Summary: Adam has overcome the ordeal that nearly broke him and now sets out to find the woman he loves – and then try to set things straight with his father. A flock of sheep gets in the way and sparks off a bitter power struggle between father and son. Adam won’t give in anymore, and Ben cannot accept that his son isn’t a boy any longer. And in the background, Adam’s unknown foe is pulling some strings of his own.
Rated: T (132,835 words)
‘Spreading Wings is the third part of the trilogy, following As It Began and ‘Through the Shadows’. The chapter numbering continues from the previous parts, so this story starts with chapter 60. Still the single parts might be read each for itself, but all three together tell the whole story.
Timeframe: End of the sixth season, here set in 1864
It wasn’t easy to post this last story, and I wouldn’t have done so if it wouldn’t happen to be the third part of a trilogy. As awkward and obsolete as it might seem for me to plaster yet another story into here, the Dreaming Eagle wouldn’t be truly complete without it, so it was either post it or delete the previous two parts. The latter wouldn’t have been very fair, there might be someone who wanted to read the rest. It’s an awkward situation, and a painful one, as well. The Dreaming Eagle was my first fan fiction story, so please cut me some slack. I’ve learned my lesson by now.
The Dreaming Eagle Series:
The Dreaming Eagle — Book 3 — Spreading Wings
Love imposes impossible tasks
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Though not more than any heart asks
And I must know a true love of mine
From afar, the way station could be barely made out in the endless sea of grey. The flat building seemed to cower into the crooked sagebrush bushes; its roof, covered by a crude mixture of straw and earth and littered with coarse gravel to keep the sod in place, melted seamlessly into the surroundings. Everything was coated in the thick dust languidly floating in the air, wavering far and wide across the plains like a giant layer of dry fog, obscuring the distant horizon to a blur. Even the dozen or so horses in the adjacent corral had taken on the grey tint; merely their phlegmatic, tired movements revealed that they were actually living creatures and not bizarre pottery baking in the relentless sun.
And it would go on like this. Way station after way station, one every twelve to fifteen miles, and they all would look the same. Certainly for as long as the grey plains lasted with this sheer endless width of sagebrush and greasewood, barely a crooked tree between, and scarcely a shimmer of even the most greyish, dirtied green anywhere. And each way station would be one farther away from Adam. Each way station would eat out another piece of her heart.
Lilyah pressed her lips together. Had it been like this for her mother, so many years ago? Being taken away from the man she loved? Covering mile after mile, knowing each one took her even farther away from a dream that had been so close to coming true? Hurting over something that had ended before it had begun? Had her mother been sitting on a horse and… Lilyah’s brow crinkled. She could not even imagine her mother sitting on a horse. Her mother had loathed horses, she had hated to ride. The only animals she had despised even more than horses had been her daughter’s goats that used to eat her English roses. But how had she travelled from Algiers to Morocco? She must have been sitting on a horse, considering that the sheikh had been a fast and passionate horse rider who wouldn’t bother with camels unless he was travelling straight through the Sahara. They likely had taken the route via Oujda and Fes… Lilyah had taken that trip with her father, a challenging 700-mile-ride from Agadir to Oujda, across deserts and the Atlas mountains, and the same distance back. She had vastly enjoyed it – a splendid endeavour for an adventurous young girl, so proud that her father had taken her along – and she had never spared a thought that her mother must have taken the same long, hard ride many years before. Only for her mother it had been a ride into sadness and misery.
And now she was about to ride into sadness and misery. Yet she would return to a country she called home, and she would have at least the horses to love. Lilyah closed her eyes, trying to hold back the tears. Was she really doing this? Riding away from Adam? Leaving him behind, leaving her heart, her soul, her happiness behind? Unable to fight it, just like her mother had been?
And Adam? Would he simply shake off the hurt and resume his life like nothing had happened? What about his heart, so deeply hidden beneath his stoic surface, so reluctant to open up, always on guard that it would not get exposed? She knew so well how soft and vulnerable it really was. How lonely he had been inside…
And why had he sent her away? It had hurt him… she knew it had hurt him! He had barely gotten the words out, his eyes full of pain. He was ill, still shaken by his ordeal, still sore for his deeply hurt pride. In this condition, all the complications their relationship had brought into his life probably had been to much for him. But how would he feel about it once he had recovered? Would he just shove all pain and regret inside, like he had probably done all his life? Another scar on his soul? Another broken dream? How would he live on? Lile the eagle in the fairy tale, dreaming of flight while sitting in his cage?
Lilyah drew a deep breath and slowly turned her head as she heard the approaching racket of the stagecoach. As usual, Charlie Watkins made an awful lot of noise, yelling at his team and probably the whole world, fidgeting around on his seat as if he wanted to set his noisy liveliness against the silent, dull and grey tristesse of the area. Yet from the distance, his stagecoach was but a bizarre grey contraption, pulled by dust-covered grey horses; even his yelling sounded thin as if the dust-filled air would suck up its resonances. Lilyah knew that he wouldn’t waste much time at the station; he and his companion were fast as lightning when they changed the teams. Before long, the stagecoach would be on its way again.
She would not give up so easily! She would not succumb to her fate like her mother did before her. She would fight! Adam would have to send her away again if he really wanted to, but he would have to explain it to her – calmly, collected and first of all, when he was well. He and she alone, eye to eye, and he would have to come up with some solid explanation.
Chai’s dancing tore her out of her thoughts. Without knowing, she had clutched the reins, transferring her agitation on the sensitive horse.
“No, Chai! He’s not getting rid of us so easily!” She nudged the Arabian into a canter, her insides suddenly flurrying with bursting emotions. She could not possibly return to the Ponderosa, but maybe she could take a hotel room in Carson City. Or even better – she could try and find Old Grumpy’s cabin. He and Walking Deer certainly would not turn her down when she asked for a short refuge. She could tend to the goats in exchange.
“Mister Charlie! Mister Charlie!” she called out even before Chai came to a sliding halt next to the stagecoach. “Mister Charlie!”
“Ho, young Miss!” the driver laughed. “What’s the hurry? Seems to me I won this section big time!”
“Mister Charlie, I want to ride back!” Her face was glowing with the sudden urge.
“What?” He scratched his temple. “But you’ve paid for St. Louis and I can’t refund!”
“I don’t care!” She had to rein in the stallion who danced a circle, riled up by his mistress’ excitement. “Please, can I leave my luggage here? I can’t take all of it with me.”
Charlie Watkins exchanged a puzzled look with his co-driver.
“Better here than anywhere else,” the man remarked. “Old Josh here is’n honest feller, straight to the bone. Wouldn’t ever touch anything that ain’t his.”
“Yeah…” Watkins nodded and squinted at his unusual passenger. “If you’re really sure ya want to ride back, I can’t hold ya.”
“Oh, I am sure!” Lilyah barely could conceal her elation. She would see Adam again and she was sure that he would not send her away again. Not if he was given time to think it over, not when he was well, back to his usual, confident self. He loved her… he had told her so and he had not lied.
The unloading of her luggage was a matter of minutes; the old man who ran the station promised to keep it safe until she came back for it. She hastily gave him a few dollars without regarding his protest and packed up a smaller bag with a couple of robes, gladly accepting the help of Charlie Watkins who proffered a piece of leather to fasten it to her saddle. Her fingers trembled with the hurry, she was brimming now.
“Ya stay on the road and it will lead ya straight to Carson!” Watkins advised her as she mounted. “Can’t miss it. It’s littered with carcasses all along, damn drought’s to blame!”
“Thank you, Mister Charlie! Peace be upon you, and may Allah protect you on your way!” Lilyah didn’t hear his answer anymore as she kicked Chai into a gallop and stormed off.
Only after a couple of furlongs she halted the stallion to have a good look at the wide plains stretching before her. They still were all grey, as bleak and barren as before, but she didn’t see the sadness anymore.
“Well, Chai…” She patted the Arabian’s neck as she rode on. “Welcome to New Morocco!”
* * *
Adam took a thirsty sip from his canteen. The water had gotten warm in the heat, yet it was refreshing and brought back some energy. He had ridden only a couple of hours, but he felt as exhausted as if he had been on a cattle trail for days or even weeks. Much as he hated to admit it, he was still far from a full recovery. Wetting his hands, he rubbed his face to try and ease the fatigue before he stashed the canteen away.
“Come on, girl!” He nudged the chestnut mare into a leisurely trot, considerate to give her some rest after an excessively long gallop. Mariah pranced along with bouyant ease and Adam thankfully patted her neck. A small smile played on his lips as he contemplated the thought that Lilyah had provided him with the horse he needed now to catch up with her.
Lilyah… His smile faded. What had he done to her, sending her away, causing her so much pain? What must she have thought of him? It had taken her so long to open up to him, to give him her heart – and he had pushed it away so rudely. Adam pressed his lips together. He would beg her forgiveness, beg her to come back to him… and to trust him again. Would she ever be able to trust him again? Would she even be willing to come back to him again? What should he do if she wouldn’t? What?
He bit his lower lip and forced himself to not kick Mariah into another gallop. As stalwart as the mare was, she had run harder and longer than ever before. Any other horse would have broken down by now. Adam reminded himself that the stagecoach did not drive during the night due to the war, that it was likely to stop after it had gotten dark. He would catch up in the night.
Just as he was about to urge Mariah to a canter, a movement in the distance caught his attention.
Adam halted the mare and rose in the stirrups, squinting at the distant figure. He was still hours from where the stagecoach could be possibly supposed to be, and yet… The motion of the horse, cantering along with its head held high, flowing robes…
His heart skipped a beat. “Lilyah!”
There was no reaction. Far from the road, the rider cantered straight into the wasteland. Adam took a deep breath and called out at the top of his lungs. “LILYAH!”
He knew it was her. She couldn’t hear him from the distance. His excitement even caused the calm mare to dance. With trembling lips and flurrying fingers, Adam drew his gun and fired three shots into the air.
And finally, he was heard.
Lilyah pulled up and turned in the saddle at the shots, spotting the other rider far away. A little cry escaped her lips as she tried to focus on the figure. The ever present dust rendered all colors grey, and yet she was positive she saw a black clad rider on a chestnut horse. For one fleeting moment she thought of a mirage, an image born from a desperate wish – but her heart realized who it was before her eyes could really be sure of it.
“Adam!” She swung the stallion around and kicked him into his fastest gallop. “Adam!”
The chestnut mare raced across the plains. Adam rapidly pulled her up as she reached the Arabian; he jumped from the saddle before she came to a halt. He fell, but was back on his feet in a split second, just to be nearly thrown again as Lilyah flew into his arms, crying and laughing at the same time. Only an instinctive step back saved him.
“Adam!” Lilyah clung to him with all she had. “Oh, Adam, you’re here… Adam, I could not leave you!”
He closed his arms around her, nearly lifting her off her feet, pressing her to his chest. His hands tightened the grip on her again and again, tears formed in his eyes as he coarsely whispered, “I never wanted you to leave… never… Lil…” He swallowed. “I don’t know what’s gotten into me…”
“The pain…” She had to struggle to win enough freedom to lift her head, the tears still freely flowing down her cheeks as she clasped his face. “You’ve been in so much pain… you’ve been through so much.”
“That’s no exc…”
“Don’t!” Her fingers closed his lips. “Don’t blame yourself for the pain you’ve suffered. Adam, you’re here… all that counts is that you’re here…”
“Lilyah…” His hands brushed over her face and head, inadvertently pushing back the veil, stroking her hair with nervous, almost desperate tenderness. “In the desert… all I longed for was your love… your nearness, your warmth… I longed for it so badly, but…” He took a deep breath, his gaze clinging to her eyes that looked at him with so much overflowing love. “I felt so… so useless… I thought I just wasn’t worth…”
“No!” She brought her lips close to his, balancing on her toes, almost climbing up on him. “Adam, no, don’t say this! What kind of a woman would I be if I only loved you when you’re strong and healthy? You wouldn’t want me to be such a woman, would you?”
“No…” His thumbs caressed her cheeks. “Lil, all this time… I never stopped loving you. Not for one moment. Not then, not now…”
“I know…” She smiled through her tears. “I know, Adam, just as sure as I know that I love you…”
He pressed her tiny frame even closer against his chest, his hands rubbing over the dusty silks of her robes so intensely that she felt her skin burning beneath. She gasped as his mouth closed hers, kissing her with a passion that set her inside on fire. Her hands glided over his hair, not noticing that she pushed off his hat. It had been so long… it had been so terribly long since they had last kissed each other. And in the vast and barren dryness of the plains, the haunting memories of the horrors past melted into a sea of tenderness.
“Lilyah…” He had to catch his breath. “Lil, will you marry me? Right now… today! First chance we get, first justice of the peace we can find… and no more waiting…” His lips touched her forehead. “No more waiting…”
“Yes! Yes…” She responded to his new kiss, pressing herself against him to savor his warmth and nearness when she suddenly felt him wavering. “Adam…” Her hands clasped his shoulders as she tried to get a look at his face. “Adam, you’re not well…”
“It’s nothing…” He took a breath.
Her eyes became attentive as she looked him over. Even though the happiness of the moment shone in his eyes and softened his features, his face still betrayed his exhaustion, his weakened condition, and she thought of all the torment he had been forced to endure. Her hands that up to then had clasped him with all she had eased their grip, lest she would hurt any of his numerous wounds that lay hidden beneath the black shirt. “Adam, you need to rest.”
Adam opened his mouth and closed it again when it ocurred to him that he was just about to brush off her concern, to tell her that he, of course, was all fine and well. He caught her look and a slightly bashful smile stole over his lips. “You might be right. I’m… quite tired.”
Lilyah’s eyes warmed up as she softly stroked over his face. “We should look for a place to camp.”
“Yeah, but not here in the dust.” Adam inconspicuously straightened his legs to secure his stand. “We head southwest for the mountains to find a more suitable place. Morris Flats is quite close, we can reach it before nightfall and stock up our supplies there.”
“Yes…” Something in her heart threatened to overflow, filming her eyes with new tears – tears of joy. This was her old Adam, the Adam she loved so dearly and had missed so badly. Still a little battered and bruised was he, but back to his confident self, so matter-of-fact in deciding where they had to go, as he had always been on all their many journeys together. Her eyes caressed every bit of his features, relished in his clothing that, in spite of being covered with the dust from the long ride, made him look so strong and whole again, chasing away the memory of his bloodied body wrapped in bloodstained rags. He was clad in his usual black, he wore the gun belt that showed that he could fight and defend himself. And he was clean shaven! The black beard that seemed to have symbolized the growing distance between them was gone for good. She sobbed a little with sheer bliss when she watched him picking up his hat and putting it back on – a black hat that looked every bit like his old one.
“Hey…” he murmured softly, pulling her into his warm embrace once again. “No more tears, hm?”
Lilyah looked up to him and saw that his own eyes were moist. Her finger gently touched his lid, feeling the tiny little drop in his lashes. She swallowed. “No more tears…”
He gently helped her fasten the upper veil, his fingers gliding over the dust covered silk, the small golden seams. Even though the black robes were rather austere compared to the playful sumptuousness of some of her other gowns, he still savored the richness of the many veils and drapings, the thought that her sensitive skin was well protected beneath the shimmering fabrics. His fingers gently caressed the silk covering her arms that had been so badly sunburned and he had to blink away the wetness in his eyes. Her small face still showed the fading traces of cuts and bruises, but never had she been more beautiful than at this very moment. It took him some effort to force his hands to lie still, to direct his thoughts into more pragmatic lines. The sun was already standing low and they better reached Morris Flats before it turned dark. He felt that his strength was on its last legs, and Lilyah had been in the saddle all day as well, longer even than he.
“We should ride…” He couldn’t take his eyes from her face. “It’ll take us close to two hours to reach Morris Flats. We can take a hotel room there and have a good dinner.”
Lilyah nodded her head, her heart too full to speak. Her fingers lovingly caressed his chest, touching the curly hair above the open button, suppressing the urge to check on the wounds.
“Now look at them.” Adam had to clear his throat, his chin pointing to their horses. “Even they are happy to be together again!”
“Yes…” Her eyes smiled as she regarded Chai and Mariah, standing close together with the mare having hung her head affectionately over the stallion’s crest. Yet both horses were covered in dust, they both looked tired and were doubtlessly thirsty. “We should give them something to drink.”
“Yeah.” Adam’s heart warmed. Still his sweet old Lil – thinking of the wellbeing of the horses. He walked her over to them, smiling as both horses moved apart and stretched their heads. They sure knew something good was coming their way.
“Give them some first,” he said as Lilyah offered him her goat skin bag. “The water would stick in my throat with their disappointed looks on me.”
For one moment Lilyah held her breath, her heart making such a joyous leap upon his little quip that she felt like it was close to bursting. How she had missed this… how she had missed this! She hastily wiped another tear from her eye and concentrated on the two thirsty muzzles pushing her hands. Slowly pouring water into her cupped hand, she had to take care that the horses didn’t push too hard and cause her to spill it.
Adam watched and bit his lip before he hesitantly pulled off his hat. “It’s… easier with this.” He took a breath and offered it to her.
At first Lilyah didn’t think anything of it, pouring the water into the hat, having her hands full to keep Chai from toppling it out of Adam’s hands, softly scolding the stallion for being so greedy when there was enough for both him and the patient Mariah. But then she realized that Adam’s eyes had lost the twinkle, that his features were strangely rigid. He didn’t look at her, he stared at the hat.
His lower lip tensed a little. “It’s nothing…” He shook off the memory. “Where’s your luggage? Still on the stagecoach?”
“No, I’ve left it at a way station.” She patted Chai’s nose, diverting the stallion’s attention from the water and allowing Mariah to drink. Adam still held the hat, but his features had eased, his eyes resting on Lilyah.
“Err…” She wrinkled her brow. “I don’t know… There was an old man, and a corral with horses…”
“Good description…” Adam chuckled. “When did you leave it?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “A couple of hours ago, I guess…”
Adam’s smile had reached his eyes again. It would likely be a search for the needle in the haystack to find that particular way station later on, but oh, the notion of her dropping off her luggage to ride back to him! It chased away the painful image in his memory which was gone quicker than it had jumped him. The mare had finished drinking and Adam brushed over her face before he shook out his hat and put it back on. He had a life to live – his eyes warmed up even more as he lovingly scanned over Lilyah’s small figure.
But Lilyah’s eyes had become thoughtful as he turned to his saddle to retrieve his own canteen, offering it to her before he drank himself. Maybe it had just been a glimpse of exhaustion, given that he had such a hard and long ride behind him, doubtlessly straining him after having been so badly wounded and ill on both body and soul. She also noticed that his canteen was almost empty, clearly indicating that he had drunk more during his ride than he had planned for, that he had suffered more thirst than he would have normally had. His movements were a little stiff, less smooth that they used to be, and she worriedly thought about his sore feet. It couldn’t have been easy for him to put his boots on.
“We’ll retrieve your luggage later…” Adam stashed his canteen away and turned around to her. “For now, I’d say we head for Morris Flats. Sun’s standing low, it’ll be getting dark in about two hours.”
“Yes.” Lilyah nodded her head and had a look at the horizon. She had not even been aware how many hours had passed. The heat was still relentless, baking the hot and dusty ground of the wide plains, causing the air in the distance to flicker and blur. The sooner he got out of there into some shaded place, the better it would be.
Adam closed in on her and offered his cupped hand as a mounting help. For one moment their eyes met, both shining in the joy of sharing this so dear and familiar habit between them, before she put her foot in his hand to let him lift her into her saddle.
Lilyah still noticed that he had to strain to get in the saddle himself and yet her soul started to sing again at the sight of him taking the reins. He wouldn’t need long to recover to his full strength. The light was back in his eyes, his spirit was back, he had literally taken the reins of his life again. And that was all he would need!
Her heart swelled close to bursting as he clicked his tongue and took the lead.
* * *