A Matter of Honor (by Susan)

Synopsis:   Joe’s life is at stake when a soldier seeking glory captures an Indian medicine man; and it’s up to Ben and Hoss to set events to right.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  G
Word Count:  5,820


 

Ben and Hoss Cartwright walked out of the Ponderosa ranchhouse as the clock in the front room was striking noon.  “We’d better get moving if we want to catch up with Little Joe at Willow Creek,” said Hoss, buckling on his gunbelt.  Ben stopped abruptly in front of him, almost causing Hoss to knock him down.

“What’s the matter…” Hoss started, but he fell silent when he looked up. Sitting patiently on a horse in the yard was a Paiute brave.  He carried a lance but wore no warpaint. For a long moment, the men stared at each other.

“Ben Cartwright, you come,” said the brave, gesturing toward the hills.

“What’s the matter?  What do you want?” Ben demanded.

“Ben Cartwright, you come,” repeated the brave, pointing more urgently toward the hills.

“Pa, what do you reckon he wants?” asked Hoss.

“I don’t know.  I think we’d better go with him and find out,” replied Ben.  He spoke loudly to the brave. “Give us a minute to saddle up and we will follow you.”

Almost two hours later, Ben and Hoss were still following the brave, going deeper into the hill country.

“Any idea where we’re heading?” Hoss asked.

Ben nodded thoughtfully.  “Three Bears, one of the Paiute chiefs, has a camp around here.  I’ve met him at several of the treaty conferences. He must want to talk about something.”

“I hope he talks more than this one,” muttered Hoss.  “He ain’t said a word since we left the ranch.”

The men rode silently for a few more miles, finally coming to a high bluff.  The brave held up his hand, signaling the men behind him to stop.  Ben and Hoss looked to the top of the bluff and spotted at least five braves on the crest, all carrying lances and bows.  The brave raised his lance in the air, then pumped his arm, obviously giving some type of signal.  He turned back to the Cartwrights and gestured for them to follow him again.

The trio rode through a small opening between two hills.  The trail led to a large clearing which easily accommodated over two dozen teepees, set in a semi-circle.  Ben and Hoss looked around with curiosity as they rode closer to the camp.  The women of the tribe seemed to be going about their normal business while the men stood silently in a group at the side of the semi-circle.  While none had on warpaint, they  definitely were not a happy group.  The brave led them in the direction of the men, stopping about twenty feet from the group.  He gestured for the Cartwrights to dismount.

“I was right…that’s Three Bears,” Ben said quietly as he and Hoss dismounted. He pointed to the man standing slightly in front of the gathering of braves. Three Bears had the lean, hard look of a man who had survived many years  in the rough country around him.  His gray-tinged hair and lined face attested  to the fact that he was no longer young.  His quiet air of authority also attested  to the fact the he was a chief. Three Bears had a grim expression on his face.

Ben and Hoss approached the group slowly.  “Greetings, my friend,” said Ben formally, raising his hand in friendship.  “Why does Three Bears send for me?  What can I do for you?”

“Ben Cartwright.” Three Bears raised his hand in return. “Yesterday, soldiers rode onto Paiute land. They found White Feather gathering medicines in the woods. Even though White Feather had done no wrong, the soldiers took him with them. My braves wanted to attack the soldiers, but I have given my word not to break the peace. I want you to get White Feather from the soldiers and return him to our village.”

Hoss looked puzzled. “Who’s White Feather?” he asked.

“A Paiute medicine man,” answered Ben.  “And a particularly powerful one.  The Paiutes don’t like to make war unless he gives them his approval.”

“You must return White Feather to our village,” Three Bears repeated.

“I will do what I can, of course,” said Ben. “But I don’t know if the soldiers will release him to me. I may have to talk to the Colonel at Fort Lowell or even send messages to the General in California. This could take some time.”

“No,” Three Bears stated flatly. “You will bring back White Feather now.”  He turned and nodded to the braves behind him.  The men separated, revealing a white man sitting on the ground, his back against a large rock.  The man’s arms were stretched out on either side and tied securely to stakes set a foot or so from the rock. He looked at Ben and Hoss with an anxious expression on his face.

“Joe!” Ben gasped as he and Hoss started forward.  Four braves rushed to meet them and stopped them with crossed lances.

“You bring back White Feather now or your son will die,” said Three Bears.

“You just said you wouldn’t break the peace,” said Ben desperately.  “If you kill my son, you will have broken your promise and dishonored your name. Let my son go. I promise I will do everything I can to get White Feather back.”

Three Bears shook his head.  “No. I will not let him go. I will not break the peace.  I give you my word no one in my village will harm your son.  But, no one will give him food or water.  No one will warm him from the cold or cool him from the heat. If he dies, it will be because you did not return with White Feather in time.”

Hoss and Ben looked at each other with grim expression.  Joe seemed safe enough for now, but the task Three Bears had given them seemed impossible.

“We don’t even know where the soldiers are,” Hoss declared.  “How can you expect us to find them and get back here in time?”

“The soldiers are near the place you call Three Peaks. They ride west, toward the white man’s fort.  You go now,” said Three Bears.

  “May we talk with my son before we leave?” pleaded Ben. Three Bears nodded. Ben and Hoss rushed to Joe and knelt by his side.

“Are you all right?” Ben asked anxiously.

Joe took a deep breath and nodded his head.  “Yeah, I’m fine.  I’m just glad to see you.  They jumped me as I fixing the fence up at Willow Creek and dragged me here. Just tied me up and told me to be quiet. I didn’t know what was going on but I figured it wasn’t good.”

Ben laid his hand on Joe’s shoulder.  “You heard what Three Bears said, didn’t you.  We’ll get back here as soon as we can but it could take a little time.”

“You’re liable to get a little thirsty,” Hoss added.

Joe nodded again.  “Don’t worry about me.  I’ve been thirsty before.  Besides, I don’t think Three Bears is interested in torture.  If he was, he could have made me a lot more uncomfortable than this. I’ll be all right.”  He looked at Hoss. “Just don’t dawdle and admire the scenery along the way,” Joe added with a shaky grin.

Ben squeezed his son’s shoulder re-assuringly.  “We’ll hurry”, said Ben as he stood.  He and Hoss walked through the crowd of braves to their horses.  He stopped in front of Three Bears.  “Remember your promise,” he said to the chief. “No one will harm my son.”

“I have given my word,” replied Three Bears.

Ben took a look back at Joe, and with a determined expression, mounted his horse. “Let’s ride,” he said to Hoss.  Both men turned their horses and galloped back down the trail.

Ben and Hoss rode hard for hours, stopping only to rest their horses.  It was late in the day when they finally reached Three Peaks, a meadow shadowed by tall mountains. They easily found the tracks of a group of riders accompanied by a wagon. The two men followed the trail through the meadow and down into a valley. It was almost dusk when they rode up on the soldiers’ camp.

Four troopers knelt around a campfire, and two more stood guarding an uncovered wagon.  Inside the wagon, sitting serenely, was an elderly Indian -White Feather — a man said to be almost seventy years old.  An officer standing near the wagon watched with a cautious expression as the Cartwrights approached the camp.

“I’m Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa and this is my son, Hoss,” said Ben, as he and Hoss dismounted and walked toward the fire.

The officer stood a bit straighter and walked to me them. “Mr. Cartwright, of course.  I’ve heard Colonel Wickman speak of you. I’m Lieutenant Coleman.  I’m happy to meet you.”

Ben shook hands with the officer, then pointed to the Indian in the wagon.  “Why did you take this Indian captive?” he asked.

“This is White Feather,” answered Coleman, “one of the most powerful medicine men in the Paiute nation.  We came across him by accident. I’m going to take him to Fort Lowell and hold him there.  Without White Feather, the Paiutes will think twice about making war. This could bring peace to the whole Nevada territory.”

“But what did he do?  Why did you arrest him?” Ben asked.

“He didn’t do anything specifically.  But he’s White Feather.  That’s reason enough to take him into Fort Lowell,” explained Coleman.

“You can’t do that,” Ben said emphatically.  “First, it’s not right or legal. But more  importantly, the Paiutes are holding my other son.  They want White Feather returned immediately or my son will die.”

Lieutenant Coleman stared evenly at the Cartwrights.  “I’m sorry about your son but I’m not going to release White Feather,” he stated.  “His capture could bring peace  to the whole territory.  I’m sure Colonel Wickman is going to be pleased when I bring him in.”

“And give you a promotion?” Hoss added angrily.  “You’re willing to sacrifice my little brother so you can maybe get some stars on your shoulders?”

Coleman looked at Hoss and then at Ben.  “I’m doing what’s best for everyone.  It’s unfortunate that a few people sometimes have to die for the good of all.  I’m sure Colonel Wickman will agree.”

“Then you don’t know the Colonel very well,” snapped Ben. “He would never condone what you are doing. He would never kidnap a man who has done nothing, and he sure wouldn’t let an innocent man die. The only reason the whole Paiute nation isn’t after you is Three Bears doesn’t want to break his word and start a war. But the Paiutes will let my son die and kill every white man for fifty miles if that’s what it takes to get their medicine man back. You could start a war, not end one. Now, be smart. Release White Feather and let us take him back.”

Coleman looked nervously toward White Feather and the troopers who were watching him.  He could tell they were waiting to see what he would do. He turned back to the Cartwrights.  “No, I won’t,” he said with as much authority as he could.  “This is my prisoner.  If you want to debate the issue with the Colonel, you may do so when we get to Fort Lowell.”

“It’s three days to Fort Lowell,” Hoss said heatedly, “and three days back.  My brother will be dead by then.”  He grabbed the front of Coleman’s shirt in his hands and lifted the man off the ground. “Maybe I can make you see it our way”.

The troopers sprang to the feet and rushed toward Hoss, rifles in hand. Ben grabbed his son’s arm.  “Let him go, Hoss!” Ben shouted, “let him go!”

Hoss dropped the lieutenant to the ground in an undignified heap.  The soldiers stood by, looking unsure about what to do.  Coleman stood up and dusted himself off.  He looked at the Cartwrights with anger.

“Get out of this camp,” he yelled.  “If I see either of you within ten feet of here, I’ll order you shot for attempting to help a prisoner escape. Swenson, escort Mr. Cartwright and his son out of camp.”

A soldier stepped forward, rifle ready, and gestured for the Cartwrights to leave.  Ben and Hoss stood firm for a moment, but when the soldier levered a shell in the rifle, they turned reluctantly and mounted.  Ben glanced at White Feather, who sat calmly in the wagon, and then at Coleman.  Without a word, he turned his horse and rode out of  camp with Hoss following.

“I’m sorry I messed things up, Pa,” Hoss said apologetically as they rode back down the trail.  “I just lost my temper when I realized that lieutenant cared more about a  promotion than Joe’s life.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Ben answered.  “Besides, I don’t think he is going to release White Feather without a direct order.”

“What do we do now?” asked Hoss in a worried voice.

“We ride away for now, but late tonight, we’re going to pay another visit to that camp,” Ben promised.

*****

It was close to midnight in the Paiute village as Joe Cartwright shifted his weight against the rock, trying to find a more comfortable position. His mouth was dry and his arms ached, but his discomfort was still fairly mild. He knew things would get worse but he tried not to think about it. Joe looked around the village.  True to his word, Three Bears had told his people to leave Joe alone.  Most of the village responded by simply ignoring him.  A few walked by and looked at him with curiosity before going about their  business.  Only one man, a brave Joe recognized as Red Pony, had spent any time near him.  Red Pony had glared at Joe with hatred.

Joe shuddered slightly, thinking about that look. If the Paiute decided to take his scalp, Joe would be helpless to prevent  it. Another thing not to think about, he told himself.

Joe bent and stretched his legs several times, trying to keep them from cramping.  His arms were still tied to the stakes but he could bend them slightly. He  shifted his position again, then decided that this was about as comfortable as he was  going to get for the night.  The night air was cool, but tomorrow would be a hot day. Think about something else, Joe told himself sternly.  He laid his head back and closed his eyes. He chuckled as he thought about counting sheep to help him fall asleep. Probably not the thing to do in cattle country, he thought with a smile.  Joe began mentally to ride the trail through the Ponderosa toward California.  In his mind, he could see Lake Tahoe and the tall pinetrees that gave the ranch its name. He was starting up the trail toward the Sierras when he finally drifted off to sleep.

*****

The night had reached its darkest point as two men crept slowly through the brush near the soldier’s camps.  Ben and Hoss stopped, checking to  be sure their movement hadn’t alerted the camp, then continued their slow journey. With the exception of one drowsy guard standing near the wagon, all the men in the camp were asleep.  Lieutenant Coleman must have foolishly assumed the Cartwrights had left the area.  Ben and Hoss reached the edge of the camp without detection.

Hoss grabbed the guard from behind, muffling the soldier’s surprised grunt with his hands. A quick punch knocked the guard unconscious.  At the same time, Ben woke White Feather in the wagon. The Paiute medicine man blinked with surprise but didn’t make a sound. Ben gestured for him to follow. White Feather nodded and silently climbed out of the wagon.  The old Indian walked slowly toward his rescuers, as if his aging muscles could move no faster.

Ben and Hoss looked around the camp, and were satisfied that none of the soldiers were waken by their actions.  Ben led White Feather to the picket line of Army horses which had been left unguarded.  He help the medicine man climb awkwardly onto a horse, then led the horse away from the camp.  Hoss watched until the two men were well away, then untied the picket line.  With a loud bellow and a wave of  his arms, Hoss stampeded the horses out of camp, then ran to the brush.

The soldiers, waken by the noise, jumped to their feet in confusion.  Some of the men began to run after the horses, while others grabbed their rifles and looked for something to shoot.  Lieutenant Coleman ran to the wagon.  “White Feather’s gone!” he shouted. “Start searching for him. Swenson, look for tracks.  Harris, you get after those horses. The rest of you get ready to move.  I want that Indian back!”

Coleman looked around in anger as his men began to get organized.  “It had to be Cartwright,” he said. “Well, he’ll pay for this.  He’ll find out what it’s like to take on the U.S. Army.”

Ben, Hoss and White Feather rode away from the camp at a canter. “Pa, we got to move faster than this,” Hoss urged.  “It won’t take those soldiers long to catch their horses and start out after us. And it will be light in an hour or so.”

“I know,” Ben answered.  “But we can’t go much faster.”  He nodded toward White Feather.  “He’s an old man, Hoss.  He can’t ride any faster than this and stay on a horse.”  Ben looked around him, then pulled his horse to a stop.  The other two men stopped also.

“We can’t out-run those soldiers, not with White Feather,” Ben stated. “Let’s cut up through the mountains, into the hard rock country.  Maybe we can lose them.”

Hoss frowned.  “Pa, if we take that trail, it’ll take us a long time to get back to Three Bears’ village…and to Joe.  I don’t know if Joe can last that long.”

“I know, but it’s the only way we’re going to get White Feather back to his people,” Ben replied.  He looked at the medicine man.  White Feather sat silently on his horse, apparently waiting for the other two to decide what to do. Ben looked back to Hoss.  “Joe’s a strong boy,” he said with a confidence he didn’t feel. “He’ll be all right.”

Ben turned his horse toward the mountains and motioned to White Feather to follow.  The Paiute nodded his understanding and began riding after Ben.  Hoss followed  the others, his face clouded with worry.  “Hold on, Joe,” he said softly.

*****

Bright sunshine woke Joe from a fitful sleep.  He slowly opened his eyes and looked around. The camp was bustling with activity, as women cooked, men ate and children played. Joe groaned. Every muscle in his body seemed to be stiff and sore.  His mouth was as dry as cotton, and his stomached growled with hunger.  He tried to flex his arms and legs but pain shot through his aching limbs.  A shadow crossed Joe’s face, and he looked up to see Red Pony staring down at him with a smug look.

“Good morning, white man.  Did you sleep well?” Red Pony taunted. “Do your arms burn with pain?  Does your empty belly twist as you smell the cookfires?  Has your tongue swelled from thirst?” Joe stared silently at the brave.  He wouldn’t give the Paiute the satisfaction of knowing how much he was hurting.

“Maybe you would like a drink?” Red Pony continued.  He pulled a small canteen from his belt.  “Maybe if you beg like a woman, I will let you have a drop of my water.”  Red Pony began pouring a trickle of water from the canteen.  “Beg, white man,” he demanded, “and I will give you a handful of water.”

Joe involuntarily licked his dry lips as he watched the water flow to the ground.  Suddenly, he squared his shoulders and lifted his head.  “I wouldn’t drink any water dirtied by Red Pony’s hand,” he said defiantly.

Red Pony threw the canteen to the ground in a rage and pulled his knife.  Joe flinched as the brave put the knife to his throat.

“Red Pony, what are you doing? Do you no longer obey your chief?” a loud voice suddenly demanded.  Red Pony spun around.  Three Bears stood less than a yard away, glaring with anger.  Red Pony turned to Joe and then back to Three Bears.  Abruptly, Red Pony put the knife back in its sheath and stalked away.  “He’s only a white man,” the brave muttered as he passed Three Bears.

The chief grabbed Red Pony’s arm. “This one has my protection.  I have promised no Paiute would harm him,” Three Bears stated.  “Now leave here.” Red Pony looked back at Joe with hatred in his eyes, then walked off.

Joe let out a sigh of relief. He raised his left shoulder and crooked his head so he could wipe the sweat from his face. Three Bears stood watching him. Joe stared back boldly at the chief. A whisper of a smile crossed the Indian’s face. With a curt nod, almost a sign of approval, Three Bears left his prisoner and returned to the main part of the camp.

Joe slumped against the rock at his back and closed his eyes. Suddenly, all the pain and discomfort flooded through him again. “Pa, please hurry,” he prayed silently, “please hurry.”

*****

Ben, Hoss and White Feather rode slowly up the rocky trail through the mountains.  Ben could tell Hoss chafed at the delay when Ben stopped to give White Feather a drink of water or to guide the old man’s horse through a steep part of the trail.  They had been on the trail for hours, but seemed to be getting no closer to Three Bears village…or to rescuing Joe.  Hoss did his best to hide his irritation but when Ben announced they needed to stop to give White Feather a rest, Hoss finally exploded with frustration.

“Pa, we’re never going to get back in time at this rate.  We need to keep moving.  I know it’s tough on the old fellow but things have got to be tougher on Joe back at that village.  Why don’t we just tie him on and keep moving”.

“Hoss, I know how you feel.  I feel the same way,” Ben answered gently.  “But, White Feather is more than just a prize to be returned to Three Bears.  He’s a human being, an old man who has been put into a situation beyond his control by our Army. He deserves some consideration.”

Hoss looked shamefaced at his father.  “You’re right.  I’m just worried about Joe.  I wish there was a faster way back.”

“Trail to south faster, easier,” a quaking voice said suddenly.

Hoss and Ben looked at White Feather in astonishment.  “I didn’t think you could speak English!” Ben said.

“I do not honor my enemies by speaking to them or by helping them,” the old Indian answered.  “I know now you are not my enemies.  I show you trail.” White Feather stood and mounted his horse.  “Come, follow me.”

Ben and Hoss watched in stunned silence as White Feather rode easily down the side of the trail. The man who Ben previously had to guide up the steep trail now rode confidently over fallen logs and through thick underbrush. The Cartwrights looked at each other in surprise, then quickly mounted their horses. “I guess we had better trust him,” Ben said as they followed the medicine man.

*****

Sweat beaded on Joe’s forehead, caused by both the heat of the sun and the pain in his body. He wondered how long he had been tied up. It seemed like a lifetime.  It must be afternoon by now, he thought.  Pa and Hoss have to be on their way back.  I just need to hold on a little longer.

Joe’s arms were numb, and his head ached.  But the worst was the thirst. His throat felt as dry as sand and his tongue felt swollen. Joe tried to think about his imagined trip through the Sierras but he couldn’t concentrate. All he could think about was how much he wanted a drink.  Joe felt himself slipping into a strange sleep, filled with eerie dreams.  He shook his head sharply, trying to clear his mind.  Don’t go off the deep end, he told himself.

“I’m glad I didn’t kill you, white man.”

Joe turned his head slowly and looked into the face of Red Pony. The brave seemed to find great satisfaction in Joe’s discomfort.

“Slitting your throat would have been too easy,” Red Pony continued. “This is better.  I can watch as your dry lips crack and your swollen tongue turns black.  I will enjoy watching you suffer and die slowly. I will laugh as they carry your dead body from this village.”

Joe stared at his tormentor with an increasing anger.  “You’re wrong,” he croaked with a voice that could be barely heard.  “I’ll walk out of this village. You won’t see me carried anywhere.”

Red Pony laughed in disbelief and strode away.  Joe’s defiant speech had cost him most of the strength he had left.  He slumped against the rock and closed his eyes.  He felt himself falling into that strange sleep again, but this time, he couldn’t wake himself.  Pa will be here soon, he thought as he drifted into darkness.

*****

White Feather was still leading Ben and Hoss through a maze of small trails.  The old man showed no sign of tiring.  In fact, he urged the other two to keep moving faster.  The Cartwrights saw no sign of the Army patrol which they knew must be around.  But they also saw no familiar landmarks.  They anxiously watched the sun climb high in the sky and start down.  Time was passing and they could only hope White Feather knew where he was going.

Ben was just about to stop the medicine man and demand he tell them where they were when he spotted a bluff in the distance.  It was bluff on which they had seen the Paiute braves when they rode into Three Bear’s camp.  Ben excitedly pointed out the bluff to Hoss and both men urged their horses on at a faster pace.  White Feather turned to them with a knowing smile.  “I show you the way.  You will get your son back soon”.

“Thank you,” Ben said gratefully.  “We couldn’t have made it here in time without your help.”

The trio was nearing the bluff when the Army patrol charged out of the rocks to their left.  Before the three men could react, they were surrounded by soldiers with cocked rifles.

Lieutenant Coleman rode up to the Cartwrights and White Feather, looking pleased with himself.  “I out-smarted you, Cartwright,” he said smugly.  “I knew you would head for Three Bear’s camp.  So instead of chasing you, I simply waited for you.  Now, please drop your guns. You are all my prisoners.”

Ben and Hoss looked frantically from side to side.  “Please let us through,” Ben begged.  “I have to rescue my son.  I promise to turn myself over to you as soon as he’s freed.”

“No deal, Cartwright,” Coleman replied.  “You’re coming with me.” He started to grab the reins to White Feather’s horse when the Indian suddenly let out a war hoop.  Startled, Coleman pulled his horse back.  White Feather pointed to the bluff behind the officer.

The group watched in amazement as dozens of Paiute braves appeared at the top of the bluff.  Each brave had a rifle or a bow pointed at the men below.  The soldiers were clearly out-numbered and in a vulnerable position.

Ben turned to Coleman.  “If you ride out of here now without White Feather, I’m sure the Paiutes will let you go.  If you try to take White Feather or try to fight, you’re all dead men”.

Coleman swallowed hard and glanced at his men.  His shoulders drooped.  “You win,” he said with a shaky voice.  “Take the Indian.  But you can be sure I’m going to report what happened to my superiors at the Fort.”

“You do that” Ben said.  “Be sure to tell Colonel Wickman the part about kidnapping an old Indian who was doing nothing more than collecting plants, and how you almost managed to start a war all by yourself.”

Coleman’s face reddened.  He wheeled his horse to the right and motioned for the troopers to follow.  Hoss grinned as he watched the patrol retreat in disarray. “Let’s go get Joe,” he said.

Ben, Hoss and White Feather rode briskly into the village where the  medicine man was greeted warmly by the rest of his tribe.  Ben and Hoss could see Joe still tied by the rock, eyes closed and head slumped to the side.  They quickly dismounted and walked to Three Bears.

“I have returned White Feather. Let me go to my son,” Ben said anxiously.

“You have done well, my friend,” Three Bears replied.  “Your son still lives. Go to him.”

Ben and Hoss ran to Joe’s side.  Hoss pulled out a pocket knife and began cutting the ropes holding his brother’s arms. Ben gently slapped his son’s face, trying to wake him.

“Hoss, get me some water!” Ben cried as Joe’s unconscious form fell into his father’s arms.  Hoss ran to his horse and returned with a canteen as Ben gently laid his youngest son on the ground.

Ben trickled some water over Joe’s face and Joe moaned softly.  Ben put the canteen to his son’s lips and forced a small amount of water into his mouth. Joe’s eyes opened slowly and he looked confused. He weakly lifted his head toward the canteen, trying to gulp down more water.

“Not too much right away, Joe,” Ben said, pulling the canteen away.  “You can have some more in a minute”.

Joe’s eyes began to focus and he tried to lift his hand to touch Ben’s arm. “Pa!” he said in a cracked and tired voice. “I knew you’d be back in time.” Joe turned to Hoss.  “I knew you’d make it.”

Hoss looked at Joe as Ben began trickling more water from the canteen into Joe’s mouth.  “We almost didn’t make it, little brother.  We needed some help from a friend.”  He looked at Joe’s confused face.  “I’ll explain it later,” he said.

Joe sipped water slowly for the next few minutes, trying to quench his thirst.  White Feather walked over to the group, holding a bowl of dark liquid.  He held the bowl out to Joe.  “Drink,” he said.

Joe look questioningly at Ben and Hoss.  Ben nodded.  Joe tried to reach for the bowl but his arms were too weak.  White Feather knelt down and held the bowl to Joe’s lips.  Joe sipped the liquid then turned his head and spat it out.

“Ugh, that’s terrible!” Joe said. “I can’t drink that!”

White Feather didn’t seem offended, only amused.  He held the bowl to Joe’s lips again.  “Drink.  This make you strong.”

Reluctantly, Joe took another sip from the bowl and forced himself to swallow it.  The medicine man slowly forced the rest into Joe’s mouth. Joe made a face but he gamely swallowed it all.

“Thank you again, my friend,” Ben said as White Feather rose to his feet.  The medicine man nodded and walked away.

“We’d better get Joe out of here,” Hoss said as he helped his brother drink again from the canteen. “How are you feeling, little brother?”

“Better,” Joe said, though his voice was still weak.  “My head has stopped spinning.  Whatever the Indian gave me to drink helped.”  He again tried to lift his arms, but the pain of his sore muscles was too much for him. He winced as his arms fell to his side.

“Hoss, grab his legs and I’ll lift him under his arms,” Ben replied.

“No,” Joe objected.  “Don’t carry me.  I have to walk out of here.”

“Joe, you’re in no shape to walk,” Ben protested.

“Please, Pa,” pleaded Joe. “Help me up. It’s important. Help me walk out of here.”

Ben and Hoss looked at each other over Joe’s head.  Hoss shrugged his shoulders and gently lifted Joe to a standing position.  Joe’s legs buckled as he tried to walk.  Ben grabbed his son’s left forearm, and Hoss grabbed the right.  Joe gritted his teeth as leaned heavily on the support they provided.  After a minute to gather his strength and his balance, he took a few tentative steps.

Joe awkwardly began walking toward the horses with Ben and Hoss’ help.  Three Bears, White Feather and several other braves stood watching.  The Cartwrights had just passed the Paiute chief when Red Pony ran up to the trio in a frenzy of anger.

“No!” Red Pony screamed in their faces.  “You cannot leave, white man.”  The brave turned to Three Bears.  “Kill them, kill them all.”

The Cartwrights froze and each watched Red Pony warily.  The brave seemed out of control, and they didn’t know what he might do.

“I promised my friend his son would be released once White Feather was returned,” Three Bears said stonily.  “He has kept his word; I will keep mine.”  White Feather nodded in agreement.

“Friend!” screeched Red Pony. “They are not friends.  They are our enemies.  You do not need to keep your promises to a white man.”  Red Pony whirled back toward the Cartwrights, knife in hand.  “I will show you how to deal with our enemies.”

Hoss and Ben moved protectively in front of Joe as Red Pony raised his knife in the air.  Suddenly, the brave froze, and a surprised look crossed his face.  Red Pony reached for his back, then fell forward.  The Cartwrights stared at the fallen Indian who lay at their feet with a knife protruding from his back.  They looked up at Three Bears, who was lowering his arm.  The chief obviously had thrown the knife into Red Pony.

“Some white warriors are bad like the ones who took White Feather.  Some Paiute warriors also are bad,” Three Bears stated with no hint of remorse.  “A good warrior obeys his chief and defends his tribe’s honor.  Red Pony was not a good warrior.”  Three Bears looked Joe straight in the eye.  “A good warrior also does not let his enemies defeat him. He never lets his enemy know the enemy is winning.”

Joe nodded his understanding.  He stood a little straighter, and his body suddenly didn’t feel quite so sore.  Ben patted his youngest son gently on the shoulder.  “Let’s go home,” he said with a touch of pride.

***End***

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