Seventeen-year-old Lana sat beside the slow-running river and pulled off her shoes and socks, her toes wiggling in delight at their newfound freedom. Late August afternoons in Texas were the hottest part of the day, of the year — too hot to do chores or to stay inside the sod house where there was no air. This was a perfect time to swim and maybe to wash her hair.
Lana stood, removed her dress and underthings, and carefully laid them across a bush. She gingerly picked her way across rocks and around grass burrs, and then walked into the river until the water came to just under her navel. As she undid her braid, she let her long, brown hair fall loose down her back and shoulders. She leaned forward and gently fell into the water, its coolness a delight against her hot, sweaty skin. This was heaven!
The young woman swam and floated for a few moments but, wanting her soap, she stopped and took a few steps in the waist-deep water toward the riverbank. A noise behind her made her whirl around.
Several yards away, a Kiowa brave sat on a magnificent black horse, staring intently at the nude woman. Lana froze, not sure what to do. She hadn’t brought a gun with her. The house was so close, she hadn’t thought she needed to.
Don’t show him you’re afraid, she thought to herself. Stare him down and he’ll leave. Calmly, she faced her uninvited visitor while she tried to slow her breathing.
He was young, maybe a few years older than Lana — wild, fierce, haughty. No paint adorned his face, so she decided that he must simply be hunting or traveling.
The brave continued staring at her with fearless, piercing brown eyes. Then his eyes flicked away, searching for the men he knew must be near. When his gaze returned to her blue eyes, she read her death in his face. But something stopped him; his expression softened. She didn’t know that her beauty caused a debate in his mind — kill her or take her captive? Before Lana knew her fate, a man’s voice called from behind the rise on the other side of the river, causing the brave’s head to jerk at the sound.
“Lana? Girl, where are you?” Joshua Cooper yelled.
“I’m right here, Pa,” Lana answered, not turning away from the Kiowa. “At the river.”
“Well, hurry up! Your ma needs you in the kitchen.”
“Pa? I’m in trouble.”
Two days after Two Hawks’ midnight visit, Lana went on another foraging trip along the river. It was gorgeous fall day, the air crisp and cool, the sky beautifully blue. Lana found some interesting plants and, wondering what they were, set her gun and basket down for closer inspection. She had just knelt in front of the plants when someone grabbed her from behind and dragged her forcibly to the river. There, to her dismay, stood a band of five warriors, paint on their faces and on their horses. They didn’t look like Kiowa. One of them arrogantly held up her gun. It was his now.
“Let me go!” she yelled as she leapt at the brave closest to her, grabbing at his chest and pulling something from his throat. Beads scattered to the ground like colored raindrops. The brave hit her across the face with the back of his hand, sending her head snapping back. Lana staggered, but didn’t fall.
Lana spoke what little Kiowa she knew, but none of them responded. She continued in English. “Where are we going? — Do you know that soldiers are looking for you? — My pa will come after me! — You’d better let me go while you have the chance. — That’s not your gun, either!”
As her nonstop chatter continued, the warrior who had the other end of her ropes turned on his horse and shook his head at her, saying what she assumed was, ‘Quiet.’
But she wouldn’t be quiet. She was angry rather than frightened. Didn’t they know she knew Two Hawks? After a few minutes of her endless commentary, another of the braves turned his horse around and, riding up beside her, kicked her in the chin, yelling at her. She bit her tongue in the motion, blood running down the side of her mouth. But at last, she was quiet. And, for the first time, she was afraid.
Two Hawks watched the crawling Apache and, as soon as the man was in range, took careful aim with his bow, letting an arrow fly. It found its target, sending the man leaping into the air, only to fall back down, dead. At the sight of their fallen comrade, the rest of the band rose to their feet or rode on horses over the nearby hill. Screams and taunts filled the air as bullets whined past the four desperate people or thudded dully into the dead animal.
“What are you singing?” Lana asked Two Hawks as she lay on her stomach next to him.
“My death song.”
She whipped her head around, looking frightened. “Your death song? It’s really that bad, then.”
He only nodded as he took aim at a warrior.
“What I wouldn’t give for another gun!” Nathan grimaced as he hurriedly reloaded his.
The horsemen reached the bottom of the besieged hill, firing relentlessly. They had trouble taking accurate aim, though, as they, too, had to dodge bullets and arrows. One of the warriors made it to the hilltop, leaping off his horse onto Nathan. As the two men rolled, locked in their ferocious struggle, Christina watched, aghast. Then, seeing her chance, she plunged Nathan’s knife deep into the Apache’s neck. Nathan pushed off the dead weight and retrieved his knife.
“Thanks.” He handed the bloody weapon back to her. Picking up his gun, he took aim again, not seeing the tears in Christina’s eyes or how badly her hands shook.
“I got one!” Lana announced triumphantly. No one said anything. They were all too busy.
They fought for only fifteen minutes before Nathan looked over at Lana. “We’re almost out of powder. Enough for two, maybe three rounds.”
Lana closed her eyes. Now what? Looking over at Two Hawks, she told him the news. He only had a few arrows left as well.
Lana reached for his hand. “Don’t let them take me. Please.” He nodded, his jaws clenching. He couldn’t look at her, not wanting her to see how heart-stricken he was.
She turned to her brother. “I won’t be taken alive. Ceŋtas Yi will see to it.”
“Lana?” Nathan stared horrified at her. “No!”
“Oh, yes, Nathan. They might kill you and Ceŋtas Yi, but they will have a fate much worse for Christina and me. Rape will probably be the least of it. You need to talk to her now, while you have a chance.”
Nathan felt sick at his stomach, but his sister was right. The Apache could be cruel. He crawled over to Christina with his gruesome offer.
Lana took careful aim with her last bullet, blinking back tears, and then fired. Her target went down. Two Hawks shot the last of his arrows and, not waiting to see how they landed, pulled her to him, holding her close as he lay partially on top of her. It was time.
“Kiss?” he asked as he looked into her beautiful, trusting eyes. She nodded and offered her lips.
“I love you, Ceŋtas Yi.” She touched his dark hair, his handsome face in a gesture of farewell. “Thank you for this.”
“T′on Ma, wait for me. I’ll be right behind you. Then we can go to our new life together.”
“I’ll wait.” She paused to take one last look at his eyes. “Be quick,” she whispered.
As he kissed her with longing and love and sorrow, he pulled his long knife out of its sheath. He could feel her lips trembling against his as she rolled slightly away from him, offering him her breast. Apache war cries filled their ears. This would be last thing they heard. He raised his arm straight up, the knife’s blade glinting relentlessly in the sun.
The cavalry trailed the raiding party for days, finding charred remains of homesteads and fields along the way, but never getting close enough to give chase. That all changed the second week out.
“Lieutenant,” one of the scouts reported back to camp that night. “We’ve spotted a small band of Kiowa warriors with several horses. There are no women or children with them.”
“That’s probably who we’re after, then.” Liam stood and signaled for his sergeant and the scout to follow him. They stepped to the fringe of camp for a private strategy meeting.
“Should we wait until morning to move in?” the sergeant asked.
“No. We’ll take them tonight, while it’s dark. If we’re this close to their camp, they don’t know we’re here,” Liam reasoned.
“Surprise ˈem,” the scout nodded in agreement.
“Exactly. Now, what’s the land like around their camp?” the lieutenant asked.
The scout gave as detailed a report as he could, squatting down and drawing in the dirt. Within the hour, Liam had an attack mapped out and the sergeant organized the men.
Under cover of darkness, Liam sent four of his men toward the Kiowas guarding the horses. The rest quietly encircled the sleeping camp, being careful not to arouse anyone until the last minute.
When the soldiers were in position, Liam gave his silent signal by raising and then quickly lowering his saber. The Kiowa guards were killed while the rest of the soldiers galloped into the camp, quickly capturing the warriors.
Two Hawks leapt to his feet at the first sound of trouble, but, before he could reach his rifle, there was another pointed directly at his chest by a mounted soldier. Two Hawks backed up one step, his hands raised in defeat. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that his entire band was either staring down the barrel of a gun or lying dead.
Liam slowly rode in a wide circle around the captured Kiowa. When he saw Two Hawks, he stopped, looking down at the defiant young warrior. The two men stared at each other for a long moment and then, with the utmost contempt on his face, Two Hawks spit on the ground in front of Liam.
Without saying anything to Two Hawks, Liam turned to his sergeant. “Secure them for the night. We’ll leave at first light.”
“Set double watch as well.”
* * *
It took five days of hard travel for the patrol to reach the fort with their captives. During that time, Liam and Two Hawks rarely came into direct contact with each other, though they were each acutely aware of the other’s presence. Liam worried about bringing Two Hawks so close to Lana, about what the warrior would do if he saw her. Liam didn’t know if the Kiowa still wanted Lana, or if he had moved on with someone else. Liam fervently hoped for the latter.
The O’Connells walked across the compound, Liam carrying a basket of food and coffee cups and Lana carrying her coffee pot. As they approached the stockade, the guard saluted Liam and stepped back. Liam set the basket on the ground and turned to Lana.
“You sure about this?”
“Yes. It’s just a meal.”
Lana took the venison and cornbread she had made and walked up to the bars.
“Food,” she said in Kiowa. “I’ve brought food.”
One of the warriors stood up, curious about the white woman who spoke Kiowa.
“Oh, it’s you, Water Woman,” he announced, surprised. Taking some food from her, he turned back. “Isn’t she your woman?” he asked Two Hawks.
Two Hawks had been sleeping, propped up in the corner, but at the warrior’s words, he jerked awake and looked out. There, in the darkness, stood a familiar silhouette. He stood and walked slowly to the bars, where he waited until everyone else had food. Then he approached her.
“What are you doing here?” he growled as his eyes flickered toward Liam and then back to her.
“Hello, Ceŋtas Yi.” She spoke in English so that Liam would understand. “Food.”
When he shook his head in refusal, she offered it again. “Please,” she said in Kiowa. “I brought this for you. I know you’re hungry.”
The angry man almost refused a second time, but something in her eyes stopped him. He’d seen that look of love hundreds of times before, but this time it couldn’t be true. She loved someone else, not him — didn’t she? Even so, her expression softened his resolve. T′on Ma had made this food by her own hand, and brought it because he was here. He sensed that she wouldn’t have done this for any of the others. Reluctantly, he took the offered food from her. Liam scowled as he watched, an alarm going off in his mind.
Next, Lana poured them all coffee, adding sugar to each tin cup. The cups just fit through the bars and were taken by eager hands. Sweet coffee was a treat at any time. But in these circumstances, it only proved once again how strange the white man was. Who gave treats to prisoners?
“Is it true you married him?” Two Hawks nodded toward Liam.
“Do you love him then so quickly after me?” He sounded contemptuous.
“What?” He stepped back in his surprise.
“Only you,” she said softly in Kiowa. “Always you.”
“What are you saying?” Liam asked as he stepped over to them.
“He’s asking me if you and I are married. And I told him yes.”
“Oh, well, let the guard get their cups. You’ve fed them. Now, let’s go home and feed me.”
“All right, sweetheart.”
Liam picked up the empty basket and the coffeepot in one hand and put his other around Lana’s shoulders. Two Hawks watched them walk away, more confused than ever. Had he just heard right? She loved him? Only? And always? He didn’t know if his heart could take this kind of puzzle.
After dinner and after sundown, Lana told Liam that she had a headache from all the noise throughout the day and that she wanted to turn in early.
“I understand,” Liam sympathized. “I’ll try and be quiet so you can rest.”
“Is that game still going?”
“Yeah. The one from last night.”
“It’s still going. Why?”
“You could go there for a while until you’re ready to turn in. It would certainly be less boring than sitting here being quiet.”
“You wouldn’t mind?” he asked, surprised.
“Not tonight. Really.”
“All right. I’ll only lose ten dollars. Tops. I promise.” He smiled when she smiled at that. Perhaps, after tomorrow, after Two Hawks was ‘gone’, things would ease up between them. Kissing her once quickly, he grabbed his money and headed to the game. Lana blew out the lamps, plunging the house in darkness, and walked to the front window, watching Liam cross the compound. When he was inside his friend’s quarters, she put her plan into action.
After changing quickly into her nightgown, she twisted her hair up into a high bun. Next, she pulled on Liam’s uniform shirt and trousers over her gown, and then she put on his cap. Making sure the bed covers were turned down, she took the key to the stockade off his key ring. She raised the back window and carefully looked around. To her relief, no one was in sight. She climbed through the window and pulled it almost closed before she checked again for the sentry. One had just reached a far building and was turning the corner. Scurrying behind Officers’ Quarters, Lana ran from shadow to shadow until she made her way to the back of the stockade, where she knelt, watching again for the sentries.
Still kneeling in the shadows, she spoke in Kiowa in a low voice. “Two Hawks?”
“Two Hawks? It’s me.”
“Water Woman?” he whispered back.
“I’m here to get you out.”
“All right. How?”
“I have a key to unlock the door. You unlock it and give me back the key. Wait for a little while before you escape so that I have time to get back home.”
“I unlock the door. Give you the key and wait.”
Hearing a soft noise, he looked at the bars and saw her hand waving a large key. He took it from her. “Do you have horses?” he asked.
“No. You’ll have to steal some.”
“Also,” she continued, “leave this nail on the floor by the door when you go.”
“A nail? Why?”
“There’s no time to explain. Just do it.”
“All right.” Two Hawks reached out a second time and took the bent nail. With the key and nail in his possession, he motioned to his band to be still. Going to the stockade door, he checked for guards. One stood at the other end of the stockade with his back to them. Two Hawks slipped his hand through the bars, quietly unlocked the door and then placed the nail just inside. When he came back to Lana, he simply dropped the key to the ground beside her.
She had planned to leave quickly, but couldn’t go without seeing him. Checking over her shoulder for the sentry and seeing none, she stood up. Two Hawks stood just inches away, his strong face in shadow.
“I love you, Water Woman.” His hand reached through the bars to caress her face.
“Still? After all that I’ve done?” She held his hand against her cheek.
“I love you so much — but I have to stay with my husband.”
She couldn’t risk staying any longer. “Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, my heart.”
He watched her slip away, wishing he could take her with him. It wouldn’t be just his escape. It would be theirs. Even though she hadn’t said, he knew she was in her own prison — a prison without bars. All those dreams of her crying in the night had told him so.
As he left the barn, Liam approached him. “What are you going to do?” he asked as he looked at the shovel in Nathan’s hand.
“I’m going to take care of my sister.”
“If you’ve got another shovel, I want to help.”
Nathan nodded and returned in a few seconds with one, handing it to Liam. The two young men walked away from the house and down the riverbank.
“Here. Right here,” Nathan said after they’d walked a short distance. “She used to come to this spot and sit under these trees to think and to read.”
“All right.” Taking off his shirt, Liam walked to a high spot and began digging. Nathan began digging about six feet away. It was well past dark when they returned to the house, hot, sweaty, dirty, tired. When they sat at the table, Paul handed them each a glass of whiskey.
“We’ve dug the grave,” Nathan announced just before he gulped his down.
“Good,” Joshua nodded. “We’ll bury her in the morning.” May sat in her rocking chair, staring unfocused into the fire. The gentle wish-swish, wish-swish of the rocker was the only sound she made.
“Oh, I’ve brought her things, too,” Liam broke the silence. “Maybe Ma and Christina can make use of some of them.”
“All right.” Christina stood up. “Where are they? I’ll go get them.”
“No. I will.” Liam finished his whiskey and went back outside. When he walked into the dark barn, he went to the wagon seat, reaching under it for her things. When he straightened, his eyes locked on the casket. He stayed there for a long time, thinking.
“Honey,” he whispered. “You’re home now. Your brother and I have got you all fixed up by your favorite place next to the river. I finally got your letter to them, just like I promised. And Ma has your wedding ring. I thought maybe that’s what you’d want. And now, I’m taking in your things hoping they can use them. I can’t keep them around me. I’ll lose my mind if I do.” Reaching out, he touched the edge of the casket. “I miss you so much, Lana. I wish it had been me instead of you. How am I supposed to go on now? How?” Liam looked around in the darkness. For what — he didn’t know. “Bringing you here was hard,” he continued. “But at least you were with me. I don’t know how I’m going to make myself leave. You’ll be here. My heart will be here. My life will be here.”
When he didn’t come back, Joshua went looking for Liam and heard the last part of Liam’s words. When Joshua touched him on the shoulder, Liam whirled around and then held on to Joshua, crying, not like a baby, but as only a grown man can cry in the face of unbearable grief. Joshua understood and let him.
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