The Grandfather’s words stirred a forgotten song that had long been hidden away in her memory. Low Feather hummed it to herself as she made her way through the Black Forest. They were going deep into the forest and the men she led had no idea how dangerous this trip would be for them. But Low Feather couldn’t worry about that. This is what they wanted and what they paid for. As Grandfather reminded her in the presence of Adam Darcy, the expedition leader. There was purpose to that. She had a sacred trust, the trust between the tracker and the people she led.
“A sacred trust, granddaughter. You must act honorably until trust is broken.”
“Until trust is broken,” Low Feather murmured back, their dark eyes meeting one another in the smoky cabin. “I go now. I will return soon. Stay well, Grandfather.”
“Stay well, Granddaughter.”
Low Feather wondered why her grandfather hadn’t finished the saying. Maybe, like many things, the second half of the mantra were for Cherokee ears only. Somethings the white man didn’t need to know. But she knew. She remembered. She always remembered the old stories and all of Grandfather’s sayings. Low Feather hid them in her heart and pulled them out when she needed them.
She needed them now. Low Feather left her home four days ago and trust had been broken. In ways she had not imagined. The men took from her. They abused her. Even Adam Darcy could not protect her, not that he’d tried beyond a few stern shouts. In the end, he’d gone to bed and left her to fend off the other four men by herself.
She had not been successful.
The sun was about to rise. She sensed the shifting of the air, the kind that occurs between light and dark, morning and night. She put her clothes on hurriedly ignoring the pain between her legs and in her abdomen. Time to deliver the men to their destiny. She continued to hum the half-forgotten song. Adam Darcy met her outside her tent. Her eyes met his without fear. He’d betrayed her, failed her. Failed to protect her from the wild men he’d hired.
“Low Feather, what…”
No. He isn’t going to pretend with me.
“Time to see what you came for, Darcy. Get the men up. Today is the day. Now is the moment.” And there I will leave you. Forever.
“Are we really that close? We should have pressed on last night. That would have kept the men happy.” Darcy wiped at his handlebar moustache with nervous hands. He wanted to ask me about last night but Low Feather wouldn’t allow it. How dare he make excuses for the savages. Yes, they were savages, although Low Feather and her people were often stuck with that label.
If they thought me a savage, wait until they meet my ancestors!
Low Feather walked into the woods ignoring Adam Darcy’s pleas for her to wait. She would not wait. They would find her, she would make sure of it. She broke a branch, tied a piece of fabric to it. She kicked over rocks, piled up twigs. It was taking the men some time to catch up with her. Last night’s drunken behavior had left them in a stupor apparently. She had no pity for them. They had taken her honor.
Trust had been broken. The debt must be paid.
It did not take long to come upon the cave. This had been a sacred place for her people. It was not a burial ground but a Place for Dying. Once death was achieved, the bones would be collected and gathered in a Place for Rest. No, this was a place to give up the ghost and there were many ghosts here waiting for them. The white men believed it to be a treasure house for plundering. A place that held silver and gold, but they were fools. The people of the red clay, the Cherokee cared nothing for silver and gold. Life was their treasure. The life of their tribe. The life of the people.
She was about to be one of them.
Low Feather allowed the hot tears to flow as she sang her song. The men had savagely cut her braids, keeping them as souvenirs after their dark deed. She was a maiden no longer. Her virtue stolen, Low Feather would walk into the shadow realm and seek justice there for she would find no justice in this world. But in the other world, her ancestors would deliver what she needed. All she needed to do was join them.
And when they found her, when they found the Place of Dying they would join her. They would have no choice for the dead among her people were stronger than the living among theirs.
An hour later, Adam Darcy, the Langley brothers and Arlo Tavistock were standing before the cave entrance. It didn’t take long for their eyes to make out the hanging woman.
“Oh no! Oh God! What have you idiots done? What have you done? She’s dead! Low Feather, no!” He dropped his sack of tools. This was bad. This was really bad. How would he face the Old Man now? An assault he could pay his way through that but not a death. Old Man loved his granddaughter.
He inched closer as Arlo lit a torch that lay on the ground. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe he could rescue her. No, the time for rescuing was last night but he’d been afraid. Afraid of the drunken men. Afraid of what they would do. They were a murderous lot.
“Low Feather! No!” He raced toward her, Arlo beside him holding up the torch. But she was dead and already stiffening. He wanted to cut her down but something was wrong. Her head moved, the dark hair fell over her open eyes. “Did you see that?”
“What? Cut her down!”
That’s when her body swung around in a heavy movement. Suddenly, she was on the ground, on all fours, the rope still attached to her neck. She cocked her head up at them as all the men swore in unison.
Adam Darcy couldn’t move. He couldn’t run. And they weren’t alone. Low Feather rose to her feet, her head crooked to the side. She screamed like a dead wild thing.
It would be the only warning they had before the ghost swarm descended upon them.
They were never seen again.