As the 18th century ends, the Comanches have made peace with the Spanish colonists in New Mexico. No one is as relieved as Marco and his wife Paloma, who live on the edge of Comanchería. Then a new threat emerges: a renegade Comanche.
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"What do you see?" Paloma asked, after a pause that seemed to stretch for hours.
"Many horses and a few riders. Maybe they are going to the trade fair in Taos," Eckapeta replied, making no effort to speak quietly. "Still, we will stay here until...."
She stopped. After another long pause, Eckapeta spoke again, quieter this time. "But they are being followed by Nurmurnah, The People. Don't move or make a sound. These are not Kwihnai's people and I fear them."
Paloma did as she said, bowing her head over her darlings, keeping them silent. She wished that Marco was there to wrap his comforting bulk around the three of them. Calmly, she tucked the foolish wish away and prepared to fight to the death for her children.
Eckapeta was too silent. "Tell me what you see," Paloma pleaded.
She could have screamed with the silence, but she only clenched her jaw tighter. Claudio began to whimper, so she opened her bodice and nursed him; weaning could wait. He suckled and was comforted, while Soledad burrowed closer.
Paloma closed her eyes, remembering blessed moments of nearly four years, moments that would never have been hers, if Marco Mondragón had not ridden to Santa Fe to take his yearly records to the governor, and gone in search of a little dog to keep his feet warm at night. If this was all the joy she would know, it was better than none at all. She thanked El Padre Celestial for his kindness to her and put her terror away, too.
To her relief, Eckapeta nimbly retraced her way down the swaying cottonwood and joined her. She put her hand gently on Paloma's neck and gave her a little shake. "Be calm, dear one!" she murmured. "The smaller dust cloud has met up with the horse herd. I think they are fighting. They are closer to Santa Maria than to us, so let us ride for the Double Cross."
Silent, Paloma picked up Claudio and ran with him to her horse, Eckapeta close behind with Soledad in her arms. The Comanche woman helped Paloma put the cradleboard on her back again, stuffed in Claudio, then heaved them onto Paloma's horse with no fanfare. Eckapeta handed up Soledad next and Paloma seated the little one firmly in front of her.
"Ride and don't look anywhere but ahead of you," Eckapeta ordered. "I will follow behind you and stop anyone who might see us." She took out the knife she wore in her belt at the small of her back. "Go!"
Paloma jammed her heels into her normally sedate mare, which started in surprise at such unexpected treatment from her mistress. She was not a speedy horse, but maybe she sensed trouble. Perhaps she smelled strange horses. Whatever the reason, the mare shot away from the bosque and thundered toward the place where the road forked toward the Double Cross.