White Gold

by

LaJuan

 

 

 

His roan horse plodded along slowly and stirred up a cloud of dust that was visible long before he passed under the arch.  It didn't matter to the rider if more dirt sifted down to settle on his filthy shirt.  It was an environment he was used to and felt comfortable traversing.

A horsefly settled on the roan's wide hind quarters and proceeded to bite.  This gave the horse incentive to swat his rider and the fly hard with his long tail, but nothing could get the nag to move faster.  The day was just too hot and too close to afternoon siesta time for both horse and rider.

From under the brim of his sweat stained hat, he viewed the hacienda shimmering in the waves of heat.  It's white adobe sides were framed in the wilted vines snaking up and clinging to the roof and the outside stairs.

Drawing closer to his destination, he loosen the reins in hopes that his flea-bitten loose-legged mount would move faster.  The thought of trading the horse for a speedier animal, like a mule, coursed through his mind as the roam ambled slowly along.  His cursing of the horse was summarily dismissed by the animal.

Coming to a stop, he dismounted and handed the reins to a vaquero who had come from the corral.  Silently, the ranch hand led the horse to the water trough and on to the darken barn interior.  Turning toward the house, the rider hesitated and took his hat off.  Using it as a beater, he stirred up another cloud of dust as he hit his clothes.  Getting the majority of the grime hanging in the air, he quickly moved out of the cloud and strolled to the door. 

The house was quiet and all the doors were open in invitation to any visiting breeze.  Uncertain on whether to enter, but knowing the nature of his errand, he reached out and gave a soft knock on the  heavy entrance door.  The owner's reputation demanded it.

Hearing a snore and a snort of awakening, he moved into the darkened room, stopping past the door to let his eyes adjust.  Shifting his gaze, he ascertained that the situation was benign.  A loud pop of a knee joint was followed by the unfolding of the man sunken in the overstuffed leather chair by the clean fireplace.  The giant man slowly raised to his full height while looking around to discovered what had disturbed his siesta.

The visitor felt the twin beams divided by a frown lock onto him and he mentally shook over the size of the man.  He wondered what Murdoch had consumed as a child to give him his growth.  Maybe Scotland was a land of giants and Murdoch was normal there.  Johnny must take after his mother's side in size. His musings was interrupted by the gravelly booming voice.

“Val, I didn't hear you come in.  Welcome.  Would you like something to drink?”

“That drought has my mouth as dried as old widow Shaw's skin.  It's a piece out here.  Whiskey will do fine,” Val replied as he licked his dry and cracked lips. 

He watched as Murdoch performed the age old ritual of pouring a calculated measure of the anticipated liquor in a glass.  Handing the container over, Murdoch turned back to satisfy his desire for alcohol, only he chose Scotch.  He waved to the sofa, offering a seat for Val, while he reclaimed his leather chair.

After a few sips, curiosity got the best of Murdoch and he quizzed Val.  “What brings you out here on such a hot day, Sheriff?”

“Johnny.”

“He's not in trouble, is he?”

“Well, it depends on his point of view.”

“With you?”

“Nah.  Not from me.”

“From whom?”

“That's something I think I need to discuss with Johnny.  Is he around?”

“No.  He went up to the north pasture this morning.  He packed a lunch, but he'll be back tonight for the evening meal.”

With a smile, Val replied, “Can't keep him from Theresa's cooking.”

“Well, in this case, it's Maria's cooking.  She promised Johnny some of her hot dishes tonight.  Theresa is spending a couple of days with some friends.  Why don't you stay the night and join us?”

“If Maria is cooking spicy hot, it'll be worth it.  Yeah, since it's quiet in town, I'll stay.  Mind if I wander around a bit 'til Johnny gets back?”

“Be my guest.  I'll tell Maria to set another plate tonight.  There'll be plenty to eat.  She fixes extra for Johnny.”

“That boy sure can eat.  What about Scott?  Has he gotten used to Mexican food yet?”

“No.  She serves him a milder version, but he's getting better.  Now he's down to five glasses of water with his meals.”

“Then there's hope for his taste buds yet.  I think I'll go out for a spell.  Thanks, Murdoch.”

“I'll send out some lemonade for you when it's ready.  I need to get back to the books before we eat.  I'll see you soon.  If you need anything, Sheriff, just ask any of the hands.”

Val wandered out to the corrals and into the barn.  He went over to his horse's stall and slipped inside.  He wanted to be sure there wasn't anything wrong with his mount that would explain the slowness of his gait.  Lifting each leg in sequence, he checked for rocks and was rewarded with a small rock caught in the back shoe of the nag.  Fishing his knife from his jeans, he wiped it off on the back of his leg before prying at the shoe.  The rock wasn't inclined to move and, for once, his horse was.  He saw it coming and dodged the hoof as it was jerked from his grasp.  Missing his head by an inch, he still felt the breeze whooshing by.  He jumped to the side and let out a load of profanity at the onerous creature.  Stomping over to the horse's head, he anchored the reins over the hook in the corner of the stall.  Returning to the back leg, he again attacked the rock with his knife.  With a renewed vigor, he flipped the rock out and checked the hoof for bruising.

The horse quietened down and reached over to munch hay in the trough.  Closing his knife and returning it to his pocket, Val looked long and hard at the horse.  Vowing to replace his transportation as soon as he could, he left to try to catch a breeze outside at the corral.

That's where Maria found him with her fresh lemonade.  It was cool going down his throat.  Watching the new horses prancing within the fencing, Val admired the quality of wild horseflesh that Johnny had captured.  Maybe, if Johnny didn't throw his gun at him for the news he carried, he could swing a deal to trade out his stubborn nag.  He sure could use something faster than a snail.

He heard the galloping horse before it slowed down to a walk.  Scott waved at him as he went to the barn to stable his ride.  Val gazed at the young man and sipped his lemonade.  Scott sure had changed since he first arrived.  He had come into Morro Coyo on the stage with his half-brother, Johnny.  Val chuckled.  He had heard from others about that famous meeting between the two brothers and Murdoch's ward, Theresa.

Val had rode with Johnny south of the border and knew what reaction Madrid would have to having an Eastern dandy for a brother.  Val continued with his musings as Scott pulled the draft horses up to the buckboard and swiftly hitched them to the wagon. Enlisting the aid of two ranch hands, they loaded the back with posts, barb wire and the tools.  Scott stood still and pondered the contents of the wagon bed.  With an abrupt turn, straight backed, he marched to the shed and disappeared into the interior.

Val's thoughts turned toward Scott.  When he first laid eyes on the easterner, he wasn't impressed.  The man had been persuaded to change his clothing to western work shirts, jeans and boots, but he still stood like he had a rod up his back and his speech was peppered with high brow words.  Scott wasn't what he thought would be a brother to Johnny.  The guy was an opposite in every way to the gunfighter.  It would have been easier to pick a stranger off the street and make a better match to Johnny.  There was something about the guy that was what Johnny needed.  They had a bond, hard to understand, but it was there.  He was a handsome devil, just like Johnny, but in a different way.  Johnny was short, compact, and dark, where as Scott was tall, slender and light.  Yep, no peas from the same pod!

That didn't stop the girls from gawking.  Just last week Judith Warwick and Jennifer Aaron were giggling outside the jail.  The young ladies were unaware that their sheriff was enjoying the coolness within and could hear every word they said.  They had started out gushing over Jesse Orr, but when Judith caught sight of the Lancer boys riding into town, their attention was diverted.  Both agreed that Johnny was handsome in a dangerous way, but Scott was what they had their hearts set on.

The sheriff was soon privileged to know that Scott had good physical features – from his sun bleached blond hair, steel gray eyes, sculptured facial bone structure, bronzed tan, ready smile, rippling swimmer's muscles, long fingers and tight bottom.  The girls went on to list his other attributes – his intelligence, determination, humor, good manners and his lovely Boston accent.  It was enough to make a grown man puke.

As he gazed, Scott came out of the shed carrying an ax over his shoulder.  Throwing it into the wagon bed, he signal the two men and heaving himself up to the bench, he flipped the reins.  As the wagon slowly made its way down the lane, Scott gave a big grin and waved at Val.

The heat was getting to Val and he longed for the coolness of the evening.  Knowing that both Scott and Johnny would be gone until time to eat, he made his way to the shade of the house.  Stretching himself out on a chair lounge, he watched the flies settle down and he drifted off to sleep and gentle snoring.

Through the open doors of the hacienda, Maria could hear the snoring that was soon joined by the louder volume of Murdoch's loud snorts.  Grinning as she thought of her Juanito's papa and amigo, she added more spices to the night's special meal.

If anyone had cared to look at the hills, they would have noticed the glint of sunlight reflecting off the long steel tube.  Val's sleepy form was large in the viewer image, but no one looked and the hacienda slumbered on.

 

Part 2

 

The slow slide of the drop of sweat down his forehead annoyed Val's slumber, and he reached up to wipe it away.  His arm was arrested in mid-air by the unique piercing whistle announcing Johnny's return.  Eyes snapping open along with sudden temper, Val sat up and searched out the location of his friend.  He found Johnny high stepping Barranca in figure eights around the wagon Scott was driving down the lane.  Johnny's wide, teasing grin was in direct contrast to Scott's scowl.  Scott's chiding remarks were stepped on by Johnny's quick-witted smart aleck retorts.  The banter between the brothers soothed Val's temper over his sudden awakening.  A memory of his errand drooped down his beginning grin and dread returned to his heart.  The moment of imparting his truth to Johnny was rapidly approaching and Val wasn't sure how the young rancher would take it.  He heard a noise behind him and as he swiveled to look, he caught a glimpse of sunlight bouncing off something up in the mountains.  His mind was suddenly distracted by Murdoch walking up.

The whistle had  awakened Murdoch, as well, and his tall looming frame filled the open doorway.  He walked out onto the covered porch and glanced over at the now alert Val.  As he pulled his watch out of his pocket and noted the time, he addressed Val.  “Dinner should be ready in twenty minutes. Just enough time for the boys to wash up before Maria tears into them for being late.  Would you like to freshen up also, Sheriff?”

Grasping at anything that would delay his talk with Johnny, Val replied, “Don't mind if I do.”

“The boys will use the horse trough, we can use the basin out back.” 

Looking back over his shoulder and not spotting the glare in the mountains, Val followed Murdoch through the house and the kitchen door.

After washing the sweat off of his face, Val felt noticeable cooler.  When he saw the spread of savory Mexican dishes Maria had on the table, he knew he would heat up again.  He heard them before he saw them.  Scott was swatting at Johnny's shoulder as Johnny thumped Scott's stomach.  Both boys were laughing as they tried to trip each other.

Murdoch growled at them to stop the tomfoolery, and reminded them that they had a guest.

Johnny looked Val up and down and smirked, “So, you're a guest now.  Sounds like you've come up in the world.  Now what did you do to deserve this?”

“Johnny.”  Murdoch admonished his younger son.

“I'll tell you all about it, after we eat.  I know better than to make Maria wait.  She'll take the food away from me and make me go to bed without my supper,” Val replied with just the right amount of contriteness on his face.

Johnny graced him with his wide grin.  “You're right.  Let's go!”

Dinner was a quiet time, marred only by the sounds hungry men make.  Val watched carefully and counted each time Scott refilled his water glass from the pitcher on the table.  Murdoch had told him.  Yep, five times.  The boy was right on the money.

With a belch, Val pushed back his chair.  His actions brought a frown from Murdoch and smiles from the boys.  Gracing his lack of manners with an apology and a complement to Maria as she cleared the table of empty plates, he was relieved when Murdoch stood up, signaling an end to the meal.

“Let's retire to the great room for some brandy and ...” Murdoch cocked his head in Val and Johnny's direction, “some tequila.”  Leisurely, they made their way into the next room.  It was still hot, so they opened the French doors on both sides of the room.  Johnny arranged himself on the left side of the sofa and stretched out his legs.  Crossing his ankles, he leaned back and gave his sire a wide, infectious grin.  While Murdoch chose his overstuffed leather chair and Val the other end of the sofa, Scott went to the side board and poured measured amounts of alcohol into various glasses.  Handing each man their preferred beverages, he sat down in a matching chair to his father and raised his eyebrows at Val.

Val took that as his cue to begin.  Looking over at Johnny, he decided that his friend's gun was too close.  He pushed himself up and paced.

“Val, what's wrong?”

“I'm trying to decide if you'll shoot me, Johnny.”

“I may yet if you don't open your yap and tell me what's goin' on.”

“I got a telegram from another sheriff down around the border towns.  An old acquaintance has been going from town to town looking for you.” Val paced over to the empty fireplace, presenting his back to his audience.

“Who?”

Val hesitated, not wanting to utter the name, but Scott could see how alert Johnny was.  Johnny set up straight and growled at his old friend, “Get it said!”

Noting the scowl radiating from Johnny's protective older brother, Val turned toward Johnny and blurted out the name.  “White Gold.”

Val watched silently as Johnny's face blanched and his black hair stood out against his skin drained of blood.  He swayed.  Murdoch and Scott rose and took steps toward Johnny as his eyes enlarged, his mouth opened and he fell back against the sofa.

Scott reached him first and stroked his cheek as he inquired, “Johnny, are you okay?”

Johnny didn't hear him as he dropped back into the memories of long, long ago. 

He could feel the burn of the bullet as it grazed his head.  Reeling, he watched as his opponent in the gunfight dropped in a spiral down to the ground and flat on his face.

Wobbling over to his horse at the hitching rail, he mounted and rode out of town.  Miles out of town he stumbled into the Indian warriors.  There was no escape, he was barely conscious and they took him along as they returned to their camp.  That was the beginning of his fog shrouded nightmare.  His memories were vague, interspersed with moments of clarity.  It was like climbing a ladder with gaps of memory between each rung. 

He remembered the pain upon hitting the ground after falling off the horse.  He stared up with his sapphire eyes as she came over and looked down on him.  Never saying a word, she  gestured for the braves to come over and pick him up.  He felt woozy and the world was spiraling.  The sudden change in position was too much and the braves tightened their grip as things turned black and his body relaxed in their hold.

Consciousness returned quickly and he could feel the warmth of horseflesh under his legs.  They were moving at a slow walk and he could feel the strength of the arm wrapped around his chest and the rise and fall of breathing coming from his traveling companion behind him.  The sun was pouring off heat and he could feel the parchment of his dry mouth and lips.  He kept his eyes shut, not wanting to be blinded by the bright light seeping in through his eyelashes. The horse stumbled and he heard his grunt just as his head exploded in starry sparkles.  Blackness pulled him back into its velvet embrace.

The next time he woke up, he was in darkness with the campfire as a beacon that pulled at his eyes.  He was wrapped in blankets against the chill of the night air and his bandanna was wrapped around his wounded head.  Slowly he moved his head to peer around to get his bearings.  He heard their low murmurings as the warriors shared their meal.  A soft feminine voice said something that he didn't understand and all eyes were turned to him.

Two of the braves came with her as she moved to stand over him.  Comprehension struck him as he recognized her from his earlier experience.  He uttered, “Who?” and retrieving his right hand from the clutches of the blankets, he pointed to her.  Her first reply he couldn't understand and then she switched to Spanish.  “Oro blanco.” 

He translated it to English, “White Gold.”  He looked closely at her and could understand why she had that name.  She was young, petite with white blonde flowing hair, pale skin and transparent ice blue eyes.  Her dress was made from white leather with shades of blue and gold beads decorating her outfit.  Her boots were worn high and they too were white.  He wondered why she was traveling with the Indian warriors.

She gave a grunt, pointed to herself and repeated her name.  Looking pointedly at him, she pointed to him and grunted again.  He gave the answer she desired,  “Johnny Madrid.”  Nodding to herself, she picked up a goat's skin of water and brought it over to him.  Pantomiming him drinking, she lifted his head and held it to his mouth.  He was parched and started to drink heavily, only to have her jerk it away from him.  Rubbing her stomach, she acted like she was retching and shook her head negatively.

He moved to sit up and she had the two braves pull him up into a sitting position resting his back against the rocks behind him.  As he moved, he felt a beaded bracelet move downward onto his right wrist.  Looking it over, he noticed it was a duplicate of the one she wore.  He pulled at it and quizzically looked up at her.  Her reply was chilling.

“Usted es mi esclavo del hombre.”  (“You are my man slave.”)

 

Part 3

 

Hawk looked down on the dwelling from the mountain above and watched through the spy glass.  Earlier he'd viewed the sheriff sleeping and watched for the man he had remembered.  Off and on during the hazy afternoon, he took a sweep of the valley and other than a few of the ranch hands, he didn't see the man.   As the sun begin to sink, he saw two men coming in from the pasture, one driving a wagon and the other riding a golden palomino horse.  One was teasing the other and when dismounted, by their actions, you could tell that they were close.  As he watched, he caught sight of what he was looking for, the beaded bracelet around the dark haired one's right wrist, identifying the man as Johnny Madrid.  It brought back the flood of memories of Madrid and those days away from the tribe.

Johnny's reaction was swift.  He took off the bracelet and reached back with his left hand to throw it away.  He felt it, the burst of pain from his earlier fall, traveling down his arm from his shoulder and it gave him pause, just enough for Hawk to move in, shove him to the ground and pin his arms behind his back.  The warrior wrapped leather around both wrists and then, grabbing the bracelet from his fingers, twisted it around his right wrist.  Swinging him back up into a sitting position, Hawk whispered into his ear, “Always keep it on.  It identifies you and protects you from death.”

Johnny looked up to give a scowl to the brave and then at the two warriors lowering their rifles that had been pointing toward him.  They backed away from him, but only because White Gold had gestured for them to move and give her room.  She knelt down in front of him, reached out to pinch his chin, and jerked his head up to face her.  She studied him closely and with her free hand, trailed her sharpened fingernails from his temple down his face, neck and chest.  When he squirmed, she gave out a strange cackle and brought her lips down on his and pressed hard.  He could feel her tongue seeking admittance, but he kept his mouth taunt and stared coldly into her ice eyes.  She rocked back onto her heels and coolly contemplated him.  With the viciousness of a rattler, she launched her arm and slapped him soundly on the side of his head, knocking him over once again.  Standing up, she casually walked back to the campfire, sat down and resumed her meal.

Hawk looked down on the now unconscious man.  The blow had opened up his wound and he was bleeding freely again from there and from the ear.  Pulling the blankets over him, the warrior picked up a burning branch from the fire and went hunting in the woods.  He gave a grunt when he found what he wanted.  Carefully avoiding the spider, he scooped up her web into his hand, stood and watched as she proceeded to repair his damage, and went back to Johnny's side.  Taking the bandanna off, he shaped the web into two compact masses and placed it over the wounds.  He secured the head wound with the bandanna, checked to see if the ear bleeding was slowing, and walked away to get his blankets and weapons.  He placed his things close by and sat down to guard the prisoner for the rest of the night.

He was in a light doze when he heard Johnny mumbling and tossing his head from side to side.  Grabbing the nearby skin of water, he raised Johnny's head and dribbled water into his mouth.  When Johnny refused any more, the skin was removed and the warrior settled back down to his vigil.  He could feel the icy stare of the blue eyes following his moves, but he didn't let it bother him.  Soon the prisoner fell back to sleep and left the brave to face the softening of the morning dawn.

Breakfast consisted of berries, deer jerky, and flat bread from their stores of supplies.  White Gold was anxious to be on the move and commanded Hawk to feed the prisoner a few morsels while she went to fetch her bag.  Bringing it back, she pulled out a collar and proceeded to fasten it around Johnny's neck.  With his hands numb from leather wrapped around them, he still put up a fight, but she dug her fingernails into his neck and broke his skin open.  Reaching out with her other hand, she ran her fingers through the blood dripping down his neck to his shirt collar.  Bringing her hand back to her face, she watched his eyes as she licked her fingers clean.  There was a flicker of revulsion before he controlled his face.  It was enough for her to notice and she cackled.  Waving over some of the warriors, they held him still as she tightened the collar around his neck.  Attaching a rope to it, she signaled that it was time to go and she pulled Johnny to her horse.  Smoothly she leap onto its back, and without a backward glance she kneed the horse into a fast walk.  He had no choice but to stumble reeling after her.

Hawk followed and thoughtfully watched White Gold as she led the braves to a destination only she knew.  There was a kernel of doubt in his mind as he mulled over her actions.  This was a part of her personality that was just coming to fruit.  He was confused. Because of her albino looks she was considered touched by the Gods and was guarded well.  When she chose them to go on this quest with her, they were proud to be the guardians of the Gods' child.  Her word was law and they had followed it closely. 

They had been on the move for several weeks.  She had been seeking, for what he didn't know, but this man was either the final goal or a short distraction.  He kept watch on the prisoner as he floundered.  An hour later the man dropped and didn't get up.  White Gold turned in annoyance, stopped her horse and dismounted.  She went back to the prone figure and and kicked him in the side.  She got no response and it made her angry.  As she drew back to kick him again, Hawk knelt down beside Madrid and put up his hand to stay her.

“Why do you stop me?”

“To save time.”

“What do you mean?”

“He's no good to you in the condition he's in.  Either kill him or let him ride with me. Wherever we're going, it would be faster.”

She turned her anger off and snapped out, “So be it.  He rides with you.”  Turning, she went back to her horse, jumped up and rode away.

Hurriedly, Hawk gathered up the rope still connected to the collar around Johnny's throat, lifted the boy onto his horse, mounted, and rode after her followed by the other braves.

Johnny woke up slowly, feeling the warmth of the horse beneath his legs and the strong brown arm around him.  He felt the tightness of the collar around his neck and tried to lift his arm to loosen it, but his hands were still tied.

Hawk noticed the movement and tightened his hold.  “Stay still.”

“Where are we going?”

“Only White Gold knows.”

“What does she want with me?”

“Only White Gold knows.”

Johnny tilted his head back to see the warrior, but he had a sudden attack of vertigo and his head reeled.

“Stay still.”

“Don't look like I have a choice.”  He relaxed and floated back off into darkness.

They topped a rise in the hill and worked their way into the valley beyond.  White Gold stopped and signaled that they had reached their destination.  Hawk halted his horse and looked around.  There were trees overlooking the banks of the creek that ran through the valley.  Beyond the trees was a trail that led to the caves carved into the side of the cliffs on one side.  The other side was a grassy knoll leading to towering stone rocks.

“Take him up to that cave and stay with him until I get there.”  She pointed to the cave nearest to the bottom of the trail.  Turning to the other braves, she quickly dispatched them to different chores to set up camp, hunt and cook.  Hawk hesitated, but then turned and headed for the cave.

It was a wide and deep cave with a pool of water at the back.  Tree twigs were piled up at one side just crying for a blanket to be thrown over them.  Provisions were stacked along the other side and a circle of stones, near the front, outlined the remains of a fire pit.   Allowing Johnny to slide down into a heap, Hawk jumped off his horse and pulled the blankets off the back of the horse.  He gave a gentle tap on the horse's leg and the mount walked away to join the others in the valley below.  Throwing a blanket onto the bough, Hawk moved Johnny into the cave and onto the makeshift bed.  Grabbing a piece of leather he found in the provisions, he swished it into the water until it was dripping.  Bringing it back, he washed the injured man's face.  Stopping to untie his hands, he moved them to the front of his body, and retied them with less tension.  Looking up, he was met with sapphire eyes staring at him.

“Why?”

How do you answer a question when you had no answers?  Hawk stayed quiet.

Looking around, Johnny took in that he was in a cave and on a bed.  He started to get up but was pushed back down and quietly told to stay.  He felt the collar around his neck and tried to take it off with his bound hands.  His hands were pulled away and placed down on his stomach.  “If White Gold puts it on you, it stays until she takes it off.”

Angrily, Johnny shouted at the brave, “What is she to you, some kind of God?”

Hawk turned back to him from where he had walked off  and replied quietly, “Yes, she is.”  He turned and sat down on the ground across the cave and kept his rifle close by as he refused to answer Madrid's further inquiries.  He had some thinking to do.

 

Part 4

 

Johnny felt yucky and confused.  His head hurt and his left side ached.  He thought back through his vague memories and his recent treatment by White Gold and knew he was in trouble.  What had him puzzled was what she wanted from him.  She had braves to take care of her needs.  Why did she want him as her slave?  Based on his encounters with her so far, he wasn't anxious to be around her.

She may be physically pretty in a strange way, but inside, where it counted, she was pure poison.  He glanced over at the brave that was guarding him.  The warrior was a blank slate, no animosity, but no willingness to help.  No, he was not one to trust to help him escape her clutches.  He would have to bide his time and watch for any opportunities.  Right now he needed to regain his strength and keep alert.

He heard her approach before she entered the cave.  She wore a grin and was followed by two other braves.  She stood and gazed with a gleam in her eyes for several minutes and then went to rummage in the stores near where Hawk sat watching.  She pulled out a garment and tossed it to one of the braves.  “Strip him and dress him in that.”  With that command, she turned and walked away to stand in the entrance overlooking the valley.  She heard the scuffling going on behind her and the grunt that followed the sound of a fist hitting his body.  The sound brought excitement to her face and she was still standing with a broad grin when one of the warriors came to stand in front of her.

“It is done.”  He handed her a stack of clothes with a pair of boots on top.  Turning, she coolly gazed at her prisoner.  He was stretched out on the cave floor with the brave's foot planted on his neck.  The brave held tightly the rope to his neck collar.  Johnny's hands were tied in front and his bare chest had the beginnings of a bruise showing.  He was dressed only in a breechcloth.

“Stake him and then leave us.”

Stakes were driven into the ground and each limb was tied down.  The two warriors left and Hawk smoothly stood up to follow.  He was stopped by her commanding voice.  “Bring us back food.  Enough for both of us.”

Nodding, he too left.  As he walked down the trail, his thoughts were racing.  His belief in her Godhood was being shaken.  She had always been demurred and beneficial to others.  This change in her personality was unsettling.  He approved of Madrid's fighting spirit.  He would have done the same in the exact situation.  Thinking it through as he gathered food, he resolved to stay close as he could, without open defiance, and protect Madrid.  He had caused her to detour from her pathway before, maybe he could again.

Entering back into the cave, she took the food and dismissed him.

“I'll guard from outside.”

“There is no need.  He is tied.”

“Even tied, I think he is a dangerous man.  I will protect my Goddess.”

She stared at Hawk with a frown on her face and then a transformation occurred and she grinned.  “Protect me, warrior, but come only if I call.”

He bowed and went out of the cave to sit down outside.  He heard murmuring from her and then the voice of Madrid inquiring.  The slap was loud and then there was silence.  After a while, she called his name.  Hawk stepped into the cave and gazed at the man on the floor.  Food was smeared over his face where she had forced it into him.

“Take him down, force him to clean up and relieve himself.  Bring him back and tie him down again.”

Hawk untied Madrid and gave him instructions in Spanish.  The two walked down to the creek and while Johnny walked into the creek to clean off the crud and wash out his bandanna, Hawk stood with his rifle cradled in his arms.

Johnny tried to prolong his freedom, but soon Hawk was prodding him to return to the trail.  On the way back he was allowed to alter his route to a stand of trees to take care of personal needs.  Johnny was on alert and took in the layout of the land and the amount of braves around.  White Gold was the only female in the batch and he deemed her the most dangerous of the group, something like a black widow spider.

He wasn't inclined to go back to the cave, but the stone face that Hawk wore told him it wouldn't do any good to protest.  He was tied down again and Hawk threw a blanket over his still damp body.  Ignoring the girl and Hawk, Johnny turned his head away from them and went to sleep.

“Guard him.  I will take another warrior and search out the items I need for him.”

Hawk again bowed and sat down against the wall.  It would have been boring, but his mind returned to his unrest and the time passed swiftly.

White Gold came back with a bag of plants and cactus.  Using a sharp knife, she cut up the cactus into smaller pieces and laid them out on a flat rock to dry.  She carefully placed the plants around the rock, went down to the creek and washed her hands.  Gathering strips of meat and flat bread from the cook area, she returned to the cave.  “Leave us.”

“I will guard.”

“No! You will go eat, then return. I will call another brave to guard. Now leave.”

He went down to the valley floor to check out the actions of the other braves.  Most of them were curious about her intentions, but she was their goddess, so they contained their inquiries of Hawk.  Leaning back against a rock, he chewed on a piece of bread and watched the cave opening.  He was rewarded with White Gold coming out to check the drying of her bounty.  She gathered up a portion of it and went back in.  He saw another warrior sitting outside the cave.

While waiting for his guard duty to begin again, he ate his meal, took care of personal needs, and checked on his horse.  Thinking that it was near the time to check on the prisoner, Hawk walked up the trail and couldn't mistake the sound of anger in White Gold's voice.  He could hear the sound of flesh being slapped.  Waving off the other brave, he stopped inside the entrance and stared at the scene before him.  Madrid was unconscious and limp.  White Gold had slapped him enough to leave red hand prints on his face.

“What has happened?”

“I used my medicine on him.  It was too high of a dose.  I will sleep elsewhere tonight.  Guard him, but I don't think he'll wake before morning.”  She gathered her blankets and with face flushed, she left.

Hawk went over to Madrid and checked his neck pulse.  It was racing and his face was breaking out with sweat.  His eyes were moving back and forth beneath the eyelids, and he was moaning softly.  Suddenly, his body jerked as he fought to sit up.  Finding his body tied down, the man fought against his bonds before he slumped back down.  His eyes stayed tightly closed and he started to talk softly in Spanish, interspersed with a few words of English.  Hawk sat down near him, watched and listened.  The man went from raving against someone hurting his mother to being very cold and menacing toward a gunfighter.  After a couple of hours of listening, he looked again at the man.  He was young, but his words were of a old man's experiences.

Johnny's past was coming back to him.  No matter what he did, he couldn't escape.  The door was shut and something had been shoved up against it from the other side.  The air was putrid from the decay of his mother's body.  Somehow flies had gotten through and were buzzing around.  He was thirsty and so very hungry.  Once again he ran and threw his body against the door, trying to escape, but lack of substance was sapping his small body of strength.  His cries for help went unnoticed and with dejection and weakness, he slid down and slipped sideways as the night came again to the trapped child.  He remembered his mother saying his father didn't want him and Johnny's emotions blamed his father on his present situation.  Finally, exhausted he went to sleep with the white noise of flies buzzing.

Hawk watched as the man calmed down and went back to sleep.  Thinking that he may have been feverish, he reached out and check his forehead.  He was surprised to find his body temperature was normal.  His sharp eyesight spotted some of the cactus in the dirt under the man's head.  Picking it up, he recognized it as peyote, a powerful hallucinating drug.  Now he knew why Johnny was so upset in his sleep.

He went to the entrance of the cave and watched as the sun traveled down toward the hills.  In the fading light he looked again to the plants drying on the flat rock.  He started to go out to pick up a piece to identify it when he heard Johnny give out a low moan.  Coming back into the cave, he threw a couple of sticks of wood onto the fire and went to the man.  He was gripped again in a nightmare and Hawk was already wishing that the night would run through fast and not linger too long.  As it was, he anticipated a long night.  Going to the water in the back, he moistened the leather he had used before, brought it back to Johnny and slowly wiped it across his face cleaning the sweat off his skin.  Speaking Spanish in a low tone of voice, he reassured the man that all was well.  Again, Johnny subsided and went to sleep. 

Yes, it would be a long night and Hawk pulled some of the provisions over to make a back rest for him as he settled down for some light sleeping.

In another cave, White Gold was discovering that it was her monthly time.  The female of her tribe would sequester themselves during their time, so she called out to one of her guards to bring her food and water and leave it outside the cave.  When that have been achieved, she informed him from the back of the cave, to do this for the next five days.  Nodding his head in understanding, for he had a mother and sister of age, he agreed and backed away.

Hawk slept on, not knowing of Johnny's good fortune that had just happened.

 

Part 5

 

He awoke the next morning at the first visitation from the sun's rays crossing his face.  Stretching, he checked on the prisoner to find the man was still asleep.  Rising up, he crossed the cave and touched the neck vein to find Madrid's heart rate had settled down during the night, but he was still deep in the clutches of the peyote.

Another brave entered to take over guard duty and give Hawk time to seek nourishment.  The news that White Gold was in seclusion brought both elation and guilt to Hawk.  One shouldn't feel that way toward a Goddess, yet Madrid needed to heal.  He still wondered what she wanted with Madrid, but that knowledge would have to wait until another day.

As he ate, his mind turned to more practical needs.  This quest of White Gold's was also an opportunity for the braves to increase the fodder of the tribe.  During their journey, they had picked the wild onions, garlic and herbs.  In the valley these were hanging and drying.  The braves were foraging daily for game and the meat would be cut into strips.  Berries would be gathered and pounded into these select pieces to make jerky.  Life was plentiful and in three weeks the tribe would be led to this new camp for their winter home.

Madrid should be better with rest and food.  Soon, he would put the man to work on the food gathering and preparation.  Striding back to the cave, he paused to look over the plants that White Gold had left on the rock to dry.  He knew many various herbs and plants, but this one he was unfamiliar with.  Lifting a stalk up to sniff, he decided that it smelled like a weed, nothing special or memorable.  Tossing it down, he stalked into the cave under the watchful eye of the other brave. 

“He awakes.”

“Good.  I'll take over the guarding. Leave us, but stay outside and wait.”

“Yes, young Chief.”

Hawk grinned at his tribal nickname.  “Not yet.  My father is a great man and I'm in no hurry to replace him.  Now go.”

Hawk squatted down and watched.  Madrid's eyes were rolling beneath his eyelids and his breathing was increasing.  Then all became quiet and still as the young prisoner controlled his body.  Hawk studied him and came to a decision.  Quietly he spoke in English,  “I'm going to release you from the stakes, but make no mistakes.  You are still a prisoner.”

The sun was playing peak-a-boo through the tree limbs outside the cave as a gentle breeze shook the leaves. One stray sun ray fell across Johnny's face.  The sudden opening of the sapphire eyes flashed into Hawk's mind and he saw the anger and hardness of Madrid.

“Why don't you just kill me and get it over with?”

“You are important to White Gold and so you will live.”

Johnny snorted.  “I'm more interested in dying than being with her.  She's loco.”  He tried to dodge the blow, but Hawk's open hand hit his target and left a bright spot on Johnny's cheek.

“She is our Goddess.  You will not speak of her in that manner.”

Johnny yelled, “And how do you want me to speak of a woman who would take an injured man, strip him of his dignity, stake him out, and drug him with an hallucinate weed?  Praise her for her dastardly deeds?”  Johnny snorted and muttered, “You must be as loco as she is.”

Hawk stared at him and mulled over his words.  He quietly replied, “No, I'm not loco and you will be silent when with her or with the other braves.  You will only talk to me.”

“And why will I do that?”

“Because I'm sane and my punishment will be far worse than theirs if you speak to them. Now, I'm going to release you and take you down into the valley.  You will not talk to anyone, including me during that time.  You are to eat, drink and take care of your body needs.  You will be under guard the entire time by another brave and by me.  When it's time to return, I will tell you.  If you run, I'll track you down and stake you to a red ant hill.  Your death you so desire will be in agony.  Make no mistake, Madrid.  I do not lie.”

Johnny glared at the brave.  His instincts told him the man meant business.  He wasn't sure which one was more dangerous, White Gold or this stern warrior before him.  But he had a headache, a hungry belly, thirst and a full bladder.  He had to take care of his immediate needs, rather than fight with this man.  He gave in and nodded. 

When he was released, he sat up fast and reeled with dizziness.  Hawk waited him out until he was able to slowly rise.  Indicating the cave opening, Hawk followed him out into the sunlight and was greeted by the other brave.  Together they followed Madrid as he staggered down the trail, came to a stop and waved toward the shrubs he had visited the day before.  Hawk nodded and waited until he came back to the trail.  He was more steady on his feet as they again traveled down to the valley floor. 

Johnny followed his orders and kept quiet, but allowed his eyes to roam freely.  He settled on the creek and after eating, he rose and moved closer to the creek.  He knelt and using his hands, brought water to his mouth.  It gave him time to allow his eyes to rove and gage the depths.  He noticed the reeds growing in a group further down the creek bed.  Splashing water over his face and head, he shook like a dog, groaning when a sharp pain went through his head.  Gingerly, he felt the half-healed graze on his head and decided to forgo any more shaking.  Getting up, he wandered around testing his boundaries.  The braves allowed his freedom, but was within sight with their rifles wherever he roamed. 

Hawk watched and noted how Madrid was steadier on his feet.  His eyes were more focused and the shakiness of his hands had stopped.  Hawk was content to allow the man the exercise to strengthen his body.  At times his hand would stray to his head wound.  After two hours, Hawk decided it was time to return to the cave.  Motioning to him with the rifle, his prisoner turned to the trail and quietly returned to his cave.  Slowly lowering his body to the blanket on the cave floor,  he went to sleep the moment his body was prone.

Hawk turned the guarding over to the other brave and went to check on White Gold.  He found her frustrated with the lack of information on her captive.  He soothed her by giving her an update on Madrid.  She wasn't pleased that Madrid was allowed to walk around untethered.

He listened as he heard her pacing within the confines of her cave, her voice was climbing into the shrill range as she ranted and raved.  In hopes of finding out her plans for Madrid, he allowed her to go on as long as she had, but alas, she never touched on it.  He knew he had to calm her down for not only his sake, but for the other braves and Madrid.

“My Goddess, I'm taking care of your prisoner, but he can't be of any use to you as a slave if he's not well and fit.  He's being watched carefully and knows what I would do to him if he strays.  I'm having no problems with him.  Soon I will put him to work and by the time you come out he should be fit for your duties.”

Her temper tantrum continued for a moment and abruptly halted.  “What will you do if he misbehaves?”

“I've promised him I would stake him out over a red ant hill.”

Her sudden cackle was chilling even to Hawk and brought a quick look from a passing brave.

Her voice became soft and soothing,  “Yes, my dear Hawk.  Your plan is a good one.  Work him hard.  I want him very fit and healthy for what I want.  You are dismissed, but report back to me daily.”

Hawk went back to check on Madrid and found him still sleeping.  Walking down into the valley, he checked on the braves and their preparation for the tribe's arrival.  All was going as per planned and Hawk had time to think.  He was growing more uneasy over White Gold and her change of personality.  This was not the way she had been growing up.  Sure, she knew she was different and was held in awe by the tribe.  She was considered doubly special for being the daughter of the medicine man and his squaw.  She would take over her father's duties when he expired and would take care of the tribe's medical and spiritual needs.  She was sweet and obedient to her parents and had been kind to Hawk.  He had even thought of taking her as his squaw, but the warriors had captured some females from a neighboring tribe and one of them had caught his eye. White Gold was his Goddess, but now, he wasn't so sure.

His thoughts turned to Madrid.  This man was barely out of his youth, but old in experience and not afraid of death.  He had seen men like him before, even fought against some.  He could tell by the way the man had worn his gun that he was a gunfighter.  There was something different about him.  His eyes were alive, not dead and dull like the other gunfighters.  He admired Madrid's spirit and wondered what would have led the man into the life he was leading.  His instincts told him that Madrid was in for an ordeal with White Gold.  He was not prepared to go against her wishes yet, but maybe he could fortify and strengthen him before it came.

Going back to the cave, he watched Madrid until the man stirred.  Handing his rifle to the other brave, he knelt down beside Madrid and softly called his name.  He was greeted by the flash of the sapphire eyes and the stoic face. 

Johnny flatly demanded,  “What do you want from me?”

“I want to check your wound before we go back down into the valley.”

Johnny looked around and his eyes narrowed at the other brave holding a rifle pointing at him.  “Don't look like I have a choice.”

Hawk bluntly replied,   “You don't.  Sit up.”  He watched for dizziness and was pleased to see none.  The bandanna was loose around the wound and he saw that the graze was healing with no inflammation.  He decided that the wound needed fresh air to dry it and left the bandanna off.  Motioning Madrid to rise, he pointed to the cave entrance, gathered his rifle from the other brave, and escorted the prisoner back down into the valley. 

It was a repeat of his earlier experience.  Johnny was allowed to eat, drink and exercise by wandering around.  He was feeling better, not as weak as before and he was feeling only a dull ache in his head.

In normal circumstances, he would be embarrassed by walking around with only a breech cloth on, but it was a style of dress that some of the braves wore.  They didn't wear a collar and his hand strayed to his neck.  He quickly lowered it when Hawk's rifle came up to point at his chest.  He went over to where a couple of braves were skinning a deer and cutting the meat up into strips.  He watched as they gathered up some dried herbs and berries, sprinkled them onto the meat and pounded them into the strips with a rock.  The strips were draped over a lattice of branches to dry.  He could feel the nearness of Hawk as the brave told him, “Watch carefully and learn.  You will be doing this soon.  But first you will learn to  pick the herbs and berries.”

“Not hunt the deer?”

“Trust does not go that far, Madrid.”

Johnny turned to face the warrior, “Just who are you?”

“I am called Hawk.”

“So where is the woman?”

“She is busy elsewhere.  I am to guard you until she returns.”

“And when will that be?”

“In several days.”

Johnny took in the information and knew he needed to regain his strength as soon as he could.  He only had a couple of days before he had to escape.  He went closer to the food preparation area and watched as his mind went into fast motion, planning and discarding escape options.

 

Part 6

 

Hawk had turned the nightly guard duties over to the other brave and sought his blankets.  Tomorrow would bring a new routine for Madrid and Hawk wanted to be well rested to keep up with the man.  More and more he was having good feelings toward the captive and didn't want to see any harm come to the young man. 

He looked up into the night sky and sought the one light his father said was the Great Spirit's home.  His prayer was silent, reserved only for his god.  “Great Spirit, look down upon this man and touch him with your healing.  He has the skin of a Mexican and the eyes of a white man, yet I sense the spirit of an Indian in him.  He has great power within him and I wish him peace.  Great Spirit, guide me in the next days with him.  Give me a sign of your blessings.”  Hawk turned over in his blankets and with a lighter heart went to sleep.

The next morning he awoke refreshed to the dawning of the sun.  He had dreamed, he knew that, but his sleep hid what had happened as he slumbered.  He felt assured that the day would be a good one.  He took care of his personal needs and washed his face in the creek.  Ambling over to the cook fire, he grabbed something to eat and sat down to watch the cave.  His diligence was rewarded when he saw Madrid come to the cave entrance, look back over his shoulder, and start down the path under the watchful eyes of the night guard.

Madrid followed the routine from the previous day.  Sitting down to eat, he turned and looked at Hawk with a piercing stare.  Then he smiled with a wide toothy grin, stuck one thumb up in the air and went back to eating.  Hawk was intrigued.  Even in his situation, the man showed spirit.  He would wait until Madrid started wandering and then he would put the man to work.

Johnny could feel the strength return to his body.  It helped to not be under the stress of figuring out the thinking of a mad woman.  His mind was clearer and for the first time since the gunfight, he had no headache.  Reaching up to feel the wound, he found it crusted over with a three inch scab.  The edges were beginning to pucker with healing.  Glancing back over at the stern warrior Hawk, he wondered how someone could be so taken in by a pretty face.  It had to be that.  How else could someone explain how such a capable man would bow down to a slip of a woman with illusions of grandeur.

He could tell that Hawk had power over the other braves.  There was a sense of subservient attitude when the other braves interacted with Hawk.  Then he heard the words spoke that confirmed his thinking, Young Chief, and the title brought a slight smile to the Indian warrior's rock hard face as a brave discussed plans for hunting additional game.

He finished his meal and went to the creek to clean up.  He could feel Hawk's eyes following him as he wandered about the camp.  He figured it wouldn't be long until he had the warrior's attention and he was right.   The man came up to him and motioned for Johnny to go over to some bags draped over a tree limb.  He was told to put one over his shoulder and across his body.  Then Hawk motioned him to leave the camp and head further down into the valley. 

As before, Madrid walked ahead, followed by Hawk with rifle ready to shoot.  He watched as the captive gracefully skirted around the sticker bushes and lightly stepped over the rocks.  His legs were bare and yet untouched.  Hawk looked down at his leather leggings and found stickers embedded around his ankles.  He signaled a halt and motioned for Madrid to pick the stickers out.  It was just a fleeting look of anger on the captive's face, but an unemotional mask replaced it and the stickers were removed.

They journeyed again and worked their way through the valley and up further into the hills above.  They came upon the bushes loaded with berries.  He set Madrid to work picking the berries and kept him at it until the bag was pulling down from the weight of the fruit.  Waving the rifle toward the trail back to camp, he got Madrid walking back down the hill.  

Johnny could feel the fatigue coming on.  He had been picking all morning and was developing a headache from the sun beating down on him.  He was thirsty and just wanted to return to the creek to cool off.  He trotted off, but quickly slowed down to a plodding walk.  Fixing his eyes on the path, he withdrew within himself, trying to determine what went wrong to land himself into this situation.  The conclusion was that it was as it was, no fault or changes could be found.  His eyes would have to just stay open for opportunities to escape.

Dropping his foot onto a sharp rock on the path caused him to stumble and drop to his hands and knees.  Taking a deep breath, he pulled the loaded bag off his shoulder, pushed himself back into a squatting position and checked for damages.  His left knee was scuffed and had some light bleeding; his left palm had come down hard on the side of a bush and was impaled with nasty thorns.

Hawk caught up to Madrid and noticed the blooded knee and the thorny hand.  Motioning the man to sit down on a nearby rock, he knelt down to  check the injuries.  Pulling the water bag off his shoulder, he put down the rifle on the ground beside him and poured some water on the knee to clean the wound.  Looking up into Madrid's eyes, he held out his hand for the injured palm.  Looking closely, he started pulling the thorns out and approved the stoic look on Madrid's face.  He had once fell in a thorn bush and knew only too well the pain they caused.

When the last thorn was free, he poured water onto the palm and rocked back onto his heels.  That's when Madrid exploded into swift action.

Johnny didn't stop to think.  He had seen the flicker of movement behind the brave and he automatically reacted.  He leaped forward and grabbed the warrior by the shoulders and shoved him to the side away from the rifle.  Hawk rolled back over to resist, but not before Johnny got his hands around the rifle.  Falling to his stomach, he didn't even aim.  The shot was fired just before Hawk tore the rifle out of Johnny's hands. 

Hawk tossed the rifle away and took to using his fists on his prisoner.  He was met with some resistance when Madrid got in some punches.  Hawk was known in the tribe for his fighting abilities and  he was not about to go easy on his captive.  A good blow to the head close to the original wound was all it took to collapse the man to limpness.  Pulling himself up, Hawk could feel the bruises in his midsection and held on to his thighs as he bent over and gasped for air.  When his lungs relaxed, he straightened up and looked around for the rifle.  His eyes found it, right beside the body of a headless snake.

His world went still as he took in the implementation of the previous action of Madrid.  The man wasn't trying to escape.  He was trying to kill the snake and did some good shooting to accomplish it.  Striding over to retrieve the rifle, he carefully examined the snake body.  It was a poisonous type and estimating the distance to where he had been kneeling, he had been seconds from death.  Why didn't the man just warn him?  Why risk what happened to save his life?

Hawk took the rifle with him back to Madrid.  Blood was dripping from his head wound.  Taking his knife, Hawk tore a strip off the bottom of his leather vest and, after washing the wound with water from the discarded bag, he bounded Madrid's head.  Glancing up at the hot sun beating down on them, he knew he needed to move the man to shade.  He pulled the man up into a sitting position and then leveraged him up into a standing position.  Bending down, he allowed him to flow over his shoulder.  Straightening up, he grunted with the weight.  Madrid was deceivingly heavy, for such a slight man.   Taking him over to a stand of trees, he placed him under a tree in a horizontal position.   He went back and retrieved the fruit bag, water bag and rifle.

Hawk sat down to wait until Madrid would wake up.  He could see the bruises developing on the man's chest, arms and face.  As his gaze followed the contours of the man's body, he saw the cut on the bottom of his foot.  There was slight bleeding from it.  Sighing, Hawk took off his vest and cut another strip from it.  After washing the wound, he wrapped the leather around the foot and tied it off.  It had been his favorite vest, but it was small payment for the saving of his life.  The saving of his life held heavy obligations to Hawk.  Obligations that were in conflict with whatever White Gold wanted.  He knew now that Madrid could not be allowed to die.  He was now under Hawk's protection. The Gods demanded it.

A couple of hours later, he heard the stirring as Madrid's head waved from side to side and the right hand curled into a fist.  He watched silently as the battle of the eyes to open was fought and won.  The sapphire eyes snapped open and stared at him.  The tongue came out and moved to explore the cut and swollen lip.  Hawk passed the water bag to the man and approved as Madrid took small sips until his thirst was satisfied.  Handing the bag back, Madrid broke out into a grin.

“Remind me never to tangle with you again.  I think my bruises have bruises.”

“I have always fought to win.”

“Well, you might have won this battle, but not the war.  I still plan to escape if given the chance.”

“If the Gods grant your wish, they will send a sign.”

“I just need to be sure you're no where near when that happens.”

“Perhaps.  Are you able to move?  It will be get dark before we get back to camp.”

Struggling to sit up further, Madrid made his goal and Hawk watched as the man leveled himself up to a standing position.  He winced when he put weight on his injured foot, but still bent down to grab and shouldered the bag of berries.  Looking back at Hawk, he simply stated, “I'm ready.”

And as the Gods looked down, they saw two black-headed, brown-skinned men, both carrying bags trudging down the path.  One carried a rifle in one hand and had the other wrapped around his companion's waist.  The other man had an arm draped over his partner's shoulder as he limped.

It was dark before they made it back to camp.

 

Part 7

 

Rather than make Madrid limp up to the cave when the man was obviously done in, Hawk decided to allow him to bed down with the rest of the braves down in the valley.  The man didn't even want to eat, just a little to drink and he was sound asleep as soon as his body hit the ground.  The night guard came over, sat beside the prisoner, and relieved Hawk to eat and rest.  Hawk did need the rest.  Madrid had got heavier as they got closer to the camp.  His head and knee had stopped bleeding, but he was having a difficult time walking with his foot injured.  His body weight had dragged Hawk down and both were exhausted when they came into the camp.

Hawk knew he was facing the wrath of White Gold by not reporting to her, but he was too tired and would face her the next morning.  After eating and getting his fill of cool water, he gathered his blankets and placed them not far from Madrid.  Taking an extra blanket, he covered the man and then sought his own covers and sleep.

His slumber was deep and as he drifted, he dreamed of a hawk flying high in the day sky.  Through the eyes of the bird, he could observe the braves down in the valley preparing the camp for the coming of the rest of the tribe.  He flew over the creek and hit an updraft that allowed him to swirl over the hills.  He flew on for a while and swooped down low to see his father, the Chief, and the medicine man, White Gold's father, riding slowly side by side.  Both raised their hand in greeting.  Strung out behind them were the rest of the tribe with women and children.  He saw his mother, brother and sister riding behind the Chief.  A sense of pride filled his heart to see his family whole and well.  He circled several times, crying a greeting to his tribe and then, riding an updraft, flew back toward the camp.

It was well that his eyes were so sharp and he could see for miles, because it was getting darker.   He flew on as the light got dimmer and dimmer.  His bird instincts told him to find a tree to go to roost, yet his mind told him it was too soon.  He wanted to get back to the camp and so he flew on until he found the camp.  It wasn't a moment too soon as the world had turned dark.  He could barely make out the branches of the tree below him.  Landing and gripping tight, he swiveled his head to locate the braves below.  They were knelling on the ground with their arms covering their heads.  Some were moaning in fright. 

Looking up at the caves, he could make out movement as Madrid stumbled from the cave and ran staggering down the trail moaning.  White Gold came out of the cave and she glowed with the light streaming from the sun.  Then she fell screaming.

Hawk woke up suddenly, covered with sweat.  He remembered every detail of the dream.  It was too intense to be a nightmare, but it brought a feeling of dread to his heart.  Looking over at Madrid, he was reassured that the man was okay.  He could see his chest slowly rise and lower in time with his breathing.

He was wide awake and knew he would be up for hours.  Catching the eye of the guard, he rose and walked away under the moonlight pondering the meaning of the dream.  Walking up to the caves he stopped outside the cave that sheltered White Gold and stretched his senses to hear her soft snores.  He left to return to the valley floor where he paced around the encampment until he wore his body down.  Seeking his blankets, he allowed his exhaustion to drag him down into slumber once again.

The light of the morning sun tickled his eyelids and woke Johnny up.   Moving to stretch, he quickly pulled his limbs in to protect his tortured torso.  Rolling to his side he panted fast and kept still until the waves of pain quietened.  This time he moved slowly and allowed his muscles to adjust to the movements.  When he opened his eyes he saw Hawk asleep beside him.  Studying the man, he saw the strong, chiseled planes of experience and heredity throughout the face.  His nose was bent with a downward cast.  The lips were straight with the bottom lip thicker than the top.  The skin was the rich reddish brown of a man who took on the outside as his home.  Johnny remembered well how Hawk's piercing eyes were like glittering black-brown stones and his own sapphire eyes blinked when he realized those eyes were freshly opened and staring at him.

Just as he was about to open his mouth and greet the warrior, he remembered Hawk's threats about talking while in camp.  He tightened his lips with pain as he slowly turned over to his back.  His leg muscles hurt from the unnatural way he had walked the day before.  With quiet determination, he sat up and rubbed the tight muscles in first one leg and then the other.

Hawk watched as Madrid tried to stretch his tight muscles.  Getting up, he rolled his blankets and stashed them in their usual place.  Coming back with a bag of water, broken aloe leaves, and leather strips, he knelt down to doctor the man.  No words were spoken, but there was a quiet understanding between the two as Hawk took off the bandage on the head and the foot.  He washed the wounds, applied the aloe gel, and re-bandaged both.  He checked the left palm and found it healing with a patchwork of pin pricks. He applied his hands to Madrid's chest where deep bruises could be seen.  With sensitive fingers he checked for broken or cracked ribs, while watching Madrid's face.  There was a flicker of movement in the eyes when Hawk's fingers brushed across the deepest bruise, but the rib under it was sound.  Considering the beating he had given the man, Madrid was in better shape than expected.

Standing up, Hawk put away the water, discarded the soiled leather into a basket for soaking, and went back to the captive.  Picking up his rifle in his left hand, Hawk shoved out his right hand for Madrid to grab onto as an aid to rise.  He grunted again when he felt the weight of Madrid and a measure of irritation crossed his mind when he saw the sparkling eyes and grinning mouth of the now standing man.

Dismissing the night guard, he motioned for Madrid to make his way to the morning campfire for breakfast.  Both were still tired from their journey, so he allowed the man to eat at his own pace, but soon enough they were both finished and ambled down to the creek bank to wash up.  Afterwards, Hawk guided him over to the area where the trail food was being made.  Sitting Madrid down, he indicated that the man was to watch and then participate in the activity.  Motioning another brave over, Hawk gave him the rifle for guard duty, and went to report to White Gold.  It was not a meeting he relished.

Johnny watched Hawk as he climbed the pathway to the caves and stopped at one other than where he'd been held prisoner.  Johnny was puzzled.  He could see Hawk standing in the cave entrance and talking, but there was no one around.  After a time, he felt his guard tap him on the shoulder with the rifle to re-direct his attention to the meat preparation.  In defiance, Johnny took a last look to view Hawk stalking off down the pathway and White Gold standing just within the cave entrance.  He could just make out a smile on her face as she gazed down upon him.  It sent a shiver down his spine as he turned his attention back to his duties.

Hawk was angry.  He'd been on the receiving end of her sharp tongue and it hadn't been a pleasant experience.  She could tell that Madrid had been injured again and she had demanded a full accounting from Hawk.  She wanted her captive well and healthy and she made sure he realized it.  Hawk was forbidden from taking him out of the camp area again and he was to ply Madrid with choice foods to rebuild his stamina.  Light exercise was to be encouraged.

She appreciated Hawk stepping in to take over monitoring the prisoner, but it soon wouldn't be necessary.  She sweetly promised that in one, maybe two days, she would return to the main cave and would take back over the care of her captive.   Hawk wasn't sure he wanted that to happen.  All her life he had trusted what she said and did, but now that trust was leaving, in part due to his newly awaken regard for Madrid as a man, and due to the dream he had experienced.

Deciding he needed activity to work off his frustration, he joined the hunting party. Before leaving, he told the guard to stay with Madrid for the day and he would relieve him when he got back from the hunt.  It took most of the day to stalk the buck, but late that afternoon Hawk returned with the deer draped over his horse.

Motioning Madrid and his guard over, Hawk told him to start a fire.  Pulling down the buck, Hawk put it on the ground under an large tree.  Throwing a rope over a higher limb he tied it to the deer's hind legs and pulled it up under the branches.  He tied the rope off to the trunk of the tree and hurried to gather cutting tools.  Similar activities were happening throughout the camp, since several other braves were blessed by the Gods in their hunting.  With a swift movement, he cut the throat to allow the blood to drain from the carcass and then he field dressed the deer.  He proceeded to cut strips of meat off.  These he gave to Madrid to put into the weaved basket in a crossing pattern.  Once it was filled, he pulled the rest of the meat up higher in the tree to protect it from predators.

Taking the bag of berries Madrid had so laborious picked the day before and a bag of herbs, he gave them to the man to work into the strips of meat.  Watching, he saw him use the same techniques taught to him during the day.  While Madrid pounded the items into the meat, Hawk cut branches out of the tree and set up drying racks near the fire.  By the time the sun was setting for the night, all the meat had been processed and draped on the racks. 

They went down to the creek to wash off their labors and went over to the cook fire to find something to eat.  They were trailed by the guard who had been reluctant to leave his duties while Hawk was occupied.  Another brave offered to take on the duty, but Hawk waved him away knowing that the brave was White Gold's favorite and Hawk wanted no part of her tonight.

Madrid would be up all night tending the fire and turning the meat on the racks.  Hawk would be guarding him and thinking on what the God was telling him in his dream.  He didn't want to sleep yet and he wasn't ready to dream again.  The original guard came over and whispered to Hawk, “I'll be back to help after I've had some sleep.”  Hawk nodded in thanks and watched as the man wandered over to retrieve his blankets.  He moved them close to the fire and promptly went to sleep.

After eating, Hawk outlined the evening's activity and put Madrid to work.  Once the meat had been turned and the fire replenished, Madrid came to sit beside him.  The man gazed over to him and quietly asked, “Can I ask a question?”

“What do you want to know?”

Pointing toward the drying racks, Madrid quizzed him, “Why?”

“Our people are on the way.  We will winter here and the food must be prepared for when the snow comes and food is scarce.”

“And what happens to me when your people come?”

“I don't know.  It will be up to the Chief.”

“Your father?  Not White Gold?”

“She's the medicine man's daughter.  Our Chief will make the decision.”

“Help me to escape before then.  I'm afraid of what she wants from me.”

“I can't. But I will protect you with my life. I owe you that.”

“For shooting the snake?  Forget it. I'd done that for anybody.”

“But you did it for me, so I must protect you.  The Gods demand it.”

“Do what you like, but if I get the chance, I'm leaving and I'd appreciate not getting shot.”

“If the Gods give you the sign to escape, I won't stop you.”

“Thanks.  I guess I'd better go turn that meat again.”  Johnny got up to take care of the chore and watched Hawk as he sat contemplating what answers he might find in the dream from the previous night.  Johnny knew something was bothering the warrior, but couldn't put his finger on it.  He vowed that this wouldn't be the only conversation he would have with the brave.

 

Part 8

 

The night passed into the wee hours and the night guard woke to relieve Hawk of guard duty.  Madrid had drifted off to sleep leaning against a stately tree.  On his way to his sleeping blankets, Hawk nudged him hard with his moccasin.  The captive was awake immediately and slowly rose to attend the turning of the meat.

Hawk stretched out on his blankets and prayed that the Gods would gift him with a dreamless sleep, but alas, it was not to be.  Shortly after drifting off into slumber, his limbs and eyelids betrayed his agitation during his nightmare.

Once again, he was strafing the skies in the form of a bird.  His eyes were sharp, but not sharp enough for the rapidly darkening mid-day.  He heard the cries and moans of the crouching braves below him on the valley floor.  His beady eyes shifted toward the caves on the hill above the warriors, when he heard a woman's cry of outrage and frustration.  He focused on the stumbling form racing out of the cave and moaning in a high-pitched tone.  The man made a beeline to the creek in the valley, dodging the braves in their fearful huddles.  Easing his body into the creek, Madrid swam toward the reeds and shortly before reaching them, he disappeared underwater, never to resurface.

A movement at the cave entrance attracted the attention of the bird, but a sudden down draft caused his body to drop.  Focusing on finding a thermal wind, he rapidly moved his wings upward until he caught the updraft.  Tired from his sudden burst of exertion, he floated upward on the spiral wind and allowed his eyes to rove.

A strong and majestic warrior stood at the entrance, holding a bundle of clothes and boots in the crook of his arm.  The bird was watching down into the valley as he flew in a spiral; his eyes stayed keenly focused on the warrior.  Then he saw her, racing out of the cave to push the warrior.  His caws of alarm and warning went unheeded and he watched as the brave plumaged to his death.

Hawk woke to breathing in great bellows of air and shivering from the cold sweat he felt running down his face and back.  He found Madrid's hand on his shoulder. 

“Easy.  Take it easy.  It was only a dream.”

Looking up into the concerned blue eyes, Hawk was struck at the man's compassion.  “No, Madrid.  It was a foretelling of what is to come.”

“Which is?”

“My death.”

The toneless statement made Madrid pause before replying.  “Well, that comes to all of us, sometime.  But, since you know when, can't you change it?”

“If the Gods decree my death, it will happen.”

“Since they gave you a preview of it, don't you think they're giving you an opportunity to escape it?”

Hawk was quiet in silent contemplation and gave no reply.  He lay back on the ground and gathered his blankets around himself.  He turned his back to Madrid and went back to sleep.

White Gold woke up feeling elation.  Her confinement would end early.  After the cleaning ritual, she would see for herself how her slave was doing and there would be some changes made.  She would see to it.  It would soon be time to take back over the governance of her captive and she would choose the braves to guard him.  Hawk had other duties to perform.  Hawk...he could have been the one, but what she planned could be fatal for the individual and she still had some feelings for the young man.  She wouldn't put him in that position, besides, his eyes were too brown.

Her mood suddenly took a turn and she smiled a wicked grin.  She especially wanted Running Bear and Coyote to take over the guarding duties.  They had a finesse and cruelty to them that she appreciated.  She wanted Madrid healthy for her needs, but she had no need for his mind and ultimately, none for his body.  He was slated to die, but she would make the decision as to when.

Her eyes dropped down to the braided leather in her lap.  The harness was almost ready.  She just needed a few more clasps and she could put it to use.  Tapping her fingers on her chin, she looked over her preparations and added one more item to her list.  As soon as she had eaten for the morning, she would set out with Running Bear for the plants and herbs she needed to set the next phase of her plan into action.  First, though, she needed to hide the harness and the best spot she could see was under her sleeping blankets.  If she mussed up the cloth, it would look like she had been a restless sleeper.  It was time to clean up and apply a certain scent before calling for Hawk.

 

Hawk woke to the smell of jerky overwhelming his senses.  The last flame to the fire was flickering out.  All the meat was dried and neatly stacked on the drying racks.  He looked around and found Madrid across from the ashes, slumped and asleep against a tree.  The guard was squatting nearby, warming his hands over the dying coals.  His rifle was on the ground by his side.

Hawk raised his eyebrows and motioned with his chin toward the prisoner.  The guard, Flashing Star, moved over closer to Hawk and whispered,  “He stayed with it all night and finished up not long ago.  I let him sleep.”  The man paused, “Hawk, I've been thinking.  I've been watching him.  I think we need to sponsor him into becoming part of the tribe.  He works hard, he is strong, intelligent and from what you said, good with a rifle.  He would make a mighty hunter and warrior.”

With sharp eyes, Hawk viewed the body of Madrid.  It was true.  The man would make a good addition to the tribe.  Of course, he would have to endure the females plucking out his beard, but after seeing how well he was able to stand pain, the endeavor would be easy for a warrior such as Madrid.  He turned toward the brave and nodded his head.  “I will talk to White Gold.”

Flashing Star replied, “I...I don't think that is a good path to take.” 

“Why?”

“She claims him as her captive.  Why would she want to let him go?”

Rubbing his chin, Hawk contemplated the warrior's words.  “This is true.  I will go to my father when he arrives.”

“When will that be?”

“In two days, I leave to guide the tribe to this valley.  You will watch Madrid for me?”

“Yes, Young Chief, I will.”

They were interrupted by a feminine voice calling down from the cliff edge.  “Hawk, Hawk!  I need to talk to you.”

Turning back to Flashing Star, Hawk gave his order, “Watch over him, while I see what White Gold needs.”

He climbed the trail to the cave and followed the woman into the darkened opening.

She turned back to him and he was once again struck by her beauty.  He had always loved her when they were growing up, but as he aged, he grew aware of their social status in the tribe and realized they could never marry.  He found another, but still couldn't deny what she did to his loins.  He glanced away from her face to calm his body down.  Listening to her talk, he realized that the White Gold that he had known for years was back.  Her voice was low and calm, not agitated, as it had been since before the trip had started.  She was apologizing for her tone of voice lately.  She was asking if he could watch over Madrid for the next two days while she did her job of gathering and drying the medicinal herbs for the tribe.  Her moon cycle had interfered in the time she had set aside and now she had to do four days work in two.  With the help of a couple of braves, she would take back over when she return.  She knew that Hawk would need to leave to retrieve the tribe and she would make sure that she wouldn't hold him up from this sacred duty.

She came closer and wrapped her arms around his neck, stood on her toes and gently kissed his cheek.  His body told him to reach out and grab her, but his mind told him he needed to back off.  He slowly reached up and gently untangled her hands from his hair and pushed himself away from her, while still holding her hands.  He told her he would continue to watch Madrid and  he took his leave from her.

Walking down the trail, it was as if his body and mind were coming back into synchronization and he could finally breath air that was not scented with her special smell.  By the time he got to the bottom, his mind was firmly in control.  Looking back up to her cave, he saw her standing outside the opening, bathed in the sunlight pouring down upon her.  Her white blonde hair, pale complexion and white leather dress shone from the golden sun rays.  He watched as she acknowledged the sun and raised her arms up in praise of the Sun God.  Then she looked down upon him and her eyes glowed golden from the sun's blessing.  He shivered in apprehension of his nightmares coming true.

 

Part 9

 

While asleep, Johnny's mind had returned to the death of his mother and being trapped with her dead rotting body in the small Mexican hovel.  It was in disrepair and the dirt floor was hard and dusty beneath his cheek.  His small body was tired and dirty.  He couldn't get the sweet, but rancid, smell of death out of his nostrils.  He was still weak from lack of food and water, but he was determined to escape the clinging confounds of his prison.

As he lay with his head in the dirt looking toward the wall, he saw the rat running rapidly past his hair on its journey to the corner under the bed.  He heard the scurrying noise of the rodent's passage and then there was silence.  He drifted off to sleep and later woke to the rat's return.  Crunching sounds of   large strong teeth drew his curiosity and his eyes searched for the source.  He found it against the wall chewing on a seed.  His thoughts were fuzzy and he tried to solve the puzzle his mind insisted he attack.  It took time, but it came to him.  There were no seeds inside, so it must have been brought in from outside.  Waving his hand, he scared the rodent into running under the bed and it disappeared.  Slowly, Johnny crawled over to the bed and looked underneath the frame.  Light came streaming in from a hole in the crumbling adobe wall.  He searched around with his eyes questing for something that could widen the hole.  He saw it – the small shovel he used to help his mother scratch out her tiny garden.  Crawling over through the dust, he grabbed the tool and proceeded to tear into the wall.

Plaster and dust turned his thick thatch of black hair white as the wall disintegrated.  His movements were disjointed from weakness and he didn't take into account the shelf attached to the wall he was attacking.  He used the last of his strength to finish widening the hole and was startled when his mother's scent bottle tumbled down and broke in front of him.  He was splashed by the liquid and its overpowering odor took the stench of death away.  He pulled his body through the newly widen opening and collapsed outside in the light and heat of the midday sun.  The smell of the herbal liquid was heady and intoxicating.  Slowly he descended into blackness.

Johnny woke to Hawk bending over him.  A faint odor had invaded his slumber and shouted danger to his subconscious.  He came up fighting and tossed Hawk to the side as he headed for the grouping of trees nearby.

Flashing Star pulled his rifle to his shoulder and sighted on the middle of Madrid's back.  He lowered it as he watched the man sink to his hands and knees and vomited.  Turning to Hawk, the brave went over and held his hand out to help the warrior up.

“I wonder what brought that on?”  Hawk frowned as he brushed the dirt off his arms.

Flashing Star shook his head in reply, “Maybe, you need to ask him.”  He reached over, snatched a piece of meat off the drying rack, sat down by the fire and quietly consumed it.  Hawk watched Madrid's body tremble as his agitation subsided.  Taking a bag of water, he went over, knelled before the gunfighter, and gave him the bag.

Johnny took a sip, rinsed his mouth out and then took a longer drink of the tepid water.  Handing the container back to the warrior, he gazed down at his shaking hands.  A gentle breeze made its way through the glade and blew a slight odor from the warrior in front of him.  Johnny's eyes snapped up and Hawk saw a look of apprehension and anger flash in Madrid's sapphire eyes.

“Why did you do this?  Are you sick?”  Hawk waved his hand over to the stomach bile soaking into the ground.

Johnny ignored the questions and countered with one of his own.  “You have a smell coming off you.  Where did you get it?”

Hawk rocked back onto his heels, brought his hand up to rub his forehead and thought hard. “What smell?”  His mind returned to his morning activities and it hit him – White Gold's special scent that made his mind cloudy.  Could that be what Madrid had detected?  “White Gold wears it.  It's her favorite herbal scent.  She's worn it for a long time.”

Casting a sharp glance toward the warrior, Johnny's mind turned inward to his memories of his mother's death and with him being doused with the scent she used to entice men.  Slowly, he spoke his mind to Hawk.  “You leaving soon?”

“Yes.   In two days, I will leave to bring the tribe back here for winter quarters.  Why?”

“Turn me loose before then.  I won't hurt anyone.  I'll just disappear.”  Johnny looked up with a pleading expression into Hawk's steely eyes.

“I can't.”

“But you won't come after me if I get away?”

“Of course not, but it would be hard to, if I'm not here.”

Johnny had a wry grin as he acknowledge the statement with a nod.  Another thought crossed his mind.  “Will Flashing Star be staying?”

“I've asked him to watch over you until I return.  Madrid, there's another reason I want to go.”

“That being?”

“Flashing Star and I want to sponsor you into becoming a member of the tribe.  I need to talk to my father before they get here.”

“There will be opposition.”  Johnny flatly stated.

Casting a quizzical look glance at him, Hawk wondered again at the depth of understanding this man displayed.  “Yes, there will be, from White Gold and some of the braves that favor her.”

A breeze once again stirred Hawk's long black hair and brought the scent to Johnny's nose.  “I know what she wants from me and she'll get it if you leave.  As long as she's here, I'll never be part of your tribe!  You'd better give up on that notion.”  Johnny stood up and stiffly strode over to a nearby tree, limping as he went.  He felt trapped and, with the scent from White Gold as a clue, all the pieces to the puzzle fell into place.  He had to escape and soon!

Hawk watched as the angry young man proceeded to strip bark from the tree trunk and rapidly fling them away.  Madrid's breathing was deep and his muscles were tense.  His injured foot was giving him problems and needed tending again.  Nodding to Flashing Star,  Hawk stood and left to gather the supplies needed to clean and re-bandage the foot.

When he returned, he ignored Madrid's mood and pushed him down to a sitting position against the tree he had been destroying.  Once the bandaging was over, Hawk pulled out a pair of moccasins and put them on Madrid's feet.  With a smile on his face he explained,  “Just so you do not get the wound infected.”

“Thanks.  Who's are they?”  Johnny questioned as he pointedly stared at Hawk's large feet.

Chuckling, Hawk grinned.  “They're mine.  Grandmother's eyes are dim and she misjudged how fast I would grow.  You're going to need them.  We're going to harvest more herbs for the meat.”

Gesturing at the dried venison hanging off the racks, Johnny queried, “That's not enough?”

“The tribe will need more.  Other braves are hunting today and if the Gods are kind they will find a bear.”  Hawk smiled at the look of disgust on Madrid's face.

“That's lousy eating, Hawk.  You must be desperate.”  Johnny had tasted wild bear once and had found the old male rancid.  Just the memory caused his taste buds to reject the saliva in his mouth.  He punctuated his statement with a wad of spit violently ejected onto a nearby bush.

Hawk's eyes danced with merriment and devilish laughter.  They mainly wanted the fat and the hide, but obviously, Madrid didn't realize it.  “That's part of the reason you are going to look for herbs.  Special ones can be mixed with the meat to bring out the sweetness.  Of course, being our captive, you will have the job of preparing and smoking the meat until it is just right.”

“And when will I know that?”  Johnny grouched.

“After you have sampled it enough times and tasted its texture.  Bear meat is best when the fat drips from it.”

“Nope!”  Johnny stalked off, looking back over his shoulder with a look of incredulous at the nutty Indian.

“You will do your job when it is time, Madrid.  Now, let us find the herbs.”  Hawk herded him off going north from the camp.  He knew that it was against White Gold's orders, but she had gone south and Madrid needed the exercise.

 

Part 10

 

The next day was busy.  Hawk kept Madrid near the camp, but worked the man in stocking the fodder with meat supplies and herbs.  It was like being with a younger brother as he taught the young man how to build traps for the bountiful supply of rabbits in the valley.  There was plenty of small branches nearby and he had leather strips cut from the deer hide to bind the wood together.  Madrid was a fast learner and by the end of the afternoon, eight cage traps were stacked beside him beneath the shade tree overlooking the creek. 

Calling another brave to him,  Hawk quickly gave orders and the cages were stocked with vegetation to entice the bunnies.  As each were prepared other braves came and took the cages away to set for capturing.

Madrid watched as each of his creations were taken.  Hawk had a slight grin on his face as he studied Madrid.  The man had pride in his work and seemed disappointed as each cage disappeared.  The braves were not.  As the last cage left, a brave excitedly came into the camp with the carcasses of five rabbits from the first traps held high.  As he passed by Madrid, he patted the gunfighter's shoulder in thanks.   Sapphire eyes snapped up as the right hand fluttered against the right thigh.  Hawk watched the play of emotions from dangerous to appreciation passed over the captive's face.  Knowing how the rest of the braves were warming up to the young man, Hawk had a warm glow around his heart.  It was right to make this one part of the tribe.  Madrid would make a good warrior.

The next morning the moment came that Johnny had dreaded, being left with White Gold in charge of the camp.  He stood watching as Hawk rode off with another brave.  Flashing Star was within sight cradling his rifle and keeping his eyes on Johnny.

Johnny watched as Hawk got further away.  Flashing his eyes from side to side and realizing that all the braves, including his guard, were watching Hawk climbed the ridge, Johnny knew the time had come.  Slowly, he moved his feet back and away from the others.  He moved like a mouse, just as Hawk had taught him and soon was on the edge of the creek.  Turning, he crept to the bank, lowered himself into the babbling creek and slipped under the soothing water.  Holding his breath, he swam away, otter style, skirting the bed of reeds lining the banks.

Sound travels under water and he listened intently for the discovery of his escape.  He traveled steadily, every nerve on alert, and only came up for air within the cover of the reeds.  Many times he repeated his actions, each time with greater elation over his new found freedom.  He took a moment to steady his breathing and lowered his body back down under the water.  As his travels took him further away, off in the distance he heard the faint and garbled shout.  He knew that Flashing Star and the other braves had discovered his escape.  The dull roar of the outraged braves filtered through the flowing stream and lent speed to his tiring limbs.  He was beyond the reeds and he kept to the center of the creek, coming up for air as needed.

Faintly, he could hear White Gold's raging shouts.  A feeling of dread came over him and he stubbornly vowed to escape her clutches.  The creek waters were moving faster and he was being pushed toward the waterfalls that fell down into a ravine ahead.  He fought against the current and made his way to the far bank.  Pulling himself up and onto the grassy bank, he panted and took long gulps of air to replenish his oxygen level.  Standing up, he turned around to get his bearings.  Spotting the pass up in the rocks, he hoped it would lead him out of the valley.  Pleased that Hawk's moccasins were still on his feet, he took off running as fast as he could.

As he ran, the slight breeze blowing down into the valley quickly dried his body.  The slapping of the wet loincloth against his thighs was annoying, but he couldn't stop to squeeze the excess water from the chamois material.  He had to escape.

Against all odds, he picked up speed.  The pathway was rocky and he was glad of the moccasins he wore.  Not only did they provide protection to his wounded foot, but they gave him some safety from identification, as much of the braves wore the same footwear.  The pathway had been used before.  He could see some signs that others had traveled this way recently.  That thought gave him pause.  What if a brave or two were before him?  Not all of the warriors were in camp when Hawk left.  He slowed some and became more watchful of his environment.

There had been grass, shrubs, trees and reeds down in the valley and as he ran, the grass was giving away to more flat rocks of the cliffs and ranges above.  Shouts from below and a look over his shoulder convinced him to speed back up.  He had been spotted.  His snap look gave him the information he needed.  Flashing Star, Coyote, Running Bear and two other braves were on his trail and would soon catch up with him.

Johnny dodged around an outcropping of rocks and stepped on a blanket of twigs.  His arms went into the air as the ground dropped out beneath his feet.  He reached to grab the edge of the hole, but he was falling too fast.  He clawed at the sides of the tunnel to lessen his speed.  His flaying hand caught on a ledge of rock, but it was only a momentary respite to his fate.  The foundation of the ledge crumbled away as his weight pulled on the rock.  He got a deep breath in and he was falling again, only this time he had rocks as companions.

He thought he had fallen forever, but in reality, it was just seconds as the tunnel took a gradual and then a more rapid turn.  His body skidded against the sides and his velocity slowed down as part of his body braked his fall.  When he came to a stop, his torso was on an incline with his bruised and battered legs lower than his head.  He opened his eyes and then tried to open them again.  It was inky dark and his sight registered nothing.   He didn't like being in total darkness.  He never had.  Slowly reaching out with one hand and then the other, he explored his environment and liked it even less.  There was less than a foot of space on either side and above him.

All he could hear was his own heartbeat pounding in his ears as the panic of being buried alive welled up into his chest.  Someone had a death grip on his heart and the constriction caused him to gasp for air.  It was overwhelming, his dread of tight spaces.  He was breathing in a fast, short, panting manner and he wasn't getting enough air in his lungs.  He fought, not only to regain control over his senses, but also for air, but it was all for not as he spiraled down into the soft cocoon of darkness.

While unconscious, Johnny's body repaired the damage brought on by his panic attack.  His heart rate went down, his blood pressure lowered, and his breathing changed to a slow, even manner.  Once his body readjusted, Johnny's brain took back over and prodded him to wake up.  Against his better judgment, he did – to continued darkness.  He allowed his mind to wander as he kept his emotions under control.  Little by little, he opened his senses up to explore his situation.  His eyesight wasn't working; he suspected from the natural darkness and not because of injury, so he dismissed using that sense and shut his eyes.

Various parts of his body cried out for attention and his sense of touch ached to explore.  He started with his head and worked his fingers down to his upper thighs.  Slowly bending his knees, one at a time, in the confined space he checked out the rest of his body.  Nothing major was damaged and, except for some cuts, abrasions, and bruises, he was in exceptional shape.

His nose and mouth was complaining about the dust he had stirred up on his mad ride down the tunnel.  Having no water to wash the dust away, he chose to ignore their reports.

Hearing was next and he strained it, listening.  He could hear them, faintly, stirring around the top of the tunnel.  The braves had found his entrance route, no doubt from the plume of dust that must have billowed up from his rapid passage.  He could hear the excitement in their tone of voices, but couldn't distinguish individual words.  Great.  That exit was blocked if he wanted to continue his escape.  As his hands reached out and felt the walls surrounding his entombed body,  his mind chuckled.  He wasn't so sure if escape was so worth it after all.  Maybe he'd be able to withstand White Gold's wrath.

His body was tired and achy and, for just a few minutes, he gave into the need for rest.  He achieved that twilight state between alertness and true sleep.  The dust settled as he rested and then he felt and smelled it.  Coming back to a state of consciousness, he could smell the moisture of the breeze as it traveled up over his body on its way up out of the tunnel.  He told his hearing to mute out the distant braves and focus on below him.  There!  A drip and then another one, but faintly again could be heard.

He wondered what was down there.  Dare he move further into the tunnel in hopes of a cave and a way out?  Allowing his hearing to focus back on the warriors scurrying around above him, he heard her high pitched voice in anger.  It decided him to go further into the tunnel.  If it narrowed too much more, he would crawl back and face what was waiting for him up above.

Turning his thoughts back to what awaited him below, he took a large breath, tightened his control over his emotions and started his slow back crawl to freedom.

 

Part 11

 

Hawk topped the ridge with a certain degree of pride in his leadership abilities.  He left the braves with preparation tasks to finish before he returned.  He had every confidence that they would be completed before the tribe came and all would be ready for the coming winter.

His thoughts turned to his family: mother, father, brother and sister.  His brother was a warrior now and his sister was being eyed by other braves desiring her as their squaw.  It would be good to have his family near again.  He missed them all, but his heart pined for his father, the Chief, and his wisdom.  Seeing White Gold in a different light, since they had captured Madrid, was disquieting and he long to discuss his misgivings with his father.  He knew he would have to tread lightly, since White Gold's father was not only the medicine man, but his father's best friend.

It would be important for his father to understand the changes in White Gold, very important when he touched on the subject of Madrid becoming part of the tribe.  He knew that his father wouldn't make a final decision until they reached winter quarters and Madrid's actions were observed.  Hawk was determined to do a good job of telling his father of Madrid's many skills.

While Hawk was thinking of Madrid, Johnny was not dwelling on Hawk.  He was concentrating on moving down the tunnel without banging his elbows and knees against the rocks. The walls of his prison had moved in several times, but never enough to stop him from continuing the journey.  He couldn't hear the braves anymore and the dripping was louder.  Time wasn't measurable in total darkness, so he didn't know if he'd moved a great distance down the path or if the braves had left to seek another entrance.

He dug his heels and elbows into the sandy bottom and pulled his body down further.  The next time he thrust out his foot, it banged into a rock outcropping.  Tears came to his eyes as it throbbed with sudden pain.  Slowly he reached out his arms to measure the width of the tunnel and rejoiced when he couldn't feel the sides.  Lifting up, he touched the ceiling all too soon.  Straightening his leg, he felt the rock again, but something was wrong.  It puzzled him and made him wish for his eyesight back.

He worked his body sideways and measured the walls again.  His knees and outstretched arms, above his head, touched the rock.  Putting out his right arm, he explored the the outcropping his foot had met earlier.  The results made him gasp and he felt the pang of despair.  He had discovered a Y in the tunnel.  He was tired, thirsty, exhausted and depressed.  Surely, he would have been out of this trap by now.  Even the dripping noise was getting on his nerves and causing his head to ache.

The strain of controlling his fears was wearing on his strength and suddenly the terrors overwhelmed him.  The walls came crashing in and the panic attack was on again.  A part of his brain knew what this was and it urged him to fight those emotions.  At first he thought he was drowning, that he was swimming against the current.   The small voice in his brain spoke to him again to fight, to use what was factual that he could grasp as reality. 

Reaching out his hand, his palm curled around the sand beneath him and squeezed hard.  He centered his attention on the hand and the strained muscles.  Concentrating on making the fingers relax,  he felt them, one by one, and the sand slid away.  Going on to other parts, he worked at relaxing his tension.  Once the battle was won, he checked on his breathing and consciously timed it to the dripping water his hearing couldn't block out.  Finally, his control was back and his fears were corralled behind a firm wall, but it left him totally exhausted.  He couldn't go on, not without rest.  As he drifted off to sleep, he was glad, for now, he was safe from White Gold.

He woke slowly, not totally recovered, but with some energy returning.  He knew he had to get out soon and find some food and water, but which way should he go?  Then it came again and he smelled it.  The elusive  breeze, filled with moisture, crossed over his face and gave him the answer.  It was coming from the right side tunnel.

Moving his body around, he decided to go head first this time.  Laying on his belly, he started pulling his body forward on the next part of his journey.  As he moved, the ground gradually changed from sand to rock and the dripping got louder.  Periodically, he would use his arms to measure the area around him.  It pleased him to know the space was expanding.  Hearing multiply dripping off to the left, he changed his route to go to it.  Reaching out to pull again, he was startled to feel the cold water and hear the splash of his hand coming down in it.  Quickly, he scurried forward until his head was in the water.  His thirst was so great, it was all he could do to take small sips until it was satisfied.  Rolling over onto his back, he spoke for the first time since falling into the tunnel.  “Dios.  Gracias.”

He started crawling to the right side, trying to find the end to the large puddle.  When he touched the rocks on the other side, he knew the water covered the floor of the tunnel and if he were to continue, he would have to cross it.  At this point, he didn't think there was any going back, so he slowly crawled forward and into the chilly water.  As he traveled, the drips multiplied and got faster.  The water never got deep enough for him to swim, but was a guide as he felt a gentle current leading him forward.  The rocks in the stream bed were smooth from the many years of water flowing past them.  He felt a large space around him and heard a roaring sound off in the distance, where he felt he should reach.  The current was getting stronger as the roar increased.

His instincts told him to get out of the water, so he gingerly made his way to the right and found a ledge projecting above the level of the rushing water.  He dragged himself up on it and sat, shivering until his strength returned.  Listening, he knew what the roar was – water hitting on the rocks below.  How close he was to this waterfall he didn't know, since he was still in darkness. 

Laying on his stomach, he reached out and edged along until he came to the end of the ledge and the tunnel.  Leaning over into the vast space, he could feel the unevenness of the cliff.  Pulling back, he wrapped his arms around his knees and sat against the wall.  Leaning his head back, he looked up into the darkness and his defenses slipped a little.  Gathering his wits about him, he went over all the points of his situation.  He was in a cave, in darkness, wet and chilled, hungry and lost.  But, on the good side, he was free, no longer thirsty, clean (thanks to his impromptu swim), and thanks to the elusive breeze, headed for an exit.  That was where he needed to go next, in search of the exit down the cliff.

He turned toward the edge and put his legs over into the void.  Turning his body so that he could feel for a toe hold, he started his trip down the rocky cliff wall.  It took time and there was a couple of missteps, resulting into rocks tumbling down to the lower depths.  Each time he stopped, waited it out and continued on.  Finally, he reached his destination and dropped down onto the slightly sloping floor of the cavern.

Slowly, he turned around and blinked.  Rubbing his eyes with his knuckles, he blinked again and peered to the right.  His eyes weren't deceiving him.  There was light in the far distance, just a pin prick, but still light.

The water escaping the confines of the falls traveled on its merry way to the left and deeper into the cave system.  A soft breeze floated by, caressing his cheek, and he knew.  He understood the breeze was backing up the light in showing him the way to freedom.  Kneeling down, he took his fill of the refreshing cold water.  Rising and turning, he followed the light.

As he trod the slight path and worked at avoiding the sharp rocks, his nose twitched at an overpowering stench ahead of him.  His eyes kept adjusting to his changing environment and he spotted why his nose objected to his forward movement.  It towered over him in a cone shape, black, glistering, and sticky.  Carefully skirting around the mound of guano, he glanced up to see the undulating bat colony hanging above him.  He wasn't frighten of them, but didn't relish sudden droppings splattering on his head, so his feet picked up speed to escape.

The light was getting brighter as he walked.  He headed into another tunnel and appreciated that the ceiling allowed him to hold his head up high.  Spotting a side tunnel branching off, he chose to continue on down his lighted path.  A low rumbling growl behind him told him he had let his guard down.  He knew that predator sound well and he ran, but so did his pursuer.  Johnny was fast, but the bear was faster and he went down under her onslaught. 

He covered his neck and head with his arms and went limp, hoping to not antagonize her further.  She was momentarily confused, but then concentrated on her prey.  As her paw came down for a swat at his shoulder, two rifle shots echoed loudly within the chamber and her body crushed Johnny as she died.

He was gasping for breath as the two braves shoved the bear off of him.  One of them knelled down, grabbed his good shoulder and turned him onto his back.  As he stared up at the warrior's wavering face above, he had one last thought before his mind spiraled down into unconsciousness.  “Looks like I get to eat bear meat after all.”

 

Part 12

 

It was slow going, swimming up to consciousness.  He would rather stay in the darkness, since he was so used to it lately.  Someone was slapping his cheek and they were on his last nerve.  In anger, he reached up to shove the person away and his arm wouldn't move.  In shock, he suddenly awoke and his eyes strove to focus on his attacker.  The woman of his nightmares, White Gold, was leaning over him, grinning.  Johnny let out a deep groan and wished for the blessing of oblivion, but his body betrayed him by staying awake.  He could feel the tightness of the leather harness tying him to the ground and the pain of his injured shoulder.

She got up and swayed provocatively over to the fire in the back of the cave.  She brought back a bowl of food, knelt down and proceeded to stuff his mouth.  He tried to spit it out, but she slapped him again and called out in a loud voice for the brave, Running Bear.  A tall, broad shouldered, hefty warrior came in and stood glaring at Johnny until he swallowed the food.

He suffered through the force feeding in silence, staring at his captor throughout his ordeal.  The warrior kept still at his post, with his stiff posture threatening Johnny.  White Gold motioned for the brave to lift Johnny's head and tightly hold him as she forced a drink down his throat.  He tried to hold his breath, but she pinched his nose until he was forced to open his mouth for air. Johnny could taste the tart, tangy flavor of the herbal drink as it slithered its way down to his stomach.  It was something he had tasted before, but he couldn't remember where or when.

His head was lowered back down and he viewed the ceiling of the cave.  It was familiar.  He was back at the camp in the lair of the she devil and in her bloody clutches.  But his anger was overshadowed by the dream-like state that stole over him.  His eyes closed and his body relaxed into his leather straps.

Hours later, Johnny woke up to find his shoulder had been bandaged as he slept.  White Gold was  once again preparing a meal over the fire.  Some of the smells of the food was unfamiliar, but they were overpowered by a scent he knew so well – tamales.  It set his mouth to watering and he wondered how it was that she knew the recipe. 

His mind was clearing, but he was despondent to find he had been captured by the bear hunters.  He strained his head back to view her actions.  His neck tingled with warning as he saw her add brown flakes of herbs to the tamales. That was an added ingredient he knew should not be there.  In a burst of insight, he remembered where he had tasted the herbs and the drink that had been forced down him earlier. 

Beads of sweat peppered his forehead as alarms went off in his mind.  He had to get out of here!  He squirmed, but the harness held him tight to the ground.  Johnny heard soft footsteps stop behind him and looking up, he saw the weasel face of Coyote smiling sinisterly down at him.  The brave cradled a rifle in his arms and then whispered in Spanish, “Welcome back, slave.”  

Hawk was at peace as he rode.  He felt confident that Flashing Star would keep his word to guard Madrid until he returned.  Watching his companion, Swift Cougar, notch his arrow and shoot the rabbit bounding toward the rocks at the bottom of the ravine they were traversing, Hawk nodded at their fortune.  Traveling throughout the day and with the sun slowly settling, he looked ahead for a place to stop.  He saw the trees surrounding a small pond.  There was just enough time, before darkness settled in, to gather fallen branches and twigs to start a fire.

Setting up camp didn't take long when they split the duties.  Swift Cougar took care of staking the horses by the pond where they could reach grass and water.  Hawk skinned the rabbit and two prairie grouse he'd caught earlier.  He roasted them over the open flames and their juices dripping on the hissing coals gave off a tantalizing smell.

After their meal, both braves were tired and ready for sleep, but agreed to stand watch one at a time.  As Hawk rolled up in his blankets, Swift Cougar took up his post with rifle in hand. The coals were banked and allowed to die out.  Many hours later, Hawk felt a hand on his shoulder and another one over his mouth.  He woke up instantly to Swift Cougar's warning.  Hawk laid and allowed his senses to come alive.  The snapping of twigs, across the way, and the strong odor on the gentle breeze identified the intruder to their camp.

A black bear was passing through and was up wind from them.  Swift Cougar left and silently went to keep their mounts quiet.  Hawk tracked the bear's passage by the noise he heard and the lessening of its scent in the wind.  At another time, Hawk gleefully would have hunted the bear, as he relished the taste of its meat.  This time, though, they didn't have the time, as he was eager to get his family and tribe moved to their winter quarters.  His mind flashed back to Madrid and his distaste of bear meat.  He silently chuckled.  He was determined to take Madrid bear hunting once he was a member of the tribe.  He could show the young gunslinger a trick or two to make the meat succulent and tender.

As the night quietened with the passing of the unaware bear, Hawk got up to take over the watch.  He settled down with blankets over his shoulders and his rifle in his lap and soon heard the gentle snores of his companion.  At morning dawn, they would ride on.

 

Johnny stared up at the brave and knew his fate was sealed.  He had seen this happen before and knew it would give him a mixture of pain and pleasure.  If he could only escape again, but it would be harder now with them watching him so closely.  A movement to the side caught his attention and he watched White Gold set down a bowl and a cup.  He could smell the tamales and the tartness of the drink.  He knew he had been given doses of the mixtures earlier.  This would be his second set and the beginning of his downfall.  If only Hawk had not left.  He watched as her smile brighten and all he could do was glare with his icy deep blue eyes as the doses were administered.

She sat back on her heels and watched with narrowed eyes.  He stared at her as the soft, tender cocoon of acceptance stole his resistance away.  The drugs were working.  He studied the planes of her cheekbones, the tilt of her nose, the swollen lips and the pale blue of her eyes.  His attention traveled from her shiny, white blonde hair down to the front of her white leather dress.  Her white ties were loose and he could see the outline of the swell of her bosoms half hidden within the leather.  His eyes traveled further down past her slender waist and settled on the curve of her thigh outlined beneath the dress.  Her white leather boots peeked out from under her beaded hem.  His eyes swept back up to her face.  She smiled a wicked grin which went up to inhabit her eyes.  As he gave into the drugs and before being swallowed up  in darkness, his mind whispered, “I could do worse.”

As days dragged by and Hawk journeyed closer to the tribe,  Johnny slipped further down into a drug induced haze.  He was up and allowed to roam the cave to the extent of his leash. It was attached to the harness in the middle of his back.  Even if his shoulder would allow his arm and hand to bend back to the fasteners, his mind wouldn't try.  Earlier, a small portion of his mind had fought, but was buried under the haze and indifference he was now experiencing.  Although he had some freedom of movement, he wasn't fully trusted.  Either Running Bear or Coyote were nearby to watch him wander.

He was getting hungry and he looked around for White Gold.  He had a yearning in his heart and his loins when he viewed her, but she wasn't in the cave and he couldn't remember when she had left.  He realized that no one was in the cave.  Stretching out as far as the lease would allow, he looked outside the entrance, searching.  His sight fell on Coyote on the ground, not moving, and Flashing Star standing over him.  Johnny must have made a sound, as Flashing Star's head swiftly swiveled in his direction.

“Madrid!  You're still alive!  I've got to get you out of here.”  The brave came into the cave and looked him over.  His eyes noted Madrid's listlessness and disorientation.

A fool's smile graced Johnny's face as he replied, “No, no.  I've gotta stay.  White Gold would be mad if I leave.  She needs me and I need her.”

“What's wrong with you, Madrid?  What has she done to you?  I promised Hawk I would guard you and I've been trying to see you.  They said you were injured and needed her healing.”  Flashing Star eyed the uncovered shoulder streaked with healing scabs, but his eyes continued their examination to take in the leather harness strapped across Madrid's chest.  He noticed the lease leading from the harness to the round stake that had been pounded into the center of the cave floor.  “She's holding you captive!  I've got to get you away from her.”  The brave came over and went behind Johnny to free him.

Johnny felt anguish when he thought of leaving White Gold and turned with a shout to fight against his release.  The outcry brought White Gold and Running Bear back to the cave.  She had been out harvesting more of the special herbs and had left Coyote to watch her prisoner.  They were not too far from the cave when she heard him shouting. 

They burst into the cave to find Madrid fighting with Flashing Star.  Running Bear rushed over and dragged the brave away.  As he beat the man about the head and chest with his fists, White Gold checked first on Coyote, who was waking up, and then on Madrid.  She needed to calm him down, so she rushed over and poured him a cup of the tangy drink she kept in a water skin.  Calmly, with authority, she instructed him to drink.

As Running Bear threw Hawk's unconscious friend over his shoulder and stalked out of the cave,  White Gold stepped back and watched Madrid.  Slowly, his breathing adjusted and the goofy, lovesick grin returned to his face.  Gazing over to her with adoring eyes, he said lovingly, “White Gold, you came back to me.”

 

Part 13

 

With no mishaps and unwanted visitors, Hawk and Swift Cougar arrived at their destination.  His pretty sister, Grey Dove, was the first to spot him.  She came rushing up from the springs.  The girl skidded  to a halt and shyly looked up at Hawk.  With hands clasp behind her back, she softly said, “I greet you, brother.  It is good to have you back.”

He dismounted and grabbed her in a bear hug.  “So, little sister, has father accepted some good horses for you, yet?”

She laughed as she hugged his waist.  “No, not yet.  I think he's waiting for the best and the richest.”

“But that would be me and I can't make you my squaw,”  he replied, putting his hand on his chest.

Her rich laughter was music to his ears as he gazed down lovingly upon her.  “Brother, there is one that I favor, but he's not here to speak to father.”

“And that would be?”

“Flashing Star.”

Hawk was taken back and he stopped to stare into her expressive brown eyes.  “Grey Dove, is this true and does Flashing Star know of your desire?”

“He does, brother, but he was sent with you before he could talk to father.  He has a string of horses he owns that he said he would give for me.”

Hawk stood and thought for a moment.  “I know which ones he spoke of.  We captured them together.  His brother is caring for them now.”  With a slight grin for his sister, he made her a promise.  “I have many things to discuss with father.  Maybe I can convey Flashing Star's wishes.”  The yearning look in her eyes was enough to convince him to follow through.  They were interrupted by the rest of his family coming out to greet him.

Hawk strode forward to grasp the hand of his younger brother, Still Water.  The young man was a brave and had proven his worth on many raids and hunts.  Throwing his arm across his brother's shoulder, they walked on to their mother.  Letting go of the brave, Hawk leaned over and gave his hands to his mother, Squirrel.  Her small wrinkled hands wrapped around his and brought them up to touch her cheeks in their customarily greeting.  Neither spoke as their eyes were eloquent enough.  As his eyes came up to look past her graying hair and over her shoulder, she released his hands so he could greet his father, the Chief.  With a nod of thanks, he stepped around his petite mother to stand before his father, Wolf.

His gaze swept over this tall, muscular fierce warrior.  Stoic, eagle-eyed, with a touch of gray at the temples, Wolf was a force to be reckoned with and a loving father.  Hawk was proud to be his son.  He had much to tell his father but, instinctively, knew that this was not the time.  Reaching up, he grabbed the Chief's shoulder, squeezed, and dropped his hand back to his side.  Wolf's rumbling voice told the women to bring food and drink for his returned warrior.  Both Squirrel and Grey Dove scrambled to carry out his order.

Hawk was quiet as he shared the meal with his father and brother.  The food was good and, as they served him, he looked up with a twinkle for his mother and a promise in his eyes for his sister.  Soon enough he heard his father's grunt and knew it was time to make his report.  Hesitantly, he started his tale and tried to find the right words as he related their journey.  No one had questioned that they had followed a vision quest of White Gold's, for she had led them to the valley she'd viewed in her dreams.  He just wasn't sure how Wolf would take the rest of his words concerning White Gold and Madrid.

Wolf was perceptive when it came to his offspring.  He knew something was being held back and the warrior was uncomfortable.  Looking around at his family and noticing the women had finished their meal, he sent them off to prepare Hawk's abode for the night.  He ordered Still Water out to prepare the horses for the next day's travel.  Satisfied that they were alone, he turned his attention back to Hawk.  A long piercing stare was followed with one word.  “Talk.”

“Father, all is not well with White Gold.”

“How?”

Hawk knew he could trust his father to hear him out.  What he couldn't trust, was how close his father was to White Gold's father, Rising Moon, the tribe's medicine man.

“She changed when we came across an injured gunfighter.  He had been shot in the head and she took an interest in him.  He became our captive and she treated him less than a slave.  I saw a side of her I've never seen before.  She was cruel, domineering, and obsessed by him.  Father, I saw her drug him unconscious with an overdose of peyote.  I don't understand this change in her.”  Hawk stood up and paced back and forth, working off his frustration as his father watched impassively.

“Sit, son.  You need to finish your story.  Why does this man concern you?”

Realizing his father was interested in learning what was happening, Hawk did as requested.  “His name is Johnny Madrid and I owe him my life.”

“And why is that, Hawk?”  Wolf was curious about this turn of events and he cocked his head to the side.

It was as if the corral gate in the box canyon had been torn asunder and the wild horses came tumbling out.  Hawk launched into his tale and didn't stop until he told of leaving the camp in search of the tribe.

His father quietly leaned back, digesting the torrent of words and images.  Hawk was trusted and had never lied, but this would place a burden on his friend, Rising Moon.  Wolf had watched the strange looking albino daughter, White Gold, grow up.  The woman his son had described was not that girl.  What to do...it would take some time to determine, yet he had an immediate problem on his hands.  Hawk's eyes and passive face were in front of him and he could feel the wave of despair radiantly off his son.  “You have given me much to think on and I cannot determine the status of Madrid until I see him.  If what you have related about White Gold is known to her father, it will affect my relationship with him.  You go sleep, my son.  I have much to think about.”  He waved his son away and watched as Hawk turned to leave, but then his son turned back to him.

“Father, one last concern.”

“And that is?”

“Grey Dove and Flashing Star.”

Wolf chuckled.  “So your sister got to you first.”

“They would make a good match and he has good horses to trade.”

“I agree, son.  That's why I'm waiting for Flashing Star to come back before I make my decision on my daughter's future.  Now, go to sleep.  We start our journey tomorrow morning.”

The next morning's dawn found Hawk on the ridge overlooking the village.  Preparations were already under way to dismantle the lodges.  Hawk would soon be helping, but he first needed to greet the dawn and the Gods.  His dream from the previous night was unsettling.  He had been flying again and his hawk eyes were sharp as they spiraled through the thermal updrafts.  They spied two braves carrying a third person from a cave and dragging a bear out.  Others approached and aided in carrying the man and bear body back to the valley.  The hawk was curious and spiraled down to get a better look as the man was transported up to another cave.  As the bird flew by, his sharp eyes viewed the limp body of a black headed man with a full beard dripping blood from claw marks in the shoulder.  The bird called out shrilly when the man's closed eyes snapped open revealing glazed startling blue eyes.

Hawk had woken up suddenly and knew his spirit guide was warning him of trouble back in the valley and it all centered around Madrid.

 

Flashing Star gradually became aware of his existence and knew it was painful.  It was difficult to peel his eyelids open, but, one at a time, they popped up and revealed the blurry face of Deer Chaser gazing down on him.  “So, you wake.  I have some broth for you to drink.  Let's get you sitting up first,” said the face.

With Deer Chaser's help, Flashing Star was soon leaning against a tree trunk, but it had been a slow and frustrating process.  While waiting for Deer Chaser to bring the broth over from the fire, Flashing Star took inventory of his body's aches and pains.  His feet and legs felt okay.  It was his abdomen and chest that had taken most of the punishment, with some directed to his arms and head.  As he felt his left side, he blinked his eyes several times trying to clear his vision, but his sight was still blurry.  He heard Deer Chaser's voice before he saw him.

“There's no broken bones.  I checked while you were in deep sleep.  You're covered in bruises and you have a large bump behind your left ear.  You probably have an aching head as well as body.  Drink this.  It will make you feel better.”

As he sipped the broth, he knew it was replenishing the moisture needed by his body.  His mind was still exploring what he had failed to do, free Madrid from White Gold.  So far he had failed to keep his promise to Hawk to watch over and protect Madrid.  His mind was snapped back from his musings when Deer Chaser said, “That broth will help you.  White Gold sent it down with her special herbs in it.  It'll give you a healing sleep.”

 

Part 14

 

A small portion of Johnny's brain was still sane and watched as White Gold prepared his meal with his usual herbs.  It started screaming loudly when he noticed her adding the peyote to the food.  It remembered the last time the two had been mixed in his food, but it was to no avail.  Johnny was still under her evil influence as she had kept a steady stream of the herb in his blood stream.  As his body had grown to tolerate the dosage, she increased it.  She brought the meal and tangy drink to him, knelt and watched as he ate.

He was almost to the point she wanted him and as he slumped over from the drugs, she caught the bowl when it fell from his lax fingers.  The sane portion of his brain grew smaller as her cackle cascaded over his prone body and he spiraled down to a dream state. 

He was a child again and he watched as his mother prepared the meal for the man sitting and staring from the corner.  She was in one of her moods again and Johnny knew to stay silent or he would suffer from her anger.

He had been dragged with her when she had visited the Indian medicine woman for the herbs.  He was old enough to realize that they would be added to the food of his mother's rich lover.  She wanted him under her control and had been gradually adding the herbs to each of her meals for the man.  Johnny looked over at the man and wondered if he knew what he had been eating.

“Juanito, go get me water and hurry.”

“Si, mama.”

He had been sitting on the floor so long that his legs had gone to sleep.  When he got up, he stumbled into Maria, throwing her off balanced.  Her outstretched arms hit the shelf above the cooking area, causing her meager groceries to spill.  She swirled around, spatted Johnny on his head and sent him on his way.  As she cleaned up the mess, she never realized that a great amount of the herbs had spilled into the refried beans as the mixture softly bubbled.

When Johnny returned, he was told to stay in the corner where his pallet was.  He would get no meal as punishment for making the mess.  Johnny watched as his mother and the man sat down and ate.  His stomach growled, but he stayed put and lay down facing the wall.  He drifted off to sleep and later woke when angry words were growled.  Turning over, he saw the man on top of his mother with his hands around her throat.  Her hands were clawing at the man, but to no avail.  Seeing her face full of fear, Johnny launched himself at her lover, but the man had seen him coming and with a vicious backhand, tossed Johnny back into the wall.  His body slid down into a ball and was still.

When he woke up his head ached and he knew he was trapped.  He tried the door to escape the smell of death, but without success.  He panicked and threw himself against the window and again the door, but the man had done well in his lunatic state and all exits were blocked.  As the day traveled into night, Johnny wore his body into exhaustion from his efforts as well as from lack of food and water.  The meager water he had brought back for his mother had spilled and he knew to stay away from the drugged food that made the man loco.  Slowly, he crawled back to the pallet and passed out.

White Gold watched as Johnny's body stopped its twitching.  Softly she spoke, “Soon, yes, soon you will be ready.”  She grinned as she left the cave.

 

Flashing Star looked down at the cup in his hand and, in horror, thought of the sips he had taken of the drugged broth.  He pretended to take more sips as he watched Deer Chaser leave to gather more fire wood.  When he was out of sight, Flashing Star poured the rest of the drink into the hollow trunk of the tree he was leaning against.  He felt drowsy and knew he had taken enough of the broth to get some of the drug into his system.  He fought to stay awake as his body slumped to the side.  He closed his eyes, but kept his ears alert to the sounds around him.

Deer Chaser returned, but with company, White Gold and Running Bear.  Flashing Star was careful to not allow even a muscle to twitch as he listened to their conversation.

“He took all of the drink?”

“Yes, my Goddess.  Your healing herbs are potent.  He will mend fast.”

“That is wise, as he must be able to ride his horse tomorrow.  I'll send you more of the herbs.  Be sure he gets them in his food and drink tonight and in the morning.  I want him prepared for his quest and healing sleep is necessary.”

After Deer Chaser left, Flashing Star listened intently as White Gold whispered to Running Bear,  “Tomorrow, take him to the caves where Madrid was found.  Make sure he's good and lost before you return ... without him.”

“Why, Goddess?  He won't cause us any more trouble after I take care of him.”

“Madrid is mine, no one interferes, do you understand?”  She hissed like a spitting snake and her eyes narrowed into slits.

She may have been petite, but the brave knew she was dangerous when riled and he had crossed the line.  “Yes, Goddess.  I'll do your bidding.”

Flashing Star knew he was in trouble.  In his present condition, it would be difficult to escape, but he must.  He had to get to Hawk.  Only Hawk could save Madrid from White Gold's obsession.  He needed to sleep for a while before he made his attempt.  Night would be better when Deer Chaser would normally drift off to sleep.  He didn't make a good guard and Flashing Star intended to take advantage of it.  As he floated into slumber, Flashing Star's last thought was of how sweet and caring White Gold used to be.  He wondered when she'd slipped into madness.

Hours later, he woke up to being touched on the shoulder.  Deer Chaser had food held before him.  Pushing himself up to lean against the tree, Flashing Star managed to hide the hole behind him and took the food in hand.  “Not sure I can eat this.  My stomach is hurting.”  His voice was raspy and dry.

“I'll bring you the broth White Gold brought for you to drink.  You were able to keep it down earlier.”  The brave turned his back and went to fetch the drink.  Flashing Star noticed discarded leather nearby and was able to snatch it and hide it behind him before the brave returned with the broth.  Giving the brave a grin and a low thanks, Flashing Star asked for water as well.  Watching closely as the warrior strode off, he turned and shoved the food and poured most of the liquid into the hollow hole and covered it with the leather.  When Deer Chaser returned, only a small amount was left and Flashing Star complained of still being thirsty.  The water he was given was cool and refreshing to his parched throat and he took many slow sips until it was gone.

“You know, you shouldn't fight with Running Bear.  The only brave to beat him was Hawk.”

Flashing Star gazed up at the brave, but did not answer.  Pretending to be heavily under the drug's influence, he slid his eyes shut and allowed his body to slump against the tree trunk.

He listened as Deer Chaser picked up the cup and wandered across the fire to his sleeping furs.  Flashing Star's ears were attuned to the brave's every move and was delighted when he heard the chorus of snoring rise in volumes.

Cracking his eye lids open, he peered around to determine the status of the camp.  Most of the braves had settled for the night with a few on guard duty at the edge of the camp.  Another hour and he would be free to move. The moon goddess' eyes were blinking when the clouds overshadowed her and he could use her momentary brightness to guide his way.

As Flashing Star made his escape, Hawk was slumbering and dreaming of a dark haired man named Madrid. 

Johnny was too far sunk in his drugged existence to care whether he dreamed or not.

 

Part 15

 

The camp woke the next morning to Running Bear's angry shouts berating Deer Chaser.  Flashing Star and his horse was gone.  Running Bear was a good tracker, but he knew that Flashing Star was an expert at hiding his trail and was next to impossible to track.  Fear of White Gold's wrath lent volume to his voice.  His temper snapped and he kicked at Deer Chaser's unprotected ribs as the brave woke groggily in his tangled sleeping furs.

The uproar brought other braves who grabbed Running Bear and restrained him.  White Gold heard the shots and came running down from the cliff cave wrapped in her white sleeping fur.  As soon as she realized that Flashing Star had escaped, she took her anger out on Running Bear and slapped him.  “How dare you attack Deer Chaser.  He did his job of watching Flashing Star and giving him the medicine required.  Deer Chaser couldn't help that Flashing Star decided to begin his quest early.”  She stared intently at Running Bear trying to get her message across as she gave her next order.  “Follow him and make sure he's up to his journey.  Return when his quest is ended.”

The glitter in her eyes told Running Bear that he had no choice.  He quickly gathered his belongings and hurried out to the roped corral holding their horses.  After throwing himself upon his pinto, he circled the corral three times until he picked up the trail of a single horse heading into the hills.  White Gold called Coyote over, told him to go guard Madrid in the cave, and she turned her attention to the injured brave.

Kneeling down beside the man, she cautiously placed her hand on his bicep.  “I'm sorry that Running Bear lost his temper and injured you.  Let me look you over.  Where are you hurting?”

“It's okay, Goddess. I'll be fine.”  Deer Chaser was partially covered by his sleeping furs, but the bruises on his chest and side were red and swollen.  He was holding his left arm close to his side.

“I think I will still check you.”  Motioning two watching braves over, she ordered them to build up the fire and bring water from the creek.

 

Hawk was glad that the journey was on the way.  It would be a slow process taking most of the coming week.  Strung out behind the leaders was a long line of his people, with pack horses and silent, stalking half-wolf dogs.  He grinned as he watched his sister's failure to dodge their family pet's mock attack.  She came away from the encounter with a wet, slobbered face and a dusty dress.  Her dignity had escaped her and her face turned red when she caught Hawk's twinkling eyes and upturned mouth.  He whistled to bring the animal to him and turned his horse back toward his father and the medicine man riding at the front.

Seeing his sister made him think of Flashing Star and Madrid.  The uneasiness had returned.  He wished that the tribe would speed up, but it was reality that the old ones would slow them down.  Traveling up the line to where his father and Rising Moon was riding, Hawk called politely to his sire, “I will ride further ahead to scout the land for a mid-day stop.”

Noticing the restlessness of his son and his son’s mount, the chief nodded his agreement and watched quietly as the brave gave the horse the signal to gallop away.  He continued his silence as he rode further with his best friend beside him.  His mind was struggling on how to discuss White Gold with Rising Moon.  Then the medicine man started to speak.

“Your son will make a fine chief someday.  He is caring, but strong and decisive.  It is sad that you have not taught him to speak when he is troubled, but that is something you have not conquered yet, has it my friend?”  He glanced over at Wolf and watched as the chief tightened his lips.  It was the same look he had viewed on Hawk’s face every time he caught the young brave’s eyes since his return.  There was sadness in the son’s eyes, just as it was reflected in the sire’s face.  “What is it, my friend?  What is bothering you and your son?”

There had always been truth between the two men dating back to when they were young men searching for their mates.  Wolf turned on his horse’s blanket and stared at his friend.  Was this the time to tell him of his daughter and her deeds?  Wolf had thought long into the previous day and night and knew there was no way to avoid the God’s fate.  The truth would stretch their friendship, but it had to be shared.  He had discussed it with Squirrel and she would talk with Swift Otter, Rising Moon’s squaw, once Rising Moon knew of his daughter’s activities.

“My son brings back news that disturbs me and the Gods force me to tell you, even though I do not wish to.”  Wolf turned back to his horse’s head and reached unconsciously to rub the black’s shiny neck.

Rising Moon watched his friend and saw the signs of a fighting soul.  It had always been so when Wolf was in turmoil, he would reach for the nearest animal to stroke.  He frowned as various thoughts crossed his mind as to what the news was, but he didn’t like what it was doing to Wolf, so he urged his friend to share his news.

Wolf steeled his heart as he related the story he had been told by Hawk.  It was almost a relief and a reaffirmation of his friend’s character when Rising Moon jerked on his reins, cruelly halting his mount and yelled, “No. This is not so!”  It hurt Wolf to have his friend turn an angry face upon him.  The eyes alone were deadlier than arrows.  They pierced his soul and made him fearful of a shattered friendship.

Rising Moon whirled his mount and galloped off, away from Wolf and further up the trail that Hawk had taken.  Wolf knew of his son’s strength of character and was sure he not only would show respect to the medicine man when they met, but also would grace him with the truth.

Wolf turned his horse around in search of his squaw.  He found Squirrel walking behind the pack horses with their belongings, chattering with their daughter, Grey Dove.  Both had taken a break from riding.  He rode up to her, held his hand out to Squirrel, as he had in their youth, and she handed the reins to her daughter, happily ran up and was pulled neatly and swiftly onto the back of his horse.  Once he felt her settle and could feel the warmth of her arms around his bare chest, he rode away from the tribe.  He could hear his daughter’s laughter as she took delight in her parent’s love for each other.

He rode until he came to the banks of a nearby creek.  Helping her down, he lifted his right leg over and slid down gracefully from the black’s back.  The horse was trained to stay when ground tied and he reached out to munch on the browning grass adorning the banks.  Grabbing Squirrel’s hand, Wolf led her down beside the creek.  When they stopped, his eyes were on the rushing waters, but hers wasn’t.  She could see the tightness of his lips, the narrowing of his eyes, the slight flaring of his nostrils.  Her hands reached up to knead the one area of his broad brown shoulders she knew would be knotted and it was.  While slowly working her magic and relaxing his body, she quizzed him.  “You have spoken with Rising Moon.  It did not go well, my chief?”

“No, it did not.  He took my news as we suspected and rode off to angrily confront our son.  Our friendship has been strained.  He shows loyalty to his daughter, White Gold.”

“As you would, if someone had said the same against your daughter.”

“This is true, but our son does not lie and I believe White Gold is capable of doing these things.”

“Why is that, my love?”

He turned and held her arms as he gazed into her soft brown eyes.  “Because of what I saw of her once.  She was very young and I happened onto her just after she had captured a rabbit.  She was taking special delight in her torture of the animal before she killed it.  She heard me, turned and ran away.  I talked to Rising Moon about her actions.  He denied me then, but finally, upon my insistence, agreed to teach her to revere the ones who give their lives to sustain ours.  I never saw that behavior from her again, and had forgotten it.”

“But this has brought the memory back and you once again doubt her?”

He lovingly looked down upon her.  Despite their age, he still saw the raven-haired beauty before him that had first captured his heart.  She had grown in wisdom and it was toward that wisdom he turned to now.  “Yes, I doubt that she has learned and has found ways to hide her nature.”

“Then it is time that I speak with her mother, Swift Otter.  She is a practical woman and under no illusions about White Gold.  Speak no more about this to Rising Moon.  You have planted the seeds of doubt.  Allow him to think on it before we make winter quarters and he sees for himself his daughter’s actions.”

With warmth in his heart, he gathered her into his muscular arms and pressed her to his chest.  Leaning down, he devoured her lips and when she laughingly came up for air, his thoughts turned toward more carnal matters.  Picking her up and throwing her across his shoulder, he made his way up the bank and across the meadow to a grassy, shady spot beneath an ancient oak.  He tenderly lowered her to the ground and joined her when she reached out to pull him down on top of her.  All thoughts of White Gold and Rising Moon fled him as her laughing eyes pulled him into pleasure.

 

Flashing Star was determined to find Hawk and for the entire day he rode with only one break when he wavered and slid off the horse.  Thankfully, he was riding through a pine forest and landed on a bed of fragrant pine needles.  Through the next half hour his patient horse tried to wake her master by mouthing his hair and nudging his shoulder. He was rewarded with a groan.

Flashing Star rolled over onto his back and stared up through the boughs, trying to determine where he was and what had happened.  He was sore, stiff and dehydrated.  His thirst was great.

He heard the dripping of rain spilling off the tree branches.  Slowly he moved over until he was under one of the limbs and opened his mouth to catch the water.  It refreshed him, but he was soon soaked and shivering from the cool rain.  Remembering that it was urgent for him to find Hawk, he looked around and found a fallen tree trunk.  Haltingly, he pulled himself over and sat on it.  Whistling for his horse to come to him, he used the tree to boost himself onto its back.  He turned the horse back into the forest and avoided the easier to follow game trail. He still had to avoid capture by Coyote or Running Bear.  He prayed quietly to the Great Spirit to keep Madrid safe until he could find Hawk and bring him back.  Flashing Star was soon hidden from sight as he journeyed on his way.

 

Johnny was compliant.  White Gold had adjusted his dosages in his food and drink and he was where she wanted him.  She wasn't ready for him yet, just a few more days and she would be.  She had dreamed of the possibility of her future and even though Coyote and Running Bear were more than willing to be part of that dream, they had not given her the thrill she had experienced with Madrid.

As she watched Madrid in his drugged sleep, she frowned as she thought of Running Bear. This was not the first time his temper had snapped.  She had once entertained becoming Hawk's squaw.  He was destined to be the next Chief, a man of great power, but he wasn't very pliable and Running Bear had been jealous, which led to a fight between the two.  Hawk was the winner of the battle, but as far as she was concerned, he was a loser.  He showed compassion to Running Bear and pulled back when he should have killed the bigger man.  She disdained weakness and slowly drew away from Hawk.  Running Bear was easier to handle, as long as she could keep his temper in check.  She was hopeful that he would catch up to Flashing Star, but regardless, he was out of the camp.  She was fearful of what he would do to Madrid if he found out her plan.  It would bring on her ire if Madrid died before she was ready for his demise.  For now, Coyote was easier to work with and would guard Madrid well.  He never questioned her orders.

She waved him over and gave him his instructions.  It was time for her to gather and prepare the herbs she needed to take before the big event.  As she turned away, she grinned evilly.  All was going well.

 

Hawk nodded to himself.  The area around him would do nicely for a stop.  It had plenty of fallen trees in the wooden area for seats for the elderly and firewood for the women to gather.  The tribe would be hungry and the old ones would need a rest for their weary feet.  A small creek nearby would provide water and a natural meadow near the forest was awash in green grass for the animals.  Even though he was in a rush, he knew the needs of the tribe came first.  He heard Rising Moon before he saw him.  The old brave's lack of caution told Hawk more about the medicine man's state of mind.  He had surmised that White Gold's father would be upset when Wolf passed on the information.  He was, and he was coming for Hawk.  Stoic and squaring his shoulders, Hawk stood by his horse and waited for the old man's appearance.

For an older man, Rising Moon was still agile.  He galloped up and threw himself off his mount.  He strode purposely over to Hawk and planted himself firmly before the young man.  Rising Moon was tall, almost as tall as Wolf.  Hawk didn't have far to look as he had inherited his father's height.

"Revered one." Hawk addressed Rising Moon.

Ignoring the standard greeting for his station, Rising Moon bluntly shot back.  "Why did you lie about my daughter?"

"I see you have had a discussion with my father.  I did not lie, Rising Moon.  I only told of what I heard and saw.  Have you ever known me to lie, Revered One?  I do not spread falseness now."

"It can not be.  My daughter would not do those things."  The father was upset and looked onto Hawk with disgust.

"Then either she has changed or has hidden her true spirit from you.  She is not the same maiden I grew up with.  She is different.  I do not know why."

The medicine man whirled and started pacing.  The older brave's anger was still apparent, but their relationship had always been based on truth.  Rising Moon had at one time thought of Hawk as a future son-in-law, but White Gold had told him that the young brave was not favored in her eyes.  He wondered if there was revenge involved.  He turned and looked intensively to the stoic brave standing so still.  Flashing into his memory was of the young brave and the beautiful maiden Astra.  He had caught them hidden in the trees down by the creek and had sent them on their way back to the village.

He shook his head as he answered his own question.  There was no revenge, Hawk had moved on to another.  Suddenly, his talk with White Gold earlier in her life about the tortured rabbit popped into his mind. Could she had hidden her spirit?  Stopping and turning back to Hawk, he spoke with great projection.  "I need to see for myself. I need to see White Gold - now!"

"No."

"And why not?  I have spoken!"

Hawk swept his hand around to indicate the camping place.  "We await the tribe and the ancient ones who must have rest as they journey to our winter quarters."

"Then we will make a way for the ancient ones to rest as they travel.  I will speak to your father."  The old brave vaulted onto his mount's back and rapidly rode back toward the tribe.

 

Part 16

 

Coyote watched over the drugged Madrid.  He didn't know why it was necessary, but his Goddess had decried it and he had never questioned her orders, even when they were children.  White Gold had gone to gather her herbs to take.  He was puzzled as to why she needed to consume the herbs ... she was perfect.  He grinned down evilly at Madrid.  The man reminded him of their play sessions when young.  Coyote would catch the rabbits and squirrels that she had enjoyed torturing.

She had promised that when she was done with Madrid she would turn him over to Coyote to do as he wanted.  He looked forward to his play session.  He looked up as he heard footsteps coming up the path to the caves.  Glancing down, he was assured that Madrid was still restrained and mentally loopy.  Moving to the cave entrance, he watched as White Gold and another brave carried a full bag inside.  She dismissed the warrior and busied herself draping the herbs across the drying racks before the fire.

Madrid was waking up and she stopped her chores to prepare him his food and drink.  He was on a maintenance dosage now and was docile as she fed him.  Once he settled back down, she continued her preparations while waiting for the herbs to dry.

The sun was retiring and the moon goddess was arising from her long nap.  White Gold told Coyote to leave for the evening.  Madrid would not wake before morning, when Coyote was expected to return to walk their captive.  Once his bodily needs were fulfilled, Coyote would guard the gunman as White Gold prepared herself for the coming ritual.  Coyote was puzzled over what ceremony she would perform, but he was trained to obey and obey he would do.  He was gleeful.  He was just that much closer to his own ceremony of torture.

 

The mid morning stop of the tribe was cut short as Rising Moon had convinced Wolf to assign mounts to all the old ones and the young braves took turns riding the remaining horses and running.  Their speed of travel was greatly increased and secretly pleased Hawk.  Rumors had rapidly spread throughout the tribe as to why the unusual travel arrangements were made.  Their medicine man soon soothed their anxiety with the decree that a vision had been revealed to him.  It was necessary for the tribe to reach winter quarters fast.  The Gods had spoken.  The tribe settled down and increased their pace of travel.

As the tribe was pushing on toward winter quarters, Flashing Star was coming closer to them.  He knew he was being followed.  While deep in a valley, he saw Running Bear top the rise and lean over his mount tracking the signs of Flashing Star's passage.  Flashing Star wove his horse into the trees lining the valley, searching for the rocks peppering the ground.  He found what he was searching for and guided his horse over to the nearest tree.  Cutting a long limb, he tied it to his patient horse's tail and slowly walked the horse down the rocky incline and into the meandering stream in the center of the valley.

Keeping the horse to a walk in the middle of the water, he waited patiently until he spotted rocks leading from the water and into a thick thicket of trees and bushes.  They traveled the short distance and hid in the center.  This horse had been captured as a young colt and was Flashing Star's favorite mount.  She knew her master's signals well and obeyed instantly when the hand petted her nose gently.  She stayed quiet and still for an half hour until Running Bear passed by.

The sun God was smiling down on the earth and Flashing Star was pleased that the damp sings of his passage had dried up before the other brave had come close.  Watching cautiously, Flashing Star stayed until he saw Running Bear disappeared around the bend of the creek.  Again, with the signal for quiet, he guided his horse out and into the creek.  Back tracking, he returned to where he'd first entered the water and went out on the opposite side.  Weaving his way through the rocky inclined, he headed for a deer trail that led out of the valley.  The sky grew dark as he climbed to the ridge and crossed over into the trail to his tribe.

 

The sun was retiring over the tribe and they were stopping for the evening.  It was necessary for all to replenish their energy and to sleep to refresh their alertness.  Hawk and the other braves followed his father and the medicine man's orders.  The camp was set up and the cooking fires started in record time.  The tribe was tired and there was an urgency to get an early start.  Hawk was among many of the tribe who wrapped himself into his sleeping skins and drifted off to sleep.

A dream came and he was powerless to stop it.  His spirit guide, the hawk was perched on the tall limb of a pine tree overlooking a flowing creek.  He heard the high pitched cry of puzzlement coming from the predator bird as its sharp eyes focused on the event unfolding below him.  Through the bird's piercing vision, Hawk watched as his friend's favorite horse came into sight, silently picking her way through the middle of the stream bed.

It was gentle and surefooted as its companion and master swayed from side to side across her back.  One misstep would send Flashing Star to the sharp rocks in the water below her hoofs.  Just as she gently plodded up onto the bank, Hawk heard the sharp crack of a rifle and saw the flash as the bullet left the weapon.  Flashing Star didn't even cry out when the spiraling metal plowed into the back of his shoulder.  Limp as a rag doll, he slowly slipped down and onto the ground.  Appearing out of the forest, Running Bear quickly marched over to the injured man, aimed his rifle at his head and pulled the trigger.  The hawk squawked and flew straight at Running Bear.  Even as its talons dug into the brave's shoulder in an effort to spoil the shot, it was too late.

Hawk woke up slowly and stared up into the night sky.  He always believed in his visions and this one was speaking loudly at him.  His friend, Flashing Star, was in trouble.  Hawk knew of the forest of pine trees and the brook in his dream, and it wasn't that far away.  He was sure he had time to arrive before Running Bear did the deed as his hawk spirit saw everything during the afternoon light.  He would have to travel fast, without the tribe, but he knew he could make it to the creek in plenty of time.  He would talk to his sire at dawn and ride off to rescue his friend.  Turning over in his sleeping robe, he drifted off to sleep puzzling over why Running Bear would be stalking Flashing Star.

It was mid-morning the next day and Hawk was nearing his destination.  He had left shortly after dawn.  Grateful to Wolf for the support and for the food given to him by his mother, Squirrel, he felt lucky to have such supportive parents.  It had been agreed upon that his mission would be kept away from Grey Dove.  He didn't want his sister to be alarmed, he'd hope to keep his vision from coming true.  Looking around, he could see the pine tree his spirit hawk had roosted in.  Back trailing from where his friend would appear, he discovered the deer trail leading from the stream and through the mountain pass.  He knew that it came from the direction of the winter quarters and he would need to watch the trail carefully.

He was masterful at becoming one with the forest and his horse was well trained to be silent.  Knowing that his mount had sharper hearing, Hawk kept a close eye on the horse and his diligence was rewarded when, a couple of hours later, the horse's ears pitched forward.  Giving the signal for quiet, Hawk waited silently, draping his arm over his companion.  Flashing Star's horse slowly picked her way down the trail.  His friend was swaying on her back, but instinctively, his legs were clamped down tightly around her middle, keeping him from falling off.

A flicker of movement further up the trail caught Hawk’s attention.  Flashing Star was being followed and Hawk knew who it was.  Hoping to stop Running Bear and find out why he was stalking Flashing Star, Hawk took a step toward the brave.  He saw Running Bear raise his rifle to his shoulder and take sight on his victim’s back.

Hawk knew there was no time to hesitate.  He brought his rifle to bear on Running Bear and took his shot.  The bullet burying into his left shoulder pushed Running Bear off his horse and sprawled him onto the forest floor.  Hawk took off running toward the brave.  The man was rolling over and reaching for his rifle when Hawk arrived.  Kicking the weapon away, he leveled his rifle toward the assassin and made his one query.  “Why?”

Running Bear gazed up at the Young Chief, shook his head and promptly passed out.  Using a length of leather wrapped around his waist, Hawk secured the brave's hands behind his back.  Grabbing a handful of spider webs from a nearby tree, he pressed the mess onto the wound to stop the bleeding.  He noted that there was no exit wound.  With nothing else he could do, Hawk stood up in preparation of tracking down Flashing Star and found he didn't have far to go.  His friend had toppled off of his patient mount and was laying next to her as she nuzzled his hair.

Hurrying down the trail, Hawk reached his fallen friend and ran his hands over his limbs.  He didn't find anything other than bruises and contusions until he came to the head.  Flashing Star had a graze over his right ear and was starting to wake up.  Finding more spider webs, Hawk pressed them down onto the wound and held down his friend's shoulder to keep him prone.

Looking up with bleary, unfocused eyes, Flashing Star squinted until Hawk's image sharpened.  Reaching up fast to grab Hawk's bicep, he tried to pull himself up, but swayed with dizziness.  Sweat popped out on his forehead and he slowly, with help, lowered himself back to the forest floor.  "Hawk, Madrid.  You have got to save him.  She is killing him with her herbs and she almost got me with her guards, Coyote and Running Bear."

Pointing toward the other brave with his free hand, as Flashing Star still had a tight grip on his other arm, Hawk inquired, “So, is that why Running Bear shot you?”

“He's been tracking me after I tried to free Madrid. I was captured and escaped.  I came to warn you.”  His words were faint as his eyes fought to stay open.

Hawk felt the vibration of the ground before he heard the noise of running hooves.  They slowed as they reached the creek and sped up at the trail.  Looking up, he watched as six braves slowed down and stopped in front of him.  He was relieved to see Wolf and Rising Moon slip from their horses' backs and toss their reins to the other men.  One of them was Swift Cougar, his riding companion from the winter quarters.  In an instance, he knew what he needed to do.

As Rising Moon went to check on Running Bear and Swift Cougar went to Flashing Star, Hawk intercepted his father, Wolf.  Drawing him away and to the side, Hawk beseeched his sire.  "Father, I must leave now.  Madrid is in danger.  Flashing Star came to warn me and his condition is from an attack from Running Bear, who was trying to stop him from reaching me.  His orders came from White Gold.  I must go."

"Son, you are leading us to winter quarters.  You must stay."

Looking around, Hawk pointed to Swift Cougar,  "He will lead.  He knows the way."

"I will go with you."

Swiveling around, they realized that Rising Moon was behind them.  "No, my old friend.  You have injured warriors to tend to," Wolf replied.

"I have to see White Gold.  I must know."  Rising Moon's look begged his friend.

Wolf was still as he thought.  As Chief, it was his decision.  Gazing back at his friend, his face was with emotion.  "You have been my lifelong companion.  Do you trust me to be your eyes, ears and heart?"  He paused and then continued.  "I will go with Hawk.  You must stay here.  You are our medicine man and there is need for you here."

A fleeting look of despair came across Rising Moon's face and was followed by a stony look.  "NO!"

Once more, Wolf tried.  "I have known White Gold all of her life and you and I are friends.  You have nothing to fear from me.  Do not worry for your daughter.  You have my oath that I will take care of her.  You must stay, old friend."

At that moment, Running Bear awoke and moaned loudly.  With regret in his eyes, Rising Moon slowly moved toward the brave, throwing back over his shoulder, "I will hold you to your oath, Chief."

Hawk rushed toward his horse and threw himself onto its back.  "Come Father, we do not have much time."

"How far away are we from winter quarters, my son?"

"One day.  Come, father."

Wolf grabbed a handful of his horse's mane and mounted the animal.  It was spirited and danced around as it caught the excitement flowing from Hawk and his mount.  He quickly gave instructions to Swift Cougar to tell his squaw where they were going.  “Okay, son. Lead on.

Hawk set a fast pace as they left the camp and headed for winter quarters where the fate of Madrid and White Gold would soon be decided.

 

Part 17

 

Normally Hawk would relish riding with his father.  Wolf had a close relationship with his son and they had taken many hunting journeys with each other.  In a way, this was another hunt, one to find the truth and to save the prey of a misguided maiden.  This was not a pleasure ride and Hawk was focused only on reaching Madrid in time to save him.

It was Wolf who used words of wisdom to stop his son for the evening.  The sun was resting and the moon was being covered by a night fog.  Continuing on through the forest without adequate light was foolish.  They made a dry camp and even though Hawk didn't think he could rest, he soon was wrapped in his skins and dropping off.

Wolf was a light sleeper and woke up to the moans of his son entangled in the web of a nightmare.  Hawk was rolling from side to side and startled his sire when he set up and shouted out, "No, White Gold! Don't!"

Wolf was gentle as he reached out and squeezed his son's muscular bicep.  "Hawk? Son?  Wake up." He watched as the blankness of Hawk's stare left and was replaced with intelligence.  Hawk wrapped his arms around his chest as his body started shivering in the night air.  A look of horror traveled across his face as the memories of his dark dream returned.

Wolf stood, moved over to the flicking light of their fire and added more fuel to the flames.  Picking up their water bag, he brought it over and offered it to his son.  He moved his sleeping skins closer to Hawk and used his horse's blanket to cover the brave's shoulder.  Sitting down across from his son, he waited.

It was a while before Hawk started talking in a low raspy whisper.  "I was in my spirit bird and there was a stillness in the air.  I could feel my heart throb quicker as my wings beat faster.  The sky was strange, gray with a greenish tinge.  It caused problems with my eyes and I had an urge to find a roosting spot, but the time was wrong.  It was morning ..." He paused in his narrative. "Tomorrow morning ... just a couple of hours after the moon goddess goes to rest.

I landed on the limb of a pine tree overlooking the valley and the caves above the creek.  There are braves down below and, with my sharp vision, I can see the uneasiness in their eyes as they gazed upward to the sky.  The horses are snorting, kicking, and milling about.  The sky is darkening more and the urge to roost is almost impossible to resist.  Then I hear it.

It's a low pitch whine that starts off quietly and builds slowly.  It gets louder, undulating from one of the caves, someone is in great pain.  It grates on me and the sky is dark.  My instincts are now complete and I try to tuck my beak under my wing, but the cry is louder, wavering, and I can not sleep.  I watch below and my hearing pinpoints the exact cave where the cry is funneling out.  I see a brave running up the path to the cave and he enters."  Looking over to his father Hawk pauses and then takes up the tale of his dream world again.  "Father, that brave was me, but I don't know what I encountered.  The cry stops and all that my spirit bird hears, before he drops off to sleep, is me shouting out at White Gold."

Wolf sat back on his heels, crossed his arms and dropped his chin.  His stance was of deep thinking and a few minutes later he came to a decision.  Looking back up, he studied his son's face.  He didn't understand this obsession with the man, Madrid, but he did know his son and if Hawk thought it was worth it to save the gunman, then they would.  "You look like you have been feeding well, my son.  You can miss a few meals.  Come and prepare to break camp.  We are leaving."

"But, father, we can't travel in the dark."

"You can't.  I can.  Now, see to your horse."

Within minutes, the fire was out and covered, their belongings in travel bags and the two braves were on their way with Wolf leading.  He intended for his son to follow until dawn broke and then he would allow his impatient offspring to surge ahead.

Hawk chafed at the slow pace, but knew not to cross the Chief.  It wasn't the first time he had to reign in his need for speed and follow his father's directions.  He vowed to watch carefully for signs of dawn. Two hours later, he sensed the lightening of the dark.  The night fog had faded away as they traveled and the moon would show her face through the tree branches in a game of hide and seek.  During one of his searches for her, he knew the dawn was coming.  "Father?"

"Just a little longer, son, and then we will stretch out our horse's legs.  The trees are thinning and the meadow is ahead.  Then I'll give you your head. A little longer, son."

Hawk's patience was stretched taunt to the breaking point and just as he was ready to jump, his father gave the signal to lead.  His heart sang as their pace increased.  He knew Wolf would be angry at him if he gave into his desires and risked his horse, so he set a reasonable pace.  He grinned as he heard behind him Wolf's grunt of approval.  Thus, they traveled in silence for a couple of hours.  The sky had a strange look and though it was morning, you would think it was late afternoon approaching nightfall. He recognized the ridge overlooking the winter quarters.  They were very close.

 

Johnny's psyche had been shredded by White Gold's ministrations of herbs and peyote.  He had been in the midst of a fog and had lost all touch with reality.  Reduced to an animal state with the testosterone of a rutting bull moose, he was where she wanted him.  Earlier that morning, she had given him his last dose and led him to the middle of the cave, where, with Coyote's help, his loincloth and harness were removed and, with ropes and stakes, she secured her captive spread eagled to the ground.  Ordering Coyote to guard duty outside, she made her final preparations.

Taking water warmed by the fire, she washed down every inch of his body.  She left him to air dry as she moved over to the side of the cave to divest her body of her white leather dress.  She took the rest of the warm water and dowsed her torso.  She hurried in anticipation with her ablutions and dressed in her breast band and loin cloth.  With all of the colorful beads lovingly sewed on the white leather, the outfit was suppose to have been worn on her wedding night.  In her mind, this was her wedding to a man who had what she wanted, the genes for her perfect child.

Liberally sprinkling herself with her special herbal scent, she knew she was ready to become one with him.  She felt the power of lust coursing through her veins, increased through the ingestion of the same herb that she had been feeding him.  Of course, the amount she took was much smaller than his and not as often, so as to retain her sanity.  Right now his sanity was not a necessity for her, just his body.  Standing high and ready for her ceremony, she strode across the cave, enveloped in a cloud of scent, and she stalked her prey - the man staked out on the floor waiting for his bride.  Knelling down beside him, she adjusted what little clothes she wore, straddled his slim hips, and mounted him.

 

Although his mind wasn't there, Johnny's subconsciousness had been aware of the feelings of coolness the water had invoked over his body.  It was relaxing and his brain sent out the signals to loosen his muscles.  The experience sent him back in a dream state to when he was younger and coming down from a high fever.  He watched as his mother leaned over him and washed the sweat from his forehead, chest and limbs.  Her long silky ebony hair fell onto him and caressed his skin.  He reached up to stroke her cheek and was surprised that his hands didn't move.  Loneliness flowed over him as she smiled and moved away out of his sight.

In minutes, he smelled her scent and it was overpowering in its pungency.  His body knew what that scent signified and his head swiveled from side to side to find the male his mother would seduce.  He found no man, only the wavering lines of the silhouette image of a woman reflected on the cave wall.  The woman approached him with a smile on her face and his body reacted to the long remembered odor.  A stray thought was allowed into his muddled and vacuumed mind.  "Why was his mother coming to him with that smile of seduction on her face?"

It was enough to start the process of resistance and he fought to overcome the hold the drugs had on him.  He didn't want this and struggled to break free of his bonds, but they were too strong and he was too weak.  He watched in horror, seeing his mother adjust her clothing, straddle his body and take possession of him.  His mind snapped and hid deep within the recesses of his psyche and his body took possession of what was left.  It was a war.  His body was responding to her drugs and ministrations, while at the same time resisting.  A low guttural cry started in the base of his throat and rose higher and higher to a quavery undulation. The sound continued until his body gave in to her demands and released the fluids she desired.  As the sound stopped the sun moved into position for its eclipse and the world darkened into night, casting the frightened braves below into softly outlined blobs of gray.

 

Hawk heard the protest of the soaring bird before they topped the ridge.  In seconds, he saw the hawk soaring down into the tall pine trees overlooking the caves.  He wasn't sure which of his visions was about to come true, but he hadn't the time to dwell on them.  Moving fast down the trail, his father followed closely as they splashed through the creek and raced to the path leading to the caves.  Jumping off his horse before the stallion could come to a stop, he threw the reins to Wolf.  The eerie cry from the center cave told him which of the four was his target and he ran toward it.

He gave little notice of Coyote as he stood in front of the cave with his rifle cradled in his arms.  The brave was staring, with enlarged pupils, out over the darkening land with fear crossing his features.  In his dash to the cave, Hawk brushed against the brave, causing Coyote to stumble across the path and fall to his knees on the ledge overlooking the cliff.

Running into the cave, Hawk skidded to a halt at the sight of the silhouette cast on the cave wall from the fire's flickering flames.  He blurted out in a shout, "No, White Gold! Don't."  As he rushed around the fire, the eerie cry came to an loud crescendo and the silence that swept into the void was overpowering.

 

Part 18

 

Angrily, Hawk reached the couple and grabbed the near - naked woman.  He slung her one handedly away from Madrid and into the cave wall. Stunned, she slid down into a heap.  Turning toward Madrid, Hawk pulled his knife out of his sheaf and slit the ropes binding the man to the ground.  Once free, Madrid's hand squeezed his forehead and he shook his head.  With a cry of agony, he shoved himself off of the ground and ran through the fire and out of the cave entrance.  The pain of his fresh burns started his eerie wail again.

Coyote was on his way into the cave when Johnny came barreling out.  They careened off each other and the momentum knocked Coyote to the edge of the cliff.  His foot turned on a loose rock and he fell over the side and down into the valley.  His scream of fear was cut short by the loud crack of his head hitting a rock.  Johnny's animal instincts were to escape.  Regardless of his pain, he ran down the path to the valley below, passing the dead Coyote without recognition. 

The braves were hiding from their Sun God, who with his darken eye, was expressing his displeasure.  They knelt and covered their heads with their arms.  It was easy for Johnny to plow through their midst in search of escape and relief from his burns.  He found both in the meandering creek ahead.  In a desperate leap, he threw his body into the water and allowed it to sweep him downstream. In a short time, he was lost from sight.

Wolf had been securing the horses to a bush when he heard the commotion up on the path outside the caves.  Through the dimness, he saw Coyote's fall, Johnny's escape and was preparing to give chase, when he heard his son's shout.

Hawk was disgusted with White Gold and after asserting she wasn't hurt, he turned his back on her.  He had to find Madrid.  His foot brushed up against a bag and he heard the clink of metal hitting rock.  Knelling down, he opened the leather skin to discover Madrid's belongings.  On impulse, he gathered them up into his arms, grabbed Madrid's saddle and went outside the cave entrance.  It was dark, with a faint gleam from the Sun God.  He fought down his fear of the unknown and dwelt on his visions.  The one of being pushed off the cliff flashed into his mind and he whirled to face the cave, barely deflecting White Gold's attack.

Anger clouded her face and as it was, she was able to hit Hawk's side hard and unbalanced him.  Madrid's possessions were tossed behind him over the edge as he fell and rolled toward the cliff edge.  His flailing hands reached out and clawed at the ground.  As he went over, both hands grabbed onto shrubs growing on the side of the cliff and he stopped his swift rush to the bottom.  At the same time, his feet scrambled for purchase in the sandy dirt and he found a foothold to stay his fall.  He heard her scream of triumph and as he tried to pull himself back up, he heard the triumph turn to pain and panic.

Wolf watched in horror as she raised her hands and eyes to the Sun God.  He ran up the trail and caught White Gold as she cried out and clawed at her eyes, stumbling to her knees at the edge of the cliff.  He gathered her into his arms holding her hands to her sides and pressed her eyes into his chest, but he was fearful that his efforts would be too late.

In a soft, pleading tone he turned his attention to his son hanging on the side of the cliff.  “Hawk, stay still, my son, and do not look upon the face of the Sun God.  He is angry today.  I'll get you some help.”

In a subdued tone he heard his offspring reply, “Thank you, father.  White Gold?   She was in pain, after she pushed me.”

“I don't know, son.  She looked fully upon the sun.  Stay still.  I will get you help.”  The chief stood up, pulling White Gold to her feet and being careful to keep her small hands in his large hand.  Gently, he slid his arm behind her knees and lifted her into his arms.  He trapped one of her arms between their bodies and held onto the other one.

Looking below into the valley, he knew he had to break his braves out of their fear of the Sun God.  His yell to them pealed out across the chasm and he admonished them to stand up and come to him, keeping their eyes cast downward.  When they stood below him, he dispatched two of them to bring ropes up to him.  Two large warriors were put on guard duty inside a cave and White Gold was placed in their care and protection.  The rest of the warriors were directed into the three nearby caves.  Wolf took the ropes and threw them down to his son and, with the aid of two braves, Hawk was pulled up off of the cliff side.

After dusting himself off, Hawk gave his sire a long piercing look and took off running down the path.  Quickly throwing ropes on two of the horses, he lead them over to where Madrid's possessions were scattered.  He stuffed the bag with the loose items, saddled the black stallion, mounted his horse and moved off trying to track the runaway through the dim light.

He headed to the creek and could see where Madrid had entered the water.  He turned the horses and trailed along, keeping his eyes watching in the gray light.  His eyes were sharp and he kept watch on both sides of the creek looking for signs of Madrid's exit.  The water was good to Madrid and had carried him in her warm embrace quite a distance away.  The Sun God was opening his angry eye and was looking kindly down on his people.  Hawk's eyesight was improving in the light and he saw signs of drag marks on the other side of the creek.  Splashing across, he leaned over to check the ground.  Madrid had been dragged from the water, lifted up by someone wearing boots and carried off.  Hawk tracked the man up an incline and he gazed down into the valley below.  The man had covered Madrid with a blanket and was holding him partially up, while offering fluid in his tin cup to the young man.

Hawk was still, but the man was alert and sharp.  His piercing eyes was well aware of Hawk's presence and he had reached for his gun.  Hawk held his hands up in the universal sign of peace.  Slowly leaning over, he dropped the bag of Madrid's clothes and possessions to the ground.  Spotting a bush to the side, he walked both horses over and tied Madrid's black stallion securely.  Backing his horse up by the pressure of his knees, Hawk stopped, saluted Madrid, and turned away to return to his people.

 

Part 19

 

Scott was down on his knees by his brother's side.  Johnny was lost in a catatonic state as he sat on the sofa.  Again, Scott spoke softly to Johnny, asking if he was okay and could he hear Scott.  He got no answer.  With his hand on Johnny's shoulder, he turned to Val.  “What happened to him with this White Gold?”

Looking down at his friend, with sadness in his eyes, Val launched into his story.  “Don't know all that happened to him.  He never would tell me.  What little I've pieced together came out of his nightmares.”

Murdoch stepped around and stood behind Johnny.  He gently placed his large hand on Johnny's other shoulder.  Concern for his younger son was plainly written across his face.  He was quiet for a man with a normally loud, rumbling voice.  He looked up from downcast eyes and softly addressed Val.  “Tell us what you know.”

Downing his shot of tequila, Val went to the side board and poured himself another one.  He used the time to put his thoughts in order.  “I first met your son when I fished his naked body out of a creek.  I was chasing a pipe dream of striking it rich by panning for gold.  Guess I found it by finding Johnny.  He was half drowned, covered with burns and unconscious.  He wasn't starved, wherever he'd been, he had been fed well.  He was heavy when I dragged him out of the water.  Had to throw him over my shoulder to carry him.”

Scott grinned and commented, “I wonder how many others have carried my brother that way?”

Glancing down at the older brother, Val replied, “I dare say it wasn't the first or the last.  At the time, I needed to get him back to my camp.  I guess, with him being upside down, it didn't agree with him.  He came alive, retched and, just before we got to camp, threw up a ton of creek water.  Good thing I had a spare shirt and pair of pants.  He baptized me good.”

“I got him in my bedroll and rolled him up.  He wasn't all there, if you know what I mean.  He was loco, muttering and he would go off cursing in Spanish.  I was trying to get some water down him when I spied an Injun watching me on the ridge.  I wasn't sure if he meant harm to Johnny, so I drew my gun.  The man threw up his hands in peace, dropped a bag, tied up a horse and rode off.”

Val looked down on Johnny thoughtfully and chewed on his mustache.  He was interrupted in his musings by Scott's insistent, “Val!”

“Oh yeah.  I went up and gathered what the Injun left and found the lad's clothes and gun in the bag.  Well used gun from the look of it.  I kept Johnny there in my camp and worked on his burns.  Looked like the boy ran through fire.  Some of them burns looked pretty painful.  He got a fever and that's when his nightmares started.  He would let out a sound that would scare the coyotes into hiding underground.  It sent shivers down my spine.  He was mostly quiet during the day, but come evening, he'd start his howl again.  It was like he was afraid of the dark.”

“I knew we were being watched and I was running low on meat, used the last on making broth for the boy.  He still was addled in the mind, but I had to leave him to set some rabbit traps.  When I came back I found a bag of provisions and salves just inside my camp.  After that provision bags started showing up.  One day, I went to take a leak and when I cam back I found a shaky gun pointed at my face and a very weak and angry young man behind it.”

Looking over at his brother, Scott drolly observed, “So, my little brother woke up and came alive.”

“I'll say,” Val continued on with his story.  “I had to do some fast and tall talking.  He was colder than ice falling off pine trees in the dead of winter.  It took a while, but he finally lowered his weapon, but didn't put it away.  He kept it in easy reach.  He was quiet for the longest, didn't move much, but you could tell he was taking it all in through those lowered eyelashes.  It took a while, but he started to ask questions very softly.  Had to move closer to him to hear well, but he was like a skittish colt, ready to dash away.  I settled down to making some coffee and he eased up.”

Rubbing his hand across his whiskered chin, Val's face reflected on the past.  “Strange, even back then he didn't much care for my coffee. Said he'd never seen it cooked in a skillet and it tasted like a horse's tush.  I didn't let him get away with that and told him to pack his stuff and leave.  He came back with 'what stuff and where'd I go?'  He didn't know where he was and how he got there. 

I knew it was time to be straight with him, so I arranged myself on a log and told him how I'd found him and the little bit I'd piece together by his nightmares and his physical reactions.  He had to have been drugged.  His weakness and shakiness were clues, as well as the night sweats, ramblings, and physical pain.  He picked up immediately on the word ramblings and asked what he had been saying.”  Val stopped talking and walked over to gaze out of the French doors.  Murdoch had been following his narration too closely and Val wasn't sure how to continue without rousing the old man's temper.

“Val, it's okay.  To help Johnny, we need to understand what's going on in his mind right now.  Finish telling us.”  Scott was looking up at Val, entreating him to go on.

Val glanced back over to Murdoch and saw the same look.  Val decided to just tell what he had heard and keep most of his conclusions to himself.  He walked reluctantly back over to stand in front of the trio and sadly gazed down on his friend.  Johnny was still staring off into the distance, lost in his past life.  

“Well, after the Injun left his things, his nightmares started.  He dreamed of being captured by the Indians, his escape into a cave, attacked by a bear and his recapture.  He let out with a lot of terror screams with those dreams.  His fever was building and I had my hands full trying to bring it down and keeping him from rolling over onto the worst of his burns.  We both fell into an exhausted sleep until daylight came. 

I later was able to get some broth down him and that night the fever and the nightmares came back.  He was rambling.  Not much of it made sense, except he was fearful of being fed, something was being added to his food and drink and he fought against it.  He fought me too.  I was ready to tie him down, but the marks on his wrists and ankles told me to not do that.  It was cooler that night and his fever dropped some, so we both got some rest.

That's when the Injun started leaving provisions for us.  I made sure there wasn't anything added to the food.  None of it was pre-cooked.  I was watching Johnny closely.  He had all the signs of being on drugs and withdrawing from them.  Figured I'd have a few more bad days with him before the drugs left his body, so I did some rearranging of the camp site, stocked up on wood and creek water.  I went ahead and cooked up some of the meat the Injun left us.  Good thing I did, because it wasn't long before Johnny's fever spiked and the dreams started again.  He was in a lot of pain from the burns and his belly and head must have been on fire.  He kept grabbing at them.  He got wild on me and I had to hold him down and that's when the Injun rode into the camp.

I was stuck.  I'd taken my gun off to keep it away from Johnny and this man rides in.  He got down, came over and helped me.  He started talking Injun talk to Johnny, kept calling him Madrid.  Just the sound of his voice calmed the boy down.

Once Johnny settled down, we both moved away from him.  The Injun picked up the empty provision bag and went to his horse and exchanged it for a full one.  He brought it back over and laid it down in front of me.  Through hand speech, I gave him my name and I asked him his.  He indicated, Hawk.  I didn't think the man would be helping us if he had come to recapture Johnny, so I asked what Johnny had been eating to make him loco.  A look of anger came over his face and he spitted out two words, peyote and damiana.”

Val was interrupted by Murdoch, who, at the mention of the word, had involuntarily tighten his grip on Johnny's shoulder.  “Did you say, damiana?”

With puzzlement, Scott inquired of his sire. “Why, Sir?  Are you familiar with it?”

“I should think so.  It's a terrible shrub some of the Indians and Mexicans use as an aphrodisiac.”

“A afro...de...siak?” Val sounded out.

Murdoch grated out, “Val, it's a strong herb, makes you rut like a buck during mating season.  It does things to the mind.”

“You've had experience with it, Sir?”

“I didn't find about it until later, Scott, but Maria was wearing a distilled version of it as a perfume when I first met her.  I … some years after we married and Johnny was born, I caught her putting some herbs in my food.  When I asked her what they were, she told me.  She wanted another child and this was what the womenfolk in her line used to get pregnant.  I threw the food out and told her never to use the stuff again.  I didn't need any help to do my manly duties.”

Turning back to Val, Scott mused, “So this stuff was used on my brother against his will.  By whom?”

“Well, by his nightmare he had the next night, it was by some albino gal named White Gold, and by his ...”

“NO!”  Johnny came alive, violently grabbed Val's arm and jerked him down to his knees with his face pulled close to Johnny's.  “No, Val!  No more of this story will be told.”  Val watched as his pal's eyes gradually changed from fear to the coldness of the gunfighter, Madrid.

“Sure Johnny.  No more.”

As Johnny turned loose of Val's arm, Scott got up and poured a shot of tequila for his brother.  In his opinion, Val had already consumed enough.  Johnny gladly took the drink and glared at Val.  He could feel Murdoch gently rubbing his shoulder.  There were things Murdoch didn't need to know and he'd put a hole in his best friend to keep that knowledge hidden.  From the look Val was giving him, Val knew he had almost gone too far.

The pounding of running boots and the sudden hammering on the front door interrupted the tension.  “Riders coming in!  Looks like Injuns.”

 

Part 20

 

Johnny went to get off the sofa, but his father's hand held him down and the man softly spoke to his younger son.  “Stay.  You've had a shock, son.”

Leaning his head back to stare up at his sire, Johnny gave him his brilliant smile.  “It's okay, Old Man.  I'm fine now.  It's me they want to see and if it's Hawk with them, he won't stop until I'm there.  Let go of me, Murdoch.”

With a final gentle squeeze, Murdoch let go and pushed his son up.  They stopped at the door to don their rigs and the entire group followed Johnny outside on the veranda to meet the riders under the light of the full moon.  Stepping away from his family and Val, Johnny walked toward the Indians and his hand strayed down to his right hip, touching the top of his gun.

“We come in peace, Madrid.  No need for your weapon or your family's guns.”  The deep tones of Hawk were reassuring and Johnny turned to wave down Val and his family's protectiveness.

Looking at the brave, Johnny voiced his curiosity.  “Why have you come, Hawk,” waving his arm toward the other riders, and as the horses milled around, he completed his question, “and brought your squaws and HER?”  Surrounded by four squaws and four braves, her albino skin shimmered as she sat on the white horse to one side and behind Hawk.  Her head snapped up and she turned her face toward the sound of his angry words.  The Sun God had not been kind to her.  Her ice cold blue eyes were gone, now replaced with the white dullness of cataract growths.  Her cackling laughter pealed out and caused shivers to run down Johnny's spine. “Hawk?”

“Madrid, it was necessary.  My father, Wolf, our chief sent us to find you and felt you would not fire upon a family unit and would give me time to pass on his message.”

“Again, Hawk.  Why bring HER?”

“She's part of the reason, the other part she carries on her back.”  Hawk gestured to the squaws and two of them turned their horses to line up on both sides of White Gold.  As they continued with their chore, Hawk kept talking.  “She wanted something from you, Madrid – your eyes.  In her madness, she wanted to create a child with her coloring and your eyes, but the Gods were angry at her.  The child, your child, was different and she has rejected it.  When we first started our journey to find you,  she would nurse the child, but no more.  Our squaws have shared themselves with it to keep it alive.”

Johnny's gaze shifted from female to female and realized that every one of them wore the straps of a baby carrier on their backs.  The one closest to Hawk reached out to pull the carrier off of White Gold's back and White Gold went wild when she felt the baby leave her.  Reaching out, she snatched the carrier from Hawk's mate while kicking out on both sides at the woman's horses.  The melee of upset animals gave her the seconds she needed to squeeze her fingers around her child's neck.

Johnny was in an instant running motion to the white horse.  His strength was more than White Gold's and he pried her fingers away and pulled the carrier off of her horse.  Moving away and back to the protection of his family, he knelled down into the dirt and checked over the child.  It had his skin coloring and black hair, but it was still to his touch.  Waving his hand over its face, he felt no movement of breath.

Looking up first to the sky and then toward Hawk, he cried out in anguish, “Why bring her to let me watch her kill a child?”

Hawk took a moment to verify his mate was okay and that the other braves had surrounded and subdued White Gold.  “It was not my intent, Madrid.  We were bringing you a live child.  She had attempted to kill the child many times before and the Chief decreed, in order for it to live, we must bring it to you.  I am sorry, Madrid.”

Johnny laid the child down and got up from the ground.  He caught sight of Scott taking the baby into his arms and rushing off, but Johnny's focus was all on White Gold.  He pulled his gun and swiftly pointed it at the woman, only to have Hawk push his horse in front of the albino.

Tension was heavy as everyone froze at the standoff.  Where as Johnny Lancer would never shoot a woman, Johnny Madrid had no such qualms.  Hawk held his hands up in peace and softly begin to speak.  “Madrid, I can not allow you to harm her.”

In a lazy drawl his alter ego used when he was most dangerous, Johnny quizzed, “Why not?  With all she's done to me, I think I have every right to put a bullet between her eyes.  She's loco.  Move aside Hawk or that bullet will get to her through you.”

Val took a step closer.  “Johnny, if you do this, you'll be no better than her and I'd have to take you in to jail.  Hanging ain't worth it.”

Without taking his eyes or gun off of Hawk, Johnny waved Val back.  “Step away Val and you're wrong.  Ridding this world of that monster would be worth it.”

“John.  Son.  Don't do this.”  Murdoch's voice was non-judgmental, but was filled with the tone of love. 

Johnny was quiet as if he considered his father's words.  In the end, he rejected the advise of his sire.  “Murdoch, I have to.  You don't know what all she did to me.  Now she's killed a child, my child.”

“Son, are you sure you're not blaming her for what your mother did?”

Shocked, Johnny turned to look at Murdoch, but his gun stayed glued to Hawk's front.  “What are you saying?”

“I've heard your nightmares before and I know what your mother was capable of.  I'm familiar with the herbs she used on men.”

Johnny's face hardened and he turned his gaze back onto Hawk.  “Step aside, Hawk.  Nothing that's been said has changed my mind.  I don't want to shoot you.”

“No, Madrid.”  I must protect her, the Gods demand it.”

“Why?  I don't understand.”

“She is mad and touched by the Gods, but she has angered them.  She has hidden her spirit from us.  She must pay for her actions and will be denied what she most desires – the worship of our people and the blessings of our Gods.  When we return to winter quarters, she will never feel the touch of a human again.  She will never see.  She will be denied the touch of the sun as she will dwell in the caves for the rest of her life. She will never hear the sound of a human voice as we will ignore her cries.  We give her the kindness of life, because only the Gods who touched her can take her life. Madrid, she will live so that when she has a sane moment, she will suffer as she has made you and others suffer.”

“Hawk, it don't matter.  Move!”

“Johnny, maybe this will stay your revenge.”  Johnny had not heard Scott come up behind him, but felt the warmth of the nearness of his brother standing close beside him.  He looked over toward Scott and followed his gaze down to the baby in his arms.  “Brother, your child, your daughter lives.  She's breathing.  Are you sure you want to tell her, in her later life, that you shot and killed her mother in cold blood? Think about it, brother, before you pull that trigger.”

As Johnny's blue eyes  roamed over the child's body, he could see the rise and fall of her tiny chest and his breath caught in his throat when her eyes fluttered open.  Her ice blue eyes locked solidly onto his.  For a long time, time stood still while his mind raced.  Then he made his decision and the gun was lowered slowly and returned to his holster.  He reached out and gathered his daughter to his chest.  Everyone was quiet as the young father cuddled his daughter.  Hawk gestured to his people and as a unit they turned to leave.

Breaking rank, Hawk searched out Val and rode over to the sheriff.  “Her name is Ice Ghost and she will be welcome to return to us after White Gold is dead.  This will give her and Madrid safe passage.”  He handed down a handful of colorful beaded bracelets.  Hawk never looked back as he kicked his heels into his horse's side and rode off to catch up with his squaw and son.

 

Epilogue

 

Johnny's pacing back and forth in the Great Room and the musical tones of his spurs hitting the tile would normally be irritating, but not this time.  Murdoch was sitting back in his chair at his massive desk, drinking his whiskey and grinning.  This was a part of his son he had never seen and he was enjoying the show.

“Theresa, hurry up!” Johnny yelled.  “Midnight mass means I need to get there by midnight!”

“Hold your horses.  We're coming.”

He gazed expectingly up the stairs as his foster sister held the girl swaddled in blankets and came down to place the baby in his arms.

“Are you sure about this, Son?”

Johnny turned sharply and his eyes pierced his father.  “Very sure.  Listen Murdoch, I grew up half and half.  Maybe, if we had stayed in one village, I could have worn down the resistance of the abuelas with my charm, but I didn't get that chance.

I'm making sure Emma,” the power of the baby's strange colored eyes drew him away from his thoughts,  “ahh … Emma will get every chance possible for a normal life.  I have to do this Murdoch.  Call it the oooh, ahhh factor when it comes to a bebé .  If I can get the abuelas to look past her eyes to the peace and contentment she brings, Emma will have as close to a good life as possible.  Her big smiles will win them over and their opinions will encourage others to give her a chance.  She may be a half breed, but she will live a long time in this valley.  I want to give her what I can to share her life.

Murdoch's gaze on his elder son, Scott, who was lounging near the fireplace reading a book and sipping on his drink, was full of happiness.  Scott's returned look reflected his joy.  Both of them had caught the same implication – Johnny planned to stay.

Putting items down, Scott stood and strolled over to his brother.  “You want company?”

Johnny quirked a half smile.  “Normally, si, hermano mio, but this time, no.  This is something I have to face alone.  Believe me, facing a grandmother is harder than planning a range war.”

“Well than, little brother, why don't you let me hold this pretty little miss while you fetch your heavy coat.  Your present outfit is very pleasing on a woman's eyes, but blue skin doesn't go well with it.”  His answer was a baby in his arms and his brother's full smile as he ran up the stair steps two at a time.

Murdoch stood to his full height and stretched his back.  He walked over to Scott and Emma and stuck his thumb under the girl's fat chin.  Instinctively, she reached up and grabbed a tight hold on his thumb.  On his way back, this scene caused Johnny to pause at the top of the stairs.  His family gathered around a cooing baby was a calming and pleasant happening in his life.  All would be right.

The clock struck and he knew he needed to leave.  Coming down the stairs, he was unaware of his foster sister's gaze and thoughts.  With his black, short jacket over a brilliant embroidered white shirt, complete with his concho clad black pants, she didn't think any old grandmother could resist Johnny or his daughter.

They all went outside and the family waited until Johnny was firmly in his seat on Barranca before the baby, swaddled in her blankets, was handed up into his arms.  Turning his horse away, he took off slowly in his quest to ensure his daughter's future and in doing so, his future as well.

 

The End

 

 

 

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