Summary: The sequel to ‘The Man of Many Spirits’. For two years Adam had been living in a village of Ute Indians believing his family had died in a wagon train attack. He was settled in his new life until the day he was abducted and left to die in the desert. Now, with help from some old faces, he embarks on a desperate search for his wife, before a heart-breaking decision has to be made.
Rating: T Word Count: 54,802 words
The Many Spirits Series:
The Man Who Lost His Heart
Hoss Cartwright was in danger of slipping sideways off his horse. The monotonous plodding gait of the animal was hypnotic and sleep was rapidly encroaching on his need to keep alert. His eyes were struggling to stay open, no matter how much he strained his forehead to keep his eyelids up. He tried to fix his eyes on his brother’s horse ahead of him, but the animal was just a blur. The measured thud-thud-thud of his mount’s hooves on the dry earth brought to mind the regular ticking of the old grandfather clock which had stood sentinel in the Ponderosa’s ranch house for as long as he could remember. And on a quiet night in front of the fire, that metronomic beat never failed to make Hoss doze off. It didn’t help that the oppressive heat of the day still lingered, keeping Hoss’s head bowed against the glare of the low sun. He could feel his head nodding as he momentarily lost his battle to stay awake. It was only when he began to sit at an angle in his saddle that he was roused by a sharp call from his younger brother behind him. He raised his head, lazily lifted an arm in acknowledgement and mumbled he was okay.
He wasn’t the only one who was tired. His horse was displaying signs of exhaustion. Hoss watched the animal’s head pumping up and down as it walked; its breathing heavier than it had been only an hour before. Hoss blinked away his lethargy, sat up straighter in the saddle and then leaned down to rub his mount’s neck. It was at times like these he missed Chubb more than ever. Dandy was a reliable replacement, and like his predecessor was half Quarter-Horse and half Thoroughbred. Yet the poor animal was a constant reminder of what had been lost on that fateful day, nearly two years earlier, when marauders had attacked the wagon train Hoss and his family had been accompanying across the desert. The outlaws had murdered their way through the entire caravan, leaving the dead for the carrion and spiriting away anything of value, including the horses. Chubb had been taken, as had Buck, the buckskin ridden by Ben Cartwright, the patriarch of the Cartwright clan. Cochise, the horse belonging to Hoss’s younger brother, Joe, had been left at the site of the attack. It was presumed the paint horse’s uncommon markings made it too distinguishable to be sold on, even in whatever disreputable markets the outlaws frequented.
But the horses weren’t all that were lost that day. Hoss blinked against the glare reflecting off the white sand of the desert and settled his gaze on the gently rocking motion of his older brother, Adam, on the Appaloosa leading the way ahead of him.
Hoss relived the day of the attack over and over in his waking mind and in his dreams. He could recall—as if it was yesterday—the moment he had revived from insensibility, his shoulder screaming in pain from the bullet lodged in there, and his head dizzy from the deep graze along his temple. He had hauled himself to his feet, balancing unsteadily against the large boulder in front of him and had looked for the one member of his family he’d been aware of before the bullet in his shoulder had sent him into temporary oblivion. But Adam was nowhere to be seen, and so Hoss had stumbled down what remained of the once orderly caravan, past the dead and the dying, tripping over the debris left behind when the outlaws had upended boxes and trunks looking for anything of value. Hoss had careered from one wagon to another in an effort to stay upright, all the while scanning, searching, hunting for his family.
He had found his father at the head of the wagon train with the body of Kaufman—the train’s leader—sprawled across him. Hoss stumbled quickly towards the two men, and dropping to his knees with a grunt, used his good arm to pull the prostrate German off his father. Kaufman was dead, a bullet to his neck having killed him instantly. Ben lay flat on his back beneath him with a gunshot wound in his side. He wasn’t moving. But now the weight was off his chest; his eyes snapped open and he heaved in a breath which quickly became a cough. Hoss would always remember the relief he had felt. He had sat back on his butt and, closing his eyes, raised his face to the heavens to deliver a silent thank-you. Ben’s arm groped out towards Hoss and with a strength Ben should not have possessed, gripped his son’s sleeve. “Find your brothers,” he whispered, before laying his head back against the earth and sucking more air into his lungs.
And Hoss had searched, despite feeling nauseous from the pain in his head and shoulder and the dreadful sights unfolding before him. He lumbered all around the disarray of wagons. Bodies were carefully pushed over onto their backs; he peered behind boulders and clambered into the wagons; all on a ceaseless search for his two brothers. In the end, he returned dejectedly to his father with the news both Adam and Joe were missing, and they stayed together on the hot earth, unable to speak, or even to formulate thoughts. Hoss paid no mind to his injuries; he merely sat with his shoulders bowed and his head hanging loosely from his neck.
Salvation came in the form of a lone trader who used Juniper Pass as a convenient cut-through on his constant travels across the western territories. He had rolled gently down the trail, grinding to a hesitant stop at the scene of devastation that opened out before him. At Hoss’s desperate plea, he somehow managed to squeeze his cart past the broken wagons and scattered debris and hightailed it as fast as his mule could manage to the nearest town—a three-hour wagon ride away—where help was mobilized. As a cavalcade of riders and wagons rolled up the pass in the early evening, following the same route as the doomed train a half-day earlier, their weapons were at the ready as their eyes scanned the rocky walls and high ridges for any sign of trouble.
A mile before the attack site a keen pair of eyes noticed the body of a young man partially hidden beneath a scrubby bush on the side of the trail. He was approached with care, but they soon discovered he was barely alive as he lay like a broken and discarded toy, his limbs at awkward angles and his skin torn and bloody. He was carefully lifted into the back of a buckboard before the rescue party continued to the site of the massacre.
Hoss choked at the first sight of his younger brother, convinced straightaway no one who looked the way Joe did could possibly be alive. His eyes filled with tears and he jaggedly cried out Joe’s name. He was barely able to keep himself upright and clung to the side of the buckboard as his legs grew weak beneath him. It took a tentative touch from one of the rescuers to draw him from his grief and to gently put his misconception right. The boy was alive. But only just. He staggered over to his father and told him that Joe had been found, at which Ben insisted on being taken to him. “You cain’t hardly walk, Pa, you’ll only bleed out more than y’are.” But Ben was adamant. It had taken Hoss and a helper on Ben’s other side to lift him to his feet and bundle him over to the wagon, one bloody hand clutching the wound in his side. He stared down at the broken body of his youngest boy. And as Hoss had done before him, he clung to the side of the wagon so tightly his fingernails made indentations in the wood. He extended his hand slowly, his fingers hovering over the still features of Joe’s battered face, afraid to touch his son for fear of hurting him more. Hoss watched his father, noticing how his expression remained vacant except for a slight flaring of his nostrils. But then it was though all the weight in his body dropped to his legs and Ben crumbled to the ground in a dead faint. He was placed beside the body of his son.
With two members of his family on their way to the doctor’s surgery in the town, Hoss stayed behind on a desperate search for Adam. Whilst the bodies of the dead were gathered, and the few remaining survivors were found, Hoss stumbled across the wreckage, one hand pressed against the hole in his shoulder, ignoring the pleas of the townsfolk for him to rest, or to follow his family to the doctor’s. Hoss had only one objective in mind: to find his older brother. And with the help of the rescuers he traversed the sloping, rock-strewn walls of the pass. They looked behind every boulder, cut their hands tearing apart scrubby thicket; they scrambled to the tops of the ridges to search for any sign of the missing man. But their search was fruitless.
The moment it became clear in Hoss’s mind that Adam was gone would haunt him for months afterwards. He had half-ran, half-stumbled down the pass away from the wagons, frantically circling and scanning; his hope fading. His helpers could do nothing more than stop, stare and shake their heads sadly at the wounded man whose desperation poured in torrents from his distraught eyes. He had paused mid-step and turned haltingly around. And as the realisation of his family’s loss had gained magnitude, Hoss’s body had given up and his legs had crumpled beneath him. He had fallen backwards onto his rump, collapsing onto his side with an elbow breaking the rest of his fall. He lay back on the hot earth as the pain he’d been keeping at bay finally consumed him; all he could do was gaze upwards at an oblivious blue sky. For months after, Hoss would wake, lying on his back, and stare at the ceiling of his room. A tear would trickle down the side of his cheek, and he would feel his shoulder start to ache. And each time, an overwhelming sense of loss and despair would engulf him.
No, it hadn’t been only the horses that were lost when the wagon train was attacked. For nearly two years Adam’s disappearance had been a gaping hole in their lives. At first they had presumed he was missing, perhaps taken by the marauders for ransom. But no letter demanding cash ever reached the Ponderosa. The months turned into a year and none of them would admit to the other they were all thinking the same thought: that Adam was dead. Yet to voice the belief out loud would make it a truth, and that they would never be ready for. And because Adam’s fate was unknown, it was the elephant in the room; best not spoken of. It became a matter of sanity and survival to not mention his name, and eventually the routine of life and work took precedence. Ben and his boys were able, once more, to glean some semblance of enjoyment from their lives. It’s not that they didn’t mention Adam—a toast was raised to him on his birthday and he was remembered in prayers at Christmas—but it was easier to not speak of him on a daily basis. His brothers couldn’t fail to notice, however, the faraway look that oftentimes crept into their father’s eyes when he glanced at the empty chair at the dining room table. The passage of time didn’t make Adam’s absence any easier to deal with; instead the elephant seemed to grow larger and avoiding it became all the more difficult.
As Hoss watched his brother’s easy gait on the horse in front of him, his shoulders rolling easily from side to side as the horse picked its way along the desert path, Hoss thought back to the day Sheriff Roy Coffee had thundered into the ranch yard. He had whipped a telegram from his pocket, and once more the Cartwrights’ lives were upended. The façade they had maintained began to fracture with the news that a man called Adam had been found injured and alone in the desert. Hoss had refused to put any hope into the theory that it might be his brother. They had been disappointed too many times to think this would turn out any differently. But he’d kept up the veneer of hope for his father’s sake. And this time, unlike so many others, the trip had not been a waste.
That had been ten days ago. And now the brothers were back in the desert, heading east towards what Adam called Urvare; he no longer referred to it as the Great Salt Lake. And that was only one of the ways in which their brother was different. Oh, he sounded the same, his deep rich tones exactly as Hoss remembered. And he largely looked the same too, despite the ponytail that trailed a short way down his back. He was leaner, that was for sure, and a lot more agile in his movements. There had been a time when he would sometimes jump down from one of the wagons and do a tiny sidestep when the hip he’d hurt as a child refused to behave and take his weight. But now, after nearly two years of living in a Ute Indian village in the mountains east of the lake, Adam moved like a loose-limbed cat. The first time he had dismounted from his horse by throwing his leg over the animal’s head and jumping lightly to the ground had left Hoss and Joe standing with their mouths gaping open in surprise.
But one aspect of Adam’s character hadn’t changed. On occasion he could be a closed book, unwilling to share his thoughts and feelings on what was affecting him at the time. Unfortunately, two years away from his family had not improved that frustrating trait. Only hours after departing from Darwin—the town on the western edge of the great desert where an emotional reunion had taken place—Adam had urged his horse forward ahead of his brothers, opting to ride alone. Hoss had chosen to theorise that perhaps Adam had gotten used to riding single file, the way the Indians did to hide their numbers. He didn’t like to speculate that perhaps Adam was choosing not to talk. Hoss had thrown his younger brother a questioning look and seen the same expression of disappointment he knew he wore on his own face. They were brothers, for goodness sake, separated for too long, and this voluntary isolation cut deeply into Hoss’s unguarded heart.
There was a shout from the rear. Adam reined in, letting Joe lope up to him, dragging their packhorse behind him.
“Adam, I’m beat. Let’s stop now. This is as good a place as any to camp.”
Adam twisted in his saddle, looking behind him across the white expanse to where the sun was hovering above the western horizon. He leaned the heel of his hand heavily on the saddle pommel, his shoulders rising into his neck.
“Joe, we’ve got a good hour of sun left. We can’t waste precious time.”
Joe’s head dropped. He tugged his hat from his head and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve.
“Brother, I know you’re anxious to get across the desert, but killing the horses in the meantime isn’t gonna get us there any quicker.”
Hoss kicked his mount forward a few paces from where he’d been slumped in the saddle.
“Joe’s right, Adam. We’ve only been goin’ three days and already the animals are plumb tuckered out. We need to slow it down a pace or we ain’t ever gonna get ta the other side.”
Adam drew his mouth up into a thin line, his cheeks bunching beneath eyes like dark gashes on his sun-darkened face. He looked towards the lowering sun and then scanned around to the east, to where his wife and child were. His gaze dropped to the ground. A hand gently gripped his forearm and he looked up into the determined eyes of his youngest brother.
“She ain’t going anywhere, Adam. We’ll get you across the desert; you’ve got my word on that.”
“And mine,” promised Hoss.
Adam twisted in his saddle, taking in the faces of his once-lost family. He snorted briefly through his nose as his closed mouth twitched into a smile, and with a nod, he gathered his reins together.
“Okay, let’s get off the track; we’ll camp between those rocks over there.”
The days were so heat-sapping that by the time the brothers made camp each night they were too fatigued to make more than the shortest of conversations before they crawled into their bedrolls. Or maybe that was simply an excuse, as Hoss and Joe had a thousand questions to ask of their older brother. It was proving to be a struggle swinging the discussion around to the subjects they were so desperate to talk about. Each time they’d tried so far, they’d failed. Adam had merely grunted replies or claimed he was too tired to talk.
On the first night in the desert, Adam had asked why his father had returned to the Ponderosa. Many hours earlier they had stood on the ridge overlooking Darwin, and learning his father was not going to accompany him across the desert had cut as keenly as when he’d believed his father was dead. Ben had told him he had business at the Ponderosa. But what possible business could be so important he had to leave his newly discovered son?
Joe was sitting cross-legged on the hard earth when Adam put the question to him. He leant towards the gently crackling fire with a plate of beans in one hand, scooping them to his lips with a fork. With his mouth half-full, he turned his attention to his older brother.
“Adam, you remember that little boy in the wagon train, the one who followed you around like a little puppy?”
It was like a punch to his gut. Adam immediately recalled one of the images that had plagued him for months following the attack: that of a small body lying on his stomach, flat on the ground, unmoving; blonde hair gently rising and falling in the breeze. He stood sharply, not knowing where to turn and tried to busy himself with the fire, bending over to stab new wood unnecessarily into the merrily burning flames. “How could I forget?” he spat. “I saw him. He was dead!” Adam straightened and turned his back on his brothers, staring out into the darkness. With his arms wrapped around his body, he squeezed his eyes shut to keep out the memory of the lifeless child.
“No, Adam, you’re wrong. Andy survived.”
Adam swivelled sharply around at the hip to see Joe had lowered his plate to the ground and risen to his feet. Joe walked around the fire to face his brother.
“Andy’s alive.” There was laughter in Joe’s voice as he smiled and nodded at Adam. “He was knocked out pretty badly, but he’s a fighter. Like you, older brother.” He slapped Adam on the shoulder as he stepped back to where he’d left his meal.
Adam could only stand there, shaking his head in wonder that young Andy Hunter had made it after all. But then he frowned and moved back to the flames, dropping easily to a cross-legged position in front of Joe.
“But what’s that got to do with Pa’s business?”
A piece of wood shifting in the blaze settled deeper into the growing blanket of ash, sending a spray of red sparks into the air.
“Andy is Pa’s business,” Hoss mumbled from one corner of his mouth as he chewed his beans; his large frame propped up against his upturned saddle. “All o’ Andy’s kin died that day. Pa took ‘im in. He’s been livin’ with us ever since.”
Adam dropped his gaze to the flames. “Pa adopted him.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Sure did, Adam.” Hoss licked his plate clean. He let it drop to his knees as he smiled. “I think he saw a lot o’ you in that young ‘un. Havin’ Andy around helped Pa get through the worst of it.” He glanced over at Joe. “Us too, I reckon.”
Joe stretched backwards for Hoss’ plate; he was on cleaning duties that night. “Pa doesn’t like to leave Andy alone for too long. And we did sorta leave with little warning. So he’s gone back to get Andy settled with Nancy Miller and her brood. He’s gonna follow on.”
Adam rose to his feet and walked to where the horses had been hobbled for the night. His brothers watched him as he stood in front of his mount, gently stroking the animal’s soft nose. It was clear the subject was closed and there would be no more words that night. Joe looked over at Hoss who shrugged and raised his eyebrows. Adam had always been a hard cuss to fathom, but now he was even more impenetrable than before. Adam’s questions to his brothers were infrequent, as though the answers could prove too painful a reminder of the missing years; a reminder of his failure to have searched out the truth of his family’s alleged demise.
The following night had been much the same. They’d spent the day strung out along the trail Adam had picked out, working the animals hard in the unrelenting heat of the day. And that night there had been idle chatter about the family’s latest ventures and updates on friends and townspeople Adam knew. But any questions that went beyond the surface, that punctured the tightly bound memories Adam was burying within him, were avoided. All three brothers knew talking about what had happened to Adam would bring them around to the one question he wanted to avoid at all costs, and which Hoss and Joe so anxiously needed an answer to: why had Adam not come looking for his family?
And now, here they were, three days into their journey. They had made camp in the lea of a low sloping ridge, amongst a scattering of waist-high boulders. Joe had unenthusiastically prepared yet another meal of beans and jerky. He was struggling to swallow down the same dull taste he’d had to endure for the past week. Only the welcome break in Darwin had broken the tedium. In contrast, Adam had not tasted beans in nearly two years and relished every mouthful that passed his lips. When Joe had dropped his half-eaten plate to his knee and shoved it in an offhand way out-of-sight, Adam had asked him whether he intended on finishing them. Joe had replied that Adam could be his guest.
Joe was too beat to even attempt conversation and had soon lay down, turned onto his side and tugged his blanket over his shoulder. It was not long before Adam and Hoss were to do the same.
It was several hours later that Adam was woken by the quiet soothing tones of his middle brother. Lifting his head in the direction of the disturbance, he saw Hoss kneeling next to Joe, a hand resting gently on his little brother’s shoulder. Joe was quietly whimpering in his sleep, his head twitching and his hand clawing at the earth in front of him.
“Shh, Joe,” whispered Hoss. “Sleep now, little brother, you’re safe, ain’t nobody gonna hurt you.” His solid hand kept up a warm pressure on Joe’s arm until gradually Joe settled and his breathing calmed.
Hoss rose to return to his bedroll to see Adam had awoken and was feeding some more kindling into the ashes to revitalise the dying flames.
“He ain’t had a restless night like this in over a year,” said Hoss quietly, as he pulled his blanket around him and sat hunched by the warming fire. “Fer months followin’ what happened, he had nightmares.” He stared over at the still form of Joe, unmoving now that his mind had rid itself of the demons that had tormented him. “His body was fixin’ but his mind…well, I guess he was still comin’ ta terms with what happened to him out here.” He looked over at Adam who was staring intently at his youngest brother, a crease wrinkling his forehead as his brows drew together in a frown. “Outta all of us, Joe was the most hurt. So many bones broken, his skin ripped to shreds from where those bas…” Hoss paused and took a deep breath, “those men had dragged him over the ground.” He followed Adam’s gaze to Joe’s slumbering form. “But you know Little Joe. Not even having mosta ya bones broken at the same time can keep him down for long.”
Adam rose smoothly to his feet and padded over in his socks to where Joe lay sleeping. He bent over his brother’s now motionless body and studied the dozing man’s face intently. He cocked his head. “Mimiteh has his ears,” he mumbled.
Adam straightened up, still looking down at his youngest brother. “Mimiteh. She’s got Joe’s ears.”
“Yer baby gal.”
“Umm.” Adam returned to his saddle and lay back. He stared up at the legion of stars flickering in the sky above.
“I still cain’t believe you’re a daddy. I cain’t wait to see her.”
Adam continued to stare up at the sky, his attention many miles away on the other side of the desert. There hadn’t been a single moment when Kia and his daughter hadn’t been at the front and centre of his thoughts; even during that time in the sheriff’s office in Darwin when he’d felt blindsided by coming face-to-face with his father and brothers, and had briefly considered returning with them to the Ponderosa. But he’d come to his senses, realising with despair that this was only the first of what might be many occasions when he’d be split between his two worlds. He’d desperately wanted to go back to the ranch, to feel the comfort associated with the only place he’d ever truly considered home—until the Ute had found him, that is, and made him one of their own. But now there was a stronger draw. His wife and child called to him; their pull was even more powerful than that of his beloved pa and brothers. So when Hoss and Joe had offered to accompany him on his search for his young family, his heart had leapt with joy. His two worlds would be joined. For how long he didn’t know; but for now it was enough.
“Ya ain’t spoken much about your wife, Adam. What’s she like?”
Adam’s gaze was fixed on the stars, but it wasn’t the sparkling firmament he could see. In his mind’s eye was a raven-haired woman with eyes like black pearls. Each morning Adam awoke before dawn and watched as the sun crept above the eastern horizon. The burning globe would rise over the land, its light-giving rays spreading evenly through the dawn sky. And as the light reached out across the desert, creeping up Adam’s feet and legs and torso until his body was warm and he was blinded by the glare, he would feel a resolve warming in his veins. For she was the fire, the guiding light that drew him, and he knew by following the morning sun he would find her.
“She’s why I breathe.”
Hoss’s blue eyes widened at his brother’s candour. After several days of little, or no, information from Adam about his experiences, this was more than he had expected.
“She saved my life. Not in a medical sense, you understand, but…” Adam paused. Talking about those dark days when his body and mind had been so damaged he’d nearly lost the will to carry on was like tearing open a long-healed scar. He sat up, resting his elbows on his knees, but kept his vision fixed on the ground in front of him. “I was led to believe you and Pa and Joe were dead. I…struggled for a while to…accept it.”
“And this is when you were with the Indians?”
Adam nodded. “A Ute called Cameahwait found me in the gorge.” He smiled briefly. “Now he really did save my life. I had a bullet in my thigh; I had been badly beaten. Then I developed a fever.” He rolled his eyes. “He took me back to his people.”
“But why, Adam? Why’d he do that? There were other folk there who needed help too. Why only you?”
Hoss was answered with a heavy sigh. “I don’t think even Cam knows why.”
There was a shuffling behind them, the sound of Joe turning over in his bedroll. His brothers both looked over at him as he stretched, opened a bleary eye and wiped the heel of his hand in the other.
“How’s a guy supposed to sleep round here with you two jabberin’ on all night?”
“Little brother, you could sleep with a herd of stampedin’ cows tramplin’ past your head,” answered Hoss wryly.
Joe snorted. “Well, I don’t sleep well here.” He shook his head. “The desert isn’t a place I like to be anymore.”
It was a sentiment shared by Adam. He had suffered one too many bitter happenings in these dry, hostile lands. And the sooner they were across it, the better.
Hoss moved his attention back to Adam. He was buoyed by how open Adam was being tonight. “So ya ended up with this band o’ Ute, and married yer’self a little Indian gal.”
Adam’s eyes flashed and his voice was harsh. “It wasn’t like that, Hoss.” He took a deep breath, his voice quiet once more. “It wasn’t like that. She cared for me when I was…sick. She made me well again.”
He heard a quiet snigger and noticed Joe had a grin stretched across his face as he exchanged a look with Hoss. “The ol’ nurse patient thing, huh, doncha think, Hoss?” His teeth were bright where he grinned. But his smile faded when he saw Adam jump to his feet, a frown darkening his face.
“No, Joe! It wasn’t like that! It wasn’t like that at all.”
Joe levered himself up onto his elbows. “Well, why don’t you tell us, older brother?” He sat up straight, his voice rising. “We’ve been back together four days now and you’ve told us next to nothing about anything that happened to you. We had no idea where you were, whether you were alive or dead. It near killed Pa. And then we discover you’ve been living with a tribe of Indians, got yourself married. But could you be bothered to come looking for your real family?”
“Why would I look for a family I thought were dead?” Adam’s voice was loud and unforgiving; his eyes blazing streaks as he glared at Joe.
“Well, you seemed to get over the loss of your beloved family pretty darn quick.”
Hoss sat upright on his blanket. “Now, Joe, ya know that ain’t fair.”
Joe twisted to look at Hoss. “Why not? He’s got a kid, for God’s sake. Work it out, Hoss. No set period of mourning for older brother here.”
Adam took a step towards where Joe was still sitting on his blanket, his chest expanding with every fierce breath that he inhaled through flaring nostrils. He unclenched a tight fist to point a finger at his younger brother and spoke through gritted teeth. “You weren’t there, Joe. I grieved for you.”
“Really, Adam? You grieved.” Joe shook his head. “Just how old is your daughter?”
Adam frowned but then sighed heavily; his shoulders dropped as he closed his eyes. “Ten months.”
“Ten months.” Joe spread his palms and started to count using his fingers. “Let’s see now, ten months plus nine months makes nineteen months. Remind me, Hoss, how long was brother Adam missing?”
“Joe.” Hoss’s voice held a warning.
Joe rose to his feet and skirted the fire to stand in front of Adam. He stared unblinking at him. “I’ll tell you exactly how long our brother was missing, Hoss. He was missing for one year, nine months and two weeks. I was never that great at arithmetic, but I think that’s about twenty-one months, wouldn’t you say? You grieved for two months, Adam.”
Adam looked away; it was hard to argue with Joe’s faultless logic.
He flopped back down on his bedroll and leant heavily back against his saddle. “You make it sound very simple, Joe.” He threw a glance at his younger sibling. “But you don’t know what I went through.”
“Well whose fault is that, Adam? You won’t tell us a goddamn thing.” Joe stalked back to his blanket and flung himself down. “I know you’re not one for divulging sometimes, but dammit, Adam, you can’t expect us to understand if you don’t talk to us.” Joe’s voice had quietened, frustration taking the place of anger.
There was silence in the camp, broken only by the sound of wood crackling and spitting. Hoss watched his two brothers—Joe flicking sand with his index finger and Adam staring out into the blackness of the desert—and, assured they weren’t going to go for each other, he lay back against his saddle.
“You’re right.” Two heads turned rapidly towards Adam. His eyes reflected the golden glow of the flames as he looked first at Joe and then at Hoss. He sat up. “You’re right.” He pulled his legs up and rested his arms around his knees.
Adam was quiet. His brothers watched and waited.
“When I woke up in the Ute village, not knowing where I was, or why I was there and whether you were alive or dead, I was weak, confused…scared.” One eyebrow rose with his admission of fear as he looked from Hoss to Joe. “I didn’t know why they had taken me there and left everyone else, but they saved my life and for that I was grateful.” Adam’s eyes were drawn to the fire. “I decided to stick around long enough to get my strength back and then I’d escape, somehow. But then they told me you were all dead. They were very convincing, and I believed them. It…” Adam paused, struggling to find the right words. “It affected me more than I could have realised.” I wanted to die. “I’d always thought that I was strong, in my mind. I’m mean, I’ve experienced more than my fair share of tragedy. Not knowing my mother and then seeing Inger and Marie die in front of me. Having to kill my best friend… Well, after all that, I thought I could survive anything… But then you died.” Adam shifted, dropping his head for a moment. He brought his eyes back to his brothers and smiled wryly. “Well, I thought you had.” Adam swallowed. “I was not myself for a while.” I gave up. “Kia looked after me during that time, although I wasn’t aware of her. I learned later that she had been there every day, seeing to my wounds, bringing me food.” She had to listen to my ramblings, soothe me when I cried like a baby. “Later, as I tried to…adjust…to a life without…” Adam flicked his eyes at his brothers. “Well, I decided to stay with the Ute until I had decided what to do. But Kia became increasingly important to me.” She was a flame where there was no other light. “And I fell in love with her.” He brought his eyes up to meet his brothers’ and shrugged. “I fell in love.”
“It’s okay, Joe. You didn’t know. I didn’t mean to shut you out. It’s just…those early days…I just wanna forget them.”
Adam stared deeply into the flickering flames. “Kia gave me hope, a future. She gave me a purpose again. She saved me in many ways.” He looked across at his brothers who sat silently listening. Their absorbed expressions encouraged him, and for once he didn’t feel embarrassed sharing such intimate thoughts. He smiled again. “But I think I saved her too. When I first saw her she was kinda sad, beaten down by something that had happened. I learned later she was in mourning for her husband.” Adam’s mood cheered as he talked about Kia, the anger of moments ago forgotten. “She wore a mantle of melancholy because it was required of her. And then she started to share her true self with me.” Adam picked up a strand of scrub and rolled it between his fingers. “I found out she’s funny. She’s sharp, heck, she knows what I’m thinking before I do. She’s compassionate. Endlessly curious about my life before. And she’s strong, so strong. Life might have trampled on her a bit, but she didn’t give up. And then I came along; she knew what she wanted and went for it.” Adam’s cheeks dimpled as the corners of his mouth rose in a smile.
He looked up to see grins on his brothers’ faces.
Hoss reached over to throw a small branch on the fire. “And I bet she’s beautiful too, huh, Adam?”
“Now what sorta question is that to ask a man about his wife?” Adam smiled. His eyes softened. “To me she’s perfect.”
The hour was late. Joe yawned. “And then you had yourself one of them Indian wedding ceremonies with a sacred fire and exchanging baskets with gifts?” He settled back against his saddle.
Adam raised his eyebrows and looked down when he recalled his own initiation into marriage. Kia had come to him in the night; unable to wait after Cameahwait had freed her from her mourning earlier that evening. They had made love in the light of the dying fire; and as the flames faded, their love had ignited. The following day Adam was told Kia was now his wife. It had been a shock; but Adam had been more than happy to be told he was now forever joined with this woman. “Ah, not quite like that, Joe.”
“And now you’re a pa.” Hoss was fascinated by the idea of being an uncle. “What’s her name again, Adam?”
In his mind’s eye, Adam could see his little tabboots—his little rabbit, as he liked to call her. Her face still had the chubbiness of babyhood, but her character was starting to shine. She was inquisitive, her tiny hands always reaching out to touch, grab, pull. It was a trait that had already led her into trouble when she’d nearly made off with Adam’s razor. Retrieving the item gently but firmly from her fist had led to a wail of frustration and annoyance. But it hadn’t been long before she was laughing again. Thinking about her heart-warming giggle and the love that shone unconditionally from her eyes, brought a smile to Adam’s face.
“Mimiteh. It means ‘new moon’ as she was born on the day of a new moon.” Adam regarded Joe teasingly. “I thought she was perfect, but, now I see she has your ears, little brother…” He ducked as a spray of sandy earth flew in his direction.
It was a start, for all of them. Adam had struggled to open up and share his experiences with his brothers, particularly what he had endured at the beginning of his time with the Ute. As they’d begun the journey across the desert, he’d catch a glimpse of Joe’s pinto out of the corner of his eye, or observe the long shadow of Hoss’s huge hat beating the earth besides him. The shame had been so overpowering he’d had to kick his animal ahead to lose them from his line of vision. He thought he had come to terms with what had happened. And to a certain extent, he had. He had accepted their deaths, moved on with his life. But now, here they were, alive and vibrant, and so close he could reach out and touch them. Adam had asked himself over and over, why had he taken Cameahwait’s word for it and not done everything in his power to find out the truth for himself? The evening camps had been difficult as the shame plagued his thoughts. He had tried to contribute to the chat around the campfire, but more often than not he’d feigned fatigue and crawled into his bedroll. Or he had taken himself away into the blackness to sit and think, and pray to the Great Spirit to keep Kia and Mimiteh safe.
But tonight had been different. Joe’s fiery temper—always so quick to surface—had spilled out, exposing the impatience and exasperation he was feeling at being kept in the dark. Joe had pushed and pushed until Adam had realised keeping his collapse into desolation a shameful secret was doing nothing more than creating a rod for his own back. He would never be able to tell them everything: of how he had withdrawn from the world and let his mind retreat into blackness; of how he had let guilt, shame and despair consume him. He would never tell them of how their stubborn brother had become a compliant puppet; letting strangers undress him, bathe him and help him with his most private ministrations. No, that he would never tell them. But what he had shared had quietened Joe’s bitterness towards him. And if Joe now believed that Adam hadn’t willingly turned his back on his family, then perhaps Adam’s most shaming secret would never see the light of day.
As the journey across the desert continued, Adam no longer urged his horse ahead of Hoss and Joe. They rode together, talking more easily about what had happened to them all over the last two years. And for the first time since they’d come together in the small sheriff’s office in Darwin, the men began to feel like brothers again.
At night, Joe was still subjected to restless bouts of sleep, and it seemed the further into the desert they travelled, the more agitated he became. He had no knowledge of his nightmares; Hoss and Adam having decided it would do no good to tell him of the torments afflicting his dreams. That is, until several nights later.
It began with his customary light whimpering, the incomprehensible muttering that settled down after a short while. He had woken both his brothers every night since the dreams had started. They would wake, prop themselves up on their elbows and wait until he’d fallen back into a dreamless sleep. This night was different though. The whimpering became words.
“No…no…please don’t…no…stop please…God, no!” And as the words continued to pour from his lips, he flipped roughly onto his back, his hands scrabbling at the air in front of his face. Hoss was nearest to him and clambered on his hands and knees to Joe’s side. He took hold of Joe’s shoulders in an attempt to shake him into awareness. But the terror playing out in Joe’s mind would not be interrupted by his brother’s actions or his voice. Joe could only formulate one word, a repeated plea which grew louder and louder as he tossed onto his side and curled into himself. “No! No! No!” Hoss kept his arm on Joe’s shoulder, hoping his touch would bring his little brother back to his senses. But then Joe started to pant out a new word. He began to call for Adam, again and again.
Adam had watched Joe’s ordeal from his place by the fire, but at the sound of his name on Joe’s lips, he brushed his blanket from his body and strode quickly to Joe’s side.
Hoss threw Adam a worried look. “He’s never called out for you afore, Adam.”
Adam frowned and dropped to one knee besides Joe, bending low over him.
“Joe!” Adam’s voice was harsh. “Joe, you gotta wake up!”
“Adam… where…gotta find…”
“Joe!” Adam pushed Hoss away and grabbed Joe’s shoulders, pushing him over onto his back. “Come on, Joe, wake up! It’s Adam, I’m here!”
Joe’s eyes flashed open. He blinked as he looked up into his brother’s face hovering over his.
“Wha…what’s going on?” His voice was gruff, and he cleared his throat as he shuffled onto his elbows. He eyed, foggily, the concerned faces of his two brothers staring so intently at him. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Adam sat back and breathed a heavy sigh. “You were having a bad dream, Joe.”
Joe looked puzzled. “A dream?” He pushed himself upright.
“You were calling my name.”
“Calling…?” Joe shook his head. “I…I don’t remember…”
“It’s okay, Joe, you’re okay, just…go back to sleep.” Adam rose to return to his bedroll.
“Have I had them before?” Joe’s tone betrayed his worry.
Adam turned his head towards his younger brother. “One or two.”
With shoulders hunched, Hoss heaved himself to his feet. “The sooner we get outta this god-forsaken, dried-up cesspool of a desert, the better.” And with that he threw himself down on his bedroll, turned onto his side and wrapped his arms tightly around his body. Joe watched him, his face displaying his confusion.
“Go to sleep, Joe. We’ll talk about it in the morning.”
Joe lay back slowly, his eyes flicking between his brothers who had both lain down and turned onto their sides. He stared at the blanket of stars above him, his mind uneasy with the knowledge that his nightmares had returned. He screwed his eyes closed, desperate to remember his dream, but there was nothing but a cavernous hole where those missing memories were. He suspected it could only have been caused by one thing. And the realisation he hadn’t laid to rest his own experience of the Juniper Gorge Massacre was disturbing. Sleep would elude Joe for a long while that night.
But what Joe didn’t know was that he was not alone in his sleepless night. Hoss hugged himself tightly, feeling a rage he hadn’t known in over a year clawing at his emotions. His little brother was clearly suffering from being back in the hellhole where their trials had begun. He lay on his side, staring into nothingness with eyebrows drawn low over blazing eyes and every muscle in his body tense. He wanted nothing more than to lay his hands on the men who had done this to them; to make them pay for the suffering they had caused. It was a rage Hoss thought he’d put behind him. As Adam’s absence had increased from weeks to months to a year, the family had grown accustomed to his not being there, and with it came an uneasy acceptance. The unspoken acknowledgement that Adam was most likely dead helped each man in his own way. For Hoss, his anger and hate for the perpetrators had eased and he was able to think back to that dreadful day without feeling the need to take his anger out on the woodpile, or the barn walls, or items unfortunate enough to be close at hand. Hop Sing had spent a lot of time clearing up broken crockery in the early days. But the simmering anger hadn’t gone away, and, like Joe, it would be a few hours before sleep claimed him.
As for Adam, it had been a rude awakening. Witnessing Hoss’s angry exclamation and seeing the turmoil that raged within Joe, it had brought home to Adam that he wasn’t the only one who had been so badly affected by what had happened. He saw with newly-opened eyes that his brothers had never completely recovered from the ordeal of the attack, the wounds they had suffered and the trials that his own disappearance had inflicted on them. He fell asleep sooner than they did, but only after much deliberation and a decision had been made.
The following morning the brothers were quiet and irritable. The succession of sleepless nights was bringing out the worst in them. Joe demanded to know how long he’d been having bad dreams without being told. When he received his answer, his frustration at having that fact kept from him spilled over into an all-out row with Hoss over the mere triviality of how the plates hadn’t been properly wiped over the night before. As Joe raged about having to pick dried beans off his plate with his fingernails, Hoss drew himself up to his most formidable height and told Joe in no uncertain terms precisely where he could shove his plate. Joe had squared up to his brother, pushing his face into Hoss’s and ramming the plate against Hoss’s chest. Hoss re-joined by shoving Little Joe so hard that he stumbled backwards and nearly fell over his upturned saddle. It took Adam forcing himself between them without a word, and keeping them apart with his arms outstretched, before the two men calmed and turned their attentions from each other to him. It was then, and only then, that Adam told them of the decision he’d come to the previous night.
“We’re gonna speed things up. We can be out of the desert in a couple of days if we hurry. I know the horses will struggle, but…” he paused, shaking his head. “This place isn’t doing any of us any good.” He looked up, moving his gaze from Joe to Hoss. “Agreed?”
Hoss nodded. “You won’t get no argument from me, brother.”
Adam looked to Joe who peered down at the dirty plate still raised in his hand. With a slight shake of his head, he let his arm drop. “Sure, Adam.”
Ten minutes later, they were on the move.
The desert taunted them. A shimmering ridge that looked to be only an hour’s ride away would take half a day to reach. The usual rainfall for this time of year had been sadly lacking, and the watering holes were drying up fast. For the last two nights there had been distant rumblings of thunder. The weather teased them, promising downpours that didn’t come. Instead the temperature got hotter, the air grew heavier, and the horses and their riders increasingly weary.
It was a couple of days later, as they approached the end of the desert and could see pale foothills in the near distance, when an unfamiliar object came into view. As they drew near, it revealed itself to be the wreck of a lone wagon. Its canvas canopy was in shreds, trembling slightly in whatever breeze the desert could conjure up. The wagon’s contents were strewn across the immediate area; boxes had been forced open, a woman’s dress fluttered gently from where it was trapped beneath a ransacked trunk. The men pulled their mounts to a stop. Hoss lowered himself from his saddle, feeling dog-tired after the hours they’d spent on horseback. Adam and Joe stayed where they were, forearms leaning heavily on their saddle pommels. Hoss moved slowly towards the wagon. He reached out and felt some markings in what remained of the wooden panelled sides.
“Bullet marks,” he called.
His brothers watched as he roamed amongst the strewn possessions, nudging gently at boxes and crates with the tip of his boot. He disappeared out of sight behind the wagon, appearing a minute or so later with his hat held closely against his chest. He took one last look around and approached his tired brothers, his feet scuffing across the hard sand.
“Three graves.” Hoss kept his head low as he stood next to his horse, his fingers toying with the rim of his hat. “Looks like the folks in this here wagon were attacked and killed.” He turned and gestured vaguely in the direction of the wagon’s discarded contents. “I’m guessing whoever did it took their animals, anything of value.”
“And then buried them?” Joe’s brow furrowed as his cheeks bunched beneath his eyes. “Doesn’t sound like something a gang of robbers would do.”
“They wouldn’t.” Adam’s voice sounded resigned.
Joe pulled his eyes away from the scene in front of him to look at his older brother.
“Someone else buried them. Someone with a sense of decency.”
Hoss was suddenly turning away from his horse and jamming his hat back on his head as he strode purposely over to the wagon. He grasped the top of the near most side with both hands and with a grunt, he started to pull and tug and wrench at the plank until it came away in his hands. He threw it violently to the ground.
Joe started to dismount, but a quick word from Adam froze him mid-motion and he slowly sat back in his saddle. He couldn’t watch as his brother started on the next plank, ripping and tearing at the wood until his fingers were bruised and bleeding. The plank shifted but wouldn’t come away. Hoss tugged one last time before he stood back, his chest heaving from his exertions. He stared at the ground, his eyes dark smouldering cauldrons of rage.
“Why?” It wasn’t a question he was aiming at his brothers. “Why are there bad people in this world who want nothin’ more than ta kill and take?”
Neither Adam nor Joe had a response. Joe fixed his eyes on his saddle pommel, unable to find the words that would calm Hoss’s anger.
“One of them graves is smaller than the other two. Them murderin’ sons o’ Lucifer killed a child.” Hoss’s head shot up, a sudden thought lighting up his face. “Adam, maybe it was the same men who attacked us that did this.” His previously tight features were instantly relaxed by the hope that had taken hold of him. “They’re still out there, we may be able to track them somehow. We could—”
“Hoss!” Adam’s voice was sharp. He softened. “Look around you; how long do you think this wagon has been here?”
The idea that, only moments before, had raised Hoss’s hopes, faded as he took in the wind-damaged canopy of the wagon, the sand-filled boxes and trunks.
Adam threw his leg over his horse’s head and jumped lightly to the ground. He moved to stand next to his brother. “There’s nothing left to track. And besides,” Adam’s eyes filled with regret. “The men who attacked us in the gorge are all dead.”
Hoss’s mouth fell open. He gathered himself with a slight shake to the head. “Dead?”
Joe was immediately beside them. “Whaddya mean, dead?”
Adam looked swiftly between them. “Dead, just what I said, dead!”
Hoss grabbed Adam’s arm, spinning his older brother around to face him. “And you knew this all this time and you didn’t tell us?”
Adam wrenched his arm out of Hoss’s grip. “It’s not something I’m particularly proud of.” He turned away, his hand reflexively moving to toy with his ponytail. “We tracked them to their hide-out. My people wanted revenge for the massacre of a Ute village.”
Joe walked a couple of steps towards his brother. “Whaddya mean we tracked them, my people wanted revenge? Listen to yourself, Adam, you’re not an Indian, though you seem to think you are.”
Adam swung around. “It’s not easy to put aside two years of living as one of them.”
“Two years? For God’s sake, Adam, you were a Cartwright for thirty-odd years before that!”
“You don’t understand! I locked you away!”
Adam was met with blank stares from his brothers.
“You were dead. I was told no one else survived. I couldn’t live with the grief. I couldn’t live with knowing I had put the idea into your heads to join the wagon train in the first place. Because of me, you died!” He paused, and a hand found its way to his forehead. He sighed heavily. “The only way I could survive was to lock the memories I had of you away,” he poked sharply at his temple. “In here. I refused to think about you, I didn’t let the memories surface, because if they did…” He shook his head. “The Ute accepted me as one of their own; they let me marry into their band. I was becoming more and more like them every day. All I knew was my own kind had killed my family and all those other people in the gorge. And for what? Money? Horses? To have power over another? So I turned my back on what I had once been and let myself become Ute.” He paused, his eyes flicking nervously towards his brothers. “I underwent…a ceremony…to purge me of my white blood. And after that I never spoke my mother tongue again. I was different. And now…nï’ara Nuuch. I am Ute.”
Hoss and Joe could do nothing but stare at the man who was once their brother. They had thought they’d got him back. Yes, he seemed different, but they had assumed, and believed, he was still Adam. But now it was clear his time apart from them had changed him more than they could ever understand. He had assimilated so deeply into the Ute culture that the old Adam was buried in a mire of Indian custom and tradition. Neither of them knew what to do or say.
Hoss’s anger had diminished on hearing the men he’d dreamed of tracking down had already been dealt with. But he now felt numb at his brother’s words. Hoss knew from the little Adam had shared with them that his first days with the Ute had been ones of unimaginable misery. But to discover the only way Adam could endure life was to forget his own family and to walk away from the existence he had once enjoyed…well, Hoss now understood Adam had been damaged a lot more than he was letting on. He glanced over at Joe who could only stand there staring dumbfounded at his oldest brother.
“If you’ve got nothing to say then I suggest we get moving.” Adam squared his shoulders and swiftly moved to his mount. He pulled himself up into the saddle and reined his horse around to his brothers who hadn’t moved from where he’d left them.
“You gotta understand, I did what I had to do. I am Adam Cartwright, and I am your brother. But you also have to know this. Nïnay nía Liwanu. Nï’ara Nuuch.” My name is Liwanu and I am Ute. And with one last look at his brothers, Adam pressed his heels to his horse and loped back onto the trail.
No more words were exchanged that day as they continued their journey. They rode spaced out along the trail, lost in their own thoughts and unwilling to talk even when they occasionally ended up close by each other.
The terrain was slowly but dramatically changing. They moved up into the low range of foothills they’d spied hours earlier, and the never-ending hard sand and sagebrush was making way for aspen groves and isolated thickets of conifer. The three riders gathered together on a high ridge and Hoss and Joe gazed in wonderment at the southernmost tip of the vast expanse which made up the Great Salt Lake. It was so huge their own adored Lake Tahoe could have filled its watery depths ten times over with room to spare. But it was nothing more than a signpost for Adam, confirmation he was a day’s ride from the high camp where his Ute family would be. He quickly reined his horse around and continued on the upland trail, leaving no time for his brothers to take in the sight before them.
That night they made camp in a small sheltered grove within spitting distance of a meandering creek. It was the first time in eight days they weren’t exposed to the cold night air of the desert. The protection provided by the tall spindly trees around them kept the worst of the chill from their bones. The brothers moved amongst themselves, avoiding eye contact, waiting stiffly for one to pass by within the confined enclosures of the camp. Each man went to his duties without a word spoken. The horses were picketed, fed and watered, and a small fire built to heat up coffee and yet more beans. It was Adam who broke the silence.
“Look, if you wanna go back…to the Ponderosa…” he left the sentence hanging, unable to say the words he didn’t want to say: If you wanna go home, back to your lives, I understand. I didn’t look for you, and then I banished all thoughts and memories of you from my mind. I rejected everything I was, that you are…I’ve hurt you. You’re probably better off without me…
Hoss threw down the coffee pot that only minutes before he had filled with water, spilling the contents over the ground at his feet.
“Dadburnit, Adam, would ya stop feelin’ sorry for yourself for one minute!” He stomped over to Adam and roughly pushed him down onto the fallen tree trunk that was doubling as a seat. Adam looked up at him, his mouth hanging open in shock. Hoss paced the ground in front of him.
“Now, we know you’ve had it tough, older brother, but it’s about time you stopped stewin’ in your own juices and listened to a few home truths. To begin with, me and Joe and Pa, we didn’t die in that cursed attack. Yes, we were hurt bad, but we all pulled outta it. I’m standin’ here in front of you, Joe’s over there.” He pointed to where Joe had sat down with an astonished smile tickling the edge of his lips; happy to sit back and watch his middle brother in action. “We’re alive. So you need to get all those thoughts of us dyin’ outta your head. And for the love of all things holy, would ya stop feelin’ guilty for something that wasn’t your fault. We all decided to join that wagon train, we didn’t need no persuadin’. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I know you’re feelin’ guilty about puttin’ us outta ya head an all, but,” Hoss sighed, “you’re not the only one who’s gone done somethin’ like that so’s they could get through. We’ve all had to do things we didn’t like in order ta…carry on. That’s life, is all.”
Hoss stopped his pacing and stared down at Adam who hadn’t been able to take his eyes off his brother during the entire rant. Hoss quickly turned and bent over to retrieve the coffee pot.
“I’m goin’ to the stream to fill up again.” He stomped out of the camp, but then stopped and plodded back in. “And another thing. If we was to let you go on alone, Pa would string up our hides from here to doomsday.” He nodded firmly at Adam and then turned to nod at Joe as well. This time when he left, it really was to fill the coffee pot.
Adam was speechless. He followed his brother’s departing figure before drawing his gaze back to the camp, his face blank. The sound of Joe rising from his seat distracted him and he looked up to see a look of amusement on Joe’s face. Joe headed over to the fire to stir the beans which had begun to burn on the bottom of the pan.
“Still want us to leave, brother?” Joe said with a smile, and shaking his head with mirth, he walked out of the camp to visit a nearby tree, slapping his brother on the shoulder as he went.
Adam wasn’t aware of it, but this wasn’t the first time he had journeyed along this trail. Two years earlier, he had been tied onto a travois and dragged behind the pony ridden by his Ute rescuer. Cameahwait had stood at the same high ridge overlooking the Great Salt Lake and thanked the Great Spirit that he was within a day of his home and family; and a day away from help for the gravely injured white man he had found. Adam had no memory of this route—his fever having taken such a hold that he was delirious for most of the journey—so instead he used one of the distant high mountains as a way marker. There was one particular peak; a windblown rocky pinnacle that stood like a guardian overlooking the Ute’s summer camp. The mountain was almost a perfect triangle, except for the very apex which tilted over as though a large thumb had squashed it to one side. As long as he and his brothers headed straight for that peak, they should reach the Ute village.
Adam knew he had to stay patient. The urge to gallop crazily up the trail in the direction of the village was overwhelming; his wife and his child were there, oblivious to his homecoming, unaware he was so close he could almost smell the food cooking on the wood fires. But for three white men to ride at speed into an Indian village, albeit one Adam had called home, would be akin to suicide. So he reined in his zeal—although he couldn’t stop his heart beating rapidly in his chest—and maintained an illusion of stoic composure.
Vague memories began to flit through Adam’s mind as they ascended steadily over rocky hills dotted with clusters of mountain broom whose sunny yellow flowers were starting to shrivel and drop; the brush was giving away to increasingly thick forests of pinyon-juniper woodland, and it appeared the higher they travelled, the taller the trees became. It struck Adam that, in all the time he’d lived in the high summer village, he’d never followed this particular trail except for that one pain-filled time. And yet, fleeting memories were starting to stir. The strongest recollection was the motion, how his body had been jolted from side to side as he was dragged over the uneven trail. Most of the time he had been insensible to his surroundings, but he was struck with a memory of coming to and being blinded by the sunlight as it sparkled through the pine branches looming overhead. Another memory registered; one of relief that the constant movement and jarring of the journey had ceased; and of blinking open his eyes, turning his head with effort and observing a blurry figure filling bladders at a nearby stream. The figure had his back to Adam and he now distinctly remembered the unease and fear as the figure had turned to approach and Adam had realised the man was an Indian. But in his delirium he had been unable to do more than struggle weakly against his bindings as the man had knelt by his side, lifted his head and poured sweet fresh water down his throat. Adam recalled a brief sensation of surprise before the infection in his leg claimed him once again and he had succumbed to a fevered dream world.
How different he felt now. The fear, the panic, the confusion were all in the past. The Indians were his friends; more than that, they were his family. He wanted to kick his heels into the belly of his horse and ride like the wind up the trail, and into the village, and into the arms of his wife and child. Only then could he even think about the choices he knew he’d have to make; decisions that would hurt the people he cared about most in this world. He put that to the back of his mind and continued steadily up the trail. The forest was quiet. If anything, it was too quiet. The sound of birdsong which had assailed them since they’d entered the wooded area hours before seemed to have faded into silence. Even the wind was no longer breathing through the branches above them. Yet he was now in recognisable territory. As they’d left the rocky hills behind them and entered the thick upward slanting forest, Adam was in a world he knew like the back of his hand. It was as familiar to him as the Ponderosa had once been. The lack of even a whisper didn’t perturb him. And as he kept his eyes on the trail ahead, he could feel a calmness settling upon his shoulders and a smile teasing about his lips.
After about twenty minutes, the sound of a horse loping up behind made Adam turn his head to see Hoss reining in beside him.
“Adam,” Hoss couldn’t keep the tension out of his voice. “Somethin’ ain’t right here. My head is itching somethin’ awful an’ I can feel all the hairs standin’ up on the back of my neck.” Hoss started to scan the terrain around him. “I’m gettin’ a feeling we’re being watched.”
Adam kept his eyes on the trail. “That’s because we are being watched. They’ve been watching us for the last half hour or so.”
Hoss peered around him, his top lip pulling up to reveal the gap between his front teeth. “You sure? I cain’t see nothin’ out there.” He twisted in his saddle and caught Joe’s eye behind him. Joe looked as perplexed as he did and could only shrug at his brother’s look.
Adam smiled. “They’re out there.”
“Are they from the village you were livin’ in?”
“I’d say so.”
Joe called out from behind them.
“Then why don’t they show themselves, if they know you?”
Adam reined his mount to a stop and let Joe catch up with him and Hoss.
“Because of you two. And because of this.” He fingered his vest and shirt. He looked out into the trees. “They’ll make themselves known soon enough.”
Adam kicked his horse forward and the brothers continued on their way. Hoss and Joe couldn’t hide their unease at knowing the Ute were in the forest, hidden, silently watching them, following them without being seen. It was unnerving. Yet Adam was calm, and so they followed on behind him, wary, but reassured.
It was late afternoon when the gradient of the trail became abruptly steeper. The men had to lean low over their horses’ necks and gee them up to encourage the animals to climb the increasingly sharp grade. But once over the top, the path flattened out and they found themselves on a richly forested plateau. Adam breathed in deeply in anticipation as he knew they would find the Ute camp at the next clearing. He brought his Appaloosa to a halt and waited for his brothers to catch up.
“We’re about a half mile from where the village should be. They’ll be guarded because of you, so just follow my lead.”
Hoss and Joe nodded their assent and together they followed behind Adam as he walked at an easy pace through the sun-dappled forest. This wasn’t the first time that either of Adam’s brothers had approached an Indian village, but Joe felt particularly anxious this time. He wasn’t worried about entering the camp—although knowing there were Indians out there watching silently was making his hands clammy—but of what would happen after they’d got there and Adam had been reunited with his wife and child. He couldn’t help but feel his brother would not be returning with them to the Ponderosa. He was so unlike the Adam of old, and he could tell from his brother’s relaxed pose that he was buoyed at the prospect of being amongst these people again.
The question of Adam’s future, however, instantly went to the back of Joe’s mind as the signs of human habitation began to appear through the thinning trees. Joe could make out a corral of horses and a scattering of tepees in the clearing ahead. And as they broke through the tree cover, Joe’s heart soared as he took in the beauty surrounding the small Indian encampment. The village was surrounded on three sides by forest and when Joe looked to his right he saw how the plateau was on the side of a mountain which overlooked a wide sweeping view of low, shallow hills and distant clumps of woodland. Rising above them was an impressive front of high summits, their granite peaks caressed by a cerulean-blue sky. As they’d ridden along the plateau towards the clearing, they had been accompanied by the sound of a fast-flowing stream, hidden out of sight where the mountain surged down to meet the hills he could make out below. Joe felt immensely small in this glorious landscape.
As Adam pulled his horse to a stop, Hoss and Joe followed suit. It was then Joe noticed the Ute villagers who had halted whatever they had been doing and were staring with a range of expressions at the brothers. There were looks of shock and surprise, of tentative, unsure smiles; but most of all the faces displayed bewilderment at the three men who had ridden into their midst, particularly at the sight of Adam in his western clothing and a gun at his hip. Joe saw how some of the women had to physically hold back their children who wanted to run out and greet their once-lost member. Joe shifted in his saddle, unhurriedly craning his neck to look behind him. Their silent pursuers had emerged from the woodland and without a word or signal had created a widely spaced shield behind the three interlopers. Their escape route was effectively blocked. He slowly turned to look at Hoss who shared the same nervous look. The lives were now fully in the hands of their elder brother.
A sturdy looking Indian with a wide square jaw and a proudly projected chin stepped away from a cluster of villagers who had been seated in front of a tepee. They had risen cautiously to their feet as the newcomers rode in. He strode purposely towards Adam, his chin held high, eyebrows drawn low over black gleaming eyes. He stopped a few feet away and watched as Adam carefully dismounted. Adam never took his eyes from the lone Ute; but at the same time, he couldn’t keep the smile from his lips as he faced his old friend. It was Hanska, one of the men who had accompanied Adam on his initiation into the Ute tribe. They stood a few feet apart, Adam with his hands behind his back holding on to his mount’s reins. The animal’s head nudged his back as he stood.
Hanska eyed Adam’s attire with a look of cynical amusement. “You wear the clothes of the white man, my brother. Did you so tire of life in our simple village that you desired a wooden box to sleep in and hard shoes on your feet?”
Adam regarded his new leather boots and when he looked up and met Hanska’s eyes he wore a wide grin. “What can I say, my friend? Moccasins can be cold in the winter and the taste of pinyon nuts was started to wear on me.”
A slow smile grew on Hanska’s face and then the two men closed the gap between them to clasp each other’s forearms. Adam’s hand found his friend’s shoulder.
“It’s good to see you, Hanska. There was a time not long ago when I thought I would never see this land again.”
“You bring strangers to our village, Liwanu.” He nodded towards Hoss and Joe who sat stiffly on their mounts.
Adam’s head angled in their direction. “Strangers to you, Hanska, but not to me.” The smile left his face as he grew serious. “They are my brothers, the sons of my father.”
Hanska couldn’t keep the dumbfounded expression from his face. “Your brothers? Your brothers died—”
“Cameahwait was wrong.” Adam spoke more sharply than he had intended to. His softened his tone. “My brothers, and my father, did not die on that day. Cameahwait lied.”
“Cameahwait does not lie, my friend. There must be a reason for what he said. But this is not the time. You must eat, we must celebrate your homecoming.”
Hanska opened his arms wide and at that signal, the other villagers moved forward, reassured all was well. Adam was soon surrounded by a throng of Ute who patted his arm and nodded their greetings, smiles writ large across their faces. The children reached up to pull at Adam’s vest and gun belt; it had been a long time since they’d seen him dressed in such clothing. Adam laughed at the attention and then became aware of a pair of arms gripping one of his legs. He looked down to see a small girl staring up at him with shining eyes, determined not to let him go. Adam grinned and reached down to scoop her up into his arms.
“Yazhi!” The child wrapped her arms around Adam’s neck, happy her sometime dinner companion was back. The youngest daughter of Cameahwait, Adam’s rescuer, Yazhi had chosen to sit with Adam at every mealtime after Cameahwait had invited him to become a member of his extended family. He looked around, knowing the child’s mother, Luyu, must be in the vicinity. And there she was, walking briskly up from the river where she had been collecting water. She dropped the full bladders of water she was carrying and ran towards the knot of people.
Luyu pushed her way through the villagers, her face lit with joy at the sight of Adam. He quickly shifted Yazhi onto one arm, and with the other he reached out to take Luyu’s hand in his, squeezing it tight.
“It is so good to see you, Liwanu. We feared for you, we did not know where you had gone.”
“There’s time enough to tell what happened. Where is Wanekia? Is she with you?” Despite Adam’s pleasure at seeing Luyu again, he was craning his neck around the camp, desperate to see his wife and child.
Luyu’s eyes lost their bright sparkle. “She is not here, Liwanu.”
Adam’s smile faltered but he continued to strain his eyes as he looked for his wife. “Is she down at the river? I’ll go find her.” Adam placed Yazhi back on her feet and began to move away. Luyu caught his arm.
“No, Liwanu. Wanekia is not here. She is not in the village.”
An immediate line formed between Adam’s eyebrows as he frowned. “What do you mean she’s not here? Where else would she be?”
Luyu threw a pleading look at Hanska, who stepped forward. “My brother, come. Otetiani will speak with you.”
Adam grabbed Hanska’s arm. Fear and worry had banished the joy he had felt only moments before; he could feel the hairs on his skin starting to prickle. “Where is she, Hanska? What aren’t you telling me?”
The sturdy Ute gently removed Adam’s grip from his arm. “Come. Bring your brothers.”
Adam’s gaze dropped to the ground briefly. His thoughts were flying in a thousand different directions at once. But he quickly collected himself and looked back at Hoss and Joe who had not moved from their saddles. He waved them down from their horses to follow him.
His brothers had observed Adam’s encounter with the stern-looking Ute with wide-eyed surprise and no small amount of pride. Both had been startled at how fluent he had become in the Ute language; he didn’t pause as he spoke, and he didn’t appear to struggle to find the correct words. The loose-limbed posture Adam had adopted fit in perfectly in this environment. And watching him interact with the villagers, they could see he was entirely at home amongst these people. Any trepidation Hoss and Joe had experienced about riding into the Indians’ camp had faded when they’d observed the smiles and laughter that greeted their brother’s arrival. He was well-liked and maybe even held a position of authority in the village. Hoss and Joe couldn’t help but feel proud that their brother was so well thought of.
Their gratification dwindled, though, when they witnessed Adam’s mood change from elation to worry in the blink of an eye. Hoss stepped up to his brother and cringed when he saw the concern creased across his features. “What’s goin’ on, Adam?”
They fell into step beside him as they followed the square-jawed Ute through the village. “She’s not here,” growled Adam, “and I don’t know why.”
“Mebbe she’s in the woods, gathering nuts or whatever it is they eat.”
“No. She’s not in the village at all.”
Hoss stopped, a hand on his brother’s shoulder halting his stride. “I’m sure there’s nothin’ to be worryin’ yerself about, Adam. There’s probably a perfectly reasonable explanation ta all this.”
Adam looked up at his younger brother who was so keen to say the right thing to ease Adam’s anxiety. His cheek dimpled as a half-smile disturbed the hard set of his lips. He slapped Hoss on the back and briskly nodded. “You’re right, of course.”
But Adam wasn’t so sure. There was no sign of Cameahwait either, and the absence of both his wife and Cam did not bode well. They carried on through the village. If Adam’s mind hadn’t been elsewhere, he would have been peering around at the place he’d called home for so long: greeting old friends, snacking on offerings of food at every family’s lodge, introducing his brothers to the villagers. But there was only one place he wanted to be at that moment, and that was Otetiani’s lodge. The old man was the village’s chief, the one to whom the people would take their disagreements, issues and problems, to hear his wise counsel. He officiated over village rituals and ceremonies, and yet could often be found in the early evenings with a gaggle of children around his feet as he told the age-old tales of creator Wolf, devious Coyote and wise Bear.
Otetiani’s lodge was larger than the rest; it needed to be for the meetings that took place there. Hanska paused at the entrance. The animal skin flap had been tied back indicating that permission didn’t need to be sought to enter. Adam and Hanska conferred briefly and then Hanska ducked his head and disappeared into the smoky darkness of the lodge.
Adam turned to his brothers. “We’re going to talk to the village’s chief, Otetiani, but it’s unlikely he’ll talk in English. He only spoke to me in English at the beginning because he had to.”
A head reappeared at the lodge’s entrance. It was Hanska, bidding them enter. The brothers bent down and one by one they entered the dim interior.
The old man was sitting cross-legged on the ground, close by his fire; it might be early summer, but his well-worn bones felt the cold no matter how warm the day was. He wasn’t alone. Seated around the fire were several other elders. Together they passed the time of day, retelling the old stories and discussing the latest happenings in the village. The old men would return to their family lodges and rebuke their wives for having nothing better to do than gossip when they cooked together or gathered seeds. But the women would merely nod placidly and roll their eyes when they turned away, as they knew their husbands were as guilty as they of spreading the latest village tittle-tattle. The arrival, all those seasons ago, of Adam, and his marriage to Wanekia, had kept the elders happily occupied for months.
A space was made for Adam and his brothers next to Otetiani. As they nervously folded themselves onto the ground next to their brother, Hoss and Joe couldn’t prevent their eyes darting around the surroundings and over the elderly men. The smoke from the fire drifted lazily towards the smoke hole above them and Hoss started to cough lightly in the back of his throat. Otetiani stared at him as Hoss’s face reddened from embarrassment and discomfort. A bowl of water was passed to him by one of the elders. With a nod of thanks he held the vessel to his lips and let the water soothe his tickly throat. He turned to his older brother and whispered an apology.
Otetiani moved his gaze to Adam and after a few seconds opened his arms to him. Adam shifted onto his knees and put his arm around the old man’s back as Otetiani wrapped an arm around his. Their cheeks met as Otetiani mumbled a greeting and gently patted Adam’s back.
The elder let Adam sit back on his blanket and looked him up and down.
“It is good to have you back, my son. We feared some great ill had taken you from us. I can feel the spirits burn within you, although, you look…thin.”
As was his way, Otetiani’s words were carefully delivered and to the point. Adam ducked his head to hide his smile.
“The spirit of the bison is always with me, Otetiani. His power runs through my body and I have been able to endure my trials as the bison prevails through his. He has kept me strong while my heart has been…shaken.”
Otetiani’s eyes narrowed slightly at Adam’s words, but instead of addressing them directly, he lifted a wrinkled hand which he pointed at Hoss and Joe. “Who are these men you bring to my fire?”
Adam couldn’t keep a small smile from his face as he turned to place a hand on Hoss’s back. He turned back to the old man. “These are my brothers, Otetiani, the brothers with whom I share my father’s blood. I was led to believe they had died in the attack on the wagon train. But as you can see, Cameahwait was wrong.” Adam dropped his head away from the elderly man to hide the raging fire that had begun to burn in his eyes. He shook his head to banish the outrage flaming within him.
“This is my middle brother, Hoss, and this here is Joe, my youngest brother.”
Hoss and Joe had no idea what was being spoken in their presence, but when their brother pointed to them and they heard their names, it was clear they’d just been introduced to the men seated around the fire. They both nodded at the group; Joe lifted his hand in a cautious greeting.
Otetiani eyed them whilst the men around the fire murmured to each other. “It seems much has happened since you left us.”
Adam’s voice great bitter. “I did not leave you, wise one. I was taken against my will.”
“Who would dare do such a thing?”
Adam sighed. He would tell Otetiani of Matwau’s treachery, but there were more pressing issues on his mind.
“I will tell you. But first, where is Wanekia, and my daughter?” Adam frowned. “And where is Cameahwait?”
Otetiani raised his eyebrows slightly waiting for Adam to settle back down.
“You disappeared, Liwanu, leaving no signs to follow. Wanekia grieved a second time for a lost husband, but in her heart she did not believe you were dead. Matwau told that the white man was coming so we walked under sun and moon to reach the protection of our summer lands. The journey was hard, Liwanu.” Otetiani paused, recalling the rush from the lowlands to the safety of the high mountain camp. He did not need to speak of the exhaustion, the tired limbs and the lack of sleep the village had endured as they fled up the mountain. He raised his eyes, looking back to Adam. “Cameahwait and Wanekia stayed in the low valley with the bravest of our young men. They prayed to the Great Spirit to find you. Two by two they went up the mountain, into the forest, to the edge of the desert lands, to the shores of Urvare. They were to return to where Cameahwait waited when the moon glowed full in the sky. And then they were to come and join their families, here in our summer village.” Otetiani’s eyes fixed onto Adam’s. “They should have been back before the old moon died. We have woken to a new day too many times without them appearing over the southern ridge.” Otetiani looked down at his withered hands. “Our hearts grow heavy.”
Adam shifted forward onto his knees, and lightly clasped Otetiani’s upper arm. “Why did Wanekia not come back with you?”
The warm touch of the old man’s hand closed around Adam’s where it held Otetiani’s in a gentle grip. “She would listen to no one, Liwanu. There were many loud words; she was like a wild cat arguing with the bear. Cameahwait ordered her to travel with the village to the summer lands but she would not leave without knowing where you were.”
“Liwanu…” Otetiani’s voice was chiding. “She would not leave your daughter in the care of others. You know your wife.”
Adam flopped back on his blanket. He nodded his head and closed his eyes. “I know my wife.”
Hoss and Joe had silently observed the conversation taking place in front of them. Unable to follow the words, their heads had skipped from their brother to Otetiani as each man spoke in turn. They had watched as Adam had darted onto his knees and grasped the old man’s arm before falling back onto his rump. The nod of his head became a shake as his chin dropped to his chest.
Joe leaned across Hoss. “What is it, Adam? What’s it all about?”
Adam raised his eyes to meet his brothers’ puzzled looks. “When the village moved from the lower lands to here, a few remained behind to look for me. To look for me, dammit!” Adam expelled a weighty breath. “Kia stayed with them…with our daughter.” He gritted his teeth. “Goddammit, Kia, why don’t you listen!”
“Well, we’ll jus’ go on and get ‘em, and—”
“They should have been back days ago, Hoss! Something’s happened.” Adam stood sharply and started to pace around the enclosed space. “This is Matwau’s doing.”
Otetiani’s face lifted from where he had been gazing into the flames. “Matwau?”
Adam spun on his heel and strode to the elder, dropping to his ankles by his side. He reverted back to Ute, leaving his brothers once more in the dark.
“It was Matwau who took me from the village. He left me in the desert to die.”
The elders around the fire started to chatter; their voices rising as they turned to each other to share their fury. Otetiani let them speak and then slowly raised his hand to silence them. Even when stirred, the old man’s voice was low and steady. “Matwau will pay for his treachery.” He looked towards Adam. “But until that day you must go. Go down to the lowlands and find our lost people. Bring them back, Liwanu.”
With a sharp nod, Adam lithely rose to his feet and indicated to his brothers to follow him. He held the flap open as they exited the lodge. Otetiani’s voice halted Adam as he was about to duck through the entrance.
“Liwanu.” Otetiani’s gaze had fallen back to the fire. “You will eat, and rest. Leave when the sun begins his walk across the sky.”
Being in the Indian village was a welcome respite for Hoss and Joe. It wasn’t as though they’d never been in one before, but this time they felt welcome. They even felt a sense of belonging due to their brother’s position in the village. And after ten long days in the saddle, crossing the hot, inhospitable terrain of the desert, it was good to simply sit and rest in the beautiful clearing the Ute called home.
As they left Otetiani’s lodge, Adam told his brothers in a tone that brooked no argument that they would be leaving at first light to search for Wanekia, Cameahwait and the other men. They stood together outside the lodge and it was several minutes before Adam was able to calm himself down. His mouth had grown tight as he breathed heavily though flaring nostrils. Hoss and Joe could only stand and watch, knowing their words would fall on unhearing ears. After a couple of minutes—during which Hoss crammed his hands into his pant pockets, stiffened his arms and scuffed his feet; and Joe merely stood and watched the emotions flit across his older brother’s face—Adam suddenly turned to them as though he’d forgotten they were there. He let out a deep breath and beckoned them to follow him.
As they walked through the village, Joe flicked glances at his brother’s profile. The rigid set of his lips and the high protruding cheeks beneath his eyes spoke of his fear over what had become of his family. In the ten days they’d been reunited with him, Adam had had but one goal: to get back to his wife and daughter. His family had been a lure, slowly but surely drawing him towards them. Only, when Adam had reached the place where the bait should have been, it had not been there. They had not been there. As he led his brothers through the village, Adam was deaf to his brothers’ questions and his eyes stared into the distance without seeing. It took Hoss nudging an elbow in his ribs to bring him back to the present. Adam blinked absently before his cheeks dimpled in a resigned smile and once more he acknowledged them and the villagers who waved in his direction.
Adam led Hoss and Joe directly to a tepee where the woman who had greeted Adam earlier was sitting, stirring a pot over a fire. Adam introduced Luyu to his brothers. Although wary at first, she soon warmed to Hoss’s kind sky-blue eyes. She knew from Liwanu’s description that this was the gentle brother. “You are the brother who is at peace when he is among the trees and by the rivers.” Hoss’s head had waggled on his neck. “Aw shucks, ma’am, what’s my older brother been tellin’ you about me?” Luyu directed him to a place by the entrance to her lodge, sitting him down with a firm pressure on his arm, and dropped to her haunches beside him. She looked towards Adam, who was greeting a handful of villagers that had wandered over. “Liwanu would not talk of you, any of you, for many seasons. His heart was filled with a sorrow so dark the light within him almost died.” Luyu looked back to Hoss. “But your brother’s spirit is strong. And when he could talk of you, he spoke with great love.” She rose to her feet and stepped back to her cooking pot. Hoss looked over at Adam. It seemed he learned something new about him every day, and darn, if hearing what Luyu said didn’t bring a tear to his eye.
Little Joe was oblivious to his middle brother’s emotions. He was surrounded by children who seemed to appear from nowhere to grab at his hat, reach up to touch his thick wavy hair or tentatively run their fingers over his holstered gun. He was dragged to a space between two lodges where the children insisted he play a game with them. After some tussling when it was clear the children were fighting over whose side Joe would be on, he was tugged over to sit with a small group of boys. They all watched attentively as a larger boy on the other side took two small bones, one marked, one plain, and put them in his hands. He swayed, jumped, moved his hands quickly, all the while trying to obscure which hand had the marked bone. After a while he was still, and Joe’s team had to guess which hand held the marked bone. When they were successful, there was much cheering and clapping on backs. It was then their turn to try and trick the opposition.
During the game, Joe found his eyes wandering to his elder brother. He couldn’t help but frown at how relaxed Adam appeared to be with the villagers. For the last ten days Adam had been tense. There had never seemed to be a moment—except when on horseback—when his back and shoulders hadn’t been stiff, or his expression stern. But now, his whole posture seemed to have eased. Joe watched as Adam rested his forearms on the corral, his head angled towards the Ute Joe now knew was called Hanska. He saw another man approach and break into their conversation. Adam rose out of his lean, put a friendly hand on the man’s back and walked with him towards a nearby tepee. There, he dropped to his rump, cross-legged, and chatted away with the family who lived there. Joe couldn’t help but feel a stab of jealousy at the easy-going camaraderie he was sharing with the people around him; a harmony and lack of reserve he was struggling to regain with his own brothers.
Joe’s thoughts were so far away that it took several nudges from the surrounding children before he could pull his attention back to the game at hand. He laughed and smiled with them, but his smile would wane when his eyes wandered to his older brother.
It was with a heavy sigh that Joe flopped down next to Hoss.
Hoss turned an eye briefly towards him, taking in the frown that had settled across Joe’s forehead. “What’s on ya mind, little brother?”
Joe was still staring towards Adam, who had wandered down to the far end of the village. Hoss followed his gaze.
“Adam seems very at home here.” Joe’s voice was quiet.
Hoss nodded. “Sure does. From what little I seen, these look like good people.”
“So what’s eatin’ at ya?”
Joe pulled his eyes from Adam and dropped his head. “It’s just…” he sighed and threw another glance towards where Adam was standing. “Sometimes he’s Adam, he’s my brother, but more often he’s this other guy, he’s this…Liwanu. I don’t think we ever truly got him back.”
Hoss picked at the grass at his feet. “Thing is, little brother, when we found him, we all thought everything would go back to the way it was before. Too much has happened though, ‘specially to Adam, so it ain’t never gonna be like it was. We jus’ gotta try and accept him the way he is now. It won’t be easy, but that’s just the way it is.”
They both stared after their older brother, lost in their own thoughts until Hoss broke the silence.
“I guess he’s so deep into these people now that we’re more strangers to ‘im than they are.”
“That’s what I don’t understand, Hoss. He was here for less than two years, but he was a Cartwright for far, far longer. How can one person change so much in such a short space of time?”
Hoss frowned as though contemplating Joe’s question.
“You know, our brother has always been pretty restless.” Hoss snorted gently. “I guess that’s what comes from spending your childhood in a wagon, travellin’ from town ta town. It always seemed to me like he was searchin’ for somethin’, searchin’ but not findin’.” He paused and looked over at his younger brother. “Mebbe, jus’ mebbe, he’s finally found what it is he was lookin’ fer.”
And with that Hoss heaved himself to his feet using his brother’s shoulder as a crutch and made his way over to the cooking fire, a smile widening his face as he smelt the food being prepared for the evening’s meal.
They left early the next morning negotiating the trail that would eventually lead them to the site of the lower village. They weren’t alone, however. As the brothers arrived at the corral to ready their horses, they found three men waiting for them, already astride their mounts. Hanska nodded to Adam, who turned to Hoss and Joe. “Looks like we’re going to have some company; they’re good men.” He pointed to the sturdy Ute who had greeted Adam the previous day. “You’ve met Hanska. The other men are Akando and Okomi.” Adam turned back to Hanska. “Does Otetiani know you’re coming?” The Ute’s pony sidestepped beneath him. “Otetiani, he waits too long. I would have left many moons ago.” Adam sighed. “In other words, he doesn’t know.” He turned to his brothers, shaking his head. “Let’s get moving.”
Not long after the visit to Otetiani’s lodge, and while Joe’s attentions had been occupied by the swarm of children, Adam had been reunited with his beloved Sport. The animal had been corralled with the other Indian ponies for the month Adam had been missing. Hoss’s face had broken out into a wide beam at the sight of the chestnut. “Well, I’ll be. I never thought I’d see this ol’ fella again.” The Appaloosa gelding Adam had been riding was moved into the corral with an appreciative slap to his rump. “He did well,” said Adam, “but he ain’t Sport.” So that morning it was the chestnut over whose familiar back Adam threw his saddle. The horse flicked his head; he’d got used to running free without strange apparatus attached to him. “And we’ll have none of that,” reprimanded Adam with a smile quirking his face as he pulled the cinch tight around the animal’s body.
Joe’s conversation with Hoss the previous day had given him much to think about. He had still been mulling over Hoss’s words as Adam had returned to the lodge for the evening meal. Joe had not been able to keep the puzzled expression from his face; it was the same look he had worn as a child whenever he was working through a tough maths dilemma set by one of his teachers. Adam had squeezed himself next to Joe—amongst the gaggle of Cameahwait’s offspring—to eat the meal prepared by Luyu. Much to his amusement Yazhi had assumed her old position, standing between Adam’s knees to pick pieces of food off his plate as if they were her own. Joe observed how comfortable Adam looked with his arm hooked around the young child’s belly, playfully admonishing her for eating his dinner and turning to Adam had said, “You’re really happy here, aren’t you? I think I can see why.” Joe had then turned away to tease one of the young girls sitting next to him. Adam had stared at him, but it was clear that was all Joe was going to say. It was enough for now though. Joe was coming to terms, slowly, with who Adam was.
The men had been on the trail to the low valleys for four days when they encountered signs that made Adam’s blood run cold. Up until then, the journey down had been easy, pleasant even, despite Adam’s obvious deep-etched concern as to the welfare of his wife and child. They’d made good time, riding beneath the cooling boughs of the pines and aspens that littered this side of the mountain and which turned the forest floor into a chequered patchwork of light and shade. Hoss had set traps near the camp on their first night, and the morning after saw the party moving on with two fat rabbits hanging from Hoss’s saddle. The Ute men had silently moved off into the woods returning with several small game birds. They all ate well for the next two nights.
But then they had ridden into a dimly-lit glade, shadowy from an abundance of over-hanging branches and densely bounded by close-growing trees. All the riders had pulled up sharply at the clear signs of disturbance that greeted them. The ground was criss-crossed with wagon tracks and a great many footprints. The men dismounted with a sense of disquiet starting to crawl over their skin. Leaving the horses in the trees and carefully watching where they placed their feet, they moved into the open area. One of the Ute, Okomi, skirted the area and disappeared off into the woods.
Hoss and Joe moved to either side of the clearing, raking over the earth around the trees and under fallen forest debris. Hanska was crouching, his fingers lightly turning over clods of earth. He pointed at a print. “Soft shoes.” He indicated another. “Boots.” Adam lowered himself to Hanska’s side and watched as the Ute peered closely at the ground. “One wagon, but many feet.”
Okomi appeared at the edge of the clearing, drawing their attention away from the mass of footprints. “Our people; they walk this way up the trail.”
Hanska turned back to study the soil. “See here, Liwanu, there is much confusion. Okomi is right. They walked up the trail from that direction,” Hanska swivelled on his heels, pointing to the track leading into the clearing where Okomi still stood, “and they were stopped here. They have turned to face north, south, east, all around. See how the footprints are one on top of the other. Soft shoes here, all together. Hard shoes—like yours—all around them.”
Adam rose numbly to his feet. “Who?”
There was a shout from Hoss. “Soldiers.” He walked over to Adam. “There are spent casings over there.” He held out his hand. Two long metallic cartridges clinked together on his open palm.
Joe joined them. “I’ve got them too. Looks to me like the ammo they use in Springfield rifles.” He looked up and nodded. “Soldiers.”
Adam could only stare at the shiny brass cartridges in Hoss’s hand. He picked one up, turning it over and over in his fingertips. With a sudden burst of speed that surprised them all, he drew his arm back and, with a grunt of effort, propelled the cartridge with as much force as he could muster towards the nearby trees. It fell with a soft muffled thud into the undergrowth. He breathed heavily through his nostrils, trying to calm the growing sense of rage that was threatening to take control of him. He turned to face Hanska. “Is there any sign of anyone being hurt?” He repeated the question in English for his brothers’ benefit. “Is there any sign of blood?” The Ute looked around him, although, he already knew the answer to that question. He replied in English. “No blood.”
Adam took a deep breath. That was something at least. He turned his back on the men who were all watching him intently. He took a few steps away, put his hands on his hips and closed his eyes, striving to harness his raging thoughts. Kia and his child had been taken—captured—by the army. They wouldn’t be harmed, he was sure of it, but their fate was now in the hands of a government that was raging a war against the Indians. He opened his eyes and swung around to face his brothers and the Ute.
“We track them. We find them. We get them back.”
They only had to follow the tracks for a couple of days before Hanska pulled up abruptly.
“I know where they are. This way takes us to the white man’s fort.”
Without the need to constantly study the ground to keep the tracks in sight, the party made swift progress. And with Adam driving them on, barely letting his companions have any time for food or sleep, they reached the vicinity of the post within a couple of hard-ridden days. It was a bad-tempered and irascible group of men who reined their horses to a stop about a mile from where the fort sat basking in the midday heat.
Their first task was to ascertain that the Ute were indeed being held there. The Indians weren’t even considered for the job; it could only be one of the Cartwrights. Adam had one foot in his stirrup, determined that he be the one to go. But Hoss grabbed Sport’s reins to prevent his brother from riding off half-cocked. Much to Adam’s irritation, his brothers decided he might struggle to keep his temper in check if he didn’t get the answers he wanted. With a raised eyebrow and a huffy breath, Adam could only agree with them. And so Joe volunteered. It fulfilled his need to do something, to contribute, to help his brother; up to now he felt he’d been nothing more than a bystander being led hither and thither.
As the rest of the party rode off the main track to find a secluded site where they could wait and rest, Joe continued down the road that led directly to Fort Addington. He rode casually up to the gates, leaning over his saddle pommel to talk to the soldier on duty.
“Sure is a hot one.” Joe removed his hat, and taking a large handkerchief from his back pocket, mopped his forehead and the inside brim of his Stetson.
“Don’t get much hotter. What can I do ya for?”
Joe leaned back. “I was hoping I may be able to water my horse. I’ve been on the road since before light. Poor ol’ Cooch here doesn’t have much left in ‘im.” Joe wasn’t wrong. The long days on the road had exhausted their animals, and, as if on cue, Cochise was hanging his head wearily.
The guardsman eyed Joe and Cochise for a long second. “Sure,” he moved to let Joe pass, “trough’s over yonder.”
Joe flashed his widest, whitest grin at him. “I’m much obliged to you.”
He didn’t want it to look too obvious as he dismounted and walked Cochise slowly across the inner yard, but Joe was scanning every inch of the fort he could see for any sign that a large party of Indians was being kept there. Nothing stood out. He led Cooch to the trough, smiling as the animal dipped his head low and drank deeply. Joe wasn’t lying when he said it was a hot day; he bent over and stuck his head in the lukewarm water. As he straightened, he could feel the refreshing fluid cascade down his neck and back, tickling the skin under his shirt. He gathered Cochise’s reins and walked back to the gate.
“I’m real grateful. Truth is with all this talk of Indians I need Cooch to be able to outrun an arrow if need be.”
“Indians? Whaddya talkin’ about?”
“I heard there were war parties in between here and Fort Gunnison; on account of some Indians being taken by the army.”
The guardsman screwed his face up. “We ain’t heard nuffin about that. Damn, I’d best go tell the cap’n, he’d need to know there’s Injuns up to no good.”
The soldier took a step away from the gate. Joe had to think quickly; otherwise he was in danger of losing a potential source of information. He moved in front of the man, blocking his path.
“Look, I’ve been on part of that road for best part of the morning and I’ve not seen hide or hair of any Indians. I expect its trouble-makers stirring up trouble against you fellas.”
“Well thing is they ain’t wrong. We’ve got a whole pack of them savages locked up in the stockade.” The guardsman’s eyes grew wide. “Goddamn, I ain’t supposed to tell no one that. You don’t tell no one I told you.”
Joe adopted his most innocent expression; the one he’d used so successfully on many an occasion with Hoss. “I won’t tell a soul. Besides, I’ve got no one to talk to but my horse.”
The guardsman grinned. “It’s been more trouble than it’s worth having them Injuns here. I heard tell they spit on anyone who goes to give them their grub. And you gotta keep a close watch on ‘em when ya in the cell with ‘em else they’d be like to scratch your eyes out. One of them started chantin’ when Harry Tyce went in and now he says he’s broken out in hives. Reckon he’s been hexed.”
Joe nodded throughout the man’s account; his eyes widening in all the right places. “I heard the women are the worst.”
“I don’t know about that. This lot came in with a woman and her kid, and she ain’t been no trouble to no one.”
It took all of Joe’s willpower not to whoop at the news Adam’s wife and child were here. He managed to keep his expression blank. “Well, I wish you luck. Hopefully you won’t get much more trouble from those heathens you got here.”
The man nodded. “It won’t be our trouble for much longer. Captain said that tomorra they’s being moved out to a reservation down Boyd’s Creek way. Cain’t come a day too soon if you ask me.”
The wait seemed interminable. Just as the last few days had been.
Adam had always prided himself on being a patient man. Perhaps it came from the never-ending journey across the continent as a child. His father had left Boston when Adam was a mere babe-in-arms, and after several hazardous and harsh years they had finally reached the vibrant country that would become their home. It had taken so long to cross from one side of the land to the other that Adam had grown used to waiting. Waiting to get to the next destination; waiting for food; waiting for his father to return after working from dawn to dusk; waiting for those small treasured birthday and Christmas gifts which he might receive on the day or, as was often the case, a few days later—it all depended on how much money his father had in his pocket at the time. Adam had grown into a man who knew how to wait.
But not now. For the last few days he had been impatient to get to the fort. And now that they were finally here, he was desperate for Joe to return and put him out of his misery. Were Kia and Mimiteh finally within spitting distance of him? Adam had driven his companions—and their horses—hard. When the need to follow the tracks was no longer a necessity, Adam had been loath to halt for any breaks except to briefly water the horses and to sleep for a couple of hours at night. There had been raised voices, strong words between the brothers. The Ute stayed out of it; their smaller Indian ponies had more stamina than the larger animals ridden by the Cartwrights.
But they had arrived; and in good time. Now, all Adam could do was pace around the wooded embankment that was their provisional camp. He stalked the perimeter and criss-crossed the area where the Ute were crouching and Hoss had settled back against his saddle. He constantly found himself gazing down the road towards the fort, impatient for that first glimpse of Joe’s pinto riding into view.
It was at one of these frequent visits to stare with scowling eyes down the road that he saw a figure against the skyline, about a quarter mile away. It was a man standing next to his mount and he too was staring keenly towards the fort. The horse was an Indian pony and Adam could tell, even from a distance, the man was riding bareback. He was recognisably Indian, though, Adam couldn’t discern the tribe. He was about to call Hanska over to look, when the man sprang lightly onto his pony’s back and put a hat on his head. The hat stood tall, like a gentleman’s top hat. And then Adam was running—sprinting past the startled men scrambling to their feet—and throwing himself onto Sport. Reacting immediately to his master’s fierce kick and growled ‘yah’, Sport bounded into an immediate gallop and the two were tearing down the road towards the distant rider before Hoss had even heaved his saddle off the ground.
Hoss started to lumber over to Dandy but was halted by Hanska calling his name from where he had taken up Adam’s old position. He dropped the saddle and trotted over to where Hanska was staring towards a distant figure on horseback, silhouetted against the sky. A dust trail was drawing closer to the lone rider, raised by Adam who was hidden from view behind a low ridge. Hanska pointed to the horseman. “Matwau.” Hoss watched as the figure suddenly glanced behind him and with a kick to his pony, wheeled the animal down the side of the small hill and out of sight.
“Liwanu must have his revenge on the man who wanted to kill him.”
Hanska turned and sat back down on the ground, seemingly unconcerned; his companions settled next to him. Hoss could only stand and watch the dust-trails fading into the distance, at a loss as to whether to stay or follow. But then he thought of what Hanska had said, and even though it went against everything he had ever been taught, he knew this was his brother’s fight alone. Hoss lowered himself to the ground and leant back against a tree. He now had two brothers out there alone. He tried not to worry—they could take care of themselves—but Hoss couldn’t help but be concerned. As long as Joe didn’t say something stupid to find himself in trouble, then he should be back soon. But Adam was another matter. Hoss had seen Adam’s face as he had run past him, and Hoss knew someone was about to get hurt. He prayed it wouldn’t be Adam. With nothing else for him to do, he pulled his hat over his eyes, crossed his arms over his chest and settled back to wait.
Adam might have been in hot pursuit of the man who had turned his life upside down, but the ride was exhilarating. The country surrounding Fort Addington largely comprised soft undulating hills, littered with groves of gambel oak and dense stands of rabbitbrush. The road was an old Indian trail carved into the landscape by thousands of years of foot-tread. Long stretches were relatively flat and Adam was able to give Sport his head. The horse’s hooves thundered along the track, a blinding whirl of speed and movement. Sport was at full stretch, his breathing loud and rapid to take in the air to expand his massive lungs. Adam held the reins high against his chest and was in danger of losing his hat as the air rushed past his head. He felt invigorated, and despite his worries over Kia and the danger of the immediate task at hand, he found himself grinning and whooping with the giddiness of the ride.
Ahead of him he could see Matwau, leaning low over his pony’s neck and riding as though his very life depended on it. But Sport was a big animal and his long strides were making up lost ground as they started to close the gap on the smaller pair in front. Matwau suddenly veered off the road, driving his pony up the bank of a small elevation. Adam followed, leaning low over Sport’s neck as the animal plunged up the rise. They scaled the top, both horse and rider breathing hard from exertion. Adam pulled Sport to a stop, peering around for Matwau who had disappeared from sight. But there, there he was. Matwau was racing down an old dry stream bed between two rises. Adam wheeled Sport down to follow. Ahead of Matwau he could see a massive uprising of rock, standing alone in the landscape like a sentinel. His quarry disappeared into the narrow ravines and crevices that riddled the base.
Adam paused before entering. Raising his head, he took in the towering oppressive mass that leaned over him. The mark of the bison on his chest started to tingle and he reached up absent-mindedly to scratch it. Adam pressed his heels against Sport’s belly to edge him forward. The animal stamped his foot and flicked his head, refusing to move. Adam pressed harder and the horse reluctantly stepped into the sun-striped silence of a narrow-sided gully. The lack of any sound was unnerving. The pursuit had been an assault of rushing noise and thundering hooves on Adam’s ears, but now, there was nothing. He brought Sport to a stop and strained to hear any sign of a horse and rider ahead of him. The silence was deafening. There was not a bird chirrup, or scurry of lizard feet on rock, or the whisper of the air’s breath through the plants that clung limpet-like to the face of the monolith. And as Adam looked around he became aware of drawings on the rocks. High up—in places which seemed inaccessible to man and creature alike—were images of bison, deer and fish; red riders on horseback with bows and spears; slithering giant snakes. And everywhere, high and low, were the faded red handprints of ancestors who had departed to the spirit world a thousand years before. This was a sacred place. Only the dead resided here.
He brought his attention back to his reason for being there, and nudged Sport further down the narrow gully. He had to duck low beneath an overhanging rock but when he straightened up on the other side, he saw the gully had widened. He stopped again, his face creasing with concentration as he strained to hear any sounds to signal where Matwau may be.
There was a movement. Adam’s head flicked up to his right. A figure flew through the air, knocking him out of his saddle. Sport snorted, his front legs rising a few inches off the ground in panic. He bolted forward, coming to a nervous rest a few feet away. Adam hit the ground with a sharp exhalation of air, but rolled quickly, coming to his feet a short distance from Matwau. Adam grabbed for the deadly Indian blade he wore strapped to a sheath on his thigh. He saw Matwau was also holding his own knife out ahead of him. The two men circled each other with knees bent, their feet gently caressing the earth; each foot placed with meticulous care as they edged around the rocky ravine. Adam knew no action would be taken at that moment, so with one hand he unfastened his gun belt and threw it far out of reach. They continued to circle, never taking their eyes from the other.
“I see the desert killed you, Liwanu. You have risen again as a yellow-eyed devil in white man’s clothing.”
Adam smirked. “The spirits would not let me die, Matwau. They kept me alive so I could find and kill you.”
“It would have been better for you if the desert had claimed your bones. Better for you, and your woman, and the runt that slid from her loins.”
Adam’s nostrils flared slightly but he managed to keep his temper in check. He ignored the man’s jibe. “Where are your cronies, Matwau? You wear the coat of an army officer but I don’t see any men to lead.”
The shiny gold buttons on the Ute’s jacket gleamed as Matwau moved out of the shade and into vivid sunlight. The red and gold braiding and over-sized epaulettes belonged to another time and place, and not on the back of this permanently-enraged Ute Indian. It was wholly incongruous for him to be wearing the attire of a white man, especially given his remarkably vocal views on where the white man fit in the evolutionary scale. But the jacket imbued him with a certain authority, and together with the etchings engraved into his chin, it gave him a fearsome countenance.
“Are you afraid, white man? Do you think my warriors are hiding in the rocks? Perhaps if you slay me, they will take my place and you will not escape here with your scalp still joined to your head.”
They continued to circle, until a thought struck Adam and he stopped, straightening up where he stood. The sudden movement unnerved Matwau, who seemed to drop lower on the spot, his fist loose and limber around his blade.
“What are you doing here, Matwau? Why were you at the fort?”
The confident glint wavered slightly in the Ute’s eyes. And then the answer hit Adam like a gunshot.
“It was you. You betrayed my people to the army.” He took a step forward. “It’s because of you my wife and child are probably locked up in that fort back there.” Adam’s eyes sparked as they narrowed. “Why, why did you do it?”
“Listen to yourself, white dog.” Matwau spat the words at Adam. “You say ‘my people’. They are not your people. Your people are like locusts on the land; they bleed it dry and let it crumble to dust. Your people—”
“What does it matter?” Adam’s voice was high with indignation. Matwau hadn’t denied the accusation, confirming Adam’s conviction that Matwau had been responsible for far worse than trying to kill a single white man. “You betrayed your own kind, you betrayed the Ute. You handed them over to the army!” Adam’s voice was rising in volume. “You know what’ll happen; they’ll be put on a reservation. Your own people, Matwau!” He took another step forward, raising his knife to point it at the man before him. “You are worse than the lowest and most vile of your so-called yellow-eyed devils.”
Matwau didn’t say a word. He stayed on his spot crouched low, his face screwed into a look of such utter contempt that if the piercing blackness in his eyes was a weapon, Adam would have been six-foot under.
Adam’s voice was soft. “Why? Why did you do it?”
The Ute spat. “I’m only sorry the army didn’t take the whole village. I led the soldiers to the lowlands too late.”
Adam’s eyebrows pulled together, his forehead wrinkling in perplexity. “What did they do to you, Matwau, that you hate them so much?”
The Indian straightened slightly. “I do not hate them. Only you, the white man. You claim the ancestral hunting grounds as your own. The land of my village is dying. I must think of my own people. They need trees to make shelter, forest to hunt, water for—”
“Is this all about land?” Adam was incredulous. “You wanted to get rid of my village so you can claim our lands for your own people?” He shook his head. “You are a fool, Matwau. The land belongs to no one; you of all people know that. God, we would have helped you. You only had to lose the pride you wear like a suit of armour and ask. But instead you turned against your own kind.”
“Enough talk!” Matwau swung his blade wide, catching Adam by surprise with the speed of the attack. Adam curved his spine outwards, his arms flying wide to avoid the slashing knife. The blade came at him again. Adam’s balance was off and he again jumped back. Matwau kept moving forward, his lips curled as he bared his teeth like a snarling wolf. Adam had been backed into the rock face behind him. There was nowhere else to go. But then Matwau was distracted. Still crouched like a cat about to catch his prey, the sun glinted sharply off his curved blade. Matwau was blinded for a fraction of a second; but it was all the time Adam needed. With the man’s attention momentarily elsewhere, Adam raised his foot and slammed his heel against Matwau’s knee. The Indian cried out in pain, falling away from him to the ground.
Adam leapt over him into the open space. Matwau was up in no time, one hand massaging his knee, the other brandishing the knife towards Adam. He limped for a couple of steps but then started to dismiss the pain in his leg, smugly tossing the knife from hand to hand. Adam was bent low, his own weapon held out before him. Matwau swung out again and this time Adam parried. There was a clash of metal, a spark flashed as the two blades met with a clang. Adam’s knife flew out of his hand, landing in a puff of sandy dust several feet away.
Matwau smirked and slashed his blade towards Adam once again. But Adam had been watching the Ute’s actions. Matwau had a particular way of slicing the knife through the air. He started low and after a burst of eye-watering speed the blade would have slashed upwards, slowing slightly as he reached the apex of the movement. As the knife reached the height of Adam’s shoulder he lashed out and grabbed the Indian’s wrist, twisting Matwau’s arm as he did so. The knife dropped from the Indian’s splayed fingers. Before the Ute could react, Adam twisted his back into Matwau’s chest. Still holding tight to the man’s wrist, Adam yanked him over his shoulder to land with a thud on the earth.
There was an ominous and unpleasant crack as Matwau hit the earth. Adam scrambled around, grabbing for Matwau’s knife. As he straightened, blade in hand, he saw the Ute lay unmoving where he had landed. Adam approached cautiously; suspicious it was a ruse to draw him near. He crouched on one knee besides the body and gently moved Matwau’s head from side to side. There was no breath, no rise and fall in his chest. Matwau was dead, his neck snapped from where he fell.
Adam rose to his feet and stared at the body for a few moments. He felt nothing. Not gratification that the man who had taken him from his wife was now dead; not sorrow at what he had done; certainly not pleasure. He felt numb, as if a chapter in his life was now closed.
Matwau’s mount must be nearby. So after a moment to secure Sport to a straggly shrub and to retrieve his knife and gun belt, Adam went looking for the hidden animal. After a few minutes of perusing the ground for tracks, he found the pony chewing on a patch of foliage which had found life amongst the hostile rocks. Adam untethered the animal’s simple rein from where it was tied and led it back to the wide gully. He deliberated whether to heave Matwau’s body onto the pony’s back and return to his brothers with the Indian in tow; but after staring at Matwau for a few moments, he decided there was nowhere better for the man’s body than this silent necropolis of souls. Adam went on another exploration and eventually found what he was looking for. He manoeuvred Matwau’s body onto the back of the pony and led it to a low overhanging slab of rock, suspended a couple of feet above the earth. With difficulty, Adam managed to squeeze himself under the rock and pull Matwau along with him. Shuffling over the body so he was on the entrance side, he picked up the man’s limp arm and closed Matwau’s fingers around the hilt of the dead man’s knife. He then positioned Matwau’s hands over his chest, pushed his feet together, straightened his head and slid out from under the overhang. Adam then lugged as many loose rocks as he could to the entrance to conceal the body and keep the scavengers from having their way.
Then—and for a long time Adam would wonder why he did this—he took his own knife and cut across the palm of his hand. He let the blood well to the surface and pool in the centre of his palm. Rubbing his hands together, he made sure they were covered liberally in blood. And then, with a prayer to the Great Spirit, Adam pressed his palm against the overhang, leaving a red imprint of his hand above the body of the man who had wanted nothing more than to kill him.
Adam gathered the pony’s reins and returned to where Sport was secured. The animal was tense, his ears flicking backwards and forwards as though he could sense the ghosts and lost souls who resided in this sacrosanct place. A penetrating silence had once more settled over the rocks; the dust settling after the violence of the previous hour. Adam mounted and pulling the reins of the small Indian pony behind him, he rode out of this repository of the dead and back to a world of life, and hope.
Joe was brooding. Adam knew the signs well. He watched his little brother pacing backwards and forwards in the small embankment, his head down and his teeth gnawing at the thumbnail between his lips.
On Adam’s arrival back at the wooded enclosure where they had secreted themselves, he had found Joe sitting with Hoss, looking somewhat pleased with himself. Hanska had risen to his feet in a seamless flow, eager to hear news of what had occurred with Matwau. But Adam had ignored him and walked straight to Joe, dropping to his heels in front of him. At the news the Ute were in the fort, and most particularly that a woman and child were part of the group, Adam had dropped his head briefly as relief flooded through him. He had squeezed Joe’s knee in thanks before rising, suddenly weary, to his feet. He had wanted nothing more than to lie down and close his eyes, if only for a few moments. But Hanska had pressed him to speak of Matwau, eager to hear of Adam’s encounter. On learning of Matwau’s betrayal, Hanska’s face had darkened with rage and he’d spat sharply. The three Ute had turned as though heading to their horses but Adam had stayed them in their tracks when he bluntly told them Matwau was dead. Hanska’s growing rage had immediately evaporated. And after a brisk nod to Adam, he had sat back down, the subject closed.
Knowing the Ute were being taken in the direction of Boyd’s Creek meant there was no need to trail the column to wherever they were being taken. Instead it was decided to ride ahead of them and then rescue the Ute when the time was right. However, there was one part of the plan Joe objected to.
“What is it, Joe?” It was difficult to hide the tired tone in Adam’s voice.
Joe’s pacing continued until he came to a halt with his back to the small group of men. He turned and walked stiff-legged over to Adam, his gaze fixed on the ground as he approached.
“Your plan…” Joe trailed off, anger threatening to consume his ability to piece a sentence together.
“The plan is agreed—”
“Your plan is lousy!”
“We’ve been over this again and again.”
“You have Adam, but I never agreed to it!”
“There is no other way to—”
“There is no other way because you won’t let us help you. You’ll let them,” he pointed towards the small knot of Indians who were seated calmly on the hard earth, “but not me and Hoss. You’re leaving us out in the cold.”
Adam rose easily to his feet and in two quick paces he was in front of Joe. His voice dropped to a low, insistent tone, indicative of the frustration simmering below the surface.
“Joe, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times. We’re going up against the army. If you’re caught you’ll end up in one of the cells at that fort back there and they won’t look too kindly on someone who is helping to set a bunch of Indians loose. You’ll be up in front of a judge and locked up for who knows how long. Maybe worse. I can’t…I won’t…risk something like that happening to you.”
“I’m not a little kid who needs to be mollycoddled.”
“I’m not mollycoddling you; I’m keeping you out of harm’s way.”
“It’s the same thing!” Joe glared deeply into his brother’s eyes before breaking away. “We can help.” Joe implored in a voice so low it was almost a whisper.
Adam grabbed his little brother’s upper arms. “You will be helping. By staying out of sight, by keeping a watch on what’s going on. And if anything should happen to me, or any of the others, then you get Kia and my daughter away.” Adam’s grip was painful on Joe’s arms. “I’m relying on you, Joe. You get my family away and you keep them safe, you hear me?”
The side of Joe’s mouth twitched, and he nodded. He brought his forearms up to grasp his brother’s. “I hear you.”
Adam breathed a sigh of relief and briefly let his head fall limp on his neck. With a slap on Joe’s cheek he turned to the rest of the men. “Okay, let’s move. They’re gonna head for Boyd’s Creek so we know the route they’ll be on. We get ahead of them, we get the lay of the land and we stay hidden.” He paused and looked towards his Indian friends. He addressed them in Ute. “And then we’ll get our people back.”
The men awoke two mornings later when the new day was but a few hours old. It was gloomy in the rocky clearing where the men had made their camp the previous day; the only light issued from the tiny fire built into a hastily built hole in the ground. The sky was an oppressive black shroud alive with a swirling grey mass of cloud that blocked the fading stars from their view.
It had taken a day and a half for the small group to reach a rocky, steep-sided canyon. The trail they hoped the soldiers would take snaked through the canyon for a good quarter mile. It was the most direct way from the fort to Boyd’s Creek and all hopes were pinned on the army using the easiest and quickest course. The top of the canyon was a jumble of boulders and rocks which provided ample hiding places for themselves and their horses. After they had secured their animals they had settled down to watch the road as it stretched out behind them.
Adam had been unable to relax. He was usually the calmest member of a posse or hunting gang. But not this time. Too much was at stake for him to be able to sit and patiently wait. He couldn’t slow his breathing and his chest rose and fell quickly as the minutes, then an hour and then several hours passed. His leg jiggled with nervous energy as time seemed to drag. He had almost given up hope and had dropped his head into his hands in despair that they had picked the wrong route when Akando, who had been picketed further up the canyon, made Adam jump by appearing silently at his side. He pointed down the trail. It was hard to make out, but there on the horizon was a cloud of dust which was steadily moving towards them. After several minutes when it seemed as though all time and movement had slowed to a crawl—during which Adam’s taut body had leaned towards the distant dust-cloud, his eyes straining to see—a caravan of slow-moving wagons appeared. There were three of them, each pulled by a team of four mules, and each wagon canopy was marked with two letters—US.
Adam let out a puff of relief. However, he couldn’t keep from frowning. He had expected to see wagons, but was surprised that he couldn’t see the Ute Indians walking besides them. His heart sank. Did this mean they’d followed the wrong transport?
As the wagon train moved nearer, they ducked their heads to the ground, or behind the rocks, to stay hidden. Adam edged himself a few inches forward to try and make out what—or who—was in the wagons.
The first wagon was manned by two soldiers, sitting up high on the wagon’s seat. The driver, as lead muleteer guiding the train, had his eyes pinned on the road, for where he led, the others would follow. His mate scanned the rocks and trees, always alert for any trouble. What was in their wagon, Adam wouldn’t know until it had passed beneath them, so he moved his gaze to the middle wagon.
This vehicle was flanked by two men on horseback and that immediately raised Adam’s interest. The muleteer sat straight-backed whilst his companion looked as though he was sitting on a knife-edge. The guard’s head flicked towards the slightest movement and he kept his rifle grasped tightly to his chest. Adam wondered how sweaty the man’s palms were as they clutched the rifle’s stock and barrel as though it were a lifeline. Adam was sure this was the wagon that held his family. As he watched it move beneath him, he found one of his hands unconsciously scratching at the tattoo etched onto his upper chest. He didn’t need confirmation of what was in there. He knew.
The final wagon was suddenly unimportant to him, but Adam couldn’t help but notice the two men who sat in the wagon’s seat. The driver sat slumped forward, resting his elbows on his knees, the reins held loosely between his legs. His companion was just as nonchalant; sitting back against the canopy support with his cap pulled low over his eyes. With a rifle nestled loosely in his lap, he was clearly not anticipating trouble of any sorts. Adam watched as one of the horsemen glanced backwards over his shoulder and then sharply wheeled his mount around to draw level with the two men. They were undoubtedly reprimanded. There was much hand-gesturing and pointing towards the surrounding country on the part of the horseman, and begrudgingly the two indolent men straightened up, pushed their caps back and made an effort to look more alert. As the man on horseback rode back to his position by the middle wagon, the driver spat into the road and made an obscene gesture which his companion laughed at.
Adam’s attention was now drawn to the man who was apparently in charge. He sat easily in his saddle, and from the few moments Adam observed him he could tell he was a skilled horseman; his animal reacted to a slight touch of the knee, or flick of the wrist. It was as though they were welded together. But whether the authority he exerted on his horse reached his men was another matter. Having witnessed the demeaning gestures that had occurred when the man’s back was turned Adam surmised he didn’t hold a lot of respect with some of his men. It had been hard to tell from where he was, but he guessed the officer was a young man who had yet to learn how to deal with an older, and more experienced, recruit. The second horseman was an unknown quantity; he was more or less out of sight behind the middle wagon and Adam witnessed no interaction between him and the other men.
As the wagons passed beneath them, each man barely breathed, so vital was it that they not give away their position. As the wagons lumbered and creaked their way down the trail, Adam became aware of more heads popping up next to him, all straining to see what the convoy was carrying. The first wagon seemed to hold boxes and crates, as did the last wagon. But Adam’s instincts about the middle wagon had been correct. The canopy flap had been loosely secured together to hide the contents, and it had flapped incessantly with the motion of the wagon. But as the train was edging around the trail and was about to move out of sight, a black-haired head edged the flap to one side briefly as if to take a gulp of air. The leading horseman barked a command at the figure who moved back into the confines of the interior; but it was enough. Adam now knew for certain the wagon was carrying a group of Indians, and his gut told him Kia and Mimiteh were among them.
As the train rolled around the bend in the track, Adam backed away from the canyon’s edge and looked at his companions. His face held a look of grim determination and an underlying anger which smouldered in his dark olive eyes.
Joe frowned and moved forward onto one knee from where he was sitting back on his ankles. “How d’ya know? They could have anyone in the back of that wagon.”
The itch on Adam’s chest started to prickle again and he moved his hand up to scratch at the tattoo. He found the irritation on his skin strangely comforting. “Trust me, Joe, it’s them.”
Joe sat back and cast a wary glance at Hoss. But Hoss’s eyes were glazed, his pupil’s twitching as he starred into space, a frown drawing his eyebrows low.
Adam could see that Joe doubted his certainty but he was too focused on what lay ahead to waste his breath convincing his doubting Thomas of a brother. Though, in Joe’s place, Adam knew he’d be feeling exactly the same. Adam had offered no proof, simply his word. No white man would believe him if he told that an animal spirit guide was leading him towards Wanekia; that his tingling tattoo was a sign from the great bison. So he had chosen not to offer an explanation. Instead he looked towards Hoss who had shifted forward slightly and was opening his mouth to speak. Adam felt grateful for Hoss’s unknowing intervention into a conversation he didn’t want to have.
“Why were they in a wagon? Pa said when the militia moved the Cherokees to Indian Territory they made ‘em walk at gunpoint.”
“I don’t know, Hoss, but something isn’t right. They’re being kept hidden for a reason.”
“Why would they hide them? The army’s never made a secret of when they’re moving Indians to reservations. Dadburnit, most of the time they’re proud of the fact.”
“Whatever the army’s intention, it’s all the more imperative that we get them outta there and back where they belong.”
Hoss’s countenance lightened. “I counted eight o’ them and there’s six of us. We can do this, we can get your little gal back.” Hoss was unable to keep the grin from his lips. “We’ll give those meddlin’ low-down critters what for.” The three Ute warriors shared Hoss’s grin, nodding to themselves at the prospect of the up-and-coming scrap. But Adam didn’t share their enthusiasm. He turned to the Ute and spoke directly to them in their language.
Hanska’s expression darkened. “You cannot ask us to keep from slaying the white dogs who have taken our people.” He shifted onto one knee and leaned in towards Adam. “These are the devils who took your own wife and child! They should be left to die slowly on the burning sands with their guts open for the desert rats to feed on!” Hanska’s nostrils flared as he snarled his words at Adam. The knife from his sheath was suddenly in his hand but he turned it inwards towards his own stomach and with a slash downwards intimated what he would do to the soldiers if he laid his hands on them. “I would cut out the heart of each man and eat it while he watched!” He jumped to his feet and in his rage hurled the knife end-over-end into a lone pine that had managed to seed itself on the barren rock; the blade buried itself deep in the trunk as Hanska turned from the small huddle of men.
Adam leapt to his feet and pulled the irate Ute around to face him, his eyes blazing streaks. “And so it goes on. They take our people, so we kill them in retaliation.” Adam wasn’t aware he was instinctively referring to himself as Ute; that his own brothers could now be termed as ‘them’. “And then what will the army do? They’ll come after us again and again, until there are no more Ute left to…” Adam dropped his head and turned away briefly, unable to look at the fiery warrior before him. But after a few moments during which he could feel Hanska’s gaze boring into him, he reached out his hand and cupped the man’s neck, pulling him closer.
“Hanska, my friend, think of the river flowing beneath the high village; of standing for hours waiting for fat trout to swim beneath our feet and then flicking them out of the water on to the bank. And our wives frying them with sunflower seeds until the smell would tempt everyone to the fire, their mouths watering and hungry to eat. Remember the joy of the hunt, high above the village; of stalking a lean mule deer and taking it down with a single shot. The village would eat well for days after. And think of our children, able to run free along the river and in the forest and through the lowland valleys, learning the skills needed to be a warrior. It’ll all be gone, Hanska, gone. If we start a war with the army, they’ll hunt us down and make us live on a barren reservation, away from the ancestral hunting grounds, away from the life-giving water and the shelter of the trees.” Adam’s hand gripped Hanska’s neck tightly. “It’s why we can’t kill the men who have our people.”
Adam let go of Hanska and turned to the rest of the party, addressing them all in his own English tongue. “We don’t kill them. We go in, get our people; with any luck without them even knowing we were there. But if we have to, we knock them out, tie them up, whatever we need to do. But we don’t kill.”
“But, Adam, what’ll happen if they capture you or one o’ ya fellas there? I cain’t see them as being so forgivin’. And you say you don’t want me and Little Joe caught; but what about you?”
“Well, I’ll just have to make sure they don’t catch me, won’t I?”
He turned back towards Hanska, reverting easily back to the Ute language. “Those men down there, they have our people. And I know you want to hurt them. But we kill them and we’ll have more deaths on our hands than just those soldiers.”
He was met with silence and glares from the angry warriors; so keen were they to earn another symbol on their body to mark the death of an enemy. Joe and Hoss remained crouched against the hot earth, but it wasn’t difficult to read the misgiving impressed upon their faces.
Adam stared around at each man in turn, and blew a harsh breath out through his nose. “We’ve discussed this enough. Let’s get moving.”
The buoyant mood of the group had been obliterated in an instant. The three Ute Indians wanted nothing more than to punish the people responsible for stealing away their loved ones. And if that punishment meant taking lives, then they had no qualms about doing so. And his brothers were understandably annoyed about being left out of the immediate fight. They wanted to back Adam up, to help him, and they felt being left on the sidelines was a mistake. Joe wanted proof the wagon train did indeed hold Adam’s wife and child; and Hoss was fretting about the ramifications of what would follow after the scrap. Adam knew he was right, however, on all counts. He couldn’t see beyond the approaching fight, but his mind was more than open to the potential consequences. Involving Hoss and Joe in the rescue could lead to them being tracked down by the army and severely penalised. But even more catastrophic would be to slay the soldiers like they were rats in a barrel. Adam would do anything to get his family back, but he certainly wasn’t prepared to start a war. He could only hope that he had drummed it into the stubborn heads of his Ute friends that dispatching the soldiers to their maker would be an impending disaster.
In the subdued light of the early morning each man went about his business, lost in his private preparations for the task ahead. They were camped about a mile away from where the army transport had bivouacked for the night. The small group of Indians had spent the previous evening in prayer. With the need to stay unnoticed by the wagon train, the Ute had been unable to pray to the spirits with the full passion and energy they would otherwise have done. The chanting and drumming they desired was instead supplanted by quiet intense prayers around the campfire. Adam and his brothers had stayed hidden in the darkness, observing the rituals. Unbeknownst to Hoss and Joe, Adam had also prayed to the spirits. The night was so complete, they couldn’t see him close his eyes and repeat the quietly spoken prayers of his Indian companions.
As Hoss quietly cleaned up the camp, Joe sat in the light of the dim fire, checking his rifle and ammunition. He might not be able to join in the actual rescue, but he sure as dammit was going to be ready for anything that might occur. He noticed Adam wander off with the Ute in the direction of the burgeoning sunrise. The sun was still hidden behind the distant hills, though a grey light preceded its arrival. Joe noticed that Adam was clutching his saddle bags as he followed the Indians behind a muddle of fallen boulders. He frowned, wondering what fresh surprise his brother had up his sleeve.
Joe was still struggling. He had been reunited, against all odds, with his lost brother. But he might as well have been brought together with a stranger. There were times when the old Adam shone through: a familiar look in his eyes; the way he had of squeezing the bridge of his nose when he was irritated, or plain amused; the slow way he would raise a cup to his lips with both hands and gently raise the vessel to drink. Oh yes, the Adam he knew was still there. But Joe could also see that Adam had been altered by his time with the Ute. He had been so closed off at first, clearly consumed with emotions he was unwilling to share. Then, as his brother seemed to be slowly returning to them, they had arrived in the Ute village, and Adam had changed before his eyes. Joe noticed a more openly demonstrative side to Adam. He exhibited an immediate warmth towards the villagers that had been largely lacking in his interactions with his brothers in the days leading up to their arrival at the village. Joe couldn’t help but feel hurt, and, if he was to honestly admit it, he felt a little left out.
He stayed beside the fire on the pretence of going over his weaponry one last time. In matter of fact, he was keeping a close eye on the boulders behind which Adam had disappeared, desperate to know what was going on there. His attention was caught briefly by the arrival of Hoss, who had been saddling their horses. He hunkered down next to Joe, his hands held out to the fire to combat the chill of the early morning.
“Adam’s with the Indians, behind those rocks.” Joe couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice as he nodded in the direction Adam had taken.
Hoss glanced over towards the boulders and back at Joe. He saw his little brother’s eyebrows drawn low over his eyes; his forehead creased in a low simmering resentment towards…what? Hoss didn’t know.
“Ah, Joe, would ya stop ya bellyaching. When are you gonna accept that Adam’s not the same person he was two years ago. The sooner you accept it, the sooner…” Hoss’s words trailed off, because walking towards him was his older brother, his beloved older brother. Only he wasn’t looking at Adam anymore; he was looking at Liwanu.
The Ute warriors accompanying Adam had stripped away their clothing and now wore nothing more than their breechcloths and moccasins. They had painted their bodies and faces in bold yellow and black stripes. And, from the smell of it, they had applied horse fat to their hair to make it stand up in a display fearsome enough to put the fear of God into their enemies.
Adam—or was it now Liwanu—was exposed, from the waist up, to the chill morning air. He had changed into the deerskin leggings he’d been so loath to give up when reunited with his father. A row of brass tacks had been punched into the outer seam from hip to foot, and they glistened in the illumination from the tiny fire. He carried his boots in one hand; his feet now enshrouded by malleable and silent moccasins. Joe and Hoss stared in stunned astonishment as they saw for the first time how lean Adam had become whilst away from them. Gone were the heavy shoulder and back muscles and his once solid arms. It was now possible to make out the outline of his ribs and his once slightly curved abdomen was a hard, flat show of muscle. His arm muscles were long and sleek. But it wasn’t the difference in his body which made Hoss and Joe gape. No, without knowing it, both were thinking the same thing: that there was nothing left of their brother in the man standing before them. Like the Ute, Adam’s torso was streaked in thick black and yellow stripes. His bison head tattoo was a bold statement on the upper left of his chest. He had pulled his hair loose of the rawhide binding it together and his face was a fearsome mask of paint. A black band was smeared over his eyes and the whites of his eyes flashed in the grey light.
Joe’s voice was soft. “Why, Adam?”
A hand adorned with thin black stripes came to rest on Joe’s shoulder. “Remember what I told you, Joe. Nï’ara Nuuch. If I have to fight to get my family back, then I fight as a Ute.”
He squeezed Joe’s shoulder as he passed, pausing for an almost imperceptible moment, and turned towards the horses. The three Ute were already on horseback, and Adam mounted up with a light spring. Hoss glanced quickly at Joe and then followed Adam to the horses. Joe stood for a few more moments before moving to stamp out the fire. He no longer felt any anger. In its place he felt a crushing sadness envelop him. He knew now his brother was lost to them forever, and that this time there wasn’t going to be a miraculous recovery.
The first two men were easy to dispatch. They had been standing one on either side of the transport’s camp, staring out into the subdued light. One had propped his musket against his leg as he blew hot air into his hands, rubbed them together and then pressed them closely under his armpits. Stamping his feet and swaying from side to side, he had reached down to pick up his rifle when a force hit him across the back of the head. He was lowered to the ground by a strong pair of hands. He hadn’t seen or heard the silent warrior who, with his body bent low to the ground, had crept up behind him and then caught him as he fell. Okomi, the youngest Ute in Adam’s party, made sure the man was completely out. He then claimed the sentry’s rifle before heading towards the wagon which held the captives.
At the same time as that soldier was being dealt with, Adam had selected his victim. This man was a lot closer to the wagons than the first, and a lot more jumpy. He paced nervously backwards and forwards, his head swinging sharply around at the slightest sound. Adam guessed it was the man who had been riding support on the wagon that contained the Ute. The man kept his back to the wagons at all times, staring out wide-eyed into the overcast gloom. It was all the opening Adam needed. Bending his knees, he lowered himself slowly to the ground, and keeping one eye on the nervous infantryman, he swept his hand out until he found what he was looking for: a small pebble with enough weight to make it fly. He rose upwards and edged closer towards the lone man. Adam then raised his arm and quickly threw the pebble into a nearby huddle of rocks. He listened for the tiny clatter as the pebble tumbled down amongst the boulders. It had the desired effect. The man swung his rifle in the direction of the sound, his body frozen on the spot.
By now, Adam was only a matter of feet from the sentry. Crouched low on the balls of his feet, all his weight suspended over a single fist placed before him on the ground, he waited for the man to move. His other hand grasped the hilt of the Indian blade he wore in a sheath at his waist. His muscles were tense, his body taut and ready to spring into action. Adam kept his breathing controlled and hushed; his eyes didn’t blink as they stayed pinned to his victim. He was putting into practice everything Cameahwait had told him about hunting; whether it be man or beast, the principles were no different.
And then the man moved: one tentative step towards where he had heard the unsettling sound. He took another step. Adam sprang. With the sentry’s attention fixed on an imaginary danger in front of him, he wasn’t aware of the much greater threat behind. A hand fastened unforgivingly over his mouth and the other was around his chest, pulling him down backwards to the earth. Once the man was flat on his back, Adam shuffled around, his hand still firmly plastered over the sentry’s mouth. He knelt on the man’s chest and with his free hand he grabbed first one floundering arm which he shoved under his knee; then the other arm was similarly captured. He pushed his weight forward securing the sentry against the ground. Then, with a flash of movement—and a resultant sharp intake of hot muffled breath beneath Adam’s palm—the cold Indian blade was pressed against the man’s exposed throat. The piercing steel edge drew a miniscule drop of blood from the sentry’s skin. At the feel of the wet fluid trickling down his neck, the man’s eyes widened into two white spheres, bright in the dimness of the light. His eyeballs raced rapidly as he tried to focus on his assailant.
Adam leant over him, his head only inches away from the frightened soldier’s face. Hot breath from the man’s dilating nostrils puffed rapidly over the back of Adam’s hand as the sentry panicked. Adam shushed him. “Ssssshhh.” And again. “Ssssshhh.” Adam glanced around, making sure his actions had been unobserved. After a minute or so, when no sounds could be heard from the wagons—and during which the sentry’s breathing had slowed a fraction—Adam lifted his blade, flipped it over in his hand and with a force harder than he had intended, whacked the hilt into the soldier’s temple. The man’s eyelids flickered briefly and with a sigh he was unconscious.
There was one last sentry, standing alert and attentive in his position. It had fallen to Hanska to take this man out. It was clear, however, that this soldier wouldn’t be as easy a quarry as the previous two. As Adam jumped to his feet and moved towards the wagons, he could hear scuffling and harsh muted breathing. Adam peered around the edge of the nearest wagon and in the steadily growing light of the dawn he could see two men struggling together, one desperately trying to throw the other off his shoulders. Hanska had his hand over the sentry’s mouth and his other arm clasped around the man’s chest, but whereas Adam’s target had gone down easily, this man was clearly putting up a fight. Both men’s feet were scrapping against the hard earth, sending clouds of dusty sand into the air. Hanska’s legs were being lifted off the ground in the sentry’s attempts to loosen the heavy weight which had fixed itself to his back.
Adam dropped to his haunches and peered through the wagon’s wheels to see whether there was any movement from the inner circle of the camp. He could see blankets being pushed back from a couple of the men. He threw a desperate glance at his friend struggling with the sentry. He twisted on his heels and looked through the vehicles’ wheels towards the wagon he knew housed the captive Indians. He could see bare legs and moccasin-clad feet besides it. If everything was going to plan that should be Akando and Okomi. Adam could see another man, seated with his back up against the front wheel of the wagon. It was a soldier, the man who had been guarding the captives. He wasn’t unconscious though. He had been gagged with his own bandana and tied to the wheel with cords of rawhide. Adam twisted around to look at Hanska again, and to his dismay, he saw the tables had been turned. Hanska was lying on his back with the sentry on top of him clawing at his eyes. There was sudden shouting from the inner encampment and Adam knew for certain they had been discovered.
Adam was ripped in two. His friend was doomed without his help, and yet he also needed to free his wife and child. But then gunshots rang out. He peered quickly around the side of the wagon and could see the sentry was on his feet and dashing towards the safety of the inner circle. Puffs of gun smoke drifted out of the rocky ridge where Hoss and Joe had taken up positions. Hanska jumped to his feet and ran towards Adam. Together they careered around the perimeter of the camp towards the wagon holding the captives. Okomi grabbed the Spencer carbine he’d retrieved from the first sentry and took aim at the men stirring in the camp. Some didn’t have time to grab their weapons; they scrambled to their feet, diving to take cover as far from the ricocheting bullets as possible. But then shots were being fired from the rocky ridge. With bullets coming from two sides, the men swivelled around in the confined space frantically searching for a place to conceal themselves. A couple of soldiers managed to dive into the back of a storage wagon. Others could only throw themselves on the ground and hope the bullets would miss.
In the meantime, Akando had slashed a hole in the canopy of the captives’ wagon. Arms reached up to help the young men who had been sent to look for Adam as they squeezed through the gap. Hanska slashed through the bindings around their wrists as they landed lightly on the sandy earth. They grinned at Adam when they saw who was helping them flee. One of the men who turned to view his liberator widened his eyes with surprise at seeing his friend, Liwanu. It was Nashoba, the Ute who had accompanied Adam on his desert expedition to cleanse him of his white blood. Adam grinned at the man’s shocked expression. “I know, you were sent to rescue me, and I’m rescuing you!” Nashoba grasped his friend’s forearm. “The spirits watch over you, Liwanu.” Then Nashoba was following the other young men to the safety of the rocks. With the soldiers otherwise occupied, the men ran to the rocky ridge, vanishing as quickly as they had appeared amongst the narrow ravines and boulders. Adam pulled himself up the side of the wagon and poked his head into the wagon’s interior. His heart sank. There was no sign of Wanekia or his daughter. And Cameahwait was missing too. As the last young man jumped lightly to the ground, Adam grabbed the top of his arm and swung him around to face him.
“Where’s Wanekia? Cameahwait?”
Okomi had long since run out of ammunition for his carbine and it didn’t take long for the soldiers to realise the firing had stopped from the captives’ wagon. The men who had been weaponless began to dash for their arms. The Ute boy pulled Adam down to the ground as the soldiers started to regroup and return fire in their direction.
“Cameahwait, he would not go without a fight. He was hurt. Wanekia and your child, she stay with him.”
Adam’s expression darkened into a fury. “They’re still at the fort?”
The boy ducked as a bullet glanced off the side of the wagon, burying itself deep into the ground by his feet. He nodded furiously.
“They are back, back, where they keep us prisoner.”
Okomi and Akando had run for the safety of the ridge, leaving only Adam, Hanska and the last Ute boy at the wagons.
“Hanska,” Adam caught his friend’s attention, “tell my brothers to go. Tell them not to wait. All of you, get away from here.” Hanska’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “Go!” Hanska and the boy didn’t move. “Go! Go!” Adam hissed at them. After a short hesitation when Adam gesticulated at them to move, they rose to their feet and ran off in the direction of the rocks; Hoss and Joe’s barrage kept the men in the camp pinned down in the inner circle.
Adam scratched at his tattoo. “Goddam you! You made me believe.” He hung his head, knowing there was only one thing he could do now. Breathing heavily, he heaved himself over to lean against the wagon’s rear wheel. He glanced over at the man still gagged and tied, and couldn’t help but snort at the situation he now found himself in. A wry smile played across his lips.
The firing from the rocky ridge had abated. He could picture his brothers in a state of confusion, wondering why he hadn’t run to the safety of the rocks with the other Indians. He hoped they wouldn’t do anything stupid. A silence fell over the camp. But then a strong voice called out.
“You there! I know you’re there, I can see you. Come out, nice and slowly now.”
Adam stayed where he was. He could see the sun crawling over the distant hills; the greyness of the pre-dawn evaporating in the buttery light of the sunrise. When he had stripped his shirt off that morning, the cold nip in the air had made his skin tighten as goose-bumps had risen over his arms and chest. But it had been fleeting. And as the war paint had been rubbed deeply into his flesh by his Ute brothers, he had no longer felt the chill. Instead his body had seemed to burn with the power of the bison that imbued his soul. Now, lying back against the wagon’s hard spokes, he felt as if he had been manipulated by the Ute’s Great Spirit. It had used the desperate need he had to find his wife and child to serve a purpose: to free the young warriors. But his own sweet family had not been in the wagons. Now Adam felt cold, despite the heat from the fledgling sun. He stayed slumped, squinting against the penetrating brightness.
He heard more voices. “Mebbe he don’t know English. Mebbe he cain’t understand ya, lieutenant.”
Adam could hear feet moving hesitantly towards him. The barrel of a rifle moved slowly into view around the side of the wagon, soon followed by a cautious soldier gripping his weapon tightly in his hands. He inched over to Adam, his rifle aimed squarely and surely at the slumped man. He eyed the Indian knife which lay abandoned by Adam’s side and, edging over, he quickly kicked it out of reach. The soldier called out and then there were men all around Adam, their rifles pointing at his chest and head. With them was the young officer.
“Untie Brewer,” he nodded towards the man still tied and gagged at the wagon wheel. One of the soldiers obliged. He dropped to his haunches in front of Adam. “And now you, sir, why are you still here?” He looked in the direction the escapees had run. “You could have got clean away. You don’t look injured. What’s it all about?”
Adam pulled his gaze away from the brightening vista. The heat was starting to permeate into his bones. He met the officer’s puzzled scrutiny with a tilt of the head as he contemplated the man before him. Just like Dean, Adam thought, recalling the upright young lieutenant who had rescued him from the desert a month earlier. The officer before him looked to be in his late twenties, and he certainly looked the part with his expensive uniform, albeit somewhat scuffed and dirty after the recent gunfight. Adam’s top lip rose in a sneer. They seemed to cut young military officers from the same cloth: educated, prideful, vain. An east coast education was no guarantee they would be good leaders of men, however. And although Dean had seemed overly concerned with keeping up a meticulous appearance, he at least had garnered the respect of his men. Adam doubted whether that was the case with this fellow.
The men with their guns trained on his body were jittery, flicking their gaze between the surrounding country—on the lookout for further trouble—and the Indian on the ground before them. Slowly, so as not to cause a fidgety finger to tighten around a trigger, Adam placed his inner wrists together and held his arms out towards the officer. The man was startled.
“You want me to detain you?” He glanced over his shoulder at the men standing behind him. “This is all very peculiar.” He rose to his feet. “Well, do as he asks, tie him up. Put him in the back of the first wagon.” He looked up at the heavily slashed canopy of the wagon that had held the captives. “This one’s no good for anything right now.” He shook his head. “They’ll be hell to pay when we get back to the fort.”
“We goin’ back to Addington, sir?”
“We are, Corporal Spellman.”
“But our orders was ta go to Boyd’s Creek.”
“Little point in that now, is there?” He sighed heavily. “We need to get this man back to face charges. Spellman?” The officer nodded towards Adam who hadn’t moved from his position on the ground. Spellman pushed his rifle’s strap over his shoulder, reached down and with one hand grasping Adam’s upper arm, hauled him to his feet. None too gently, he pushed Adam around the outer rim of the wagons, making him stumble as he did so. Adam stayed upright but earned another push in the process. Spellman slammed him harshly against the wooden panelling of the wagon that was going to be Adam’s prison for the next couple of days. Adam gritted his teeth against his rough handling; he knew he couldn’t let his temper get the better of him. Spellman wrenched his arms back—Adam winced at the sharp pull in his shoulders—and tied his wrists together. He was bundled up into the wagon and the canopy flaps secured. This is becoming a habit, thought Adam. This is the second time in a month I’ve been tied up in the back of an army wagon.
As the camp broke up, and the mules were harnessed to the vehicles, Adam shifted to lean against a crate. He had had no choice in what he did. He could have escaped with the rest of the Indians, changed back into his western clothing and ridden hell for leather to the fort. But there was next to no chance of Kia and Mimiteh being handed over into his care. And Cameahwait would be left to languish in the fort or would be relocated to a reservation. No, in Adam’s mind he had only one course open to him. Where his young family went, he would go too. And if that meant the reservation, then so be it. He could only hope the war paint which covered his face and body lasted long enough for him to maintain the ruse that he was Ute. He settled back against the crate and closed his eyes; his last vision before the gentle rocking of the wagon lulled him into sleep was of Kia wrapped in furs in their lodge, her hair loose around her bare shoulders. Adam drifted away with a faint smile curving his lips.
As the wagon train retraced its route through the steep-sided canyon several hours later, the small army convoy had no idea that for the second time in two days they were being watched. Hoss and Joe lay flat on their bellies observing the wagons rumble on their way beneath them. They weren’t alone. Hanska had accompanied them but sat back from the edge, studying the brothers of his friend as they viewed the line of wagons move out of sight.
The rescued Ute men had congregated a short distance away from where they had been freed. They had greeted the two white men with distrust in their eyes, but when learning they were the brothers of Liwanu and that they had helped with their release, they had warily nodded their acknowledgements to the two men. But there was nothing they could do now, so Hanska had sent them on their way accompanied by Akando and Okomi. There would be a great homecoming when the young men arrived back in the high village.
But now plans needed to be made. Hoss and Joe had watched with consternation as Adam’s arms had been tied behind his back and he was hustled into the back of the wagon. They saw him land roughly on his side as a helping hand ensured he lost balance. Joe had wanted to storm into the camp and demand they free his brother. But Hoss had held him back, whispering sharply that this wasn’t what Adam wanted; remember Hanska’s message. They had to trust that Adam knew what he was doing. Joe had sat back abruptly, unable to watch as his brother was taken from them again. But at least this time they could follow. They had been surprised to see the wagons circle around to face the way they had come and had concluded the transport must be returning to Fort Addington.
Hoss inched back from the canyon’s edge and sat up. “Okay, so we all know what we’re doin’. Hanska, you’ll lead Joe to the nearest telegraph office so we can get a telegram off to Pa. And I’ll follow Adam to the fort and hope they’ll let me in to see ‘im.”
Hanska nodded briskly and had jumped up and swung up onto the back of his pony in the time it took for Hoss to climb to his feet.
“He don’t waste no time, does he?” muttered Hoss wryly. He snorted and shook his head in amusement. He watched as Joe, in a movement that mirrored what Hanska had just done, swung easily into his saddle. Cochise sidestepped in anticipation of the ride. Hoss placed a meaty hand on Joe’s thigh. “Be safe, punkin. I’ve already got one brother up to his neck in you-know-what. I don’t wanna have to come bail out another.” And before Joe had a chance to indignantly respond, Hoss had whacked his palm across Cochise’s rump and the animal was away.
Hoss eyed the two riders until the sloping earth took them out of sight. He gathered up his reins and turned Dandy in the direction of the fort, pausing a moment before a soft word urged the animal to move.
“Now then, older brother, let’s go see what heap o’ trouble you managed to get yourself into this time.”
They wouldn’t let him see him. And there wasn’t a darn thing he could do about it. Hoss had been camped outside the walls of Fort Addington for several nights. The morning after Adam had been locked up in the stockade, Hoss had visited the fort commander and asked to see the man in their lock-up. The commander had refused. Hoss had asked what the man was being held for, and the reply came that he had been involved in an attack on an army convoy; that he had freed several Indians intended for relocation onto a reservation. And when Hoss had explained the man was his brother, the commander had frowned, cocked his head in puzzlement and asked Hoss to wait where he was. The commander had briefly left the room and conferred with a subordinate outside his office. On his return, he told Hoss—in no uncertain terms—that he would not be able to see the prisoner.
Every day since, Hoss had returned to the fort commander’s office and begged to see his brother. And each day he had been refused, turned down flat. There had been heated words; on one occasion Hoss had been almost tempted into drawing his revolver. But restraint had got the better of him and he had slammed out of the office, and out of the fort, and thrown himself on the ground in the sheltered grove he had made his camp. The nearest thing to hand, which happened to be a tin mug, had been hurled against a nearby tree. From where he had set up camp he had an unrestricted view of the fort; not being one of the larger garrisons it only had one entrance, so Hoss could see who came and who went. So far, there had been no sign of Adam. He was still a prisoner in the stockade.
Two days ago, Joe and Hanska had joined him. Joe had reported that he had telegraphed their father, and the reply which was sent back from Sheriff Coffee informed them that Ben had left a few days earlier en-route to meet his sons. Joe had fired off several more wires to the most likely towns Ben would travel through in the hope his father would intercept the telegram and know to head for Fort Addington. All they could do now was sit and wait. And pray.
Hoss got to know the layout of the fort pretty well over the next few days. The one entrance, that saw plenty of day-to-day traffic, opened into an inner yard with buildings facing the gate and on the adjacent sides. The buildings opposite the gate were divided by a paved covered passageway leading to the rear of the fort where the animals were corralled and the wagons stored. On one side of the corral was a row of stables and facing that were officer’s quarters and a couple of lodgings for families. It was small and basic, but always busy. It didn’t take long for Hoss to work out where the buildings most important to him were sited: the fort commander’s office, the mess, and most crucially, the stockade.
He spent a large part of his day loitering around the fort’s inner yard. He would position himself in sight of the stockade, leaning cross-legged against an upturned barrel in the shade of the porch that ran the length of the structure. To observers he appeared to be consumed with whittling a figurine from a soft piece of pine he’d picked up in his camp. And those spectators weren’t wrong as Hoss was taking a great deal of care in ensuring the detail was right on his carving. However, Hoss had been whittling since he was a young lad, and could do it with his eyes closed. He always knew who was in the stockade and how long a person or persons had been in there. But it didn’t help him gain access. The fort commander would walk out of his office and spy the big man leaning back against the pillar and shake his head in annoyance. But he let him be. Hoss’s presence as a civilian in the post wasn’t unusual. There were plenty of non-military inhabitants working as water carriers, laundresses or cleaners, so one more citizen didn’t raise an eyebrow; particularly one that didn’t make any trouble and who was becoming a familiar sight.
It was while in this seemingly relaxed pose, that Hoss took notice of a new arrival being welcomed at the gate. The man, another civilian, rode in on a sprightly roan with a flashy black mane, flowing black tail and black hooves. He dismounted slowly yet clumsily at the hitching post next to Hoss, hopping for balance on a crippled foot. Hoss saw he had to raise his knee in order to lift the foot off the ground, and it would flop down heavily when he took a step. The stranger nodded a greeting at Hoss as he secured his animal and loosened the cinch, his eyes taking in Hoss’s large imposing form and apparent disinterest in what was going on around him. But Hoss knew immediately the stranger had got the measure of him; that the big man’s outwardly casual posture was nothing more than an act. The stranger turned his body away from Hoss, letting his gaze linger for a few seconds more, and limped towards the fort commander’s office. He lifted and flopped his mangled foot as he went.
The newcomer was back a few minutes later. Hoss had looked up at the sound of the stranger shutting the commander’s door behind him. He watched the man pull the bandana from his throat and wipe away the sweat from his neck and forehead, before pulling his floppy-brimmed hat over his head. With eyes barely visible beneath his own low-drawn ten-gallon hat, Hoss observed the stranger as he hobbled over to his mount and reached for the animal’s reins. As he turned the horse’s head in the direction of the passage leading to the corral, Hoss spoke.
“Impressive animal ya got there.”
The stranger paused and leaned over his saddle to face Hoss.
“Well, boy, I could tell you I caught this here beast with my own fair hands when he was no more’n a young fiery buck, playin’ it hard and sweet with them lady mares, an’ wilder than a bee-stung bull.” The man limped around behind his horse, resting one palm on the animal’s rump as he passed. “But I think we both know my story would be as genuine as a saloon girl’s age.” He looked down at his gammy foot and smirked.
Hoss laughed. “Well, however you got him, he’s a mighty fine-looking horse.”
The man leaned heavily against the hitching post and held out his hand. “Bill. Bill Half-Foot.”
Hoss took the man’s proffered hand in a firm grip. “Good to meet ya, Bill. Hoss Cartwright.”
“Cartwright? You one of them Cartwrights who own a big spread out Virginia City way?”
“The Ponderosa, yessir. My pa is Ben Cartwright. That out there,” he pointed through the gate to the grove of trees and the camp where Joe could be seen propped up against a tree trunk with his hat pulled low over his face, “is my little brother Joe.”
Bill Half-Foot leaned forward to see the young man slumbering in the heat. Resting back against the hitching post, he took off his hat and used it to fan hot air across his face. “I ain’t seen you around these parts afore, Hoss. What brings an upstanding fella like yourself to this fine establishment on so lovely a summer’s day?”
Bill’s sarcasm wasn’t lost on Hoss. The day was probably the hottest of the year so far. And until Bill had walked his horse into the fort, the only movement in the parade ground had been the lethargic pacing of the two guards as they periodically crossed in front of the gates. Even the flies seemed to lack the energy to buzz around and irritate the fort’s occupants.
Hoss folded his whittling knife and placed it and the carving in his vest pocket. He hugged his arms around his torso.
“Well, Bill, my older brother’s got himself locked up in the stockade, but they won’t let me see ‘im. I figure they’ll eventually get sick an’ tired of my ugly mug an’ let me in.”
Bill nodded sagely and stared across the yard in the direction of the cells. “Wha’d he do?”
There was a moment of deliberation. Hoss wondered how much he should share with this man who he’d only known for a few short minutes. But there was something about him Hoss trusted. Maybe it was his humour, or the fact he didn’t beat around the bush in asking what could be a provocative question; Hoss admired a straight-talker. It was clear this man was a half-breed. His dark skin and short, badly cut coal-black hair revealed the presence of Indian blood. And he had the distinctive high cheekbones so characteristic of the Indian. So perhaps it was this that made Hoss put his faith in Bill. He took a deep breath before speaking.
“We…ah…he…helped a bunch of Injuns escape from an army convoy. A few army fellas got injured, but no one died,” Hoss’s eyes widened to emphasise his point. “A few fellas mighta had a bit of a nasty headache the day after, but my brother didn’t kill no one.”
“Why won’ts they let you see ‘im?”
Hoss shrugged. “If only I knew, Bill, if only I knew. But the longer they stop me from seein’ Adam, the more worried I’m gettin’.”
Bill looked to the ground and frowned. “Adam ya say?”
“Yep, Adam, Adam Cartwright, my older brother.”
William Half-Foot chewed on an invisible morsel. “I met me’s an Adam ma-self not s’ long ago. White fella, dressed like an Indian. Army patrol I was with picked him up in the desert. He’d been tied up and left ta die.”
Hoss unfolded his crossed ankles and straightened up. “Bill, that’s my brother Adam. About so height, black hair, has a way of lookin’ at ya as though you ain’t got the brains to know to spit downwind.”
Hoss whooped and slapped his palm against his thigh. “That’s him! Bill, you know Adam! Well, I’ll be.”
Bill chuckled. “Well, it was more a passing acquaintance. I shared a couple of wagon rides with ya brother there. If I’d known we’d picked up Adam Cartwright of the Ponderosa Cartwrights I’d have insisted on a reward.” He laughed, but then the smile faded from his face. “He’d had it rough, though. Said his family had been killed a coupla years before.” Bill shook his head. “He was mighty bitter about that. He wanted only one thing in this big ol’ world and that was to git back to his woman.”
Hoss shifted around to Bill’s other side so he had his back to the commander’s office. He thrust his hands deep into his pant pockets, his shoulders rising to his ears as he straightened his arms.
“It’s a long story, but, well, as you can see, me and Joe, and our pa, well, we didn’t die in the attack on the wagon train, though Adam was led to believe we did.” He kicked out at the dusty ground. “We’d only just got him back when this happened. He could end up in prison for what he did. Although,” Hoss shuffled and looked down at his feet, “he wasn’t alone when he freed them Injuns.”
Bill raised an eyebrow. Hoss’s confession came as no surprise to him. Hoss looked up and seeing nothing more than plain amusement on the face of his confidante, he continued.
“But see, here’s the thing. Me and Joe, as I said, we were there when Adam and his pals freed those Indian boys. Adam had been so sure his wife and little gal were on that transport, but they weren’t. One of them Indian boys told us that Adam had told us to leave, not to wait for ‘im, and so we reckon he let himself get caught, deliberate like. Then Hanska, that’s another one of the Ute, he told us someone called Cam…Cam-e…ah heck, some other fella, had been left here and that Adam’s wife and kid were here too. So we reckon Adam offered himself up to the army as bait so he’d be brought back here. Though what he could do for them when locked up in a jail cell, God only knows.”
The men were interrupted by the sudden arrival through the gates of a returning patrol. The small troop of men dismounted wearily, their faces wet and shining in the full onslaught of the midday sun. Hands were raised when they spotted Bill who returned their greetings with two fingers to his brow. The men led their tired mounts through to the stables.
Bill turned his attention back to Hoss. “Some women have the power to make a man lose his mind so he don’t think straight. You get my meaning, son?”
Hoss nodded his head as he briefly looked to the ground. When he looked back up he had a wry smile on his face. “Yeah, I reckon I do.”
They turned to watch the last of the riders disappear down the passageway to the corral.
“Thing is, Bill, I’ve been comin’ here four days now, and I’ve not seen or heard an Indian woman or child. And no one will tell me if there is an Indian woman here. So seems to me my brother has got himself locked up for no good reason at all.”
Bill looked up at the big man in front of him. Hoss stood there hugging himself, starring at the ground, scuffing the toe of his boot over imaginary obstacles. His brow was wrinkled with worry.
“Look, son, they knows me around here. I does a lot of work for the army on both sides of the territorial line, so there ain’t no one from the most high fallutin’, stick-up-the-butt officer to the most flea-bit, low-down, dirty son-of-a-whore private that ol’ Bill don’t know. Why don’t you lets me have a bit of a nosy around, see what I cain’t find out?”
Hoss squeezed his lips together, moved by the man’s willingness to help him. “I’d be much obliged, sir.” And taking the man’s hand he gripped it in a firm handshake. “Much obliged.”
Bill shifted his weight off the hitching post. “I’m doin’ this for that cranky, sour-headed brother of your’n, don’t you forget that.”
“I won’t, sir, I’ll remember.” Hoss grinned his wide gap-toothed smile and started to sidle away. “I’ll be at my camp.” He pointed in the rough direction of the ground outside the fort. When he reached the gate he stopped and turned back, calling to Bill who hadn’t moved from his spot. “Oh, and when my pa gets here, I reckon that reward will be in order.” And with that, he pounded out of the gates to where Joe and Hanska were lying dozing in the heat of the afternoon. At last, he had good news to share.
Of all the forts in all of Utah Territory that William Half-Foot could be sent on courier duties, it seemed almost providential it should be this one. The man that Bill’s army patrol had found a few weeks before, bound and bloodied, and abandoned to die in the scorching, dry hell of the desert, was here. Bill had got to know him—well, as much as the fella had been willing to share—and he had developed a cynical admiration for the man who now called himself Liwanu. Bill had seen a kindred spirit in the wounded soul he’d shared a wagon with. They were both men caught between the worlds of the white man and that of the Indian. Unlike Bill, however, Adam had chosen to discard his own people and be absorbed into the band of Ute he had found himself living amongst. Bill recognised the strong desire to survive—and to belong—that had led Adam to this life-altering act. And the fact Adam had stuck with it, proved he was as mule-headed as Bill was. He had been sorry to leave Adam in Darwin, locked up in a jail cell until someone could decide what to do with him. But it appeared things had looked up as Adam had been reunited with his family. Bill wondered how he had adapted to life back amongst his own kind.
And now it seemed that Adam needed his help again. Bill made his way over to the stockade. He paused for a moment with his hand on the door handle before swinging it wide open. Relief flooded through him when he saw who was on duty. This shouldn’t be too difficult.
The boy jumped to his feet from where he had been slumped in a chair with his head back and mouth open in a state of semi-slumber. He fumbled for his carbine but then relaxed when he saw who had entered. He propped his gun back against the table where it had been resting.
“Bill. You scared me half to death. I thought it was Captain Ashwell.”
“Sleepin’ again on duty, Frosty? I got a good mind to get the commander, you guarding a dangerous prisoner an’ all. And I find you snoring so loudly the fleas were jumping clear outta ya uniform.”
“I wasn’t sleeping, Bill. I just had my eyes closed for a minute.”
Bill snorted. “Whatever you say, boy.” He walked indifferently over to the door which housed the cells, fingering the odd item as he passed. “So, tell me about this fella you got locked up in there?”
Frosty sagged back in his chair. “Which one? We got two.”
A casually placed fist around the door handle drove the young trooper to his feet. “You can’t go in there.”
Bill frowned. “Why not? It’s usually an open door to the jail cells.”
“Captain’s orders. He only lets a few go in.”
Bill kept his hand on the handle, lightly caressing the metal under his palm. “Ah shoot, I was hoping to see the fella who I heard had taken down a convoy single-handed.”
The young trooper lounged back in his chair and started picking at his nose. “He weren’t alone. He had help from a whole bunch of Indians. Missouri Pete said there were about fifteen of them. Our boys didn’t stand a chance. And then when they got him back here, turns out he’s white. They think they caught themselves a white renegade.”
A pair of narrowed eyes angled towards Frosty. “Theys cain’t tell the difference between a white man and an Injun?”
Frosty stopped rooting around in his nostril. “Not when he’s all covered in streaks of paint and wearing buckskin, they can’t.”
This was not good. White renegades were regarded with fear and suspicion by the white society they had been born into. It was believed that turning their backs on their own kind and taking up with the savage was just an excuse to indulge in the very worst that the Indian represented. They were seen as murderers and degenerates, drunkards and debauchers; not fit to polish the shoes of the lowliest scum in the meanest hick town in the lawless West. And now the army had what they suspected was a renegade locked up in their cells. The punishment meted out to someone like him would be much worse than an Indian would get. No, things were not looking good for Adam.
“Ya said there was someone else in there with ‘im?”
The boy rocked his chair back onto its back legs, balancing it precariously at an angle against the wall. “Yep, there’s an Indian fella. He’s been here weeks. He was right rowdy when they tried to put him in the wagon a few days back. Got himself shot. Up here.” The boy vaguely indicated the top of his chest. “He was too hurt to move so they left him here.”
Bill looked hard at the closed door that separated him from Adam. “You tellin’ me there’s a sick man in there with a bullet in his chest. Why in Ol’ Harry’s name isn’t he in the infirmary?”
Frosty’s chair legs hit the floor with a thump. “Because he’s an Injun, that’s why!” His mouth dropped open with the incredulity he felt at Bill’s ridiculous question. “Besides, there was a native woman coming and going for a time. She pulled him through.”
Bill’s fist tightened around the cool metal of the door handle again before he released it and limped over to where Frosty was once more leaning his chair back against the wall. He rested one butt cheek on the desk next to the guardsman.
“A woman, huh?” Bill smirked. “Wha’d she look like? Is she purty? She got big—”
“I don’t know!” Frosty had one arm against the wall and the other clinging on to the desk as he rocked back and forth in his unsteady position. “I guess so. I didn’t rightly notice. Anyhow, I ain’t seen her since they bought the other one in.”
It had to be Adam’s wife, surely. Hoss had been told she had stayed behind at the fort. It had to be her.
Bill shifted around to face the young man.
“Look Frosty, uh, Willard, I’d really like to see the man they bought in. Cain’t you just turn a blind eye for a coupla minutes? No one need know.”
The chair hit the floor again with a resounding thump. “You know I can’t let you in there, Bill. They’d have me strung up faster than you can say Jack Robinson. Why are you so keen to see him anyhow?”
Bill sighed. “Let’s just say I think I know him. And if I’m right and it’s who I think it is, well, he owes me a little bit o’ cash. I only wanna talk ta him, is all.”
“No, Bill, I can’t do it.”
Bill edged his butt off the desk and sighed again. “Okay, whatever you say. You’re the man in charge.” He headed towards the door. “I’m just gonna go over and see Captain Ashwell. I think it’s time I shared my views with him on the slovenly conduct of some of the men in his company.”
Frosty shot to his feet. “You wouldn’t? Bill, I thought we were buddies.”
“We are, son, but the safety of the fort should be everyone’s concern, doncha think? And if I see sloppy behaviour, well, I feel I have a duty to report it.”
He opened the door. A whoosh of hot air made him pause in his tracks. He stared out at the haze that shimmered over the yard in the glare of the early afternoon sun.
There was a sigh behind him.
“I guess it won’t hurt none if you see the prisoner. But you can’t tell a soul I let you in. I mean, I’m not allowed in, so if they knew I’d let you in…”
Bill firmly shut the outer door and heaved his leg over to the entrance to the cells. “I’m your buddy, Frosty, I wouldn’t even tell my own dear mama.” He reached out to slap the boy’s arm and then with a quick nod, he opened the door to the cells.
Bill closed the door behind him and stood for a moment whilst his eyes adjusted to the gloom. There were two cells opposite him and only one grubby window on his side of the bars to illuminate the room. He pulled his bandana from his neck and held it up to his nose. It was hot and airless and the smell of stale urine and faeces lingered in the still atmosphere.
There was a man in the cell opposite him. It was the Indian. He’d been lying on a thin blanket but at Bill’s entrance had propped himself up against the wall, one hand pressed high on his chest over a grubby bandage. He winced from the action. The two men stared at each other for some moments before Bill directed his gaze towards the other cell. A figure lay curled up on the floor facing the outer wall. He was still. Too still, thought Bill. The man’s brow rested against the cell floor; black hair falling over his face. He wore no shirt and, even in the subdued light, Bill could see a myriad of dark coloured bruises and dried blood on his back.
Bill dragged his leg over to the man’s cell and let himself drop to the ground. He pulled his mangled foot out from under him, positioning his leg so it lay straight. If he reached through the bars, Bill could just about reach the curled-up figure. He noticed with disgust the man’s shoes had been removed and that the souls of his feet were swollen and cut. He placed a gentle hand on the man’s foot. The figure flinched, pulling his feet out of reach of the bars.
The man froze.
“Adam?” There was still no movement from the figure, but Bill could sense his tension as the man held his breath. Bill tried another tack to reach him.
From the corner of his eye he noticed the Indian in the next cell jolt with surprise and shuffle closer to the bars that separated the cells. The Indian spoke in English. “You know Liwanu?”
Bill looked from the Indian to Adam. “I knowse him.” He leaned closer to the bars. “Adam, it’s Bill Half-Foot. D’ya remember me, son?”
Bill heard a long breath being let out, and then the figure stirred. With great effort he unfurled his frame and managed to lift his head from the floor. The man’s face was still hidden under straggly black hair but Bill could hear him gasp as he moved. One arm managed to strike out and get a shaky handhold on one of the wall’s timbered planks; using his grip as leverage, he heaved himself into a sitting position. He leaned heavily into the wall, his forehead coming to rest against the wood. With eyes closed and his energy spent from that small effort alone, he didn’t move for several long moments. But then a painful arm was lifted to push the hair from his face. Bill was astonished to see Adam smile.
Bill leaned forward and rested his brow on the bars. “Ah, son, what have they done to you?”
Adam’s face, torso and arms were covered in all the motley shades that only a badly beaten body could have. Bill stared at the horrific streaks of sickly green and violent purple and mossy yellow that coloured his flesh. The sides of his torso and his back were particularly bad; Bill assumed he would curl up into a ball when he was being beaten and so these areas had taken the full force of fist and boot. It was clear that Adam had received more than one beating as not an inch of his exposed flesh had escaped the onslaught; they hadn’t given his body a chance to heal between batterings. Adam held an arm close to his belly, applying a steady pressure to allay the pain caused by punches to his stomach. His jaw showed where fists had pummelled him but, surprisingly, only one of his eyes was black and inflamed, with a laceration sliced into the eyebrow above. His lips were swollen and cut; but, through all the pain, he still managed to smile at his visitor.
“Bill.” His voice was breathy with effort. He reached a stiff arm out towards his friend and Bill caught his fingers within his own.
“It’s okay, son, Bill’s here now.”
Adam let his arm drop, the effort of keeping it raised too much for him.
“They beat him every day.” It was the Indian. He had pulled himself to his feet and moved to the front of the cell where he was nearer to Adam and his visitor. He gripped the bars for support as he lowered himself to the floor.
“The men from the wagons, Liwanu says.”
“They…” Adam coughed as he tried to speak. “They didn’t take too kindly…to a white man… dressed like an Indian.”
Bill shook his head. “Darn sons of… And I see they even took ya cots away. Making ya sleep on the ground like—”
“Like Indians?” Adam smiled through the pain again. But then the smile faded. He lurched closer to Bill along the wall, dragging his body towards his friend. He reached out, gripping the bar of the cell, his knuckles white with strain. “Wanekia…my wife.”
“I know, son, she’s been here, may even be here still. I’ll find her.”
A barrage of knocking on the dividing door made Bill jump. Frosty’s agitated voice could be heard through the wood. “Bill, you’ve got to get outta there, I can see the captain and I think he’s heading this way.”
Bill grabbed the cell bars and hauled himself to his feet. He looked briefly down at Adam who had collapsed back against the ground, his arm still wrapped around his stomach. With a disgusted grunt, Bill lumbered as fast as his crippled foot would carry him back into the outer office where he promptly hoisted one butt cheek onto the desk. Willard Frost sat quickly back in his chair. To a casual observer, they appeared to be simply passing the time of day.
The outer entrance opened brusquely. The man in the doorway stood staring into the room as if he was hoping to have caught the two occupants guilty of conspiracy.
“Half-Foot! What are you doing in here? You told me you were going to the mess.”
“Well, captain, when I found out my ol’ pal Frosty was here, I decided to call on him and ask him to pass on my regards to his dear mama, who I once had the great pleasure to make the acquaintance of whilst passing through Colorado Territory. A right purdy lady she is with two beautiful… Like I said, right purdy.”
Frosty’s eyes widened but his perplexed and somewhat offended look was lost on the other two men.
“I saw you talking to that big Cartwright fellow outside.”
“Jus’ passing the time of day, cap. He was sayin’ as how he was a bit vexed at not being able to see his brother who I do understand is locked up in one of them cells there.”
“Who we’ve got incarcerated is of no concern of—”
“I sure would like to be a fly on the wall when his daddy gets here.”
The captain took a step deeper into the room. “What are you talking about, Half-Foot?”
“Ben Cartwright. Big landowner over the line in Nevada. He’s legendary in those parts: rich, influential. I do believe he almost stood for governor once.”
“What’s this got to do with the prisoner?”
Bill dragged his foot over towards the outer door, pausing in front of the captain.
“The prisoner is his son, Adam. You gone locked up Ben Cartwright’s eldest boy.” If Bill didn’t know better he’d swear the captain’s eyes bulged. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Cartwright is on his way here at this very moment.” He turned and winked at Frosty. “Well, I’ll leave you gentleman be. Captain,” Bill doffed his hat. “Frosty.”
He stepped out into the stifling temperature and limped to where his horse stood waiting patiently with a drooping, heat-bowed head. He untied the animal from the hitching post.
“Let’s get you inta some shade. I didn’t mean ta leave you out in the sun for so long.” He patted the animal’s neck. “And then I’m gonna get some grub. Cain’t be looking too eager to talk to that Hoss fella, can I? I swear I can feel the captain’s eyes burning into the back of my neck.”
He took the horse’s reins and limped off towards the passageway which led to the corral. He only hoped he’d put enough fear into the captain to make him stop the beatings. It seemed whenever he met up with this young man, he was in some sort of trouble. He shook his head and whispered into his mount’s ear. “William Half-Foot to the rescue again, huh, boy?”
Adam was no stranger to pain. Living in such wild country since boyhood had exposed him to more broken bones and gunshot wounds than a person should have to endure in one lifetime. From the hip he’d broken falling from a tree as a child, to the countless times he’d bruised, banged, and bashed himself when busting broncs, it was almost a daily occurrence to have a twinge or ache somewhere on his body. Only two years before he’d been beaten and shot in the leg in the wagon train attack. He would have recovered quicker than he had if the inhospitable environs of the desert and lack of clean water hadn’t caused him to contract an infection. He’d been unconscious for over a week and it had taken months before he could walk without a limp. This, though, this was unlike any hurt he’d ever experienced.
As Bill had scurried out of the office, Adam had let himself fall gently back onto the hard wooden floor, unable to stay upright any longer. His hand—which had clung to the wall throughout Bill’s visit—remained where it was, his fingernails digging deeply into the wooden planking. Adam was afraid if he relaxed his fingers and let his arm fall he’d feel the pulsating solidity of the bruising in his muscles. It was a distressing sensation. Every punch, every kick had left its mark and there didn’t seem to be a single part of his body that didn’t throb or cry out for relief. He felt like a slab of meat that was being tenderised. Only, a slab of meat felt nothing, and he could feel every thump of fist and kick of boot on his raw flesh. He wanted to move towards his friend in the next cell, but even turning his head in the Indian’s direction sent an unbearable pain through his neck and upper torso. He didn’t try again.
Adam had been in the cell for four nights. He had been let out just the once, and that had been to suffer an unpleasant and humiliating experience in the yard.
It had taken two long days to travel back from the army camp where the Ute boys had been freed. During that time he had been tied up in the back of a wagon, only being allowed out to relieve himself or defecate in full view of a trooper with a loaded weapon pointed at his head. It was a degrading experience, but Adam had pushed any thoughts of shame or embarrassment from his mind. He would do anything—anything—to get back to Kia and Mimiteh. He had not spoken a single word, only listened to the disparaging remarks the soldiers made about him, the Ute and the whole native population of the continent they lived on. He couldn’t react; instead he had had to look blankly at them as they referred to his parentage in such bestial terms he’d wanted to cut out their tongues with a sharp blade. He had been given scraps to eat—the leftovers from their meals—so by the time Adam arrived at the fort he had been dizzy from lack of food and water.
The convoy had rolled into the barracks mid-morning; the soldiers weary, dishevelled and irritable. The fort’s commander strode out of his office, one fist tightly gripping the hilt of the sword hanging low at his thigh; bewildered at the return of a transport that should have been halfway across the territory by now. He was directed to the wagon with its ripped canopy. And then he was shown the prisoner, still covered in smudged black and yellow stripes, who sat shackled amongst crates and boxes. The captain bared his teeth and barked at the men to lock the man up. Adam was manhandled off the wagon by two of the soldiers and half-dragged, half-walked into the stockade where he was flung into the cell. He landed hard on his side and quickly shuffled on his rump to the back wall. The captain had followed the prisoner escort into the dark interior and had been met with a pair of piercing eyes staring defiantly at him from the back of the cell. He immediately ordered the removal of the cell’s cot. Indians slept on the ground, he said. A cot would be a piece of luxury undeserving of such a wild savage.
They left Adam alone, the cell door clanging closed with a disturbing finality. The pitiful light from the grubby window glanced off the keys as they whirled in the lock. Then three pairs of boots marched out of the room, the door shutting firmly behind them.
All was silent. Adam stayed frozen against the back wall, watching the dust motes spinning in the displaced air. He looked around his cell, taking in the hard walls and floor, and the filthy bucket in the corner. And then someone said his name.
“Liwanu?” The voice sounded puzzled; as if not entirely sure it was Adam.
He turned his head towards the other cell and there, lying on his back on a dingy blanket, was the familiar figure of his Ute brother, Cameahwait. Cam’s skin looked pale against the black of his beaded braids, and he didn’t move from his supine position. A stab of fear penetrated Adam’s belly. It suddenly didn’t matter that Cameahwait had lied to him all those months before; that since discovering his father and brothers hadn’t died on that fateful day, Adam had veered between forgiving Cam and wanting to punch him in the face. All he could see was his friend lying on a dirty cell floor looking worn and weak. Practically on his hands and knees, he scurried over to where the Ute lay and reached through the bars to grasp his friend’s outstretched hand.
The Ute’s grip was strong, despite his apparent weariness. And Adam was surprised to see how alert and penetrating Cam’s eyes were. Adam let out a long breath as he raised a glance to the ceiling, sending a silent prayer heavenward. He looked back into the dark, wide-set eyes of Cameahwait. “They told me you were hurt. How bad is it?”
“They had to shoot a bullet into me to put me down, Liwanu. You would have been proud of how I fought the soldier men.”
“Shot? Cam, tell me, how bad? Adam’s voice held an urgency that made Cam smile. This only made Adam’s forehead crease further into a frown, irritated by the apparent calm disposition of his injured friend.
“Don’t worry, my brother.” Cameahwait let go of Adam’s hand and pulled back his shirt to reveal a bandage wrapped around his upper chest. “The bullet went in here,” he indicated a spot just under his shoulder, “and out there.” He lifted his back slightly off the floor to show where the bullet had ejected. “And I have had a good nurse.”
“Wanekia?” Adam said her name on a breath.
“Yes, my friend, your wife has been allowed in every day to tend me. She kept the wound clean, and sewed it up. I have not had a fever. You are honoured to call her your woman.”
Adam’s relief was so palpable that he pulled his hand back through the bars and raised a leg up to his chest. Propping his elbow on his knee, he dropped his forehead into an open palm and let out a shaky sigh of relief. At last, Kia was here. He was close to her. She could be in the room next door; or on the other side of the yard. Thank God she wasn’t locked up in a cell. She was here, in the fort, and he would see her soon. If fortune was smiling on him, he would see that serene, beautiful face tomorrow when she came to administer to Cameahwait’s wound. His respite from days of anxiety was like the unfurling of a tightly curled snake in the pit of his stomach. He felt a fluttering within him that climbed up his windpipe and was expelled in a long, shuddering breath.
Cameahwait watched as Adam tried to hide the feelings welling up inside of him. His voice was soft but determined when he spoke, trying to draw Adam back to the present, to the now. “Liwanu? Brother?” Adam raised his face and turned shiny eyes to the injured man. “She is well, my brother. She and your daughter. The people here treat her kindly. You will see them soon.”
Adam expelled a long breath and reached through the bars again to grasp Cam’s hand in a firm grip. “When I reached the high village and she wasn’t there; and then finding that she had been captured by soldiers. My God, Cam, I didn’t know what to think.”
Cam shook Adam’s hand in reassurance. “We kept her and Mimiteh safe. We would have thrown ourselves in front of a stampeding buffalo if it meant saving her life.”
The Ute grinned but then grew serious. “But you, Liwanu, what happened to you? You vanished from the village. And now you are here. And you wear the markings of our people when we go to war. There is much you need to tell me.”
Adam settled back onto his rump. “I freed our brothers who were captured with you.”
Cameahwait levered himself up onto his elbows wincing slightly as his wound stretched. Adam laughed as his friend’s mouth fell open and Cam stared incredulously at Adam’s proud expression. “You—”
“Well, I wasn’t alone. I had Hanska, Akando and Okomi with me.” He paused. “I also had…” Adam stopped. He rose quickly to his feet. “God, Cam, if there weren’t iron bars separating us, and you weren’t lying there with a bullet wound in your shoulder, I swear I’d punch you from here to…” His words trailed off as he found himself unable, and unwilling, to find a suitable idiom.
Cam watched with startled eyes as Adam turned his back on him and paced to the opposite side of the cell where he stretched out his arm and leant against the wall.
“Liwanu, why do you say such a thing?”
Adam twisted slightly towards Cameahwait and, after a moment of thought, returned to the dividing cell bars. He dropped to his haunches in front of the Ute. “When you found me after the wagon train attack, you told me no one had survived. No one.”
“That is so, Liwanu.” Cam was still leaning back on his elbows, watching Adam with a line forming between his eyebrows. Cameahwait knew he’d not checked all the victims, but each person he had crouched beside, and placed a hand upon, had been still. Their souls had departed to the white man’s land of the dead. Cam had a suspicion what Adam was going to tell him, but he was unable to drag his eyes from his friend’s face.
“You lied to me.” Adam snarled though gritted teeth.
Cameahwait closed his eyes.
“Look at me, Cam!” Adam gripped the bars separating them. His eyes were hard, his lips a thin line as he fought to control the anger starting to churn within him. He waited until the Ute had turned towards him. “My family was alive!” Adam exclaimed. “You said that everyone was dead but they weren’t! My father and my brothers were hurt. They needed me, but…you took me from them.”
“No, Cam!” Adam slumped slightly, his knees falling against the hard floor. “There is nothing you can say, because I know what you’ll say. You’ll say the Great Spirit was guiding you. I’ve heard it a hundred times before.” He blinked slowly, shaking his head softly.
Cameahwait let his head fall back onto his blanket. Adam had been right. Cam’s only response would have been that the spirits had driven him to the gorge that day; that it had been the destiny of both men to come together in that doomed desert pass. He still believed that. And he had known this day would come. That somehow Adam would discover that he had not looked for life in all the victims of the attack; that there was a possibility his family may have survived. Cam had justified his actions to himself so many times that his initial guilt had been assuaged. But now, he couldn’t even look at Adam. Cam squeezed his eyes closed, and turned his head away from his friend.
Adam watched as Cameahwait’s eyebrows drew together and his eyes clenched shut. He loosened his grip from the bars and fell back onto his rear. His anger had left him as quickly as it had come.
“For two years I thought my family was dead. I nearly lost the will to live because of it. And then a month ago they found me, locked up in a small-town jail.” Adam looked up at the dirty window that illuminated their prison and followed a beam of light that shone into his cell. He watched as a tiny beetle scuttled across the floor. “The moment I saw my father I thought I was looking at a ghost. I was struck dumb. I could hardly breathe. The man I thought I would never see again was sitting just inches away from me.”
Cam couldn’t move his head any farther. His cheek was flush to the floor, facing the opposite wall, as he listened to Adam’s words.
“His hair was a bit whiter and his face seemed a little thinner, but, other than that, he hadn’t changed. He was still the man I saw each time I closed my eyes. And then I found out my two brothers were alive. That was a little more than I could handle.” Adam paused, recalling in his mind how he had broken down in front of his father and cried like a wet-behind-the-ears child. “But they were there, at the jail. My brother Hoss,” the corners of Adam’s mouth curved up, “standing there all nervous, playing with his hat. And Joe, he could just about say my name.” Adam’s smile dropped. “But it’s been hard, getting to know them again. They’ve not changed too much, but me, I’m different. I don’t think I’ve made it easy for them.”
Adam looked over to where Cam was lying on the floor. “But I don’t blame you, for what you did.”
Cameahwait turned his head towards Adam.
“Before all this happened to me, I’m not sure I could have found it within me to forgive you. But, as I said, I’ve changed. I’m not the same man I was before. I mean, look at me…”
Cam viewed the person sitting slumped on the other side of the bars. He saw a swarthy-skinned man dressed in the clothes of a Ute Indian with long black unkempt hair falling over his face; the skin on his lean arms and torso was shiny from the paint still smeared across his body, and his eyes were bright white orbs in the subdued light.
“Things have happened to me I can’t explain. I’ve seen…visions, had dreams. Maybe it was that godawful brew you made me drink; or maybe I’ve just been a bit drunk on my life with Wanekia and Mimiteh, I don’t know. Or perhaps, just perhaps, the spirits are at work, and they were working for us both on that day when you decided to haul my sorry ass halfway across the desert.”
“It’s alright, Cam.” Adam twisted himself around so his back was resting against the connecting bars. “There’s a quote in the Bible that says ‘out of the mouth of the most High comes both evil and good’. Maybe that means whoever looks over us—whether it’s a god or a spirit, or both—well, perhaps they send the bad times as well as the good so that we’ll become better people. I don’t know for sure. Perhaps what happened that day, had to be. I can’t blame you for what those outlaws did to the wagon train. But I should blame you for lying to me, and taking me from my family. But I can’t find it within me to hate you because if you hadn’t done what you did, I would never have lost my heart to Kia and Mimiteh.” Adam’s mouth quirked and he turned his head to speak over his shoulder. “And to all the Ute people.”
The two men were quiet for a few minutes. Then Cameahwait spoke.
“I am sorry, Liwanu.”
Adam twisted around to face him. “It’s going to be a while before I fully trust you again, Cam.” Adam pointed a finger at him. “And I promise you this: first opportunity I get, I’m going to punch you in the face.”
The men sat unspeaking for a while, both lost in their thoughts until Cameahwait broke the silence. “Why did you leave us, Liwanu? It was as though the ghosts of the dead had spirited you away.”
Adam twisted around to face Cam. “No ghost, Cam, a man of flesh and blood. Matwau.”
“Matwau!” Cameahwait heaved himself up onto one elbow and with his other arm holding onto the bars, pulled himself up. Adam quickly reached his arms through the bars to help him. “Matwau! That rattle-snake, that viper…” The sudden effort gave Cameahwait a coughing fit, and he clung onto the bars as he fought to clear his lungs of phlegm.
Adam managed to keep a comforting palm on Cameahwait’s back. “It’s okay, Cam, it’s taken care of. Matwau is dead.”
Cam’s face shot up. “Dead?”
“We ran into each other not long back. He didn’t survive the encounter.”
Cameahwait collapsed back against his blanket. “Dead.” He snorted. “It’s more than he deserved.”
“That’s not all. It was Matwau who betrayed you to the army. He led the soldiers straight to you. He wanted the whole village to be taken but didn’t realise most of our people had already left for the high country.”
A look of puzzlement crossed the Ute’s face. “But why did he not send the soldiers to our summer village, if he wanted the army to take everyone?”
“My guess is he wanted the site for himself, for his own people. He told us the army were moving villages to reservations; maybe his village was next? He couldn’t betray the location of our camp if he wanted to claim it for his own.”
Cameahwait turned to look at Adam. “You are the man of many spirits, Liwanu, whether you believe it or not. You save our young warriors; you have kept our village safe.”
“Yes, Liwanu. You have rid us of that deceitful snake. He would have been a threat to us. Always. But no more. Because of you, Liwanu.”
Adam reached through and patted his friend’s arm. “Rest now, Cam. You need to get your strength back for when we get out of here.”
“If we get out of here.”
“When, Cam, not if. My brothers are probably out there right now. You’ll see. They’ll get us out.”
The following day did not bring the hoped for joy of a reunion between Adam and Kia; on the contrary, it was to be the start of a nightmare for Adam.
The day had started well enough. Their cells had been unlocked and a tin plate with a chewy, tepid meat stew had been thrown down on the floor along with a tin mug of water. This had been the first proper food Adam had eaten since he had let himself be caught. The previous night’s offering had been a plate of fatty meat; more fat than flesh, and although Cameahwait was able to sit up and consume the unpleasant meal, Adam had turned his nose up and handed his two measly slices through the bars to Cam. By morning he knew that had been a mistake as he was starting to feel faint from lack of food. He wolfed the tasteless stew down. It didn’t matter he had no fork and had to scoop the gluey mess up with his fingers, or that it had as much taste as a bowl of horse feed. It was sustenance, and it filled the gaping hole in his belly.
A couple of hours later a group of soldiers appeared. He recognised them as the men from the ambushed convoy. They yanked Adam up by his arms and hauled him out of the cell. He was dragged to the yard and forced down under the spout of the water pump. With one man pumping the handle up and down, and two large women armed with rough cloth, Adam had been soaked and scrubbed to remove all the war paint which marked his body.
An unbidden memory emerged from the hidden recesses of Adam’s mind. He could suddenly recall standing docilely in a tin bath as a child whilst his father vigorously washed him down. He must have been about five years old and he was covered in black soot. How he had ended up in such a condition, Adam could not recollect. But he distinctly recalled his father muttering and admonishing his young son for getting into such a mess. Although his father was angry at him, and had to be brisk whilst washing away every speck of soot, his actions hadn’t been painful. Unlike now. The two washerwomen scrubbed at Adam’s skin as though they were attacking the step of a brick house back east. As one woman gripped him by the neck and scoured his back until his skin was red, the other would be pulling out an arm and rubbing enthusiastically to remove the paint. If he tried to push them away, one of the soldiers would rap him sharply with the butt of his rifle on the offending arm to make him behave. His head was forced back and a cloth was rubbed violently over his face. To add to his humiliation, his buckskin pants had been forced down his thighs to reveal his pale buttocks as a surety no markings remained. When all the paint was gone, Adam could do nothing more than sit back against the pump in a puddle of paint-stained water, his skin scratched and raw, feeling utterly humiliated by the experience. And the whole time the soldiers had stood and watched and laughed.
The two washerwomen took a last look at their handiwork, nodded smartly to the laughing soldiers and marched back to wherever they had come from. Adam stayed on the ground, his head drooping and wet hair falling into his eyes. Through the dripping wet tangles he could see several pairs of boots and the barrels of carbines resting on the sandy earth. Another pair of boots—highly polished and clearly belonging to an officer—walked into Adam’s line of vision. As Adam turned his face towards him, the man dropped to his heels until they were eye to eye.
“You was right, Cap’n, he ain’t no Injun.”
The captain looked over his shoulder at the man who had spoken and then back to Adam.
“Tell me your name.”
Adam looked back to the ground, the drips from his soaking wet hair running in rivulets down his face.
“I asked you to tell me your name.”
Adam lifted his face and stared at the officer but stayed silent.
The captain rose to his feet and with a nod to one of the soldiers, took a step back.
The soldier stepped forward and knelt next to Adam. Before he knew what was happening, the soldier had grasped a handful of Adam’s hair and sharply jerked his head back. Adam winced at the sharp pulling pain in his scalp.
“I’ll ask you one last time. What is your name?”
Adam’s eyes narrowed into charcoal streaks of defiance. “Nïnay nía Liwanu. Nï’ara Nuuch.”
The captain’s nostrils flared. “What?”
“Nïnay nía Liwanu. Nï’ara Nuuch. Nïnay nía Liwanu. Nï’ara Nuuch.”
Through the pain-induced tears in his eyes Adam could see the soldiers exchanging looks of revulsion, top lips curling in loathing for the white man who refused to speak his own tongue.
“Geez, Cap’n, he’s gone native.”
Another man spat.
The captain turned away, the same look of repugnance marring his features. “Take him back to his cell.”
Adam was hauled to his feet once more and propelled back into the cell where he was thrown with force onto the floor. He had kept up an increasingly loud mantra as he was returned to the stockade. “Nï’ara Nuuch. Nï’ara Nuuch. Nï’ara Nuuch.” The soldiers shook their heads in disgust as they left the room. After a moment or two, Adam peeled himself slowly from the floor, his skin smarting from the rough treatment. There was a snort as Cameahwait commented drolly, “Now that’s the Liwanu I remember.”
Adam guessed it was one of his brothers who had given the game away and disclosed that the man in their cells was not a Ute Indian, and that he was, in fact, a white man born in Boston and member of a successful ranching family in Virginia City. Despite this, Adam didn’t hold any bad feelings towards them. He had been so dismayed that Kia wasn’t in the wagons with the rest of the Ute boys, that he certainly hadn’t been thinking straight. If he had thought about it properly, he would have realised Hoss and Joe would follow the wagons back to the fort and make an approach to the commander’s office. Thankfully, Hoss—the guilty party—would never put two and two together and realise it was his conversation with the captain that was partly responsible for the appalling treatment Adam was to receive over the next few days. His unmasking as a white man was only one of the reasons he was to be beaten so badly. Add to this Adam’s open defiance, and refusal to speak in his native tongue, and anger and indignation was stirred within the men who had manned the transport.
It started that afternoon. Three of the soldiers from the convoy—including the young sentry whom Adam had frightened so much he had wet himself—entered his cell and yanked him to his feet. His arms were secured by two of the men, and then the young sentry, with hatred and vengeance in his eyes, punched Adam forcefully in the stomach. Adam folded in two, expelling a grunt of air, but was kept upright by the two men behind him. More hits to his belly and chest followed, and then the young man, clenching and unclenching his fist, started on Adam’s jaw. The torment seemed to last for hours, but in matter of fact only lasted a few minutes. The young sentry took a step back, shaking his unclenched hand and nodded to his two cohorts. They let him go, and Adam crumpled to the ground. The men stepped over him as they exited the cell and left Adam and Cameahwait alone.
Cam had watched his friend being beaten with frustration coursing through his veins that there was nothing he could do to give him aid. He had pulled himself up the bars into a seated position, and grimaced at every thump Adam received. He watched as Adam lay winded on the hard wooden floor.
“Liwanu? Liwanu, my brother?”
Adam groaned and raised a dismissive hand. “I’ve had worse beatings from my little brother Joe when he was a nothing more than a whippersnapper.”
Cameahwait grinned and lowered himself back down to the blanket. “But why beat you?”
Adam sat up carefully and gently probed his painful jaw. “They didn’t like the look of my face without the warpaint.”
That night, Adam was angrier about the non-appearance of Kia than his beating and humiliation in the yard. He paced slowly around the cell, one hand held out for balance against the wall, the other curled around his belly.
“They must know who she is to me; why else would they not let her come?”
“Perhaps they see I am better.”
“Someone must have told them.”
There was nothing Cameahwait could say to calm his agitated friend. He let Adam pace until eventually Adam quietened and lowered himself to the floor.
The meal that night was a slab of fat with a slither of rubbery bacon lining the edge. It was tough and chewy and Adam’s bruised jaw ached when he tried to gnaw through it. He didn’t turn his nose up, though, choosing to grind the meat slowly on the less painful side of his mouth.
But the following day, a painful jaw became the least of Adam’s worries. The same three soldiers from the day before arrived before the sun had even risen, bursting into the room with a lantern to light the way. Adam was lying on his side, his arms wrapped around his naked torso to keep out the cold of the night and early morning. He had been in a deep sleep and turned groggily onto his back when the light was shone in his face. This time they didn’t bother to stand him up. They simply stood and kicked him from all sides. One unfortunate kick got him square between the legs and with a cry of pain he pulled his knees up sharply, rounding his back against the assault. He lay on the hard wood floor—a tense ball of pain—with one hand clutching his groin and the other over his head, until they stopped and went away. He stayed curled up, ignoring the quiet pleas of Cam. And when the breakfast plate was thrown on the floor next to him, he ignored it. Instead, he reached out with shaking fingers for the tin mug of water and managed to pour some into his belly before his head fell back exhausted to the floor. Adam didn’t move again that day.
The following morning after a night of agonised and restless sleep, he was able to drag himself across the cell to face Cam’s concerned gaze. He ignored another breakfast until Cameahwait shouted at him to eat something, even if it was only a scrap. With the plate nearby he managed to lift his head and scoop some gloopy mess into his mouth and chew slowly.
Adam spent that morning flitting fitfully between sleep and a consciousness tormented by waking dreams. But then the torture started all over again. In the middle of the afternoon, the three men returned. This time they used batons on the soles of his feet. Then, to add to Adam’s misery, they hauled him onto toes that could barely take the pain, and beat him until he was unconscious.
In a moment of wakefulness he heaved his wounded body over to the other side of the cell and fell into a haunted stupor. Cameahwait could only watch as Adam lay with his bruised and lacerated back to him, twitching and muttering in his delirium.
But the next day had brought respite. A voice had broken through his anguished dreams. It was a voice from the near past, a rough but kind voice, and one that knew his Indian name. He heard another voice talking to the new one. Cameahwait. Of course, Cam was there, somewhere. The other voice spoke, said his name, said he was Bill Half-Foot. Bill…Bill from the army patrol. From the desert. Adam had managed to pull himself upright, leaning heavily against the wall. Through unfocussed eyes he had discerned the choppy dark hair and fringed jacket that he remembered so well from when Bill had offered a thoughtful ear to his story. Seeing Bill was like spying a welcome oasis in a rain-deprived desert. Adam couldn’t help but smile. And when he’d reached out his hand and Bill’s warm fingers had caught his own chilled fingers in his, he had relaxed, only a bit, for the first time since the beatings had started. Bill had only been there for a few minutes, but he had said what Adam needed to hear, that he would find Kia, and Adam felt another emotion resurface. Hope. And as he had drifted away into welcome oblivion, he had prayed to any god or spirit that might have been listening, that his nightmare would soon be over.
Ben Cartwright rode through the gates of Fort Addington—flanked on either side by his two youngest sons, and followed by Bill Half-Foot—with his chest puffed out like the general of an all-conquering army. So, he hadn’t gone into battle for his eldest boy yet, but Ben was determined to start in the way he meant to go on: with all the bluster, confidence and strategy of a General Winfield Scott.
He had arrived that morning, loping towards the fort gates with a fiercely determined expression carved on his face; pulling up sharply when hallooed by a familiar voice from the grove of trees where Hoss, Joe and Hanska had made their camp. It had been a month since he’d seen his sons, and he had greeted each man with a solid handshake and a firm grip to his shoulder. Despite his worry as to why Adam was incarcerated in the fort, he hadn’t been able to keep a wide grin from animating his face at the sight of his boys healthy and unharmed.
He was introduced to Hanska who briskly nodded at the newcomer and took himself off to the edge of the camp to watch the comings and goings at the fort.
And there was another man breaking bread with them. Ben swiftly took in the heavily-fringed jacket and pants, the slight paunch over a wide belt of ammunition and the leg placed stiffly out in front of him. Bill Half-Foot grinned as he raised a tin mug to Ben.
“You’ll have to forgive me for not gettin’ up. Ma foot don’t always behave itself, and today it’s decided to be as lazy as one of them stray dogs in the mid-day sun.”
Ben moved over to shake the man’s hand as Hoss introduced them and enlightened his father on how Bill knew Adam. Ben had immediately lowered himself to share the felled log that had formed a handy seat in the camp, and pumped Bill’s hand with energy.
“If it hadn’t been for you…finding Adam when you did…” Ben found it hard to speak. He cleared his throat and refused to give up his grip on Bill’s hand. “If it hadn’t been for you, I’d…we’d never have gotten him back. My boy would have been lost…” Ben’s eyes were starting to glisten, causing the man next to him to start fidgeting with unease.
Bill flicked a glance at Hoss and Joe, who stood watching the conversation, and then back at Ben. He reached around to slap Ben on the back. “Gahhh, let’s raise a toast. To ya boys, and the trouble they gets themselves in.”
Ben laughed, aware his display of emotion had embarrassed the hard-edged army scout, courier, translator, whatever it was he happened to be on this particular day. But Bill’s deflection had worked, and Ben’s mind was once more focussed on the present. The four men raised mugs of thick black coffee, each in their own way wondering about the fate of Adam in the fort.
Ben had listened with dismay, and growing anger, to Bill’s account of Adam’s treatment in the cells. This was old news to Hoss and Joe who sat quietly, not taking their eyes from their father’s increasingly downcast features. They weren’t surprised when Ben jumped to his feet, his shoulders rigid with fury, and made as though to stride to the fort there and then.
Hoss had followed his father up and placed a calm hand in the centre of his father’s chest. “Goin’ in there all a-rage and steamin’ like a newly castrated bull ain’t gonna help Adam none.”
Ben glowered at Hoss, his brows low and heavy over rage-black eyes. But a few deep breaths later he had calmed and with a few slaps to his back, Hoss propelled him back to the fallen log.
“That’s the second time in two days I’ve had ta stop a Cartwright from chargin’ in there like a stampeding steer,” muttered Hoss as he resumed his seat, throwing a glance towards his younger brother.
Joe looked away sheepishly.
Ben’s shoulders sank as he settled himself on the log. “I guess we know where Joe gets his temper from.”
Ben’s forehead creased again. “But how in the world did he end up in there? All I know is what was in that wire you sent me and that was that Adam was locked up…again. What is it about that boy; always getting thrown behind bars?” Ben grumbled and then pointed his finger at his youngest son. “It’s a good thing you sent that wire to where you did, Joe. It was delivered to my hotel in two different towns. That was good thinking, son.”
Hoss shifted forward on another log that he’d heaved into the camp a few days earlier at the arrival of Joe and Hanska. “Pa, it’s a long ol’ story, but let’s just say we was freeing some o’ Hanska’s pals from an army convoy and Adam got caught.”
There was silence, the proverbial calm before the storm. And then came the eruption.
“You were what?” Ben was on his feet again, his voice echoing off the nearby trees. The horses attached to the line next to their camp raised their heads sharply, startled by the sudden shout. Hanska swivelled around at the noise. Ben’s eyes narrowed as he viewed his middle son and then, much to Hoss’s consternation, Ben’s voice dropped to a low, deadly level. Bill grinned at the discomfort Ben Cartwright could instil in his grown sons.
“Why don’t you start at the very beginning? And don’t try to sugar-coat it.”
Hoss’s face screwed up. His cheeks bulged as his top lip curled back and his blue eyes sought to look at anyone but his pa.
“Hoss!” Ben barked.
Hoss jumped slightly, his Adam’s apple rose and fell in his throat and he took a deep breath. After a quick glance at Joe, he started to relay the story of everything that had happened to them since they’d arrived in the Ute village. He told of their mission to find the late-returning party which contained Wanekia and Adam’s daughter. He spoke of their discovery that the army had taken them; their swift ride to the fort and the ensuing rescue. His voice was subdued as he told his pa Adam had somehow been captured and was now locked up in the stockade. When he had finished, all was quiet in the camp. Ben paced a few steps towards the fort. His sons watched his head drop briefly to his chest as he let out a heavy sigh.
“You are trying to tell me that you, Joe and Adam, and a trio of Ute Indians, went up against an official army convoy.”
“Well, Pa, Adam thought his wife and little gal were in the wagons—”
Ben spun around. “It doesn’t matter what Adam thought, you and he broke the law.”
Hoss’s head dropped, followed a few seconds later by Joe’s.
“Don’t you boys understand?” Ben had traipsed back to where they were seated and stood over them with his hands planted firmly on his hips. “You broke the law. Adam broke the law. I can’t just march in there and demand they free him. They have all the power of the law on their side.”
Ben looked at his two chastened sons before stiffly turning and moving to sit down heavily next to Bill.
“And you say he has changed back into his Indian clothing?”
Hoss looked over at his youngest brother but Joe’s head remained lowered; the memory of that first sight of Adam dressed in buckskin and with warpaint adorning his body was still too painful. Hoss turned to his father and nodded his head.
“Yessir. I didn’t think I’d ever see Adam lookin’ so…diff’rent. He seemed more Injun than when we found him in Darwin.”
Like his boys had done a few moments before, Ben’s head dropped, a sense of hopelessness starting to wash over him. Not only had Adam got himself into deep trouble with the army, but, from what Ben had heard, it seemed Adam had opted to turn even further away from the life he had once embraced. Ben was beginning to realise his own naivety in believing that Adam would simply revert back to the way he had been before. He had been blind to the severity of the changes in his eldest son; they weren’t just skin deep, they had been scored into his heart and soul.
Bill looked at each man in turn and then spoke. “Well, there may be a-ways outta this.”
Three heads shot up.
“See I was talkin’ to one of the boys in the fort there. Me and him goes back a long way. Used to know his older sister quite well. I swear she could crack walnuts with—”
“Um, Bill.” The half-breed flicked his head up, distracted out of his reminiscences by Ben’s quiet, reproving tone.
“Ah, yeah, well, as I was sayin’, I was talkin’ to young Rowdy—he works in the captain’s office lookin’ after the commander’s books an’ such—and he said there was no official order ever issued from Fort Penning about moving the Ute people to a reservation.”
An angry voice exclaimed behind them. Hanska had jumped up from where he had been crouching and run the few steps into camp on light feet. He dropped to his heels in front of Bill.
“Matwau told us the white man come to the Ute hunting ground. He said the soldier take our people to far-away land.”
“Matwau? That’s the fella who took Adam from ya village and left him in the desert to die?”
Hanska was on his feet again. A stream of Ute hissed from his lips as he stood bristling with rage. Hoss spoke Hanska’s name, breaking into the man’s tirade. The Indian stopped and pulled his knife from his sheath, running a finger along the shiny blade. “If Liwanu had not killed Matwau, I would slice his throat slowly until his blood soaked the earth.”
Ben looked nervously at the Indian but then quickly diverted his attention back to Bill. “Are you saying that this…Matwau…lied about the Ute being taken to a reservation?”
Bill nodded. “According to Rowdy, there ain’t no reservation, and he’d know. If the captain knows, then he knows.”
“Then where were they taking the Ute boys? And what about Adam’s wife and his friend?”
“Rowdy didn’t say as much in so many words, but I get the idea them Ute boys weren’t going to a good end. Like as not they was gonna be taken over the territorial line and left on another tribe’s land. Theys were headed south, weren’t they?”
“It’s only my opinion, but I reckon those boys were going to be taken into Arizona and left where the Navajo could find them.”
Hanska spat forcibly when hearing the name of his sometime enemy. Bill raised an eyebrow.
“As you can see the Ute and the Navajo don’t always see eye to eye.”
Ben rose to his feet and paced around the small camp. “None of this makes any sense.” He stopped with his hands on his hips facing the fort and then turned to face his audience. “This man…Matwau…tells you,” he looked at Hanska, “that your people are being moved onto a reservation by the soldiers. But it’s a lie, not true at all. And then Adam is snatched by this man and taken to the desert to die.” He hesitated for a moment as his mind worked through what he knew. “But then the people who waited behind for Adam are rounded up by soldiers.” He looked pointedly at the men starring back at him. “Hoss, you told me earlier it was this Matwau who betrayed the Ute to the army, who led the soldiers to where the villagers were.”
Hoss nodded. “Yessir, Adam told us Matwau wanted the land the mountain village was on for his own people.”
“So what does the army get out of it?” Ben’s brow was furrowed as he tried to work out the motivations for the Ute being rounded up. “If they have no official orders, if there is no reservation to put them on, then why bring them back here? Why go to all the trouble of transporting them out of the territory? And Hoss, you said the young men were hidden away in a wagon? That’s almost unheard of!”
Bill leaned down to massage his gammy foot. It had lacked pretty much all feeling ever since the horse Bill had been riding as a boy had slipped and gone over on its side, trapping Bill’s foot at a crooked angle. Every now and then, however, he was beset with pins and needles. He pulled his foot into his lap, yanked his boot off and kneaded the flesh to remove the painful prickling. “Mebbe we’ll never know why,” he grunted as he attacked his foot with pressure, “but it seems purdy clear to me the captain there in yonder fort was in cahoots with Matwau to get them Ute off their land.”
Ben settled himself next to Bill. “But what on earth would an army captain get out of it besides a whole heap of aggravation?”
Bill scratched his chin. “That I ain’t so sure about. Mebbe Matwau promised to behave, not cause trouble.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows.”
Hoss and Joe had watched the exchange without saying a word. But now Hoss rose to his feet. “It don’t matter what that captain is gettin’ out of it. We’ve got enough to hang him by his toenails.”
“But we have no proof.” Ben was on his feet.
“But, Pa, we don’t need no proof. We jus’ gotta make that captain think we have.”
Ben had reached out and gripped his boy’s shoulder, looking slowly around at the men who had all risen to their feet. He nodded. “Okay, let’s do this, let’s go get your brother.”
Ben Cartwright gripped Captain Ashwell’s hand firmly, but refused the chair that had been offered to him. Ashwell sat, somewhat hesitantly, and folded his hands on the desk in front of him. Bill had stayed outside with the horses, but Hoss and Joe had followed their father into the office. The captain nodded sharply towards Hoss, who had been a frequent visitor over the last few days. He ran a dismissive gaze over Joe as the young man leaned one shoulder against the wall. Hoss settled his backside on the window sill, crossing his legs at the ankles and folding his arms across his chest.
Ben looked across at the captain, watching as the man drew his chair closer to the desk. He observed the fastidious care that Ashwell had taken in his appearance. His dark hair was slick from the oil used to smooth it close to his scalp, and his moustache had been trimmed, combed and primped into place over his top lip. There was a steeliness to the captain’s expression, but from the amount of nervous tugging down of his jacket and the flicking of imaginary specks from his sleeves, Ben wondered how confident he really was. Ben had noticed the highly polished boots as he had moved out from behind his desk to shake Ben’s hand: a little too much time spent preening, and not enough time commanding was the conclusion Ben reached.
The captain looked at each man individually before resting his gaze on Ben. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
Ben didn’t beat around the bush. “I understand you have my son locked up in one of your cells. And that he has been badly beaten.”
The captain didn’t blink. “If you are referring to the man who attacked one of my convoys and freed a number of prisoners, then yes, I have him locked up in the stockade. As for his injuries, he was refusing to co-operate; the men had to apply a little more force than is usually necessary to make him behave as he should. It appears living like a savage has had quite a detrimental consequence.”
Joe shifted his shoulder away from the wall and threw a glance at Hoss. Ben moved a step nearer the desk.
“You’re lying, Captain Ashwell. From what I understand my son was beaten out of pure malice.”
Ashwell’s face began to redden as he sucked in his cheeks and pursed his lips. He took a deep breath. “I don’t appreciate you coming into my fort and accusing me of—”
“I would like you to hand him over to me,” Ben interrupted, disregarding the captain’s indignation. “He may need medical help. I also want you to hand over the Ute Indian whom you also have locked up, and who, as far as I’m aware, has done nothing to warrant being a prisoner here.”
“He was obstructive when being put into transport—”
“So you shot him?”
Captain Ashwell looked down and twisted his head to the side, before rising slowly to his feet and bringing his gaze back to the man before him. He pulled his uniform down with a sharp tug as he moved around from behind his desk. He ignored Ben’s last comment.
“In answer to your request, the answer is obviously no. Your son broke the law and will be charged accordingly. The Indian will be moved to a reservation.”
“Ah.” It was the opening Ben needed. “Captain, could you show me where this reservation is?” He moved to the huge map of Utah Territory that took up half of the wall behind the captain’s desk.
“Why do you want to know? This is government business; it’s none of your concern.”
Ben swivelled to stare hard into the man’s eyes. “I’m making it my concern, Captain. As you might have realised by now, my son has close links with these people. If he is to be incarcerated for a period of time then I need to know where his family is.”
Hoss and Joe exchanged a look. Their pa had more smoke than a damp wood fire.
Ashwell puckered his lips and then moved to stand next to Ben in front of the map. “It’s around about here.” He pointed vaguely to the top right of the map.
Hoss shifted off the window sill and walked across the room, coming to a stop next to the captain. “You sure, Cap’n? From what I heard the convoy was attacked on the road between here and Boyd’s Creek, and that’s down there.” Hoss pointed to a spot on the map which was almost diametrically opposite to where the captain had pointed. “Seems a mighty strange route to take to get ta the reservation.”
The officer bristled. “Perhaps I got it wrong; it’s a new site. I couldn’t tell you where every Indian reservation and village is in this territory.” He turned to look at both men who were blocking the route to his chair. “Do you mind, gentleman?”
Ben raised an eyebrow to Hoss as they both moved slowly out from behind the captain’s desk. Ashwell thumped back in his chair, and opened the ledger on the table in front of him. “Now as you can see, I’m very busy—”
Ben clenched his fists on the man’s desk and leaned over him. “You don’t know where the reservation is because there isn’t one, isn’t that right, Captain Ashwell?”
Ashwell started to breathe heavily in and out through his nostrils; his mouth a thin tense line.
“Now, I don’t know where you were taking those Indians but if it wasn’t to a reservation, then I’m sure Major General Rainsford at Fort Penning will also have reason to enquire as to where they were being taken.” Ben’s voice was steadily climbing to a thunderous crescendo. “And yes, my son broke the law. But I would argue making dubious agreements with rogue Indians is just as unacceptable.” The captain froze at Ben’s words, staring with wildly-blinking eyes at the man leaning over him. He then let out a sigh, dropped his head and flopped back in his chair, throwing the pencil he’d been holding on to the table.
“You know about the arrangement?”
Ben straightened up and crossed his arms over his chest. “I know there was a deal. What I don’t know is what you got out of it.”
Captain Ashwell sighed heavily. “Matwau’s village is on poor land. It’s near the desert, dry, harsh. They have to conserve their water as best they can and ride a long way for good hunting. How they ended up there, God only knows. But the land is rich in other ways. Matwau’s village is sitting on top of a substantial ore of silver. He knows it but doesn’t care about the wealth it could bring. He rode in, bold as brass, about five weeks ago and offered a deal. He said the land would be ours, if we would move another village off their land for him to claim.”
Ben unfolded his arms and leant back across the desk. “So you agreed. You consented to move women, children, families off the land that was their home, because of your greed.”
The captain jumped to his feet, driving his chair against the wall with a crash. “It was not for me! The money was needed to enlist more men, build more forts. This land is lawless; it needs order!”
Ben’s eyes were black orbs of fire beneath his low-drawn eyebrows. “Don’t deny you would have grown rich, the army officer who…found…the silver.” Disdain dripped from every quietly-spoken word. He turned away, sickened by the sight of the man standing behind the desk. “And then what? I take it Matwau led you to where the village was.”
“He took us to a trail that the villagers would be using. He was clever; he never let on where the land he wanted was sited. But we only came across a handful of Indians. We brought them back here. And I didn’t see Matwau again.”
Ben turned back to face Ashwell. “That’s because Matwau is dead. He died confessing his crimes.”
The captain closed his eyes and sighed heavily.
Ben let him digest the news of his erstwhile partner’s fate before speaking again. “And the village? The village with all the silver?”
Captain Ashwell lowered himself back into his chair. He suddenly looked older than his years as all the polish and bluster melted from his frame. “Mr Cartwright, I could not tell you where a single Ute village is in this godforsaken land.”
Ben looked at his boys. They had shifted from their positions on hearing the captain’s statement. All three traded a look of relief. The Ute villagers were safe. Ben turned back to face the disgraced captain and, for the last time, leant across the desk.
“I’ll ask you once more, Captain. Will you release my son and the Indian into my care? And I understand there is a Ute woman and her child here too.”
The captain sat up slowly in his chair and reached for his pen and ink. “I’ll write the release paper.”
Within a couple of minutes, Ben was following his two sons out of the office, clutching the precious piece of paper in his hand. He turned as he reached the door. “As soon as I have my boy back safely, I will be writing to Major General Rainsford at Fort Penning about this whole charade. I expect you’ll be hearing from him soon.” With one last look at the defeated captain slumped in his chair, Ben closed the door firmly behind him.
Young Willard Frost was startled to see three civilians and his conniving ol’ buddy, Bill Half-Foot, enter the stockade’s office and present a signed release paper for the two prisoners. Ben didn’t wait for him to fumble with the keys; he snatched them from the lad’s hand and stormed into the room housing the cells.
He was almost driven back by the smell of human waste. Clasping a hand over his mouth, he entered the room. Ahead of him was the cell containing the Ute Indian who was climbing warily to his feet. Ben stumbled past him, quickly spying the prone figure in the next cell. His fingers wouldn’t obey his instructions and he dropped the keys twice. A large hand folded over his own and Hoss was there, gently taking the keys from his father’s grip and unlocking the cell door. The key took an age to turn during which Ben couldn’t take his eyes from his son’s bruised and lacerated back. But Adam was moving. And by the time the door swung open he had manoeuvred himself onto his rump, leaning heavily to the side with his weight on one arm.
Ben sank to his knees besides him. He wanted to envelop Adam in his arms but his hands could only hover over his son’s damaged skin, afraid to touch him for fear of hurting him more. Adam looked up, pushing a lock of lank hair behind one ear. And Ben’s heart soared to see him smile.
“It’s okay, Pa, I’m okay.”
“Son, you’re not okay, look at what they’ve done to you.”
“A few bruises here and there, they’ll heal.”
Adam looked up at his father and smiled again. “Pa, you sure are a sight for sore eyes.”
Ben laughed; the irony wasn’t lost on him. Adam’s swollen eye was now a garish mix of green and yellow, and the flesh around his other eye had an angry redness to it. Ben could hold himself back no longer. Gently cupping a hand around Adam’s neck he pulled his son close to his chest. He placed a careful hand on Adam’s back as he held him near. Knowing his son was now safe and in apparent good humour filled Ben’s heart with a joy he hadn’t felt since he’d been reunited with him four long weeks ago.
Adam pulled away from his father’s chest gently, feeling Ben reluctantly release his hold on him. But Adam had not stopped smiling throughout the embrace. The warmth of his father’s hold filled him with a gladness that penetrated through all the pain and hurt of the last few days. He looked up to see the two worried faces of his brothers staring down at him. He grinned at them to dispel the concern that narrowed their lips and lowered their brows.
He spotted Bill behind them. “Do I have you to thank, Bill? They stopped the beatings two days ago. And the food improved too.” Adam laughed but the gratitude shone bright from his eyes.
Bill lowered his face. “Gaaah…I jus’ told the cap who ya daddy was, is all.” He started edging towards the door. “I’ll go see about a wagon, you ain’t in no fit state to ride.” Bill turned as he reached the door through which Frosty was peering with interest. “I’m sure the cap will see fit to oblige.” He moved passed Frosty, pausing for a moment to place a warm hand on the lad’s shoulder. “I ain’t too good at all that emotional stuff,” he said to him. “Besides, I made a promise to someone which I needs to keep.”
Adam suddenly gripped his father’s arm. “Pa, my wife, she’s here, I’m certain of it.”
“Shh, Adam, we’ll find her. We need to take care of you first. Can you stand?”
Adam glanced down as his legs. “I think so, though my feet aren’t in a good way.”
Ben leaned over to look at Adam’s soles and frowned.
“We’ll give it a try, let’s get you up.”
Bill had freed Cameahwait from his cell and the Ute had been hovering cautiously in the corridor, observing the interaction between Adam and his father. As Hoss started to move towards his brother to help raise him up, he was halted in his tracks by Cam as he squeezed past the big man. “Please, let me.”
Hoss paused, throwing a glance at his father. Ben nodded, and together Ben and Cameahwait slipped an arm around Adam’s back as Adam reached his arms around their shoulders. Taking his weight, they hauled him upright. He groaned and held his breath to lessen the pain in his feet but after a concerned query from his father, he nodded that he could walk. Just. Cam also winced at the effort. Adam noticed the Ute’s grimace and spoke to him in the tongue they shared. “You shouldn’t be doing this; you’ll tear open your wound and they’ll be hell to pay from Wanekia.”
Cam paused, moving his hand down to Adam’s waist to get a better grip. “I need to do this, my friend.” He looked into Adam’s eyes. “You understand?”
Adam nodded. Together, the white man who had given Adam life, and the Indian who had become Adam’s closest friend, supported him as he left the stockade. He could only walk on the balls of his feet by the time they reached the yard. As Adam and Cameahwait emerged from the subdued light of their cell into the bright afternoon sun, they both clenched their eyes shut and ducked their heads to avoid the painful overbearing glare of the light.
Hoss followed them out and a sharp whistle from the passage leading to the corral sent him scurrying towards Bill who had secured a buckboard and mule for their use; as expected, the fort’s commander had been more than obliging of their needs. Joe had scooted on ahead under orders to return to their camp and find a clean shirt for Adam to wear from the items strapped to his father’s pack horse; and on his return to bring Sport and Matwau’s Indian pony for Cameahwait. There was no way Adam could ride, so Sport would be tied to the buckboard.
A shady bench was provided for Adam to rest upon. The three men drew curious looks from the soldiers and civilians who manned the fort, particularly the half-dressed Adam with his Indian buckskin pants and horribly bruised torso and face. No one had seen him since the humiliation of his scrub-down by the washerwomen, and those who had been witness to that could see how, in the interim, he had been beaten to within an inch of his life. He sat leaning heavily against his father, ignoring the stares from inquisitive onlookers. Joe returned with a canteen of fresh water and an almost clean shirt. Adam didn’t complain; he found the subtle odour of his father permeating the garment strangely comforting.
They had to wait a short while, but soon Hoss was walking through the passageway leading a mule and buckboard. Adam didn’t mind the wait, especially after asking his father to help him stand so he could move into the sunlight. He leaned back against the hitching post with Cam and Ben on either side of him for support, his eyes closed and his face raised to the sky, relishing the tingle of heat against his skin.
He couldn’t stop asking his father about Kia. Was she here? Had the soldiers moved her to a reservation? Could they take him to where she was? And Ben would lay a gentle grip on his son’s forearm and tell him not to worry, he’d see her soon. Adam would nod and calm, but a few minutes later the questions would start again.
Hoss procured a handful of gunny sacks filled with grain, and these, along with every bed roll the party had between them, were laid on the floor of the buckboard. It was time for Adam to be helped into the back. He gripped the wooden side of the wagon, and took one last look around. He sighed. During those long endless hours of pain he had found himself repeating over and over that he was a fool, an idiotic fool, a reckless fool, a stupid fool; it had become a relentless refrain in his mind. He had thought constantly about the moment he had decided to let himself be caught and mentally berated himself for being so blind as to the consequences. His plan had been flawed from the beginning. How long could he have expected to get away with the deception that he was Ute? And after what he’d done in attacking the transport, well, the only logical outcome for him would be a prison cell for several years. But now, as he glanced at Cam besides him, he realised perhaps, just perhaps, it hadn’t been such a fool idea after all. At the very least, his actions had resulted in his friend being freed. Cam could return to the village, to his wife and children.
As for Adam’s own tiny family… His head dropped to his chest as a feeling of helplessness threatened to overwhelm him. But he quickly drew a breath and refused to let himself give in to such power-sapping sentiment. He would find them, even if it meant combing through every single fort, reservation and Indian village in the territory. Not an inch of desert, mountain and forest would go unexplored. And he would not stop until he had found them.
Adam lifted his head high and took another look around the yard; at the people who were standing in the shade watching the scene before them. He wasn’t surprised to see the three soldiers who had taken such pleasure in beating him. They lounged together near the mess, their eyes fixed on the man who had humiliated them. The sentry Adam had knocked out was vibrating with nervous energy. The man took a step forward but one of his companions placed a hand on his chest and moved him gently but firmly back. Adam was saddened to see such loathing in the man’s eyes and for a moment he felt regret. Was it his doing that this once fearful man was now twisted by hate? Adam sighed but didn’t look away. He saw the defiance and satisfaction on their faces, he saw the pride; Adam had been nothing more than an Injun lover who needed putting in his place. After one last slow look at the three men, Adam blinked slowly, looked away and indicated to his father he was ready to go.
There was a scream behind him. A long, singular pitch of such intensity that not a head in the fort didn’t twist around to stare in disbelief at the sound. It was Wanekia, and in her arms was a child with the raven-coloured hair of both her parents. Mimiteh let out a wail to match her mother’s which only grew in volume when she was thrust into the arms of the man who had led her mother through the passageway. Bill tucked the infant on to one arm, and joggled her up and down to soothe her. Mimiteh wanted her mother, but Kia was gone, running across the inner yard to where her husband stood propped up against the buckboard. Bill had warned her Adam had been hurt, and she could see the bruises on his face. Kia couldn’t restrain herself, though. She launched herself into the arms that had brushed off his helpers and opened to receive her.
Adam grunted noisily with the hard impact of her body against his badly bruised torso; the small of his back was forced painfully against the hard wooden floor of the buckboard making him gasp momentarily. But the pain was forgotten in an instant. He knew nothing else at that moment, only that his arms were wrapped around Kia and squeezing her close; that he could feel the firmness of her flesh beneath his hands as he gripped her body; that her breath was hot against his neck and her heart was racing in time with his. He pinched his eyes closed, clasping her tighter in his arms. He was scared to let her go, lest this was all a dream and she would vanish from view if he opened his eyes. She clung to him, her hands smoothing across his back, her head hooked over his shoulder, nuzzling her lips into his neck. They stayed bound together, two bodies welded so intimately they were almost one. Embarrassed, but happy, family and friends looked away and turned their backs to give Adam and Kia their time together.
Adam drew back slightly and lifted his hands to her face; the gentle touch of his fingertips lightly caressed her jaw and cheeks. He looked down at her, seeing her face properly for the first time since she’d thrown herself into his arms. He pushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear and gazed at the lovely visage he had dreamt of every night that they’d been separated. Her eyes were wet, and tear tracks marked her cheeks, but she was still the most beautiful woman in Adam’s eyes. He rubbed his thumbs over her face to wipe away the tears, and they both laughed.
And then he kissed her. No matter that half the world seemed to be watching, and that the half-healed cut on his lip stung like crazy when pressure was put on it, Adam opened his lips against hers. He could feel her body respond, flattening closer against his. There was nothing else but the taste of her mouth, the feel of her tongue on his, and Adam was lost in a world far, far away. Because, when Adam pulled back and looked down into those clear brown eyes, he was no longer aware of anyone except him and Kia. He kept his hands on her cheeks, transfixed by a face he had wondered at times if he would ever see again.
But then a wail broke through the spell that had been woven around them, and looking behind Kia Adam saw the flailing figure of his daughter in the arms of Bill. Ignoring the pain in his feet, he limped a few steps towards the older man, and with a teary grin took the child into his arms. With one arm under her chubby bottom, he pressed the tiny girl’s head gently against his chest. Mimiteh wouldn’t quiet and flicked her head from side to side, pushing back from Adam’s body as her face turned red from tears and anger. Adam tucked his arms around her body and held her up, laughing. “What sort of welcome is this for your ol’ papa, huh?” He kissed her small wet cheek. “My little tabboots.” His eyes found Kia’s and she moved to his side, ready to take the squirming child. But then Adam felt a warm hand on his back and turned to see his father, smiling at the young family before him.
“Kia,” Adam spoke in English so his pa would understand, “I want you to meet my father.”
Wanekia’s eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. “Your father? But he—”
“No. He didn’t.” Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Cam turning away. “But that’s all in the past, and it’s a long story which I’ll tell you when we’re on our way.”
Adam turned to his father. “Pa, this is Wanekia.” He smiled at Kia with eyes that could barely contain all the love he felt for the woman who had given him purpose to live. “My wife.” Ben stepped forward and with all the charm that had netted him three wives, he took her two hands in his own. “It’s a very great honour to meet you.” A kiss to her cheek made her redden in a hot flush of modesty. She lowered her head and moved closer to Adam. But both men could see the shy smile on her lips.
Mimiteh had quietened in her father’s arms. A small fist clung to his shirt and she had followed the conversation with her head; large eyes full of wonder taking in the new people and new voices. “And this,” Adam limped around on the spot so Mimiteh was facing his father, “is your granddaughter.” Ben, with all the know-how and practice of a father of three children, reached across to take Mimiteh in his large secure hands and held her up in front of him. “She has Joseph’s ears,” he laughed. Mimiteh stared wide-eyed at the man grinning broadly at her. “She’s beautiful, Adam.” And as befitted a proud grandfather, he walked away with the babe to show her off.
The soles of Adam’s feet were beginning to suffer. Keeping a firm hold of Kia’s hand, he hobbled back to lean against the buckboard where he could alleviate some of the weight. He could see Ben proudly holding Mimiteh in his arms—Hoss and Joe smiling and waggling a small hand—and happy in the knowledge his whole family were together for the first time, he looked back to his wife. He raised her hand and placed it over his heart, pulling her close. Kia rested her other hand gently on his side and closed her eyes at the feel of her husband’s touch on her face.
Adam leaned close to her ear. “Every time I shut my eyes, you were there,” whispered Adam. “I never stopped looking for you.”
Kia let her head drop onto his shoulder and when she looked back up at Adam, her eyes were glistening.
“I never gave up, my husband. I would know here,” she placed a hand over her heart, “if you had left me to walk with the spirits of the dead.”
Adam enclosed her hand within both of his, his palms smoothing over her fingers. He raised it to his lips, letting his mouth linger over her skin.
But then the party was ready to leave. Adam’s exertions had wearied him more than he had expected and he needed to be helped onto the buckboard. With Hoss’s hands under his brother’s armpits, Hoss had to physically pull Adam up onto the cart. He was settled on blankets with his wife by his side. Their daughter lay on her belly across their laps, reaching out a small arm towards Dandy and Sport, who were tied to the back. Not a moment too soon, the buckboard, with Hoss at the reins, rolled out of the fort with an informal cavalcade of horsemen surrounding it.
As they passed the camp which had been Hoss, Joe and Hanska’s home for a week, there was a fearsome screech and a horseman burst out of the grove, brandishing a rifle above his head. It was Hanska with a victory cry. His horse danced with nervous energy as he circled the cart and riders, whooping and hooting their triumph over the enemy. Cameahwait joined him, raising a fist in the air and spurring his pony in a constant spiral of motion. As the buckboard rounded a bend in the road and Fort Addington was lost from sight behind them, Hanska rode back to where he could be seen by the fort’s occupants. He raised his rifle in the air once, his pony prancing beneath him, before wheeling the animal around and racing off, leaving nothing but a trail of dust in his wake.
If any of the Cartwrights had looked closely as they rolled out of Fort Addington for the last time, they may have noticed a shadow behind the window of the fort commander’s office. Captain Ashwell stood with his back straight and his chin raised as the buckboard rumbled through the gates. He watched the fort’s occupants return to their usual activities before reoccupying the seat at his desk. After a moment’s deliberation he opened one of the desk drawers and retrieved a bottle of French brandy and a glass. He lifted the bottle to the light, smiling as he observed the liquid contents shine with a clear honey hue as the sunlight refracted through the glass. His army career was effectively over, his future uncertain, but he could still appreciate the beauty inherent in the simplicity of light rays reacting with a spirit made golden by aging it in oak casks. He looked once more towards the window and at the sunlight falling across his desk. Then, abandoning the glass, he uncorked the brandy and lifted the bottle to his lips.
Later that evening, his aide found him passed out across the desk; his head resting on a letter of resignation stained with the oil he used to keep his hair slicked back.
It would take three days to reach the high camp. On the second day, after several hours of battling with the mule on increasingly steep slopes, the decision was taken to abandon the buckboard. Bill volunteered to be the one to return it to the fort. Thankfully, there were enough horses for everyone, but Ben was insistent Adam share a mount with someone and not ride alone. After heated words—Adam resolute in his conviction he could sit a saddle; he’d ridden with worse injuries than a few cuts and bruises—Ben relented with a grunt, but only with the proviso that he take it slowly, and always have someone by his side.
In the aftermath of the quarrel while a chastened Adam was being helped down from the cart, Hanska vaulted off his pony, handed his reins to Wanekia and clambered to the top of a large boulder. With a shout and a fist to the air, he turned and jumped down to the other side, disappearing into the rocky outcrops. He would make his own way back to the village. Kia wasn’t a seasoned rider, and with a small child in a sling around her body, the men would take turns to lead her pony.
The ascent to the high camp was a torturous one for Adam. The increasingly fewer stints of riding on the flat were bearable. But when he had to lean forward due to the motion of an upward-clambering horse and clench his thighs around the body of the animal as it climbed; or when momentum shifted his weight sharply from side to side on a twisting trail; his battered body would cry out in pain. After a particularly long stretch without a break, exhaustion and hurt caused an unexpected light-headedness, and he toppled slowly off his mount. Perhaps it was luck, or the hand of the Great Spirit, but thankfully Hoss had been riding at his side and caught his brother in his arms as Adam fell towards him. The other men hurriedly dismounted and scrambled between the horses to take his weight and lower him to the ground where he could rest. But Adam’s obstinate nature would not let him hold the company up for long, and he was soon insisting he was fine, that everyone should stop fussing and please help him back onto his horse.
It was with regret that they said goodbye to Bill Half-Foot. He had accompanied them as far as he could but saw the need to take the buckboard down to level ground as the perfect excuse to leave them. Bill wasn’t a one for goodbyes, and once his own mount was secured to the back of the wagon, he climbed up onto the driver’s seat and waved a farewell. Adam couldn’t let him go that easily. With help he was boosted up onto Sport and loped down the track after the man who had now saved his life on two separate occasions. Bill pulled the mule to a stop, and watched as Adam reined in beside him and straightened his arms against the saddle pommel. His usual folded arm lean was too uncomfortable a pose at this time.
“I hope we don’t meet again, Bill.”
Bill raised his eyebrows.
“Because that’ll mean I’m in a jail cell, tied in the back of an army wagon, been left somewhere to die…” Adam trailed off, one side of his mouth quirked in amusement. His mount paced briefly on the rocky slope and Adam pulled the animal around so he was facing up the track.
Adam looked away over the landscape spread like a fraying blanket beneath them. “You’ve been more than a friend to me, Bill. I don’t know what to do, or say, to thank you.”
Adam looked back at him. “If you ever need—”
“Son,” Bill interrupted. He didn’t say anything for a moment as he chewed the inside of his mouth. “Ya one of the good ones. Jus’ stay out of the way of crazy Injuns and money-grabbin’ army men.” With that he clicked at the mule which started to walk forward at a leisurely gait. Adam pulled his horse around to watch his friend for a few moments then wheeled the animal around to head back up the track. There was a shout behind him. Bill had stopped the buckboard and had twisted around to face Adam.
“There is one thing you can do,” he called. “You make yourself some more babies with that woman o’ yours.” He shifted to face forward but then called over his shoulder. “And the first boy ya have, ya call him William.”
They had been in the village for a little over a week. Under the expert, and tender, ministrations of his wife, Adam was making a rapid recovery. He had had to spend a couple of days on his back—under duress—when efforts to stand would result in him tumbling to the ground on more than one occasion. But it wasn’t long before he was up and walking around, or merely sitting in front of his lodge with his Cartwright and Ute families nearby, gaining strength from the sun and their companionship.
When he was able to walk without draping his arm around someone’s shoulder for support, Adam found himself strolling with Cameahwait down to the corral. The walk was leisurely as Adam was unable to move quickly on his still-sore feet. They lent against the rough fencing and Adam listened as Cam spoke of a larger-than-usual mule deer that had been spotted up on the rocky mountainside above the village. The buck was an impressive size and if they could track it, the village would eat well for many days. Adam nodded and agreed they should seek out the animal at the earliest opportunity. They stared at the horses for a few minutes, a comfortable silence between them. Then Adam turned to Cameahwait and before the Ute could react, Adam had pulled his fist back and swung it at Cam’s jaw. The Indian fell back, catching himself on the fencing which creaked under his weight. He remained suspended with one arm crooked over a branch railing. Adam held his hand out to him, and after a moment’s hesitation, Cam grasped it, letting Adam pull him upright.
“How’s your jaw?” asked Adam.
Cameahwait opened his mouth, his fingers gingerly patting his face. “You don’t hit as hard as Luyu when I have done something to upset her.” He dropped his hand. “You have kept your promise.”
Adam started to walk back to his lodge, letting Cam fall in beside him. “I’m going to have to ask Luyu to give me lessons in punching.”
No more words would be said about what Cameahwait did, or didn’t, do in Juniper Gorge that day. And although Adam’s trust in Cam would need to be rebuilt, he had forgiven him. As for the clout, Adam’s tender knuckles had never felt so good.
Kia had shared her story with Adam on their journey up the mountain. Although initially annoyed at his wife’s stubbornness, Adam had become prouder and prouder of his obstinate wife as she had spoken of staying behind to await the return of the young warriors who had been sent out to find him. She had refused to cower or hide when the soldiers had unexpectedly surrounded them in the forest. She had stood tall, clutching Mimiteh to her chest, and thrown defiant looks at the uniformed men as she, Cameahwait and the Ute braves were marched at rifle point away from the forest clearing. After several days of travel, and on arrival at the fort, the Ute men had been bundled into the cells. They would spend the rest of their time incarcerated in the stockade until the captain had decided what to do with them.
Kia was taken in by one of the married couples and she and her daughter were treated kindly. But she was, to all intents and purposes, a prisoner. The lady of the house, Mrs. King, kept a close watch on her, and only let her out once a day when a soldier appeared at her door. Kia was grateful, however, for the strange but comfortable surroundings.
At first Kia was kept locked in the small store room attached to the one-room lodging which was home to Mrs. King and her sergeant husband. It had been quickly rearranged to accommodate a narrow bed. But Mrs. King took a liking to the young mother and, before long, Kia was allowed out into the main room where the women would talk as Kia helped with the daily household chores. Mrs. King was a sad creature, and watched with a sorrowful look of yearning on her face whenever Kia would pull down the front of her dress and put Mimiteh on her breast. She pleaded with Kia to let her hold the child. Kia was reticent at first but soon warmed to the lonely young woman and found unexpected pleasure in watching her play with her daughter.
Kia showed her defiance again when Cameahwait fought back against the removal of the Ute boys from the fort. She had screamed when Cam had fallen to the ground bleeding from the bullet he’d taken in his shoulder, but soon pulled herself together. With one hand pressed firmly over his wound, she refused to let herself be hauled onto the wagon, insisting she stay behind to tend to his injury. The captain had huffily agreed. A petulant woman was the last thing he needed; and it would keep the fort’s physician in his rightful place, treating the handful of men in the infirmary and not having to see to an ungrateful savage. Each morning she was collected by a private and accompanied to the stockade. She would bathe Cam’s wound and apply a fresh covering of a paste made of the medicinal herbs she’d kept with her since the village had split into two. Mrs. King gave her some cloth to make a fresh bandage each day. And so, in Kia’s care, Cameahwait stayed infection-free and recovered well. After several days, however, the soldier stopped coming to Mrs. King’s door and Kia’s visits to Cameahwait came to an end. She was never told why.
The Kings and whichever soldier had been assigned to collect her each day were the only people Kia saw. That is, until one afternoon when a leathery-skinned man speaking her tongue knocked on the door and entreated Mrs. King to let him speak to her. After some hesitation, the young wife relented, and Bill Half-Foot was allowed to enter the premises. He spoke kindly to Kia, asking her what she knew of the men in the cells. She replied she only knew of one man, an important man in her village whose wound she had been tending. Bill complimented her on her obvious healing skills and then gently told her another man had been brought in, a white man dressed as a Ute. Wanekia’s hand rose sharply to her mouth, her eyes widening in shock. She stood, thrusting Mimiteh into a mystified Mrs. King’s arms, and stepped towards the door before realising she wasn’t allowed to leave. She stayed rooted to the spot, turning between Bill and the door, unable to think straight, her mind consumed with thoughts of Liwanu.
It had taken the firm, but tender, grip of Bill’s hands on her arms to bring her out of her daze. He led her back to her seat and pulled another chair closer to her. He didn’t tell her about Adam’s beatings. Instead he made her a promise. He swore on his old Paiute mother’s grave that when he was able, he would take her to him. She had to trust that he would. Kia had flicked her dark eyes at his and seen something deep within the depths of his own which made her believe he would keep his promise. She had nodded, and as Bill left her alone with Mrs. King, Kia had burst into tears, burying her face in the seat’s antimacassar.
It was only when they had returned to the safety and comfort of their mountain village that Kia shared her emotions about the day he had disappeared. To Adam it seemed she was busier than usual, attending to details and chores that were not vital. She was working herself into a state of exhaustion so that at night she would be too tired to talk. It was clear she was keeping busy on purpose and holding something back.
He had grabbed her wrist as she had been fussing in the lodge one night, and pulled her down to where he was lying on a bed of furs. She landed with a thump on her knees and slapped his shoulder as she tried to rise to her feet again. Adam stopped her, keeping a firm grip on her arm.
“Kia, tell me what troubles you.”
She squirmed in his grasp but then sat back, her bottom resting on her heels. “Nothing troubles me.” She looked towards their sleeping daughter who was lying on her back with one arm curled around her head.
Adam squeezed her hand. “Kia,” he probed gently.
She sighed heavily but kept her eyes on their child. She deliberated for a few moments before speaking. “Our life was good. We were happy.” She stroked a finger down her sleeping daughter’s cheek. “And then Matwau came and everything changed.” She turned back to Adam but couldn’t meet his eyes. “That night you walked out of the lodge, but you didn’t come back in. I called for you but you did not answer. I ran to every lodge, I ran to the trees, to the river, where the horses were.” Her lips were twitching as she tried to fight the emotion stirring within her. “I looked everywhere, everywhere. But you were…you were gone.” Her breath was hitching in her throat. “Liwanu, I was so scared. I thought you had grown tired of us and had walked away.”
Adam sat up, his warm hands rubbing up and down her arms. “Kia, how could you think that of me?”
The words burst out of her. “I know, but we couldn’t find you anywhere, there was no body. And I knew,” she glared at him fiercely, roughly brushing unshed tears from her eyes, “I knew you weren’t dead, I knew.”
Adam folded his arms around her to pull her close but she fought against him. “And when I saw you at the fort…all my prayers to the bison, and my spirit guide, and the Great Spirit…they had heard me. They gave you back to me.”
Adam dropped his arms, letting his hands softly circle her wrists. “Then why so troubled, my love?”
She dropped back to her heels and sighed. “You came back. But…” She sighed again. “Your family…”
It all made sense. Adam rose on to his knees and pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her as though he’d never let go. Her arms were trapped against his chest and he could feel the tips of her fingers gently touching the dark hairs no pure blood Indian possessed.
“They are my family. My father, my brothers. And I would never tell them to their faces but I love them so very dearly. But they don’t give me what you give me. You are my other half, Kia.” He pulled back to look into her face. “You are the reason my heart beats and why I breathe and why the blood runs through my veins. You are everything to me.” He chuckled. “And I’m not going anywhere, at least, not without you and that little one.”
An unshed tear lingered at the corner of her eye and then slowly tracked down her cheek. “I’ve been foolish,” she said humbly.
“Yep,” he replied, and got the reaction he had hoped for. She twisted one of the hairs on his chest, making him yelp, and then pushed him back on his furs. He grabbed her hand as she made to stand and she tumbled back down to her knees. But firmly she extracted her fingers from his and told him he needed to rest—“else who knows what hurt I will do to you.” He had laughed and fallen back onto the furs to watch her bustle around the lodge. He had set her mind at rest, but Adam knew there were others who would not be so glad of the decision he had made.
Joe was suffering in the heat. Despite being halfway up a mountain on a high plateau, the mid-summer heat had penetrated the village, chasing before it any semblance of refreshing breeze that might have cooled his damp sticky skin and dried the constant stream of sweat that itched around his neck. He and Hoss and their father had been given a lodge for the duration of their time in the village, not far from where Adam’s tepee sat on the perimeter of the village, backing on to the forest of pinyon-juniper trees. That night, Joe had woken, stifling in the confines of the airless lodge and although certain it would be as sultry outside, he had pulled up his blanket, tiptoed carefully around the sleeping bodies of his father and brother, and sat down on the ground outside.
It was a beautiful night. The sky was alive with a million stars and the lack of a single cloud meant there should have been a chill in the air. However, the stifling heat of the day had warmed the earth and the high temperatures lingered late into the night. The moon was beginning to wane, yet still managed to cast a silvery gleam over the land. Joe sat for a few minutes studying the outlines of the tepees—black against the night sky—and the shadowy mass of trees behind the village. He lay back, slipping his hands behind his head, and watched the stars spiral across the heavens, thinking back on the day’s events.
Shortly after the first meal of the day, Adam had taken his father to one side. Joe didn’t know what words passed between them, but he had observed the animated conversation from a distance. There had been raised voices, backs had been turned, shoulders hunched. And then Ben had looked as if he was pleading with Adam. Whatever reply he received led Ben to turn from his son and walk away without a word, leaving Adam staring after his father. On his arrival at their tepee, Ben had brushed past Joe and ducked down into the interior. Joe had cautiously followed him in and, after a hesitant inquiry, was gruffly informed Adam was staying in the village. Ben had said no more and it was clear to Joe nothing further was going to be shared. So he had left his father alone and gone searching for Adam.
Joe found him sitting in front of his lodge with a small selection of rifles at his side; he was vigorously jamming a rod, with a piece of cloth tied to the end, up and down the barrel of one of the guns. His cheeks were puffed up, narrowing his eyes to blazing slits of silent fury. Adam ignored his younger brother who stood with his hands thrust into his back pockets waiting for Adam to say something. After a few moments Joe began to build an irritation of his own at his brother’s indifference to his presence.
“So you’re staying?”
Adam flashed a quick look at him, but then continued to move the ramrod up and down the rifle’s barrel.
Joe dropped to his haunches next to Adam. “And what about Pa? What about—”
“You?” Adam had lowered the rifle, and was staring intently at Joe.
“I was gonna say Hoss, but yeah,” he shrugged and looked down, “what about me?”
Adam exhaled heavily through his nose. “This wasn’t an easy decision, Joe. We’ve all been through a lot these past few weeks. Finding you again, everything at the fort…” Adam trailed off.
They were silent for a few moments.
“But what about Pa? It’ll kill him to lose you again.”
Adam sighed. “Pa doesn’t understand. He wants me to bring Kia and Mimiteh back to the Ponderosa.”
Joe’s face broke out into a smile. “Then why don’t you?”
“Because this is her home, Joe. And mine.”
Joe’s voice was sharp. “The Ponderosa’s your home.”
A movement caught Adam’s attention. He watched as his father stepped out of the tepee and looked towards Adam and Joe. He made as if to walk towards his two boys, but then faltered and walked away from them. Adam sighed again.
“Not anymore.” He pulled his gaze back to his brother. “My life is here now, Joe. I like this life. I don’t miss deals and contracts, or endless days on horseback on a round-up. I don’t miss the politics of Virginia City, or the dances and church socials.” He picked the rifle up again. “The people here lead a simple life.” A smile crept over his face, dimpling his cheeks. “You should be here when the whole village takes part in a rabbit drive. Every man, woman and child takes part. All you can hear from dawn to dusk is laughter. We only take from the land what we need and if we are good to her, she is good to us. It can be hard, Joe, but…I found something here I didn’t have back in Nevada.” He looked up to see Joe’s expectant eyes. “I found a peace with myself. I’m happy with who I am for the first time in my life.”
There hadn’t been anything else to say and Joe had left Adam to his rifles. Their father had stayed in his lodge during mealtimes, unable to reconcile his son’s new life with the one he had hoped in his heart Adam would come back to.
So now Joe lay in the shade of the tepee, enjoying the cooler night air and wondering how he could settle the tension that had arisen between his father and elder brother. He had shared his concerns with Hoss, who had shrugged and reminded Joe that once those two got a beef between them, it usually took one of them backing down to resolve the issue. Hoss’s comment hadn’t helped to ease Joe’s worries.
Joe dozed off and was awoken sometime later by a noise in the night. He raised his head towards the sound and saw that Kia was sitting on the ground next to her and Adam’s lodge. Her legs were bent in front of her, bare feet flat on the grass, and she was leaning forward slightly with her palms level against the earth to either side of her. She was bathed in a pool of lustrous light, but her face didn’t look to the stars. Instead, she was looking down and talking softly; so quietly Joe could barely make out her voice. He lifted himself up onto his elbows to see her more clearly. He could just about discern in the silvery glow that she was stroking the earth gently with her fingers, in time with her words. Perhaps the air was thinner up here, or maybe he wasn’t fully awake, but it seemed to Joe that at this moment Kia wasn’t a creature of the sky or the air but that she was most alive when she could feel the heartbeat of the earth against her skin. Joe watched, entranced by this radiant woman shimmering in the moonlight, her hair flowing in a shiny cascade down her back.
There was another sound. The hide flap to Adam’s lodge was being flung outwards, and Adam was ducking his head as he stepped out into the starlit night. A knuckle was rubbing the corner of his eye as if he had only that moment woken. Barefoot and clad only in a pair of pants, his hair loose around his shoulders, he stopped and looked first in one direction and then another. Even in the pale moonlight, the fading bruises and cuts could be seen on Adam’s back and torso. Joe didn’t move from where he lay in the shadow of his lodge, unwilling to break the spell being cast before him. Kia’s barely audible murmuring continued and Adam’s head turned in its direction. He moved around the side of the tepee to see his wife seated on the ground. With his back to Joe, he stood watching her, his arms hanging loosely by his side, his head cocked at a slight angle. Joe was unable to see the expression on his face but he imagined Adam to be smiling.
When she had quietened, Joe watched as Adam padded over to her and held out his hands. She placed her fingers in his palms and he lifted her to her feet. They stared at each other for a few moments before Adam bent down, and with one arm behind Kia’s knees and the other around her back, he hoisted her into his arms, her hair flaring out as he swept her up. Kia curled one arm around his back and buried her face in his neck as he carried her towards their lodge. But then she lifted her head and placed her fingertips on his jaw to move his face towards hers. He came to a stop as she reached up and lightly kissed him, a feather-light touch of her lips on his. She drew back, her eyes on his mouth and once more she pressed her lips to his. They were in full view of Joe: Kia suspended in Adam’s arms, their eyes squeezed closed and their mouths opening and closing as their lips moved softly together. And for the first time in his life Joe didn’t feel embarrassed to see his older brother kissing a girl. He could only watch, mesmerised, as Adam and Kia kissed in the moonlight. Their embrace was a display of such tenderness and love that Joe slowly laid his head back to the ground, a feeling of contentment washing over him. He saw Kia hide her face once more in Adam’s neck, and then Adam was crouching low to enter his lodge. As the flap fell down behind them, Joe turned over onto his side. He knew what he needed to do when the new day dawned. He lay there for a long while, surprised at how happy he felt for his brother, and sure in his conviction that what would happen tomorrow would be the right thing. For all of them.
Adam had never felt prouder of his youngest brother.
It had been a difficult morning seeing his father and brothers packing up their gear and preparing their horses for the long ride home. Adam could only watch as his father secured his saddlebags and bedroll to his saddle. Ben had fussed over his granddaughter and Kia but had been cool with Adam, unable to keep the disappointment of parting from his face. Adam had tried several times to approach him, offering words of advice for the journey, or with wrapped packages of food, and Ben had gratefully accepted them. But both Adam and his father had struggled to find the words that would ease their troubled hearts.
When the time came for the three men to depart, Joe pulled Kia to one side and took her hand in his.
“I wanted to thank you.”
Kia shook her head slightly. “Thank me?”
Joe looked towards Adam who was laughing with Hoss. Mimiteh was squealing with pleasure as Hoss swooped the child in his arms from low on the ground to high above his head.
“For him. For what you did, being there, you know…” Joe looked to the ground, suddenly self-conscious of what he was trying to say. Kia dropped her head as well. Her silence drew Joe’s gaze. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass—”
“No, Joe, do not be sorry.” She turned her face towards her husband. “Last night I thanked the Earth Mother for bringing him back to me.”
“I saw you.”
Kia’s eyes widened.
“I wasn’t spying on you.” Joe said quickly, his brow creasing with alarm. “I was outside, sleeping; it was so hot last light.”
Kia smiled, dismissing his concern. “I’m happy you found him again, Joe. The sorrow he would hide in his heart, it is no longer there.” She looked towards Ben who was checking over the items secured to the back of the pack-horse. She sighed. “But not all his sadness has gone.” Joe followed her gaze and then leant over to kiss her cheek.
“I need to have a talk with my pa.” He smiled at the woman before him, and then straightening his back and lifting his chin, he walked purposely over to his father.
“Pa, I need you to hear what I have to say, and, and I don’t want you to say anything until I’m through.”
Ben’s dark eyes settled on his youngest boy. He lowered his chin to his chest and thrust his hands deep into his pockets. Joe swallowed.
“Look, Pa, I know we only just found Adam again, but,” he paused and licked his lips, “we gotta let him go. Pa, you’ve gotta let him go.”
Ben’s black eyebrows slowly began to lower, drawing together as his eyes narrowed.
Joe did his best to ignore the darkening expression on his father’s face. “I didn’t understand it myself until last night. But Pa, Adam’s happy, really happy here. This is his home now. I don’t know what it is, whether it’s the land or the people or something…” he paused and shook his head, “something deeper, that we can’t define. But this life suits him. He gets something here he doesn’t get on the Ponderosa. It’s not he’s not happy with us, but, he was always kinda, I don’t know, on edge. Here, he’s at ease. And he’s got his own family—”
“One he can bring back to the Ponderosa.” Ben growled, pulling his hands from his pockets. He turned back to the packhorse, his hands tightening buckles and straps that didn’t need tightening.
“No, Pa, can’t you see,” Joe’s voice was soft. He moved closer to his father. “The Ponderosa is our world, not theirs, not Adam’s. He chose to stay here. He could have left at any time, returned to Virginia City, or gone east. But he chose to stay. And not just because he has a wife and child here, but because…this is where he wants to be.”
Ben looked at Joe, and after a moment the tension eased from his body. His shoulders dropped. He closed his eyes and nodded. Joe put a hand on his father’s arm.
“I know it’s hard, Pa, but isn’t it the right thing to let him go, and know he’s happy, then to force him into a world he no longer wants?”
Ben smiled at Joe. “When did my youngest son become so wise?”
Joe grinned as Ben put his arm around Joe’s back and directed him away from the horse. Together they approached Adam who had been standing back watching the conversation with Mimiteh asleep over his shoulder; Hoss and Kia by his side.
“Joe has been setting me straight about one or two things.”
Adam’s cheek dimpled cautiously. “Yeah?”
“Yes. He tells me you’d be a lot better off here than on the Ponderosa.”
Adam looked at Joe, a puzzled smile toying around his lips.
“And son,” Ben sighed, “Joe is right.” Ben looked at the sleeping child and gently ran his hand over her head. “I didn’t want to see what was staring me in the face, that this is your home now. These people are your family.” He smiled as Mimiteh stirred, lifted her head and flopped it back down on Adam’s shoulder. Ben picked up her tiny fist within his own large hand and kissed her fingers.
“Pa, you’re my family too.”
Ben looked at Adam standing before him in his Indian buckskin pants, moccasins and decorated tunic. He took in the beaded choker he wore around his neck and the leather braid with the large stone pendant that hung down his chest. He saw the long hair, tied into a white hair tube to keep it off his face. And then he saw his son’s eyes, Elizabeth’s eyes, and he knew even though Adam had changed beyond all comprehension, he was, and would always be, his and Elizabeth’s child.
He looked around him at the Ute villagers going about their daily business. There was an air of domesticity as women stood by the smoking racks hanging a fresh catch of trout. A trio of older girls were strolling towards the forest with baskets to gather berries. The old men sat outside their tepees letting the warmth of the sun heat their bones. But Ben also saw the young boys tearing around the lodges, boisterously play-fighting, and the menfolk of the village sharpening the knives and spears they used for hunting, and war. And Ben knew this life would be anything but tranquil. The village had come close to being annihilated at the hands of a covetous fellow Ute. And how soon would it be before the army were issued official orders to move them to a reservation? No, the way of life might be simple, but the years ahead were likely to be difficult for these people.
“You don’t need me anymore, Adam, not like you did when you were a boy. In fact,” Ben looked down and laughed softly, “it’s been many years since you’ve needed me in any way.”
“Adam, listen. It’s hard for a father to let go, to admit to himself his children no longer need him. But,” he took another glance at the village, “these people do need you.” He chuckled. “And I have a small boy waiting for me back at the Ponderosa who seems to have an uncommon interest in books and how the ranch is run. Does that remind you of anyone?”
Ben looked into Adam’s eyes and saw they were filled with sadness. But for the first time, Ben also saw a serenity in Adam’s soul. And when Mimiteh started to move in Adam’s arms, and he flicked a glance at his daughter, Ben saw Adam’s eyes lighten with an abundance of love. Ben placed his hand on Adam’s back, allowing his senses to remember the warmth and solidity of his son. He turned and with a nod to Joe and Hoss, he climbed up into the saddle of his horse.
Hoss leant down and gave Kia a sloppy kiss on her cheek and firmly gripped his brother’s arm. Then with a small chuck under Mimiteh’s chin, he mounted Dandy.
Joe stayed where he was, his hands on his hips, his heel kicking at the ground. Adam slowly walked up to him. “You’re quite something; you know that, don’t you?”
Joe’s gaze was fixed to the ground.
Joe lifted his face to reveal red-rimmed eyes. Adam cupped his hand behind Joe’s neck and pulled his head close to his. “This isn’t the end, Joe, we’ll see each other again. I promise you that.” Joe found a smile and lifted his hands to slap and grip his brother’s upper arms.
“I’ll hold you to that promise.”
Adam reciprocated the grip on Joe’s arms. A grasp that transmitted all the pride and love Adam felt for his younger brother, but could never tell him.
With a last glance and a raised hand from his brothers—his father was unable to look back at what he was leaving behind—the three Cartwrights walked their horses away from Adam and out of the village. Adam stood watching them with his daughter in his arms and his wife by his side and wouldn’t take his eyes from them until they were swallowed by the thick belt of trees. As his father disappeared from view, Adam sighed and spoke quietly to the now empty trail. “I’ll always need you, Pa, always.” His father and brothers were once more gone from his life. He didn’t know when he would see them again, but this time, at least, he had been able to say goodbye. Adam knew there would always be a Cartwright on the Ponderosa, and just knowing he could always find them there, at any time, appeased his saddened soul. But when he looked at his wife, he knew he had made the right decision. She had given him everything he wanted in life and his heart was at peace, with her, in this place.
Kia smiled and took Mimiteh from his arms, and without a backward glance walked away to their lodge. Adam looked back to the treeline and then felt a presence by his side. It was Cameahwait, and he was staring in the direction Adam’s father and brothers had just ridden.
“The Great Spirit looks over them, as he does you, Liwanu.”
Adam said nothing, his eyes not moving from the trees.
“You are the man of many spirits. You are protected. The Great Spirit would not let harm come to your family.”
Adam turned to look at Cameahwait.
“Do you still believe that is who I am, Cam?”
“Without you, many of our young men would have been lost; your wife and child taken. I would not have seen Luyu and my children again. Yes, my brother, you are the man of many spirits. And the Great Spirit is not done with you yet.”
Adam laughed. “Please, God, let him be done with me.”
Cam slapped Adam on his shoulder. “Come, my brother, the men are gathering for a hunt.” And Cameahwait was gone, walking to where a group of men awaited their companions.
Adam took a last glance towards the trees. And with a smile and a look to the sky he turned and walked back into the heart of the village. He was Adam Cartwright, and he was Liwanu. And he had found his peace.
Ten months later, as new life began to push through the warming soil, and the snowmelt from the high peaks refreshed the rivers and creeks with clear icy water, Kia gave Adam another child.
A boy—with his Uncle Joe’s ears—they named him William.
Other Stories by this Author
- The Man of Many Spirits (by Sierra Girl)
- The Englishman and His Wayward Horse (by Sierra Girl)
- The Gingerbread Man (by Sierra Girl)