Sins of the Father
by Marla F. Fair
He and Daniel were forced to travel slowly. With the litter, there was little chance the journey would reopen James’ wound, but the ground they covered was rough and, when the boy was conscious each jostle, every jolt and lurch made him cry out in pain.
Each cry was a stab of a blade through Mingo’s heart.
As they walked beside the pony he had to remind himself that both of the worlds of which he was a part had taught him the same thing – that suffering and pain, endured and overcome, in time produce character and wisdom. His uncle, Menewa, had told him this, as well as his father. John Murray had often read to him as a child from the black leather book he carried near his heart, called the Bible.
What would he teach *his* son? Would he have the chance? Even if James recovered, there was always a possibility that the boy would want nothing to do with him – would reject him, even as he had rejected his own father.
Mingo was not used to being afraid.
And he was, afraid.
They had stopped to rest. The sun which had warmed them and walked with them through the day had descended and night was fast approaching. With it came a brisk wind heralding a change. Clouds rushed in to fill the sky. Mingo only hoped that they would reach the sanctuary of Chota before the heavens opened and the rain poured down. James could not afford to be soaked.
Daniel sat across the fire from him sipping a hot cup of coffee. The fire was a necessity, even though they knew it advertised their position to the predators that walked the land - both four and two-legged. So far they had seen no sign of the wounded Billings, but Mingo had a sense that he was near. Watching. Waiting for an opportunity to strike. He had used the fire to brew a medicinal tea and forced a few drops of it between James’ parched lips. But the boy had little appetite. Bit by bit, it seemed his son was choosing to draw closer to the next world rather than clinging to the one of which he was now a part.
“Mingo.” His friend spoke, drawing his attention.
“What is it, Daniel?”
“I know you’re not a man who wants to talk much about his past – ”
Mingo laughed before he could finish. “*I* may not be, but it seems my past has no intention of honoring my wishes. First my father reappears, and then Tara. Now, Catherine through James.” He shook his head. “And all within one year.”
“Did you run away from somethin’? I mean, is that why you’re here in Kentucky, instead of back in England?”
“Am I coward, do you mean?” Mingo asked with a wry smile.
“Well, in a way the term *might* apply, though what forced me back was an act of bravery worthy of the young, and not cowardice.” He thought of Star and Arrowkeeper, and of how he had risked everything to set the two natives free – his father’s wrath, and the loss of the position and power he had thought he wanted. Rachel…. “Still, I admit, I came here in part to hide. To disappear. To pretend Kerr Murray never existed.” He leaned back. “It does not seem that fate, or the gods, are willing to allow that to happen.”
“What will you tell him when he wakes?” Dan blew on the hot liquid in his cup and took another sip. “James, I mean.”
Mingo shook his head. “I do not know. The truth, I suppose, though the truth will hurt. I only hope that I can make him believe me when I tell him I did not know of his existence.”
“What would you have done if you had?”
The question took him by surprise. What *would* he have done? Would he have married Catherine? Would he have been allowed to? And if he had, would he still be in London fulfilling the role of the dutiful son? And maybe have died on a battlefield in the Seven Years’ War as so many of his contemporaries had done? Or, would he, as his father had, have paid Catherine off and then gone on to another mistress to create another bastard child?
It made him shiver.
“You cold, Mingo?”
“I think someone just walked over my grave,” he answered, hugging himself. “Who would I have been if I had known and remained behind in England? Why, you and I might have met as enemies on a battlefield, Daniel. And perhaps killed one another.”
Dan nodded, slowly, thinking about it. “Mingo, I know you don’t embrace your father’s religion….”
“But I respect it.”
“I know, as I respect your beliefs. But the Good Book tells us that there is a purpose to each life. I think what happened to you was for a purpose, as well as what’s happened to James.”
Mingo raised an eyebrow. “It is a hard purpose to see. My son, reared by the likes of Marcus Saynsberry, never knowing his father would have loved him if only he could.”
“I asked you before, about *your* father….”
“Yes, and I have thought about it. Perhaps he did feel the same way. I know, when we spoke, that he indicated he did what he thought was best. John Murray could see no other path for me than the one which he had walked.”
“And yet, you chose another path.”
Mingo nodded. “Yes.”
“If James survives, I want you to promise me that you’ll remember that.”
Dan was looking straight at him. “What are you thinking, Daniel? That I would force James to walk the path I have chosen? To chose to leave England and all it holds behind?”
“Well, what *do* you expect of him?”
Woe be to the man who misinterpreted Daniel Boone’s slow way of speaking and his simple speech for ignorance. Like a whetted knife, his words cut to the chase. Mingo smiled as he contemplated the reaction of a group of wise and scholarly Oxford dons pinned in a corner by the astute vision of this tall, lanky frontiersman.
Finally he answered his friend’s question *with* a question. “You have a son, Daniel. What do you expect of him?”
“Is’rul? Why, I expect him to be just like me. To spend his life breathin’ the fresh air and workin’ the land. To blaze new trails. To marry a red-headed woman and settle down and have a half-dozen kids. That’s what I expect.” The lop-sided grin appeared. “Probably ain’t what I’ll get, but it’s what I expect.”
Mingo nodded. “I promise I will strive my best to accept the fact that James is not me.” He paused and then added sourly, “I just pray he is not Marcus Saynsberry as well.”
“I got the feelin’ you two didn’t quite take a cotton to one another. What’s the boy’s mother like?”
“Catherine?” He frowned as he tried to recall. “Brown-haired like Marcus. Beautiful. Intelligent, with a rapier-sharp wit. I remember she had a habit of curling her hair around her finger just behind her ear.”
Dan waited. “Is that it?”
Mingo concentrated harder. “Catherine composed songs. We would perform for her mother at times. Once in a while my father would attend.” He shrugged, chagrinned. “I am not proud to admit it, but it was a flirtation, Daniel. A child’s dream of love. I barely knew her well enough to mourn her.”
“Mourn her?” Dan asked as he tossed the remainder of his coffee into the grass. “Is she dead?”
“Marcus said if she is not yet, she soon will be.” He rose then and crossed to James’ side. The boy had fallen silent, his battle against the fever that raged within him requiring all his strength. Mingo knelt at his side and took his son’s hand in his. “They may journey together soon.”
Daniel rose and followed him. His friend said little, but remained at Mingo’s side as he bathed the boy’s face and neck with cool water and laid a fresh compress on his forehead. When he was done, Daniel touched his shoulder and waited until he looked up.
“I’ll take the first watch, Mingo. You look exhausted. Get some sleep.”
Mingo shook his head. “No….”
“Think of the boy. If you’re tired, you’ll make mistakes. And this wilderness ain’t kind enough to forgive them.”
Bowing to the frontiersman’s greater wisdom, Mingo laid down close beside the pallet that held his son’s ravaged body. As Daniel dropped a blanket across him, he closed his eyes and sought the restful sleep his friend wished for him.
But it would not come.
Instead his sleep was a nightmare filled with visions of youthful expectations dashed, of grief and loss and regret. He watched his mother die again, and saw himself begging her not to send him away from the People he loved. He saw his father come for him, and endured again the endless torment of the long sea voyage and his first days adrift in the vast stone and brick sea that was London, England. And then he felt, with a pain that would have killed a lesser man, the horror of the day he realized he could not remember his mother’s face or her People without shame – the day he became an Englishman and killed the Cherokee, swearing Cara-Mingo would never live again. The day he vowed he would drown out the cries of his native forefathers and mothers in pleasure, excess and reckless living – almost as if he challenged the fates to end his confused existence before he could find the courage to end it himself.
Mingo awoke with tears streaming down his cheeks just as the sun crested the horizon.
The first thing he did was to check on James. His son’s condition had not changed. He bathed the boy again and then traded places with Daniel and sat in the stillness of the dawning morn, contemplating the new day and what it would bring.
They arrived at Chota just as a gentle rain began to fall, nourishing the land and encouraging all of the small green things that were pushing up toward its surface to grow and thrive. As they walked into the Cherokee village, Dan noticed that the native men, women, and children were leaving their lodges and lean-tos to stand in silence, lining their route. He had noticed before that Mingo’s people often seemed to know about something before they were told, that the Cherokee had a sense of what was happening around them that went beyond anything a white man could begin to understand. As they continued to walk, dragging the litter and James behind them, no one said a word. It was as if they knew the boy stood with one foot out – and one foot in the grave.
Mingo brought his pony to a halt outside his uncle’s lodge, angling the litter so it rested beneath a lean-to attached to the branch and mud structure. Menewa was a powerful man in his mid-fifties and the current chief of Chota, as well as being brother to Mingo’s mother, Talota. The older man emerged from his home and greeted his nephew with a warm hug.
“Cara-Mingo, long has it been since you have come and shared our fires,” he said, drawing back.
Mingo nodded. “Forgive me, Uncle. Many things have happened to me in the last so many moons that have prevented my attending the councils and sitting at my uncle’s side.”
Menewa’s keen dark eyes turned to Dan. “Daniel Boone,” he said, acknowledging him with a nod.
Dan returned the greeting. “Menewa. I bring you greetings from Boonesborough and from my family. And thank you for your keeping the peace, as well as loanin’ me your nephew from time to time.” He finished with a smile.
The older man smiled in return, and then moved past him to look at the forlorn figure on the litter. Menewa knelt and touched the boy’s face and then, closing his eyes, laid a hand on his chest and lowered his head. As the children of the village grew curious and gathered around the litter, the older man remained still – as if there was no one in the world but him and Mingo’s son.
Finally he stirred. Menewa rose and came to stand directly in front of Mingo. “This one has traveled far already, Cara-Mingo. The journey back will be long. *If* he chooses to return.”
Mingo nodded. “The white man’s medicine has condemned him to die, my Chief,” he said. “I ask that Galunadi be allowed to care for him.”
Galunadi was the village’s priest or healer. The white men called them ‘medicine men’. Mingo had spoken of him with reverence, though Dan had never met the man personally.
Menewa was silent a moment. “This boy is not one of the People. Our ways are not his ways. The healing magic may not work if he does not believe.”
“My honored uncle, I am forced to disagree,” Mingo said formally. “He *is* one of the People. He is my son.”
Dan couldn’t recall ever seeing the stoic Menewa surprised. He was seeing it now.
Menewa had turned to look at the boy. “Your son? Cara, how is this possible?”
“A blessing, uncle. A gift – one of which I am not worthy.”
“And who is his mother?”
“An English woman,” Mingo answered without hesitation. Dan knew what the answer meant. In the Cherokee world a man’s descent came through his mother. If your mother was Cherokee – no matter who or what your father was - *you* were Cherokee. He wasn’t sure what it meant when the mother was a white woman. And whether or not James would be accepted.
“Then this happened when you were in England. When you were your *father’s* son,” Menewa said, his tone indicating he knew – not surprisingly – much more of Mingo’s past than Dan did.
“It is true that Lord Dunsmore’s blood flows in these veins, my uncle, as well as in my son’s.” Mingo held his arms out before him, palms upward. “But Talota’s blood flows there as well, intermingled with the white man’s. I ask that you allow Galunadi to care – not for John Murray’s grandchild – but Talota’s. And for *your* grand-nephew.”
Menewa remained silent for some time. Then he turned and spoke to one of the warriors who stood beside him, sending him for the healer. Then he faced Mingo again.
“What is the boy’s name?” Menewa asked.
“James. James Murray.”
Menewa knelt by the James again. He removed a strand of beads from around his own neck and gently lifted the boy’s head in order to place them about James’ throat. Then the chief of the Cherokee of Chota caught the eye of one of the young women who was standing close by, watching. “Bring me clean cloth,” he told her.
Dan had seen a little of their healing rituals before, when Mingo had come back to his people after being injured. The beads and cloth would be used by the healer or priest to divine what was wrong with the boy. Since James had none of his own, Menewa’s gift was a great one. In essence he was recognizing the boy as a part of his family and – by doing it in public – was telling the tribe that he had done so.
Within a few minutes Galunadi appeared. Without speaking a word, the old man went to Mingo’s son and knelt at this side. He took the beads from James’ neck and held two of them between his thumbs and forefingers and then closed his eyes. Outside the lean-to the spring rain continued to gently water the earth. About them the scent of renewed life arose. Dan hoped that meant that Galunadi would have a favourable reading. He had learned that if he didn’t, the beads and cloth would be returned to Menewa and nothing more would be done for the boy.
They all watched the old man closely. Galunadi’s lips moved in prayer as he continued to turn the beads with his fingers. He remained just so for perhaps five minutes. Then he placed one hand on James’ head and the other over the boy’s heart. A few more words were whispered and then the elderly healer rose to his feet and turned to Menewa.
“Bring him to my lodge.”
The healer’s work might last for seven days. If, after that time, there was no improvement, the Cherokee believed there were multiple causes for the illness and what Galunadi did to help James – if anything – might have to be changed or reviewed.
Dan doubted if the boy failed to improve in a week that there would be anything *anyone* could do.
After moving the boy into the healer’s lodge, Mingo had excused himself and gone with Menewa into his uncle’s home. Dan was sure the two of them had a lot to talk about. He spent his day moving about the Cherokee village renewing old acquaintances, lending a hand where he could, and enjoying a few contests with the young warriors of Chota. As the day drew to a close and he drew near Menewa’s lodge, Dan couldn’t help but grin. He’d won every one – shooting, running, and knife-throwing – teaching the hot-headed, prideful young men of the tribe not to judge a book by its cover – or a man by his skin.
Mingo must have sensed his arrival, for as he came near the blanket-covered opening of the lodge, he emerged. Dan hadn’t been certain whether to look for him here, or at the healer’s place. His Cherokee friend looked exhausted.
“Mingo, is everything all right?” Dan hadn’t heard anything, but he would not have been surprised to find the boy had passed away.
“James still lives, if that is what you mean.”
“Have you seen him recently?”
Mingo nodded. “Galunadi prays for the coldest waters to come and cool the fever, and to ease his discomfort.”
He’d seen it with Mingo. The boy would be laid in the middle of the healer’s lodge, naked, but covered with skins. Galunadi would not only pray, but seek to suck the poison from the boy’s wound, and then work to heal the injury the lead ball had made by applying the juice of hickory and other healing plants to it. If James recovered, he would be required to fast and pray for four days for the healing to be complete.
“He’s in good hands,” Dan said simply.
Mingo looked a little surprised at his admission. “Yes, he is. Which brings me to another thing.”
“What’s that?” Dan asked.
“A wise woman of the tribe, the daughter of the old woman, Cornbeater, has come to tell us of a vision. She is with Menewa now.”
Dan remembered Cornbeater. “A vision?”
“Yes. Of a man in a deep blue hunting frock, limping. A man who will bring death and destruction to the People.” Mingo paused. “Because of me.”
“Marriage is a sacred thing to my people, Daniel. And children, a blessing from the one who created us, to be honored and cherished.”
And spoiled sometimes, Dan mused. Or at least it seemed so to the white man’s eyes.
“Premarital…activities are frowned upon, and often believed to bring about ill fortune.”
A smallpox epidemic had almost destroyed Mingo’s People about thirty years before. Dan knew the priests had blamed it on their young people’s wicked ways.
“So, what does this mean, Mingo?” Dan asked.
His friend sighed. “Much as I am loathe to leave James, even though there is little I can do but sit and hold his hand, I must seek out Billings and make certain he cannot harm my People….” Mingo met his gaze. “Or anyone else’s.”
“I’ll come with you.”
Mingo shook his head. “I must go alone. The fault…the ‘sin’ is mine. You should return home, Daniel. To your own.”
“Billings is a threat to me and mine too, Mingo. How are you goin’ to stop me if I just up and decide to hunt him down?”
The tall Cherokee stared at him and then a slight smile lifted the corner of his upper lip. “Well, it is a *vast* forest. What are the odds, after all, that we would stumble into one another?”
“Most paths lead to that high hill with the crown of trees,” Dan said quietly, “but I imagine we can manage to steer clear of that.”
Mingo laughed. “Indeed.” Then he quickly sobered. “The night, for me, will be spent in preparation for the hunt. And in atonement…. You are welcome to stay – ”
Dan hefted Ticklicker and balanced her on his shoulder. “I think I’ll be on my way, Mingo. Do a little scoutin’, maybe some huntin’ while I’m in the area. First I’ll say my goodbyes to the chief, and then to James – if that’s all right with you and Galunadi.”
Mingo placed his hand on his shoulder. “My friend. Speak at the door, the healer will let you in. And may your God go with you.”
Dan placed his hand over Mingo’s and nodded. “And yours with you.”
The old priest was sitting outside the tent taking a little water and food when Dan arrived. It was obvious Mingo had put him on the ‘list’ of those allowed to enter. Galunadi simply nodded and had the young girl who attended him raised the blanket that covered the door to let him in.
James was lying in the middle of the floor as he expected, covered with skins. The boy was very pale and still. The room was hot, probably to try to bring the fever out of him, and beside him lay the paraphernalia of the healer’s trade – scratching instruments, a gourd rattle and dipper, a blowing tube. Dan knelt at his side and placed his hand on his forehead, to check the fever, and was surprised when the boy opened his eyes.
“Howdy, James,” he said quietly.
The boy licked his lips. “How do…you know my…name?”
“The letters you had on you. From your mother.”
James’ dark eyes closed. “Mother…” he whispered.
From the pain in the word, Dan assumed the boy knew she had been dying when he left.
“Do you know where you are, son?”
His eyes opened languidly. “No.”
Dan caught his hand in his own. “With friends. Things may seem strange here to you, but you’re bein’ cared for. Don’t be frightened by what you see, or anything that is done.” He paused. “Your father brought you here. It’s for the best.”
James young face looked pained. “My father….”
“These are his people, and they’re your people too. They’ll look after you.” He brushed some of the sweat-soaked hair back from the boy’s forehead. James was the image of his father other than the fact that his face was rounder and ended in a pointed almost pixyish chin. The dark eyes were the same. “Rest now, boy. Gather strength. We’d like to get to know you.”
James was already asleep. Dan disengaged his hand and rose to his feet. Then he turned and walked out the door and headed for Menewa’s tent to say his goodbyes.