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Long Canoe led the way up the mountain in the darkness. His nephew was still in a tragic stupor from the events of earlier in the evening. They paused briefly beside the sound of a waterfall, made more thunderous in the still of night. Behind it the man must tend to one final errand.
By daybreak they were well away through the valley and the deerskin pouch of she known as the Ghigua was several times heavier than before. It not only bore five sacred rings but enough gold to cover the expenses of a long journey and much else besides. His intuition told him that his nephew's life depended on the speed and secrecy of their flight. They must travel far beyond the borders of the Cherokee and keep their identity hidden. Surely the assassins would not soon forget either the son or the brother of Swift Water.
When would it be safe here? With a sudden twinge of melancholy Long Canoe wondered if he and his nephew would ever return to the once quiet mountain valley where they had both been born. This wasindeed a sad moment. But he knew that for now, they must disappear without a trace.
Theirs was a legacy already being overrun by the rush of two new Races-one white, one black-across this continent that the brown tribes of a diverse but related people had for millennia had to themselves. There would be no turning back of history's relentless march. Henceforth it would be a shared land, and the white man would write its new history, not the brown or the black. It would depend on a few like him to preserve the ancient legacy of his people. Both man and boy were of Attacullaculla's seed. The man's reasons for leaving were to preserve the past, not abandon it.
In the north he hoped to protect that heritage, even if to do so meant hiding it for a time.
* * *
By the time Long Canoe was missed, the rest of his kinsmen assumed that he too had died that night, or perhaps had fled west. His close friends shook their heads in bewilderment. Long Canoe had never expressed a desire to go west. His distant cousin Major Ridge thought he might have hidden himself in the mountains. But as the months passed and Long Canoe never returned to his seat on the Cherokee council, gradually the others assumed he was either dead or had joined the Old Settlers in the west.
What had happened to the boy likewise remained a question no one could answer.
After they were found to be missing and never returned, no one ever knew that aging Nanye'hi had, with the help of her daughter Katy Harlan, braved one more arduous journey to the top of the sacred mountain. What was her mission she never even told Katy. But when she emerged from the cave behind the waterfall, leaning on her trusted walking stick, a knowing smile spread across her lips which said more than she ever told another soul.
She could die in peace. The legacy would go on. Where destiny would take the rings, even her prophetic vision could not tell. But she was at peace. Long Canoe had been faithful to his charge. The Great Spirit would watch over them now.
Long Canoe was never heard from again. The suddenness with which he had vanished was forever after shrouded in mystery. The few who in later years came to know of his whereabouts, and even visited him from time to time, never divulged his secret. Most assumed that he had followed the Old Settlers west. In after years, however, when contact between eastern and western Cherokees was reestablished, there was no trace of his arrival among the western Cherokee.
Thus the mystery of his disappearance grew into legend.
* * *
In a small brick boarding school in New England the headmaster was concluding his final arrangements for a new pupil.
The boy said little as his uncle spoke with the man. He sensed that his past lay behind him and that his future was here. But at twelve, even the stoicism of his race could not prevent his being intimidated at sight of his future home.
The headmaster rang a bell. His assistant appeared and took the lad to his classroom to introduce him to his teacher and fellow students. When the two men were alone, the discussion continued.
"How long will the boy be with us?" asked the headmaster.
"I will leave you enough to cover two years' expenses," said the traveler from the south. "At that point I will assess his progress."
"How will I contact you?"
"You will not be able to for a while. I will be in touch with you. I will be relocating myself. It is best for the boy to remain ignorant of my whereabouts for a time. He must learn to make a place for himself here."
"As you wish, sir," said the headmaster, a little skeptically. "But if the boy's tuition is not paid I will have no choice but to turn him out-" "Do not worry, my friend. The boy's expenses will be paid in full. Money does not happen to be one of our problems. But the boy is in no little danger, as am I-"
The expression of concern on the headmaster's face registered clearly enough that he wondered if he had made a mistake by admitting the new student.
"Have no worries," said his strange visitor. "The danger I speak of is far away. Much farther than you can imagine. Not a trace of it will follow him here. We have traveled a great distance. Our movements are untraceable. But if his true identity were to become known to the wrong people, or my whereabouts discovered, there could be consequences. The boy must not know where I am. For the present he must be cut off from his roots. There is much danger. That is why I have brought him to you. It is for his own safety. I do not know what the future holds for me. Eventually he may contact me through you. I am sorry to be secretive, but it is for the boy's best. I ask you to trust me. I will reveal more in time."
The headmaster nodded, apparently satisfied.
"One more thing I would ask," added the boy's uncle. "Please watch him closely for a time. He has suffered a terrible shock with the loss of his parents. His need of love will be great. He is alone in the world. Even I as his closest relation cannot be near without endangering him."
"My wife and I will do all we can for him."
"He is a good boy, intelligent, quick to learn. He will adapt."
"I will be sure he receives all he needs."
"I am more grateful than I can say for your kindness. I will contact you when I can. Now ... will you take me to him? I would have a few final words alone before I depart."
* * *
The man who now changed his name for a second time in his life, taking again to himself his father's English surname, left the wintry skies of New England where he had studied at Dartmouth years earlier, and traveled south again. He used a portion of his gold to purchase a fertile track of land suitable for many purposes, and settled in the heart of Virginia. The tract was only some sixty acres, whose rocky ground and thin topsoil had never attracted a buyer. But its location, several small but choice fields, and two or three extensive caves beneath the northern ridge, would suit his purposes perfectly.
Within a few short years, the ground had become profitable, verdant, and was the envy of every plantation owner for miles around.
* * *
Young Swift Horse, nephew of Long Canoe, grew into manhood. Gradually the events of his early life faded into the mists of memory along with his Cherokee name. None of his fellows ever suspected the true origins of his bloodline, nor did he himself pay much heed to events occurring within the nation of his heritage. Old chiefs were dying and with them an ancient way of life slowly passed into history. He was one of the new breed who thoroughly integrated into the modern life of New England America.
Excerpted from Dream of Life by Michael Phillips Copyright ©2006 by Michael Phillips. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted April 17, 2015
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