Smoke

by Marla F. Fair

 

He had often remarked that fear was his friend.

This day, it was his enemy.

The raven-haired man drew a deep breath and looked at his companion. He was unconscious; the shaft of the arrow protruding from his shoulder. He turned back and remained still, watching as the advancing Shawnee warriors beat the bushes searching for them. Not for the first time that day, he missed Daniel's voice. The calm assurance. The grim humor in the face of insurmountable odds. He pressed his fingers against the blood-soaked fabric of the big man's shirt. His heart beat still. If he was fortunate, he would hear that voice again.

If not....

Unexpectedly, his friend moaned. Mingo touched his arm and whispered, "Daniel, you must remain quiet. Daniel...?"

The green eyes flickered open. "Mingo?"

"Daniel. Silence is of the essence." He nodded towards the green trees beyond. "The Shawnee...."

"Still planning on havin' a little party, are they?" Dan asked as he gritted his teeth and attempted to sit up. "With us as entertainment?"

The Cherokee's grin was hard won. "Or as the main course. Roasted nicely on a spit." He reached out and laid his hand on his friend's shoulder. "If you hadn't gotten in the way - "

"You'd be dead, Mingo. You know that."

His Indian friend looked at him. Anger flashed in the deep brown eyes. "You have a wife and a family. I have no one and nothing...."

"Mingo - "

His hand went up. "They are coming."

The two of them fell silent as the warriors advanced. Suddenly a strong wind swept through, rustling the tall grass and stirring the leaves on the trees. A second later there was a lightning strike and then the thunder boomed and rolled through the valley.

"That storms gonna hit," the frontiersman whispered as he pulled himself to his friend's side and peered through the bushes.

"Daniel, remain still. You will begin bleeding again...."

"Are the Shawnee superstitious about the thunder, like your people?"

Mingo sighed. "Will you ever learn to listen?"

A crooked smile lifted the corner of his lip. "Seein' as how I seem to do most of the talkin', I doubt it."

The thunder rumbled again, loud and long. Mingo rose up on his knees.

"Do you see them?"

The Cherokee hesitated, thinking it too good to be true. "No." He gripped his rifle with his long fingers. "Wait here. I will go see."

Dan shifted. "I'll just come with you...."

"You will not! Half the blood that should be in you is on the ground." His knuckles whitened. "Rebecca has told me you do not know the meaning of the word, 'no'. It is a negative, Daniel. Middle English, I believe. Chiefly Scottish. It means there will not be a discussion; you will remain here until I return."

As the big man watched, his friend disappeared into the brush. Dan closed his eyes and waited a moment, and then he rolled over so he could raise up onto his knees. Parting the grass, he searched for the Cherokee, but couldn't find him. Determined, he bit his lip and stood.

A moment later he was face-down on the ground.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"You are the most stubborn, obstinate pig-headed man I have ever encountered," Mingo growled as he wrapped his fingers about the shaft of the arrow. "This is going to hurt."

Dan's brown brows knit together. "I think you are enjoyin' this."

The Cherokee frowned as he drew a breath and closed his fingers. "And what would make you think a thing like that?"

"Oh, a glint in the eye. A twitch of the cheek." Dan sucked in air. "That Cherokee blood."

"You might be right."

"You still mad at me?"

The dark brow lifted. "Should I be?"

Dan frowned. "Well, I'd like to know before you pull that arrow out."

His friend paused. He shook his head. "Daniel, what you did was stupid and foolish. You could have been killed."

"Well, I wasn't."

Mingo nodded and drew back suddenly on the shaft, pulling it free. He watched as his friend's eyes lit with pain and then closed. Seconds later the big man slumped over onto the ground. The Cherokee reached out and brushed the brown hair from his furrowed forehead. "The battle is not over, my friend. Only time will tell."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dan opened an eye and noticed the strips of linen laying on the hard earth beside him. He looked up and saw his friend moving through the late afternoon shadows. It seemed Mingo had brought him to some sort of a natural alcove.Above his head there was a solid sheet of rock. Beyond it the rain fell like a gray curtain, masking the verdant Kentucky landscape. He cleared his throat.

The dark head turned.

Dan nodded towards the bandages. "You fixin' to bind my wound, or tie me down?"

Mingo came to his side. "Rebecca packed them. I will have to remember to ask her for which specific purpose she included them."

The big man grinned. "And for who...."

The Cherokee knelt and his deft fingers probed the wound. He hid his frown as he turned his dark eyes on his friend. "You have lost a good deal of blood, Daniel. How do you feel?"

He shifted uncomfortably. "Well, the bucket's got a hole in it. Doesn't make it good for much."

Mingo nodded. "Not until it is mended. I will have to go for the boy myself." He started to rise.

"Mingo, no. Not against that many warriors." There was real fear in Dan's eyes. "We caught them outside their village. They have to be settled in by now. You can't take on the whole Shawnee nation by yourself...." He paused to draw a breath. "Now, if'n I was you - "

"If you were me, you would not take 'no' for an answer. You never do." The Cherokee stood. "You never will."

There was a moment of silence. "Well, see'n how you told me I don't know the meanin' of the word...."

Mingo's fingers closed into a fist. "Daniel...."

"You are still mad."

The tall Indian pivoted. "What were you thinking? Did you believe I could not get out of the way of an arrow? Could you not have called out...."

"Well, I...."

"No, I forget; you couldn't. Because you are Daniel Boone, and you always act before you think and think you are always right...." His dark eyes flicked to his friend. The frontiersman was pale and the pain that shone from his green eyes was more than physical. Mingo paused and drew a breath, calming himself. "I am sorry, Daniel. I did not mean to say that." He looked towards the wilderness beyond. "I am going to get some moss."

Dan remained silent as Mingo left their shelter and disappeared beyond the gray veil that separated them from the world. Lost in his own thoughts, time passed quickly. It seemed less than a hundred heartbeats passed before his friend's return. As the Indian came to his side and knelt, he stared at him. He looked like a cat someone had rescued from a well; he was soaked to the skin, his long black hair plastered to his cheeks and forehead.

"Mingo?"

"Yes, Daniel?" He tossed his head and thrust the hair out of his eyes. Then he placed the moss on a stone and began to crush it.

"About before...."

The Cherokee frowned. "I believe I apologized...."

"There was no need. Even so...." The big man eyed him. "Seems to me, there's a head other than mine you might be wantin' to take off. Somethin' botherin' you?"

The raven-haired man met his eyes. Then he sighed. "You know it is. I did not want to be here to begin with. I do not agree - "

"With takin' the boy from the Shawnee."

He stopped and looked at him. "It is his home, Daniel." His friend studied him for a moment. "And this hits too close to yours, doesn't it?"

Mingo rocked back on his heels. "The boy was taken as a toddler and raised by the Shawnee. He knows nothing else. Now at ten, someone from his family has found out he exists and wants him back. Like a prize or a living curio." He shook his head. "The child they knew is dead already."

"But this is family, Mingo. The boy's uncle - "

"Is a wealthy North Carolina landowner who can offer him a better life, with all of the comforts he will not have among the savages - a warm bed, more than enough food, an education...society." He laughed bitterly. "You don't have to tell me, Daniel."

The big man frowned and said softly, "No, I guess I don't at that." He paused. Mingo's muscles were tense. His jaw set. "Do you regret it so much, the time you spent in England?"

The Cherokee's dark eyes narrowed. "In some ways...."

His friend thought a moment. Outside the shelter the rain continued to pound and the thunder boomed. "Seems to me you'd a been a different man without it."

The tall native avoided his eyes as he pressed the prepared moss into the wound. "There," he remarked at last. "The bleeding has stopped and that should help prevent infection."

Dan nodded. "Good. Then as soon as this rain stops, we can go after - "

Mingo looked at him. "You are not going after that boy, Daniel." His eyes were haunted. "I will not allow it."

"I've been hurt worse than this before, Mingo. I can...." The frontiersman paused. He shifted uncomfortably as the light dawned. "Is that why you finally agreed to come? To stop me from taking him back?"

A tight smile lifted the corner of Mingo's full lips. "How fortunate for me, that you have stopped yourself."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Mingo?"

The native sat framed by the wall of water; his rifle across his knees. He had remained silent since they had last spoken. At the sound of his friend's voice, he drew a deep breath and leaned his dark head against the cliff-face. With a sigh, he answered, "Yes?"

"I've been thinkin'...."

Mingo's eyes were closed. "That is a dangerous past-time for you, Daniel." He laughed. "And what were you thinking?"

"About us bein' friends." He shifted. "Doesn't seem likely somehow."

"No. No, it does not. In many ways, we are as different as night and day." The native glanced at him. "What was it made you decide you could trust me when we first met? After all, I was just another Indian. You had run from enough that day."

"Maybe I was afraid you would turn that whip on me."

Mingo shifted. "I am serious, Daniel. You were in the middle of hostile territory. You came upon one Indian being attacked by another - " he frowned "which I am sad to say among my people is a constant theme.... "

"You have no monopoly on that."

The native laughed. "Yes, I do - since my other people are your people too."

Dan nodded his head. "Well, it might have had somethin' to do with the odds. Just didn't seem right. One feller with a whip and half a dozen Shawnee with rifles."

Mingo shook his head. "No, that is why you saved me." He stood and walked to his side. "I asked, why did you trust me?"

"Why did you trust me?"

"Daniel, you are avoiding the question."

"No, I'm not. I'm just coming around to it by the back pass." The big man grinned and leaned back against the cold stone.

"Daniel...."

"Mingo, you know me. I like things straight as shot flyin' towards its target. What yer askin' me has to do with - "

"Feelings? Intuition?" He knelt.

"Nope. More like smoke."

Mingo had started to check his bandage. He stopped. "Smoke?"

"You know how it is. You can see it. But if you reach out to catch it with your fingers, it disappears."

The Cherokee's face was touched by a wry smile. "That is very poetic, Daniel, but not an answer."

The big man frowned. "It's the best you're gonna get. I just knew you were someone I could trust. Like a brother."

Mingo's hand froze on its way to his shoulder. He closed his eyes and sighed wearily. "A brother who intended to betray you. Daniel, I...."

The frontiersman waited a moment and then said softly. "You want maybe to tell me about it?"

The native rocked back on his heels. "I see you did not correct me."

Dan's green eyes sought his face. "Well," the words came slowly, "I think maybe I'm still waitin' to see what you are goin' to do. Seems like you haven't betrayed me yet." He paused as he shifted his long frame again. "But there's still time."

Mingo closed his eyes. "The boy is only eleven or so, Daniel. Just a child.... How can you sanction taking him from his home? His people?"

Dan bit his lip as he straightened against the rock wall, testing the pain in his shoulder. "This isn't the Lightner boy we're talkin' about, is it?"

The dark eyes opened. They fixed him. "Yes. ...and no."

"Then why don't you tell me what you're thinkin'?" He glanced at the water that continued to pour from the heavens. "Don't look like we are goin' anywhere in a hurry."

He shook his head. "It is hard, Daniel."

Dan pursed his lips. "Hard for you to say, or for me to hear?"

Mingo reached behind him and plucked a cold ember from the fire he had kindled at his friend's feet, which was now cold and gray. "You spoke of smoke; how the more you seek to grasp it, the more it eludes you. Your life, Daniel, has been like a fire burning - straight and clean." The Cherokee opened his fingers to reveal his blackened skin. "My life was written in the ashes of my mother's choice. A fire that burned bright and was all too soon extinguished. When she died and I went with John Murray, my father, to England - I became his shame."

The big man sat silent a moment. "You mentioned bein' a 'living curio'...."

He nodded. "It was not a life, Daniel. To the few who knew, I was either a curiosity or an embarrassment. And for those who did not know, I was forced to live a lie." He drew a deep breath. "Even though John Lightner is white - he will not seem so to those around him. Do you really want that for this boy?"

"I want him to be with his own."

Mingo tossed the ember aside and his fingers closed in a fist. "What you do not seem to be able to understand, Daniel, is that he is."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"You know, Mingo. When I was a little boy, just learnin' to hunt and track, I got lost."

The Cherokee was sitting across the way, silent again.

"My father was tryin' to teach me how to follow the signs - like I've done with Israel - and he told me to follow the North Star; to know when it was on my right hand that I was headed west." He glanced at his friend. "I forgot what he told me. Just plain forgot, and before I knew it, I was lost.

"I can remember walkin' through the woods as darkness fell, listenin' to the sounds of the night animals wakin' up. And you know, it was funny - I wasn't afraid. It felt like home. I killed a rabbit and skinned it. Cooked it too. I laid down with the earth as my pillow and fell asleep to the voice of the stream runnin' by." Dan hesitated. He didn't know if the other man was listening. "Pretty soon though, I began to long for home. Even though I was happy where I was."

Mingo's voice sounded irritated. It had grown dark and he could no longer see him. "That was one or two days, Daniel. It has been years for this boy - "

"I know. The point's still the same."

"And what is that?"

"That there is somethin' in us that knows whether or not we are loved, whether or not we are home."

"I told you - "

Dan cut him off. "Why'd you come back to the Cherokee?"

There was a moment of silence. "For many reasons...."

"No. Name just one. The most important one."

He heard his friend sigh. "It was my home."

"Home." Dan rotated his shoulder and winced. Then he smiled. The pain wasn't as bad as before. "It's like the smoke again, Mingo. You can't put your finger on it, but you know where it is. It ain't a cabin or a piece of land, but somethin' written in your heart." He paused. "You remember how old the Lightner boy was when he was taken?"

"Three, perhaps four. But he would not remember any other home than the one he has known with the Shawnee. I was old enough to remember - "

"But you stayed in England. What was it - ten years?"

"Something like that."

"Why didn't you come back sooner?"

Mingo paused. There was a sigh. "I was young. It was all I knew. It had become my home."

"Your home," Dan echoed, slowly drawing out the words, "but not your heart - not what you loved or where you knew you were loved."

There was a moment of silence. When Mingo spoke again, there was something in his voice - something foriegn - as if a stranger formed the words instead of his friend. "What will you do, Daniel, if I refuse to let you take him?"

Outside the shelter the rain pounded. The wind howled and lightning flashed.

"Well, Mingo, seems as I don't rightly know. We both think we're right, and neither one of us is known for givin' in or takin' bein' backed into a corner very well." Daniel Boone paused, genuinely stricken.

It seemed they would have to find some way to settle it - if they were going to come out of it as brothers.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mingo shook himself and glanced at his friend. The big man was lying on the ground fast asleep. All about him the forested world had fallen silent with the single exception of a gentle cleansing rain that fell in the aftermath of the storm. It had been over thirty-six hours since he had rested and the soothing sound caressed his exhausted body and called him to sleep. Fighting desperately, his forced his mind to return to the day he had met Daniel Boone. He had known even then what the tall white man's appearance had meant - the end of one way of life and the beginning of another, and not only for his people, but for himself. And yet he, like his people, continued to hope against hope - continued to fight and to refuse to accept the inevitable. As if it had been foretold, the red man was doomed to lose his way of life and in time his heart, which was the land itself, to men such as Daniel Boone who would not take 'no' for an answer. He should have hated him. He should have - like his fellow tribesmen - made a stand against him. But he could not. There had been something there. Something in his eyes and in the tilt of his head; in his lop-sided smile and affable manner. Something ineffable. Untouchable. Like smoke, as Daniel had put it; an inexplicable, innate sense of the 'stuff' of the man and of his dream.

Early on in their relationship they had come into conflict - over the McLeod girl as well as the Fluellen boy. There had been numerous times when his loyalties and allegiances had been put to the test by the stubborn unbending Boone, but always he had managed to stay true to both - to his people and to his friendship with the white man whom he called 'brother'.

This time he could not see a way out. He would not stand by to see the boy condemned to the life he had known; torn from his people, his home and his heart. If Daniel would not - or could not - understand, he would have to go to the Shawnee and warn them. Perhaps they could take the boy over the Ohio now; spirit him away before Daniel had a chance to find him or carry him off.

But if he did that - if he warned them - could his friendship with Daniel survive?

Would that not be a betrayal as well?

He opened his eyes and shifted, and then started violently. The sun was mounting in the sky. At least four hours had passed.

And he was alone.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dan finished gnawing on the jerky Becky had packed for them and washed it down with a little warm water. It was a good thing Mingo knew as much about herbs and poultices as he did. There seemed to be no infection in the wound and the fever he was carrying was slight and manageable. He was light-headed and not as sure on his feet as he would have liked, but he hadn't let that stop him. As soon as Mingo had fallen asleep he had snuck out of the sheltered cove and plunged into the wet morning. The rain had become nothing more than a thin mist that intensified the gleaming golden dawn, and the fog which clung to the land like a gray blanket acted as a friend, masking his tall figure from the keen eyes of the two Shawnee who were keeping watch at the edge of their village. Dan smiled grimly as he thought of his friend waking to find him gone. He would be right upset. The thought had occurred to him while making his way to the Shawnee camp, that God might have dropped this in their laps just so the two of them would have to find a way to deal with what was likely to prove to be the first real test of the mettle of their friendship. He hated to admit it, but the 'pickle' they found themselves in now might well be enough to end it - if neither one of them could see his way free to change his mind.

Weak and exhausted, he leaned back against a low outcropping of rock and rubbed his fingers against his forehead. Soon he would have to make a choice; a choice that might well determine the course of the future for the both of them as well as the boy.

What was he going to do?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mingo was not a man to curse, but a few choice Cherokee words came to his lips as he moved into the thick grass and began to hurriedly work his way toward the temporary camp the Shawnee had erected near the bend in the river. This band was actually from Ohio, but had chosen to winter here. The Lightner boy had been spotted by trappers passing through Boonesborough who had been acquainted with his parents. One of them had taken word back to his uncle.

If they had not....

If the Shawnee had only stayed in Ohio....

If his uncle had not cared....

If. If. If....

And yet, perhaps it was for the best. If he and Daniel could not resolve this, then later - when it came to the hard choices about their peoples, about the land and who owned it, about hunting rights and boundaries - there would be no common ground between them, no understanding.

No kinship.

Brothers could, after all, disagree, and the test of their fraternal devotion often came in the way they chose to settle their differences. Like Jacob and Esau their destiny might be to contend with one another and then meet in peace. Or like Joseph and his many siblings, perhaps he and Daniel were bound for betrayal and a lifetime of separation, even if there was hope of reconciliation at the end.

Gripping his rifle with his fingers, he began to run, unsure of the fear that propelled him forward. He did not know if it was for the unsuspecting boy who might be torn from his people, for his friend who walked with death and infection breathing at his shoulder -

Or for himself.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dan had moved forward quietly. He knew he couldn't mount a frontal attack on the village. He knew, in fact, that he couldn't mount an attack at all. If he did anything, it would have to be quiet-like, coming in from the shadows to snatch the boy and escape in much the same way. The morning light was rising, but the fog still licked at the edge of the clearing, giving him an advantage. He had paused close to a cluster of wegiwas made of elm and birch bark sheets stretched tightly over poles to watch as a group of young boys emerged from the inside of one of the modest structures. They were dressed only in breech-cloths. A few of them had their faces blackened, indicating they were old enough to begin their spiritual journeys. His green eyes narrowed as he spied one youth whose skin seemed lighter than the rest. As one of his friends shoved him and he stumbled forward into the light, Dan noticed that his hair was light brown instead of black, with just a hint of red.

It had to be John Lightner.

He watched as the boy laughed and pushed his companion to the ground and then leapt on top of him. A moment later the two of them began to wrestle. As the other boys gathered around them whooping and hollering, with their long black manes and the tails of their leather breech-cloths flying in the wind, they put him in mind of a group of wild colts. He knew they were on their way to the brisk waters of the stream that murmured nearby. It was part of a young Shawnee warrior's training - meant to increase his endurance and self-control. The Lightner boy would have been about two years along in the process - by Indian standards, well on his way to becoming a man.

Dan frowned as uninvited thoughts of his own family overwhelmed him. He could picture Israel with the other boys in Boonesborough, doing the same things; laughing and pretend-fighting as he and his friends made their way to the river to fish. He saw Becky standing by the door, watching as her boy walked away, and couldn't help but think of this boy's surrogate mother who must have done the same thing that morning as the sun quickened in the sky. If he did what he had to do - what he believed was right - she would never see him again. She or his Indian father, or his friends.

But then the boy's uncle, who was his blood, wanted to see him too.

Dan closed his eyes and sighed. Smoke. Gray and intangible. Something you couldn't put your fingers on. Nothing solid. Nothing safe. He glanced at the boys again as an elder chided them and they began to move out of the village towards the sparkling water.

How was a man supposed to stand up when the very ground he walked on was giving way?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The distance it had taken Daniel Boone four hours to cover, Mingo traversed in two. He paused outside the Shawnee encampment to catch his breath and gazed at the familiar scene as the Indian village awoke and its men and women began to go about their daily chores. So had his home been as a child. So was it now. But in between, the lost years haunted him. Because of them, he was never quite content. Because of them, his heart was eternally divided. Like the embers, they had left their mark, and now he did not really know which was home.

Perhaps this was what he feared for the son of the white man raised by the Shawnee most of all.

Glancing at the rising sun he turned toward the stream, knowing a boy John Lightner's age would be heading for its cleansing waters to greet the growing day. With a frown and a sigh, he began to run.

Daniel would know this as well.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dan hesitated, listening to the boys' conversation as they stood on the shore waiting to take their turn. As with most youngins, what was supposed to have been a solemn occasion had become an opportunity for horse-play. Several of the soon-to-be braves were staging mock battles. The others were cheering or jeering them on. When it came time for the young white boy to fight, he held his own. He was well-muscled and bronzed from the sun and looked every inch the Indian brave - with the exception of the light hair. A frown touched Dan's lips as the reality of ripping the boy from his friends and his home struck him. What would he face back in the white man's world where arguments were resolved with words, where men were often deceptive and not to be trusted, and the open honesty and valor which had been bred into him as a part of his being would be looked on as naivete? Ridicule? Rejection? He wouldn't know how to behave. He would seem like a savage to men who were too savage to figure out that they had the meaning of the word all wrong. And if he chose to live as a white man, would he be able to forget all he had learned here? Could he find a way to walk in only one world?

Had Mingo?

He shifted as the Lightner boy and the young Indian who were tussling rolled close to his hiding place. He thought about calling out his Christian name, but hesitated as one of the other boys spoke to him from the water's edge.

'Ulethi', he said.

Dan swallowed hard.

'Ulethi.' It was Shawnee - the name his foster parents had chosen for him - and its meaning brought a lump to his throat.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mingo had spotted him. Not the boy, but Daniel. The big man was sitting in the cat-tails watching the youths by the stream. The boys and about a dozen feet of riverbank were between them. John Lightner was so close, the frontiersman he could have grabbed him.

For some reason, he hadn't.

Mingo held his breath and watched. His knuckles went white against the brown wood of the rifle. A veritable myriad of emotions washed over him, like water tumbling over the smooth rocks in a stream. The chief one was fear; fear for the loss of something he held very precious - something he knew once broken, could not be mended. Once lost, could not be replaced. Unexpectedly his eyes met his friend's. In them there was something he had not expected to find -

Uncertainty.

It shook him. Even though it was more than he could have hoped for, there was something about Daniel doubting himself that rocked the very earth beneath his feet. As he watched, the frontiersman shook his head slowly and began to move away.

The Cherokee sighed.

One battle was ended.

Had another begun?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Another five hours found them once again beneath the protective wedge of the cliff. During the trip back the rain had increased and Dan's fever had risen. Mingo didn't think there was cause for concern, but he desperately wanted to get his friend home - in part to make him warm and comfortable, and in part to turn him over to his wife and Cincinnatus so he could escape the ghosts their close confinement continued to unearth.

He replaced the bandage on the big man's wound and started to rise, but Dan caught his arm and stopped him. His green eyes pinned him for a moment and then he said softly, "Thank you, Mingo."

"Thank me? For what?" The Cherokee frowned. "For nearly getting you killed? For being stubborn and driving you out into the rain?" He reached out and laid a hand on his warm forehead. "That soaking did you little good."

Dan's smile was chagrinned. "Well, you just might be one of the most stubborn obstinate pig-headed men I know...." He paused as Mingo acknowledged the words he had spoken not long before, "but I am plenty good at doin' that for myself. I don't need any help from you or anyone else. Just ask Becky...."

"Daniel...."

The big man's eyes went to the fire that burned near his booted feet. He inclined his head towards it.

Mingo's gaze followed his. He laughed and then turned back as a slight smile lifted the edges of his full lips. "Smoke?"

Dan nodded. "Where you find it, you always find fire - sometimes burning so bright you can't rightly see what's bein' consumed." He paused. "You were right, Mingo."

The Cherokee rocked back on his heels. He tilted his head. "And can you accept that?"

The big man smiled crookedly and then met his dark eyes. "Can you?"

Mingo knew his friend was apologizing; not only for attempting to take the boy from the Shawnee, but for his race and for himself - for the white man's need that had made the red man's heart bleed. It was a giant heartfelt gesture, and one that he had the grace to accept without acknowledging that he did so.

He stood. "What will you tell the boy's uncle?"

Dan looked towards the sun-struck day beyond. He thought of his wife and daughter and son, sitting down and sharing a meal, working sums or doing chores. "What will I tell him? That the boy is with his family."

"His family?" Mingo frowned as he turned back. Then when he saw Daniel's face, he understood. "You will tell him he is dead?"

"Your words, Mingo. The boy they knew is dead. Taking Ulethi from all he knows would be like killin' him all over again." He shook his head. "I can't be responsible for that."

"Ulethi?"

Dan was quiet a moment. "That's the boy's Shawnee name. I heard his friend call him by it."

The Cherokee nodded. Beloved. The meaning was the same as the one the boy's parents had given him so long ago. When he spoke, there were tears in his eyes. "You have given him the gift of your fire, this day, Daniel, and kept him from wearing ash and walking in smoke for the rest of his life. I thank you for that, and for listening to me."

The big man rose slowly to his feet and held out his hand. His face was clear of pain and his voice steady and assured. "To a voice from out of the smoke."

Mingo was taken aback. He hesitated and then clasped his friend's arm. "Yes...."

Dan winked. "Without one, there can't be the other....

"Brother."

The End