TWO WORLDS IN WHICH WE DWELL

 Chapter Nine

 

 

The stranger’s breathing had grown painful to listen to.  Rebecca Boone was all too familiar with the sound of a death rattle.  She was sure she was hearing it now. 

And there was nothing she could do.

Becky remained firmly bound to the wooden chair Tume had placed her in.  As the black man left the cabin, he had shot her a look that dared her to try and escape.  She didn’t understand why the stranger had taken Mingo and left her behind, but it didn’t matter.  What mattered was that a man was dying, in her home, and she was powerless to help.  A man or…what did Tume call him.  A Vulcan?  Becky’s copper brows knit together as she sought to remember where she had heard that word.  Then she had it.  The last Christmas Mingo had given a finely bound and profusely illustrated leather tome to Israel.  She had allowed her son to accept the gift out of deference to their friend, but frowned at the subject matter, which was the gods of Greece and Rome.  Though she had nothing against a classical education, her young son had little need to learn about other gods than his own.  Still, the book was beautiful and – in spite of herself – one day she had opened it and begun skimming through its vellum pages.  She remembered Zeus with his lightning bolts and Hermes, with those funny little wings on his ankles.  And Vulcan.  Vulcan was the god of fire and metalworking, of the smith and forge.  Becky’s deep blue eyes flicked to the bed she shared with Dan where her unexpected visitor lay fighting for his life.  Could Tume’s reference be to that?  She didn’t see how it could apply, but if not, then to what did it refer?  In the book Vulcan had been an ugly creature, disfigured by his craft.  That certainly wasn’t true of the stranger.  From what she had seen of him, he appeared quite attractive, though that strange blood of his had made her wonder if perhaps – as Mingo sometimes put it – there was more in heaven and earth than she could dream of.

Becky winced as her attention returned to the man on the bed.  He had become agitated and, surprisingly, was trying to speak.  Between ragged gasps, the words came quietly and quickly, almost as if he had slipped into a delirium.  She couldn’t catch all of them, but there was no missing the desperation in his tone.      

“…there is…no pain.  Pain.  No!  I…cannot….  I am a Vulcan.  I can not.  I will not….”  The sound of the breath he drew rattled through the near empty cabin.  “I must…wake.  I must….  No.  I cannot wake.  Sleep….  I must sleep.  Forever sleep….”

Becky couldn’t stand it.  No one was going to die in her home if there was anything she could do about it!  Frantically, she tested the ropes that bound her elbows and ankles.  Unfortunately, they had been well tied.  She scowled, furious with herself that she could think of nothing to do.  Chewing her lip, Becky quieted her heart and asked her God for guidance.  Against the sound of the man’s labored breathing, it was hard to think, but suddenly –  she remembered.  One of the chairs butted up against the table had a top rail that was loose.  The battered piece of wood had slipped in and out a dozen times.  She had given Dan grief over it, insisting he fix it before it fell apart and one of the children was hurt. 

Did she dare to hope that she was strapped to that particular chair?

Becky’s arms had been passed through the chair back and around the splat, and then bound at the elbows behind it.  If she could just manage to lift her body up without knocking the chair over, she might be able to pop the top rail off and get free of both the chair and the ropes.  Once her hands were free, she could untie her legs and then make her way to the stranger’s side. 

Becky blew out a puff of air, driving her coppery bangs upward.  What she would do once she got there she had no idea, but that wasn’t about to stop her from trying.

Since she was gagged, she couldn’t let the dying man know what she was doing, or offer any encouragement.  Still, as she worked her arms up the chair and felt the rail give way, Becky couldn’t help but think the words she could not say.  Hold on, she pleaded.  Hold on!  Don’t give up.  Just a minute more….

Even as the top rail hit the cabin floor with a loud thud and she fought for balance, Becky froze.  An answer had formed in her mind. 

No use.  Save yourself.  Go.

The ropes, which had been wrapped tightly around her elbows, fell from her slender wrists to strike the floor as she repositioned herself on the chair.  She swallowed hard as she stared at the bed, mesmerized.  No, she sent back.  No.  I won’t let you die.

Illogical.  I am already dead.

He was giving up.  Somehow, she knew it, as surely as if his lips had parted and he had told her.

Not in my house! she shot back.

Shaken from her surprise, Becky leaned down and quickly untied her feet.  A dozen determined strides took her to the man’s side.  Once there, she reached up and removed the filthy gag from her mouth and threw it to the floor.

“What must I do?” she demanded, speaking out loud.  “Tell me!”

The stranger lay still as death.  The early morning light that fell through the open window shone on a sallow face released from this world’s pain.  Or so she thought.  Just as Becky decided she had come too late, the man’s lean form shuddered and he drew a convulsive breath.  She hesitated to touch him, remembering all too clearly the mystery of his blood that had so frightened her before.  Then her mother’s heart won out.  Becky leaned forward and gently placed a hand on the side of his bruised and battered face.

The contact was electric.

Becky blinked and stumbled back.  The cabin was gone.  It was as if she stood outside at the dawning of a rain-soaked day, adrift in a mist of fog.  Then, from out of the mist, a man came.  He stood before her, his body erect; his hands clasped behind his back.  The man’s clothing – black pants and boots, topped by a soft shirt of shimmering blue with some sort emblem and military braid on the sleeves – was strange to say the least.  The fabric seemed to mimic his form and had no warp or weft that she could see.  Even stranger was the man himself.  He was tall, though not so tall as Dan.  His hair was black as Mingo’s, but cut short, revealing the lean angular bones of his face.  Like the Cherokee, the man’s eyes were nearly black, but where Mingo’s eyes shone with spirit and amusement, this man’s were sharp as a hawk’s and keen as the cut of a knife.  Becky’s gaze met his, and then went past it to the one feature she had noticed before – a pair of impossibly pointed ears.  As she drew a deep, steadying breath, the stranger’s lips parted – not to speak, but with a slight wry twist that was not quite a grin.

Mrs. Boone.

Who, she asked, what are you?

I am Spock.  I am…a traveler.  I regret the inconvenience my presence has caused you and your family.  It was not my choice to place you in danger.  However, as I am dead, the matter shall soon be remedied.

You are not dead! she sent back.

A difference which makes no difference, is no difference, he remarked almost casually. 

You cannot want to die, Becky insisted.

Regrettably, I find I have no choice.  There is no one here who can perform the needed task –

I am here! she shouted.

Mrs. Boone, your strength would prove ineffectual.  The process Tume started when he called me out of the healing trance cannot be subverted.  If I am not awakened soon, then I must die.

What will it take to wake you? she asked.  Becky blinked again, and in her mind she saw the answer.  This man, lying in a strange cold place filled with strange cold beds and blinking lights.  Another man stood over him, hitting him, striking him – beating him.  No! she gasped.  She saw the stranger reach out and catch his attacker’s arm.  Then she heard him thank him.

It is my way, he said, offering no explanation.  It is the way of my people.

Becky shivered.  Let me try.

You are female.  A female humanoid will not prove strong enough –  The man started

at her rash thought.  One elegant eyebrow winged toward his perfect hair.  A colorful epithet, Mrs. Boone, he mused.

She blushed.  Even though she knew no word had escaped her lips, Becky felt as if it had.  And that she needed to go to the church and ask for forgiveness for thinking it. 

Men, she huffed.  You are all alike. 

Spock’s amusement surprised her.  It was gentle and filled with an unexplained affection.  For a moment she was aware of an image – a woman like her but with dark upswept hair, bending over to kiss the ebon head of a small intense boy who sported a set of elegantly pointed ears. 

You are much like her, he admitted, once again in control.   Strong.  Stubborn.  Unbending and ever flexible.  Safe and secure.

Your mother.   Amanda.  Becky latched on to the memory and would not let him release it.  She would want you to live!  I would not want my son to give up.  Don’t give up.  Spock, don’t give up!

He rejected that.  It is not logical to hope –

Hope is not logical, Becky replied.

 Spock’s keen eyes locked on hers.  For a moment the gray mist overwhelmed him, taking him from her sight.  Then, slowly, he stepped forward and gave the slightest nod.

I will try.

Becky gasped and reared back, breaking the physical and mental link she shared with Spock.  As she did, he stirred.  The Vulcan shifted as if in great pain and one trembling hand reached toward her.

“Strike me!” he commanded as he closed it on her wrist with bone-crunching force.

 

Daniel Boone’s long strides took him quickly toward his cabin.  Everything he had seen in the last few hours had raised the hackles on the back of his neck, and no matter how fast he traveled, he feared somehow he was going to be too late.  After taking Becky and Israel to the fort, he had started out to track down Mingo.  While his Cherokee friend was one of the most competent men he knew, Mingo was also – of all of God’s creatures – the one most likely to stumble into trouble with his eyes wide open.  Dan pursed his lips as he continued to move forward.  Every man had two inner voices.  One was wise and the other, well, a little bit reckless.  There were times when the reckless voice was the one a man had to heed – but not every time, and not when that wise voice was shouting to the heavens that there was danger ahead.

Sometimes he wondered if Mingo was deaf.

Dan grinned in spite of his growing fear.  How many times had Becky accused him of the same thing?

Dear Lord, Becky….

The cabin was in sight now.  The door was ajar, and there was no welcoming light shining from the windows. Gripping Ticklicker in fingers that were just a mite sweaty, Dan continued on.

He had followed Mingo’s trail easy enough and had made it about halfway to the Shawnee lands when his friend’s tracks had suddenly doubled back.  Searching the ground, Dan had quickly realized that the Cherokee warrior was headed for the cabin – and was no longer alone.  Mingo had been helping someone else; a man, most likely.  At first there had been two sets of prints.  Then toward the end, there was only one.  The only consolation, Dan thought as he reached the path that led to the door of his cabin was that – this time – it was Mingo doing the carrying!  Abruptly, the tall frontiersman halted.  He dropped to the ground at the edge of the porch and quickly examined it.  There were at least a half dozen tracks crossing over the other pair.  A group of men had been waiting in the shadows.  They’d stood and watched for a while, and then gone away.  And they hadn’t left empty-handed.  Something or some one had been dragged along the ground.

Dan hesitated, checking for telltale signs of blood.

It was then he heard his wife cry out.

 

Becky’s copper hair hung in sweat-soaked hanks before her face.  Her stained calico dress was wet through, as were all the underpinnings beneath.  She was shaking so hard she could barely raise a hand, and yet she did so again.  Again, she struck the traveler with all her strength, jarring her body and his – but still it wasn’t enough.  At first it had seemed that Spock would rouse, but now his breathing had grown even more shallow.  With each passing second he slipped farther away.  If she didn’t do something, it seemed he would fall into a deep sleep from which he would never wake.

“Spock!” she sobbed as her aching fingers gripped his tattered black shirt and shook him.  “Spock, wake up!  Please….” 

Becky halted in terror at the sound of the cabin door scraping across the wooden floor.  She released Spock and turned sharply, fearing their tormentor had come back.  A cry escaped her and a wave of blackness nearly overcame her when she realized it was not Tume.

It was Dan.

Her husband caught her in his arms before she could strike the floor.

“Becky!”  Dan’s hand caressed her face.  He pulled her tightly to him.  “Becky, what in the name of – ”

She reached up and touched his stubbled cheek, making certain he was real.  Dan’s face was puzzled.  It took her a second to remember where she was and what she had been doing.  Pushing him away, she cried out, “Dan!  Dan, help me up.  Spock will die if we don’t help him!”

“Spock?” he asked, his hazel eyes narrowing in confusion.  “Who – ”

“The man on the bed!”  Becky kept hold of her husband’s hand and drew him up with her.  Shoving him toward it, she cried, “You have to strike him, Dan!  You’re strong!  Hit him and wake him up!”

Dan was like a mountain.  He didn’t move.  “Becky, what?”

“There’s no time!” she all but shrieked.  Pointing to the man on the bed, she tried to explain the unexplainable.  “Spock needs to wake up, Dan.  He can’t do it on his own.  He needs you to hit him.  Hit him hard, Dan, with all your strength!”

Her husband looked at the traveler, and then at her.  She could tell.  Dan thought she had lost her mind. 

Maybe she had.

“Dan, please….”

Even as she pleaded, a second voice was added to her own.  Weak.  Barely audible, but there.  “Strike me….”  Spock’s rasped.  “Now!  Or…it will be too…late.”

 One of the things that had drawn Rebecca Bryan to Daniel Boone was how firmly his feet were planted in the earth.  Dan didn’t hold with nonsense and, though a religious man, had little time for anything that even remotely reeked of the mystic or supernatural.   She watched as her husband’s nature warred with his love for her.

As she had known it would, in the end his faith in her won out.

“Becky?”

“Do it, Dan!”

 His brown eyebrows lifted with puzzlement and Dan shrugged his broad shoulders.  Then he caught Spock by his shirt and lifted him partially up and struck him.

“Harder!” the Vulcan demanded; his voice ice breaking on stone.

Dan winced.  He struck him harder, but not as hard as she knew he could.

“With all your strength,” the traveler gasped.   “Do it now!”

Her husband’s lips quirked with a wry twist and he did as he was told, striking the man so hard the sound of the blow rang through the cabin.  He did it again.  And a third time.  As Dan pulled his arm back to make it four, Spock’s hand shot out and caught his, staying it as easily as if her six foot five husband had been a child.

Spock drew a deep breath and looked up. 

“Thank you, Mr. Boone.  That will be quite sufficient.”

 

Daniel Boone didn’t move.  He looked from the stranger in his bed to his arm, which was held, suspended in mid-air.  Never in his life had he felt such tremendous strength – and it was coming from what, only moments before, appeared to be a dying man. 

The stranger held him for a moment longer and then shuddered and released him.  Falling back to the bed, Spock closed his eyes for a moment – as if gathering strength – and then began to push himself up as though he intended to rise.

“Now, hold on there, friend,” Dan warned, holding the injured man back even though he knew that strength could force him to retreat.  “You ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

Keen black-brown eyes met his.  They were somewhat almond-shaped.  The black brows slanted above them gave the stranger an almost satyric look.  So did his ears.  Dan read intelligence and determination in the man’s gaze.  He also read pain.  And a great deal of it.

“If you don’t mind my sayin’ so,” the frontiersman continued, showing a lopsided grin.  “You don’t look so good.”

One black brow arched.  “I fail to see what my appearance has to do with current circumstances.”  The stranger glanced at himself.  “My attire, while somewhat tatterdemalion is not the – ”

“I ain’t talkin’ about your attire.”  Dan backed away.  “It’s clear you ain’t well.”

The man’s brow wrinkled.  “I ‘ain’t’?”  He paused and those dark eyes grew distant.  A moment later, they lit with understanding.  “Ah, I see.  A late eighteenth, early nineteenth century corruption of ‘I am not’…”  Sitting up and tossing his long legs over the edge of the bed, Spock continued, “I assure you that I am quite ‘well’, Mr. Boone.  I will trouble you no – ”

Dan caught him before he hit the floor.  Spock’s legs had buckled under him and a pale sheen of sweat broken out on his oddly-tinged greenish-tan skin.  The frontiersman held the stranger’s thin frame up for a moment – noting with astonishment the compact muscles he felt through the odd fabric – and then eased him back onto a corner of the bed.

“You’d be a mite less trouble if you stayed put until you could hold your own,” Dan said softly.

Spock looked a little sheepish – and, curiously, ashamed.  “It is unfortunate, but I believe I do require a moment or two of rest to regain my equilibrium.”

Unexpectedly, Dan felt Becky’s warm presence at his side.  His wife hugged him quickly and then moved past him to confront the stranger.  “Spock, I thought you said the trance would heal you.  You are not healed.”

“I was awakened too early.”  Each breath still came hard, as though he labored to take it.  “I will continue to heal, but at a slower pace now that my mind must be occupied with other matters….”  The stranger paused, as if sensing he had said too much.  Spock’s near black eyes flicked to Becky.  There was an unspoken plea in them.  “I must go.”

“You can’t,” she countered sharply.  “Alone, you’ll die.   Dead you won’t be of any help to your friend.  Will you?”

The stranger’s lips quirked with the ghost of a smile.  “A most logical deduction, Rebecca.”

 Looking from one of them to the other, Dan frowned.  He couldn’t help it.  This man was a complete stranger to him and yet, it seemed, Spock was on near intimate terms with his wife.  The frontiersman could sense it in their speech; could feel it in the way Becky looked at the man and in how she approached him – as if she cared.  What was going on here?

And what in the name of all that was holy was wrong with the man’s ears?

As if sensing his thoughts, the stranger reached up.  The fingers of one hand moved toward his ear, but then landed on his neck instead.  As Spock massaged it, he cocked his head at an angle and an expression came over his face that reminded Dan uncomfortably of Mingo at his orneriest.

“I believe,” Spock began, “that the indigenous population of this continent often employs self-mutilation as a matter of course, in concert with their religious beliefs.  My…tribe…has similar cultural practices that are reflected in the shape of my ears….”  He paused.  “Mister Boone?  Are you all right?”

Dan jerked, realizing his eyes must have glazed over.   Then he grinned.  “Don’t tell me,” he laughed in spite of everything.  “Your tribe comes from Oxford, don’t it?”     

Spock’s brows peaked in puzzlement.  “Oxford?”

Dan started to explain, but stopped as he felt Becky’s fingers tighten on his arm.  When he turned to look at her, fear clouded her eyes.  “What is it, darlin’?” he asked.

His wife’s gaze took in their enigmatic guest; then she turned them on him.  “The men who did this to Spock.  Dan, they have Mingo.”

“Which is why,” their guest announced with a sigh as he rose once again from the bedstead and this time managed to keep his feet, “I must delay no longer.  Not only is my companion missing, but there is a debt that must be paid.”

“Your companion?” Dan asked.

“A young woman.”  Spock’s eyes went blank again, this time for only an instant.  “A…negress, I believe you would say.”

Dan felt his wife stiffen.  So there were some things Becky didn’t know.  A negro woman and a…what?, Dan mused.  Traveling together.  He wondered for what was probably the tenth time who this man was and what he was doing here, near Boonesborough.

“Well, friend,” Dan said at last.  “I might have some bad news for you.  There’s word slavers are working in this area.  One of old Ben Collin’s slaves went missing yesterday.  These out-of-towners ain’t too particular who they take.  If the woman is your property, they won’t pay that no mind – ”

Spock’s black brows reached his hair this time.  “Slavers?”  He spoke the word as if it were all the evils of the world wrapped into one.

Which it was.

“Yep.”

“This is most unfortunate,” Spock murmured, almost to himself.  “The lieutenant is not my….”  He stopped, glanced at them, and frowned.  “Nyota is not my property, she is my companion.  She is a…freewoman.  And while she is quite competent and more than capable of taking care of herself under normal circumstances, the experience of such men may prove more than sufficient to overcome her natural abilities.  What would they do with her, were she taken?”

“Take her farther south,” Becky answered, breathless.  “Sell her there.”

A crisp anger, quickly suppressed, flashed through the injured man’s eyes.  “I must find her,” Spock announced.  Pressing past them, he headed for the door.  He made it to the chair beside it before he had to halt and take hold of it for support.  Spock paused for a moment to catch his breath and then reached for the latch.

As Dan watched him, a bemused look on his face, Becky touched his arm and nodded toward the stranger who was even now stumbling out into the night.

“Dan….”

He turned toward her, his face deadly serious.  “Becky, there’s one thing I gotta ask you before I go traipsing off after that man.”

Her blue eyes went wide.  “What?  What is it?”

“You sure Spock ain’t half Cherokee?”