Synopsis: Will the only witness survive long enough to testify.
Category: Broken Arrow
Word Count: 9,270
For Sandy K., who shares my passion…
As Jeffords rode the big Appaloosa into the winding foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains, he could feel the creep of the sullen storm behind him. The westering sun flared gold on rocks and crags and ancient saguaro even as the sky darkened to the relentless roll of purple clouds occasionally shot with electric blue and grumbling thunder. A harrying wind keened through the piñon pines and swirled stinging sand against the horse’s legs as they climbed up at last onto the stronghold track, the air damp and cool and sweet with the coming rain. Jeffords thought of his wickiup, its huddled, protective dome; it had taken a long time to accept it as his new, private place of peace after his previous home had been burned; the one he had shared with her, his beloved Morning Star. Now, safely alone, he called her name aloud, Sonseeahray!…. it echoed away as forlorn music and the familiar ache contracted his heart and wrenched him with renewed yearning as though it was only yesterday that she had been killed. He had buckled to the ground beside the pile of stones that covered her and tried to believe that she was really there, even as Cochise had stood apart, yet grieving with him, mourning the loss of yet another of his tribe, this one loved as all the others, her face stored with them in his memory, all the more tragic as he could not see the face of the child she had carried, the child of his white brother. Jeffords had folded into himself, repeatedly murmuring her name, Sonseeahray, as though he could coax her back from the clutches of the dark spirits, wake from the nightmare. Cochise had left him and returned many times during that night and at last, towards sunrise, he had gripped Jeffords’ arm and pulled him gently to his feet out of his mindless stupor.
“Yak-ik-tee,” the Apache had softly insisted, shaking his head sorrowfully. No longer present in this life. Dead.
Back in the camp, all that had remained of his marital home had been stark ribs and glowing embers. He could not even be outraged, understanding they had spared him this ritual, at least. They had constructed another wickiup for him and for many nights Cochise listened to the restless movements of his brother in pain. It was a pain he knew well and had suffered many times; it had driven the ferocious warrior chieftain to reservation life as the only hope of survival.
Jeffords rode into the stronghold on a rising, damp wind and splotching rain, stripping the tack from his horse and turning it loose with the others to shelter with its rump turned to the storm. He carried his saddle to his wickiup, acknowledged by the Indians in their silent way, and stored it safely inside. His few possessions were as he had left them, the woven, bright blankets of the tribe, some bowls and a drinking skin. A beautiful bow, as tall as a man and made by Cochise himself, was fixed to the wall, a quiver of arrows set neatly beneath. He turned to leave, pulling down his hat against the storm. Cochise was already there, his long hair swirling in the wind, his rugged face alight with pleasure, and embraced him affectionately.
“Welcome, Sheekasay,” he said, then turned to lead the way to his own wickiup where the small fire had already been kindled and deer meat kept hot in thick pots. Heavy drops pelted the ground as Jeffords lowered the blanket over the arched doorway. The Indian, bare-chested and strong, sat cross-legged and waited for him, silently offering food and water. Jeffords removed his hat and ate, observing the custom, listening to the drumming on the twined reeds and brush of the high roof. He drank briefly then set the food aside and regarded his friend.
“You bring rain, and news,” remarked Cochise, watching him keenly.
Jeffords smiled. “It is good to find you well,” he began politely, in the Apache manner. “I see all is calm in your camp.”
“Not all is as it seems,” Cochise replied with a soft contempt. “The Chiricahua survives and has meat for his belly from hunting. The government supplies have not yet arrived. It is time to raid into Mexico again, maybe.”
“Two more days,” Jeffords said. “There has been some delay.”
“Always there is some delay and the Indian Agent must fight with the Great Father for supplies yet again. The lines of weariness are back in your face.”
Jeffords smiled again under the sharp scrutiny. “Now I am here, I will rest. There is a woman in Tucson who searches for her grandson. She has come a long way, from a place the Americans call Texas. Her grandson ran away, to somewhere here and she followed him when she could escape. I found her heading towards the reservation but she would not say why. Her skin is black as midnight. Maybe you have seen such people in the past.”
“I have seen them, traveling as dark shadows in the shapes of men, with white people, going to Mexico. We have watched them sometimes. Their hair is thick with many curls.”
“They were slaves and then there was a war among the whites and now they have been freed, but this boy is in danger for he saw one white man kill another on the ranch where he worked. He flees for his life. His grandmother will only say she pointed out a place, which is now on the reservation, during their travels a long time ago, of trees and a stream and high hills and told him to come there in time of trouble and wait for her.”
“It is a long way in unfamiliar country,” Cochise fed little twigs into the fire and the silence grew heavy between them, despite the rolling thunder and splashing rain. “It is late and you are tired. Maybe you should sleep now.” He made to rise, but Jeffords reached across to touch his arm.
“The boy will be afraid of white men. He will not know whom to trust. Cochise knows I am to be trusted. There will be a trial in Tucson to be held soon by a circuit judge. We think the bad man has been caught. The boy is required to tell his story and identify him as the killer.”
“He will be in great danger, maybe.”
“He will be protected in Tucson him until after the trial and then I will guide him and his grandmother into Mexico where they have friends. We know they will have nothing to fear from the Chiricahuas.”
“We have no quarrel with people of black skin. We do not know them.”
Cochise’s rugged face was averted, his expression closed. “The storm has passed.”
Jeffords leaned his elbows on his knees and searched his friend’s impassive face. “The storm has not yet passed, my brother. Have you seen this boy?”
Cochise looked up at last. “Moses. His eyes are as moons in the night of his face.”
“Go!” she had hissed, pushing him out the back door into the rainy darkness. “Run, Moses! Remember where I told you? Tell me!”
He had sobbed and trembled, still in shock. She pinched his arm sharply. “Tell me, boy!”
“Where the land is like home,” he had gulped, choking on his tears.
“Five days, Moses,” she had thrust her face into his, “I will meet you there.”
She had stepped back and slammed the door and he had turned and began the run on the long journey to where the land was like home.
He had hidden in remembered barns and coops, stealing eggs and handfuls of grain, sleeping in bushes, tormented by nightmares, skirting the long road running like a white ribbon in the darkness where he had traveled by coach many times in the sunshine. He remembered the time they had stopped to rest in the shade of large cottonwoods, Miss Priscilla fanning herself furiously while Miss Dora mewled fractiously in her skirts. Nanny Winsome had excused herself towards the bushes on the hillside and dragged him along and in the shelter of some boulders had pointed across the road to where a stream glittered intermittently between the rocks.
“There!” she had whispered, “the canyon, the shallow stream, the tall reeds, the mountains behind. Always reminds me of where the land is like home, far away in another place, when I was young like you. If you need a place to hide, come here, Moses, and wait for me. Remember it well and look at it every time we visit their kin in Mexico. One day soon we will be free.”
Now Moses sat on the cool, sandy floor at the mouth of the cave, staring sightlessly across that very canyon into the rolling hills and broken mountains beyond, listening to the fading echoes of the eagle’s plaintive shriek. Morning struck the rocks with red and gold and was already heating the air. For the first time in five days, although Moses was neither hungry nor thirsty, he was beset by a devastating loneliness which crept into his soul and made him sway back and forth, murmuring snatches from an old lullaby that Nanny Winsome had crooned to him in bad times when he had cried. His daddy was just gone, dead forever, and the others spoke of Da David in hushed voices, rolling their eyes sympathetically at him. When he had seen them, he could only think of frightened horses.
Yesterday it had happened, down there far below on the canyon floor where he was sure Nanny Winsome had told him to wait, and it was still too overwhelming to grasp.
He had been fairly blinded by a fierce headache brought on by exhaustion and exposure and the big Indian had seemed to mould from the very rocks around him like a dream, silently cementing into a horrifying reality that made his head pound all the more until he whimpered in panic, stumbling back, snatching out the knife from his belt, arm upraised as he balanced the blade like his Daddy had taught him. The Indian stood calmly, a quiver of arrows across his back, its leather strap across his broad, bare chest, his keen black eyes riveting Moses into immobility. He held a bow which stood almost as tall as he and then slowly he hunkered down on his heels and laid it carefully on the ground, crossed his muscular arms and rested them on his knees. He lifted his face to the sun and closed his eyes with a soft sigh, balancing lightly on the balls of his feet. Moses, knife still poised to strike, could only stare at him in disbelief, never having seen an Indian before, nor such curious behavior. The swarthy, high-cheeked face relaxed as though lulled to sleep by the somnolent desert heat, hair iron-grey, like his Daddy’s had been, but it was long and sleek about his shoulders, glossy in the sun, as was the copper cast of his skin. Moses had turned the knife about in nervous fingers, his breath catching with fear, when suddenly the Indian scooped up a stone and flung it with such stunning force and accuracy that the weapon was knocked spinning from his grasp and clattered away. Before Moses could blink, the Indian had leapt upon him, lifted him clear off the ground with one brawny arm, shook him savagely then dropped him, stepping back abruptly, his eyes hard with anger, lines of contempt carved into his rugged face. With the breath knocked out of him, stunned and in shock, Moses simply crumpled onto the sandy ground just as surely as he had in sleep at Nanny Winsome’s feet a lifetime ago in the cabin back home. He lay there, beaten, too weary to resist, too weary to be even afraid as the dreaded word Apache whispered in his mind, fragments of stories of torture and death. He listened dully to the merry rippling of the stream behind the Indian’s hostile stance, and his eyes filled with tears then a big shadow blotted out the burning sun as once more he was lifted to his feet, this time set gently down, one rough, brown finger jerking up his chin for inspection. Moses sniffled in misery; the Indian’s thumb flicked the tears from his cheeks and he spoke softly.
“Tu!” He pushed Moses towards the stream then leaned down to drink, scooping water in his hand as he watched the boy warily. Moses drank in the same manner then sat back on his heels, regarding the Indian, simply waiting.
“Nzhoo!” This was uttered with satisfaction in a soft and resonant voice, then the Indian indicated the towering cliffs behind them and gave him a push.
Moses remembered little of the climb, except that it was steep and rough and he sent many stones rolling and that his mind drifted. Everything had become so unreal that he felt this must be a nightmare and pressed his hands to his eyes as his vision blurred. He heard absolutely nothing behind him and spun around suddenly in wild hope. But the Indian was still there, on his heels, showing not the slightest sign of exertion while Moses’ breath rattled in his throat.
At least it seemed he did not intend to kill him, indicating at last a fissure in the rocks that widened into the dark mouth of a cave, high above the canyon. Moses needed no further prodding to collapse on the cool, damp floor. The Indian followed him, ducking his head at the opening, and it was then Moses realized how tall he was, standing there half naked in buckskin breeches, deep-chested and strong, straight as an arrow, in arrogant grace. He was simply the most magnificent man Moses had ever seen, except for his own Daddy. He stood up shakily and pointed to himself. “Moses,” he said.
The Indian struck a broad hand against his chest. “Cochise!” He pointed into the cave and Moses became aware of the sound of dripping water.
“Tu,” he said again. Moses understood; water. He watched intently as a small leather pouch was detached from Cochise’s belt and unfolded to reveal a handful of dried corn.
“Nada.” He shook the grains into the boy’s hand, looked keenly at him again, turned on a moccasined heel and was gone as suddenly as he had appeared. By the time Moses had recovered enough to run to the cave’s entrance, he had vanished, not a trace or sound, although Moses reckoned from his outpost he could see for a hundred miles. But he would be back. He had given him food and water and shelter. His name was Cochise and he was his friend. He had mused how he had never had an Indian for a friend before as he fell into a deep sleep.
They rode along the canyon floor together, splashing through the lazy stream, hoofbeats echoing off the narrowing walls, until Cochise drew rein and pointed upwards above the tumbled skirt of rocks flanking the great crags. Jeffords shaded his eyes against the hard silver of the sky and gave a low whistle, holding the reins of another saddled horse.
“How did you manage to get him up there, by God!”
Cochise smiled grimly as he dismounted. “I needed a place of safety for him. It is his haven and also his prison for he cannot leave. Where would he go?”
“He may run when he sees me,” Jeffords stayed in the saddle and took the pinto’s reins as Cochise moved forward into full view.
“He will not run. He has already seen us, I think, for if I were him, I would be watching from the cave for the dreaded n’de who hunts him. Although you are white, he will see you are with me and he will not be afraid. Call him down.”
Jeffords could not see the cave entrance on which Cochise had fixed a keen eye, but he cupped his hands around his mouth and called loudly in that direction, the echoes mocking him into an eerie silence.
“Moses! I am a friend of Cochise!”
The boy emerged from the rocks and as Cochise raised his hand in greeting, began his downward scramble.
“He is just a small child,” Jeffords said softly, “maybe not more than twelve harvests. His clothes are rags. He has come a long way.”
“In the old days, those of his age were already returning from their first raids,” Cochise replied, watching the boy slide on the loose stones, stirring up dust. “They could descend from that cave in silence and not a rock would move. The spirits of the air and the earth would shield them from the sight of their enemies.”
Moses stopped hesitantly on level ground, gasping for breath, his eyes round with surprise at the sight of the white man and Apache together, for he could see they were friends.
The white man was tall and spare and much younger than Cochise. He sat his horse loosely with the practiced ease of years of riding and wore Indian buckskin and a denim jacket. His sharp, blue eyes studied him intently from the shade of his hat and as he leaned forward with a sudden smile to offer his hand, Moses recognized he was of the land, like the Indian and the drovers back home. His grip was strong and calloused and Cochise smiled approval at him as he offered his own hand doubtfully in return.
“I am Tom Jeffords,” the white man said in a voice as easy as his manner. “We will look after you, Moses. Can you ride?” He extended the reins of the extra pony.
Moses smiled broadly, his white teeth flashing in his dark face, the black wool of his hair glistening in the fierce sun. He had ridden since he could walk, following his father after the great herds, ushering in the slow and sulky dogies at roundup.
“Why yes, Mr. Tom, sir.” He vaulted into the saddle with remembered pleasure. Cochise remounted and they turned and rode out of the baking heat of the canyon, following a ridge that wound up from the cholla and saguaro stands into the high country through cottonwoods and pine towards the stronghold. For the first time in days, Moses did not cower and look behind him with fear. If only his father and Nanny Winsome could see him now.
“This is where you will stay,” Jeffords said, indicating one of the big, domed lodges of the Indian camp encircled by the tall crags of the stronghold high above the desert floor. “This is my home when I am here and will be yours until the trial. You are safe in Cochise’s village. He is the Chiricahua chief and his word is law. His people will take care of you. I’ll take you down to Tucson when the judge arrives and you will be protected by the sheriff until you give your account of the murder. Then I will escort you into Mexico where I understand you have some friends. I will tell your grandmother you are here. I guess you’d like to see her, but I will need Cochise’s permission to bring her, too.”
Moses stared at him.
“Do you understand me?” Jeffords asked.
“Nanny Winsome?” Moses said, trembling with relief, “She is here?”
“She will soon be here,” Cochise said in Spanish, entering the wickiup. Jeffords smiled. He had always suspected Cochise understood more English than he admitted.
“Thank you, Cochise,” Moses replied, also in Spanish. “It is good to speak with you.”
“Of course!” Jeffords laughed softly. “The boy would understand Spanish with connections in Mexico! Now you can talk together,” he added slyly. “You have no need of me. I will bring Nanny Winsome tomorrow. Don’t worry, Moses, soon all this will be behind you, a bad man in jail, and you free to begin a new life.”
“You are both welcome in my camp until then,” Cochise said. “I will show you the trick of fooling your enemy by throwing stones.”
She rode into camp the following day with Jeffords, climbing the last rise before the stronghold, an arresting and noble black woman, her head lifted proudly, her white hair in a thick, braided coil about her head. The Indians stared at her in awe as she dismounted, smoothing down her skirts, surveying them in turn. She was big and strong like a man. Moses flung himself at her and hugged her tightly. She stroked his head with a gentle hand and smiled at him, eyes polished with love.
“Sweet honey child, my Moses,” she crooned. “All will be well. You found the place, Mr. Tom tells me, the place that was like home. You knew I was coming, didn’t you? Not once did you doubt your Nanny Winsome would come, did you child?”
“Nanny, this is Cochise,” Jeffords said as the Apache approached.
Winsome turned to Cochise and studied him carefully.
“Buenos dias,” she said in a clear, strong voice, continuing in Spanish. “I know you understand me, sir, and thank you for giving us safe haven. I am most grateful for your hospitality.”
Although she was old, her white hair in startling contrast to her ebony face, a timeless beauty sculpted her features, the wide, full mouth and glowing eyes. Jeffords guessed her to be at least seventy, far older than anyone in the tribe, an innate wisdom lending her elegance in manner and movement. Despite being big-boned and broad, she retained a haughtiness in defiance of advancing years that commanded respect.
During the following days, Winsome roamed the countryside around the camp with Moses, within the bounds set by Cochise. Sometimes, she was seen standing on high ground, staring over the sweeping land with a shawl about her shoulders, white as her hair, lost in thought, or examining plants, crushing them between her fingers and carefully smelling and tasting them, collecting, discarding. She sat with her grandson and they talked of the coming trial, of what he had witnessed, Mr. McAllister shooting Mr. Graham who had crashed onto the floor, his life flowing away, his feeble cries lost in the next blast which shot away the locks on the desk. Mr. McAllister had scooped out a canvas bag of ranch money and fled, unaware a dark boy had hidden in a dark corner, and seen. He would never forget the musky smell of Mr. McAllister’s sweat as he hurried past, the foreman’s message still chanting in his brain about moving the stock to the west pasture as fences were down. He had run out into the noisy compound where his Daddy was rubbing down the horses after the day’s work, unable to speak. Da David had calmly led him into the barn and hunched down to look into his face, the eyes wide with shock and streaming tears, and closed his big, strong hands about his son’s arms, hushing and soothing until Moses could tell him. It was then that Mr. McAllister had burst in upon them, carrying his saddle, the bags loaded, his face wild. He stopped short, read the Negro’s eyes as he rose to his feet and stood protectively before his son. Not a word was spoken as Mr. McAllister threw his tack over his horse; Moses heard the slap of leather and then the shot that killed his father and then he couldn’t remember anything until he was pulled from beneath Da David and voices buzzed about him like angry bees as he stared at his Daddy, lying quietly on the ground when he should have been out with the horses, just a small, red hole in his shirt and the pungent smell of gunpowder and no blood anywhere like with Mr. Graham as the bullet had remained lodged in his body, so surely he would soon open his eyes, please God.
Winsome had sighed, a long exhalation of grief, as they leaned together on the rocky hill, watching the sunset, smelling the sage and yellow poppies on the cooling air, and pulled him close and rocked him, her face frozen in mourning. A deep, cold, unrelenting hatred lay as poison in her soul for the thief who had killed her son. Not a tear would she shed until Mr. McAllister was found guilty and then she would watch him hang, exultant, and rejoice that he was burning in hell. Each day she tried to coax a little more from her grandson, unlock his memory, for it was mainly his testimony that would see justice done. Eventually, Moses could relate the incident without shivering with renewed horror, sobbing for his Daddy with a bursting heart as he saw him lying on the barn floor in an awful stillness. He struggled for control and a clear mind, supported by Nanny’s great strength and love, for he would have to speak confidently and clearly if they were to believe a colored boy, the son of a cattle hand.
“You are brave and I am so proud of you, my sweet boy.” She had hugged him and stroked his cheek, knowing how exhausted he was; his face slack, eyes reddened and dull, they rose and returned to the Indian camp. As always, she would see Cochise standing quietly in the compound, watching them.
“Never have I seen such an isdzan!” exclaimed Nalikadeya, standing before Cochise in their wickiup, watching him hold their newborn daughter, “She is big and strong like a n’de and her skin is black!”
Cochise lay back against the rugs in a rare aura of contentment, smiling at his baby asleep against his chest, studying her profile. His wife gazed upon him in the intimacy of firelight, shirtless and strong, and longed to love him again as soon as the required time had passed since the birth.
“She is a powerful woman,” he said. “She collects grasses and plants and boils them together. She has much medicine and is a healer for her people.”
The baby cried suddenly. Wakened from her warm and cozy nest in her father’s arms as he lifted her to Nalikadeya, she wailed bitterly, winding tiny fingers tightly in his hair, pulling fretfully.
“Aiee!” Cochise protested softly, opening her little fists.
Nalikadeya laughed, hugging the precious moment as she cuddled her daughter, looking deeply into Cochise’s eyes, alight with pride and amusement, as the baby squirmed and screamed. She stepped outside, soothing, pacing, anxious in the way of all new mothers, and then Nanny Winsome was there, aroused by the familiar cries in the hush of night, her eyes kind, her voice deep and gentle. She smiled at the Indian girl and held out her arms, taking the baby as she had countless others before. Nalikadeya liked her; she smelled of herbs and wind, was wise and comforting in the special way of grandmothers, and her knowing eyes held many stories.
“There, there, honey child,” she murmured, her white hair, let down her back in a single braid, gleamed silver in the moonlight as she swayed in the ancient way, crooning a song sweet and sad and lovely to Nalikadeya’s ears. Although she could not understand the words, she hummed along, placing her hands on Winsome’s shoulders and so they swayed together, there beneath the frosty stars, while the baby slept in the warmth of the old woman’s shawl.
Moses had been roaming along the creek bank with Winsome in the late afternoon when he saw them walking up the hillside from the camp, talking earnestly. Although they strode along in that easy, relaxed way of friends, it was still so surprising to see them together; Jeffords, fair, young, rangy and blue-eyed, in denims and cowboy hat, with Cochise beside him, tall and graceful in tan buckskins, a red scarf bound around his long hair, his dark eyes and copper skin glowing in the last rays of the sun. Winsome had seen them and came to stand by her grandson, sighing with resignation. They knew the time had come for the boy to go to Tucson.
Cochise gazed at him thoughtfully then hunched down on his heels to look directly into Moses’ face, lifting the boy’s chin as he had on that first day in the canyon. He was so very young and vulnerable, standing close to his grandmother, wide eyes pale and haunted.
“Look up!” Cochise commanded sharply. “You are just a small boy, but your time has come to avenge your father! Stand straight and tall, speak clearly and let them all hear the ring of truth in your voice! If you do not win, your father’s spirit will not rest, and another son may lose his father if this bad man goes free! Will you allow this?”
“No, sir,” Moses shook his head slowly, rage hardening his eyes. “I am ready.”
“Your childhood has finished,” Cochise’s voice was soft with finality. “Tomorrow, you do the first thing as a man. Your grandmother will wait here until you return.”
“I go, too,” Winsome stated, folding her ample arms.
“No,” Jeffords said firmly, shaking his head, “I only take Moses, Nanny.”
“Where he goes, I go,” Winsome insisted, placing her hand on Moses possessively.
“Then my brother must worry about two targets, maybe,” Cochise’s deep voice was soft with sympathy, “would you risk his life also?”
Winsome remained silent.
“No sir, I would not.”
“We will leave before dawn,” Jeffords said, “and be in Tucson early morning for the trial. Moses will be under the protection of two lawmen and me. I know the circuit judge, he is a fair man. The Santa Fe records prove George McAllister has previous convictions as a thief and there are other ranchers in New Mexico who can testify to robbery. It should be over soon and he will hang. Moses and I will return by late afternoon. You will be free to go to Mexico.”
“It will never be over,” Winsome murmured, “until my son breathes again.”
They left in the quiet hours after midnight, carrying water and mescal cakes in saddlebags, the stars still pinned to a velvet sky. Winsome patted her grandson’s knee and smiled encouragingly, although her eyes were tight with worry. “Now you take good care of my boy, Mr. Tom,” she said severely.
“Well now, Nanny,” Jeffords smiled, leaning forward onto the pommel of his saddle to gaze at her, “you make a fearsome sight indeed scowling at me in the dark. I’d sooner face ten mad Chiricahuas than have you riled! Take care of yourself.”
“Don’t you fret none about me!” Winsome grunted, tucking in her chin and folding her arms, “the sooner you go, the sooner you’re back. You be a good boy now, Moses; make us both proud in front of the white folks.”
Cochise came to stand beside Jeffords’ horse, looking up at him earnestly in the moonlight.
“It is a good thing you do to see justice done,” he said. “Give my greetings to your friend, Matt, who wears the silver star. I remember him well. Moses understands he must stay in the cell for his own protection, such is the white man’s way, but tell your friend not to close the door to the small room with bars. The people with black skin are free in spirit like the Apache and cannot be locked up like animals. This boy has done no wrong. Will you see to it?”
“I will, Cochise,” Jeffords promised and laid his hand on the Apache’s shoulder. “Farewell, my brother.”
The riders turned and melted into the darkness and in a moment, the muffled hoofbeats had faded and it was as if they had never been there. Winsome sighed and slumped her big shoulders and gazed keenly about the stronghold walls, black silhouettes against a graying sky, her eyes finally locking at some distant point, perfectly still, as though listening intently.
“Today I go that way,” she said, pointing south. “I do not look for herbs, but there is another thing I must do. It was something he said, your friend and brother, Mr. Tom.”
Cochise followed her steadfast gaze towards the ragged peaks. “You are a guest, but I do not wish you to go there,” he answered. “The Apache does not go there.”
“I will be safe,” Winsome’s dark eyes glowed as she moved slowly away, glancing once more in the direction her grandson had ridden, the last surviving member of her family. She walked purposefully, holding up her skirts so she would not stumble on the rising, rocky ground ahead. The bright, clear sky afforded enough light to guide her way. “You will come.”
Cochise summoned two young boys from a nearby wickiup. They came out immediately with their father and stood before him, blinking sleepily.
“You will watch over Nanny Winsome until she returns,” he commanded, pointing after her. They scampered away; already she was climbing the first of the large rocks on the flanks of the mountains. Their father went back inside. His chief had spoken. It was not yet sunrise.
They returned an hour later, in the silvered light of dawn, and stood before his wickiup until he came out and looked down at them, his face flushed dark with anger. She had disappeared. If they had been warriors, he would have whipped them. He motioned to them to go and they hung their heads in disgrace and trailed away. They had disappointed their chief, and their father would be shamed before the tribe.
Cochise pulled on a soft doeskin shirt against the morning cold, scanning the rough, rocky mountains that protected the stronghold. He remembered her words; they whispered in his mind. Something Jeffords had said. “Farewell, my brother’. He recalled how she had keenly studied him that first day, as though she could read his life in his face, see into his soul. She had great mystic power and had touched him and it was as though, just for a moment, Coyuntura touched him also, so strongly did Cochise feel his presence, and he could not be afraid of the spirit of someone he had so loved.
He started upwards at a light jog, sure-footed and silent, his moccasins making no impression as he pressed higher into the tumbled and dangerous high country where great spires and pinnacles thrust grey, gnarled fingers into the sky. He followed her trail, saw where the boys had run over it in the semi-darkness, where they had turned back. She had moved onto the rocks to avoid them, out into the open where they would not look for a black woman in the gloom, and he smiled at her cunning. Her tracks would have seemed to simply vanish from the thin soil. Perhaps, in another life, she had been Apache. Faint color stole into the rocks with dawn, soft rustlings. Birds flitted about him; dew and nectar sweetened the air. Far below lay the wickiups in their vast, green cradle; he could see the twinklings of cooking fires, hear the faint echoes of voices, thin on the morning breeze. She had passed this way, had slipped on the side of a rocking stone. His keen eyes moved carefully uphill and he continued slowly, wondering at the strength and determination of such an old woman. Very few Indians lived to have hair as white as hers. He suddenly remembered she had said he would come.
Winsome stepped out in front of him and he halted sharply in surprise for he had felt no sense of her. She had been watching, leading him upwards. The canyon rim was laced with scarlet then the sun rose clear and flooded the cliffs with gold.
“I have seen things all my life, past and future, and no longer question these visions. That much I have learned with age and I am no longer afraid of this powerful gift. I have brought you here to tell you this place will be special for you, Cochise, where few men will come, and only those who know the secret.”
He walked up beside her; she was only a head shorter than he, a splendid and powerful woman of great medicine. His skin prickled with her words. “You must return. My people will become anxious and look for you. You must say no more.”
Winsome turned towards the east as though he had not spoken, her ebony face glowing in the morning light.
“So hear me, Cochise,” she murmured softly. “As I am now, so you will be, as you have slept all your life, your face turned to the morning sun; you will see each new day with your tribe.” She pointed into the treacherous rocks behind her where they sank into a dark ravine, one of many that plunged through the mountains in a jumble of chasms and fallen boulders. “There somewhere, in a hidden place, far below, you will rest undisturbed. Know that he will walk beside you as you ride your horse proudly, loving arms around you, and will say the words again, like today. “Farewell, my brother.” The last one to embrace you will be him. He will place his hands upon your shoulders, look into your face and wish you safe journey and the soreness in his heart will be eased for you will be at peace.”
“You speak of yak-ik-tee! The Apache does not speak of yak-ik-tee. You do not know this, maybe.”
Winsome flared her nostrils in soft contempt and stared at him, so vibrant with life, rugged and strong, yet his fine eyes hooded and wary. “Hear me! I will be gone tomorrow, and I am not Apache!” she said tartly. “Tell me you are not gladdened to know you will be released from pain and remembered with honor! For more than a hundred years from this day, Cochise will be celebrated as the greatest Apache chief! His grandchildren will speak of him with pride, as will their grandchildren! He will live forever in the hearts of his people. This is my vision. Maybe this was the reason a Negro woman was sent into your camp. You will not come here again until that last day.”
Cochise broke free of the gossamer threads of her predictions, deeply superstitious as all Apaches, yet there were no warning signs, no hooting owls or snapping branches or clouds across the sun. He looked up at the looming crags; they seemed to topple forward over him and the gusty wind of another hot, desert day whistled mournfully through the rocks of the ravine below as it plummeted down into a dark and ghostly nothingness. Yes, it would be a fitting place, high above the stronghold. He turned and walked out into the sun, the clammy sweat drying on his skin, gazing across the sweeping valleys, rolling into the blueness of watercolor distance. It was a great thing she had told him and he would think long on it. Winsome moved past silently, as though emerging from a trance, then turned, her white hair flaring about her dark face, clutching her skirts with one hand and raising the other to point at him.
“You, Cochise!” Her eyes glowed like coals. “Hear me! Before the next sunrise, your white brother with the blue eyes will wish you safe journey, and then you will believe me.”
They returned the following evening, and even before they dismounted, Cochise could see the change in Moses’ face, the manly set of his small, thin shoulders. Winsome’s eyes filled with tears and her heart ached with pride and sorrow, for she saw her own son mirrored in her grandson and knew he would never be the same boy again. Now it would be his turn to embrace and comfort his grandmother, take responsibility for the direction of their future.
Jeffords simply looked at Cochise with a grim smile. “It is done,” he said. “I will ride with them for a while tomorrow, towards Mexico. Friends come to meet them, help them start a new life. I spoke to them after the trial.”
Cochise regarded him impassively then returned to his wickiup, settling cross-legged onto the folded rugs, starting the little fire in the earthen pit beneath the hole in the great, domed roof, snapping twigs. Jeffords entered, studying him tentatively before sitting opposite. He picked up a small branch and began breaking it into pieces, handing each piece to Cochise who laid them carefully on his little fire. Shadows flickered across his pensive face, sharpened the angles of his high cheeks.
“My brother is quiet,” Jeffords remarked casually, “perhaps he is troubled.”
“Now the storm has passed. The black people will leave. Justice has been done.”
“Matt respected the wishes of Cochise and did not lock the boy behind bars. He wanted you to know this.”
Cochise added more wood; smoke spiraled out the top of the cozy lodge. “It is good.”
“Soon the wickiup will be ashes. My brother is restless.”
The Indian looked up at him strangely, rising abruptly with a fluid grace. “You are right. Tomorrow, I hunt.”
Jeffords also stood. “I will hunt with you when I return. Wait for me.”
“I hunt alone.” Cochise ducked through the doorway into the frosty night and gazed up at the ragged outline of the mountains surging up from the stronghold valley. Jeffords persisted and came to stand beside him, following his gaze.
“What does my brother hunt?” he asked softly, “game, or answers?”
Cochise turned to look at him then, as from a great distance; his spirit had fled and a peculiar stillness bound him. Jeffords turned towards the wickiup of Nachise, his own having been given to Moses and Winsome.
“I wish you safe journey,” he said.
“You have cared for us, fed and sheltered us,” Moses had said early that morning, now a mature young man standing before Cochise where only days ago there had been the frightened boy. I will always remember you, the Apache chief who can throw stones as a gun fires bullets. If there is ever anything I can do for your people, know that I will, for I lived with them as family.”
Now they were gone and camp life returned to normal as though they had never been, except for the strange and beautiful tune that Nalikadeya hummed to her infant and the scents of herbs and dried grasses in Jeffords’ wickiup. Winsome.
The ravine. Cochise looked up into the pinnacles and ragged spires of the mountains and remembered how her eyes had smoldered, like the dying embers of a fire, the strong conviction in her voice. He will walk beside you…“Farewell, my brother” …the last one to embrace you will be him… Her words burned in his mind. He would not be buried like the others, with warriors riding across his grave to disguise the site. Dreams. He had had many dreams of death and demons, waking in a sweat, stumbling out into the night, gasping for the sweet, mountain air, a curse he suffered for the violence in his life. Maybe he had dreamed this also; maybe she had cast a spell upon him, so he had imagined so vividly that it had seemed reality, for she was as powerful as the shaman, Nochalo. He watched the two boys he had sent after Winsome. They played and laughed along with the other children and did not look away in shame when they saw him. Had he sent them after her? Could such an old woman, broad and heavy, have climbed up high into the mountains and hidden her tracks as though she walked on air? Always, his eyes were drawn to that high place and the secrets she had told him. He longed to believe that the grandchildren of his grandchildren would say his name with pride and a great swelling of joy and exultation filled his heart, for that would mean he had chosen this difficult peace wisely and his people will have survived. He longed to know the truth, yet there was no-one he could ask.
Nochalo had noticed his chief standing motionless on the edge of camp, staring up into the mountains, caught in an intensity he felt came from the black woman he had so disliked; he snorted softly through his hooked nose and the corners of his thin lips curved down. His small, black eyes glittered through lines of grim disapproval. He watched Nalikadeya come to offer Cochise food as the day wore on, only to be impatiently sent away. His chief continued to lean on the rough posts of the camp corral and stare at the high crags, his demeanor such that no-one dared approach him again, except Nochalo himself. He noted with satisfaction that Cochise started as he sidled up softly. His own magic was still strong; it was Apache medicine and overrode all others.
“There is a curse upon you,” Nochalo muttered bitterly, slyly, “such a one could only wish you evil.”
Cochise looked at him pensively; there was no fear in his eyes. “I must go up there,” he said. “I need your protection.”
“That is the home of the spirits,” Nochalo replied. “That is not a place for Cochise. The Chiricahuas have need of him.”
“There is something I must know.” Cochise glanced away again.
Nochalo sensed the power struggle, determined he would win. He felt undermined every time Jeffords rode into the stronghold, for often Cochise accepted his advice despite Nochalo’s protests. This was why the proud Chiricahua was contained on a reservation and waited for the supplies from the Great Father in Washington. He now wished he had asked the black witch woman to stop Jeffords returning; it was always good to see him ride out of the stronghold. Had he not been Cochise’s blood brother, Nochalo would have long ago cast misfortune on him. One day he would have his chance to be rid of the white man.
“I cannot give you protection, except with wise counsel. The Apache must remain true to himself and not deal with white men or spirits.”
Cochise looked down at him, a small, fiery, brown nut of a man, wrinkled with more years than anyone in the tribe. He smiled softly and sighed, closed his hand around the polished, sacred shell about his throat, surveyed the camp in the late afternoon, and simply walked away, towards the high ground.
He had been climbing steadily through the rocks, scanning the ground carefully, and wondered whether he had taken a wrong turn when he failed to find any tracks, yet there was the loose stone where Winsome had slipped, and further on he came to the big boulders where he had rested, looking down towards the huddled backs of the wickiups. He remembered seeing the early morning stirrings of the camp from here, and yet the scene this afternoon was not quite the same as though the wickiups were another chief’s camp, rearranged. An uneasiness curled about his soul as he looked about in confusion and he clasped the shell on the plaited thong at his neck once again and prayed to the gods of night to guard him. The desert breeze swept in predictably as the heat lifted with sunset, skittering leaves, creaking branches, whispering about him, ruffling back his long hair as he lifted his face to its coolness and closed his eyes, feeling it flow like velvet over his bare chest and shoulders. This was always a special time of day for him, when he felt closest to the earth and at peace. It had seemed only a moment, but when Cochise roused again, it was almost dark, as though he had been suspended in unmarked time where images of keening women and wrapped forms held by warriors on horses swarmed through his mind. Twilight flooded into the stronghold valley in soft pink and misty blue; his skin shivered as he kept climbing, breaking into a nimble and sure-footed jog through the steep rocks, abandoning further attempts at tracking, working swiftly towards the summit where Winsome had stepped out suddenly in front of him, the whites of her eyes startling against her black skin.
At last he reached the ledge from where he had surveyed the limitless expanse of the cliffs and canyons while she had stood behind him and spoken of secret, forbidden things to the Apache. He walked for a little way in each direction while his breathing calmed, searching, but he could not find that same vista; everywhere was just a little different, the view not exactly as he remembered, and the darkness would soon be rolling in. Here, the wind whined through the tumbled rocks and fissures, through the spires held starkly against the sky like dead men’s fingers, and moaned through ravines far below. Had he imagined she had pointed to the mouth of one of them? He looked for the place, walked warily to where it should have been, remembering the sunken ground where part of the mountainside had slid away, leaving a network of tunnels and caves, yet it was as though he was in a different part of the range, a place he had never been before, of which he had no memory. The place was similar, but not exactly the same as yesterday. Superstition rippled through his body; the wind had risen in pitch and seemed to scream at him, to drive him away. Completely disoriented, his heart began to pound slowly with dread; he knew Nochalo chanted for him in a holy trance, made aromatic smoke. Where was he? Cochise swiftly scaled one of the highest rocks, a fallen platform, and stood defiantly, scanning the landscape in the deepening gloom, his tall and powerful body silhouetted against the sky, hair streaming behind him in the gusty night, the sacred shell flaring at his throat in the last shred of twilight. He felt as though ghostly forms watched him, cold hands reached for him, then the gods of darkness showed they had heeded his prayers and a soft, silvery light flooded from the emerging stars. They twinkled in hundreds, like campfires; from his dizzying height on the summit he felt he could reach out and touch them, for never before had he stood so close to the sky.
This was not the place, and yet there could be no other. He could make no sense of it; he, Cochise, the finest tracker, who knew the terrain of home as he did his own wickiup, could not find the place he had stood yesterday, and now even his great courage was failing in the darkness where it seemed the wailing wind was threaded with hostile whispers and warnings that twined around his soul and humped demons hid among the boulders, their backs glowing in the moonlight.
It was as Cochise finally descended towards the stronghold that he remembered her prophecy. You will not come here again until that last day.
“They are well?”
Jeffords removed his hat and rubbed his eyes wearily as he came to stand beside Cochise at Flat Rock, as always his favorite place in the late afternoon.
“They are well. I rode with them until we met their friends, then we made camp for the night. They sang around the campfire, sad and lonely songs of home, of their work, and happy songs of the seasons. The Negro is as closely connected to the land as the Indian. Their voices blended in such beautiful music. I wish you could have been there. Winsome sings from the heart, strong and deep.”
“In the future, their songs may be of killing Indians. There is talk of them joining the army.”
“I have also heard such stories. Not Moses,” Jeffords said, “He had only praise for the big Indian chief who tricked him with a thrown stone, shook him like a rabbit, then protected him until the trial. Winsome also spoke highly of you. She told me you will be remembered with love and honor by your people for more than a century, which is many lifetimes. She said to give you this message again. Do you understand this?”
Cochise moved away restlessly, folded his arms and did not answer.
“I find you here often when you are troubled. Your heart is heavy. Did you go on your hunt yesterday?”
“You ask too many questions.”
“It is the way of Apache brothers,” Jeffords replied smoothly with a wry grin, “You have taught me well.”
“What will they do?”
“Moses will work with horses and cattle. Nanny Winsome will work in the house and care for the sick. She has special gifts.” Jeffords moved around Cochise, implacable, resistant. He studied his friend’s impassive face for a moment then followed the unwavering gaze out across the desert, glowing in purple and gold with sunset, the crowns of the cottonwoods flaming in the flung rays. “There was a moment yesterday, late in the afternoon as now, when we rested the horses, that she looked back this way, towards the mountains, and was sad for you.”
“What did she say?”
“Did you hunt?” Jeffords countered. “She said you were searching and that she had told you secret things in return for giving her and Moses protection. These things were meant to comfort you and give you hope for the future.”
“Did she tell you these things?”
Jeffords smiled wistfully and rested against a rock. “Now who asks too many questions? It is a great thing to know you will be celebrated by your people; she said the grandchildren of your grandchildren will know and honor the name of Cochise. She told you only good things. She also told me of the future in such a way that I could not but believe her.”
“I must believe her also. She told me you would say some words and you said those words.”
“I wished you safe journey. She had foreseen this. She was unhappy that you were back in the mountains yesterday. She said it was the wrong time and you would eventually realize this and give up the hunt. She said you were a big, stubborn Indian.”
“And what did you say?”
“It is useless to argue with a woman, especially one as powerful as Winsome, so it was easier to agree!” Jeffords teased, then sobered thoughtfully. “We will not discuss the other things she told me, but there is now a new understanding between you and I.” His youthful face cleared with a sly delight, his blue eyes bright with amusement. He laid a hand upon Cochise’s shoulder in his characteristic gesture of affection. “She told me a wonderful thing! You will have another daughter, and both girls will be beautiful and proud to continue the Chiricahua line. Now it is your task to be a father again!”
“Ah!” Cochise’s rugged face softened with pleasure. He turned towards the camp where families prepared for the evening meal in the settling peacefulness of the stronghold and remembered watching the cooking fires far below from the mountains. “We must make many more little Chiricahuas! Come, see the baby. Nalikadeya sings a new tune that quietens her.”
“Nanny Winsome?” Jeffords asked, falling into step beside his friend.
“Nanny Winsome,” said Cochise.