They sat around the table in the firelight - seven strong. Rebecca looked down the length of the table while Mingo and Daniel retold an old story about a bear hunt they'd been on long ago. She smiled as the children laughed at the two men. Katie had crawled onto Dan's lap and nestled against him, as he talked. Rose had started to fuss and Mingo reached over and lifted her up. She sat happily in his arms as he continued to speak. Reaching up, she played with his long dark hair smiling. She wished that Yad had been well enough to join them, but every time he started to heal, he pushed it too far and wound up back under Cincinnatus' watchful eye.
"You were just born stubborn!" Cincinnatus had told him.
In the days, and weeks since her return, she had struggled to find peace. Spending twenty-three days fighting to stay alive, always afraid, had left her anxious and fearful. She had been ashamed to find that she often burst into tears for no reason whatsoever. She jumped at sudden noises, and tearfully confessed to Daniel that she needed to keep a candle lit at night. Daniel, for his part, took all of it in stride.
"The light doesn't bother me, none, darlin'." He said patiently. "Becky, slow down and give yourself some time. Being taken was no small thing."
"I don't like feeling like a child." She said softly.
"You're no child." He said kissing her with a grin. "Do you remember when I came back from the French Wars and you got up in the middle of the night 'cause Israel was crying, and I just about shot you?"
She nodded. "Good thing, my hair is red," She said remembering. He had awoken to the sound of her footsteps returning to their bed and reached for a rifle that he'd kept tucked under the bed. She had said his name several times, but it was only the moonlight on her bright, red hair that had pulled him out of the past and back into the present with her.
"I must've shook for hours after." He said lighting the candle as they climbed into bed. "We should've thought of keeping a candle lit."
"You're too strong to ever admit needing a candle." She said to him.
"Too weak, you mean. There ain't nobody stronger than you, sweet girl." He said quietly.
"I don't feel strong."
Now, with her family gathered around her, she was overwhelmed with joyful thankfulness. During her time with the Choctaw, she had barely allowed herself to think about the children or their snug cabin, or Daniel. It was only in her most difficult moments that she had thought of them. Mostly, she had tried to survive each minute, one at a time - always waiting for the worst to come. She had longed every second, every minute for just this; all of them together and safe.
She let out a slow breath and rising said, "Mingo, I'll get you more of that pie."
Standing in the pantry, she tried to stop the tide of tears that swept over her, frustrated that she seemed to have lost all control of her emotions.
Strong arms encircled her, and her favorite voice said gently, "Hush, now, mo shearc."
"Are the children . . ." She whispered quietly.
"Mingo, took them on a hike to see the stars." He said.
"I'm sorry. I can't ever seem to . . ."
"You are finished with apologizing." He interrupted her. "I forbid it. If you got a need to cry, well, cry then. Seems to me I could think of at least a hundred times you should've cried and never did. Maybe it is all catching up to you now. Either way, it don't bother me none - other than making me want to rush out and kill every one of those . . ."
"No!" She said suddenly angry. "Don't you dare!"
He was stunned by her anger.
"Promise me, Daniel! You promise me, right here and now. You leave it be. They were . . .They would kill you, and I couldn't . . .Please, promise me. I can't worry about you, and if you did it would set off a whole war. I can't have everyone fighting because I couldn't run away fast enough."
He studied her thoughtfully trying to decide if he could tease her out of her anger.
"Helen of Troy?" He grinned at her.
"I'm serious." She said with a hand on her hip. "I couldn't bear the worry. I'm telling you the truth, Dan. There's a warrior there, the one who was going to take me, he's . . ." She shuddered.
"Bigger and tougher than me?" He asked.
"Evil." She said very softly. "And he can't be happy you took me back before . . ." She met his eyes and tears poured out again. Turning away from him she said, "Just promise me, please. You are nothing like him. He was small, and angry and evil, and just thinking of him fills me with such fear."
"I'm sorry." He said softly. "Becky, look at me." She turned around wiping her eyes.
"I won't ever let him harm you. Not ever." He said and she exhaled slowly, resting her head against his chest.
"I never want to see any of them again. I just want to stay right here. I want it to be behind us and . . ." She sighed and looked up into his kind, green eyes. "Let's talk about something else." She said a hand to her forehead. "Let's talk about anything else."
He squeezed her tightly, kissing her forehead. "Get your shawl, then. We'll go star-watching with the youngin's." She nodded, wiping her eyes, and took her shawl off the peg by the door. She wrapped it around her shoulders and Daniel stood just behind her, his hand on her hip.
"I won't never go, 'Becca." He said very softly. "I promise you. Leastways, not while you're living on this earth. After that . . ." She turned to look at him and he grinned at her, "Well, I can settle the score then, if that terrible day ever comes."
She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him then. They were kissing still when the children returned with Mingo.
"Oh, well, we was just coming to join you." Daniel said breaking away embarrassed.
"I see." Mingo said with a grin.
"No, you weren't!" Israel said. "You were kissing Ma again. You're always kissing Ma." Israel studied his father with disdain.
"Can you blame me?" His father asked with a grin.
"Israel, leave Pa alone." Mima said with a smile.
"Is there any pie left?" Mingo asked.
"Of course, Mingo." Rebecca said blushing, and walking slowly on her tender feet, she got him the piece of pie from the pantry.
Everyone settled around the fire while Rebecca turned to go back to the pantry to clean up the dishes.
"Sit down, Ma." Mima said. "Katie and I will do the dishes. You won't have me to work for you soon." Mima said smiling and helping her mother into her rocking chair.
The girls worked in the pantry, while Mingo gobbled up a piece of pie.
"I'll miss your cooking Rebecca." Mingo said with a smile. "But if I don't go back to Chota soon, I'll start looking like Saint Nicholas!"
"I never mind cooking for an appreciative stomach." Becky said with a smile.
"Pa! Pa!" Rose said pointing her chubby finger at her father's dulcimer.
"You want me to play for you, Rosie?" He asked lifting her up into his arms. She clapped her hands enthusiastically. "Yes! Pa, please!"
"Alright then, but see if you can get Mama to sing with me." He said kissing her and handing her to her mother.
"Ma?" Rose asked. "Please!"
Daniel crossed over to where his dulcimer was carefully stored. He sat down with it on his lap, and fussed over it making sure it was perfectly tuned.
"Pa?" Israel asked watching him. "When you were small like me, did you think girls were awful like I do?"
"I reckon I did. My sisters used to drive me crazy!" He smiled at Israel.
"But you liked girls later?" Israel asked.
"Well, I suppose I did." His father studied him.
"You think I'll like girls later?" Israel asked innocently. "'Cause I just can't reckon it. They are so . . ." He shuddered.
"Give it time, Israel." His mother said grinning at her husband.
"Well, I liked girls when I got a bit bigger than you, but I can't say I ever really wanted to marry a single one of them until I saw your Ma, here. And once I saw her, it seemed like I couldn't think of nothing else but marrying her!" He smiled.
Israel studied his mother thoughtfully.
"Well, I guess if I found a girl who could shoot like Ma . . . and she manages toads and such pretty good for an old girl . . .and once when you were gone walking traps, she and me went fishing, and she caught five fish!"
"I suppose that's what makes the difference, Israel, you have to find a special girl; someone like your Ma, and then you'll like her fine."
"I reckon." Israel said. "I'm not so sure about the kissing though. Although it must be some fun, because you are always kissing Ma."
Rebecca laughed out loud, and the sound of it seemed to reach into the very center of his heart.
"Well, you can wait on the kissing Israel. Your Ma would probably appreciate it if you didn't rush into kissing too soon." He winked at his wife, and crossing to the bench beside her rocking chair, he gave her a kiss as if to prove his point.
"Now then, Becky, you better sing with me or Rose there will pitch a horrible fit - won't you Rosie girl?"
"Sing!" Rose shouted gleefully.
"Daniel, she's willful enough without you encouraging it."
"Where'd that temper of hers come from again?" He asked with a grin.
"You know, I was nearly dead." She said to him.
"Oh!" Daniel laughed. "Them Choctaw didn't stand a chance! This girl fights hard!" He glanced at her to make sure he hadn't gone too far, but she just shook her head at him.
"Oh, are we going to sing or not?" She asked.
He strummed his dulcimer and their voices joined together and lifted up into the dark night that surrounded the snug cabin.
All through the years it will be
A song of you and me
Tears and laughter
Sorrow and joy
Day after day
We travel our way
But together we'll be
Singing this song of you and me
The children had been tucked in bed for hours, when Mingo finally stretched and said, "I can't believe I stayed so late! You need your rest too. You've got a long journey to plan. How we shall miss Jemima!" He rose and turned to leave them.
"Oh, Mingo, why don't you stay and sleep by the fire?" Rebecca asked standing slowly.
He crossed to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Oh, now, you know I prefer to sleep under the stars." She smiled at him, and he said, "I am so glad that you are safe and home. You can't know how destroyed he was." He glanced towards his blood-brother who watched them with a smile.
"Thank you for helping him. It comforts me to think, if I were ever . . ." She paused. "It is good to know someone will look after him."
Mingo kissed her cheek. "Don't ever leave us again, please, dear U lv." And turning he left them.
Rebecca closed the door and stood waiting to gather her strength to cross the room. If she were honest, her feet hurt more than she let anyone know.
"What did he call me?" She asked her husband.
"Sister." Daniel said crossing over to her.
"Oh, that's sweet." She said softly. "He is a good friend to us."
He studied her. "You know he's in love with you."
She looked up surprised. "Oh, that's nonsense!"
He laughed. "And you say I don't notice things. Of course he is and so is Yad! You think I could manage such loyalty? No, it is you they stick around for. I know I could trust 'em both in a fight, but darling, if I ever do get killed, don't be surprised if they march across my dead body straight to you!"
"Well, that's . . . No! I don't think that's true." She looked up at her husband. "You're teasing me."
"I don't know why I spent so much money buying you that looking glass! Honestly, Becky, you are beautiful! You line up every woman at the fort, and ask a perfect stranger to pick the prettiest one - it'd be you every time."
"Oh, nonsense! I'm an old married woman!"
"Please! And it aint just that you are a feast for the eyes, you might just be the sweetest girl the world has ever known."
"Me? Daniel, were you and Mingo drinking? You've forgotten all about my temper!" She laughed then.
"Oh, don't get me started on that temper of yours." He said wrapping his arms around her. "The first time I saw that temper of yours, I wanted nothing more than to kiss you. You are at your most beautiful when you are stormy! You are a wild thing, darlin' and you know how I feel about wild things."
She blushed, speechless.
He smiled and kissed her then, and reaching down lifted her up into his arms.
"I can walk." She protested.
"I bet you can. And you can cook and sew, and you sing like an angel, and you've got about half the good book memorized, and you shoot with near dead perfect aim, and your biscuits are so good that you have to make forty extra just to make up for all the ones I sneak, and you smell like roses and bread, all the time - even after you've been in the wilderness for twenty-three days, four hours and ten minutes."
"Well, no wonder everyone's in love with me." She laughed.
"Everyone is, but you belong to only me." He smiled at her.
"Only you." She said and stretching up she kissed him.