This story is set somewhere in the twisted mind of its author.
"Yes." Dan squinted as he looked down the site of his rifle. He had sent Rebecca and Israel to the fort with Cincinnatus before he and Mingo left the settlement. His red-headed wife had protested at first, but relented when he kissed her on the lips and told her she could take her sewing basket. Shears in hand she had followed after the spry tavern-keeper, her blue eyes roaming to each native head that popped up to fire a shot at them. By nature the volleys flew wild, striking everything from a passing squirrel to one small honey-bee that happened to have made a poor choice of flight patterns that morning.
Israel had wanted to come with them. His father had put Tick Licker down and taken the boy on his knee in order to explain to him that he was powerful sorry he couldn't. He wanted the boy to understand. It wasn't that he was too young; he was simply too short. They were afraid they would lose him in the underbrush and that just wouldn't do. Accepting this explanation the boy determined to sneak away in the middle of the night to seek his Cherokee friend, Monlutha, knowing his tribe's medicine man could provide him with the formula to make him grow tall as the trees in no time, and knowing as well that his rebellious actions would give his pa a chance to 'whup' someone.
Dan turned to glance at his Cherokee friend who was warily surveying the territory before them and biting into an apple he had palmed along the way with relish. His long dark hair shone in the moonlight. The big man frowned and lowered Tick Licker to the ground. "Say? Didn't Becky give you a haircut?"
Mingo looked at him and blinked. "What?"
Dan shook his head. "Forget it. You see any Indians?"
Mingo replied that he hadn't.
He took another bite of the apple. "No."
"Trappers or bounty-hunters?"
The Indian sniffed the air. "No."
Dan paused. He ran his hand over his chin. "Well, then...I reckon we ought to go fishin'."
The dark-haired man's face lit with a brilliant smile. "And build a large fire with green wood?"
Dan nodded and started to stand. "With plenty of smoke. Yep."
Mingo's arm shot out and caught him. "Dan'yel...."
He pointed to a branch above the big man's head.
"Thanks. This here knot is already as big as the one King George would like to put around my neck."
Sometime later the two friends sat side by side. A fire blazed in the center of their camp sending a steady trail of white-gray smoke into the air. Dan was polishing Tick Licker. Mingo was polishing off the first of the two rabbits they had cooked. The big man lifted his head and stared into the evening sky, smiling as the waning sunlight painted the stream behind them the fiery red of his wife's hair. "Mingo, tell me one thing...."
"What is that, Dan'yel?" The dark-haired Cherokee shifted and leaned in close.
"Well, we've been friends for some time now...."
"Yes, we have." The dark-haired Cherokee shifted and leaned in even closer.
"I've always wondered...."
"How it is that we became friends?" The other man's cultured voice floated on the air like the leaves on the water at their backs. "Or perhaps you have wondered why I, an educated cultured man, would choose as a home a backwater hole like Kentucky - "
"Also known as the 'dark and bloody ground'..."
"Yes. And why I would choose to forsake the heritage of thousands of years of superior breeding and my well-documented lineage to live here, wetting down my hair with bear-fat and smelling like yesterday's supper..."
"Well, I -."
"Or perhaps you were wondering about my past? About my father, the Empire of Dunsmore, who has that ridiculous last name of Murray." His dark eyes sparked with indignation. "Mingo Murray, what was he thinking? Now, Talota Murray... Well, it has a certain panache..."
"Mingo, I - ."
"Or were you thinking of my brother? There's another proof of the perspicacity of the English race. My mother had a son named Tara. So why name me 'Cara'? It made us sound like some cheap back-room vaudeville act."
"It's not that. It's that I...."
"Am concerned for my sanity? You wonder how I - an obviously superior intellect - manage to keep balanced the very deep and real conflicts bred into my very being?" He glanced at his friend. Dan shook his head. "No? Then perhaps you are bothered by this quasi-co-dependent relationship you and I seem to have. Perhaps you think I am substituting you for the father-figure which was sadly lacking in my own life?" He leaned forward again until their noses touched. "Or perhaps you have the same fear for yourself, since it seems you had no father at all...."
"Well, no..." The big man squinted and leaned back. "That's not it."
Mingo's black brows climbed to his bangs as he shifted and reached for the second hare. "No? Then what is it?"
"How can a man so all-fired skinny as you eat so much?"
Back at the fort Jemima was whining to her mother. She had been in the settlement watching Jericho outpace a rabbit and had run to meet them as they entered the compound. Now she was staying with her mother and brother at the tavern-which was, of course, the establishment of choice most conducive to the proper upbringing of good Christian children.
"Jemima, no. You may not go with that boy."
"You wouldn't argue with me like that if your father were here." Rebecca took hold of the girl's arm and drew her towards the fire. Once there she looked straight into her big brown eyes. "After all, he is Daniel Boone, you know."
"But Ma, Jericho is nice." The girl turned the toe of her shoe against the bear-skin rug. "Oh, I know he doesn't know how to speak his piece without sounding like one of the planks in the wall over there...and an angry plank at that...but he can outrun a bunny and even get a carrot back from one." She sighed and batted her eyelashes. "He could provide for me...."
Her mother's temper blazed like her bright red hair. "No. I forbid you to see him! I don't care if he can run with horse-shoes on his feet; he's not for you."
"Why-ever not? Ma...."
Becky fingered her shears and eyed the clients at the bar. "His hair's too short."
Israel had watched his sister go down the steps and knew she and his Ma would be busy arguin' for a while and wouldn't notice he was missing. Taking advantage of their predictability, he marched out of the tavern straight to the gate. Jericho Jones was sitting there, chewing on a piece of straw. The little boy paused. He stared at him and then ran a hand across his beardless chin. "Hi, Jericho."
The dark-haired young man stomped his foot. "NOW WHAT'D YOU HAVE TO GO AND SAY THAT FER? I AIN'T SOMEONE YOU CAN JUST COME UP TO AND SAY, 'HI', TO WITHOUT ASKING MY PERMISSION FIRST!"
The little boy swallowed and took a step back. "Okay. Can I say, 'Hi', Jericho? "
"NOW WHAT'D YOU WANT TO GO AND ASK ME IF YOU CAN SAY 'HI' FER? CAN'T YOU JUST ASK A FELLER, 'HI', WITHOUT ASKING HIS PERMISSION?"
Israel frowned and scrunched up his nose, using a finger to corral the freckles. He wasn't about to have any of them defect to Jericho. He looked at the older boy and fell silent, unsure of what to do.
"YOU JUST GONNA STAND THERE AND NOT SAY HELLO? WELL, THERE'S A FINE HOW-DO-YOU-DO...." Jericho Jones leapt to his feet and tossed the straw to the ground. "WHAT'D YOU WANT ANYWAY?"
Israel gulped. He drew a breath and then said in one sentence, "I want to leave the fort even though the surrounding woods are filled with Indians and Redcoats and we are under siege for the seventh time today; I thought I would walk to the Cherokee village - getting there before it is humanly possible - exhausting myself so I could fall asleep behind a rock and later jump out and call my Pa by name, thereby revealing that he is my pa...."
"THAT'S DANIEL BOONE, RIGHT?"
"Yes. Thereby revealing that he is Daniel Boone and putting him in danger so he can make a daring escape, rescuing me, Ma, Mingo, you and Boonesborough, and all of Kentucky..."
"THAT'S THE DARK AND BLOODY GROUND, RIGHT?...."
"Right. And all of Kentucky in the process."
"IS THAT ALL?"
The little boy nodded.
Jericho thought for a moment. He picked the straw up and dusted it off and stuck it between his teeth. "WELL...NOW...I DON'T KNOW. I THINK YOUR PA WOULD EXPECT ME TA GUARD THIS GATE AND LET NO ONE THROUGH. AND ISRAEL, THAT IS JUST WHAT I AM GOING TO DO."
Several minutes later Cincinnatus came looking for his errant errand boy and found him lying unconscious next to the stockade fence. He lifted him up and poured one of the mugs of ale he carried over his head.
Jericho sputtered. He sat up and looked about. The expression on his face came as no surprise to his boss as it reflected the state of oblivion he usually resided in. "WHAT? WHAT HAPPENED?"
"You tell me, boy. The gate is open and Dan's boy is gone."
"WELL, WHATTA YOU THINK HE'S GONE AND DONE? HIT ME OVER THE HEAD AND RUN OUT A' THE FORT."
"He must be goin' after Dan'l," the older man sighed.
"WELL, THERE'S ONLY ONE THING WE CAN HOPE," the boy said as he shifted and stood up and stared at the gate with a pained expression which was meant to convey concern and instead ended up making him appear to be half-witted.
"THAT ISRAEL DOESN'T KILL HIM."
"Why don't you go stand over there by the stream and present a nice clear target in case anyone who wants to do us harm might be happ'nin' by."
The dark-haired Cherokee glanced up. "Is that in the job description?"
The big man shifted and stretched his long legs. "And what job would that be, Mingo?"
"Oh, ethnic side-kick; devilishly good-looking velvet-voiced companion to the pig-headed hero. I believe my chief occupation is to get wounded and looked damned good while lying prone or being hefted, and/or rescued, by said hero."
Dan paused. He glanced at the water and then turned back. His fingers went to his face and then he slowly drew them across his beardless chin. He stared at his friend hard and then dropped to his knees.
"Something wrong, Dan'yel?"
"Just missin' that bit of shot flyin' your way."
Mingo looked up just as a blue-blooded white-wigged Red-coat rose up out of the brush. For some unknown reason, the Cherokee's face registered surprise as the rifle volley struck him. A moment later he grabbed his shoulder and, as was required in his contract, toppled into the water and disappeared.
The Englishman stepped into the camp. He pointed the tip of his bayonet at the frontiersman. "Thank you for the smoke, Boone."
"Well, they say a fire is a sure sign of welcome in this wilderness." His green gaze narrowed. "Can't say as you're welcome though, since you killed my friend."
The soldier's eyes flicked to the water. "But there is no body."
"There never is, but he's always dead." Dan's voice caught in his throat and he had to swallow over a lump. "I don't expect I'll ever be seein' him again. Good ol' Mingo...."
A few minutes later, after the six-foot-five Dan had been forced out from under the trees by one small slightly-emaciated Englishman with a bayonet, a pair of wet and bedraggled turkey feathers appeared at the edge of the bank. As Mingo's fingers clawed the grass, his brown eyes fell first on one pair of beaded moccasins, and then on another slightly less decorative pair. He lifted his head and gasped as he found himself confronting a face from the past - a face that two...well, three...people had been cursed to wear.
"For two days now my lashes have been on my cheeks, batting, fluttering...." a rich voice intoned. "High was the moon the last time I looked upon you, and low the water in the pond by which I stood. Tall the corn about us and short the grass which lined the bank. Hard was my heart, but soft the mud beneath...."
"Could we dispense with the comparative images?" he snarled. "If you will remember, I am the one who went to Oxford...."
"Curb the Cherokee dog!"
The dull set of moccasins moved forward and a pair of strong hands lifted him up. He stood, favoring his bad leg, only to fall again as a whip licked about his feet and pulled them out from under him. A moment later the toe of a highly-ornamented hide-bound shoe pressed beneath his chin and he looked up into eyes cold as the stream from which he had been pulled.
"The lodge is empty, but not what you left there. The sun was hot on my face as you took my dolly and shoved my face - the one we each were cursed to wear - into the mud. Then you sang an aria over me." The figure shifted, grinding down with its foot. "I remember. I remember looking at that face - the one we each were cursed to wear - and thinking I would not rest until I saw it beneath my foot."
"And can you rest now?"
The tall woman stared at him as her long fingers gripped the bullwhip. "This is between you and me. Here and now.
Or my name is not Sara-Mingo."
And now for Chapter Three.....