Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fighting For Love: Chapter 3

Going to War: January -June 1862

Music: Good Girls Go to Heaven, Brooks & Dunn (Cody/Thatch)
Sancta Terra, Epica (all)
Country Feedback, R.E.M. (Lou/Kid)
Big Yellow Taxi, Amy Grant (Hickok)
Sleepwalking, Cr├╝xshadows (Buck)
Twenty-four, Switchfoot (all)
Objects In The Rearview Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear, Meatloaf (Kid/all)
Stone Change, Wayra (Buck)

“I don’t know how to thank you, son,” the grizzled old trapper said to Buck from his bed. After a week of caring for him, the man was finally lucid for more than a few moments a day. Today had been his best day yet. He’d woken this morning knowing who and where he was and he hadn’t lost that sense of self yet.

The first night, the old man had been so sick Buck had thought he wouldn’t live to see the dawn. But, by some miracle he had. And the man had kept right on living. Buck was relieved. He’d been to enough funerals in the last few months to last him a lifetime. If the man’s health continued to improve, Buck planned to climb to the peak of this mountain in the morning to offer thanks to the Sun and the Sisters for their protection and ask for guidance on what he should do next.
Buck got up and brought a cup of fresh water to the old man, lifting his head to help him drink.

“You don’t owe me anything. I was here. I knew what to do. If I had walked away I could not have called myself a man.”

The man had identified himself to Buck as Dyami, meaning Eagle. Buck thought it was odd that this apparent white man would introduce himself with a Kiowa name. But, he’d seen and heard stranger things in his lifetime.

“Here,” Buck said, “try to eat some of this venison stew I made. It’s not much, but it’s all we have for now. Your provisions had gone bad.” He continued talking as he helped Eagle down the nourishing food. “As soon as the storm breaks, I’ll go hunting for more meat. There should be some elk or mountain sheep herds in the area, if nothing else.”

“The Spirits will honor you for this, my child.”

“I’m not looking for any honor, old man. I just need to be able to live with myself. Find time to heal.”

Eagle watched the young Indian with eyes as sharp as his namesake. He knew this young man had much on his heart and many wounds to heal. Eagle’s body might be failing, it was doubtful he would live until spring, but his mind was as sharp as ever. He determined to help young Running Buck find his destiny before time ran out.

A few days later the snow finally stopped. Buck gathered his supplies and left the cabin hours before dawn. He would need the time to reach the summit of the mountain before the sun rose. It was a hard, cold climb, but the exertion felt good after so many days cooped up in the small 10 by 10 foot cabin. Upon reaching the peak, Buck paused for a moment to gaze toward the sacred direction of East and watch the first glimmers of the Sun rise over the horizon. He took a deep breath of the cold, crisp air and felt a measure of peace he hadn’t felt since Ike died. This was what he needed.

Then, Buck turned and quickly began to set out his supplies. First he used several large stones to create a sacred Medicine Wheel to protect him during his prayers. The wheel consisted of one small circle of stones set inside a larger circle of stones. Four lines of stones connected the two circles, pointing to the four sacred directions, East, South, West and North. The four directions plus the inner circle and Heaven Above and Earth Below added up to the sacred number seven, the Creator’s number.

Buck started a small fire inside the inner wheel, using sweetgrass as tinder to make the fire holy. Before entering the circle, Buck purified himself by scrubbing his entire body with clean snow, then “bathing” himself in the smoke from the sweetgrass scented fire. Finally, he entered the circle.

First, he faced the East and the rising Sun. Raising his arms over his head, he began in a high descending pitch, using every breath in his lungs. Then he started over, again and again, with the same urgency each time.

“Dom-oye-alm-daw-k’hee,” he begged, “Earth Creator, help me to understand. Why am I here? Why did You bring me my Pony Express family, the only place I’ve ever been happy, only to take them away again? Why? Why did you take Ike, my brother? Why did you take Noah? Why did they have to die? Why? Why? I plead for understanding!”

Turning to the South, he started again.

“Dom-oye-alm-daw-k’hee, Earth Creator, help me to see your world through a child’s eyes. Please, help me to understand and accept what has happened in my life and to see the path I am to follow for all my tomorrows.”

Facing the West, he prayed, “Dom-oye-alm-daw-k’hee, Earth Creator, help me to understand what is happening in this world. Why do my brothers have to fight each other in this great White Man’s war? Why does my Kiowa brother Red Bear have to fight just to feed his family in this land of plenty? Why cannot my Kiowa family and my Gantonto family peacefully share this land You made? How can I help my families survive these deadly days?”

To the North, he prayed, “Dom-oye-alm-daw-k’hee, Earth Creator, I beg of You, help me to be the warrior You need me to be. Help me, please, to understand Your wishes and the direction You would have me take. Help me to help both my families through these dangerous years. I beg of You, send me word of Your desires. I will sacrifice whatever You wish, to save the rest of my family.”

In tears, Buck once again turned to the East and started the round of prayers. He continued to follow the same pattern for several hours. Around noon, he finally began to lose strength. His voice was hoarse. He could barely lift his arms to Heaven Above anymore. He made a final turn to the East and closed his prayer.

“The Creator shows me the road. The Creator shows me the road,” he chanted. “I went to see my friends. I went to see my friends. I went to see the dances. I went to see the dances.”

He lowered his arms to his side and sat down in the center of the Medicine Wheel to wait. He’d had nothing to eat or drink for more than 12 hours now. He would not have anything until his vision quest was completed. Now was the time to show patience and perseverance, so Dom-oye-alm-daw-k’hee knew his requests were in earnest.

Nightfall came and Buck shivered in the gathering dark, but he remained seated and bare-chested in the center of the Medicine Wheel. He continued to chant prayers just under his breath throughout the cold night, pausing only to feed more wood and sweetgrass into his small fire.

As the first slivers of dawn began to peek over the horizon, Buck saw a young male deer wander into the clearing. His eyes eagerly followed the unusual looking animal. It was pure white from the tips of its horns to the ends of its dainty hooves. It ran around the clearing at top speed seven times, then stopped right in front of Buck, blocking the sight of the rising Sun.

The young buck simply stood there, staring into Buck’s eyes for endless moments. Then, it suddenly turned and began bounding off into the woods. Suddenly, it impaled itself in the chest on a low hanging branch. The branch pierced from one side of the chest to the other. The young deer seemed to dance on its four tiny hooves, its eyes raised to the Heaven Above, until the skin and muscle holding the branch in place broke free. The buck turned and began to make another seven circles around the clearing, before seeming to pass between two herds of deer, one red and one white, to disappear over the edge of the mountain.

Buck closed his eyes and began to pray, “Thank You.”

Kansas. Jimmy couldn’t believe he was back in Kansas. Again. Why did this keep happening to him? He’d gone to Missouri to join the Army for a reason. Apparently he hadn’t gone far enough because here he was, right back where he started. At least this time it was supposed to be only a quick hit and run visit, just long enough to pick up supplies and run them back to the Union troops in Missouri to carry them over the winter.

Jimmy glared gloomily at the horses pulling the long line of freight wagons. At least this time he wasn’t seated on one of those god-awful hard benches. He was mounted on his palomino. He knew he wasn’t keeping a proper watch out for raiders, but right now he just couldn’t care. He was in Kansas. Not that it really mattered anyway. The wagons were running empty this trip.

After the Battle at Wilson’s Creek Jimmy had been promoted to wagonmaster and tasked with going to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas to pick up food supplies. The good news was he could see Fort Leavenworth just on the horizon. It wouldn’t be long now.

“Jimmy’d been walking around for near a week with that stinking bag of medicine Teaspoon had given him and it hadn’t done a lick of good. Finally, Emma tol’ us to get him to the dentist, or else! Lemme tell you, you don’t argue when Emma says to do somethin’,”
Cody grinned in memory.

“Anyway, it took three of us to push, pull and drag Hickok into that dentist’s office. Now, keep in mind, this dentist was a tenderfoot, fresh from the East. He had all sorts of weird ideas about his job and even weirder equipment. When he tried to use that drill on Jimmy’s sore tooth, smilin’ the whole time, Jimmy just naturally pulled his Colt on ‘im. That there tenderfoot just keeled right over in fright!”

Thatch joined Cody in gales of laughter at this latest story of his antics with his Pony Express family. Her favorites always involved Jimmy Hickok. She sure wished she could meet him. Not that that was likely to happen in this man’s war. Finally, she caught her breath enough to ask, “So, what happened to the tooth? Did it just heal up on its own?”

“Naw! Jimmy eventually gave in, tied it to a door handle and slammed the door shut to pull the tooth. To tell the truth, us boys had been betting on whether he’d just shoot it out!”

The comment sent Thatch into another gale of laughter.

“Okay, kiddo. Time for us to get back to work. Go get the horses fed and groomed. I’ve gotta run an errand and then I’ll meet you at the mess tent for some grub.”

“Cody,” Thatch smiled in her new, gruffer voice, “you’re always thinkin’ ‘bout and plannin’ how to take care of your stomach!”

Cody just smiled at the familiar refrain and tipped his hat to her before taking off for the sutler’s. As he was rifling through the offerings in the sutler’s tent he thought he heard a familiar voice.

“Get those wagons lined up properly, dammit! How many times do I have to tell y’all?”

Cody dropped what he’d been looking at and ran out the front flap of the sutler’s tent. “Jimmy? Jimmy Hickok, is that really you?”

“If it ain’t Billy Cody, hisself. Shoulda guessed I’d run into ya here, avoidin’ work like always!” Jimmy joked as he crushed Cody to him in a giant bearhug. “What have you been up to, you lazy buzzard?”

“Mostly just driving freight wagons from one place to another. Pretty boring work, most of the time. Except when we run into Quantrill’s Raiders or other groups of armed rebels.”

“What happened to the scouting gig you signed up for?”

“Turns out once you’re in the Army, you do whatever they tell you to do. When the Captain I signed on with got shipped back East, I got left behind. The new commander of the 7th Cavalry decided I was too young to be a scout and made me a teamster instead.”

“Listen, Cody, I’ve got to get these wagons lined up for loading. We’re taking a shipment of food back to the troops in Missouri. Why don’t I meet you at the mess tent in, say, 20 minutes? We’ll catch up while I grab a bite to eat before headin’ back.”

“Can’t wait to get outta Kansas already, Jimmy?” Cody joked. “Sure, I’ll see ya there.”

“Knew you wouldn’t be able to resist the food!” Jimmy shouted after him.

Twenty minutes later, Cody sauntered into the mess tent with a package under his arm. He quickly scanned the tables, looking for his old friend. Jimmy was seated with his back to the tent wall, a habit he’d picked up after that danged Marcus had written those dime novels about him and gunfighters started crawling out of the woodwork with their sights set on Jimmy. He was shoveling food into his mouth hand over fist. He must really be in a hurry, Cody thought.

“So, Jimmy, how’s that hair trigger of yours doing?” Cody asked as he plopped down in a seat next to his friend. “Betcha it’s been getting’ a real workout over there in Missouri. I’ve heard the fightin’s been pretty fierce.”

“You’ve no idea, Cody. No idea. I thought I was prepared for war,” Jimmy answered slowly, “after everything we went through with the Express. Lord knows I’d killed enough men already. But that was nothin’ like this. All those bodies.”

Jimmy stopped as if the emotions of his thoughts had gotten to be too much for him and he’d had to batten down the emotional hatches. Noticing his friend’s discomfort, Cody changed the topic.

“Have you heard from any of the others?”

“No. And I’m not likely to any time soon. Not unless it’s over the barrel of a gun on a battle field.”

Cody nodded somberly. “It won’t come to that. That’s why we scattered in so many different directions. At least that way we, hopefully, won’t be shootin’ at each other.”

Hickok just grunted as he swallowed the last of his food and then leaned back to really look at Cody. Noticing the package Cody had set down on the table next to his elbow, Jimmy grabbed for it, asking, “Something pretty for your latest sweetheart?”

“Not… exactly,” Cody demurred. “It’s just something’ for the kid I drive with. He’s real green. Got a lot of the same problems our Lou had to begin with. But good with the horses and a quick learner.”

Jimmy looked at Cody quizzically for a moment, then let out a loud guffaw. “So, you’re tellin’ me you’re playin’ nursemaid? I never thought I’d see the day! You ain’t exactly got Kid’s patience, my man!”

“It ain’t the same thing atall. I’m just helpin’ him learn the ropes. Figure out how things work. Same as I’d do for any new rider,” Cody defended himself, unconsciously falling back into the lingo of their Pony Express days. “And Thatch is shaping up to be a right fine rider. Might even give Lou a ride for his money!”

Hickok just shook his head as he stood up. “I’d love to stay and meet this kid, but I’ve gotta hit the road. The wagons should be loaded by now.”

Cody followed Hickok out of the mess tent and back to his horse, hitched near the lead wagon in the convoy. Jimmy mounted up and looked down at his friend, “Ride safe, Cody.”

“You too, Jimmy. You too.” He watched his friend ride down the line of wagons, making sure everyone was ready to head out, then turned back to the mess tent.

“There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you,” young Thatch exclaimed on finding Cody seated morosely at the same table he’d just shared with Jimmy. She noticed he was just picking at his food, not really eating it. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothin’,” he said glumly. Then he tossed the wrapped package to her. “Here, these are for you.”

“What are they?”



“And a new pair o’ pants.”

“What’s wrong with what I’ve got on?” she asked, a bit offended.

“They fit you.”

“Now that makes total sense.”

“I was watchin’ you work this mornin’ and noticed your clothes fit too well,” Cody began explaining. “It made me think of somethin’ Lou once told us. We asked why his clothes always looked two sizes too big for him. He said he liked it that way. It was more comfortable and it made it easier.”

“Made what easier?”

“Hidin’…. stuff,” Cody responded, gesturing vaguely at Thatch.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, suddenly holding the package of shirts in front of her chest.

Teaspoon was finally back in Texas and he wasn’t sure how to feel about that. It had been his goal for weeks now, but he felt conflicted about his return. He still hadn’t decided what he was going to do. He had just finished packing up camp after his morning coffee when he heard gunshots. He quickly mounted up and rode in the direction of the noise. The lawman in him wouldn’t let him ignore the sound.

As he topped a rise, he saw several scruffy looking young men sacking a large farmhouse. Two held a young lady, not much older than Lou, trapped on the porch. The rest were digging through things in the house and dumping them out in the yard. One was stuffing anything of value into saddlebags.

Teaspoon looked around and realized there were several good hiding places along the edges of the farm from which he could get good shots. If he took out enough of them, fast enough, maybe the rest would flee. Quickly, he put his half-baked plan into action.

He jumped off his horse as it came flying up to the first vantage point, a shed that overlooked the yard in front of the house. He already had his gun out and cocked, ready to start firing. He took careful aim and downed one of the raiders coming out of the house with an armful of loot. He took out two others in quick succession before the rest of the raiders even realized what was happening.

As they started seeking shelter and looking for the shooter, Teaspoon was already running hunched over to a wooded area about a third of the way around the yard from his first hiding place. He hit the ground and crawled forward on his elbows, thinking to himself, I’m gettin’ too old fer this!

Two more shots and two more raiders injured. Then, as Teaspoon was heading for his third hiding place, the rest of the raiders took the hint and started hitting their saddles and running for it. They laid down a covering fire behind them as they left.

That’s when Teaspoon made his mistake. He came out from behind the pig pen he’d been firing from and stood tall, shooting at the fleeing raiders, right up until one of them hit him in the knee. He grunted in pain but refused to let himself fall. If he fell, not only he, but the young lady on the porch would die also.

As the last of the raiders disappeared over the horizon, he finally let himself stagger, grabbing his knee as he went. The young lady from the porch came running to help him.

“Oh, thank you so much, sir!” she gushed. “They were planning to do such things to me!” She spoke in a dulcet voice with the tones of the deep south. “Ah don’t know what ah would have done if you hadn’t saved me.”

“Just get me in the house,” Teaspoon nearly growled at her.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “You’re hurt. Here, let me help you.”

Together, they managed to limp their way back to the house. She helped him onto a couch in the sitting room just inside the front door. Then she stood back and started wringing her hands. Teaspoon looked at her. Lordy, lord, lord, he thought, this one’s helpless as all get out.

“There a doctor near here?” he asked gruffly, starting to feel faint from the pain.

“No, sir,” she answered. “Just about every man in these parts has left to fight in the war. Except for those too old, too young or too frail. But Ah refused to leave my home! Ah won’t!” she finished, stamping her foot on the wooden floors.

“I take that to mean you ain’t got no folks around here?”

“It was just me and my husband. We came West to start a horse ranch. Things were going well, until the war started. He took off to join up, then all the ranch hands disappeared, along with all the money he left me. Now, Ah’m all alone,” she finished, nearly in tears.

“Alright, no use getting’ all fretted up over things you can’t change,” Teaspoon said, trying to calm her down. “Can you bring me some alcohol, anything, and bandages?”

With a little direction from Teaspoon the frantic young lady was able to bandage his wounded leg. Best he could figure, the bullet had gone straight through, shattering the knee cap. The good news was, that meant the risk of infection was actually fairly low and nobody was going to have to start digging around in his leg. Teaspoon’d been shot often enough to know about that sort of thing. But, he’d never walk without a major limp again, and riding might well be extremely painful. He could only wait and see.

The young lady finally remembered her manners enough to introduce herself as Savannah Herrington, originally from Georgia. Teaspoon managed a faint, “Folks mostly call me Teaspoon, ma’am,” just before losing consciousness.

The next morning he woke up with a headache and a mouth that felt like it was stuffed with cotton. For a moment, Teaspoon thought he was back in Rock Creek and had gone on a bender the night before. Then, he remembered all that had happened.

He slowly looked around him. Mrs. Herrington had placed a beautiful wedding ring piecework quilt over him and left him to sleep on the sofa. He pushed the blanket off and carefully got to his feet. He had to grab suddenly at the back of the chair next to the sofa as he slowly lurched forward.

“Mrs. Herrington,” he called. “Mrs. Herrington, where are you?”

“Ah’m in the kitchen Mr. Spoon,” she replied. “Do you like grits for breakfast?” she asked as she came back into the sitting room. “Ah’m afraid that’s about all ah’ve got right now. Those raiders killed all my chickens and stole the last of the bacon.”

“Grits would be fine, ma’am,” Teaspoon said, startled at her misunderstanding of his name. It reminded him of Emma a powerful lot. “And it’s Mr. Hunter. Teaspoon Hunter.”

“Oh,” she murmured, blushing in mortification. “I’m sorry, Mr. Hunter.”

“No need to be sorry. It’s rather difficult to get a proper introduction when one of the introductees is conkin’ out on the affair!”

“Here,” she said, “let me help you to the kitchen table.”

She came to his side and put his arm over her shoulder to help guide him to the kitchen. As he sat down he sighed in bliss to be off his feet again. Then, he looked at her and said, “The first order of business, I think, is to find me somethin’ I can use as a crutch. I can’t keep leanin’ on you!”

“There might be some wood you can use out in the barn, Mr. Hunter, if you can make the crutch yourself.”

“That will do just fine. But, you’ll have to bring me the wood and a knife for carvin’.”

“I can manage that much,” she said as she placed a bowl of the porridge made from boiling coarsely ground hominy corn with salt.

“Now that that’s settled, Mrs. Herrington, I’ve got a question for you. Do you know how to shoot?”

“Heaven’s no, Mr. Hunter. My husband would’ve died of mortification if Ah’d ever asked to shoot his gun. Why, the very idea simply scares the stuffing out of me.”

“Then, that’s the next thing on our to-do list. Teach you to shoot.”

Savannah Herrington simply sat there and stared at his strange old man who’d saved her. She had no idea what to make of him.

Kid and Lou
Lou was seated at the side of the boxcar, eagerly looking at everything they passed. She couldn’t believe how different the countryside was. No more flat plains with the Rocky Mountains carving up the distant horizon. Instead, the countryside was rolling hills and gentle slopes. And the trees! Lou had never seen so many trees in her life. It was an incredible sight, even if they were all bare limbed for the winter. She bet this was the greenest place on earth, come summertime. And the weather. Sure, it was cool and damp, but nothing like the bone chilling cold she’d ridden through the winter before for the Pony Express.

Over the last ten days their train had passed through most of Tennessee and now Virginia. The trip was supposed to have only lasted a little over seven days, but with several breakdowns along the way it had lengthened to ten. Lou hadn’t minded the delay. It had meant more time with Kid to herself and more time to absorb everything she was seeing.

Suddenly, the train chugged around a bend and there it was. Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy in all its glory. She could see row upon row of white houses lined up along tree lined streets. Kid said in the last census there’d been more than 37,000 people living there. She’d never seen so many houses or people in one place. That was one thing she’d noticed in the last few days, even in the ‘country’ here in the East, there was no breathing room. Everyone was living right on top of everyone else. There was no way she could’ve ridden at a full gallop straight for 75 miles here without running into someone’s home or property. While she was amazed at all she was seeing, she decided she definitely preferred the wide open spaces of the Nebraska prairie.

Lou looked up at Kid and wondered what he was thinking. He’d gotten quieter and quieter the closer they’d gotten to Richmond. She thought about telling him it wasn’t too late. They could always turn around and go home right now. But she didn’t think it would do any good, so she held her peace. She just reached up and held her hand out to him, as she’d done not so long ago after the funeral of his childhood sweetheart, Doritha. And just as he’d done on that sunny afternoon he reached out and encircled her small fingers with his large hand. She’d learned she couldn’t always fix things between them. Sometimes she just needed to let him be him, let him do his hard thinking while making sure he knew she was there for him. There was a lot to learn about this marriage thing, she thought with a smothered grin, not just the ‘dancing’.

As the train began slowing down in preparation to stop at the Richmond -Petersburg Depot, Lou and Kid began saddling their horses. They’d decided to get a hotel room for the night before searching out the Confederate Army in the morning and signing up. It would be one last night for just the two of them.

The train chugged over a final bridge on entering the depot. Lou shivered as they passed over hundreds of thousands of solid shot cannon balls piled up in readiness below the bridge. It felt like someone was walking on her grave. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the awful sight, until the train jerked to a stop and Kid laid a hand on her shoulder.

“It’s time, Lou,” he said quietly. She nodded and together they began leading their horses off the train.

The first order of business was to find a place to stay. They wandered down several broad, tree-lined streets before settling on a boardinghouse that didn’t look too fancy for them. Even so, they received several pointed looks as they walked in the front door in their travel stained clothing.

After securing a room for the night, Lou and Kid decided to wander town a bit. They knew this might be their only chance to sightsee. Downtown was a wonder to Lou, though Kid had seen it before. He’d passed through Richmond when he’d headed West six years ago.

Eventually, they found themselves outside the Confederate White House, as it was already being called. It was the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his family. It was also the social and political center of the Confederacy. With its broad front porch, columns stretching two stories into the afternoon sky and whitewashed walls it was the most beautiful building Lou had ever seen, rivaled only by the statehouse in Springfield. The couple just stood outside the fence, watching it, much as they’d used to stand at the corral fence watching the horses, and thinking their own thoughts.

After awhile, Lou gently punched Kid in the arm and said, “Let’s get somethin’ to eat, Kid.”

The next morning, Lou and Kid found themselves lined up with hundreds of other eager, young recruits ready to sign up to fight. While they’d arrived early in the morning, it wasn’t until noon they reached the front of the line.

“Name?” the sergeant at the desk asked briskly.

“Kid McCloud. This is my brother, Lou.” Kid so hated his own name, they’d decided to use Lou’s last name instead. “We’re here to sign up for the cavalry.”

That got the sergeant’s attention. He raised his eyes from the paper he was writing on and scrutinized Lou and Kid from head to toe.

“You got a horse?” he asked.

“Yes. Good hardy Indian ponies. Well trained. Bought off the Pony Express.”

The sergeant raised his eyebrows at that. “Can ya shoot while ridin’?”

“Ever heard of Wild Bill Hickok?” Kid asked. “I’m as good as or better than him. Lou’s not quite that good, but certainly better than any of these farmboys here. We’ve survived outlaws and Indians in the Wild West riding for the Express for going on the last two years now. I doubt any of the plantation sons’ who make up the cavalry could keep up with either one of us.”

“Mite full of yerself, ain’t ya, son?”

“Nope. Just know what I can do and what I can’t.”

“What’s the matter with the little ‘un. Can’t he talk?”

“I can talk just fine, when I’m of a mind to,” Lou retorted gruffly, crossing her arms over her chest with her hands up under her armpits. “Just didn’t see the need’s all.”

“You know it costs about $50 each to outfit yourselves with the appropriate uniform,” the sergeant warned. “Can y’all afford that?”

“We’ll manage,” Kid said.

“Alright then, put your mark here,” the sergeant said skeptically, pointing to a line in a smaller book than the one all the other volunteers had been signing. “And, welcome to the 1st Virginia Cavalry Regiment, Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart commanding. You can get your uniforms at the sutlers down at 8th and Dobbins. You’ll report for duty by 6 am tomorrow morning at Camp Ashland, just outside of town.”

An hour later the couple found themselves walking out of the sutler’s tent with their new uniforms in packages under their arms. The uniforms were made of a plain homespun grey cloth. The jackets stopped at the waist, something which did not please Lou, and were decorated with black bars sewn in horizontal rows across the front. They also had black epaulets, sleeve trim and belt loops. The whole concoction was topped by a broadbrimmed black hat with a black plume. Kid wondered just how long those funny looking feathers would last in battle.

It was easy to tell the uniforms had been designed by aristocrats with more time and money then sense or experience on the trail. Lou and Kid had just about died laughing at each other as they’d tried on the uniforms. At least they wouldn’t have to actually wear them in public until tomorrow.

The next morning Kid and Lou trotted up to the front gates at Camp Ashland. It had taken them longer to reach than they’d expected based on the directions they’d been given. Luckily, they were used to delays and had gotten an extra early start to make sure they arrived on time. Lou glanced at Kid out of the corner of her eye and smothered yet another giggle. She hated the way she sounded when she giggled, so girly. It was a definite threat to her disguise. But the uniforms were so foolish.

They reined their horses in as they reached the gate. Kid reached inside the jacket of his uniform to pull out their paperwork and hand it over.

“Ah,” the sentry said. “Y’all must be the new recruits they was tellin’ us about last night. Welcome to Camp Ashland. You’ve been assigned to Company G, the Amelia Light Dragoons. You’ll find them camped out in the barn, there at the end of the main roadway, right by the racetrack.”

“Thank you,” Kid said, taking back the paperwork and waiting for the gates to the camp to be opened. The sentry turned and watched the pair trot off into the camp, scratching his head. There was something off about them, he just couldn’t quite figure out what.

At the entrance to the barn, Kid and Lou dismounted and walked into the dimly lit interior, leading their horses. “Anyone here?” Kid called.

“Depends on who’s askin’,” a cultured voice responded from the dark to their left. Kid and Lou turned toward the sound of that voice.

“We’re supposed to report to Company G of the 1st Virginia Cavalry,” Kid explained.

“Ah, y’all must be the two newest recruits. That’ll bring us up to full strength again,” the man said, entering a shaft of light from a barn window high overhead. “I’m Lieutenant Virgil Price, of the Richmond Prices, at your service. And you might be?”

“Most folks just call me the Kid,” Kid answered, then pointed at Lou with his thumb. “This is my brother, Lou McCloud.”

“What kind of a name is Kid?”

“It’s a family thing,” Kid shrugged.

“I don’t know any McClouds. Where y’all hail from, Kid?”

“I was born down Manassas way,” Kid answered. “But Lou and I’ve spent the last several years out West. We came back to help defend Virginia.”

“That’s mighty patriotic of ya,” Virgil said skeptically. “You can stable your horses in the third stall on your left. We’ll figure out where to bed y’all down after breakfast, which is in precisely 10 minutes. So, I’d hurry if I were y’all.”

Then he placed his plumed hat on his head with a flourish and turned sharply on his heel to walk out of the barn.

Ten minutes later, Lou and Kid joined the other members of Company G, lining up for breakfast. As they reached the front of the line, they saw the cook was an older black man. He was serving biscuits with a white gravy and sausages for breakfast. As they found a place to sit, Kid let out a satisfied sigh.

“Oh man, I haven’t had biscuits and gravy like this in years!” he exclaimed as he began tucking into the food. Lou looked at the mess on her plate and wrinkled her nose. It didn’t look all that appetizing to her. After swallowing a few mouthfuls she couldn’t force herself to eat anymore and handed her plate to Kid.

“I’m gonna go get the horses and give them a better brushing down,” she said. “Join me when you’re done eating.”

As Lou walked back to the barn, Virgil and another young cavalryman walked over and joined Kid, squatting on their heels to eat their breakfasts.

“So, you’re the last recruits for this company,” the new man said. “I’m Thomas Ewell, up from Petersburg way.”

“I’m the Kid, that’s my brother Lou,” Kid responded as he continued to shovel the food into his mouth while pointing out Lou with a thumb over his shoulder.

“I hear y’all are from Manassas. I’ve got an uncle lives over there. Used to visit him a lot in the summers. Never heard of no McClouds, down that way,” Virgil added.

“My folks just had a small dirt farm. That’s why I headed West when I did,” Kid shrugged, not wanting to get into any more details about his background.

“How’d you learn to ride well enough to join the cavalry, then, boy,” Virgil asked, annoyed.

“Spent the last couple years riding for the Pony Express,” Kid shrugged. “What I didn’t already know, they taught me. Ain’t no better riders in all this country,” he couldn’t help boasting.

“Yeah, right,” Virgil smirked. “I’d like to see you beat my prized Arabian in a race.”

“Virgil, leave the Kid alone,” Thomas finally cut in. “Not every good rider’s going to come from the plantations. And we need every good rider we can get our hands on in this war, so you’re just goin’ to have to deal with it. They’ll learn the way of things ‘round here, soon ‘nuff.”

Virgil looked at Kid, then Lou, again. “I’ll grant you, Kid here looks like he can handle a horse well enough, I suppose. But that little ‘un over there… I don’t know. Seems to me we should send him back to his mammy ‘til he’s done a little more growin’,” he sneered.

Lou hadn’t been participating in the conversation, but she’d been close enough to listen in. So far she’d figured Kid would ask for her help if he wanted it. But now that they’d turned their derision on her, she couldn’t let it stand. She turned and glared at the group.

“I’ll have you know I can out ride and out shoot the lot of ya,” she yelled, before throwing her curry brush at Virgil and using both hands to vault herself onto her unsaddled horse, right over his hindquarters. She landed high on his withers, gathered two fistfuls of his mane and clicked in his ear, urging him to leap into a gallop. She ducked her head and yelled over her shoulder, “Catch me if you can, boys!”

Kid continued calmly eating the last of Lou’s breakfast and wondered if he could get more. He snorted as he watched Virgil running for his horse, eager to take up Lou’s challenge. Lou’d been the fastest rider the Express had had. These foolish boys had no chance of catching her. It kind of reminded him of their early days with the Express, when Lou had gotten all riled up over Teaspoon calling her ‘puny’ and shown them all up with a quick race around the way station.

Kid got up and sauntered after the riders as Virgil and three other members of Company G came bursting out of the barn, hot on Lou’s trail. He stopped and grabbed a couple more biscuits from the black cook before heading to the edge of camp, to catch the show.

As Kid arrived at the edge of camp, he could see Lou sailing over the latrines making for a nearby wooded area. The last of the riders chasing her missed the footing for the jump and ended up sailing into the latrines instead of over them. Kid snorted in amusement even as he kept munching away at his biscuits.

Just as Virgil, obviously the best rider of the southerners chasing Lou, started to close in on her, she took a sharp turn to the left and started back through camp, weaving her way at a gallop through the tents. At one point she even hopped off one side of the horse to avoid having her head taken off by a low hanging porch roof. Then she swung right back onto the horse’s back. This maneuver caused another of her chasers to drop out of the pursuit, rather than run over the gathering bystanders.

It was obvious the Arabians most of Lou’s pursuers were riding were actually faster than her Indian pony. But, they weren’t trained to maneuver the way the former Express ponies had been. They weren’t used to making sharp turns in one direction, spinning completely around to head the opposite direction, climbing up obstacles to go sailing over others. There was no doubt that Lou had the advantage.

Kid kept heading toward the edge of camp. He was pretty sure he knew where Lou was headed. When he saw her rounding the bend, headed toward the creek that ran outside the camp near the railroad, he knew he’d been right. By now the race had been on for more than 10 minutes. Another of Lou’s pursuers pulled up rather than chase her down into the creek’s gully and back up. His horse was blowing hard and he’d decided it wasn’t worth it to continue the chase. That left just Virgil on her tail.

Now, Lou changed her tactics, spinning her horse on a dime to come at Virgil head to head. As she drew abreast of him, she leaped off her horse onto Virgil, taking him off his. As they landed in the dirt she punched him square in the nose, before running to catch up with her still running horse and leaping back onto its bareback using nothing more than a handful of mane in her right hand to brace herself. She took off at a race back toward where Kid’s horse was still standing, waiting to be brushed down.

Kid slowly approached Virgil, who was still lying on the ground holding his now bleeding nose and trying to catch his breath. Kid popped the last bite of biscuit into his mouth and carefully chewed and swallowed before squatting down to look Virgil in the eyes.

“Broke yer nose, didn’t he?” Kid asked. “I forgot to mention, Lou was the fastest rider we had at the Express. Got chased, a lot, by Indians, outlaws and other unsavory types. They never did manage to catch him, ‘less he wanted to be caught. Oh, and he’s got a temper. Might want to watch out for that.”

Kid straightened to his full height, brushed his hands off on his pants and turned to follow his wife back to camp. Virgil just stared after them.

Eagle watched as Buck moved around the small cabin, preparing the evening meal. It looked to be more beans. They were out of meat. Buck was much calmer, more centered, since his day of prayer at the mountain’s summit. Eagle wondered what Buck had seen that day. But he didn’t ask. The results of vision quests were generally considered private, unless the seeker chose to share. Buck was showing no such inclination at the moment.

“Things look pretty clear tonight. If it stays this way tomorrow I’m going to go out hunting,” Buck said as he brought Eagle his meal. “Don’t know about you but I’m getting pretty tired of a diet of beans, beans and more beans.”

Eagle humphed a soft laugh. He knew a way he could help Buck with his hunt. Shortly after Buck left early the next morning, Eagle crawled out of his nest near the fire. He pulled an old, worn buffalo robe over his shoulders and headed out to the clearing in front of the cabin.

After a few moments of searching, he found a couple of small branches, no thicker around then a child’s wrist, of an even length. He seated himself on the ground and began a slow chant, drumming on the ground with the branches in accompaniment.

“Come here my pretty ones. Elk, deer, mountain goats. Let me see if you can dance,” he chanted. “Come out of your hole, small and large. Come on everybody, make a circle around me and I will sing and make music, but you must close your eyes while you dance.”

“Elk, shake your tails as I sing. I beat the ground with my sticks as I sing,” he chanted, repeating the verses naming all the possible animals Buck could find this day. Eagle continued his drumming and chanting throughout the day.

Buck wondered at his luck hunting. He’d expected to have to spend long hours searching high and low, mostly low, to find any prey. But he’d barely left the clearing when a mountain goat jumped right out in front of him. It had looked almost as if it were dancing with its eyes closed. Buck quickly took aim and downed the goat with his bow and arrow. After a prayer thanking the animal for its sacrifice, he field dressed it and hung it from the upper branches of a nearby tree. With his early success, Buck now hoped to find a little extra he could smoke to keep them for a little longer through this cold winter.

It wasn’t much later that an elk seemed to wander right onto the path in front of him, appearing to dance with its eyes closed. Again, Buck quickly took the animal down with a single arrow, thanked its spirit for its sacrifice and field dressed the animal. He stood back and considered. He’d never thought to have such good luck hunting so quickly. It was only noon and already he had enough meat to last him and Eagle for several weeks. He’d planned to spend all day hunting, perhaps even camping out and not returning to the cabin until the morning. But already he’d need to build a travois for his horse to pull if he was going to get all the meat back. After thinking it over for a moment, Buck decided it would be wasteful to continue hunting.

As he walked his horse back into the cabin’s clearing pulling the travois which carried the elk and mountain goat, he heard a strange chanting and drumming sound. I wonder what the old man is up to now, he thought to himself.

At the moment he walked through the tree line at the edge of the clearing, the words Eagle was chanting suddenly became clear to Buck’s ears.

“Elk, shake your tails as I sing. I beat the ground with my sticks as I sing.”

“Sendeh!” Buck whispered in wonder and not a little fear. This man who’d introduced himself as Eagle was actually Sendeh, the Kiowa trickster. All tribes knew of him, though they called him by many names, the most common being Coyote. To the Kiowa he most often appeared as a man, though it was known he could appear in any shape he chose. Eventually, Buck was able to force his legs to keep moving, the words of an old con artist friend of Teaspoon ringing in his ears, “You can’t con a man who doesn’t want something from you in the first place.”

Eagle heard the slow clopping of the horse’s hooves as Buck entered the clearing and stopped his chanting. He looked up at the young man followed by the horse pulling a travois. “Good hunting, my young friend?”

“Yes,” Buck answered.

“Good, I’m hungry. Here, I’ll hold the horse while you get the meat into the cabin. Then we can chop it up properly. How about I make some stew tonight, while you get the rest of the meat in the smokehouse?”

“Okay.” Buck was afraid to say too much to this man. As he started to walk toward the travois behind the horse, the old man spoke again.

“Don’t worry, Buck. I may be a trickster, but I’m also a good friend to those who are a friend to me.”

Buck paused for a moment before nodding and continuing on his way to the travois. He never turned around to face Eagle.

Later that night, as they were eating the stew Eagle had made, Buck finally gathered the courage to ask the question that had been bothering him all afternoon and evening.

“How’d you end up out here?”

“Oh, I got a little too frisky with the beautiful young daughter of a Taime priest,” Eagle responded with a lecherous grin. Buck returned the grin with one of his own. The man in front of him was known as much for his lusty opportunism as for the cons he pulled. “Anyway, the priest put a curse on me. I’m doomed to age and die. This time. Don’t worry, I’ll be back. I’m always back. Eventually. But I won’t last out the winter in this body.”

The old man laughed as if his impending death were a hilarious joke. Maybe to him it was, Buck though bitterly. To the rest of the world, death was a tragedy.

“In the meantime though,” Eagle continued, “I plan to return the kindnesses you’ve shown me these last few days.”

This had been a long winter for Cody, filled mostly with waiting for something to happen. There really wasn’t much for a teamster to do when the wagons couldn’t go anywhere. Instead he’d spent the last several weeks teaching young Thatch how to act like a boy. Now, she stood leaning against the side of a wagon in a stance any of the boys from the bunkhouse would’ve recognized, arms crossed over her chest, hands tucked into her armpits.

She was watching Cody show off his skills with the lariat, twisting and swinging, tossing and twirling the rope for all he was worth. Alright, so he hadn’t stopped with teaching her how to act like a boy. Once she’d learned those lessons well enough, almost too well for his peace of mind, he’d moved on to other skills. They’d worked on trick riding and acrobatics. Now, they were moving on to roping. She was a quick study.

Just as Cody was twirling the rope into his grand finale, his commanding officer walked into the circle of firelight. The surprise caused Cody to get tangled up in his own rope and fall on his face. Thatch laughed long and loud. Even the commander chuckled.

“Sorry to interrupt your concentration, son,” he said. “I was just coming to ask if you’d like to go hunting. Some scouts found a whole herd of buffalo a few miles west of here. We could use the meat and hides to shore up our provisions for the rest of the winter.”

“Sir, I’d love to!” Cody eagerly agreed. “When do we leave?”

“First thing in the morning, so get your sleep.”

“No problem there, Sir,” Thatch offered. “The only thing Cody loves more than food and showing off is sleep.”

“Why, I oughta,” Cody began. Too angry for words, he just started to take off after the already fleeing Thatch. The commander just watched them go, laughing to himself at their antics. Those two sure livened up the winter camp.

Late the next morning, Cody found himself hunkered down on the ground, hidden behind some tall prairie grass, overlooking the herd of buffalo. None of the other Army hunters had found the herd yet. Thatch was next to him. She was learning fast with a six gun, but was still no good with the long distance rifles, so she was going to be his loader on this trip. Cody was determined to prove his worth to the unit. Maybe he’d get out of boring teamster duty and into something a little more exciting.

He sighted down the long barrel of his rifle carefully and squeezed the trigger. The lead bull of the herd bellowed and fell to its knees. The other buffalo lowed anxiously and started milling around. By hitting the lead bull first, Cody had managed to keep them from stampeding immediately. Oh, they would eventually, but the longer it took them, the more he’d bring in.

Once the herd did the inevitable and stampeded over the horizon away from Cody’s deadly barrage of bullets, there were thirty dead buffalo littering the ground. Cody stood up and grinned proudly. The noise had gotten the attention of the rest of the hunters and they were coming up just as Cody finished cleaning his gun.

“Dang, Cody! Didn’t you leave anythin’ fer the rest of us,” one man complained.

“Whatcha complainin’ about, Dewey, he went an’ did the hard work fer us,” another responded. “Heck, Cody, how many are down there?”

“By my count, thirty,” Cody answered, shoulders thrown back in pride. “All shot within fifteen minutes.”

“Son, I can’t rightly go on callin’ you Billy after this,” the commander of the unit said. “From now on, I’ll call you…. Buffalo Bill! That’s it, Buffalo Bill.”

“Buffalo Bill Cody,” the blond-haired young man mulled over the new moniker. “Buffalo Bill Cody. That’s got a right nice ring to it.” And he flashed his blinding white grin at the crew. A nickname. A real nickname. Cody couldn’t have been more pleased with the day’s work. He’d wanted a real nickname ever since Marcus had dubbed Jimmy as Wild Bill Hickok. Now, he had his own. Things were really going his way lately.

“But, let’s not stand here jawing. We need to get all those animals dressed and loaded into the wagons to take back to camp,” Cody added, feeling the need to take the lead, again.

Several hours later, hot, sticky with drying blood and tired, Cody looked around again. It had been a fruitful day’s labor. They had enough meat to feed the entire camp for a few weeks now and he’d earned his own nickname. But he didn’t like what he was seeing right now. With all the buffalo hides loaded on one wagon and the choice pieces of meat loaded on the others, there were still piles of buffalo lying all over the place. It wouldn’t rot immediately in the February chill, but it was certainly being wasted by the Army men. This seriously bugged Cody’s conscious.

Finally, he walked up to the commander of the unit and asked, “Sir, we’re not just going to leave all this lying out here, are we?”

“What do you expect us to do with it, son?” the commander asked kindly. “It’s not like we can use any of it, or transport it for that matter. Thanks to your good shooting, the wagons are filled to overflowing.”

Cody thought for a moment, then asked, “Well, Sir, if we’re not gonna use this, do you mind if I ride out and find the nearest tribe and tell them about it? It’d be a real good peace gesture from the Army.”

“I suppose that’s alright, son. But we need you back at Fort Leavenworth in four days. If you don’t find anyone before then, this lot rots. You understand?”

“Yes, Sir!” Cody flashed his characteristically exuberant salute and headed for his horse. Thanks to Buck, Cody was pretty sure he could find Red Bear’s band of Kiowa within the day. They wintered not too far away from here.

Lou and Kid
Training at Camp Ashland hadn’t been anything like what either Kid or Lou had expected. They’d figured they’d be spending their days learning new riding tricks, how to evade the enemy or sneak up on him, much as Teaspoon had taught them during their first weeks with the Express. Instead, it had been day after day of drill, drill and more drill. All followed by even more drilling. The duo was bored stiff.

On the other hand, personnel matters had gotten a mite interesting. After Lou had shown Virgil up in their impromptu horserace, he’d become their virtual shadow. So, Kid had taken to showing Virgil some of the tricks they’d learned on the trail the last couple of years. He was an avid student.

“So, to mount from the side, without using the stirrups, you grab the saddle horn in your left hand. Then, bracing your left arm against your mount’s neck you swing your right leg up and over the horse’s back.” Kid quickly demonstrated what he meant.

Virgil looked from Kid, now sitting tall on horseback, back to his own mount and its saddle. “Uh, Kid, what if I don’t have a saddle… horn did you call it?”

Kid looked at Virgil’s saddle more closely. He’d known it was different, much smaller and lighter than the saddle he used. But, he hadn’t realized it lacked this piece of, to his mind, vital equipment.

“Well, Buck used to do the same thing by just wrapping his hand in his horse’s mane,” he finally commented. “Lou uses a similar technique when riding bareback. But he’s so much smaller. I guess you could try that and see if it’ll work.”

Kid dismounted and headed for the barn, leaving Virgil to try to figure out the trick mount on his own. Kid found Lou in the stable assigned to their horses, vigorously brushing down her mount. He knew this was Lou’s way of finding thinking time, much as it was his. He wasn’t surprised to find her here, after seeing her walk away disgustedly from Thomas Ewell.

Things hadn’t quite turned out as expected. At first Virgil had seemed to be their biggest hurdle to acceptance in the unit, while Ewell had seemed to be their ally. That had certainly changed over the last several weeks. They’d learned Ewell was Isaac’s master. Isaac was the company’s black cook. He’d been forced to come to the war because his owner had demanded it. He spent his days cooking and, apparently, hiding from Ewell. Ewell was the worst of all things southern and if he’d been the only type of person fighting for the Confederacy, Kid would have happily helped the South burn.

Lou had it even worse. Like Buck and Ike, she’d always felt like something of an outsider, much more so than Kid, Cody or Jimmy ever had. And those three had formed a particularly strong bond with Noah when he’d joined the riders. Every comment Ewell made about the inherent inferiority of Negros and every attack he carried out on Isaac just drove thorns into the injury left by Noah’s death. Kid placed a sympathetic hand on Lou’s shoulder, only to have her roughly dislodge it while ducking under the horse’s neck. He sighed. Maybe he should just leave her alone.

A sharp bugle call they’d learned to recognize over the last few weeks, pierced the early March air. Kid and Lou looked at each other, then exited the barn at a run, responding to the musical command along with the rest of the members of Company G.

As the men gathered in the central area of their campsite, Kid looked around. Not everyone was rushing to the formation. Two of the cavalrymen were lugging a side of beef over to Isaac’s cook station. Isaac himself was parching coffee in a pan over the fire, stirring with a big camp knife. Yet another man was placing the unit’s dinnerware, all good solid tinware, on a table with complete settings. Kid grinned to himself. Even in the middle of a war, his fellows were determined to eat a ‘civilized’ meal. They’d learn soon enough to give into the exigencies of the trail. Finally, the crowded men quieted enough to hear what Captain Irving had to say.

“Men, the wait is over,” Irving announced. “General McClellan has made his move. He’s begun an attack on Virginia, in an attempt to take Richmond. It will be our job to help stop him. Pack up tonight, boys. We move out in the mornin’. That’ll be all.”

Irving turned and left the area to the cheers of his men. He’d spend the rest of the evening in a command conference with Gen. Stuart, determining exactly where they were headed tomorrow. Kid glanced at Lou and whispered, “And so it begins.”

Buck looked at the older man across the fire from him. After weeks of sharing a fire with Eagle, or Sendeh as Buck had come to think of him, the young half-breed had lost most of his fear of the living legend. It helped that even as he continued to obviously weaken, Eagle had been frenetically teaching Buck all he knew about medicine. Buck took a deep breath, mentally bracing himself for the question he was about to ask.

“Can you interpret visions, Sendeh?”

The old man looked at Buck, startled yet pleased by the question. This was the first time Buck had ever asked anything of him. He’d begun to despair of being able to help the young man.

“Yes, Buck,” he answered slowly. “I know it’s not in the stories, for a reason, but I can and do occasionally interpret spirit visions. “

“Will you tell me what mine means?”

“You know I will, son.”

Buck began to relate his experiences on the mountain top, telling Sendeh of the snow white young male deer and its antics. The old man watched Buck closely throughout the tale, smiling slightly. When Buck finished, he sat back on his heels, both relieved to have finally shared the moment and terrified of finding out what his vision meant.

But Sendeh did not begin to immediately tell Buck what he was waiting to hear. Instead, he dug into his haversack, pulling out a plug of tobacco. Chanting something just under his breath, he lit the tobacco in the fire and began spreading its smoke to the four winds. Then, he stood and ‘bathed’ Buck and then himself in the smoke, before setting the last of the tobacco into the fire to finish burning. Then, he sat back and smiled at Buck.

“I’m surprised you really need me to tell you this, Buck,” he began. “The young deer is you.”

“But it was all white. Does that mean I have to go back to living in the white world?”

“Patience, my young friend, patience.” After a few more moments of quiet contemplation, barely tolerated by the now anxious Buck, Sendeh began to speak again. “The deer is you. It is white for two reasons. The first is to indicate that it is a messenger from the Earth Creator. The second is to indicate that, yes, your future does lie with the white man.”

“Tell me, Buck, did the deer’s injury not remind you of anything?” Sendeh asked.

As Buck sat back and thought about it for a moment, enlightenment suddenly entered his eyes. “The Sun Dance,” he breathed.

“Yes. You asked the Spirits for guidance and promised them any sacrifice. They’ve told you what they require. Now, it is up to you to decide if you are willing to make the sacrifice. If you do, they will show you how to lead your people down a path to peace with the white man. It will not be a comfortable peace, by any means. But it will mean that your Kiowa family will survive. And, it will be through the help of your Gantonto family that you are able to do this. Tell me, Buck, this is not the first time that you’ve been touched by the Spirits, is it?” Sendeh asked quietly.

Buck looked surprised for a moment, then shuddered in memory. “No,” he answered shortly. “I had to fight an evil Spirit once in order to save my friend Little Bird from possession.”

“Do you think you would have been chosen for the fight, if you were not destined for much more?”

“I just figured I was chosen because I was close to Little Bird.”

“It is a universal truth, my young friend, that the Spirits put anyone they plan to bless well through a trial by fire, first.”

The warmth of spring came early to Texas. That was one thing he was glad for, Teaspoon thought as he walked down the row of southern belles, old men and boys. They were all cleaning and putting together a variety of different guns.

As soon as Teaspoon had felt up to hobbling around on the crutch he’d carved himself, he’d begun teaching Mrs. Herrington how to shoot and care for the rusted old Hawkins rifle he’d found in her barn. These days she was a more than fair shot and no longer feared raiders.

Some of that had to do with the others lined up along the barn’s western wall. Many women left on their own had chosen to gather here with Mrs. Herrington for mutual protection. Some came just to learn how to shoot and do other chores the men had generally taken care of before leaving for war. Once they’d learned what Teaspoon had to teach, they’d headed home again to keep things going until their menfolk returned. If they returned. Others had come with nothing to go back to. Those had stayed and now were helping to pass on their hard won new skills to the latest newcomers.

Teaspoon sighed in satisfaction. He had found his calling for this war. Fighting was a young man’s call. He was no longer that young man. Instead, he would help those left behind survive the struggles of day to day life caused by the war.

Kid and Lou
Lou stuffed the last of their hardtack, beef jerky and beans into her haversack, an oil cloth satchel that could be worn over one shoulder, or tied to the saddle. They were lucky to have had enough money to afford the larger haversacks, capable of carrying three days worth of supplies. Kid had already finished packing his and was now checking their tent and bedding. Their tent was a simple A-frame canvas affair, with a closed back and a closable front. They also had their bedrolls which consisted of an oil cloth to keep water from seeping through, one wool blanket each and, in Kid’s pack, the buffalo robe Buck had given them at their wedding. Compared to what they’d carried on Express runs, they both felt extremely overloaded. But, there would be no waystations or relay stations on this ride. This time, they had to carry everything with them that they’d need to survive.

“Mount up!” came the call. Almost as one the 100 men of Company G slipped into their saddles. Lou batted, annoyed, at the silly saber she had to wear. It was part of the uniform, but she failed to see its usefulness. Mostly it just got in her way while riding and annoyed her.

Unlike the Express runs both Kid and Lou were used to, this ride was mostly long, slow and boring. Kid was longing to just let loose and gallop down the trail at top speed, even though he knew it would be foolish. By the look on Lou’s face, she was thinking much the same thing.

Kid wondered when, if ever, they would actually see action. Right now, they were headed to the Virginia Peninsula, in southeast Virginia. They were supposed to join up with General Joseph E. Johnston’s army as it harried the invading Union troops. It took Company G three days to find and join General Johnston. At first, he didn’t seem to know what to do with the mounted unit. Then, he used them as screening units, sending them out in groups of five to harry the Union Army and slow its advance.

Despite all their bravado, the Confederate Army had been steadily ceding territory to their blue-coated adversaries. Tonight, Company G was camped near Fort Magruder, which straddled the Williamsburg Road from Yorktown. They were exhausted. They’d spent the last two days skirmishing with Union cavalry, fighting a rearguard action to protect the main body of General Johnston’s army as it tried to escape. Kid and Lou hadn’t even bothered to put up their tent. They were simply too tired. Instead, like most of their squad, they’d chosen to sleep under the stars.

Volleys of rifle fire broke the pre-dawn stillness, startling the cavalry unit awake. Lou looked at Kid and they both started scrambling for their guns. They quickly packed up their bedrolls and were mounted before half the other members of their squad were even fully awake.

“I’ll go see what’s up,” Kid said. “You make sure the rest are awake!” Then he wheeled his horse around and galloped off in the direction of the gunfire.

“Damned gloryhound!” Lou muttered before hopping back off her horse to make sure the rest of the unit was mounted and ready to fight.

It wasn’t long before General Longstreet, who was in charge of the portion of Johnston’s army camped at Fort Magruder, was using the cavalrymen as messengers, racing back and forth along a series of rifle pits and smaller fortifications that extended in an arc southwest from the fort with orders for the various units.

The first Union attack was repelled and nearly overrun by mid-morning and spirits among the Confederates were high. But, as the main body of the Union regulars began to arrive, the Confederates dug in for what looked to be a more protracted fight. At one point, Lou could have sworn she heard a band marching up and down a nearby road playing Yankee Doodle. She laughed under her breath at the absurdity. Who brings a band to a gunfight?

After hours of ducking for cover and riding up and down the front lines ferrying messages back and forth, the order finally came to retreat. Now, the cavalry’s real work would begin. As the soldiers began to crawl out of their shelters and head down the road away from the Union Army, it was up to Lou, Kid, Virgil and the other members of Company G to slow down the advancing enemy long enough for the rest of the soldiers to make good their escape.

Lou looked at Kid then pointed at a series of trees set at the top of a hill a half mile down the road. Kid nodded and they took off, closely followed by Virgil.

“What are we doin’?” he asked, curiously. Once Company G had joined the fight, Virgil had quickly realized Kid and Lou were the most experienced fighters in the unit and attached himself to them even more tightly than he’d already been.

“We’re goin’ to set up an ambush in the stand of trees,” Kid said as they galloped down the road.

“It provides good cover for us and will let us slow down the first advancing troops,” Lou added. “Plus, it has the advantage of backing up to a hill we can disappear behind before they get too close.”

“Sounds good to me,” Virgil grinned. “Lead on.” The other two young men in their squad followed gamely after them.

The ambush worked almost exactly as Kid and Lou had predicted and their entire squad escaped safely. As they retreated over the hill, Lou turned at the sound of hoofbeats behind her. She saw a young Union soldier advancing doggedly toward her on an old farm horse. She was just going to escape over the hillock until he raised his gun and took aim at Kid’s back. Lou quickly pulled her revolver and shot the young man in the heart. He fell from his horse and landed on the ground with a dull thud that seemed to reverberate in her ears. He’d never once made a sound. She turned and fled after her brothers in arms.

Their unit continued to attack the advancing Union troops, then flee, repeating the process several times throughout the day. That was their job. By nightfall, they’d caught back up with the main body of General Johnston’s army and were able to finally get some rest.

Buck wondered why he wasn’t sadder on this crisp June night. The man he’d been caring for for months, and who had become a close friend, had died in his sleep the night before. After a day of mourning and preparations, Buck was ready to send him on his way with a grand funeral pyre. Given the timing, Buck almost wondered if Eagle, Sendeh, his friend had chosen the moment of his death.

If Buck were to make it to the great summer gathering of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho in time for the Sun Dance, he needed to leave now. But, he would never have left his friend to die alone. Tonight, he would light Sendeh’s funeral pyre and pray as his spirit moved on. Tomorrow he would leave for what might be the most difficult thing he’d ever done.

As he watched Sendeh’s funeral bier burn through the night, Buck pondered why the Kiowa Creator would have asked him to make a Sun Dance sacrifice of this type. The Kiowa Sun Dance was more of a celebration and Thank You dance than a dance of sacrifice. The Spirits had been clear though, they wanted Buck to complete the more rigorous Sun Dance performed by their neighbors, the Arapaho, Cheyenne and Sioux.

The next morning, Buck packed the last of his supplies onto the travois behind his horse. With the knowledge that he would be partaking in the Sun Dance this summer, Buck had been hard at work creating things to offer at the give-away that closed every Sun Dance. Now, the travois was piled high with soft furs from his winter’s hunting, beautifully decorated bows and arrows and stone knives. Buck would not embarrass his Kiowa family by giving too little this summer. After making a last check that all the lashings were tight, Buck mounted his horse and headed east, for the northern plains.

It took him nearly a week to find the location of this year’s Sun Dance gathering. Now, he was arriving in the giant camp. While most white men could not tell the difference between one tribe and another, it was readily apparent to the denizens of this camp, that Buck was not a normal participant. He ignored the adults’ curious stares and the children’s curiouser questions as he rode straight to the center of camp. There he made his way to the tipi where all the medicine men were gathered, to put his name in the list of those who wished to dance this summer.

“Are you sure you wish to make this sacrifice, my brother,” the elderly chief medicine man asked him. “You are not one of us. This is not your Sun Dance.”

“This is what the Spirits demanded of me through many visions this winter, father,” Buck answered respectfully. “I can do no less.”

“Then go to the House of the Supplicants and begin your purification.”

Buck nodded and started to turn away, but then turned back with a request. “Father, might I ask that you, or someone in your clan, watch over my horse and belongings. As you stated, I am a stranger here and have no family to care for them while I am dancing.”

“I will honor your request myself,” the chief medicine man nodded in understanding. “Your courage will do your family proud,” he added in the traditional blessing upon aspiring dancers. Buck nodded in thanks, then turned and walked away.

At the House of the Supplicants, Buck washed himself thoroughly, before entering a sweatlodge to fast and pray for the next four days. All activities involved in the Sun Dance came in sets of four, to mimic the seasons. During this time he would eat nothing and drink only a special tea prepared by the medicine men and former dancers supervising this year’s dance.

The last night of this vigil, Buck joined the other dancers in bathing himself again. Then, they began to paint each other’s bodies in designs the Spirits had shown them during the last few days of prayer. Clothed only in a breechclout, Buck painted one half of his face white, the other red. Then, on his chest, he added a stylized white deer and on his upper back a red horse with a hand print, indicating a messenger. Then, along with the other dancers he began to chant a prayer that would continue until the dawn.

As the sun pinkened the eastern sky, all the dancers lined up and slowly began dancing their way through camp. Their dance circled the camp four times before piercing its center to end at the Sun Dance Circle. There, a tall tree trunk had been sunk into the ground, shorn of all its branches. Tied to the top were several long sinew ropes that dangled to the ground. It looked similar to a Maypole Emma had shown him in a book once, Buck thought inconsequentially, even as he continued to dance. The dancers circled the tree trunk four times before coming to a stop in a circle facing it.

Then, the medicine men entered the Sun Dance Circle, dancing in the opposite direction while chanting prayers. They too danced around the circle four times before coming to a stop, but facing away from the tree trunk. Each medicine man had stopped in front of one dancer. Buck’s eyes widened in surprise to note that it was the chief medicine man who’d stopped in front of him. But, he didn’t let his surprise alter his continuous chanting prayer or dancing feet.

Just as the Sun burst forth over the tipis to the east, each medicine man reached forward with a sharp knife and sliced through the skin and muscle of the left chest of a dancer. Buck flinched, but did not alter his chanting or dancing, as the medicine man inserted a skewer into the hole he had sliced in Buck’s chest. Then he tied the skewer to one of the sinew ropes attached to the tree trunk in the center of the Sun Dance Circle. The chief medicine man repeated the process on the right side of Buck’s chest. Then, chanting their own prayers, the medicine men slowly shuffle danced backward until they reached the center of the circle. There, they sat down to keep vigil and pray.

As the medicine men sat, the dancers began to really move. They would dance and chant prayers and sing, twisting and turning their bodies for the next several hours, until they managed to pull the skewers free of the skin and muscle holding them attached to the Tree of Life at the center of the Sun Dance Circle.

Even as he danced and prayed, Buck was able to marvel in some quiet corner of his brain at the fact that he wasn’t screaming in pain. He didn’t even feel the desire to do so. He’d expected the experience to be excruciating. But, apparently, the four days of preparation had done their job. While he was aware, at some level, that this did indeed hurt, it was almost as if he were watching someone else go through the ceremony. He was pleased. The Spirits would have the sacrifice they’d wanted. He continued to dance and sing and pray as the Sun rose higher in the sky.

Lou and Kid
Kid sighed. He was tired and he was sure Lou was even more exhausted. After their successes at the Battle of Williamsburg, as the events at Fort Magruder were now being dubbed, their unit had been detailed to join the regiment commander, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart on a special mission.

Robert E. Lee had personally asked Stuart to find out if the right flank of the Union Army was well protected. They’d spent the last several days sneaking around the edges of the Union Army, taking potshots when they could, stealing horses and supplies, even capturing a few men. But, the need to be constantly on alert, seeing as how they were behind enemy lines, was exhausting. And, Lou had had the worst of it. Being the smallest, quietest and fastest rider in the force and being able to write, Stuart had used her to sneak the closest to Union lines and take down information on numbers, locations and provisions.

Kid looked down at her sleeping face and sighed. Right now she was catching a few moments of sleep, head pillowed on his shoulder, while they waited for Virgil and Thomas Ewell to return from their last reconnaissance mission. As soon as they got back, the whole force would complete its circumnavigation of the Union forces and return to Richmond. Kid was happy Virgil and Ewell were a little late getting back. It gave Lou a few more minutes to sleep.

He wasn’t happy however, when they came galloping into camp, yelling at the top of their lungs about Yankees on their tails. Their horses slid to a stop in the center of the waiting Confederate cavalry as their brothers in arms closed ranks around them. Three blue coated soldiers came trotting into the woods behind the riders, intent on capturing them, only to find themselves surrounded by hundreds of Confederate cavalrymen, all with loaded weapons cocked and aimed in their direction. They quickly surrendered.

“Lou, wake up!” Virgil joshed, as they trotted away a few minutes later. “We’re all about to be heroes.”

“Don’t wanna be a hero,” Lou muttered. “Wanna be asleep.”

Virgil laughed at what he thought was a joke. Little did he realize, Lou was being completely honest with him.

In the long run, Virgil was right. They were heroes. They were welcomed back to Richmond by an impromptu parade, complete with marching band and flower petals being tossed at their feet. And that night, all the men got a good night’s sleep in comfortable beds, donated by grateful Confederate citizenry.

“I’m sure looking forward to a night in a real feather bed,” Lou sighed.

“I don’t care what the bed is made of as long as the lady in it with me is soft as a pillow,” Virgil joked, elbowing Ewell who was at his side.

Ewell grinned back at him. “I might want a feather or two, as well, though I don’t know that I’ll be doing much ‘sleepin’ with it. I’ve got better things to do with my time in a comfortable bed in the city.”

The two men wandered off, happily contemplating their earthly rewards for their efforts to defend this fair city.

That night, Kid stared down at Lou wrapped in his arms. He wished she hadn’t been so tired, so they could’ve taken better advantage of this opportunity to spend some time alone in a comfortable bed. But, between their fear of their hosts hearing something inappropriate and Lou’s exhaustion, there hadn’t been a whole lot of ‘dancing’. Kid hugged Lou closer to him. He was so proud of her and the hard work she’d done the last few days. He didn’t think he could ever explain it to her, not after all the fuss he’d made during the Pony Express about running risks. Now, he was happy just to be able to hold her in his arms and watch her sleep.

Chapter 4

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