As the sun rises, a cool fall breeze blows the burnt-orange foliage covering the trees. Alissah’, clutching her baby to her breast steps out from her lodge where she finds Big-Man covered in red and black war paint, loading his bow and musket and adjusting the blood-stained smoker-hawk hanging at his side. Held loosely in his hand is a strand of white shale, but as he sees Alissah’, he slips the necklace into the pocket of his coat. The two embrace momentarily before she takes a step back, searching his eyes for answers to her unasked questions.
“Big-Man, we await your safe return,” she whispers, noting his coolness toward her. Big-Man kisses his son, then mounts his horse.
A very concerned Ole Hood and Big Foot approach Big-Man.
“You sure you want to do this?” Ole Hood asks with unusual self-restraint.
“Once ye start down this road of revenge there can be no end,” Big Foot quickly adds.
Ignoring them completely, Big-Man quickly joins Oconostota, The Raven, The Tassel, Five Killer and the group of twenty warriors made up of fifteen men and five women wearing red and black war paint. They each have their muskets, bows, arrows, tomahawks and flint knives. Wild Rose joins them, wearing war paint. Still in mourning, she lets her hair hang loose in a long, flowing ponytail.
The mounted warriors methodically make their way out of Chota with Big-Man and Wild Rose riding side by side. He turns around and looks back for Alissah’, but doesn’t see her. She is standing in the shadows of a nearby hut, holding her child as she watches the warriors leave town. The sight of Wild Rose with Big-Man riding side by side saddens her deeply. As the war party disappears from her sight, she returns to her lodge with her baby.
As dark descends on the cool fall night, the war party approaches a small white settlement. The warriors maintain complete silence as they take their respective positions along the tree line. They are only fifty yards from the split rail fence that marks the settlement’s perimeter. They closely survey the settlement – two small dogtrot log cabins, a log barn, and a corral holding two milk cows and several horses. Through the cracks in the main cabin’s rough wooden shutters, the warriors’ catch glimpses of the settlers moving about as they finish supper. They are laughing and talking, totally unaware of the dangers lurking just outside their door.
Easing closer in a crouched stance, the warriors fan out, approaching the cabin in unison. Reaching the split rail fence undetected, they take their positions quietly, but the spooked cows and horses start to mill about. The door on the cabin opens suddenly, releasing a burst of light out onto the small porch.
Big-Man draws back his bow with arrow ready to strike. Holding at the ready, he watches intently as a figure steps out the door. Seeing it is a woman, Big-Man eases the tension off his bow. Unaware, she walks off the porch and out into the yard toward the warriors, just five yards away. She throws out the scraps from supper, scraping the pan clean with a wooden spoon. As she reenters the cabin, a bearded white man in his forties walks onto the porch with a lighted pipe. He leans against the porch post and takes several puffs, allowing the smoke to circle his head as it rises into the darkness.
The night shields the warriors, now ready to attack. Taking a deep breath, Big-Man stands, slowly draws his bow once more, and releases the arrow, striking the unsuspecting man in the throat. The pipe dangles from his lips momentarily before dropping to the porch floor. Gurgling blood, he clutches his throat, staggers forward, and falls face-first to the ground. The woman hears him fall and turns to see her blood-soaked husband gasping his last breath.
Her scream is quickly answered by Oconostota’s war whoop piercing the night. Wild Rose, Big-Man and the warriors leap from the darkness, searching out their prey. The settlers still huddled inside can see the red and black painted faces of the warriors dancing in and out of the splinters of light shining from the cabin. The warriors’ demonic appearance alone creates a panic among them.
The woman is at first stunned by the ghastly death of her husband, but soon regains her composure and races inside, slamming the door as others in the cabin quickly secure the shutters. The settlers quickly place their muskets in the shooting slots cut in the shutters and release random fire, filling the darkness with bursts of light, noise, and smoke. Unable to locate their targets in the darkness, they achieve no results.
Several warriors dash about the settlement, setting fires to the buildings while Oconostota directs others to designated positions to ensure their prey will not escape. The night once again is silent except for the popping and crackling of multiple fires. The growing fire on the thatched roof enters the interior of the main cabin and forces the trapped settlers to flee for their safety. One by one, the men are the first to step from the burning cabin, only to be cut down by arrows and musket balls ripping through their flesh. The cabin is now engulfed in flames, forcing the women and children to escape. As they flee the burning trap, they are snatched by the warriors, tied up, and thrown on the ground. Believing that all the settlers are apprehended or killed, the warriors stop their onslaught and turn their attention to the hostages.
Only seconds before the cabin is completely consumed by flames, a woman and her seventeen-year-old son appear in the doorway, their silhouettes backlit by the rising flames. Seeing that the warriors are preoccupied with their hostages, they attempt to make their escape. Then another figure staggers out of the doorway, coughing from the smoke. He is a short man in his thirties, dressed in an English uniform. Two warriors catch a glimpse of the man’s escape and rush the cabin, but the man uses the woman and her son as a shield, pushing them into the oncoming warriors. The warriors, entangled with the woman, are unable to catch the man as he runs into the woods and turn their attention back to the woman. As she is being dragged away, she screams at her son, “Run, James!”
Fearing for his mother, the boy disregards his own safety and attacks the warriors. He kicks one of the warriors, but the other warrior clubs him and leaves him for dead, dragging his screaming mother away from the burning cabin.
The Redcoat escaping fills Big-Man with rage, and he releases a bloodcurdling war whoop. The Redcoat is almost to the edge of the woods when he looks back to see the huge warrior in war paint running straight for him with a French smoker-hawk in hand.
Wild Rose sees Big-Man running and follows the frantic race through the woods. Catching the Redcoat, Big-Man throws him hard to the ground, placing his flint knife to his throat. His eyes are cold as he methodically cuts the side of the soldier’s face. The blood oozes down his face as Wild Rose approaches and calls out, “Big-Man! Tlaw!”
Trembling in fear, the Redcoat begs with a thick Irish brogue, “Just be a killin’ me and be done wit it.”
“No, I want you to feel the pain my people felt at the sword of the Redcoats,” Big-Man coldly replies, “You will die slow. I want to see you burn as my people burned.”
As the two make their way through the woods, the soldier pulls out a knife hidden in his coat. Swinging wildly, he stabs Big-Man in the side. The warrior grabs the Redcoat’s wrist, easily wrenching the weapon from his hand, then backhands the Redcoat, sending him to the ground. Blood oozes from Big-Man’s side as he pushes the Redcoat forward through the dark woods toward the light of the burning settlement.
Big-Man approaches Oconostota, throwing the Redcoat to the ground.
“The white man pulled a knife hidden in his coat,” he says.
Seemingly unmoved, Oconostota looks down at the miserable Redcoat before calling out in English, “Strip them! Strip them all!”
The Red-coated Irishman protests vigorously in a heavy Irish brogue. “No, if ye be a strippin’ us, it be a sin against God! The humiliation be too much ta bear. If ye must, at least have da decency ta be killing us, so we not have ta carry dis sin and degradation.”
Oconostota walks up to within inches of the Redcoat Irishman and stands over him, looking down with contempt. He slowly kneels so he is eye to eye. “You abuse our children and women, then kill and scalp them,” he says. “Does your God not see this as your sin? Yet being naked is a sin against your God! Our God respects women and children. If this is your God, I want nothing to do with him.”
Oconostota jerks and rips away all the clothes of the Redcoat Irishman, throwing him into the circle with the other captives – five women ranging in age from seven to forty along with a girl and two boys. Upon Oconostota’s directive, the warriors rip the clothes off all the captives. The traumatized women’s screams fill the air as they plead with their attackers to no avail. Once stripped, the whimpering captives look down in shame at their nakedness and the shredded clothes lying in tattered piles on the ground.
With blood still oozing from his side, Big-Man wanders out into the woods followed by Wild Rose. Finding a hickory tree he takes his smoker-hawk and whacks off a piece of the bark. As he removes his coat, the white shale necklace falls from his pocket. Wild Rose reaches down and picks the necklace, examining it closely. Big-Man reaches for the necklace, and their eyes meet briefly before he returning the necklace to the pocket of his coat.
He covers his wound with the cool inner bark of a hickory tree, and Wild Rose helps him tie the buckskin tightly over the bark. The air between them is tense. Neither one is able to look the other in the eye for fear of releasing their passion for each another. In silence Big-Man walks away, unable to tell her of his feelings for her, and she as a mourning wife is forbidden by her mother to encourage him further.
Grudgingly, the couple follows the flames back to the settlement where they find the warriors preparing the captives for their journey. The warriors tie the naked men and women together with a long leash around their necks. As the warriors gather and mount their horses, the captives reach down and gather up what remains of their tattered clothing. As they try to hide their nudity and humiliation, the warriors laugh and taunt them. The last warrior holding the leash gives it a quick jerk, and the procession departs. Behind the smoldering fires, burn the last of the settlers’ dreams as they disappear into the darkness.
With pieces of the burning cabin still falling around him, the teenaged boy left for dead begins to come to his senses. His skin is scorched from the flames, yet his pounding head is his first concern. He gently reaches up, feeling for his scalp, and is relieved it is still in place. Slinking away from the burning cabin, he reaches the stream and immerses his body in the cool waters.
The boy is now driven by one thought: “I must find my mother.”
He makes his way across the field and into the woods, following a trail parallel to that of the warriors and the captives. He rushes his pace to a point where he can clearly see his mother’s nude body being dragged away. Sickened by the sight, he throws up. Hearing the muffled sounds of the boy’s sickness, Oconostota stops and listens closely, but hearing nothing more, he proceeds cautiously.
Once the warriors and captives are out of sight, James breaks down sobbing. Eventually he manages to return to the settlement. At the burned-out cabin, he digs out his father’s charred body – identifiable only by the arrow still protruding from his throat. He breaks off the arrow and holds his dead father in his arms, crying uncontrollably, realizing that his family’s whole world has been burnt down around them.
“Father, I vow revenge on the savage that took your life and captured my mother!” James promises.
The next day is overcast and rainy. The fall air is bone-chilling. Oconostota, Wild Rose, Big-Man, The Raven, The Tassel and Five Killer, along with twenty warriors, arrive at the Great Island Town. The captives carry the remnants of their tattered clothing, shivering as the mountain wind bites relentlessly at their naked flesh.
The Tsalagi townspeople harass the captives as they are paraded through the town, beating them with thorn-covered black locust branches. The lacerated captives are numb from their pain, the cold and humiliation, but the townspeople continue their taunting. Oconostota sees the captives have had their just treatment and calls to the townspeople, “Hah-ley’-wee-sss-dah’ – stop!”
“Cover yourselves,” he tells the captives, and they gather their torn clothing, trying desperately to cover themselves. Dragging Canoe walks up, first inspecting the captives, and then turning his attention to Oconostota, The Raven, The Tassel and Five Killer, greeting them with respect:
“O-si-yo’.” Big-Man and Wild Rose, however, get only a scornful glance from him. The Irishman, putting on the remnants of his tattered uniform, stares at Dragging Canoe with contempt, and Dragging Canoe returns the unspoken insult. Hoping to mend ill feelings with Dragging Canoe, Oconostota addresses him with favor.
“Dragging Canoe, these intruders were living on ground north of The Great Island. As Head-Man of the Great Island, they are yours to do with as you wish.”
The Irishman is foolishly defiant.
“Why be ya taken me prisoner? I be a English. We are friends of da Cherokee! I be demanding ta be released!”
Playing with the Irishman, Dragging Canoe asks in English, “If you are our friend, why do you live on our land without permission?” He reaches down and cuts the leather binding from his hands.
“I will give you a chance for life. You are free to go,” he says in a friendly tone before his expression turns very cold.
“If you pass my test!”
“What test that be?” the Irishman asks arrogantly.
Dragging Canoe steps up to him, standing only inches from the Irishman’s face, and releases a deafening war whoop. Seeing pure death staring him in the face, the Irishman finds he has overplayed his hand. He sees he has one option – to run.
The Irishman sprints through the harassing and screaming crowd, finally making his way out of town. He is in a panic and at an all-out run. Reaching the top of the next hill, his bare feet are sore and cut. Stopping to catch his breath, he scans the valley below. He sees two young warriors, eager to prove themselves, running hard in pursuit of him. The Irishman tries to run again, but the rocks and unyielding terrain have cut his flesh and bare feet to the point he can hardly walk.
Knowing he can run no more, he prepares to take on the young warriors. The young fleet-footed warriors are quickly upon the crest of the hill. Jumping from behind a rock, the Irishman wrenches the tomahawk from one warrior and kills him. After a short brutal battle, he kills the second warrior as well.
He relieves one warrior of his moccasins and throws the two dead warriors’ limp bodies down the hill. With his feet protected and a tomahawk in hand, he turns and makes his way down the hill and dives into the river, swimming vigorously toward the opposite bank.
Seeing the deaths of two warriors on the hill, Dragging Canoe is incensed. He commands,
“Little Owl, take two warriors and bring me the white man!” The warriors quickly mount their horses and are soon out of sight.
The Irishman reaches the far bank of the river and continues his run for freedom through a thick forest. Thinking he is free and out of danger, he goes at a slower pace and in late afternoon, he comes across a narrow stream. After drinking his fill, he rests against a tree and falls asleep. Little Owl and the two warriors on horseback follow the easily defined trail of The Irishman. With the forest getting thicker, they dismount and continue on foot.
The exhausted Irishman is awakened from his deep sleep by a tap on his foot. Opening his eyes, he sees the three warriors standing over him. Suddenly he is snatched away by a leash around his ankle. The warriors mount up, dragging the Irishman away by one leg.
Reaching the Great Island Town late at night, they stop in the center of town where Dragging Canoe stands at a huge fire in front of the entire tribe. The Irishman is semi-conscious from his brutal dragging over the rocky terrain. Dragging Canoe walks over to inspect the Irishman and leans over, looking coldly into The Irishman’s fear-stricken face.
“White man, you were given a chance for life!” he says in English.
“Now you will die!”
Dragging Canoe motions to the warriors, saying in Cherokee.
“Take him to the stake!”
Little Owl and the warriors drag the Irishman by his leg to the stake. As they tie him up, the villagers start to pile wood around him. Dragging Canoe waves his arms, signaling his warriors:
“Start the fire.”
The crowd erupts in war whoops in a show of approval.
Wild Rose turns to Big-Man.
“He passed the test and should be set free!”
Still nursing the knife wound, Big-Man is indifferent.
“He is English – let him burn!”
Angered by Big-Man’s response, she retorts, “You see him as only English! He is a man that passed his test for life! He should not burn!”
She steps forward from the crowd, but Big-Man grabs her by the arm to stop her. She jerks her arm from his grasp and pulls out the swan’s wing from the pouch draped over her shoulder.
Stepping up to The Irishman, she waves the swan’s wing above her head. She calls out loudly, “Stop! Dragging Canoe, this man survived your test. Why do you commit him to death?”
His jaw clenched tight, Dragging Canoe stands firm and tells her, “The captives are a gift from Oconostota! I will do with my captives as I want!”
The Irishman pleads with Dragging Canoe, “But me be an English soldier and a brother ta the Cherokee!”
Oconostota is standing off to the side. Angered by the Irishman’s pleas he steps up to the Irishman and speaks out.
“The English say we are brothers. Then you and Lewis killed and scalped our people on the Ohio!”
Trembling in fear, the Irishman protests.
“I be in no part participated in Lewis’ actions on the Ohio.”
Wild Rose turns to Oconostota. “I also was at the Ohio. It is true. He had no part of the massacre of our warriors there. As a Beloved Woman I wave the swan wing! I grant him his freedom.
His anger building, Dragging Canoe grabs the Irishman by the arm, and out of nowhere Big-Man grabs The Irishman by the other arm. The two warriors share an intense stare, which is broken by Big-Man glancing over at Wild Rose for a split second, then back at Dragging Canoe.
“No! He is my captive! Not Oconostota’s captive!” Big-Man proclaims strongly.
“He was found on Great Island Ground. He is mine!” retorts Dragging Canoe, knowing his response is the final word. The two warriors stare coldly at one another. Big-Man is enraged, but knows he must relent. Reluctantly, he releases his grip on the Irishman’s arm.
Dragging Canoe turns his attention back to Wild Rose. “Nan-ya’Hee’, I honor you as Beloved Woman of Chota and spare his life. But he is promised no tomorrows after you leave the Great Island. Unless … ”
Sensing the sexual tension and unspoken bond between Wild Rose and Big-Man, Dragging Canoe stares at each of them in turn before continuing.
“Nan-ya’ Hee’, take him with you.” Releasing a sigh of relief, Wild Rose relaxes. As she is about to cut the Irishman free, Dragging Canoe continues, “As your husband!”
Stunned, Wild Rose refuses vigorously.
“No! You see my hair hangs in mourning for Kingfisher. I take no man!”
“Your hair hangs loose, but your time of mourning has passed,” proclaims Dragging Canoe as he turns and nods at Little Owl. “Take him!”
Still stunned by the turn of events, Wild Rose turns to Big-Man, seeking salvation. His blank face is unresponsive as he clutches a two-foot necklace in his fist so tight that his knuckles turn white. Receiving no response from Big-Man, she looks back at Dragging Canoe. Emotionless, she drops her head and gives in, mumbling, “I take him.”
A devious smile appears on Dragging Canoe’s tightened lips. He raises his hand, stopping Little Owl, speaking softly to Wild Rose.
“Take your white husband, your white curse. Leave my sight! I have spoken!”
Dragging Canoe turns, piercing Big-Man with his stare. “Where are you now, Big Man? You take Alissah’Kway-Tee from me. I take Nanye’Hee’ from you. We are now in balance. That is Yo-He-Wa’s law.”
With a conniving laugh, Dragging Canoe walks away, spurring the crowd’s rumblings and taunting of Big-Man as he turns his back to them and walks away dejected. From a distance Dragging Canoe scrutinizes Big-Man’s every movement with disdain as he walks slowly to his horse.
Dragging Canoe’s smile turns to a vicious glare as he watches Wild Rose and the Irishman stand alone with only desperation to hang onto. Dragging Canoe mutters to her, “You stole my standing as a warrior at Chota! I was shunned! Your white husband is your curse, and Chota will shun you! We now have balance, Cousin!”
Reaching his horse, Big-Man slowly picks up the reins and quickly mounts. Nudging his horse, he makes his way into the darkness and enters the river. Reaching mid-stream, he slowly and purposely drops the two-foot strand of white shale from his fist into the rushing waters. Having watched Big-Man disappear, Wild Rose turns her attention to the Irishman. “You! Come with me.”
She quickly mounts her horse and leaves The Great Island, followed by the Irishman trotting along behind her on foot.
“Ta where we be going?” he asks between breaths.
Unsure herself, she thinks for a moment, then blurts out, “Big-Man’s cabin on Little Pigeon River.”
The Irishman is stunned by her answer. “Are ya ta be sure?”
“I cannot bring you to Chota,” she replies honestly. “As Beloved Woman, I lose honor among the people by marrying beneath me.”
“Beneath ya? Beneath ya, ya say!” the Irishman replies, appalled.
“Ya be forgettin’ I be white, and you’re just an Indian?”
Wild Rose replies calmly, “I have not forgotten. You forget. I took you only to save your life. Nothing more!”
The Irishman asks coyly, “Since I be now ya husband, what be me wife’s name?”
“Beloved Woman or Wild Rose.”
“Ya be expectin’ me ta call me squaw wife Beloved Woman or Wild Rose?” The Irishman replies.
In an instant, Wild Rose jumps from her horse and knocks him to the ground, her knife at his groin. “I am no white man’s squaw! If you must call my name, call me Nan-yah’-Hee’!”
Wild Rose’s black eyes are filled with hate and disdain for him, but she returns her knife to her legging and leaps upon the back of her horse.
“OK! OK! Nancy it be then,” he says, smiling sheepishly. “Nancy. Kinda has a ring ta it, don’t ya think?”
Enraged, she kicks her horse to a gallop. Laughing, the Irishman calls out, “Hey, Nancy, wait up for ye husband!”
Releasing a rage-filled scream to clear her mind, she halts at the edge of the river to wait on him. His irritating laugh further infuriates her. No longer able to stand his presence, she bails her horse headlong into the racing currents, leaving him alone in the darkness.
The Irishman walks slowly, nervously looking back over his shoulder for Dragging Canoe. Seeing he is being left behind, he quickly picks up the pace and calls out, “Nancy! Hey, Nancy! Wait up!” Reaching the river, he dives in, swimming feverishly after Wild Rose.
Once on the opposite bank, he finds Wild Rose in deep thought. Now scared to speak, he just stands there, shivering from the cold. Her disgust for the Irishman is clear – she cannot even bear to look at him. Staring into space, she tells him coldly, “Follow me. Keep up or die.”