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Crooked Snake made his way toward the dwelling of Wind Dancer. As the widow of his good friend Running Horse, he visited her often during the winter months he spent with the Cheyenne in Canada.
So much had happened during the fifteen years since he returned from the hunt to find that the Blue Coats had destroyed everyone and everything he ever loved. His only remaining family were his sons Growling Bear and Tall Elk. His wife, daughter and father, Chief Hunting Hawk lay beneath the frozen ground of the Montana prairie land. All remnants of the village he had once called home were gone. All that remained were the river that ran beside the village and the forest that stood as a silent reminder of what once was.
As the son of a chief, he should have taken his father's position, but the Great Spirit had other plans for him. At first he had waged war against all the whites, but he knew this was not the path he needed to take in retaliation for what had happened to his family. By killing women and children, to say nothing of men who wanted nothing more than to care for their families, he was no better than the Blue Coats who had taken his family from him.
Once he came to that realization, he asked the Great Spirit for forgiveness. He was not a cold-blooded killer by nature. It was wrong to do battle against innocents, as had the Blue Coats. It was then that he had turned his efforts to fighting the soldiers who kept coming onto the lands of the Cheyenne and Sioux as well as all the other tribes of the northern plains.
While Crooked Snake and Running Horse were content to spend their winters with Wind Dancer's people in Canada, Charging Buffalo,Grey Wolf and several of the others returned to become part of other bands of Cheyenne who lived closer to the village of death.
Crooked Snake watched as his friend, Charging Buffalo became a chief, while he remained a renegade. When the Sioux prepared for war against the whites, Crooked Snake was one of the first to join forces with them. He and Running Horse had left the security of their homes in Canada to ride with their brothers to the battle that would become known as the Little Big Horn.
Many tribes had suffered at the hands of Yellow Hair, who the whites called Custer. During the battle he had killed many of the white devils, but not without losses on both sides. Grey Wolf sustained injuries that almost took his life. Without the constant care of Owl Woman he would have certainly died from them. But greater than those who had been injured were the friends he had lost to death.
He'd watched as a white soldier's bullet took Running Horse's life. It had been like losing a brother to see his lifeless body lying among those of the white soldiers. Instead of leaving his friend as food for the animals and birds who fed on the dead carcasses of those who had fallen, he took the body back to Wind Dancer. She had grieved, but understood that her husband had given his life for a noble cause. After all he had given her two sons and a daughter to keep her from being lonely.
Even though he hadn't promised his friend that he would care for Wind Dancer, he took on the responsibility of providing food for her family as well as the protection she deserved.
Since the battle that took his friend's life, he had less of a taste for blood. He still went back to the village where Charging Buffalo and Grey Wolf were every summer, but he didn't do the raids he had done in the past. With his sons, Growling Bear and Tall Elk, he had attacked the soldiers at the fort with great regularity during the summer months when he helped keep his people supplied with meat.
He longed for the days when the hunting parties would go out and kill enough of the buffalo to keep them supplied with food for the winter, but those days were gone forever. Never again would he relish the thrill of the hunt, for the very memory of it was clouded by the loss of the woman he had called wife and the child who had warmed his heart.
A cold wind blew down from the north chilling his body and reminding him of his destination. He knew that Wind Dancer's lodge would be warm and her fire would be comforting. He could talk to her about the dream he had experience just before the dawn turned the black of the night sky to pink and then to blue.
He had thought of going to the lodge of his son, but decided against it. Growling Bear wanted to hear nothing of what he wanted to say, what he needed to say. His two sons thrived on the revenge that they took on the soldiers each summer. If he didn't keep them in check, they would take more lives in an attempt to avenge their sister. It was enough that they kept the soldiers aware of their presence and alert to the fact that at any time they could take the lives of the soldiers as easily as they had ambushed and taken the lives of women and children fifteen years earlier.
"Am I welcome at your fire?" he asked when he approached Wind Dancer's lodge.
"You know you are always welcome, Crooked Snake. I have stew simmering on the fire. Come and share the bounty that you have provided for me."
Crooked Snake smiled. He had provided for Wind Dancer. What started as duty to a fallen friend had turned into so much more. In the last few years he had come to think of her in ways that were more than friendship. She was as beautiful as she had been when she and Owl Woman came with them on the final hunt.
He remembered that hunt and the fact that Snow Flower had questioned Wind Dancer's right to be with them since she carried Running Horse's child. He now knew that it was something the Great Spirit wanted to happen. Had she not come with them, Running Horse would have no one to carry on his name, since his children from his first wife were killed with everyone else in the village.
Along those same lines, he had no one to share his thoughts with on these cold winter nights. Wind Dancer and Running Horse were the only members of his band who had chosen to stay in Canada. The rest of his friends were now on the reservation, not far from where the village of death had once stood. They were virtual prisoners of the Blue Coats, having surrendered even their bows and arrows in order to keep peace between the Cheyenne and the whites.
"Something is on your mind," Wind Dancer remarked, after she handed him a bowl of rabbit stew. "Have you come to share my meal so you can talk about it?"
He marveled at her perception. He had said nothing about what was on his mind and yet she sensed his need to talk to someone who would understand.
"I dreamed of her last night," Crooked Snake began, once he satisfied the hunger that gnawed at his belly.
"Her? Do you speak of Babbling Brook?"
Crooked Snake nodded. Even after all this time he still had problems in speaking her name aloud. "She came to me in a dream and told me the time for war has ended."
"I told you that many years ago."
"I know, but my heart was still hard. She went on to tell me that a white man will be coming to the fort near the reservation and he will change things for the Cheyenne forever. This man will be a soldier, but a soldier like none who have come there before. She told me that even though he wears the uniform of the Blue Coats, he is a man of peace."
"I know, for I have also had a dream in which Babbling Brook begs for peace. It is strange, for I never see Little Hummingbird in my dreams, only my friend."
"I, too, have never dreamed of my daughter. Even though I thought it strange, I decided that children do not come in dreams in the same way as adults."
"Now that you acknowledge this dream, what do you plan to do? Will you stay here during the summer rather than going to Charging Buffalo's village on the reservation?"
Crooked Snake contemplated his answer. He knew Wind Dancer would like it if he stayed in Canada, but he had an obligation to Charging Buffalo's people as well. In the fall, when he had returned to Canada, a new Indian Agent has arrived. The people did not speak well of this man. He had only been there for a short time, but they already distrusted him.
"I must go back to the land of my birth one last time. When I left before the cold winds began to blow last year there was a new Indian Agent. Charging Buffalo and the other elders do not trust him. I want to see if he has kept his word to the government and is providing for our people. If he is not, it is possible that our friends are starving."
"But how will this bring peace to our people? The soldiers at the fort speak your name with contempt, or so you have told me. Will they not seek to destroy you as well as your sons? Why not stay here so that Growling Bear can be with his wife and daughter as well as the child who will be born when the weather is warm?"
"If I find that all is well with our people I will return. If I am not back within the span of ten days, you will know that our people need me to hunt for them."
"But why you?"
"Because the Blue Coats have taken the weapons away from our people. They cannot even hunt for food and the land they have been given is too poor for them to grow crops. It is not a place any of us would have chosen for a village, but it is where the whites have decided they should live. I can never remember a time when our women were unable to grow a crop, but on this ground it is next to impossible. If this new man is as terrible as I feel he is, I fear for the very lives of our friends and family."
He held out his empty bowl to Wind Dancer, but rather than filling it with more stew, she handed him a honey cake. She knew his weakness for the sweet treat. He remembered well how both of his wives also knew of his craving for the sweetness of a honey cake after he finished his meal.