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Little Wolf Ranch

Ch. 1 - Owl Prophet

[Jan 24 - Tues]
Fierce and feral, half his face painted black, the other half white, with a whirlwind in yellow on his cheek, the eighteen-year-old Kiowa warrior charged his stallion across the frozen ground. Kûy Syân Joshua rode with twenty-four others in the raiding party, his rifle sending leaded death to the few freight wagons trying to outrun their attackers. His sixteen-year-old half-brother Blue rode beside him, his gun raised, his lethal intent clear.

Kûy Syân Joshua's mount, a chestnut stallion, also bore a whirlwind, but in white paint, on its shoulder, its breath billowing clouds of steam in the cold January 1871 morning. The brave's long brown hair streamed loose behind him, his earrings of Mexican silver winking in the sun, while his hazel eyes glared their menace at Britton Johnson and three other black freighters.

Sensing their doom, the wagons stopped and the men jumped to the ground, their own rifles responding in smoky rebellion. They fought bravely, valiantly, but the odds of six-to-one overwhelmed them, sealing their fate. After several moments - mercifully - it ended, and four bodies lay at odd angles in the dirt.

Kûy Syân Joshua leapt off his horse and sprinted to one of the dead men, where he sliced off the dark, curly scalp. Whooping once and holding up his bloody prize for Blue to see, he remounted. At well over six feet, he was the tallest man in his village and already known to be as fearless as his stepfather, Yi Centas (Two Hawks), who died the fall before in a similar raid. Once the warriors mutilated the dead to shame them in their next life, the raiding party raced across the prairie, headed back to their camp.

Later, homesteaders came across the four maimed bodies and, from sad experience, knew all too well the signs of a Kiowa attack. Telegrams to President Grant and congressmen burnt up the telegraph wires as residents of the prairie screamed for an end to the marauding. The sons of the Kiowa warrior Yi Centas took only slight satisfaction at the freighters' deaths. Until the entire Army left and the Kiowa lands restored, there would be no end to the troubles.


Ch. 2 - Warren Wagon Train

Settainte's statement indicting so many chiefs of murder dumbfounded Tatum. Giving a hard look at Settainte and the others, he left the room and hurried to nearby Ft. Sill, looking for Gen. Sherman in Commander Grierson's home. Settainte and the young men followed on his heels and waited outside. When Tatum gave his report, Sherman stepped out, his eyes steely, his expression grim. Knowing he couldn't legally arrest the chiefs on the reservation, he needed to get all of them to the fort.

"Get Satank, Eagle Heart and Big Tree over here, on the double!" Sherman shouted. Turning to a sergeant, he issued orders to post sharpshooters at surrounding windows.

Kûy Syân Joshua watched with concern as soldiers scurried across the compound. Not sure what this meant, an uneasy feeling jabbed at his stomach. Blue looked at him with a question in his eyes, but his brother only shook his head.

Satank and Big Tree arrived, wondering why they were wanted. Sherman barked his orders to 10th Cavalry commander, Benjamin Grierson, to arrest Settainte and the other chiefs involved in the freighters' murders.

Having the advantage of understanding English, T'on Ma's oldest son knew instantly of the impending arrests and feared the soldiers would kill Settainte instead. They'd killed the Cheyenne chief Black Kettle under a flag of truce two years before, hadn't they? Kûy Syân Joshua pulled a pistol from underneath his shirt, determined to defend his hero, and fired at the man giving the orders, Sherman. Catching the movement out of the corner of his eye, Grierson pushed Sherman out of the way and the bullet thudded into the side of the building. At the same time, Settainte threw back his blanket and reached for his own pistol. Before he could draw it, the building's shutters banged open and twelve rifles pointed down at the Kiowa .

Soldiers fired a warning volley, stopping the warriors in their tracks. The Kiowa knew all too well the military's capacity to kill the entire village. The Little Wichita River and Sand Creek massacres had taught them that.

"You are under arrest for the murder of Nathan Long and six other freighters," Grierson told Settainte.

"Arrest that man!" Sherman simultaneously ordered, pointing in Kûy Syân Joshua's direction. Seeing that none of the chiefs ran from being arrested, the teenager stood his ground. Soldiers put the indicted Kiowa in irons and led them to one of the stone buildings on the post.

Kûy Syân Joshua looked over his shoulder for Blue. "Take care of Mother," he admonished in Kiowa just before a soldier shoved him forward and led him away.


Ch. 17 - A Bumpy Night

"Get the kids to the lower stairs. Quick!" he yelled at Lana. She tore up the stairway while he and Adam struggled to close the first floor shutters in the fierce wind.

"Blue! Joshua! Come quick!"

At the panic in their mother's voice, they ran out of their room.

"What?"

"Tornado! Get the upstairs shutters closed." She then made her way to Bent Fox and Little Rain. "Come on, sweethearts. We've got to go to the bottom of the stairs for a little while. Bring your pillows and blankets."

"Why?" Little Rain yawned, rubbing her eyes.

"There's a bad storm headed our way and we need to take shelter."

"A tornado?" Bent Fox peered out his window.

"Yes, a tornado. Now, hurry!"

"What's going on?" Becky asked when Blue pounded on her door.

"Tornado. Get downstairs."

"What?"

"Hurry, Becky." He rushed past her and opened her window, reaching for the shutters on either side.

"I can help with the shutters. It'll go faster."

"Suit yourself. Just be quick!"

Blue, Joshua and Becky secured the upstairs and met the others on the staircase. Liam sat down on the second step, holding Little Rain in his lap, Lana beside him, holding Bent Fox. Blue sat on the fourth step, his back to the wall, with Sam on the sixth. Becky sat behind Blue and grabbed her sister's hands. Joshua took Bent Fox from Lana and held him, while Adam sat beside the two of them, and behind Sam.

They fell silent, listening to the storm raging outside.

"That sounds like a train," Becky commented.

"I've heard that before," Joshua answered. "That means it's very close."

Becky gulped and clutched her sister even tighter. Liam and Lana exchanged concerned glances.

BANG! Wind blasted the door open. CRASH! A chair flew against the far wall.

Lana leapt for Liam and her daughter, putting her arms around both of them. Liam covered Little Rain with a pillow and put one hand on Lana's head, pressing her against him, while ducking his own.

Debris whirled through the main room and stairs, stinging eyes and making breathing difficult. The lantern blew out, plunging them into impenetrable ebon.

Becky let go of her sister and jumped into Blue's arms, her scream muffled against his shoulder. Tight lipped, he looked over her head toward Joshua, lightning showing him protecting Bent Fox with pillows. Joshua rocked back and forth, trying to quiet his frightened little brother.

Sam twisted around toward Adam, her petrified eyes breaking his own panic.

He opened his arms and she fled to their sanctuary. Leaning toward her ear, he yelled over the din, "I'm not letting you go, no matter what, so just hang on. All right?"

He felt her nod against his chest, her fingers digging into his back, all the while, wind whipping around them.

In an eternity of three minutes, the wind died, the noise and fury made its way east. Only flashes of lightning remained, giving enough illumination for Liam to relight the lantern. Everyone sat motionless, mute, stunned.

"Everyone all right?" Liam asked, looking down at Little Rain in his lap and then across to the others.

"Bent Fox and I are fine," Joshua answered. "Aren't we?" He hugged the boy and smiled into his scared face.

"We're all right, too," Adam spoke up and kissed Sam's forehead. "That was some ride, huh?" he grinned at her.

Releasing him, she sat up, nodding. "One I don't plan on repeating."

"Blue?" Liam asked.

"Becky's bleeding."


Ch. 18 - Going Once!

"Ladies and gentlemen! May I have your attention please?" The auctioneer stood on an upturned crate, motioning for the crowd to be quiet. "We're here this fine evening to raise funds for the coming school year. We're proud of our children and want to do right by them. I know the ladies have prepared delicious meals, so I expect the men to bid generously." He waited for the applause to die down. "Now, will all the ladies who contributed baskets please sit here beside the wagon?"

Melissa, Sam and Becky rose simultaneously, straightened their skirts and made their way to the wagon. Soon, twenty-four other women joined them.

"You ladies should wait until the end of all the bidding before joining the winner of your basket. And I don't want to see any silent signals or hints coming from any of you to the bidders. All right?"

The group giggled and nodded.

"All right, then. Mrs. Baker, bring the first basket please."

Adam and Joshua made sure it wasn't the basket they wanted and sat back to watch the bidding. It started out slowly, with many men not sure how to proceed.

"Gentlemen, please!" the auctioneer pleaded. "This won't do. We need to see some real bids come in. Surely this is worth more than fifteen cents. Jebediah, I know you can eat! And I know you've got more than fifteen cents."

"All right. Twenty."

"Albert, you gonna let him get away with that?" the auctioneer asked.

"I reckon not. Twenty five."

Getting into the spirit, a young cowboy yelled from the back, "Thirty!"

"Thirty five," Jebediah countered.

Fast-paced bidding ensued and several bids later, the auctioneer looked the crowd over at the last bid. "Going once! … Going twice! … Sold for eight-five cents to the young cowboy. Come on up, son, and get your basket."

The audience applauded as the red-faced man made his way to the front and claimed his dinner.

After a while, Mrs. Baker brought the fifth basket, covered in gray and white ribbon. Joshua straightened up and grinned at Melissa before opening the bid for ten cents. After a ferocious bidding war, Joshua won the basket for $2.50. When he went up to claim it, he couldn't understand Melissa's frown.

During the overall bidding, Bill made a few half-hearted attempts, but someone always outbid him. When the ninth basket came out, Mrs. Baker held it up for all to see.

"Now, gentlemen," the auctioneer began, "we have a beautiful purple bow decorated with plums. It's a big basket, too, so I suspect there's a lot of good grub in here. What am I bid?"

"Fifty cents!"

Bill jerked his head at the voice, puzzled at such a high opening bid. Adam stood behind him, with one hand raised. That's Sam's basket, Bill thought to himself. It must be. They live in the same house, after all. He must have seen it.

"One dollar!" Bill countered.

Adam glared at the back of his competitor's head. "Three!"

A hush fell over the people as they realized they had a real horse race on their hands.

Bill put his hands on his hips, his feet planted. "Four!"

"Four dollars, gentlemen. Does anyone make that four fifty?"

"Make that five!" Adam jutted his chin, ignoring everyone's stare.

Bill pulled his wallet out and counted his money. All waited, watching. Waving a handful of dollar bills, he announced, "Nine!"

Adam looked at Sam sitting with her hand over her mouth and with concern in her eyes. Catching his glance, she shook her head at his exorbitance.

"Ten!"

The crowd roared in one breath. Bill threw his head back, knowing he didn't have enough.

"I've got ten dollars." The auctioneer raised his hand and held it up for a moment. "Going once! … Going twice! …"

"Eleven!"

Adam spun around to find the voice's owner. A lanky cowboy stood on the edge of the crowd.

"Son, it's back to you," the auctioneer told Adam.


Ch. 21 - A Second Chance

A noise behind Becky made her whirl around. From a tangle of bushes, Brad emerged and walked toward her.

"Hi, Becky. Sorry if I startled you." He took off his hat and nodded.

"Brad! What are you doing way out here?" She scanned the area behind him. "Where are your friends?"

"I'm alone, just out riding."

"Enjoy yourself." She waved dismissively and started back to the group when he stopped her.

"Can we talk for a minute?"

"No. I don't want another lecture about Blue."

"That's not what I want to talk about. I promise." The sincerity in his voice gave her pause.

"All right. What?" She shifted her weight to her left foot and crossed her arms.

"First off, I want to apologize for being so rude the last few times I've seen you. I like you, Becky. I really do. I think you're pretty and smart and…and just overall wonderful. It's just that, whenever I see him, I go a little crazy. And I'm sorry, truly sorry about that."

He paused for a moment and smoothed his hair back with one hand. "I guess I'm asking you to forgive me, if you can. After that, I'd really like for us to start over and be friends again." He focused pleading eyes on her. "So, will you give me a second chance? Will you accept my apology and forgive me?"

Becky tilted her head to listen. When he stopped, she stared at the ground for a moment, trying to find the right words. "Brad, I appreciate your apology, and I accept it. I'll even forgive you, in time, but I don't think we can be friends again."

His eyes clouded in instant anger. "Dammit, why not?"

"You've got a mean streak, a scary, twisted mean streak that I don't want anywhere near me."

"That's not it! You're in love with that half-breed, aren't you?"

"Leave me alone! I don't ever want to see you again!" She turned to leave, but he grabbed her elbow.

"You don't mean that!"

"Let me go!" Her eyes sparked.

From over the rise, she heard, "Becky? Where are you?"

"I'm coming, Blue!" she hollered back. Jerking free from Brad, she hurried away and met Blue halfway back to the wagon.

"I was getting worried about you," Blue scolded.

"Sorry. I lost track of time." News of Brad's visit would only send Blue on the hunt, so she didn't tell him.

Even so, he saw traces of her anger at Brad lingering in her eyes. "You all right?"

"I'm fine. Why?" To emphasize her point, she took his hand and held it as they walked.

"Nothing, I guess." He didn't quite believe her, but he let it drop.



* * *

Brad made his way back to his horse, his mind on fire from Becky's rejection. After he'd seen the intimate hug Becky and Blue shared, he felt more than ever he needed to separate the two of them. But do what? Separate them how?

A plan leapt to his mind - a crazy, desperate plan. With only a second's consideration, he pulled his knife from its sheath, watching the blade gleam in the sunlight. After finding the biggest tree, he braced his back against it. Taking a deep breath, he slashed through his shirt sleeve into his bicep, drawing a crimson line, tearing his muscle not quite to the bone. He never flinched.


Ch. 24 - Hypocrites

Blue lay on his bed, tossing and turning, his mind filled with conflict and confusion. He wanted to stay with Becky, but he didn't want to deceive his mother. The others, he didn't care about as much as he did her. If he told Lana everything and she felt all right with him seeing Becky, even though no one else would know, then he would stay. Otherwise, if she objected, he knew he would have to leave, regardless of what he had told Becky earlier. He hoped Becky would understand if he did go.

He turned on his side and stared into the dark, his mind going over what he should say to his mother, how best to explain things. It was no good. Sleep wouldn't come.

"Where are you going?" Joshua mumbled when he heard Blue stumbling through their room in the dark.

"I need to talk to Mother."

"Now?" Joshua sat up.

"Yes, now. I won't be able to sleep until I do."

"All right." He fell back onto his pillow and went to sleep.

Blue opened his bedroom door and started to step into the hall, but he stopped and pushed the door almost closed. Across the hall, in Liam's doorway, lit by soft lamplight, stood a nude Liam and his mother in her robe, in a lover's embrace, kissing each other, wrapped up so tightly together that they didn't notice him.

"I'd better get back to my room." Blue heard Lana say.

"All right, sweetheart. I'll see you in the morning," Liam answered.

Liam closed the door as Lana made her way down the hall. At first, Blue felt too shocked to react. Once he heard her door click shut, feelings of betrayal and outrage engulfed him. He turned back into his room, gathered a few items and went outside, hurrying through the mud and moonlight to the barn.

"Hey!" Adam complained when Blue lit a lamp. "I'm sleeping here."

"Sorry." Blue reached for a bridle hanging on the wall.

"Where are you going?" Adam rubbed one eye and sat up.

"Away from here! This house is full of hypocrites and I can't stay here. Not another second!"

"You sound disgusted."

"I am. Disgusted and mad."

"So am I, cousin. So am I." Adam threw the blanket off and stood. "Mind if I ride with you?"

"I'm just going to the reservation."

"Why don't you come back home with me? They'll never think to look for you there."

"Sounds good to me!"

Within half an hour, the two young men rode south, toward the Red River, toward Texas, and away from all their troubles.


Ch. 24 - Hypocrites

On their way out of the fort, Blue caught a movement behind some houses. Looking closer, he saw Brad ducking behind the buildings, watching them.

"We better scoot." Blue nodded in Brad's direction.

"Who's that?"

"Trouble. Brad Haversham."

They trotted away from the fort and headed south. In a few minutes, Adam glanced behind him. "We're being followed."

Blue looked to see Brad and four of his friends on horseback, galloping toward them. Adam and Blue unsheathed their rifles.

"Do we run or stand and fight?" Adam asked.

"See those trees over there," Blue pointed. "They'll offer some shelter." The two spurred their horses for the small stand of maples a quarter mile away.

"Whooohooo!" they heard one of the teenagers holler. "Renegade Kiowa on the loose." A bullet whizzed past Adam's ear.

"Do I look Kiowa to you?" he yelled at Blue over the drumming of the horses' hooves. Once they reached the trees, they jumped out of their saddles and took cover. Adam had to make himself calm down and tried to slow his breathing. After a moment, he took careful aim and fired. One of the boys tumbled off his horse.

Seeing their comrade fall, the fort boys hurled insults and death threats. They rode back and forth in front of Blue and Adam, staying in constant motion and laying down a steady barrage of gunfire. Bullets spit through the trees and thudded into the dirt around them. Bits of leaves and bark flew into their faces.

Blue got off a shot and one of the horses went down, sending its rider soaring over its head. In taking aim, Blue left himself partially exposed. He felt a sharp sting at the same time he heard the returning gunfire's report. Jerking his head in surprise, he saw blood running down his leg, just above the knee. "I'm hit!"


Ch. 30 - Our Other Cousins

After coffee and catching up on the reservation gossip, Joshua led his cousins out to the pasture. All five walked among the horses, looking them over, petting them, running their hands down their forelegs and across their sides, getting the horses use to them. Selecting the first horse, the work began in earnest.

Joshua roped a gray gelding and led it to the corral. "How about this one?" he called to Adam.

"Sure. Saddle it up."

Black Rabbit took the rope from Joshua and walked up to the horse, whispering in its ear while stroking its neck. After a moment, he slipped the bridle on and nodded to Slow Wind, who threw a blanket on its back. The saddle followed, with the horse kicking once as the cinch tightened around its stomach. Still, Black Rabbit kept petting the animal and whispering to it, holding it steady.

Motioning with his hand, he called Adam over and gave him the reins.

"You sure this is a wild horse?" Adam teased as he hit the saddle. His answer came in an explosion of motion, the horizon seesawing in front of him. At first, his nose pitched inches from the dirt, and the next second, nothing but sky greeted his eyes. His spine twisted, bowed, then inverted, and then threatened to snap. The muscles in his neck did their best to keep his head attached to his shoulders, while his chin kept smashing into his chest.

Peripheral vision blurred as the horse spun around several times before launching for the sun. It landed with a bone-jarring thud and twisted to its right, threatening to send Adam sailing over its head.

"Hang on, cousin!" Blue jumped to his feet, clinging to a porch pillar for support. The Kiowa joined in the cheering, impressed that Adam had stayed on that long.

In the eternity that followed, Adam began to notice the horse's lurches and jerks came less frequently. His teeth no longer threatened to shatter every time the horse hit the dirt. Eventually, the bucking turned into running and then into a trot. The gelding began to walk, both it and Adam trying to catch their breath. When the horse stopped, Adam reined it to the right and walked it to the gate. Sliding out of the saddle, he handed the reins to Red Knife, then wobbled to the corral, leaning both elbows on the top post.

"How you doing?" Joshua asked.

"I'll let you know when my eyeballs quit bouncing."


Ch. 30 - Our Other Cousins

They had just finished that task and gone into the house when several men rode up, filling the yard.

"Can I help you with something?" Joshua asked, stepping away from the horse he was working with.

"I'm Major Haversham, Brad's father. This here," Haversham said, pointing to the man who rode next to him, "is a deputy marshal out of Ft. Smith, Arkansas. While he's in the area, I've filed suit. He's here to take Blue to jail."

"What?" Joshua and Adam both walked closer to the riders. "You can't do that!" Joshua twisted around to Bent Fox and spoke in Kiowa, "Go get Mother. Now!" Twisting the other way, he informed his cousins, "They're here to arrest Blue."

As the boy ran into the house, the flint-jawed deputy marshal said, "Afraid I can do that. I've got a warrant for the arrest of Blue Cooper for attempted murder." Looking at Joshua, Adam and the Kiowa glaring at him, he frowned. "We can do this one of two ways. Blue comes out peaceful like, or I drag him out - after some of you boys get hurt. Either way, he's coming with me."

Lana hurried outside, drying her hands on her apron. "May I help you, sir?" She ignored Haversham.

"And you are, ma'am?"

"I'm Mrs. O'Connell, Blue's mother."

"Then this is for you." The deputy marshal pulled a warrant from his inside vest pocket and handed it to Lana. As she scanned it, he said, "If you'll just call him out here, we'll be on our way."

"That's not possible." Lana lowered the paper. "He's wounded, been shot in the leg, and he can't walk without help."

"I'll get him," Joshua volunteered, Adam right on his heels.

When they reached Blue's room, they found it empty. He stood across the hall, staring out of Liam's bedroom window to the scene below.

"What's all this about?" Blue asked, turning to face his brother. "Are they here for me? I won't go anywhere with Haversham!"

"It's not Haversham you'll be going with," Joshua explained. "That's a deputy marshal with a warrant for your arrest. That's his posse riding with him. Unless you want us to start a small war out here, you'll have to go with them."

"Of course," Adam spoke up, angry defiance smoldering in his eyes, "I vote for the small war."

"I would, too," Blue nodded, "except Mother and the girls are here. I won't put them through that."

They all turned at the sound of heavy boots on the stairs.

"We'd better go," Blue grimaced. "But get Liam just as soon as you can."

"We will." Joshua touched his brother's shoulder. "I promise."

"You ready?" the deputy marshal called from the door.

"Yeah. I'm coming." Leaning on Joshua's arm, Blue hobbled across the room and out the door. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, Becky stood in the kitchen doorway, her eyes wide in her fear.

"Don't worry," Blue spoke with false confidence. "I'll be all right." Becky flung her arms around his neck, crying.

"Here, Miss. Here." The deputy marshal pulled her back. "You need to step away." Becky took one pace back and felt Sam's hands on her shoulders behind her. Blue risked taking one more look into her sad eyes, and then turned away, more worried about her than anything else. Once he reached the porch, someone put handcuffs on his wrists.

"Where are you taking him?" Lana asked.

"To Ft. Sill. He'll await trial there."

"I'll get Liam." Adam sprinted toward the barn for his horse. He galloped away before the deputy marshal even had Blue mounted.


Ch. 33 - You're Not Fooling God

Too cold to sit on the ground, people sat in their wagons to eat lunch, often inviting others to join them. The O'Connells and the Rogers filled both their wagons. Becky went to the general store to purchase a large jug of hot coffee to go with their meal. When she neared the door, she met Charlie Walker coming out.

"Ex-cuse me," she snapped. Charlie stepped to one side and let her by, but, before he walked away, she turned around.

"Charlie, can I ask you something?"

"Sure, Becky. What?" He felt drained from nervous anticipation of testifying that morning and he looked tired.

"When did you turn into such a big liar? I know Brad is, but you?"

"I'm not lying."

She moved to stand in front of him, crowding him just a little, and stared at him with piercing eyes. "You are so and we both know it. Why are you lying for Brad?"

"I'm not!" he protested again, moving his head back from hers.

"You ever go to church?" Her question surprised him.

"Sure. Every Sunday."

"Then you know what God does to liars. You might have them believing your story," she pointed down the street toward the courtroom, "but you're not fooling God." She shook her head. "I'd hate to be you right now."

"Becky…" Charlie pleaded.

Leaning in to whisper, "Liar," she then walked into the store.

A spasm of guilt ran down Charlie's back, giving him goose bumps. Looking skyward, as if expecting God to be aiming lightning bolts at him from above, Charlie turned his jacket collar up against the cold and hurried down the street.

Liar...Liar...Liar... That word marked every step he took.


Ch. 34 - Charlie Takes The Stand

At the sound of Charlie's name, Brad whipped his head around to glare at his long-time friend. Charlie looked shocked, wondering why they wanted him up there again.

"Watch it!" Brad whispered as Charlie made his way past him.

When Charlie sat in the witness chair, the bailiff reminded him he was still under oath.

"Mr. Walker, I have reason to believe we need to go over your earlier testimony," Paul began. Charlie licked his dry lips and tried to swallow. "It's true you were riding with your friends on the morning in question. Right?"

"Yes, sir. That's right."

"Do you usually go on morning rides with your friends?"

"Sometimes. Not always."

"I see. And on this particular morning, who decided to go on the ride?"

"Brad."

"Had you planned this ride the night before? Or was it a spur of the moment decision?"

"Spur of the moment, I'd say."

"Tell me about that."

"It was early morning when Brad came by. He said, 'Let's ride.' So, I grabbed my coat and off we went."

"You said in your earlier statement that you had a gun. Do you usually ride with a gun?"

"Sometimes. Never know what you'll run into out there. Snakes and such."

"That's true. Did Brad tell you to bring a gun when he invited you to ride?"

"Yes."

"So, it's early morning. Your friend knocks on your door and tells you to ride with him and to bring your gun. Did he seem to be in a hurry?"

Charlie looked at Brad, who stared holes into him. "Kinda."

"Did you know why he was in a hurry?"

"No." Charlie reasoned that his answer wasn't a lie. He hadn't known why Brad came to get him until they mounted and left the fort.

"All right. So, Brad, your other friends and you went out for a morning ride, all of you armed."

"Yes, sir."

"From everyone's earlier testimony, it's been stated that, as you rode away from the fort, you were suddenly fired upon from someone hiding in the stand of trees. After two of you were wounded, the fight broke off and you all rode back to the fort. Correct?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Now, after the fight, your father and others from the fort, along with yourself, rode straight to the O'Connell's ranch to confront Blue. Correct?"

"Yes, sir."

"How did you know it was Blue shooting at you if he was hiding in the trees?"

That stopped Charlie for a second. He glanced around the room, trying to think of an answer.

"Because," he finally spoke, "I saw him when he stepped out from behind the tree to take aim. I reckon that's when he got shot."

"All right. That's plausible." Paul took a few steps closer toward Charlie. "I'm going to ask you a question that I want you to think very carefully about before you answer. Please remember perjury, or lying under oath, is a serious offence and anyone caught doing it could wind up in jail. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." Little beads of sweat glistened along Charlie's forehead.

"When was the first time you really saw Blue that morning, Charlie? When he stepped out from behind the tree - or earlier, as you and your friends were chasing him?"

Charlie felt the room stand still. For some reason, breathing had become difficult. He looked at Brad, who hurled nonverbal threats through the air. Charlie's father sat motionless. He could read his son well and knew something had just gone wrong. Charlie next looked toward the front of the room at Becky. She almost devoured him with those eyes of hers, pleading with him to do the right thing.

His earlier testimony had been easy. He agreed with everything the others had already sworn to. But this - this point blank question - froze him in a moral dilemma: stand by his friend or tell the truth. What should he do?

"Do I need to repeat the question?" Paul asked after waiting a few moments.

"No. I - I heard you plain enough." Charlie tugged at his collar, suddenly too tight around his neck, as he sat quietly for a few more moments.

"The truth, Charles Walker!" Paul shouted and slapped the table.


Ch. 38 - A Real Long Wait

The six escapees stopped on the hill, looking down at the Little Wolf Ranch.

"I don't see any tracks," Josiah said.

"They're probably inside, snuggled up to the fireplace," Haversham sneered. "Well, put the coffee on, O'Connell. You've got company."

They made their way down the slippery hill and tied their horses in front of the porch. From inside the barn, the dogs growled, the fur bristling along the back of their necks.

Haversham unholstered his revolver and motioned for the others to do the same. Stepping up to the porch, he swung the door open. All three dogs ran from the barn, barking at the intruders.

"What on earth?" Lana stood to check on the commotion. Walking into the main room, she drew up at the sight of so many strangers.

"Can I help you?" Lana didn't recognize any of the men in the dark room, bundled up against the cold.

"Hello, Mrs. O'Connell," Haversham said. "I'm here for your husband and your sons. Get them for me, will you?"

When Lana heard his voice, she recognized him. Looking from him to the others, she saw Brad. That's when she noticed the guns drawn.

She screamed as loud and as long as she could and leapt toward the major, intent on getting his revolver. Maybe her warning would give the others time to get out of the house.

Angry and impatient, Haversham pulled the trigger, sending Lana reeling backwards against the far wall, a jagged, gaping hole in her shoulder. Haversham ran into the kitchen, waving his gun and yelling.

"O'Connell! Get out here! Now!"

Sam turned, shocked and confused, from the office door. "He - he's not here. None of the men are."


Ch. 39 - Dance For The Devil

Sam moved slowly, trying to give the men as much time as she could to reach the barn from wherever they hid. By the time the two sisters had the horses unsaddled and in their stalls, the back barn door opened and Joshua stepped through.

"Thank God you're here!" Sam hugged him. Surprised and relieved, Becky threw herself into Blue's waiting arms.

"How's Mother?" Joshua asked.

"She'll be all right. I got the bullet out," Sam explained.

"Good," Liam nodded, right behind Joshua and, after hugging Sam, too, he asked, "What's it like in there?"

"Haversham is inside, waving his gun and his orders around. Brad tried to force himself on Becky."

Stepping back to look at Becky, Blue noticed her ripped dress underneath her coat. "Did he hurt you?"

"No. His pa got him off me."

The young man snarled and pulled her against him. "Doesn't matter. He's dead, anyway."

"I already told him that." The trust in Becky's wide blue eyes went straight to his heart and fed his anger.

Sam continued to explain, "One of the men is wounded on his side. The other is upstairs, guarding Lana. There are two teenage boys who were arrested with Brad. I think they're more scared than anything."

"All right. Have you managed to get any guns?" Liam asked.

"No. All that's left in the house are rifles and we can't exactly go sneaking those around."

Liam's brows furrowed as he thought about what they should do next.

Adam had remained silent, but he devoured Sam's every move. He walked up to stand by her and reached for her hand, holding it in his gloved one. Now that he had seen for himself she was unhurt, his heart went back into its normal place and he felt cold rage replace his anxiety.

"How's Lissa?" Joshua asked.

Sam squeezed Adam's hand, and continued to hold it as she answered, "She's doing well. I left her in the kitchen, fixing supper. I guess we ought to go back in before they get suspicious."

"Yeah, I suppose so," Joshua said.

Bent Fox had been translating all of this to his Kiowa cousins. When Black Rabbit began speaking, Joshua's eyes lit up.

"What?" Liam asked.

"Why do the women have to go back in?" Joshua explained. "Two people went out and two people go back in. But which two?" He smiled when he saw Adam and Liam catch on.

"I'll go," Liam said.

"No. You're too tall. So am I," Joshua said. "Anyone watching from the window would know it wasn't the girls. We're too bundled up and there's too much snow whipping around to tell anything but height."

"Then it's me and Blue," Adam nodded. "I can hunker down. That'll take some off my height."

"All right. Your guns loaded and ready?" Liam didn't need to ask. When they both nodded, he added. "As soon as you're in and are sure the women are safe, signal. We'll be right behind you."

Blue kissed Becky and made her a promise. "After tonight, you won't have to worry about Brad."

"I know. With you here, I've never worried about him."

Tapping Blue on the shoulder, Joshua pulled him to the side and spoke in Kiowa. "I've seen this day in a vision. You'll face this fire and be fine."

Blue tilted his head, searching his brother's face. "I am not afraid."

"I know. You're just like Father."

With a nod, Blue walked to the door and waited for Adam.

Adam sent Sam a look of steady resolve.

"Be careful," she whispered.

He tipped his hat to her, then nodded to Blue. The two men ducked their heads to blur their profile, and made their way to the house.

 
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