Just as Nest was feeling happy thinking perhaps this is where the trapper would settle, he came back with his pelts slung over his back saying, "Pack up. We're moving."
Her little brother said nothing, but broke a tick arrow over his knee to show his displeasure.
"I heard of a peaceful village of the Cherokee two or three days ride from here, Chota, a city of Refuge. They want no fight with the white man, only to be left alone to their land and hunting. They will not follow Dragging Canoe or Chickaumauga trouble. You will be safe with them when I'm gone to the trapper rendezvous."
Nest understood he was looking after them the best he knew how. She wished she was strong enough to take care of her brother herself, but realized they both needed the trapper. He had sought a village. She sighed. It had been peaceful out in the woods on their journey. They had been alone except for occasional crossing paths with Indians.
In a village, there would be a grandmother who would tell her what chores were to be done and how. Her little brother would grow wild with the other young boys. No wonder he thought himself Creek or Cherokee. She must always help him to remember.
Nest looked back at the ancient walls as they rode away. Walls were never enough to keep one safe. Safety was with your people. She did not have her people, only memories. Yet, her mother was in her heart. She lifted her head, straightened her back, and faced her future.
Dogs barked and circled and sniffed their dog when they rode into the Cherokee village. A kindly woman came out of a very large lodge and said in English, "Hello, I'm Nancy. Welcome."
The trapper offered her fresh meat and asked to stay motioning to the children. They walked away talking. Nest sat astride the mule with her back straight, not exchanging looks with the curious eyes around her. Her blue eyes always attracted unwanted attention. She knew her brother longed to get down and play with boys his age. They had to wait until the council met and discussed the newcomers. When he came back, the trapper pulled out some beads from his packs and offered them to eager hands. Nancy came up smiling.
"You may lodge with us."
Nest saw the woman's kind smile out of the corner of her eye and was relieved. Perhaps, this would be a good place for her brother. Sliding off the mule, she turned to find Nancy beside her. With both hands holding her shoulders gently, she looked deeply into Nest's blue eyes as if reading her story.
"We have heard of your pain and the loss in your village." Fingering her curs, Nancy went on, "Your mother was greatly admired. I can see you will be like her." Nest never knew how word traveled from village to village, but they were a nation of clans who card for each other and took in those who needed refuge. Evidently this Nancy was a leader of her people. The girl smiled back and said in Cherokee, "Thank you. You honor me."
She followed the trapper to the outer edge of the village where he chose to set up their teepee. It was out of place next to the Cherokee homes of river cane and mud plaster. Some even had built log houses. Nest was worried about whether she could set up the teepee by herself, when a group
of women came over and began setting it up themselves as soon as she unbundled the hides from the travois. A weight was lifted off her shoulders by their kindness. She thanked them with a lump in her throat. They were gone as quickly as they had come.
It didn't take long to put away their belongings after that. Her brother was no where to be found until dinner. The trapper was in his element around other fires trading news and stories. Nest and her brother ate alone. Tonight she was too tired to tell him stories and only stroked his curls until they both fell asleep with dog at their feet.
It had been many sunrises since she had been awakened by the noise of a village. For a moment, Nest thought her mother was there like always. A tear escaped her eyes as she fully woke to the reality of her surroundings. Dog licked her hand. It was hard to breathe with a breaking heart. Her shuddering breaths caused her brother to stir. Nest drew comfort in his closeness and snuggled his sleeping form which was twitching in his dreams. She fell back asleep.
The trapper poked at her side with his feet saying, "I need breakfast. I can't wait all day."
Nest hurried from her blanket causing the dog to yelp and her brother to complain. The day was heating up already, but the fire was stubborn, not wanting to catch. Finally, the pot was on so she began to braid her hair. Untangling the stubborn snarl of curls with her fingers and brushing her hair with the rough side of a dried buffalo tongue, she parted it and was weaving a braid when she felt eyes upon her. Looking over, she saw a man staring at her. He was not a Cherokee, but was clad in hunting shirt and leggings. Nest dropped her eyes but let her fingers finish the braiding. Stirring the pot, she looked back over her shoulders to find him gone. She was relieved, but puzzled wondering who the man was. She would not ask the trapper though she hoped he would reveal it in his conversation around the campfire.
A young white girl, that man and their father walked up talking with the trapper. Two sleep hounds were circling their dog, tails wagging. Nest wanted to escape into the teepee, but her way was blocked by the three visitors who were standing around.
The homespun girl walked up staring into her face and said in Cherokee, "Is this your tribe?"
The young man squatted on his haunches by the teepee staring at her and petting his dogs.
"No, I am a Welsh Indian, a Mandan, stolen by the Sioux, bought by the trapper. My mother became his squaw."
"You are a very long way from home. I've never met someone from that tribe."
"Too far. I can only go there in my memory. We have just Creek village beyond Lookout Mountain. My mother was killed there in a raid." She didn't say a white man's attack.
The young woman exchanged glances with her brother. He hung his head and drew in the sand no longer staring at Nest.
"Your loss is great." The Cherokee words were carefully chosen.
Nest looked into her eyes and saw true sympathy.
After a long pause, the girl continued, "Nancy is a good leader of her people. She is our friend. You are fortunate to find shelter here. No blood can be shed in the city of refuge."
"She is kind, " Nest said in English without realizing it.
The girl was startled, but smiled. Her brother brought up their horses, and they mounted to leave.
"What is your name?"
"That's a pretty name. I am Ruth Sevier. We will be friends." She had spoken in English.
Nest had never been close with another girl. They had moved often, and she was always different from the others. Her mother had been her best friend. She was taller and probably older than this white girl, but she hoped it would be true that they would be friends. However, as they rode away, only the young man looked back over his shoulder at her and tipped his hat.