The Birth of a Man (by Diana)

Summary:  Tired of being told he’s too young, Joe takes off to hunt a cougar on his own, leaving Adam to follow him into danger.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  29,075


 

Prologue

“You’re not going in there, you hear me, that’s a man’s job!” Adam Cartwright shouted at his youngest brother as he held his shoulders firmly, stopping him from approaching the corral.

“Let go of me!” Joe yelled back, kicking out at his brother and catching him a painful blow on the side of the knee.

Adam yelped and released his grip as he bent to rub at the injured joint. Joe ran into the barn, intent on getting away from the laughing eyes of the hands gathered round the corral, where a bunch of new horses were being broken in preparation for delivery to the army. Joe had intended to help them, until Adam found out and stopped him. Joe felt hurt that Adam had made out that he was still a child, not yet grown enough to break horses; and worse, he had said it in front of the hands.

Adam came into the barn behind him. “Joe, when will you learn to do as you’re told?”

“I’ll do what Pa tells me, not you!” Joe was still yelling. As he saw his brother standing there, hands on hips, looking down at him, Joe’s anger took control of him and he leaped at Adam, knocking him to the ground. Joe jumped on him, landing with a knee in Adam’s stomach. Adam gasped and tried to roll away from the furious boy, but Joe had other ideas, and straddled his brother’s chest, his knees on Adam’s arms so that he couldn’t move.

Adam struggled to free himself, then suddenly became very still as Joe’s hand came up, and he was looking down the barrel of his own gun, which Joe had taken from his holster.

“Joe,” Adam said quietly so as not to anger his brother further, “What do you think you are going to do now?”

Fury still clouded Joe’s mind. “I’m gonna kill you.”

Suddenly Joe felt himself lifted into the air. He fought against the strength that held him, until he registered that he was in the grip of Hoss, his elder brother. Hoss put Joe back on his feet and the boy looked at his brothers, threw the gun down, and ran out of the barn.

“What the devil was that all about?” Hoss asked as he helped Adam back to his feet.

“Just Little Joe losing control,” Adam said calmly, replacing his gun safely in its holster. He looked thoughtfully towards the house as he heard the front door slam. Joe had never threatened him in such a way before, had he pushed the boy too far? Adam looked at Hoss. “Do you think I’m unreasonable, not wanting him to break those horses?”

“No, I don’t. But I do think you could be more careful how you tell him, you know how sensitive he is about his age.”

“I didn’t have time to be sensitive.” Adam started to leave the barn, then turned back to Hoss. “If I hadn’t stopped him when I did he could have broken his neck. How could I explain to Pa that I didn’t stop him when I should have in case I upset him?”

“OK. All I’m saying is that you could be more understandin’.”

“I’ll bear it in mind. Come on, let’s get washed up for dinner.” Adam thought that no matter how he tried to deal with Little Joe, he always ended up at odds with the boy. He walked slowly towards the house shaking his head.

*****

“Joseph! Come back here!” Ben Cartwright shouted after his youngest son. But Little Joe had mounted Cochise and was gone before his father even made it through the front door. Ben shook his head and walked slowly back into the house, where his middle son, Hoss was waiting for him.

“Couldn’t catch him, huh?” said Hoss, casting his eyes towards the door.

“No. He was already out of the yard by the time I got outside.” Ben stood with his hands on his hips, the expression on the strong face telling Hoss that his father was furious.

Hoss was a big man, his size emphasised by the loose cream linen shirt and tan leather vest that he wore, but his huge frame held a tender heart and he was concerned at the thoughtless behaviour of his brother, and the effect it would have on their father. “Pa, I’m sorry. I should have guessed what he had in mind last night, when he asked Adam to take him out huntin’”

Ben put his hands on Hoss’ shoulder. “No, it’s not your fault.” He indicated the table that they had just left. “Finish your breakfast.”

A minute later Adam appeared at the top of the stairs. “Can’t a man get any peace round here?” he said irritably, buttoning his red shirt as he came hurriedly down the stairs. Adam was making the most of his day off and had been in his room, reading, but was worried when he heard Ben shouting. He saw his father and younger brother sitting at the table, at one end of the great room that served as dining room, office and parlour for the family, and he approached them. His dark, handsome features registered concern as he saw the look on his father’s face. “What’s wrong, Pa?” he asked, tucking his shirt into his black pants.

“That…brother of yours has gone out after the cougar that has been taking calves from the north pasture. Hoss just told me what he planned, but he left before I could stop him.” Adam could see that Ben’s eyes were dark and smouldering with anger, overlaid with worry. He sighed, and shook his head. Joe was always ‘your brother’ when he was in trouble with Pa.

Adam immediately went to the sideboard behind the front door and picked up his gun belt and hat. His young, irresponsible brother had again upset his father with his thoughtless and impetuous behaviour, and Adam knew that it was his responsibility, as the eldest, to put it right. He turned to his father. “Don’t worry, Pa. I’ll stop baby brother before he can get into too much trouble.” He smiled to reassure Ben, hoping that he could deliver on his statement.

Adam’s use of the word ‘baby’ hit Ben hard. Yes, his baby was chasing a deadly cat through rough country, on his own.

Adam saddled Sport and headed out towards the north pasture, riding steadily. Little Joe couldn’t be too far ahead, and Adam hoped that he would catch up with him before he could start to look for the cat. Cougars were unpredictable and sneaky, they would have you chasing after them, only to catch you from behind when you least expected them. It took experience and cunning to track and catch one, and Little Joe had neither. Adam thought that he would have gone with him, if he had asked, then he recalled his brother saying something to him the previous evening about a hunt. But Adam had not been paying attention, he was engrossed in the new book he had bought, and had not taken much notice of the things Little Joe was saying. Had he been asking his brother to go with him? Adam couldn’t remember.

*****

Joe rode fast to get away from the ranch house as quickly as possible; he didn’t want anyone following him. This was something he wanted to do on his own. He had asked Adam to take him out to hunt the cougar, but his oh-so-much-more mature elder brother had brushed his request aside, so Joe had decided that he would go alone.

At sixteen, Joe was no longer a child, but not quite a man. His slim body had yet to take on the muscle that would mark him an adult. His brown curly hair framed a face untouched by blade, and at that moment it registered frustration at his position in his family. The six years between himself and Hoss was bad enough, but Joe felt that Adam, at twenty-eight, still treated him like a child and he was going to show that he was as good a man as either of them, and the hunt for the cougar was going to provide him with the perfect opportunity.

Three hours after he left the house, Joe pulled up at the edge of the forest, and sat looking down on the herd as it grazed the north pasture. All seemed peaceful, and Joe wondered if the cat had left to find new victims. Silently, he prayed that it had not; he wanted that cat, and the impression that it would make on his family if he caught it. Joe moved out into the meadow and started to circle round the herd, looking at the ground for signs of the cougar’s presence. Almost immediately, he pulled up and dismounted, as he saw unmistakeable paw marks. He was not as skilled at tracking as his brother Hoss, and he had no idea how old the spoor might be, but he decided to follow it anyway.

He remounted and headed into the forest, leaning down occasionally to check the tracks, which seemed to be heading up the hillside, towards the mountains. He followed them for hours, sometimes they disappeared, but always Joe managed to find them again, and continued.

As he went he began to get the feeling that he was being watched, and put his hand lightly on the handle of the gun he had ‘borrowed’ from Ben’s desk, and which now sat snugly on his left hip. He remembered Adam saying that a cat could spring out of nowhere, and the bravado with which he had set out began to leave him, as he glanced nervously left and right. Every rock seemed to hide a shadow, every bush seemed to move as he passed. He travelled further, going more slowly, ever alert to sounds that would warn him of the cat’s approach. He glanced up at the sun and estimated that it must be well into the afternoon. He had left so quickly that he had not thought to bring any provisions with him, should he have to stay away for the night. Now he would soon have to turn back, and admit to his family that he had failed. He gritted his teeth; he would stay out as long as possible, even if that meant getting home well after dark.

He was in an area of the country with which he was unfamiliar. He was not aware of the fact that he had left the confines of the Ponderosa and was now in territory claimed by the Bannock Indians, and the cougar was no longer the enemy. Joe thought that he would give it another half-an-hour and then turn back. Has either of his brothers been with him, they would have told him that no cat would go so far for his meat, the predator’s lair had to be closer to the pasture. But Joe had no one to advise him, and he carried on.

He stopped and shook his head in frustration; he was not going to find that cat today. He turned his horse, and came to a standstill. In front of him, stretched across the path, were five Indians, the feathers in their black hair stirring, brushed by the breeze, the paint on their faces highlighting their menace. Joe paled and swallowed convulsively. Two of the Indians came up beside him, and Joe sat immobile as they took his revolver from its holster and his rifle from its scabbard. The Indian with more feathers than the rest, his dark hair flowing past his bare shoulders, said something that was unintelligible to Joe, and the two beside him quickly had Joe’s hands tied behind his back. They took hold of Cochise’s reins and followed their leader. Joe looked round desperately, but there was no one to rescue him, he had wanted to hunt the cougar alone, and that was exactly what he was, alone.

*****

Adam reached the north pasture and looked round, but could see no sign of Little Joe. He was surprised that he had not caught up with him on the trail, and thought that the boy must have travelled faster than he anticipated. He sighed as he realised that he was going to have to track him. Then he grunted in annoyance, he could better have spent the time looking for the cougar himself, instead of hunting his brother. Adam sat for a moment, looking at the scene before him. The quiet hillside meadow was surrounded by dark pine forest and the cattle were grazing peacefully, a sure sign that they felt secure and there was probably no cat nearby at present. He started to ride round the herd, staying close to the edge of the forest, hoping that Joe had emerged into the meadow in search of tracks, and that he would intersect with his trail. Sure enough, there were hoof marks, and beside them, the paw prints of a cat. Adam turned his horse to follow, laughing to himself; the hoof marks were fresh but those of the cat were at least a week old. Little Joe wouldn’t find the cat this way, it was probably in California by now.

Adam rode on quickly, expecting all the time to meet Little Joe coming back from wherever the trail had led him. As the day wore on, Adam’s amusement turned to frustration, and then anger, as he acknowledged that they would not get home until late. Where had that rapscallion got to? Surely, he must realise that no cat would go this far from home for his kill, it simply wasn’t worth the effort. Adam began to wonder if his brother was worth the effort, then thought of what his father would say if he returned without his wayward sibling. He kicked Sport into a faster pace.

As Adam approached the place he recognised as the boundary of their ranch, he stopped. The trail he was following snaked ahead out of sight, and he was afraid that Little Joe was in danger of encroaching on Indian territory. Adam knew that the Bannocks, who inhabited this area, only tolerated the ranch and the Cartwright claim to it, as long as they did not trespass on Bannock land, and if Joe had gone very much further, he was going to do just that. Adam pursed his lips; he had been rehearsing a few well-chosen words to say to his brother, now he hoped that Little Joe would be alive to hear them.

“Oh, little brother,” Adam said to himself, “What have you gotten yourself into this time?” He knew that whatever it was, it was up to him to get Little Joe out of it, again, before he got hurt. Then Adam’s worry turned to annoyance as he thought that his impulsive brother had brought this on himself. He sighed deeply and rode on.

The sun was sinking below the mountains, and Adam knew that he should have found Little Joe by now. He was torn between going on and being caught in hostile territory, and going back to tell his father that he had failed. He decided that, in fact, there was no choice, and continued. In the growing darkness, he stopped and dismounted, his heart beating faster at what he thought he saw. He crouched down, praying that he was wrong, but as he examined the ground, he knew he was too late. Mixed with the tracks of four or five unshod horses were those of a white man’s horse, the marks of metal shoes defining where they had met. Adam stood and looked round, suddenly nervous, then he mounted and followed as best he could in the poor light.

*****

As they crested a rise, Joe looked down and saw the small camp towards which they were headed. It consisted of a dozen tall tepees, erected in a rough semi-circle. Paintings covered the hide walls, and fires burned outside about half of them, throwing eerily dancing shadows in the fading light. As the little group approached, several Indians appeared to watch them arrive. Joe looked nervously to right and left, seeing curiosity on the faces of the few children, held back by their mothers who watched silently as he passed. They stopped in front of an elderly man, who stood tall and erect, his head held high. He had a face lined with age, but his eyes spoke of his ability to lead and bend the tribe to his will. Joe was pulled from his horse and dragged to his feet in front of the man, who stood silently looking down at him, then he turned to the brave at Joe’s side. They spoke a few words, not understood by Joe, and then the older man addressed him.

“Why have you come?” His voice was deep, and reminded Joe of his father. Tears threatened to fill Joe’s eyes as he thought of his family, that he might never see them again, and he hoped that his voice would not fail him when he spoke.

Joe took a deep breath, and looked the Indian straight in the eye. “I was hunting a cougar. I didn’t know I had gone too far. Then your braves stopped me.”

“You are on my land,” the deep voice accused.

Joe quaked and nodded. “I know that now, but I didn’t realise. I’m sorry, I really am. If you let me go, I’ll get off your land.” His voice had started to shake, but he still looked the Indian in the eye.

The young warrior, leader of the group that had captured Joe, interrupted him, speaking quickly to the Chief who shook his head slowly.

“Broken Arrow wants me to kill you now. I tell him I will wait. One should never be too quick to kill an enemy. Death will release you from your fear, and a man can only die once.” The chief stared at Joe, who was frightened into silence. Two of the braves took hold of his arms and pulled him towards one of the tepees, where they threw him on the ground inside. He landed among bundles of furs, piles of clothing and assorted cooking utensils, all being stored for future use. Joe cried out as he fell heavily on the skins that covered the earth, then rolled onto his back and saw the Indians looking down at him.

The one that Joe assumed was Broken Arrow bent over as he came through the low entrance. He grabbed the front of Joe’s shirt and pulled him a little way off the ground, until their faces were only inches apart.

“Running Bear say you live, but soon I will kill you. A lesson to your family, cowards that they are, sending a boy to hunt alone. They too afraid to come.”

In the face of the accusations against his family, Joe found his courage. “They didn’t send me, I chose to hunt alone.”

Broken Arrow pushed Joe back onto the ground. “Cowards,” he spat out the word as he left.

Joe lay in the darkness, alone and frightened. Why couldn’t they see that he had simply made a mistake? He desperately wanted to cry, but knew that if the Indians saw his tears they would despise him and probably kill him straight away. He tried to take his mind off what was happening, but his thoughts went to his family, and how devastated his father would be if one of his sons was killed. Hoss would be upset too; his gentle giant of a brother would be heartbroken at the loss. Joe’s tears receded as he thought of Adam. His big brother would probably be glad to see the back of him, he thought. Adam was always telling him that he was doing things wrong, or bossing him around, or yelling at him for touching his books, which seemed more important to Adam than was his brother, or he simply ignored him, as he had the night before. No, thought Joe, Adam would not be upset at his loss.

*****

Adam followed the tracks while he could still see them, but then, as darkness fell, he had to guess the direction to take. After an hour, the moon rose and he could again see, by its faint light, the hoof prints that he hoped would lead him to his brother. He was riding uphill, through sparse woodland, when he spotted the glow from campfires not far ahead. He dismounted and walked slowly towards the crest of the hill, then lay on his stomach and eased forward until he could see down into the next valley. There below him was an encampment, not large, but big enough to hold more men than he could deal with alone, he had to get help.

Adam crawled backwards and stood. He was about to turn to make his way back the short distance to where he had tethered Sport, when he felt an arm snake round his shoulders and a knife at his throat. He raised his hands to grab the restricting arm, but before he could take any action, something hit him behind his knees and, as his legs buckled, he could feel the knife bite into his flesh. He remained still as a figure appeared in front of him.

Adam spoke, barely opening his mouth for fear that the knife would be forced further into his skin. “Broken Arrow!” Adam recognised the Indian as the one he had come across the winter before, stealing a steer from the herd taking shelter in Glenbrook Meadow. When Adam found out that the tribe was starving and in need of meat, he gave Broken Arrow the steer and five more besides.

“Adam Cartwright, you should not be here.” Broken Arrow well remembered this particular white man, and had nothing but contempt for the weakling. A real man would have killed to protect his own. Broken Arrow indicated to the man behind Adam that he should release his hold, and Adam resisted the temptation to raise his hand to his throat to assess the damage, but he could feel blood trickle down his neck.

“I’m looking for my brother. I think you know where he is,” he said as he pushed himself back to his feet.

The Indian approached Adam and relieved him of his gun belt, then nodded. “Come.” Adam felt a hand on his back and he was pushed roughly down the hill towards the camp.

As they approached one of the tepees, Broken Arrow turned to face the trespassing white man. “You wait. Stay here, don’t move.”

Adam looked round, saw the men behind him, and stood still, knowing he had no choice. After a few minutes, Broken Arrow reappeared followed by an older man, whom Adam assumed was their Chief.

“Running Bear will speak with you,” the young brave said. The older man looked at Adam, who could see the strength in the aged eyes. It reminded him of his father, and he hoped that the strength was tempered with wisdom and mercy, as was his father’s.

“You seek your brother,” stated Running Bear.

“Yes.”

“He is here.” Running Bear spoke to the men standing behind Adam and a minute later Joe was beside him.

“Hi Adam,” said Joe quietly, nervous of Adam’s reaction. He saw the look on his brother’s face, and at that moment, Joe was more frightened of him than he was of the Indians.

Adam ignored the greeting. He was relieved that he had found Little Joe, but knew they were both now in trouble. “Will you let him go?” he asked Running Bear.

“Why should I?”

Good question, thought Adam. “Because he is young and inexperienced. He wandered onto your land without knowing. A child should not die for a simple mistake.”

Joe was about to protest Adam’s use of the word ‘child’, but one look from his brother silenced him.

“You call him child, yet he hunts alone. That is the mark of a man. You let him do this.” Running Bear’s tone accused Adam of neglecting his responsibilities towards his brother.

“No, I didn’t let him do it. He went without my knowledge. He will be punished for it when he returns home.”

“Adam…” Joe started to speak.

“Quiet!” Adam ordered angrily, without even looking at him.

“His trespass cannot be ignored. There must be…” The old man stopped. “I do not know your word, but a price must be paid.”

Adam stood up a little straighter, squaring his shoulders as though to bear the weight of his perceived duty. “Then I will pay the price. You think that my foolish little brother is my responsibility, then so must his crime be.” Joe was about to object, but another look from Adam stopped him.

“You would take your brother’s wrongdoing, and its price, on yourself?” Running Bear was doubtful; Broken Arrow had told him about this white man, describing him as weak and cowardly.

“Yes.” Adam was relieved that Running Bear was even considering his offer, though fearful of what he might have in mind. But if he could just get Little Joe away, he knew that, as the eldest, he had done his duty to his father, and his family, by protecting his brother.

Running Bear turned towards Broken Arrow and smiled. “You see, there is honour in the white man. You called him coward, but he would stand in his brother’s place.”

Broken Arrow looked as though he would like to argue the point, but did not reply. Running Bear looked at the sky, studying the stars, then back to Adam. “At dawn you will come.” He nodded and turned away. The men standing next to Adam held his arms, while they tied his hands behind him, and then led him and Joe back to the tent where Joe had lain. They then anchored each of the brothers to a different tent pole and left.

Once they were alone, Joe tried to tell Adam how grateful he was that his brother had come to rescue him, guiltily remembering his earlier thoughts of Adam’s feelings towards him.

But Adam didn’t want to hear it. “Little Joe, if we get out of this, I am going to make sure that Pa tans your hide so hard you won’t sit down for a month. And when he’s finished it’ll be my turn, so don’t be too grateful.”

Joe had noticed the blood on Adam’s throat. “How’d that happen?” he asked.

Adam looked at his brother in the faint light coming from the fires burning outside, and knew he must be very afraid, so did not tell Little Joe that he suspected the blood could be just a pinprick compared to what might be shed during the following day.

“Just their way of saying ‘hello’. Now shut up and let me get some sleep.”

The look in Adam’s eyes silenced Joe, a look that said he was scared. Joe thought that if Adam was frightened they must be in real trouble.

*****

It had rained during the night, and the pattering of raindrops against the sides of the tent had lulled the brothers to sleep. Adam was resting against a bundle of furs, and he jerked his head up, coming instantly awake as he felt hands on him. He struggled against them for a moment, until he realised where he was, and that dawn was near. Joe’s heart was in his mouth as he watched Adam being taken from the tent.

“Adam, what are they going to do?” Joe cried, terrified for his brother.

As Adam was dragged backwards out of the small opening, he shouted hurriedly, “I don’t know, but whatever happens, if they let you go, head straight back home. Don’t wait for me, you understand?” He hoped that Little Joe would have the sense to do as he was told for once.

When they were out of the tent, the men hauled Adam to his feet and across the camp to face Running Bear. He stood in front of the Chief and looked him squarely in the eye; he would not let this man see that he was afraid.

“You have the chance to let your brother stand in his rightful place. Will you?” asked Running Bear.

Adam shook his head. “No, this is my responsibility. Do I have your assurance that you will let Little Joe go free?”

“He will be freed, if you can prove yourself worthy. If not, you will both die. For you are also paying the price for following your brother here.”

Adam drew a deep breath. There it was. If he failed at whatever the Indians had planned for him, his father would lose two sons. Adam was determined that he would not burden his lone parent with that sorrow. Running Bear spoke to Broken Arrow and he and another brave, Tall Fox, took hold of Adam’s arms and pulled him towards the side of the camp where there were no tepees, just rough open ground. They stopped between the trunks of two pine trees, which had been implanted in the ground six feet apart, and cut off about eight feet high. Broken Arrow turned Adam to face him, while Tall Fox went behind and undid the ropes that bound him. Adam rubbed at his wrists, trying to ease the soreness from them.

“Your shirt, off,” Broken Arrow ordered. Adam slowly undid the buttons of his shirt and slipped it off his shoulders and down his arms, feeling unaccountably vulnerable without the imagined protection of the thin material. Tall Fox snatched at the shirt and threw it on the ground, which had dried out after the night’s rain, and then he and Broken Arrow each fastened a rope round one of Adam’s wrists. They passed the ends of the ropes through thick leather loops suspended from the tops of the trunks, and pulled, raising Adam’s arms towards the loops on either side. The men kept pressure on the ropes until Adam thought that they were going to lift him off the ground, but they stopped before that happened, leaving him stretched almost to his limit, but with his feet still on the hard earth.

Running Bear came closer and stared at Adam. He knew that men such as this were the future for his tribe, wanting to live in peace, and he was torn between old customs and new friends. “Adam Cartwright, I know that it was you who gave Broken Arrow the meat for my tribe, and I am grateful for that, and I am full of sorrow that now you must endure what is to come. But I cannot ignore what your brother has done, or what you have done by following him here. The customs of the tribe must be obeyed.”

As Running Bear looked at him, Adam could sense in the chief a deep regret, but also a firm belief that what he was doing was right. The old man continued, “This is a trial of those who have wronged the tribe. Any who succeed in the challenge are forgiven, as though the wrong was never there. Those who fail are killed. Now it will test if you are deserving of your brother’s life, and your own. You will stay here until the sun falls behind the mountain. Any who feel you have wronged them may try to break you, but you must say and do nothing. No matter what happens, you must make no sound or you will be killed. Do you understand?”

Adam understood only too well that his chances of survival were slim and, in desperation, he tried again to get Running Bear to release Joe. “I understand, but this is my trial, one trial for both crimes. Joe’s guilt has passed from him to me, now he has nothing to answer for; he is innocent of all wrongdoing. Let him go. Do what you will with me, but release him.”

Running bear shook his grey-haired head. “No.” He pointed at an old man sitting on the ground a little way off. “You have a witness. He is what you would call a medicine man. He does not lie. If you make no sound he will not say that you do.” Running bear looked at the sky. “The test begins.” He spoke in his own language to Broken Arrow as they walked away. “I know that you would like to kill him for their trespass, but take care that you do not.”

“What if he fails the test? What if he cries out, or speaks, will you let them live? Are we going to allow the white man to come and take over our land without even raising a hand to defend ourselves?” asked Broken Arrow angrily.

“No. If he fails the test they will die, such is our custom, but you will conduct it as though it was a test of one of us, and you know that if you kill him before it is time, you will have wiped out the guilt and killed an innocent man, and that carries its own price.” Running Bear looked hard at Broken Arrow until he received a nod of acceptance, then he turned and walked back to his tepee. Broken Arrow was left wondering just how strong the white man was, how far he could be pushed before he gave in, or died.

Adam saw four braves standing around him, talking; he could not know that these four had been with Broken Arrow when he had captured Joe, and felt that they had been cheated out of taking revenge for the boy wandering onto their land. Adam didn’t like the way they pointed at him, like customers in a butcher’s shop deciding which cut of meat to buy. His shoulders were already aching from the drag of the ropes on his wrists, and he could begin to feel the heat of the sun as it rose over the trees around the camp.

One of the younger braves put out his hand to feel the dark hair that covered Adam’s chest. He ran his hand up and down in wonder, looking at his own chest, and feeling its smoothness with his other hand. Suddenly the Indian’s fingers wound themselves in the hairs and twisted hard, as a thin smile came to his lips. Adam’s eyes narrowed at the pain, but he looked straight at the other man, unblinking. The Indian nodded and backed away, and all four of them sat on the ground watching him, and waiting, making Adam feel uneasy at their scrutiny of him.

Soon Broken Arrow returned, leading his pony. He spoke briefly to the men, who stood up and moved away. Broken Arrow had told them to fetch their ponies, and they came back leading the animals. Again, he said something and they all mounted. Adam watched the movement of the men, wondering what they were planning. He did not have to wait long to find out.

Broken Arrow had moved his mount some distance away. Now he turned, kicked the pony, and, with a whoop of menace, started to canter towards Adam across the hard ground, the horse’s unshod hooves kicking up small clouds of dust. Broken Arrow headed straight at Adam, who thought that the man could not stop in time, but would ride right through him. Adam’s throat tightened, and he wanted to shout at Broken Arrow to stop, but Running Bear’s threat came to his mind in time to prevent him saying anything. Instead, he just watched, holding his breath as horse and rider came closer. Suddenly, Broken Arrow pulled on the horse’s reins and the animal tried to stop before hitting the obstacle in front of him. Broken Arrow hauled on one rein and the horse swerved, sliding sideways, hitting Adam with its shoulder. He felt the shattering pain of breaking ribs in his chest as the pony tried to obey the commands of its rider. The pull on Adam’s arms, as the pony struck him, forced the ropes to bite into his wrists, and he thought that his arms would be torn from their sockets. Then the rump of the animal caught him as it swung round, knocking the breath out of him. He hung there as his legs gave way, then he forced himself to stand, so that he could ease the pull on his arms and get some air into his lungs. He tried to gasp in great draughts of breath, but the pain in his chest meant that he could take only small gulps of the dust-laden air. Adam wanted to vocalise his pain, to cry out or moan, but instead he clamped his bottom lip between his teeth, and was silent.

Broken Arrow stopped a little way off, watching his victim. He saw Adam struggling for breath and smiled; the white man did not have the courage, or the strength, to last the day. He, Broken Arrow, would exact payment for the insult to his tribe, but slowly, oh so slowly. He looked across to the other four riders and called to them. They rode threateningly across the bare ground, not quickly, as Broken Arrow had done, but slowly and deliberately. They separated as they came, two going round behind Adam, two staying in front. They forced their ponies closer to him, shouting words of encouragement back and forth as they approached, and then they pulled on the reins, making their horses rear up. Adam felt a hoof land on his left foot and another kick him in the small of the back, robbing his legs of strength. He felt, among the crashing blows, a sharp, stabbing pain, this one in his right hip, then more hooves landed and the agony spread through him, becoming undefined, there were too many pains to separate. His vision started to blur, and if he had not had his teeth buried in his lip he would have cried out for them to stop. He hung suspended by his wrists, as the horses continued to inflict damage on his undefended body.

Eventually, the torment ceased, and Adam felt someone take hold of his chin, lifting his head. He opened bleary eyes and saw Broken Arrow standing in front of him.

“You think you last until sunset?” Broken Arrow shook his head.

Adam forced his bleeding and battered body to stand straight and defiant. Broken Arrow shook his head again, then twisted Adam’s head aside, and released his grip, turning to the four men who had come to join him. He told them to leave the weakling white man alone, let his pain do their work for them, let it eat at him and devour his resolve, and then they could finish this. They walked away, leaving Adam wondering what to expect next.

When nothing happened for some time, he hoped that they had tired of the game. He hung there, vainly trying to ignore the pain that shouted at him from every part of his body, but with each breath he was reminded of his broken ribs, his foot was swelling inside his boot, the pressure making it more painful to stand on, and his hip and back seemed reluctant to bear his weight. Adam shifted from one cut and bruised leg to the other, trying to ease the pain, occasionally allowing his arms alone to support him until his ribs and arms protested, and he again stood on his legs. It occurred to him that he was fortunate the ponies were unshod, and was grateful that Broken Arrow had not thought to use Sport and Cochise, with their iron-clad hooves.

Adam knew that Broken Arrow and his friends would return, but he did not know when, or what they had in mind, and the uncertainty of his ability to withstand them gnawed at him. No doubt, thought Adam, Broken Arrow had left him alone with just that intent.

His eyes took in the camp and he could see men and women going about their daily chores. It struck Adam as incongruous that he was fighting for his life, and they were carrying on as though he did not exist. He saw one small child, a boy, approach him and stand staring at him. He was about six years old, dressed in hides and with long dark hair. Adam tried to smile so that the boy would not be afraid of him. He thought that an innocent child should not be allowed so close to him and what was happening, but then the boy took a step forward and stamped on Adam’s injured foot. Startled by the unexpected action, Adam nearly cried out, only stopping himself by gritting his teeth, and pressing his lips tightly together. The little boy laughed and ran off to join his friends, who seemed to be congratulating him. It seemed that he had won the ‘dare’.

The rest of the morning passed quietly. For Adam it was a time filled with pain and doubt, and he felt himself weakening without any help from his tormentors. He was trying to take his mind off the agony flowing through him in waves, and was daydreaming of what he would be doing now if he wasn’t there. He almost laughed as he remembered that he had planned to mend some of the broken fencing round Frenchman’s Creek, a job he hated, but which he would, at that moment, have given a great deal to be able to do. He thought of the icy water flowing through the creek, and hurriedly turned his mind to other things. He closed his eyes to block out the blinding light from the sun, which was now almost at its height. He was becoming increasingly thirsty, but knew that Broken Arrow wasn’t about to give him any water, and, despite his other pains, he was troubled by an annoying trickle of sweat that made its way down the centre of his back, and the attention of flies that settled on him looking for moisture.

Suddenly Adam became aware that someone was standing in front of him. He took a careful breath to steady himself, before opening his eyes. When he did, he was surprised to see a girl who was only a little older than Joe, her beautiful dark eyes observing him closely. He steeled himself, thinking of the young boy who had attacked him, but this girl held out a cup, put it to his parched lips, and he swallowed the water gratefully. He got as far as putting his tongue against his teeth to say ‘thank you’, when he stopped. His heart beat faster as he realised what he had nearly done. Had that been her intent? Adam wouldn’t believe it. She gave him another drink, then smiled at him, and left.

Adam was counting the seconds and minutes as they dragged past, feeling himself getting weaker as the pain, which he could not escape, hammered at him. He was perversely pleased to see Broken Arrow and his small band return, knowing the wait was over, but was dismayed to see that they all now wore knives at their waists. He didn’t know whether they were allowed to kill him before sunset, but from the way Running Bear had spoken, he assumed not. Broken Arrow stood in front of him, and he saw Tall Fox move out of sight behind him, while the others stood back, watching expectantly.

“Now we will hear the white man beg for mercy. You cannot last much longer.” Broken Arrow could see that the wait had taken its toll on Adam, as he had planned. “Why don’t you give up now, and let me kill you. I promise you a quick death.”

Adam considered the attractive offer for all of a second, then he remembered Joe, and shook his head.

Broken Arrow drew out his knife and held it up close to Adam’s face. The gleam of sunlight off the eight-inch blade blinded Adam for a second, and he turned his head away, turning back to look into the Indian’s vengeful eyes as he felt the sharp edge of the cold metal resting on his right shoulder. Without taking his eyes from Adam’s, Broken Arrow drew the knife slowly downwards, not cutting deep, but enflaming every nerve as it passed. Adam sucked in a breath against the pain, and held it as he again clamped his teeth over his lower lip. The muscles in his arms corded as he tried in vain to move himself away from the agony that filled his body. He squeezed his eyes tight shut and threw back his head, the tendons in his neck standing out sharply, as his whole body tensed. He could feel the knife slicing through him as it travelled from his shoulder, across the centre of his chest, towards the top of his left hip, leaving behind a trail of fire.

When Broken Arrow took the knife away he again held it up, and Adam could see that it was red with his blood. He let his body relax as far as was possible, he had survived this latest attempt by Broken Arrow to make him cry out, and, despite the pain, Adam stared steadfastly at his tormentor, revelling in his small victory. The Indian’s gaze hardened when he saw the look, and he spoke to Tall Fox while still watching Adam’s face.

The only warning Adam had of what Tall Fox was about to do was a small, stinging pain in his left shoulder, and then the agony of Broken Arrow’s action was repeated across his back. Before the knife had travelled six inches, Adam had bitten through his lip, the blood running down his chin to join that seeping from the gash across his chest.

When Tall Fox had finished, Adam was barely conscious, only the knowledge that he dare not leave the world kept his mind awake. Broken Arrow said something to him, which he didn’t understand, but Adam still had just enough awareness not to speak. Broken Arrow looked furious. This was only a puny white man, one of a race of weaklings who had forgotten how to live with the land, and men like this one and his brother were the worst, they had other men to do their work for them. How much longer could he survive, how strong was he? Broken Arrow was afraid that Adam might die at his hands before the sun set; he had to find another way. Suddenly he had an idea. He had seen Adam’s reaction to his brother, and knew that he was angry with the little one, but still he had stood in his place to save him. Now he could use their relationship as a weapon.

Joe was sitting in the tent, slumped against the pole to which he was tied, his imagination drawing dreadful pictures in his mind. He had heard earlier the shouting and whoops of the Indians, and was afraid that they had been directed at his brother. He wished that he could see out of the tepee, but the small doorway was covered. Joe recalled stories he had heard, rumours and gossip passed back and forth between children to frighten themselves, of how the Indians treated their captives. He had had nightmares after hearing the tales, and Joe’s conscience pricked him over his earlier feelings towards his brother, as he remembered that it was Adam who had taken him into his bed to comfort him. Now Adam was facing the reality of those stories, and all Joe could do was wait, and pray.

Joe looked up, as Broken Arrow came into the tepee, sat crossed legged on the hard ground in front of him and then spoke quietly, to persuade Joe of the truth of his words. “Your brother has told me that he has no liking for you, because he suffers for your wrongdoing.” He studied Joe’s face for his reaction.

Joe’s voice was loud with fear and anger. “What have you done to him?! Where is he?!”

“He is alive, but perhaps not for much longer,” the Indian said, his voice matter-of-fact.

Joe struggled uselessly to get his hands free. “If you’ve hurt him, I’m gonna kill you!”

Broken Arrow laughed. “No you’re not. Because when he dies, you die. Why do you fight for one who hates you?”

“He doesn’t, you’re lying!” shouted Joe, terrified that Broken Arrow was confirming his own thoughts. “He loves me, that’s why he came after me.”

“He tells me that he has no love for you, only hatred and contempt, and I will prove it to you.” Broken Arrow stood and released Joe from the tent pole, and pulled him through the doorway. Joe stopped dead as he looked across the encampment and saw Adam suspended from the ropes that held him. He almost ran to his brother, and his voice caught in his throat as he looked at the sight that greeted him.

“Speak to your brother,” Broken Arrow commanded Joe.

Joe was staring wide eyed at Adam, whose chin was resting on his chest, and who was totally unaware of the young man’s presence. All Joe could see was his brother hanging there, his chest covered in blood and his torn pants showing the cuts and bruises from the horse’s hooves, as was the rest of his body, and Joe thought that it was his fault, it should be him there, not Adam. Tears welled in Joe’s eyes. He wanted to reach out and touch his brother, to help him and give him comfort, but he could do neither.

He became aware that Broken Arrow was speaking again. “Your brother hates you for what you have done.” Before Joe could say anything, Broken Arrow continued. “Ask him for his forgiveness. You will find that he will not forgive you, because he hates you.”

Joe was frightened to speak, seeing the damage the Indians had inflicted, and knowing that Adam had every reason to hate him for it. But when again Broken Arrow prompted him, he addressed his brother.

“Adam?” Joe said softly, then louder, “Adam!”

Adam lifted his head slowly and stood on his abused legs, only now becoming aware that Joe was nearby. Joe stopped breathing as he saw his brother’s face. His eyes were half closed, his sweat-covered features drawn and grey, and there was blood on his chin.

Broken Arrow pushed Joe closer. “Ask him!” he commanded.

Joe looked round nervously, and then turned to his brother. “Adam, can you forgive me? You don’t really hate me, do you?”

Adam looked at Joe as the words registered in his pain-filled mind, and he forced himself to concentrate on the familiar figure in front of him, wondering at the questions he was asking, trying to make some sense of them. He realised that the answers Joe was looking for were both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Adam could only have nodded or shaken his head, so he did neither, he just stared at his brother, willing him to ask a question he could answer.

Broken Arrow looked at Adam. “Tell your brother that you forgive him, or he will not believe it.”

As Adam realised what was happening he turned to look at Broken Arrow, hatred in his eyes for what the man was trying to do. Adam knew that if he answered they would be killed, but if he didn’t answer, Little Joe would believe that his brother hated him, and that might be a wound that would go too deep to heal. Even if they both survived, it could tear his family apart, but Adam dared not speak. He felt the turmoil in his mind, and it was almost more than he could bear at that moment.

Joe whispered desperately, “Adam, I’m sorry, please don’t hate me, I didn’t know… please.”

Adam could see the fear in his brother’s eyes, and felt an overwhelming need to protect the boy, that drowned out even the pain coursing through him. He wanted to tell Little Joe that he forgave him, that everything would be all right, and they would be out of there soon. But he couldn’t speak, couldn’t give his brother that assurance, and he saw the hurt in Joe’s eyes deepen.

Broken Arrow looked at Joe. “You see, I was right. There is no love there. He hates you because you are his responsibility, and you have done this to him.”

“Adam, please…” Joe begged again, but still his brother just looked at him.

Broken Arrow pushed his face close to Adam’s and hissed through his teeth, “Tell him!” Adam lifted his eyes to meet those if the enraged Indian, and shook his head. Joe saw the movement and something inside him died. Adam realised too late what he had done, and he looked at Joe, trying to make his gaze say what his words could not, but Joe turned away dejectedly, and went unresisting as the Indian led him back to his tent.

Adam wanted to shout out after him, to stop him from walking away. His throat worked and he had to clamp his mouth shut to stop himself from speaking. A deep hatred was welling inside him for the twisted mind that would set brother against brother. It seemed that Broken Arrow would get his revenge however this turned out, if not with actual killing then with the death of a family. Physical punishment was what Adam had expected when he took Joe’s place, hoping to spare him from injury, but to make Joe suffer by letting him think his brother had turned against him, was an evil trick. Adam tried to clench his fists to contain his anger, but he had no feeling in his hands, and they did not move at his command. He took a deep breath, until his ribs reminded him that they were broken, and he let it out slowly, his resolve to survive strengthening as he thought of what Broken Arrow had done. Adam knew he had to live, to be able to persuade Joe that what Broken Arrow had said was untrue. Was the frightened boy old enough to be able to comprehend, or would he only be able to see his brother’s rejection?

The sun was sinking lower, and Adam estimated that sunset was not far away. He couldn’t believe that Broken Arrow and his band had given up, and he was proved right as the group again appeared. Adam’s heart sank and his head swam with the thought of what they were planning, as he saw that they all held small bows in their hands. Four of them lined up in front of him, two about forty yards away, the other pair slightly further back.

Adam wondered at this positioning, and then his fogged brain recalled an inconsequential fact from his college years. ‘Point blank range’, he remembered, was the distance one had to be away from the target to aim at it with the point of the arrow, which would vary for different archers and different bows. It came from the fact that old English targets had a white, or blank, centre, and when one stood at the right distance, the trajectory of the arrow would allow the archer to aim at the centre, or point at the blank, and know that the arrow would find its mark. Any closer and you had to aim low, further away and you aimed high, estimating the variation.

Adam realised that they were going to use him for target practice, but if they were, indeed, stood at ‘point blank range’, they should at least hit, or miss if that were their intent, what they were aiming at, lessening the risk of killing him accidentally.

Broken Arrow came to stand near Adam, looking into his eyes, watching him. “Now we will end this. Tell me you want it to stop.”

Adam looked at the Indian and saw desperation on his face, and realised that Broken Arrow was afraid that he could not break him in time. Adam would have laughed if he could; instead, he merely shook his head slowly.

Broken Arrow said something short and sharp, then called to his fellow braves and Tall Fox raised his bow, preparing to loose. Adam’s narrowed vision could not follow the arrow, but he felt the wind of its passage as it flew close to his body. He closed his eyes in relief, and then opened them again, trying to guess where the next shaft would go.

Tall Fox turned to the brave beside him. Adam saw him raise the bow slightly, and he tensed, waiting for the impact of the arrow, but he heard the sigh of its passing as it missed his head by inches. The others laughed, then Tall Fox stood beside Grey Cloud, who raised the bow and loosed. The next thing Adam knew was a searing pain in his right leg where the arrow struck, just above the knee. He collapsed, taking all his weight on his arms. Adam had been prepared for some of the arrows to find their mark in him and had his mouth clamped tightly shut, his lips held firmly between his teeth. He nearly cried out, and tasted blood as his teeth tried to force themselves together. He breathed hard through flared nostrils, and looked sideways at Broken Arrow, who had a small, knowing smile on his face. Adam directed all his hatred at this man, concentrating on it, letting it deepen and spread through him, giving him some small measure of strength.

Tall Fox moved on to the last brave, who nodded and raised his bow. Adam’s heart was beating hard in his chest, he knew that he was getting to the end of his resistance, and he let his mind fill with the need for silence, nothing else mattered. He felt the arrow pierce the top of his left arm, only the grey feather fletchings preventing it from passing straight through. Adam’s head dropped onto his chest as the last vestige of strength deserted him, and the world turned grey around him. He knew that if anything else happened to him he would scream for them to stop, to kill him, and let it be ended. But somewhere in a small, sane corner of his mind, he remembered that it would mean Little Joe’s life as well as his own, and he determined that he would not utter. His head was swimming and he was no longer aware of what was going on around him, he was not even sure where he was, he only knew that he must remain silent to save Joe, he owed it to his father for all the years of care he had given to his sons. Adam would not throw away those years while he still had sense left to control himself. He struggled to raise his head, and watched with desperate eyes as his tormentors spoke together. Broken Arrow walked over to join them, raised his bow, and seemed to take careful aim. Adam lowered his head and closed his eyes, waiting for the pain, not knowing where it would be, or if he could withstand it. For an agonisingly long time he waited, wondering if he could keep silent or if this would be the end for both himself and his young, innocent brother.

Adam sensed himself falling, and realised that the pull on his arms had slackened, but he didn’t try to lift his heavy head as he was slowly lowered to the ground. He lay there looking up into the eyes of Running Bear, and then the old man who had been witness was leaning over him, speaking unintelligible words. Adam felt a shattering pain in his leg as the arrow was removed, quickly followed by a similar pain in his arm. But the timeless world he lived in was filled with thoughts of silence; he still could not make any sound, fearful that this was a trick to get him to cry out, and when the old man bound Adam’s arm and leg, he thought that the pain was just another challenge. Hands helped him to his feet, but he couldn’t stand and needed the support of those holding him. Someone was speaking, but Adam did not have room in his mind to make sense of the words. The pain, and the need for silence, crowded his thoughts so that the rest of the world did not exist.

“It is finished. You have earned the right to leave, with your brother.” Running Bear looked into Adam’s vacant eyes and knew he was not being heard.

Joe was brought from the tepee to stand beside Adam, and was shocked by his brother’s uncomprehending appearance. As they untied his hands, Joe pulled Adam’s uninjured right arm over his shoulders to support him. Adam leant heavily against his smaller brother; standing was impossible, and he wanted to say that he just needed to lie down, but the words died in his throat, all that mattered was his continued silence.

Grey Cloud reluctantly led Sport over to them, and Running Bear spoke to Joe. “Take your brother, treasure him for what he has done.”

Joe didn’t really understand, but was relieved that they were being allowed to leave. “Where’s my horse?” Joe asked, looking round for Cochise.

Broken Arrow was pleased that Running Bear had given way on this small piece of revenge. “We keep, your price,” he told Joe.

“No!” Joe cried.

“Go, and do not make this mistake again, remember what it has cost.” Running Bear said severely, and Joe trembled. He was heartbroken at leaving without his beloved Cochise, but could see that he had no choice.

“Will you help me to get my brother on his horse?” Joe asked uncertainly.

Two men dragged Adam towards Sport and lifted him into the saddle, then Joe mounted behind, cradling his brother in his arms. He could feel the wetness of blood soak through his shirt as Adam lay back against him, and he gritted his teeth, knowing what his brother had suffered on his account. Without a backward glance, Joe urged Sport forward, he wanted to gallop away from there as quickly as he could, but he knew that to do so would be dangerous. He pushed Sport up the hill and over the brow into the next valley. As they went Joe spoke to Adam, telling him that they were on their way home, that everything would be all right, that he, Adam, had saved them. But Adam made no sound, and did not acknowledge his brother’s presence or his words.

Joe was torn between stopping and trying to tend to Adam’s injuries, and getting home as quickly as possible. He knew that once he got Adam off Sport there was every chance that he would not be able to get him mounted again, and it was this that made him push on.

Darkness fell and, as it began to get cold, Joe felt his brother shiver. He looked round behind him and saw that Adam had his coat attached to his saddle. Joe pulled Sport to a stop and carefully undid the ties holding the coat. As he held one of Adam’s arms, preparing to pull the sleeve over it, he saw that the hand was swollen and discoloured. He glanced at the other hand and saw that it was in the same condition, a result, Joe assumed, of the way they had tied him to the posts. Joe fought back tears of guilt, as he forced the sleeve over one hand and then pulled the jacket round Adam’s shoulders. As he reached over to put the other hand in its sleeve, Joe thought that his brother would fall, and he put an arm round his chest to steady him. He heard Adam’s sharp intake of breath and realised that he had hurt him.

“Adam, I’m sorry, but you gotta put your coat on,” Joe told him.

Adam was a dead weight in Joe’s arms, and did not help at all, he was not unconscious, but incapable of movement, in a world of his own where people attacked him and took his brother from him. Eventually Joe managed to get the coat on and buttoned crookedly.

In the faint starlight, Joe had to guess where to go. His brother had not said a word since they had left the Indian’s camp, and Joe was concerned at his ragged breathing. Adam was taller and heavier than his young brother and Joe was finding it hard to balance him, and himself, and watch where they were going. The full moon rose and Joe could see the path ahead more clearly. It was getting increasingly difficult to keep Adam in the saddle, he was swaying with the movement of the horse, and Joe was afraid of what would happen if he fell. Suddenly, up ahead, Joe heard the sound of water, and he made a decision. He would stop here to allow them to rest, and he could bathe and rebind Adam’s wounds. He was also certain that water was more necessary for his brother at that moment, than getting home quickly.

He dropped from Sport’s back, holding on to Adam, and let the bigger man fall into his arms. He staggered and nearly fell as Adam’s weight hit him, but he managed to lie his brother down gently on the soft ground beside the stream. Adam made no sound, and Joe wondered if he was unconscious, but then he saw in the moonlight that Adam’s eyes were open, though they looked empty and unfocused.

Joe went to the stream and took off his jacket and then his fine brown cotton shirt, which he tore into strips, washing them as best he could to get out as much of the dirt and blood as possible. After replacing his jacket, he filled his hat with water, and went back to kneel beside Adam. He dipped one of the strips of cloth in the water and held it to his brother’s swollen mouth. Adam didn’t react, but when Joe took the cloth away, he licked his lips slowly. Joe repeated the process and gradually managed to get some water into his brother.

Joe sat back on his heels and shook his head, he just wanted to cry, he felt so helpless and alone. He had wanted to be treated like a man, and went after the cougar to prove that he was worthy of the name; but now his brother’s life depended on him he was not so sure of his manhood. Then he gritted his teeth and sharpened his resolve, there was no one else there to help his brother. As he started to clean and bind some of the injuries, Joe stared at the darkening bruises, and he saw that there was hardly a part of his brother that was not marked in some way. When Joe tried to turn him over to check the damage to his back, the look of agony on Adam’s face stopped him. Joe thought that it probably didn’t matter, he could do no more than wash the wounds, and he hoped that the jacket would act as the bandage he couldn’t provide. Joe saw the sweat that ran down Adam’s face, and was unnerved by his silence; the young man could not understand why his brother wasn’t crying out, or moaning.

Adam could feel the pain of his injuries, but he knew that he had to keep silent, the Indians were nearby and were listening for him to make any sound, and then they would return, take Little Joe, and kill them both. Adam would not let that happen, his duty to his father and his family would not allow it. No matter how they tried to trap him, he would fight them. He wanted to escape the pain in oblivion, but his mind told him that they could trick him when he came round, in the few seconds before he regained his senses he was vulnerable. No, he had to stay conscious, whatever they did.

He felt hands underneath him, lifting him, and the pain made him drive his teeth into his lip.

“Come on, Adam. You gotta help me, we gotta get you home, please help me,” Joe begged frantically, struggling to lift his brother. Then he saw that Adam’s mouth was bleeding, and the cause of it. He thought for a moment, then reached into Adam’s coat pocket for the jack-knife that his brother habitually carried there. Joe cut a short length off his own belt and, when he had folded it in half, he forced Adam’s mouth open and rammed the leather between his teeth. Adam bit hard into it, and for a moment, Joe thought that he could see awareness and a look of gratitude in the dark eyes. Then it was gone, and they returned to the blank stare that Joe had become accustomed to seeing.

“Adam, I’m sorry,” Joe said softly, regretfully, seeing the damage to Adam’s lips and knowing it was caused by his desperate attempts to control the pain. “I was stupid thinking I could track that cougar by myself. Please don’t die. I promise that if you get well I will never do anything like that again. I’ll be good, you’ll see, I won’t fight with you, and I’ll do everything you tell me. Just hold on until I can get you home.” He was fighting not to break down and cry, his brother needed him to be strong, but Adam’s continued silence cut through Joe, who did not know the reason behind it.

“OK, so you hate me,” said Joe, as he leaned closer to his brother. “But I need to get you on Sport, do you think you can help me?” Adam could hear the sorrow in his brother’s voice, but he did not move. All he could think of was resisting whatever new horror Broken Arrow had thought up to try to force him into crying out.

Joe went behind Adam and slowly lifted him into a sitting position. He heard a sharp intake of breath and thought that Adam must have several broken ribs, but they had to get back up on Sport. Adam simply sat, not attempting to lie down again, not making any move of his own volition, waiting for what would come. He thought that Broken Arrow was again using his brother against him, and he could only let it happen, knowing that Joe was an innocent party to his suffering, forced into it by the embittered Indian.

Joe pulled Adam’s right arm over his shoulder, and straightened up slowly, grunting with the effort. He had brought Sport to stand next to them, but when he reached for the reins and relaxed his support of his brother for a moment, Adam collapsed back onto the ground. The broken bones of his left foot and the arrow wound in his right leg meant that he had nothing left to stand on.

Joe knelt down beside his brother and leaned over him, looking deep into the dark, pain-filled eyes. “Adam, you gotta help me,” he cried desperately, “I gotta get you on Sport, but I can’t do it alone, you gotta help. We have to get you home. Please… try!”

Something in the desperation of Joe’s voice must have got through to Adam. He looked at Joe, who held his breath as he saw that the dark eyes were focused on him, and Adam nodded, just once.

Joe manoeuvred his brother to stand beside Sport, and Adam lifted his left foot into the stirrup as he bit hard into the leather strip in his mouth. By locking his swollen fingers together around the pommel, and with help from Joe, he hauled himself up, his arms shaking and his breath coming shallow and fast. But the effort of getting into the saddle had been too much for Adam, and the moment of awareness was gone in the waves of pain that assaulted him. He felt movement behind him, but it meant nothing, he knew only the threat of death. The torment had taken over his mind, and he was living in a world whose limits were his body, whose currency was silence, and whose very air was pain.

*****

Dawn was giving way to daylight, and Ben and Hoss were inside the house, preparing to go out again in search of the missing pair. They had been unable to find any tracks to lead them the previous day because of the rain, but they were going out anyway, there had to be some clue to their whereabouts. Then they heard the sounds of a horse in the yard.

“Pa! Hoss! Come quick! Help me!” Joe’s desperate call summoned them.

Ben threw open the front door, and then he and Hoss ran to Joe, who was sitting on Sport holding his brother who was slumped in his arms. When Ben saw Adam, he stopped, stunned by his eldest son’s appearance, but then quickly regained control of himself. Joe lowered Adam into his father’s waiting arms, and Ben held him while Hoss bent, preparing to pick up his brother. Joe dismounted and came round to help them.

Adam raised his head, saw the men standing around him, and knew he had been right to be wary of a trick; the Indians were waiting for him. He had feared and dreaded their return, but he was prepared. Adam used all of his meagre strength to push away the hands that were holding him, and then stood on legs that should have been unable to support his weight. Desperation drove him, he knew he couldn’t take any more; he wouldn’t let them hurt him again. He spat out the leather in his mouth and forced a grin, which was more of a grimace, as he faced his adversaries. They had made the mistake of releasing his arms, now he could fight for his life, and Little Joe’s. He struck out at the man nearest him, catching Ben square on the chin. Joe was standing behind his father and caught him as he staggered backwards.

Sweat was running into Adam’s eyes and he couldn’t see. He put up a swollen hand to wipe it away, and Hoss took the opportunity to step up in front of his brother and wrap him in a restraining embrace. The pressure on the broken ribs in his chest and the arrow wound in his arm was too much for Adam, he had finally come to the end of his endurance. He threw back his head and a scream left his throat, an anguished, animal cry that was born of all the suffering and torment that had filled the past twenty-four hours. He let it all flow out of him in that one terrifying sound. As Hoss’ grip loosened in shock, Adam sank slowly to his knees. He saw a man standing in front of him, but it was not his father he saw there, it was Running Bear. He saw the grey hair of the tall Indian, and the deep, wise eyes that were going to carry out their promise of death.

“I…couldn’t do it…I… failed.” Adam’s voice caught in his throat, the words coming slurred through his damaged lips. “Broken Arrow…right…weak. Wanted…save Joe…for Pa.” Adam tried to stand, to face death like a man, but his legs had lost all their strength, and his family stood, shocked into immobility, as he sank back to his knees. He looked up into Ben’s stricken eyes, and when he spoke, his words were pleading. “Kill Joe first…don’t make him watch…just a child.” Adam’s eyes closed and he pitched forward onto the ground, and lay still.

Ben stared at his fallen son for a moment, then knelt down beside him, and shouted at Hoss. “Get the doctor,” then added desperately, “And for God’s sake hurry.”

As Hoss ran to the barn for his horse, Ben turned back to Joe. “Help me get him inside,” Ben ordered. They both reached down, and with Joe holding Adam’s legs and Ben his shoulders, they carried him into the house and up to his room.

Ben started to get Adam undressed, first removing his right boot, but when he tried to take off the left one, it wouldn’t move. Ben pulled harder but stopped as Adam moaned quietly. He went to the top drawer of Adam’s dresser and found the large hunting knife that his son always kept there. He slit the pants and saw that the leg above the boot was discoloured and swollen, then he ran the knife down the side of the boot and eased it off, sucking in his breath as he saw that the foot was also swollen and black with bruising, obviously broken.

Ben continued, with Joe’s help, to cut off Adam’s ripped pants, his face becoming set and angry as he saw the state of his son’s body. When he was going to take off the jacket Adam wore, Joe stopped him, knowing that the coat was acting as a bandage.

“Don’t Pa, not till Doc Martin gets here.”

Ben looked up questioningly. “Why not? I need to see if his back’s injured.”

Joe’s eyes spoke volumes to his father as he said quietly, “It is.”

Ben nodded and did not move Adam further, but bathed away the blood that was seeping from the cuts around the many hoof-shaped bruises, and tended as best he could to the other injuries. Then he sat on the chair that Joe had placed beside the bed. He held Adam’s hand, horrified as his eyes took in his son’s bleeding and bruised body, and he turned to Joe. “What happened? Where have you been?” he asked softly.

“Oh Pa, I did it all wrong. I’ve lost Cochise, and Adam hates me and I’ll never be able to make it up to him. Is he going to die? Please don’t let him die, it’s all my fault.” Now he was home and his father was there, Joe could stop pretending that he was a man, and become the child who could find shelter in his father’s strong presence, and he allowed his tears to flow.

Ben could make little sense of what Joe was saying. “Joe, I’m sure that Adam doesn’t hate you,” he said gently, rising to put his arm round Joe’s shoulders. “Now, tell me what happened, how did he get hurt?”

The words came tumbling out. “I was looking for that cougar, I thought you’d be so proud of me if I could catch it. But then some Bannocks caught me and they took me to their camp. And then Adam was there and he said he’d stand in my place, and they did this to him, and then they let us go.” Joe turned back to his father, tears streaming down his face. “That’s why he hates me, because of what they did to him, when it should have been me. I asked him to forgive me and he wouldn’t.”

When Ben saw how upset Joe was, he bit back the sharp lecture he was about to give his young son about his irresponsible behaviour. Instead, he looked thoughtful. He knew that Joe and Adam had their arguments, they were just so different, Adam outwardly serious and unemotional, Joe mercurial and humorous. The twelve-year age gap was often an unbridgeable chasm between the man and the youth, but surely, Adam would never let his brother think that he hated him.

Ben sent Joe to his room to rest, assuring him that he would be called once the doctor had been and given his verdict. Ben sat at the side of the bed, occasionally reaching over to wipe away the sheen of sweat that appeared on Adam’s forehead, and all the time he was praying for his son.

After an eternity, he heard horses in the yard and when he looked out of the window, he saw Hoss and Doc Martin hurrying towards the house. A minute later Paul Martin appeared in the bedroom. He pulled back the covers, took one look at Adam, and turned to Ben.

“In Heaven’s name, what happened to him?” Paul asked shocked at what he saw.

“I don’t really know,” Ben whispered. “Joe brought him back home like this. The Bannocks captured them, and they did this to him.” Ben’s eyes started to fill with tears. “I can’t find a part of him that isn’t hurt.” He looked with desperate eyes at the doctor, “Paul, help him, please,” Ben entreated his friend.

The doctor put his hand on Ben’s arm. “Don’t worry, leave this to me. Go downstairs and wait for me. If I need any help, I’ll call.”

Ben left the room slowly, backing out of the door, not wanting to leave his son for fear that he might not see him alive again. He stopped by Joe’s room and told him that the doctor had come, then went downstairs and waited with Hoss, pacing the floor silently and occasionally stealing anxious glances up the stairs.

Joe was exhausted after the sleepless night he had spent caring for his eldest brother, but his concern for Adam forced him downstairs to face his father and Hoss. He was able to tell them more coherently what had happened, and Ben and Hoss were both shocked to hear the details, as Joe knew them.

“Pa, it was all my fault, I should never have gone after that cat. I just wanted to prove to you all that I could do it. But I made a mess of it as usual. Adam’s right, I am just a stupid kid.” Joe was close to tears, and Hoss put his big arms round him to comfort him.

“No you ain’t, but you gotta realise that sometimes Adam knows best, that he’s just trying to protect you,” said Hoss.

“But when I asked him to forgive me, he wouldn’t answer, I guess this time I’d just pushed him too far. I asked him three times and he wouldn’t do it. Broken Arrow told me that Adam had said that he hated me for what he was going through for me, and that proved it.” Joe buried his face in Hoss’ broad chest, trying to stop his tears from flowing. He was safe with his family, but one member of that family had turned against him. How could he live with that?

Ben sat in silence, seeing his two younger sons in a loving and caring embrace, and tried to remember the last time that Adam had made such a gesture, but he could not. He knew that sometimes his eldest son could be intolerant of what he saw as stupidity, but did that extend to the foolishness of youth. Ben couldn’t believe it. Adam had helped to raise his brothers, especially Joe, and he knew his penchant for trouble. Was his sudden animosity towards his young sibling the result of having to risk his life to save him? Ben knew that Adam was fiercely protective of his family, and risking his life was a natural part of what he saw as his responsibility. So, what had been different this time?

After being in Adam’s room for more than two hours, Paul finally appeared. Ben stood and went anxiously to him.

“How is he?” Ben asked the question uppermost in all their minds, his voice shaking, afraid of the answer.

“Not good. Ben, may I have a drink?” Paul sat on the settee, his face set in an unreadable mask, trying to control his uncharacteristic anger. Ben handed him a glass of whiskey, and then sat down, perching on the edge of his chair, willing the doctor to tell him that his son would live.

Paul sipped the strong liquor, and then he enumerated the various injuries that he had found and treated. The broken bones in Adam’s foot and chest, the less severe but still serious damage to his hip and back, the gashes associated with the comprehensive bruising, the knife and arrow wounds, the deep cuts on his wrists, and the effects of loss of circulation to his hands. The doctor was shocked by the self-inflicted injuries to Adam’s lips, to Paul the most terrible wounds of all, testament to the suffering of the man he called ‘friend’. He had to stop several times to take a sip of the whiskey in his hand. He had seldom before seen such injuries to someone who was still alive, and it turned his stomach to know that anyone could treat another man so badly.

“Ben, you’ve seen Adam, he’s in a bad way. He’s lost a lot of blood, and is deep in shock. It’s a miracle that he lived through whatever it was that caused this, but you must realise that he is still in grave danger. If he survives the next forty-eight hours, then the outlook is better.” Paul stood, and Ben accompanied him to the door. “I’m sorry I can’t do more for him at the moment, but from now on it’s a matter of Adam’s will to live, rather than anything I may do for him. We’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll come back in the morning to check on him, and change the dressings.”

“Thanks Paul,” said Ben, knowing his friend had done all he could. He closed the door behind the doctor, hung his head for a moment, and then turned to Hoss and Joe. “One of us must be with Adam all the time, I don’t want him to wake up alone,” he said, praying that his son would wake again.

“I’ll take first watch, you get some rest,” said Hoss.

Adam remained unconscious, as day turned into night and then back to day. The doctor returned and said that Adam’s condition had not changed, but at least it had not worsened. Suppertime came, and Ben was sitting with his silent son, now used to the sight of his body almost completely swathed in bandages, and wondering if he would ever hear again his son’s rich baritone.

Ben sat forward as he saw Adam stir, just a slight movement beneath the sheet that rested lightly on his body, but the first move he had made for himself since they laid him there.

“Adam, can you hear me?” Ben asked softly, hopefully, when he heard Adam moan.

Adam lay still, his eyes closed, listening to the voice he knew as his father’s. Fear filled his mind as he remembered trying to keep silent, the scream that had been wrenched from him, and the certainty that both he and Joe were going to die because he had not been strong enough to save them. He forced his eyes open and recognised the man sitting beside him, and as he turned his head, he realised that he was in his own room. Had the Bannock camp been a dream? Had everything that had happened been a nightmare? Then Adam tried to move again and the pain gave him his answers.

“Pa?” he whispered through swollen lips. His head turned restlessly on the pillow as he looked round the room. “Where’s Joe? Is he…?” he asked desperately, looking back at his father. Adam was terrified that they had killed his brother, but for some unimaginable reason, had let him live. Tears filled his eyes as he thought that, after everything that had happened, he had survived to return to his family, but Joe had suffered the fate from which Adam had tried to protect him.

“Joe’s fine, he’s downstairs,” said Ben, putting his hand on Adam’s arm to reassure him.

Adam didn’t understand how it had happened, but the relief that he felt was so great that he relaxed and slipped back into the pain free blackness that had its arms outstretched to welcome him.

Ben sat holding Adam’s hand until Joe came in to relieve him of his vigil. Ben stood and looked down at his sleeping son, then at Joe.

“He came round,” Ben said, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.

“He did?” Joe was pleased for his father that Adam had woken up, but he was frightened of what his brother might have to say to him if ever he was conscious again. Ben saw the look on Joe’s face, and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t worry, son. I’m sure that when he has the chance to speak to you, it’ll all be sorted out.”

“I wish I could be so certain.” Joe was unable to meet his father’s gaze. “He has every reason to hate me, I did this to him. It’s not like it was some trouble in town that Adam got me out of. Look at him, he might not ever speak to me again, might not be able to.” Tears filled Joe’s eyes at the thought of his brother dying, hating him.

“Joe, look at me.” Ben waited until Joe raised his eyes. “You did not do this,” Ben said firmly. “Adam’s insistence on taking care of you did this. He would not let you suffer if he could do something about it.”

“But I didn’t have to go after that cougar.”

“No, you didn’t, but I can’t say that I was surprised, and I think Adam felt the same when he knew that you had. He didn’t hesitate to go after you, he knew that you didn’t have the experience to catch it, and if you had got close, you might have been hurt. He couldn’t let that happen. Adam has always protected you and Hoss, right from when you were born. He made it his duty to do so, and has never wavered from that.”

Joe shook his head. “Pa, it doesn’t make any difference what you say, I know it’s my fault,” he said miserably.

Ben could see that he was not going to be able to change Joe’s mind, only Adam could do that, if he would. He let his hands fall to his sides, as he prayed that his son would recover and be able to tell his young brother that he was loved. Ben took one last look at Adam, and left before Joe could see his tears.

As he saw again the damage to Adam’s face and body, Joe cringed inwardly, he was afraid of his brother waking up and the things he might say; but he steeled himself to face them, he deserved them all. He hoped that, maybe, Pa was right, but whatever happened he just wanted Adam to live. Joe sat back and waited.

Adam did not stir for several hours, but when he did, he could see that it was dark outside. He turned his head and, in the soft light thrown by the single lamp that illuminated the room, he became aware of someone sitting beside him.

“Pa?” he queried slowly, afraid to believe that his father was there and he was safe.

As the long hours had passed, Ben was relieved to see that some of the pallor had left Adam’s face, and he had started to breath evenly. “Yes, son, I’m here. You’re going to be all right.” Ben finally allowed himself to believe it.

“Glad you…think so.” Adam tried to smile, but his damaged lips prevented him.

Ben leaned over him with a glass of water in his hand. “Son, you must drink. Here, let me help you.” He put his hand under Adam’s head and supported him while he sipped the cold, refreshing liquid.

Adam remembered the girl who had given him water, and a shudder went through him as it reminded him of that long day. He rested his head back, exhausted. “You’re not as pretty as she was.” He spoke slowly, the words reverberating in his chest, sending ripples of pain through him, but he felt the need to speak, knowing that he would not be hurt by doing so, knowing that it would not cost two lives.

“What?” Ben wondered if his son was delirious.

“Never mind.” Adam closed his eyes, and Ben thought that he was sleeping again, but then his eyes flew open and he asked desperately, “You did say that Joe was all right?”

“Yes, he’s fine. Now you should rest.”

But Adam had other things on his mind. He remembered vividly the agonising moment when he knew that he had failed his family. He did not know why he and Joe had been allowed to live, and could remember nothing of the journey home. “How did I get here?”

“Joe brought you back riding double on Sport.”

“Guess…too heavy for Cochise,” Adam observed.

Ben held Adam’s hand. “Son, the Bannocks kept Cochise.”

Adam tried to sit up. “They what!” he exclaimed, shocked that Joe had been deprived of his adored horse. He groaned, sinking back against the pillows, as an agonising pain tore through his chest, and he writhed on the bed, pulling at the stitches in his back as he tried to escape it. One pain led to another, until he finally lapsed back into unconsciousness.

*****

It was early morning, and Hoss was sitting in the chair beside the bed, his head nodding with sleep, when he heard Adam moan softly.

Hoss leaned forward. “Hey, brother, you awake?”

Adam had his eyes closed and shook his head slowly. “No,” he muttered. He hurt in so many places that he could not tell where one pain ended and another began.

As Ben came into the room, Hoss stood and smiled at him. “I think he’s awake again, Pa,” Hoss said to his father. Ben went to the side of the bed, and Hoss backed quietly out of the room.

Adam opened his eyes and saw Ben sitting beside him. Again, his worry for his brother made Adam ask about him. “Is Joe all right?”

“Joe’s fine, don’t fret.” Ben reassured him as he sat down.

Adam’s voice shook, as he realised that they were both safe. “Thank God. I was so frightened. I don’t know how we got out of there.” He closed his eyes, trying to go back to sleep, but the image of the last time he remembered seeing his young brother filled his mind. “They made me hurt Joe,” Adam said slowly.

“But he’s OK, there’s not a scratch on him. You didn’t hurt him.”

Adam turned sad, pain filled eyes on his father. “What they made me do to him can’t be seen, but it’s there, inside.”

Ben did not understand, but hoped that when his sons could speak together they would both find peace. “Joe wants to speak to you. He’s worried that you wouldn’t talk to him.”

“I wouldn’t…” It suddenly occurred to Adam that Joe did not know the reason for his silence. “I couldn’t, they wouldn’t let me,” Adam said. “I need to tell him…” Adam started to look round for his brother.

“Don’t worry about it now, you just concentrate on getting better, Joe will wait,” Ben suggested, trying to calm him.

“No, I must see him, tell him why,” Adam insisted. What he really wanted to do was to sink back into the dark, soft abyss where he could feel nothing. But he wouldn’t do that yet, he knew he had to speak to Joe, to help him understand.

“If you’re sure,” Ben said, and Adam nodded. “Very well, I’ll get him.” Ben left, and a few minutes later Adam opened his eyes to see Joe standing beside him.

“Adam, I’m sorry,” Joe said warily, knowing his brother’s feelings towards him.

Adam’s injuries were catching up with him and he just wanted to sleep, but he needed to talk to Joe. He spoke softly, taking short, shallow breaths. “Joe, you did exactly what I should have expected you to do.” Adam tried to smile to soften the words. “You went charging out with no thought to the consequences.” He was going to say that he was sorry for not taking more notice when Joe said he wanted to go hunting, that it was just as much his own responsibility that they had found themselves in such a predicament, but Joe did not give him the chance.

“I knew you’d say that, you do think it’s my fault, and you hate me for it.” Joe’s voice was rising in response to the expected castigation from his brother.

“Joe, I don’t.” Adam couldn’t fight with his brother, it was simply too much effort. “I forgive you, if that’s what you need to hear.” He felt the blackness reaching out to claim him, and said it with something less than sincerity. Joe picked up on it straight away.

“You say that, now it’s all over, but you wouldn’t say it when I asked you. I suppose you’re only saying it now because Pa told you to, well don’t bother. You went through all this because of me, and you’re going to throw it at me for the rest of my life. Well, I guess you have the right, but don’t bother saying you forgive me, because I don’t believe you!” Joe turned and slammed the door behind him as he fled from the room.

Adam lay on the pillows exhausted by the confrontation, which had gone so differently from the way he had intended. He supposed it was because he was feeling so weak that he had not said what he had really meant. Adam hoped that once he felt better he would be able to talk again to his young brother, and get him to see reason.

Adam heard the door open as Ben returned.

“What happened? Joe just flew down the stairs and out of the door like a scalded cat.”

Adam looked at his worried father. “I tried to tell him I didn’t blame him, but it came out all wrong. I think I made things worse.” Adam tried to take a deep strengthening breath, but it just made everything hurt. “Pa, I can’t do this right now, I’ll have to sort it out later.” Adam closed his eyes and slept.

*****

As the days passed and Adam slowly got stronger, it seemed that Joe was going in the opposite direction. He would not eat, hardly spoke to anyone, going out of his way to avoid Adam completely, and was fading before his family’s worried eyes. Ben knew that he spent many hours in the barn, alone, and the few times Ben had cornered him there, Joe had run out before his father could speak to him. At supper one evening just over a week after his sons had returned, Ben tried to talk to him about it.

“Son, tell me what’s troubling you. It’s about you and Adam, isn’t it.”

Joe looked down at his untouched meal, avoiding his father’s eyes.

“Joe, please, I can see that you’re upset about what happened. Talk to me, let me help.”

Hoss sat on the other side of the table watching the exchange. He had tried to comfort Joe, but had had no more success than Ben.

Joe shook his head, then he looked up into his father’s eyes. “Oh Pa!” He got up, went to his father and, kneeling down, buried his face in the deep chest.

Ben ran his hand up and down his son’s back to sooth him. “It’s all right, tell me.”

“Pa, I’ve been so stupid. Those Indians kept Cochise, and they hurt Adam and now he hates me.” Joe’s voice was so full of sorrow that Ben’s heart ached.

“Joe, you know how sorry I am about Cochise, but your brother’s all right, he’s getting better all the time. He doesn’t hate you, he knows that you were only trying to help. He loves you, that’s why he came after you, so you wouldn’t be hurt.”

“But he still won’t tell me he doesn’t hate me, not like he means it.” Now Joe’s words were coloured by the hurt he felt.

“When did you last give him the chance? Every time he tries you shy away from him.” Joe was about to argue, but Ben stopped him. The previous day Adam had managed, with his father’s support, to make his way downstairs. “I saw you yesterday, he tried to get you to sit with him, but you wouldn’t.”

Joe was defiant, he knew how Adam felt about him, and was afraid to face him. “I didn’t want to hear any more about how stupid I was, how young I am, and how I shouldn’t have gone off on my own.” Joe stood and pulled away from Ben. “Don’t you think I know that?!” Joe shouted. “He doesn’t have to tell me that, I know you all hate me for what I did, I don’t need you to tell me!”

Joe ran out of the door before Ben could stop him. “Hoss, go after him, keep an eye on him.” Hoss got up and followed his brother, leaving Ben deep in thought.

Adam had come out of his room, hoping to surprise his family by joining them for supper. He had limped slowly and somewhat shakily along the landing, resting often on the short walk. One foot was heavily bandaged, the other bare, making no sound. He stood, unobserved, at the top of the stairs and heard his father talking to Joe, then retreated quietly to his room. He started to undress again, knowing that an appearance now would upset his family even more. He removed his shirt, revealing the bandages that still covered his chest and back and the arrow wound in his arm, and sat on the bed waiting for the inevitable visit.

Ben appeared and sank into a chair. He sat for a long time until Adam raised an eyebrow in question.

“I’m worried about Joe. He’s making himself ill over this, you know. He still thinks you hate him.” Adam was about to interrupt, but Ben held up a hand. “No, I know you’ve tried to tell him, we all have, but he’s got it so deep in his head that he’s to blame for what happened, he won’t listen.”

Adam’s thoughts went back to the time when Broken Arrow had told Joe that Adam hated him, and he remembered thinking that the hurt had gone deep. It looked as though he had been right.

Ben continued, “He’s upset about losing Cochise as well, you know how attached he was to that horse.”

“Pa, he’ll get over that, just give him time. He’s young, children bounce back from that kind of thing, and he’s got to move on.”

“Have you moved on?” Ben wondered.

“What do you mean?” Adam asked quietly.

“You just referred to your brother as a child. He’s sixteen. Do you remember how you felt when you were sixteen? You were already making plans to go to college, and I was about to send you on your first cattle drive without me.” Ben paused, wondering what Adam’s reaction would be to his next words. “And your youngest brother was four years old. Ask yourself, do you treat him any differently now than you did then?”

“Pa, that’s not fair,” Adam protested.

“Isn’t it? If you think about it, you’ll find I’m right. Adam, he’s not a child any longer.”

Adam became defensive. “Then it’s time he stopped acting like one.” His voice rose in anger. “He went after that cougar, on his own and with no experience, knowing full well that if he got into trouble I would come and rescue him, like I’ve always had to. And look what happened.”

“So you do blame him,” Ben said softly.

Adam stood and limped to the washstand. He still ached all the time, and had a long way to go before he was anything like fit. Ben saw the bandages covering his son’s slowly healing wounds, the still evident bruises, and the awkwardness of his movements, and was sorry that he had reminded him of the cause of them. Adam rested his hands on the stand, either side of the basin, and hung his head, then he looked up and stared at his face reflected in the mirror, and saw his recent experience drawn in lines and shadows that had not been there before.

“No,” he said quietly, “I don’t blame him.” Adam straightened and turned to his father. “Pa, I’ll tell you something that I’m ashamed of, but I need you to understand.” Ben held his breath, wondering what his taciturn son was going to confide to him. “You just told Joe that I went after him because I love him, didn’t you?” Ben nodded, wondering how Adam knew. “Well I didn’t, and I can’t pretend to him that I did. I wanted to bring him back because I knew what it would do to you if he got hurt. And when those Indians tortured me, I wanted to survive because I knew I would have failed you if I didn’t bring Joe back.” Adam sat down on the bed and turned his head away from Ben, then he looked back into his father’s wise, dark eyes. “The only thing I can’t live with is you thinking I’m a failure, that’s what kept me going, the thought that you might be disappointed in me. So, if anyone’s to blame, it’s me and my pride. They say ‘pride comes before a fall’, and I fell right on my face.” Adam smiled thinly and cradled his aching ribs as he added, “And every other part of me.”

Ben leaned forward and put his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Son, it really doesn’t matter why you did what you did. You saved your brother, and I will always be grateful to you for that. But do you really think that you only did it for me?”

“I don’t know any more,” said Adam softly, “I just don’t know.”

“Think about it,” said Ben gently. “You’ll find there’s more to it than my approval and your pride. You couldn’t do all that you do for this family if it was just to please me. That’s not enough; it would never be enough for you. It would become just a job of work. I know there is love there, not just for me, but for your brothers as well. I know that you have been hurt in the past, and perhaps pretending that you don’t care is your way of protecting yourself, but I can see through that. You’re not that good at hiding your feelings, not from me.” Ben smiled, and after a heartbeat, Adam smiled back.

“Maybe you’re right, only don’t tell them that.” Adam jerked his thumb in the direction of the door.

“It’s a promise, but I think you might tell them sometime soon,” Ben said more seriously. He could see that Adam was already thinking about it, and left him to his deliberations. Adam lay back down on his bed and remained there, unmoving, as night fell and filled the room with darkness. He was fighting against an idea that had formed in his mind, a plan that filled him with terror and robbed him of sleep.

*****

The following morning Ben came down to breakfast, yawning. He had slept fitfully, worrying about his family. Dreams had troubled what little sleep he had, strange images of horses carrying his sons away from him. As he was about to sit down, he saw a neatly folded piece of paper sitting under his fork. He picked it up curiously, as he sat on his chair.

“No!” he breathed quietly, staring at the paper in his hand, a slight tremble revealing the fear he felt at what he had read.

Ben had not noticed Hoss take his place at the table. “What is it, Pa?” Ben held out the note for Hoss to read.

“Pa,

I have gone to the Bannocks to try to get Cochise back.

I hope you don’t mind, but I have taken five of the new horses that we were planning to supply to the army. I think you will agree that they are being put to good use.

Please don’t tell Joe, I may fail and he would be more heartbroken if he thought there was a chance.

I am sorry not to have told you of my intentions, but after what you said last night, I had to do something. I will not allow this family to be torn apart because of me. You were right, there is love, and I can’t stand to see Joe’s hurt, or yours, any longer.

I trust that I will return, with or without Cochise, but if I don’t, remember that I love you. And Hoss, and, of course, Joe.

Your devoted son

Adam”

Ben sat stunned. He had not expected that Adam would act so impetuously, not his thoughtful, controlled and unemotional, son, who was intelligent enough to know that he was in no fit state to go anywhere; he could barely walk, let alone ride.

“Should we go after him?” asked Hoss, his strong jaw set firm at the thought of what his brother might be getting himself into.

“No, we don’t know when he left.” Then Ben remembered his dream of horses, and knew it had been the sound of Adam leaving. Ben fought the urge to go after his frail son; he knew it was too late to stop him, perhaps a lifetime too late.

Ben took the note back from Hoss and folded it carefully. He held it tight to his chest, wondering if it would be the last contact that he would have with his beloved eldest son. Ben wished now that he had said nothing to Adam; he felt that he had pushed him into this dangerous course.

*****

Adam made his way down to the corral at three in the morning, his passage lit by the lamp he held in his hand. He had taken off the bandages supporting his foot and forced on his boots, and had also removed the binding round his chest, which restricted his breathing. His body felt more comfortable, but he limped from one leg to the other, giving him a rolling gait more fitted to a sailor than a rancher.

It took him an hour of limping, panting, and pain to do a job that would normally have taken him ten minutes. Adam had wanted to select five of the best looking horses to take with him, but had finally settled for any that would stand still long enough to have head collars put on, resulting not in the best, but the most docile creatures.

He rested for a few minutes, waiting for the agony in his body to subside. He had thought that he was well on the way to being healed, but that little bit of exertion had caused him to revise his estimate of his state of health. Catching even the quietest horses had left him shaking with weakness and unable to stand. He collapsed onto the ground, and sat with his head in his hands, trying to find the strength to do what he had planned. He wondered for a moment if he had been too ambitious in thinking he could get to the Bannock camp alone, if he should have asked Ben or Hoss to go with him, but then he shook his head; he would not put them in danger so that he could prove his love of his brother. As soon as he felt he was able, he went to the barn, but as he lifted his saddle onto Sport’s back, his ribs and shoulders protested, and he leaned his head against the horse’s flanks while he got his breath back.

Eventually he was ready, but it had taken him much longer than he had expected to get under way. Adam had hoped to have a good start before the rest of his family was awake, he did not want them following him. Like the rescue of his brother, he felt that this was his responsibility.

Adam rode out of the yard in the first faint light of day, pulling the five extra horses behind him, and headed up into the mountains. He rode slowly, stopping often, waiting for the pains in him to retreat enough to allow him to continue. He tried to picture the trail he had followed to the Bannock camp, and as he crested a rise, he knew that he had found it. Spread out below him were the tents he remembered, and when he spotted the posts to which he had been tied, his heart lurched in his chest and, for a moment, he couldn’t breathe. He halted, making sure he had the courage to continue. A line from Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ came into his head; ‘Men at some time are masters of their fate’. He knew his fate was uncertain, and from this moment, the Bannocks would be the masters of it.

As he rode slowly across the encampment towards the tepee he recognised as belonging to Running Bear, men and women stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at him, amazed to see a white man alone in their midst.

Suddenly Broken Arrow appeared in front of him, and held Sport’s bridle, stopping him. “You did not suffer enough, you have come back for more?”

Adam looked down at him, and his blood ran cold as he remembered, but his voice was level as he spoke. “No. I have come to speak to Running Bear.”

Broken Arrow looked past Adam, at the horses.

Adam saw his curious stare. “I have brought him a gift.”

“Why?” The Indian’s eyes narrowed. Why was the white man bringing gifts, after what they did to him? Was it a trick? “You bring horses, so you can go back and say that we took them. Then you will lead others here to kill us.”

Adam shook his head. “Broken Arrow, that may be how your mind works, but you’re wrong. I simply want to talk to Running Bear.” He looked up as he caught sight of the old man coming out of his tent. Adam eased Sport forward, pulling the bridle from Broken Arrow’s hand, and rode towards Running Bear. He dismounted, by kicking his feet from the stirrups and sliding to the ground. Despite the pain the ride had caused he needed to appear strong in front of this man, so he stood ramrod straight before the proud chief.

Their eyes met, neither speaking, each trying to guess what was in the other man’s mind. Running Bear spoke first. “You have returned.” There were a dozen different questions in that simple statement.

Adam nodded. “Yes.”

“That was foolish.”

Adam looked round as he sensed someone at his shoulder, and saw Broken Arrow and Tall Fox behind him. He turned back to the chief. “Maybe, but there is something I have to do, for my brother.”

“What more can you do for your brother than give him his life?” Running Bear’s deep voice was curious.

Adam hesitated; how to explain to this wise old man what had brought him here? He had experienced so many different feelings in the past days that he felt his well of emotion had run dry. He had felt anger and frustration at his brother, fear that he, himself, was not strong enough to save them, and hatred for Broken Arrow. Then, as he started to put those painful events behind him, the elation of knowing that they were both safe, and the shame of admitting to his father the reason for his actions. But underlying everything else there was, after all, the one emotion that had brought him back, and Adam hoped that the chief might understand.

“I can give him my love. Broken Arrow persuaded Little Joe that I hated him for what had happened. I have told him that is not so, but because of Broken Arrow and what he did, he will not believe me. I need to demonstrate that love to him, words are not enough. As you said, he is young, and he feels deeply hurt by the loss of his horse. I would trade these for the pinto.” Adam turned and indicated the animals he had brought with him.

“The horse was your brother’s price.” Running Bear looked over Adam’s shoulder at Broken Arrow, who had a small smile on his face, which disappeared instantly as he saw that Running Bear was not pleased.

“Running Bear, you said that I could pay Joe’s price, and I did. But then you took his horse as well. I always thought that the Bannock were a people who could keep their word, but you said one thing and did another. That is not the act of an honourable man, and I believe that you are honourable.”

At the slight against their Chief, Broken Arrow, and Tall Fox beside him, leaped at Adam and forced him to the ground. They held him down and were about to show him the error of his ways, when Running Bear’s deep voice stopped them.

“Let him up! He came in peace and I will speak to him, alone.”

Adam struggled to rise as Broken Arrow and Tall Fox reluctantly released him. Running Bear held his arm and helped him back to his feet, then indicated that the white man should follow him. All Adam’s pretence at strength had vanished, and he limped slowly behind Running Bear, until they came to a small stream, where the chief sat down. Adam lowered himself gingerly onto the grass, beside the old man.

“You hurt,” Running Bear observed.

Adam smiled wryly. “Broken Arrow does his work with great efficiency.”

The chief laughed. “I am sorry, for what you say is true, but my son is anxious to be seen to do well.”

Adam was taken aback, he had not realised the relationship between the men. “Do you have other sons?”

“Grey Cloud is his younger brother, as Joe is yours.”

Adam hesitated. “Will you tell me something?” Running Bear nodded. “What sort of relationship do your sons have? I mean…how do they feel about each other?”

“Broken Arrow loves his brother, and knows that Grey Cloud has much to learn, which he can teach him. Broken Arrow will help him to learn, knowing that is what will let him grow into a man, and survive. He feels the responsibility of looking after his younger brother, as you do. Grey Cloud loves his brother in return, and values his help, knowing that Broken Arrow will always be there for him.” Running Bear’s eyes rested on Adam’s and could see the turmoil there. “But they are brothers, how should they feel?”

Adam didn’t know how to answer. Didn’t know how to tell this wise old man of his feelings towards his own brother, but Running Bear saw the look on Adam’s face and understood.

Running Bear put his hand into the clear water of the stream and as he lifted it, drops fell back, one at a time. The old man looked at Adam. “Consider the drops of water on my hand, they appear separate and different, but all are water and part of the river. A river is made up of many such drops. When they are separate the sun will dry them to nothing, or the wind will blow them away, but together they can bring down a mountain, or quench the thirst of a dying man. So are my sons. They are separate and different, but need to be part of the river, that is how they are strongest. They need each other, to be whole.”

Adam sat for a long time in silence, considering Running Bear’s words. No matter how much he tried to stand apart from his brothers, so much younger than him, and so very much less experienced in life, Adam knew he felt stronger when they stood together. He had often told himself that he was the protector of his family, the strong one, the adult looking after his younger siblings. But suddenly he realised that they gave him strength and a purpose in life, a reason for living, and he needed them, to be whole. But as they grew, did they need him to be part of their river?

He thought that he went after Joe because he did not want to see his father hurt, and knew it was his duty to stop his brother. Adam had admitted as much to Ben the night before. But he really went because it would prove, yet again, that his family needed him. It kept Adam a part of his family, to help them and serve them, it kept them loving him.

Adam started guiltily, and realised that he had let into his consciousness feelings that he had kept hidden in the dark recesses of his mind. Did he really believe that his family only loved him because he helped them? He was sure that his father loved him, the years they had spent together had told him that repeatedly, and Hoss had love in his heart for all, especially his family, that only deepened as the years passed. But Joe? No, Joe did not love him; didn’t he only look on Adam as his ‘big, bossy brother’, and as Joe grew, he would love him less. Adam secretly harboured a great need that Joe should love him. The boy had had the love of his mother for the first years of his life. It was a love that Adam had never known from his own mother, who had died giving him life; which had been snatched away from him when Hoss’ mother had been killed; and as a youth, he had found it difficult to accept from his father’s new wife, Joe’s mother, Marie. Adam felt that all Joe’s love had been given to Marie, and when she died, he had directed that love at his father and Hoss, finding his elder brother too distant, both in emotion and age. Adam thought that he had to earn his brother’s love and his constant watching over him and his insistence on protecting him was one way of achieving this.

Now Adam saw the reality he didn’t much like it. He had gone after Joe only through selfish reasons, and now Joe was tearing himself apart because he thought that Adam blamed him for what had happened, when he could only blame himself.

Running Bear edged closer to Adam and put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “Why did you come?” he asked softly.

It was then that Adam could admit the reason for his return. “I came to become part of the river, with my brothers.” Adam spoke so quietly that Running Bear had to strain to hear him. “I thought that I came to show Joe that I love him, by returning his horse to him, but I know now that what I want is that he should love me. I want to be part of the river, but I stand apart pretending that I am stronger than my brothers, but it is not so. They are the stronger because they have each other.”

Running Bear and Adam sat for a long time looking at the stream. Two men separated by birth and culture, but joined by a thread of understanding.

Finally, Adam stirred. “So, will you exchange the horses I have brought for that of my brother?”

Running Bear shook his head. Adam was going to try to persuade him, but Running Bear held up his hand. “No, I don’t want your horses. Adam, you showed great courage when you came back here. You thought that it was for your brother’s sake, but now you know otherwise. You withstood Broken Arrow, as few have before you, and I admire you for that, as I never thought to admire a white man. You did that for your brother, but now you do something for yourself. If you had told me that you had come back simply because you wanted to do it for Joe, I would refuse your request, you have given him enough. But you are doing this for yourself, and I think I owe you something, in return for what you have given me.”

Adam looked questioningly at Running Bear. “I have given you nothing.”

“Yes, you have. You have given me an understanding of the white man, how he can love his family as I thought only the Indian could, and you showed a courage I did not look to find. You shall have you brother’s horse, but I want nothing in return, except your friendship. You will be welcome here whenever you choose to come.”

Adam was speechless, but recovered enough to ask, “How will Broken Arrow feel about that? I get the impression he would like to kill me.”

“My son will do as I tell him. I am his chief and his father; he will not dare to disobey me.”

Adam thought that, at that moment, Running Bear sounded even more like his father. The old Indian stood, helped Adam to his feet, and put his hands on the white man’s shoulders. “I am sorry for what you suffered, it was poor reward for saving my people from starvation. I would have stopped it if I could, but there are laws here that have to be obeyed, if the tribe is to survive. I am glad that it brought you back, and may eventually bring you happiness, as you find your place with your family.”

They walked back to the encampment together, the Indian slowing his pace to walk beside Adam. When Adam stumbled Running Bear put out his hand and helped him back to his feet, and supported him back to the camp.

Running Bear looked at the sky. “It is late for you to be riding back to your home. Will you stay with us for the night?”

Adam was reluctant; he knew his worried father would be waiting anxiously for his return. “I should be getting back, my father…”

“…Will be waiting for you.” Running Bear finished for him. “I know, but I can see that you are hurting, and should rest before you ride again.”

Adam was touched at the chief’s concern for him, and admitted to himself that he really did not want to travel back without resting for a while, and it would soon be dark.

“Very well, I will stay, thank you.”

At that moment, Broken Arrow appeared at his father’s side. Running Bear spoke to him in their own language, while Adam watched, not understanding what was being said.

“The white man is staying here for the night. I expect you to treat him with respect,” said Running Bear.

“He should not be here. He dares to come into our camp, and you welcome him.” Broken Arrow said the words harshly, his anger obvious. “We should kill any white man who violates our land.”

Running Bear tried to calm his son. “He has not violated our land; he came openly and in friendship. I would expect you, of all people, to recognise his courage and admit that it is the equal of your own.” Seeing Broken Arrow’s eyes darken with hatred, Running Bear continued, his tone accepting no argument. “He has my protection, and any who think to harm him should remember that they will have to answer to me.”

Broken Arrow looked at Adam, who, while not understanding the words that had been spoken, recognised the tone.

“Broken Arrow,” Adam said, “You may not welcome me here, but your father does. I paid the price for my brother’s error, and I was told that wiped the slate clean, that now there is no sin to answer for.”

“But you came back,” Broken Arrow reminded him.

“I came to speak to your father. My being here, and returning safely home, will tell my people that the Bannocks are to be trusted. Would you destroy that, by killing me? That can only cause trouble for your people.”

“Bannocks are afraid of no one.” Broken Arrow lifted his chin in defiance.

Adam moved closer to Broken Arrow and spoke softly. “Tell me something. Do you hope to take over from your father, as chief, when the time comes?”

Broken Arrow looked at his father then back to Adam, and nodded.

Adam continued more forcefully, making the brave take notice of what he was saying. “Then I think it’s time you considered what it means to be a chief. You must care for your people, lead them wisely in the way that will be of greatest benefit to them. Fighting with a neighbour, who has nothing but good intentions towards you, is not the way a chief should act, it can only bring you sorrow.” Adam turned his back on the silent warrior and went to stand beside Running Bear. Broken Arrow was looking murderous, and Adam knew that while he may have made a friend in Running Bear, he had a dangerous enemy in his son.

Running Bear spoke to Broken Arrow. “He speaks wisely, listen to him. Will you welcome him?”

Broken Arrow hesitated, then nodded, and walked away. Running Bear was left shaking his head sadly, and then he turned to Adam. “Come, eat and rest.” Adam followed Running Bear to a tepee, where they shared a meal. He was surprised to see that the girl who served the food to them was the one who had given him water, when he was suffering at the hands of Broken Arrow. Running Bear saw him looking at her.

“Wind on the Water asked to be allowed to provide our meal tonight,” Running Bear said, smiling. Adam didn’t reply as he watched her move about the tepee. “I think that she is quite taken with the tall white man.” Running Bear chuckled and called the girl over to speak to him. They exchanged a few sentences, then the girl left, with a backwards glance at Adam.

The old chief turned to his guest, and Adam could see a sparkle in his eyes. “Wind on the Water says that if you would care to join her in her tepee, she would make your night here more memorable.”

Adam didn’t know what was expected of him, would it be an insult to the tribe to refuse her offer? The girl was beautiful, and at another time, he might have taken her up on her offer. “Running Bear, would you tell Wind on the Water that I am very flattered by her suggestion of…hospitality. But unfortunately, at the moment, I do not feel strong enough to accept.”

Running Bear laughed, seeing Adam’s awkwardness. “I will tell her. I am afraid that you have made quite an impression on her and she will be very disappointed. One night with her would have bound you to her, and the tribe.”

Adam realised that he had been right to refuse, and joined in Running Bear’s amusement at his predicament. “Perhaps she will make the offer again, when I feel more able to make her nights memorable.” Adam glanced at Running Bear. “Would you also tell her ‘thank you’ for the water she gave me?” Running Bear stopped smiling and raised his eyebrows in surprise, so Adam explained. “When I was here before,” he said, skirting round his previous visit and its consequences, “She brought me water, and treated me with kindness. I trust that she will not be in trouble for her action.”

“No, there will be no trouble. But I think I will not tell Broken Arrow, he is not very forgiving.”

Adam became serious. “I know that he has not forgiven me, or Joe, for coming onto your land.”

Running Bear put his hand on Adam’s arm. “Broken Arrow will learn by his mistakes.”

“What do you mean, mistakes?”

“My son sought to destroy you. But instead he has made you stronger.” Adam raised his eyebrows at this statement; at that moment, he would not have described himself as strong. Running Bear saw the look and continued. “By coming here in search of your brother, and then by returning, you have discovered your place within your family, and you have made friends of those who were your enemies. That is what I have tried to show Broken Arrow, that vengeance and killing are not always the way to deal with an enemy.”

Adam looked at the old man thoughtfully, then said softly, “So it wasn’t wasted, the suffering and the pain.”

Running Bear stood, preparing to leave. “No, it was not, it never is.”

*****

All day long Ben had prowled the house. He tried to settle to looking over the new timber contract, but he found himself sitting, staring at the opposite wall, his eyes glazed and his mind miles away, in the mountains with his son. He stood and paced the house again, finally going into Adam’s room and sitting on the bed, where he had sat the night before. Ben wished that he could take back the words that he had said, which had driven Adam into such danger. He looked round the room, seeing the books that his son loved to read, the guitar that he loved to play, and the engineering drawings that he loved to work on. Ben hung his head. Adam’s world was full of love, but was it love of the right things? Did he love his family? Ben answered his own question; Adam had gone back to the Bannocks to prove that love.

As suppertime came and there was still no sign of Adam, Ben found it increasingly difficult to keep from Joe the reason for his absence.

“But where has he gone?” Joe wanted to know.

“He had to go out on business.” Ben did not elaborate.

Joe shook his head. “You shouldn’t have let him, he’s not well enough, you know that. He can hardly walk, how could you let him go?” Joe’s tone let Ben know that he held his father responsible for not looking after Adam properly. Despite the rift that had opened between them, Joe was concerned for Adam, wanting him well again.

“Joe, Adam is a grown man, and if he wants to go out I’m not about to stop him.”

“Oh, come on Pa,” Joe said harshly, “He wouldn’t have gone if you forbade him, you know that.”

“Joe, I’m not going to discuss it with you. Your brother’s gone out and will not return until late. Now, that’s an end to the subject. Do you understand?” Ben looked hard at Joe, daring him to push it any further.

“Yes sir,” Joe said quietly. There was something going on that his father did not want to tell him. Why had he let Adam go out in his condition? Then an awful thought struck Joe. He knew that Adam had barely started to heal; had his brother died suddenly and they didn’t know how to break it to him? “Pa, please, I need to know,” he begged, “Is Adam all right?” Tears had started in Joe’s eyes at the thought of his brother dying and him not knowing.

Ben stood and went to put his arm round Joe’s shoulder, seeing how upset he was suddenly. “Of course he’s all right, why wouldn’t he be?”

“You’re not…just saying that?” Joe’s eyes begged for the truth.

“No, I’m not. He was OK when he left here, and I expect him back soon.” Ben pulled Joe to his feet. “Now, you get off to bed, and I’m sure that when you wake up, Adam will be here.”

Joe nodded and went slowly to his room, leaving Hoss and Ben at the table. Hoss turned to his father.

“Well, I hope you’re right. Adam should ‘a been back by now. All he had to do was ride up there and talk to the Bannocks, and come back.”

Ben had his head in his hands. “I know. But he may have had trouble persuading the Indians to give him Cochise, or they may have refused. All we can do is wait.”

They waited all night, neither man going to his bed. Ben sat in the blue armchair beside the fireplace, and Hoss lay stretched out on the settee. Occasionally one of them would stir when they heard a noise outside, but each time they checked there was no one there.

Morning came, and with it came the certainty that Adam was overdue. Ben and Hoss attempted to be cheerful at breakfast for Joe’s sake. But they had forgotten that Joe was growing up, and as he matured his senses matured with him. He could tell that something was very far wrong, Adam was not there, and his father was worried.

“All right, Pa. Now are you going to tell me?” Joe had decided to try the straightforward approach.

Ben feigned innocence. “What do you mean?”

“Where’s Adam? He’s not in his room, and his bed hasn’t been slept in.” Joe persisted.

“He’s…he’s…” Ben’s eyes glazed and looked blankly at the empty chair opposite him, where his eldest son always sat. Where was Adam? Images that he didn’t welcome flashed through Ben’s brain. Images that showed him his quiet son, dead. He looked at Joe and knew that he had to tell him the whole truth. He glanced across at Hoss, who nodded, he understood. Ben took a deep breath. “He’s gone back to the Bannocks.”

“He’s WHAT?!” Joe shouted, leaping to his feet and knocking over his chair with a crash.

Ben looked squarely at Joe. “He went back to get Cochise.”

“But why? How could you let him do that?”

“I didn’t let him do it, he was gone before I could stop him.” Ben stood and put his hand on Joe’s arm. “He did it to show you that he loves you, that he doesn’t blame you for what happened.”

Joe shook his head, his eyes wide with horror. He tries to speak but the words would not come. He swallowed and tried again. “It wasn’t enough that they nearly killed him the first time because of me, now he’s gone back and they’ll kill him this time, and it’s still because of me, because I wouldn’t listen to him.” Tears were streaming down Joe’s face as he cried plaintively, “When does it stop being my fault?” He ran from the house, slamming the front door noisily behind him.

Hoss and Ben looked at each other. Finally Hoss spoke. “So, are we goin’ after Adam?”

Ben picked up the fallen chair, then turned to Hoss and nodded. “Yes, and we’re going to take Joe with us. If Adam is still alive, he needs to know. And if he’s…” Ben paused, not wanting to say the word. It came out softly, “…dead, he needs to face that.”

Ben and Hoss made ready to leave. Hop Sing, their housekeeper, brought food for them, and then handed Ben a small bundle. Ben raised his eyebrows in question.

Hop Sing answered him gently. “If Mr. Adam hurt, you need.”

Ben looked inside the wrapping to see bandages, and herbs for an infusion.

“Give number one son tea,” Hop Sing instructed. “For old injuries. Will make him forget.”

Ben swallowed and took a deep breath, remembering Adam’s condition, which he had put to the back of his mind in face of the greater threat. “Thank you, Hop Sing. I hope that he won’t need them, but thank you.”

Meanwhile Hoss was out in the barn with Joe.

“Saddle your horse, we’re all goin’ lookin’ for Adam,” Hoss said, as he started to tack up Chubb.

“You don’t want me, I’ll only cause more trouble if I come,” Joe said miserably.

Hoss turned to him, and his eyes said that he was angry. “I think you owe it to Adam to git on that horse and ride after him, don’t you?”

“Why? So he can let me see that he’s done something else for me?” Joe turned to leave the barn, but Hoss stood in front of him, blocking his way.

“Now you listen to me, and you listen good. You wanna be treated like a grown up, so it’s about time you started behavin’ like one. Adam went back there knowin’ the risk, because you wouldn’t let him tell you that he didn’t hold you responsible for what happened. So in that way this is your fault, and it’s time you faced that, and stopped expectin’ everyone to feel sorry for you.” Joe looked shocked at his brother’s words. He hung his head, knowing that Hoss was right.

“I’m…I’m sorry. I guess I’m scared of what will happen if Adam doesn’t come back. It will be my fault, and I don’t think I can live with that. I know Pa couldn’t.”

Hoss put his arms comfortingly round his brother’s shoulders. “We don’t know what’s happened to him, so don’t go thinkin’ the worst. Let’s just go find out.” Hoss pushed Joe towards his horse and they led their mounts, and Ben’s, out of the barn.

They rode to the north pasture, and then on towards the edge of the Bannock’s land. There, Ben said they would stop and take a break before going on, hoping against reason that Adam would return before they ventured further. He was reluctant to take his remaining sons into the danger ahead, but knew they would not let him go on alone.

*****

As Adam prepared to leave, Running Bear came to stand beside him. “Are you sure you want to go so soon? You should rest more.”

“No, I must go. I have been away too long already.” Adam paused, then looked sideways at the chief, and continued. “Running Bear, if your tribe needs meat this winter, will you let me know?”

Running Bear put his hand on Adam’s shoulder and nodded. “I will, and I thank you for it.”

“Then can I ask you to do something for me?” Adam studied the chief, wondering what his reaction would be to his request.

“If I can, I will.”

“Will you send Broken Arrow for it?”

Running Bear laughed aloud. “Yes.” He realised that he would rather have this man as a friend than an enemy.

Adam held out his hand, and after a pause, Running Bear extended his own and solemnly shook hands in the white man’s way. As Adam looked past Running Bear, he saw Wind on the Water watching him. He smiled at her and she returned his look, then turned away and walked slowly back to her tepee. Adam mounted, and with a last wave, rode out of the camp, leading the five horses he had brought with him, and Cochise.

He rode slowly although he wanted to hurry back to his family, but his injuries had not been helped by a night sleeping on the hard ground; even the soft furs had not been enough to cushion its hardness. Adam continued riding past the point at which he should have stopped, until his body started protesting at being pushed too hard, and he stopped beside a stream. As he sat and relaxed he took in the country around him, the dark pine forest, with its mosaic of sunlit ground beneath its branches, the deep blue of the sky overhead, and as a background to it all the smell of pine and the tinkling sound of the stream beside him.

Adam had a vague feeling that the area looked familiar, though he was sure that he had never been there before. Then his eye caught sight of something in the grass near him. He reached over and picked up a small piece of cloth, frowning as he did so. It was a strip of brown cotton material, and judging by the button attached to it, it had come from a shirt. Adam pictured his young brother wearing a shirt of the same cloth. He looked around again, and Adam decided that this was where Joe had chosen to stop on their way back home. Ben had told him of that journey, as related to him by Joe, and as Adam took in the loneliness of the forest surrounding him, he realised what his brother had done for him. Despite his youth, Joe had tended to him in this wilderness and brought him back safe to his family, not a job a child could have done. Here there was no help, no one to turn to, and Joe had risen to the challenge, and saved his brother’s life. Adam hung his head as he realised how wrong he had been about Joe, how the child had become a man. Guilt clouded his thoughts and he knew that he had to speak to Joe as soon as he could, to apologise for the things he had said and done.

Adam lay back, staring at the sky through the branches. He was angry with himself for being so stupid, and blind to the change that had come over his brother. He stirred as he thought of his home and knew he should be getting back. He rose and remounted reluctantly, knowing that he would have to face not only Joe, but his family as well.

He was riding through thick forest, which cast deep shadows along the trail. Suddenly Adam became uneasy, he was still in Indian country and, despite Running Bear’s friendly words, he knew that there were many dangers here. He glanced sideways into the dark depths of the forest, and then shook himself. No doubt it was his recent experience that was making him nervous, he thought. He tried to relax, but his hand strayed to the butt of his gun and, after releasing the thong holding the weapon in place, he rested it there.

Adam heard a noise behind him, but before he could turn to see what had caused it, he was falling from his horse. He hit the ground hard, groaning as the stitches in his back tore themselves apart, sending a shiver of pain through him. He felt hands at his throat and fought to get away as he registered the face of Broken Arrow above him. He threw the Indian off, and as he climbed slowly back to his feet, feeling his injuries re-awakened, he saw Grey Cloud and Tall Fox approach. The son of the chief said something to them and they stood, not moving, then Broken Arrow turned to face Adam.

“My father may welcome you, but we will not have the white man on our land. Now it is just you, but soon they will all come and we will be no more. They must see that none are welcome, and know what will happen if they come here.” Broken Arrow pulled out his knife and edged closer to Adam, who backed away slowly. He felt for his gun, then realised that, as he fell from Sport, the gun had slipped from his holster and was lying on the path, out of reach.

Broken Arrow saw the movement and sneered. “So you have no weapon to kill with. Now you will know how helpless the Indian is against the white man’s guns, when we have only bows and arrows.” He leaped at Adam, who grabbed the Indian’s wrists as he came within reach. They struggled, but Broken Arrow was too strong for Adam, who was fighting not only the Indian, but also the previous injuries that the man had inflicted on him, and he was forced to the ground.

Broken Arrow had his legs astride the chest of his adversary, and the pressure and the pain it caused were robbing Adam of his breath. As Broken Arrow turned the knife downwards, Adam struggled to prevent it approaching his throat. He felt the blade cut into his neck and turned onto his side, trying to throw off his attacker, but the Indian pushed him onto his back again and the knife hovered between them. As it again approached his throat, Adam moved sideways and the downward thrust that Broken Arrow had started forced the blade deep into his shoulder. Adam cried out and anger coursed through him, he would not allow this man to beat him. He tried to push the Indian away with all his remaining strength, but Broken Arrow was stronger and slowly overpowering his enemy.

As Adam thought that he could fight no longer, he felt Broken Arrow suddenly sit up straight, the knife falling from his hand. The warrior began to pitch forward and Adam rolled away from him. Broken Arrow hit the ground and lay still, the shaft of an arrow protruding from his back. Adam tried to get to his feet, but blackness threatened to overwhelm him. He heard the sound of a horse and raised his head to see Running Bear riding slowly towards him, his bow hanging from his hand. Grey Cloud and Tall Fox stood, rooted to the spot, until Running Bear spoke to them and they picked up Broken Arrow and tied him to his horse, then they mounted and rode swiftly away, pulling the horse with its sad burden behind them.

Running Bear brought his horse to a standstill and dismounted, as Adam pushed himself slowly to his feet. The two men looked at each other for a minute in silence, both considering the implication of what had happened.

Running Bear took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I did not know he would do this, but I feared it, so I followed. Broken Arrow was a fool,” Running Bear said sadly, “He often told me that I was old and living in the past, but he could not see the future. He could not understand that the white man is coming, and we must learn to live with him.” He put his fingers to Adam’s shoulder, where blood was beginning to seep through the material of his shirt, staining it a darker red. “I regret that I could not stop him sooner.”

“Running Bear, I am sorry for your loss.” Adam shook his head sadly, this was so needless. “Your son died for what he believed in, even if he was wrong. There are not many who would do that.”

“Thank you for your words, but they cannot hide what he tried to do.”

Suddenly Adam’s knees buckled and Running Bear caught him and lowered him to the ground, feeling the wetness of blood on the back of his shirt. Running Bear brought water for Adam to drink and used more of it to bathe the wounds. Adam sat shaking his head, as the world spun around him, until eventually Running Bear lifted him back to his feet.

“Come, I will help you.”

The chief got Adam mounted, then rode beside him as they went through the forest towards the Ponderosa. Adam rode slowly, swaying in the saddle as he went; he was feeling light-headed and was having trouble staying awake. As they approached the boundary of the Indian’s territory, Running Bear stopped and put his hand on Adam’s arm to get his attention.

“You should be able to find your way from here.”

Adam raised his head and looked round, slowly registering where they were. “Come with me and meet my father,” he suggested.

Running Bear shook his head. “I do not think that I would be welcome after all that has happened. If I take you to your family and they see that you have been further hurt, I do not think that your father would be very forgiving.”

Adam tried again. “Running Bear, you have lost a son, do you imagine that my father would worry about a scratch on me, when you have lost so much? He is a very wise man, as well as a father, he will understand. Please come.”

Running Bear still looked doubtful, but nodded slowly and they rode on together. Adam gradually sank over Sport’s neck as he fought to stay in the saddle, and Running Bear could see that he was in danger of falling. He came up beside the white man and, by pulling on Sport’s reins, made him stop. With smooth grace, the old man moved from his own horse onto Sport’s back, and held Adam, who collapsed gratefully into the Indian’s arms and closed his eyes.

*****

The three Cartwrights were sitting round their fire in silence, each with his own thoughts, not wanting to voice them aloud, as they realised that it was becoming less likely that Adam would return. Hoss was about to insist that it was time they moved out, when he looked up, and in the distance saw what appeared to be a small herd of horses approaching. Then he noticed that there was someone with them, and held his breath, he thought that he recognised the figure on the leading animal. Then he became aware that two men were on the horse, one holding the other. As Hoss stood, Ben and Joe followed the line of his sight, and also rose as they saw what he was looking at. They went towards the riders, slowly at first, and then began running as their eyes told them that Adam had returned. Ben noticed that Joe hung back, but he was so relieved to see his missing son that he followed Hoss to the approaching riders. They pulled up sharply as they saw that Adam had his eyes closed and an elderly, imposing looking Indian, was supporting him.

Running Bear pulled Sport to a standstill as the men approached. He sat motionless, waiting for their reaction.

Ben put up his arms and, with help from Hoss, caught Adam as Running Bear lowered him towards them. Ben’s expression hardened as he recalled it was only ten days ago that he had seen his son in the same condition. Hoss and Ben carried Adam to the fire and laid him down gently, covering him with a blanket. Ben returned to Running Bear, who was standing uncertainly beside Sport.

“Won’t you come, sit with us?” Ben invited.

Running Bear saw that there was no threat, and nodded, following Ben back across the short distance to the camp, his moccasined feet making no sound. He sat on the ground beside Adam, as though reluctant to relinquish his care of the man he had held in his arms. Ben noticed and wondered at it, but made no comment as he knelt down beside Adam, gently wiped his son’s face with a water-soaked cloth, and lifted Adam’s head as he tried to get him to drink. Adam stirred and swallowed as he felt the liquid in his mouth. He opened his eyes, which looked blank for a moment until he realised that it was his father bending over him. He groaned as he tried to sit up, but Ben on one side, and Running Bear on the other, both put a hand on his shoulder at the same time. The two older men looked at each other, and exchanged glances that said they both cared for the man lying between them.

Adam lay back and smiled. “So, I’m outnumbered,” he said slowly, his voice faint.

Ben dragged his gaze away from Running Bear’s dark, intelligent eyes and looked down at his son. “Yes, so do as you’re told and lie still.”

Adam looked from one man to the other, and when he saw them together, he realised just how alike they were. “Pa, this is Running Bear, he is a chief of the Bannocks.” Adam turned to the old Indian. “This is my father, Ben Cartwright.”

The two men stood and shook hands silently, assessing each other, liking what they saw.

Adam turned to his father to explain the Indian’s presence. “Pa, Running Bear just saved my life. I wanted you to meet him.”

Ben again studied the wise face, and behind the intelligence, he detected a great sadness. “I’m grateful to you for my son’s life.” Ben said carefully, and Running Bear nodded.

Running Bear sat down on the ground beside Adam, crossing his legs and putting his hands on his knees. Hoss and Joe had watched the exchange, fascinated. Joe, who had immediately recognised the old man, at first had been afraid of his presence, and had wondered at Adam’s words, but it seemed that his brother welcomed the Indian’s presence and Joe was prepared to trust his judgement.

Ben lifted Adam to rest against him, as Hoss went to the fire to pour some coffee, and he could see the blood that coloured the back of his shirt. He found some cloths to put against the wounds and leaned Adam back against him, supporting him so that he could drink. Hoss tentatively held out a cup to Running Bear, who looked at it suspiciously. Adam remembered the strange foods he had eaten the night before.

“Try it, you might like it. And I didn’t question what you gave me last night.” Adam smiled, and the chief nodded and sipped the liquid.

He looked up appreciatively. “Very good,” he said.

Adam turned to Joe, who had been standing silently to one side. “Cochise is there, go get him.”

Joe smiled delightedly at his brother and then ran to his horse, standing hidden among the others that Adam had brought back.

Ben spoke to his eldest son, encompassing Running Bear with his words. “I see you brought back all of the horses.”

Adam and Running Bear exchanged glances. “Yes,” Adam said, not explaining.

“And I see that you have also brought back another injury,” Ben observed.

Again, Adam and Running Bear looked at each other. “Yes.”

Ben could see that he was not going to get any more information at that moment and turned to Hoss, telling him to get Adam’s saddle from Sport. Ben placed it behind his son so that he might lie more comfortably, then he looked round for the package that Hop Sing had given him. He unwrapped it and started to bathe and dress the wounds. Adam raised his eyes at the contents of the small parcel.

“Hop Sing thought we might need it.” Ben frowned as he spoke, seeing the damage.

“Remind me to thank him.” Adam smiled faintly.

Joe returned and stood uncertainly in front of Adam, no longer sure of his brother’s feelings towards him. “Thank you for bringing Cochise back. But you shouldn’t have gone, they might have…” Joe suddenly remembered the imposing figure sitting silently beside his brother. “I mean, it wasn’t safe…”

“It’s all right Joe, Running Bear understands. Go take care of the horses for me, will you.” Joe nodded and hurried away, glad to get out of the awkward situation he had talked himself into.

Ben went back to the fire to make the infusion that Hop Sing had supplied, and Hoss came to sit beside Adam, who was trying to button his shirt. Hoss pushed his hands aside and did it for him, seeing that he was having difficulty moving his arm.

“Cain’t let you out on your own without someone makin’ a hole in you,” Hoss scolded his elder brother, but he was looking sideways at Running Bear, guessing correctly that it had been a Bannock who had caused the injury.

“Why don’t you go and help Joe with the horses,” Adam suggested. Hoss saw the look in Adam’s eyes and knew that he wanted to talk to his father alone.

When Hoss had gone, Adam turned to Ben. “Pa, I asked Running Bear to come with me because I wanted him to see that you wouldn’t be upset by my getting hurt again, that the white man would not go seeking revenge.” He paused, “This wound was caused by his son.”

Ben’s eyes narrowed as he took in this information, but he let Adam continue without interruption.

“Broken Arrow was not happy that I was welcomed when I went back. He came after me when I left, and tried to kill me.” Adam glanced at Running Bear, and saw that he was sitting tensely, waiting to see how Ben would take the news. “Running Bear saved me, by killing his son.”

There was a moment’s silence, and then Ben whispered, “No!” He gazed at Running Bear, trying to imagine being driven to kill one of his own sons, but he could not visualise himself doing such a thing. He went to Running Bear and, putting his hands on the Indian’s arms, pulled him to his feet.

“Running Bear, I’m sorry. I know what it must mean to you to lose a son. I thought that I had lost Adam, when he went back to your tribe and had not returned. But now I know that you saved him, and at what cost. I don’t know how to thank you, when you have suffered such a loss.”

Running Bear looked from Adam to Ben, and then he spoke, his deep voice resounding through the quiet of the forest. “Ben Cartwright, my son was a fool. He went seeking his own death when he went after your son. He knew he was going against my wishes, for I had told him that Adam was a friend to the Bannock and would be welcome on our land. He disobeyed his Chief, and he paid the price. I will mourn his loss as his father, but as his Chief, I am glad that he did not succeed in killing your son. I have come to know him and respect him. In exchange for his life I ask that you take care of him, and treasure him as I do.”

Ben looked at Adam, surprised at the chief’s words. What had happened in so short a time, that had changed the attitude of this Indian, who had been willing to let his son die, and had stood by while they inflicted such terrible injuries on him? Adam’s eyes were lowered to the ground; he knew that his father would have many questions, which he didn’t want to answer.

Running Bear turned to Adam. “I must go now. You are right, your father is very wise. He is also a good father to have passed this wisdom on to his son.” Running Bear looked sad, thinking that he had failed with his own son. “Ben Cartwright, Adam is hurting and should be allowed to rest here tonight.” It was said kindly, but held the force of a command.

Ben nodded. “Of course.”

Running Bear then turned to Adam. “Do you feel whole?”

Adam looked up. “Yes. Running Bear, thank you for all you’ve done for me. Remember about the meat, it’s yours when you need it.” They shook hands, and then Running Bear faced Ben.

“Take care of him, value him.” He turned and walked quickly to his horse, mounted, and galloped back to his own land.

Ben stood watching the chief leave, stunned by what he had heard. It was so much in contrast to what his sons had experienced at the hands of these same Indians, only a few days ago. He turned to Adam to ask him about it.

Adam didn’t wait for the questions. “Leave it, Pa. It’s over, just forget what he said.”

“Forget it! When an Indian tells me to value my son?”

“Yes.”

“But…”

“Pa, I don’t want to talk about it, OK?” Adam insisted, and closed his eyes so that his father would not press him. Instead, Ben made Adam drink the infusion that Hop Sing had sent, and when he had finished it, Adam lay back and closed his eyes again.

Joe came back and sat down. He put his hand on his brother’s arm to get his attention, and Adam turned his head and looked at him. “Adam, I’m sorry. If I hadn’t pushed you away when you tried to tell me that you didn’t hate me, you wouldn’t have gone back, would you?”

“No.” Adam was tired and just wanted to sleep. He knew he had to talk to Joe, but wanted to do so when he felt stronger and more able to explain properly. Then he saw the hurt in Joe’s eyes, which that single word had caused, and remembered that it was not so long ago that he had given Joe the wrong impression of what he wanted to say. Joe was about to leave, but Adam held his arm. “Joe, I went because I needed to. I thought that it was for you, but Running Bear showed me that I did it for myself, and I want to thank you for making me go back there.”

“Thank me!” Joe was taken aback at what his brother was saying.

“Yes. I believed that I went back to show you that I loved you, but thanks to Running Bear, I know now that it was for a very different reason. I’m sorry I have treated you like a child,” Adam gave Joe a lopsided, self-deprecating smile, “I guess I just can’t get used to the idea that you’re growing up.” He stopped smiling and became serious. “I know that I was frightened of you becoming a man.”

“You were frightened…?”

Adam nodded. “I thought that when you grew up you wouldn’t need me any more. I’ve always stood apart from you, partly because I was so much older than you, and Hoss, and I grew to adulthood while you were still a child.” Adam paused and stared into the fire, thinking of the difference in their ages. He looked back at Joe. “You relied on me, came to me when you were in trouble, or needed help. Then gradually, that reliance has faded. But I wanted you to love me, and need me, as you did when you were young. I was afraid that when you became a man, perhaps more of a man than I could ever be, you wouldn’t.” Adam paused, not wanting to admit what was in his heart, but he knew he owed it to Joe to tell him the truth. “I came after you to make you love me, and that’s why I went back for Cochise.”

Joe saw the sadness that filled Adam’s eyes and wanted to go to him and put his arm round him, but sensed that would be the wrong thing to do at that moment. “Adam, you’re so wrong.”

Adam raised his eyebrows.

“Oh yes,” said Joe, “My all-knowing, grown up elder brother has never been so wrong.” Joe laughed at Adam’s frown, then became serious again. “I want to think of myself as a man, to act like a man, and I have the best example to follow, you. I know that you’re the bravest and most caring brother any boy could want, and if I can become half the man you are, I would be proud. I know that sometimes I do crazy things, I just don’t seem able to stop myself.” Joe smiled as he saw Adam’s surprised look at his brother’s admission. “That was why I felt so guilty about what the Bannocks did. I thought that you wouldn’t miss me if I were killed, that you didn’t care and would be glad to be rid of your troublesome brother. But then you came, and insisted on taking my place, and you let them do this.” Joe swept his hand down the length of Adam’s injured body. “All for me.”

Adam shook his head. “That’s just the point, Joe. I didn’t do it for you, I did it for me, to make you love me for helping you.”

“But I’ve always loved you, you didn’t need to do this.”

“Have you?” Adam queried, and Joe nodded. Adam’s eyes took on a look of hope. “I didn’t know. I guess we’ve never talked about it, have we?”

“No. I’m sorry that I was so awful to you when we came back. I knew I had relied on you, as I always do. But this time it led to such terrible things, and I couldn’t get them out of my head. And Broken Arrow said that you had told him you hated me, then you wouldn’t tell me that you didn’t.”

“Joe, I couldn’t tell you, they would have killed us both if I had spoken to you, that was what it was all about. If I made any sound during the day, we were both dead.”

Joe looked puzzled. “Then if you couldn’t speak…”

Adam nodded. “Yes, Broken Arrow made it all up, he was trying to get me to talk to you. But you couldn’t know that.”

“Perhaps, but I should have known,” said Joe, disgusted with himself. “Or at least guessed that there was more to it that Broken Arrow said. A man would have, but a stupid boy took it all at face value.”

Adam studied the face of his brother. He could see what he had chosen to ignore until now, the eyes of a man staring out from the young face. “Joe,” Adam said as sternly as he could, “Don’t you ever refer to yourself as a ‘boy’ again. You’re as much a man as any of us. You saved my life when you brought me home, you were alone and had no help, no one to turn to. A child would have given up, but the man in you let us both survive.”

Joe hung his head. “But if I hadn’t gone after that cat,” he said softly, “We wouldn’t have been in that position. I knew I couldn’t catch it and I acted like a child, without thought. I just wanted to show you all that I was a man, but in the end I had to rely on you to save me, as I always have.”

“I guess we both got it wrong, huh? Joe maybe you’re right, you’re not yet a man, but I will do everything I can to help you become one. I owe you that, because what has happened has shown me how to be a man, not just an adult.”

Now Joe moved to sit beside Adam and put an arm round his shoulders. “Adam, I love you, now more than ever. You’re right, I love you for being there to help me and protect me, but most of all I love you for just being…you.”

Adam’s eyes were closing as his injuries, and Hop Sing’s potion, caught up with him, and he couldn’t stop the tears that burned in his eyes from falling down his cheeks. Joe saw them and put up a hand to brush them away.

“Joe,” Adam said softly, “I love you too.” Joe sat behind him and allowed his big brother to fall asleep in his arms.

Ben had listened spellbound to their conversation, and now he came to sit opposite Joe, who turned to look at him.

“Do you realise that this is probably the first time that you have ever talked to your brother?”

Joe was puzzled, he was always talking to Adam. “What do you mean, Pa?”

“I mean that while you may have spoken to Adam, you have never talked together as brothers. I’m glad that, despite the circumstances, you finally got the chance.”

Suddenly Joe understood. He looked down at the sleeping figure that he loved so dearly, and then cast his eyes heavenward. “Thank You,” he whispered.

*****

Epilogue

The sun was shining brightly as the oldest and youngest Cartwright brothers rode slowly through the forest. The trail they were following was taking them higher into the mountains. They had tracked the cougar together, Adam showing Joe what the signs meant, letting him lead the hunt.

“It’s here somewhere,” said Adam.

Joe looked round nervously. “Yeah, it wouldn’t go much further, would it?”

Suddenly Joe saw movement among the trees beside them. He put his hand on Adam’s arm, and silently jerked his head in the direction of the shadows that darkened the ground among the pines. Adam nodded and they both dismounted slowly, taking their rifles with them. They crept into the trees, separating slightly to give themselves room. They moved quietly, ever alert for the sounds of danger. Suddenly Joe turned, and as he did so, Adam turned towards him. He saw his brother aiming straight at him, and ducked as Joe fired. Adam heard a crashing sound just behind him, and when he stood and turned back, he saw the cat lying dead on the ground, almost at his feet.

Adam let out a long breath and closed his eyes for a moment. He knew that if Joe had not fired, the cat would have landed on him. Adam held out a hand to his brother. “Thanks, Joe. That was quick thinking.”

Joe took the hand and shook it. “Oh, it was nothing, anyone could have done it,” he said carelessly, though secretly pleased with the shot.

Adam shook his head. “Not anyone. It takes a man to make a shot like that. If you’d got it wrong you could have killed me.”

“Don’t tempt me brother,” Joe laughed.

“Remind me never to get mad at you, at least not without a gun in my hand to defend myself.” Adam joined in Joe’s laughter, knowing that they could say such things now, a silent understanding taking the threat from the words.

As they stood together looking down at the cougar, Adam put his arm round Joe’s shoulder, treasuring being able to make loving contact with his brother. The moment passed and they made their way back to their horses. Adam gathered Sport’s reins, but before he mounted, he cast his eyes heavenward. “Thank You,” he whispered.

***The End***

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