight. Fear gripped him as he heard the sound of rushing water draw close.

A moment later Black Kettle’s voice sounded above it. “You are useless, Cherokee. If I were you, I would pray that you land in the water and drown.”

Mingo felt the men begin to swing him, and then they let go.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“I assure you, Mr. Boone, they were here.”

Dan glanced at the other man and then walked over to the cot. He looked at it. It was obvious someone small had just slept in it. Then, something near his boot caught his attention. He knelt down and reached under the cot. He picked the shining object up and held it to the light.

It was the Jew’s Harp he had bought for Israel in Salem.

“Your son’s?” Cummins asked as he came up beside him.

Dan rose. He smiled grimly at the other man. “I take it they had orders to stay put?”

“And were as diligent about obeying them as I,” the British officer replied with a wry smile. It faded quickly. “We must find them, Mr. Boone. If the Shawnee are still in the area....”

“And that other group of your people.” Dan shifted his cap back on his head and met the other man’s concerned stare. “Now what was this about Mingo?”

“I left him, injured, in a cave near where the wagon was burnt. You must locate him and ascertain whether or not he needs assistance. I will find your children. I can safely set my men after them, and then there will be not one, but a half a dozen sets of eyes searching.”

Dan frowned. “Why’d you leave him there if he was hurt?”

Cummins was silent a moment. “I did not want him with me if my true purpose was discovered.”

“You mean, the woman?”

The man ran a hand through his silvered hair. “Mr. Boone, you are already well known for your ‘vocal’ support of this budding conflict between our nations. So is your Indian associate. There are those who would like to see him,” he smiled again, “and you hung.”

Dan leaned on his rifle and cocked an eyebrow. “You plannin’ on turnin’ us in, Captain?”

He shook his head. “Nothing of the sort. But if Mingo had been with me, and something had gone wrong, the odds are he would have been recognized and taken, and either hung or sent back to England to stand trial.”

“And then hung.” Dan straightened up and asked him, “What are you gettin’ at, Captain Cummins?”

“I am afraid I have not been entirely honest with you.”

“No?”

He cleared his throat. “No. I took this assignment, as I said, for several reasons. Most importantly, it offered me an opportunity to search for Tutka, but that is only a part of it.”

“You said you intended to disappear. Is that what you mean?”

He nodded. “Across the river there is a compliment of Continental soldiers. They are waiting for me. We will be waylaid the day after tomorrow and this shipment seized. During the exchange, Captain Andrew Cummins will, unfortunately, be killed. His body will be taken by the Americans and buried in the Kentucky hills, location unknown.” Cummins’ pale blue eyes sought Dan’s green ones and fixed on them. “I have a family, Mr. Boone, a sister and mother still living in England. I did not want them disgraced. But neither do I want to fight this war for His Majesty. It is wrong. I intend to do this, and then to disappear. With God’s help, I hope it will be with Tutka by my side.”

There was a noise and the two men looked up.

Sergeant Tailor was standing in the door.

 

 

Continued Chapter Three