We were making good time, considering we were trailing three pack horses. By the time a decent campsite showed up–a little cottonwood grove with a small spring providing plenty of water fer the likes of us–all three Flywheel riders appeared to be satisfied with the day’s progress. The horses were picketed, we’d cleared the little bit of remaining snow away from a spot big enough to pitch our tent, and the fire was burning hot and strong.
I kept slicing spuds into the fry pan, skin on. Not much left to do. Time to educate the troops. “Did you two know Oklahoma Territory’s history began with the Indian Intercourse Act of 1834?”
“The what?!” Cougar spluttered, spewing his coffee all over the fire. Dang near put it out entirely.
Tam jist grinned. He knew his American history. Besides, I’d pulled this on him a good five, six years back. Nothing funnier than watching the U.S. Congress come up with stuff. That is, if you ain’t the one on the pointed end of that particular stick.
“No, it’s true, Coug. That’s what they titled it. The Indian Intercourse–”
“I got it, I got it. Enough already.” The half-Cheyenne shootist wiped his eyes, which had teared up some from laughing so hard. “It wouldn’t be so funny, maybe, iffen I myself weren’t the product of some a that there Indian Intercourse. Eh?”
“Eh,” I agreed. With his Mom, Laughing Brook, being 100% fullblood Cheyenne, Indian Intercourse most definitely had to be at least somewhat involved in the process of his creation.
The buffalo steaks, cut up and spitted shish kabob style, were cooking slow enough; they’d be done about the same time the taters were ready.
Tam had something to say. “I don’t believe them Congress-critters called it the Indian Intercourse Act fer kicks and giggles. Seems more likely one legislator said, Hey, we always end up f**king the Indians over; let’s call it the F**k the Redskins Act. But then another fellow pointed out that might be jist a bit too honest fer anything coming outa Congress, so how about the Indian Intercourse Act?”
Which, we all agreed, made as much sense as anything else that come outa Washington.
There wasn’t a whole lotta humor involved after that, though.
“What’s that you’re studying, son?”
Coug handed the brightly colored piece of paper to Tam. “A map. Henry made it in school jist a couple of weeks ago. When he heard we were going after his uncle, he said he’d gotten an A- on the map but thought it was mostly accurate.”
“Looks right to me.” The tale teller smiled, admiring his grandson’s artwork. “The lines ain’t particularly straight, but he got the general location purty well identified. But I tell ya what, time fer this old buzzard to git some shuteye. Call me in the morning.”
With that, he returned the map, ducked into the tent, rolled himself into his blankets and was snoring jist that fast.
“Don’t know how he does it,” Cougar admitted, shaking his head. “I may be the fastest draw in the family–by a hair I may–but that man can drop off to sleep faster’n a speeding bullet.”
“So can I,” I admitted, yawning behind my hand, “specially when we know the horses will give warning if anybody tries slipping up on us.”
Ten minutes later, the fire was out and so were we. The northern Cheyenne had been forced onto the Oklahoma Territory with their southern cousins (plus the Arapahoe). They’d be dying like flies from the heat, come midsummer. We did definitely need to git Laughing Wolf outa there.
But for now, Tam was right. We needed sleep. For now, we’d done all we could do till the sun peeped over the horizon in the morning. Like the Bible saying goes, sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.
“Getting here,” I told Laughing Wolf, “was a piece a cake. Took us one week exactly. ‘Course, it helped that we didn’t have to go through no other tribe’s reservation along the way. Nice of the government to make it easy for us.”
“Hee-yaaa!” The Heyókȟa enthused, kicking one moccasined foot straight up in the air. If I tried that, I’d snap a hamstring fer sure. “It is good to see you, o’ long absent father of mine! Let me show you all around our palatial estates!”
Only damn Heyókȟa I ever met who could speak English like a college professor. Or a salesman.
What he had to show us wasn’t purty. The People were subsisting at a level of poverty I’d never yet seen on any wild Indians, but it seemed to be the norm fer those who were stuck on reservations. They were hungry if not starving, and half of ’em were sick with one thing or another. Come summer, it was going to get worse. Death toll, and also the dust Dawson and I’d moved to Colorado to avoid. This was not good. Not good at all.
Not fer the first time nor the last, I silently cursed the U.S. government and its often senseless ways. I was beginning to truly understand Believer and his willingness to take on the whole Army as a matter of principle.
It turned out to be amazingly easy to convince Coug’s brother to jump the Rez with us, but he wouldn’t be coming alone. The man had married. They had a son.
Whoa. This would not be easy.
Still, we had it to do, and the Heyókȟa himself had a plan. “I saw the need to leave our people in favor of saving my family,” he explained, sounding suspiciously normal. “I just couldn’t seem to figure a way to take the three horses we would need to make a serious run for it. But now here you are with providential ponies.”
Well, why not.
One of the greatest dangers, we were assured, existed in the willingness of a few yellow bellied redskins to rat out their brethren. The Cheyenne didn’t have many of these, but it only takes one…and the Army was keeping a close watch on “them damn blanket asses”, as one of the milder military officers put it to his troops.
It would have to be by night, and it would have to be soon. “The word will spread,” Wolf told us. “In fact, it’s already spread, the story that my rich white brother–never mind that we’re both half blanket-ass; I look fullblood and you look…Hell, Irish or something. It’s already made the rounds, that Mr. Richie Rich and his hoity toity Daddy plus whoever the Hell the other guy is (meaning Dawson)…that you’re all here, loaded down with guns they’d all love to have. It’s not like the Greasy Grass in ’73, when we Cheyenne were rich and free! Say fond hello, now say goodbye; by half past dark they’ll rob you blind!”
A Heyókȟa, apparently, has to be able to spout bad poetry extemporaneously. But we couldn’t blame him fer his cynical assessment of his fellow members of Dull Knife’s band. The People were in dire straits, it was ony going to get worse, everyone knew it, and the result was inevitable: Trouble on the Rez.
Coug spared me and his Dad a quick glance, then spoke fer all of us. “It’s maybe two hours till sunset. We’ll head out now, while we’ve still got time to get clear of all them dangerously hungry looks we’re getting. You know the sand wash out past the Rattlesnake Rocks area?”
“I know that one, brother, yes.”
“Can you git there with your family in tow by an hour before first light?”
“Yep.” No hesitation, no crazy acting out, nothing. What the–?
We stepped back aboard our mounts and turned back the way we’d come. Flywheel had been in the Cheyenne camp all of thirty-nine minutes, give or take a second or two. More’n 300 pairs of dark eyes followed our departure, some with murder in their hearts, some apathetic, and–hardest of all to say–some jist plain pathetic.
The whites had been hard on these people.
The “way we’d come” was from the north. We didn’t hook back west till we were well outa sight. Even then, all three of us got out our glass and took a long look around–not jist our backtrail, but all around–before we made the turn.
“Our rendezvous point is a good ten miles from the encampment.” Dawson reminded us as if we didn’t know. “That ain’t gonna be easy fer him, sneaking a woman and a papoose outa there in time to cover that on foot. before sunup.”
Cougar shook his head. “My brother will not come on foot. He will ‘borrow’ horses, long enough to reach us, then turn them loose once we can get him and his family mounted.”
“Huh.” The former cavalry sergeant tipped back his hat, scratching his bald head as he admitted, “Shoulda thought a that.”
Laughing Wolf showed up maybe twenty minutes ahead of deadline. “Coming in,” he said softly, barely above a whisper. We’d known he was there, of course…but only because his woman made the tiniest of noises moving across the sandy ground in her soft moccasins.
Of the Heyókȟa himself, we had sensed nothing…and we’re good, ever damn one of us.
It was then I realized: My second son knew how to cloak himself in the darkness, remove awareness of his presence utterly from the senses of mortal man. Not many know how to do that and do it well.
We had the horses saddled and ready. The big bundles on the pack critters had been more illusion than anything, designed to disguise the capability to become a group of five saddle mounts and one pack animal on short notice. Okay, so we’d really only figured on four of the critters needing to pack live humans, but hey, improvisation is the mother of survival. “Wolf, you’re on this big jugheaded idjit,” I told him, handing him the reins by starlight. The half moon had long since set. “Goes by the name of Sleeper.”
The woman–her name hadn’t been mentioned yet–and the baby carried on her back? Them two had already been helped aboard the gentlest of the pack horses.. We called that one Butterball, but the brown mare’s rotundity stemmed from genetics, not fat. She weren’t the fastest horse in the Flywheel herd by a long shot, but she could keep up a steady pace as long as any of ’em.
Time fer final instructions. “Dawson’s on point. He and I covered this ground dozens of times during our Chisholm Trail days. We both know it like the backs of our hands.”
In fact, it hadn’t been far from here that we’d led the renegade Kiowa, Blue Sky, on a merry chase, back in the day.
“I’m after Dawson, then you, your wife, and finally Cougar bringing up the rear with the pack horse.”
“Go,” was all he said.
Rode hard all that day, made a cold camp after dark, rested ourselves and the horses till around midnight, and saddled back up again.
Two days out, we’d crossed into Texas. There’d been no sign of pursuit so far. Which didn’t mean we were home free, but we did feel safe enough to call an early halt. The site hadn’t changed noticeably from the one time I’d needed it badly back in the day. Long story.
Even this early in the season, we did have to check around under the larger boulders to be sure no rattlers were in residence, but other than that. From here in the rocks, we could if need be hold off a sizeable attacking force, there was a patch of spring grass fer the horses, and the seep was full of water.
Plenty of time to build a decent cooking fire, get multiple pots of coffee, pans of potatoes, and skewers of salted buffalo steak into all of us. Especially the woman.
It occurred to me, finally: Laughing Wolf hadn’t even give us her name. He and I were off a bit, gathering firewood to add to the few buffalo chips we’d found, so I figured it was time to ask.
“That wife a yours got a name, son?”
“She goes by Larkspur at the moment. Though I’ve a mind to see that changed, now that we won’t be living with the Cheyenne.”
“Oh? Change it why?”
“The People put that on her. She’s a purty enough little flower, but she ain’t poisonous.”
“Huh. Why’d they call her that? And one other thing. She don’t talk much, does she?” Which was an understatement. Larkspur hadn’t said a word in our company yet.
The Heyókȟa froze. After a long moment, he set his armload of sticks down on the ground, seating himself and crossing his legs before looking up at me. “Let’s talk, Crazy Rifle. There’s things you need to know about Lark.”
I sat. Father-son stuff, only–apparently–in reverse. Well, he was Heyókȟa.
“The baby is mine, but not by blood. She was raped by white soldiers, many of them, and left in the brush to die. She nearly did die. How she became separated from our band without our noticing, no one knows. Lark cannot tell us; her memory is blocked, and mercifully so.
“Dozens of us joined in the search. It was me who found her, and me who brought her back to the land of the living. I had only my intuition and the healing learned from Mom and Believer to guide me.”
“Huh.” I raised an eyebrow at that. “No healers in Dull Knife’s band?”
He shook his head. “There are skilled healers. But there is also a medicine man by the name of Raven Eye. It was his judgement that the girl was already dead and, even worse in his black heart, tainted by the group rape. He pronounced her dead and forbade anyone to touch her.”
“And when you went ahead and resurrected her anyway?”
Wolf’s laughter, the first we’d heard this trip, was both heartfelt and infectious. “I am cursed! I am anathema, the spawn of Windigo himself! Begone, thou misbegotten halfbreed nitwit! Out, out, damn Heyókȟa!”
“Not winning any popularity contests?”
“Not with those who fear Raven Eye, no. Which appears to be more’n half the band. Anyway, he’s the one that tagged her with Larkspur. Said the white man’s gang rape had turned her into something poison. Touch her and you might git Cavalry Cooties.”
“Or words to that effect,” I grinned.
“Or words to that effect. One more thing.”
“Let Dawson know there’s a reason I been keeping myself between him and her most a the time. Your partner ain’t no baby rapist, I know that, but she can feel the ex-military in him all the same. She’ll work outa that, but it’s gonna take time.”
“I’ll tell him. That it fer now? They’re gonna start wondering where we got off to.”
“That’s it. Let’s git them buffalo steaks to cooking. My belly’s gnawing my backbone.”
In the end, Laughing Wolf didn’t have to worry about coming up with a new name fer Larkspur after all. We all jist sorta started calling her Lark and let it go at that. Worked fer everbody.
When we broke camp the next morning, though, Laughing Wolf existed no longer.
“They tipped off the Army sure as shooting,” he explained, “and if I know Raven Eye, he’ll have had his lackeys whisper in the military ear, something about how I don’t jist look crazy and act crazy, but that I’m really one evil Indian outlaw who needs to be put down like a mad dog.”
“He’d do that?” Dawson asked. “To one of his own?”
“Nope. But he don’t consider me one of his own. I’m a cursed halfbreed Heyókȟa, all the worst things he can think of rolled into one. I dared defy his proscription on helping Lark. I’m dead to him, especially if he can make my death happen.”
So Cougar’s twin brother had transformed himself. The effect was astounding. What stood before us was no longer an Indian at all but a blackrobed Jesuit priest, right down to the silly looking hat. A huge cross of polished walnut hung from his neck to provide the only color in the entire outfit. Gone were the hip-length braids, reduced to a severe bowl-cut mop of shaggy Jesuit hair. His dark eyes were fierce, befitting the nature of the zealot and the death grip in which he held his Bible.
True, things beneath the robe didn’t quite match up with the rest of it. He still wore beaded moccasins on his feet which, while invisible on the ground, remained obvious when he was in the saddle with his skirt hiked up enough to straddle the thing. Nor was he unarmed; Dawson’s two-gun pepperbox groin rig gave him ten shots of .44 caliber lead if he needed ’em–and that with Texas loads, carrying an empty chamber under each hammer.
What? No. I see what you mean, but no, he didn’t have to pull up his hem to git at the pistols. He’d owned that robe fer a long time, figuring way in advance the day might come when he’d need it. There were hidden slits in both sides, right above waist level.
“Damn, Father,” I marveled at my son, “You look as hateful as any real life lying blackrobe I ever come across, and that’s saying something.”
“Take not the word of the Lord thy God in vain!” Wolf thundered. “For the wages of sin is death! Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s wife!”
“Hell, Tam,” Dawson grinned, “he nailed you on that one and we hadn’t even got around to telling him about Elly yet.”
It promised to be an interesting day.
Especially when our new Jesuit missionary began whistling as we rode along. A lively little tune to be sure, but the same tune over and over and over and over again.
“Did he do this sorta thing when you two were growing up?” I asked Cougar.
“All the damn time. But wait. There’s more.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, first of all, no Indian I can think of would dare tackle a whistling blackrobe. You got the power of the man in black plus the offbeat craziness of whistling in the wilderness. Not gonna touch that, nuh-uh, no way. So he’s made us safe from attack on that score.”
“Huh. Guess I can see that.”
“Then there’s the whistling itself. It makes any enemy underestimate him. But at the same time, you note there’s pauses between the passages?”
“Wolf can hear extra-sharp in them spaces between the notes. He looks and sounds to the uneducated ear like he’s oblivious of his surrondings. Easy meat. But he ain’t. I swear, doing what he’s doing, my brother can hear a mouse fart in a hailstorm half a mile away.”
“Reckon he heard about that, then.” We all looked to where Dawson Trask, well out ahead on point, had turned his horse to arm-signal back to us.
“Army patrol. Forty men. Stand ready.”
The Captain commanding the patrol was one a them arrogant bastards. Worst of all, the sight of all them sabre-packing bluecoats getting all up in our faces had been enough to send Lark into a purely paralyzed state. She sat her horse all right, but motionless, staring what old soldiers sometimes called the thousand yard stare.
Pray to Wakan Tanka she stayed that way. This could git tricky enough without her cracking like a raw egg dropped on a rock.
“Where you coming from, and where you headed?” The officer done everything but visibly sneer when he said that. He could see we had at least one blanket ass with us–as his kind tended to crudely put it–and it seemed purty clear he also figured the obvious Indian in the black dress weren’t no real Jesuit.
“Last I knew, Captain,” Dawson replied evenly, “that would most definitely qualify as none of your business.”
Talk about jerking a jerk up short. Clearly, with there being forty on his side against three (plus a priest and an Indian girl) on ours, he hadn’t expected resistance. Especially such in-your-face resistance.
“Mister,” he finally got out, “you and your friends are all under arrest fer aiding and abetting esacped Injuns. Throw down your guns.”
I seen that tiny little smile touch the corner of Trask’s mouth and got ready to draw. Some of us might live through this. You never know. Never got the chance to go out in a blaze a glory, though. Right at that moment, Laughing Wolf cut loose. Tell you true, I ain’t never heard nothing like it, before or since.
“Arrogant misbegotten spawn of Satan!” He bellowed–and lemme tell ya, I found out that day my second son could bellow some, “How dare you attempt to throw the weight of the United States Government at the very citizens you profess to serve?! Have you no reason, sir?! Is there no thought touching that shriveled pumpkin seed you call a brain?!”
The Captain stared, slack-jawed. I thought fer a second his hands were gonna forget to hang on to his mount’s bridle reins. “You–you speak English!”
“Of course I speak English, you cretin. English, and Spanish, and Latin, and a goodly number of the languages spoken by the benighted heathens to whom we servants of the Lord bring the Word of God. I can explain everything from Genesis to Revelations in Blackfoot, Crow, Cheyenne, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, Ute, Pauite, and Rooty-Toot-Toot!
“But…but…you look…Indian. There ain’t no Indian Jesuits that I ever heard of–”
“Aye, man, have you never heard of the black Irish? Indian, indeed!”
One thing about this cavalry officer: He deserved an A fer effort. He’d given up on the whole you’re under arrest idea right quick-like, but he still managed to come up with another question or two. “Well, then…Father…what might your name be, if I may ask? I’ve never known a Jesuit to be reluctant to share that.”
“Jesuits are definitely not reluctant when it comes to sharing,” Wolf agreed. “My name is Father Cecil Jerome Tamson, bearer of good tidings to the Utes on the Indian Reservation, where we were headed until you so impolitely presumed to both detain and accuse us. And good sir, your own name in return?”
The officer looked some nervous at that, as well he should have. Having the Church come down on his superior officers with a report of Jesuit Harrassment…not something he wanted to think about. Plus, I was getting a hunch he might be Catholic himself.
“Benjamin Waters,” he admitted rather meekly. “Captain Benjamin Waters.”
When we last seen the patrol, they was moving away from us at a right smarter clip than they’d arrived. Dawson took the lead again, well ahead so’s he could see what might be coming at us. I hoped he was back on top of his game. When he’d taken off, he’d still been chuckling about the black Irish bit.
I did have to ask my son one question. “Father Cecil Jerome? Laughing Brook named you Cecil Jerome?!”
“That she did,” Wolf grinned, his dark eyes dancing merrily under the ragged bangs and–did I mention how silly them Jesuit hats look?
“Huh.” I shook my head. “No wonder you turned out different. Had I been tagged with a moniker like Cecil Jerome, I do believe I’d have become a Heyókȟa myself.”