Old West "Little Britches" Universe
Disclaimer: The characters known as the Magnificent Seven are not mine. I suppose they belong to Showtime now. The LB au belongs to K Poffenberger. No copyright infringement intended. I just love playing with the boys. All of the Native American characters are mine.
Warnings and Notes: 1. This is what I call an Indian Captive story something Ive loved since I was a little girl. While trying to stay true to history there is some violence done to the little boys. You are warned. But take note theres not as much as what would have happened in real life.
2.Since I dont speak any Native languages I pulled names and their transliterations from a web site I googled. I think I said Native American Names and there it was. Dont ya just love google?
3. I have nothing but the greatest respect for Native American traditions and way of life and write this out of the deepest respect. If Ive gotten things wrong it wasnt because I didnt try to find out the right way. I chose, finally the Kiowa to be the tribe and while there are many sites on the Kiowa there wasnt a dictionary so I borrowed a couple of words from a dictionary I did find, although most of the names are Kiowa.
4. If you want to find out about some real captives in Texas in the 1870s I highly recommend a book The Captured: the true story of Indian abduction on the Texas Frontier by Scott Zesch. St. Martins Press, c 2004
5. // // marks denote Kiowa being spoken but not understood by the listeners.
Many, many thanks go to Lynda for advice, LaraMee for her support and of course the beautiful college she made. Lastly a huge thanks Marnie for being my wonderful and hard working beta.
Vin ran. He pushed JD away from him shouting, Run! Hide! He could hear the horse coming up behind him and ducking his head he ran harder. Then he felt himself lifted by the straps of his coveralls, his legs still churning he looked into the painted face of the Indian warrior that held him. Then the boy started swinging his fists and kicking trying to get away.
Ahiga laughed and slung the boy face down over the running horses withers, and laid a heavy hand on Vins back holding him in place. The horse started running again and the bouncing and rushing ground beneath him made the boy feel dizzy so he shut his eyes trying not to vomit. Chris, help me! He silently shouted, pleading for his guardian to save him.
The horse stopped suddenly and Vin was lifted up and thrown to the ground. The drop knocked the air out of him and he gasped for breath. The boy rolled up onto his hands and knees trying not to be sick. The eight year old looked for his cousin and then felt JD land behind him.
Vin crawled over to the still smaller boy and wrapped his arms around him. He glared at the five Indians that sat on their horses watching. JD? You gotta stop crying now. Listen to me JD. He whispered urgently.
I want Buck. The little boy wailed.
Shut up, JD, and listen. You gotta stop crying and acting afraid. You gotta be quiet and do what they say. We just gotta stay alive. Mr. Chris and Mr. Buck will come for us.
JD sniffed trying his best to quit crying. Vin? Do you think Mr. Josiah is dead?
I dont know, JD. Vins attention went to the warriors. Two of them were old, like Mr. Chris and Mr. Buck and three were younger and there was one big boy like the older boys at the orphanage. The warrior that had held him slid off his horse and jerked Vin away from JD. He lifted the smaller boy and handed him to the other older man.
JD let out a frightened squeal and Vin stood and kicked the tall man and then hit him repeatedly with his fists. LET HIM GO! Vin shouted.
Ahiga back handed the boy without looking. Vin fell hard and stayed down.
Seeing Vin fall JD froze and remembered what the older boy had said. He straightened his back and grabbed a hand full of mane. The warrior that held him felt the change and looked down puzzled at the small boy.
Vin felt his bruised face and spit out some blood never stopping his glare. Leave him be. He said softly still defiant.
The hardened warrior watched the boy defend the other one. Ahiga reached down and lifted the child and set him on the horse he was riding. Vaulting up behind Vin the man looked at each of the others before he squeezed his knees sending his horse down the canyon.
Vin looked back at the sound of many horses running toward him. He saw the three teens herding a small band of stolen horses. Once they caught up they were all running then and Vin could feel the sweat from the horse soaking into the legs of his coveralls and his legs beginning to chafe.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee sat up suddenly, his breath coming in gasps and his body covered in sweat. He moaned as he tried to slow his breathing and heartbeat. He looked around the darkened room. Oh God, why now? I havent had that dream in years. He could feel the flames burning him. The blond squeezed his eyes shut trying to block the sight of the burning cabin, the sound of the screams that had haunted him for years.
Only this time there had been something different. Vins voice had joined the others, screaming for help. His breathing under control Chris stumbled out to the front porch, lighting a cheroot he tried to calm himself. He looked up at the big orange moon, a raiding moon. No! Dont be an idiot Larabee. Theres been no Indian trouble here in years. Yet Chris couldnt stop staring at the blood moon.
At dawn, Buck stumbled over to the stove and stoked the fire. Using the bucket water he put on a pot of coffee. Stepping out side he saw his partner sitting and staring at the rising sun. Chris? Couldnt sleep.
Chris jerked at the sound of Bucks voice. Somethings wrong, Buck. Somethings wrong with the boys.
Chris . You dont know that. Were back a day early. Josiah aint even supposed to bring the boys back til this afternoon. Theyre probably havin a great time fishing right now.
Maybe. No Buck, I cant explain it I just know Vins in trouble. Hes scared, hurt I dont know. Ive just been waiting for sun up before I head out to where they went. Larabee dropped the cheroot and ground it out. You can come with me or stay here.
Buck looked at his old friend. He knew better than to fight Chris when he got these feelings. Hed go with Larabee, and if nothing else theyd get to see the boys earlier than planned. There had been one time hed fought Chris instinct and theyd both paid a terrible price for it. He vowed that would never happen again.
The men quickly ate and saddled up. Riding quickly to the small lake Josiah had said theyd go fishing at. Still it was noon before they got there. They slowed and looked down from the top of the hill. There was nothing moving and no smoke from a fire. The two men rode down to the water cautiously looking for any sigh of where the three would be. Once they were at the waters edge they started riding around the edge of the lake looking for the camp.
Buck pulled his horse to a stop. Oh God, he whispered, and spurred the gray into a run. Jumping off the still running horse he ran to the prone figure.
Josiah Sanchez laid tied spread eagle in the hot sand. Hed been stripped naked and was tied where he could hear the water, smell the water, see the water, but never get to the water. His wrists and ankles were raw and bleeding where hed fought his bonds. There was dried blood covering his curly hair and the right side of his face.
Josiah? Buck called as he reached out to touch the bound man. He let out a breath as he felt a pulse and grabbing his canteen he dribbled some water into the large mans mouth.
Chris was by his side cutting the rawhide thongs. Josiah? What happened? Where are the boys? The blond looked around the destroyed campsite. Gear was thrown here and there, and bedding was trampled into the dirt
Josiah moaned and coughed and moaned again. He squinted his eyes fighting the brightness. Then through slits he saw the tall man leaning over him. He tried to move and rediscovered that he hurt everywhere.
Easy, Josiah. Take another drink. Buck said.
Buck? Josiah asked with confusion in his voice.
Yeah, drink. Buck commanded.
The ex-preacher sipped the tepid water, and groaned letting his head fall only to raise it again for another sip.
Josiah? Where are the boys? Buck asked repeating Chris question.
Josiahs arm came up covering his face as he tried to roll away from the man holding him. Oh Lord, he groaned as memory assaulted him. This time he forced his eyes open and looked from one frightened man to the other.
It was early morning, I was fixing to cook some breakfast. They come on us so fast. I tried to hold them off, shouted at the boys to run. I think they heard me. I I couldnt get to my guns I must have been hit from behind. Next thing I remember was waking tied here and everyone was gone. Josiah reached up touching his blood encrusted hair.
Who, Josiah? Who rode in? Chris asked with clenched teeth.
Josiah looked around. His eyes finally meeting Chris as he choked out, Indians, five maybe six running a bunch of horses. Comanche, maybe Kiowa, maybe both, Im just not sure. There wasnt time The big mans voice faded as he watched the blonds face.
No. There hasnt been any Indian trouble here in years. I .No ..Vin Chris jumped up looking around desperately hoping against hope that the boys would jump out from behind a bush. Hoping that this was all some kind of nightmare.
Im .Im so sorry Chris I Josiah tried to find something he could say and failed miserably.
Buck ducked his head, taking deep breaths. His heart pounding it hurt so badly. Its alright, Josiah. We know you tried. Well get you fixed up an then well find our boys. Well get them back, if we have to ride to the gates of hell.
Chris walked around, his eyes taking in everything. Unconsciously he would bend down picking up a stray shirt or pair of pants. Everything had been trashed but somehow they managed to find a pair of pants and a shirt and Josiahs boots.
Under some leaves and dirt Chris spotted Vins boots. He gathered them up and held them close. He took a ragged breath and kept looking.
By the time Buck had tended Josiahs wounds Chris had a pitiful pile of what was left of the boys. He stood looking in the direction the tracks lead. Theyll be easy to track with all the horses. Josiah we only got two horses.
Ill be fine, I can make it back to town by tomorrow if I walk all night. Ill get supplies and head back. Just leave a trail, Josiah said.
You dont have to do that. Chris said.
Yeah, I do. Those boys are important to me, too. I I should have taken better care . The guilt pouring out in the mans soft voice.
Dont, Josiah. Its not your fault. Well leave a trail, but we arent holding back, youll have to catch up as best you can. Buck said as he brought the horses over to Chris.
I will catch up with you and Ill spread the word about raiders, too. Josiah stood unsteadily but determined to begin his long walk.
The men parted company with out looking back; Josiah limping toward town and the two determined foster fathers following the trail left by the small herd of horses.
+ + + + + + +
Vins hands clenched the wad of horses mane as tightly as he could. His lips were pressed together to prevent the slightest sound from escaping. He hurt all over. His inner thighs were wet and raw from the constant chafing of the running horse. His back also ached from the unceasing movement. The bare skin of his arms, neck, and face were beginning to tingle from the sunburn. The small blond thought there were thorns in his bare feet but all the different hurts had blended into one long never ending ache until they all receded into a kind of numbness in his mind. He didnt know how long theyd been riding but it felt like forever. He was thirsty, hungry and scared but for some reason he couldnt make himself think of what to do.
Suddenly the horse stopped and he was lifted by the coverall straps and dropped to the ground. Vin landed on his hands and knees gasping at the jarring landing and he waited hoping the blackness in his vision would go away. Taking several deep breaths he finally raised his head and looked around for JD. Spotting the younger boy Vin scrambled toward him on all fours. Reaching out he wrapped his arms around the five year old.
Vin? Came the frightened voice of the younger boy.
Shhh, JD, its okay. Vin said trying to comfort him.
I hurt Vin. Im thirsty and hungry and I want my Buck.
I know, JD, but you gotta be quiet. Vin looked around. The Indians, who were busy taking care of the horses, were ignoring them. Vin watched as they all finally sat down. They didnt build a fire, even though it was getting dark. They didnt eat or get anything to drink. The boy licked his dry lips and waited rocking gently still holding JD.
Ahiga watched, as the older boy seemed to take care of the younger. He was pleased the little blond hadnt cried or complained, as he was trying to comfort the smaller one. The boy had the heart of a warrior of the Principal People. It would be dark soon and they would rest until the full moon had risen, then they would travel again.
The tall warrior rubbed the back of his neck. Someone or something was following them. They must go as soon as the moon rose. He felt the fool for agreeing to lead the young junior warriors on their first horse raid, very possibility their last. Things were changing he could see it. The white man was taking more and more of the land. Their numbers never seemed to shrink while the number of the People became smaller. Their children sickened and died. The mans heart tightened at the thought of his son. The laughing smiling face of the eight year old came to him as it often did, unbidden. His son, his first born, the only one to survive infancy had died the winter before. His wife still grieved, as did he. At first hed been angry at the teens for killing the white man, older more experienced warriors would have just ridden past. But now, with the two little boys, there were more than just horses to bring home.
Ahigas eyes strayed to the two white boys again. Then he studied the horses. They stood, their heads down in exhaustion. But they were good horses and would add to the wealth of the tribe.
They waited for the moon to rise and then catching fresh horses the older warriors threw the sleepy boys on the horse in front of them and they rode, slower than during daylight but steadily. The sun came up and still they rode, stopping only to let the horses rest, change horses and take quick small drinks of water. No one ate, no one spoke, and then they were riding again.
The pain of the raw skin on their legs finally went numb, as did the pain in hungry bellies. Their lips split from the sun and the lack of water. Their tender skin blistered. The day and the ride went on forever and Vin began to think that it would never stop. He couldnt remember a time when he didnt hurt and he wasnt on a running horse. He dozed only to be jerked awake again by the arm around him.
Finally the heat of the sun lessened and the horse stopped. He was lowered to the ground where he lay unmoving then painfully tried to straighten out his cramped legs. He looked around and spotted JD only a few feet away. Slowly he began crawling toward his cousin until he was next to him. JD? He whispered. JD? Are you awake?
The five year old moved, and then rolled over. Vin?
Yeah, its me. Vin sat up and wrapped his arms around the smaller boy. They lay there too tired to move or even talk.
The little blond watched the men build a fire and roast some kind of meat, the smell of the cooking meat making Vins dry mouth water and his stomach growl. He watched as the older man, the one with the big nose brought him a chunk of meat. The man pointed at him, then JD and then the meat. Indicating he was to share the food.
Vin let JD take the first bite and then they took turns taking bites. Then an almost empty skin of water was tossed at them and they drank. With something in his belly the smaller boy curled up and fell asleep.
The older boy watched over him and kept a wary eye on the others. Finally he could wait no longer and had to leave the other boy and head to the bushes. Dohasan whose name meant Little Bluff watched as the boy left. He smiled and getting a stick from the fire he went to where JD lay. Taking the stick he poked at JDs bare feet. At first the small boy simply pulled his feet back still asleep. Not getting the reaction he wanted, the 12 year old poked harder, this time getting a sharp squeak from his victim. He kept poking at the boy not letting him get away from the offending stick.
JD looked around frantically for Vin. Not seeing the other boy his heart jumped and started beating faster. No, dont. Get away. Stop. Please stop. Vinnnnnn! The five year old screamed.
The older men and the junior warriors watched not stopping Dohasan but waiting to see what would happen. They werent prepared for the cyclone that came running back at the smaller boys scream. Vin stopped long enough to pick up a bat sized stick and running up behind Dohasan he drew back and hit the larger boy as hard as he could on the back.
Dohasan turned with a growl and struck at Vin. The eight year old stuck again numbing the older boys hand and causing him to drop his stick. Taking advantage of Little Bluffs confusion Vin jumped him with fist and teeth and feet. Fighting with everything he had and was soon joined by JD.
The older teens started cat calling and making derisive remarks about Dohasans inability to even make a warrior, much less subdue the two small boys. Finally Ahiga and Vohkinne pulled the smaller boys off the larger one. Stop. It is done. Ahiga commanded. Little Bluff, go sit with the others.
He sat Vin down, //Stay here, little warrior, there will be no more fighting.// Knowing the boy didnt understand his words he used hand signs telling the boy to sit.
Vohkinne nodded and said. //Little boy, sit.// He sat JD down beside Vin.
Again Ahiga spoke, //Sleep.// And he made the hand sign.
Vin watched suspiciously as they walked away, back to the other side of the fire. But it didnt take long for exhaustion to overtake the fear and the two boys slept. Vin wrapped his arms protectively around the smaller boy.
+ + + + + + +
Before sunrise they were riding again, stopping only to switch horses or to drink. Never long enough to really rest. The boys didnt really notice the older teens harsh teasing of the younger one about being bested by a small white boy. No one noticed the growing anger seething underneath the calm surface the boy tried to show. He would pay the little white back for making him the butt of the older teens jokes.
They stopped in the early afternoon. The two boys huddled together wondering what would happen now. Ahiga and Vohkinne talked quietly.
We are being followed. Ahiga stated.
By who? Perhaps the whites that claim the horses?
Ahiga whos name meant He Fights looked back down the trail theyd made. I dont know, perhaps it is those who seek the boys. He stopped and thought for long minutes. I think we should split up. You take Wind, and Horny Toad. I will keep Little Bluff and Antelope. I will also keep the older boy. I wish to take him to my wife to perhaps ease her sorrow.
Vohkinne nodded. Its a good plan, we will take most of the horses and I will gladly take the little boy. I like him, he does not cry as most little ones would.
Ahiga nodded, It is good. But we must do it quickly; they will fight when we separate them. We will meet again at the high summer camp. By then they will be true Kiowa and not need each other so much.
It is good. Vohkinne said. Turning to speak to the others. The older boys went to cut out their share of the horses and started herding them toward the east. The roman nosed warrior leading his horse walked quickly over to the boys and snatching the smaller one, jumped on his horse and rode away at a gallop.
JD had no chance to protest or struggle until it was too late. Vinnnn! He cried and screamed fighting the man that held him. But soon his calls turned into sobs, as he could no longer see his cousin.
Vin jumped up and ran after the running horse. JD!! He screamed as he ran but he took no more than a few running steps before Little Bluff grabbed him and pulled him to a stop. Turning like a wildcat he swung his fist. Only this time Little Bluff was ready for a fight. He took the rawhide quirt looped around his wrist and lashed out. Vins raised arm partially protected his face. But over and over the strap hit Vin until he stopped fighting and falling to the ground he curled into a tight ball, wrapping his arms around his head. His little body shuttered at each strike of the fury fueled quirt. Not once did he cry out as the whip stuck. Ahiga quickly walked over to the older boy grabbing him by the up lifted arm and turning him. ENOUGH! GO! Help Antelope with the horses.
He Fights waited until the boy was gone and then knelt down beside the white boy. With a gentleness that his painted face belied he lifted the trembling boy and taking his knife he cut the straps of the overalls and pulled them off flinging them away from him. He frowned at the red marks along the boys arms shoulders, face, and back. There was a thin line of blood across one cheekbone from the top of his ear to the corner of the mouth. Picking the unresisting child up he carried him over to where the water was. The warrior tenderly washed the red strips, trying to see how injured the boy was. He was startled to see evidenced of old beatings in the form of silver scars running crisscross under the fresh marks.
The boy made no sound and He Fights could see the tears shining on the eyelashes of the tightly closed eyes. The sad man could feel Vins heart racing.
Little Bluff, come here. He called.
The boy went over. He Fights pointed to the small boys back. Do you see these? Do you know what they are?
Yes, scars, from beatings. They are old; he was very young when he got them. The whites beat their children. But the Principal People never hurt a child not like that. You have been acting as the whites do. We are better than them we are the Principal People. We do not beat small children in anger. You have shamed your tribe with your actions and proven you are but a child yourself and too young to come with warriors. He knew his words were harsh but his brothers son must not behave in such a way.
Little Bluff hung his head. Hed let his anger get the best of him and he was sorry. He hated the look of disappointment he saw in his uncles eyes. Nodding, he turned away and jumping on his pony he went to help with the remaining horses.
Vin listened to them talk and he flinched every time he was touched but he tried not to move. Let them think he was helpless, and then they would begin to ignore him. Over and over he heard his aunts voice telling him to take care of JD. Hed failed, theyd been separated and he had no idea if hed ever see JD again. He was no good, worthless just like the people at the orphanage said. He deserved the beatings he got. Now he was all by himself. Mr. Josiah was dead, and Mr. Chris and Mr. Buck were lost to him as was JD. Nothing mattered anymore.
+ + + + + + +
Vin sat very still on the horse peeking out from under his eyelashes. If he could pretend to be asleep until they stopped theyd just lay him down and when they werent watching he could take off. He could run faster by himself than if he were taking JD with him. Hed run away and find JD and get them both home.
Hed made a promise to his aunt and he intended to keep it. He concentrated on staying limp as they rode. As he thought they stopped to rest the horses and the Indian laid him down under a bush in the shade. He lay very still and listened to the people around him. They stayed close at first and then wandered off to do other things.
Vin peeked out with out opening his eyes too much. He was alone. He rolled over and looked around the other way. No one was watching him. Slowly and quietly as he could he crept away staying low. Stopping often to make sure no one noticed him moving. Once he had the bushes between himself and the others he carefully got up from a crouch and started running back the way theyd come. Vin tried to pace his run so he wouldnt tire too quickly. He thought hed made it until he heard the shouts. Then he ran harder and kept running until he felt his lungs would burst. Not daring to look back he ran faster. He could hear the pounding of the horses hooves coming upon him. He poured out his last burst of speed but it did no good. He felt the horse beside him and the fingers twine in his long hair and jerk him up.
The pain of being lifted by his hair brought a yelp from him. He Fights threw the boy across the withers of the horse and turned back. Pulling the horse to a stop He Fights jumped off the animal and dragged Vin after him. Pulling the boy behind him he dug out a long leather thong. The warrior first tied the thong around Vins neck and then the boys wrists. Once he was finished he pushed the boy down. The warrior was angry not at the boy but at himself for being fooled. It wouldnt happen again. The boy was much more clever than hed thought. The man walked away keeping the other end of the line in his hand. If Vin tried to move or chew on the rawhide he jerked it tight and said //No.//
Once the boy was sitting quietly He Fights gave him a piece of jerky. Then making a show of it he tied the other end of the leather strap to his own wrist. This was so that he could feel it if Vin tried to move away.
Vin was lifted onto the back of a big black. The older warrior jumped on behind him. They rode most of the night. Not at the neck breaking pace theyd been going at but still traveling mile after mile further away from home and JD.
Vin felt the tears gathering behind his eyes. He desperately wanted Mr. Chris and JD and to be home. But he wasnt. He couldnt think of them, not now, he couldnt cry. Crying was a sign of weakness and you got hurt if you were weak. Blinking hard he refused to be weak. He refused to think of Chris, Buck and the others. This time he refused to think of how hed failed JD and his aunt. It was just so much easier not to think of them at all.
+ + + + + + +
The two men rode hard. They stopped only to save their horses, they ate only so they could keep going. When it got too dark to continue they sat in tense silence until exhaustion forced them to sleep. Then the sleep was light and night mare filled. So that when they woke each felt it would have been better not to have slept at all.
By the third day Pony and Darlin were showing the strain of the constant traveling. When Pony stumbled and almost fell to his knees for the third time Chris finally called a halt. They found some good grazing and water and were determined to stay at least most of the night.
Building a small smokeless fire they waited for night. In the stillness they heard horses.
Then Hello the camp. Heads shot up.
Josiah? What the hell are you doing here? Chris called out.
Josiah came in his big horse blowing hard. We drew straws, I won. I brought a pack horse and extra mounts. He said as he got down.
Chris nodded. It was Buck who answered. Thanks Josiah, we need them. Are you okay?
Ill do, Buck. The ex-preacher said not really answering Buck. Then the big man looked Chris in the eye. I have to come with you. I have to help get those boys back.
Chris clenched his jaw and then nodded. We can use the help, was all he said.
The next day:
Buck crouched down and traced the tiny footprint with his finger. His heart clenched, as he thought, Oh, JD .
But his blood was chilled to the bone when he heard the barely audible moan from the man a few feet away.
He glanced up and saw Chris almost bent double clinching something. Chris? Buck questioned as he rushed over to his friend. Chris, what is it? Then he saw held tightly in the blonds hands a pair of coveralls. The straps were sliced apart and they were torn and stained. Chris held them close to his chest and the agony on his face was pure and raw.
Chris? Buck said again.
Anguish filled eyes looked up at Buck. Theyre Vins. We just patched the knees last week. His rough fingers ran over the fabric smoothing them out.
Buck looked away from such raw pain. Swallowing and looking at the horizon he said. They split up, Pard. One group went north an the other went East. That way. He pointed with his chin at the hoof prints in front of them. I think the boys are with this group. Finding the coveralls here points in that direction. We gotta keep riding theyre three maybe four days ahead of us.
Chris folded the cloth into a small wad and standing looked in the same direction. Then we ride. We cant lose the trail.
Josiah brought the horses over and they rode. He was the only one that looked at the building clouds. If it rained the trail would be lost. Please, Lord, we need dry land to find those boys quickly. But with the first blast of thunder he knew the answer to his prayer was no. Still they kept riding even after the rain started, even as the dusty hoof prints disappeared, even as the ground turned to mud and dirty water where the dirt was so dry it wouldnt soak up the needed moisture.
Finally dripping wet, night making it next to impossible to see they stopped and huddled down on the lea side of their mounts, both men and animals miserable; each man trapped in his own dark thoughts that centered on the two small boys they searched for.
At last the rain eased and the waning moon peeked out between rushing clouds. Josiah stood with a groan and walking around looked for dry fire starter. What he found was wet but eventually between the three of them they found several dry rats nests and small wood that would light and burn long enough to dry and burn larger pieces. While he built the fire Chris and Buck unsaddled their horses and picketed them to graze.
Coming back to the fire Josiah handed them each a cup of hot coffee. Chris took a sip and then digging into his saddlebags brought out a whisky bottle. He poured a generous amount into his coffee.
You plan on sharing that, Pard? Buck asked holding out his cup.
Without a word Chris poured some into Bucks and then Josiahs cup. No one spoke for a long time. When day light was bright enough to see they looked around.
The faint trail theyd been following was gone. The rain washed away all trace of prints in the dirt and even the broken twigs and mesquite branches were gone or beaten down by the rain.
What now? Buck almost choked as he whispered.
Chris jerked around at the sound of his voice. Are you saying we should give up?
No. Never. Ill look for JD and Vin if it takes the rest of my life. I just I dont . Im not sure how to start now. His eyes swept he horizon taking in the empty vastness of the flat land.
Chris opened his mouth and then closed it. With no trail to follow there was no place to start. They wouldnt know if the Indians had changed directions or kept going. There had been no camps, no fires or burnt wood to see as they followed. The only thing had been the trail left by the horses and now that was gone.
Id suggest that we go in the same direction we were. I have an idea, which will perhaps allow us to travel in and out of many camps freely. But first we need to find a town and purchase supplies.
What you got in mind, Josiah? Buck asked.
We get trading supplies, a wagon, some stock. We become traders and visit the different camps. We cant ask outright about the boys but we can look for them without risking losing our hair. Once we develop a reputation of being fair and having good things tongues around us will loosen and perhaps we will find information on who has the boys that way.
How are we supposed to finance this? A wagon full of trade goods dont come cheap. Chris said.
Ezra handed me this when I left. Josiah pulled a wad of cash showing the other two. He told me to use it to get the boys back. He also instructed me to wire him if we need more money and with news, any news.
We cant use his money, Josiah. Chris said softly touched by the gamblers caring and unusual generosity.
We all love those little boys, Chris. Theres not one of us that wouldnt do anything to get them back. Nathan and Ezra stayed in Four Corners to watch the town and your ranch, so when we do find them we have something to come home to. But theyd prefer to be here. This is their way of helping. We are all in this not just you two. No matter how long it takes. Josiah stared at first Chris and then Buck and repeated, We are all in this together.
Chris finally nodded, Lets ride.
Buck shrugged, Thanks, Josiah, I .. But he couldnt think of anything else to say.
+ + + + + + +
The three white men rode into yet another camp. Chris and Buck rode beside the small wagon that Josiah drove. Restless green and dark blue eyes searched out everyone in the camp.
Josiah stopped the wagon and getting down waited for the leader to come forward. The others dismounted and stood back waiting, too.
It had become a familiar routine over the last few weeks. Letting Josiah do the talking and taking the lead while the other two stood back watching and guarding. When an older man stepped forward Josiah spoke.
Greetings. We are traders and bring goods. We wish to trade with the People here. Josiah said in a mix of English, Spanish, Kiowa and sign language used by all the tribes.
The man looked at the hard warriors standing beside the talking one. He nodded, What is it you bring?
Pots, clothes, knives, blankets, and horses, beads, and other things to make your women happy and you also.
Guns? Firewater? The man asked.
No we bring only things of peace. Josiah answered.
The man nodded. It is good. Over there is a good place. He pointed to an area slightly away from the circle of lodges.
Thank you, brother. Josiah turned and taking the lead led the horses hitched to the wagon over. The others quietly helped him set up the goods and then waited.
At first no one came. Then one or two came and looked over the goods and traded furs and stones for the goods Josiah had. When they saw that Josiah was a fair and generous trader the others came. Chris and Buck stood back watching as the children came out.
They stayed for two days and then when the trading was done the men packed up and left. Defeat not showing until they were out of sight. Each handled their disappointment differently. Josiah prayed, and planned for the next time. Buck looked for comfort in the arms of willing women in the next town. Chris drank. Never enough to lose control but he kept trying to dull the sharp edge of his pain at not finding Vin.
On they searched, from town to town, fort to fort and village to village. Occasional short wires were sent to Ezra and Nathan each reporting their failure in finding the boys. Spring turned to summer and then late summer.
Vohkinne, whose name meant Roman Nose was tired. Theyd ridden hard for a week now and his bones were feeling it. The small boy that rode in front of him was a burden also. He hadnt spoken since the day hed been separated from the other boy. He even cried silently. Perhaps Corn Woman would know what to do. She knew about small boys and she knew about captives.
His eyes searched for the old woman out as they rode into camp. She was coming out of her lodge. Thin as a rail, her hair beginning to turn gray, she was still strong and considered the wise woman of their clan. She was a force to be reckoned with.
She stood waiting for the big bay to stop. I have brought you a new son for your old age Corn Woman. Roman Nose said as he handed the small body down to her.
She reached up taking the small child making tishing sounds. The boy unconsciously turned to her and wrapped his arms around her neck. She took him inside and laid him down on the pile of soft robes. She spoke softly as she examined the tiny body. She knew he wouldnt understand her words but hoped her tone of voice would comfort him. //Oh, little one, look at you, so small and your skin has been kissed by the sun too much. I will oil you soon and youll fell much better. Such fine dark hair, it wouldnt be very long before we can make nice thick braids and you become a true son of the Principal People.//
//You dont look very old, four or five maybe, just a baby really. Are you hungry?// The question was rhetorical she knew he would be. His skin was dry and peeling; his lips cracked. His dark eyes watched her but didnt react to what she was saying or doing. His stomach was sunk in from not eating properly.
She left him lying long enough to get a small bowl of stew from the pot over the fire. Setting it down she picked JD up settling him in her lap and offering him some rich broth from a carved spoon. She pressed the spoon lightly against his lips and was relieved when his mouth opened and she carefully poured it in.
The boy swallowed and looking up at her in wonder opened his mouth for more. Corn Woman fed him a small amount and then offered him some water.
JD drank the water but didnt protest when no more broth followed. Taking a pot of rich oil she began rubbing it into the boys skin. As she did she sang to him softly. The rich emollient felt good easing the tightness and itching of his skin. Before Corn Woman was finished his eyes drifted shut in sleep.
The old woman smiled and sat by the boy waiting for her son. When Roman Nose came inside she served him and waited until he was finished eating. I thought you went after horses not small children.
The man grunted. It was only horses. But we rode upon a man and two boys at a water hole. It seemed the thing to do. Your nephews did well. They left the man to die in the sun and we took the boys. But we were followed. At least, He Fights thinks we were. We split up to confuse those that followed and will meet again at high summer camp.
Corn Woman nodded. The other boy, he was older?
Yes, some not much. He protected the little one even against Little Bluff even though Little Bluff was much bigger.. That one is a true warrior. He fought Little Bluff even though hes twice the little ones size. This one joined in the fight, too. Roman Nose smiled at the memory of the fight.
It is good. I will take care of this little one, the old woman said.
+ + + + + + +
JD opened his eyes. It was dark but he could see a fire. He was inside; he turned his head looking around. He watched, thumb in mouth, the Indian woman bend over the pot on the fire and stir something. His stomach growled loudly. She turned and smiled at him.
Hello. JD said around his thumb.
//Hello, little one.// She said bringing him a bowl.
JD looked into it.
//Eat.// JD repeated the word and took a bite. It was good and his mouth watered for more.
The woman nodded, //Good, eat.//
JD ate everything and smiled then feeling some distress he looked around. I have to go he whispered.
Corn Woman stood and taking the boys hand led him outside to a place away from the lodge.
Pointing, she said, //Go.//
JD gratefully went behind the bush. When he came back and reached for the old womans hand she led him over to where three other boys played. These boys were about the same age as JD.
//Fox, Blackbird and Sparrow, this is your new brother. He doesnt know the language of the People yet so you must help him learn and gently teach him our ways.//
//Yes, Grandmother// the boys answered, looking curiously at the boy. They reached for his hand.
The little brunet pulled back and stepped behind Corn Womans skirt. //Its all right, little one. They wont hurt you.// Corn Woman gently pushed the small boy toward the others.
She watched as the other boys took JD with them. Being young and resilient the boy was soon running and playing, calling in a combination of English, Spanish and newly learned Kiowa.
The older woman smiled as she worked. It would not take long for the boy to forget hed ever lived anywhere but with the People. But that night her confidence was shaken. The same thing was repeated night after night.
The boy chatted the whole time never seeming to breathe or to mind that most of what he said was not understood. Corn Woman frowned as over and over the same white word kept showing up in his speech. She didnt recognize it mybuck, what did mybuck mean? The boy kept saying it over and over, especially when he was tired and ready to sleep.
He would hug the old woman and laying down he would begin talking again in a mixture of languages. Good night, Corn Woman. When mybuck comes for me Ill tell him how nice you are. Mybuck likes nice ladies.
Who is mybuck? She asked on several occasions. All she got was a shrug from the boy. Finally she went to one of the younger women and asked. What does the white word mybuck mean?
Mybuck? Are you sure youre hearing it right?
I think so. The boy keeps saying mybuck and that hell come for him. Or the boy will tell mybuck things. When I ask him who mybuck is he just shrugs or says I dont know.
The other woman thought for a few minutes. Im not sure. My means mine but buck is a white word for a male deer. Perhaps Could one so young have such a one as his Spirit Guide?
Corn Woman shook her head. I dont know. Its not common for one so young. I think we must just wait and see.
+ + + + + + +
Late one night after JD had fallen asleep Roman Nose sat watching his mother. She finally spoke. Ive a name for the boy.
Oh, what? The man asked.
She smiled. Mojag, Never Silent. The boy talks all the time even in his sleep.
Ho, it is a good name for him.
+ + + + + + +
Corn Woman was gathering greens for the evening meal. Fresh lambs quarters would be good with the fresh antelope Roman Nose had brought. She paused at the movement among the greens. Looking to make sure it wasnt a snake, she saw rising up on his long hind legs was a jackrabbit. Its ears turned catching any sound and its nose twitched. Greetings, Corn Woman. It said.
You have a new addition to your lodge. The Rabbit said.
Yes, Never Silent. My son took him on a horse raid.
Yes. This boy, he has another destiny, one not among the Principal People, he and six others. You will know when it is time for him to leave. Teach him well, Corn Woman, so he will remember the goodness of the Principal People even when he is old. The rabbit twitched his ears and nose again and turning ran away.
Corn Woman sat stunned by the words of her Spirit Guide. The boy had in such a short time won her heart. It would be so hard to lose him. It was not something the People did, peacefully give up adopted members of the tribe. But she had learned in her many years that life was much less stressful if she listened and learned from the Spirits.
Teach him. Teach him of the People, that she could do.
Later that day she was once again trying to braid the thick black hair of the boy. Your hair is almost long enough Never Silent. Soon you will have long thick braids like Fox.
Is that good? The boy asked.
Oh yes. A warrior has long thick braids. She said smiling at the boy.
Vins hair is much longer than mine. His hair is in braids already I bet.
Vin? she asked.
Vins my cousin. He...he stayed with the others before I came here. I miss him. Big tears filled the boys eyes.
Hush now. We will join the others of our tribe when the leaves start to turn gold. You will see him then. He will have a new name then as you do.
Good, then when mybuck comes hell find us both. JD said as he leaned against the grandmotherly woman.
+ + + + + + +
The little boys were playing a rough and tumble game of chase and hide and seek. Running between lodges and dodging dogs, horses and adults with ease. Suddenly Blackbird stopped and the other two ran into him. Look! he said pointing with his chin.
The other boys all stood and looked in the direction Blackbird was looking. They could barely see over the top of the adults a wagon top and hats. JD frowned.
Come on. Lets go see whats going on, said Fox.
Were not supposed to show ourselves when strangers come into camp, said Sparrow.
They look like traders. See, all the horses. Lets go see what they have. Blackbird said and led the others toward the wagon.
JD felt knots growing in his stomach as he neared the wagon. They were coming from behind the wagon where the horses were tied. Then two of the mares and their colts moved and he saw the big gray horse. His eyes grew huge as he saw the big man standing beside the horse. He could see the profile as the man turned his head. JD gasped and before he could think he was screaming. MY BUCK. ITS MY BUCK! Hes come for me. JD was running as he shouted and he threw himself at the astonished man.
Buck could do nothing except catch the hurling, little brown body. Hearing over and over My Buck, you came for me my Buck.
JD? Buck finally strangled out. He felt two tiny hands on his face. He looked at the boy. The hair was greased down into two short braids and the skin was browned from the sun but it was JD. His arms tightened around the small, bare body as he held it close. JD buried his face in Bucks neck. Oh, Buck, I knew youd come.
Then just as suddenly JD was twisting free and looking around. //Corn Woman? Corn Woman this is my Buck.// Buck, this is Cholena she takes care of me.
Buck looked at the older Indian woman standing before him. He reached up and taking off his hat said. Im grateful to you, maam, for taking care of my little boy.
Corn Woman watched the tall, white man. The way hed held Never Silent. The way he looked at her. Shed seen many white men take their hats off when speaking to white women. But never had one taken his hat off to a woman of the People. She knew this was some white sign of respect. She listened to his voice catching only a few of the words but hearing the kindness and respect and lingering sadness in his voice. //Never Silent, you said mybuck wasnt your father.//
//Hes not, Corn Woman. Him and Chris took me and Vin in when we came west on the umm train..umm..iron horse.//
Corn Woman looked back at the tall man. Then she became aware of the others. She looked around at the angry warriors and at the other two white men. One reminded her of a black thundercloud and the other was stepping forward and clearing his throat to speak. He felt like a shaman.
Josiah looked from face to face as the reunion was played out between JD, Buck and the old woman. The tension needed to be defused and quickly before blood was spilt. With a deep breath and a silent prayer pleading for help Josiah began speaking in a mix of sign, Spanish, English and Kiowa.
The Spirits have guided us here and truly blessed us today. We had lost one of our own and feared hed perished in the wilderness. But here he is, healthy and whole. You are truly a great People to have found a small boy alone and not of your tribe and taken him in and cared for him. We are grateful beyond words and offer in gratitude any of our trade goods. We realize that this can not repay you for your kindness but will only be a symbol of our gratitude.
Josiah waited for some sign that his little bullshit speech would be accepted. That even though they all knew the truth they would accept this version of what happened, to save face. Chris stood seemingly relaxed but his hand rested near his pistol. Buck stood loose limbed but picking up JD shifted him to his left side to free his gun hand.
Josiah looked at each of the five adult warriors. He was sure that they could take them but women and many children who would be caught in the crossfire surrounded them. A blood bath was not what he wanted.
Corn Woman, with the privilege of old age and being the matriarch of this clan stepped forward. The words of her Spirit Guide echoing in her head You will know when it is time for him to leave
Never Silent has become much loved in our lodges. Yet I have been told it is his destiny to leave us. While mere things cannot take his place I see now he truly belongs with mybuck.
The other adults were stunned at this. Captives were never returned willingly. Yet Corn Woman was doing just that. The only clue to her thinking was her veiled reference to being told to do this. The shades of meaning to the words used implying a mystical reason.
Corn Woman looked over the goods spread out and then took the lead rope to a bay mare and her colt. She led the horse away, leaving room for the others to pick and chose.
Josiah, Chris and Buck watched quietly as each member of the camp took something from the trade goods. Buck held JD tightly throughout the afternoon. For once the small boy was content to stay in Bucks arms. At last everyone was gone and Josiah and Chris loaded what was left into the wagon. With no one around Buck asked quietly JD, is Vin here?
No. He was left behind with some others before we came here. But were suppose to meet up with him when the leaves turn gold. JD said, still mixing his languages.
Buck looked over at Chris. If the gunslinger heard he didnt let on.
As they were about to ride away the old woman appeared. She carried a small bundle and handed it to Buck. These are Never Silents things. Then she turned to the little boy.
I will miss you, Never Silent. You brought sunshine into my lodge, she said.
JD reached out and hugged the woman. I love you, Corn Woman. But I gotta go with my Buck. He needs me.
The woman smiled at the boy. Yes, I see that. Do not forget, Never Silent, what you have learned of the People.
I wont, I promise. Then the tearful boy turned to the man and raised his arms.
Buck picked the boy up and holding him tight said, Thank you, to the woman trying to show all his heartfelt gratitude in his eyes and voice.
The older woman nodded once and turned and hurriedly walked away.
Lets get out of here while we still can, Chris said.
They rode in silence for hours. Not rushing but anxious to get as far away from the Indian camp as possible. Buck held onto the small body sitting in front of him. He was relishing the feel of him after all these weeks. To finally find his boy and be able to hold him brought such joy. But his joy was tempered with the disappointment of not finding Vin.
Finally as the new moon began to set Chris called a halt. The three men quickly set up camp, building a small fire and cooking something to eat. Buck had laid the sleeping JD on the pile of trade blankets in the wagon. He could hardly stand to walk away, the over whelming need to have the boy in his sight hard to fight.
Chris sat stabbing at the chunk of fried tater. One good thing about traveling with the wagon was better grub. That is if he could eat. Every bite he took seemed to swell and choke him. He waited for JD to wake up so he could find out about Vin.
JD woke and didnt know where he was. Cholena? he whispered. When he got no answer he felt his way out of the dark. He could see the flickering of fire light at the end. When he reached what turned out to be the tailgate of a wagon he looked out. There he saw Buck and scrambled off the wagon he ran over to the mustached man.
Buck saw the little boy running to him. Well, hey, Little Bit. You have a good sleep?
JD looked up at his hero trying to decipher what Buck was saying. He nodded yes hoping that was the right answer. Words hed once known sounded strange and odd to him now.
Hungry? Buck held out a spoon full of potatoes and beans.
Again JD nodded yes and took a step closer to take the bite. He chewed and smiled up at Buck. The man fed him another spoon full and looked over his son critically. Well, JD, the first thing we gotta do is get you a bath, some clothes and a hair cut.
JD looked up from the plate. This time it was easier to understand Buck. Why? he asked.
Why what JD? Buck asked puzzled.
Why a bath, why clothes, why cut my hair? Cholena says real warriors have long thick braids. The little boy said in one breath.
Bucks mouth opened in astonishment. Um, well, people just have to wear clothes.
Cause you cant run around naked thats why, the frustration beginning to show in the mans voice.
Why? It feels good and I like it. Dont have to worry bout tearing nothing or getting anything dirty. JD countered.
Folks wont like it, JD. Well make a deal. You wear clothes when theres other folk around but when its just us, you dont have to unless you want to. Okay?
JD chewed some more beans and potatoes before saying, Okay.
A voice from behind called, JD?
The small boy spun around startled and backed up closer to Buck
JD its just me, Chris. He hadnt meant to startle the boy.
Buck put his arms around the boy. Hey, Little Bit, its just ol Chris, aint nothing to be afraid of.
JD grabbed Bucks hand and held on tight.
JD, wheres Vin? Chris could wait no longer.
Dont know. JD said.
Please JD. Chris almost begged.
Dont know. He stayed with the others.
Others? Chris asked puzzled.
The big boy that hurted us an then Vohkinne tooked me away. Vin stayed with Ahiga an the others. The boy said.
Chris clenched his hands into fists and tried to control his voice. Where did they go JD?
Dont know I said. Wes supposed to see them when the leaves turn gold. Dont know where. Only now I wont be there. Anger and then distress filled the childs voice. Spinning around he looked at Buck, I wont get to see Vin now.
Sure you will, Little Bit. Well keep looking til we find him, just like we found you, Buck looked up at Chris. Well keep looking as long as it takes.
Chris stared at his long time friend and abruptly got up and left.
Josiah came back from checking the horses. Getting a plate he sat down Next town we gotta stock up. I need to send a wire to Ezra, too.
JD watched the big man sit down and start to eat. He inched away from the shelter of Bucks arms as he stared. Mr. Josiah?
You aint dead? the boy asked.
Suppressing a smile the big man said, No, JD, Im not dead.
The boy thought on it a minute, Vohkinne said you were dead. Dohasan laughed an he had your thingy. JD gestured around his neck.
The boy nodded.
I suppose they took that but Im not dead, JD, Ive been helping Buck and Chris look for you and Vin. Josiah reassured.
JD stood on one foot and then the other, and then he hesitantly reached out and touched Josiahs hand. Feeling solid warm flesh he smiled. Im glad you aint dead Mr. Josiah.
Im glad I aint dead either, the big man said with a laugh.
+ + + + + + +
Chris stalked to the front of the wagon out of sight of the others and pulled out the bottle. Taking it he went into the darkness. He truly was glad theyd found JD. But he ached so bad he thought hed die. Vin wasnt there. Vin had never been there. Vin had gone with the group that had headed north. The group they hadnt followed.
He opened the bottle and drank long and deep. Where is he? Is he even alive? No, he had to be alive. Id know if he wasnt. I couldnt take it if he wasnt. Oh, God, Vin I will find you son. Somehow.
+ + + + + + +
JD was so bored. He was so tired of riding in the wagon even though Buck and Josiah had made him a bed/pallet of blankets where he could ride and play. Chris had even carved him some animals to play with, which was strange because Chris hardly ever talked to the boy or stayed around him anymore. But still after days and days he was bored.
The small boy crawled to the back of the wagon and sticking his head out he looked for Buck. BUCK! Can I ride with you? he called to the dark man.
The mustached man reined the gray over to the back of the wagon. Whats wrong, Little Bit? he asked.
Im tired a riding in the wagon. I cant see nothing. Can I ride with you? Ill be good. JD begged.
Buck smiled, Sure. Hey, Josiah, hold up a minute. He shouted to the older man.
He moved his horse close as he could to the wagon and reached out.
JD stood and holding on to the canvas rope he balanced on the edge of the tail gate and launched himself confident Buck would catch him.
Buck took the warm body and sat the boy in front of him in the saddle. Comfy? he asked.
Go on, Josiah.
Yep. JD looked around at everything for a while and then leaned back against the strong man. The little brunet chewed his lip and picked at the lacing in the saddle horn. Buck glanced down, Something troubling, you Little Bit?
JD sighed. I been thinkin.
Oh, that explains the smoke coming out your ears.
The man chuckled. Okay, what have you been thinkin about?
Well, ummm when we come on the orphan train we was spose to get a new Mama and Papa. Only me and Vin gots you and Mr. Chris.
Are you unhappy about that, JD?
No. I like you better than anyone but .
But? The man prompted.
But Is wonderin, well, Mama called her papa Da. Hes from somewhere called the Ol Country an Mama said thats what papas are called there. An since youre kinda like my papa, Is wondering if I could call you Da? JD said it all in one rush of words.
Buck cleared the lump from his throat. I think that would be mighty fine, if you called me Da.
The little boy turned looking up at the man he adored. Really?
Buck smiled down at him. Really.
The big mans heart swelled and burst at the sound of the word.