The bear rooted around the log, clawing at the decayed moss-covered bark, pausing to devour some of the local denizens scurrying across the wood before scratching at it more. Tiring of the section under attack, he rolled the log over with one pull of the paw and inspected the splintered wood. Satisfied in the selection, massive paws proceeded to rip the bark into shreds in search of the grubs and beetles that called it home.
Slow pressure on the trigger. The cock fell forward, flint struck the steel frizzen, and the flashpan ignited sending a spark into the barrel. The bear looked at the flash, tensing as the barrel erupted in sparks and smoke. Muscles flexing, the animal was caught in midstride when the ball slammed into its shoulder. It stumbled and fell, shattered bone in the wake of the projectile. It tried to stand, but fell again, breathing heavily. Its heart and lung had been pierced and its misery soon ended.
The two men jumped up from their vantage point a mere 50 yards away, cautiously approaching the bear.
“Good Lord, Harry, he is a big one. How much you think he weighs ?”
“I would say easily 400 pounds. We got lucky coming upwind of him. If he had gotten a whiff of us, he would have been gone before we even knew he was here.”
Malachi stood and shook his head in admiration of the animal while Harry reloaded his rifle. Drawing his knife, he slit the throat for it to bleed out. After a few minutes, they worked together to skin and dress the bear, gutting and cleaning out the intestines and other organs. Using axes, they separated the limbs before trimming the fat from the meat and packing it into deerskin bags.
Malachi gathered some wood and brought a fire to life. From a sapling, he hammered two straight branches into the ground on each side of the fire and notched both uprights. As Harry sliced the meat into strips and slabs, Malachi made cuts in the center of each to slide onto another limb which was then placed into the uprights. The meat hung down close enough for the heat and smoke to start drying it. Once dried to a hard consistency, it was removed and replaced by more slabs. With a bear of this size, it was going to be a long process. They settled down against the trees and spent the day in conversation.
Lamar Hayes sat on a ridge above the river. From his viewpoint, the Cherokee village was spread out along the opposite bank with the communal fields on the left. He watched as they came and went, into the fields, into the forest, down the river and into the river. Their laughter and conversation came faint and dull to his ears. It grated on his every nerve. The last time he had been this close to an Indian village, he had been in search of a precious memory but things had not worked out according to plan. He alone had survived.
Hatred for the Indians seethed deep within him and the emotions wrestled for control in his soul. They had destroyed his life and his family, his livelihood and home. In the form of Laborde, he had finally been given a chance to even the score. It was to this end he now watched and studied the movements of his enemy.
Startled by the snap of a branch, his head whipped around for the source and arms raised, readying the rifle. It was only a deer, slightly uphill from him, and his quick movements sent it bounding up the hill. His rifle remained silent for this was not the game he was after.
Turning back, his eyes followed two women walking downstream carrying empty baskets. They were far beyond the fields and showed no sign of stopping. Curiosity prodded him into action. He wanted to see where they were going. He had to find someplace far from the village and yet where they would be assured of encountering some of the Cherokee.
He traversed the ridge parallel to the river for half a mile before descending near the bank. He caught brief glimpses of the pair on the far side as they continued west. Finding a shallow place in the river, he quietly crossed over. The ground rose steeply as the path meandered to the right and away from the water, rising some before dropping down again. He could still hear the water off to his left but it was becoming fainter.
By his deduction, they had traveled four or five miles down the valley before angling off onto a much smaller path which brought them back to the river. Crouching among rhododendron, Lamar watched them take the baskets into the river before silently easing back from whence they had come. He had found the perfect site.
Retracing his steps, his mind raced with possibilities and involuntarily wandered many years back, back before his life had been shattered and his mind had become dark, back before Estelle and back before hate.
It was fall in western Virginia and 24-year old Lamar Hayes had been up in the mountains hunting game. With the sun creeping toward the mountaintops in the waning hours of day, he started the descent back to his cabin he shared with his siblings, Trinity and Dana.
Trinity was the youngest at 17. Her russet hair was always kept loosely tied at the back and flowed down over her shoulders at a moment’s notice. Her hazel eyes were piercing and sparkled with youth. She was not as pretty as her older sister, but had a certain charm that made men stop and notice.
Dana was older than Trinity by three years and was considered by most an angel on earth. The combination of her blue eyes, black hair and womanly attributes caused hearts to stop and conversations grow silent. She had broken many a heart back in the city before coming to the frontier.
The two worked good together around the farmstead, sharing most of the work between themselves, leaving the heavier and more laborious things to their older brother. If it could be planted, those two could make it grow. The garden by the house produced remarkable vegetables and the harvest from the field yearly was more than enough for them.
Joseph Barker was the only other addition around the cabin at times. He was the son of the owner of the mercantile a few miles away in a small community. Showing up from time to time with some excuse about just passing by was considered a shy short of absolute hogwash by Lamar, especially since he never had a laden cart or mule with him. The only reason to be anywhere near their cabin was to visit and that, in a big brother’s mind, could only mean he wanted to visit one of his sisters.
The thin trail meandered up and down and around the ridges in its descent to the Ohio River Valley. The cabin was now only about a mile off in a small clearing along a tributary of the major river six miles away. He would have to finish dressing out the deer slung over his shoulder but was already looking forward to the dinner his sisters had thrown together. They could work wonders in anything iron on a fire. Mouth watering, the next half mile passed quickly.
Smoke wafted through the forest thinly. At first, he smiled, thinking of the smoke curling up the stone chimney and being whisked through the trees on the breeze, but it was different and more acrid. His blood froze in his veins. Dropping the deer, he sprinted through the forest as fast as he could.
He could see the cabin now and his heart raced with fear. The smoldering remnants still burned, sending a column of dark black smoke into the sky. Bursting into the open, his lungs grasped for air, but he could not breathe. The cabin in flames, garden trampled, and there, dear God, lay one of his sisters in the yard. He stumbled to her and collapsed on the ground, his heart ripped from his chest.
Dana, lay sprawled on her back, dress ripped open and body exposed. Her bruised face lay turned to one side, the eyes open and blank. A clump of hair was missing from right above her forehead, the bloody skin serrated by a knife. Another cut had been made cleanly through her neck. Blood covered the ground beneath her and what was left of the dress, bodice, and undergarments.
His mind spun and he looked around, but saw no sign of his other sister.
There was no answer.
A noise from the woods and Lamar spun full of hope he would be seeing his younger sister running toward him. Instead, it was the distraught Joseph Barker.
Sinking to his knees and barely able to speak, the words croaked out, “Lamar, thank God you are here. It was…… it was…..oh my God !”
“Dana is dead,” muttered Lamar in a whisper.
“I know…they….. they forced her to….”
Joseph’s hands gestured at Dana’s torn clothes, his voice shaking on the verge of hysteria.
“Lamar, they just killed her….. after….”
Lamar’s eyes clouded over and darkness grew, but no words came. His accusing gaze slowly turned on Joseph.
“They …. killed her. I could not …. believe they killed her. To just do that and ……. And kill her. Why ?”
Lamar’s voice was cold and restrained. He fought against the sorrow, terror, rage and hysteria rising up from within. There would be time later.
“Where is Trinity ?”
Eyes locked on Dana’s body, Joseph continued to mutter, “they raped her, why, and …… and killed her….why did they do this ?”
Lamar grabbed his shoulders and screamed into his face, “WHERE is Trinity ? WHAT happened to Trinity ?”
Joseph’s eyes danced in their sockets.
“TRINITY ? WHERE ?” Lamar seethed.
“A different one…. did it to her too……. But… took her away….. took her with them….. she was alive.”
“Who ? Who did this ?”
Joseph was trying to clear his mind, his jumbled thoughts. Nausea caused the images to spin in his head. They all ran together – the Indians, the women being dragged from the cabin, screams mingled with the popping of burning wood before shock silenced them, the knife slicing Dana’s neck followed by her sister’s renewed sobs, the blood, Trinity being led off into the woods bound, and Dana lying alone and forgotten by her assailants in the grass.
“Shawnee….. Iroquois…….Mohawk….. I don’t know…….”
Next came the question Lamar had put off since realizing Joseph had been present at the time of the attack.
“Why are you alive ?”
Their eyes met and Joseph stammered, “Why ? They did not see me.”
“Why not ?”
“I was on my way here and ……. and almost at the clearing when I heard ….. I heard yells …… a lot of them. So I …. I hid behind that big boulder there…… there at the edge of the woods.”
Lamar’s expression darkened with the pain and anger mixing in his blood. He shoved Joseph backwards onto the ground.
“You watched ?” Lightning flashed in his eyes. Thunder rolled in his ears.
“You watched this happen. LOOK at her Joseph !” Lamar forced the younger man to look at Dana’s blank, swollen face. “You watched while they did this to her – to Trinity ? You sick, cowardly bastard !”
Joseph’s voice was a frightened whimper, “Well, I … there was nothing …. Nothing I could do. There were so many……. They were screaming and fighting but…… they wouldn’t stop…….There was nothing I could do.”
“Nothing you could do ? You just watched ? While they….,” Lamar was shaking with rage, incredulous. “You..just…watched ? There was nothing you could do ?”
“Lamar, they would have killed me too.”
“They should have !” screamed Lamar. In one quick motion, he scooped up the rifle he had dropped and fired. At this range, there was no way to miss. The ball entered Joseph’s neck, severing the artery.
Lamar knelt, taking Dana’s hand in his, sitting quietly beside her while Joseph bled to death, thrashing on the ground. This was the first man he had ever killed, but it would not be the last.
Shaking his head clear, he yelled for the demons in his mind to be quiet. He used to beg for them to go away, but they never did. Instead, the memories from that day would rush back without warning, fresh and vivid. These moments fed his hatred and threatened to unleash it.
The bag of coins had persuaded Tommy, but he felt he would need more than that. He decided to head north along another small track he knew. Harry Carver had a place up that way and young Malachi as well. He might to do a bit more convincing with those two, but money talks, especially a lot of it.
He retraced his steps along the path in the direction in which he had come while following the other women. At a sharp bend overhung with mountain laurel, he almost bumped right into a Cherokee woman. His cold eyes met her smile which probably caused a stir within her brethren. Her scent was captivating and in those few seconds, he entertained the thought of pulling her off the trail and violating her as his sisters had been.
At that very moment, she called behind her and two small boys bounded into view, jostling with each other. She smiled at Lamar again and continued on the path, laden with a basket of berries and shadowed by the boys.
He watched her walk away before heading to the north side of the valley. It was not time, not yet.
Young Lamar Hayes buried Dana that evening beside the garden she loved so much. He carved her name in a piece of wood which somehow escaped the fire and placed it as a headstone. A brief search of the charred cabin turned up nothing. It was all gone.
Collecting a few vegetables from the trodden garden, he set out to find Trinity. Stopping for one last look at where home had been, the laughter of his sisters echoed in his mind.
The moonlight illuminated the body of Joseph Barker laying where he had fallen. There was no remorse or brief consideration.
“Let him rot,” Lamar thought coldly as and stepped into the shadows among the trees.
He spent over two years living off the forest and tracking different tribes in the hope of finding some trace of his sister. An occasional person on the frontier would mention remembering seeing a light-skinned woman with long brown hair with this Indian group or that, but nothing was ever definite and Trinity was not the only person on the frontier to have been abducted.
War parties and violence were common enough occurrences, but usually the result of some official offending them in some manner or an ignorant Englishman causing an unnecessary row about something. What they did not realize is the tribes lived by a code of an eye for an eye and it did not usually matter if the original instigator was the target, true more so in dealings with the English or French than among themselves. The innocent victims were people like Dana and Trinity, caught in the crossfire.
Lamar kept looking, holding on to the belief she was still alive, though he knew himself it was a possibility she was already dead. Hope was all he had and that drove him on.
Light was fading quickly as Harry and Malachi packed up the last of the dried meat and divided up the leather bags to carry. The bear skin was rolled up and tied to be slung on one of their backs.
“Good evening gentlemen,” Lamar hailed as he sauntered along the ridge toward them. They both looked up, surprised to see him.
“Evenin’ Hayes,” countered Harry. “What brings you up to this side of the valley ?”
“I was actually looking for you two.”
They cocked an eye at each other and Malachi asked, “Why is that ?”
“Well, you could say I have a business proposition to discuss.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Business ? What kind of business ? I did not know you were into any other than watching out for yourself.”
“True, I keep pretty much to myself unless I need to. But l need some assistance with this one.”
“Are you talking about actual monetary compensation being involved ?”
“Why, yes I am. I know the day is dwindling but if you give me a few minutes, it won’t take long.”
Harry and Malachi nodded and took a seat against the trees which had served the purpose all day long. Lamar sat down nearby and began to talk. He started by reiterating his dislike for the Cherokee village in the east end of the valley. The reasons stated were all ones they had heard before. His primary objections centered around mistrust and the safety of family if the Indians decided to send out war parties, then nobody would be safe and there was nothing which could be done about it. It was already happening further north in the mountains. He had seen it personally and it could easily happen here.
It was hard for Lamar to leave his sisters out of it but had never told anyone about them, except for the two Shawnee. However, he was prepared to use them if needed to sway these two. He felt they might be harder to convince than Tommy had been.
“So what does all this have to do with a business proposition ?” asked Harry.
“I’m getting to that,” said Lamar. “The three of us, along with Tommy Marlow, Sheme-NE-to, and Oshasqua will stage a little confrontation with some of those local Cherokee, just to let them know how unwanted they are.”
Malachi shook his head, “What is that supposed to do, annoy them ?”
Lamar shot him a look, “No, listen now. All along the frontier, the English are pushing west. In some places, the Indians have given up their claim on the land and moved into New France. Those which stay can become volatile without warning. Trust me when I say this knowledge comes from firsthand experience. This country is unforgiving by itself and to increase our chance of survival, we must remove the threat these Indians pose to our existence. If we can get these Indians to just up and leave, they will not be our problem anymore.”
Harry let out a stifled laugh, “And just letting them know they are not wanted by you will cause the entire village to pack up and leave ?”
“No,” frowned Lamar. “That’s where you and the others are important. Hopefully, they will see a representative group from the valley saying we don’t want them here.”
“All we are going to do is talk to them ?” asked Malachi.
“I don’t know Malachi. It just does not feel right.”
“I am unsure too Harry, but where is the money part you were speaking of ?”
Lamar smiled, “Ah yes, the money.” He reached into a leather bag and pulled out two large sacks, tossing them. One landed at the feet of each of the men. Looking inside, their faces registered shock and disbelief.
Harry pulled out a coin and let out a low whistle.
“Where did you get money like this Hayes ? This is a lot of silver !”
“There is enough to provide well for your families and enough to share with Cyrus if you are so inclined, but that is up to you. All I need from you is assurance you will help me out and the money is all yours.”
Lamar leaned back rather happy with himself. This was going better than he had thought. Of course, looking into a bag full of pieces of eight seemed to help immensely.
Harry and Malachi exchanged looks, gauging each other’s thoughts. Harry was the first to nod slightly and Malachi understood.
Taking a deep breath, Harry spoke up, “Alright Hayes, we’ll do it. A little bit of talking never hurt anybody.”
Clapping his hands together, Lamar jumped to his feet. “Excellent gentlemen. I will let you know when but expect it to be very soon.”
As he turned to leave, he spoke again, “And one more thing. I would not mention this to your women quite yet. They might think you acquired your sudden wealth through thievery or gambling. Wouldn’t want that now, would we ?”
With a nod and a wink, he ambled back along the ridge, leaving the two bewildered men sitting in the forest next to the smoking embers of the fire.
Spinning one of the coins between his fingers, Malachi wondered aloud, “Well I’ll be.”
Estelle had been a little surprised at Lamar’s overly jovial attitude when he arrived home after dark, but she was not going to complain at all. He dozed off a happy man.
Usually, the demons only bothered him during the day when he let his mind wander. On this night, they came in his dreams, vivid and unrelenting. It was the night his search ended.
He had been captured by a Shawnee war party after stumbling into an area rife with conflict between the Indians, Dutch and English. They had brought him before the tribal leaders to decide what was to be done with him. It was a debate which did not last long. From what he had picked up from the language, he understood his death was to be long and painful.
They slowly inflicted pain on him until time no longer mattered. His body screamed and he wanted to die, but it did not. Levels of anguish were reached that he never thought possible. Reality faded and he truly thought madness had overtaken him.
Through the agony, he suddenly realized the chanting and voices had subsided. He heard a voice, one of the warriors if he could remember correctly.
“What did you say, sister ?”
A voice came, almost like bells from heaven.
“I said let him go.”
Again, the warrior, sounding confused.
“Let him go, why ?”
As the voice spoke again, Lamar’s heart almost stopped. The cords were cut and he fell to the ground, waking at that instant in his bed next to Estelle, covered in sweat, but the voice resonated in his head.
“He is my brother.”
Clipart courtesy of ClipArt, Etc.