Blood Was Only for Bleeding: Chapter 13
by Marla F. Fair
Disclaimer: The following work has been written solely for the enjoyment of fans and not for monetary profit. The rights to the characters initially created for the Daniel Boone series belong to 20th Century Fox and Fess Parker. All other characters are of the author's own creation. No copyright violation is intended.
Cara stumbled forward recklessly, blinded by tears. More than once he fell to his knees, but each time he did, he would stagger to his feet again and press on. Soaked to the skin, covered with mud; his heart pounding like a herd of frightened deer, he abandoned all caution and willingly pursued what he knew in the end would prove to be his own death. He even grinned as he splashed through the tall grasses and worked his way up a steep slope. He didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything, anymore. He was dead to everything but the need, the desire to rid the earth once and for all of the horror that was his brother —
Of the horror that wore his face.
He paused, winded, and leaning heavily against a wall of brown rock, lifted that face to allow the rainwater to cleanse it. Would that it could have done the same for his soul. Deep in his heart he knew the taking of a life was not a thing to be done in the throes of passion — or in the depths of despair. If it was to be done, just cause must be shown and proof of guilt. There needed to be a body of peers; reasonable dispassionate men who could weigh the evidence and then pass judgment.
Guilty or not guilty.
Life or death.
Today he had become all of them in one.
Pushing off the wall, he began to move forward again; his trembling fingers gripping the coiled whip that swung from his belt and playing with the handle of his razor-sharp hunting knife. He had no rifle. There would be no justice dispensed from a distance. If he was to kill him, he would have to look into his brother’s eyes as he did.
And if he did, would he — as Tara had suggested so long ago — see his own?
The lightning cracked over his head and he counted his thudding heartbeats until the thunder boomed. The storm was moving away. A pale wash of light in the west suggested the sun was waging a desperate war to pierce the gloom before surrendering to its sister moon. As he gazed at it, he wondered if Star would live to see another sunrise. If Alexander....
A sob choked him. He should have been more forceful. He should have made his uncle banish Tara the moment he realized he had returned to the Cherokee fires. He knew what he was like; how savage and ruthless he was. And he had known — as surely as the thunder followed the lightning — that wherever his brother was, destruction and death followed in his wake. Now, because somewhere deep within his own tormented soul he had wanted to believe, had dared to hope he might be wrong, people he loved were dying. And it might not end with Alexander and Star. Tara was headed for the village, for Spicewood and Cherry, for Adohi and Cornbeater; for all of the men and women who had welcomed him home and into their hearts.
He should have remained in England. At least then, they would have been safe.
Cara stopped and shook the water from his hair. The rain had relented, falling off to a fine mist that blurred the green landscape before him. He drew a deep breath, ran his hands across his face and laughed aloud. Sometimes his propensity towards self-doubt and recrimination bordered on the absurd. It was not his fault. Tara had returned to the Cherokee long before he had. Even if he had not come back, his brother would have been there, attempting to use and destroy them.
Perhaps Providence had placed him here to save them instead.
He took two more steps and then dropped to the forest floor, crouching behind a clump of thorny grasses. A figure was prowling ahead, poking the underbrush with the long shining barrel of a flintlock. Cara held his breath and waited. He couldn’t be certain at first, but then a ray of light broke through the clouds and he could see.
It was Sharpknife, the Creek witch who traveled with his brother.
He sighed and placed a hand on the ground to steady himself. It had taken him several hours, but he had finally caught up with them. Squatting in the mud, he watched as the painted warrior drew closer. He seemed to be alone. Most likely he was scouting the area, acting as a watch-dog for the one he followed, and that meant his brother was not far away.
He waited, still as a stone, as the muscular Creek moved in slow half-circles, stirring every leaf and blade of grass as if sensing he was not alone. He wondered if the man knew he was there and was merely toying with him, or if his seemingly extra-sensitive senses had at last grown dull. Perhaps he was as tired as he was; fatigued and worn to the edge of breaking by too many days lived on nervous energy. Cara silently unsheathed his knife and held it before him. He frowned when he saw it was shaking. With his other hand he steadied it and suppressed a sigh. As a boy the opportunity had never arrived. As a man in England, disagreements and matters of honor had been settled by a game of cards, a check from a father’s bank account, or at the worst, pistols at twenty paces that seemed incapable of hitting their target.
In other words, he had never killed before. And in spite of his determination to rid the earth and himself of his evil ‘twin’, he wasn’t entirely certain he could; not with premeditation. But then he remembered Star lying in the grass with his life’s blood pouring out, and Alexander — one moment a bridegroom and the next, stuck like a pig and left to die. He thought of his mother and her people, brutalized and butchered not by his brother, but by the man who had given him life and bequeathed him a legacy of hate, and as he did, he became enraged. It was almost as if he felt his heart burst, changing from white to red in an instant as the blood began to pound in his ears and pulse through his veins until it blinded his eyes.
A moment later Sharpknife was in the wrong place. Cara left him in a pool of red, lying on the forest floor.
Tara-Mingo sat up sharply, alerted by a sense that was not altogether human. He frowned as his black eyes searched the shifting shadows. Sharpknife was overdue. His mystical companion had had a sense that they were being followed and had insisted on keeping watch. The Cherokee who had freed the white woman from their grasp could not have acted alone, he said, and, he warned, there was something more; something in the air that spoke of betrayal and death. Since they had left the older man bleeding and had started towards his mother’s village, defeat had dogged their heels. First, the land had broken before them and run with black water, blocking their path. Then lightning had struck a tree and torn it in two, illuminating the night and revealing their position. And finally, as they fought their way through the wind and the unceasing rain, they had stumbled over the bodies of several of their companions; warriors they had thought to join as they returned from the failed raid on the Chota.
Tara leaned his dark head against the rough bark of the tree he rested beneath and sighed. Nothing should have gone wrong. All the signs had been favorable. Sharpknife’s castings and Policha’s god had both agreed that he was meant for great things, and that now was the time for them to begin. When the Creek aathollo had first introduced him to the slender metizo, many moons before when he had still lived among the lower Creek, he had not trusted him. But then the pale man had proven his worth, siding with him in his bid to become chief and fighting with the skill and passion of a mountain lion. Later, before he returned to the white man’s world, Policha had explained to him how the stars often mirrored the destiny of a man, and told him that the comet’s tail which had lit the heavens and heralded his return to the Bear clan had also held the promise of dominion over all.
Now it seemed that promise would remain unfulfilled, for dark clouds of doubt masked the stars so they could no longer shine. As they made their way through the storm-tossed night, he and Sharpknife had spoken of it, and at last he knew why. The gods were confused. Two men wore the same face, and they did not know which one to favor. His fingers closed into fists as he remembered the first time he had held a knife to his little brother’s throat — it had been on the night their mother died. Then he had let sentiment and some small sense of family, of shared blood, stay his hand.
Never. Never again.
The next time he saw his brother, he would die.
Closing his eyes, he settled back against the tree and allowed himself to fall into a light restive sleep as the wind whispered through the underbrush and the birds rustled unseen in the branches above his head.
A sly smile lit Cara’s tanned face. He would have laughed had he not been so close. He knew the spot where his brother had chosen to rest. There was a tall tree and behind it a steep slope and a small pond surrounded by wild grapes. This was the same place where he and Copperhead had slept, waiting on the dawn, and the same slope where he had been startled by the great tom and fallen to the rocks below. It was here that Copperhead had overheard Policha and Sharpknife plotting and planning, and here where they had first been alerted to the fact that his brother and his renegade Creeks were on the warpath.
Somehow finding Tara here seemed almost too poetic.
Gripping his knife tightly he sank back into the shadows, deciding to wait until the moon had passed below the tops of the trees.
Darkness was needed for the deed he would do.
Tara moaned softly, deep in the throes of a dream. He stood on the bank of a river, facing his own reflection. Behind him there was no one, but behind the watery apparition a line of men and women, both white and red, ranged. As he watched each raised a pale finger to point at him. He nodded, accepting the homage and the tribute they offered, but then, as one by one their hands began to run red with their shed blood, he realized they did not honor him, but blamed him for their deaths. As he continued to stare, his reflection shifted. It lifted a rifle and pointed the barrel at him, and even though its deep brown eyes were sad and wide like the doe’s, its pale finger pulled the trigger and there was a shot.
Startled Tara flew to his feet. The sound was repeated as another stone struck the trunk of the tree just above his head. As it did, its branches exploded in a flurry of feathers as half a dozen wild turkeys bolted from their perches, gobbling and kee-kee-ing in terror. Seeing one headed straight for him, Talota’s Creek son fell to his knees and threw his hands over his head. The moment he did, a lean muscular body barreled into him, knocking him over onto his back and pinning him to the ground.
Tara-Mingo drew a sharp breath as a knee jabbed into his chest and he stared up into the face from his dream.
“You cannot,” the tall Creek said.
“I will. You must go after Cara. It has already been too long.”
Arrowkeeper faced the small, determined woman. “Miriam, I will not leave you here, alone, with three wounded men.” He glanced at Star. The older man was pale and silent, but his heart beat still. “Cara desired to go alone.”
“Against that monster? You know Tara is not to be trusted. He is the devil himself.” Copperhead’s wife drew a breath. She was trembling not only from a lack of sleep and food, but from shock and apprehension. In the time it had taken them to find Arrowkeeper and move the wounded Alexander to the grove where Star lay, her husband’s fever had risen. Towards the end, as the tall Creek placed the two men side by side, he had leaned on her heavily. Now he slept beside them like one dead. She moved forward and laid her hand on the big man’s arm. Fear made her words come in a whisper. “Would you have Cara die too?”
Arrowkeeper closed his eyes and sighed. “No. But I desire to honor his request. He told you to take Star home. He told me I am responsible for you, and your husband who is also injured. When Nighthawk returns, I will do just that; I will take you home, and then I will return for Cara.”
“For another corpse in the grass, you mean,” she spat.
He took her meaning. “For another put there by my hand.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t say that....”
Arrowkeeper’s lips twisted in a bitter smile. “You did not need to. The truth need not be spoken. Where it counts, it is known.”
Miriam opened her mouth to reply, but the imposing man raised one large hand and held it up before her, calling for silence.
“What?” She pivoted and instinctively drew closer to him. “What is it? Did you hear something?”
His black eyes narrowed as he stepped in front of her. “Perhaps it is Nighthawk,” he said softly as he slipped his blade from its sheath and took a step forward.
“Perhaps it is not.”
Brown feathers fell about them like rain. Cara held the sharpened edge of his blade against his brother’s throat. Even though the moon had fallen behind the shadowed trees, the clouds had parted to allow a sparkling starlight to illuminate the night, and it seemed to collect and settle in the depths of his brother’s ebon eyes. As he stared at his twisted reflection, the familiar face lit with a smile. He took his fingers and caught the collar of the hunting shirt Tara had stolen from him and twisted it tight about his throat. “What are you grinning at, you jackal?” He shook him hard. “I am going to kill you.”
Tara coughed and shook his head. The smile did not fade.
“What? Tell me! What are you grinning at?”
“At you, little brother.” His voice came in a rasp. “At last we are one.”
“No.” Cara shook his head. “I am nothing like you. What you do is for your own gain, to satisfy your own obscene desires. What I do, I do for Star, for Alec....” He shook him again and slammed his head into the earth. “For Cherry, for Miriam and Copperhead and their son, and everyone else you have ever threatened or harmed.”
His brother was still a moment. Then he said only. “You lie.”
Cara pressed the tip of the knife into his brother’s flesh and felt the other man’s blood flow across his fingers. “How would you know? To you, the truth is a lie, and twisting it, your only reason for living. I should have killed you that first night, when I awoke and found you, here, once again among our mother’s people.”
“And what would your people have thought, when you killed the one who cared for you?”
“You cared for me to allay their suspicions, to make them think you had changed. You will never change. In your red heart there is room for nothing and no one but yourself. You use. You abuse. You destroy. You hate....” He was trembling so hard his fingers shook. The knife began to slip from them, but he caught it in time and pressed it even closer. He stared at his brother who was eerily calm and wondered what dark thoughts were racing through his mind. “Tara, you are hate.”
His Creek brother actually laughed. “You see? I told you. We are one.”
“I....” Cara shook his head. “No, I do not kill out of hate. I kill for justice, for those you have wronged — ”
“You lie again. It is for you, brother. And only for you. I am the wolf you fear hides in the shadows of your own heart.” Tara paused to draw a breath. “Kill me and you kill yourself.”
Cara felt his sweat mix with his brother’s blood. Tara’s words mirrored Star’s. He remembered how the older man had pleaded with him. ‘It is not in you to do this, not out of a need for vengeance and personal gain,’ he had said. ‘If you do, you will die...” He could feel his friend’s fingers touching his heart, ‘...here.’
“The world would be a better place without you, Tara,” he whispered, suddenly bone-weary. He eased the pressure on the knife and leaned back. “Still, it is not for me to do. Not to be your executioner. I will take you back. I will bring you before the council and speak against you. But if you are to die, it will be have to be their decision...and by their hand.” Still clasping the knife, he rose to his feet. “I am not God.”
Tara-Mingo’s black eyes danced. He slowly regained his feet and then he said, “No, you are not. I am.”
As his brother spoke Cara sensed they were not alone. He pivoted sharply to find a ghastly apparition. The Creek witch, Sharpknife loomed behind him, painted in his own blood. He had lost his weapon but not his strength or fury. Without warning he backhanded Cara so hard he slammed into the tree.
As his brother slid to the wet ground, stunned, Tara-Mingo caught up his knife and moved deliberately towards him. “It is your misfortune, dear brother, that I have no such trouble with killing.”
“Do you see them?”
“No.” Arrowkeeper peered through the rustling leaves again and then drew a sharp breath. “Yes. There. Beneath the tree.”
As he spoke those words Sharpknife knocked Cara to the ground and Tara leaned down to retrieve his knife. Menewa growled low in his throat as he watched his nephew fall. He took hold of the tall Creek’s arm and held him back.
“This one is mine.”
Cara pivoted and rolled into the shadows that lined the area about the great tree just as the knife his brother wielded stripped its bark and left a deep gash in the soft white meat beneath. When he stopped moving he glanced up, expecting to find the two of them at his heels. Instead he saw they had frozen in place. Suddenly war cries filled the air; Cherokee war cries. With relief, he realized it was his uncle and his warriors. As he watched they rushed the small clearing with the fury of a swollen stream and quickly surrounded the dazed Creeks. There would be a battle, but it would be short-lived, and it would be one his brother could not win. He shuddered uncontrollably and curled in a tight ball, hugging himself. He did not have to kill his brother.
Without warning a hand fell on his shoulder. He gasped and struggled to escape, but then he recognized Arrowkeeper. Relief flooded through him until he remembered where the other man was supposed to be. “What are you doing here? ” It was both a question and a charge.
“I am here with your uncle.”
Cara met his eyes. If the big man had come with Menewa, that meant some of his uncle’s warriors must have stayed behind with the others. As he climbed to his feet, he asked, “Star?”
“Alive.” Arrowkeeper could not meet his eyes. “Barely.”
“Alexander and Copperhead....”
“And Miriam.... All are alive. Menewa’s braves are seeing them to the village.” At his look he added, “It is safe now. The British who meant to attack Chota are routed or dead. The men who walked with your brother, captives or the same.” He paused. “I returned to find you.”
Cara frowned. “Even though I asked you to stay with them?”
“And see them safe. I have.” The tall Creek glanced back the way he had come and fell silent. After a moment he added, “The promise I fulfill now is one I made before we spoke.”
“Before? I don’t understand....”
This time he did meet his eyes. “Star wished to speak to us together. We must go to him. Now, while there is still time.”
“But he was unconscious....”
Arrowkeeper nodded. “Even so. We must go.”
Cara sensed something had changed in the other man. He knew he deeply regretted the path he had chosen. Still, the harm that choice had done was irreparable. He drew a slow, steadying breath, and then agreed. With a quick nod, he turned and left the leaves behind, and entered the cleared space beneath the tree. As he did, he drew to a halt. His brother lay on the ground. Blood was spattered on his face. Cara was surprised to feel a pit open up in his stomach at the sight. He met his uncle’s eyes. “Is he...?”
Menewa shook his head. “He would not yield. He was made to.”
The young man turned and looked about, suddenly uneasy. “Sharpknife?”
“My men pursue him now. He will not escape.” As Menewa watched, unexpectedly, his nephew swayed. He caught him and steadied him with a hand to his shoulder. “Cara?”
“I am all right. I must go with....” He ran a hand over his face and glanced at the tall Creek at his side. “ I must go with Arrowkeeper. Star is....”
His uncle nodded. “Mother Earth will take him back this day.” He spat at Tara’s feet. “This one has much to answer for.”
Cara drew a deep breath; his dark brown eyes fastened on the still form on the grass. “As have we all.”
The room was dark and filled with women’s tears. As they entered Cara glanced at Arrowkeeper. They both knew what it meant that Star was not in the healer’s lodge with Alexander and Copperhead. He was not expected to live. Moving forward, he knelt at Spicewood’s side and laid his hand on her shoulder. The girl was pale and shaking, torn between the two men she loved; unable to be at the side of both at once.
Alexander had sent her here.
He watched as her eyes went to Arrowkeeper as he knelt on the other side of her father’s deathbed, and he wondered how much she knew. Surely she had spoken to Cherry during the time they had been confined to the caves. But then again, maybe not; undoubtedly silence had been the rule, and there had been many other things to think about.
“Spicewood,” he said softly.
“Cara.” She did not fight the tears, but allowed them to flow freely down her brown cheeks. “It is not fair. I have only now found him again.”
“I know. I am sorry.” He glanced at the tall Creek. “We are sorry to intrude on your grief....”
She shook her dark head. “I knew you would be here; both of you.”
He frowned. “What? How could you....”
Cara jumped as the dying man spoke. “Star?”
The familiar face which had been bled almost white managed a weak smile. “Arrowkeeper?” he asked as his hand groped the air. It seemed he was not certain the other man was there.
The tall Creek caught his hand and squeezed it. “I am here, old man.”
Star nodded, almost imperceptibly. He touched Cara’s arm. “Your...brother?”
“Captured. He will be brought to trial before the council.”
“Then you did not...”
Cara sighed. “Almost. I wanted to. But no, I did not kill him. You were right, Star. You were right.” He brushed the older man’s hair back from his pallid forehead. “It is not in me to hate.”
Star was silent a moment and then he called softly, “Spicewood?”
The beautiful girl leaned so close her rich black hair brushed his cheek. “Yes, my father?”
“Go to your husband, child.”
She shook her head. “No....”
“This life,” he whispered, ‘is done. Your mother...waits beyond. I am content. Go... Go to your husband. Your life...is with him now. And I would...speak with...my friends. Alone.”
Spicewood stifled a sob and planted a kiss on her father’s cheek. “Remain, until I return?”
He nodded again and then his dark eyes followed her until she disappeared into the shadows that masked the room. Then they returned, first to Arrowkeeper and then to Cara.
“You could not hate.” He drew a sharp breath. “You must not judge. You must forgive.”
“I am not....” Cara avoided looking at him. “I cannot forgive...this....”
“Yes. You can.” Star closed his eyes and rested for a moment. When he opened them, his head turned towards the tall Creek. “And you....”
Arrowkeeper’s face pivoted towards him as the older man feebly squeezed his hand. He had been staring out the door. “What it is, old man?”
“You must atone.”
The Creek’s jaw was tight. “I cannot.”
“Yes, you can.” Star drew another rough breath and then asked, “You remember...what I required...of you?”
Arrowkeeper’s eyes shot to the young man across from him. “Yes.”
“What?” Cara didn’t understand. “What are you talking about?”
Star looked at him. “You remember...the first day...we met?”
Cara felt a tear escape his eye and roll down his cheek. “How could I forget?”
“You said...you were an infant....”
“With no mother or father, or tribe.” He wrapped his hand about the older man’s. “And you told me until the day you....” A sob broke from him and he fell silent, unable to continue.
“Until the day I died...you were mine.” Star’s black eyes lit with an inner fire and his voice grew in strength as he went on. “Today, I die. Today, I honor my brother here,” he glanced at Arrowkeeper, “for I know what is in his heart, and that his heart is pure, though he has strayed from the path.... Today I give you to my brother, Arrowkeeper. You are now his to watch over, to care for, and to teach.”
Cara’s head came up. “I am a grown man. I need no one.” His face was wet with tears. He glared at the man across from him and his temper snapped. “Besides, he caused this....”
“No.” Star’s voice was firm and strong as it had been when he was a young man. “I chose this. And you dishonor me, if you do not believe that, and do not do as I ask.”
The young man was shaking. “I can’t. I won’t....”
“You must. For yourself,” he turned towards Arrowkeeper whose stone face was also bathed in tears, “and for him. You have lost one brother this day. You cannot afford to lose another.”
Cara felt a pressure on his fingers and looked up to see the tall Creek stiffen. Star was bringing their hands together over his dying form. “One life has ended. Another begun. Do not let your brother’s evil go beyond this day.” Then, abruptly, the dying man loosed their hands and fell silent. For a moment Cara feared the worst, but then he saw that he was sleeping. He lifted his tear-streaked face towards the Creek and saw him shake his head. “Arrowkeeper? What?”
“I cannot stay.” He rose to his feet. “I am dishonored here.”
Cara stood. Even though he did not feel it, he insisted, “You must. My people — we will honor Star’s wishes.”
The tall Creek shook his head. “They will not forgive me.”
“Perhaps they will,” Cara said quickly. “Perhaps that is to be your punishment.”
Several hours later Cara waited at the edge of the village for his uncle’s return. He was exhausted and still wore his blood and mud-stained clothes. Miriam had accompanied him, leaving Adohi to the beloved woman, Cornbeater’s care, and her husband with Galunadi. Copperhead was sleeping in the same lodge as Alec, and while neither one was out of danger, the Cherokee’s prognosis was good. His fever had broken and it was thought he would make a quick and complete recovery.
Alec was another matter. He had lost a great deal of blood. He was weak and the healer would not commit himself one way or the other. He said he had seen many warriors survive worse, and others die from much less.
Cara glanced at Miriam. She sat quietly at his side, her face thoughtful. “Should you not be getting back?”
Her rich blue eyes flicked to his face. “I didn’t want to leave you alone. So much sorrow....” She drew a deep breath and faced him. “I know you feel responsible for what your brother did. You....”
“I am not. I know.” He favored her with a wistful smile. “So I have been told again and again....”
She was silent a moment. “I am so sorry....” Her voice broke and she shuddered. “He gave his life for me.”
Cara looked at her. She seemed so small and lost, like a young bird fallen from the nest. Her life’s chosen mate had been brutalized and she had been kidnapped and misused, and all because she was a white woman who had the courage to love where it was not allowed. As he put his arm about her and felt her tremble, he chastised himself for having ever entertained the thought that he might bring Rachel to this unsettled land.
“And for your son,” he added quietly. “Star is....” Cara stopped and corrected himself, “Star was a father as well. He had been torn from his family. His daughter had to grow up without him. He did not want that for Adohi.”
She nodded and then leaned her head on his shoulder. “I can’t believe he’s dead.”
Cara fought back the tears. “Neither can I. But it was his choice and he is content.” He smiled again. The older man had lingered until his daughter returned. They had exchanged a few words and then he had fallen asleep, never to awaken again on this earth. He fingered the beaded necklace at his throat. Spicewood had brought it to him. It had been the older man’s parting gift. “Those were his words, Miriam. We must honor them.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, simply sharing one another’s company, until Miriam stirred at the sound of Cherry’s voice. A moment later the buxom young Cherokee appeared. She hesitated and then approached them. “Kamama,” she said.
“Is it Copperhead?” Miriam was on her feet in an instant. “Cherry, is he — ?”
“Well.” The dark-skinned girl’s eyes flicked to Cara and then back to her friend. “He is awake and asking for you.”
The young Englishwoman’s face lit with a brilliant smile. “Thank the Lord. Cara, are you....?”
“I will be fine,” he answered softly. “Really.”
She laid her fine white hand alongside his tanned cheek and then planted a kiss on his forehead. “Thank you. For everything.”
He nodded but said nothing until Cherry turned to follow her friend. “Cherry?”
The girl’s back went stiff. She drew a deep breath and then turned to look at him. Her eyes filled with tears when she saw the state he was in. It took everything that was in her to remain where she was, and not to run and hold him. “Yes?” she said.
“I am sorry for the things I said the other day.”
“One should not apologize for the truth.”
He laughed gently. “Oh, yes, one should. Will you sit a minute”?
She looked at the open space on the rock beside him and shook her head. “I must get back.”
“How is Alec?”
She shrugged. “He will live or die, I cannot say.” At his pained look she added softly, “But I do not think he will die.”
A wave of weakness seemed to take him and he reached out to steady himself, laying his hand on the rough boulder. “Thank God.”
As he fell silent, she moved closer to the rock and asked, “What did you want to say to me?”
“I wanted to tell you that I know now I would never bring Rachel here.” He looked up at her, his dark brown eyes intense. “I do not know what that means. I love her still, but I have chosen to be a Cherokee and this is not her world.” He took her hand and added softly, “I do not know that I could bear to have a wife of any kind.”
Cherry dark brows drew together. “No?”
“The world is a savage place, Cherry, full of pain and sorrow. Both Europe and the colonies are in turmoil. All men — French, English, Native, White — brutally and thoughtlessly kill one another for power and for gain, and I....” He stopped. “I do not think I am strong enough to love....” He hesitated as her released her fingers. “And to lose.”
She remained silent a moment and then rounded the boulder to come to stand before him. The early morning light struck her spiraling raven hair and made it glisten. She reached out and touched his cheek and his forehead; then she leaned down to kiss him on the lips. At his bewildered expression, she laughed. “If all men believed as you, there would be no more men. I am willing to take the risk.”
He took her hand in his again. “I am not...yet. Perhaps I never will be.” He shook his head. “Perhaps in time....”
She kissed him again and laid her free hand on his chest. “I will wait, Cara-Mingo. And if I do not marry you, I vow I will never marry. I will stay with the healers. I will be a wise woman. But I will not love again.”
She turned then and walked away, leaving him alone with his sorrow, his regrets, and his hopes, as the sun topped the trees and its dawning light illuminated the path his uncle and his accursed brother would soon walk.
As the daystar moved towards its zenith, he began to grow concerned. Even if his uncle had chosen to hunt down the remainder of the renegades who followed his brother, he and his warriors should have returned by now. Though he was stiff and sore, Cara rose and began to walk into the forest, bent on seeking them out. Less than half an hour later they found him. The war party was moving slowly; solemnly. The priest who had accompanied them was chanting and shaking his gourd rattles. A half a dozen braves carried litters, bearing the bodies of the dead back towards their earthly home. The sight of the corpses laid out; their hands clenching their weapons on painted and feathered shields, struck him as an omen of things yet to come. He waited in silence until the older man drew abreast him. Menewa was exhausted. There were great dark circles under his eyes. His color was pale. Both his head and his chest were bandaged.
He inclined his head. “Cara-Mingo.”
“My brother?” Cara asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
“Gone. Escaped.” Menewa nodded to one of his men and the party continued on past the pair.
There was no condemnation in his voice. “How? How did this happen?”
“Soon after you left, your friend Arrowkeeper’s man, Nighthawk, appeared with a warning, but it was too little and too late. The enemy followed hard on his heels. We were set upon by men from the Talofa. They were fresh; unwearied. My men....”
“He led them. He has escaped as well.”
Cara nodded. “It was not meant to be, Uncle.” He almost laughed. “It is for me to do this thing, but not out of blind hate or revenge. I am my brother’s keeper. I will find him, and I will bring him back to stand trial before the council.”
“If you do, he dies,” the Cherokee War Chief proclaimed. “There will be no trial. From this day forward Tara-Mingo is son of my sister no longer. He is exiled from Cherokee fires, and if found on our land, will be under punishment of death.”
Menewa pushed past him and followed his warriors towards the village. Soon the women would begin to wail and the men would place ashes on their heads and dress in tattered robes to mourn the dead.
Exhausted, Cara-Mingo dropped to his knees and stared back the way they had come.
His brother was out there somewhere, waiting.
It was not over.
It had only just begun.
Dan pursed his lips and frowned. He looked at the handsome Scot crouching beside him who had suddenly fallen silent, overwhelmed by the vision his own words had conjured, and he realized Alexander Calum MacKirdy was a man on the edge. By his own admission, he had known more sorrow in thirty-odd years than the average person could bear. The big frontiersman shifted, pushed his cap back and sighed. And Mingo. Dear God. He had had no idea. For nearly ten years his Cherokee friend had carried the burden of having allowed his brother to live. And so, when the vengeful ‘ghost’ from his past had returned several years back, slaying innocent villagers and attempting to kill Yad, he had felt as if it had been by his own hand.
No wonder he had acted as if he was guilty.
The Scot’s dark head turned towards him. “Aye?”
“We’re almost there. Is there anythin’ else I need to know?”
Alexander was silent.
“Is there more?” Dan caught his shoulder. He knew the other man had not mentioned the circumstances of his wife’s death, nor the premature burial or first ‘death’ of Mingo’s brother.
“I cannae speak o’ it, Dan.” The raven-haired man swallowed hard. “Nae noo. Th’ past is tae present wi’ me.”
The frontiersman nodded. “So long as there is no danger....”
Alexander’s smile was grim. “Nae fur this day.”
“Well, then. It’s time to turn our minds to the matter at hand.”
“An’ thot woulds be?”
“Findin’ my wife and son, and your brother.” Dan nodded towards the plumes of smoke that spiraled into the cloud-capped sky. “And gettin’ them out of there safe.”
“Them? Whot aboot ye, Dan? Ye ken whot will happen if they catch ye.” Alexander palmed his Scottish flintlock pistol. The silver filigree glistened in the moonlight. “Dae ye mean tae com’ oot safe?”
Daniel Boone grinned. “Only two days together and you think you know me well enough to guess what I’m plannin’?”
“Och, aye. I ken ye well enoof. Ye aur Cara-Mingo’s friend. He killed his brither fur ye. I ken th’ kind o’ man ye aur.” Alexander returned his smile. “Did I ne’er tell ye whot mah Uncle Dungan’s exact words tae me waur afore I left him?”
Dan’s brown brows lifted. “Dungan told you about me?”
The Scot laughed. “Aye. An’ ye’ll pardon me fur repeatin’ it exactly. ‘Alexander,’ he said, ‘th’ rogue will moost like try some bone-headed gambl’. In th’ end, it might work, boot someday th’ mon’s luck is boond tae run oot.’”
The frontiersman was quiet a moment. “MacDougall said that?”
“Aye.” His dark eyes lit with amusement. “Thot he dee.”
“Well,” the big man shifted, relaxing the tension in his knees. “I guess since the man’s a general, arguin’ with him would be a court-martial offense.”
The Scot shook his head. “Sae yer sayin’, yer dead either way?”
“Looks like it.” Dan hefted Tick Licker and rose to his feet.
The other man followed. “An’ ye intend tae dae as ye will? An’ tae th’ De’il wi’ th’ danger?”
Dan’s lips pursed again and he nodded as he turned towards the talofa and what lay ahead. “Yep.”
Alexander laughed and clasped his shoulder. “Daniel Boone, yer mah kind o’ mon.”
Becky shuddered and wrapped her arms about her thin frame. The autumn nights remained hot and sultry, but in spite of that she felt a chill. Raising her eyes to the door of the lodge, she realized why. Her fingers involuntarily went to her jaw as the well-dressed man who lingered there turned to look at her. He had bruised her flesh when he had struck her. Despite his fine clothing and fancy speech, James McInnery was nothing but a brute. He stood now, arguing with someone who waited beyond the threshold. She could just make the other man out. He was slender and pale and wore glasses. She knew him. He had greeted her briefly upon her arrival and had, along with several other well-armed braves, escorted her to this place. He looked white but wore paint on his face like the other natives, and went by a Creek name; Policha. She knew that meant ‘preacher’ or ‘parson’. She had served once as midwife to a young Creek woman who had landed in the settlement just as her time had come. When the reverend had come to visit, the respectful native had greeted him with that word, ‘policha. This was the one that Alexander MacKirdy had mentioned with such hatred; the one who had once befriended both Arrowkeeper and Mingo.
She frowned and shoved a lock of coppery hair out of her eyes. Somehow she didn’t think the god this man served was the same one she knew.
McInnery barked a command and then shoved past the slight man. Policha watched him go and then turned back to face her. A moment later, removing the turban that covered his light hair, he stepped into the room and greeted her with a little bow. “Mrs. Boone. Mrs. Rebecca Boone.”
“Yes.” She nodded her head and straightened her spine. “Policha.”
One sandy eyebrow arced. “Ah, I see you know my name.”
“Yes. Though I doubt is it the one your mother gave you.” Becky knew the Creek were matri-linear and that his mother would have chosen the name he had used as a little boy. Alexander had mentioned that ‘Preacher’ was his war name. At the time she had thought it an odd choice.
Policha cocked his head and met her gaze. His own hazel eyes were slightly amused. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t remember her at all.”
“What about your father?”
He laughed. “No. Him either.” Policha took a step towards her. “Why are you so curious?”
She shrugged. Her arms remained tightly wrapped about her chest. “I was just wondering....”
“Yes. Wondering what it is that makes a man go bad. What turns him into a monster who can threaten little children and send savage men to brutalize a woman, and steal her from her home in the middle of the night?”
The man who had once been known as James Harper drew closer. He lowered his wire-rim glasses and gazed over the glistening rims at her. “ ‘When I looked for good, then evil came, and when I waited for light, there came darkness’.”
He was quoting Job; offering it as some sort of an explanation for his choices. Becky screwed up her courage and planted her hands on her hips. Two could play at that game.
“ ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,’ ” she answered back.
The pale man looked startled and then he laughed. “ ‘But I will maintain mine own ways before him.’ ”
“ ‘Surely God will not hear vanity, neither will the Almighty regard it,’ ” she shot back, still quoting Job.
Policha’s thin lips twisted in a smile. “You know the scriptures well, Mrs. Boone.”
“I know their author well.” She paused to draw a breath. “Do you?”
He fell silent as he noted the arrival of someone new outside the door. He took a step toward it and then glanced back at her. “ ‘Suffer me a little, and I will show thee that I speak on God’s behalf.’ ” He grinned again and moved towards the opening. Once there, he hesitated. “I hope you are as entertaining for your next visitor, Mrs. Boone. He holds your life in his hands.”
“God holds my life in his hands.” Becky’s tone was firm.
Policha laughed as he stepped through the door. “Well, some might say that is who you are meeting.”
As he disappeared, a dark-haired figure stepped into the lodge. He was near the same height as the other man, but obviously native; his rich copper skin covered with mystic symbols. Feathers dangled from his hair and a beaded choker encircled his slender neck. As he moved towards her, she noticed he walked with a slight limp. Becky took a step back as he came to stand before her. Then she stopped, stunned.
He was just a boy.
“This Kamassa; the one your uncle warned you about. What is he exactly?”
“Other than McInnery’s poppet, I dinna ken. ‘Tis nae a white mon hae seen him, Dan. Tis said he cam’ frae th’ South, frae Georgia ur Alabama. He is a dreamer; a prophet some say.” Alexander ran a hand through his short curls. “Others use th’ word ‘messiah’.”
“Now, that’s a mighty big word.”
The Scott nodded. “Joost sae. Boot ‘tis a word thot stirs men’s hearts. It gi’es hope waur thaur is none. An’ th’ first folk o’ this land coulds use some hope. Thaur losses hae been grea’.”
Dan shifted. They had paused about one hundred yards outside of the Creek talofa, trying to get the feel for what lay ahead of them. So far, it wasn’t good. In the short time they had waited he had counted at least one hundred warriors moving through the common area that marked the center of the temporary town. Beyond that there were dozens, perhaps even hundreds more milling about in the darkness. “You siding with the enemy now, Alexander?”
The raven-haired man smiled sadly. “I hae met th’ enemy, an’ he is me.”
Dan leaned back. “Care to explain that?”
“These men — Harper an’ McInnery an’ all th’ others — they hae seen thaur folk slaughtered; wiped oot by th’ white mon. They aur angry an’ bitter. They wont things tae be as they waur, an’ yet thaur ain existence belies thot possibility. They aur not, nor can they e’er be at peace.” Alexander sighed. “I tried tae tell Uncle Dungan. He woulds nae listen. He said a mon is ‘whot he makes himself, nae whot he is born wi’.’
Daniel nodded. “I’d agree with that.”
“I kent ye woulds.” The Scot said softly. “Boot hae ye nae regrets, Daniel? Is yer sleep pure peaceful, an’ aur yer dreams aye untroobled?”
“Regrets?” The big man pursed his lips as one of Benjamin Franklin’s many proverbs came to mind. “A friend of mine once said, ‘Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.’ Of course, I have regrets, Alexander. I just don’t dwell on them. I learn from them and move on.” Dan gazed at the talofa again. The crowd on the common had thinned out a bit and it was time to go. He was anxious to find his wife and to get her away from these madmen. “Now, come on. Let’s get movin’ before we make some fresh ones.”
There was no reply.
Dan turned his head and saw that the young Scot was once again staring off into the distance; lost in thought. He touched his shoulder. “Alexander?”
The dark head jerked towards him. “Aye?”
“A farthing for your thoughts.”
The other man laughed. “Ye woulds nae wont tae buy them.”
Dan laughed and shook his head. “I sure can tell you’re related to Mingo.”
Becky held very still. She stared at the youth who had come to rest before her. He was handsome in a hawkish sort of way, with great black eyes and dark winged brows, and long lustrous black hair that fell in waves over his bare shoulders. His chest and arms were well-muscled, as if he had come to rely on them to compensate for whatever deformity the long breech-cloth masked. He wore no weapon and might have been fifteen or sixteen at most. Still, she thought him younger. It seemed he was at that awkward age; just old enough to resent being thought of as a boy, and yet not old enough to be a man.
He reached out towards her and she didn’t shy away as he handled a lock of her copper-colored hair. His fingers then went to her cheek and traced the bruises that lined it. A moment later he spoke. His voice was soft, with a dream-like quality. “Who has done this?” he asked.
“This?” Her fingers followed his to the black and blue marks on her pale white skin. “Your friend,” she snapped. “The brute with the black tie and no manners.”
The young man smiled at her words and then quickly masked his amusement. He nodded. “McInnery.”
“Yes. McInnery. Though one of those bullies who stormed into my house called him something else. Aatinaa...?”
The youth began to circle around her. “It is his other name. What we call him.”
Becky remained still, though it nearly killed her to do so. “And its meaning?” she inquired.
He stopped as if surprised she had dared to ask him a question. A moment later he replied, “Talker. He speaks for us to the white man.”
Daniel Boone’s handsome wife snorted. “While I am sure he could talk the teeth off of a saw, the man’s not fit to mind mice at a crossroads, if you ask me.”
The young native stopped to stare at her. This time he laughed out loud.
“There. That’s better,” she said softly as she swung to face him. “You are much too serious for someone so young.”
“I am not so young,” he answered quickly.
“No? How old are you then?” Becky watched as he began to move again and completed his circle around her. ‘And who are you?’ she wondered to herself.
His dark eyes blinked languidly. “I have walked this earth many moons.”
She hid her smile. The young always thought they were so old. “How many moons? One hundred?”
“More. Policha says I am...” He grimaced as he put his weight down on his right foot and turned, “...you would say fourteen.”
Becky reached involuntarily towards him. “Are you in pain? Can I help you?”
The youth’s spine suddenly went stiff. “I need no help.”
The redhead sighed. She shook her head. No matter how different people thought they were, they always seemed to say the same things. “Then you must be the only person on the face of the earth who doesn’t. We all need help from time to time.”
A dark light flickered in the depths of his great black eyes. “I do not. I need no one.”
Becky bit her lip and held her tongue, sensing any further comment would only anger him. She gazed at the youth for a moment and then dared to ask another question. “Why am I here?”
He turned away from her and took a few steps towards the door. “Policha says you are ‘bait’.”
She drew a deep breath. For Dan. Just as she had feared. She closed her eyes and steadied herself, praying for the thousandth time that someone had found Israel and Finlay, that the young Scot was still alive, and that he and her boy were safe at the fort, far away from this madness. “Bait,” she whispered. “You make me sound like a worm or a piece of red meat. A bit of sugar cane.” She laughed bitterly. “I am a mother and a wife. I have a son not that much younger than you. I am not a — ”
“Yes....” She waited as he moved back towards her.
“You love him?”
Becky nodded. “Yes. With all my heart.”
He was silent a moment. “I never knew my mother; my real mother.”
She met his eyes. They were unfathomable pools. She still had no idea what game he was playing at, or why the other more formidable men had sent him — a boy — to interrogate and treat with her. “I am sorry.”
“Or my father.”
His young face reflected a sadness that she found hard to bear. “I don’t know what to say....”
“Say nothing.” He drew close to her and caught her hand. Holding it tight, he closed his eyes and seemed to be transported. Becky waited, watching as his full lips moved but made no sound. A minute or so later something alerted her to the presence of another person in the room. She looked up to find a man standing just inside the door; his solid form silhouetted by the cascading moonlight. She gasped when she realized it was McInnery.
He caught her eye and then walked slowly to their side. Laying his gloved hand on the boy’s shoulder, he gently shook him and whispered near his ear, “Kamassa.”
Becky trembled as the youth’s black eyes opened and fastened on her without seeing. A moment later he stirred and released her hand. As he blinked and began to wake, she exclaimed, “You? You are this ‘Kamassa?”
James McInnery smiled. “So you have heard of our young savior, Mrs. Boone? From whom?”
She shook her head. “I will tell you nothing.”
The dark-skinned native’s lower lip twisted, puckering the scar that ran across it and down his chin. “Oh, I think you will tell me whatever I wish to know. You have a friend, do you not? A Cherokee half-breed?” He paused dramatically. “What was the name? Kerr? Cara?” His white teeth flashed against his deep copper skin. “Ah yes, Cara-Mingo.”
Becky felt her heart lurch. “Yes.” Her voice was small.
“Kamassa, here,” he inclined his head towards the boy, “would very much like to see him die. I might feel compelled to comply with his wishes if you continue to refuse to cooperate.”
She glanced at Kamassa and then back to the brute who threatened not only her home, but her world. “Why would I believe you have Mingo?” She knew he had gone with Arrowkeeper and was headed in the opposite direction, chasing the men who had taken Israel. “What proof do you have?”
“Proof? Ah, yes.... I understand the need for proof. Many a battle has been lost for the mistaken belief that it already was.” The dark-skinned man turned and gestured to one of the warriors waiting outside; the one he had called Horse Dance. The painted man entered with a leather coat in his hands. McInnery took it and held it out to her. “I believe you are familiar with this?”
She took it. Sadly, she knew it. She had mended the tears in the leather and replaced some of the beads not long before. “But....”
“I will give you time to think, Mrs. Boone.” He touched the boy’s shoulder again. “Kamassa. Come with me.”
Becky frowned as the youth answered. More so than ever, it seemed he walked in a dream. “Yes, Aatinaa?” he said slowly.
“The men await you.”
Kamassa shook his head. He continued to stare at her. “I will come in a moment.”
“It would be best — ”
Unexpectedly the young native awoke. Anger flared in his ebon eyes as, without turning to look at the other man, he snarled, “ I come when I will, Aatinaa; not when you will!”
James McInnery gazed at the back of the boy’s head and then briefly met Becky’s puzzled stare. He nodded and made a little bow before exiting the lodge. Once outside he waited impatiently by the door.
Becky took the measure of the youth who stood before her. He was obviously spoiled and used to having his way. Abandoned by his parents, full of hate and insecurity, he was the perfect tool for these unscrupulous men to use. She pressed her hand to her heart as she watched him glance at the other man. For some reason, as the pale light which streamed in the door struck his profile, he had reminded her of Mingo. Put in mind of the threat that had been made against her friend and the words McInnery had spoken about this young man’s animosity towards him, she asked suddenly, “Why do you want to hurt Mingo?”
Kamassa turned back to her. His face was blank; without emotion again. “He is your friend?”
She nodded. “Yes. A very dear friend.”
“He will die.”
Becky reached out towards him; in some strange way drawn to this orphaned child by the desperate need she sensed radiating from within. Stopping just short of touching him, she started to ask why he hated Mingo, but fell silent as his fingers closed over hers again. With his other hand he reached towards her face.
“Kamassa?” she whispered.
He was silent a moment and then he said softly, “I have seen you before. When you rode into the talofa with Aatinaa, I knew.”
“No.” She shook her head. “You and I have never met. I would have remembered.”
“You did not see me.” He released her hand and touched his long fingers to his forehead. “It was here, I saw you. Within.” The black eyes closed for a moment. “You were by the bank of the river. Your hair,” he looked at her again and touched one of her copper curls, “this hair, which is like the setting sun, was flying free.”
Becky swallowed hard. Alexander had said the boy could ‘see’ things, and that he was supposed to be some sort of a prophet. That scared her. “What was I doing?”
The large dark eyes closed again and then opened slowly. “Running.” He gazed at the shadows behind her as though the scene were being played out there. “Weeping.”
Becky drew a deep breath. “Why?”
“I do not know.” His eyes moved away from her face and he avoided her gaze. “But I will.”
As he turned and began to make his way towards the door, Becky remained silent, watching and wondering. When he reached it, she called to him, “Kamassa?”
He turned back. “Yes?”
“You didn’t answer me.”
She took a step forward. “Why do you hate Mingo? He’s a good man.”
The youth’s hands balled into fists and she watched his temper flare for the second time. “He is not,” he spat. “He is a murderer. He will die, and I will laugh as he does.”
“Mingo would never murder anyone. Who is it you think he killed?”
“I do not think. I see! I have seen!” The boy struck his forehead with his hand as his voice rose in pitch. “There was a hill. Two men fought. There was a shot. My father fell and when he hit the rocks below, he died.” His hand went to his chest and he staggered. “But not right away. His eyes were blind. The blood pounded in his ears and poured from his lips, and all he could see was the face of his brother — his face — looking down at him and laughing.”
“Dear God,” Becky began to back away. She understood the resemblance now. “You are — ”
The dark head was held high and the youth’s black eyes were full of pride. “Tara-Mingo’s son.”
Sometime later she sat on the dusty floor staring at the leather coat the one named Aatinaa or McInnery had left with her. She ran her fingers over the familiar designs that decorated it and sighed. Then she rose to her feet and began to pace. She knew what its’ presence in that monster’s hands meant; not only was Mingo a captive — and most likely the tall Creek, Arrowkeeper, as well — but come Hell or high water, Dan was on his way. And while that gave her some small amount of comfort, it also filled her with fear. From what the two MacKirdy brothers had said, that was exactly what these men wanted. They wanted to publicly humiliate her husband, and then to kill him, and believed that by doing so they would shatter the faith the white man had in his ability to take possession of this new country and make it his own. And her being here was going to make all of that possible. She stamped her foot and tossed Mingo’s jacket onto a low bench beside the wall. She could have just kicked herself for opening the cabin door and letting those men in. But then she remembered dear sweet Finlay, and knew she would have done it again.