Blood Was Only for Bleeding: Chapter 15
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.
Dan stood alone at the center of the darkened room. On either side of the dais before him fires burned, casting smoke and sparks into the air. As he watched, a slender sandy-haired man emerged from behind the curtain at the top of it to take a place on the left hand side. He was dressed in an fancy hunting shirt and buckskin pants, and appeared to be a white man. If that was the case, he would have been the first Dan had seen since arriving at the talofa. Still, the clump of feathers dangling from his cropped hair and the paint on his face seemed to indicate that he, like Mingo, was probably at home in both worlds. Most likely he had been raised by whites and had turned against them for some reason, though the glasses he wore indicated he had not abandoned all of his civilized ways. The frontiersman frowned as he continued to watch him. The constant practice he made of shifting them back on his nose was a nervous habit that said a lot about the man.
A minute or two later a second figure appeared. He moved slowly towards the front of the platform, pausing only to exchange a long silent glance with the other man before deliberately taking center stage. The warm glow of the fires struck the boy’s copper skin and cast his hawkish features into shadow. Dan searched for Mingo in him and recognized something of his look in the tilt of the boy’s head and the way he held himself, but more than anything he saw his father, Tara, in the heart of the deep black and unsettling eyes. As he continued to stare, Kamassa Chafaaka drew the great feathered cape he wore close about his narrow shoulders and haltingly began to descend the stairs. When he came to rest before him, those eyes sought his face.
“You are Daniel Boone?”
The big man nodded. “I am.”
Kamassa was silent a moment. He held Dan’s gaze and seemed to be searching for something. His eyes flicked momentarily to McInnery who stood half-veiled in shadows, and then shifted to the man who occupied the dais. “Policha, you will go,” the boy commanded. Without waiting for a response, his eyes returned to the half-Scot. “You will leave as well. I would speak with him alone.”
The man in the hunting shirt did not protest, but neither did he move. McInnery, on the other hand, stepped into the light cast by the braziers. He paused and looked from one to the other as if sensing a shift in the familiar balance of power. “It is not wise, Kamassa,” he said at last with a surreptitious glance at Daniel Boone. “If something were to happen to you....”
Dan cleared his throat and shifted on his feet. He turned towards the boy. “Kamassa? Is it all right if I call you that, son?”
Tara-Mingo’s child studied him a moment and then, over McInnery’s protestations, nodded. “It is all right.”
“Well then,” he held the boy’s eyes, “I give you my word that you have nothing to fear.” He paused. “From me.”
“Kamassa,” the other man interjected, “you will not listen to this — ”
“You will not tell me what I can and cannot do.” The boy stood with his shoulders back, balancing as best he could on his bent foot. He glared at this man who sought to use him, who spoke English and continued to wear the clothes of those he claimed to hate. “You will do as I say.” Kamassa smiled. He knew Policha was close behind him, listening to every word and watching the exchange with interest. “Or I will not do as you say.”
Dan had to forcibly restrain his eyebrow as he watched McInnery’s dark face. It wanted to wing towards his tousled brown hair in wry amusement. That’s what happened when you gave power to someone as capricious as a child. He tried to imagine Israel in a similar position. The young’un would have outlawed work and set all the adults to skipping stones.
As the other two men seemed to hang suspended in time, awaiting the boy’s next word, Kamassa finished. “Or do you fear what he might say? Is there a truth I do not know, James McInnery, as my uncle suggested?”
“Your uncle was trying to save his life.” The English-bred native nodded towards the tall frontiersman. “This one will do the same.”
The dark eyes of Tara-Mingo’s son sought those of the white man again. Dan did not flinch or look away. After a moment the boy nodded. “It does not matter. I have my answer.” He drew a deep breath and expelled it slowly before turning to the man who hovered nearby. “Policha....”
The slender man advanced a few steps. “Yes, Kamassa?”
“I am tired. I wish to rest.”
“No.” McInnery stepped forward and took hold of the boy’s arm. “You must speak to the men. They are waiting. It is time.”
“I will speak to them when I am ready.” Kamassa jerked back, pulling his arm away. “And I am not ready now.”
McInnery’s frown deepened and he began to tremble. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he lashed out and struck the boy so hard he fell to the ground with a cry. Policha was at his side in a second. “You will do as I say, boy!”
“Or what?” Kamassa glanced at Daniel Boone. “Or what....” The youth straightened in Policha’s grip. He stared hard at the other man, and as he did, his black eyes became steel. “You can make me walk onto that platform, but you cannot control what I say. Make me go now and it will not be what you desire.”
Dan had to repress a smile. Now he could see Mingo in him.
James McInnery’s spine was stiff; his hands clenched tightly behind his back. “Very well. One hour. No more.” He barked a curt command and a young muscular Creek stepped obediently into the lodge. “Horse Dance will accompany you.”
As the one called Policha helped the boy to his feet, his hazel eyes unexpectedly encountered Daniel Boone’s. Quick as he could, he turned away and began to lead the boy towards the dais.
Dan knew why he had looked away. He had seen the look before. It was that of a man who had believed himself free, in the open under a sky thick with clouds, who had suddenly awakened to the fact that he was instead imprisoned; cast into a dungeon and shut away forever from the light.
“We have no need of an escort, James” Policha remarked hoarsely.
McInnery stopped him with a hand to his shoulder. “You will have one anyway.” He nodded at Horse Dance. The warrior fingered the beaded handle of his long knife and gestured towards the curtain at the top of the steps.
Policha frowned and placed his arm protectively about Kamassa’s shoulders. The boy brushed him off. He said something that Dan couldn’t hear, and then moved forward under his own power; his gait slow but remarkably even as he mounted the stairs.
A moment later the trio stepped through the curtain together and disappeared.
James McInnery remained silent. Dan could see the wheels churning behind his narrowed brown eyes and knew what he must be thinking; Kamassa had to die. The boy’s open rebellion had firmly cemented any deadly intentions he had been contemplating towards him.
And he was still the weapon of choice.
“Mr. McInnery — ”
“Mr. Boone. Everything remains the same. Kamassa will speak to the men in one hour and you will be by his side. It will be made known that you are here, and then later — when the boy is found murdered....” He paused to draw a deep breath. “It will be obvious whose hand has done the deed.”
Dan made no reply. His green eyes took in the atmosphere of the room; the thick curtain, the raised dais, and the show of smoke and fire. It was all theatrics, and he understood well the message it was meant to convey. The other man, Policha, truly believed in Kamassa Chafaaka, the Powerful One — believed he was chosen by the Master of Breath for great things. McInnery had taken advantage of that blind religious fervor and an innocent boy’s hunger to belong in order to create, first, a false Messiah, and then a martyr to his own cause. He would use the boy’s death at the hand of a white man to seize power and create his own state, where he would be king. Dan opened his mouth to speak, but hesitated as he noticed movement behind the curtain. Someone was watching. McInnery instinctively turned to look, but as he did, another of the warriors who guarded the structure stepped in and called to him.
The elegantly-dressed man pivoted. He nodded once and then inclined his head towards the tall frontiersman. “Take him to the lodge by my headquarters and hold him there. Bind and gag him. I will have need of him after the boy speaks. Oh,” he glanced back at Dan as his scarred lip twisted in a smile, “and bring the Cherokee. I will have use for him as well.”
As he began to move away, Dan called quietly after him. “It won’t work, McInnery.”
The native swung back to face him. He laughed. “And why is that, Mr. Boone?”
The big frontiersman grinned as well. “Messiahs always seem to have a way of coming out on top...in the end.”
From behind the shifting wall of coarsely woven fabric at the top of the dais a pair of hazel eyes watched first McInnery and then the tall white man depart. A trembling hand shifted the wire-rimmed glasses that strengthened them back on a sweat-soaked nose. Policha glanced then at his feet and side-stepped the pool of blood which was spreading out from the already cooling body of the Creek, Horse Dance, and thanked his God for still being with him and for warning him in time. He had caught the warrior unawares and slit his throat quickly and quietly as the boy looked on. Now Kamassa stood by the door which led to the world outside waiting for him, seemingly in a daze.
Apparently he had never watched anyone die before.
Releasing the curtain, Policha closed his eyes and sighed. Once he had thought McInnery’s ingenuity and financial backing a blessing; now he knew it to be a curse. It was clear the other man cared little about the plight of his brethren. His only concern was glory and the advancement of his own mad schemes. He had to take the boy and leave; had to get him away. God would provide another time; another place.
Pivoting on his heel, he crossed the short space to the door. It was empty as was the yard beyond. Puzzled, he turned to search the shifting shadows. “Kamassa? Kamassa....”
The slender man froze.
Tara-Mingo’s son was gone.
“Who are you?”
The young Indian woman stood very still, her large dark eyes round with surprise. Rebecca Boone opened her arms wide, indicating she offered no threat, and then repeated her question.
“Who are you?”
Spicewood blinked. This had to be the wife of Daniel Boone. Policha had boasted they had taken her and were holding her hostage against the man who loved her. She placed her hand to her head as the pain of the past began to resonate through it and she was reminded of similar circumstances long ago. Refusing to walk that path yet again she whispered a prayer to the Creator, asking that she be might be free of the memory, and then, with one last glance at the door, moved to the other woman’s side.
“Mrs. Boone?” she asked.
Becky nodded, puzzled. “How do you know who — ”
“Do you know where Cara is?”
“Cara?” The redhead frowned at first; then she remembered Cara was the other part of Mingo’s name. “You mean Mingo?” She hesitated, uncertain as to what answer she should make. The native spoke English fairly well, though with a heavy accent, and was dressed, in part, like a white woman. Together those two innocent details made her suspicious, as there were so many men of mixed blood involved in this uprising. “I was with him earlier. Why?”
Her unexpected visitor appeared to relax. “Then he is still alive.”
“He was the last time I saw him.” Becky’s tone was wary. “Won’t you please tell me who you are, and why you want to know?”
The woman remained silent a moment. “Will you trust me?” she asked at last.
Becky shook her head. “I don’t know that I should.”
“You are wise, Mrs. Boone.” Her smile was wistful. “But this is no time for wisdom. A woman must trust her heart. My name is Spicewood.”
The redhead’s frown deepened. She had heard that name. But where? “Spicewood?”
“Yes. Cara-Mingo is my friend. I must find him.”
Rebecca Boone sensed a deep need in the other woman; almost a hunger. She closed her eyes and sighed. Trust her heart? Well, her heart said this was a woman, like her, who was desperate to help someone she loved.
A moment later she fixed the woman with her bright blue eyes and asked softly, “What is it you need me to do?”
“Come with me; find Cara-Mingo and help me free him.” Spicewood hesitated. She wrapped her arms about herself and seemed to shudder. “And then take me with you; away from here.”
Becky bit her lip. She thought about it a moment, and then decided taking the risk had to be better than remaining in this dark place, powerless, unable to help her husband or seek out their friend. She nodded. “But how do we...?”
“There is no guard now. They follow Policha and the other one. That is why we must go quickly.” She held out her hand. “Before he returns.”
“I’ll take you where I last saw Mingo; where they held us together,” the redhead replied. Then as they started forward, she added, “Spicewood, wait a moment....” The native woman turned back towards her. Becky reached out and laid her finger on the silver crucifix that rested against her deep brown skin. “Are you a Christian?”
Spicewood shook her head. “The man I loved was.” Her hand went to the cross. “This was his.”
The woman nodded as she took hold of Becky’s hand and began to draw her out of the lodge. “Now there is no time. I will tell you later. If....”
“If?” Becky asked as she ducked, and together they slipped into the sultry night.
“If we survive.”
Mingo stepped back and his hand instinctively went for his whip.
It wasn’t there.
He drew a deep breath and held it as the native advanced towards him. He was defenseless and face to face with a man who had every right to desire his death. Even though the one who had entered the lodge where he was being held was not Cherokee, it mattered little. Creek justice was much the same. He had killed his brother, and even though he had rid the world of an unspeakable evil in doing so, his life was forfeit for the deed.
Unexpectedly a smile creased his handsome face. Perhaps Rebecca had a point. It did seem rather unfair. As he let the breath out, he remarked without fear, “I take it you are here to kill me.”
The muscular Chief of the renegade Ken-tah-ten Creek circled him slowly. He brandished no obvious weapons, but then Mingo knew he didn’t need any. His strength was legendary among the nations; it was said he had once killed a mountain lion with his bare hands. Many believed such power was a legacy from his warrior-witch brother, Sharpknife, but he knew better.
He knew it was a legacy of Sharpknife’s hate.
The man in the turkey feather cloak continued to walk around him. “If it was my choice you would already be dead.”
Mingo’s dark brows arched. He knew it was not wise, but he said, “And so, I surmise from the fact that I am still alive, that you are not your own man but the vassal of another.”
“Vassal?” The Creek’s black eyes narrowed and he frowned. “What word is this?”
“Medieval Latin, I believe. It means a subordinate or poor relation.” He almost laughed at the other man’s puzzled stare. “In other word’s, another man’s slave.”
Tastanagi Thulco stopped. There was a moment of silence and then he lashed out, striking Mingo and driving him to the floor. The Cherokee lay on the ground for a moment, stunned, and then he rolled over and remarked quietly, “I see the years have not improved your sense of humor.”
Within seconds the powerful Creek had him pressed to the floor, his knee on his chest and his thumb pressed into the hollow of his throat. “Know this, Cherokee, you live only because McInnery has use for you.” A slow predatory smile spread over his scarred face as he shifted the cape aside and drew a razor-sharp bone from its interior. “Know also, that you can be used with only one eye...or no tongue.”
Mingo swallowed hard. “Perhaps I should rephrase that. I — ”
Sharpknife’s younger brother stiffened abruptly. He laid the edge of the bone knife alongside his captive’s jugular. “Silence,” he commanded, “or chance losing that smooth tongue now.”
The Cherokee nodded once and clamped his mouth shut. He listened intently. After five or ten heartbeats, he finally heard what the other man had heard; a voice. A woman’s voice was calling the Creek’s name.
“Yama.” Tastanagi glanced up. “Istaasa Itto?”
“Yama,” the voice replied.
The brawny Creek turned back to the man he had pinned to the floor and glared at him. His captive was paying him no mind. The Cherokee’s brow was furrowed as if he was trying to remember something, and his deep brown eyes were fixed on the door. Just looking at him, watching him move and breathe, filled the Creek with fury. The thought of this weak creature; this metizo with the blood of whites in his veins, having triumphed over his brother all those years ago was intolerable and would remain so until he died and Sharpknife’s spirit was able to rest at last.
“Cara-Mingo,” he whispered.
As Mingo turned towards him, he was struck again and thrust back to the floor. From there he watched as the other man rose and returned his knife to its housing. “Know this. When you die, it will be by my hand and no other. That is a promise.”
With those words Tastanagi moved to the door. He lifted the tanned hide that covered it and swung it back, allowing a slender native woman to duck inside. They exchanged a few words. She pointed out into the night. With one final venomous glance at him, the Creek bent to leave. As he did two things happened; the woman winced and stepped back, and there was a sharp crack, something like the sound of a piece of kindling being snapped smartly over a knee.
Quickly regaining his feet, Mingo started to move towards the woman only to halt as another member of the ‘gentler’ sex entered the lodge. Her sleeves were rolled up to her elbows and her usually tidy copper hair askew. She was laboring to drag the unconscious body of the leader of all the Ishi Semoli in Ken-tah-ten into the darkened interior.
As she let go of Tastanagi’s hair and unceremoniously dropped his head to the ground, giving his shoulder a kick with the sharp toe of her shoe for good measure, Mingo began to stammer. “R-Rebecca Boone. What... What is this? What do you think you are....” He stared at the Creek’s unconscious form, certain he could see the lump forming on the man’s broad forehead as he watched. “Whatever are you doing?”
Becky puffed a lock of hair out of her eyes and fixed him with her bright blue eyes. “I thought that was obvious.” A brilliant smile lit her handsome face. “Rescuing you.”
“Spicewood? I thought the Creek name Tastanagi called her was familiar. But Rebecca, are you certain?”
The two of them were crouching in the bushes just beyond the talofa waiting for the native woman to come back. She had disappeared immediately after leading them there, saying only that she had something to do. So far she had not returned.
Becky nodded. “That’s what she said.” She touched his arm. “So you do know her? When she spoke to that man as if she knew him, I began to think I had chosen to do the wrong thing. I was afraid she was leading me into a trap.”
“I do not think that was her purpose.” The Cherokee paused. He ran a hand across his chin and sighed. “I simply do not understand how she could be here.”
“Mingo, why not? Is it because she is Cherokee?
He turned to look at her. “No, Rebecca, not because she is Cherokee, but because the last time I saw Spicewood, she was in her grave.”
The dark-skinned woman hesitated just within the doorway of the lodge she shared with the man known as Policha. She had gone there to gather a few things and to make certain he was not waiting for her. As she had prepared to step back outside, a shadow had fallen across her path and she had paused, surprised to find the boy, Kamassa, walking past. He was heading for the dark embrace of the rustling and shifting leaves of the forested world beyond, and he was alone.
She had never seen him walking alone.
Spicewood watched him until the trees claimed him and then turned and began to move quickly, keeping to the cover of the early evening shadows as she made her way back to the place where she had left Cara and the white woman. As she passed the great council house, she halted again and waited while a party of men paraded past. McInnery was there, as well as several of his dogs. But there was also another man, a stranger; a tall white man whose rich brown hair gleamed like polished metal in the last rays of the setting sun. He was obviously a captive, for his hands and mouth were bound, but even though he was weaponless and surrounded by wolves, he walked as if he was not afraid.
This must be Boone; the husband of Cara-Mingo’s friend.
Torn, Spicewood leaned against the lodge behind her. If she told Cara what she had seen, he would fear for his friend and want to go after him. She did not want that. She wanted him to come with her; to go to the cave and speak with the young Scot, and to assure her that Alexander was really and truly alive.
Placing her hand against her temple, she swayed. The wound pained her. Her head throbbed as her heart pounded, caught somewhere between fear and hope. She shut her eyes against both voices and drew a deep steadying breath.
She would leave it to the Creator. He would decide.
Clutching the silver cross in her brown fingers, she faded back into the shadows with a whispered prayer on her lips, and headed for her friends.
“Her grave? Mingo, what do you mean?”
He shook his head, momentarily at a loss for words. He could still see the fires and smell the burnt flesh; would never forget the wanton destruction and waste. Alexander had broken from him, and Copperhead had not been able to hold him back. He closed his eyes against the memory and swallowed over the pain. “She was the wife of a good friend. My brother,” he fought using the term, but knew that employing it showed that demon no longer had power over him, “desired her. He took her, along with several other young women from the village, including one who was very dear to me.” His deep brown eyes opened and he met her empathetic gaze. “Cherry survived; Spicewood did not. We found her, brutalized and....” He shook his head. “Or so we thought.”
Becky laid her hand on his shoulder. “Mingo, you don’t have to say anymore. It can’t be the same woman then....”
“It is,” a soft voice said unexpectedly. “I am.”
They both started and looked up. The young native woman had returned. She stood, framed by the parted leaves, gazing at them. There was a curious light in her eyes and a mysterious bundle at her feet.
“Spicewood,” Mingo felt gratitude wash over him. “You are alive. But how...?”
She knelt and closed her hand about the crucifix. “You remember this?”
He nodded. “Yes. A gift from your husband. It was his mother’s.”
“It is part of what saved me.” Her young face grew sober as she corrected herself. “What kept me alive. After your brother’s ‘death’, he was different. Nu-da, kostinko-kfhchi. He no longer desired me.”
“Mingo,” Becky turned to her friend for an explanation. “What?”
“Crazy. Peculiar,” he translated. “Not acting or thinking right.”
“Yes. Crazy. He was a long time healing.” She shuddered. “Policha.... He had always wanted me....” The young woman hesitated as a single tear trailed down her smooth brown cheek. “He said I was a gift from his god and he took me in. At first I thought him kinder than the other; then he told me he had killed my husband.” When she lifted her dark eyes to her old friend’s face, they were wide and filled with unexpected hope. “Did he lie?”
“Killed him? You mean all those years ago?”
Spicewood fumbled with the bundle at her side and drew from it a tattered and stained plaid sash. “He showed me this. And this....” She put the sash down reverently and then used both hands to free the ancient claymore. A sob broke from her as she held it out to him. “Is Alexander alive?”
Mingo hesitated, uncertain of how to answer. Alexander had been alive the last time he had seen him, nearly four years before, when he had bid Ken-tah-ten farewell forever. “Spicewood, I — ”
The pair turned towards Daniel Boone’s wife.
“Rebecca?” Mingo frowned. “How do you know of Alexander?”
She looked from one to the other and then she laughed. “I don’t know of him. I met him, here in Kentucky. He was sitting at my table eating stew not five days ago.”
Alexander Calum MacKirdy ran a hand over his face and fought the urge to let go with a low long whistle. “God’s woonds, how mony dae ye thin’ thaur aur?”
“Several hundred at th’ least.” His uncle’s ice blue eyes narrowed. “An’ lookin’ as tho’ they aur waitin’ fur somethin’.”
“Aye, lad. Ur someain.” Dungan MacDougall gazed ahead, relieved to know a dozen well-trained Highland soldiers bided just beyond the thick clump of trees keeping the company of the tall Creek who traveled with his nephew. “A question, lad....”
“Aye, Uncle Dungan?”
“Dae ye thin’ yer friend is worthy o’ yer troost?”
The Scot shifted uncomfortably. “If ye had asked me afore, I woulds hae said ‘nae’ fur sure. Boot noo....” Alexander nodded as his uncle indicated they should leave the ridge that overlooked the talofa. “Noo, I beliefe we can. Arrowkeeper is pure worried fur Kamassa. I dinnae thin’ he woulds poot him in danger.”
MacDougall caught his shoulder and halted his forward movement. “An’ if it com’s tae th’ laddie ur us?”
“If it com’s tae thot,” Alexander sighed, “I woulds nae be withoot mah pistol ur mah wits, Uncle Dungan.”
The general nodded and rose to his feet. “Thot’s whot I thot.”
The tall Creek turned to greet them as they arrived. He searched their faces for confirmation. “It is as I said?”
The commander of the Queen’s Highlanders nodded solemnly. “Aye. Ye spoke th’ truth.”
“Yes.” Arrowkeeper’s dark eyes flicked to Alexander who had turned away. The Scot stood with his hands clasped behind his back, gazing absent-mindedly at the Kentucky wilderness. He addressed the older man. “What is it you intend to do?”
“Wait.” The general thoughtfully pulled at his grizzled beard. “I hae nae choice. Thaur aur tae mony o’ them. We moost wait fur reinforcements.”
Arrowkeeper knew Copperhead and his young son were making their way towards Chota for just that purpose. Still.... “There may not be time. Tastanagi spoke of moving soon. Perhaps tomorrow.” He paused. “Perhaps tonight.”
MacDougall chewed at his lip and then shook his head. “I wiltnae send mah men tae their deaths ag’inst sae mony, wi’ nae a clear objective in sight.”
“Boone is there, and his wife.” The tall Creek’s voice shook with indignation. “And Cara-Mingo. What clearer objective could you have, General? Would you let them die?”
“Aye.” Before Arrowkeeper could protest, he held up his hand and added softly, “if it cam’ tae it. If three moost die sae thousands can live; aye, I woulds. I hae made sooch choices afore, an’ I will ag’in.” The Scot pursed his lips and fingered the basket-handle of his heavy claymore. “Boot aur ye nae forgettin’ someain?”
The native stiffened. Then he shook his head. “No. I do not forget.”
“Hear me, Arrowkeeper, if ‘tis at all possible, we will safe yer yoong mon. Boot it may nae be possible withoot puttin’ mah men in jeopardy.” Dungan MacDougall shifted so he was toe to toe, if not nose to nose with the tall Creek. “An’ I wiltnae put mah men in jeopardy.”
“Am I to take that as a threat, General?”
The officer’s pale blue eyes sparkled in the late afternoon light. “Tak’ it as ye will. I woulds call it a friendly warnin’.” That said, the older man turned and walked away. As he did, his shoulders drooped and his gait slowed, as if he felt all too clearly the burdens he bore.
Arrowkeeper watched him a moment with hidden admiration, and then moved to Alexander’s side. He studied him silently and then asked, “How are you, Alexander?”
The Scot glanced at him as the native’s hand came down on his shoulder. Then he shook his dark head. “Grievin’ anew.”
Arrowkeeper nodded. “I understand. I too tried to run from the past. It did no good, and when I returned to Moss Creek where my family died, it was as if it had only just happened.” He released Alexander and stepped away to train his eyes on the rising moon. “Such pain does not honor time. It is as fresh as the dawn and as unending as the night.”
His companion bowed his raven head. At least, unlike Arrowkeeper, he had had no children. They had tried for nearly five years, and while the fact that she had not conceived had haunted Spicewood, that night — when Copperhead had caught him and held him back, seeking to protect him from the vision of what had once been his wife — he had known it was a blessing that there had been no wee bairns to perish with her. If there had been, most likely, he would not have survived.
As it was, he had come close to losing not only his wife and his life, but his sanity.
The two men remained silent for some time, and then at last he stirred. “Dae ye suppose, Arrowkeeper, thot monkind will e’er learn?”
“Learn?” The Creek turned towards him. “I do not....”
“Th’ white path; tae life in peace an’ allaw others tae dae th’ same?”
“And not to kill? Not to hate or want what another man has?” He turned towards him. “No.”
The Scot’s head fell to his chest again. “Then tis useless tae try tae begin afresh....”
“Once I believed that. No more. I have known too many good men; men who will not hate, who give and do not take. Cara-Mingo. Daniel Boone.” The tall man caught his shoulder again and squeezed his flesh. “Star.”
“Aye.” Alexander smiled. “Star.”
The Scot stared at him a moment and then he turned his face once again towards the swaying trees. “I didnae wont tae com’ back haur. Boot I thin’ noo, ‘twas a bonny thin’ tae dee. I kent at last, I hae tae let her gae.”
Arrowkeeper nodded. “Yes. You do her wrong to hold her here, within you, and within this world. Until she is at rest, you will never be at rest.”
The Scot drew a deep breath and then tossed his head towards the camp where he could hear his uncle’s strong tenor lifted in an address to his men. “Arrowkeeper...”
The Creek’s dark brow lifted. It was only one word — his name — but it spoke volumes. “What are you thinking?”
“Will ye keep mah uncle off o’ mah trail fur a wee bit?”
“I needs tae tell her guidbye.” He turned towards him. His dark eyes were wide and filled with unshed tears. “Ye kent th’ stream is nae far frae haur; th’ ain we laid her aside?”
He shook his head in protest. “No. You must not do this.”
Alexander Calum MacKirdy placed his hat on his head and took a step towards the waning shadows. “Ye ken I moost. An’ aloyn.”
Arrowkeeper remained for some time near the edge of the camp watching the general drill his men, knowing he did it to keep the young and inexperienced from letting down their guard during this brief respite. It had been nearly an hour since Alexander had departed, and during that time the silver moon had retreated and hidden its face behind a bank of clouds. If Star had been there he would have told him it was shamed; it sensed the approaching man-made storm of war.
Under the watchful eye of the camp’s sentry, he had at last moved a little ways off to where it was quiet, and crossing his muscular arms, had leaned against a tall tree and tipped his head back to stare at the stars. They were not hiding. Hanging in the sky across from the bank of clouds that cradled their sister moon, they shone in the form of the Great Bear and its offspring. The beast’s nose was rooting near the earth, promising as always the return of cold days and colder nights, and a land sparse with huddled and hidden game. He prayed before the snow painted the world white once again, he would have Kamassa home.
If the Master of Breath was kind and they both lived....
Abruptly, he stiffened. He had heard a noise. Someone was racing through the trees, heedless of caution. Careless.
He glanced at the sentry. He could just make the man out through the trees. The guard’s attention was on his fellow soldiers and not him. Coming to a quick decision, he slipped into the shadows and began to run towards the sound. As he approached the traveler he realized that, whoever it was, they were not very large or very old. Once he heard them whimper and another time cry out in pain. As the noise of their passage grew louder, he paused intending to hide, but then one word — one familiar word spoken aloud caused him to freeze. He waited until he was certain, and then instead of running, stepped onto the trail and revealed himself.
The boy’s white head came up. He stumbled back, caught his toe, and unceremoniously tumbled to the ground. “Criminetly,” Daniel Boone’s son repeated. Then he whistled. “I thought you was a ghost.” Standing and brushing himself off, he asked, “Arrowkeeper, what are you doin’ here?”
The tall Creek knelt beside the boy and placed his hand on his shoulder. “I might ask you the same.” Unexpectedly there was another sound, not too far away, and Arrowkeeper’s head came up with it. “What? What is this?”
Israel’s blue eyes lit with alarm. “Gosh! I almost forgot.” He gripped the native’s arm hard. “You gotta help Finlay!”
Alexander had reached his destination. It hadn’t taken long. Once he had stood on the ridge and gazed at the talofa, he had known. The renegade Creek had chosen the very stream that ran past his wife’s grave. He bided now at the foot of it. He had recognized the place by the tangle of berry bushes that covered it. Cherry had planted them there. She had told him how she and Spicewood had watched him that first day — the one when he had arrived in Chota — as he sat on the boulder preparing to begin the cleansing ritual. He had thanked her for the memory and then turned and walked away, leaving Ken-tah-ten, never to return.
Falling to his knees, he removed his tricorn hat and held it against his breast. He closed his eyes and, as his fingers clutched the thorny branches, allowed himself to feel the pain and to remember. Momentarily the tears he had held back began to stream down his tan cheeks and he began to sob. He called his dead wife’s name once, and then he waited.
Above his head the clouds shifted and the moon left its blanket of clouds to take a look. Its silvery light struck the silent water, causing it to scintillate. Something made him open his eyes and they went to it involuntarily. He started as if he had seen a ghost. Someone was standing on the far side of the stream watching him. When they realized he had spotted them, they turned and disappeared into the shadows.
Alexander glanced at the grave and wiped his face dry with his sleeve. He stood and his eyes returned to the empty spot. Perhaps it was the Gael in him, but the lone figure had seemed to call him, beckoning like a Banshee; drawing him across the water to another life or, perhaps, to his death.
He turned in a slow circle trying to get his bearings. Then he remembered. There was a bend in the stream not far ahead; one a man could ford with little trouble when the water ran low. Since the rain had fallen on and off for the last few days, it was most likely swollen and angry now, but that wasn’t going to stop him.
Determined, he planted his hat on his head and struck off into the night.
They had worked their way back through the woods to where the Scot lay. Arrowkeeper knelt beside the pale young man. He pressed his ear to his blood-stained shirt and fell silent. When he straightened and frowned, Israel clasped his arms about his small frame and shuddered.
“He ain’t.... Is he?”
The Creek shook his head. “He is alive, but his spirit is very close to walking the path of the dead.” He slipped his strong arms under the young man’s shoulders and knees and gently lifted him from the hard ground. As the Scot’s feverish cheek fell against his exposed skin, Arrowkeeper’s frown deepened. Even if this one could not have passed for his brother ten years before, he would have known by his stubborn determination that they were kin. As he adjusted his grip, making certain his weight would not throw him off-balance as he moved over the uneven ground, he nodded towards the path that led back to the camp.
“Where are you takin’ me?”
The tall Creek looked down at the boy. There was something unfamiliar in his voice. “Do you not trust me, Israel?”
Daniel Boone’s son shrugged. He wouldn’t look at him. “I guess. It’s just...”
The boy drew a deep breath and then charged ahead. “The MacKirdys; Finlay and his brother came looking for Pa and Mingo because they had something to tell them. They found Ma first and they near scared the wits out of her, what with grabbin’ her and makin’ her think they was Indians or something come to kidnap her.... They was real upset when they heard Mingo had gone with you, and Pa — ”
“Why were they looking for your father and Cara-Mingo?”
Israel swallowed hard. “They came to warn them.”
“Warn them?” He stopped moving. “About me?”
Israel nodded. His deep blue eyes were wide. “It ain’t true, is it? You ain’t working with that Po-leech-a, are you? Arrowkeeper, tell me it ain’t true!”
The Creek hesitated. “Not with him. It is hard to explain....”
“So it is true?” The little boy’s fingers formed into fists. “You were gonna hurt my Ma and Pa, and Mingo!” He rushed at the man and struck him in the knees as he began to cry. “I hate you! I hate you!”
Arrowkeeper drew a deep breath. Physically the blows were nothing, but he felt them in his heart as if a hammer had been wielded. He started to speak, but as he did, he heard one of the soldiers cry out. He had been missed at last, and now they had found him.
“Israel. Israel! There is no time for this now; your friend may be dying.”
The little boy paused. He bit his lip and glanced up.
“With these men who are coming is a physician. We will place him in his hands and then I will explain — ”
“There ain’t nothin’ to explain,” Israel countered as he turned towards the soldiers who were breaking through the leaves; their weapons drawn. “An’ even if there is, I ain’t listenin’.” A moment later he fell silent. His mouth dropped open as he stared at the brawny man who advanced towards him. He was grizzled as Cincinnatus, but big and strong like his Pa. And he was wearing a skirt. The little boy pivoted and called to the Scot who was tossing and moaning in the tall Creek’s arms.
“Finlay! It must be one of them Stuarts!”
As somewhere not too far away his elder brother continued to make his way through the darkness, following a ghostly apparition, Finlay Dougal MacKirdy was placed in his uncle’s field bed, his wounds newly tended and a soldier set to constantly bath his feverish body with cool clean water. His uncle stood looking at him for some time, his aged face lined with pain, and then he turned a stern eye on the native who waited just within the entrance to the tent.
“Sae Alexander is gone, boot ye nae kent whaur?”
Arrowkeeper’s eyes were on Israel Boone where he sat near the banked fire; his elbows on his knees and his fists under his chin. The loss of the child’s friendship had hit him harder than he had expected. “He had something to do.”
“An’ whot woulds thot be?” MacDougall asked as he crossed to the opening. “Get lost ur killed?”
The Creek met his eyes. At the time it had seemed a reasonable request. Now, with this new knowledge.... “He asked to be alone to say farewell to his wife. Her grave is near here....” His voice trailed off as he heard his own words.
“Her empty grave. Thot tis, unless Alexander lies in it noo.”
Arrowkeeper nodded towards Finlay. “Has he spoken?”
“Nae. Boot dae ye doobt th’ laddie? He said he hae spoken wi’ her.”
“I do not doubt him. The boy is as pure as the unspoiled wilderness. It is not in him to lie about such a thing.” He was silent a moment and then he said, “I will go find Alexander.”
“Ye will dae nae sooch thin’. I hae men lookin’ fur him.” Dungan MacDougall met the Creek’s black stare. “I wan’ ye haur, whaur I can keep watch o’er ye.”
“I was not running before.”
“I dinnae say ye waur.”
Arrowkeeper nodded. He deserved no less.
But that did not mean he would do as the general said.
“An’ whaur dae ye thin’ ye are gaun, laddie?”
Israel’s white head whipped around. The big man in the skirt — whose name wasn’t MacKirdy but was Mac-something else — was standing behind him with his thumbs hooked in the wide belt that encircled his waist. From it hung a funny looking purse like his ma wore — only it was made out of an animal’s head and not silk or beads — and a big shining sword. The little boy gulped and stepped back into the circle of light thrown by the meager fire. He thought about lying, but changed his mind. “I’m goin’ after my ma. That’s what Finlay and me was doing when he fell and couldn’t go no further. We lost Spicewood and weren’t sure which way we was headed.” His blue eyes challenged the general. “I know now.”
MacDougall removed his black hat and placed it on the ground. Then he sat beside it. A moment later he patted the space next to him and asked quietly, “Will ye nae bide wi’ me a wee bit afore ye gae?”
The boy tilted his head. “You ain’t gonna try to stop me?”
The pale blue eyes twinkled. “Th’ son o’ Daniel Boone? I dinna thin’ I coulds if I wonted tae.”
“You know my Pa?” Israel took a step towards him.
“I kent him, laddie, when he waur joost past bein’ a lad himself; durin’ th’ Seven Year’s War. He waur drivin’ wagons then.”
“I know about that.”
“I’m sure ye dee.” MacDougall nodded. “Yer faither is a fine mon. If nae fur ain wee flaw....”
“My pa ain’t got no flaws,” Israel insisted as he came to stand beside him.
Alexander’s uncle smiled gently at the boy. “Aye, he does, laddie. We all dee.”
“What’d he do wrong?”
“It waur nae wrang....” He drew a breath and linked his fingers and rested them on the badger’s head at his waist. “Aince when we waur protectin’ a wagon whot yer faither was drivin’, we waur set upon by savages....”
“I bet Pa whupped those savages good.” The boy sat by him and lifted his face so the firelight highlighted his youth and his innocence.
“Nae, lad. They all boot ‘whupped’ him. He woulds nae listen tae reason an’ took off aloyn tae retrieve his cargo. Boot fur pure luck, it woulds hae cost him his life....” MacDougall tilted his head and ran his hand over his beard. “An’ dae ye ken why he woulds hae gone tae face th’ savages aloyn when thaur waur a dozen ur more guid men aboot him?” The general’s eyes pinned the boy. “Well?”
Israel bit his lower lip. Using his friend’s word, he answered the Scottish soldier solemnly. “Nae.”
The general hid his smile. “He felt responsible, laddie. He thot ‘twas his fault th’ supplies had been lost, an’ thot he — an’ he aloyn — had tae mak’ it richt. Noo,” he laid his hand on the boy’s sleeve, “ye woulds nae be feelin’ thot way, woulds ye?”
“Ye mean....” Israel cleared his throat and started again. “You mean guilty?”
The general nodded. “Thot yer Ma was taken an’ ye coulds nae stop it. Thot yer friend died instead o’ ye.” The boy had talked at length about what had brought him and Finlay to this place; about the other boy who had been killed and the men who had done the deed; about McInnery and his Seminoles. “Aye, guilty.”
The little boy frowned deep. “My Pa says we Boones don’t know nothin’ about guilt. We just do what has to be done.”
This time the smile came unbidden. He could still remember the tall, lanky man saying just that to him when they had hauled his tail out of the fire in the Shawnee camp.
“An’ whot is it needs tae be done, lad?”
“My ma.... I gotta save her.” Israel’s voice broke. “She’s in danger.”
“An’ ye thin’ by puttin’ yerself — an’ Finlay, an’ all o’ us — in danger it will help her?”
Israel was puzzled. “Me? Put you in danger? But you’re a soldier.” He paused and stared at the man’s golden epaulets. “Ain’t you? I mean you got the braid and all, even if you do wear a skirt.”
MacDougall laughed, but he sobered quickly. “Aye, I am a sodger, lad. An’ bein’ ain mak’s me responsible fur mah actions. Noo, whot dae ye thin’ will happen if ye walk intae thot camp o’er thaur?” He inclined his graying head towards the talofa beyond. “Be honest, laddie, as I ken ye moost, if ye be Daniel Boone’s son.”
The boy paused. He frowned and scrunched up his nose, and then he said, “I’ll get caught.”
“Aye. An’ then....?”
“And then my Pa will have to worry about me and my ma.”
“Aye. An’ sae, dae ye still intend tae gae?”
Israel struck the grass with his fist. “I can’t just stay here and do nothin’!” Tears formed in his eyes. “I gotta do somethin’!”
MacDougall took his small hand in his own callused one and squeezed it. “Has yer mother ne’er told ye o’ th’ strength o’ women an’ thaur bairns in times o’ battle? I dinna beliefe she has nae.”
The boy turned his blue eyes to the ground. “You mean I should pray?” he asked softly.
The general stood. He adjusted his heavy sword-belt and then laid his hand on the boy’s head. “Aye, lad. Withoot prayer all th’ fightin’ woulds be fur naught.”
Later as the general and his aides planned their strategy and waited for word from the Cherokee, Copperhead, Israel Boone entered the tent and moved to the side of his injured friend. He stood looking down at the young Scotsman for a moment and then touched his hand. Finlay was awful pale and his skin was feverish. He had been stripped out of his bloody clothes and wrapped in blankets. His golden ribbon and his locket were gone. He was going to be mighty sore when he found out.
If he lived to find out.
Israel’s small shoulders lifted and fell with a sigh as he knelt beside him. Clasping his small hands together, he leaned them on the sheets and then, in his own simple way, added his particular strength to the fight.
As he did, Arrowkeeper slipped past the guard that had been set to watch him and disappeared into the night.
Less than five miles away, down the ridge and across a grassy plain, Mingo continued to stare at the woman who knelt before him, astonished they could have all been so easily led astray.
“Policha took you then. That very night?”
Spicewood nodded. “Yes. And then when he discovered your brother was not dead, he took him — and me — and returned to the south to where he still owned lands and property. It was his desire to continue his god’s work there. But when Tara-Mingo defied him and came to seek you out several years ago, and truly died.... Then he had to think again, and find someone else to believe in.”
He nodded. “Kamassa, Tara’s son.”
She frowned. “Yes. Once he found out about the boy, there was no stopping him.”
“And he found out? How?”
Spicewood glanced toward the talofa. “You know.”
Mingo sighed. “Yes. Tastanagi. It seems his poison has spread wide and wounded many.” He drew another breath and met the woman’s eyes. “You know I cannot go with you to look for Alexander.”
She blinked twice and wrapped her arms about her shoulders as though suddenly cold. She had told them about seeing Daniel Boone; about the danger he was in. Her dark eyes went to his wife. The tall frontiersman meant as much to the woman named Rebecca as Alexander did to her. “You will seek your friend.”
“Yes. And you and Rebecca must remain out of harm’s way.”
“Mingo!” Becky’s mind had been wandering. She had been staring at the stars as the pair spoke of times and places she did not know, and thinking of her home; wondering if it was still there or if this war had over-run Boonesborough as well. Now she came to herself. She frowned and tilted her head in a familiar pose. “And who is it just saved you from this poisonous monster?”
“I am grateful, Rebecca, but you must — ”
“Don’t you tell me what I must.” Her jaw was set and she had no intention of being moved. “I am going with you to get Dan.”
“Rebecca, if not for yourself, then you must do this for Israel. He is a small child. He needs his mother.” Mingo pressed on in spite of her warning gaze. “Be reasonable.”
The handsome redhead drew a breath to offer a counter-attack, but let it go in a sigh as she realized he was right. “Oh, Mingo... I don’t know....”
“Is-ray-el?” Both of them turned to look at Spicewood. She was frowning. “A small boy? With eyes like the night sky and hair like snow?”
Becky’s hand went to her chest. She nodded. “Have you seen him?” Suddenly she was seized with fear. “Is he here? In the talofa?”
“Does McInnery have him as a prisoner?” Mingo gripped her arm.
“No. I am sorry. I did not mean to frighten you. He is not here, in the talofa.” She reached out towards the white woman. “But he is in a cave not far from here, just over the river.”
“What?” Mingo released her. “Spicewood, how...?”
“I found him in the woods and took him there; along with the other man.”
“Other man?” Becky whispered. “What other man?” Then she grinned, “Not....”
Spicewood nodded again. “Alexander’s brother.”
Some minutes later Becky stood at the native woman’s side watching Mingo disappear into the shadows as he headed back into the talofa. She drew a deep breath and held it a moment, wondering if she would ever see him again. Then she shook herself and let it out.
Spicewood turned to look at her. Her eyes were wide and filled with a sad wonder. Even in the midst of turmoil and constant danger, her heart felt lighter than it had in years. “Mrs. Boone?” she asked softly.
Becky laid a hand on her arm. “Call me Rebecca.”
The woman nodded. “Rebecca. What is wrong?”
“That man,” the redhead whispered, indicating Mingo. “I am not entirely certain he can look out for himself.”
Spicewood’s deep brown eyes went to the smoke that rose above the town. She could still see Alexander’s face as he bid her goodbye that last morning as he and the others set out cloaked and armed for war.
“Can any of them?”
Becky’s copper brows peeked and she laughed out loud. “No!” she answered. Then a wistful look crossed her face. “Not even the young ones.”
The native’s fingers touched the cross at her throat. “The Creator will watch over Cara-Mingo. And I will take you to your son.”
The redhead caught her hand as she turned away. “God will look after Alexander as well. You will see him again.”
A tear trailed the length of Spicewood’s cheek. “Even when Policha spoke the words from the talking leaves called the ‘Bible’,” her brown fingers gripped the crucifix, “through his lies, I could hear the truth in them. I knew it was not as he wanted me to believe. I knew this god was a kind and a good one.” She smiled broadly. “Alexander loved his god.”
“And God loves him.” Becky’s handsome face was earnest. “And you. Now, if you would....”
Spicewood nodded. “It is this way; beyond the bend, and beside the stream.”
Mingo crouched in the darkness giving thanks for a sky grown dark with clouds. It masked his movements and gave him greater freedom to search the talofa. Most of the men who had come there from each of the four winds, and the women who had traveled with them, stood listening to Tastanagi. The powerful Creek occupied the center of the platform outside the council house and was gesturing wildly and crying to the sky, most likely promising complete victory with the blessings of the Creator. It was a familiar theme; one repeated every day by ambitious men who had knowledge neither of the Creator nor of His plans.
He had stopped first at the lodge where he had been held earlier, and then at the one where they had taken Rebecca. Daniel had been in neither. Next he had a entered one near the edge of the village, intrigued by the signs of an occupation by someone other than a native. It was only after he noticed all of the theological books that he realized it must have been Policha’s. There was also evidence of a woman’s touch; confirmation of Spicewood’s words. Not that he had needed any. Still, the reality of all she had been through struck him hard. For just a moment he had been overwhelmed with grief for her, and had wondered if death might not have been a kinder fate.
Now he stood on the other side of the talofa staring at what he took to be McInnery’s headquarters. The lodge had been properly constructed and looked more like a small house than a native dwelling. Flags and other martial furnishings decorated it, most of them snapping smartly in the rising wind. Another smaller lodge butted up against its back which he took to be a prison. At least he assumed it was a prison, for a fierce-looking warrior kept watch outside. None of the other lodges had been guarded, even though they held arms and munitions. Obviously this one contained something very important to the cause.
Most likely Daniel Boone.
Hugging the shadows that lined the simple structure, he worked his way around it and then, as carefully as possible, began to worry some of the daub that covered the rear wall loose. When the hole was the size of a British sovereign, he pressed his cheek to the rough surface and peered inside. As his eyes adjusted to what was — unexpectedly — a brilliantly lit interior, he was able to discern a figure struggling towards the fire. He shifted sideways in order to get a better look and then almost laughed out loud. It was fortuitous that he had included the yellow-spined thistle and balsam sap in his bandoleer as was his custom. Daniel had his hands over the fire again and was attempting to burn through his bonds. It was amazing the man had any flesh left on his wrists.
Mingo narrowed his eyes and tried to gauge how close he could come to his friend. If he moved to the opposite side of the lodge and called quietly, he might just be able to make himself heard. The problem was, if Dan heard him, the guard might as well.
A wry smile lifted the corner of his lips. Every problem had a solution. The guard had to go.
Kneeling, he palmed a stone worn smooth by time and hefted it a few times to get the feel of its size and shape. Then, even though it seemed almost trite to do so, he lobbed it into a clump of tall grass to the west of the lodge. The guard, who had been standing at the very edge of the small clearing that surrounded the structure, straining to hear Tastanagi Thulco’s words, pivoted sharply at the sound. Gripping his flintlock tightly he advanced on the softly sussurating foliage and began to probe the blades with the rifle’s shining barrel. A moment later he disappeared inside.
Mingo grinned broadly. He waited a moment to make certain the warrior did not instantly reappear, and then he slipped into the lodge. His long fingers anchored firmly on his hips, he waited until his friend tur