Running Wolf is a valiant Sioux warrior. During his first raid as war chief, he captures a surprising Crow enemya woman! This spirited fighter is unlike any he's ever met. Her beauty and audacity are entrancing, but threaten his iron resolve
Snow Raven must focus on freeing herself, not on the man who keeps her captive. But as she falls deeper under Running Wolf's spell, she realizes he is her warriorand she'll risk everything for him!
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Snow Raven raced her gray dappled mustang, Song, along the lakeshore, her horse's powerful muscles rippling with each long stride. She loved how she and Song moved together, how the air rushed against her face and lifted her hair. Her father said that riding was the closest that a person ever came to flying.
This was the very reason Raven did not wear her hair in twin braids like the women of her tribe, but neither did she quite dare to wear it as her father and brother did. The warriors cut their forelock short and used grease and pitch to make the hairs stand up as stiff as a porcupine's quills. Instead, Raven made her own style and had wound narrow braids at her temples and wrapped them in ermine that was decorated with shell beads and quill-work like the men. The rest of her hair she left loose and as wild as the mane of her mustang. Her dress was also a mixture, shorter than a woman's, made from a single buckskin like a man's, but for modesty and comfort she wore both loincloth and leggings beneath.
Raven wore a skinning knife about her neck, as most females in her tribe did, but she also carried a deerskin quiver from the six-point buck she had felled when she was eight. Within, metal-tipped arrows waited, ready. She carried her strung bow looped over her back. The taut string, fitted between her breasts, revealed her curves.
Raven knew that more than one woman objected to her hunting, but they never said so to her face and they did not turn down the meat. As for the men, her position as the chief's daughter insured that she had no shortage of suitors, just a shortage of suitors who interested her. Hunting and riding were more appealing.
Now she sought to catch her older brother, Bright Arrow, who had somehow managed to leave camp without her knowing. His stealth was only one of the qualities that she admired. Up ahead the party of warriors turned at the sound of her approach. There was Little Badger, Turns Too Slowly and her brother. Little Badger grinned with pleasure at her appearance, but her brother did not. In fact, he did not even slow his big blue roan stallion, Hail. It was only now, when she drew close, that she saw her brother did not carry his bow, but his lance. Were they raiding already?
"I could have shot you," said Turns Too Slowly, realizing belatedly that he had not even reached for his bow.
"What are you doing, Raven?" Bright Arrow asked, his voice so stern he reminded her of their father, Six Elks.
"I thought you were hunting elk," she said, already aware of her mistake.
Her offer was met with silence. Finally Turns Too Slowly spoke.
"This is no hunt."
"We are scouting for Sioux," said Little Badger. Her eyes widened and excitement and fear rolled in her belly until they were blended like berry juice in water.
She had not seen a Sioux snake since the attack when she was only seven. "Have you seen any?"
Her brother raised his hand, halting Little Badger, who was about to answer.
Her brother's scowl deepened. "This is their territory. It is wise to be certain we are alone. If they are here we must prepare to fight."
Was that a yes or a no?
"Did Father send you?"
"Go home, Little Warrior." Her brother now made her childhood name sound like an insult.
She stayed where she was, toying with the leather fringe on the pommel she had made with the help of her grandmother, Truthful Woman. "I will help you scout."
"You will not."
Since word had come of the raids against their people by the Sioux, he was not so forgiving of her insistence to leave the camp.
"I can track game better than Little Badger and hear better than Turns Too Slowly," she said, unable to keep the belligerence from her voice.
"And ride better than all three of us, I suppose," said Turns Too Slowly.
Turns Too Slowly gestured toward camp. "So prove it by riding that way."
Her brother was more to the point. "Do you know what they do to female captives?" he asked. His voice held a note of irritation. She knew. The enemy would disgrace her, take her freedom, give her all the hardest work and worst food. Still, she lifted her chin. "I am not afraid of the snake people. I would kill them first."
"Brave words, but better still, ride home where you are safe," he said. His tone changed, now quiet, respectful with just a note of desperation. "If you are here, I have to worry over your safety."
She wished they could stay in their mountains instead of moving east into the territory of the Sioux with the endless grass. But the whites had built a fort and then sickness had taken so many. Her father, their chief, had moved them here, thinking it better to face an enemy they could see.
She looked over her shoulder at the way she had come. Back there she knew the women were tending cooking fires, gathering wood and gutting fish caught on the trawl lines. She looked forward at the blue lake glimmering through the trees and the forest thick with brush.
Her heart tugged, whispering for her to ride.
"We will take you back," he said, turning his horse.
She did not want to be escorted to camp like some wandering child. She could take care of herself. Hadn't she killed a deer, elk and pronghorn? Hadn't she skinned them and dressed them and carried them home over her horse's withers?
Bright Arrow did not wait for her to reply but pressed his horse forward.
As he passed her, he said, "You'll be safe there."
She did not want to be safe. She wanted to be a warrior like her brother. His hands were tough and smelled of leather, instead of stinking of fish.
"I'll take her," said Little Badger.
Bright Arrow eyed his fellow. "And leave us one weaker?"
She suspected that this was not the only reason her brother said no. Ever since Bright Arrow had caught Little Badger trying to put his hand up her dress, he had not left any of his friends alone with her. It was just as well.
She liked the sensation of a warrior's touch, but would not let anyone lift her dress. She was a woman of virtue, not some Sioux captive to be used by anyone.
Still, her stubbornness had limits. She would not leave her brother with one less warrior on her account, especially if the Sioux were near. But with the sun streaming through the yellow leaves and the wind still blowing warm as summer, it was hard to think of danger.
"Have you seen any Sioux?" she asked.
Her brother shook his head.
"Then, I will find my own way home."
Before he could object, she wheeled about, urging her horse to rear before bounding off the way she had come.
She heard the sound of hooves beating the ground behind her. A glance back showed Bright Arrow in fast pursuit with his comrades close behind. He was an impressive sight at full gallop, with his long hair streaming out behind him and the fringe of his saddle, sleeves and leggings all fluttering in the wind. His breastplate, made of a series of cylindrical white beads, beat against his chest with the rhythm of his horse's hooves.
In his hair were tied the two notched eagle feathers he had earned stealing horses and facing the Sioux in battle. She wished women could earn such honors, but although she could ride and shoot and throw a lance, she would never have the chance to earn a feather with an act of couragekill an enemy, sustain a wound, steal a horse. Women did not do such things.
A woman's courage was quiet and went unsung. There were no feathers for bearing a child or making a lodge. Yet she still dreamed of the ceremony where her father, the chief, presented her with a coup feather.
Behind her, Bright Arrow leaned low over his horse's neck trying to catch up. They never would. Song was too fast. There were no two better riders in the entire Low River tribe than her and her brother.
It seemed that all the warriors would accompany her home, which was very bad, because it meant that Bright Arrow planned to speak to their father. She needed to get there first. She needed to explain that she loved the scent of the wind and hated the stench of fish. He would listen. Since her mother's passing, he always listened.
Raven lowered herself flat to her horse's neck and gave Song her head. They fairly flew over the ground.
As she tore over the animal trail, she noticed a tan-colored lump lying in the path. A fawn, she thought as Song snorted and jumped the tiny obstacle. Raven gaped when she saw that the carcass was a village dog with one arrow sticking from its ribs. At a glance she recognized that the fletching on the shaft was not like the ones of her people.
The hairs on her neck rose.
Raven opened her mouth to scream a warning to her brother, but another scream filled the air, farther away, one coming from their fishing camp. Her brother straightened in his saddle and then did something she had never seen him do. He slapped his open hand on his horse's broad muscular shoulder. The horse lunged forward as Raven slowed.
"The camp!" she yelled.
"Run," shouted her brother as he surged past her with Little Badger and Turns Too Slowly on his horse's flank. Raven wheeled her horse to flee but then thought of the women, caught between the lake and attack. Song seemed to know her mind before Snow Raven did, for her mare raced after the other horses. They broke from the trees into chaos. The men in the village were fighting from the ground as mounted warriors ran at a gallop through the camp, upsetting cooking kettles and trampling lodges. She saw that they were Sioux by the cut of the enemy's war shirts and because they wore their hair in twin braids, like a Crow woman.
Her brother gave a whoop and charged, drawing the fight to them while giving the women and children time to flee in the opposite direction. The Sioux were outnumbered, but they were mounted and had the advantage of surprise.
Snow Raven drew up at the woods, calling to the women, telling them to flee in this direction where there was good cover. Raven watched in horror as she saw two of the Sioux break away from the fight to follow the retreating women.
She saw her old grandmother hobbling along at an ungainly trot. Truthful Woman had raised Snow Raven since the time of her mother's death, but could no longer run because she was bent and her joints were puffy and stiff. With each moment her grandmother fell farther behind, the Sioux in pursuit.
Was that their aim, then, to take captives? Or was this a fight over territory, as her brother had said? Either way they could easily kill her grandmother on their way to the younger, more useful captives.
Raven pressed her heels into her horse's flanks and gave her first war cry. She swung her bow over her head and reached back for an arrow. The lead warrior dressed in a red war shirt trimmed with long strands of trophy hair grabbed Truthful Woman by the multistrand shell and bead necklaces that circled her throat. Raven vowed the red-shirt would not harm her grandmother, though he was upon her already. Truthful Woman was dragged backward against her enemy's horse. Her hands went to her windpipe and her face turned scarlet. The warrior shook his hand, further strangling Raven's grandmother.
Snow Raven screamed again and notched her arrow, but was too close to shoot.
She dropped her bow and rammed his horse with hers. Song's muscular chest collided with the other horse's flank, causing the beast to skitter sideways. The necklaces broke away in the Sioux's hand and Truthful Woman dropped to her knees choking and gagging.
Snow Raven launched herself from her saddle onto the warrior's chest. The thud jarred her teeth as they toppled together from his horse.
Raven landed on top of the warrior. The jolt robbed the wind from the man's body and gave Raven the moment she needed to draw her skinning knife and lift it above her head. Today she would send this snake to his ancestors and take her first war trophy. The warrior's wide eyes stared up at her as she thrust, preparing to lodge the knife into the center of her enemy's throat.
Running Wolf met the charge of the three mounted Crow warriors. The fourth had halted at the tree line, the dapple-gray horse dancing with power and nervous energy. His gaze lingered a second. There was something amiss about the rider. He forced his attention back to the large Crow leading the charge on a big blue roan stallion. The feathers in his hair spoke of his opponent's bravery.
Running Wolf lifted his lance to strike. Today they did not carry the coup stick used to mark bravery, but weapons to kill, for the Crow had invaded their territory. His opponent lifted his shield. Running Wolf saw the symbol of a red arrow emblazoned on the hard rawhide. It was good medicine, he thought as his opponent deflected his thrusting lance and he made his own thrust. Running Wolf twisted in his saddle to avoid the iron spear tip and lost some of his momentum. His spear did not pierce the shield or his enemy, but slid harmlessly away.
His men engaged the other three warriors with cries and blows. Running Wolf wheeled to have another chance at the leader, but as he turned he saw the warrior on the roan horse leap forward. The Crow gave a high thready cry.
Running Wolf engaged the first man again. This was the obvious leader. It was not difficult for one war chief to recognize another. His opponent shouted directions to the men on the ground, who quickly fell back behind the horses.
Running Wolf lifted his lance and thrust again, and his enemy deflected, but not quite enough, for the spear tip sliced deep into his opponent's shoulder muscle, cutting a gash in the Crow's shield arm as the horses moved past each other again. The warrior threw his lance to the ground. It stuck upright and quivering as he yanked his tomahawk from his breechclout and swung at Running Wolf's head.
Running Wolf flattened to his horse's back as the metal ax head flew past him. He straightened and swung the pole of his lance like a club, striking his foe across the back with enough force to unseat him.
The Crow warrior did not stay down long but kept hold of his horse's mane as he fell, then used the ground to vault back onto his moving horse. He and his men dropped back to stand between their women still fleeing for cover and Running Wolf's men. They took a defensive stance. Retreating, delaying, giving the women time to escape. Nearly all had disappeared into the woods. Even those carrying small children now darted like shadows beneath the mighty pines.
Only one old woman remained, limping along like a wounded elk before a pack of hungry wolves. Red Hawk pursued the old Crow, but for what possible reason Running Wolf could not imagine.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was a very good historical romance. It was set within Native America slightly after the civil war. The heroine is captured by a rival tribe's war chief. To say more would be a spoiler. The plot was very good and kept me reading the book whenever I had a spare minute. I loved the ingenious ending. I also liked learning about Native American culture. The Crow actually spoke a dialect of the Sioux language (thanks, Wikipedia) so it makes sense that the two tribes would be able to communicate so easily. The information about how feathers were given for certain behaviors was completely new to me and fascinating. I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway but that has not impacted my review.