Julia smiled as she leaned against her father’s side, Buck’s arm around her shoulders. She looked down and admiringly caressed the silky soft white buckskin of her wedding dress that Dawn Star had lovingly sewn for her, complete with traditional dyed porcupine quills etching out colorful patterns.
Julia had been deadset on a traditional church wedding. Jamie had given it to her, but had insisted they honor her parents’ heritage as well with this ceremony. In a few short hours, she’d be walking down the aisle of the Rock Creek church wearing an incredible white lace gown who’s design came straight out of the most recent issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book. Her bridegroom would be waiting for her, fighting to look as solemn as the occasion called for, but his crystal blue eyes smiling grandly only for her. They would make their vows before the white man’s God and all their friends and neighbors, then have a wonderful wedding supper and escape on their honeymoon.
But first, she was waiting here, in this pretty meadow near their favorite place at the swimming hole, with just their close family, waiting for him. He’d insisted on holding this ceremony, just for their families, first. He’d even promised not to talk to Dawn Star ever again after the wedding, following the Cheyenne tradition. It just made her love him all the more.
Julia looked around, counting all the beloved faces that surrounded her. Her parents, standing at her sides, her numerous brothers and sisters scattered about behind her. Well, most of them anyway. Harry had gone off with Willie and Jed to get Jamie ready for the big day. They and Jamie’s parents would be escorting him here.
In fact, Julia tilted her head as she strained her ears. Yes. That was Harry’s flute she could hear, sending it’s dancing tune into the air, preceding the procession.
Soon, they broke through the treeline and entered the meadow. Aunt Lou and Uncle Kid were leading a beautiful, shining black stallion upon which Jamie sat, tall and proud, grinning for all he was worth. His brothers followed behind, leading four other horses. Harry came last, providing the triumphant fanfare on his flute.
Several feet away from where Julia stood, surrounded by her family, Lou and Kid came to a stop and stepped aside. Jamie dismounted and took the reins of the other horses from his brothers, limping slightly as he led them toward Julia.
The last few months hadn’t been easy, she mused. As Buck had feared, Jamie had never quite healed completely. He’d always walk with a limp and his thigh pained him anytime the weather changed. But he was whole and he was hers. She wanted to leap and skip in celebration and hug herself with the joy of that knowledge. But contented herself with moving in place to the music.
Jamie stopped in front of her, his beautiful eyes boring into hers as he tried to contain his smile long enough to talk. Holding the reins of the four horses out to her, he said, “I bring this gift as a sign of my ability to care for and protect you in our life ahead, you and our children to come. Do you accept them? Be careful, for they carry my heart to yours.”
Julia swallowed a giggle. That last bit wasn’t what they’d planned, but his own sweet whispered addition just for her.
“I take these animals as a promise of the future,” she said smilingly as she reached out and practically snatched the reins out of his hand. Passing them to her father she added, “In exchange, I promise to care for you and our children for all the days we shall travel this path together.”
“Come,” Jamie said huskily, holding out his hand. “See the home I have made for us.”
Julia put her hand in his and followed his lead back to the stallion he’d been riding. He leaped aboard the unsaddled animal, then pulled her up in front of him, to wrap his arms around her and hold her tight to his chest.
Using only his knees, he wheeled the horse around and they sprinted away from their families, toward the house he’d spent the last two months building for her, in total secrecy, toward the future.
Continuing to ride without his hands, Jamie framed her face with his palms instead and leaned forward to kiss her deeply as they rode, together.
The End... or maybe just The Beginning.