Tim tossed more wood on the fire. "So when can we expect to find this redhead Indian anyhow?"
"The Chickamaugas, the name these Tory Cherokees now call themselves, have been raiding into Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and all places thereabouts. But mostly they have been raiding in Tennessee, and our Cherokee friend here," Jason said motioning to Redbird Swift, "says he saw Benge moving northeast from the hills of Georgia less than a week ago."
"How many Indians were traveling with him?" asked Tim.
"Eight warriors total, including Benge," offered Swift. "It will be difficult to catch Benge alone, you may have to shoot him from a distance and get away as fast as possible, especially if these eight Chickamaugas join up with a band of Shawnee, as they often do."
"That is no pleasant thought," said Jason. "It will be bad enough to deal with the Chickamaugas without the Shawnee." Jason chased away his fears with the image of his sister Maggie and her children lying bloody and scalped in front of their cabin. What was done to Maggie's husband was worse; he had been tortured then burned in the orchard. "Pleasant or not, it must be done. No settler is safe with Benge and his killers ravaging the country."
"Swift might have the truth of it," offered Tim, wiping a strand of long, dark hair from his eyes, "we may have to kill this murderin' Indian and then head out swiftly so we don't lose our own scalps."
"Let's see what tomorrow brings us. Lord willing we will capture this half-breed and take him back to Kentucky for a public trial and hanging. A lot of folks would like to see Benge swing from a rope."
The following day brought the three manhunters within reach of their prey. Indeed, it brought the question to them of who was the hunter and who was the prey.
"Benge has spotted our trail, he and his warriors are tracking us," said Swift, agitation clearly written on his face. "If Benge finds me with you, then he will kill me."
"I expect that if Benge catches us we are all dead," said Jason. "What are we to do?" asked Tim.
Jason motioned his cousin over to look at a roughly sketched map of the region. "I copied this off of a settler from Boonesborough. He said his pappy had hunted and trapped all over this area and drew the map from memory. He must have had a good memory for so far the map has been reasonably accurate--"
"Now where is he going?" asked Tim, pointing at Swift who was just disappearing into the forest at a run.
"I suppose he's livin' up to his name by swiftly headin' for the hills to save his hide. He probably thinks he'll have an easier time avoiding Benge and his warriors by himself than with us slowing him down." Jason turned back toward the map. "I think our best bet is to scurry up this long ridge to the north. If we are lucky, we might even get a shot at Benge from above."
"Then you think Swift was right, that Benge has found our trail and is hunting us?" asked Tim.
"I'm afraid so," said Jason, taking his eyes off the map long enough to check the priming in his long rifle. "We came to hunt The Bench, but now he is on our trail."
Benge could not believe the audacity of the two white Bordermen that were hunting for him. He read the sign carefully, and had spotted Redbird Swift at a distance--he would have to kill that traitorous Indian--the two whites were the ones said to be hunting for The Bench. Benge had a young niece living in Redbird Swift's village, and she had sent word that the two Bordermen were looking for a guide to help them find and kill or capture Captain Benge. Once he learned of these foolish white hunters he had begun to look for them, and here they were, climbing a ridge on the trail ahead. The coward Redbird had fled, yet he could be dealt with later.
Benge and his warriors moved at a ground-eating pace, gradually gaining upon the two white men. His face was grim, his bright eyes showed an inner burning rage, these white men would find their own deaths, not his, and they would die slow and painfully.
"Yet still too far away for an accurate shot at Benge," complained Jason.
"Do you really think we can shoot Benge and get away with his warriors so close on our trail?" asked Tim.
"I must admit that things don't look overly good for us at this point. We are good woodsmen, but it ain't easy shaking Indians off of the warpath, especially when they are Chickamaugas."
The men jogged forward in silence for a time, watching their footing on the treacherous ridge with its loose rock and dry, crumbling soil. Jason looked back and grimaced as he saw that the Indians had drawn closer, much too close. He turned, took quick aim, and fired his long rifle, swearing as the shot went over Benge's shoulder, striking the Indian directly behind the redheaded warrior.
"Good shot, cousin. You got one," said Tim.
"The wrong one," muttered Jason, and began running again.
They were still too far away for the Indians to pose any threat with their Brown Bess muskets, which had a rather short range and dubious accuracy. But very soon the Indians would be close enough that even their poor muskets would prove threatening. And not long afterward the warriors would be close enough for tomahawk and knife work.
"Thank God!" exclaimed Jason, pointing with his rifle.
"Thank God indeed!" said Tim, noticing the large pile of boulders ahead where the game trail they had been following narrowed. Tim recognized, and shared the enthusiasm of Jason as he quickly comprehended the spot to be perfect for defense--high ground behind a fortress of natural stonework with a sheer drop off on one side, and a narrow trail that wound through a stone bulwark on the other.
The Indians had also noticed, and fired their muskets at the Bordermen, but to no effect as they were still out of range.
The cousins had forted up behind the rocks, firing at the Indians, and wounding one in the arm before the warriors withdrew to a safer distance, out of the easy reach of the long rifles.
"My luck is no better than yours," said Tim. "I wounded the fellow right next to Benge. I swear that Indian has second sight or something, he moved just as I squeezed the trigger or I'd have got him through the heart."
"Not likely either of us will get a second chance," said Jason. "Those Indians are wily and they know the reach of our rifles now."
"How long do you think they will stay down there?" asked Tim.
enough to try and figure out mischief for us, but as long as we are alert, they
can't get to us from there," said Jason.
Jason could just make out Tim in the wan moonlight; he was relieved to see that his cousin was still alive. Tim was a strong fighter and Jason nodded to himself in grim satisfaction as he saw Tim swing and connect the butt of his rifle with the head of an Indian. Yet he had no more leisure for watching Tim's battles, for two more warriors had clambered over the rocks and were drawing close to Jason.
"Come on you devils, join your dead companions who lie at my feet!" said Jason. A large Indian charged Jason and on instinct the Borderman shifted to the warrior's right while sticking out his right foot to trip the Indian. It would have worked perfectly if the big man had not slashed at Jason with a large knife as he tripped by, cutting a long red ribbon across Jason's chest. Nevertheless, Jason's plan accomplished its goal--the big Indian plummeted over the edge of the ridge to the depths below and to his death.
"I would not have thought two white men could fight so," said the remaining Indian.
Jason was breathing hard and was willing to talk if only to allow him time to regain his breath and strength. He tried to ignore the burning, stinging cut across his chest, but the warm wetness spreading down his hunting shirt reminded him of the fresh wound. "We Bordermen grow up with a rifle in one hand and a hunting knife in the other," exclaimed Jason. But then he paused to study the warrior before him--it was Benge. The man's red hair shown faintly in the moonlight. "You are the man I came all this way to kill," he said.
"And yet I am here to kill you," said Benge.
"Then you must fight better than your companions, for they are in that hunting ground across the stars, only their broken bodies remain here." Benge looked to the left of Jason and saw Tim approaching, rifle pointed at the warrior's chest. Then the half-breed looked around at the bloody ground and saw his warband destroyed. "Why have you hunted me, white man?" Benge asked Jason.
"You killed my sister and her children, and you tortured her husband near Rock Creek in Kentucky."
Benge laughed mirthlessly. "You white fool. It was not I who killed those settlers; it was Doublehead who killed them. I parted ways with him because he was too bloody, not honoring his word to spare those who surrendered. Your sister's husband offered to surrender himself if Doublehead would spare his family, and Doublehead agreed, only to torture the man and kill the woman and children. She was a beautiful woman with cornsilk hair? The children were a girl who looked like her mother and the boy slightly older with brown hair?"
Jason grimaced. "That was the family."
"Those were killed by Doublehead. My war party came upon the cabin and the dead family a few hours after Doublehead passed by. I later learned from one of his warriors what occurred."
Jason swore. Then said as if to himself, "That explains the additional moccasin prints that appeared to be fresher than the prints beneath them. It had me confused about the number of Indians involved." Jason was silent for a minute, then motioned toward Tim. "Put your rifle down Tim." Turning back toward Benge. "Eye witnesses swore you were in the area and it was believed you were responsible for the murders. I probably ought to kill you anyhow as you have murdered many an innocent settler, but by God's grace Tim and I have survived this night and enough have already died."
"I'm sorry I fell asleep," offered Tim. "It couldn't have been but a moment and then I heard them clambering over the rocks and I shot the first one who got over. Jason," he said, "you can't let Benge go, he has a lot of blood on his hands."
"I know, and I'll let the relations of those he's killed exact their vengeance," Jason said. "We've been hunting the wrong man, but even so we have exacted revenge upon his warriors for many an evil deed I'm sure." Jason picked up his empty rifle and grabbed his sleeping roll and possibles bag. "Well Benge, I'll not say I'm sorry for killing your men for they'd have surely killed me. I do regret I've been hunting the wrong man, and perhaps it goes to what my preacher often said about vengeance bein' the Lord's prerogative. I've had my fill of bloodletting this night. Bury your dead as you will, I'm going back to Kentucky."
Benge grunted. "You are more honorable than most white faces. Yet when we meet again I will kill you for these good warriors whose lives you have taken."
"Good or bad the Lord will judge. You stay out of Kentucky or you will join these good, dead Indians," said Jason.
As Jason and Tim walked the narrow trail down the ridge, picking their way carefully in the growing twilight of a coming day, Tim said, "That had to have been the whitest Indian I've ever seen. An Indian with red hair of all things. I knew he was a redhead, but I never expected him to look just like a white man."
"In white settler clothes he would pass for a Borderman. Indeed, I have heard he has at times dressed like a white settler to get information and to trick whites into ambushes," said Jason. "We should have killed him, cousin."
"Perhaps; I had a hard time believing he didn't take part in the massacre, but the moccasin prints speak in his favor. And I've seen enough bloodshed and done enough Indian-hunting to last me for a long while," said Tom.