Read an Excerpt
Bright are the Stars
By AL LACY JOANNA LACY
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2006 ALJO PRODUCTIONS, INC.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBritt Claiborne rode northeastward in Indian Territory across the rolling prairie in the brilliant morning sunlight. He had just left the area where the North Carolina Cherokees had been given land for their farms and was headed toward the Cherokee General Council headquarters in Tahlequah, the Cherokee national capital. There he would be given two new uniforms so he could begin his work as a police officer on the Indian Territory Police Force.
Trotting his big black gelding, Blackie, across the uneven land, Britt looked back over his shoulder and smiled as he ran his gaze over the many circles of wagons and the numerous tents pitched among them. He felt a deep satisfaction in his heart, knowing that the North Carolina Cherokees would soon have their own cabins and could begin their lives anew. Though they still felt the loss of their loved ones and friends on the long journey to Indian Territory, there was much happiness in their hearts. They were finally settled on their own land.
Britt rode into a heavily wooded area where the trees were beginning to bud, and his thoughts went to Cherokee Rose, who would soon become his wife. "Thank You, Lord," he said, "for bringing that wonderful young lady into my life. I love her so much."
Suddenly, Brittstiffened as he saw three grim-faced men on horseback in U.S. Army uniforms ride out of a dense section of cottonwood trees a few yards ahead. Their eyes were fixed on his, and their rifles were pointed directly at him.
He recognized them, and a shudder pulsed through him. On the long journey from North Carolina, Britt had seen a number of his fellow soldiers brutally mistreat the Indians, and often he had been forced to confront those soldiers to protect the Indians from harm. He knew that many of the soldiers held a grudge against him. Now he was facing three of the most hateful ones.
With his heart pounding, Britt wondered what they were doing in Indian Territory. They were supposed to be on their way to a fort back East.
Britt drew up and pulled rein, his heart still pounding, and ran his gaze from face to face. "What are you men doing here in Indian Territory?"
The one in the middle scowled. "We've come back here to get even with you. You're gonna pay for what you did to us."
Before Britt could say another word, all three rifles roared. He felt the bullets rip into his upper body, and blood spattered his jacket. As he was falling from the saddle, he suddenly found himself gasping and sitting up in his bedroll on the ground under the moon and stars. He felt a drop of perspiration grow cold on his brow and trickle down his face.
He was conscious that his racing heartbeat was beginning to slow as his head cleared. He raised his eyes toward the starry heavens and said, "Thank You, Lord, that it was only a bad dream."
He ran his gaze to the covered wagon a few feet away, and he could hear Cherokee Rose's soft, even breathing inside. He glanced beneath the wagon and could see her father's bedroll on the other side. Walugo was fast asleep.
Wide awake now, Britt decided to take a brief walk and settle his nerves before trying to go back to sleep. He slipped out of the bedroll and headed toward a small stream nearby to get a drink. He glanced around at the wagons, tents, and men sleeping outside in bedrolls and noticed three wagons with pale lamplight glowing behind the canvas covers.
Must be some others who are having trouble sleeping.
Walking as quietly as possible, Britt passed one dimly lit wagon and heard a mother softly singing an Indian lullaby to a fussy baby. He stopped and listened for a moment. Soon the infant's fussing stopped, and the singing ceased. Britt smiled to himself as the lantern light was extinguished and all was quiet again inside the wagon.
Britt looked toward heaven and silently thanked his heavenly Father for bringing the North Carolina Cherokees to this fertile territory where they could farm their land and know peace and contentment.
Moments later, as he drew near the stream, he saw a lone figure seated on a log next to the gurgling water. He recognized sixty-six-year-old Chief Sequoyah, his silver hair highlighted by the moon and stars.
Sequoyah rose to his feet, smiling. "You are having a problem getting to sleep too, my friend?"
"I have been asleep," Britt said, "but I woke up and decided to come to the stream to get a drink."
Britt knelt on the bank of the stream and drank. When he rose to his feet, the chief was seated on the log once again. He patted the space beside him and said, "If you are in no hurry to return to your bedroll, please sit down."
"No hurry," Britt said and sat down. "So you were having a problem getting to sleep?"
Sequoyah nodded. "Nothing bad anymore. I just have so much on my mind. I keep thinking of that long, horrible journey with so many of my Cherokee people dying." He drew a deep breath and let it out. "It is so good to finally have a place to call home, to see my people already showing signs of happiness. Something I have not seen in such a long time. The joy of it keeps me awake." Sequoyah thumbed tears from his eyes and looked at Britt. "It is so good."
"I can already see a change in your countenance," Britt said. "I know you love your people with all your heart."
The silver-haired chief looked up at the night sky and sighed. "The stars are bright tonight, aren't they?"
Britt scanned the starry heavens for a long moment, then nodded and met Sequoyah's gaze. "They sure are, Chief."
"I believe the stars are so bright because the North Carolina Cherokees are already finding happiness in their new home."
Britt nodded. "I'm sure you're right."
Sequoyah let a smile spread from ear to ear. "I am glad you agree. It makes me feel better, knowing it is not just this old man's feeling. Well, my friend," the chief said as he stood, "now I know I can get to sleep."
The two men headed back toward the camp and told each other good night as they parted company. Britt passed the covered wagon where he had heard the mother singing to her fussy baby earlier and noted the lantern glow inside and heard the mother singing to the baby again.
When he entered the circle where Walugo's wagon was located, he saw that Walugo was still sound asleep in his bedroll, but movement at the canvas opening at the rear of the wagon caught his eye. He moved up close and whispered, "Sweetheart, what are you doing awake?"
Cherokee Rose was on her knees, holding on to the tailgate with one hand. "I ... I just happened to wake up a few minutes ago and found myself thirsty. I got a drink from the water jug, then decided I would just take a peek at you in your bedroll. When I looked your direction, I could see that your bedroll was empty. I wondered where you might have gone."
Britt stepped up closer, kissed the hand that held the tailgate, and said, "I woke up and was thirsty, too, so I took a little walk to the stream. Chief Sequoyah was there, and he and I chatted for a little while. I'm going to get some sleep now, and I want you to do the same."
She smiled. "All right, boss."
He kissed the hand again. "See you in the morning. I love you."
"I love you, too."
As Britt walked toward his bedroll, he whispered back over his shoulder, "But I will love you even more by sunrise. My love for you grows day and night."
Cherokee rose felt the warmth of his love in her heart and said, "Bless him, Lord. Thank You for giving me such a wonderful man. I will be so glad when I am Mrs. Britt Claiborne."
The sun rose into a clear azure sky the next morning, March 28, 1839. As the North Carolina Cherokees left their beds and made ready to begin the new day, there was a great measure of happiness in their hearts as the men built cook-fires, the women began preparing breakfast, and the children played together and laughed gaily.
At Walugo's wagon, Britt Claiborne built a cook-fire while Cherokee Rose took food for breakfast from the wagon. They playfully argued about which one loved the other the most.
"Miss Cherokee Rose," Britt said, "my love for you grew so much last night that the Lord had to extend the edges of the universe so it wouldn't explode!"
She was about to come back with her reply when her father hopped out of the rear of the wagon with a bucket in his hand and said, "I hope you will always argue like this, even when you are married."
His daughter smiled. "I can guarantee you that we will, dear father. Even though it is I who love Britt the most, I want him to always argue with me about it."
Walugo laughed, lifted the bucket, and said, "I will go get some water from the stream."
Many Cherokees were at the stream getting water as Walugo drew up. He noticed Chief John Ross at one spot along the bank of the stream and stepped up beside him.
Ross smiled as he lifted his full bucket from the stream. "Go ahead, Walugo. There's plenty of water for everybody."
Walugo dipped his bucket into the gurgling stream and said, "I am glad the Lord supplied us with lots of water."
As they walked back toward the camp, Ross said, "I heard a rumor, Walugo. I heard that Britt has been hired as a police officer on the Indian Territory Police Force. Is it true?"
"It is true," Walugo said. "And there is more good news. Britt and my daughter have set their wedding date. It will be next month, April 28."
"They will make a perfect couple. It is obvious that the Lord made them for each other. They will have a wonderful marriage." As those words came from John's mouth, tears filled his eyes. "I ... I sure do miss my Quatie."
Tears glistened in Walugo's eyes as he said, "I understand, John. I miss my Naya so very much."
Their pace slowed, and there was silence between the two men as they thought of the wives they had buried on the journey from North Carolina.
"Quatie and Naya would have been so happy here in this new home," Walugo said.
"Yes, they would," John said, "but this beautiful land is nothing compared to the glorious land where they are now."
Walugo nodded. "Oh, how true that is! It makes heaven so much sweeter, doesn't it?"
"Indeed it does. Indeed it does."
They picked up their pace once again, and as they walked, Walugo placed his hand on his friend's shoulder, and a smile passed between them.
After everyone in the camp had finished their breakfast, Chief John Ross sent some young men to hurry through the camp and announce a meeting of all Christian Cherokees in one hour, asking them to bring their Bibles.
At Walugo's wagon, word of the meeting came quickly, and as soon as the young messenger hurried on, Cherokee Rose's bright eyes were alive with excitement as she approached Britt and her father and said, "Now that Pastor Ward has agreed to perform the wedding, I must go and tell my grandparents and Aunt Ttarbee and some of my closest friends that we have set the date. I will be back in plenty of time to attend the meeting, but I just have to go and share our good news! Is that all right with both of you?"
Walugo chuckled. "Of course it is all right, my dear. Go and tell the whole Cherokee Nation if you want to."
Excerpted from Bright are the Stars by AL LACY JOANNA LACY Copyright © 2006 by ALJO PRODUCTIONS, INC.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.