Synopsis: Cochise must rescue his blood brother.
Category: Broken Arrow
Word Count: 3,300
After ten years of concentrated, savage warfare against the Americans, throughout which he was consistently victorious, Cochise had taken another wife in the sudden hush of peace. She was young and beautiful and soothed the many scars on his body and in his heart. Telsabestinay, his first wife, was much older than he and had withered with worry and age. He had stayed in his bride’s wickiup every night until the nightmares had begun again, then had wordlessly retired to his own, nursing his pain in isolation. During the day the girl watched him with heavy, jealous eyes, his powerful frame and natural grace inflaming her desire. She remembered the stamina of his passion and the musky, smoky smell of him as he had lain quietly with her at last, the sweat still glistening in the valleys of his muscular back.
The nightmare bursts through the tiswin, struggling free, shredding his mind. He swarms awake in horror, sheds the doeskin rug and leaps to his feet, skin prickling. Familiar dread wreathes around him in icy whorls and he abandons the wickiup, stumbling out into the sweet, night air, the grey reality of dawn and its jeweled sky. He remembers other nightmares and the curse, and is filled with a terrible foreboding that this time, as in the past, someone close to him is destined to die. The Mexican’s eyes had burned knowingly in his sleeping mind.
Taza stood before his father in that habitual, hostile stance he always assumed whenever Jeffords’ name was mentioned, gazing down at him as he sat on woven rugs. The wickiup rang with silence and Cochise’s face was haggard with secret things as his mind probed the news, gently, apprehensively.
The foreboding had stayed with him, wrapped around him, shortening his breath with anxiety. He had felt an increasing desperation to unburden his heart, afraid of the savagery that still surged through his blood until his mind screamed, for the image of Naretena’s broken body swinging at rope’s end, along with five other Apaches, still tormented him. Naretena, his beloved brother. He remembered their swollen, blue faces as they were cut down from the hanging tree, his brother and nephews slain under the treachery of the white man’s flag.
Now more than a decade later, alone in his wickiup, sitting cross-legged before the small fire in the earthen pit, Cochise rocked slowly in mourning as though his brother’s limp body still slumped in his arms, deep lines etched into his rugged face, dark eyes staring sightlessly beyond the little flames. He had led them to their deaths, when they had gone confidently to the white soldiers’ tent, in friendship, in the early days when the Americans first trod Apache soil. Once again, grief and rage threatened to overwhelm his iron determination to keep this fragile peace and he had come to depend on Jeffords to be his steadying rock, needing to listen once again to his reason and good sense, patiently repeated with affection and sympathy, to give him the will to continue, to drown out the shrieks for vengeance from the dark spirits he so feared.
Taza had seen and understood his father’s distress and had therefore ridden to the agency to summon Jeffords. Cochise had waited at Flat Rock, arms crossed, the hot sun gleaming on his dusky skin, gazing across his homeland, motionless, watching the trail to the stronghold as it wound through the spiky scrub of the canyon floor. The shadows crept slowly down the flanks of the hills as the breeze lifted the afternoon heat and swept his hair from his shoulders, cooling his body. He knew from the thin spiral of dust in the distance that only one horse galloped homeward in the early evening. The Mexican whispered in quiet triumph.
Jeffords had not been there, the agency deserted except for the big bag gelding that had whinnied hungrily as Taza rode into the curious oppression of the silent compound. The door was ajar, the earth rumpled with many hoofprints, more than he would have expected since the last spate of desert winds that had flattened the stinging sand. None of the prints were those of Indian ponies. Cochise considered carefully then rose to his feet with a fluid grace that belied his forty years and stood looking at his son, dark eyes glowing, eloquent.
“Now I understand,” he said, voice flicked with contempt. Taza watched him with flat eyes.
“You must be kind to this white man, my son,” Cochise said unexpectedly. He reached out to press his hand upon Taza’s shoulder.” He is good medicine for our people.”
“Then where is he when his blood brother has need of him?” Taza queried, startled by his father’s touch.
Cochise smiled grimly. “He would be here if he had not been taken away.” He brushed past Taza and strode from the wickiup into the night, away from the settling camp, easily scaling the rise to Flat Rock for the second time that day. He watched a shredded moon rising through the black arms of the trees. Taza had followed and stood behind him respectfully. They gazed out at the desert, hushed and peaceful, and breathed the dampening, earthy air. Cochise remained silent, arms folded, as solid to Taza as the stronghold rocks, still superbly fit and powerful, even though his hair was streaked heavily with grey.
“If he has been captured, then it was to make you follow, maybe.”
“They want to kill the chief of the Chiricahuas.”
“They know he will come to rescue his friend, Jeffords.”
“Yes. They will have traveled beyond the reservation so that I must break the treaty by stepping over this line upon the earth. They want to destroy the peace made with the one-armed general. You will go to the fort tomorrow and see Captain Farrell, the doctor who is known to us, and bring the soldiers. We will track Jeffords and the soldiers will follow and punish the bad men. I will go to the agency to read the earth and wait for you. We will be army scouts.” Cochise added smoothly.
Taza did not answer. Cochise turned to him. “Your heart is troubled.”
“Let us go alone, Father!” Taza declared passionately, hands clenched in entreaty. “What need do we have of the soldiers. We are warriors!”
“No! I have given my word the Chiricahuas will not ride against the white man. We still have our honor and our pride, if little else.” Cochise’s face was masked in shadow but Taza heard the bitterness and sorrow in his voice. “For many nights now I watch the stars wheel across the sky, thinking on the wisdom of this peace. I feel what you feel. The same things burn in me.”
Taza shook his head regretfully and stepped back. “I cannot go to the fort and ask this thing. I ask nothing of the white eyes except to be left alone.”
Cochise quelled his anger and frustration. “You must go to the fort,” he insisted. “For unless my sons continue what I do, the Chiricahuas will vanish from the mountains. Do not let your hatred blind you. With the soldiers, we can cross the white man’s line on the earth and rescue Jeffords without breaking the treaty.”
Taza lifted his head resentfully, his heart closed. Cochise could feel his animosity. “Remember, this white man has embraced our people. We need him. We can trust him.”
“I trust no white man.”
“Jeffords is as Apache as we are! Here!” Cochise struck his chest. “He is also my blood brother.”
Taza turned away. “He is not mine.”
I curse you and your people. They will be destroyed….. Taza, the pride of his life. Taza, whom he intended to see as the next chief when the dark spirits called him at last from earthly torment. Yet many times Cochise had watched him staring south, restless, heartsore, and knew Gokliya whispered to him, Gokliya, who had chosen to walk away from the treaty with many warriors. Gokliya, who continued the savage rampage against the white men under the name of “Geronimo”.
Cochise knelt before the agency steps in the early morning, intently studying the ground. It spoke to him of violence and struggle, dragging, kicking boots, of five men and Jeffords, and horses sidling in confusion. He sighed and stood, tracing the ground with practiced eyes, scanning the direction they took, up into the hills, noting the print of Jeffords’ big Appaloosa. He had waited restlessly until the sun was in full stride across the sky, but still Taza had not come with the soldiers. He could wait and hope no longer. He would go alone.
Mounted on his paint gelding, he slowly followed the trail, keen gaze sweeping the ground, riding easily at a slow trot so as not to tire his horse in the rising heat, careful not to disturb the spoors. He wore a thick headband across his forehead and knotted at the back of his head to keep the sweat from his eyes, a leather vest to protect his back from the biting sun and amulets around his neck and arms to protect his soul and invoke the spirits to guide him wisely. A small skin of water and mescal cakes were stored in the saddlebags which had been a gift from Jeffords. The long hunting knife rested against his hip in its scabbard, the .303 Wesson rifle sheathed at the saddle. He rode into the stony country of the foothills and stopped by a waterhole in rocks and shade, staying hidden among the stunted trees, instinctively watchful as he ate a simple meal, his horse grazing on the tough grass beside him. He soaked in the sight of his beloved land, sweeping to distant, broken mountains. The limitless skies filled him with sudden exhilaration and the Apache’s innate love of freedom. This was what he wanted to preserve for his people and he needed Jeffords, his soulmate, beside him to ensure its reality. Occasionally, a circling bird screeched lazily as it rode the thermals over the canyons. He thought of Taza and his heart closed in pain and disappointment.
When the shadows began to grow on the other side of the rocks, Cochise mounted and pressed on quietly. The signs were still upon the earth; the broken branches of the low scrub showed soft, sappy wood where the horses had brushed against them; they had passed through here not long ago. There was also blood, a drying smear. He stopped and leaned down from the saddle to study it intently. It was from a deep wound. He squeezed his heels against his horse and continued at a lope. He suddenly remembered the old mission, towards Mexico. He knew they would wait for him there, rifles pointing out through the empty windows, and did not question this certainty. The spirits were with him.
In the late afternoon, when the day was at its hottest, he dismounted and led his horse into the sparse cover of boulders, moving quietly, alert for signs of ambush. He unslung the water skin and drank sparingly, then turned away from the direction of the mission, careful to avoid the clatter of stones. By dusk, he would have circled around and come up behind them, if his instincts were correct, and by nightfall both he and his horse would be rested and ready. Cochise had learned through ten years of successful warfare to trust his instincts. This country was Apache land, as familiar to him as his own wickiup. He knew the terrain; they did not. And by now perhaps they were also becoming desperate; it would be good to make them wait longer. He wondered whether the blood was Jeffords’ and the curse seemed to sigh in the sudden breeze that swirled the dust and tousled the dry scrub around him. He crushed the fear and continued on, a sliding shadow through the rocks, his horse following slowly behind on a loose rein, calmed by his master’s low, soothing voice.
He was somewhere out there, in the darkness. Jeffords could almost hear him breathe. He shifted noisily against the rough stone walls, scraping his heels against the stony ground. His fingers still tingled, although his arms were numb from the tight ropes. He was grateful, for he no longer felt the bullet in his shoulder.
“You’ll never succeed!” he shouted, “Cochise won’t come. You’re wasting your time. Ride out and forget it, or end up in prison.”
There were five men crouching in the darkness, the moonlight gleaming briefly on poised rifles. One man came sliding over, glancing about him nervously. “Another sound from you and I’ll kill you right now,” he hissed then rejoined the others, peering into the night.
Jeffords inched along the wall towards the crumbling doorway, waiting silently for a moment before daring to move again with agonizing slowness. He felt the warm wetness of fresh blood soaking into his shirt. Occasionally, they glanced back at him. He lowered his head, shielding his face with his hat, as though slumped with exhaustion. They talked of the resumed gun-running deals from Mexico and the booty of war, which would be inevitable after Cochise’s death. The Apaches would go mad; there would be no stopping them. The slaughter would be lucrative, as in the past. Jeffords tried to flex his arms, twisting his hands, all the while edging closer to the doorway, head down, listening, until he dared go no further.
“I see you, my brother.”
Jeffords glanced over his injured shoulder, saw the flicker of soundless movement.
“I see you, my brother,” he whispered in reply.
There was nothing else. Jeffords drifted in suspended time, a drugged dreaming, aware of the cold seeping through to his bones, his body aching from the beating at the agency. The slow throb had begun again in his shoulder like the measured beat of an Indian drum and he began to wonder whether Cochise had really been there at all. His captors were asleep in tumbled heaps, except for one man. His rifle glinted as he shifted uncomfortably, tired and restless in the sense of anticlimax. They had misjudged, overcome by greed. Jeffords had been right. They would kill him in the morning, drag his body back onto the reservation for Cochise to discover and maybe they would still get their uprising. The hobbled horses stamped and snorted as night wore on in the desert chill; moonlight melted down the whitewashed mission walls. Jeffords surfaced in consciousness and opened his eyes to stare uncomprehendingly at the burning stars, trying to draw up his legs, stiff and sore. He lowered his head again and peered back through the doorway, suddenly locking eyes with Cochise, crouched and waiting in the darkness. His arm was grasped; he felt the knife sawing through the ropes, which had bound him for so long. He tried to feign sleep. The guard walked over, glanced at him and kicked his feet. Jeffords remained limp.
Cochise had dissolved into the night at his approach then quietly returned. “You are free.” He grasped a length of rope then skirted around the building, stepping lithely in soft, deerhide boots, testing each step before transferring his weight, sliding along the wall, a shadow moving within shadows.
The guard did not realize he was dying until his eyes began to cloud, his head bursting as the noose tightened relentlessly.
They were losing too much time, traveling too slowly to where the pinto was tethered among the rocks, where his white-patched hide would not glow in the moonlight. Cochise had not allowed for the possibility of Jeffords being wounded, of having to virtually drag him without opportunity to conceal their escape. It took all his strength to keep Jeffords limping forward, supporting his weight.
“I cannot go any further!” Jeffords moaned, panting with effort and pain, “Leave me. It is you they want.”
“No, my brother,” Cochise pulled Jeffords’ sound arm across his shoulders once again, “I will not leave you. We go together. We are not dead yet.” He could already hear cries of disbelief behind them. “We will hide. Soon you can rest, Sheekasay.”
Jeffords felt suddenly released onto the cool earth. Cochise untied his headband, refolded it as a bandage and pressed it inside the shirt to the tricking wound in Jeffords’ shoulder. Evil exulted around him as he felt his blood brother’s cold and clammy skin, heard his rapid breathing. Jeffords craved sleep; an overwhelming tiredness numbed all feeling. He listened in curious detachment to the sound of horses and shouting as they picked up the trail through the flattened grass. Dawn bruised the eastern mountains. He clung to that last thread of consciousness as his captors swarmed over the hillside beneath the lightening sky, losing the trail on the stony ground.
Cochise crouched, hidden among the boulders, rifle aimed, steady. They wove closer with every turn, back and forth, and his eyes narrowed with the old hatred, the bile rose bitter in his mouth. He would wait until they were close enough and then fire, killing at least one, exposing his hiding place to the others. Then he would fight to the death. The curse whispered in his mind and made him shiver with dread. Two more….His own son and Jeffords could well be lost to him this day. It was then he heard the distant rumbling, felt the vibration of many galloping hooves.
On the flank of the hill below, Taza swung up onto his horse and leapt into a gallop, no longer scouting by sight and instinct. He had heard them across the ridge, heard their rifle shots as they harried their quarry. The soldiers followed closely behind him, guns drawn. They burst across the hilltop together, the kidnappers fired wildly then scattered in terror before the overwhelming force. Taza wheeled away, seeking his father.
Cochise saw his son tracking expertly towards him, studying the ground, and stepped out into the morning sunshine, heart filled with pride. Taza rode to him and halted, gazing down at him. My heart rejoices, Father, that you are unharmed.
They knelt together by Jeffords. There was a moaning and sighing in the caves above them that may have been the wind. Cochise reached out to touch his brother’s slack face, but it was Taza who vaulted onto his pony and went in search of Captain Farrell, Taza who assisted the doctor, encouraging Jeffords to remain awake, who rode back with him, ever watchful.
Not this time.
She follows him and he has started to notice her again, halting to catch her black eyes, reading their promise, the heat rising in his blood. Jeffords convalesced slowly in the army hospital. Cochise had been invited to visit him and had walked for the first time in the white man’s fort in peace, causing a sensation wherever he went, striding silently past the soldiers with an awesome presence, the deadliest warrior ever encountered in the entire south-west. They stared at him wordlessly, tall and graceful, and stepped back as he approached. He looked straight ahead, his face stony, and ignored them. Taza would not go with him, remaining hostile to the white man and fretful until his father’s safe return to the stronghold. He did not inquire about Jeffords, nor did Cochise talk of that day. Taza’s actions had spoken for him and it was enough.
Night steals a graying mantle across the high cliffs of home. Telsabestinay sits cross-legged outside her wickiup, enjoying the last shreds of the day’s warmth as Cochise strides past her to the wickiup of his new wife. She follows his muscular, broad-shouldered form with soft eyes. She smiles and remembers.