A Tale of Two Feathers – A Final Goodbye (by DebbieB)

Summary:  The final chapter.  Joe sets off on an adventure to visit his old friend, Two Feathers.  Not long after arriving at the Paiute village, Joe is told of a vision that the chief has had, one that spells disaster for the entire Indian village.  When the vision becomes reality and Two Feathers dies while being held in the arms of his young friend, Joe, heart broken, must now face the future without his dearest friend.

Rated: PG  (13,100 words)

 

 

                            A Final Goodbye

 

Joe hurried to toss what clothing he felt he would need into his satchel, not taking time to fold the shirts or trousers neatly. He wasn’t taking much, just barely enough to keep himself presentable for his host and hostess.  He hated dragging the satchel along with him, but his father had insisted.  Ben had been insistently ordering his youngest son to take part of the articles, such as his heavy coat, long johns, extra shirts and pants, and his shaving instruments.  Joe had laughed and tried to explain to his father that he was going to an Indian village, not to San Francisco, but Ben had been persistent and Joe had given in to his father’s wishes, if for no other reason than to put an end to Ben’s shouting.  Joe took one glance at the determined look in the brown eyes that glared at him and feared that if he did not agree, his father might change his mind and not give him the much desired time off to visit his friend, Two Feathers, thus Joe conceded.

It was with an impish smile on his handsome face that he looked at his father as he continued to stuff the clothing into the bag.  Giggling when he saw his father wince, Joe stopped long enough to face his parent.

“Come on Pa, you know I’m not good at this sort of thing, besides, I don’t understand why I need all this stuff, I’m only going to be gone a month,” laughed Joe.

“Yes, but I would think that you would need more than one pair of trousers, young man,” ascertained the older Cartwright in an authoritative voice that belied the smile on his face as well.

“Hey, I might wanna wear one of those deerskin…thingys that Two Feathers made me wear the first time,” giggled Joe as he added one more pair of britches to the not-so-full traveling bag.

“Joseph, really son,” groaned Ben.

“Hey, I sorta liked it, that is except when I had to ride Cyclone.  Man did that make my butt hurt.”  Joe faked a moan and rubbed his backside.

“Well, if you put one on this time, then your skinny little butt needs to hurt,” Ben turned to leave the room and planted an opened hand swat to his son’s backside.  “Now hurry up and get downstairs to breakfast, I don’t want you leaving until you eat, got that?” laughed Ben.

“Ouch!” giggled Joe, “you’re gonna miss me ain’t ya, Pa?” asked Joe, his back to his father as Ben made his way into the hall.

Ben stopped suddenly, his smile faded as he thought of the long lonely months that he had spent, nearly three years ago, when his youngest son had been missing, and then again the worry and fear that had nearly destroyed him when they had thought Joe murdered by renegades.  Yes, he would miss his son, and he would worry, and he would pace the floor, lose sleep, all the things a father would do when his youngest child was gone for such a long time.  Oh, Ben knew Joseph wasn’t a boy anymore, at twenty-two, Joe was more man than he was a boy.  Ben smiled to himself, man or not; Joseph would always be his baby.

“Yes Joseph, let it be known that your Papa will miss you, terribly I might add,” said Ben and then moved to descend the steps where he planned on joining Adam and Hoss who were already at the dinning room table.

Joe turned suddenly, but his father had already gone.  He paused, his thoughts suddenly uneasy as his senses picked up on the unexpected change in his father’s voice.  Ben was worried; Joe sensed that.  He knew his father had been hesitant about giving him the time off so that he might visit Two Feathers and his family.  Joe understood why Ben had been reluctant to let him go, though Ben had not refused his request, Joe knew that if he decided not to go, his father would be relieved.

Joe hurried to finish his packing and quickly joined his family at the table.  Hoss glanced up at him and smiled, his mouth stuffed with whatever Hop Sing had placed on the table before him.

“Ya look plum purty this morning Short Shanks,” muttered Hoss as he swallowed.

“Pretty?  Come on big brother give me a break.  I ain’t suppose to look pretty, now if you had said handsome, or charming….”

Adam had suddenly developed a coughing fit and Joe was interrupted by the noise.  When he turned toward Adam, he could see the slight smile that tugged at his brother’s lips and forced his face to dimple.

“Well, I am handsome and charming…” he began as he reached for the platter of eggs and began serving himself.

“And conceited as well as egotistical,” Adam smirked and then took a sip of his coffee.

Joe cast wide eyes at his father, “egotistical?  What in blazes does that mean?  Is he cursing at me Pa?”

Ben burst into a clamorous round of laughter and reached a hand out to place it on his youngest son’s arm.  “No Joseph, not cursing, just implying that you sometimes tend to be self absorbed in yourself,” Ben stated as his laughter dropped to a softer level.  “And, at times, I have to honestly agree with your older brother, though I don’t always think you’re in the wrong for being that way.  It’s part of your charisma that…”

“My what?” Joe interrupted for the second time since coming to the table.

“Charm, little brother, charm,” laughed Adam.

“Charisma, son…it’s what makes you draw people to yourself.  Like your friend, Two Feathers, he was planning on killing you; I don’t suppose I have to remind you of that.  But after taking you as his prisoner, something about you stopped him from doing what he had originally planned on doing to you.  It was…” Ben smiled and glanced at both Adam and Hoss and then back to Joe’s face whose hazel eyes were studying his, “your charm…your charisma and because of it…it saved your life, plus changed the heart of a hardened man.  In your case it was a virtue, not a vise.”

“Oh,” said Joe and then looked over at his older brother, “thanks Adam, I’ll take that as a compliment.”

The two oldest Cartwrights began laughing, their eyes each locking with the others.  Joe glanced from one to the other and then at Hoss who stared at all three members of his family.  When his bright blue eyes met his youngest brother’s questioning hazel ones, Hoss shrugged his shoulders.

“Beats me what they’re laughin’ at,” stated the big man, his fork halfway to his opened mouth.

Ben followed his youngest son to the door and paused as Joe put his gunbelt around his waist and fastened it, tying the holster down to his left leg.  When he reached for his hat and the satchel that he had set on the credenza, Ben opened the door for his son, giving Joe a bright smile that he hoped would be convincing, for in truth, his heart feared his son’s departure.

“You will be careful, won’t you?” Ben asked as he placed his hand across Joe’s shoulders and walk out unto the porch with him.

Joe cast his eyes sideways at his father, noting the anxious expression on his face and then gave his father a smile in return.

“Pa, I know you would rather that I not go on this trip, but I promised Two Feathers that I would come, in the spring.  He’s my friend, I want to see him, and my namesake,” laughed Joe and then continued.  “Please, try to worry, I’ll be fine.”

Joe tied his satchel to the side of his saddle and pulled free Cochise’s reins from the hitching post, then turned to face his father for the second time.  Joe’s eyes locked with his father’s and Joe could see that Ben’s worry had not faded.  In the dark depths of the brown eyes that scrutinized his face, Joe could see all the fear from years before billowing upward from his father’s heart, into the eyes that refused to become misty.  Joe placed his hand on Ben’s arm and gently squeezed.

“I’ll be fine, honest Pa,” smiled Joe.  “I promise to stay alert this time and watch my back.  I’m not a kid anymore, I’ve learned better,” he told Ben.

“I know, you’ve grown up the last couple of years.  But Joseph, no matter how old you become, I’ll always be your father, and I will always worry about you,” Ben said in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.

“He means it little brother,” said Adam who had joined them to say goodbye.  “He stills worries about me, and Hoss.”

“He sure does Short Shanks, we still get the ‘now be careful, watch your back, take care of yourself’, lecture every time Adam or I have to go away.  You deserve no less than what we have to listen too.”  Hoss and Adam laughed and then just as quickly hushed when Ben placed both hands on his hips and glared at both of them.

Suddenly his face broke into a big smile and when he began to laugh, the tension seemed to dissipate and within seconds, all four Cartwright men where laughing.

Joe rode for what seemed liked hours before finally stopping for the night.  He slid from his saddle, rubbed his behind, which had started to tingle from so many hours of sitting astride his horse, and laughed to himself.  He quickly pulled his saddle from Cochise’s back and using the saddle blanket, rubbed the sweaty animal down as best he could.  Once finished with the care of his horse, Joe soon had a roaring fire going and settled down to enjoy the warmth that radiated from the blaze.

A twig snapped, causing Joe’s eyes to pop open.  His hand resting on his pistol, Joe carefully scanned his camp and giggled when an old mama opossum and her babies with them securely latched onto her back, waddled into the dim light.  Joe watched for several minutes as the large rodent slowly worked her way through to the other side of his camp and disappeared into the dark shadows that circled the fading light of his campfire.  Leaning his head back against his saddle that now served as his pillow, Joe’s thoughts took him back to another night spent alone with nothing but his horse to keep him company.

He had been weary, cold and hungry and the warmth of the fire then had lured him to sleep.  When he woke, he had found himself staked to the ground, Two Feathers had slipped up on him while he slept and captured him.  At first he had feared for his life, the Paiute had threatened to kill him, had tortured him to a degree but in the end, had become his protector, then his friend, as well as his surrogate father for the long months that he had been separated from his family.  Though Joe’s heart had longed for his family, he had, over time, learned to trust and depend on the hardened warrior and by the time that Joe had been reunited with his family, Joe had found it nearly impossible to say goodbye to his friend.

The separation from his family and home had given the then nineteen-year old time to grow up.  He had been granted a peek into the life of a man whose heart had been crushed and broken by white men.  Two Feathers’ heart had been hardened and filled with hatred of all whites, men, women and even children.  Joe had learned why the Indian man’s heart been turned against the white race, it had been a sad story, one that had touched Joe’s young heart and had brought him to a better understanding of the Paiute’s odd mood swings.  With the death of his wife and son, Two Feathers had separated himself from his village, preferring to live his life alone in solitude, until the fateful day when his path had crossed with Joe’s.  From that day on, neither the warrior nor the young white boy’s life had ever been the same, a friendship had developed and grown, a young boy had become a man, a hardened Pauite’s heart had learned how to love again, forgive and had found peace for his tormented soul.

Joe woke early the next morning.  His fire had died down sometime during the night and he shivered slightly has he hurried to rekindle the flame.  It didn’t take long, and in the matter of a few minutes, the water in Joe’s coffeepot could be heard boiling.  Bacon sizzled in his skillet next to the eggs that bubbled up from the heat, and in a short time, Joe was enjoying his breakfast.

A sudden and loud movement behind him, cause Joe to drop his tin plate and whirling around, grabbed for his pistol.  His hand slapped against his leg where the holster should have been strapped, but having realized that he had not yet put his sidearm on, Joe glanced at the tall Indian that stood before him.  Feeling foolish for having yet again been caught off guard, Joe was stunned when the man before him began to laugh.

“When will you ever learn?  You must always be ready to face your enemy, lest you be caught unaware, as now?” laughed the red man as he stepped nearer to the younger man and placed both of his large hands on both of Joe’s shoulders.

Joe’s face broke into a welcoming smile as he placed his own hands on the arms of the mighty warrior who gave his shoulders a tight squeeze before pulling him into the folds of his strong arms.

“It is good to see you Little Joe.  I was hoping that you would come soon,” greeted Two Feathers.

“It’s good to see you too, Two Feathers,” smiled Joe.  “What are you doing down this way?  You’re a long way from your village.”

“I have come to ride with you, to my village.  Nishka and Gray Fox wait in the forest for us.  There has been trouble between my people and the Bannocks and it is not safe that you travel alone.  We have come to make sure no harm comes to you, for you seem to have a knack for finding trouble where ever you may be,” teased the warrior.

Joe smiled, “yeah, Pa says the same thing.  I guess that’s why he’s always telling me to be careful and stay alert.”

Two Feathers became serious, his long slender fingers tightened slightly around Joe’s shoulders, “Your father is a wise man, Little Joe.  You must always heed his wisdom, for he fears for your safety in a land where a man’s life can be taken from him in less than a heartbeat.  He has seen it happen, as I too have seen how swiftly death can come to one who is caught off guard.  Now come, let us go, Rising Sun waits for your arrival.  She has good news for you.”

“Good news, for me?  What is it Two Feathers?” giggled Joe as he began picking up his supplies.

Two Feathers laughed, “I was ordered not to tell you.  That wife of mine would have my hide if I were to tell you of her surprise.  You must wait until we return to my village to find out.”

Joe emptied the remainder of his coffee onto the fire and kicked at the sizzling embers to be sure that the flame had been doused thoroughly before leaving.  After packing away his meager belongings, it was only minutes before Cochise was saddled and Joe was ready to go.

“You no longer ride the little roan, Cyclone?” the Paiute asked, trying hard to hide the smile that threatened to give away his amusement.

Joe swung onto his horse’s back and turned Cochise so that he could face his friend.  He noted the twinkle in the dark eyes that tried so hard to hide his merriment.  “No.”  It was short and too the point.

Two Feathers could no longer hold back his laughter, and he didn’t try.  The roar that rumbled up from the pit of his stomach sent the tiny forest creatures scurrying to their burrows and the birds, which had balanced themselves on branches of nearby trees took flight.

“You have not mastered that animal yet?” the Indian laughed, remembering what a difficult time that Little Joe had trying to stay on the little stallion’s back.

Joe twisted his neck around and stared at his friend.  “I suppose you find that funny?” he asked.  “Do you know how many times that horse tossed me on my butt?  Well I do, and I finally gave up and turned him out with the mustangs.  He’s happier there anyway, and I am too, it gave the bruises on my butt time to go away,” laughed Joe, he to remembering what a terrible time he had trying to break the roan stallion that seemed determined not to give in to his young master.

“I am sure that Cyclone is happier, he will make many fine colts.  Perhaps you will have better luck with those,” laughed Two Feathers as he urged his own horse into a trot, leading the way into the forest, Joe following close behind.  Two Feathers could hear Joe mumbling under his breath and smiled to himself.  It was good to be reunited with his friend, for he had missed the boy whom he had come to love as his own and looked forward to renewing their friendship.

It was late into the second day before the small group reached the village of Two Feathers.  As soon as they entered the clearing, they were surrounded by the dozens of children that flocked to greet their chief and tribal leaders, not to mention getting a look at the handsome white man who had been invited to share the fire of their chief.  Joe smiled his greeting at several of the older boys that he remembered from having met when he had last been in the camp.  His smile was returned as he dismounted and followed Two Feathers to his teepee and several times felt hands patting his back as he passed among the thong of greeters.

Two Feathers raised the flap that covered the opening to his tent and slipped inside first, in front of his guest.  Joe followed behind and stood for several seconds until his eyes became adjusted to the dim light given off by the glow of the campfire that warmed the interior of Two Feathers’ home.

Rising Sun stepped up to Little Joe and smiled.  “Welcome to our home,” greeted the beautiful wife of Joe’s friend.

Joe’s eyes immediately took in the beauty of the young woman and smiled his greeting.  “Thank you ma’am,” said Joe in return.

The baby in her arms began cooing and reached his arms out at Joe.  Joe glanced at Two Feathers, saw the pride shining in the warriors’ eyes and carefully took the baby from Rising Sun.

“This surely cannot be Joseph?” Little Joe asked as he held the tiny child in his arms and tried to keep the toddler’s fingers from poking him in the eyes.

“Yes,” beamed the proud father, “this is your namesake, Joseph Two Feathers.”

Joe tickled the baby’s chin and laughed when the little boy began to giggle and squirm in his arms.  The child reached for Joe’s nose and squeezed, next the excited child made a grab for Joe’s hat, knocking it to the ground.  Before long, Joe was forced to return his namesake to his mother, the baby being nearly more than Joe, who was unaccustomed to being around such small children, was used to dealing with.

“He’s going to make a good chief someday.  He sure is a busy little fella,” laughed Joe who had taken his nose being squeezed, his eyes poked and his hair pulled, all in good fun.

“Yes, my son will make a fine chief.  He will lead our people in the ways that the Great Spirit directs his paths.  I will teach him of the love that you have taught me, and I will tell him of whom he was named,” beamed Two Feathers proudly.

The days passed too swiftly for the two friends who spent their entire time, each one in the company of the other.  As in the beginning, Little Joe became Two Feathers’ shadow as the Paiute warrior showed the younger man the many changes that he had brought about to his village and to his people.  Joe was impressed with the crops that the women had planted, thus providing food for the long winter months.  Joe watched in amazement, the younger boys as their fathers taught them how to hunt and track, make bows and arrows and the quivers in which to carry them.  He laughed at his own attempts when he tried to help.

“Seems like I forgot how to do this, I think it was easier the last time you showed me how,” laughed Little Joe, his fingers becoming all thumbs.

Two Feathers joined in the laughter with the boys who were trying to help Joe.  The chief laid a strong hand on Joe’s shoulder, drawing the younger man’s attention to the Indian’s face.  Two Feathers’ dark eyes shone with amusement as he beamed down at his young friend.

“Come, let us walk among the forest trees.  Rising Sun will soon call us for our meal.  I think tonight she will tell you her secret,” smiled Two Feathers, stepping aside so that Joe might join him.

Joe and Two Feathers walked side by side as they entered the dark woods.  The ground was covered with leaves and pine needles and their feet barely made a sound on the natural carpet that covered the forest floor.

Joe glanced up at his friend who had suddenly become quiet and wondered at the faraway expression that the Paiute chief wore on his face.  The dark brows above the equally dark eyes were draw downward, making an arch just above the bridge of the warrior’s nose.  Joe had seen that look many times in the passed and it warned him that the big man had many troubling thoughts bouncing around in his head.  Joe could not refrain from commenting on this to the chief.

“What’s wrong Two Feathers?” asked Joe and was startled when the red man turned to face him and the hate that Joe thought had gone forever was now shining back at him in the depths of his Indian friend’s chocolate eyes.

Joe gulped, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to pry…” he stammered and was relieved when the expression on Two Feathers’ face softened.

Two Feathers’ halted his steps and faced Joe, placing both hands on either side of Joe’s shoulders.  “You only ask because of your concern for me and my people.  It is I that am sorry, for frightening you.  There is nothing wrong, Little Joe, at least nothing that you can help me with,” Two Feathers explained and then began walking, once more seemingly lost in his thoughts.

Joe stood where he was for a moment longer, watching the back of the tall Indian.  Two Feathers stopped when he realized that Joe was no longer walking next to him, and turned to face Joe.

“Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong?  Don’t you trust me anymore?” Joe asked quietly.

He knew that Two Feathers had asked him to walk with him, he could see the urgency in the older man’s face that spoke of words that needed to be voiced.  Yet once given the chance, Two Feathers had clamed up and refused to explain to him his desires.

“Well?” asked Joe coming to stand directly in front of the Paiute chief.

Two Feathers sighed, giving Joe a small smile.  “I have always trusted you.  Even when you ran away from me and I had to punish you.  Something about you, some unknown thing within your heart spoke to me and told me that it was safe to trust you.”

“Could be my charm,” smiled Joe, “or my charisma,” he added, remembering the word that his older brother, Adam, had used.

Two Feathers tossed his head back and laughed.  “Or could it be that you are just so innocent that it makes a mighty warrior such as I, love you as his own son?  I think that is the case, for I believe that my white son, Little Joe, is much into himself.”

It was Joe’s turn to laugh, “that’s the same thing my family tells me.  Hmm…must be something to it then if you feel that way as well.  Now, old friend, are you going to tell me what is bothering you?”

Two Feathers became quiet as he studied Joe’s face.  “I am going to die soon.”

Joe was stunned; he could barely find his voice.  After swallowing several times, he spoke.  “What do you mean?  Are you sick?  What?” he all but shouted at his friend.

Joe was suddenly afraid.  Had he come to visit this dear friend, only to find out that the man had been sick and may die soon?  Two Feathers didn’t look ill, didn’t even act ill, just bothered about something.  This couldn’t be, thought Joe, not Two Feathers, not the man who had saved his life on more than one occasion, not the brave Indian warrior who had taken him as his hostage, only to find out later that they would become close friends, very close, thought Joe.

“Answer me!” demanded Joe in a troubled voice that reeked with unspoken fear that he might somehow lose this special friend of his.

Two Feathers stepped close to Joe and with hands as gentle as his father’s, raised Joe’s quivering chin upward so that he might search the young face.  “No, I am not sick.  Have no fear of that, for I am as a young man in both body and soul.  My spirit is troubled, that is all,” explained Two Feathers in a gentle, but deep voice that reminded Joe of his father’s own deep tone.

“Then what?  Why do you think you will die soon?” questioned Joe.

“Come, let us sit.”  Two Feathers found a spot covered in the soft pine needles and sat down, crossing his legs in the usual Indian fashion and waited for Joe to join him before continuing.

“I have had a vision.  A vision that has left me troubled, not for myself, but for my people, especially for Rising Sun and Joseph Two Feathers.  I have seen in my dream, many men on horseback riding into my village.  I cannot tell whether they are white men or red men, but they are trying to kill my braves, steal from us what is ours, and take our women and children as their prisoners.  It is not a pretty site that vision.  I see myself lying on the ground, my blood stains the dirt beneath my body and I die in the arms of a faceless man.  I cannot see who it is that holds me, only that he is a friend.”

Two Feathers looked long into the hazel eyes that stared in wonder at him and smiled.  “Do not look so unhappy, my son.  I am not afraid to die, I….”

“But it was just a dream.  I have crazy dreams all the time; even you should know that.  How many times did I wake you up with my screaming?” asked Joe, hoping that what Two Feathers had told him was just that, a nightmare of sorts.

“Many times, little one.  But this was no dream it was a vision.  You see, one day not so long ago, before I came to ride with you back to the village, I sat alone atop that hill,” Two Feathers pointed to a grassy little knoll off in the distance.  “I was not sleeping, I was meditating, and the Great Spirit spoke to me and showed me this scene that I have described to you.  It will happen soon, I fear.  I just do not know when or why it will happen, but it will be, for the Great Spirit would not have revealed it to me if it were not so.”

Joe could not help but to squirm, for he knew that his friend believed the Great Spirit and it made Joe fearful for his friend and the ones in the village.  “I don’t understand, I won’t even begin to try to know how you can be so sure.  But what about your people, what about Rising Sun, and Joseph?” asked Joe as he took the back of his hand and wiped away the moisture that had collected in his eyes.

“My wife and my son.  They are the ones that I fear the most for.  You see Little Joe, I fear for what will happen to them when I am gone, when they no longer have a husband or a father to care for them.  That is why I am glad you are here, I have something that I want to ask of you.  I want you to promise me, give me your word as my trusted friend, that you will honor my request,” stated Two Feathers, all traces of seriousness embedded deeply into his dark features.

“What?  I’ll do anything I can to help you, you know that,” Joe told Two Feathers.  “Just ask me.”

Two Feathers head bobbed up and down and he almost smiled at his young friend’s eagerness.  “I want you to promise me that once I have gone, that you will take care of my wife and young son…” Two Feathers saw the sudden shock that registered on Little Joe’s face.

“I just want you to be sure that Rising Sun and Joseph Two Feathers will be taken back to her own tribe.  There, she will be safe.  Her father and mother will care for her and help with my son…and the new baby that my wife carries within her belly.”  Two Feathers’ smile broadened as Joe’s face suddenly pivoted upward and gazed into his eyes.

“New baby?” he stammered.  “Rising Sun is going to have another baby?”

“Yes, but you must not tell her I told you, it is her secret that she wished to tell you.  My beautiful wife is praying to the Great Spirit for a daughter, so that she may have you for her son as well.  You do remember that I promised you my daughter as your wife?” laughed Two Feathers.

“I…I…I remember.”

“Then it is settled, you will promise me that you will see my family safely back to her own people?” questioned Two Feathers.

“Yeah…sure…but Two Feathers, couldn’t you be wrong?” Joe suggested and then seeing the look that sprung into the Paiute’s eyes, added, “just this once?”

“I am not wrong my young questionable friend.  I will die soon, Rising Sun will bear me a daughter, who will become your wife, and you…Joseph Cartwright…will tend to my family.  I will hold you to that promise, agreed?” affirmed Two Feathers.

Joe’s head dipped downward; unable to stop the tears that had suddenly sprang into his eyes and clouded his vision.  Taking a deep breath and willing away the tiny droplets, Joe raised his head and looked for several long seconds into the dark eyes of the man who sat across from him.  At last he spoke, his voice smooth and even, belying the apprehension that coursed through his heart and forcing the beating organ into double time.

“I promise you Two Feathers that I will make sure that Rising Sun and Joseph get back to her people.  I give you my word, as your friend,” promised Joe.

“Good, now let us return to the village, for I am sure that Rising Sun waits for us.”  Two Feathers rose to his feet and extended his long arm outward to Joe, his hand opened in invitation.  Joe accepted the help, and when on his feet, Two Feathers, still clinging to Joe’s hand, pulled the younger man into a warm embrace, holding Joe for several moments before releasing the one whom he had come to think of as his own son.

Rising Sun smiled down at Joe as she handed him the bowl of rabbit stew that she had prepared.  Joe could not stop the smile that he gave in return, for the young mother’s face glowed with her happiness.  Joe watched, amazed at how the woman, who was not much older than he, managed to care for her small child as well as her husband and himself, and how she managed without all of the conveniences that even Hop Sing had at his disposable.

“Rising Sun,” said Joe as the woman stooped to fill his bowl for a second serving, “Two Feathers said you had a surprise for me,” beamed Little Joe.

Rising Sun shot her dark eyes in the direction of her husband and then back at Joe, who watched the exchange between his friend and that man’s wife.

“My husband is worse than a young boy who cannot keep a secret; for I can tell by the glow in your eyes and the way in which your lips ache to smile, that he has already spoken to you of the coming of another child,” stated Rising Sun, and then smiled at both of them.  “I knew my man could not keep it from you, for he thinks that this baby will be a girl, but I know he is wrong, and he brags that he is never wrong, but in this, I am right.  The child will be another boy, you will see,” she laughed.

Joe glanced at Two Feathers and once spying the look on the warrior’s face, broke into a round of giggles that brought the other man from his stupor and into a boisterous bout of laughter as well. Joe stood to his feet and hugged Rising Sun gently.

“Congratulations, Mrs. Two Feathers,” giggled Joe.  “I know that whatever the baby will be, it will be beautiful, just like it’s mama, and wise, just like it’s father,” added Joe after seeing the mock frown on Two Feathers’ face.  “I can’t wait, it means I get to come back for another visit.”

Joe caught a glance at his friend’s face, which had suddenly sobered.  Two Feathers’ thoughts had taken him to another dimension, for it was obvious to the younger man that his friend was deep in thought.  Joe could only guess where those notions had taken his friend and realized that if what Two Feathers had told him, were to come true, it meant that the chief would in all probability, not live to see his second child born.

The time passed swiftly for Little Joe and Two Feathers.  Joe tried to force his fears into dormancy but the disturbing thoughts plagued his every waking hour even interrupting his sleep on a couple of nights.  Joe had even started to notice that Two Feathers had begun to grow quieter, seemingly to be watching for something, especially when he thought that no one was about to see him.  He would stand for several long minutes at a time, gazing off into the distance, studying the horizon, waiting it appeared.  On one such occasion, Joe climbed the grassy knoll on which Two Feathers kept observation and stood next to his friend.

After moments of silence, Two Feathers looked down at Joe, his face grave, his eyes dark and troubled.  “It will not be long now, my friend.  The end is near, we must be prepared, come let us speak with the village men and make ready.”  Two Feathers turned back toward his village but Joe, placing a tight hold on the Indian’s arm, stopped the chief’s retreat.

“Make ready for what? What are you going to do?” asked Joe, concern sounding in his voice.

Two Feathers glanced at the hand that had tightened on his arm and then into Joe’s face.  “I must make ready for the attack.  But first, I must ask you to leave my village.  Go home, to your family, to your father, where you will be safe from the danger that will come to this village.”

“No, I’m not going anywhere.  If someone is planning on attacking this village, then I will stay here and fight with you, I will not…” began Joe but stopped when Two Feathers grabbed Joe’s wrist and in his anger, twisted Joe’s arm until Joe released his own grip on Two Feathers.

“You will not disobey me.  You will leave, go now and make ready!” shouted the warrior, his eyes dark with foreboding.

“No, I will stay here, with you until it is over, whatever happens,” Joe snapped back.

“But you must, you gave me your word!” growled Two Feathers.  “Did you speak an untruth to me then?”

“No, I promised to take Rising Sun and Joseph to her people, but I want to stay and fight with you, if it comes to that,” Joe said and wrenched his arm free from the tight hold that Two Feathers held on his wrist.  Joe gently rubbed the stinging redness and looked long into the Paiute’s dark eyes.  “I want to help you, you are my friend and…”

“Be silent little one and listen to me.”  Two Feathers voice had softened and he placed both hands on Joe’s shoulders.  “You are to me as my own son of long ago had been to me.  I cherish you as I cherished my flesh and blood son.  I do not want to see what happened to Running Deer to happen to you.  For the Great Spirit to require a man to surrender two sons in one lifetime is too much, even for Two Feathers, chief of the Paiutes.  Please, go and take my family where all of you will be safe, it is the last thing I will ever ask of you, Little Joe.”

Joe felt the tears sting his eyes but refused to allow his friend to see them.  He turned his back away from the prying eyes and took a deep breath before finding the courage to face the red man again.  When he felt his emotions under control, Joe turned and smiled at the worried face.

“I will go, and I will take Rising Sun and Joseph Two Feathers to her people.  I promise you Two Feathers, I’ll protect them with my life if need be,” promised Joe, the tears suddenly reappearing, unannounced in his hazel eyes.

“Thank you my friend, my son.  Come, we must hurry to prepare, for danger is lurking nearby.”  Two Feathers led the way back to the village and ordered his people to prepare themselves.  To his wife, Two Feathers ordered her to ready both herself and the young toddler for traveling.

Rising Sun tried to protest, her objections bordering on begging as she argued with her husband.  She insisted that she would stay with him, even if death demanded of her, her husband.  Two Feathers’ loud roars could be heard outside the teepee where Joe waited for the young woman and her child.  At last, Two Feathers had convinced his loving wife that she must, for the sake of both Joseph and the unborn child, that it would be in her best interest to go back to her own people.  Two Feathers had even gone as far as promising her that he would come for her as soon as the danger had passed.  Rising Sun knew nothing of the vision that her husband had shared with their young visitor and Joe worried that one day soon, he would have to be the bearer of bad news.  Little did he understand how soon that news would have to be carried to the young wife of the chief.

Joe and Rising Sun had only traveled a few miles before having to stop so that the squalling child could be nursed.  Joe dismounted first and was surprised to feel the earth beneath his feet begin to tremble.  His eyes sought the eyes of the young woman whom he helped from her horse and when her dark eyes glanced downward at the ground, Joe noted the frightened look that suddenly appeared.

“It has begun,” she wept.  “The enemies are heading to our village,” she said softly, the tears billowing in the depths of her sad eyes. “The fighting will begin soon.”

“You know?” Joe asked.

“Yes, I have watched the worry that my husband tries so hard to hide from me, but it is impossible.  I know of his vision, for I have heard him speaking with the elders and I know that soon, I will be left without a husband,” spoke the woman softly as she turned her back to Joe so that the baby could suckle at her breast.

Joe, slightly embarrassed, turned his own back to the nursing mother and child to offer her more privacy. The baby had ceased his crying, soft, cooing sounds could be heard instead and Joe knew that the baby’s hunger would soon be satisfied and then they could be on their way.  It was vital to Joe’ thinking that he do as he had promised his friend and take the chief’s wife and child to a safe place.

Joe’s common sense told him to hurry, to leave the area so that the woman and child would be safe, however, his heart begged him to rush back to the village and help his friend.  Joe, who rarely listened to what common sense told him, listened instead to his heart.  He told himself that he would place the woman and child in a secure place and return to fight along side his friend and then when the battle was over, come back and collect his charges, then take them to Rising Sun’s village.  That was the thoughts that raced through Joe’s heart as he anxiously waited for the nursing baby to finish with his meal.

While Baby Joseph finished with his nursing, Joe scouted the area looking for a safe hideaway where he would be sure that Rising Sun and her son would be safe.  He knew he should do as his friend requested, and take the woman and her baby back to her own people, but something tugged at Joe’s heartstrings, drawing him back to his friend who desperately needed all the help he could get.

‘I will come back, just as soon as I can and take Two Feathers’ family to her own village,’ Joe promised himself, the thought that something might happen to him, never entering his young mind.  His thoughts remained on his friend and that special force that they shared pulled him to want to be with Two Feathers.

It took only minutes for Joe to find the perfect spot just within the side of the hillside was a small alcove, protected on three sides by large sprawling boulders that hid the little alcove from view of anyone who might happen by.  Joe quickly led the pack animal and Rising Sun’s pony into the far side of the nature corral and made a quick camp for his friend’s wife.

Rising Sun watched as Joe scurried about.  In her heart she knew that Joe had wanted to stay and fight with her husband and she could not help but to admire the young man for his devotion to her people’s leader.  When Joseph Two Feathers had finished, Rising Sun came silently up behind Joe, whose back was turned from her, and placed her hand on his shoulder.  Joe turned, shocked by the smile that graced her beautiful face.

“I will pray to the Great Spirit that you and my husband will return to me soon,” she softly told Joe.

“I will be back Rising Sun, I promise,” Joe said and then gathered the reins to his horse.  “You wait until tomorrow this same time, and if by chance me or Two Feathers does not show up, you ride due east.  It will take you about two and a half days, but you will run right into my father’s home.  The Ponderosa, you tell him I sent you and he will make sure that you and this little namesake of mine are safe.  Do you understand me?”

Rising Sun stepped close to Joe and slipped her arms about his neck, pulling her head against his chest.  “Yes, I will do as you requested.”  The young woman raised her head, releasing Joe from her embrace, “be careful my friend.”

Joe pursed his lips tightly together and nodded his head, “I will.”  Swinging up into the saddle and turning one last time to face Rising Sun, Joe touched his hand to his hat and bid her farewell.  “You hightail it to the Ponderosa if I’m not back by tomorrow night.”

With that Joe spurred his horse about and took off at a run, heading back to the village of Two Feathers.

Joe could hear the shrill screams far before being able to see the village.  As he rode, he kept within the outer edge of the forest, staying out of view of the raiding party that seemed to be reeking havoc on Two Feathers’ people.  Joe could hear the buzz of arrows as they darted through the air, and when one found it’s intended victim, Joe could hear the cries of agony as the arrow buried its self deeply into that man’s flesh.  Joe felt his body tremble; he knew the feeling, he remembered it well, the pain that could be caused by the stone carved pointed weapon as it dug through layer after layer of a man’s flesh until at last coming to a stop, having embedded its self deeply within one’s body.  Joe shivered again and pulled Cochise to sudden halt.

He could not believe his eyes, the village was ablaze, and every teepee within sight had been set to fire, the dark smoke billowing upward, darkening the sky above the village.  Joe’s eyes racked the scene, searching frantically for Two Feathers.  Joe’s heart bounded within his chest, he could not find his friend anywhere among the carnage that lay all about him, for there were bodies scattered everywhere his eyes searched.  Fear coursed through his veins as the memory of the chief’s words tugged at his heart.

Joe slipped from Cochise’s back and darted between the blazing teepees, running from one to the other, his eyes ever alert as he carefully kept himself from view of a rampaging Bannock.  The Indians who where sworn enemies of the Paiute’s seemed to out number Two Feathers people three to one.  It was nothing short of a massacre determined Little Joe, who had suddenly become sickened by the sight of all the men, both Bannock and Paiute that laid dying or dead all about him.

Joe’s attention was diverted from the bloody scene, as he caught sight of two Bannock renegades that were suddenly baring down on him.  They seemed to have come from out of nowhere and had nearly caught the young white man off guard.  Joe met the first red man face to face as the Indian lunged at him from atop his approaching horse. Both men fell to the ground, seemingly to take turns flipping each other over and over as they struggled against one another on the ground.  Joe had just drove the red man’s own knife deeply into the man’s chest when he felt the weight of the second Bannock on his back.  The Indian, who was much larger than Joe, had wrapped his arms tightly about Joe’s neck in an attempt to strangle him.  Joe struggled, using all of his strength trying to free himself from the death like grip that the stronger man had on his throat.  Soon Joe, whose head was beginning to reel from lack of oxygen, started to feel himself slipping into the darkness that sought to claim him.  Suddenly, the Bannock released his tight hold and fell to the ground at Joe’s feet, curled into a heap.  Joe grabbed his throat, taking several large gulps of air to clear his head.  He spun around, surprised to find Two Feathers standing behind him, an angry glare radiating from his dark eyes as he unexpectedly grabbed Joe by the arm.

“What are you doing here?” he shouted at the younger man.  “I thought I told you to take my family away!” Two Feathers and Joe faced one another, the battle going on around them, momentarily forgotten as dark chocolate eyes glared at frightened hazel eyes.

“I had to come back, Two Feathers, I just had too.  They’re safe, honest, I made sure…please…” yelled Joe over the noise that resounded in the background.

Two Feathers noted the frightened glow in Joe’s eyes, and gently brushed the back of his hand down the side of Joe’s face.  “Somehow I knew that you would return…for you are a stubborn little boy and…”

“Look out!” screamed Joe shoving Two Feathers away from him, just in time to miss being struck by an arrow aimed at the center of his back.  Two Feathers and Joe both fell to the ground, Joe landing on top of his friend.

“Let’s take cover,” snapped Joe, hurrying to his feet and offering a hand to his friend, who heartily accepted the offer.  Both red man and white man ran for cover, arrows whizzing so close to their heads that Joe could feel the brush of the feathers that tickled his ears as they zinged passed his head.

For another half an hour the battle raged.  Paiute warriors and Bannock renegades fell, often falling on top of one another.  Joe’s bullets found their marks on more than just a few occasions, stopping the advancing enemy in their tracks.  Two Feathers had moved to another position, and Joe had seen him in hand to hand combat with the red men from the other tribe.  Joe stayed alert, his eyes trying to always keep track of where Two Feathers had moved, and praying the entire time that his friend would be all right.

A bugle blared.  Time stopped and it seemed that every Indian in the village froze.  Joe looked up to the distant hills and what he saw caused him to smile. Galloping down the hill was the cavalry and in the lead was his father.  Just behind the officer in charge were Joe’s older brothers.  The Bannock’s, fearing that the tables had suddenly been turned against them, and seeing that now they were out numbered, scattered in all directions.

Joe stood to his feet, and stepped into the opening as Ben’s horse charged up to him.  As soon as Ben was out of the saddle, he quickly embraced his son, wrapping his strong arms about his son.

“Joseph, son, are you all right?” demanded Ben, finally relinquishing his hold on the boy.

“Yes, but Pa, where did you come from?  How did you know?  I mean…” stammered Joe.

“I’ll explain it all to you later, where is Two Feathers and his family?” questioned Ben, looking around at the Paiute men who had opted to allow the cavalry to chase after the retreating Bannocks.

“Two Feathers?”  Joe had suddenly realized that his friend was nowhere to be seen.  Panic gripped the walls of his heart as he jerked his head around, his eyes seeking the last location where Two Feathers had been spotted.

Joe felt his heart begin to flutter as he ran forward, frantically searching each face of the fallen for the familiar one that he had come to know so well.  Joe stopped suddenly, his eyes staring into the ashen face of his Indian friend.  Immediately, the rush of tears billowed as large waves on the ocean coast, into his hazel eyes.  Joe dropped to his knees and gently lifted the wounded chief’s head and allowed it rest in his lap.  Two Feathers opened his eyes, and a smile creased his face as he gazed into the tear soaked face of his young friend.

Deeply buried into the center of Two Feathers’ chest was the knife of an enemy.  Blood seeped from the deep wound and soaked into Little Joe’s shirt as Joe cradled his friend.

“NO!” screamed Joe loudly, unaware that his father and brothers had joined him at his side.

“You can’t die, please Two Feathers, don’t die…please,” sobbed Joe.

Ben’s arm had slipped around his son’s trembling shoulders and as Joe held his dying Indian companion, Ben held on to his son.

“Do not weep for…me…Lit’tle Joe…”muttered the Paiute chief, struggling to get his words out.

“Please…don’t die…don’t you know how much…I…love you?” wept Little Joe, the tears dripping from the end of his chin and mingling with the red man’s bright blood.  He had never told the Indian of his deepest feelings for him, but it seemed natural once he had spoken from his heart.

“I love you, Two Feathers,” repeated Joe, his eyes never leaving his friend’s face.

Two Feathers’ strength was dwindling quickly and it took all the will power he could muster to raise his hand.  His blood stained fingers, gently caressed Joe’s cheek, brushing at the tiny droplets of water that continued to roll down from the younger man’s tear filled eyes.

“I have…never…spoken the words…to you.  But now…I must say…them so that…all that hear…will know.  I, Two Feathers, chief …of the Paiute nation…love you as well, my son…” Two Feathers took one last, deep breath, his eyes slowly began to close.  His fingers entwined themselves in the material of Joe’s jacket.

“TWO FEATHERS!”

“I…love…you…Lit’tle Joe,” whispered the red man and shut his eyes.  Two Feathers was dead.

Joe’s sobs could be heard above the hushed whispers that passed from man to man.  Still holding the chief’s head in his lap, Joe lowered his own head, covering the face of his friend as he rocked back and forth, unashamed of the tears that coursed downward, leaving tiny white streaks in the dust and dirt that covered Joe’s face.

Ben tightened his arm about his son, turning misty eyes up at Adam and Hoss who stood as if guarding the scene in front of them.  No man uttered a word as Two Feathers’ young friend wept out his sorrow.  After several minutes of respectful silence, Gray Fox and Nishka stepped up in front of Ben and his son.  Ben glanced up into their faces and saw the sadness that had clouded their eyes.

“We will take our chief to prepare for burial,” spoke Gray Fox softly.

Ben nodded his head and gently applied pressure to his hands that rested on Joe’s shoulders.

“Joseph,” said Ben, his voice laden with unspoken emotion.  “We have to let his people take him now,” Ben whispered as he tenderly pried Joe’s fingers from his friend’s body.

Joe acted as if he were dazed as he allowed his father to help him up from where he had been squatting with Two Feathers’ head still resting in his lap.  Quickly Nishka and Gray Fox picked up the chief’s body and hurried out of sight, taking their fallen leader to the far side of the village, where one lone teepee remained unburned.

Ben slowly pulled Joe to his feet.  Joe’s sad eyes sought his father’s and seeing the sorrow that reflected back at him, Joe fell weeping into Ben’s arms.  Ben held Joe’s head against his breast, and allowed the younger man time to rid himself of the aching that had pierced his heart.

“I loved him…Pa…I really loved him,” muttered Joe.

“I know you did son.  And he loved you,” reassured Ben, his lips pressed against the top of Joe’s unruly curls.  “And he knew that you loved him, even though you told him so.”

Ben pulled Joe back from where his head rested against him and with one hand, brought his son’s chin upward so that he could see into Joe’s face.

“Joseph, I don’t claim to know how you feel.  But I do know it hurts, and it will for a long time to come, but right now, you have to find Rising Sun and her child.  She must know what has happened, you have to break the news to her,” Ben stated.

Joe nodded his head in agreement; “I know where she is.  I left her and the baby in a safe place.  I’ll go tell her.”  Joe wiped the tears from his face, and looked up at his father.  “She’s going to have another baby, did I tell you that?”

Ben, knowing nothing of the coming event, shook his head.  “No son, you didn’t tell me.”

“He said it would be a girl this time for sure, and that she was suppose to be my wife,” Joe glanced at his father, “he really did expect me to marry her one day too,” he said through his tears.

Joe sniffed his nose and stooped to pick up his hat, which had fallen to the ground during the entire ruckus.  “He’ll never know now, whether it’s a boy or girl,” Joe said sadly, and turned to find his horse.

Ben watched the retreating back of his youngest son and glanced at Adam and Hoss.  “Joseph,” Ben called, following.

“Would you mind if your brothers and I rode along with you?  There might still be one or two renegades about and I’d feel better if you had someone…”

Joe cast his eyes over his shoulder at his father who had approached him and then at his brothers.  “Naw, I don’t mind, Pa.” Sniffing a second time, Joe pinched his lips together, “Thanks, Pa.”

Ben slipped his arm about Joe’s shoulders and with a nod of his head, signaled Hoss and Adam to follow along with them.  It was nearing dark by the time that Joe led his family to Rising Sun’s hide out.  The young mother had built a small fire for warmth and had somehow managed to pull enough fallen limbs in front of the opening to the alcove that totally hid the entranceway.

“Rising Sun!  It’s me, Joe Cartwright,” Joe called out, not exactly sure in the fading light where the entrance was.  “It’s okay, you can come out,” he called again.

There was a movement to the left of the three men, who had remained in their saddles, which caused all four Cartwrights to turn in that direction.  Rising Sun could barely be seen slipping from the entrance as she approached Joe.  With the fire to her back, Rising Sun could see the glimmer of unshed tears that had suddenly pooled in Joe’s eyes.  Casting a quick glance at Ben and then Adam and Hoss, her eyes sought Joe’s face once more.

“You remember my father, and my brothers,” he said softly as he stepped nearer to the silent woman.  “Rising Sun…” began Joe, a lump suddenly wedging itself in his throat.  Joe’s head dropped, he didn’t want his friend’s wife to see his tears, for he feared it would add to her own grief.

Joe gulped and swallowed.  “I’m sorry…”

Rising Sun placed her hand on Joe’s arm; Joe looked into her face and could see the tears that threatened to spill forth.  “Do not be sorry…for my husband has passed from this life into the next.  He died as the Great Spirit willed him to.  My husband was a brave and courageous man, who died trying to protect his people.  Do not be sad Little Joe, for now the burdens of this life have passed and he is free from all that, here, had brought him much unhappiness.  He is not alone…he is with Morning Star and Running Deer and he is now truly happy, for though I knew he loved me…I also knew that his heart would always belong to her, first.”

“I know he loved you, he told me so,” said Joe, somewhat confused by her statement.

“Yes, it is true, but one never forgets their first love, and Morning Star was Two Feathers’ first love,” explained Rising Sun.

Ben had dismounted and stood just behind his son.  Placing a strong hand on Joe’s shoulder, Ben added his wisdom to that of the young woman’s.

“She’s right Joseph, even though I loved your mother and Hoss’ mother, more than life its self, Elizabeth was my first love, my first true love.  A man such as Two Feathers whose heart was once so pure, was capable of loving in depth not only Morning Star and Running Deer, but also Rising Sun and Joseph Two Feathers…and you.”

“And in his heart Little Joe, you were also his son.  He would have died for you, had the need required.  He loved you that much,” smiled Rising Sun.

Joe glanced at both his father and Two Feathers’ wife and forced a smile.  “I thought I was suppose to be comforting you, instead here you stand, comforting me.”

“We both will grieve for the man, in our own way, and in our own time.  My grief is much, my sorrow great, and my love for my husband will be forever more.  Please, take me back to the village so that I may attend his burial.”

Joe nodded his head and then turned to his father, “Pa?”

“It’s getting late and much too dangerous to travel at night.  Why don’t we all get some sleep and then in the morning we can return…that is, if that’s okay with you, ma’am?” stated Ben.

“Yes, that is wise.  Baby Joseph must sleep and then after he has nursed, in the morning we will return.  Come, all of you, warm yourselves by the fire.”  Rising Sun slipped through the limbs that she had placed in front of the alcove and disappeared from their sight.

Joe stood rooted to the spot and only looked up when he felt Ben’s hand gently squeeze his shoulder.  “Are you going to be okay, son?” Ben asked in a quiet voice, while Hoss and Adam began making ready their bedrolls and tending to the horses.

Joe’s head bobbed up and down and then he turned and looked sadly at his father.  “I’ll be fine Pa, honest.  And Pa…thanks for giving me the time off to come see him…I mean…if I hadn’t of gotten to see him…and then found out he had been killed…well…um…thanks,” choked Joe.

“There’s no need to thank me son, I’m just glad that you got to spend some time with him again.  You were very special to him, you changed his life, even his heart, and he trusted you more than he had ever trusted any white man,” offered Ben, watching as Joe struggled with his raw emotions.

“You think so, Pa?”

“I know so, Joseph, for he told me so the last time we saw him.  Now come on, you need to get some sleep, you looked bushed,” smiled Ben.

“I am bushed, to be honest with you, I’m drained,” Joe responded.

Ben was awaken by the soft whimpers that emitted from across the small alcove and pushed himself into a half sitting position, squinting his eyes trying to see who it was that was crying.  Ben could barely make out the dark shadow of Two Feathers’ wife and Little Joe, sitting closely together in the dim light.  Joe had his arm wrapped about the woman’s shoulder and Rising Sun rested her head on Joe’s arm.  Ben could not make out the soft words that his son was saying to the wife of his dear friend, but Ben was positive that they were words of comfort.  The concerned father also knew that both Rising Sun and Little Joe would need the comforting presence of the other during the next few days.  He knew that each would draw strength from the other, for their grief was as one, both had loved a unique man in their own ways and for different reasons.  Ben lowered his head to his saddle and snuggled down into his bedroll, closing his eyes.  Silently he prayed for both his son and the grieving widow.

Early the next morning, Ben led the small group of mourners back to Two Feathers’ village.  The men of the village greeted Little Joe and his family in a warm way as they helped their chief’s wife down from her pony.  Rising Sun passed baby Joseph to a young maiden to hold while she went in search of Gray Fox and Nishka whom she knew would remain with her husband’s body until it was ready for burial.

Rising Sun slipped into the teepee where she was told that her husband lay.  She had thought that she was prepared for this minute, but though she tried, her tears billowed into her dark eyes.  It was not customary for Indian men to cry, but she knew that Two Feathers had often allowed his tears to trickle downward from his eyes, especially so after having met the young Cartwright boy a few years back.  His heart had been touched, softened he would often laugh, as a woman’s, he then teased.  Rising Sun gave in to her grief and wept for her loss, the loss her people would feel and for the loss her children would have at never having known their father.

From outside the teepee, Joe and his family could hear the soft death chant and cries that Rising Sun was offering up to the Great Spirit on her husband’s behalf.  The soft mournful sounds brought an unexpected well of tears into the eyes of the youngest of Ben’s three sons.  Ben noted that Joe had turned his head and said nothing when he witnessed the boy rise and walk away, heading for the edge of the forest where Ben knew that Joe would seek his solitude, and hopefully come to terms with what had happened the day before.

Joe stood with his father and both brothers while Two Feathers was laid to rest.  He watched silently as the customary burial objects were put along side of his friend.  Joe noted the arrows, the finely honed stone knife and drill, and even Two Feathers’ pipe was added to the small collection that would be needed by the great chief, once he had settled himself into his proper place among the living dead of his ancestors.  A small bowl, crystals and stone pendants and ornaments were laid side by side with the other objects, and lastly, Two Feathers’ headdress, chalked full with brightly colored feathers, was placed on top of the chief’s body in a graceful manner.  As Rising Sun, who carried Joseph Two Feathers on her back, placed the smaller headdress, containing three feathers, each symbolic of those that Two Feathers had loved and been loved by, Joe felt the rapid pounding of his heart as he fought to control the flood of tears that had suddenly clouded his eyes.

Joe turned from the scene, Ben, Adam and Hoss all following the younger man’s lead as Joe walked slowly away, leaving the tribe to finish with what had to be done.  He stood silently, his forehead pressed tightly against the trunk of a large tree.  Ben motioned for Adam and Hoss to give him time alone with his youngest son, and both brothers knowing of Joe’s loss, granted him his privacy.

As Ben waited, the soft sounds of his son’s weeping pierced his compassionate heart.  Tenderly he placed one strong hand on his son’s back in an effort to provide the grieving boy a measure of comfort and reassurance.  Ben kept his thoughts to himself, allowing Joe the time needed to work his way passed his present breakdown, knowing that soon, Joe would come to terms with the loss of his special friend.

Several minutes later, Joe raised his head and turned to his father.  Ben watched as his son took a deep breath and straightened his back.  “I’m all right now, Pa.  I know I will never forget him, he was…special…and I did love him.  You know, when I first met him…I was afraid of him.  Seems strange somehow…to love someone you once feared.  I think a part of me still feared him…to a degree.”

“No son, I don’t think it’s strange at all.  Two Feathers was a man too fear, at least he was when you met him.  His heart was full of hatred; he loathed the white man for what he had done to his family.  It was only natural.  But then later, he learned that a white man could be trusted, and he learned to love again.  You taught him that Joseph; you did son, by simply being who you are.  I don’t even begin to understand why your path crossed with his, only that for whatever reason God had planned, a man’s life was changed forever because of it.  Don’t remember your friend as a man to fear, but as a man, who loved deeply and was loved as much in return,” Ben explained to his son.

“I know you’re right Pa.  I just wish I had told him before…how I felt about him,” whispered Joe.

“You didn’t have to say it with words, son.  You said it by your actions, by coming to see him, by fighting with him, by holding him in your arms while he lay dying.  He knew that your heart was speaking to him, there were no need for words,” assured Ben, his hand moving up and down the middle of Joe’s back, giving comfort to Joe’s troubled soul, all the while studying Joe’s face.

Joe swallowed again and raised his eyes to look into his father’s face.

“He told me he had a vision that he would die soon, and that he would die being held in the arms of a faceless man.  He said that he could not see the face, but that he knew it to be a friend, someone who loved him.”  Joe’s voice cracked slightly, “how’d he know that, Pa?”

“I don’t know son, I can’t explain it.  I know that sometimes, God, or in this case, the Great Spirit father, assured Two Feathers that he would not have to die alone, unloved.  It was God’s way of telling Two Feathers that it was okay to go, to pass from this life into the next.  That’s about the best way I know to explain it to you, son.”

Joe looked into his father’s dark eyes and saw all the love and compassion that he knew his father was famous for and offered a small smile.  “I’m glad it was me then.  Thanks Pa…for understanding.”

“What do you say we go and find Rising Sun?  I have a promise to keep,” smiled Joe as he plopped his hat back on, covering his dark curls.

“Let’s go then,” Ben smiled in return.

“No, I will not go, Little Joe.  My place is here, with my people, my husband’s people.  My son will one day be chief, his place is here, among the people of his father.  Here, he will learn all that will be needed to make a good chief for our tribe.  Here he will be among the ones who have suffered and learned from their wounded hearts.  Here he will become a man.  My husband was wrong to make you promise to take me away.  I will not go, I will stay,” Rising Sun argued with Joe.

“But I promised him, don’t you understand that?” Joe all but shouted back to the headstrong young woman who was determined to over rule him.

“I only understand that my husband made you promise something that he knew I would never agree too.  My place is here, why can you not understand that?” she restated sharply.

Joe looked to his father for support.  Ben smiled slightly at his son’s dilemma and stepped between the pair, turning to face his son first.  “I think she is right Joe, no hush a minute,” he said before Joe could protest his statement.  “I think she is correct that her son should be raised among his father’s people, so that he can learn how to be a good chief…”

“But Pa, who will take care of her?  Two Feathers said that, that was his main concern…she has no husband now…how will she get by?” questioned Joe, all his worry showing in his handsome face.

The flap raised from the opening and Gray Fox and Nishka entered the teepee before either could speak again.

“I will care for her.  Gray Fox has already taken a wife, but I have none.  She was my brother’s wife; it is my duty to care for her.  Later, when her grief has passed, Rising Sun will become my wife, as I am to become chief now, it is our custom.  I will remain as such until Joseph Two Feathers becomes of age to take his proper place,” explained Nishka.

Joe was shocked; “You are Two Feathers’ brother?”

“That is correct Little Joe.  You are surprised?” laughed Nishka.

“Yes, I had no idea.  I guess that explains why the two of you were always so close,” said Joe.

“Gray Fox is our brother as well, he is married to our sister.  So you see, you have no fear of Rising Sun being unloved or not cared for.  We will keep her safe, her life and that of her child, both the boy and the one she now carries, will be held in high respect.  Do not fear for her,” promised Nishka.

Joe glanced up at his father and shrugged his shoulders.  “I suppose that I have no choice, do I?” he asked quietly of the group.

Rising Sun shook her head, but smiled as she slipped close to Joe and placed a kiss to the side of his face.

“You have been a good friend to my husband, and to me.  My people respect you and what you have done to help us.  I will be fine, one day I will become the wife of Nishka, chief of the Pahrump Paiute Tribe.  My son will follow in his father’s footsteps, my life here, will be good.  There is no cause to believe otherwise.  You have fulfilled your promise to Two Feathers for I am among my people.  Thank you Little Joe.”

Joe blinked his eyes to keep the tears at bay and smiled at his Indian friends.  “If you’re sure,” he muttered.

“I am sure, go now, but please, come again someday,” Rising Sun said as she followed the Cartwrights outside and into the bright sunshine.

“I will and you better send me word, when that baby gets here,” laughed Joe, accepting his mount’s reins from his father’s extended hand.

“It will be another boy, you need not worry about taking a wife, I promise,” laughed the pretty woman.

“Worry?” giggled Joe, “Not me,” he said as he slipped behind Rising Sun and planted a kiss on the top of Two Feathers’ cooing baby boy.

Joe swung into the saddle and turned Cochise so that he might face the group of men and women who had lingered outside the teepee to bid him farewell.  “Goodbye Rising Sun, take care of yourself,” Joe smiled down.

“I will, you do the same Little Joe.  Goodbye Mr. Cartwright, Adam, Hoss,” called Rising Sun.

Hoss and Adam both touched their hands to the rim of their hats and turning their horses galloped off, leaving Ben to wait for Joe.  Joe nodded one last time at his friend’s people and tossed his hand upward in a wave and then turned his mount in the opposite direction.

Ben rode side by side with Joe; both were quiet, and both reflecting on the events that had changed not only one life, but also many.  Ben chanced a quick glance at his son and noted that Joe was smiling, really smiling, for the first time since joining him.

“Want to share something with me?” asked the father as he watched Joe’s expressions change.

“I was just remembering something that Two Feathers told me one night while we sat around the fire.  It was freezing cold outside, cause it was winter, and he had just finished telling me about his first wife and son.  He said, ‘Love is like a man’s life, eternal and nothing, not even death, can cut the ties that binds a man’s heart to those he loves, for there is no real end to life, thus it is the same with love, both are endless and eternal.’”

“He was right son, I know that, we have both loved and lost those we cared deeply about, but that didn’t stop the love we felt in our hearts for them.  Two Feathers was a wise man who knew the true value of a friend and how to love that friend.”

Ben had stopped his horse beside of his son’s mount and together Ben and Joe exchanged knowing smiles.  Life goes on, both father and son had come to the same knowledge, Ben long before his son’s realization, but just the same, they had arrived at the same conclusion both through knowing the love of someone special.

“Let’s go home, son,” Ben smiled as he looked one last time over his shoulder at the Paiute village far below them that could still be seen from the top of Two Feathers’ little green knoll where they had stopped for one last look.

“Home,” stated Joe following his father’s gaze.  “That sure sounds good to me.”

THE END
November 2002

Epilogue:
Months after coming home, Joe received word by messenger, that Rising Sun had given birth to a baby boy.  The note, translated by the messenger from Two Feathers’ village simply stated:  ‘Two Feathers’ legacy will live forever in the hearts of his people, for on this day a son was born, Soaring Eagle, whose father was, for the first time, wrong’.

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