The tragedy of the Civil War had forced Lauralee Johnston into an orphanage, and years passed before she was finally reunited with her beloved father and heard his dying wish. But for sheltered Lauralee, placing her trust in a Cherokee brave was almost too much to ask. Unfamiliar with Cherokee customs and especially Joe Dancing Cloud’s powerful, exotic presence, she gradually learned to trust in his gentle strength, especially when it came to exploring the passion they shared. But once they claimed each other’s hearts, the world around them denounced their love. Against fear and prejudice, the two lovers will have to fight for their destiny . . .
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The brave man is not he who feels no fear,
— WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Tennessee — 1865.
The rains had become continuous. The mud was deep. The rivers were overflowing, the roads nearly impassable for wagons. The colors of the uniforms of this Civil War regiment were scarcely discernible through the layer of mud and grime, the mood of the soldiers matching the gray that they had worn so nobly this past year during the war.
The horses upon which many of the soldiers rode through the dismal, rainy day, grunted and blew steam from their nostrils as they attempted to make their way through the ankle-deep mire.
The soldiers walking behind the horses, their steeds having been shot from beneath them during the last ambush, cursed the Yankees beneath their breaths.
The war was officially over, but not inside the hearts of those who had given up so much for a victory in the South.
They coughed, sneezed, and clutched themselves with their arms as chills raced across their cold, wet flesh. They had now gone three days and nights without sleep except for those brief moments that had been snatched at the watering places.
Lieutenant Colonel Boyd Johnston surveyed his men. His aching, cold fingers tightened around the horse's reins, helpless against what had happened to his regiment.
He drew his eyes from the sick, downtrodden men. He looked over at Joe Dancing Cloud, a Cherokee Indian who had joined his regiment a year ago. Although Joe was only eighteen years old, he had fought as valiantly as a man of thirty.
Long before the war a bond had grown between Boyd and Joe Dancing Cloud, one that fathers and sons sometimes never achieved during a lifetime. He hated saying goodbye to the lad, fearing he would never see him again.
"Damn shame, isn't it, Joe?" Boyd said, calling Dancing Cloud the nickname that he had given him when he was ten years old.
"The surrender of Lee and Johnston?" Dancing Cloud said in perfect English. For the most part he and his people attributed their knowledge of the English language to Boyd Johnston, who before the war had been an Indian agent assigned to look after Dancing Cloud's Wolf clan of Eastern Cherokee.
"Yes, the surrender," Boyd said gloomily. "But when our forces suffered greatly in the valley campaign of 1864, after the Battle of Cedar Creek, I saw the end then, Joe, of everything that we had fought for."
Dancing Cloud's jaw tightened and his dark eyes narrowed angrily. "Surrender is not a noble thing, o-gi-na-li-i, my friend, but unavoidable after the collapse of the Southern railroads," he said flatly. "All of Lee's regiments began to suffer from slow starvation. This, together with Sherman's victories in Georgia and the Carolinas, undermined the morale of our soldiers. When desertions began, it was then that Dancing Cloud saw the true end for the Confederacy."
He looked over his shoulder at his Cherokee warriors who had moved valiantly onward even when they knew that the North had all but won the war. There had been no deserters among the Wolf clan Cherokee faction of the Confederate troops who, when not fighting, made their homes in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Although they were worn and weary, their stomachs distended from hunger, they had been true to their word and had stayed loyal to the South, to the end.
Dancing Cloud became lost in thought, recalling the day that Boyd had come to him attired in the gray uniform of the Confederacy.
The young Cherokee had not seen Boyd for three winters at that time. He was surprised to see that he was no longer coming to the Cherokee in the capacity of an Indian agent, but as a soldier who held much rank with the Confederacy.
Boyd had come to tell the Cherokees that in order to protect them from other dishonest leaders who might ask them to join the fight, he had gotten permission from his superiors to ask his friends to enlist in his infantry regiment.
Boyd's motive was to keep the Wolf Clan of Cherokee out of danger.
James Talking Bear, Dancing Cloud's chieftain father, had seen no other way than to allow his son and his warriors to go to war. Better it be with Boyd Johnston, than total strangers.
Dancing Cloud's eyes became troubled when he thought of his father, mother, two younger brothers, and baby sister. He said a silent prayer to the Great Spirit that they were all safe from those who were in the mountains now who did not belong.
Dancing Cloud and his warriors had joined the fight. He felt that by aiding in the war he could secure respite for his people. His ultimate hope was that they might be allowed to remain in their own mountain country.
If he had rejected the offer to fight, he feared that the whole force of the Confederate troops might come down upon his people in one fell swoop.
Until recently, Dancing Cloud had felt that he had succeeded well enough. Just before the news of the end of the war had reached his regiment there had been reports of deserters from various parts of the Confederacy who were arriving in numbers to hide in the mountains where the Cherokee lived. Those deserters preyed on the innocent, robbing, killing, and performing other outrages.
"Joe, I said from the beginning of the war that if I lived through it, I would have done enough to be satisfied to spend the remainder of my life in retirement with my wife, Carolyn, and daughter, Lauralee," Boyd said, interrupting Dancing Cloud's train of thoughts. "Soon you and I will say goodbye, but not for long. I shall bring my daughter and wife to the mountains. It's high time they get to know my Cherokee friends."
"It will be good to have you at our village again," Dancing Cloud said. "My family will share their lodge and laughter with your family."
"Joe, do you fear for your family's welfare?" Boyd asked. He wove his fingers through his wet shoulder-length brown hair, to smooth it back from his narrow face. "I have never feared so much in my life as I fear for my family now. Did they survive the damnable Yankees? I have heard of such atrocities committed by the Yankees that makes my blood run cold. When I entered the war, I thought Carolyn and Lauralee would be safe enough on our land in Tennessee. It was on the very edge of the mountains, set deep into the forest. I hope to God the Yankees didn't spot it as they marched their way south."
"Ii, yes, I fear for my family, as well," Dancing Cloud said somberly. "But we shall both know soon. We have almost come to the intersection that marks our departure. You will go your way. My warriors and I shall go ours."
"Joe, you served well for the South," Boyd said, reaching over to give Dancing Cloud a fond pat on the shoulder. "You are a splendid specimen of Indian manhood. I trust and admire you more than one hundred white men put together. Your father taught you well. He has a son to be proud of."
"Wa-do, thank you, Boyd." Dancing Cloud was humbled by how his white friend felt. "Your words reach my heart with pride. They will live there, i-go-hi-dv, forever, in a corner always reserved for my feelings for you."
Dancing Cloud then followed Boyd's lead and drew his steed to a stop where a road sign had fallen, which had at one time given directions to towns in four directions. The sign, destroyed during the ravages of the war, lay in a heap of mud and debris.
Boyd gave an order over his shoulder for everyone to dismount.
Dancing Cloud looked over the weary men. For so long they had been continually drenched with rain, seldom able to dry their clothes. The nights had been bitterly cold, and blankets had been as scarce as tents. Sickness pervaded the unit.
Taking a black cape from his saddlebag and draping it around his broad shoulders, Boyd gazed at length from one man to the other. He then began to talk in a tone filled with emotion.
"Soldiers, it is with much pride and affection that my heart has accompanied you in every battle of this war," he said, a hush having fallen over everyone.
The men did their level best to refrain from coughing and sneezing so they could listen to this great leader who had been forced to bow down to defeat, yet very heroically.
"You men continually rendered a service that displayed the highest quality of devotion and self-sacrifice, which proves your character of the warrior-patriot," Boyd continued. "Your battle cry will forever ring loud and clear through the land of the enemy, as well as your own."
Boyd paused and bowed his head toward the ground, then looked once again at his quiet, devoted followers. "But the time has come to part, to go our separate ways," he said thickly. "The war is over. Let us begin anew. Hold your chins high to those who will mock you as losers. In our hearts we must always remain the victorious ones, for we never failed at what was expected of us. Soldiers, one and all, I bid you farewell. Should we meet again, it will be my pleasure."
Everyone remained quiet.
There was a sudden commotion at the side of the road. A man stepped into the open from the fog that was just creeping in over the rain-drenched land. His red hair shone like the sun. His eyes were cold and blue as a leaden sky just before the first signs of a storm on a summer day.
Everyone grabbed for their weapons, but the man held his hand up in the air and shouted that he was a friend.
The color of his uniform gave them cause to doubt that. Through the mud and grime that covered it they could see that it was blue.
Boyd and Dancing Cloud stepped slowly and cautiously toward the man. Dancing Cloud's eyes looked warily on either side of the stranger for others to follow out of the fog.
"Lieutenant Boyd Johnston of the Twelfth Tennessee Regiment, sir," Boyd said. "And where do you hail from?"
The red-haired, blue-eyed man paused. "My name's Clint McCloud," he said in a low, guarded voice, obviously not saying which regiment he hailed from. "I've lost my way from my troops. Might you allow me to travel with you for a while? Might I even travel on horseback for a few miles? I'm bone-weary. I doubt I can travel another foot."
"You're a Yankee," Boyd drawled out suspiciously.
"As you are a Rebel," the man drawled back, his eyes narrowing into thin, blue slits. "But the war's over. The colors of our uniforms no longer matter. Right?"
"In most cases," Boyd said, his voice low and measured.
"And why would mine be different?" Clint asked, his hand inching toward the pistol holstered at his right hip.
"You tell me," Boyd said, taking a step away from Clint.
Boyd looked past the Yankee, into the rolling fog. He was sure that he had seen movement. This man wasn't alone after all.
Dancing Cloud had also seen the movement in the fog.
But before he could react quickly enough, the red-haired, blue-eyed Yankee had drawn his pistol and was aiming it straight at him.
When Dancing Cloud saw the flash of the pistol's report, he thought that he was experiencing his last moments on this earth.
He was stunned speechless when Boyd stepped in the way and was shot, instead.
Dancing Cloud gasped when Boyd's body lurched with pain as the bullet made contact in his left shoulder. He grabbed for his friend and held onto him. He turned and watched in disbelief when several Yankees came from the cover of the fog and began an attack on his regiment.
Bloodshed erupted on both sides. Bodies fell right and left. The screams of pain were like shocks of white lightning bouncing through the air.
Dancing Cloud laid Boyd down on the ground. He peeled aside the black cape to see how badly he was wounded. When he saw that it was only a flesh wound, he sighed heavily with relief.
He started to rise and enter the battle but stopped and stared at what he had never expected from his warriors. Those who had not been killed were so furious over their brothers' deaths they were scalping the downed Yankees.
A throaty cry sliced the air, a cry that seemed frozen in time. Dancing Cloud looked quickly around and found Clint McCloud standing there, his eyes filled with the horror of what he was witnessing.
Dancing Cloud was torn with what to do. He did not want his warriors to continue scalping. Yet if he took the time to stop them, this one lone survivor would escape.
For a moment Dancing Cloud and Clint McCloud's eyes met and held, their eyes speaking words of hate that their mouths could not at this moment say.
Then Clint McCloud grabbed one of the Confederate horses, mounted it, and rode away.
Dancing Cloud grabbed his pistol and took a steady aim on the fleeing man. One shot rang out and he realized that he had not killed the Yankee.
But he was certain that he had shot him square in the thigh of his left leg. The Yankee would lose a lot of blood. Gangrene might even set in before he reached a hospital.
Clint McCloud looked over his shoulder and shouted at Dancing Cloud as he rode into the veil of fog. "You savage!" he cried. "I'll get you. Some day I'll find you and you will pay. Not only for shooting me, but for allowing your savages to scalp ... my ... men."
His voice trailed off.
Dancing Cloud turned and stared down at the bloody massacre and swallowed hard. The scalps that had been removed had been tossed in a pile. One of his warriors was setting a match to them. The others watched, their faces somber.
Boyd leaned up on an elbow and stared blankly at the fire as it burned into the leaden sky. "My God," he whispered. He became pale and gaunt as he shifted his gaze and looked at the men who had died needlessly. "The war is over, yet it is not, or perhaps never shall be."
Dancing Cloud knelt on one knee and examined Boyd's wound again. "This should be seen to soon," he said. He looked slowly around at his dead brethren, and at those who were wounded. He felt helpless since he had no way to gather herbs to doctor his friends. Nor was there a white man's hospital nearby. And all medical supplies had long been used up.
"There is no bullet lodged in my flesh. I'll be fine," Boyd said, groaning as Dancing Cloud helped him up from the ground. "And you?"
Dancing Cloud's eyes met with Boyd's. He became humble again in the presence of this man whose heart was big. "Because of you I am alive," he said thickly. "I owe you a debt that I may never be able to repay."
Boyd nodded and smiled. He held his shoulder as he began walking toward his men. "We'd best see what we can do to get everyone back on their feet who can stand. Their loved ones are waiting on them," he said. "Thank God we at least got this far without being totally wiped out by bushwhackers."
Dancing Cloud watched Boyd move through the wounded, and dead. He vowed to himself to find a way to repay this man for his kind ways.
He would find a way to repay this man for saving his life.
He turned and looked into the rolling, thickening fog. Beyond that wall of gray, high up in the Great Smoky Mountains, his people waited.
* * *
His head bobbing, occasionally drifting off to sleep in the saddle, his shoulder now numb from the loss of blood, Boyd was only scarcely able to recognize his way back to his plantation. He had parted ways with his regiment and was on his way home.
The rain had stopped and the sun was out, revealing to him that the land was scorched as far as his eyes could see.
Not only did he witness the charred remains of all of the farmhouses that had stood in the way of the Yankee soldiers, he saw way too many bodies of innocent people, children and grown-ups alike, to stop and bury them.
And he didn't even have the strength to see to the Christian burial for those unfortunate people. He scarcely could stay in the saddle now from lack of sleep, food, and medical attention.
Yet he kept on going, the fears mounting inside him now over what he was going to find when he reached his home. He doubted there would be any home left to recognize.
He choked back a sob and wiped tears from his eyes.
Nor did he now expect to find his daughter and wife alive. It was foolish, he condemned himself, ever to have left them.
But he hadn't left them totally alone. There had been his slaves, among them a big, muscular black whose devotion to Carolyn and Lauralee was beyond that which was expected of him. He would have killed anyone who came near them.
"Jeremiah, oh, God, Jeremiah, I hope you were enough for their protection," Boyd said, his throat growing drier as he got closer and closer to his home.
Excerpted from "Wild Abandon"
Copyright © 2018 Cassie Edwards.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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