Journeys End by Marla F. Fair

Chapter Thirteen 

Kentucky, Spring 1796

  

            Mingo shifted in the depths of the leaves.  He stared at Rachel.  She was disheveled.  Her face streaked with tears and mud.  Her clothes were rent and her blond hair was hanging in her face, but she was alive.

            Now what was he going to do to keep her that way?

            This man Leighton had no proof that he was there.  At least, Mingo didn’t think he had.  He could fade back into the shadows and trail them; wait for an opportune moment to try and steal her away….

            But that was taking an awful chance.  Mingo remembered Oliver Gerard and his step-son, Geoffrey Leighton, all too well.  By the look of him, this man must be Geoffrey’s son, and therefore, Oliver’s grandson.  If his elders had spoon-fed him on their hatred of him, then John Leighton might just kill Rachel out of spite.

            But no, he had to stop that line of thinking.  It would only cause him to panic and over-react.  Just what the other man intended.  Rachel was bait. 

As this man had meant Danny to be.

            Mingo crept forward and surveyed the camp as well as he could.  He didn’t see anyone else, though he thought it unlikely Leighton was alone.  Still, from Rachel’s actions, it did not appear that Danny or any of the other children were with her.  She would have been pleading for them, worried about them and not herself.  Something must have happened to separate Rachel from the others before this man came along.

            He could only hope she had been stolen away and it was not that she was the only one left. 

            Mingo shook himself.  That kind of thinking would do him no good—

            “Well, Moray?  Are you going to show yourself?”

            He drew a deep breath and held it.  Here it comes.  The threat.  Show yourself or she dies.  Mingo settled back in the leaves to wait even as every muscle tensed, telling him to go.  

John Leighton remained still, listening.  Then, unexpectedly, he spun Rachel out to arms’ length.  A savage smile lit his face and he back-handed her across the cheek with his pistol. 

            Rachel shrieked and fell, and started to sob.

            Leighton turned toward the place where he was concealed.  “I won’t kill her, Moray.  But you will watch her suffer.  I promise I will give you quite a show.  And you know we Gerards,” he laughed.  “Shows are one thing we do well.”

            Mingo rose and stepped out of the trees.  “I’m here.  Now, leave her be.”

            “I have no quarrel with your wife, Moray,” John Leighton said even as Rachel reared up and pivoted.  “Once I have you, she is to be set free.”

            “Kerr, no!”  Rachel stumbled to her feet  and started toward him.  “Dear God, run!  Kerr!”

Like a viper, her captor struck out and caught her by the arm, holding her back. 

            As Leighton drew her in close, locking her hands behind her back, Mingo looked at his wife.  Bruises were already forming on her cheek and forehead.  Blood was running from her nose, and from the place where the barrel of the pistol had broken the skin of her lower lip.  He shook his head.  “No, Rachel.  This has to be settled.  I will not have men who hate me hunting my family like animals.  I will not allow you and Danny, or Verity and Rebekah to be in danger any longer.”  He took a step forward.  “This is between Leighton and me.  Between the ghosts of John and Oliver Gerard, and Kerr Murray.  It must end, once and for all.”

            “Very wise, Moray.  We wouldn’t want to see your lovely wife damaged, now would we?”  Leighton paused.  He lifted his left hand and gestured. “Trendenan.  Symmes!”  As Mingo had suspected, other brigands lurked in the shadows.  Two brutish men, ragged and unkempt, powerfully-muscled and visibly scarred, separated from the trees to approach them silently.  Leighton’s eyes flicked to Mingo.  “You do remember Mr. Symmes, don’t you?” he said, indicating the larger of the two men.

            Mingo frowned.  Symmes?  Why did that name seem familiar?   He stared at the man.  Symmes was powerfully built, like someone used to hard labor.  He had dark hair and eyes, and a peculiar scar running from his nose across his cheek to his left ear.

            Then he knew.

            “He’s one of the men your stepfather left money in trust for all those years ago,” Mingo said.

            Leighton nodded as Symmes came alongside him.  “Money that was not to be touched until there was proof of your incarceration or death.  Mr. Symmes has been a great help to me over the years.”

            “I would imagine….” Mingo muttered.

            “Aye, Mr. Leighton?” Symmes said as he came to his side.

            “Take the woman.”

            Mingo started forward.  “No!”

            Leighton pivoted and met his wild stare.  “You would prefer she stay here and watch you die?”

            Even as Rachel struggled in Leighton’s grip, backing away from the other man, Mingo halted.  “What are you going to do with her?”

            John Leighton frowned.  “Much as you will probably find this hard to believe, I don’t hold with killing women.  Especially mothers.  My quarrel is with you, Moray.  Your wife will be held until you are dead, and then delivered to the settlement.”

            Rachel turned to look at him.  Her eyes were wide with fear.  She opened her mouth to speak.  Mingo shook his head, indicating she should remain silent.  “How did you find out we would be here, in Brushy Forks?”

“My simpering brother.  He’s in love with that MacKirdy woman, that half-breed.”  Leighton’s tone was dark, but it brightened as he went on.  “James couldn’t wait to tell me she had accepted his proposal and that he was coming here to the States to claim her.  He also just happened to mention that you were coming to visit as well.”

Mingo remembered James Payton.  Barely.  They had only met once or twice, and usually the young man had been stalking away after having had the door slammed in his face.  “And this recent trouble with Copperhead?” he asked.

“Insurance.  One way or the other, I meant to smoke you out.”

“And that is why you tried to kidnap Danny?”

            “Yes.  The boy was to be bait.  Plain and simple.”  Leighton laughed.  “I didn’t expect you to come running up to me and beg me to kill you.”

            “You could have simply killed me somewhere along the way.”

            Leighton sobered.  “I could have.  But I don’t just want your death.  I want satisfaction.”

            Rachel had held her tongue as long as she could.  She pulled against her captor, trying to break free.  “You’re mad!” she hurled at him.

            Leighton looked down at her.  There was an odd expression on his face.  “You may  be right, Mrs. Moray.  But then sanity is in the eye of the beholder.”  He turned then and spoke to the brute at his side.  “Symmes, take her back to the base camp and hold her there until you see me again.”

            Leighton’s henchman accepted his charge with a smile that sent shivers down Mingo’s spine.  He had best make quick work of this.  Whatever gentlemanly code his foe adhered to regarding women, he was afraid did not hold for this man.

“Leighton?” Symmes called.  The ruffian had not moved.  He held Rachel tightly by her upper arm and was staring at th other man.

            Leighton turned to him with a frown.  “Yes?  What is it?”

            “You’ll bring my proof?” Symmes grunted.

            John Leighton’s visage darkened.  “You’ll get your blood money, Symmes.  Now go.  Take her away from here.”

            “Kerr!”  Rachel’s arms flew out toward him as Symmes circled her waist with his hands.  “Dear God, no— ”

            Her words were cut off as her captor’s filthy hand was clamped over her mouth and Symmes lifted her bodily from the ground.  Before Mingo could protest, Leighton turned toward the other man and pointed his pistol at him.  “You will not harm her.”

            Symmes paused.  He smiled and then laughed as he tossed Rachel’s small form over his shoulder.  With a nod, he moved to join his companion and together they disappeared into the trees.

            Mingo watched her go in silence, every muscle tense.  He could have cried out that he loved her, knowing well this might be the last time he would have a chance to tell her, but he knew she knew.  And he was not about to give John Leighton the satisfaction of gloating over their pain. 

After Rachel and Symmes had disappeared, Mingo walked forward until he stood no more than six feet from his foe.  “What do you get out of this, Leighton?  I have never harmed you.  We have never even met.”

            “Oh, but I know you, Cara-Mingo.  Kerr Murray.  Kerr Moray.  It is you who are responsible for the deaths of my father, his brother, and their step-father; my grandfather, Oliver Gerard.  You who have cost us our lives, our estate; our position in society.  You who have reduced us to nothing.”  Leighton’s smile was crooked.  “I claim blood vengeance.”

            Mingo blinked.  “What?”

            The other man laughed.  “I have been studying you, Cherokee.  You have brought about the death of more than one member of my family.  Be grateful I am not a savage.  If I was, I could have claimed not only your life, but your wife’s and one of your children’s in return.  As it is, I only want you.”

            Mingo spread his arms wide.  “And you have me.  What now?  Do you shoot me where I stand?”

            “I could.”  Leighton’s finger twitched, brushing the trigger.  Mingo noticed the hammer was already cocked.  “Or I could take you back to England and watch you hang as  was my father’s intention.  If you survive the journey, that is.”

            “I have been in ship’s holds before.”

“This time I will make certain the British seamen are loyal.”

Mingo frowned.  “I see you are well informed.”

            “You have been the study of many years, Moray.  When you closed the cage door on John Gerard in that theatre all those years ago, you might as well have chained yourself to the wall beside him.  It was a life sentence.”  Leighton paused and then quite unexpectedly asked, “And how is your friend Copperhead?”

            “Copperhead?”

            “Have they hung him yet?”

            Mingo’s heart sank as he thought of the heartache Copperhead and his family had suffered.  Was it all because of him?  “How are you involved in that?”

            “Over a decade ago my father sailed from England, never to return.  He came here hunting you.  When he couldn’t find you, he started digging into your past here in the Colonies.  He had been a friend of William Foxwell.  Some old mates told him about the trouble with this Copperhead and the warrants still outstanding against him.  My father came here to destroy your Cherokee friend, knowing that if Copperhead was in mortal danger and you were hiding here, you would not be able to resist coming to his aid.”  Leighton took a step toward him.  His fingers tightened on the handle of the pistol.  “My father died in the raid the savage’s people launched.”

            Mingo was silent a moment.  “And so you claim ‘blood vengeance’ against Copperhead as well.”

            “Who do you think supplied Zach Morgan with not only money, but the rum to give him the courage to do what he did?”

            Mingo was struck dumb for a moment.  So much pain.  Copperhead and Miriam and their losses.  Daniel and his son, torn apart.  Families broken.  Years lost.

“You’re despicable,” he said at last.

            Leighton stepped closer and smiled.  “Of course, I am.  I’m a Gerard.”

 

                                                                                                ###

           

            “So what do you think?”  Israel’s white-blond head turned toward the man who traveled with him. 

            “Two men.  One woman.”  Adohi stood and looked back toward the hilly region they had just fled.  “Traveling toward the caves.  It is hard to say.  Nothing marks them as anyone in particular.  The woman’s shoes are not those of a settler.  The other two wear common boots.”  Adohi frowned and dropped to his knees again.  “No, wait.”  He ran his fingers over one of the tracks.  Israel watched his face brighten.  “It is my father,” Adohi said with a smile as he looked up.

            “You sure?”

            Copperhead’s son nodded.  “I had forgotten.  There is a diagonal slash across the heel, like an arrow.  It was our mark so we would know one another.  I did not think he would still have done it.  Perhaps it is for Tobias now.”  Adohi pointed.  “The boots are British and there is the mark.”

            Israel frowned.  “So they are headed up into the hills.  You ‘spose they knew we were hidin’ there?”

            “I do not know how they could have…unless they met up with Cara-Mingo or your father.”

            “I guess that’s possible.  But then, where are Mingo and Pa?”

            “They were leading what was left of Zach Morgan’s men away.  I suggest we continue to follow the mob’s tracks as we have been.  That way we should find them.”

            Israel glanced first one way and then the other, down the two paths that led away from the fork in the road.  “I don’t know, Adohi.  I got a funny feelin’.”

            Adohi rose and ran a hand through his thick coppery hair.  “A ‘feelin’?”

            He nodded.  “I think we need to go this way.”  Israel indicated the less traveled path.  “You got any leanin’s one way or the other?”

            Copperhead’s son paused.  “I am far out of tune with my feelings.  My head has been stuffed so full of facts and figures, laws and rulings that there is little room left for anything else.”

            “But you’re a Cherokee….”

            Adohi’s smile was sad.  “I used to be.”  He moved forward then to the point where the two roads met and closed his eyes.  Israel watched as he lifted his hands and leaned his head back so his face was to the sky.  “My Creator,” Adohi said softly, “we are in need of guidance.  My head tells me what is right.  What makes sense.  What I should do.  My heart has forgotten how to listen to the voice of the wind, and the call of the earth beneath my feet.  Give us a sign so we know which way to go.”

            Israel smiled.  He could have done the calling himself, but it was something Adohi needed to do. 

            The forested world about them fell silent.  A slight breeze lifted Adohi’s bangs and tossed them in his eyes.  Then, suddenly, there was a sound.  So small they would not have heard it if they had been moving or talking.

            The voice of a young girl.

            Adohi’s eyes opened and he grinned.

           

                                                                                                ###

 

            “Verity!  Keep your voice down.  Please….”  Becky tried not to snap.  Mingo’s daughter was exhausted; terrified not only for herself but for the others in her family.  Becky knew that she and Spicewood had been careless.  They had been sitting talking quietly about the past, speaking in low tones about Rachel and Mingo and the constant threat the Gerards had posed over the years, about Mingo and how there were men who still sought to use the past to destroy him, about Rachel and the threat this John Leighton held for her.  Verity and the boys had been sleeping.

            Or so they had thought.

            Verity had risen quietly from her bed and crept forward to listen.  Something they had said had distressed her.  She had turned quickly and misstepped, twisting her ankle.

            The resulting shriek had brought them both to their feet and sent Spicewood flying to see if any damage had been done.

            Verity’s brother was supporting her now as she sobbed with pain, and the fear and horror of what she had done.  The girl knew it was imperative they keep quiet, just as she must know her injury would slow them down and make escape difficult should anyone come.

            “Mrs. Boone, I am so sorry,” Verity whispered as tears streamed from her eyes. 

            Becky laid her hand on her cheek.  Mingo’s eldest girl reminded her in many ways of Jemima.  Brave, but a little silly.  And awkward as girls at the edge of womanhood tended to be.  “I know, dear,” she said softly.  Then she looked up and toward the trees.  There had been a sound.  Becky relaxed as Spicewood came into view.  The daughter of Star had returned in more ways than one.  The woman known as Ruth MacKirdy had vanished in their need.  Spicewood had stripped down to her underpinnings, removing the cumbersome gown and farthingale that kept her from moving quickly through the trees.  She was barefoot now.  Her once elegantly-coifed hair was loose and cascaded over her shoulders.  Becky smiled as she drew alongside her.  Wearing only pantaloons, a chemise and her corset, Spicewood made a curious sort of War Woman.

            But War Woman she was.

            “Well?” Becky asked.

            Spicewood drew a breath.  She had been running hard.  “Someone is coming.  Now.  Through the trees.”

            “Oh dear!” Becky exclaimed.

            The Cherokee woman shook her head.  “I do not think it is the men who followed Archie and Danny.  These two are light-footed and moving with caution.”

            “Oh.  What about the others?”  On an earlier patrol Spicewood had spied a large group of men some half-mile away.

            “They are there.  Sleeping.  One keeps guard, but he is drunk.”  Spicewood paused. 

            Becky had wondered earlier who these men were.  Were they a part of the group that had taken the others prisoner—the ones Danny and Archie had escaped from?  Or were they someone else entirely?  They had no way of knowing what had happened in Boonesborough.  If Dan and Mingo had freed Copperhead, then there were sure to be men afoot in the forest seeking them as well. 

            “I do not think they heard the child cry out,” Spicewood said softly, glancing at Verity.  “But it is best we move on.”

            “I agree.  I set Archie to packing.  I knew we would have to break camp and—”

            “Ma?  Is that you?”

            Becky froze at the sound of the familiar voice.  A chill ran through her.  She turned slowly and looked toward the trees.  The sun was just breaking in the eastern sky and the land was bathed in shadows.  Two figures emerged into the meager light.  The first one was dark-haired and dark-skinned.  He had the look of an Indian but was dressed as a white man.  Beside him was his opposite.  A young man, white with white hair, dressed as an native.  As she watched, the lighter of the two took a step forward.

            Becky’s heart skipped a beat.  “Israel?”

            The smile was familiar, if a little chagrinned.   “Yea, Ma.  It’s me.  I thought maybe you’d forgotten— ”

            “Israel!”  Becky took off running and within moments had him in her arms.  She embraced her son and planted kisses on his cheeks.

            “Ma!  Ma….”  He winced and stiffened in her arms.  “Take it easy, Ma.”

            Becky backed off and looked at him.  “Are you angry with me?”

            He shook his white head.  “Heck, no.  It’s just my shoulder’s a mite tender.”  The grin was accompanied by a familiar flash in his eyes.  “Zach Morgan and me had a bit of a run-in.”

            “Israel, what?”

            The dark-haired young man had joined them.  As he halted, he said softly, “Mrs. Boone, Israel was shot attempting to save my father.”

            Becky didn’t know which to react to first: the fact that Israel had been shot or the fact that she had no idea who this young man was.  She blinked.  “And who—?”

            “Ma, this is Adohi.  You remember?  Copperhead’s son?”

            Becky compared the handsome young man in city clothes with the wild Indian boy she had known and failed to find a match.  “How many years has it been?” she asked.

            “I have been away nearly ten.”  Adohi extended his hand.  “At school.”

            “He’s a lawyer, Ma.  Imagine that.”

            She took Adohi’s hand and shook it.  “Imagine that,” she whispered.  “And how is your father?”

            The young man smiled.  “Free.  Thanks to Cara-Mingo and your husband.”

            Becky turned to her son, her blue eyes wide.  “Have you spoken to your father already then, Israel?”  She asked it warily, almost afraid of the answer.

            Israel nodded.  “After this happened,” he indicated the bandage showing beneath his shirt, “we was trapped in Boonesborough.  Pa came through and got us all out.  Adohi and his Pa, the MacKirdys, Mingo, my men and me.  I spoke to Pa then.”

            His mother looked at him.  “And…?”

            Israel smiled broadly.  “We agreed to disagree.  On some things.  On others we agreed, like the fact that we need to be a family now.  Me and Sunalei.  You and Pa.  Adohi’s kin too.  Ma….”

“Yes?”

His blue eyes were shining.  “Sunalei’s expectin’.”

Becky blinked.  “Expecting what?”

Israel laughed long and loud.  “A baby, Ma.”

Her hand flew to her mouth.  “Israel….”

He reached out and took hold of her arm.  “We was married, Ma.  In a church, all right and proper.  Ma?” 

            Becky was crying.  She shook her head.  “Tears of joy,” she whispered as she gave him a quick, gentle hug.  Then when she had gotten hold of herself, she asked, “Israel, do you know where your Pa is now?”

            He frowned and glanced at Adohi.  As the young man shrugged, he turned back to her.  “You mean you ain’t seen him?”

            She shook her head.  Fear gripped her.  “Should I have?”

            “Pa and Mingo left Adohi and me, along with Sunalei and Monlutha, in the hills in a cave for safe keepin’.”  Israel laughed.  “Me and Adohi didn’t much cotton to being treated like a couple of school boys, so we waited a bit and then struck out and followed them.  When we found you here, we figured you was with them.  If you were followin’ the trail, you should’ve come across them.”

            “We cut across country,” Spicewood said, moving to join them.  “Verity and I had been held captive briefly by two of the men who, along with John Leighton, pursue Cara.  Rebecca broke away from others of their group.  Later Danny and Archie did the same.  The boys had been taken captive along with Mr. and Mrs. MacKirdy, Margaret.  And your mother, Miriam, Adohi.”  This last she said as she turned to look at Copperhead’s son.

            “My mother?” Adohi asked.  “Is she— ”

            Becky answered.  “I don’t think they intend to harm them.  It has all been an elaborate scheme to take revenge on Mingo.” She proceeded then to fill the two young men in on all that had happened since Mingo and the MacKirdys had come to Brushy Fork.  Israel and Adohi in return told her and the others about what had happened in Boonesborough. While they talked the light grew in the east and a new day dawned.  As the sun topped the trees Spicewood and Adohi gathered the three children together and began to break the camp. 

Leaving Israel and his mother to settle on a fallen tree.

            “Let me look at that,” Becky said as she reached for his shoulder.

            “Ma, don’t fuss.  I’m fine.”

            “About as fine as your friend.”  She crossed her arms and frowned.  “You both look like you could be knocked over with a feather.”

            “Well, there ain’t been much time to rest.”  Her son shook his head.  “And there sure ain’t any time now.”

“No,” she admitted.

“So let me get this straight,” Israel began.  “We don’t know where Pa and Mingo are, but we do know Hank Ketchum and his men are probably tracking them.”

            “And probably somewhere in the woods between here and Boonesborough.  Maybe as close as a half-mile.”

            “Right.  Alexander, Finlay and Copperhead are out here somewhere too.  They were lookin’ for his wife when they left us.  Adohi and me found their tracks leadin’ into the hills.”

            “They are looking for the MacKirdys and the others, I imagine.”

            Israel nodded.  “Maybe they’ll find Sunalei and Monlutha too.”  Her son’s voice was strained.  She knew he was worried the men who were holding Miriam and the others would find his wife and friend before Alexander and the others had a chance to.  Becky reached out and touched his arm.  “God will protect them.”

            He squeezed her hand and went on, “Rachel is in the hands of this man, Leighton, and nobody knows where Alexander’s sister and this James Payton are.”

            Becky sighed.  And nobody knew exactly whose side James Payton would be on if and when he did make a reappearance.  “Correct.”

            Israel shook his head and laughed.  “You got a piece of slate handy, Ma?”

            Becky frowned.  “Why?”

            “I think I need to keep score.”

            “Rebecca?”

            Becky turned.  Spicewood had come up behind them.  “We are ready.”

            She and her son stood.  The children had not been happy about it, but they were sending them back to the area where Chota had been.  Spicewood and Adohi had agreed to guide them.  Israel had flatly refused to go.

            So had she.

            “God speed, Spicewood.”

            The Cherokee woman’s dark eyes blazed, “When you see Alexander, tell him I will be waiting.”

            Becky noted the other woman had said ‘when’ and not ‘if’.  “I will.”

            “Danny is not content.”

            She glanced at Mingo’s son.  “No, but I think he won’t give you any trouble.  He’s grown.”

            Spicewood nodded.  “As has Archie.  Too much.  Too soon.  Fare thee well, Rebecca.  Until we meet again.”

            Becky gave her a little squeeze and then watched as she joined the children and the quartet disappeared into the trees.  Then she turned to her son.  He was looking north.  “Israel?”

            He looked at her.  “Adohi and me, we came to a crossroads a way back.  We was followin’ Pa and Mingo’s trail.”

            She came to stand by him.  “Yes?”

            “They split up, Ma.  Pa went one way.  After Ketchum and Morgan’s men, I think.”

            “And Mingo went after Rachel?”

            “He must have thought he was.  Why else split up?”

            “So which path do we follow?”

            Israel’s blue eyes found hers.  “I still think you shoulda gone with the others.”

            Becky shook her head and linked her arm in his.  “I have only just found you again.  I am not letting you go.”

            “All right.”  Her son paused, thinking.  At last he said, “If’n I know Pa and Mingo, they’ll end up in the same place given enough time.”

            “But which place?”

            “We can’t really afford to lose time back-trackin’, so I say we just follow this fork ‘til it ends.”  He looked at her.  “It’s the path Pa took.”

            “You know that for certain?”

            He nodded.  “Ain’t no mistakin’ that stride, or the print Ticklicker leaves when restin’ on the ground.  If’n Pa does meet up with Ketchum and his group, he’s gonna need some help.  They’re drunk as skunks and meaner than a dog without a bone.”

            “And what of Mingo, I wonder?  And Rachel,” Becky whispered.

            “Once we find Pa, we’ll find them.”

            Becky studied her son’s profile.  It was his father all over; the furrowed brow, the narrowed eyes, the face carved out of stone.  She took his hand and squeezed it, and then,  together, they began to walk down the trail.

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            Alexander MacKirdy frowned.  He stared at the man kneeling beside him, half-masked by the leaves and the shadows cast by the rising sun.  James Payton had been acting strangely.  He was nervous and over-excited.  Alexander was worried that now that they had found the man who had taken Rachel, Payton would do something foolish.  It was evident now that James had not been involved with his brother.  They had spoken as they traveled and it was clear he was horrified by what had happened.  Payton had never intended to betray them and he was determined to set things right.

            So determined he was willing to give his life.

            So determined he was likely to grow careless.

            Alexander remembered himself at Payton’s age.  Passionate.  Foolhardy.  Rash.  And unwilling to listen to older, wiser heads.

            Just like James Payton now.

            “We have to move!  John will kill them,” James insisted.

            “He has nae yet,” Alexander said, brushing leaves aside to look at the scene unfolding before them.

            “That is because he is toying with them.  Alec, I tell you, I know my brother.  Where Kerr Moray is concerned, he is a fiend!”

            Alexander reached out and caught James by the arm.  He nodded toward the clearing where Mingo stood facing his brother, John, who was holding Rachel in his arms.  “If ye rush in noo, thot pistol wills gae off an’ Cara wills be dead.”

            James hesitated.  He glanced back at him.  “Alexander…look.”

            He followed James’ gaze.  A pair of brigands had exited the trees.  One of them took hold of Rachel and, after a moment, flung her over his shoulder.  Then the two exited the clearing.  Next Cara walked across its grassy surface, stopping about two yards away from James’ brother.

Directly in his line of site.  Even as Alexander lowered his pistol and cursed, he felt the man in his grip tense.

            “James, ye see?” he whispered, turning toward him.  “We waited an’ noo Rachel is oot of harm’s way.  Noo all we moost dee is wait until we hae a clear field….”  Alexander lifted his flintlock pistol again and pointed it toward the clearing.  He only had to wait for Cara to move. 

            “What are you going to do?”

            Alexander’s dark eyes flicked to the other man.  “Take th’ mon oot.  Ye hae a problem wi’ thot?”

            James glanced at his brother and then back to him.  “No.  Of course not.”  He turned and sat down.  “You don’t mind if I don’t watch?” he asked sourly as he leaned his head back against a tree.

            Alexander felt terrible.  He thought how he would feel if someone was going to kill his brother—even if that brother had turned to evil.  “Perhaps ye shoulds move awa’, James.”

            James nodded.  He leaned to the left to balance himself and then rose up on one knee.  Suddenly he tensed.  “Alexander?” he whispered.  His voice carried a warning.

            Alexander turned.  “Whot?  Whot is it?”

            “I’m sorry.”

            Alexander saw a flash of silver and felt the cold metal of the barrel of a pistol hit the back of his neck.

And then the world went black. 

 

                                                                                ###

 

“You’re despicable,” Mingo breathed.

“Of course, I am,” Leighton countered.  “I’m a Gerard.”

“No, you’re not, John.  And neither am I.”

Mingo pivoted to find a young man standing just within the circle of light cast by the dawning sun that topped the trees surrounding the clearing.  He had a dark predatory look about him and was holding a flintlock pistol.  Mingo blinked and turned back to Leighton.

They might have been twins.

“James, what are you doing here?” Leighton growled.

“Trying to prevent you from making a mistake.  Let him go.” 

Leighton kept the pistol pointed at Mingo’s heart as he laughed.  “Go to Hell, James.”

“That is where you will go, John.  This man has done nothing to harm you.  Or me.”

This man is responsible for your father’s death, and— ”

“No, John.  Father’s need for revenge was what killed him.”  The young man glanced back at the trees.  “As it will kill you if you do not give this up.”

Mingo caught the look.  Fortunately John Leighton did not.  This had to be James Payton; Margaret MacKirdy’s forbidden beau.  He had known he was related to the Gerard’s, but had not put it all into place. 

James must be Geoffrey Leighton’s youngest son.

            While the one who held the pistol on him was the eldest.

            Mingo did not dare turn and look the way James’ glance had gone.  Someone else must be waiting in the trees.  Perhaps he had come with Finlay.  Maybe Alexander was there.   

            Maybe one of them had gone to save Rachel.

He could only hope.

            Mingo tensed as James moved in closer and raised his hand.  There was a flintlock pistol in it and he pointed it at his brother.  He noted the young man’s hand was shaking.

            “Brother,” James said, “we are all that is left.  You and I.  Please, let go of this madness.  No irreversible harm has been done yet.  No one has died.  You can go back to England.  John, please.”

            Mingo watched the gun Leighton held waver.  Then his foe frowned and swung it on his brother.  “James, don’t make me hurt you.”

            James kept coming.  “I won’t let you kill him, John.”

            “James, I am warning you….”

            Mingo took a step forward as well.  “You can’t shoot both of us at once.”

            The gun came back to him.  “You’ll be first, savage.”

            “John, no!”   

            Mingo had judged it wrong.  He didn’t think Leighton would shoot so quickly.  As the hammer fell and the sparks flew and the report of the pistol echoed through the wooded land, a solid form struck him, knocking him to his knees and out of the way.  Mingo fell to the ground, the breath driven out of him.  When he came to himself, James Payton lay across him, a bloody gash on his forehead; his unfired pistol on the ground beside him.

Seconds later Mingo looked up to find John Leighton bearing down on him, intent on killing him with his bare hands.

 

                                                                                    ###

 

Dan watched as the men he was tracking reacted to the sound of gunfire.   It had come from the east, and was not very far away.  Ketchum and a stranger in uniform quickly roused the other men and began to make their way through the trees toward its source.  The stranger had joined Hank not long before, arriving with a young man at his side.  Dan wondered what an American officer was doing with a group of men who pretty much amounted to a mob.  But then, maybe the officer was there to arrest Copperhead if they found him.

Or maybe Israel.

Dan had just risen and started to follow them, when the sound of someone running stopped him and caused him to retreat into the early morning shadows.  He waited, rifle in hand.  Moments later two figures broke through the underbrush.  The taller of the pair paused and placed his hands on his knees, gathering strength.  He was breathing hard.  The woman who was with him touched his shoulder and whispered something.  The young man shook her off and gestured wildly toward the trees where the shot had been fired.

Then the sun topped the trees and struck the pair, setting fire to the woman’s hair and revealing the young man’s buckskins and beads.

And his white hair.

Dan shook his head as he stepped out of his hiding place.  “Seems to me, son, you and me got somethin’ new to argue over.”

Both heads pivoted toward him.  Israel whistled as Becky broke into a run.  In two seconds her arms were about his neck.  His son followed more slowly and greeted him with a sheepish grin.

“Hello, Pa.”

“Seems to me I told you to stay put.”

Israel laughed.  “I ain’t obeyed your orders for years, Pa.  Seems a mite late to start doin’ it now.”

Dan frowned and inclined his head toward his son’s shoulder.  “That better?”

“Ain’t no worse.  I made it through harder times before.”  Israel’s head pivoted toward the east.  “You hear that shot?”

Dan nodded.  “Yep.”  He kissed his wife quick and then said, “Becky, you stay put.”

The redhead’s foot stamped the ground.  She moved several feet away and then pivoted sharply and insisted, “I will not!”

He crossed to her.  “Becky, now don’t you go mis-mindin’ me.”

His wife lifted one red eyebrow and crossed her arms.  With a glance at their son, she said softly, “Seems a mite late to start doing otherwise now.”

Dan stifled a grin.  He put his hands on her hips and looked into her eyes.  “You know I’ll be worrin’ about the boy, Becky,” he said softly.  “I don’t need another distraction.”

“Oh, Dan….”  She hugged him close and whispered in his ear.  “You take care.  You and Israel.”

“Go into the trees, Becky.  Keep well hidden.  If we ain’t here shortly, make your way back to Chota.  That’s where we’ll head—once we have Mingo and Rachel.”

“You think that shot was…?”

“I don’t know.  I just think we’d best get on our way.”  He kissed her quick and then nodded to his son.  “Is’rul.”

“Pa?”

Dan watched Israel as he came to his side.  He was moving well considering he had recently arisen from a sick-bed.  “Seems like old times, don’t it?  You and me goin’ out to rescue Mingo?”

“Sure does, Pa.”

“God speed, you two.”

Dan and Israel nodded in tandem.

And were gone.

 

                                                                                    ###

 

Leighton dove for him. 

Mingo shoved James’ unconscious form off of himself and rolled to his feet just in time for Leighton to crash into him and knock him to the ground again.  All too quickly the man’s hands were around his neck, squeezing.  Leighton’s thumbs bit into his throat, choking off his air.  As he began to black out, Mingo twisted and struck out with his knee, catching the other man in the groin. 

With a cry Leighton’s hands came loose and he curled into a ball. 

Mingo staggered to his feet.  He glanced at James Payton.  The young man lay silent as a stone.  He thought he could see him breathing, but had no time to check as Leighton also regained his feet.  Without a word the man launched himself at him again.  The impact of his anger and strength reminded Mingo of the time he had been attacked by a black bear.  Then he had thought the animal bewitched.

Leighton fought as if everything that was black was on his side.

Mingo managed to block another attempt to grab his throat with a raised arm and then pivoted, jabbing his elbow into Leighton’s stomach.  His opponent gasped, but didn’t fall.  As Leighton staggered back, Mingo made as if he was going to strike at him and then, at the last second, ducked down and threw the weight of his body against his knees.  The Englishman gasped and then tumbled over him, landing in a heap on the ground.  Mingo was on him in a second, pinning him down.  He glanced around and found James Payton’s Scottish flintlock laying just out of reach.  The other man’s eyes followed his. 

If he released him in order to go for it, the Englishman would do the same.  It would be a scramble to see who got there first.  Mingo met Leighton’s eyes and issued the challenge.

His opponent grinned.  “See you in Hell, Moray,” he whispered through clenched teeth.

Mingo’s jaw tightened.  He raised up on his knees and released the other man’s hand and dove.

Leighton did the same.

The grass was slippery with morning dew.  The sun was shining over the tops of the trees and painted it a golden-red.  He slid across it until his fingertips touched the cold metal.  He could only pray that James had left it primed and ready.  He caught the flintlock in his hand and checked to see if there was any powder in the pan.  A small amount had survived. 

He only prayed it was enough to do the job.

His fingers found the trigger and pulled.  

 

                                                                                    ###

 

“Alexander?”  Becky moved the Scot’s silver-struck bangs out of his eyes and then reached for his wrist.  His pulse was strong.  There was an angry welt beneath his left eye that looked as if he had had a one-way conversation with a tree.

Or the end of a pistol.

As she placed his hand on his chest, Alexander moaned and opened his eyes.  “Wha’ hit me?”

“I was hoping you could tell me.”

He started and looked at her.  “Rebecca?”

“The same.”  She glanced around.  “Are you alone?”

Alexander sat up and gingerly tested the bruise beneath his eye.  “I am noo.  When I catch tha’ James Payton he’ll hae a thin’ ur twa tae answer fur.”

“James?  You mean he did this? ”

“Aye.  Cauld-cocked me, he did.”  He glanced around.  “I woke an’ wandered fur a bit, tryin’ tae track him.  Then I fell.  We moost get back….” 

As he attempted to stand, Becky supported him.  “Alexander, what were you— ”

Her question was cut short by the sound of a pistol firing and a strangled cry.  She met his frightened gaze.

“We waur keepin’ watch o’ Cara and tha’ madman….” Alexander whispered.

Becky turned toward the sound.

“Dear God….”

 

                                                                                    ###

 

Mingo staggered to his feet.  He dropped the pistol beside Leighton and then knelt down to check his pulse.  He was still alive.  The bullet had taken him in the shoulder.  He was bleeding, but it was possible he would survive.  Mingo took time to bind his hands and feet before stumbling to James Payton’s side.  The young man was pale and sweating, but his heartbeat was strong and steady.  He tore a piece of cloth from Payton’s shirt-tale and began to bind his wound. 

“My, my, what have we here?  Seems I was right to worry about getting’ the proof I needed.  You’re slippery than an eel, you know that bloke?”

Mingo’s head came up at the sound of a hammer being cocked.  He laid the cloth down and stood and then turned toward the voice.  Symmes was standing just within the circle of trees, his rifle pointed dead at his chest.

“Where’s Rachel?” Mingo growled.

“At the camp.  Safe.”  Symmes grin was wicked and filled with anticipation.  “For now.”

Mingo took a step toward him.  “If you dare to harm her— ”

“I ain’t got time or patience for this, mate.”  Symmes pulled back on the trigger.  “My money comes with you dead or alive.  And dead is whole lot easier.”

Mingo tensed. 

A shot was fired.

But it came from behind him and, as he watched, Symmes clutched his chest and fell to the ground. 

Mingo spun.  For a moment he could see no one, and then a long, lanky, familiar figure stepped out of the trees.  He sauntered forward and then leaned on the barrel of his gun.

Dan tipped his cap.  “Mingo.”

“Daniel,” Mingo laughed.

The big man grinned.  “Seems like old times.”

 

            Moments later Mingo knelt beside James Payton.  The young man groaned as he touched his shoulder.  He bolted awake and tried to sit up.  Mingo caught him and pressed him back to the ground.  “Lay still.  You may be concussed.”  He looked up at Daniel as he came to his side.  “Will you keep watch over him?  I must go to Rachel….”

            Mingo paused.  Daniel was grinning like a fool.  He frowned and then turned, following his gaze. 

            Beneath the trees were two figures.  One, a young man in Indian clothes with white hair.

            The other was Rachel.

            Rachel.  Alive and whole.

            He turned back to his friend.  “Daniel….”

            Dan shrugged.  One eyebrow arched and a lop-sided grin spread over his face.  “Don’t tell me.  Tell her.”

            Mingo turned back.  Rachel was already on the run.  He moved forward and caught her and swung her in a wide arc.  Then he drew her close and kissed her gently beside her wounded lip, so as not to bring her any pain.  She clutched him as if she would never let go.

            “Is’rul?” Dan called from behind them.  “You seen your ma yet?”

            “No, Pa,” he said as he came to James Payton’s side.  Payton had risen and was wobbling.  Israel put out a hand to steady him.  “You all right, Mister?”

            James put a hand to his head.  “No.  But that doesn’t matter.”

            Mingo came to stand beside them, his arm about Rachel’s waist.  “James.  I am sorry about your brother.”

            “Mr. Moray.  Mrs. Moray.  It is I who must be sorry—for all the harm I have brought you.  I— ”

            Rachel reached out and caught his hand.  She looked at her husband.  “I was right about him, wasn’t I?”

            Mingo smiled softly.  “Yes, you were.” 

Suddenly James paled.  He whirled around and came back with a question in his eyes.  “Where’s Alexander?”

            “Was he with you?” Rachel asked.

            “Yes.  I….”  James looked sheepish.  “He wouldn’t allow me to confront John.  I am afraid I…overcame him and did anyway.”

            “Oh dear.”

            Mingo laughed.  “I do not think that will help your suit with Margaret very much, do you?”

            “We need to find him.  Come on— ”

            “Dan!”

            The trio turned to find Rebecca Boone making her way toward them.  Leaning heavily on her arm was Alexander.  The Scot was pale and shaking, but determined. 

            James stepped up to them to apologize.

            “There’s no time for that!”  Rebecca turned to her husband.  “Dan, there’s a group of men headed this way.  I recognized a few of them from the fort.”

            “Hank Ketchum one of them?”

            She nodded.

            Dan reached into his bag and started to reload his rifle.  “Mingo, you up to shootin’?”

            Mingo turned to Rachel.  “Go with Rebecca, into the trees.”

            “I can shoot a gun,” she said stubbornly. 

            He laughed.  “I remember, my dear, but we only have three and there are three of us.  Israel will have to use his striking weapons.”  He squeezed her hand.  “Now go.”

She shook her head.  “No.”

“If not for me…then for Danny?  For the girls.  Please.”

            Rachel’s blue eyes misted.  She nodded as she turned to Daniel’s wife.  “Rebecca?”

            Rebecca rose up on tiptoe and kissed her husband, then she took Rachel by the hand and the two of them ran for the shelter of the trees.

            “How many are there?” Israel asked as he came to his father’s side. 

“A dozen at least.  Maybe more,” Dan answered.  “Depends on whether the group we were trackin’ met up with any others.”

            James Payton and Alexander joined them.  Payton had retrieved his pistol from the grass near his brother’s silent form.  He raised it, ready to take aim. 

            “This ain’t your fight, friend,” Dan said.  “If you’d rather tend to your brother— ”

            Payton glanced at him and then back to Daniel.  “Yes, it is, sir.  It is my duty, and my obligation.”

            Alexander stared at him a moment and then laid his hand on his shoulder.  “Let yer guilt be absolved, James.  Ye hae more than proven yerself this day.”

            James frowned.  “But I am a Gerard.”

            “No.  Ye be James Payton.  Yer own mon.”  Alexander squeezed his flesh.  “Forgife me fur e’er thinkin’ otherwise.  I wills speak tae Archibald on yer behalf.”  Alexander paused as something close to two dozen figures broke from the underbrush.  “Shoulds I live sae lang.”

            Israel fingered his tomahawk.  “ ‘Spose there’s a market for skunk scalps, Pa?”

            “Might make an interestin’ cap, son,” Dan answered as he raised his rifle and took aim.

            “Daniel, wait.”  Mingo reached out and caught his arm.  “Look.”

            A second line of figures had emerged from the trees, following close behind the first.  As the sun climbed high into the morning sky, its growing light revealed a row of familiar faces.

            Monlutha and Copperhead.

            Finlay MacKirdy and his father, Archibald.

            And two fine young men dressed in kilts.

            Archie.

            And Danny.

            His son’s blond hair blazed in the growing light.  Danny was standing straight and tall, a flintlock in his hands, ready and waiting to defend his own.  Mingo smiled, and then hid the smile as he walked up to Hank Ketchum.  He stopped in front of him and looked over the motley crew that accompanied him.

            “Hank.  Go home.  Go back to Boonesborough and let us go on our way,” he said wearily.

            Hank Ketchum hung his head.  He turned and looked at the other men and then back to him.  “You got us wrong, Mingo.”

            “What?”

            “You got us wrong.  We didn’t follow you to hurt you.  Or to take him back,” he indicated Copperhead with a nod.

            “No?

            He must have looked skeptical, for Ketchum shifted on his feet and held out a piece of paper.  Mingo took it and glanced at it.  “A testimony?” he asked.  “What is this?”

            “The witness that boy—George Fox’s boy—said was comin’ to town.  He arrived just after you left.  He told us Fox didn’t kill no one back in Philadelphia.  Said the whole thing was lies.  Said that lawyer that was here all those years ago paid men to make it up.”  Ketchum cleared his throat.  “He said that lawyer was after you, Mingo.  That he’d set you up that night back in seventy-nine when you and Rebecca was taken.  Had stolen the documents himself and then planted them on you.”

            One black eyebrow arched.  “And you believed him?”

            Ketchum shrugged.  “Didn’t see as he’d have any reason to lie.  Him being a white man, and an officer.”

            “Officer?”

            At his word, a distinguished looking man in uniform accompanied by an aid broke through the trees and moved quickly through Ketchum’s mob.  He came to rest before him and sharply nodded his head.  Then he offered his hand.

            Mingo took it.  “And you would be, sir?”

            “General Isaac Watkins.  Mr. Murray, I presume?”

            Mingo frowned and nodded.  Watkins?  Why did that sound familiar?  “Do I know you, sir?”

            The general smiled.  “No, but I know you.  As does my son, Isaac.  Son, come here.”

            As Mingo watched, the young man he had taken to be an officer’s aide joined them.  He had a long, thin face and pale blond hair and wore the uniform of a private.  Isaac appeared to be about Archie’s age.  And was curiously familiar.

Mingo shook the young man’s hand.  “Isaac,” he said.

            “Mr. Murray.  My mother has spoken of you often.  I am grateful to finally be able to thank you for what you did for her all those years ago.”

            Mingo’s frown had deepened.  “Thank me?  For what?  What did I do?”

            General Watkins laughed.  “The joke wears thin, I am afraid.  Perhaps if I told you the boy’s mother’s name?  It is Abigail.  Abigail Watkins.”

            “Abigail?”  Mingo’s dark brows peaked and he laughed.  Rebecca’s Abigail?”

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            Later that night those who had remained behind sat around a campfire sharing coffee and conversation. 

            Daniel had volunteered to take John Leighton back to Boonesborough to stand trial for his crimes and Rebecca had gone with him, grateful to have a chance to visit some of the people she had known who still lived there.  At the last moment Israel and Sunalei had decided to tag along.  Israel was curious about his old home and, Mingo suspected, was not ready to be so soon parted from his Ma and Pa now that they had reconciled.

James Payton had decided to accompany his brother to the fort.  He and Margaret planned to be married as soon as he returned, and intended to journey east with Finlay in a few days.  Due to Alexander’s influence, the couple had managed to wring a slow blessing out of Archibald MacKirdy before James departed.  Margaret did not go with him. 

Her mother was dying, and she wanted to be at her side. 

Mingo glanced at the elder MacKirdys where they sat across the fire.  Unatsi had aged twenty years since he had seen her last.  The ordeal of their capture and confinement had almost been too much for the frail Cherokee woman.  Tomorrow her sons and her husband, along with their families, intended to complete the journey they had come over a thousand miles to take.  They would travel together to the place where Chota had been.

            Mingo hadn’t decided yet whether he would go with them.

            He looked up at General Watkins and smiled as he remembered Rebecca’s joy at greeting the older man.  She had pumped him for news of Abigail and been thrilled to hear the older woman was well, and happily passing her old age with her first grandchild at her knee.  Isaac the younger, it seemed, had married the last spring and he and his young family lived with his parents.

            “Mr. Murray?” General Watkins called him back from his reverie.

            “Mingo, please, sir.  Kerr Murray seems somehow out of place here.”

            “Mingo it will be, if you agree to call me Isaac.  ‘General’ may not be out of place, but I would like to—at least for tonight—put aside that formality.”

Mingo smiled.  “Isaac it is then.”

The general nodded.  “I take it you would like to know my connection to Copperhead here.”

            Copperhead and Miriam sat across the fire from them.  The Cherokee had just finished explaining how he and Finlay had happened across the cave where they had left Israel and the others and then, together with Monlutha, how they had overcome Leighton’s men and freed his daughter, Bekah, Miriam, and the MacKirdys.  Margaret and Sunalei had waited in the cave for their return and then they had sent the two women, along with the others, back toward Chota.  Crossing through the forest in search of Mingo, they had met Spicewood and the children who had just left Israel and Rebecca.  Danny and Archie had decided to stay with them while Verity and Archie’s mother struck out for Chota as well.  Then, the six of them had begun to follow the trail of Hank Ketchum and his men.  Overtaking the mob, they had been surprised to find General Watkins and his son among them.  Ketchum had insisted he intended no harm and would not return without speaking to Mingo. 

Uncertain of what to believe, Copperhead and the others had followed close behind. 

The Cherokee was leaning back now, looking toward the east; his arm about his wife.  Their son, Adohi, had gone with Daniel and the others to help build the case against John Leighton.  Tobias and Tabitha, his siblings, slept not very far away.

            “I take it you knew Copperhead when he lived in Pennsylvania with Miriam’s grandfather, George Foxwell,” Mingo said, addressing the general.

            Watkins nodded.  “Yes.  My father owned the store where both her father and grandfather traded.  The old man used to bring in his Indian.”  He grinned at Copperhead.   “ ‘Foxwell’s Indian’, they called him then.  Most everyone thought the old man was touched in the head when he saved him and then raised him as his own.”

            “But not you?”

            “No, not me.  My father had many friends who were Indians.  Even though I was older, Copperhead and I became close.  I knew about George’s son, William, and how he treated him.  I saw the bruises and the blood.”  General Watkins made a fist and rammed it into his knee.  “The injustice of what happened was almost unbearable.  But then Copperhead disappeared and there was nothing I could do.  Life went on.  I joined the army.  Married Abigail.  Went to war.  And then, you came to visit.  You and Mrs. Boone.  And you both disappeared.”

            Mingo leaned back.  “Go on.”

            “I came home unexpectedly, soon after Mr. Boone left in search of you and his wife.  Abigail was certain of your innocence and, at her urging, I began to dig into what had happened—and just who and what you were.  I even traveled to Kentucky.  It was there I learned about your connection to my old friend.”

            Major Watkins visited, Cara.  Many years ago.  We renewed our friendship,” Copperhead said.

            “This was before we were burned out,” Miriam added softly.

            “And before I was shipped off to England.  There, I became acquainted with your father, Mingo.  This was shortly after you and your wife had begun to travel incognito.  Your father was preparing to leave for Jamaica, but he had time to work a few ‘miracles’.  One was getting Major Halpen reinstated as his aide and actually securing a promotion for him.  Halpen was very happy about that, and more than happy to tell Lord Dunsmore whatever he wanted to know about Oliver Gerard and Geoffrey Leighton and their schemes.”

            “Is that why Leighton moved operations here, to America?”

            “In part.  And it is why, in the end, there was nothing left.  Their greed and hatred destroyed them all.”

            Mingo smiled.  “No, not all.  There is James.”

            “And how did my son find you?” Copperhead asked.

            Watkins turned toward him.  “I had given testimony in Pennsylvania concerning your arrest.  Adam found my name and tracked me down, and asked me to come here.  There was no way I could refuse.  I had some business to complete and that is why I could not come immediately.  I followed as soon as I could, arriving just in time to diffuse Ketchum’s anger and stop the mob from becoming a lynch party.”

            Mingo fell silent as Rachel came to sit with him.  She had been checking on the children.  He caught her about the waist and pulled her close as he looked at Copperhead.  “So it is over at last, for the both of us.  Leighton will go to prison or be hanged, and with that a legacy of hatred ends.  His intent to destroy both me and you has been foiled through this good man.”

            Copperhead was silent a moment.  He rose to his feet.  Miriam looked up at him. 

            “Copperhead?” Mingo asked.

            The Cherokee turned and looked at him.  “Tomorrow we go home to a ransacked house.  To neighbors who did not raise a hand to help us.  To men who hate us because of the color of my skin. 

“It is not over, Cara.  It will never be over until the Cherokee are no more.”

            Mingo watched his friend as he turned and walked away, his shoulders bent.  Miriam excused herself and followed him.

            “What can we do for him?” General Watkins asked after a moment.

            Mingo knew.

            They had to go back.

            He and Copperhead had to face the ghosts of Chota.

 

                                                                                                    ###

 

            “Father?”

            Mingo turned to find his son, Daniel, coming up the rise.  Another day had passed and a new one was dawning.  He looked down the hill and watched as Alexander reached into the wagon and drew his mother’s small, shrunken form out and cradled her in his arms.  Then together, Alec and Spicewood, his father and brother, and Archie all started to move forward.  The wide stream where the People had laughed and played and bathed and worshipped lay behind them.  It glistened like a silver ribbon threaded through the broad blue-green garment of grass that was Ken-tah-ten.  Chota lay beyond the trees.

            Or what was left of her.

            On their way they had passed the graves Miriam had mentioned.  True to her word they were tended well.  Many of his brothers and sisters were buried there.  And even more hid in the hills waiting and watching and hoping.  They probably watched them now.  Mingo glanced at his European garb. 

            They would not know him.

            Copperhead came to stand beside him.  He had brought his young son, Tobias, along.  Tabitha was with her mother, as was Rebekah.  Rachel and Miriam had remained with the girls by the river, thinking them too young to understand. 

            Mingo turned toward his son.  “Where is your sister?”

            “She is coming with Aunt Margaret.”  Danny said as he arrived.  Then he turned to look out across the green land.  “Is this it, Father?”

            Mingo nodded.  Here he had walked with the wind and listened to the voice of the stream as it rushed past.  Here he had run beneath the stars, silent as the deer, swift as the panther.  This was the land that had given birth to his grandfather, Saquo Ugidali or One Feather, and to One Feather’s daughter, Talota.  And to him.  It was here he had come to  know Cornbeater and Star, and Menewa, Monlutha’s father. 

Monlutha had not come with them.  He said the ghosts were too near.

And they were.

“Father?”

Mingo shook himself.  “Come with me, Danny.  We will see if the dead are still present here.”

“What of the others?” the boy asked as he looked at Copperhead.

Copperhead placed his hand briefly on Danny’s shoulder.  “Each has his own path, Daniel.  We need only follow ours this day.”  He nodded as he took his small son’s hand and started down the hill, heading for the place he had once called home.  Mingo and Danny followed slowly, stopping to greet Alexander and Spicewood at the bottom of the incline.  Mingo nodded toward Unatsi.  “How is she?”

Alexander shook his head.  “I dinnae thin’ she wills live tae see ainother sunrise, Cara.”

“Are you all right with that?”

Alexander clasped his wife’s hand and put his arm about her shoulder.  “Aye.  She’s com’ home.  Tis all thot counts.”

Mingo nodded and started to walk again.  He led Danny down a long path and then turned and entered a thick, wooded area.  They continued on in silence until they came to a small rise.  There he stopped. 

The guardian spears were gone, but the platforms were still standing.

Amazingly, his mother’s bier was intact.  Apparently the men who had destroyed the living had been afraid to truck with their dead.

“What is it, Father?”

Mingo took his son’s hand.  He fell to his knees and drew him down beside him.  Then he began to sing.  Danny remained silent, listening.  When he had finished, he said softly, “That was beautiful, Father.  What was it?”

Mingo smiled and ruffled his son’s hair.  “A song of farewell.”

 

                                                                                    ###

As he led the boy back down the path and out into a wide, open field he told him of his grandmother and grandfather and how they had met, and of the love they had found against all odds.  He told him of the son that love had created and the journey his life had taken him on.  Then he paused.  The place where Chota had lain was covered in tall grasses and a myriad of wildflowers.  There was no sign of the massacre.  No indication of burnt huts or lodges.  No bones.  No spirits.

Mingo felt his son’s hand slip into his.   He squeezed it even as tears entered his eyes. 

The pain was gone.  The land, healed.  Life had come again where once there had been death and desolation. 

Chota was at peace.

 

                                                                                    ###

 

The sun had set by the time they arrived back at their camp.  Rachel was kneeling by the stream, filling a pot with water in anticipation of their return.  She smiled and waved as he and Danny came to her side.

“I wasn’t expecting you this soon,” she said.  “The coffee will be a minute.”  Rachel paused.  “Kerr?”

Mingo simply stared at her.  Then he reached out and took her in his arms.  Pulling her close, he kissed her passionately even as their son blushed and looked aside.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” she asked him as she settled into his embrace.

Mingo smiled as he laid his hand alongside her cheek.

“I never lost it.  It is here with you and our children.  At the journey’s end I have found peace.”

 

   

Epilogue

  

“So where will you go now?  Back to England?”

Mingo looked at Daniel’s wife.  “I don’t know.  I suppose we could, but then, England never held much appeal for me.”

“Scotland then?”  Becky grinned wickedly.  “You do look rather dashing in a kilt.”

His dark eyebrows lifted and he laughed.  “Rebecca Boone, it is unseemly for a woman your age to be a tease.”

“She is only speaking the truth,” a light voice said.  “You do look good in a kilt.”

Mingo wrapped his arm about his wife’s shoulders as she came to join them.  “But then, I would be just as happy never to see another plaid or hear another pipe,” Rachel added.  “The plaids are to garish and the pipes….  Well, the pipes are too melancholy for me.”

            Alexander had played them when they buried his mother.  It was true, the soul of the Highlands was in them, and it was an old soul filled with pain and loss long-remembered.  “I never wanted to live in the Old World, Rebecca.  You know that,” Mingo said quietly.

            “You talked of Philadelphia once upon a time.”

            “Yes.  That is what I told Daniel long ago.  Still, such a large city….  I have had enough of crowds to last a lifetime.”

            “Why not settle here?”

            Mingo turned.  Daniel had emerged from his house.  Israel was by his side.  The two of them had hardly been parted since their return to Brushy Fork.  It seemed they had a lot of lost time to make up for.

            “How is Sunalei?” Mingo asked Israel as he drew to a halt a few feet away.

            “Big,” Israel laughed, “and ready not to be.  Ma says the baby will be here any day now.”

            Rebecca and Miriam had been mothering Sunalei ever since she and the other women had returned.  Their husbands had been wisely keeping out of their way.  Mingo had seen Dan and Copperhead walking through the woods several times.  They had been so deep in conversation that they had not even noticed him.

            “You didn’t answer me, Mingo.  Why not settle here?” Dan asked again.

            “In Brushy Fork?”

            Dan glanced at Rebecca.  “For the time bein’ at least.”

            His wife spun and looked at him.  “Daniel Boone, what are you thinking?” she asked as her hands went to her hips.

            Dan pulled at his chin and looked around.  Israel’s ‘tribe’ had encamped on their land.  Everywhere there were tents and make-shift lodges.  After the first few days the neighbors had gotten used to them and some were even helping them to build more permanent homes.

            Some.

            “Well, Becky, seems a mite crowded around here.  I’ve been thinkin’ about movin’ on.”

            “Moving on?  Where?”  Rebecca frowned.  Not Florida….”

            “Nope.  Missouri.”

            She glanced at her lovely home and sighed. “What’s in Missouri?”

            “Space, Becky.  Room to spare.”  Dan’s eye went to Copperhead as he joined their party.  “Room for everyone.”

            Copperhead nodded.  “I have spoken to Miriam.  She agrees.”

            “Agrees to what?” Mingo asked.

            “We will sell what is left of the land and move out west.  Perhaps there we can start again.”

            “In Missouri?”  Becky squeaked.

            Copperhead nodded and then he turned to Mingo.  “Will you not come?  You and Rachel?”

            Mingo took Rachel’s hand.  “What do you think?”

            She shrugged and then hugged him tightly.  “So long as I am with you and the children are safe, it matters little.”  Rachel turned to Dan.  “We have no plans.  Perhaps Missouri would be good for us all.”

            At that moment Alexander and Finlay approached them.  The MacKirdys were packed up and ready to move on.  Finlay and his sister, Margaret, and her new husband, James, were headed for Philadelphia.  Alexander and his family, along with his father, were preparing to return to Scotland.  Archie and Danny were heart-broken at being parted.  Mingo suspected it would not be long before they found a way to be together again.  They were no longer boys, but young men, and soon they would set out on their own.

            So many journeys ended.

            So many more yet to be begun.

            “Mingo, what do you think?” Dan asked.

            He looked at his wife.  Rachel smiled and nodded.  Then he turned to his friend.  “I think you have a new neighbor, Daniel.

“It is good to be home.”

           

                                                               The End