Israel Boone lifted his head and glanced at the sun. It was lying on the tops of the trees and he knew what that meant; he was in trouble. Somehow the day had slipped away from him and now, not only was it getting dark, but it was past the time when he was supposed to have been home. He glanced at the stones left in his pile and scrunched up his nose.
Maybe he could toss just one more.
Or maybe all of them. It wouldn't take that long. Would it?
He drew a breath and considered his options. He could skip the remaining smooth flat stones and enjoy watching them hop like brown toads towards the other bank, and then go home and get a scolding, or he could go home now.and get a scolding. He could see his Ma's face. It was going to have that stern look no matter what he did. She would place her hands on her hips and cock her head at an angle and let him have it the minute his foot hit the floorboards. 'Israel Boone!', she would shout in a mighty voice.
He thought long and hard, gnawing his lip. Then he made his choice. He would skip the stones and then, on his way home, he would pick some pretty flowers and stick them under her nose as she opened her mouth. That way she would feel guilty if she thought about doing anything more than whuppin' him with words.
Having expended a great deal of energy coming to this conclusion, the little white-haired boy decided he was feeling peckish. He glanced again at the darkening sky. It probably wouldn't hurt to add another five or ten minutes for hunting some berries.
He could take his Ma some of those too..
A few minutes of wandering brought him to a thickly wooded glade filled with lush berry bushes. After satisfying his hunger, he filled his shirt-sleeves with the warm plump fruits and buttoned his cuffs so they wouldn't spill. He had been just about to turn back towards the murmuring stream and home, when he realized the sun had vanished behind the trees and the sky had grown nearly as dark as the inside of Cincinnatus' shed.
"Criminetly," he said aloud. That meant the whuppin' would be more than words for sure, unless he high-tailed it and made it home lickety-split.
Spinning on his heels, he turned towards the laughing sound of the running water only to find his path obstructed by a tall dark figure sporting feathers. Drawing a deep breath, he froze and stared at it. The figure stared back. He shifted his feet and it did too. Planting his fists on his narrow hips in imitation of his mother, he cocked his head and frowned. Apparently they were sizing him up just like he was them. If the Injun had been a little taller, he might have thought it was Mingo, sent by his Ma to find him. But whoever it was, they were shorter than the Cherokee by at least a hand. Maybe two.
"Hello," he hazarded at last. So far the brave hadn't done anything threatening. Maybe it was a Cherokee. If it had been a Shawnee or a member of some other hostile tribe, most likely he would have already been captured or killed. "My name's Israel. Who are you?"
The brave remained silent as if they hadn't heard him.
He stepped forward. "I said, 'My name's Israel Boone.' What's yours? You got a name, don't you?"
A few seconds later, a husky voice replied, "Is-ree-el? Uwetsi soqua gago tsiihu?"
The boy wrinkled his nose. The brave had a funny voice; kind of like the last preacher who had wintered in the settlement and had sung soprano with his Ma in the choir. "Sure enough," he answered with a smile, taking another step and holding out his hand.
"Israel Boone? Son of Daniel Boone?"
"Gosh, yeah." A smile broke across the boy's face. "That's my pa. He's the bravest man you ever met. Did you come to see him? He ain't.." Israel stopped dead. He threw his hand over his mouth. He had forgot what Mingo and his pa had told him after that last time, with the Redcoats.
Don't tell nobody you don't know, nothin' about who and what you are.
"He ain't...?" the stranger prompted.
"...real far away." Israel swallowed. That was a lie and he wasn't supposed to lie. Still, when you found yourself alone in the woods facing an unknown and probably hostile Injun brave, God had to give you a little... What did his ma call it?
"You will take me to him."
The native spoke English pretty well. Still, the words came out both slow and fast, sort of like some of them were friends and others, strangers. Daniel Boone's son sighed. He had been afraid they were gonna say that.
Now what was he s'posed to do?
"We ain't very far from our cabin. I think he went back there." He bit the inside of his lip and squinted, trying to make out the Injun's face, but he couldn't. The sun had made camp over the horizon, and the moon either wasn't up yet or couldn't see its way through the trees any better than he could. It was black as pitch. He hesitated to lead the stranger back to the cabin. His ma was there, but then, so were his pa's extra rifles. And, if he was lucky, Mingo. He knew his ma was making stew, and sometimes it seemed like the Cherokee could smell her cooking all the way over at his lodge.
His teeth released his lip. "You wanta come to supper, stranger?"
There was a moment of silence. The odd voice repeated the word as if it had no meaning. "Sup-per?"
Israel scratched his head. Then inspiration struck. He reached through the little hole in his sleeve and pulled out a couple of smushed berries and held them out before him. "Food," he said. "You know...." He popped one in his mouth. "Eatin' and drinkin'."
The stranger took a step forward. The boy narrowed his eyes as they did and frowned with concentration. The brave was a lot smaller than he had thought; no taller than his ma, really. Fear had made them seem bigger. A hand reached out, but stopped short of accepting the proffered fruit.
"No. I cannot eat, but.... I go with you. Boone will be there?"
Israel didn't answer. He was staring at their hand. A stray moonbeam had struck it, showing red and yellow paint, as well as the curious symbols covering it. He swallowed and said softly, "Are you on the warpath, mister?"
There was a movement of black within black as the figure turned away. Then the warrior paused, silhouetted against a tall thick tree that lay in the path of the creeping moonlight. He could see they had a half dozen feathers in their hair and were dressed like a Cherokee, in thigh-high boots and a breech-cloth, with some sort of a long shirt over the top. The Injun was slender; skinnier than Mingo, with very long, very shiny black hair.
The brave turned towards him, but its face remained in shadow. "I walk the path of war, son of the white man, Boone." The shadow sucked in air and when it spoke again, its voice shook with fatigue. "You talk too much. We go now."
Israel thought about tossing the rest of the berries at the painted warrior, but instead popped them in his mouth and relished their sweetness. A moment later he replied, "My ma...and pa'll be worried about me. I guess you're right."
The figure nodded and held out its hand as if to say, 'Lead the way.'
"Gosh almighty," the boy exclaimed as he lifted his hands into the air, "do I gotta do everything?"
As he and the strange Indian brave began to move through the softly sussurating trees, Israel munched on a few more berries and kept his eyes peeled for a clearing that he could lead them through.
More than anything else, he wanted to know what his curious companion looked like.
Becky Boone heard the cabin door creep slowly inward. She smiled and then set her handsome features in a stern frown worthy of an Irish sea captain preparing to dress down an errant crew. She was so relieved that she was furious. Wiping her hands on her apron, she pivoted; a scolding on the tip of her tongue. And that was where it stayed.
Her wayward son stood on the threshold, but he didn't look contrite or apologetic.
He looked scared.
"Israel?" She took a step towards him. "Are you all right?"
The boy was silent for a moment. He glanced behind him and then said softly, "Did I miss supper, Ma?"
She started to chide him, and to say he certainly didn't deserve any after the way he had frightened her, but something stopped her. After a moment, she shook her red head and sighed. "Israel Boone, whatever am I going to do with you? It's on the table. Come on in and."
"Do you got enough for two?" His eyes went over his shoulder again. "Er, three?"
Becky shifted so she could see out the door. Then she laughed. A feathered form waited behind the boy. As she turned towards the hearth she said, "Tell Mingo to come on in. There's plenty of stew."
"It ain't Mingo, Ma." The boy stepped aside as his mother swung about, a frown on her lovely face.
Becky drew a sharp breath and backed up against the table as a painted warrior entered the cabin. As she began to tremble the native put its hand to the deadly looking tomahawk that hung on its beaded belt next to a sheathed hunting knife and a blunt-ended club decorated with white feathers. Her bright blue eyes went to the pegs above the fireplace where Dan kept his spare rifles. Unfortunately, she didn't know how she could get to them without turning her back and putting Israel in jeopardy. "What do you want?" she demanded as she moved forward, intending to snatch her son and at least move him out of harm's way. "Why are you in my..."
Rebecca Boone paused, stunned. Her hand went to her mouth. The brave had moved into the room and into the circle of light cast by the single lamp that flickered near the door.
"Oh, my goodness..." she whispered.
Israel came to her side and then turned back to face their uninvited guest. "I know what you mean, Ma. Tarnation!" he said in his best imitation of Cincinnatus, "if it ain't a girl!"
Becky placed a bowl of stew in front of the grim-faced native and backed away. She had never seen anything quite like her in all her days in the wilderness. The woman was dressed just like a Cherokee male on the warpath. Drawing a breath as she pushed her coppery bangs out of her eyes, she tried once again to engage her in conversation. "So do you...have any children?"
The woman would not look at her. In fact, she hadn't moved since she had planted herself at the dinner table and announced she was there to see Daniel Boone. Becky's eyes flicked to Israel. He was sitting, doing his sums on the rug before the fire. The white-haired boy shrugged and made a circular motion with his finger near his right temple.
She sighed. Maybe he was right.
Maybe she was crazy.
"Do you know my husband...?" she asked. "I don't remember Daniel mentioning a female warrior before. I'm sure I would have remembered."
The black eyes fixed her, but the woman remained stubbornly silent.
Becky bit her lip. "You know," she said at last, "I think you might have gone a little heavy on that paint around your eyes.."
The woman's fist came down so hard on the table it made the pewter plates on the wall jump. "Where is your husband?" she demanded.
The redhead's eyes returned to her son, wondering exactly what he had told the curious stranger. He met her gaze and shook his head as he ran a finger across his throat. Becky swallowed. "Dan's due any minute." She paused as a wild thought popped into her head. "I think he might have gone to the Cherokee village to see a friend."
Israel's head came up. He glanced at the back door.
Becky nodded slowly. Then she placed one hand on her hip. "Isn't it about time you went to bed, young man?"
The boy jumped up and stretched his arms over his head, yawning so wide the gaping black hole might have been mistaken for a cave by a passing bear. "Gosh, All Might -- " He stopped at his mother's look. "Criminetly," he said instead, "I am tired. I guess all that berry-pickin' wore me out." Starting toward the back of the cabin he added, "I think I'll just be going to."
"Come here, boy."
Israel stopped. He turned to look at the raven-haired woman and then at his ma. Becky started to protest, but something in the stranger's aspect stopped her. At last, she nodded. Scrunching up his face the boy moved slowly towards the painted Indian, coming to a halt in front of her. He raised his head and met her eyes.
There were tears in them.
"Are you all right, Ma'am?"
The native tilted her head and then reached out towards him. Becky stiffened as she did, but relaxed when she saw she was only going to touch his cheek.
'Ayotli. Da tsi nehi."
Israel frowned as a single tear slipped down her cheek. His eyes sought his mother. "Did I do something wrong?"
Before she could answer, the woman stood. She struck the tear from her cheek as if its presence shamed her and said, "No, boy. You do nothing wrong." Moving with a panther's grace towards the door, the woman lifted the tomahawk from her belt and balanced it in her hand. "I wait. When Daniel Boone returns, I will see him come. Until he does; I go no where but here."
Becky moved between the curious warrior and her son. She cleared her throat as she shooed him toward the back of the cabin. "We do have an extra bed."
"A warrior does not lie in comfort between walls where they will forget to be wary. The ground will be my bed; the night, a fire, and vigilance my only companions." She hefted the heavy tomahawk which was much too big for her hand. "And this," she pivoted and drove the weapon deep into the cabin wall, "will be yours, wife of Boone. Let it stand in my absence to remind you that I am watching." With that word she walked through the open door and disappeared into the night.
Becky laid her hand on her chest and turned. Her son had timed his departure to coincide with the warrior woman's, and he was gone. Soon, if God was with them, he would return with Mingo. The Cherokee would know what to do.
Fingering the untouched bowl of stew she wondered what the native's story was, all too aware that it would take something powerful to drive a Cherokee woman to put on men's clothes. Still frowning she crossed the cabin and laid her hand on the tomahawk. It's handle was wrapped with brightly colored ribbons of leather from which feathers and strings of beads dangled.
And one tiny chased silver rattle.
What a curious thing.
With a shake of her head, she walked to the window and pulled the curtain aside. The woman had positioned herself near the end of the walk, taking a seat under the old oak tree. Her slender figure was cut in sharp contrast to the starlit sky. As Becky stared, puzzled, a soft sound was carried to her on the wind. The native was singing. The redhead frowned; she knew the tune. She hummed it softly to herself and then she remembered. Mingo had sung it once - at the foot of the grave of one of his village's beloved men. She and Dan had attended the ceremony out of respect for the old man who had been so kind to them.
It was a death song.
Becky shuddered. But whose death? Someone she had loved?
Or someone she meant to kill?
She let the curtain fall into place and turned back toward the hearth. Who was she, this woman? Why was she clothed as a man? And why, like the braves who sometimes came with Mingo, was she painted and fitted for battle?
Was there such a thing as a Cherokee war woman?
Becky pivoted at the soft voice. She hadn't even heard the door in the rear of the cabin open. A very tall and very welcome figure stood before it. "Oh, Mingo," she breathed in relief, "I am so glad you are here." The redhead drew a sharp breath as her eyes searched the space about him. "Where's Israel? I sent him to find you."
The dark-skinned man moved to her side swiftly and placed his hand on her shoulder. "Israel explained what was happening. I took the liberty of escorting him to the fort before I came here and left Cincinnatus with instructions to send him to the Lewis's. I hope that was all right with you...."
"Of course, it was." She sighed and ran her fingers across her forehead. "I am as jumpy as a cat in a kennel of dogs."
The Cherokee's dark eyebrows arced. "Now that, Rebecca Boone, is jumpy."
She smiled weakly and glanced toward the front of the cabin. "Did you see her?"
He shook his head. "No. I chose not to expose myself or chance being seen." His full lips turned down. "I have heard her though."
Rebecca leaned her weight on the table and sighed. "Yes," she said. "She has been chanting like that for hours."
"A death song. I know." She turned and moved to the window, drawing the cloth aside again. "What I want to know is whose death?" Becky inclined her head towards the tomahawk that still protruded from the wooden beam. "Somehow, Mingo, I don't like the idea that she is looking for Dan one little bit."
He crossed to the weapon and, taking hold of it, pulled it from the wall. He examined the ribbons and feathers, and then took the tiny rattle in his long fingers and shook it. His dark eyes sought her face. "You do know what this is?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "Yes. A baby rattle."
He nodded. "A fine one." The tall man pushed past her and went to the window. He fingered the curtain and shifted it so he could see the lone figure silhouetted against the sky. "Is she wearing war paint?"
"And carrying weapons other than this?"
She came to his side. "Yes. Mingo...?"
He shook his head and turned to look at her. "Rebecca, do you know what she is?"
Daniel's wife bit her lip. Her coppery brows lifted. "Crazy?"
Mingo smiled sadly. "No. Unless she is crazy with grief. She is a War Woman."
"I guessed as much from all the paint," Becky said, "and the male garments. But you mean more than that, don't you? What is a 'War' woman?"
"Something very special." He took her by the arm and led her to the bench by the table. As she took a seat, he continued, "You see, Rebecca, the Cherokee are a pragmatic people. Their lives are well-ordered. Every one - every man, woman and child - knows their place and their duties. Women cook and clean and till the fields, bear the children and raise them, watch over and harvest the crops..."
"In other words," she remarked, interrupting, "they do all the work. Just like white women."
He conceded the point with a nod. "But unlike white women, the Cherokee woman owns the land she tills and the house she cleans. It is inherited from her mother, and her mother before her. She owns as well her children and the produce from the fields. The Cherokee man owns little but his skill with the bow and knife, but he has the pride of knowing he keeps his family safe in times of trouble, and well-supplied with meat and skins to sustain them and keep them warm."
Becky leaned back against the hard wood. "I didn't know that." There was a frown on her face. "But I've seen men in the fields when I've visited the village with Dan. I know I have."
"At planting time, yes. That is a community event." He pursed his lips. "And there are a few men who choose not to be warriors. Unfortunately, they are not well thought of. The Cherokee simply cannot understand a man who does not wish to hunt and fight. It is their way."
"As it is the women's way to take care of the home. But this woman...."
"Ah, yes. This woman...." Mingo sat down on the bench beside her. He looked at his friend's wife. How could he explain it to her? Drawing a breath, he tried. "Rebecca, you know that in ancient times women were looked upon as mysterious duplicitous creatures with great powers, primarily due to the fact that they were able to bear children when men could not...."
"And rightly so," she said emphatically. And then smiled.
Mingo nodded. "When a Cherokee man does not do what is expected; if he steps outside of the 'natural' order of things and does not want to hunt or enter into battle, the People believe there is something intrinsically wrong with him. By doing so, he is turning away from what makes a man, a man."
"And what is that?" The amused smile remained.
"The letting of blood."
It quickly faded. "Blood?"
"Yes. Letting blood." He drew a breath. "Women, on the other hand, are respected when they step over that line and leave the path of the wife and mother behind."
"That hardly seems fair," she protested. "Why is that?"
"Well...." He pursed his lips and continued, attempting to put it as delicately as he could. "Women have their own natural pattern of...spilling...blood."
She frowned. Mingo's cheeks were positively red. She watched him squirm a moment longer, and then she got it. Her hand went to her lips. "Oh."
"Yes." He sighed audibly, relieved that no other words were necessary. "So when a woman also lets blood on the battlefield or during the hunt...she is doubly blessed; doubly special."
"So they aren't shunned if they just decide to up and dress like a man and go to battle?"
"It is not usually quite that simple." The dark-skinned man stood and crossed to the window. He glanced out it. The woman was still there, but she had fallen silent. Turning back, he said, "It usually occurs when there is some sort of trauma in her life." He picked up the tomahawk and turned it over in his hand. "Sometimes her village is in danger. Often, her husband or brother is killed, and she takes up his weapon and seeks the one who did the murder...." He frowned as he fingered the tiny rattle. "And often, no amount of pleading will stop them. Especially...."
Becky rose and came to stand by him. She laid her hand on his. "If it is a child."
He met her eyes which were wide with both fear and empathy. "Or both. There have been several in our tribe."
"War Women." He smiled. "You would not know it to look at them. They are old now and have traded the title of 'War' for 'Beloved'. They are revered for both their hard-won knowledge and their wisdom."
She released him and moved towards the fire. "What do you think she has come for, if she is looking for Dan?"
The tall native hesitated.
"Mingo. Tell me. Tell me the truth."
"From what Israel told me on the way to the fort," he smiled at her look, "taking for granted that the boy's description of past events might be a tad colorful.... I would say she is here to take revenge on Daniel for a wrong she thinks he has done her."
"A wrong?" Her voice was small. "Something Dan did?"
He came to stand by her and laid his brown hand on her shoulder. "Something she thinks or has been told he did, Rebecca. Though Daniel has been known to kill natives..." his dark brow arced "...as have I on occasion, he would never, never harm a child."
She caught his hand and spun about. "Will you find out, Mingo? Dan will be back soon. I just don't know when."
He squeezed her fingers and pulled away. "Where is Daniel?"
He frowned. "Alone?"
She shook her head. "With Will Briggs. He was going to see him to the Ohio and then return by himself. Mingo, I'm worried...."
The Cherokee smiled. He laid the tomahawk down on the table. "She is only a woman, Rebecca," he said, half-jesting.
The redhead stared at him and then she shook her head.
"That's what I am afraid of."
Continued in Chapter Two