Jubal Sackett

A cold wind blew off Hanging Dog Mountain and I had no fire, nor dared I strike so much as a spark that might betray my hiding place. Somewhere near, an enemy lurked, waiting.

Warm in my blanket, I huddled below a low earthen bank. The wind swept by above me, worrying my mind because its sound might cover the approach of an enemy creeping closer.

I, Jubal Sackett, was but a day's journey from our home on Shooting Creek in the foothills of the Nantahalas, close upon Chunky Gal Mountain. Whoever followed me was a good reader of sign, for I left little evidence of my passing. Such an enemy is one to guard against, for skilled tracking is a mark of a great hunter and a great warrior. Nor do I wish to leave my scalp in the lodge of some unknown enemy when my life is scarce begun.

What was this strange urge that drove me westward, ever westward into an empty land?

Behind me were family, home, and all that I might become; before me were nameless rivers, swamps, mountains, and forests, and beyond the great river were the plains, those vast grasslands of which we had only heard and of which we knew nothing.

My father was Barnabas, the first of our name to come to this place beyond the ocean from the England of his birth. Of Barnabas I was the third son, Kin-Ring and Yance born before me. My elder brothers had found homes among the hills. My younger brother, Brian, and my one sister, Noelle, had returned to England with our mother, my brother to read for the law, my sister to be reared in a gentler land than this. I do not believe I shall see them again, nor hear of them unless it be some distant whisper of the wind. Nor shall I again see my father.

Our last evening together I would not forget, for each of us knew it was for the last. Lila, who prepared our supper, also knew. Lila is Welsh and the wife of my father's old friend, Jeremy Ring, and had been a maid to my mother ere they departed from England.

My father, Lila, and I have the Gift. Some call it second sight, but we three often have pre-visions of what is to be, sometimes with stark clarity, often only fleeting glimpses as through fog or shadows. I knew how my father would die and almost when, and he knew also when we talked that last time. He accepted the nearness of death as he accepted life, and he would die as he would have wished, weapon in hand, trying his strength against others.

We parted that night knowing it was for the last time, with a strong handclasp and a look into each others eyes. I would keep his memory always, and he would know that somewhere far to the westward his blood would seek the lonely trails to open land for those who would follow.

A faint patter of rain awakened me and I eased from under my blanket. Daylight, or as much as I was likely to see, was not far off. So it was that in the last hour of darkness I went down the mountain through the laurel sticks, crossed a small stream, and skirted a meadow to come to the trace I sought.

The trace when I came upon it was a track left by the woods buffalo, who were fewer in number but larger in size than the buffalo of the Great Plains. I began to run. At an easy trot I moved through the forest, my moccasins making no sound on the damp leaves underfoot. Emerging upon a hilltop not unlike the balds found in the higher mountains, I drew back against the wall of trees, letting my soiled buckskins merge with the tree trunks and brush.

Carefully, I studied my back trail or that portion of it visible from where I stood. There was nothing in sight. Had I escaped my unknown pursuer? Not for a moment did I believe that.

Somewhere before me lay the river called Tenasee, and the long narrow valley of which we had heard.

For far too long I stood staring across that vast and lovely land thinking of my father and the long way he had come from his birth in the fens of England to his arrival here, among the first of those who came to this land.

The far-off veil of rain diminished and then faded. A shaft of sunlight falling through a hole in the clouds revealed a long, loaflike mountain.

Chilhowee. . . from there I would turn north. I did so abruptly. . . and it saved my life.

A hard-thrown spear thudded into the tree where I had been standing, its shaft vibrating with the force of the throw. Dropping to the earth I rolled swiftly over and over, coming up near a fallen tree, bow bent and arrow ready . . . waiting.