Panther Crosses the Sky

Chapter Six

   

            “Israel?”

            The boy’s white head came up sharply and he looked at him.  There were tears struggling to escape his blue eyes.  Daniel’s small son was fighting a valiant battle to deny them, but as Mingo watched one broke through the barricade and trailed down his freckled cheek.

            Mingo crossed the tent and knelt beside him.  “Are you all right?  They have not hurt you?”

             Israel shook his head.  “Not me.”

            “The Indian boy?  Who is he, Israel?  Why is he so important to these men?  I know he is the son of a mighty warrior, but— ”

            “After his Pa died Tecumseh was adopted by Blackfish, like Pa,” Israel answered with one eye to the tent door as though he expected a Redcoat to enter and cart them off any minute.  Mingo knew the guard waited just outside the door.

            “Tecumseh?  That’s his name?”

            Israel nodded.

            The panther crosses the sky.  A child born for great things – greater things than to be slaughtered by the British and used as the spark to ignite a war.  Though some of his people might have argued that rousing the country’s native population to throw off their apathy and band together to drive out the settlers who were invading and overtaking their homes was a great enough accomplishment for any single life.

            But the boy shouldn’t have to do it by dying.

            “Where is he?”

            Israel’s white head shook. “Don’t know.  We was comin’ up real quiet-like when suddenly, there they was – about a half dozen Redcoats and a couple of funny-lookin’ barefoot Injuns called ‘Chicken-ah-waw’.”

            “Chickamauga,” Mingo corrected with an affectionate smile. “They are Cherokee – of a sort.  Go on.”

            “Tecumseh had a real smart idea to get you free.  We was gonna pretend I had escaped from the Indians.  I was s’posed to draw the soldiers away and then he was gonna free you.  He’s real interested in meetin’ you, Mingo.”

            Mingo’s black brows rose.  “Indeed.  Did he say why?”

            “Well, you got his necklace.  And you saved him even though you are a Cherokee.  I don’t think he understands that.”

            “Well, I do not have his necklace at the moment.  It is in my bandoleer – wherever that is.  But I will be pleased to meet him as well.”  Mingo sighed.  “And the sooner the better.”

            “Somethin’ wrong, Mingo?”

            Mingo heard the soldier stir at the door.  “Israel?”

            Daniel’s son grew serious.  “Yeah?”

            “These men want me to do something wrong.”

            “Are you gonna do it?”  His voice was hushed.

            Mingo touched the boy’s head. “Not if I can help it.  They are taking me back to Chota and I think they intend to bring you along.”

            “To Chota?  Gosh, Mingo, I always wanted to go there.”

            “Well, this is not the way I would have introduced you to my people, but perhaps things will come out for the best.”

            Mingo rose and faced the soldier who had entered the tent.

            “Time to go, mate,” the sergeant ordered.

            “Mingo?”

            The boy had caught hold of his hand.  “Yes, Israel?”

            “What about Tecumseh?  Where did they take him?”

            Mingo shook his head. The native boy would be headed in the opposite direction from them, toward Boonesborough and death.

            “It is in the Creator’s hands,” he breathed as he was drawn away.

 

                                                                                            ###

 

            “Ma?”

            Becky looked up from her washing at her daughter’s anxious tone.  She followed Jemima’s extended arm to find an Indian woman approaching.  The native was tall and slender and had a beautiful but sad face, as if the weight of the world lay on her narrow shoulders.  Her hair was long and a deep brown-black, and her skin a medium-tanned shade.  Her features were more refined than many of the natives Becky had met, and she knew instantly that somehow she was connected with the wounded boy who had been in their home.

            Not only did she look like him, but she wore the worried face of a mother.

            Becky wiped her hands off on her apron.  “Jemima,” she said softly as she began to move forward, “offer our visitor some water.”

            “Yes, Ma.”  Jemima headed for the well and returned quickly with a gourd cup.  She held it out to the woman who took it and sipped the cool liquid, and then handed it back with her thanks.

            “I bring word of your husband, Mrs. Boone,” the woman said.  Her mouth was set in a thin line that did not bode well for the words she would speak.

            Becky fought to control her hands by folding them together.  They had begun to tremble.  “Becky, please.  And this is Jemima, my daughter.”

            The woman inclined her head.  “I am Tecumapease.”

            “You said you have word of Dan?”

            She nodded.  “Yes.  I have come to tell you that he and my brother, Chiksika, have gone to find your son.”

            Becky was still trembling, but now with relief.  Everything would be all right.  Dan was going to find Israel and bring him home.  “And the Indian boy who is with him?” she asked.  “Is he your son?”

            The woman’s stern look melted into an affectionate smile.  “My younger brother.”

            “Tecumseh?” Jemima asked.

            The woman nodded.  “He was here then?”

            Becky acknowledged he had been.  “We tried to get word to you that he was all right.  Mingo went to the village.  Did you see him?  A tall, soft-spoken Cherokee?”     

            Tecumapease shook her head.  “He did not make it to the village.  One of the women, Nokisi, brought my brother and I to meet him, but we found your husband and his friend instead.”

            “That’d be Yad,” Jemima said.

             Becky was puzzled.  It seemed things were not going as planned.  Where was Mingo now if he was not at the Shawnee village?

“Will you come in and share some food with us?,” she asked.  “You must be tired after your journey.  Please come in and tell us what you know.”

            Tecumapease seemed surprised by her offer.  “You would have me at your table?”

            Becky held out her hand.  “I would have you as my friend.”

            The Indian woman stared at her hand and then took it reluctantly.  “Our father had Shemanese friends.  He is dead now.”

            “I am sorry.  Not all Shemanese are the same.  Are all Shawnee?”

            The woman shook her head.  “No.  There are good and bad, wise and foolish.”

            Becky smiled.  “Well, I hope we number among the good and wise.  Now, will you come in out of the sun?”

            Tecumapease nodded.  “Thank you.”

            Becky indicated Jemima should lead the way.  As they followed her, she and the Indian woman started to talk.  And so it was Becky missed the sudden shift in the shadows that surrounded the cabin and failed to hear the pad of bare feet and the whisper of a foreign tongue.

 

                                                                                          ###

 

            “We got us a problem, Dan’l,” Yadkin pronounced.

Dan nodded.  His friend was looking down the path.  It had been a full day since they had left the Shawnee village, following the trail of the boys and Mingo, and now they were presented with a problem.

            The trail had split.

            “What do you read, Yad?”

            “Five or six men and one boy went that-a-way, toward Chota.”  Yad took off his hat and scratched his blond hair.  “And another five or six went that-a-way toward Boonesborough with another boy.  Now we can’t rightly split ourselves in two.”

            “Or be in two places at once,” Chiksika came to a halt at Yad’s side.  The young man looked worried.  They had found the two boy’s footprints.  Both were surrounded by moccasins and British boots.  One had been walking.  The other had fallen and then been dragged, leaving bloodstains behind.

Dan had known his son’s boots so it had to be Tecumseh who was bleeding.

            Dan hesitated and then placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder.  “I know what you want to do.”

            Chiksika did not pull away.  He nodded.  “I must follow my brother’s trail.”

            Dan fell silent a moment.  He was pretty nigh certain Mingo was with the group that held Israel and that they were headed for the Cherokee village.  Odds were his son would be all right.  Tecumseh was wounded – maybe dying– and the fate of the settlement might rest on his making it through.

            And there was Becky and ‘Mima to consider.

            He pulled on his chin and thought long about it.

            “Dan’l?”

            “Yad.”  Dan released Chiksika’s shoulder and turned toward his friend.  “I need you to do somethin’ for me.”

            Yad held up both hands.  “I know, I know,” his friend said with a resigned sigh.  “Go and pull that Cher-o-kee’s bacon out of the fire again.”

            “Israel….”

            Yad nodded.  “I’ll take care of them both, Dan’l.  You do what you have to do.”  Yad slapped his hat back on his head and tightened his grip on his gun.  “Won’t matter much if the boy don’t have no Ma or sister, or no home to come home to.”

            Dan’s nodded his thanks and then turned back to the Shawnee warrior who walked at his side.

“Chiksika, guess it’s you and me.”

 

                                                                                            ###

 

            Some hours later Dan and Chiksika drew to a halt and made a cold camp for the night, afraid to light a fire or cook anything.  As they sat drinking water and chewing jerky, the night came alive around them with the calls of birds and the sound of insects humming and buzzing in and out of their hives and homes.  Chiksika looked thoughtful.  He sat pulling a reed between his teeth.

“So have the British approached you yet?” Dan asked, carrying on the conversation they had begun not long before.

            The young man nodded.  “My people have fought with the British against the Long Knives many times.  The English do not want our land, just to trade with us.  They come and trade and then they go, leaving us alone.”

             “So you will fight with them?”

            Chiksika turned to meet his stare.  “I do not know.  The Long Knives killed our father at Kanawha, but it was greed for the land and the orders of the Englishman Lord Dunsmore that sent them out to meet him.  Who do I hold responsible?”

            Dan’s brown brows lifted toward his hair.  “Dunsmore?”

            The Indian nodded.  He spoke slowly, with deliberation, almost as if he were watching it all happen, that very minute, before his eyes.  “We were going to turn the valley red with the Long Knives blood.  Cornstalk abandoned the villages north of the place called Point Pleasant before Lord Dunsmore arrived, and attacked while the Shemanese forces were weak and divided.  We fought on the point of land known by the Wyandot as ‘tu-endie-wie’ or ‘the point between two waters’.  The battle raged all day.  At times we held the upper hand, but eventually the Shemanese firepower proved superior.”  Chiksika fell silent for a moment.  “Two hundred and thirty of my brothers were killed or wounded that day.”

            “Including your father.”

            He nodded but said nothing.

            “Does Tecumseh know all of this?”

            Chiksika turned to him with a frown.  “Yes.  Why?”

            Dan was thinking of Mingo – Lord Dunsmore’s son.  “Just thinkin’ of my own boy,” he answered, feeling dishonest, “and what he would do if I was killed.  I would hope Israel would be a big enough man to not seek cold, mindless revenge.”

            Chiksika’s wry smile returned.  “Is that a challenge, Mr. Boone?”

            “Daniel.  And no, not really.  I just think good men are bigger than the need for revenge. And I think you are a good man, Chiksika.”

            The Indian drew his blanket into a pillow and laid his head on it.  “You do not know me, Daniel.”  And with that he fell silent and was soon asleep.

            Dan did the same with his blanket and then lay down.  As he too fell asleep, he lay studying the other man.

            “Oh, I think I do.”

 

                                                                                               ###

 

            Mingo sat quietly beneath a tree, watching the various comings and goings of the British and strange Indians about him.  Israel slept at his side, leaning on his left arm.  Now that they were on the road their captors had not parted them.  Israel remained free, but the soldiers had bound Mingo tightly when they stopped to rest, tying his hands and feet and looping the end of the rope about his neck so that if he even shifted to ease the pain, it drew tight as a noose.

            In many ways a noose was tightening about all of them.  Their party was not far away from Chota.  Captain Oldwine had visited him, reminding him that if his loyalty to England proved a pretense, Daniel Boone’s son’s life would be the price of the charade.  Mingo was not certain what he would do.  He knew his word carried weight with Menewa.  If he did as he was told – if he pretended to favor a war and found no way to alert his uncle to the pretense – it would happen.

There were more than enough young men in his tribe who lusted for the ‘long knives’ blood and a reason to shed it.

Mingo glanced at Israel where he slept.  The boy was here with him now.  Safe as he could be.  But once they actually entered Chota, leaving Israel behind, he could no longer protect him.  That left only one choice.  They had to escape.  Somehow, before the sun set on this day he had to find a way to free himself, to free Israel, and to spirit them both away.

Choking back a groan as he shifted and the rope cut into his throat, Mingo closed his eyes and did something he had not done in a very long time.

He prayed.

Talota had taught him.  Menewa had shown him.  Even his father and the great impersonal cathedrals of England had only served to reinforce the fact that there was a personal god – a power greater than man.  Now he called out to it, desperate to save not himself but Daniel Boone’s small son.

A few seconds later the small form beside him stirred.  Israel blinked and sat up.  “Mingo?” he murmured.

Mingo’s eyes opened.  He turned toward the boy.  “Yes, Israel?”

As he rubbed his eyes, the boy asked, “Did you hear somethin’?”

Mingo shook his head.  “What?”

Israel frowned.  “A whistle?  Or maybe a bird singin’?”

Instantly Mingo was alert.  His dark eyes searched the clearing, noting the arrangement of the soldiers, the small contingent of Chickamauga preoccupied with tossing sticks and bones for money; the shadow of Captain Oldwine and his sergeant cast on the hide wall of the officer’s tent.   “What kind of a bird, Israel?”

“Sounded like a lark.”  Israel scrunched up his nose.  “But they ain’t supposed to sing at night?  Are they?”

“Hush, Israel!  Go to sleep.”  Mingo nodded toward a pair of soldiers who were approaching them.  Israel understood.  He laid his head down and gave a masterful performance of snoring.  As he waited for the soldiers to pass, Mingo listened for the repetition of whatever it was Israel had heard.

And was rewarded with a familiar sound.

“You hear it this time, Mingo?” Israel whispered against his arm.

Mingo nodded.  He spoke with his teeth gritted to keep his lips still.  “Yes.  Apparently your father arrived home earlier than was expected.”

Israel’s tiny fingers gripped his.  “That’s my Pa,” he said with pride.

 

                                                                                      ### 

 

But it wasn’t.  It was Yadkin.

Moments later a familiar voice spoke from close behind him.  “You sure you ain’t wearin’ somethin’ that attracts trouble, Cher-o-kee?  Or have the British developed a powerful attraction for…”  Yadkin sniffed and stifled a sneeze.  “Bear grease?”

“Yad….”  Mingo warned.

“I know.  Shut up and start workin’ the rope.”

Mingo felt Yadkin’s fingers on his wrists.  A moment later the rope was loose and the tension on his neck eased.  He held back a cough.  “Is Daniel here?” he whispered, his eyes on the soldiers who had passed and now crouched, huddled before the fire.

“Nope.  He’s been makin’ new Injun friends since you’ve been…tied up,” Yad answered.  “Some young Shawnee warrior named Chiksika.  Brother of the young’un what almost drowned.  The two of them went after the boy.”

Mingo’s eyes flicked to Israel.  Dan had not come to rescue his son?  What could that mean?  “Daniel is not here?”

“Dan’l thinks the British been watchin’ Boonesborough – ”

Mingo nodded.  Now he understood.  “They have been.”

Yad’s hands went to the knot at the back of his neck.  “Then he was right to fear for the women.”

Everyone is in danger, Yad.  They mean to kill Tecumseh and leave his body for his kinsmen to find, somewhere near the fort.  It will mean open warfare between the settlement and the Shawano– ”

“Mingo?”

Israel was tugging at his arm.  “Yes, Israel?” Mingo asked with a frown.

The boy nodded toward the fire.  “Someone’s comin’.”

“Yad!  Put the ropes back in place!”  Mingo straightened his head against the trunk he was bound to even as Captain Oldwine exited the tent and headed toward them.  The British Officer came to a halt and stood staring at him, a puzzled look on his face.

“It seems you might be telling me the truth after all, Murray,” he said.

Mingo did his best to hide his surprise.  “Oh?”

“You did not tell me that you had met in secret with your father this very year.  In these very woods, not long ago.”

“Yes….”

“You were seen in the Governor’s Palace as well.  Though with the frontiersman.  And other unsightly riff-raff.”

Mingo choked as the rope on his throat tightened sharply.  Yad must still be holding it.  Apparently the blond frontiersman had a problem with the British officer’s assessment of the inhabitants of Boonesborough.  “All in the plan,” Mingo said with a cough.  “To fool them into thinking I was on their side.”

“Mingo?” Israel asked, not understanding.

He could sense Israel’s confusion.  And perhaps Yad’s as well.

“The boy seems fond of you,” Oldwine said.  “As you are, I am sure, of him.”

The officer’s tone was menacing.  No, not now, he thought.  Not when we are so close.  “Yes….” Mingo said.

Captain Oldwine held up his hand and his sergeant snapped to attention.  “Gregory!  Take the boy!  Put him where we agreed.”

“Leave him alone!” Mingo shouted as the man stepped forward.

“Why?  Is he not the son of your enemy?”

Mingo snarled.  “He is a child!”

Oldwine laughed.  “Little rebels grow into big ones.  If you catch a cancer when it is small, it can be cut out.  Wait, and….”

Israel shouted and struggled as he was drawn to his feet, but the burly sergeant was more than a match for him.  Soon he was in the man’s arms and being borne away.  Captain Oldwine watched until the pair disappeared and then turned back to Mingo.

“Tomorrow we will reach your village.  Then we will see where your loyalties lie.”

As the captain moved away, Mingo sank back against the tree trunk.  “Yad,” he

 

whispered when he thought he dared.

 

“Yep?” came his reply.

 

“Follow Israel.”

“What about you?  What’s gonna happen when they find out you lied?”  Yad paused.  “You are lyin’, ain’t you?  You don’t hold with those Lobsterbacks?”

“Yad….” Mingo protested.  He closed his eyes in anger.

Would they never trust him?

“Sorry, Mingo.  But what are you gonna do?”

“What will I do?”  Mingo shrugged as he heard Yadkin rise to his feet in preparation of moving away.

“Tomorrow is as good a day to die as any other.”

 

 - Continued in Seven -