Authors: Rosanne Bittner
Zeke let out a war whoop and charged after the two men, who began riding off, afraid now for their own lives and not caring to stick around and have it out with the Indian. Wolf’s Blood merely laughed at the entertainment as Zeke rode down hard on one of the hunters, taking out his wicked knife and slashing out when he got close enough, ripping the blade through the man’s neck with one mighty swipe and half cutting off the man’s head. The man fell, his hand on a handgun he had been unable to get from its holster in his fright.
The fourth man whirled and managed to fire his Sharp’s rifle. A glancing blow to Zeke’s upper left arm only tore his robe and the buckskin shirt beneath it, grazing the skin, but its force literally whirled Zeke’s body, making his horse whirl with him. The animal stumbled and went down, taking Zeke with it. Wolf’s
Blood saw his father go down, and his heart pounded with dread as he headed his own horse toward the confrontation, but before he got there Zeke was on his feet, too far from where his rifle had fallen to reach it before the fourth man started to fire again. Zeke saw the rifle barrel in that quick second and he dove away as the gun boomed again. He rolled to the front legs of the man’s horse and quickly rose up before the man realized Zeke was right underneath him.
Zeke reached up and literally yanked the rifle from the man’s hands, pulling the man down from the horse when he tried to hang on to the weapon. When the man was on the ground, Zeke tossed the rifle aside and stood there knife in hand, panting and grinning. The man froze and stared up at Zeke.
“Get on your feet, white scum!” Zeke growled as Wolf’s Blood rode up beside him.
“Father, are you all right?” the boy asked anxiously.
“I’m just fine,” Zeke hissed, his eyes on the buffalo hunter. “But this man won’t be for long!”
Wolf’s Blood backed off as Zeke held his arms out to his sides in a menacing stance, the big, ugly blade still gripped tightly.
“I… I don’t want no quarrel with you, Injun!” the hunter pleaded, slowly getting to his feet.
“That’s too bad, you smelly bastard!” Zeke rumbled. “Because I have a quarrel with you! The last few days have made me damned angry and I’m not about to leave you alive now to run to the soldiers and tell them who killed your friends! You can go for your gun and die like a man, or you can just stand there and die like a woman! I’ll make it easier for you. I’ll put my knife back in its sheath!” He shoved the knife into its holder and grinned at the hunter.
The man swallowed and backed up. “Look, I… I
won’t say nothin’.”
“Like hell you won’t! Go for your gun, you boy-loving son of a bitch!”
Sweat poured from the buffalo hunter’s face in spite of the cold, and there was a long moment of stand-off before he finally decided the Indian was going to kill him so he’d best try to save his own hide. He went for his gun, but Zeke Monroe’s reputation with a knife was well earned. Faster than the hunter could draw and fire, Zeke’s knife was out and thrown. It landed with a thump in the man’s heart. The hunter staggered backward, his eyes wide with horror. Then he slumped to the ground, his eyes still wide and staring.
Zeke stepped forward and yanked out the blade. It had been a long time since he’d had the pleasure of ripping a deserving man from throat to belly. The vision of these men touching his son, and of their killing not just buffalo but Indians, was all the fuel he needed. The big blade tore through the man’s torso. Then the Indian in Zeke came to the forefront, and he reached down and grasped the man’s long blond hair, deftly cutting off a section of scalp.
He turned and held up the scalp to Wolf’s Blood. “Put that in your belt and take it north with you,” he told the boy, his voice still hot with anger. “Tell my brother Swift Arrow that your father is still not and never will be totally white, and that at least four buffalo hunters will not live to kill buffalo or Indians again!”
Wolf’s Blood took the piece of hair and held it up, letting out a war whoop while Zeke removed a small hatchet from his gear. He took the tool and used it to chop up and destroy the hunters’ Big Fifties. Perhaps it was only a small ripple in a large lake of more hunters to come, but he had done what he could for the time
being. He shoved the hatchet back into his gear and slid up onto his horse with ease, feeling a hot sting in his left arm where the bullet had fallen short of felling its target.
“Let’s go home!” he told Wolf’s Blood. “We’ll head down and follow the Arkansas for a ways, keeping to the water so if anyone comes upon these bodies and tries to follow, they’ll lose our trail. Let the soldiers and settlers wonder who did this.” He rode up next to his son. “One good thing about being out here away from the towns is a man can still get away with self-defense without getting hung for it. I’m afraid that won’t last forever either, son. This damned open territory is getting more and more settled all the time.”
“We should leave quickly then, Father. Perhaps, if we are lucky the vultures and wolves will take care of the flesh so that anyone who finds them won’t even know who they are.” He tied the scalp into his horse’s mane. “I would have helped you, Father, if I’d thought you were in trouble. But I have seen you fight before. I was not too worried.”
Their eyes met and they both laughed lightly. It had been a good day after all. They urged their mounts into a gentle gait and faded into the hazy morning horizon.
Abbie curried down her favorite Appaloosa, after taking an afternoon ride to exercise the animal and try to free her own mind of worry. Wolf sat outside the entrance to the stables. He was not allowed to go inside because his presence spooked the horses. The animal seemed to have an uncanny sense of what he could and could not harm, so the Monroe horses were spared his fangs.
The wolf had been home for five days now, five days
of agonizing waiting for Abbie, who tried to sort out in her mind what she would do next. Should she send someone to search for Zeke? She had to have some answers soon. The afternoon ride had relieved her tension and fear only temporarily. Now as the sun began to sink, so did her hopes.
“There, Pepper,” she said softly to the mare. “Aren’t you beautiful now?” She smiled and patted the animal’s rump, admiring the perfection that Zeke Monroe had bred into nearly all of his horses. They were the man’s most valuable possession, and they were their security for the future. Abbie was graterful for Zeke’s talent with the animals; sometimes it seemed that was what kept the man going. She knew his mind and heart were heavy with sorrow over what was happening to the Cheyenne—to all Indians. But the ranch, the horses, and his large family gave him reasons to go on. Sometimes Abbie suspected if it were not for these things, Zeke Monroe would be out there with the Cheyenne, probably raiding with the worst of them, fighting to the death to keep the freedom they’d once had. That was where a man like Zeke belonged, riding free and wild, and she well knew it. Only love for his woman and the children she had borne him kept him within the confines of the ranch; and even at that, there were times when he seemed to make up any excuse to go riding off somewhere, but never for long—not since their terrible parting during those awful months he’d gone off to the Civil War. For this reason she was even more worried. She knew Zeke would come back as quickly as possible after he found Wolf’s Blood. Perhaps both of them were dead, or perhaps one or both of them were wounded.
She set down the brush and walked to the back of the stables to scoop up a generous armful of hay, bringing
it back to Pepper and dropping it into the feed trough. “Eat up,” she told the horse, petting it again before going out and closing the stall door. She met Lance coming inside the stable then, carrying a pitchfork.
“I brushed down Pepper and fed her,” she told her brother-in-law. “I’ll send Jeremy out to help you tend to the rest of the horses. Do you need Margaret and LeeAnn, too? They can take care of the horses in the other barn.”
“Yeah, there’re more out back too. I put them up in that corral behind the barn out of the wind. I got a little behind today when I stopped to split that wood.”
She put a hand on his arm. “I’m glad you came out, Lance. Zeke certainly needed the help, and when he has to be gone you’re a godsend.”
The man shrugged and grinned, studying her lovely face. He was a little younger than Abbie and had been a very small boy when Zeke had fled Tennessee. By the time Zeke had seen him again, he’d been a full grown man. He had the dark hair and eyes of their white father, unlike Dan whose blond hair and blue eyes were derived from their mother, the stepmother Zeke remembered with little affection. She had been dead for many years, and when she’d died, Zeke had already been living with the Cheyenne, away from Tennessee and the bad memories of his boyhood there. But all the Monroe boys had the same even, handsome smile, very masculine but with an appealing gentle side, although Zeke’s gentler side didn’t show through as readily as his white brother’s.
Their eyes held, and he put a hand over one of hers. “You okay, Abbie?”
She forced a smile. “Sometimes. But not most of the time. I’m going crazy trying to decide what to do next, Lance.”
He squeezed her hand, then turned and put a strong arm around her shoulders. “Want me to ride out and do some looking?”
She shook her head. “We need you here. I don’t want to add you to the list of those who ride out of here and never come back.” She swallowed back tears. “I’ll just… maybe you could just go to Fort Lyon again, find someone there who would be willing to do some searching. I could pay …”
Her voice faded in midsentence when she saw Wolf perk up. The animal rose on all fours, looking in the direction of the hill east of the cabin. He was not growling, and he suddenly bolted away almost happily.
“Lance, someone is coming!” she exclaimed, pulling away and running outside. Lance followed, and both looked in the direction where Wolf had run. Two mounted figures appeared over the hill.
“It’s them!” Abbie said excitedly. “It must be them, or Wolf wouldn’t be running to greet them that way!” She started to pull away, but Lance grabbed her arm.
“Be careful, Abbie. It might not be them.”
They both stood there another moment. Then she heard an Indian war whoop and recognized her son’s voice. He was yelling because he saw Wolf coming.
“That’s Wolf’s Blood!” she told Lance. She looked up at him. “Keep the children here for a few minutes, will you, Lance?”
He studied the two figures a moment longer. “I think you’re right, Abbie. Go on. I’ll keep the others behind so you can have a minute alone before the rest of your brood attacks.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Lance.” She ran off, half stumbling through the snow, and Lance watched her, breathing a sigh of relief. Then he headed for the cabin.
Abbie ran as fast as she could, her lungs tight from the cold air. But she didn’t notice that they ached, didn’t notice the cold against her ears. She could only see her son—her husband and her son!
“Zeke!” she called out. He rode forward then at a faster gait. They were still several hundred yards in the distance. Wolf had already reached them, and she noticed that Wolf’s Blood dismounted slowly to greet Wolf. In the next instant Wolf had literally knocked the boy down and was licking his face. Then Wolf’s Blood’s laughter penetrated the clear, crisp air. How beautiful it sounded! The boy very seldom laughed. He’d been a serious, determined child even when very small.
By then Zeke had reached her, his horse pushing up snow in front of its hooves when Zeke yanked it to a sudden stop. She reached up, and in the next moment a familiar strong arm was pulling her up onto the horse and her arms were around his neck, his own firmly around her body.
Nothing was said. There was only being together. She breathed deeply of the scent of man and leather as they clung together tightly for several seconds.
“Take me to my son,” she finally whimpered.
He still had not spoken. He turned the horse, and she kept her head on his shoulder as he headed the animal back up to Wolf’s Blood who lay in the snow hugging Wolf and burying his face in the deep, thick fur at the animal’s neck. The boy sat up when he saw them come closer; then he got to his feet. Abbie could see the pain on his face, and he was so much thinner! Zeke immediately released her and she slid down and ran to her son, hugging him tightly and crying. He hugged her back more out of respect than emotion. He loved his mother deeply, but he was not one to display affection
openly and his heart was still full of the loss of Morning Bird.
“Mother, do not hold me so tightly,” he finally said quietly. “I still hurt.”
She quickly pulled away, looking him over, putting a hand to the side of his face. “Where? What’s happened to you, Wolf’s Blood? Were you at Sand Creek?”
Their eyes held, and she noticed that he was suddenly struggling to keep back tears. However, his look of terrible sorrow was quickly replaced by one of hatred and vengeance.
“Yes, I was there!” he said almost angrily. “Morning Bird is dead! And so is my uncle, Black Elk, and Blue Bird Woman and”—his voice started to break—“and little Bucking Horse!”
He turned away and wiped at his eyes, and Abbie felt a terrible rush of shock and sorrow. She turned to look up at Zeke just then, seeing it all in his dark eyes. Sand Creek had been much worse than she had heard. She wished there was something she could do about the pain she found in her husband’s eyes, but she knew there was not.
“I came upon the scene later,” Zeke told her quietly. “If you had seen what I saw, you’d realize how lucky we are that Wolf’s Blood is alive.” He looked out over the horizon. “I’m not sure I should even tell you the details. Maybe you’re not strong enough for it.”
“Strong enough!” she exclaimed. “I should let you bear this alone? I most certainly will not! What happens to the Cheyenne is as important to me as it is to you. I am certainly strong enough to share your sorrows, Zeke Monroe.” She turned back to Wolf’s Blood. “How badly were you wounded?”
He rubbed at his stomach. “Very bad. With a soldier’s bayonet. Father fixed me, though. That is
why it took us so long. I was not strong enough to ride.”