Journeys End by Marla F. Fair
Mingo stared at his friend’s son. Israel lay where he had fallen, a crimson stain spreading across his white hunting shirt. Monlutha crouched beside him and White Wolf had moved to stand over them both, keeping guard. As the rest of Whitehair’s band gathered, forming a wall around the trio, a fury unlike any he had ever known welled up inside him, granting him an almost super-human strength. Striking out against the two men who held him, Mingo broke free. They had not bothered to tie his hands. That had been their first mistake. Their second had been to forget that for the majority of their lives, both he and Copperhead had been Cherokee warriors. As Zachary Morgan’s drunken cohorts stumbled back, Mingo turned to his friend. He knew Copperhead was weak, but knew as well that he had an inner reserve that only waited to be called upon. As Copperhead nodded and the old light returned to his eyes, Mingo nodded back.
Then he turned and took Hank Ketchum out with one punch.
Out of the corner of his eye Mingo saw Copperhead go for his cohort. Still, even if they managed to overcome these two, it was only the beginning. Finlay was bound and Adohi lay unconscious. Both were easy targets. Or worse, Morgan or one of the others might try to use them as human shields. And so, even as Hank Ketchum’s solid form hit the ground, Mingo rounded on Zachary Morgan. He knew their best hope lay in taking out the ringleader. After all, if you cut off a snake’s head, its body might twitch a few times but essentially, it was dead. As several of the settlement’s inhabitants ran past him, hoping to extinguish the flames that were licking the side of the jail, Mingo reached for Morgan. He caught him and spun him around so the bright light illuminated his face, and then he struck him hard. Even as he did, he felt something press against his ribs. Mingo glanced down. Zachary Morgan held an unsheathed knife. He had turned its tip so it was pointed into his abdomen.
“You ignorant savage,” the madman breathed. “You think I’d have only one weapon? I’m gonna gut you like a fish.”
Mingo drew a sharp breath. There was no time to prepare. Images flashed before his eyes of his mother, his father, his brother; all of his life passing in the few seconds it had taken Zachary Morgan to speak those words. He gasped as the blade cut into his flesh and then watched in disbelief as Morgan fell back and lowered the knife. The man’s eyes grew round. Blood soaked his white shirt. Morgan dropped the weapon and fell to his knees, grasping his chest. Then he pitched forward onto the ground. Mingo stared at his body as it twitched once or twice and then fell silent. Several seconds later it penetrated his consciousness that a flintlock had been fired. He could smell the powder on the air. Mingo looked up and saw that two familiar figures had appeared. Alexander MacKirdy stood just within the circle of light thrown by the settlers’ torches. Beside him, on horseback, was Daniel Boone.
Ticklicker’s shining barrel was still smoking.
As other eyes followed his, a curious thing happened. The chaos was tamed. The mob grew hushed and men stopped fighting. The settlers who had followed Zachary Morgan lowered their heads in shame. Daniel dismounted. He nodded to Alexander and then walked slowly toward them; his tall form carved out of granite and steel. Mingo’s eyes flicked to Israel where he lay, hidden by the circle of his friends. His father didn’t know.
As the crowd parted to let Daniel through, Mingo rushed to Israel’s side. The young man’s skin had gone as white as his hair and he was sweating profusely. Laying his hand on his chest, he felt the erratic beat of his heart. “How bad?” he asked Monlutha.
“It is bad,” the native answered. “In the shoulder, but close to the heart.”
“And the ball?”
“Still in his flesh.”
Mingo remained still for a moment. Then he indicated to Monlutha that he should back away. As the other man moved, he placed one arm under Israel’s knees and another beneath his shoulders and lifted him up. Holding him close, Mingo waited for his father.
Alexander saw them first. The Scot caught the frontiersman’s sleeve and whispered, “Daniel.”
For Daniel Boone the world stopped turning the moment he saw the still form cradled in Mingo’s arms. His friend’s face was haggard and horror was written into its every feature. For a moment, Dan wondered what he would do if Mingo told him Israel was dead. He and his son had parted long ago with harsh words, and in anger. What would he do if the chance to take back those words was now gone for good? Steeling himself, he approached them and placed his hand on his boy’s head. Israel moaned and shifted. Dan felt his own heart beat again. He met Mingo’s eyes and then looked into his son’s face. Brushing the pale blond bangs aside, he said softly, “Israel? Can you hear me?”
Pale lashes fluttered. His son moaned again and his deep blue eyes opened without focus. He drew a ragged breath and then breathed the word, “Pa....”
“Yes, son, it’s me” Dan whispered.
Cincinnatus hobbled up to the trio, still toting his blunderbuss. “We’ll take him to the tavern, Dan’l. We got us a real doctor now. He lives outside the fort. I sent Jacob Lewis to fetch him.” Then the old man added, “I still got my ointments and my special brew. They’ll take away some of the pain ‘til he can get here.”
Dan nodded. He held his arms out then and Mingo surrendered his son. As he took him, tears entered his eyes. Israel seemed so small, so light. Almost as if he was a little boy again. Raising his head, Dan looked the crowd over, stopping on each face. Most of the ones who had come to Mingo’s aid were old friends, like Jacob Lewis and Matt Malone, though some of the ones who had threatened him and the others had familiar faces too. Most, however, were strangers. These were the men and women who now called the settlement that bore his name their home, and he found them wanting.
Without a word Dan turned away and carried his son toward the tavern.
Mingo watched him go and then crossed the short expanse to Copperhead’s side.
His friend was kneeling by his son. The young man had not yet awakened. “How is Adohi?” he asked.
The native shook his head. “I do not know. We must take him into the tavern as well.”
Mingo nodded and then looked at the two dark-haired men who stood behind his friend. “And Finlay, how are you?”
Alexander had untied his brother’s hands. “He’s lookin’ grea’,” he answered for him. Then he grinned. “Finlay, I thin’ ye aur taller than when last we met.”
Finlay laughed. “Perhaps ye ha’e lost a puckle inches, brither. Will ye wait haur whiles I bear th’ laddie inside wi’ his faither?” As Alexander nodded soberly, Finlay turned to Mingo. “I could’na see clearly. ‘Twas Israel who fell? ‘Tis bad?”
“Yes,” Mingo nodded. “A serious wound.”
“I remember th’ lad wi’ fondness. I was hopin’ tae spend some time wi’ him.” He frowned. “Dids I see richt? He was dressed as a natife?”
Mingo laid his hand on Finlay’s shoulder. “It is a long tale, best told by Israel himself. When he recovers, you can ask him.”
“Aye.” Finlay nodded again. Then he turned to Copperhead who was struggling to his feet with his unconscious son. “Here, allaw me help.”
Copperhead nodded his thanks as the Scot placed his arm about Adohi’s waist. The Cherokee was weak and exhausted from days of ill treatment and abuse, but together the two of them managed to carry him away from the smoldering building. Mingo watched them until they entered the tavern and then turned to Alexander who was looking down at Zachary Morgan’s body, a frown on his face. Mingo hesitated and then knelt beside the dead man and rolled him over. What he found caused a righteous anger to well within him and he began to tremble.
Alexander noticed. “Cara?” he asked.
Mingo shook his head. “He looks like he’s at peace. He shouldn’t be. He has hurt so many. Destroyed so much....”
The Scot’s hand came down on his shoulder. “Cara, let it gae. Th’ mon is dead. Th’ hate ye feel cannae harm him anymore. Only ye.”
“Mingo?” a familiar voice called.
Mingo smiled weakly at Alexander and then turned to Jacob Lewis who was standing at the bottom of the stair. Matthew Malone and few others he didn’t recognize waited behind him. He rose to his feet and faced them. “Jacob. Matthew. What is it?”
The first man shifted uncomfortably. “About Israel....”
Mingo frowned. “Yes?”
“You know Matt here, Mingo. He’s an honest man. Well, he says Israel is the one who led that raid on his property. He recognized him.” Jacob paused. “Ain’t too many Indians with white hair.”
“And that other one, the one who looks white. He was there too,” Matt spoke up. “All dressed up and painted. They broke the law, Mingo. We can’t just let them go. Or the other one who was in the jail. The constable put him in there to wait for the Justice of the Peace.”
“It’s the law, Mingo.” Jacob sounded apologetic.
Mingo drew a deep breath and held it, remaining silent for a moment. Then he asked, “Would you like me to tell Daniel, or will you?” His dark eyes fixed on the Jacob Lewis’s pale face. “Do you intend to jail Israel now, Jacob? With the ball still in his shoulder?”
“You know we aren’t gonna do that.”
“So you’ll allow the doctor to attend him? You will give him time to heal, and then throw him in a filthy cell where he can await a hanging?” Mingo’s emotions were raw. On edge. He could hear hysteria creeping into his voice, but he didn’t care. “You know what Israel said is true. If it had been your family, Jacob, or yours, Matthew, that had been burned out, it would have been Zachary Morgan and his ilk who were rotting in jail. And you would have been branded heroes for taking revenge!”
“Now, Mingo. Watch what you’re sayin’,” Jacob cautioned him. “I understand how upset you are. And why.” He glanced around nervously. Some of the newer settlers in Boonesborough were lingering at the edge of the scene, curious about the events and the strangers who had come to town. “These men who don’t know you, don’t.”
“Cara. Listen tae him. He’s speakin’ sense,” Alexander said quietly. “Gettin’ yerself thrown in prison isnae gonna help Israel, ur yer own. Ye hear me?”
Mingo’s hands were clenched in fists. His dark eyes went from Jacob to Matthew and then brushed the crowd. Some of them were merely curious. Others were fingering their weapons and looking for an excuse to use them. He glanced at Alexander and nodded. “I am going to check on Israel,” Mingo said at last. Then he started down the steps.
“Aye. He’ll be askin’ after ye.” Alexander watched him go. A moment later he descended as well and spoke to the two men. “He’s richt. Ye ken tis so.”
“Who are you?” Jacob asked.
Alexander planted his Scottish flintlock behind his belt. “Th’ son o’ a Cherokee mither. An’ th’ faither o’ a Cherokee son whot men such as these used roughly nae lang afore this. Tis ain brand o’ justice fur th’ likes o’ ye, an’ ainother fur me an’ mah own.”
“That’s not true,” Jacob said. “Justice is justice.”
Alexander smiled grimly. “I think, mah friend, th’ next few hours will gi’e ye ample opportunity tae profe ye mean tha’. Noo, if ye will excuse me.” He inclined his head and followed Mingo to the tavern.
The two men stared at one another, and then at the body of Zachary Morgan. Jacob went to it and pulled the man’s coat up over his face. He shook his head as he turned back to his companion. “Those other men, Ketchum and his like, they’ll be back here screamin’ for justice as soon as they sober up.”
Matthew nodded. “What are we gonna do?”
Jacob shook his head. Then he remembered something Mingo had said, and he brightened a bit.
“Daniel’s here. We’ll ask him. He’ll know.”
Daniel Boone sat at the side of his son’s bed. Cincinnatus had brought out a cot and set it in a far corner of the tavern. He had placed Israel on it and then pulled up a chair alongside it. Soon after the doctor had arrived and removed the ball from his son’s shoulder. The brusque efficient surgeon had bandaged the wound and told Dan that Israel’s constitution and his will to live would have to do the rest. He was young, he said. He had a better chance than most. Then, with a tip of his hat, he was gone.
It was now early morning. Outside the tavern windows the birds were chirping, children were laughing, and women were calling to one another. The scent of smoke had died away. If it hadn’t been for the still form beside him, it might have been just another day. But it wasn’t. And it never would be again. Dan reached out and took hold of his son’s feverish hand. He didn’t know what to do and so, for the moment, he did nothing. He simply held Israel’s fingers between his own and waited as the world whirled on about them.
It took him a few seconds, but he finally looked up. It was Mingo. He saw in his old friend’s face all of the rage he should have felt but couldn’t. He was numb. “Mingo,” he said, acknowledging his presence. Then his eyes followed the other man’s to where Copperhead sat with his son. Adohi had awakened and was sitting up. The two MacKirdy brothers were speaking with the pair. “Adam?” Dan asked.
“He has a severe concussion. They are forcing him to stay awake.” The words came with barely restrained fury. “He could have been killed by the blow.”
Mingo turned toward him. “As well as can be expected for a man who has had everything taken from him, been maltreated and almost lynched. And may yet be hung,” he added with disgust.
Those last words penetrated the haze Dan was in. “What?”
Mingo drew a slow, steadying breath. “Lewis and Malone. They spoke to me. They still intend to hold Copperhead until the Justice of the Peace comes in three months.” He shook his head. “If they cage him again, he will die. They might as well shoot him here and now.” Mingo paused as he met his eyes again. “And Daniel?”
Dan knew by his tone that it was something serious. “Yes?”
“Israel and the others. They do not intend to let them go either. Matthew recognized both White Wolf and Israel from the raid on his property. As soon as he heals, they will press charges against him.”
Dan drew a deep breath. He nodded slowly. “It’s the law.”
Mingo froze as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I see,” he breathed softly. “I don’t know I should be surprised. You just won’t bend where the law is concerned will you, Daniel?” His old friend did nothing to hide his disgust as he turned away.
The dark-haired man pivoted angrily and barked, “What?”
“I’m sorry.” Dan’s voice was rough.
“That all those years ago, I didn’t understand. That there are some laws that are
higher than man’s. Laws that bind us to one another; friend to friend and blood to blood.”
Mingo frowned. “Daniel? What are you saying?”
“That I am goin’ to do for Israel and Copperhead what I should have done for you all those years ago.” Dan drew a deep breath and then leaned down and gathered his son’s unconscious body in his arms. “Tell Alexander and the others we’re leaving.”
Dan nodded toward his rifle where it rested against the wall. “Ticklicker’s yours for now. She shoots like the old girl you knew. When we go out that door, you’re gonna have to cover our backs.”
Mingo nodded. He smiled as he met Dan’s stern gaze. “And if they try to stop us, Daniel?”
Dan adjusted his hold on his son as he nodded toward the door. “Let’s just hope they don’t.”
As Mingo went to speak with Alexander and the others, Dan watched the Scot’s head come up. Alexander laughed, ready for the challenge. Copperhead helped his shaken son to his feet and supported him as the others moved through the tavern seeking weapons of any kind. Finlay grinned broadly when Cincinnatus offered to loan him his blunderbuss. He kindly refused the antiquated weapon, but not the help. The old tavern-keeper was deputized to bring up the rear and promised to shoot the pants off of anyone who tried to stop them.
As Dan moved past the armed men and drew near the door, Israel stirred and his
eyelids fluttered. The doctor had given him something newfangled called a ‘sedative’. He had said it would keep him asleep and out of pain. He had also said it might put him out of his head and that if Israel did wake, most likely he wouldn’t know where he was. Or maybe who he was. His son’s blue eyes opened and he looked up at him. “Pa?” he whispered.
“That’s right, son,” Dan said softly. “You know me?”
The young man laughed weakly. “Criminetly,” he said, slurring the word so it was almost unintelligible, “how could I not know you. You’re my Pa.”
“Yes, I am,” he answered as Mingo came to stand beside them. “And don’t you ever forget it.”
“Are you ready, Daniel?” Mingo asked.
The big man nodded. “Open the door.”
As they stepped onto the porch Jacob Lewis and Matthew Malone and about a half dozen other men turned to face them. A small crowd had gathered beyond them made up of mothers and fathers and children of all ages. It hadn’t been all that long since the fires had been put out and the shooting had stopped, and with the dawning of the new day and the safety the light afforded, their curiosity had gotten the best of them. Dan heard a collective intact of breath and a few exclamations. To some of them he was an old friend, long missed but never forgotten, and to others a legend sprung to life over the course of a single violent night. The townsfolk murmured and pointed and then fell silent as four more copper-skinned raven-haired men exited the tavern to form a line behind him. He glanced at them. Their faces were grim and determined, and all but Adohi held weapons.
“Daniel,” Jacob asked, his voice trembling, “what do you think you’re doing?”
He ignored his question and asked one of his own. “Where are the men who came in with Israel?”
Matthew answered. “They’re bein’ held until the Justice comes. We put them in the powder magazine. ”
“Let them go.”
“You heard me, Jake.” He turned to two of the dark-skinned men behind him. “Finlay, Alec, go with him and see that they are released.”
“Aye, Daniel.” The elder of the two Scots walked up to the astonished man and grinned. “This time, it seems, justice wills be had by all.”
“Daniel, you can’t do this!,” the settler protested. “It’s against the law.”
“Whose law, Jacob?” The big man asked. “Man’s? Or God’s?”
“But they’ve burnt and looted. Raided settlers’ homes. Destroyed property.”
“After Zach Morgan and his like had hunted their people down like animals, and burnt Copperhead and others like him out. I’m not the one to judge who is right and who is wrong. Are you?” When the other man said nothing, Dan added, “All I know is that these men are fighting for their lives. All they want is to care for their own. Just like I did when I started this settlement all those years ago. Just like you, Jacob.”
“If not for Israel and the others, Jacob,” Mingo added, coming to his friend’s side, “I would be dead. Most likely Copperhead and his son as well. A grave injustice has been averted. Is that not worth looking the other way?”
Jacob Lewis was silent a moment. Finally he said, “I can’t promise the others won’t come looking for them, Daniel. And maybe for you.”
Dan nodded. “Fair enough.”
“You just gonna let them go, Jake?” someone yelled from the back of the crowd.
Jacob turned and looked at them. “I don’t know everything. The one of you who does, can cast the first stone.” He lowered his rifle and turned back. “God go with you, Daniel. And with your son,” Jacob finished as he turned and led Alexander toward the magazine.
“Thank you, Jake.” Dan cast a glance over the rest of the crowd. It seemed no one had the courage to try to stop them. Then he turned back to the tavern and his green eyes locked on the bent figure of an old bright-eyed man near the door. “Cincinnatus?” he called.
“Right here, Dan’l!” the spry tavern-keeper answered as he hobbled forward with his blunderbuss in his hands.
“You got them covered?”
“You know Bessie,” Cincinnatus laughed as he patted the flared nose of his longtime companion, “when she spits, she sprays wide. I got ‘em all covered.”
Dan laughed and for the first time since he had seen his son in Mingo’s arms, felt his old self. Still carrying Israel, he began to walk slowly toward the fort’s broad gate. Mingo followed assisting Copperhead with his son. Alec and Finlay joined them even as a timid, frightened man swung the wooden doors wide and then ran away.
With a last glance at the settlement he had once called his home Daniel Boone, along with his friends and Whitehair’s small renegade band, passed out of the gate and disappeared into the night.
Unatsi turned to find her tall blond daughter approaching. Of all her children Margaret was the one who was the least like her in appearance, though there was no denying the wide cheekbones and deep-set eyes that silently proclaimed her native blood. Still, the fact that the girl could pass as white had set her on a course where she had sought to do just that, renouncing not only her Cherokee heritage but the Highland one as well. Margaret had always insisted on speaking English and had refused to learn the Gaelic that Archibald’s father had taught the other children in secret. Even now when the tartan was no longer prohibited, she refused to wear her clan colors or to adopt any other form of native dress.
Unatsi glanced at her child. Coming here had been hard for her. In Scotland Margaret had been able to deny what she was by immersing herself in her father’s adopted culture. But here in Ken-tah-ten? Here she might have to face the painted savages who had given birth to her mother and admit that there was something of the savage in her as well.
“Mother?” Margaret asked again.
“Aye, Peg, whot is it?” Unatsi watched her daughter wince and tried to keep the gentle smile from her lips. The pet name was another sore point, but Margaret abided it for her mother.
“You should rest.”
“Soon I wills dae nothin’ boot rest.” She patted the ground next to the stump she was sitting on. “Come haur an’ sit wi’ me a while.” Unatsi glanced back. “Whaur is yer faither?”
“Mrs. Boone was taking quite some time to follow. Rachel and Rebekah Anne went to look for her and then they went missing as well.” Margaret frowned. “Father returned to find them.” She glanced around. “Where is Ruth?”
Her mother smiled. Margaret would not call her brother’s wife by her Cherokee name, even here. “She has gaun ahead wi’ Verity.”
“Is it safe for
them to do that?”
The older woman nodded. “Her folk aur haur watchin’. They wills keep her
Margaret said nothing. She inclined her head and then fell silent.
Her mother reached out and took her hand. “Margaret, whot aur ye thinkin’?”
Her daughter shook her head but smiled at the use of her ‘proper’ name. “Is this where you lived, Mother?” She indicated the vast green wilderness that stretched before them.
“Chota was th’ village o’ mah clan, boot mah mither chose tae live wi’ her husband’s folk. Still, I think o’ Chota as home.”
Margaret frowned. “I don’t see anything. Where is it?”
“It used tae lie joost beyond th’ ribbon o’ water ye see sparklin’ in th’ sun.”
Unatsi frowned as a familiar pain rolled up and through her. With each day that passed it grew more debilitating and intense. From the moment she set foot on her native soil, she had known she would never see Scotland again. She was sad for her children and for the man she had spent her life loving, but for her it was a welcome end. She was home. “Tis nae more. Rebecca told me. Th’ village died alang wi’ most o’ its folk many years afore this. Boot the ground is still thaur, an’ thot is all I hae need of.”
“Mah life is o’er, Peg. Dinnae ye be sad. I had ain far richer than any I coulds hae imagined.” She reached out and touched her daughter’s cheek. “Noo, ye needs tae find ain fer yerself.”
Margaret looked away. “You know that isn’t possible.”
Unatsi was silent a moment. “He’s nae th’ mon fur ye, Margaret. Tis fur yer own guid yer faither forbid it.”
Her daughter lowered her head and studied her hands.
“Tis a black history his family has.”
“But that is not fair to James,” the young woman snapped with some fire, glancing up. “He is not the one who caused the trouble.”
Unatsi rose and took a step toward the woods. She drew a deep, steadying breath and then turned back to her daughter. “Tis in his blood. As th’ Cherokee is in yers. An’ the Gael. Can ye deny tha’ ye feel it?”
“I am what I choose to be. It is the same with James.” Margaret stood as well. “You know I would never want to hurt you. Or father.”
Unatsi nodded. “Aye.” She winced again and turned toward the trees so her daughter would not see her in pain. “Wills ye wolk wi’ me, Peg? I dinnae see yer faither yet.”
Margaret glanced behind her. Then she took her mother’s hand and the two of them began to walk back. “Will you tell me?” she asked.
“Tell ye whot?”
“You never said much. About living here.” Margaret’s eyes went wide as she took in the wilderness about them. “Will you tell me about my grandparents? About your life here?”
Unatsi squeezed her fingers. “Aye. I can speak o’ it noo. Th’ pain is all boot gone fur guid, an’ soon I wills see them ag’in.”
Becky looked from one man to the other. Upon seeing the stranger standing next to her, Archibald MacKirdy had left the woods at a brisk pace. Once he had drawn close enough to recognize who the man was, any semblance he had had to the loving man who had defied convention to marry a Cherokee wife had vanished, and the elder MacKirdy had become instead the intractable, stern Scotsman she had first met. James Payton on the other hand had tensed at the older man’s sudden appearance, but his demeanor had not changed appreciably. Somehow she couldn’t help but think him the more gracious and giving of the two.
“What are you doing here?” Archibald MacKirdy demanded. “You were told you are not welcome in our family. My daughter means to have nothing to do with you.”
Payton shook his head. “That is not good enough, sir. I need to hear that from Maggie herself.”
“No, you do not, and you will not. You will not have any contact with my daughter. Not while I am breathing.”
“If it would not do irreparable harm to your daughter, sir, I would be most happy to oblige you on that account. My pistols are on my horse. But neither your death nor mine would serve those we both love.” The young man stood his ground with what Rebecca thought was admirable courage and finesse. She watched as he turned to Rachel who had just shooed her small daughter off to gather a skirt full of leaves. “Now, where is Maggie? Mrs. Moray, will you not tell me? When we met in the city, you were most kind to me, and endeavored to accept me for who I am, rather than for who or what my family was.”
The petite blonde seemed somewhat distressed. Her eyes shot to Alexander and Finlay’s father and then back to Payton. Finally she said, “Mr. MacKirdy, I would never have defied you on your lands, and I and mine are most grateful for your benevolence, but Margaret is of age. She is more than of age. I think you should let them settle it between themselves.”
The older man stiffened. “Do you now?”
Rachel nodded. “Yes, I do. If you remember, my own path to happiness was not paved with smooth stones. Perhaps you cannot see what will come of this.... ”
“What I can see is that the hand that made those stones ‘rough’ stands here before you,” he said sharply.
Becky frowned at that. What could he mean?
“I had nothing to do with any of that, sir,” Payton countered. “You know that.”
Archibald glared at him. “Did you not?”
“No.” James insisted. “How could I? I was barely out of the nursery at the time.”
“Blood is blood, Payton. Blood is blood.”
James grew heated. “I beg to differ with you, sir. Blood may be blood, but a man is a man, and he has a mind and a heart and can make choices. I choose to be who I am. Not who my father was.”
“And who in the name of Heaven was your father?” The trio turned to look at Rebecca Boone. She was standing with her hands on her hips and had her toe tapping. “Would someone be kind enough to let me know?”
Rachel glanced at the two men. Her lips pursed and she stepped forward. “Rebecca, this—as you seem to know—is James Payton. He changed his surname a few years ago to distance himself from his family and their London concerns. His father was Geoffrey Leighton.”
Rebecca paled. She could see it. The dark hair, the hawkish eyes, the narrow chin with just a touch of cruelty quirking the upper lip. Though, she had to remind herself, the latter might have been imagined. Still, there was no doubting he was his father’s son. “It has been so many years,” she whispered.
Archibald MacKirdy cleared his throat and straightened his sporran. “Not nearly enough.”
Minutes later as Becky watched the two men walk off she remarked, “Do you think it is safe to let them go alone?”
Rachel shrugged. “If it was to come to a duel, I think it would have been here.”
“I don’t know. You know men and their sensibilities.” Becky glanced at Rachel’s daughter where she was sitting on her knees in the grass watching a wooly worm work its way in and out the castle of leaves she had built. She crossed her arms and lowered her voice and declared, “Not in front of the women.”
Rachel laughed. “For all his gruff nature, Archibald is a kind and a fair man. He loves his daughter and wants what is best for her.” She paused. “It even took me some time not to look on James with hatred. Kerr still does not trust him.”
Becky nodded. “I can imagine why. His father was an evil man.”
“Yes. But James is not his father, as neither Kerr nor Archibald are theirs.” Rachel lifted her skirts and moved to stand beside the redhead. “He is the only one of the family who has tried to break away from the Gerard mold. I admire him for that. Still, I thought all this resolved years ago when Archibald forbade the alliance.”
“Mr. Payton told me he and Margaret had been corresponding regularly. He showed me a packet of letters.”
“Ah. Love will out, is that not true?” Rachel smiled and then suddenly paled, a stricken look on her face. “Oh, dear....”
“What? What is it?”
“I hate to say this aloud.” Her large blue eyes fastened on Becky’s. “Someone knew we would be arriving in America and that we were on our way to Brushy Forks. Enough so that they tried to kidnap Danny.” She glanced toward the retreating figures. “You don’t think it could have been James?”
Becky caught her arm with her fingers and squeezed it. “You know what I think? I think you had best gather up your daughter, and we should follow them as quickly as we can.” Even as she watched Rachel nod and turn toward her child, a sudden sound drew her attention from the pair. She glanced down the road and saw dust rising in the distance. Someone was coming. As Rachel and Rebekah came to her side, a horse appeared, led by a dark-haired young man.
In a kilt.
She heard Rachel’s audible intake of breath and stepped back to allow her to pass. Shielding her eyes against the light, Becky saw it was indeed Alexander’s son leading the horse. On the animal’s back were two children, and walking at Archie’s side was a small woman. Danny followed close behind.
Neither Dan nor Mingo were anywhere to be seen.
Gathering her courage she walked toward them, searching their young faces. They were haggard and tired, but did not seem frightened or overly grieved. With a sigh of relief, Becky reasoned something must have happened that had compelled Dan and Mingo to send the boys back without them. As she drew alongside the small group, she realized what it was. The woman was Miriam, Copperhead’s wife, and she was obviously in distress. Her blond hair was disheveled, her dress torn, and there were great dark circles cradling her large blue eyes. Becky watched as Rachel gave her old friend a quick hug before moving on to catch her son in a similar embrace. Then Rachel turned to greet Archie. The young man tipped his bonnet, murmured that he was ‘bawd’ in answer to her question, and then went to assist the children from the horse’s back. As he did, Becky stepped forward and took Miriam’s hand.
“And how are you?” she asked.
The skin about the woman’s eyes was pinched and reddened from crying. “I have been better.”
“Where are the men?”
Miriam glanced at Rachel who was busy talking with her son. “There was a disagreement. Cara went with Monlutha to try to free Copperhead from jail.”
“Monlutha?” Becky had not seen Menewa’s son since he had been a boy. The thought of him brought painful images of her own son to her mind’s eye. She frowned. “And you say Copperhead is in jail?”
“Yes. When Alexander came— ”
“Then he got through?”
“When he arrived, he and your husband followed Cara, to see what they could do to help.” She nodded and then hesitated. “Rebecca?”
Miriam’s face was sober. “Monlutha follows the one they call ‘Whitehair’.”
Becky gasped. Even though she had not seen her son in three years, she knew the war-name he went by. “Did you see him?”
She shook her head. “But your husband did. Apparently, it did not go well.”
“And Sunalei?” Becky asked quietly, knowing this woman shared her pain.
“Safe somewhere else. She was not with them. Rebecca, I have no idea what happened. Your husband sent me back with the boys.” Miriam started and then placed her hand on the shoulder of the small dark-haired girl who had just ducked beneath her arm. “This is Talia, our youngest. My son’s name is Tobias.”
Becky glanced up as the boy joined them. “They are beautiful,” she said. Where Adohi had taken after his mother, having lighter skin and the more refined features of the Caucasian race, Tobias might have been his father born again. His hair was black. His skin, the color of a seasoned copper pot. She reached out and shook the hand he offered, “Tobias.”
“Ma’am.” He turned to his mother. “Archie wants to find his grandmother. May we go with him?”
“In a moment.” Miriam laid her hand on his head, then she called softly, “Rachel?”
The other woman turned away from her son. Her large blue eyes were haunted. “Yes?”
“Daniel gave me a message for you. From Cara.”
Rachel nodded as she drew closer. “Yes?”
“He said, ‘Tell her I do what I must. She will understand.’”
Danny came up behind his mother and put his hand on her shoulder. “Father will be all right. I know he will.”
Rachel placed her hand over her son’s. “God willing. He has brought you safely back at least.” She drew a breath then and nodded toward the trees. “Shall we? Una is waiting. As, hopefully, are Archibald and James.”
Miriam frowned. “James?”
“It’s a long story,” Becky said. “We’ll tell you as we walk.”
She watched then as Rebekah took Talia’s hand and the little girls began to skip across the grass, trailing after their long-legged brothers. Rachel and Miriam clasped hands as well, and the three of them followed slowly, each lost in her own thoughts.
Dan looked around him at the makeshift village and frowned. He thought of the Indian, Running Fox, whom he had met in the woods near Brushy Forks; the one who had attacked Mingo’s son. The man had been thin. Weak and malnourished. Many of these people living in the shadow of the settlement he had founded looked the same. It was obvious they lived from hand to mouth, never knowing where their next meal—or their next moment of peace would come from.
And this was the life his son wanted to live. He didn’t understand it, but had come to respect it as his choice. Now he only hoped he would have a chance to let him know that. Israel was still unconscious. He had a fever and at times had been delirious. They had borne him back to the place he now called home and had laid him with care in a hastily erected shelter by the cascading water where it was cool. Monlutha had had some small training in the healing arts and he had tended him on the half-day journey there. Now that they had arrived, the tribe’s healer had taken over. It seemed there was little the man could do other than blow smoke and pray, but then, that was about all the white man’s medicine had offered as well.
Dan felt a tug on his sleeve and looked down. A very young and very pregnant Indian woman was watching him, her eyes brimming over with tears of helplessness and rage. He recognized her as the daughter of Copperhead and Miriam, the woman his son loved. Obviously, she was also soon to be the mother of his first grandchild. Dan drew a deep breath and smiled at her. “Sunalei,” he said softly.
“Israel?” she asked.
She hadn’t been in the camp when they arrived, but had been out gathering berries and nuts. Monlutha had gone to find her and she had only now returned. “In the healer’s lodge,” Dan answered.
“Is it bad?” she asked.
He nodded. A lie would do her no good. “Yes.”
“And my father?”
“Here,” a strong voice spoke from close by.
Dan watched as the young woman pivoted and took in the man behind her. Copperhead’s short dark hair was unkempt, his European clothes marred with dirt and stained with sweat and blood. He had lost weight and his face was gaunt, but his eyes were alive as they had not been in years. He smiled at his daughter and opened his arms. “Sunalei,” he said.
She fell into them and grinned as his fingers found her belly.
“Soon?” Copperhead asked.
“Yes, soon. One moon. No more. You are well?” she asked.
Copperhead nodded slowly. “I am...myself again.”
Sunalei squeezed his fingers as she glanced at the lean-to. “I must go. ”
“Yes. Go. Be with your husband.” Her father kissed her forehead. “Talk to him, daughter. Let him know you are there.” He pressed his fingers against her abdomen again. “Remind him that there is another who wishes to know him, and let them speak as well.”
Sunalei raised up on her tiptoes and gave Copperhead a quick kiss and then, nodding a brief farewell to Dan, turned and ran toward the shelter.
Her father watched her go. He shook his head and then sat wearily on a nearby boulder. “So many years, wasted,” Copperhead sighed. “I should have stayed with my people.”
“Nothin’ is ever wasted,” Dan said quietly. “Everythin’ we live through teaches us somethin’.”
The native man’s fingers curled into a fist. “And what have the years taught me and mine? To bow and scrape? To bend and become something we are not, and then to be told we are not wanted anyway?”
“You have reason to be bitter. But don’t let it ruin you, Copperhead. You are too good a man.”
The Cherokee was silent for some time. Finally, he nodded once and then rose to his feet. “I need to find Miriam and the children, and let them know I am free. Alexander and Finlay are going with me. You are staying here?”
Dan nodded. “I have to.”
“Cara has said he will watch over Adohi. He is not well enough yet to travel.”
“We’ll bring him, along with Israel and Sunalei when we come.”
Copperhead’s dark brows rose. “You have ‘mended fences’ then, with your son?”
Dan shook his head. “Not yet. But I will. His mother needs to see him. And she should be there... Both their mothers should be there when the baby is born.”
The Cherokee smiled wearily. “Yes. But then, where will they go?” He was silent a moment. “I am sorry I brought this upon Miriam. Her children are ever in danger because of what I am. As Israel’s child will be.”
“His children will be like yours. Strong. And they will change things. One day a man will not be judged by his skin, but by what makes him a man.”
Copperhead looked skeptical. Then he whispered, “May it be so, Great Spirit. May it be so.”
Dan whirled at his friend’s voice. Mingo had come from the place where Israel lay. At his frown, the dark-haired man held his hand up and said, “He is not worse. In fact, he is asking for you.”
“Has his fever broken?”
“Yes. He is weak, but not out of his head. He knew me.”
Dan nodded, but he didn’t move.
Mingo glanced at Copperhead and then back to his friend. “Daniel?”
The big man grinned sheepishly. “I feel like a kid out of school. Awkward. Unsure of what to say.”
His old friend placed a hand on his shoulder. “Just speak your heart, Daniel. It will know.”
Dan drew a deep breath and then ducked under the overhanging branches and leaves that shaded his son’s lean form from the sun. He nodded to the healer, ThunderSnake, as he moved past him and watched him head for the waterfall. Usually a tribe’s healer was an older man. If that was true, then in this tribe thirty must have been considered ‘old’ because ThunderSnake could have been no more than that. Moving to his son’s side, Dan tucked his long legs underneath him and sat down. Then he waited. Israel’s eyes were closed and he thought he was asleep.
“That you, Pa?”
Dan watched him stir. His son’s blue eyes opened and he shifted so he could look at him. “Yep,” he said. “No one but.”
“Pa,” Israel frowned. “Don’t start.”
“No.” Dan reached out and touched his arm. “I don’t mean it in that way. I.... I’m sorry my bull-headedness has kept you two apart. She’s missed you somethin’ fierce.”
The young man was silent a moment. “I thought you said you weren’t gonna start.”
Israel laughed gently. “You’re tryin’ to take all the blame. You ain’t the only one who’s bull-headed, you know?”
Dan laughed and squeezed his cool flesh, thankful that the fever had left him. “You come by it naturally.”
The young man lifted a trembling hand and placed it over his father’s. “Where’d we go wrong, Pa? How’d we lose sight of one another?”
Dan shook his head. “There the blame is mine. I had a dream. It was a good dream, but it was mine. Not yours. And when you didn’t want any part of it, I just didn’t know what to say. Or to do.”
“It ain’t that I don’t want the same things, Pa. But I want them for all men, for the Indians too. Ain’t that what you taught me, Pa? That all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain rights?”
“Shh,” Dan hushed him, afraid he was using too much of his meager strength. “Good men know that. Good men work to make it so. Unfortunately bad men are often the ones who come out on top in elections and end up running the government.” Dan shook his head. “You can’t win, son.”
Israel turned his face away. He sighed. “Still, I have to try.”
“Even when this child comes?”
The young man glanced at him. He looked sheepish. “You saw?”
“How could I not see?” Dan grinned and then sobered. “You have to think of that child, son.”
“No, you’re not. You’re thinking of that child’s grandfather and mother. What has been done to them is unfair. It’s wrong. But it’s over. You have to make a way for it to be better for the next generation. For your son or daughter. The new century is about to dawn. Maybe it will be a brighter one.”
Israel winced as he turned back toward him. “The old women say it’s a boy. They dangled somethin’ over Sunalei’s stomach and said it told them so. You really think he can make a difference, Pa?”
Dan squeezed his hand. “He’ll be your son. He’ll have to.” He paused as he heard a noise. They both looked up to find the healer had returned. Dan nodded, knowing it was time to go, and then leaned over his son and kissed his forehead. “You get well. Your Ma is waitin’.”
Israel called him back as he reached the door. “Pa?”
Dan pivoted. “Is’rul?”
“We did get married. In a church. Don’t forget to tell Ma if you see her before I do.”
His father shook his head. “I’ll let you tell her, son.”
“How is he?”
Dan looked at Mingo. He was still disheveled and covered with soot. “Weak, but healin’. I think he’ll be fine.”
“The two of you actually talked?”
“Yep. Soon as he’s able, we’re gonna go find Becky. And take Sunalei with us. She needs her Ma right now.”
Mingo nodded. “Copperhead and Alexander left with Finlay moments ago. White Wolf loaned Copperhead his mount.”
“So they’re ridin’. That’s good.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Other than the fact that Copperhead’s strength has just about been pushed to the limit?” Dan shook his head. “I just have a feelin’ they need to get back. We all need to get back.”
“Can Israel be moved?”
“Not yet.” It was Sunalei. She had returned with water and soup for her husband. “ThunderSnake said the White man’s medicine worked well, but it will be some time before he can sit a horse.”
Dan glanced around the clearing. “I don’t think we should wait. You’re not safe here, any of you. As soon as we can, we need to move on.”
“Why?” she asked.
Mingo answered for him. “You think the others in the town may come after us.”
“I think Hank Ketchum and those who supported Zach will come lookin’ for revenge.” He nodded toward the lean-to where many of their children lay. “Sunalei, you and yours had best get to packin’.”
“But where will we go? We have known no home but this. And even this for no more than six months,” she added sadly.
“Come with me,” Dan said. “I have land. It ain’t a lot, but what there is of it, is mine to share. You’re more than welcome.”
She frowned and indicated those sleeping and sitting nearby. “All of us?”
“All of you. Any kin of Is’rul, is kin of mine.”
Sunalei smiled at him and then stepped forward to plant a kiss on his cheek. “I will speak to ThunderSnake. Perhaps we can make a litter.”
As she headed for the lean-to, Mingo turned to his friend. The big man was rubbing his chin and staring at the horizon. “What are your thoughts, Daniel?”
“I’m thinkin’ we’re gonna have to make a stand. But I don’t want women and children, or the sick and injured nearby when we do.”
“So you will send them to Brushy Forks?”
Mingo grinned. “I would like to see the town’s reaction when two or three dozen Indians settle and camp out on your front lawn.”
“The Reverend will be happy. He’ll look on it as Providence and try to convert them,” Dan laughed.
“It will only be a temporary measure, Daniel. They will not be able to stay.”
Dan looked wistful. “I ain’t so sure my own ‘stayin’ ain’t temporary, Mingo. Let’s just take it one day at a time. Agreed?”
Mingo nodded slowly as his eyes went to the horizon. “I wonder if the boys have made their way back.”
“They should have met up with Becky and the others by now.” He glanced at his friend. “I bet Rachel’s been worryin’ about you.”
“And Rebecca about you.”
“Becky?” Dan laughed. “The word ‘worry’ ain’t even in her vocabulary anymore. She’s spent too many years harnessed to the likes of me.”
Rebecca realized she was chewing her lip again. She fought down the wave of anxiety that washed over her as she gazed from one stubborn pair to the other. They had managed to catch up with the senior MacKirdy and the young man, Payton, just after the men had run into Margaret and her mother who were returning in search of them. Now Unatsi stood beside her husband, the two of them presenting a united, immovable front. Margaret had broken away from her mother and gone to stand beside the man she loved. She was in pain. Becky could see it in her face.
“Yes. I admit it.” Margaret said as she took James’ hand. “We have been corresponding for some time.”
“Even after I forbade it.”
She met her father’s stare. “Yes. You had no right to. I am not a child.”
“No, Mother. I am not Peg. I am not that small girl who obeys without question any more. I love James and there is nothing either of you can do about it.”
“I can disown you.”
Archibald MacKirdy’s words fell like stones between them. Margaret paled. “Yes, you can and I can do nothing to stop you.” She straightened her shoulders and met his stern gaze. “But there is nothing you can do to stop me as well. I intend to marry James. I am not returning to Scotland. He has land here, and this is where we will stay.”
“Sae ye had it all planned, e’en afore we left Scotlain?” Unatsi asked in a quiet voice.
“Yes, Madame,” James answered. “Once Margaret told me you would be coming to these shores, we agreed I would meet her and she would go back to Philadelphia with me. We would wish it to be with your blessing....”
Before the elder MacKirdy could speak, Rachel stepped forward. “Margaret, you told James of our plans?”
The blond woman frowned. “Yes. What of it?”
“No one was to know.”
“Your secrets are safe with me, Mrs. Moray. I would do nothing to harm you or yours, I promise you that.” The young man took a step toward her. “I have only the highest regard for you and your husband. And I wish to make amends for the past.”
Rachel shuddered. “I want to believe you, James, but someone informed those men of our arrival. They meant to take Danny. And they could have killed Alexander’s son....”
“What men?” James asked. Then he turned to Margaret. “What is she talking about?”
Becky answered for her. “Someone was waiting when Mingo and his family arrived in Brushy Forks. They were watching, and when Archie was separated from the men, they kidnapped him because they thought he was Danny.”
He frowned. “To what purpose?”
“We don’t know.” She glanced at Rachel. “Most likely to make Mingo do something. What other reason could there be?”
The young man’s eye grew wide. He paled and became quiet.
It was Margaret speaking. He looked at her and shook his head. “I just had the most terrible sense of foreboding. Maggie, I fear my— ”
A sudden clamor made him pause. Becky wondered what he had been about to say. Then she turned away from him and watched along with the others as a small group of figures emerged from the wood. Rachel and Rebekah led the way. Danny followed close behind with Miriam. Archie trailed behind, his head down, walking with his horse.
Becky moved to greet them. She didn’t know if Danny or the others who had lived in Scotland knew Margaret’s secret beau, but she assumed from the puzzled looks on their faces that they did not. “Miriam,” she said as the petite woman came alongside her, “I would like to introduce Mr. James Payton, he is a friend of Margaret’s....” She paused. Archie had left his horse and come to stand behind the others and she couldn’t help but notice that Alexander’s son had gone white as a winding sheet. “Archie?”
The boy was trembling. He raised a shaking hand and pointed at the hawkish young man who held his aunt Margaret’s hand. “Thot...thot’s him,” he stuttered.
Rachel turned toward him. “Who?”Archie indicated James Payton. “Him. He’s th’ ain whot kidnapped me.”
- Continued in Chapter Eleven -