Warrior on the Western Waters FREE PEEK
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Copyright © 2020 by Phyllis A. Still
eBook ISBN 978-1-63363-
Audio Book ISBN 978-1-63363-
Library of Congress Control Number 2019956853
My head throbbed more than my bandaged foot, as the Gatliffs’ unrestrained three-year-old son, Reese, jumped and squealed on the hard-packed dirt floor beside me, the morning of September thirteenth. I sighed and raised the shredded hem of my brown petticoat. Momma said she’d come this morning. Has Papa’s wound worsened? I stretched out my bandaged foot along the log bench, growing more fidgety and annoyed. I want to go see about my family. I want to see this new settlement called Boonesborough.
Hazy beams of light from the shuttered window danced on the table where I sat. With another sip of warm willow bark tea from a clay mug, my headache eased, and I wiped a fallen tear from my cheek. She said Papa would recover. I shook the thought from my head. My faith isn’t as strong as Momma’s.
The burly Charles Gatliff clomped to the door, adjusting his tan linen shirt before shouldering his pack and rifle. He topped his bushy red head with a round-brimmed hat. “I’ll take Reese to dig fishing worms.”
“Yippee.” The rambunctious copper-headed boy in a fringed buckskin shirt and breeches bounced toward him.
When the door closed, my nerves settled. I smiled with gratitude at the pretty dark-haired Mrs. Gatliff, still in her chemise, rocking in a creaking chair while humming to her suckling infant, James. I’d learned of him when his cries woke me from reliving the nightmare of Shawnee warriors leaping from bushes with raised tomahawks three days ago.
I’d guessed her to be in her twenties, but I didn’t dare ask. She insisted on being called Letitia instead of her name, Christina.
She detached the infant from her nipple and eased to her feet, carrying the babe to a cradle in the back corner, whispering in an Irish accent, “There now, wee one. You’re a good lad, so you are.”
Letitia tucked an escaped wisp of black hair behind her ear and moved to the hearth, tying the drawstring of her chemise. She lifted a steaming kettle to a trivet. “Charles said you’ve come from Indian Creek, near Fort Culbertson.”
“Yes.” I refrained from adding ma’am as she requested when meeting yesterday. She turned toward me with a pleasant grin. “My da is Cornelius McGuire. Have you heard of him or my ornery brothers, Thomas and William?”
My mind reeled. How much do I say? “My papa has surveyed for them—and bartered horses from William. But I haven’t heard of Thomas.”
“Thomas is the eldest.” Letitia pulled a folded paper from her apron and held it up. “This is from William himself. He and Thomas plan to visit in November.” She returned the letter to her pocket and sighed. “If they stay alive.”
My breath caught. “What do you mean?”
She frowned and poured hot water into a clay mug. The aroma of sage tickled my nose.
“They delight too much in foilin’ loyalists’ plans for the thrill of avoidin’ capture.”
My throat tightened before I could confess babbling William’s name to loyalists. He’s in danger because of me.
A loud knock launched me from the bench to my feet. Land sakes. I clutched my chest and stared at the silhouette in the doorway.
“Good morning, Mary.” My nine-year-old sister, Lizzy, beamed and bounced through the doorjamb. “Momma sent me to fetch you. We’ve moved into our own cabin.”
Her abrupt entrance made me dizzy. I bent forward to keep from fainting and blew out a breath. Calm down.
My sister caressed my back. “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
I straightened with another deep breath and shook my head. “I’ll be all right in a moment. Still jumpy’s all.” My heart beat like a drum.
Letitia stepped toward Lizzy. “Good mornin’, lass.”
“Morning, ma’am.” Lizzy smiled and curtsied.
Letitia handed me a cloth containing one of her delicious hoecakes from breakfast. “Come callin’ when you can.”
I reached my arm around Letitia’s waist and laid my head on her shoulder. “I will. Thank you for everything.” I moved back and peeked inside the cloth. Still fluffy. “How do you make them rise like this?”
“’Tis a secret I’ll be keepin’, so it is.” She grinned. “Now, off with you.” She moved toward the hearth.
I giggled and slid the hoecake into my apron pocket and clasped Lizzy’s arm. “I’m ready.” She held my elbow as I hobbled beside her into the gray morning. I didn’t recognize the dingy brown petticoat and the pale-yellow blouse she wore. “That shade of yellow is pretty on you, but where did the clothes come from?”
She grinned. “From the Boones. Momma is bartering with Mrs. Boone for borrowed clothes until we can make our own.”
“Oh no. Remember Eliza from Moore’s Fort? She told me how Jemima and her friends had snubbed her for having a half-Cherokee mother. She’ll probably look down on us for being destitute—just like what happened to the Wakefields in the book we read on the trail.”
Lizzy stopped and peered at me wide-eyed. “They’re a generous family. I don’t think Jemima’s mean at all.”
My face burned with shame as we moved ahead. “I’m sorry. It’s wrong of me to judge before meeting her for myself.” Thank you for the Boones, God.
“You’re a silly goose.” Lizzy shook her head and pulled me forward.
The new settlement consisted of maybe a dozen scattered cabins that still smelled like oak sap. A few children played chase nearby, including my young sisters, Suzie and Nancy. They grinned and waved as we passed.
“Slow down a minute. I want to see if I recognize the scout who found me. I want to thank him.”
Lizzy slowed as I scanned the faces of two dozen men scattered around the settlement. They were hammering, chopping, raising cabin walls, and hoisting beams for roofs, but none matched the image in my mind.
Tiny hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I stopped and glanced around the settlement twice. Something’s missing. I gazed past a large elm tree in the western meadow. Four black men drove mules that dragged logs toward the central yard where a group of tan-skinned young men chopped notches. I peered back at the looming eastern ridge across the north-flowing Kentucky River and then at the ridges above a grove of large sycamore trees to the north. I remembered the words a soldier at Martin’s Fort said. “All the Injuns have to do is stand on the ridges around Boonesborough and pick ’um off.”
Movement in the grove caught my eye. A man dressed in a tan shirt, dark-blue woolen britches, and a beaver-skin hat sneered at me before stepping into the shadows. My gut knotted. Why did he glare at me? My throat tightened. Where are the stockade walls?
Lizzy pointed beyond a few scattered cabins. “We’ll be fetching water from the spring near that big rock. What’s wrong? You dizzy?” She peered into my eyes, sounding worried. “Do you need to sit down?”
“No.” I gulped and stepped forward on wobbly legs. “Get me to Momma.”
Lizzy and I hobbled toward a long clothesline where Momma and twelve-year-old Katie hung bedsheets. They were also dressed in borrowed petticoats and blouses.
My eyes watered as we neared.
Momma came around the kettle, smiling and drying her hands on her apron. A rosy glow tinted her cheeks, and strands of auburn hairs flitted in the breeze from the bun she always wore. I limped into her outstretched arms and sobbed.
“You’re trembling.” She pulled me back and felt my forehead. “No fever. What’s wrong?”
“I’m scared.” I sniffled. “There are no walls being built for protection, and a man just gave me an evil stare.”
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Preorder: January 23, 2020