Panther Crosses the Sky

            Chapter Nine

 

Becky Boone shifted uncomfortably.  Somewhere out in the wilderness of Kentucky  was her small son.  Israel might be with the Indian boy still, or he might alone.  Lost.   Terrified.  And Jemima.  Dear sweet Jemima must be on her way to Boonesborough by now.  There were untold dangers her young daughter might face – from man and beast.  Mingo had walked straight into the lion’s den.  He might be…well, dead.  Mingo had become such a part of their lives in the last year, Becky could not imagine being without him – without his charming presence, his smile, his gracious soul.  And then there was Yad.  Dear, crusty old Yad.  True.  Never doubted.  Always there when she needed him.

            And Dan.  Where was Dan?  Her husband was traveling with an untried Indian – the brother of the dark-haired woman who sat across from her looking like she sat on a bed of coals and was ready to bolt.  Chiksika.  Something like that.  Small Tecumseh’s protective older brother.  What would that mean?  When it came to it, if Dan was in danger but the boy could be saved, would her man be abandoned by the Shawnee to whatever fate the Chickamauga meant for him?  They were known for burning people at the stake.

            Becky’s nose wrinkled.  She sniffed.

            Somehow that thought made the roast beef sitting on the plate in front of her even less appetizing.

            After being abducted from her cabin, she and Tecumapease had been treated fairly well, though the British soldiers were more solicitous of her than her dark-haired companion.  It was pretty obvious she, Rebecca Boone, was meant to survive this.  Tecumapease was another matter.  Tecumseh’s sister  would probably be used and discarded.  The only value the native woman held for them was as an ace against her elder brother’s intervention.  Once Tecumseh was found and taken – and killed – there would be nothing for the beautiful Indian woman but pain and death.

            “Mrs. Boone?”

            Becky’s head came up.  She peered over the fresh floral centerpiece, across the wooden table cloaked in linen and set with silver, past the sugared grapes and roasted apples to the man who held them captive.  Captain Theophilus Oldwine, of His Majesty’s Royal Army.  The captain was immaculate.  His wig was perfectly powdered, his crimson coat pressed and pristine, its polished buttons glistening in the light of the candelabrum.  He paused with his knife half-way through his own slice of beef.

            “Mrs. Boone, is something wrong?”

            She didn’t have a knife.  Just a fork.  Evidently the good captain did not trust her.

            With reason.

            Becky pushed her plate away.  “I am afraid I have lost my appetite.”

            Oldwine swallowed a bite of beef along with the flicker of a smile.  He nodded toward Tecumapease.  “Your companion seems to have no such trouble.”

            “Strength is needed,” the Indian woman said softly, “if one is to overcome one’s enemies.”

            Captain Oldwine downed a gulp of wine.  “Precisely!” he said as he brought the silver cup down on the table.  “A smart woman.  You could learn from her Mrs. Boone.  No emotion.  Just cold killer instincts.  Survival.  That is what it is all about in the wilderness.”

            “And I suppose,” Becky said, drawing a breath, “that that is what allows you to plot and plan, and execute a little boy.  And perhaps bring about the death of another in the process.”  She laced her finger’s and rested them on the table’s edge to prevent her hands from trembling with rage.  “Do you have children, Captain Oldwine?”

            “No, Madame,” he answered confidently.

            “I see.  Do you have any siblings then?”

            Oldwine hesitated, seeing where she was going.  “Yes,” he admitted grudgingly.

            “Nephews?  Or nieces?”

            “Who and what I am is of no import here – ”

            “Isn’t it?   You know what it is to love a child.  How can you kill one so callously - one this woman, and a whole village loves?”

            “War excuses many things, Mrs. Boone.”

            “I bet that is what King Herod said when he ordered the slaughter of all children in Israel under two,” Becky replied sharply.  And then she wondered if anything she had said had managed to crack his steely resolve.

            Captain Oldwine rose from the table, placed his napkin on it and walked to her side.  He bent close to her ear and whispered before departing.

            “All that matters is that you remember Herod’s name, isn’t it?”

            Becky sat silently, trembling for several heartbeats after his departure.  Tecumapease’s eyes were on her.  The two of them were being held in a tent not far from this one.  They had been brought here – ostensively for supper – but more for Oldwine’s pleasure.  The soldiers who remained behind, watching them eat, were their jailers.  They had been told they were being kept as insurance.   As leverage against her husband and Chiksika.  They had to find a way to escape.  To free Dan and Tecumapease’s brother to do what they must.

            Becky shuddered.  Then she reached for the plate and taking up her fork, began to pull the beef into pieces small enough that she could eat them.  As she lifted one to her mouth she saw her native companion smile.

            “Be strong, Rebecca,” she said softly.

            Becky smiled as she chewed the cold meat.

They would win yet.

 

                                                                                            ###

 

Mingo was breathing heavily.  Their escape had been narrow.

He could still recall the hesitation he saw in Tecumseh’s eyes.  The boy had been standing with the knife aimed at his heart.  The soldiers in the camp had been roused.  Israel’s yell had called even more attention to them.  And yet, Tecumseh had not moved.  The boy had remained still, the knife tip pressed into Mingo’s flesh –  for at least a dozen of its rapid beats.

As if his own death would be worth it if only Mingo died.

The tall Cherokee was not certain why the Shawanoese boy hated him so.  Yes, he was Cherokee and there was bad blood between their tribes right now and, yes, he had taken his totem.  But from everything he had heard, Puckeshinwau had been a reasonable man and he would have taught his sons to think, not to react out of anger or hate.  There was something more.

Something very personal.

Fortunately the British soldiers had only paid lip-service to binding him to the tree.  After all, he was leading them to his village and working with them – or so they thought.  Mingo had managed to work the ropes loose even before Israel showed up.  When Tecumseh had seen Daniel Boone’s small son running toward them, shouting, the boy had seemed to come out of a dream.  He had slipped behind the tree, cut the loose ropes with one swipe, and then headed into the woods.  Mingo managed to catch Israel under one arm just as the camp awoke fully to what was happening, and the three of them had run like rabbits desperate to escape the slavering jaws of approaching wolves.

The whole of the night since then had been spent in desperation, moving from hiding place to hiding place.  Once the black boots and glinting bayonet points had come so close he had felt the cold metal brush his shoulder.  But they had not found them.  The chase was hardest on Israel.  Both Mingo and Tecumseh were children of the woods, used to using their wits each and every day to stay alive.  Israel Boone was the son of the new owners of the land.  Wise in the white’s ways, which were often lacking.

Once he felt they were safely away and the pursuit had been called off, Mingo had stopped to rest.  Both boys had quickly fallen asleep.  He suspected Tecumseh would not have had he not been wounded before.  The boy was strong, but even the strongest could not fight the laws of nature – loss of blood, infection –  these had taken their toll. 

Even panthers had to rest.

Mingo sat now trying to piece together what was happening.  Daniel had been called away, warned by the Continental army that something was afoot in the area – something involving the British.  Captain Oldwine had been watching and knew Daniel was away.  So Oldwine had seen him as well, leaving the Boone cabin – and knew not only the way Mingo took but the fact that the women would be left alone.  Oldwine was a smart man who covered all bases.  He had the letter, informing Mingo there was a price on his head, and meant to use it to force him to bring his people into a war.  He took Becky and Jemima, knowing that would stay Daniel’s hand.  Israel would have been in the cabin as well, if not for Tecumseh.

Had Oldwine set out to take Tecumseh?  That was something he did not know.  How else would he have brought the Shawnee into the war?  Perhaps Oldwine had meant only to stir up the Cherokee.  Perhaps he – Mingo – was meant to have been killed and his death laid at the Shawnee’s feet.  That would have roused Chota and Menewa.  Maybe the monies offered in the letter would have been found in Blackfish’s lodge….

But Tecumseh’s presence had changed all of that.  The boy had become the key.  Kill him.  Put his body in Boonesborough, and not only would the two tribes destroy each other, but the settlers would die.  And who would be there to pick up the pieces, play the hero, and score high with His Majesty but –

Captain Theophilus Oldwine.  A win-win situation.

Mingo leaned back against the stone he used as a chair.  He stared into the heart of the dying fire.  Dawn was breaking and he wondered what this new day would bring.  Was Daniel near?  Knowing his friend, Daniel had been to the cabin by now, knew his wife and daughter were missing, and was on his way to save them.  Oldwine most likely had Rebecca at the camp. So that meant Daniel was occupied.  Yadkin was an unknown element.  Israel told him, before falling asleep, that he had left Yadkin behind in a cave with a redcoat.  The gruff blond frontiersman might be close by.  But in the great Kentucky wilderness they might not meet up until far too late.   Tecumseh’s brother and sister knew the boy was alive.  Since Mingo had been unable to meet them, they were probably trying to him on their own.  They could be close by as well, but then, that was not necessarily a good thing.

They might desire his death as much as their small brother.

Mingo sighed and shifted.  When he looked up, he met the native boy’s accusing stare.  Tecumseh was awake and watching him.

“Hello.  How are you feeling?” he asked.

Tecumseh said nothing.  The two boys had fallen asleep close by each other.  The native boy rose and left his companion and came to stand at his side.  In spite of the injury, in spite of ill treatment, the boy held himself with dignity.  And knew no fear.  Mingo studied him a moment.  Then he shifted and removed the knife from his belt.  He held it out to Tecumseh, handle first.

Tecumseh stared at it a moment and then asked, “What is this?”

“If you desire my life, it is yours.”

The boy touched the beaded handle.  He took the blade and wrapped his fingers about it.  For a moment Mingo was not certain his gamble would pay off.  Tecumseh looked as though he might thrust it straight into his heart.  Then the boy frowned and placed the knife behind his own belt.

At the ready.

“Why does Tecumseh hate me?”

The boy was silent a moment.  Then he asked, “You are the son of Dunsmore?”

Mingo nodded.  “Yes.”

“He killed my father.  At the battle between the two waters.”

Ah.  So that was it.  Mingo knew he could argue he was exempt on a technicality.  But that was the Englishman in him.  Tecumseh did not need to speak to the Englishman. He need to connect with Talota’s son.

“Yes.  And by blood you have a right to kill me.”  Mingo paused as the boy’s fingers went to the knife.  “And then I will seek out your brother and kill him, and he will seek out my nephew, Monlutha, and kill him.  And then Monlutha will kill Chiksika’s son….”

Tecumseh’s frown had deepened.  “You say this is not right?  It is our way.”

“Yes.  It is our way – the Cherokee way – as well.  Tecumseh, many things about our ways are good.  Better than the white man’s ways.  But in this, we are wrong.  Just as we are wrong to hate one another.  Because the Shawanoese do not trust the Cherokee, the Cherokee do not trust the Shawanoese, and so they both turn to the English – who are not to be trusted.  We can no longer adhere blindly to the rituals of the past.  The world you are to grow up in is not the world of your father.  You must learn to judge each man for who he is.”  Mingo drew a breath.  “As you must judge me.”

Tecumseh glanced back at Israel where he lay sleeping.  “You are his friend?”

“Yes.”

“He is Shemanese.”

“Are you not his friend as well?” Mingo asked quietly.

Tecumseh shook his head.  “No.  I am his brother.”

Mingo contained his smile.  The boy had a sharp mind.  Keen.  Capable of thinking outside of the box.  “As Israel’s father is my brother.”

“Daniel Boone?”

“Yes.  The world is changing.  We can no longer cling only to our own people alone.  We must seek out the best in all and bring them together against a common enemy.  You say I am Lord Dunsmore’s son….”

“Yes.”  The boy’s jaw tightened.

“But am I not also Talota’s?  The world we know was once painted in black and white.  Now it is in color – red and white skin, crimson and blue uniforms, the brown of buckskin, the black of slaves.  The old ways will not work.  Each man must be met and measured on his own merit.”  Mingo studied him again.  The boy was listening.  “I was just about your age when my mother died.  She called my father to come and take me to his world.  I was educated there.  But I came back to my mother’s people and I am one of them.  You would kill me for what my father has done – for a battle he instigated – but if I had fought in that battle I would have been at your father’s side.”

Tecumseh was silent.

“Well?”  Mingo held out his hand.  “Do you still want to kill me?”

The boy fingered the knife.  He pulled it free of his belt.  His small fingers trembled as he held it out, butt first. 

“Yes,” he said softly.  “But I will not.”

 

                                                                               ###

 

Daniel Boone had been sleeping in the big wooden chair that sat close by the fire.  There wasn’t much else to do since the British were guarding the front door and a group of Chickamauga had camped out at the back rolling bones and playing cards.  He and Chiksika were prisoners in his own home.  Dan glanced at the native who slept on the floor close to the hearth as he rose and walked toward the window.  Most likely the Indian was already awake.  The day had dawned outside and that was probably all it would take.  If not, his own motion would soon rouse him.

Dan crossed to the window and lifted Becky’s linen curtain.  Yep.  Just as he suspected.  British soldiers had been deployed.  One was on the porch and though his head was nodding, three more were wide awake and walking in the yard, and yet another patrolled the road in front of the cabin.  There was nothing they could do.   Nothing.

And that was a bitter pill to swallow.

Dan knew Becky and Jemima were most likely all right.  Oldwine needed them.  And Yadkin probably had Israel safely tucked away by now.  But Mingo?  Well, if he wasn’t already dead, Mingo and Tecumseh were most likely smack in the middle of everything.  And whatever happened to them –

Happened to Boonesborough.

“Boone.”

Chiksika’s voice was somber, and heavy with fatigue.

He turned toward the native.  “Yep?”

“Why did you not tell me?  About Lord Dunsmore’s son?”

Dan crossed to the table and sat backwards on one of the chairs.  “Why do you suppose I didn’t?”

“You are not a man who lies.”  Chiksika crossed to the table.  “You knew I would seek revenge against your friend.”

Dan nodded.  Then he shrugged.  “But that ain’t why I didn’t tell you.  Well, not the only reason,” he admitted grudgingly.

“Then why?” Chiksika sat as well.

“The need for revenge blinds a man to everything but that need.  Even if Mingo had pulled the trigger that killed your pa, your brother needs you to see clearly now.  Don’t you think?”

The native was quiet for a moment.  His hands worked together, one massaging the other which had become a fist.  Finally he nodded.  “It is easy to blame one man for the sins of many.  One man can be killed….”

“And you feel better.”

Chiksika looked at him.  “Have you ever known such a hate?”

Dan pursed his lips.  “My father died peaceably enough.  But I have had good friends – brothers –  killed…by Indians.”

Chiksika sat back in the chair.  “Shawanoese?”

            Dan nodded.  “Yep.  So I should hate you.”

            “But you don’t.”

            Dan laughed as he rose to his feet and crossed to the window again.  “Nope.  You ain’t done nothin’ yet to make me hate you.”  He grinned as he turned back.  “Fact is, I think you are a pretty nice fellow.”

            Chiksika was silent for a moment.  Then he said only, “My father’s death cries out for vengeance.”

            “Then revenge him.  Just don’t do it blindly.  Mingo didn’t have anything to do with his father’s choices or actions.  He ain’t responsible.  His father is.”

Chiksika rose and joined him, a laugh in his voice.  “So I should travel to Virginia and kill the Governor General?”

Dan clapped a hand on his shoulder.  “If you ask him right, Mingo might just join you.”

“Boone.”  The native nodded toward the window.  “Something is happening.”

            Dan turned and looked.  He was right.  The soldier who had been patrolling the road was missing and the three in the yard were headed for the place where he had disappeared.  Dan nodded and stepped to the other side of the door just as it opened and an armed redcoat entered and pointed a rifle at Chiksika’s chest.

“Hands up, savage!” the soldier ordered even as he glanced around the cabin, seeking Dan.  “Where is Daniel Boone?”

The tall frontiersman obliged him.  He stepped out from behind the door and brought one of Becky’s Treenware bowls down with a thud on the soldier’s head.  As he bent to retrieve the man’s rifle, he glanced at Chiksika.  “That won’t be the last of them. Looks like we’re in for a fight – ”

As the native turned in a circle, seeking anything he could use as a weapon, a brief burst of fire erupted.  Through the open door they could see smoke from the ignited powder rising above the trees west of the cabin.  At the same time they heard a loud voice ordering the natives who were camped behind the house to put their weapons down and put their hands against the wall.

As the two captive men stared at each other, their eyes filled with wonder and puzzlement, a familiar voice made Dan pivot toward the front door.  It took a lot to surprise Daniel Boone.

His daughter had just done it.

Jemima was dirty and disheveled.  Her dress was torn and off her shoulder.  Her cheeks were scratched from branches and there were brambles in her light brown hair –  and she was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

The second most beautiful thing he had ever seen was Major-general Benjamin Blankenship standing framed in the doorway behind her.  And behind the Major-general, the regulars of Boonesborough roused and up in arms.

After assuring Blankenship that Chiksika was a friend, and a quick hello and ‘thanks’ to Cincinnatus and the others, Dan returned to the cabin to hug his daughter and draw her to the fire.  There he sat listening to her tale of adventure, danger, and bravery.  They sat in the big wooden chair, side by side, and he held her hand as she spoke, trembling all the while.

“Pa.  I’m so worried about Israel and Ma,” she said when her own adventure

had been related.  “I heard Ma scream.”  Jemima closed her eyes.  “Those Indians…they were horrible.”

            “They were men, and they were horrible.  Don’t put that down to them bein’ Indians.  Chiksika here is tryin’ to help us help your Ma – and the others.”

            Jemima’s eyes flicked to the dark native who stood nearby, waiting no doubt on word of his sister whom they had sent here to warn Becky and the town.

            “Sorry, Pa.  And Mr. Chiksika.”

            The native came to stand beside them.  His mouth was a hard-edged line.  Dan knew why.  Chiksika stood to lose most of his family in this.  “Tecumapease?”

            Jemima shook her head.  “She was with Ma.  I don’t know anything else.”

            He nodded.

            “Mr. Boone?”

            It was Blankenship.  Dan squeezed Jemima’s hand again and rose to his feet.  “Sir?”

            “Benjamin, please.”   The Major-general smiled.  “I hate to tear you away from your daughter, but there are others in need.  I have established a perimeter around Boonesborough.  The town is safe against assault.  But we must find this renegade, Oldwine, and capture or eliminate him before he starts a war.  There is enough trouble in the East.  We do not need the west in flames as well.”

            Blankenship was a young man to be a Major-general.  But then the Rebellion was making old men out of children.  Every hand was needed to hold a gun, no matter how young.  Dan nodded.  “What about my friend?” he asked, nodding toward Chiksika.

            Benjamin met the native’s slightly hostile stare and held his eyes.  Chiksika did not flinch or turn away.  “You will vouch for him, Daniel?” he asked at last.

            Dan grinned.  “With my life,” he answered.

            “Then that is more than good enough for me.  I welcome any help – especially experienced help –  that we can find.  I may know strategy and espionage, but I am afraid I lack in knowledge of our red brothers, their patterns of thought, and their ways.  I can anticipate Oldwine – but not Bellowingsnake who advises him.”

            “A Chickamauga?”

            Benjamin nodded.  “Their leader.  He is not among the men we have captured here.  I presume he is in contact with either Menewa or, more likely, Blackfish at this juncture and is trying to convince them to go to war.”

            “Using either Mingo or Tecumseh’s body as incentive,” Dan said softly, glancing at his native friend.

            “Precisely.”

            Dan turned to his daughter who had been listening wide-eyed to all of this.  “Mima, you go to the fort and let Cincinnatus look after you.”

            “But Pa!  Can’t I go with you?”

            “You know the answer to that.”

            She lowered her head.  “I know.”

            “The best you can do for us now is pray.”

            As he kissed her on the top of the head, she whispered, “Bring them all home, Pa.  Ma and Israel, and Mingo.”

            Dan grinned as he pulled back.  “You gettin’ to like my Cherokee?” he asked jokingly.

            Jemima blushed a little and nodded.

            “Miss Boone.  I would like to offer you an escort.  Most of the men of the village have already returned to their homes and stores.  My aide will accompany you and see you securely through the gates.”

            Dan watched his daughter’s eyes lock on the handsome young man who stepped smartly through the door wearing an slightly worn blue and buff uniform.  He had brown hair, bright blue eyes, and a dimple in his chin.  Jemima’s blush went a shade or two deeper as he moved into the room and offered her his arm.

            “Pa?” she asked, seeking permission.  He didn’t often let his girl walk alone with a young man.

            “Go with my blessings, and God’s,” he said, kissing her hair again.  When Jemima was gone, Dan turned to Benjamin Blankenship and asked, “What now?”

            “While one war begins, we work to stop another.”

 

                                                                                         ###

 

Mingo decided the best thing for everyone was to get the two boys to safety.  Tecumseh was not happy about it, but cumulative injuries and maltreatment had rendered his objections moot.  The boy was barely on his feet.  Only determination and the driving force of his msipesi compelled him to move forward.  Mingo had thought about taking them to Boonesborough, but that seemed a dangerous route.  Though it might put them in contact with Daniel, it might also put Tecumseh in harm’s way.  Finally he  decided to take them to Chota as they were close by his village.  He knew it was most likely occupied, but the British there were at least making a pretense of friendship and expecting him.  He hoped to use that to his advantage.

Now, if some of the soldiers he had escaped from had just not made it there first.

They arrived mid-afternoon, just as the sun was setting the fields and forests afire with golden light.  A British tent with a British flag was set up close by his uncle’s lodge.  Menewa’s tent flew no flag and never would.  His mother’s brother had an independent mind.  Mingo grinned.  The Englishmen who hoped to convince Menewa had probably found that out by now.

One of the women of the village greeted them.  She had taken on the duties of Cornbeater when the wise-woman of Chota had died, and kept watch over the fields of grain, chasing away crows and other predators.  This late in the season she was often found in the village, teaching the younger women.  ‘Housebug’, was her name.  Mingo felt as if a knife had stabbed his heart when he saw her.

She was also Nokisi’s mother.

“Cara-Mingo,” she said.  “What brings you home at this hour?”

He wanted to tell her that her daughter lived, but knew this was not the time.  And how much better to return with the young woman and her child, to show her that Nokisi lived?   “Mother,” he answered.  “Is my uncle in his lodge?”

Housebug frowned as she nodded.  “With the men in the red coats.  They trouble him again.  And there are others there.”

By her tone he could tell she did not approve.  Mingo glanced at the two boys who accompanied him.  Both were nearly asleep on their feet.  “Others?”

The woman’s weary eyes settled on Tecumseh.  Took in his clothing, the center-seamed boots.  “Shawanoese?” she asked.

He nodded.

“So are the ones inside.”

Mingo was surprised.  “Here?  In the village?  I don’t understand….”

Even as he spoke the blanket that covered the opening into his uncle’s lodge was thrust up and out of it a familiar ramrod-straight figure dressed in crimson emerged.  The British officer straightened his immaculate coat and ran a hand over his powdered wig.

And then Theophilus Oldwine smiled.

Mingo suddenly knew why.  And he understood the trap he had walked them into.  Blackfish, the chief of the Shawanoese followed Oldwine, and then his own chief – Menewa – was led out in chains by a tall powerful Chickamauga tattooed and dripping in English silver.  In Blackfish’s hand was the shell and tooth necklace Tecumseh had worn when Mingo had rescued him.  With the boy’s totem.

Obviously Oldwine had turned events to his own advantage and convinced Blackfish that Mingo had kidnapped the boy either with the intent to harm him, or to use him in some fashion.  Blackfish’s eyes were filled with rage and betrayal.  Menewa had been silenced with a cloth through his teeth.  Silenced, no doubt, as Mingo himself would soon be.

His only hope was Tecumseh.  If the boy spoke up for him….

Mingo felt a tug on his sleeve.  He looked down to see Israel, his clear blues eyes clouded with worry.

Tecumseh lay unconscious on the ground.

Captain Oldwine smirked.

“Arrest this man, and prepare for the execution of this traitor and deserter as ordered by His Majesty, the King!”

 

  - Continued in Ten -