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By Constance O'Banyon
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2010 Evelyn Gee
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePowder River Basin, Blackfoot Territory
The sun hit the gathering clouds, turning them bloodred, as if nature was warning of the impending battle.
The two young Blackfoot warriors were alert, their weapons near at hand. They heard every sound, waiting, watching, their dark eyes piercing into the stillness, past the boulders where they had taken a stand. Though it was early morning, already it was sweltering, and as the day advanced, the heat would only become more oppressive.
Wolf Runner, the taller of the two, was hit by a sudden gust of wind that sent blistering heat against his skin and fanned his long black hair. He did not move, or blink, although granules of sand irritated his eyes. His attention was riveted on the path below.
As the hours passed and the wind stilled, sweat popped out on Wolf Runner's forehead and ran into his eyes, but his concentration was unwavering, his anger uncompromising. When he saw a wrong, he would not yield until he saw it righted. Today he would avenge the brutal rape of four innocent Blackfoot maidens, and the death of three of them. He would crush, without mercy, the renegade Cheyenne warriors who were guilty of the atrocities.
The tribal council had met as soon as word had reached them that several Cheyenne warriors wearing war paint had entered Blackfoot land and had broken their laws. Wolf Runner and Firethorn had been sent forth to stop the marauders and to avenge the women they had killed.
Suddenly there was a sound of distant riders approaching. Wolf Runner turned to his companion. "There are five of them."
Firethorn nodded in agreement.
Although they both had rifles in their saddle holsters, they had decided to use bow and arrow, since the arrow was silent and might not alert their enemies that they were under attack until it was too late for them to retreat to safety.
Wolf Runner reached for his bow and armed it with a flint-tipped arrow. Pulling the bowstring taught, he became even more alert and took aim.
Firethorn crouched down beside Wolf Runner, his dark gaze skimming across the sky where a flock of crows had suddenly taken flight. "They draw near."
Wolf Runner nodded grimly.
"Can we be certain the riders are those we are seeking?" Firethorn asked, positioning his arrow.
"Who else would it be?" Wolf Runner watched the clouds pass over the sun, casting the day into shadow. "This is the way they will leave on the way back to their village." The clouds had moved away from the sun and Wolf Runner squinted in the glare. "I want the leader. High Woman, who they left for dead, told how brutally he had treated the others before he killed them. She told me the other four would have let the women go, but he insisted they die."
Crouching behind a wide boulder, Wolf Runner's gaze slid over the craggy slope as he prepared to engage the enemy in battle. There was nothing in his heart but coldly controlled rage against the Cheyenne war party. His eyes were clear, his hand was steady.
"They approach the narrow trail and will soon be in sight," Firethorn stated with assurance. "Let us hope their leader is among them so we can have our revenge this day."
The heat in Wolf Runner's eyes intensified. In the past few years the Cheyenne had often crossed into Blackfoot territory because game thrived in abundance throughout the Powder River Valley. Until now, the Blackfoot had allowed the Cheyenne to hunt in their territory, seeing no harm in them. After all, the elders had agreed, there was enough game for all, and their Cheyenne brothers were suffering.
But that had changed when the renegades wearing war paint violated their women.
Tightening his hand on the bow, Wolf Runner waited. "I mark the leader for death," he said quietly. "If he is among this raiding party, let it be my arrow that pierces his heart."
Firethorn knew how the women's deaths had disturbed Wolf Runner. "It will be as you say."
"Although we do not know his name, we will know who he is when we see him. He wears two yellow feathers in his hair and rides a black-and-white pinto."
The sound of thundering hooves grew louder and Wolf Runner tensed. "They are almost below us. We should allow them to reach the bend at the bottom of the hill before we strike."
Firethorn nodded, pulling an arrow from his quiver. "I will go for the last warrior and any others who try to escape. You take the lead rider."
They did not have long to wait before four Cheyenne warriors rode into sight. Wolf Runner quickly glanced behind them to see if another approached. Then he carefully scanned each warrior, but none wore yellow feathers and rode a black-and-white pinto. "Where is he?"
"Probably rode away like a coward," Firethorn answered.
Wolf Runner could not claim victory if the leader was not among the warriors in his sight. "Why would he do that? He could not know we are waiting for him."
"He would expect it."
The first Cheyenne was just below-he searched the cliffs and cautiously waved the others forward.
"They are young," Firethorn observed. "Too young to have war paint on their faces."
"Pity they will not live to reach manhood," Wolf Runner commented in a cold rage. He rose up quietly and sent his arrow flying true, striking the enemy who rode in the lead of the war party. He swiftly fired a second arrow before the first warrior hit the ground. And Firethorn took out the one who rode in back of the others.
Wolf Runner bound down the hill with Firethorn at his side. "Let us not slay this one. I want to speak to him. He might have information about the one we seek."
By now the remaining Cheyenne warrior broke into action. He was armed with a rifle, and fired at Firethorn. Seeing where he was aiming, Wolf Runner leaped in front of his friend, and the bullet hit him instead.
At first there was no pain, just a burning sensation. But Wolf Runner did not let that slow him down. He jumped off a boulder, flung himself at the rider, and knocked him off his horse, taking them both to the ground.
The Cheyenne's rifle flew out of his hand and he stretched out his arm, reaching for it, but he was not quick enough. Wolf Runner pulled an arrow from his quiver and placed the tip at the warrior's throat, trying to see the man's features past the black war paint that streaked his face. "Move and you are dead."
Firethorn saw the blood spreading down Wolf Runner's chest. "I will take care of this last one. You are wounded."
Fighting against a growing weakness and the dizziness that threatened to take him down, Wolf Runner snarled, "I want some answers from him." His gaze settled on the young warrior. "Why do you sneak onto our land like thieves and harm our women?"
"I have heard of you," the Cheyenne warrior said, staring into Wolf Runner's brown, green-flecked eyes. "You are the son of Wind Warrior and the white woman." A smile curled his lips as he glanced at the gaping wound that bled freely. "Even if I die, I have already drawn blood from the one we came to kill. It could be that I have already dealt you a mortal wound."
Firethorn bent down beside them, his arrow pointed at the Cheyenne's heart. "Why would you want to kill Wolf Runner? Answer me."
Fighting to remain conscious, Wolf Runner pricked the man's skin with the tip of his arrow, watching blood seep down the Cheyenne's throat. "I am going to give you a choice." He licked his dry lips and shook his head, trying to clear it. "You can live or you can die slowly and in pain. It is for you to decide."
The warrior took a deep breath. "What are your terms?"
"I would know the name of the warrior who led your raiding party on our women. Tell me and live, so you can take a message to him that I will be coming after him, and there is nowhere he can hide that I cannot find him."
The Cheyenne saw truth in the eyes of the Blackfoot warrior. "I see no shame in not wanting to die, so I will tell you-his name is Night Fighter-he is nephew of our chief, Bold Eagle."
The world seemed to swirl around Wolf Runner and he fought back the blackness that threatened to engulf him. "Why does he want me dead? I do not even know him."
"But he knows of you. He knows you have lived in the white man's world. He knows you speak with equal authority to the Indian, the white man, and the wolf. He knows your family has great power, and he wants to walk as you walk."
Wolf Runner looked stunned. "Why?"
"Night Fighter believes if he kills you and eats your heart, he will become a great and powerful warrior, as you are, in the white and Indian world."
Firethorn looked at the Cheyenne in disgust. "This man talks nonsense. Kill him now."
"No," Wolf Runner said. "He believes what he is saying, and I gave my word he would live."
Wolf Runner felt pain like a fire in his chest and it took all his strength to hold the darkness at bay. "Get on your horse and go," he said, standing with effort. He would not allow his enemy to see his weakness. He swayed on his feet as the Cheyenne reached for his rifle. "No. Leave that."
He watched the warrior scamper to his feet and mount his horse. Then Wolf Runner closed his eyes. "He has gone and will not see me fall."
Wolf Runner slumped forward into darkness and would have hit the ground if Firethorn had not caught him.
But for the somber drumbeat that filtered through the Blackfoot village all was quiet as everyone waited, watched, hoped that Wolf Runner would survive his deep wound.
Wolf Runner's father sat near the lodge opening, his head bent in sorrow, while the young warrior's mother held Wolf Runner's hand, speaking softly to him.
"Live, my son. Your life has only begun-there is still much left for you to do. Live for those of us who love you."
Chanting had begun outside the lodge and Rain Song spoke fiercely to her husband. "Make them stop the death chant. My son will live!"
"Rain Song, his wound is deep," Wind Warrior reminded her sadly.
"Our son is strong-he will not die!"
"Even the strongest can succumb to a wound such as the one Wolf Runner has."
Rain Song knew her husband sometimes saw into the future, although he would deny it if asked. She looked at him in agony. "Have you seen his death?"
Wind Warrior knelt beside her. "I have seen nothing like that. What I saw was the damage done by the bullet I removed."
She turned her head into his chest and felt his arms go around her. "Why did the council have to choose Wolf Runner to face the Cheyenne?"
His hands slid up and down her back comfortingly. "Because he is the best of the young warriors."
"I know, but-"
"Silence, my wife," he said gently. "Do not let his spirit hear your lamenting words. If you are to stay at his side, sing to him. Let him hear a joyful song."
Rain Song gathered her strength and wiped the tears from her eyes. It took her two tries before she could get the words out. She sang loud, and put her heart into the words she had sung to her son when he was but a child.
After singing for over an hour, she finally saw Wolf Runner's eyelids flicker, but she kept singing as if her words could keep him from slipping away from her. Her song wound its way through the village and everyone paused in their grief to listen. Rain Song was singing for her son, and the beauty of her voice touched them all.
It was toward morning when Wolf Runner opened his eyes, licked his dry lips, and looked into the teary eyes of his mother. Somehow he managed to smile.
"I ... heard you calling me back ... my mother."
Rain Song gently touched his forehead-it was cooler. She met her husband's gaze and smiled.
"Our son will live," Wind Warrior said.
Her gaze searched his. "I have been thinking."
"I know you have."
"When our son is well enough, I want him to return to Washington to live with Uncle Matt and Aunt Cora." Her voice rose in a panic. "He needs to leave here."
Wind Warrior pulled his wife into his arms. "I think it is you who needs to feel Wolf Runner is safe. You must let him go so he can find his own path. He is a Blackfoot warrior. Without fear or hesitation he did what was asked of him."
"And he almost died."
"But he did not."
Rain Song glanced up at Wind Warrior, her eyes sad. "My head tells me you are right, but my heart is not convinced."
Touching his cheek to hers, he said, "Rain Song, our son was not happy while he was in Washington."
She stiffened. "He told you this?"
"He did not have to. I saw it in his eyes when he returned."
She was quiet for a moment as she absorbed what he said. "When he is well, you must take him to the mountains, where he can heal in mind and spirit."
Wind Warrior looked at her tenderly. "And they say I am the wise one."
Excerpted from Wolf Runner by Constance O'Banyon Copyright © 2010 by Evelyn Gee. Excerpted by permission.
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