Panther Crosses the Sky
Major-general Benjamin Blankenship had been very happy to see Captain Oldwine. In fact, upon their arrival he showed his appreciation by immediately clapping the British officer in irons and jailing him and his men in a nearby cave in anticipation of the army’s departure from the Boonesborough area three days hence. Bellowingsnake should have been with them, but one of Blackfish’s men – against his chief’s orders – had released the Chickamauga and left him free to work mischief another day. After setting his physician to care for Tecumseh, Benjamin invited them to stay and share in the soldier’s meager rations. He even offered to open a bottle of medicinal brandy in celebration. Chiksika already sat at his brother’s side. Dan declined for the others. He intended to leave Israel in Blankenship’s care and then head for home. This was not over yet, he said. Not until they knew the women and Boonesborough were safe.
Benjamin had appeared very disappointed. Couldn’t they stay, he asked, a moment to take a meal? After all, how well could they travel on an empty stomach? Besides, there was someone who wanted to thank them. Especially Mingo.
Dan put Israel to bed in the Major-general’s tent and then puzzled, trailed with the rest of the group after the enigmatic officer. All questions were answered when the tent flap was raised and a trio of women – two native and one beautiful and very familiar copper-haired Irishwoman – greeted them with smiles.
And for Dan – kisses.
“Becky Boone!” he exclaimed catching her about the waist and twirling her in the air, “If you ain’t a sight for sore eyes!”
Tecumapease smiled as she walked up to Mingo. “We meet at last,” she said with a smile.
“You are Tecumseh’s sister?”
She nodded. “Chiksika has told me of all you have done for him. I thank you.”
“You have spoken to your brother?”
“Yes, and seen Tecumseh. Chiksika knows I live. We will wait for our brother to mend, and we will take him home.”
“War has been averted this time. By Tecumseh’s hand,” Mingo said softly.
Tecumapease fingered the panther claw necklace that hung about his throat. “A mighty gift,” she said.
“From a mighty warrior. I do believe the prophecies will prove true. He will do great things.”
She nodded. “I go now to my brother. There is another here who would speak to you…Cara-Mingo.”
At the Shawanoese woman’s use of his full name, Mingo looked surprised. Then his gaze went beyond Tecumapease and settled on a slight woman lingering in the shadows of the tent’s interior. He recognized her. “Nokisi! You are here!” Dan watched as his friend turned toward Becky. “Rebecca, how?” the tall Cherokee asked.
“She was in the Shawnee camp, serving food and doing wash for the soldiers there. She freed us and helped us to escape. We returned the favor.”
Mingo turned back to the woman, a little shamed. “I did not do as I promised. Someone else did it for me.”
She took his hand. “You promised you would come back for me. You did. Through your friends.” Nokisi raised up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. Tears filled her eyes. “I am home.”
“Does your mother know?”
She shook her head. “I go to see her now. First, I wanted to see you.”
Mingo touched her cheek briefly. “Go to her then. Such joy should not be made to wait.”
Nokisi nodded, and was gone, flying on feet fleet as the deer’s.
Dan felt Becky’s arms squeeze his middle. “So many happy endings,” she sighed, her words indicating the cloud that hung over them all. “But Tecumseh….”
Mingo had come to join them. He nodded. All his grand words to Tecumapease would mean nothing….
If her brother died.
Israel sat on the bedside of the native boy whom he had known such a short time, but had come to think of as a lifelong friend. Tecumseh had tossed and turned with fever the whole way to the Continental Army’s camp. Now he was silent. The army doctor said that was a good thing, but Israel wasn’t so sure. He had to put his ear up to Tecumseh’s lips to feel him breathe.
Taking hold of his brother’s hand, Israel called him, “Tecumseh, can you hear me? Come back. Your people need you. Tecumseh?”
When Israel got no response he sat there a moment doing nothing. Then he had a thought and, pursing his lips, he called out again.
The panther was watching him, great oval eyes of gold in a field of ebon night. It waited for his choice. If he wanted, he could mount its back and be borne aloft to join the Thunderbirds in their flight. He could become a part of the wind and the rain, the thunder that roared, the fire that flashed. He could be free of the restraints of flesh, of hunger, weakness and doubt.
Or, he could live.
The great cat shifted, offering its back. Tecumseh rose and wrapped his fingers in its thick silky coat, ready to go. Then he heard it. Someone calling.
Whistling his name.
Tecumseh turned away from the panther toward the call. He smiled recognizing the sound of his Shemanese brother.
‘You have chosen wisely,” the cat purred, speaking with the voice of his dead father, Puckeshinwau. ‘This is not the day for you to die. This is the beginning of many days of greatness to come.’
“Today,” he whispered, “it has begun.”
Israel grinned as Tecumseh’s hand gripped his and his friend’s deep hazel-brown eyes opened. “You’re alive!” he shouted.
The native boy nodded. “Thanks to you, Israel, my brother.”
Many years later when Israel was a grown man he heard the name Tecumseh again. His friend fulfilled his destiny, seeking to unite the Indian nations so they could keep their home. Sadly the Oldwines and Bellowingsnakes of the world proved too powerful and all too soon the panther returned and carried Tecumseh away to be one with the stars and the comet that had marked his birth.
- END -