Panther Crosses the Sky

Chapter Ten

 

             The day was almost gone.  Becky sighed as she shifted on the military cot the British soldiers had supplied her with.  Tecumapease was already asleep.  Cool as always the Indian woman, knowing she needed her rest, had dropped off right away.  Becky had paced for a while and then, realizing that her pacing was probably troubling to her companion, had crawled into the bed, drawn her legs up, and sat there – staring at the blank wall.

Unexpectedly the tent flap was lifted and a slender native woman entered dressed in a long blue blouse and a hide skirt with moccasin boots.  Becky had seen her before when they were being escorted back from Captain Oldwine’s tent.  She and two other women had been delivering washed linens to some of the soldiers.  She was a beautiful young woman, but very sad.

“Hello,” Becky said.

“Do you have need of anything, Mrs. Boone?”

“My home.  My children.  My husband.”  Becky’s smile was wistful.  “Freedom.”

The young woman looked almost frightened.  “I can give you none of those.  They are not mine to give.”

“I know,” Becky apologized as she slipped her feet over the side of the cot and stood.  “I am sorry.  It’s not your fault.  Forgive me.”

The woman hesitated.  Then she nodded and walked toward the bed.  After depositing several clean linen cloths on the washstand beside it, she turned to go.

“It seems you know my name, but I don’t know yours.  What are you called?” Becky asked abruptly, stopping her.

“Why do you care?”

Becky’s reply was solemn.  “You seem as much a prisoner here as I am.”

The young woman’s fingers clutched the edge of the basket she held.  She looked up and met Becky’s eyes.  It was obvious this was not an action she chanced very often.  In her brown eyes was the record of years of subjugation and fear.

“Will you give me your name?” Becky asked again.

“Nokisi,” the woman answered after a second’s pause.

“Nokisi?”  Becky frowned.  “But that is Cherokee, isn’t it?  For Meadowlark?  Are you Cherokee?”

The brown eyes were quickly averted.  “No more,” she answered.  Two words revealing a deep well of pain.

Becky knew the Shawnee – and the Cherokee – often raided villages and took members of other tribes to fill in for the losses in their own.  Nokisi must be such a captive.  Married no doubt to a Shawnee man.  She reached out and touched her arm.  “I am sorry.”

Nokisi pulled away.  “I must go.”

Becky hesitated, then just as the woman reached the door she called after her.  She had to know.  “Do you know a man named Cara-Mingo?  The son of Menewa’s sister, Talota?”

The Indian woman’s body went rigid.  She pivoted – fear and wonder mixed on her troubled but lovely face.  “Cara-Mingo?”

“He is a dear friend of mine.  Do you have any word of him?  Is he here?”

A gruff voice spoke something from just without the tent.  Nokisi answered in the Shawnee tongue.  Then she moved close to Becky.  “I told the guard you needed help undoing your pins.  Turn and let me work at them.  He will not hesitate to look in.”

Becky had not taken her dress off, thinking she might have to run at any minute.  She lifted her hair and turned her back to the young woman.

As Nokisi’s trembling hand began to pull out the pins, the young woman spoke quickly.  “I met Cara-Mingo several days ago by the river.  He was on his way to the village of my husband.  He told me Tecumseh lived and asked that I bring Chiksika and Tecumapease to meet him.  Mingo never showed.  Instead we met your husband.”

“And Dan sent Tecumapease to tell me what had happened,” Becky nodded.  “But what happened to Mingo?”

“He was taken by the British.  Along with two boys.  Tecumseh.  And a small Shemanese with white hair.”

Becky’s heart leapt and then sunk to the bottom of her stomach.  “Israel!  That’s my son.  Where is he now?”

Nokisi hesitated.  “In Chota.”

Becky whirled to look at her.  What?”

“They escaped, but were captured again.  One of the men brought word not long ago.”  Nokisi looked toward the other bed where Tecumapease lay.  The Indian woman was sleeping no longer but was sitting on the edge watching them.  “Your son, Mrs. Boone, and your friend, as well as Tecumapease’s brother – all are prisoners of the man, Oldwine, in the village of Chota.  And Mingo….”

“What?”  Becky caught her arm.  “He isn’t – ?”

Nokisi shook her head.  “Not yet.  But he is to be shot at dawn.”

The gruff voice spoke again and a hand lifted the flap.  The young woman replied to his call and then pulled free.  “I must go.”

“You have to help us get out of here!”  Becky’s whisper was fierce.

 “I can do nothing.”

“You can choose to do nothing.  And good men will die.”  Tecumapease joined them.  Her tone was abrupt, but it was obvious she didn’t care.

Nokisi looked from one to the other. She shook her head.  And with tears streaming down her cheeks, she turned and fled the tent.

Becky looked at her companion.  “What do you think?”

“She has been among my people since she was a young girl, and yet she does not belong.

“She will return.”

 

                                                                                 ###

 

As Daniel Boone stood on a small rise watching the sun set, an inexplicable sense of urgency settled on him.  He couldn’t put a name to it, or a reason, but he knew he had to keep moving.  He couldn’t sleep – couldn’t rest until he found his son and the other boy.

And Mingo.

Returning to the continental camp, he informed Benjamin Blankenship of his decision.

“Daniel, the men must rest.  We have marched and been through battle on very little food.  They will make mistakes if they are not given time to recoup.”

“I’m not askin’ for men.  I just ain’t restin’ myself.  I’d feel,” Dan hesitated, “like I was tryin’ to sleep on a hill filled with ants.  Ain’t no way I could.”

“But to let you run off alone would be counter to my orders.  You are important to the war effort.”

“So is Mingo.  And he’s in danger.”

The Major-general shifted in his chair.  “Who told you this?”

Dan grinned grimly.  “The little hairs standin’ at attention on the back of my neck.”

“Daniel.  Those ‘little hairs’ hold little weight compared to a direct order from General Washington.  I was to provide you with an escort if you set out on any sort of….”  Blankenship hesitated.

“Hare-brained search?”

“Well, I would have put it more politely.”

“Well, then,” a rough voice proclaimed from the doorway of the army tent, “you can foller your orders and turn him free!  Daniel’s escort has arrived!”

Dan and Benjamin pivoted sharply.  As Dan’s grin widened, the Major-general cleared his throat and asked, “I take it this…ruffian is a friend of yours, Captain Boone?”

“Friend, bite yo’r tongue!  I ain’t a friend of that thar mountain-high spindly-legged critter no more than I’d be a friend to a Redcoat caught in a quicksand bog.”  Yadkin frowned mightily, then he grinned and threw his hat in the air.  “Dag blame it!  If I ain’t glad to see you alive!”

Dan stepped up and linked hands with the haggard and bedraggled blond.   “Same here, Yad.”  He glanced behind the blond man, but saw the doorway was empty.  “Now, where’s my son?”

“Well, Dan’l, you better sit down.  I got a tale to tell….”

            When Yad had finished telling it, Dan sat stroking his chin, thinking.  The British soldier Yadkin had brought to the camp had been persuaded to tell them what was going on – or at least what he knew of it.  It seemed the scheme had first been to use Mingo, and then Tecumseh to start a war.  Oldwine had hoped to draw the fort and the townspeople into it. Now, with that hope gone, there was a hint of another plan – one the soldier had only heard rumor of.  Apparently captain Oldwine had Tecumseh’s panther tooth necklace.  The scheming British officer intended to lay what had happened to the boy at Mingo’s feet.  Whether Tecumseh was alive or not, the Shawanoese would soon be at war with the Cherokee.  The fire would be lit and the powder keg would soon ignite throwing the whole region into war.

            Not if he could help it.

            “Daniel,” Benjamin Blankenship asked quietly.  “What are you going to do?”

            Dan rose to his feet.  He clapped a hand on each man’s shoulder.  Then he said, “I got a plan.”

            Yadkin moaned.  “Dad burn it, Dan’l.  Don’t you always?”

 

                                                                                              ###

 

            From his position tied to the center post of the tent, Mingo watched with trepidation as the sun rose in the eastern sky and dawned on the day of his death.  It was not that he was afraid to die – he had faced that fear and buried it long ago.  It was knowing that his death would be used to bring about the deaths of so many others – so much bloodshed, so much grief.  That was what he feared, and what made his mixed blood boil with anger at his father’s – and his mother’s people.  Talota had hoped that he would be able to bridge the gap between them in some way.  That he would be able to be a part of both and bring some understanding of one to the other.

            He did not even understand himself.  In this dream of her dead mother, he was a failure.

            At least the fear he had felt for Israel had abated.  Mingo did not think Oldwine intended to harm the boy.  At least, not now.  If fire and destruction came to Boonesborough, Israel and Jemima and all the other children would die.  But Oldwine would not be directly responsible.  Tecumseh he still feared for, though the boy might not survive to find whatever fate awaited him at British hands.  The native boy was gravely ill with a fever.

            Perhaps the dawn would find their spirits rising to the other world together.

            Mingo heard the clank of metal and solid footsteps outside the tent door.  An armed guard entered through the open flap.  One tall soldier stepped forward and unfurled a scroll and began to read from it the list of his many transgressions – in the old world and the new.  Mingo rose to his feet to face them.  The irony of it was – most were true.  In the Crown’s eyes, he did deserve death.

            “Do you have anything to say in response to the charges?” the young man asked.

            Mingo shook his head.  “The boy – Israel,” he asked.  “He is not to witness this.  Is he?”  It was one thing he feared.

            “You will have to take that up with the Captain.”

            “I see.”

            “But….”  The soldier hesitated.  “It is not the usual procedure.”

            Mingo nodded.  The soldier was old enough to have a son of his own.  “Thank you.”

            With a curt nod, the young man rolled the scroll up and turned sharply on his heel.  “Bring him!” he snapped as he exited the door.

            Mingo’s hands were untied and he was gripped by both arms and dragged forward.  As they exited the tent, he blinked.  Then he smiled.  It was a glorious day.  Birds were singing.  The sky overhead was a canvas painted with blue and pink, accented with gold.  There was a gentle, welcoming breeze. 

            “What have you got to smile about, savage?” one of the soldiers prodded.  “You’re about to die.”

            The smile broadened.  “And it is a very good day to do so.”

 

                                                                                           ###

 

“There he is, Dan’l!  Look!”

            Daniel Boone shifted in the leafy foliage that blanketed the edge of the Cherokee village and did as he was told.  Mingo was there.  He looked tired, but he was alive. 

Though in a spot of trouble.

“I see him, Yad.  What’s he got?  Four men with him?”

“Five if you count the peacock strutting ahead.”

Dan turned toward the center of the village where a pole had been erected.  There was quite a crowd gathered around it.  Most were Shawnee or British.  Menewa was there – in restraints.  The majority of the Cherokee townsfolk were being held in the caves east of the village.  Not all cared for Mingo, but few would stand by and see him executed.  Besides, trapping them there would make the British soldier’s job easier when it came to turning a blind eye to the Shawnee’s retribution.

Blackfish was there to.  Dan wished he could just step out and talk to the old man.  But it would be his word against the proof the chief held in his hand – Tecumseh’s necklace.

“You see Chiksika yet?” Yad whispered softly as he gripped his gun.

The native was supposed to have rounded the village to take up a position on the opposite side, along with several soldiers Blankenship had relented and allowed to travel with them.  It was their job to find Israel – and Tecumseh.  “No.  But he’s there.  He’s a good man.”

“I know.”  Yad fell silent for a minute.  “Where you think they have the boys?”

“Oldwine’s tent.  It’s what I’d do.  Keep ‘em close.”

“That the one with the smoke comin’ out of it?”  Yad indicated the direction with the barrel of his rifle.

“Yep.”  And that troubled Dan.  It was a warm day.  The smoke might indicate a healer was at work.  Tecumseh might not be doing so good.

“Dan’l, look.”  Yad indicated the center of the village and the pole.  Soldiers were tying Mingo to it.  And the firing squad was moving into place.  “We gotta do somethin’!”

Dan nodded.  He primed Ticklicker and rose to his feet.  “We’ll just have to go in rifle’s blazin’.  Chiksika’s men should join us as soon as they hear – ”

Yad’s hand gripped his arm and held him back as he moved into the leaves.  “Wait a minute, Dan’l.  Look!”

The flap to Oldwine’s tent had opened and a figure had emerged, carrying a child.  It was Chiksika with Tecumseh.  Israel trailed after them, alive, but somewhat subdued.

“Dear God,” Dan breathed.

“Is that Injun just plain dumb?” Yad asked.

Dan shook his head.  “No.  Just plain brave.  Come on, Yad!”

As they broke through the cover and jogged toward the circle of warriors and soldiers, chaos broke loose.  Captain Oldwine yelled orders, one of which was ‘Shoot!’  Menewa struggled with his guards and managed to knock one of them to the ground.  Several British soldiers and a handful of Chickamauga advanced toward Chiksika but, as he walked, Shawnee warriors surrounded him, providing him and his small brother with both an honor guard and protection.

Dan noticed as the party of Shawnee drew to a halt that Tecumseh was awake.  The pale emaciated native boy clung to his brother’s neck.  Chiksika kept walking and did not stop until he stood in front of Blackfish.  Then he spoke a word to his brother.  Tecumseh nodded and was lowered to the ground.  The boy wobbled, but did not fall and walked the last few feet to Blackfish’s side under his own power.  Once there he held his hand out for his totem.

Captain Oldwine attempted to interfere but was quickly subdued by several large Shawnee and silenced.  His men fell back, uncertain of what fate awaited them and a few of the Redcoats actually tried to run but were quickly captured.  Dan looked across the crowd and sought Mingo.  The Cherokee showed no fear, as he had expected.  But Mingo’s face was curious, as his was.

What would the boy say?

Tecumseh turned slowly in a circle, facing each man there.  He looked from Captain Oldwine to Menewa, then to Blackfish, and finally to the angry Bellowingsnake who lingered on the edge of the crowd, drawn there by the commotion.  Then he pointed to each one in turn.

“This then is the enemy,” he said.  Pointing at Oldwine he added, “It is greed for power.  The need to rule what one has no right to rule.”  Moving on to Menewa he said, “It is fear, believing the worst of one you do not know.”  Aiming his finger at Bellowingsnake, he went on, “The enemy is blind hatred.  Hatred that drives one to destroy without cause.”  Then he walked up to his own chief – to his adopted father.  “And my second Father, it is rash deeds.  The enemy is taking the word of one who speaks not truth, but the words one wants to hear.”  Tecumseh pointed at Mingo.  “This man saved my life.  And you would smile as he dies.”

As Blackfish hung his head, the boy turned and walked with measured steps toward Mingo.  He stopped in front of him and held out his hand.  In it was the panther totem.

“This is for you, my brother.  You are of my family now.”

Chiksika nodded and then moved to free Mingo even as a hush fell over the group gathered in the dawning light.  Dan crossed to Israel and the boy fell, exhausted, into his arms.  He hugged him tightly and then placed him on his shoulders.  With a nod to his friend, Dan turned to Blackfish, who was also his father.

Before he could speak, the old man said, “I am shamed.”

“You should be.”  Dan nodded to the Shawnee standing close, two young warriors he remembered from his time among the tribe.  “Let Menewa go.”

They looked to Blackfish who nodded.  “Do as he says,” the chief agreed, then he added, his voice darkening, “and bind the British officer and Bellowingsnake – and take their men.  Release the Cherokee!”

The cries of outrage of those so named were quickly silenced.  Within minutes no one stood in the town circle but Menewa and Blackfish, Daniel and Israel, Yadkin and Mingo, and Chiksika and his brother.  The Continental soldiers had volunteered to help the Cherokee restrain the prisoners, and those Shawnee who were not directly involved quickly faded into the woods.

Mingo moved to Menewa’s side.  The older man assured him that he was all right.  Then the two chiefs faced each other.  Chiksika stood near his own, his hand steadying Tecumseh who had refused to lie down.

“Today we have learned a lesson,” Menewa began.  “Brother must not turn against brother.  There is a common enemy.”

Blackfish nodded.  “But is that enemy the British?”  His eyes went to Dan and the others surrounding them.  “Or all Shemanese?”

“Let each man be judged on his own merit,” Mingo said. “Not because he is British, or Shemanese, or Shawanoese.  If good men do not band together, evil men will triumph.  Is that not right, Tecumseh?”

They all turned toward the boy who had brought them back to their senses.  He was laying on the ground, cradled in his brother’s arms.

 

             - Completed in the Epilogue -