Summary: Adam’s life is turned upside down after an attack on a wagon train leaves him alone and injured in the desert. He is helped by an unlikely saviour. But what has become of his family? And why is his rescuer so keen to keep the truth from him.
Word Count: 83,320 words
“How’s our guest this morning, sergeant?”
“Sleepin’ like a baby, sir.”
The sun had only just crested the eastern horizon, its rays pushing the sun high into the sky. The atmosphere was ablaze with a golden light that burned the wispy clouds in its wake. And as the sun rose, the silent land was blanketed with a creeping warmth that promised another hot, uncomfortable day to come.
The two men stood in the shadow of the supply wagon sipping on the morning’s brew of freshly roasted coffee. Their clothes were stained with sweat and dust, and the sergeant had an itch that he just couldn’t seem to rid himself of, despite copious scratching. Curling up his top lip with effort he continued to work at the offending place, in the process spilling his coffee, much to his superior’s disgust.
“Barclay!” he snapped “For goodness sake man! Kindly cease clawing at yourself and ready the teams. We move out in five.”
Barclay reluctantly gave up his incessant probing and with an awkward gait as if clenching his thighs together moved off to see to the horses. The small troop of soldiers had been travelling for days across the desert, moving from one water hole to another. They had had little respite from energy-sapping heat and dust which found its way into their eyes, hair, clothing and places one wouldn’t have thought it possible for dust to reach. The white glare of the sun reflecting off the dry baked surface of the earth added to their discomfort.
The fortnightly desert patrol was one of the least favourite assignments for the troop. Their base at Fort Nash was little more than a series of log cabins enclosed by more log walls, set in a parched shallow valley half a day’s ride from this barren dust bowl. And although the mattresses on the bunks were hard and the mess hall served a monotonous diet of teeth-shatteringly tough bread and fatty bacon, it was still more comfortable than this; and it was away from the arid landscape which seemed to suck the very moisture from their eyes. Even better, there were girls in the nearest town: pretty girls with soft, smooth skin and waist-hugging dresses who would tempt a man in the saloons for the price of a shot of whisky.
But duty called, and every two weeks a patrol comprising a handful of wagons and a half score of men left the relative comfort of their base and headed out into the inhospitable terrain of the desert. Their job? To round up strays. Not cattle or horses, but people. As increasing numbers of settlers came west with stars in their eyes and fed by dreams of golden lands, the little problem of the native peoples of those territories that were gradually being ceded into the growing United States, needed dealing with. Though many tribespeople had been relocated onto the reservations, there were still many individuals and bands that didn’t seem to get the message that they should stay put on the reservations and not go wandering off in search of whatever it was that they were in search of. Much worse were the renegades, the bands of angry warriors who raided farms, burnt small settlements and attacked and brutally murdered ordinary folk just trying to make a better life for themselves. The army’s job was to round up these troublemakers and get them back where they belonged and if some of them died in the process, then so be it.
In this neck of the woods, however, the patrol didn’t need to be a big one as they generally only came across families or lone individuals, folks who didn’t put up much of a fight. Not in this scorched environment. More often than not they came across nothing more than the odd lizard and rattler and they returned to their bunks with stiff muscles and fractious moods.
This patrol, though, had been different. Although it could be classed as a success, the man in charge was at a loss to determine exactly who or what they’d come across.
“Lieutenant?” called a voice from a nearby wagon, “he’s off agin.” Lieutenant Dean flicked the remainder of his coffee onto the cooking fire and, dropping his head in defeat, started to make his way to the source of his frustration. “Just one day…can we not have just one day without this aggravation,” he muttered to himself.
The lieutenant was a young man in command of a motley collection of men. Normally fastidious in his appearance, Henry Dean had learned to live with the dust, the sweat and general discomfort of life on the patrol. He brushed down his jacket every morning, a pointless act as it attracted a new layer of dust almost instantly. And he shaved every day, much to the men’s amusement. For him cleanliness was indeed next to Godliness and it all helped to maintain his ideal of how a man in charge of other men should appear. He insisted on discipline and had earned a begrudging respect for his fairness, fortitude and quick decision-making when required.
As Dean approached the covered wagon he could hear banging and at the same time an angry voice intoning words in a language that Dean could never hope, or even want, to understand. A man in civilian dress was waiting for him.
“What’s the problem this time, Bill?”
“Well, he’s just plain ornery if you ask me,” came the reply. “He was all quiet an’ peaceful and then he woke up. He’s got a bee in ‘is bonnet no matter how you look at it.”
If someone was to ask William Half-Foot where he was from, he would have answered everywhere and nowhere. He claimed to have a Paiute mother, an Irish father and somewhere down the generations a drop of Spanish, Norwegian and Bolivian. The latter was probably true only in Bill’s wildest imagination, but his parentage was not to be disputed. He had the dark skin, wide cheekbones and small eyes of his mother and the bad temper of his Irish pa. Raised by his mother and her kin, he had found acceptance amongst a people for whom family life was a central tenet of their world. But when a horseback accident as a child left him with a crippled right foot and he was unable to join in the rowdy games of the other children, the first feelings of dissociation, and being different from everyone else, began to crowd his thoughts. Time spent with his hard-drinking father had toughened up his hide so he had been able to let his pa’s jibes and incriminations as to the very fact of his existence wash over him. He’d been jeered at, beaten and run out of towns on more occasions than he could count just because of his Indian blood. He was an outsider, but Bill had lived with it for so many years that he now thrived on his difference. Somehow or other in his middle years he’d wound up at Fort Nash amongst a horde of other social misfits and ne’er-do-wells whose only recourse in life was to join the army. But he was right at home amongst these other oddballs, and his language skills were put to good use as he accompanied the patrols on their search for Indians.
The pounding and angry muttering continued from the inside of the wagon. Pulling the canopy up, Dean peered into the dim interior, softly illuminated by the light filtering through the canvas sides. At the back of the wagon behind a couple of storage crates a man was half-sitting, half-lying on a carpet of grain-filled gunny sacks. His hands were tied behind him with a rope secured to a metal circle in the floor and his ankles were also bound together. He wasn’t being idle though. His feet lashed out at the wooden slats on the side of the wagon, as if trying to smash a hole through which he could escape.
“We had ta tie ‘is feet together last night when he kicked Brace in the goolies whilst he was bringin’ ‘im some grub.” Bill shook his head. “He’s a right ornery one alright.”
The prisoner was tall, broad chested and with the bronzed skin of someone who spent his days from dawn to dusk being slowly cooked by the sun. His long black hair hung loose and bedraggled around his shoulders. He was dressed in tanned-hide leggings and soft rawhide boots covered his feet. A collarless buckskin shirt hinted at a chest covered in tight dark curls. Smears of dried blood covered the side of his neck and shirt.
The indignant rantings of the prisoner had not ceased throughout the two men’s conversation. At the appearance of the lieutenant the man had stopped kicking the wooden planking and leaned as far forwards as his restrained arms would let him. He continued to rant but with increased venom, his irises darkened in fury as he strained towards Dean.
“What’s he saying?” Dean had to raise his voice to be heard above the prisoner.
“Just the usual, you can’t keep me tied up, why am I a prisoner, I need to get back, you gotta let me go…you know, the usual.” Bill paused to listen. “Ah, that’s a new one on me, he hasn’t said that before.”
“What did he say?”
“He said you’re a stinkin’, boot-lickin, son of a whore-poxed…”
“FINE!” Dean interrupted. “I get the picture.” Dean dropped the canvas and taking Bill’s arm guided him away from the wagon and away from the ears of the man inside. The pounding started up again.
“Look, we’ve had this man with us for three days now and we’re still none the wiser as to who or what he is.” Dean paused and glanced towards the wagon when a particularly loud piece of vitriol sounded across the camp. “He talks like an Indian, he dresses like an Indian and yet…the man is clearly white!” The lieutenant gesticulated out into the desert. “And how come he ended up out there, on his own, tied up and with two nasty head wounds?”
Bill followed the officer’s pointed hand and gazed out over the warming bleakness of the desert.
“Seems ta me like it don’t need to be our problem for much longer. I says we dump him in the nearest jail and get hisself off our hands. He ain’t been nuffin but trouble since we found him. Cussin’ and hollerin’ all the time.”
Dean sighed. “That may be so, Bill, but I still feel we have a duty to find out who he is and where he comes from. He must have family out there someplace.”
“Ifn you was ‘is kin, would you want a half-wild injun back in your nice comfy homestead?” Bill turned and spat a wodge of saliva onto the ground. “He’s been darned abusive, kicked one o’ your men where the sun don’t rightly shine, throws good honest grub back in our faces…and you wants ta help ‘im? I say we’s get shot of ‘im, and just as soon as we can.”
Bill paused as if wondering whether to carry on. He decided things needed to be said. “Plus the men ain’t happy. Theys won’t say it ta your face sir, but theys want shot of him too. He just ain’t right; not one thing or ‘nother and it’s bothersome.”
The lieutenant glanced at Bill. He seemed unaware that he’d just described his own circumstances. But no matter, Dean was in a quandary, caught between solving the mystery of who this man was and between placating his men who were clearly disgruntled at the idea of further days of ruckus, belligerence and possible damage to their tender parts.
He took one look towards the source of the shouting and banging, and then turned to glance at the men, some of whom were slowly climbing up into their wagons and gathering their team’s reins in preparation for another day of mindless slog across the desert. He let out a heavy breath.
“Okay, this is what we’re gonna do… Barclay!” The sergeant shuffled his way over to his commanding officer from where he’d been standing with a couple of other men in the lea of the wagon watching the deliberations over the prisoner.
“We’re making a detour. We’re going to Darwin.”
“It’s the nearest town with a jailhouse. Tell the men, we’re moving out.”
Barclay felt like hollering with glee. A town! They was going to a town with all the comforts that came with it: purdy girls, a long cool beer, maybe even a night not spent on the back-breakingly hard earth. With enthusiasm in his step and a grin on his face he turned to the other men. “Yes sir, lieutenant, sir! Let’s get moving men, we’re rolling out.”
Bill turned to make his way to his horse but Lieutenant Dean stopped him. “Bill, we’ll do as you suggest, but there’s one thing I want you to do for me. I want you to talk to him.”
“But lieutenant, he don’t let no one near ‘im…”
“Bill, he hasn’t spoken in English since the day we found him. You’re the only one who can understand what he’s saying. We’ve got a day of travel before we reach Darwin. Stay in the wagon with him. Talk to him. Try and get him to talk to you. Find out anything that may help us.” Dean reached out his hand to the older man and squeezed his shoulder. “You’re the only one who can do this. I’m relying on you…”
The words remained unspoken between them, but Bill knew that Dean was alluding to Bill’s own life, how he himself had one foot in both worlds. He’d not considered before that there was any similarity. But he guessed in a way they were alike. Bill knew first-hand how white folk treated ‘Indian-lovers’ but also how precarious existence could be for a white man living in an Indian community. It was life lived on a knife edge, where one false move could leave you cut and torn, alone and left for the coyotes. Bill’s hard-nosed exterior faltered. He’d probably live to regret this.
Bill glanced up at the young man. “Gaaah, okay, you got me, I’ll do it. But at the first sign of danger to my cojones I’m gettin’ outta there.”
Bill gingerly climbed up into the back of the wagon. His bad leg meant he had to use his arms to physically swing his foot onto the wooden boards which made up the wagon bed. His caution was not only down to his physical impairment, however; it was also caused by apprehension at the welcome he was expecting to receive.
For the past two days and three nights the prisoner had been kept tied in the back of a wagon. When they’d found him, he’d been weak but conscious, severely dehydrated through lack of water and with two nasty head wounds. Several hours of sleep, some food and plenty of water had revived him. But he’d been insistent from the start that they let him go and when Lieutenant Dean refused to let him wander off into the desert by himself, and after a failed attempt to steal a horse, he had had to be restrained with ropes around his wrists, chaffing already red-sore skin. He’d become belligerent, his behaviour more rowdy and cantankerous with each passing hour. His aggression meant that the only contact he’d had with anyone was at mealtimes and when the bucket that was left for his comfort was being emptied. The lieutenant looked in on him whenever the patrol stopped but he never entered the enclosed space, choosing to peer over the tailgate instead. After the unfortunate incident with Private Brace his feet had also been tied. His hands were only freed when the wagons stopped for any reason and he had to make use of the bucket with the indignity of a rifle pointed at his head. All he had left as a weapon was his voice, and he chose to use this loudly, forcefully and pretty much constantly. The only rest for him and the men came when he had shouted himself into a state of exhaustion and succumbed to sleep.
Bill settled himself at the back of the wagon, as far away from the man as he could physically get. He shifted his bad leg out in front of him and eyed the prisoner who sat staring at him with those cold dark eyes of his. He was silent for once. As the horses started to move, the wagon shifted forward with a jolt. Before long the wagon’s motion had established into a regular rhythm, gently swaying the men from side to side.
The stranger said nothing, just continued to stare at Bill with defiance through his heavy-lidded eyes.
“There ain’t no use you eyeballing me, boy. I ain’t gonna fall for any mind tricks.”
The eyes continued to stare. They seemed to bury into Bill’s very mind, as if they could read every low-down dirty thought he had in his head. But he wasn’t about to give in. No siree.
“You can gawk all you want, but it ain’t gettin’ you off this wagon.”
The eyes wouldn’t let up for a minute. Bill wasn’t sure he’d even seen a blink from him the whole time they’d been playing goggle-eyes at each other. He just sat there, staring, not moving an inch except as a result of the movement of the wagon. He looked relaxed. In fact the eyes seemed to have lightened in tone from the darkest brown to a hazel green. Bill sensed that if he could have, the man would have launched at Bill like an alley cat going after a rat.
“Now, lookee here…”
Bill was interrupted by a stream of words spoken in a language that no white man in that patrol understood. The words when spoken calmly were supple and musical, seeming to form somewhere behind his teeth with a soft sibilance before each word was intoned distinctly and with great care. But Bill wasn’t just a white man. He was what they disparagingly called a half-breed. Although the stranger’s words were not those of the Paiute, they were similar, and he understood what the man was saying.
“Now that ain’t no way ta be talkin’ is it, boy?”
The prisoner finally tore his eyes away from Bill’s and slumped a shoulder against the side of the wagon.
“I ain’t leaving this wagon until you tell me who you is and what you be doin’ out in the desert all on your ownsome.”
The heavy-lidded eyes turned to face Bill. Another stream of words left his mouth.
“Speak American, I knowse you know how.”
More soft, musical words greeted Bill.
“Dadburnit, if you ain’t jest one stubborn, mule-headed son of an ornery toad, I don’t know what is.”
The man’s head shot up, his brow creased with a look of confusion. It was though he had been reminded of something or someone. He sighed and dropped his head, all the black-eyed pugnaciousness dying in an instant. His eyes seemed to glaze over with a film of moisture and he quickly turned his head away from Bill. He pulled his legs up to his chest and stared over his right shoulder, gazing out through the forward-facing gap in the canopy as if he could see through the backs of the men driving the wagon and beyond to the far horizon. If his arms weren’t tied behind his back, Bill just knew he would have wrapped his arms around his knees.
Somehow Bill had touched a nerve. He knew he had to be careful now. He might be bad-tempered and cranky but he knew from his own experience when someone was hurtin’, and keeping that hurt so far deep down inside that the only way it could come up was when it couldn’t be shackled no longer and was just like to explode. He was starting to see too much of himself in this young man. It was a trait that Bill was only too familiar with. What he said next could either break through the thick skin of this fella here, or he’d be hobbling around for the next few days holding a towel wrapped with ice over his family jewels.
“Son, I don’t rightly know what your story is, or where ya been, but it seems ta me all this bluster and verbal gassin’ is just a way to…” Bill paused trying to find the right words. “Well, it seems ta me ya hurtin’ over somethin’.” The stranger continued to stare away from Bill, but Bill knew he was listening.
“Look, I’m jest an ordinary Joe, I ain’t no mind doctor or nuffin, I don’t rightly know what’s goin’ on in your head, but right now you ain’t got no one else to talk to. Ya might as well talk to me.” Bill shifted position on the hard floor of the wagon. He could sure do with one of those sacks to stop his bottom from going numb.
“Jest talk to me. Why don’t we start with your name?”
The stranger didn’t move. He kept his face and those expressive eyes facing away from Bill. But then all the tension seemed to seep out of his muscles as if the fight had gone from him. His shoulders and arms loosened and he turned his head so that he was looking forward towards the other side of the wagon. Even though he was at an angle to Bill, Bill could once more see those eyes which seemed to change colour with his moods. They were green again. And there was something else there. Was it sadness? Maybe even fear. Dropping his glance to his knees, the man spoke. The voice was deep, lower in pitch than the angry intonations of earlier.
“They call me Liwanu.”
In his mind Bill was punching the air and doing a victory dance. At last he was getting somewhere.
“Liwanu. Doesn’t that mean ‘growl of a bear’?” Bill chuckled. “How’d ya git that name?”
The man briefly flicked his eyes at Bill but then continued to stare at his knees.
“What about ya given name, the name ya was given when you was born?”
“I have no other name. Not anymore.”
“Now, son, you is not Injun, you could almost be taken for one with ya hair an’ all and well, ya got the skin of an Injun, but, boy, you ain’t Injun.” Bill’s earlier moment of triumph was forgotten as his exasperation rose to the surface. “You gotta have some kin out there just wonderin’ where you is…”
The eyes turned black again as the man who called himself Liwanu strained forward with a speed that shocked Bill, his arms pulled taut behind him by the restraints. He glared at Bill and spat out his next words.
“I have no…kin!” he hissed. “My family were butchered, they are all dead!”
Exhausted by his outburst, he flopped back on to the sacks, shifting uncomfortably to ease the ache in his shoulders and arms where he had wrenched his muscles.
Bill had flattened himself against the back of the wagon during the outburst, but on seeing the man collapse back to his corner, he eased himself away from the boards. His irascible old hide was now intrigued by this man’s story. But getting the facts out of him was like getting blood from a stone.
“I’m sorry, son.” Bill said quietly.
Perhaps it was the gentle tone of Bill’s voice, or the genuine sympathy that the stranger heard in his words. Or perhaps it went deeper, drawing out the memory of another man, an older man, from a different time and place. The dark eyes flickered over to Bill and he saw something there that made him feel what he’d not felt in a long time: the whispers of trust in a man of his own race.
“You speak the Ute language?”
Bill looked up in surprise. “Ah, well, my ma was Paiute, I lived with her an’ her kin for years. My pa, now he was Irish, but he’s stoking the fires of hell now.” Bill had got distracted. “But youse is speaking Ute. Is that who ya been livin’ with?”
The stranger looked away as if contemplating his next words.
“The Ute saved me, made me one of their own, after…”
“After you lost ya kin?”
The stranger nodded.
“How longs you been livin’ with them?”
The stranger hesitated for several moments.
“Two years, give or take.”
Bill whistled softly. “Two years, that shure is a long time ta be away from your own kind.”
Bill shouldn’t have been surprised at the reaction. Once again, the stranger pulled himself forward with fire in his eyes.
“My own kind killed my family!” The words were spoken angrily, dark eyes glittering. “My own kind beat me to a pulp and left me to die. My own kind slaughtered women and children just for the sake of a quick buck. I turned my back on my own kind.” He stopped, took a breath and gently shook his head as if to rid his thoughts of memories and feelings he had tried his best to subdue. “The Ute found me, treated my wounds, gave me a new place in the world.”
It was the most he’d said since the journey had started. The wagon trundled on with its unrelenting motion. For a few minutes the men sat in silence, rocking gently in the wagon’s gait. Bill felt an understanding of this man. In his life, he had experienced the white man’s treatment of each other and of other cultures. He saw the greed inherent in a society where wealth and status was a primary goal. He felt at ease with the spirituality of the Indian. It was an existence which set its clock by the seasons, where a different sort of wealth came from the land and the sky. But just as the white man could be brutal, so could the Indian. Bill had witnessed, though not taken part in, the scalping of enemies. He’d seen skirmishes between tribes where both sides would hack at each other with knives and tomahawks. No, neither side was perfect. Though knowing his mother’s people as he did, he could understand how an injured soul, someone who had lost so much in the world of the white man, would choose to stay with the Indians.
“Ya say ya name is Liwanu? That’s the name the Ute gave ya. What’s your real name, son?”
The stranger looked at Bill. His dark eyes once more bored their way into Bill’s soul. Bill met his stare with his own. For several moments neither one of them blinked. Finally the stranger pulled his eyes away from Bill’s and looked to the floor.
“Adam,” he said quietly, and sighed. “My name is Adam.”
“The sky’s sure on fire tonight, older brother.”
“Indeed it is, younger brother, and ain’t that a sight for sore eyes.”
Adam Cartwright and his younger brother Hoss leaned back against their upturned saddles and took in the glorious show that nature had laid on for them. As the sun lowered towards the distant horizon the sky was a riot of red and auburn flame. The setting sun was like a ball of molten fire, shrinking below the skyline until soon the desert would turn black and be brightened in turn by the myriad of stars glimmering in the firmament above.
Adam refilled his cup with coffee before passing the pot over to Hoss. Hoss’s tin mug looked like a dainty teacup in his huge hands. Folks who met him for the first time tended to take one look at him and assume he was a brute, someone to be wary of due to his size. He had been a huge baby, and as he grew was always bigger than the other children in his school class. Indeed, by the time he was thirteen he was even starting to grow taller than his older brother Adam who was a young man by that time. But his size couldn’t hide the gentle soul who found pleasure in such unworldly things as a dogwood tree in full bloom, a new-born foal taking his first steps, or a plate full of Hop Sing’s lamb chops. His azure eyes expressed every emotion that he was feeling, and right now those eyes were open with wonderment at the beauty of the sun’s final act of the day. Adam interrupted his reverie.
“Where’s Pa and Joe?”
“Pa’s talking to Mister Kaufman and I do believe our little brother is a-chattin’ with his daughter, that little gal Lorna.” Hoss chuckled. “He’s taken a real shine to her an all.”
Adam raised his eyes to the heavens. Joe Cartwright was definitely one for the ladies. Quick to laugh, and even quicker to fall in love, if there was a pretty girl within a mile radius of Little Joe, he’d be sure to find her and before you could say Jack Robinson, she would be hypnotised by his tousled curly hair, boyish charm and those eternally twinkling green eyes. Adam smiled to himself. Lorna Kaufman didn’t stand a chance.
The family had been away from the Ponderosa for two weeks now. Ben Cartwright, the indomitable patriarch of the Cartwright clan, had suggested to his sons that they accompany him on a business trip just across the Utah Nevada border. The business would only take a day or so, but the time spent together would be a welcome respite from months of hard toil on the ranch. As anticipated, the proposition was met with enthusiasm. It was the tail end of summer and the autumn light was already beginning to turn the leaves from verdant green to the colours of fall. And with the preparations for winter just around the corner, this was the perfect time to take a short break. It was not often that the four men could spend a prolonged period of time together that didn’t involve the branding, rounding-up and herding of cattle; the seemingly endless mending of fences; the breaking of bones whilst breaking horses; or pleas from Virginia City officials to take part in a posse or other sundry Virginia City business. Ben had decided that the ranch could be left in the safe hands of his trusty foreman for a few weeks whilst he and the boys spent some superior time together.
The ride across the basin to the Utah border had been an uneventful but fascinating journey. Their trail had taken them through a desert alive with the spicy scent of sagebrush. Hoss’s keen eye would always be the first to spot a hawk riding the thermals or a cottontail rabbit bolting in alarm from the scrub and zig-zagging at speed away from the horses. They had marvelled at the salt pans which from a distance looked like a sea of crisp white snow sparkling in the autumn light. As the trail took them high over a ridge, they had come across groves of ancient bristlecone pines, some of which had been alive since Christ had walked the earth. Standing like sentries, their trunks were twisted by wind and ice to form living statues in the wilderness. Ben would find himself saying a silent prayer thanking God for the continued safety and wellbeing of his sons, as they passed these venerable living beings.
Halfway through their journey they had detoured away from the flat lands and followed a trail into high forested hills. Having a chance to ride in the shade of white trunked aspens and drink fresh water from gently flowing mountain creeks had refreshed the men after their days in the hot dry desert. A day spent hunting had resulted in a hearty dinner of roast venison when Hoss brought down a mule deer with his trusted Henry rifle.
The nights were spent in blissful relaxation around a log fire. Ben loved to regale his sons with stories about their mothers and childhoods, or tales of the long trek west when Adam was a small boy. Some stories they’d heard a hundred times before, though they never tired of hearing them; others were new to their ears and were eagerly lapped up, for each story was a new page in their shared history. The stories rooted the beliefs, standards and ideals of the Cartwrights; they made them strong.
On other nights Joe had the family competing over who could invent the scariest ghost stories. Of course, they were all too old to believe in witches and ghosts and goblins, but with the log fire casting long shadows amongst the trees, and the noise of the odd nocturnal creature scurrying around them, it was fun to try to scare each other half to death. More often than not, a story had ended with Hoss wide-eyed as his imagination ran riot and Joe clutching his stomach in hysterical laughter and snorting his high-pitched cackle as Hoss made a grab for him across the fire.
And then there were the songs. Adam would beat out a rhythm with spoons, or on his knee, or on the back of a tin plate, and before you knew it, Ben’s deep rumble, Joe’s enthusiastic hollering and Hoss’s strident tones were singing in unison with Adam’s smooth baritone. They had sung the songs from the old country, the songs that were in their blood. More often than not, the men had settled down on their bedrolls and listened with pleasure and admiration as Adam sang slow, heart-breaking songs telling of lost love and times long past.
After the interlude in the hills, the trail had taken them back down into the desert and within a couple of days they had arrived at their destination a few miles into Utah Territory. That night, in turn, they had each succumbed to the delights of the large copper bath in their hotel’s washroom, slowly and rapturously immersing themselves in the warm, soapy liquid and letting the steam and hot water wash away the accumulated grime and ache of days spent in the saddle.
The following morning, as Ben had shut himself away in an airless office negotiating over figures and contracts with suited businessmen, a wagon train had rolled into town. The boys had intended to spend the day enjoying the temptations of the local saloon. But the saloons could wait as the wagon train held enough diversions to hold their attentions. The caravan was headed by Jurgen Kaufman, a German with an adventurous streak. As a young man voyaging across the Atlantic with barely a dollar to his name, he has been alive with dreams of wide open prairies and buffalo as far as the eye could see. His dreams had faltered on arrival in New York so he had settled there to make a living and earn enough capital to make the journey. By the time his dream could become a reality, he had a wife and a gaggle of children, and his goals had expanded. He had now set his sights on the promised land of California.
Most of the residents of this small Utah town had come out to greet the travellers. Due to the slow-moving nature of the wagon train, the town had known for a couple of days that they were on their way. So the storekeepers were ready for business, the blacksmith was hopeful of a good day’s work and a committee of prominent townsfolk were ready to greet the wagon train and direct them to a suitable place to camp for the night. Other residents just lounged on the boardwalks and took in the bustle of rattling mule-led wagons and all the paraphernalia that accompanied just such an enterprise. Most of the settlers walked alongside the wagons; only the very old and the very small sat with the muleteers. Families, couples, children of all ages and sizes plodded along wearily with tired feet. Although it was the start of the business day in town, these people had already been up and travelling for several hours. The tiredness showed on their faces but even their fatigue couldn’t disguise the hope that shone in their faces of what would greet them at the end of their long journey.
Adam found himself conversing with Kaufman. He himself had experienced life on a wagon train and was keen to relive experiences with the enthusiastic German. As the caravan trundled slowly through the town and made camp on the outskirts, Adam walked beside Kaufman sharing stories and anecdotes. It didn’t take Little Joe long to find the prettiest girl for miles around – as he very soon declared to her to be with all his twinkling charm operating at full capacity. Lorna Kaufman, Jurgen’s daughter, was soon enraptured with the attentions of this very good looking young man with his shock of wavy brown hair, slim hips and hands which found any excuse to take an arm or an elbow as he assisted her along the way. Hoss had been immediately drawn to the very fine examples of horseflesh which were tied on long reins to the back of the end wagon. Once the wagons had been drawn up into a rectangle and the horses corralled within it, Hoss was soon deep in conversation with the animals’ owner who intended on setting up a breeding farm on arrival in California. These animals were his life’s work, the culmination of years of selective breeding. Before long, Hoss was talking pedigrees and bloodlines and running his hands appreciatively over the animals’ hindquarters and lower legs.
Adam discovered that the wagon train had been on the trail now for four months and that their onward journey was going to take them in roughly the same direction as the Cartwrights. This interesting snippet of information was casually mentioned to his brothers and before long, both Joe and Hoss had come to the same conclusion that Adam had. If the wagon train would have them, and their father was receptive, they could travel along with them for a while. It was a chance to converse with new friends, for Joe to work his wiles on Lorna and for Hoss to spend more time with those magnificent beasts. When Ben finally emerged into the bright daylight after a satisfying day of business which would yield enough work to keep the Ponderosa’s coffers healthy for the next twelve months, the boys had pounced on their unsuspecting father. They had taken advantage of his good mood, and propelled him gently along the boardwalk towards the encampment, all the while speaking of their new friends and casually mentioning the route the caravan intended to take, subtly implanting the idea in Ben’s head that a shared journey was a secure journey and making him think he’d come up with the idea of them travelling together all by himself.
And so it was that four days into Nevada Territory, Adam and Hoss enjoyed a cup of coffee whilst leaning back against their upturned saddles which they’d settled between two covered wagons. The wondrous sunset had a calming effect on the two men after a long day on horseback. As the sun dipped behind the horizon it was almost like the aches of the day disappeared along with it.
Each day began a couple of hours before dawn when the encampment stirred itself into activity, readying the teams and wagons for the next stage of the journey. The mules could only travel about twenty miles a day and the family knew that very soon they would branch off in the direction of the Ponderosa. They had enjoyed their trip and the company of the settlers but the lure of home was like the pull of a moth to a lantern. Home was beckoning.
Adam reluctantly pushed himself into a standing position. “I’m just gonna see what Pa’s plans are. You know, when he intends to leave the train,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed these last few days, but right now, I could sure use my own, soft, bed.” These last three words he said slowly and with half a smile forming on his face as he thought of the soft pillows and blankets in his own room. “And I won’t miss your snoring.”
“Hey, older brother, I’m not the only one round here who snores. I mean,” Hoss leaned in conspiratorially and lowered his volume, “have you heard ol’ Mister Randall? He sounds like that ol’ pig that Hop Sing used to have, whad he call her?” Hoss scrunched up his nose in concentration. “Fang Bao, that was it. Dadburnit, that pig could make more noise than a mama bear protecting her cubs. Darn, I miss that ol’ pig.”
“I didn’t see you missing her when Hop Sing served her up as pork chops.” Adam smirked and ducked as an empty tin cup flew in his direction. “I’ll see ya later.”
As Adam slowly walked over in the direction of his father, still chuckling, a small voice called out his name. Looking up he spied a little blonde haired lad leaning out of the back of his family’s wagon, clad in his nightshirt. They hadn’t travelled far with the train before Adam realised he’d got himself a tiny shadow. Little Andy Hunter had been awestruck from the first moment he’d seen the tall black-haired cowboy on his handsome chestnut gelding. Sitting tall in the saddle, Adam would lope down the side of the train leaning back comfortably as if he was one with the horse. Andy took in his dark pants, his black shirt and black leather vest, stared in wonder at the gun belt hanging low on Adam’s hip and desperately wanted his own black silver-studded Stetson. He watched how Adam would turn Sport about with a slight flick of the wrist, or how he’d put his hat on carefully from front to back. At every meal stop and each night after the caravan had manoeuvred itself into a protective square, Andy would seek Adam out and squat down on his haunches to watch what he was doing, whether it be cleaning his weapons or strumming on a guitar that one of the families owned. Adam couldn’t help but be reminded of Little Joe when he was Andy’s age; Joe was always under his feet, endlessly inquisitive, putting his hands where he shouldn’t. Andy, however, although as curious, was an observer. He would just watch and take in everything that Adam was doing. As he got more confident around this compelling man, he’d started to ask questions, hesitantly at first. But when Adam had replied and talked to him as though Andy wasn’t a mere child, the boy had relaxed and before he knew it, Adam had a follower who worshiped the ground he walked on.
“Adam?” Andy was kneeling on the floor of his wagon with his arms hanging over the wooden tailgate. “Luther broke my gun.” The two halves of his once intact wooden gun were held in either hand.
Adam took the two pieces and carefully examined them. “Well, that wasn’t very nice of Luther was it, but don’t you worry,” he handed the items back to the boy, “we’ll get that fixed up so it’s right as rain.” He smiled up into the serious face of young Andy. “Now, shouldn’t you be in bed, young man? You don’t want your mamma finding you out do you?”
Andy shuffled on his knees away from the gap in the canopy leaving Adam to secure it in place. As he walked away a small voice called out “G’night Adam” and Adam smiled to himself as he headed off towards where he could see his father in friendly conversation with Kaufman.
Adam spied Joe sitting cross-legged by one of the camp’s fires with Lorna Kaufman by his side. Lorna was most definitely ‘the prettiest girl for miles around’. Adam took in the naturally curly brown hair which was tied at the nape of her neck with a ribbon, her coffee-coloured eyes and tanned skin. She was Joe’s height and as slim in the hips as he was. She had taken to wearing a permanent smile as her infatuation for the young man grew. The two of them looked very respectable, several inches apart, eyes on the fire or on their fellow companions, but it was no secret in the caravan that Lorna and Joe were sweet on each other. They’d been spotted necking when they thought no one else could see them. More often than not, as Lorna walked besides the moving wagon, Joe would seek her out, and jumping from his horse would lead Cochise on his reins as he walked beside her. As Joe stood rubbing down the pinto at the end of the day, he’d spy Lorna with her family preparing the evening’s meal and they would stare at each other like love struck puppies until Hoss would nudge Joe in the ribs and tease him about having the attention span of a horsefly. Yep, Joe was being typical Joe, he’d fallen head over heels in love with yet another pretty gal.
Adam approached his father and Mister Kaufman as they enjoyed a pipe together in the dying light. Ben Cartwright was a man who demanded respect simply from the way he carried himself. Broad in the shoulder and thickset in the waist, he carried his chest and his head high. His silver hair contrasted with black eyebrows which in turn made his dark brown eyes appear like black orbs, startling in their intensity. And if a stranger still had doubts as to Ben’s strength of personality, he only had to listen to his voice. Ben’s deep, rich timbre elicited obedience from his men, reverence from his friends and it had been known to put the fear of God into his sons. But his sons also heard the other Ben, the softly spoken, kind, loving father who had brought his boys up to love and care for the wilderness around them, to give back what they took from the land and to look out for each other through good and bad. Ben had experienced heart-breaking loss in his life but with his sons beside him, he had overcome these tragedies. He laughed louder than anyone else, worked harder and took everything in his stride.
Ben turned. “Adam, I was just telling Jurgen here that we’ll be leaving the train before long.”
Kaufman still retained a strong German accent from his youth. “We’ll be sad to say goodbye, Ben. We have welcomed your company.” He gesticulated towards the settlers who were settling down to meals around the camp. “It has been just us for so long, new faces have been like,” he paused to find the right words, “a breath of fresh air. I think you have brought us back to life for the rest of our journey.”
Ben reached out an arm and placed his hand on Kaufman’s forearm. “It has been good for us too. Though, I can think of two young people who won’t be very happy.”
“Ah, yes, my daughter and your son.”
The three men turned towards Joe and Lorna who seemed to have edged slightly nearer to each other by the campfire.
“Ah, he’ll get over it,” said Adam. “He’s been in and out of love more times than I count.”
Jurgen looked over at Adam. “Your brother may get over it, but what of my Lorna?” He sighed dramatically. “I see tears ahead, my friends, lots of tears.”
Adam and Ben bid Mister Kaufman goodnight and made their way back to where they had set up their bedrolls. “So when do you think we should leave, Pa? We’re half a day from Juniper Gorge; once we’re through there we can head off. Or another day’s ride will bring us to the southern trail. It’s longer and less direct, but an easier ride.”
“Adam, I don’t know about you, but I’m really starting to miss Hop Sing’s cooking.” Ben grinned. “We leave tomorrow. We’ll see these people through the gorge, then be on our way.”
The decision was made. After several, albeit very enjoyable, weeks away from the Ponderosa, it was time to go home.
The following day the wagon train was attacked.
The attackers had chosen the site of their ambush well. For the caravan there had been only one major obstacle on their journey across the desert. A low lying ridge cut the dust bowl in two and the only way through was via Juniper Gorge. The natural pass was all that was left of an ancient river bed which had, over millennia, sliced through the hard rock of the ridge leaving a narrow, v-shaped valley behind. The wagon train had no choice but to take this route, the only alternative being to skirt around the edge of the ridge thereby adding a good several weeks to their trek. All being well they should take half a day to journey through the cut-through. However, the pass being bordered on both sides by rocky, bouldered terrain, the ridge was the ideal place to hide bandits and thieves. And the Cartwrights knew it. Once in the gorge, the wagons would find it impossible to turn about and escape, they’d be stuck in there, and it’d be like shooting fish in a barrel.
The boys had ridden up the valley sides to get a view of the surrounding area but they couldn’t see another soul, or horse, or indeed any other living creature for as far as the eye could see. Each man felt uneasy. Hoss kept insisting that the back of his head was itching, a sure sign for him that they were being followed. He constantly removed his hat and scratched, all the time looking around him for signs that they weren’t alone. Ben had ridden to Kaufman in the first wagon and suggested that the wagons bunched up a bit tighter, so they weren’t strung out and too far apart from each other. The men’s jitteriness communicated itself to their horses. The animals pranced and tossed their heads in agitation and before long every member of the caravan had their eyes peeled on the valley sides. The men had their rifles at the ready; even some of the ladies armed themselves with pistols, ready to defend their children and menfolk against whoever might be out there.
So it came as no surprise when the attack was launched. But what was startling was the ferocity and brutality with which the marauders set upon the train.
As the caravan approached a bend in the pass, a large cluster of riders thundered around the curve towards them, brandishing rifles and pistols in their hands. A lone rider from the train had been ahead of the first wagon. A shot was fired. The man fell from his horse. A woman screamed.
More riders appeared behind them cutting the wagon train off in the gorge. Adam leapt from his horse and, rifle in hand, ran towards the closest rig. He grabbed the women and children who were nearest to him and shoved them under the wagon. A rider, wearing a bandana over the bottom half of his face, pounded down the side of the train. Adam took aim, fired. The man dropped unmoving in a heap at Adam’s feet.
“Stay here! Don’t move!” shouted Adam at the huddle of women who crouched wide eyed, gripping their children to their breasts in terror.
Adam started out at a half-crouch, half-run towards the front of the caravan. Where had they come from? Why didn’t we see them? They got in front of us, and behind us! Confused questions and statements plagued Adam but this wasn’t the time for an inquest into how so many riders had been able to cut them off so effectively without themselves being spied. He was aware of screams, gunfire, the shouts of men and the frightened panic of horses. More men on horseback were riding towards him so he dropped to his right keeping low between the wagons. As the riders passed he fired off a couple more shots hoping at least one of his bullets would hit its target. One of the riders drew back sharply on his reins causing his horse to flick his head up, wild eyed, as its forward momentum was suddenly curtailed. The rider drew the horse around seeking out the source of the bullets that had almost hit him. Adam knew he’d been spotted. As the man fought to control his horse with one hand, he pointed his gun at Adam with the other. Adam took quick aim with his rifle and pulled the trigger. The horseman dropped his pistol, a look of surprise came over his face and he toppled forward over the neck of the animal. Adam scrambled forward, grabbed the man’s fallen weapon and thrust it into his belt.
Adam desperately needed to find his father and brothers. Since the melee started he’d not seen their distinctive horses or heard their shouts. As he looked around him he could see the bodies of some of the people from the train that had fallen victim to the marauders’ onslaught. Some of the men who’d been walking besides the train and who had clearly not been able to get to concealment in time were lying where they’d been mercilessly gunned down. He spotted one of the women who had taken up arms hanging out of the wagon seat where she’d been stationed, her gun astonishingly still gripped tight in her hand as her arm dangled over the side.
Adam’s desperation was growing. Still crouching behind the wagon, he suddenly spotted Hoss. He’d taken cover behind a boulder on the other side of the wagon train to Adam, and was aiming at any bandana-clad man who came into view. Several bodies lay within range of Hoss’s weapons. Good ol’ Hoss and his practiced skills with a shooter. Adam glanced towards the rear of the train and spotted a familiar head of wavy brown hair peeking out between the wheels of a wagon. Joe spied his brother and acknowledged his presence with a quick flick of his pistol. There was still no sign of their father.
The marauders by this time were wise to the fact that there were experienced marksmen in the caravan. They had pulled back into two groups of riders, out of firing range of the wagon train, clearly contemplating their next move. Adam used this opportunity to sprint over to Hoss, skidding to the ground next to him with his back to the boulder.
“Have you seen Pa?” he panted as he looked over his shoulder to the abandoned wagons.
“Last I saw ‘im he was up at the front of the train firin’ off rounds at those murderin’ sons’ o’…” Hoss stopped mid-sentence. “Dadburnit Adam, they got us pinned down here like flies in a molasses jar. Someone’s gonna have to make a break fer it, to get help.”
“I don’t know Hoss, there’s no way in or out down the pass. That just leaves the ridge, and they’d pick us off before we got halfway up the slope. How much ammo have you got on ya?”
Before Hoss could answer there was a commotion from the front of the wagon train. A voice, a loud booming voice, was calling out to the marauders. Adam couldn’t hear what was being said as the voice was facing away from him, but he’d recognise those tones anywhere.
“It’s Pa! You reckon he’s tryin’ to reason with ‘em, Adam?”
“He’d have more luck reasoning with a pack of angry coyotes.”
A shot rang out. The voice went quiet. There was a pause. Silence. And into the silence came the sound of hooves and a riderless horse was seen galloping towards them from the front of the train. They watched as the buckskin came towards them at speed, its hooves throwing up dust, the whites of its eyes revealing the creature’s panic, its head tossing in fear. The horse didn’t slow down as it hurtled past Adam and Hoss who could only stare with fear in their eyes as their father’s horse disappeared into the distance. And then it was as if all the air was suddenly sucked out of the atmosphere leaving a dense roaring vacuum in Adam’s ears. He couldn’t drag his eyes away from where the voice that had once called out so forcefully was now so silent. The whole world seemed to stop moving. As time slowed, Adam’s heart beat so hard in his chest that if he was looking down he’d have seen the vibration of his shirt from each jolting heartbeat. The silence was swallowing him whole. He couldn’t speak, could only stare back towards where his father had been. Then Hoss spoke, a quiet voice, almost a whisper. “P…Pa?”
But there was no time. As the ringing in Adam’s ears subsided, there was no time to think about anything but the riders who were back, tearing down the sides of the train firing their weapons at everything that moved. He could hear screams, children crying and frantic panicked shouts. Adam swivelled onto one knee and fired back at the horsemen. He could hear Hoss doing the same. There seemed to be so many of them, a never-ending succession of masked men on horseback. He knew he’d killed several, others he just winged, but still they came. Both brothers had to abandon their rifles when their ammunition ran out. Adam used up one of his two pistols and soon had to discard that too. With so few cartridges, each pistol shot had to count, but by staying behind the boulder, the settlers in and under the wagons were rapidly being wiped out, and they needed ammo.
He made the decision in a split-second. Seeing a pause in the constant stream of horsemen, he made a dash for the wagon train. He heard Hoss shouting his name as he launched himself forward and rolled under the nearest vehicle. As he came to a stop he found himself face to face with one of the couples who had been shielding there. Their empty eyes stared blindly at him. Both were dead. They’d been half dragged out from under the wagon and shot. He noticed they were holding hands. Adam dropped his head momentarily. All rational thought was starting to be replaced with blind rage. These men were butchers. They seemed intent on killing everyone on the train. What on earth did they think the settlers had that was worth such brutality? If it was money they wanted, family heirlooms, jewellery, horses, whatever, no doubt they would have got what they wanted if they’d just held them up. They had strength in numbers. The settlers couldn’t have fought back even with the help of the Cartwrights. But this? This was just senseless killing. It was as if they took pleasure in it—an idea that made the bile rise in the back of Adam’s throat.
Adam shuffled around on his stomach and faced back towards Hoss who was firing off pot-shots at any rider who came close to him. Adam spied a gun near one of the marauder’s bodies. Checking the way was clear, he slid out quickly on his belly, reached for the pistol and was back under the wagon a second later. Knowing that Hoss was running low on ammunition, he shuffled to the back of the wagon and moved out into the open where he could crouch and get a better throw. He hollered at his brother and indicated what he was about to do. Hoss edged to the side of the boulder in order to receive the proffered weapon. As he did a horseman appeared, as if out of nowhere, and fired in Hoss’s direction. Adam saw his head flick back as he spun and landed heavily on his belly. Adam watched with horror as the horseman moved closer and cocked his weapon at Hoss’s still body. With a guttural cry, Adam threw himself forward on to one knee with the other outstretched before him and emptied every round in his gun into the rider. The man shook as each bullet struck and then slowly toppled off his horse on to the ground. Adam strained to see his brother but could only see his legs sticking out from behind the boulder. They didn’t move.
Although Adam desperately wanted to get to his middle brother, he suddenly became aware of Little Joe and a struggle taking place under the last but one wagon. Little Joe had been fighting his own battle at the end of the wagon train. Just like his brothers he had been firing at the masked men as they passed him as evidenced by the bodies of fallen riders that lay on the earth around his position. But Joe was also desperately trying to protect one person. Adam saw a flash of blue skirt next to him. Lorna! She had been walking besides the lead wagon with her mother and siblings, but at the first appearance of the marauders she had turned tail and ran as fast as her legs could carry her to where Joe was. He had vaulted off his horse and grabbed her as she struggled to slow her headlong rush towards him. Keeping her shielded behind him under the wagon he had kept her safe from the attackers.
Adam now watched helplessly as Joe suddenly dived under the wagon and appeared to be pulling frantically at something. Joe took his weapon and fired several times and then tugged Lorna out from under the wagon. She didn’t notice how her knees scraped along the earth as he took hold of her arms and heaved her out and into his lap. She lay there shaking, gripping his shirt as her face contorted into tears. But Joe was now distracted. As he sat there comforting the panic-stricken girl, he never noticed the rider come up behind him and throw a rope around his chest. Joe was yanked back violently and dragged away kicking. The horseman didn’t stop. Adam clambered up on to his feet and watched as his little brother was dragged away and out of sight.
It was as though something snapped inside him. For all he knew his father was dead. Hoss hadn’t moved since he’d been shot, and now Joe was being dragged away in an act that would probably break every bone in his body. He was surrounded by the lifeless remains of masked invaders and the good people he’d come to know over the last few days. Everywhere he looked there was blood seeping into the earth. Was he the only one left alive? The sensible, calm and logical side of Adam’s brain began to close down as a storm started to build inside him, engulfing him with a fury that bordered on madness. It was the only way his mind could deal with the horror that surrounded him. He wanted to kill, to wipe these insects from the very face of the earth.
He stumbled forward away from the wagons and into the area which the riders had turned into a killing zone. His rage had crossed a line, making him foolhardy, unable to think sensibly. He had used the last of his bullets on Hoss’s assailant but was unaware of this as he continued to pull the trigger of his gun whilst aiming wildly at the men on horses. His pistol clicked over and over as the hammer hit the firing pin.
He gradually realised that he was surrounded by men on horseback. They pointed their weapons at him but didn’t fire. They laughed when he took aim and fired but only a loud click would sound. As the realisation that his gun was empty dawned in Adam’s clouded mind, he threw it to the ground and with a roar hurled himself at the nearest man. Grabbing hold of the rider’s waist he yanked with all his strength and hurled the man out of the saddle. Several hammers were pulled back but a quiet voice intoned, “Hold your fire boys; let’s see what we have here.”
Adam launched himself at the fallen man who had now found his feet. But the man wasn’t upright for long. Adam aimed for his waist and the man went down hard on his back, Adam tumbling besides him. Grabbing the man’s collar Adam slammed his fist into the man’s jaw, once, twice, three times. The man lay back groaning. By this time several of the other men had dismounted and stood in a wide circle around the incensed Adam and his victim. Adam saw red. He charged another man who was ready for him, ploughing his fist into Adam’s stomach. Adam doubled over and stumbled back. A third man aimed for his kidneys and Adam fell to the ground, writhing with agony as a shooting pain coursed through his back. But Adam wasn’t done just yet. The same man who’d floored him got overconfident and stepped too close. Adam kicked out sideways with his leg and took the man’s feet out from under him. Adam stumbled to his knees and threw himself over the man’s body, his hands finding his neck. He squeezed, watching the man’s face redden and his eyes start to bulge as he gasped for air. But Adam felt hands on his body and he was pulled off and shoved to the ground.
Despite the madness of his rage, he became aware that he was just feet from Hoss who was still hidden behind the boulder. The only part of his brother that he could see were his booted feet, unmoving on the dusty ground. Please God, if this is it, then at least let me die with my brother… He heaved himself to his feet and threw himself in his brother’s direction, arms and legs scrabbling on the ground as he tried to reach him. He just managed to get the tips of his fingers on Hoss’s ankle before he was pulled away and thrown on to his back. A hand was in his hair, tugging his head up and back. Adam gasped with the pain. It felt like his hair was being ripped from his scalp. He put his hands up to try and prize the fist away from its grip, his legs scissoring in the dust as he was yanked backwards. But then he became aware of a stillness amongst the men and a man was crouching before him, a pistol lying casually in his hand. Adam saw long, rangy limbs, a long face and eyes that sparkled with a cruel glint.
“What is that man to you?” A hand waved lazily in Hoss’s direction.
Adam stayed silent, squinting at the man through eyes watering with pain as his hair was slowly pulled from his scalp. He felt a sharp tug upwards and he gasped, gripping tighter to the wrist of his assailant.
“I said, what is that man to you?” The voice was cool, languid, as if he was just passing the time of day in idle conversation.
Adam dragged his eyes from the man’s face, ignoring him, ignoring the insulting nonchalance in the man’s tone.
There was a sniff of laughter. “I won’t ask you again.” The words were soft, intoned carefully. And this time Adam heard the threat.
The hand pulled on his scalp and Adam could only clench his teeth as his forced the words out of his mouth. “No one…he’s no one.”
The man rose to his feet and signalled to a youngster standing amongst the horses. As the young man moved forward Adam noticed a shot of almost white blond hair and eyelashes and eyebrows so pale that they were almost invisible to the naked eye. And he looked young, so young. The leader took hold of his pistol by the barrel and slapped it into the youngster’s hand.
“Time to prove yourself, boy,” and he pointed with a lazy hand towards the still figure of Hoss.
Adam squirmed under the grip of the man still holding on forcefully to his hair.
“No, no, I told you he’s nobody, he’s just someone I teamed up with on the train.”
The leader turned to Adam, blinking with lethargic eyes. “Then he don’t mean anything to ya, does he?” Adam eyes filled with horror as the tall man flicked his head at the blonde boy who, after a moment’s hesitation, and without a word, walked steadily to where Hoss was lying. He seemed to square his shoulders, straightening his back as he went.
No, no, no, they can’t do this. Not Hoss. Not my gentle brother Hoss. Please not Hoss.
Adam tried to pull away but the grip fastened and he cried out with the sudden increase in pain on his scalp. He managed to swivel his head a little towards the boulder, his eyes straining. He watched as the boy walked behind the rock and appeared to use a foot to move Hoss on to his back. There was a pause as he stared at the man on the ground and he then moved to stand at Hoss’s head. Cold fear was pooling in Adam’s chest and he squirmed again as the boy pointed the pistol towards his brother’s body. After what seemed an eternity when the earth stopped moving and a silence washed over the canyon, Adam observed a slight movement when the boy’s index finger, suspended over the trigger, flexed. The sound of the single gunshot reverberated around the canyon, echoing from side to side until it faded into nothingness. Hoss’s feet twitched once. The boy kicked Hoss back onto his stomach and returned to his leader, handing over the still-smoking pistol. The man nodded, studying his young apprentice and then coolly walked away, holstering his weapon as he went.
Adam could only stare at his brother’s feet where they lay, still, unmoving. He could see the desert’s dust on his brother’s boots and he could see where the heel was starting to wear down on one side. It was always the same boot which needed repair. Always the right boot. Hoss. And the tears that streamed down his cheeks were no longer just because of the pain in his scalp. Hoss. Oh God.
But there was no time for grief because the hand in his hair was propelling him forward onto his belly. And before he had time to recover, someone kicked him in the back. Adam arched in pain. Hands grabbed him by his hair again, and pulled him up off the ground. He was hit in the face, over and over by hands which wouldn’t let him fall. Eventually an uppercut to his jaw sent him spinning around till once again he hit the hard earth. He lay there dazed and hurting. The men seemed to have had enough of him. Through his hazy vision, and the blood and sweat and tears that threatened to sting his eyes, he saw them turn his back on him, laughing, leaving him crumpled and pressed into the dirt behind them.
He lay there, breathing in the dirt through a mouth snagged open against the earth. Somehow, despite the pain that coursed through his body when he moved even so much as a finger, he succeeded in pulling an arm out from where it was caught under his torso. He managed to push himself to his hands and knees and in doing, his hand curled around a nearby rock. With a strength he never knew he had he heaved himself up off the ground. Adam lifted that rock high and was just about to slam it down hard on the nearest man’s head when a gunshot reverberated around the gorge. Adam’s hand fell open. The rock tumbled to the ground at the same time as he did. It felt like a red hot poker had been stabbed into his right thigh. He looked down to see a dark patch forming on his right pants leg. He grabbed at the spot with his hand, grimaced in pain and watched the blood seep through his fingers. He forced his pounding head up to see the leader on his horse casually pointing a smoking gun at him.
“Okay, that’s enough fun for today, boys. Finish him off; we’ve got work to do.”
Adam heard the threat and knew he had nothing to lose. As men started to move towards him, he somehow or other got himself on to his knees. He started to tip forward slowly, but managed to steady himself with an arm to the ground before he lost his balance completely. With his head down and eyes squeezed shut, a harsh cry forced itself from his throat as the pain in his thigh threatened to send him into oblivion. But then with a snarl, he snapped his head up and looked around him with a face determined and angry, until his eyes settled on the leader. The men stopped in their tracks, intrigued by what they were witnessing. They watched as Adam, leaning forward to steady himself with his left hand and without taking his eyes off the mounted man, raised his left knee up so that his foot was square in front of him. Then with nothing but adrenaline keeping him going, he forced himself upwards.
“Hey, Mackie, looksee here.”
The man turned his horse and looked in amazement as this beaten, kicked, and now thigh-shot man hopped and swayed in front of them. Adam’s clothes were torn, bruises were forming around one of his eyes and along his jaw, and blood was dripping on to the ground from his gunshot wound.
The man known as Mackie turned his horse slowly and walked the gelding back to where Adam glared up at him with pain-filled and yet defiant eyes. At this moment Adam didn’t care whether he lived or died. He had just watched his brother being murdered in front of him. His body was in overwhelming agony; he couldn’t put his right leg down as he knew if he did he’d collapse to the earth. And with his head throbbing from the beating it had taken, waves of dizziness washed over him. He made as if to stumble towards the horse but at the last moment turned and fell onto one of his attackers. As the two men staggered together in a strange parody of a slow dance, Adam’s hand found the man’s gun. He tried to summon enough strength to force it out of his attacker’s hand and in the direction of Mackie. If he could do one thing before he died, he was going to kill this man.
But Adam wasn’t strong enough to continue his fight. The man easily pulled the gun away and with a mighty clout, he used his weapon to bash Adam across the back of the head. As Adam fell, his vision an array of colour and flashing lights, the last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was a small boy lying still on the ground, his blonde hair lifting gently in a light breeze.
If the attackers thought they had eliminated all the witnesses of what would become known as the Juniper Gorge Massacre, they were much mistaken. The attack had been stealthily observed by a lone Ute Indian. He was several days ride from his people’s summer encampment and had been crossing the ridge in the direction of home—along a track that only a nimble-footed pony could use with ease—when the sound of gunfire had dropped the man to the ground. Leaving his pony chewing on the thin vegetation that covered the parched earth, he had scrambled silently up the stony incline. Keeping his head low, he observed the slaughter taking place before his eyes. He watched the men on horseback riding back and forth along the sides of the wagons casually aiming their guns, shooting indiscriminately at the settlers, no matter their sex or age. He saw as they pulled people from under wagons, climbed up into the rigs and threw the petrified travellers to the ground. He had spied the handful of men who fought back, and observed how one by one they were picked off until there was only one man left.
To the Indian it was though this last man was possessed with the spirit of a crazed coyote. He had watched how the man had, calmly and efficiently, downed several of the killers in defence of the people on the wagon train. And then he saw how, although surrounded on all sides, he had refused to stay down, despite his injuries becoming more severe as he fought back. The Indian saw that his spirit was strong: he possessed the ferocity of a cornered wolf, snarling and snapping at anyone who came near; and the fearlessness of a grizzly not afraid to take on several foes with the same powerful swipe of its claws. The Indian felt himself drawn to him, curious about his fate at the hands of these men who sought to hit and kick and knock him to the ground. Perhaps it was the way he looked that sparked his curiosity. He was definitely a white man, yet he had the raven black hair of an Indian and his skin was dark as though Indian blood coursed through his veins. He watched as the man grappled unsteadily with one of the invaders who then brought his pistol down with force on the back of the man’s head. He had fallen to the ground, landing hard on his stomach, unmoving. The masked men had looked at him, saw he was no longer any threat to them, and then stepped over him as if he was no more than an inconvenient obstacle in their way. A number of the attackers limped away from their encounter nursing their wounds, bruised and bleeding. Their indignation at being bested by just one man led to cruelty, and one or two had kicked him with undisguised gratification as they passed.
After the frenzy of the attack, the survivors amongst the raiders took their time to rummage through the settlers’ possessions and rifle through the bodies of the dead. The Indian saw them take golden trinkets from precious boxes or ripped from the necks of the women; paper money was thrust into pockets, timepieces were removed from men’s garments; rings taken from fingers; anything which appeared to have any value was thrown into saddlebags. But the prize was the horses. The precious thoroughbreds so carefully kept alive and safe across a thousand miles of territory were herded together with any remaining animals that hadn’t bolted during the assault. They left the mules. Once satisfied that there was nothing left to steal, the leader—the Indian heard the others call him Mackie—gave the signal and the men mounted up.
In all, the attack had taken perhaps twenty minutes and it hadn’t taken much longer than that for the masked men to do their thieving. They thundered out of the gorge at the same speed with which they had entered, leaving a scene of death and destruction behind. The sun had already reached its apex in the sky by this time and was now slowly tracking westwards on its inexorable descent to the horizon.
The lone Indian, confident that the white men were long gone, rose from where he had been lying on his stomach, remounted his pony and, passing over the spine of the ridge, made his way down to what was left of the wagon train. He trod stealthily around the bodies of the dead, gathering as many of the abandoned weapons that he could carry. Guns were a rare commodity amongst his people.
He stood over the fallen black-haired man watching as blood pooled beneath his thigh and head. The earth was so hard that it didn’t seem to penetrate the ground; instead it remained wet and cloying under the man’s body. Placing one moccasined foot under the man’s torso, he flipped him over onto his back. Crouching down he placed his palm on the man’s chest. There was life within. He took his time to study the man’s face as though he were trying to see into his soul. He took in the strong features, bruised and battered as they were, noticing the high cheekbones, the full black eyebrows over heavy-lidded eyes. He would like to have seen the man’s eyes, to see the spirit that stormed within him. As he had watched him fight from afar, all he had seen were flashes of black as the man had raged against the masked attackers. Was finding this man a sign from the spirits?
The Ute had been in the desert for several days. He had left his village, which lay high in wooded uplands far to the east, to travel alone to the desert. He had ridden to the site of a secluded overhanging rock, hidden deep within the slopes of the rocky ridge and there he had communed with his spirit guide for guidance. These were troubling and turbulent times for his people and for his family. As a man of importance who was listened to and heeded within his community, he knew he needed to visit the very place where his guide had first made itself known to him. There he could give himself completely to the Great Spirit and learn from the visions he would receive.
He had first visited the sacred rock as an eager youth, barely out of boyhood. He had been accompanied part of the way, but then left to walk to the sacred rock with nothing but a blanket to keep out the chill of the night air. Going without food and water for two days, he had endured many physical trials to test his resolve, will and spiritual tenacity. But he had conquered his fears and had proven to the Great Spirit that he was worthy of the guidance of his own spirit guide. This guide had appeared in the form of a red-tailed hawk. As the boy had lain on the hot desert earth, the shadow of a hawk had passed over his face. It had cried out several times as it soared in circles over his body. The hot sun had blazed down on him and with every turn of the hawk’s body it was as though the creature spoke straight to his soul. He learnt that he would be a bringer of news, of tidings both good and bad. His future visions would warn of what was to come. As he awoke on the last day of his vision quest, he found a solitary copper-coloured feather lying by his side. He had re-joined his band, hungry and desperate for water, but endowed with the spiritual strength to take him forth into manhood.
As the Indian looked down on the face of this beaten and injured white man, he thought back to his visions of recent days. He looked up to the sky and witnessed a hawk soaring high above him. His decision was made.
It was his body being jerked from side to side that brought Adam back to awareness. Whether it could be called awareness though was a matter for conjecture. The overriding sensation that enveloped his entire self was pain. His leg felt like it was burning from the inside out, a constant, inescapable agony. A tight, excruciating stabbing pain kept emanating from the back of his skull each time his head was jolted. A pressure in his forehead made his eyes pound with a constant throbbing ache. And the lurching motion was making his back and torso ache and twinge and cramp for reasons that he couldn’t understand. The differing sensations of agony were all he knew. There was nothing else. Except the bright light that seemed to blaze through his closed eyelids and add to his discomfort. He kept his eyes squeezed shut and held his breath in an effort to stop the never-ending stabbing and burning. When he had to breathe he’d gasp in the air, his chest rising rapidly up and down, before once again he’d try to curb the pain by holding his breath.
Adam was so swathed in a world of hurt that his brain had refused to exercise a single rational thought since he’d come to. But as his body became accustomed to the constant torment, he was able to formulate mental images in his mind. They were simple at first. His first thought was the realisation that he was moving. At the same time he recognised that he was on his back, lying down. Adam knew he should open his eyes but that seemed like more effort than he could give at that time. So he kept them closed and instead concentrated on breathing, by this time trying not to hold his breath which only caused extra pain in his chest when he had to gasp frantically for air.
There was nothing for it. Adam had to open his eyes. The bright light pierced his pupils and he quickly screwed up his eyes to shut it out. Carefully he opened them so they were nothing but slits, allowing his eyes to get used to the whiteness that surrounded him. It was then that he realised that one eye didn’t really want to open at all. He could feel the sensation of puffiness and swelling around his cheekbone and eye socket. He tried to move his hand up to feel but his hands wouldn’t move. They were tied down. As slowly and as carefully as he could, Adam lifted his head and looked down the length of his body. He saw that he was tied to a travois being dragged across the earth. He had been secured to the contraption, he presumed so that he wouldn’t fall off. He tried to strain around to see who was pulling him and could only just made out the hind leg of a horse as it moved in and out of his vision. Adam had to let his head fall back. It had hurt his eyes and his head to move. Resting for a few moments, and panting from the effort that turning his head had cost him, he again managed to peer down to see the damage to his body. His thigh was bound in some sort of cloth. He had clearly been bleeding heavily as the pale cloth was stained the dark reddish-brown hue of dried blood. His other leg appeared unharmed. Working his way up he saw that his shirt was ripped. Adam managed to move his arm across his body under the securing rope and was able to pull the ripped material apart to get a glimpse of what lay beneath. His normally dark skin was mottled with purpling bruises.
Adam lay back and gradually the recollection of what had happened in the gorge came back to him. He saw the wagon train and the settlers. He recalled the attack and the marauders shooting indiscriminately and the dead and dying all around him. But most of all, he remembered seeing Joe being viciously tugged away behind a fast moving horse, and a blonde boy standing over Hoss and casually pulling the trigger. Adam squeezed his eyes closed to shut out the image of Hoss’s twitching legs. And Pa? He hadn’t seen his father since before the attack, but he’d heard his voice bellowing and then a gunshot and then, nothing. Adam started to become frantic and ignoring the pain in his eyes and skull, he threw his head from side to side to see around him, behind him, above him. There was no one else. The gorge was nowhere in Adam’s sight. All he could see was desert, rocks, grit, and the horse steadily pulling him. Panic started to well up inside. Who was hauling him halfway across the desert away from his family, away from where he needed to be? Straining around, he was desperate to speak to whoever had strapped him to the travois, but his voice was stuck in his throat. Only a dry broken croak made it past his lips.
He managed to formulate a single word and put every ounce of what strength he had into speaking it.
“Stop.” His voice was weak. “Stop.” Louder this time. “Stop!” He was able to get some breath into the word and with it a semblance of volume.
The jolting came to a halt. Adam continued to strain his head in all directions to see who his benefactor, or captor, was. He heard feet hit the hard earth and soft words spoken and then Adam found himself looking into the eyes of an Indian. Adam’s first reaction was alarm, and to try and pull himself out of the ropes which held him fast to the travois. His agitated struggle was just a wasted effort. He was so weak from his injuries that he had no strength to pull free, and before long fresh blood was soaking through the cloth on his thigh. He fell back, exhausted, sweat glistening across his bruised face. The Indian had crouched down next to Adam and had patiently watched him as he struggled to free himself. He rose and walked away, returning a few moments later with a strip of cloth and a skin of water which he held to Adam’s lips. It was only then that Adam realised just how thirsty he had been and he gulped down the water until the skin was taken away from him. The Indian turned to Adam’s thigh and after removing the soiled cloth, he wrapped a fresh strip around the wound. As he tightened the cloth, Adam gasped in pain and squeezed his eyes shut to try and close out the new bout of agony which was threatening to send him into a black void. He hung on to awareness, using the pain as a grip to stay shackled to consciousness, and after the burning had receded to a less unbearable level, he opened his eyes once more and looked at the Indian before him.
“What…where are you taking…who are…?” Each phrase was spoken on an exhaled breath, his mind so full of confusion that he couldn’t finish one question before starting the next. And the pain behind his eyes and in his skull was now starting to compete with the burning in his thigh. The man before him swivelled on his heels away from where he’d been tightening the ropes that bound Adam to the travois.
“Sleep,” was all the Indian said before rising and walking away.
Adam was in no fit state to argue. As the shuddering motion of the travois began again, Adam let his mind drift and, for the time being, the pain and anguish was forgotten as his conscious self floated away into nothingness.
It was dark when Adam awoke and saw that he’d been placed on a blanket on the desert floor. The pain, of which he had been so blissfully ignorant just moments before, returned with a stranglehold, gripping his body with intensity. As he roused from his stupor, his companion appeared by his side and raised Adam’s shoulders, placing a rolled-up blanket under his head. He then lifted Adam’s head so he could drink from the canteen. The water flooding his stomach produced sensations of hunger. Adam hadn’t eaten since…he didn’t know when. His stomach grumbled. The Indian moved over to a campfire where a small critter had been roasting. He pulled some of the meat off the body and brought it over to Adam. Tentatively Adam took a piece of the meat from the man’s hand and placing it in his mouth, chewed slowly on the tiny morsel.
As he chewed, trying to ignore the ache in his swollen jaw, Adam had his first chance to properly view the man who was keeping him alive. He was older than he was, but only by a handful of years. His pale cloth shirt was worn with a wide beaded decorative band draped from one shoulder across his body like a bandolier. He wore a leather breechcloth over buckskin leggings and moccasins. Even in his dazed state, Adam found his eyes drawn to the thick beaded choker that the Indian wore around his neck. His black hair was loosely braided on each side of his head and tied with beads at each end. A single feather was tucked into one braid standing upright over his right ear. He had large wide-set eyes and distinctive high cheekbones. His expression never changed, it was always calm and always watching. For some reason Adam found himself instantly trusting this man. He had no reason to, after all, he was in the dark as to the fate of his family, or why he alone had been taken from the site of the attack. But this man was feeding him, keeping him watered, had tended to his injuries. On reflection, Adam realised, he would probably have bled out and died if his leg hadn’t been strapped when it was. He took another small bite of meat. The water and the sustenance were helping him fight the continuing pain and he could feel his stamina reviving a little. He shifted position, his face contorting as he pulled on injured muscles.
He held out his hand for more food, and found the strength to speak.
“Who are you?” he asked. His voice sounded gravelly.
The Indian handed him another speck of meat and sat back on his haunches to look at Adam.
“I am Cameahwait.”
“Cameahwait,” Adam softly repeated. “Who are your people?”
“I am Ute.”
Adam knew of the Ute tribes though he’d never before encountered one of them. He knew that they were the predominant tribe in Utah and Colorado and, as with most of the Indian peoples of the continent, had been in conflict with settlers since the beginning of European colonisation; the various bands in Utah had been clashing with the settlers around the Great Salt Lake for years. Adam knew them to be a peaceful but proud people who were slowly but steadily losing all that had once been theirs. He knew of similar stories from his meetings with the Paiute and Shoshone. He could sympathise even though his father, with a young Adam, had settled the land by Lake Tahoe which had once been the home of the Washoe people. It was a complex issue and one that would never be resolved to the satisfaction of both sides. Right now though, Adam was just too tired and hurt to think about it that deeply.
“Where are you taking me? Where is my family?”
The Ute stood up and moved to the other side of the fire. “You come to my village. You will heal.”
Adam’s worry over his father and brothers was starting to intensify. He had to make this man understand that his place was with them. He levered himself up on to one elbow with effort and through gritted teeth, gasped out, “But what of my family? I need to be with them, you don’t understand, my brothers were hurt, my brother Hoss, he… You must take me back to them.”
Adam couldn’t be sure in the subdued light, but he could have sworn that a look of pity passed over the Indian’s face.
“I take you to my village. Now sleep.”
Adam’s despairing mind started to fight against the pain. He needed to get up, to get away from this man who was keeping him from his family. A minute ago he trusted him, but now… He couldn’t think straight. All he knew was that his father and Joe might be lying back in the gorge needing help. It was…was it…too late for Hoss. He had to get to them. Still on one elbow, and ignoring the increasing pain in his thigh as he shifted his weight, he managed to swing his body over until both his forearms were on the ground in front of him. He gasped with pain but continued his efforts, shifting his hips so that he could get onto his hands and knees. He got a little way before his bruised and battered muscles refused to co-operate any further. Adam fell forward onto his elbows as the pain in his skull and behind his eyes shattered into a thousand little pinpricks of light. His stomach churned and then, eyes clenched shut, he was heaving and throwing up the meagre contents of his stomach onto the hard earth. Before he could collapse, strong hands gripped his shoulders and lifted him away from the mess. He was settled back on to the blanket and given a few sips of water to take the sour taste from his mouth. Cameahwait threw some dirt over the contents of Adam’s stomach and returned to Adam’s side.
“What is your name?”
Adam’s face was shiny with perspiration. He gulped in big breaths to calm both his stomach and his mind. Between gasps, he breathed out his name.
The Indian looked down at him.
“Adam Cartwright,” he said. “Sleep.”
Adam slept, but fitfully. He was woken by nausea, by pain, by worry, and by a rising temperature that caused him to throw off the blanket that Cameahwait had thrown over him to keep out the chill of a desert night. The Indian had little rest as a result. Adam’s groans kept him from falling into a deep sleep. He could drift off into a light doze when Adam calmed but then, as Adam began to toss and turn in his sleep, fighting against the pain that beset his body, Cameahwait would prop himself up on one elbow and keep an eye on him. At one point, Adam was sick again, rising up on to one side, retching fluid and bile. He fell back to the ground and passed out with exhaustion. Cameahwait threw dirt over the mess, grabbed Adam’s blanket and physically pulled him away from it, before stumbling back to the fire where he attempted to stay warm.
When Adam woke fully in the night, he lay there with the sweat pouring off him, thinking about his family and how he was going to get back to them. But his times of lucidity were becoming less frequent and by daybreak it was clear to Cameahwait that Adam’s body was attempting to fight off an infection. The Indian unwrapped the strapping from Adam’s thigh and checked the bullet wound. The bullet had gone clean through leaving a nasty exit wound, but the desert environment, the lack of clean water and the dust and dirt meant that both wounds were festering. Cameahwait strapped up Adam’s leg again and lifted him on to the travois. He needed to get back to his village as quickly as he could, but with an improvised travois dragging behind his pony he would have to move slower than he would like. He was on the move before the sun had breached the horizon. He would eat from his dwindling supply of nuts and seeds whilst on horseback and also attempt to work out the visions that had led him to take on the burden of a badly injured white man who might not even survive the journey home.
Adam’s soaring temperature meant he sweated profusely in the late summer sun. Cameahwait had to make detours to where he knew the water holes were in order to keep up a constant supply of murky but fresh water that he would trickle down Adam’s throat to keep him hydrated. Adam muttered in his delirium and struggled weakly against the ropes on the travois, but more often than not, he lay quiet and shivering, all the time burning up as his body fought off the infection in his leg.
Although Cameahwait had to stop more frequently, he still made good time. Alone on his horse it would have taken a day and a half to reach his home from the gorge where he had found Adam. But hauling the travois, plus the regular stops to check on Adam’s leg, or give him something to drink, meant his journey time was doubled. And Adam didn’t wake. He stayed in an ever revolving state of delirium, sleep and unconsciousness. Cameahwait found it simpler that way. He didn’t have to answer any of the man’s questions but instead could concentrate on the practicalities of keeping him alive and getting home. As dawn broke on the last morning of the journey, and Cameahwait knew he was just hours from home, his flagging energy revived in knowing that he would soon see the vast lake that lay on the edge of the desert. Urvare is what his people called it – the Salt Lake – in the land the white man called Utah after his own people. He would follow the life-giving river that flowed into the lake, up to the higher ground where his people had made their summer camp amongst hills of long grasses and juniper groves. He rejoiced knowing that he would see his wife and children again, and he felt relief that at long last this injured man could be tended with the herbs and roots that had been lacking in the desert.
The first things that Adam saw when he opened his eyes were his boots. They weren’t under his chair where he normally put them when sleeping, but at his eye level. And they were on the floor, which meant…he too was on the floor. Why was he on the floor and not in his bed? And then he remembered. The events of the previous days came back to him in a rush: the attack in the gorge, the travois, the pain, Hoss… Adam turned his head slowly. He had been lying on his back and his neck ached from being in one position too long. He grimaced when his stiff neck muscles protested against the movement. Moving his head with care he took in his surroundings. He was alone in a tepee. He could make out the sloping poles coming together above his head where a hole was drawing the smoke from a small fire that burned in the centre of the floor. The décor was sparse: plain animal hides were stretched between the poles to create an inner barrier against the elements and he was lying on a bed of fur. Other than that, the tepee was bare. Light slanted through an open entrance way illuminating the floor. It was the light that had woken him.
Adam saw that he was no longer wearing his own clothes. His feet were bare; he was wearing soft hide leggings and a plain shirt. He took stock of the condition of his body. The pain in his leg seemed to have lessened in its intensity. Gone was the burning and heat, instead it had been replaced with a constant dull throb. He reached up to the back of his head, and fingered a bump and what felt like a long scab on his scalp, but the pain had vanished. His body still ached though. He tugged up his shirt and saw a myriad of colours on his torso and sides. He gingerly touched his bruises and scrapes and noticed that most of his cuts had been cleaned up and were healing well.
As Adam lay on his back, gazing in a bewildered manner at his surroundings, he couldn’t help but feel as helpless and vulnerable as a day-old pup. Ever since he had first encountered the Paiutes as a child, he had considered them to be his friends, albeit friends who could turn to foes in the blink of an eye. As a youth he had ridden hard and joyously with a young Paiute of his own age, Young Wolf. Together they had torn through the flat lands and traversed the hills on their horses, until they’d collapse on the soft grass and laugh together with the pure delight of being alive. But time and circumstance had ripped their friendship from them until Young Wolf could only see Adam as a white man—an enemy—standing before him. He had died in a senseless skirmish, another victim in a world where Indians and settlers struggled to live peaceably side by side. Adam had been on the wrong side of the Shoshone and Apache before. And as a result he had developed a very healthy respect for any Indian he encountered. More often than not it wouldn’t be a friendly meeting but one that generally ended up with blood being spilled. So Adam was wary; his history made him so. But what was apparent was that this Indian had brought him to his village to help him heal. His wounds had been tended to; he had been washed and given clean clothes. These were not the actions of someone who intended to kill him.
Adam heaved himself up onto his elbows, rolled his weight onto one hip and pushed up with one hand. His head had the wooziness of someone who has been lying down for too long, and he was weak from his injuries. He stayed leaning on his outstretched arm, unmoving for a few moments, eyes firmly closed as his head acclimatised to no longer being flat on the ground. He decided he needed to stand. Keeping his bad leg straight, he drew his other leg up under him and attempted to drive himself into a standing position by pushing against his palms which were flat on the ground, keeping as much weight on his good leg as he could. He managed to hoist himself up to a hopping standing position. It proved to be a mistake. His dizziness returned with a vengeance and he found himself toppling forward. He cried out as his thigh hit the hard-packed earth. Adam lay prone on the ground, clutching his leg as the throbbing intensified into spasms of pain. He knew he would have attracted attention but what he didn’t expect to see was a young boy appear suddenly in the entranceway. The lad took in the scene before him, turned on his heel and sped away before Adam could reach out his arm and plead for help.
Moments later Adam heard voices approaching. An adult frame filled the entrance blocking out the light. It was Cameahwait, followed closely by a woman carrying a basket and the boy who crouched in the entry way.
“Fool of a white man,” muttered Cameahwait as he hauled Adam over onto his back. With Cameahwait’s help, Adam was able to shuffle back to his bed. The woman started to pull at Adam’s leggings to take a closer look at his wound. Adam may have been dazed and hurting again, but he had enough awareness about him to push the woman’s hands away and hang on to the top of his pants.
“It’s okay, I’m okay, I just banged my leg when I fell,” Adam muttered, still hanging on to his leggings as if his life depended on it.
“Adam Cartwright, don’t be foolish, she has looked after you all the time you have been in my village.” Cameahwait softened his tone. “Let her look at your leg.” He pointed at Adam’s thigh. “There is blood.”
Adam glanced down and saw the bright red flash of fresh blood staining his leggings. Relinquishing what dignity he had, he sighed, lay back and let the woman carefully pull his leggings down to tend to his wound. He kept his eyes averted, feeling his cheeks redden with embarrassment. But the woman was careful to protect his modesty, taking a blanket and laying it across his middle until she had finished applying a paste to his newly torn wound. He winced at her touch, gritting his teeth to combat the pain which once more enveloped his leg. When she had finished bandaging his thigh she started to pull his leggings back up but Adam was quick to take over, leaving the woman staring with an amused expression on her face. She said something to Cameahwait then gathered up her basket, rocked back on her heels and rose to her feet. She left the dwelling, shooing the boy out with her as she went.
“What did she say?” asked Adam.
“She said you are not so shy when you sleep.”
Adam reddened again.
Cameahwait looked at Adam with amusement in his calm eyes. “You must rest, Adam Cartwright, you are like a new-born foal, legs not strong.” He moved to rise to his feet when Adam grabbed his arm.
“How long…?” Adam’s voice trailed off.
The Indian paused before he spoke. “Eight days.”
Adam let go of Cameahwait’s arm and fell back. Eight days!
“You have been ill for many days and nights. You burn with fever. The bad spirits are no longer in your body.”
Eight days! Adam’s eyes flicked from side to side as the realisation of what Cameahwait had said sunk into his tired mind. He grabbed Cameahwait’s arm again.
“Cameahwait, why did you bring me here? Where are my family? Did your people bring my brothers and father here?” Adam’s eyes pleaded with Cameahwait for answers. “I don’t understand…”
Cameahwait gently removed Adam’s hand from his arm and moved it to rest on Adam’s stomach. A fleeting look of pity once more flashed across his dark eyes.
“Tomorrow, Adam Cartwright, you get answers,” he rose to his feet, “but today, you eat, tonight, you sleep, get strong.”
Cameahwait rose with a last look at Adam, then ducking his head as he left the low doorway, he flipped a piece of hide into place, shutting out the light, and left Adam alone with his questions.
The following day Adam did feel stronger. After Cameahwait’s visit the day before he had lain alone in the tepee, with his mind going over and over the same questions for which he had no answers, until eventually he had fallen into a deep sleep. When he woke later it was fully dark outside and the small fire made long shadows dance against the hide walls. Next to him he had found a little meat and some seeds and a bladder of water. In the morning he awoke to find that his pain was bearable. When he tentatively sat up, his dizziness was almost gone, but Adam had a new concern. The water he had drunk the night before had travelled through his system and now Adam had a very pressing urge to relieve himself. Fortuitously, it was not long before Cameahwait arrived, flipping back the hide to let in the morning light. Adam relayed his predicament to the Ute who quickly helped him to his feet and with one arm around Adam’s waist and Adam’s arm over his shoulder, helped him limp to the door and out into the late summer air.
This was the first time that Adam had seen the Ute village. He had caught glimpses of movement and colour when the hide flap had been raised but not enough to build a picture in his mind of where he was. He blinked and squinted against the bright light and peered around him. His tepee was one of a number placed in a small clearing amongst a forest of pinyon-juniper trees. The clearing was on a wide flat plateau overlooking a panoramic view of low rocky hills carpeted in fields of mountain broom and tufts of wheatgrass. He could see distant pockets of juniper groves nuzzling into low valleys. And behind him towered a range of high mountainous peaks, as yet untouched by snow. The forest covered much of the plateau until the trees started to climb steeply up to the tree line where they abruptly stopped. Where the plateau gave way to the lower slopes, Adam could hear a rushing stream and see rows of willows which he presumed must line the waterway that was hidden from view.
But Adam had more pressing needs. As Cameahwait helped him limp away from the village and into the nearby trees, he could feel the curious stares of the villagers boring into his back. As the two men made their way back to Adam’s dwelling, he was able to take a better look at the encampment and its residents. He counted about a dozen tepees so it wasn’t a large village by any means. But the quantity of people, of all ages, and the bustling activity going on around him implied that each tepee housed a large family. Groups of women sat in front of their homes preparing food over fires or quietly repairing torn clothing. They eyed Adam inquisitively as he passed. He heard giggling from a group of young girls which was quickly hushed with a sharp word from one of the elder women. He noticed a handful of women repairing their shelters, sewing up tears in the hide exteriors. Children of all ages ran around the clearing, down to the creek, amongst the trees. Adam could hear games being played, laughter and the constant chatter of energetic youth. A group of what Adam presumed were village elders sat cross-legged in the distance in front of a larger lodge than the rest. He couldn’t see any young men amongst the people, so assumed they were hunting or fishing.
Cameahwait moved to take Adam back into his tepee but Adam stopped him, asking whether he could instead sit outside in the sun. His strength was returning and he still had unanswered questions. Cameahwait helped him to the ground and when Adam asked if he would stay, the Ute dropped to the ground besides him.
“Cameahwait, what happened to the people I was with? My family was amongst them…” Adam’s voice trailed off.
Cameahwait’s calm expression didn’t change. “Later, Adam Cartwright.”
“Why won’t you tell me?” Desperation was starting to creep into Adam’s voice. And fear. Each time he had put this question to the Indian, the man had changed the subject, or walked away.
“Tonight, Adam Cartwright, the leaders of the village will meet. You will come. You will be told.”
“Why can’t you tell me now? You must have been there, you must know what happened.” Adam’s voice rose as he reached out to grip Cameahwait’s arm. The unspoken suspicions that had remained buried within Adam’s mind were starting to formulate. He drove them back down to the darkest recesses of his psyche. He wouldn’t entertain the idea that they were all… No, he wouldn’t even think it. It was preposterous.
Some of the villagers had looked over at Adam’s raised and panicked voice. Cameahwait carefully removed Adam’s grip from his arm, and let Adam withdraw his hand.
Cameahwait looked away into the distance and mulled over his thoughts. He looked to the sky and knew he had to find the correct words. He brought his eyes back to rest on Adam.
“Many men attacked your people. I watched them use guns and fists.” Cameahwait made a fist with his hand and held it in front of him. “I watched you fight one, two, three. You fight like a warrior, Adam Cartwright. I could see the spirits of my people in you.”
Adam was transfixed by Cameahwait’s words. His panic was slowly abating but he still feared what the Indian had to say.
“When the white man had gone, I walked among your people. There was no life, Adam Cartwright.” Cameahwait paused. “Everyone was dead.”
Adam could only stare at Cameahwait. He couldn’t take in the words that the man had just said. Shaking his head slightly and with an incredulous half smile on his lips, Adam huffed out a soft breath. “No, no, that can’t be right. They can’t all be dead.” He looked down quickly. “I saw my brother, I saw Hoss…” Adam couldn’t formulate the words; it would make it too real. “But Joe, Little Joe, he’s been injured more times than…he always gets over it, he can’t be dead, he can’t…” Adam shifted onto his knees, ignoring the jarring pain that stung through his bad leg, and grabbed Cameahwait’s shirt with his hands, his voice raising. “You, you, can’t have seen them all, you can’t have checked them all, they can’t all be…”
Cameahwait let Adam shake him. Some of the villagers were looking over in alarm at the white man gripping their fellow and shouting. Some of the older boys were starting to head over towards them. Cameahwait lifted an arm to stop their approach. Firmly but gently he pulled Adam’s hands away from his clothing. He held onto Adam’s wrists and looked into the dark, tormented eyes that bore into his.
“Adam Cartwright, the souls of the dead walked in that place, I could feel them as they stayed close to the bodies which had once given them life.”
Adam’s eyes dropped to the ground. Cameahwait continued to grasp his hands as he needed to make the white man understand.
“There was no life, Adam Cartwright, no breath, no sound. Only ghosts live in that place now. I am sorry… your family are dead.”
Adam stopping seeing. His eyes were fixed to a tiny speck of earth which he couldn’t drag his vision from and as he forgot to blink, this tiny speck became a blur. His whole body had gone cold as the blood left his skin and sped to his heart which started to race. He couldn’t catch his breath and the back of his throat felt like he was breathing in freezing cold air. He tried to swallow and found his mouth was full of saliva. He couldn’t stop shaking his head. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t true. He looked up into Cameahwait’s eyes and saw pity and remorse. Wrenching his wrists out of Cameahwait’s hands he stumbled on his hands and knees into the tepee and with one frenzied hand pulled the hide down behind him.
Cameahwait stood and looked towards the place where the white man had retreated. He had lied to Adam and felt regret. Yes, the gorge had been full of the dead. Everyone he had touched was starting to turn cold. Blood was no longer pumping from their wounds. He could feel no heart beats, discern no movement. But he hadn’t touched everyone. There were people that he hadn’t approached. Life could have dwelled within. But Cameahwait was also mindful of his visions. His spirit guide had spoken to him in the desert telling of the man with many spirits, how this man would be important to his family and to his people. When he had seen Adam Cartwright fearlessly fighting the masked white men, he had seen the wolf, the coyote and the bear reflected in his eyes. He believed he’d been meant to find Adam Cartwright in the gorge and that he’d been left alive for a reason. So Cameahwait had convinced himself that no one had survived the massacre. If he believed it to be so, then it would be all the easier to convince Adam Cartwright too.
Adam sat on the buffalo hide covered floor with his injured leg stretched out in front of him and stared without seeing at the fire in front of him. He stared so long at the flame that when he managed to wrench his eyes from the blaze, his vision was blocked with a white glare that gradually subsided to nothingness. He didn’t believe what Cameahwait said was true. How could everyone be dead? How could every single person on that wagon train have perished so brutally? Surely someone managed to escape, some of the children perhaps? Oh God, the children. He suddenly recalled the last thing that he’d seen before he’d lost consciousness: a blonde boy lying motionless on the cold earth, unmoving. Oh God, how could anyone hurt a child such as Andy, who so wanted to ride and shoot just like Adam. His little shadow… The faces of those who had died around him crowded into his mind—the couple under the wagon still holding hands, the woman dangling over the side of a wagon still gripping on to her weapon.
Hoss falling back as the bullet hit him. Hoss lying half hidden behind the boulder. The boy with the white-blond hair standing over him. The silence as everyone seemed to hold their breath before the boy pulled the trigger. The twitch of Hoss’s feet. Hoss’s unmoving feet. Hoss was dead. His younger brother was dead. He couldn’t deny that fact any more. He couldn’t refuse to say or think the words any more. And with that acknowledgement came the first whispers in Adam’s mind of guilt. My fault. Adam had reached out for him, tried to get to him; he had signalled that Hoss was someone that he cared about. They would have ignored him, not taken any notice of the man lying still behind the boulder. He might still be alive. My fault. Adam shook his head, trying to rid himself of the shame that was starting to crawl like cold fingers over his body.
And Little Joe? He’d seen Joe dragged away at the tail end of a horse. There was no way that Cameahwait would have found him. He had probably ended up in the desert someplace. In the desert! With a man on a horse with a gun who wanted to kill him! No, no, not Joe. He was just a kid. He was Little Joe. Joe always bounced back. That spark of life ran so deep in him that it couldn’t be destroyed. He was young, strong and healthy. But Adam had seen him being dragged away. That in itself would defeat a heavyweight prize fighter, let alone a slight kid. God, not Little Joe.
And as for his Pa, Adam hadn’t seen what happened to him. Only heard a gunshot. So there was a still a chance that his rock-steady father—the man who’d raised him, who had instilled in him the values and morals that made Adam who he was—could still be alive. Surely. But there had been a gunshot. And then silence. And Cameahwait said everyone was dead.
Adam didn’t want to believe, even though all the evidence was telling him otherwise.
“I won’t believe it until I see their bodies with my own eyes!”
Adam’s anger was like a lick of flame on dry tinder; uncontrollably consuming him from the inside out. It was his fault that they had been with the wagon train in the first place. If only he hadn’t put the seed of an idea into his brothers’ heads to accompany the caravan across the desert. They’d probably all be back at the Ponderosa by now, sitting around the dining table, sharing a breakfast of flapjacks and bacon, talking about the same old chores for the day ahead. The caravan would still have been attacked, but his Pa and his brothers would have been well out it. Safe. Home. He tried to push down the guilt he felt at that thought. He cared about what had happened to the settlers, but what good had his family done by being there? Yes, they’d managed to stop many of the outlaws, but not enough, and they’d all paid the price. The families had still died. Including his own? No, he wasn’t going to believe it.
And what right did Cameahwait have to tell him they’d all died. It wasn’t his place. It wasn’t anyone’s place. Because they were not dead. How dare that man suggest such a thing to him?
And how dare his family make him suffer like this? How dare they let him be taken away? How dare they… die? No. They weren’t…
Adam let out a guttural yell and kicked out at the fire with his bare feet. He kicked and kicked until the burning kindling and the rocks that had enclosed the flames were scattered across the ground. He didn’t notice the heat or the pain as the rocks scorched and scratched his feet. He sat back panting with rage, staring at the destruction he’d wrought, aware of the pain starting to scream in the top of his thigh. His face contorted with a grimace as he shuffled over to his bed, turned on his side and screwed his eyes tight shut. But the pain didn’t stop the images flooding through his mind, or the guilt and anger that were swamping him. He stubbornly held onto the belief that his father and Joe were alive, definitely injured, but alive. And only when he succumbed to a restless sleep did he get any peace from the turmoil in his mind.
Cameahwait left Adam alone that day. He had seen the grief that shone in his eyes when he’d told him that Adam’s family was dead. The woman who had nursed Adam took him food and water. As she quietly entered the tepee she saw his broad back, shoulders curled inwards as he lay on his side, facing away from the entrance. He did not stir as she left the items on the ground. She quickly reassembled the ruined fire and went back into the warmth of the sun, relieved to be away from the white man who grieved.
Adam was awoken later that evening by a hand on his shoulder. It was time for him to attend the gathering of the village’s leaders. As Adam looked over at him, Cameahwait almost shivered at the anger that seemed to reflect out of the dark pools of his eyes. Adam needed help with his boots. His actions of earlier that morning had aggravated the healing injury so bending his leg was suddenly an ordeal in itself. Cameahwait handed him a blanket to wrap around his shoulders; there was a chill in the late summer evening as autumn began to take a hold on the land.
Cameahwait supported Adam as he limped down towards the sizable dwelling at the end of the village. He found himself pushed gently to the floor amongst a dozen men around a large warming fire. The men were seated cross-legged, but Adam had to keep his injured leg straight in front of him. His foot was close to the fire but there was nowhere else he could put it. He shuffled to escape the heat but Cameahwait quieted him with a hand on his knee. Adam shifted a little more then began to study the people he was sitting amongst. It was clear that these men were respected leaders in the village. Their clothing showed the influence of the white man on their culture. Their cloth or hide shirts were worn with vests or heavy fringed jackets. Some of the leggings had wide patterned stripes down the legs giving an almost military look to their clothing. They all wore beaded chokers. Some were also adorned with long beaded necklaces or sashes like the one that Cameahwait wore. Their life experience showed on their lined faces. Their weather-darkened skin told of days lived outside in the sun, in rain, wind, snow. Their eyes crinkled with laughter lines but also displayed a wariness, a tension that they wore as they took in the white man who sat amongst them. They stared openly at him, not attempting to disguise their interest, or their suspicion.
Adam noticed that women were present too, including the woman who had been tending to his wounds. She was standing in the shadows, away from the light of the fire. Her dress was simple with a tasselled fringe at the bottom, and her hide leggings were decorated with beading down the seams. Adam decided she must be about his age, or a little younger perhaps. Her black hair was loosely tied below her ears into two long braids, interwoven into which were beads which hung loose from the ends. Her features were hidden in the darkness and she kept her eyes facing the floor. He got the impression that she was uncomfortable to be there as she kept her eyes on the ground and only made fleeting eye contact with anyone who spoke to her.
But Adam’s attention was soon pulled away from the woman and back to the council that was about to get started. The quiet chatter in the room had quietened when one of the men started to speak. Adam decided that this must the village leader. He wasn’t the oldest man there, but he carried an easy authority which meant when he spoke, the other men had immediately hushed and listened to his words. The leader motioned at Cameahwait to speak. Cameahwait didn’t look at Adam but addressed his words to the men that surrounded him. Adam heard his name mentioned and saw many eyes look in his direction. Cameahwait spoke at length, looking at each man in turn. When he had finished other men spoke, there was pointing, gesticulating. There seemed to be some disagreement. Something had been suggested which some of the men protested to. The leader stayed silent. He kept his eyes down as each man spoke, some more animatedly than others. Adam grew uncomfortable; he knew that he was the subject of the men’s discussion but had no idea to what end. He started to grow impatient. Eventually he could stand it no longer, and spoke quietly to Cameahwait.
“What’s going on, Cameahwait?” he whispered. “What are you all talking about?”
The room had immediately gone silent. Adam felt awkward. He hadn’t intended to bring the discussion to a halt.
“We are talking of you, Adam Cartwright, and your place in our village.”
“What do you mean ‘my place’?” Adam’s expression was confused. “I have no place here, you rescued me for which I’m thankful, but once my leg is okay, I need to go and…”
Cameahwait cut him off. “My spirit guide told me I would find you, Adam Cartwright. He told me to look for the man with many spirits. You are this man.”
Adam shook his head. “I’m just an ordinary man, Cameahwait, I don’t have any special powers or, er, spirits within me.” Adam half smiled though the smile didn’t reach his eye. “You’ve got the wrong man.”
“No, Adam Cartwright. I was led to find you. You belong to me. You will stay here, live as Ute.”
Adam could only stare at Cameahwait, his eyebrows drawn together in a frown. He opened his mouth to speak but Cameahwait hadn’t finished.
“Some of my people do not want you here. They say you bring danger to our village. They say you will bring more white devils who will take this land and call it their own. I tell them that they are wrong. Why would the spirits guide me to you, for you to do us ill?”
Cameahwait had looked at each man individually as he had said these words, determination and belief etched onto his face. Finally his eyes looked back to Adam.
“You will have a home here. You will live as one of us.”
Adam couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He stared incredulously at Cameahwait, a glowering look starting to crease across his face.
“This is ridiculous,” he exclaimed. “I can’t stay here, I have a home, a life, a family…”
“Your family are dead, Adam Cartwright!” Cameahwait spoke more harshly than he had intended.
Adam’s refusal to believe in the fate of his father and brothers overwhelmed him. “Why do you keep saying that?” he shouted. “My family is not dead!”
A quiet voice cut through the air like a knife through butter. The village’s leader had sat listening to the exchange between Adam and Cameahwait but knew the time had come to speak. Each English word was spoken as if it had been retrieved from the bottom of a deep well where it’d lain in the dark, unused, not needed.
“If my sister’s son says it is so, then it is so.”
Adam swung his head around to look at the man. The words were a like a hammer to his soul.
“Your people no longer walk the earth. They are as ghosts in the night.”
He heard his father’s voice in the careful intonations. When his father spoke, people listened. They heard trust and honesty in his voice. They knew that what Ben Cartwright said was true; he was not a man who would lie easily. He had a friendly authority, and when he needed to, a quietness, a low rumbling tone, and people knew immediately that what Ben Cartwright said was so. Adam heard his father’s voice in the careful intonations, and for the first time he believed. The man’s words sliced into Adam’s heart, rending and tearing, cutting the tenuous grip he’d kept on his obstinate belief that his family still lived. His pa was dead. Both his brothers were dead.
Adam’s eyes locked unblinking on the ground. His breath fluttered unevenly. There were voices around him, but he heard nothing. He saw nothing. He became aware of hands pulling him up and propelling him way from the fire and out into the cold night air. The short distance back to his lodge was made in a haze. There were arms around his back, around his waist. He seemed weaker than he’d been earlier that day. He was hopping on one foot, the other suspended off the ground. The walk was never-ending. He keep his head down just concentrating on getting back to his tepee where he could lie down and sleep and push that over-riding, life-ending, dominating thought out of his head. His family was dead. His family was dead. Dead. And then he was being gently pushed through the entrance and helped down to the floor. The fire was already burning, casting flickering shadows against the tapering walls. Adam lay down and turned his back on whoever had helped him and stared at the hide walls, his eyes fixed on where the skins had been fixed to the poles with skilfully applied strips of rawhide. A blanket was placed over him and a hand briefly touched his shoulder. He was aware of movement and then he felt the breath of displaced air as the hide skin was pushed down over the entrance.
For the first time in Adam’s life, he was truly alone.
Adam retreated into himself. He barely spoke. What was the point when there was no one left in the world that he wanted to talk to? He ate when given food and drank the water that was left for him. Otherwise he lay on his bedding, staring at the pointed roof of his dwelling as his mind went over and over what had happened, or what could have been done differently to prevent such a horrific outcome. Sometimes he would stumble and half crawl out into the autumn sunlight and sit leaning against the hide exterior of his abode, not seeing but staring inwards as unrelenting thoughts harried his mind.
He went over every moment of that day and he beat himself up for decisions that were made that he hadn’t tried to alter. He recalled the doubts they’d had about entering the gorge and felt angry that they hadn’t taken the long route around. It didn’t matter that at the time he’d not even considered suggesting taking the detour; he’d been as keen as everyone else to get over the ridge in the shortest time possible. But now, with the beauty of hindsight, his mind told him he should have stopped them and insisted on the long way around. He ignored the fact that had they detoured, they would have stood just as much chance of being attacked by the outlaws in the open as they had in the gorge. Adam’s guilt could not be absolved.
Adam’s mind constantly saw the dead settlers. He saw their grotesque unnatural positions, the glaring eyes, the blood. It was the unmoving stillness of their bodies that affected him most. But most of all he saw Hoss. He hadn’t seen his father’s body or Joe’s, but he had seen Hoss lying unmoving behind the boulder, and it was this image that refused to leave his innermost thoughts. He fixated on Hoss’s motionless legs. He saw again and again the bullet hit which spun his brother’s head back and flipped him onto his stomach. Time and again he relived the boy walking to Hoss’s fallen body and firing a bullet into him. He started to see what he hadn’t seen at the time, a spurt of blood leaving Hoss’s head. His imagination conjured images of Joe lying broken in the hot sand or his father crumpled on the ground. The images of the dead he’d seen and the bodies of his family that he only saw in his mind’s eye haunted his every waking moment.
When sleep came, it was restless. Deep sleep provided a temporary reprieve each night but that only came after hours of tossing and turning on his blanket as he relived the events of that terrible day. His troubled dreams always ended the same way. He’d start out of his sleep, gripping his thigh as he’d recall the sudden excruciating pain of the gunshot wound to his leg. He’d lie back down, damp with perspiration, carefully massaging his healing muscles and screwing his eyes together in an attempt to block out the remembered pain and the images that plagued him. It would never work.
Once awake, he would be tormented by guilt. He recalled the moment when his rage had got the better of him, when he’d stepped out to face the men on horseback. If only he’d kept his head, he could have hidden in the rocks or grabbed a horse, he could have ridden for help. But Adam knew deep down that that was just a daydream. He would have been gunned down himself before he’d got halfway up a slope or the minute he’d mounted a horse. He would have died too as everyone else had that day.
Cameahwait would come and sit with Adam during the day. Adam hadn’t forgotten Cameahwait’s declaration at the council meeting: that Adam would stay with his people; that he had a purpose to fulfil. He’d heard of men being taken by tribes and ‘owned’ by the one who found him. Of how they’d sometimes be forced to replace a dead tribesman, made to live the life of the one who’d died. It didn’t always end well for the adoptee. But for now, Adam didn’t regard his fate as important. He’d lost his entire family in the space of twenty minutes; his own life no longer mattered.
On each occasion that Cameahwait came to Adam’s dwelling, he would nod in the direction of the woodland. Each time Adam would take him up on the offer, indicating his need by attempting to stand. Cameahwait would haul him to his feet with a hand under Adam’s armpit, and help him hop or limp over to the privacy of the trees. A few days into this routine, Adam found he was able to put weight on his injured leg without significant pain. He brushed off Cameahwait’s hands and staggered off by himself with Cameahwait watching lest he fall. On his return he lowered himself to the ground and looked out over the ridge to the far-off hills. He spoke for the first time in days.
“Am I a prisoner here?” he asked.
“You are free to move around as you wish, Adam Cartwright, but you will stay here. It has been told to me.”
“Told to you by your spirit guide.” Adam’s voice was scathing.
Cameahwait ignored the sarcasm in Adam’s voice. “Your leg heals well, you will soon be able to hunt and ride again.”
Adam didn’t reply, just kept staring into the far distance.
“Your heart is heavy with sorrow, Adam Cartwright, you mourn. But mourning will not last forever.”
Adam looked sharply at Cameahwait. “What do you know about what I’m feeling? You should have left me there to die with my brothers!” With that, Adam hauled himself to his feet and limped into his tepee.
Seeing the white man withdraw from the world around him, Cameahwait wondered whether bringing Adam Cartwright to his village had been a mistake. A deeply spiritual man, the decisions that Cameahwait made, and the doctrines by which he lived, were guided by his spirit guide. He had been told to look for the man with many spirits and within hours of receiving that guidance, he had come across Adam lying desperately wounded in the gorge. It was not for Cameahwait to question his vision, but as each day passed and Adam remained locked in his grief, unwilling to move beyond the confines of his lodge except for bodily reasons of comfort, Cameahwait began to speculate as to exactly what role Adam could possibly play within his village. Cameahwait had known loss himself, but he had picked himself up straightaway and got on with his life. He had a wife and children who needed him. He could not wither away like a tree smothered by vines just because a loved one was dead. And besides, what good did it do the souls of the dead to see their relative pine away from grief. How could they enjoy the paradise of the afterlife if they were drawn near to their kin out of sorrow for the grief that was suffered?
But Cameahwait kept his deliberations to himself. He heard the murmurs within the village, of the white man who lay on his back all day or stared at nothing, eating their food and wallowing in self-pity. Why was he here? He should be led out into the wilderness and left to die, or better still, put out of his misery with a quick knife to the heart. Cameahwait would speak quietly but sharply to these dissenters. Did they dare to doubt the visions of the spirits? Did they really believe that the spirits would send them a man who had no strength inside? He, Cameahwait, had seen the animal spirits that moved within him. He believed; so should they. The voices would fade and the doubters would wander away chastened by his words. But Cameahwait could see the agitation within the village and the doubts as to the course of his actions would rise again.
Cameahwait continued his visits to Adam’s tepee. He made sure that Adam was supplied with food and water, but could not help but form a frown as he watched the white man consume a meagre portion of what was offered and grow leaner as a consequence. Adam’s cheekbones became more prominent as the weight started to fall from his bones. His grief and guilt had become all consuming.
Adam could have lived with the grief had they been taken in a stagecoach accident, or if an epidemic had claimed their lives. But Adam had taken the responsibility for their deaths on his head, and it was his overwhelming guilt and constant questioning that burned away the life force within him. His will to exist, his curiosity in the world around him had evaporated the moment he had blamed himself for his family’s demise. His occasional forays outside the tepee to sit in the cool air stopped. He stayed inside his lodge, only leaving after sunset to limp over to the woods. The walk kept him mobile but he knew his muscles were weakening from lack of food and proper exercise. After a while he needed Cameahwait once more to lean on as he hobbled the short distance to the trees. Adam didn’t care though. He had ceased to care about his own existence as his grief had overtaken him.
The woman, Adam was told her name was Wanekia, came to his tent each day to check on his wounds and bring him nourishment. She would enter his tepee and find him lying on his side facing away from her. With a gentle but firm hand, she would pull him over on to his back. Protecting his modesty with a folded blanket she would lower his leggings and carefully check the wounds in his thigh. When satisfied that there was no infection she would pull his leggings up to his waist. Then she would indicate for him to sit up. Adam would do as she asked and let her pull his shirt up to check the fading bruises and lacerations. He would let her raise his arms as she gently fingered the healing wounds on his sides and back. As she pulled his shirt back down to his waist she would have to physically nudge him to lie back down, indicating her examination was over. His compliancy worried her. There was no fight, no embarrassment, no humiliation in his expression. His vacant eyes spoke of a man whose life essence was fading day by day. As she left the tepee she would shake her head to Cameahwait, who would sigh in frustration.
But there came a day when Adam grew tired of looking at the animal hide walls, and staring into the flames until his vision was blurred. The rational side of his mind was beginning to stir as though awakening after a long hibernation. He still felt anger. And he didn’t think the guilt would ever go away. But after several weeks of feeling sorry for himself, it suddenly struck him that his father would have not have wanted him to waste away because of what had happened. If he had behaved this way at home, his father would have started out with kind words, would have let him wallow for a short while but then, with a grunt of exasperation, and demonstrating the wisdom that Ben Cartwright so often displayed, would have said something which would have roused Adam’s senses, got him out of bed, moving, living again. He lay on his back watching the smoke from the fire as it was drawn out of the smoke hole and all at once he wanted to see the clouds in the sky again, to hear the sound of the water in the creek, to feel fresh air on his skin. And he was hungry. So hungry.
He was just about to heave himself into a sitting position when the flap pulled back and Wanekia entered. She paused with surprise when she saw he had his head turned towards her and was watching her entrance. She knelt next to him and began her administrations. He watched her intently, slightly unnerving her in the process. She had been used to the blank eyes, the need to move his limbs and torso so she could check his wounds. As her fingers gently probed around the wound on his thigh Adam sat up on his elbows and studied his injury for the first time. When she wanted to check his chest and back, he took off his shirt without needing to be prompted. He was shocked by the weight that had fallen off his arms and chest. As she leaned across him the tips from one of her braids brushed against his skin. She froze when he took a hold of it and ran the soft feathery hair between the tips of his fingers. At her startled look, Adam dropped it and at her indication put his shirt back on.
She began to rise when Adam grasped her hand. “Help me up.” He looked at Wanekia, who had once more been stopped in her tracks. “Please.” He let go of her hand, sat up and shifted his weight onto one hip. Wanekia grabbed his wrist and pulled it across her shoulders whilst Adam put his other arm around her waist. Together they shuffled to the flap and out into the cool autumn air. He dropped on the ground outside the tepee and was surprised to see Cameahwait sitting cross-legged in front of the lodge. Wanekia lowered her head and scurried away.
“How long have you been my guard?” asked Adam wryly.
“From when you crawl into your hole like a squirrel in winter.” Cameahwait pointed to the woods. “You need to…?”
Adam shook his head. The two men sat together silently. But Cameahwait noticed that Adam was looking around him for the first time in weeks. He was starting to observe the village, to take an interest in the world around him. It was a good sign.
And Adam was seeing again. It was as though, overnight, summer had ended and fall had taken a hold on the land. The pinyon pines and junipers that surrounded the camp were beginning to display their seasonal changes in colour. Adam could see the brown and yellow of old needles poking through the green foliage and the ground was littered with fallen spines. The sun was lower in the sky and although still a vibrant blue, heavy white clouds were blowing across the heavens bringing a chill to the air that spoke of the coming winter snows. Adam shivered where he sat, his thin shirt not enough to keep the cold from his flesh. Cameahwait jumped to his feet and retrieved one of the fur hides from Adam’s lodge, handing it down to Adam as he stood next to him.
“Come Adam Cartwright, you must eat.” He hoisted Adam to his feet. “But first,” he sniffed, “you bathe.” He sniffed twice. “You smell like a skunk.” And with the fur wrapped around Adam’s shoulders, he helped him walk to the creek to wash several weeks of accumulated dirt from his skin, and then to Cameahwait’s lodge where his family were gathering for a meal. And for the first time since the attack in the gorge, Adam found he had an appetite. The grief and the anger were still there, bubbling beneath the surface, but Adam knew he needed to start living again, if not for his sake, then for his father and for his brothers. If they were looking down on him over the last few weeks, they would have been incensed by his behaviour. Adam decided there and then, he was going to live for them.
The following morning Adam sat in front of his tepee and watched the village go about its business around him. He felt like the old Adam for the first time in weeks. Not consumed by powerful feelings of shame or despair, but able to think and reason with a semblance of rationality again. He had woken to find a makeshift staff leaning on the outside of the lodge. He assumed it had been left by Cameahwait.
A group of children were playing blind man’s bluff nearby. A skinny little lad of about six years of age had been blindfolded with a piece of cloth and stood in the centre of a group of children, arms outstretched, reaching out for someone to tag. His mouth was open in concentration. The other children were laughing and giggling, getting within reach of the child’s hands and then ducking back as the boy swung around. An older boy, tall for his age, hefty in build, would grab the child’s shoulders and gently turn him around and lightly push him in the direction of their playmates. The laughter was contagious and Adam’s lips curled upwards as he watched the children play.
Cameahwait appeared at his side and settled himself on the ground besides Adam.
“It is good to see you smile, Adam Cartwright.”
Adam’s eyes didn’t leave the playing children.
“It’s hard not to,” he said, nodding his head in the direction of the play. He glanced at Cameahwait. “Thanks for the staff.” He indicated the long pole that lay by his leg.
“You thank Wanekia,” Cameahwait said. “It was she who gave you the stick to walk with”.
Adam saw her sitting a little way away on her knees rolling a rounded stone over a pile of pinyon nuts, cracking open the shells to reach the nuts within. She glanced up whilst he was watching her and met his eyes for a couple of seconds before glancing away. Her look had been unwavering and direct.
Adam wanted to go and thank her but was distracted by a small yelp from one of the children. The little blindfolded lad had tripped over in his excitement to tag someone. He lay spread-eagled on the ground but was quickly helped to his feet and brushed down by the bigger older boy.
“They are brothers,” said Cameahwait. “The smaller one is Mukki, his older brother is Tatonga. Their oldest brother, Chaska, is with those boys there.” Cameahwait pointed to a group of young men who sat apart from the youngsters.
The men were seated on the ground; they were all young, having just reached manhood. Some were intricately cutting and trimming feathers which they then attached to wooden shafts with what looked like sinew. Others were grinding pieces of bone against rocks making sharp points. It was one of these men who, as he put his effort into working the bone against the rock, kept looking up and watching the children. When the little one fell, he had stopped his work, and shouted to the bigger lad, gesticulating with his hands.
Adam’s smile had faded as he watched the interaction between the three lads. He was reminded of three other brothers who had once played together as boys. And as men. He hauled himself to his feet and looked down at Cameahwait.
“I’m gonna take a walk.” Without waiting for a reply, he limped off as quickly as he was able in the direction of the creek. He leaned heavily on the cane even though a good meal the night before had brought some strength back to his muscles. He followed a trail of flattened grass that had been made as the villagers used the same route to the life-giving water. He crested the ridge and struggled a little on the downward slope but his staff kept him on his feet as he approached the creek. Several women were standing knee deep in the water pummelling clothes against the flatter rocks which lined the water’s edge. They had been chattering as they worked, but as he approached they fell silent and eyed him with interest. The pounding of material continued even as they observed the stranger who was suddenly approaching them. Adam came to a stop in front of them and not knowing quite what to do he nodded and headed away from them, following the path of the creek.
When he felt he was far enough away from the village to be completely alone, he used his stick to lower himself to the ground and sat staring out towards the water. The light reflecting on the fast flowing creek created a sea of sparkles that were blinding to behold, but Adam didn’t see the myriad of shimmering patterns before him. His eyes were fixed on an image only he could see, of three boys racing around a yard, making such a joyous racket that their father appeared on the porch to reprimand. But instead of issuing a rebuke he had stood there chuckling as the two older boys laughingly teased the littlest one, who squealed with delight.
After a few minutes, Adam screwed his eyes tight and the tears which he had managed to lock away within him started to flow. He drew his good leg up and resting his elbow on his knee, covered his eyes with his hand as the tears fell down his cheeks. His hand slipped to cover his mouth as heavy breaths escaped him, as he fought to control his emotions. But in the end he let go and let the tears fall. A breathy moan escaped him as he finally let go of the sorrow, heartache and grief that had collected inside him. After a few minutes he opened his eyes and used the bottom of his shirt to wipe away the wetness from his face. As his breathing became regular once more, Adam took a deep lungful of air, pursed his lips and blew out a long breath.
It had been a release of long buried emotion. And he felt a little steadier within himself. But the loss of his Pa, Hoss and Joe didn’t hurt any less. He felt as if a knife had been driven into his heart and left there; as though a weight had settled over his chest, unrelenting, constantly pressing. And feeding that hurt was a dangerous, simmering anger, curled up in the pit of his stomach and just waiting for that time when he would unleash it against the men who had taken so much from him.
Adam stayed by the creek until the sun had passed its zenith. It was hunger that pulled him back to the village and back to his lodge. Cameahwait was sitting where Adam had left him.
“You have been gone a long time, Adam Cartwright.”
“Did you think I’d escaped?” Adam asked wryly.
Cameahwait smiled and looked up at Adam. “If you had run, we would have brought you back. You would not have got far with your leg.” He stood and faced Adam. “And where would you have run to?”
He walked away leaving Adam looking at his retreating back. Where would he have gone? The Ponderosa? The Ponderosa was his home. He’d spent most of his life there. It was in his blood, formed part of his soul now. He loved the wilderness, the high country, the pines and, oh, the glorious lake. But Adam always believed that a home was wherever his family was. He recalled saying once, long ago, that home for him was wherever his stubborn father and two hard-headed brothers were. And now they were gone, so where was his home? He could return to the Ponderosa and rattle around that big ranch house with just Hop Sing for company, but the house and the land held too many memories of the four of them, working together, enjoying life together. He could picture the dining table with just him and three empty places; the bedrooms which he’d have to close up in order not to be reminded of those very personal spaces with possessions placed just so by their owners; the chairs by the hearth hollow without their customary occupants. No, he couldn’t go back. He felt sorry for Hop Sing, but the Chinese cook was nothing if not resilient. And with his cooking abilities he’d find a new place in no time.
So where would he go? As he watched Cameahwait walking away, and as he glanced around him at the people who, although not overtly welcoming, had not treated him with anything other than curiosity, he decided that for the time being, this was the only option open to him. His leg was still healing and he remained weak as a result of his battering and from when—he was ashamed to even think the words—he’d given up. He stood little chance out in the wilds until his body had fully healed. So for now he’d go along with Cameahwait’s wishes to stay in the village. He’d use the time to fully recover his strength. And his wits. He’d leave decisions about his future, for the future.
Adam never told Cameahwait of his decision to stay in the village; it was almost as if the Indian knew. As Adam sat in the front of his dwelling the following morning, Cameahwait appeared and gestured for him to join the young men making arrows. Adam limped over to the group and lowering himself to the ground was given a rock and the bone of a large animal. He looked at the items and shrugged his shoulders to show he didn’t know what to do. The nearest boy grabbed the bone and smashed it into several smaller pieces, then started to grind the bone against the rock. He did this for a few moments then thrust them back into Adam’s hands. Okay, whatever you say thought Adam, and tried his best to simulate the actions of the young man. The lad grunted and continued with his own efforts of fashioning an arrowhead out of the bone. It was more tiring than Adam had thought it would be. He’d been ill and weak for so long that his arm soon ached from the repeated action of filing the bone against the rock. But he wasn’t going to give in and show any signs of weakness. The young men worked silently next to him. They made no effort to communicate but instead glanced over at the white man as they worked, occasionally exchanging looks with each other.
Adam took this time to let his mind meander. He wondered what his brothers would say if they could see him now, dressed in Indian garb and making arrowheads. He could hear Hoss’s voice in his head. “Seems like older brother’s finally gone plumb loco, Little Joe.” A sad smile crept over his face as he thought of his wise younger brother and how he’d never again hear his voice, or feel the reassuring squeeze of his hand on his shoulder, or see that gap toothed grin. But although the sadness was a constant within him, it was never alone. Because the anger was there too, fed with every sad thought and memory that Adam had. He shook his head, bringing himself back to his present reality.
His eyes wandered while he worked, and he found that he kept looking in the direction of the woman who had cared for him, Wanekia. She sat not far away with a group of women, once again attacking a pile of pinyon shells with zeal. Adam hadn’t had an opportunity to see her face properly until now and he took this time to study her. He noticed that she had an almost perfect heart-shaped face, though one which was offset by a somewhat flat nose. Rather a charming nose, Adam thought. Her high-set cheekbones were framed by long black hair that she wore in her customary way, tied in two braids which draped down over her chest. Adam studied her lips. They weren’t full or fleshy yet he was intrigued by how they gave her face a soft, gentle aspect. But it was her eyes that caught Adam’s attention. If the eyes were really the window to the soul, then Wanekia’s soul was a complex creation. Her eyes appeared sorrowful, bestowing a melancholy upon her like a dark mist. She didn’t smile very much, and when she did it was just a slight curving of the lips which didn’t reach her dark eyes. And if the other women laughed, Wanekia would stay silent. She kept her eyes down and kept busy. But Adam also remembered her remark on the first night he’d awoken from his illness. It was that of a woman who housed a dry amusing wit. And he recalled the unswerving look she had given him just the day before. Adam paused in his work whilst he looked at her and tried to understand the opposing messages that her eyes portrayed. When she looked up and saw him surveying her, it was his turn to blink and look away, embarrassed that he had been caught staring at her so blatantly.
After what seemed like hours, and after much studying of what his companion was doing, Adam had made a rather irregular shaped arrow head. He looked at it, feeling quite proud of his efforts, even though it was clearly not perfect. He looked to the young men and spoke for the first time.
“What is the word for arrowhead in your language?” he asked.
The boys looked over at him as he held the arrowhead up towards them but after exchanging a few glances between them, carried on working.
“Ahh, the word, um…arrow…your word?” Adam waved his hand in front of his mouth but struggled to make himself understood. He gave up. He dropped his head and fingered the object he’d just made.
“The word in our language is wunup.”
Adam looked up to see the young man called Chaska regarding him.
“You speak English?”
“Most of us speak your language.” Chaska was tying a feather fletch to a shaft, tying damp sinew around the pole with speed and dexterity. “We just choose not to.”
“I’m sorry.” Adam didn’t know what he was apologising for. It just felt like the only thing he could say. The white man had irrevocably changed the lives of every Indian on the continent, and not for the better. He had no idea what the future would hold for these young braves, but he suspected some might not live to become elders of their village. He could understand why they were holding on to their native language and centuries of tradition. However, like a glacier pushing everything forward in its inescapable path, the behemoth of European civilization was driving the Indian tribes away from their customs. Although the English language was becoming commonplace amongst them, there were still those, such as these Ute, who embraced their own language and kept it alive.
“I’ve made my first wunup,” he said, and held it up in front of him.
The boy who had smashed the bone snatched it from his hand and threw it behind them. “Bad!” he said with vehemence as he bent back to his work.
“Hey!” Adam scrambled to his feet and retrieved his piece of handiwork. “It may be bad to you…” He grasped the arrowhead in his hand and decided he had enough sharpening for one day.
He noticed that Wanekia was walking in the direction of the creek and decided this would be a good opportunity to thank her for the staff. He left the young men to their work and followed her trail. Her moccasins lay abandoned on the stream bank as she stood in the fast moving current up to her calves filling several bladders with water. She didn’t look surprised by his approach. Instead she stood straight with her shoulders back carrying a full skin in each hand and waited for him to come to a stop a few feet away from her. It seemed to Adam as if the sadness which she’d worn like a second skin wasn’t so apparent now that she was alone and away from the other people in the village. The spark he’d noticed before in his tepee was there in her eyes, almost challenging him to speak to her.
“I wanted to thank you,” Adam hesitated, slightly unnerved by the forthright expression on her face as she regarded him, “for the staff.” He smiled and raised his walking stick off the ground.
Wanekia threw the full bladders of water at Adam’s feet and bent to fill another. “It will help you walk.”
“Still, I’m grateful.” Adam took a few steps along the bank. “And I need to thank you for…when I was sick. Er…you looked after me.”
“Cameahwait ask. I do what he ask.”
Adam looked over at the woman and, realising his gratitude was falling on deaf ears, he made to turn and walk back to the village.
“Your clothes,” she pointed to his pants, “they need washing.”
Adam glanced down and saw the patch of dried blood which had soaked through his trouser leg when he’d broken open his wound on the day he awoke. He realised then that he’d been wearing the same clothing for several weeks.
“Ah, I don’t have any other clothes. I don’t know what happened to my own.”
“We burned them. Your shirt was torn. You had…” She made a small motion with her hand.
Adam’s embarrassment shone hot on his face. During the journey across the desert and the many days he’d been ill, he would have had no control over himself. His body would have just let go. This meant not only had his clothes been marred, but his body would have needed cleaning too. As this realisation slowly dawned on Adam, he didn’t quite know where to look. Wanekia climbed out of the creek and slipping her moccasins back on to her feet, she moved past him retrieving the full bladders of water.
“I washed your body and put new clothes on you.”
With an almost gleeful look on her face, as if enjoying Adam’s embarrassment, she walked back to the village, leaving Adam standing in a stupor at the side of the creek.
Adam’s days fell into a routine. He found it ironic that he’d gone from being a leader of men, to one that needed to be led. For so long he’d run the Ponderosa alongside his father. He had instructed the drovers and ranch hands under his employ. He had brokered business deals with timber merchants, mines and the army. He was used to being autonomous, working hard with his father and brothers to improve the family business. But now he was in an Indian village, having to learn new skills just in order to survive. So he was content, for the moment, to do whatever Cameahwait directed him to do. He found himself making arrows with the older boys, fishing for trout in the creek and weaving nets. These were all new skills for him, even the Indian way of fishing using spears or constructing elaborate dams across the river to corral and imprison the fish. But Adam relished the physical labour. He could feel his muscles strengthening from the effort and the ache in his leg lessened each day.
He was also conscious that he couldn’t just sit back and let these people provide for him. He had to contribute, to pull his weight. It was like he was the new boy in college again. All those years ago he’d arrived in Boston feeling like a gauche young cowboy in the big city. And he’d had to adjust in order to fit in. It was the same here. Once more he was a stranger in an unknown environment, having to adapt so that he could survive. So he threw himself into learning these new skills with gusto. It exercised his mind and his body. And to a certain extent it acted as a distraction. During the daylight hours he didn’t have time to ponder on all that he’d lost. He could concentrate on the task at hand, and the overriding grief and sorrow could be confined to the hours when he was alone in his lodge. For it was then, in the darkest hours, that guilt and anger would crowd in and batter him relentlessly.
Cameahwait’s belief that he had found Adam in the desert for a reason, fell on deaf ears. Almost daily, Cameahwait would speak of his vision, of finding the man with many spirits, and that Adam was this man. Adam had experienced some unusual episodes in his life, most particularly the case of the preacher who had materialised in Virginia City as if from nowhere, united two warring families, and then disappeared almost in front of their eyes. It had left the townsfolk stumped and bewildered for weeks to come. But Adam believed that a man made his own fate, that the decisions he took were what determined his path in life. He felt that as the lone survivor of the massacre, he had been fortunate to have been found by Cameahwait and that it was nothing more than the Ute being in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t a supernatural event; he didn’t have a purpose to fulfil. Perhaps if Cameahwait actually knew why he’d found him, he could find some way to believing. But Cameahwait was as in the dark as he was.
And the more Cameahwait spoke of his belief to the villagers, the more it bestowed an ambiguous status on him. The villagers, who at any other time would have been hostile to a white man in their midst, treated him as if he was a visiting Ute from a different village. It was natural for them to be wary of him: indeed he was an outsider in a tight-knit community. But he wasn’t a prisoner; he could come and go freely within the village and its surrounds. They saw him taking part in their daily activities. With the exception of his black leather boots, he wore the same clothing as they did. He would greet them in their own language. Yet Adam knew that if he tried to leave without permission, he would be hunted down and brought back to the village. He may not be a prisoner per se, but he was still unable to leave. So until Adam could make a decision about his future, he was content to stay with these people who were gradually warming to his presence.
Cameahwait had invited Adam to eat his daily meals with his family, for all intents of purposes becoming a member of the family group. It was at these times that he found memories of his own family overwhelming. He would watch Cameahwait’s children sparring with each other, sometimes playfully, at other times with irritable expressions and threats. Adam recalled his own brothers and how, when they had all been much younger, his father sometimes had to physically prize the boys apart when their teases and jibes went a step too far, usually at Little Joe’s instigation. But there were also the days when they’d laugh over something that had happened that day, generating shouts of mirth across the dinner table. Adam watched Cameahwait’s children and saw the love and dedication that they had for each other, which of course, as children, they’d never admit to. Adam would drift and find himself staring at the ground or at the fire as he remembered specific mealtimes or conversations. But then a gentle touch from Luyu, Cameahwait’s wife, would bring him back into the fold. He would smile crookedly, take a bite of his meal, and attempt to follow the boisterous chatter around him. Adam struggled to follow the conversations, but, with Cameahwait’s help, he started to pick up more and more words until he could just about get the gist of what was being said. At the very least, he could understand the subject of the chat, even if he couldn’t comprehend the intricacies of the discussion.
He came across Wanekia increasingly through the course of his day. She was present at every meal time and Adam learned that she was the widow of Cameahwait’s brother. Adam’s eyes would flicker in her direction when he was certain that both she and the rest of the family were not looking. In the presence of other villagers she wore the mantle of sadness and meekness like a protective cloak. But Adam had seen another side to her, and wondered about the straight-backed, baiting woman that he’d spoken with at the creek. She intrigued him. It seemed that she was always within his view as he worked fashioning arrowheads or stood meshing a net. He’d glance up and she’d be seated with the other women working hard at her daily duties. He’d find her at the creek as he went down to wash or just to sit alone. Once he was standing at the village’s corral casting an appraising eye over their horses and, again, there she was, walking out of the trees with a basket balanced on her hip. After a few days of this, Adam realised that he kept seeing her because, in matter of fact, he was actively looking for her. The village was so small that he couldn’t help but see the same people every day. But he didn’t notice them. He noticed Wanekia.
But Adam’s grief was like an open wound, and he realised that learning and practicing new skills was no longer the distraction it once had been. It only took a child’s joyous laugh to remind him of Joe, or a few spare words from the village elder to have him picture his father in the blink of an eye. Reminders were everywhere and he found himself continually thinking of his lost family. He refused to cry again, though at times, late at night as he lay alone on his furs, he would have to bite his lip hard to stop the emotions from enveloping him. He felt a fresh guilt start to flourish as he began to notice Wanekia. What right did he have to show an interest in a woman at this time? His family were barely cold in their graves and here he was developing feelings for someone that he could have no possible future with. But despite his grief and no matter how guilty he felt, Adam couldn’t help but look for her in the village. Was it yet another distraction he wondered, a way to forget what had happened to him? He quickly dismissed that idea for as much as he thought about this woman, his grief was still present like a tickly cough that refused to go away. One was not stronger than the other; the grief and his burgeoning feelings for Wanekia lived side by side.
At mealtimes he tried to arrange it so he was sitting next to her. His efforts normally failed when Cameahwait’s lively family all piled around the fire and he found himself in the middle of an accumulation of gangly elbows, pointy shoulders and the rough and tumble of children who couldn’t sit still for two minutes. Cameahwait’s youngest daughter, Yazhi, had taken an instant liking to Adam and made every excuse to sit next to him, on him, in front of him, whilst she ate her meal. The three year old ignored him at every other time of day, but when it came to mealtimes, he was her chosen partner.
It was Luyu, Cameahwait’s wife, who noticed Adam’s growing interest in Wanekia. Her eyes didn’t miss a thing, and so one evening, without any ado on her part but much to Yazhi’s anger and resulting temper tantrum, Luyu engineered it so that Adam was at last seated next to Wanekia.
They sat self-consciously shoulder to shoulder. She had handed him a bowl of food and sat down beside him, but the silence between them stretched awkwardly ahead. Adam broke into the quiet.
“Do you mind if I ask about your husband?”
Wanekia bowed her head and ran her fingers around her bowl.
“I’m sorry,” Adam started. “I didn’t mean…“
“No,” Wanekia interrupted. She paused. “My husband was a…” She stopped again, struggling to find the word that would describe him. “He was tall, strong.” She smiled. “He had no fear, of anything or anyone.” She looked down at her hands. “But it was this that killed him. He was one man against many white men. They shot him.”
“I’m sorry,” Adam said again.
“He had gone to the white man’s town to trade and he was killed. They pushed him, hit him. When he hit back they shot him.”
Adam opened his mouth to offer another apology but decided further platitudes would be trite. He felt unexplained anger. He had come to know these people in the few weeks he had been with them and it shocked him, though didn’t surprise him, to hear of the manner of her husband’s death. He shook off the anger and concentrated on the woman next to him.
“When did this happen?”
“I have been in mourning for a year.”
It suddenly made sense to him. Wanekia needed to maintain a certain face when she was with her people. She needed to look sad, humble, shrouded by grief. But the handful of moments when he’d caught her alone she had exhibited another side to her. She had had to tuck away her own true character to maintain the front of mourning. This was the woman that Adam wanted to know.
Adam took a bite to eat from his bowl and silence fell between them again. He realised he may not have another opportunity like this again so decided to take the bull by the horns. Forcing his rising guilt down, he shifted in his seat so he was angled towards her.
“Wanekia, I’d like to talk more with you. Would you let me walk with you tomorrow, perhaps down by the creek?”
The woman looked up at him and Adam could see a storm of conflicting emotions raging through her eyes. In the space of a second he saw confusion, anxiety, regret. And desire.
“I cannot Adam Cartwright, not while I’m in mourning.”
Adam nodded his head several times. Perhaps it was for the best. He could stop feeling guilty about his developing feelings. Nothing would happen. It was as it should be.
But Adam wasn’t one to give up so easily. Guilt be damned.
“I understand.” He glanced over his shoulder to make sure he couldn’t be heard. “But if I was to run in to you by chance, down by the creek, sometime…” He let his voice trail off and stood up. Wanekia’s eyes were wide open as she looked at him. “Thank you for your company Wanekia; I’ll wish you goodnight.” And with that, he bade goodnight to the rest of the family group and retired to his bed. As he walked away, he cast his eyes to the heavens and with a crooked smile and a wink he mentally begged forgiveness from his family.
Adam’s plans to get closer to Wanekia were curtailed the next morning when he noticed a number of men loading up a couple of ponies with furs and skins. He realised this was a trading party and, limping quickly over to Cameahwait, who sat outside his lodge with Yazhi playing on his lap, he asked to go with them. He had been in the village for over six weeks now, and was starting to feel blind and restricted. He needed to know where he was, to find the nearest town, which would in turn help him to make a more informed decision as to when and how to leave. He put aside his request to Wanekia of the previous evening. And although he was eager to know more about her, he was also conscious that he needed to think seriously about his future. He decided first things first, find out where he was, how far the nearest settlement was, and then go from there.
“This would not be a good idea, Adam Cartwright,” Cameahwait said as he placed Yazhi on her feet and stood up.
“Cameahwait, please, I’m well enough to ride. I need to know what’s going on out there, maybe I can find out news about what happened in the gorge.”
“Adam Cartwright, they will know you for a white man, they will ask questions about you, about us.”
“I’ll be careful. If I had my old clothes I could have worn them, and no one would have known any different, I could have followed you in alone.”
Cameahwait knew he had a battle on his hands. “Your clothes were burnt. You dress like Ute now. We cannot risk trouble for our village. They will think we took you against your will.”
Adam’s temper flared. “Well you are holding me against my will aren’t you? I can’t leave, can I?” Adam pinched the bridge of his nose and breathed out slowly to calm himself. He knew that once he was in a town he would have opportunity to slip away, to make his escape. But he also knew that that would bring trouble on the village. Retaliation would be sought for the perceived wronging of a white man, no matter what Adam said. Cameahwait’s people had been good to him, and if trouble came to the village, there was potential for people he was starting to care about to get hurt, or worse. Wanekia’s face flickered through Adam’s mind. He knew that, even if the chance arose, he would not be able to ask for help of anyone in a town without risking the lives of the Ute.
“Please, Cameahwait, I need to get out of the village for a time. I won’t try to leave, you can trust me.” He ran his fingers over his month-old growth of beard. “Besides, we need to trade for a razor, I gotta lose this beard.”
Cameahwait laughed and shook his head. “Okay, Adam Cartwright, you can go. But I will go too.”
Two of the Indians who had formed part of the original trading party were dismissed, and it was Adam, Cameahwait and two young men, Hanska and Nashoba, who rode out instead. Adam had been told to exchange his conspicuous leather boots for moccasins, and he’d been given a wide choker of beads to wear around his throat. Nothing could be done about his short hair and beard but Cameahwait had instructed Adam to stay quiet and in the background whilst they were trading.
It had been many years since Adam had ridden bareback. It was something that he and his brothers had played at when they were boys. It was a great way of learning about their chosen mounts as they became adept at reading the creature’s movements beneath them. But Adam never found it comfortable, unlike his younger brother Joe who took great pleasure in riding without a saddle. Many a time the brothers would decide to ride out together only to be left behind by Joe. He’d pull his horse out of the barn and with a wild whoop swing his leg over the horse’s back and be galloping away before his elder brothers had thrown their saddles on to their mounts.
Adam heaved himself onto the horse that had been assigned to him, no easy task with a still uncomfortable leg. A simple cord had been circled around the horse’s mouth to create a rein. Adam grasped it in one hand, applied pressure to the animal’s sides with his thighs and was soon moving. He was out of practice and had to remind himself to stay upright and on his butt, rather than sitting forward on his pelvis, otherwise he’d regret it later.
The team of riders left the village and travelled down the mountain side and across the low rocky hills. They rode through shallow valleys following the curve of streams. The trail took them through forests of juniper and aspens. Adam realised just how remote the village was as they encountered no other signs of human habitation for miles around. He also realised that the only way he could leave was if he took a horse, and even then he was doubtful he would get very far without knowing the area in the way the Ute people did. He would be hunted down and taken back before he’d got halfway down the mountain.
As the group continued to ride west, signs of human activity became more apparent. The land became more managed with signs of agriculture; there were more fences and demarcation lines. Adam saw that the Indians were keeping a considerable distance between themselves and any homesteads that they came across. After several hours of riding, Adam realised that it wasn’t a town they were headed for but a trading post settled on a crossroads in a low shallow valley. The riders approached slowly keeping their eyes and ears open for any signs of trouble. Cameahwait appeared satisfied with the number of horses tied to the hitching post at the front of the store and gave the signal to alight.
“You stay here,” he said to Adam.
“Ah come on,” protested Adam. “I can’t ride all this way and then stay outside.”
Cameahwait huffed his breath. “Okay, you come. But say nothing.”
Adam followed the Indians into the interior of the trading post. The familiar sights and smells regaled him as he entered, triggering a deluge of childhood memories. When he and his father had first settled in Nevada, his father had made a living from running traplines in the high Sierra. Adam recalled accompanying his father to the trading posts to sell the furs and skins of the animals they had snared. For a young boy the stores had offered a cornucopia of incredible objects to stare at in wonderment and to lightly run his fingers across as his father did business with the proprietor. Trappers and settlers would mingle together sharing experiences and stories. And after an Indian’s arrow had taken the life of his beloved stepmother, Inger, it was at the trading posts where Adam had learned not to fear these strangely spoken, mysterious and yet, fascinating people. When his father, or any other white man for that matter, was not looking, they would touch Adam’s shiny black hair and gaze at him as if trying to ascertain that he was indeed a white child, and not an Indian boy in the hands of the whites. Adam would stare boldly back and something in his eyes would convince them and they’d step away. As he got to know the same faces, he would run out to greet them to learn new Indian words and watch with wide eyes as they showed him their Indian ponies; or how to throw a knife, Indian style.
As Cameahwait had requested, Adam hung back and took in his surroundings. Light beams from high windows spotlighted assorted areas of the dark store, illuminating the dust motes that hung in the air. He moved slowly around the large room looking for a noticeboard or newspaper, anything that may be able to give him news of what had happened after Juniper Gorge. He tried to be inconspicuous when studying the noticeboard, keeping his eyes down and glancing up occasionally as if not actually reading what was in front of him. In any event there was no news so he moved away in search of a newspaper. In that regard he was out of luck as well. A group of old-timers sat in the corner playing cards. He drifted as near as he dared to listen, but they were more concerned with the merits of a mule one of them owned than talking about recent events. It was almost as if the attack had never happened. Adam felt a moment of anger. He had, perhaps unreasonably, thought it would be the talk of the moment. Instead life had gone on as if his family’s demise was of no consequence. Disappointed and dispirited, Adam put his head down and left the store to stand by the horses.
A couple of riders had arrived at the post. Dirty and unkempt, the stench of stale sweat reached Adam across the yard and he curled his nose up in distaste. Adam had seen this type many times before. They sought out trouble as if that was their raison d’être for living; they were quick to fight, even quicker to draw. Adam’s hand spontaneously went to his hip, to the pistol that he remembered with unease he hadn’t seen since it was lost in the attack. He shifted slightly to get out of their line of vision, but in doing so his movement caught the eye of one of the men.
The man moved sideways a step to get a closer look.
“Well, lookie here, we got ourselves an injun all on he’s lonesome.”
The talker was stocky and red-faced, his thinning mousy hair standing in several directions as he took off his sweat-marked hat and placed it over the pommel of his horse’s saddle. Tilting his head to one side and chewing on a matchstick he sauntered over to where Adam stood with his back to one of the Indian ponies.
“Wotcha got there, Tex?”
A second man, with a black handlebar moustache and a tuft of black beard below his bottom lip moved out from behind his horse. He may have smelt like he hadn’t seen a tub of water in several weeks, but he clearly tried his best to dandify himself with a burgundy brocade vest – which had clearly seen better days – and his dapper bolo tie. His mouth was black with chewing tobacco that he rolled between his teeth.
“It’s an injun, though not like no injun I never seen before.” Adam let Tex move up close to him. His face was so close that Adam could smell breath that reeked of rotting teeth. He knew he couldn’t react. To respond the way that Adam wanted to would bring trouble on Cameahwait and the other two Indians, and that would mean trouble for the village. He kept his eyes to the ground hoping against hope that if he pretended they weren’t there, they’d get bored and leave him alone.
With one chewed down fingernail, Tex prodded Adam’s chin. It took all of Adam’s strength to not punch this man in the guts. “Ike, has you ever seen an injun with a beard before?”
The dandy stood behind Tex eyeing up Adam who was trapped with his back to his horse.
“Cain’t says that I can, Tex.” Ike moved Tex out of the way so he could peer closely at Adam. “You know what this is, dontcha, Tex?” He leaned back and spat a wodge of black spit on the ground. “This here’s a white boy gone native.”
Tex giggled and pushed Ike out of the way so he could leer in Adam’s face again.
“Is that right, you gone native?”
Adam kept his eyes down and refused to answer him.
“Answer me, boy!” Tex slapped Adam’s cheek.
It was a good thing Adam’s eyes were concentrating on a small discoloured patch on the ground as the rage that had started to grow within him had turned his eyes black. It was men like these who rode in gangs, became outlaws, renegades, who murdered innocent people. Adam’s breathing was accelerating as he drew his breath in and out of his nose. Don’t look up, he told himself. Don’t look up and look at them. Keep your eyes down.
Ike had sidled up next to Tex and started to finger Adam’s clothing.
“You know what good honest folk think of Injun lovers, dontcha?” he sneered. “They’s is worse than the lowest injun, they’s ain’t worth the time it takes to spit.”
Ike lowered his head to Adam’s level trying to meet him eye to eye.
“They’s is worse than slaves. They’s is worse than pigs.”
Adam’s self-control was at the very edge of its limits. He clenched his hands so tightly into fists that his fingernails were in danger of drawing blood as they dug into his palms. His chest rose and fell as his breathing got faster and faster. Don’t look at them, just don’t look at them.
“What’s wrong, cat gotcha tongue?” drawled Tex. He giggled again. “Maybe as that you ain’t got no tongue. Hey, Ike, don’t injuns cut the tongues outta whites when they finds ‘em?”
Ike pushed Tex to one side again and tried to stick his finger in Adam’s mouth to open it. Adam jerked his head away.
“Ho ho, there is life in ‘im,” sniggered Ike.
Don’t look at them. This is nothing. They are nothing. Don’t look at them. Adam’s gut instinct was to fight back, to flatten them against the ground. The strain in keeping himself meek and cowed in the presence of these two thugs was starting to make his limbs tremble. It took every fibre in his being to stay unmoving.
Again Ike tilted his head to try and meet Adam’s eyes.
“So what was it? Did ya mammy and pappy give youse to the injuns when youse was just off ya mamma’s teat?” Ike shifted position, lowering himself as he bent his head down to Adam’s level. “I bet giving you over didn’t save them from being scalped now, did it?” Ike’s laugh was like a pig’s snort.
Adam’s control shattered. The tension which had been wound so tight within him discharged like an arrow from an Indian’s bow. At the same time as Adam’s head shot up, his hand struck out. But before he could get his fingers around Ike’s neck, a strong grip on his arm stopped him in his tracks. Cameahwait’s hand was curled around Adam’s wrist. They stood in stalemate for a long moment, both men’s arms taut with the strain as Cameahwait tried in vain to lower Adam’s rigid arm to his side. Adam didn’t see him though. His vision was far away. He was in the gorge, surrounded by the bodies of his family. His only aim was to extinguish the life of the man who had ordered the death of his brother, if he could only get his fingers around his neck. Cameahwait tried to pull Adam’s arm down but Adam was so transfixed in his action that he seemed to be imbued with the strength of a hundred men.
Cameahwait spoke quietly in Adam’s ear. “Shoomi. Penunktum.” Think. Brother. The soft words penetrated Adam’s clouded mind. Cameahwait whispered again, “Penunktum.” Adam blinked and looked into the face of Cameahwait. His gaze moved to the front of him and he saw his arm stretched out towards the wide-eyed sweaty face of Ike. Both Ike and Tex had knives held to their throats by Hanska and Nashoba.
Adam dropped his arm, and as the reality of what had just happened hit him, he turned his back on the men and leant on his pony with his head on his arms. He could hear Cameahwait talking, placating the two lowlifes. My friend is not well, he was saying, he meant no harm, we meant no harm, we’ll be on our way. There were angry retorts, then whispered words and long moments when no noise could be heard. Then the sound of scuffling feet was followed by horses being ridden away. And Cameahwait was by Adam’s side, telling him to get on his pony, that they were leaving. Adam glanced over to see Hanska and Nashoba securing sacks of supplies on to their ponies. He waited, slumped on the back of his mount, until they were ready to move off and, without a word, he followed the three Indians out of the trading post.
They’d been on the move for an hour, following a trail through a pinyon forest, when Adam reined in and sat unmoving on his pony. Cameahwait took one look at Adam’s face before instructing his two companions to ride on. Once they were alone Adam swung one leg over his animal’s head and slid to the ground. He turned and leaned his arms on the pony’s back.
“I would have killed him, Cam,” Adam said. “I wanted to kill him.”
Cameahwait stayed on the back of his pony.
Adam continued. “He was just a half-witted…galoot,” Adam raised his eyes to the sky and shook his head, “but I wanted to squeeze the life outta him.” Adam’s eyes glistened with unshed tears as he started to pace over the soft, pine-needle covered earth. His tears made him angry. “I was back there, Cam, back at the gorge. All I could see was blood and…” He stopped pacing and ran a hand through his hair, resting his palm on his forehead as he remembered. “It’ll never go away, will it? This pain.”
Cameahwait was beside him. “It is only right that you mourn, Adam Cartwright,” he said as he placed a hand on Adam’s shoulder. “You have lost much.”
Adam blinked away the unshed tears and, suddenly embarrassed, tried to laugh off his display of emotion. He recalled what Cameahwait said to him at the trading post. “Cam, back there, you called me…brother.”
Cameahwait slapped Adam on the back. “I had to say something to get into your head,” he laughed. “Now come, it is late, we must move.”
“What about the two at the trading post? Aren’t you afraid they’ll say something?”
“They will not talk of what happened, Adam Cartwright. Not if they want to be…as men should be.” Cameahwait ran his fingers over his knife as he said this.
Adam raised his eyebrows and climbed up on to his pony. He liked Cameahwait. Through his heightened emotions he recognised that he was starting to see Cam as a friend now, rather than merely his rescuer. He used his wit readily, and his calm, authoritative manner was one that Adam admired. He knew he could count on him in times of trouble. In fact, was this the second time that Cameahwait had saved his life? If the Indian hadn’t been there to stop Adam, who knew what may have happened with the two thugs. Adam may have seriously hurt one of them, but the other would have retaliated in kind. Adam closed his eyes as he recalled his reaction to the men’s jeers. The anger which he knew ate away at him had risen to the surface unbidden, and only Cam’s words had brought Adam back to his senses.
The memories of the gorge were suddenly fresh again and he spent the hours it took to return to the village fighting a renewed battle against his grief. The vision of Hoss’s twitching legs would not leave him. Riding behind Cameahwait he struggled to keep the tears at bay, flicking away those that escaped, trying desperately to stay in command of his emotions. As the hours passed, Adam was able to contain his grief, refusing to give in to his loss like he had done before. They rode into the village as the sun was lowering in the western sky and even though Adam felt he was master of his feelings once more, he knew he needed time to himself. As a young boy eagerly took his pony from him, Adam mumbled a few words to Cameahwait and walked quickly to the creek.
Cameahwait let him go. Without seeing his face, or hearing any sound from him, he had sensed Adam Cartwright’s battle of emotions as he rode behind him. He knew that this was something only the white man could come to terms with, so he had left him quietly to his thoughts; Cameahwait had his own deliberations to contend with. As he, Hanska and Nashoba had exited the trading post, they had seen Adam backed against his pony with the two men poking and jibing him. He had seen the tension across Adam’s face as he tried to stay in control, but as Cameahwait had neared the group he had seen Adam snap and lash out at the nearest man. The speed with which Adam had jerked his head up and struck out with his hand had reminded Cameahwait of a snake. Adam’s pupils had been dark, almost black and his heavy lidded eyes had not blinked as his arm had whipped out to grab the man’s throat between his fingers. He had been like a coiled rattlesnake, head held to one side, almost vibrating with tension before he struck out at such speed that if Cameahwait hadn’t been there at just that moment, Adam’s victim would have turned blue within seconds. And in that moment when Adam had turned on the man, Cameahwait had witnessed the snake spirit manifest in Adam’s eyes. It had vanished just as quickly but Cameahwait knew that this was further proof Adam was the man he was meant to find.
Adam found himself sitting in the same spot on the creek bank where he had once before found relief against the turmoil of his raging mind. He sat staring over the fast flowing creek. A strip of amber sky hovered over the western horizon as if oppressed by the weight of cloud that hung above it. Adam once more felt in control of his grief. But he knew this was because it was being kept at bay by his anger. As far as he was concerned he had just spent hours wallowing in self-pity on the journey back from the trading post, a weak emotion he’d thought he’d put behind him. And this realisation made him angry. Angry with himself for letting the grief overtake him once more, angry with the men who had done this to him, angry with the world full stop. He didn’t notice the lowering sun as it drifted below the cloud turning the very air golden and lengthening the shadows across the land. Adam squinted and looked away as the molten fire of the setting sun blinded him and he was momentarily distracted by the calls of a flock of migrating geese as they flew overhead.
Adam’s mind was so far away that he physically jumped when someone sat down beside him. It was Wanekia. She stared at the sunset, her skin lit up by the resplendent sun as it dropped ever lower towards the horizon. Adam’s anger however made him spiteful, and forgetful of his previous day’s wish to know her better.
“Why are you here, Wanekia? Have you come to pity the poor white man as he cries alone in this…” he paused and looked around him “…magnificent setting?”
If Wanekia heard his sarcasm she didn’t react to it. “I saw you return with Cameahwait. Something has happened. I wanted to…”
Adam rounded on her. “You wanted to see whether white men cried in the same way, to see whether we’re like you, capable of being hurt and feeling sorrow?”
Wanekia sighed as she lowered her eyes, and gathering her skirt around her knees she prepared to rise to her feet. “I know you cry, Adam. You cried many tears when you were sick.” She stood up next to him.
Adam suddenly felt ashamed. He’d lashed out at her for no reason. He grabbed her hand. “Wanekia, I’m sorry, I…” He looked away briefly, searching for the right words. “I’m sorry,” he said again. Wanekia stayed on her feet for a few moments, Adam’s hand tightly curled around hers, before sitting back down. Adam lightened his grip but didn’t let go, staring at her fingers as they rested lightly in his palm. For a few moments nothing was said until Adam broke the silence.
“I used to believe that I could easily live apart from my family. We lived in the same house, worked together, played together. We were in each other’s pockets.” Adam’s mouth lifted in a half smile. “Sometimes a little too much.” Adam gazed out towards the dying sun. “And there was always this desire within me, a craving, to go to other places, experience life away from the Ponderosa.” He glanced at Wanekia. “I went to college, you know, back east. I was away for four years and it was one of the greatest things I ever did. I met new people, made some great friends. I learned things I’d never have been able to back home. I didn’t see my family for months on end, and it didn’t bother me too much. And even after four years away, the wanderlust was still there, this desire to see faraway places. Africa to see the lions, the pyramids, the Colosseum in Rome, Paris in springtime.” His mouth quirked again as his eyes fell to Wanekia’s fingers in his hand. He didn’t know whether she could follow what he was saying; he only knew that he had a need to unburden himself of his thoughts.
“But you know what, I now realise that I was able to live without my father and my brothers because, deep down, I carried them with me. We may not have been in the same city or territory but wherever I went, they went. Because they were here.” He placed a fist over his heart. “I was part of them just as they were a part of me. And when I left, I took them with me.” Adam’s voice started to shake as he fought to contain the tears which threatened to break free. “But I didn’t know that until now. I took them for granted. But now they’re gone, and I feel like a huge chunk of me is gone too. I feel empty without them.” Adam could feel his eyes growing hot. “God, Wanekia, I miss them!”
And then she was on her knees, with her arms around his head pulling him to her. She circled her arms around his back as his head fell to her shoulder. The tears were brief, squeezed out of his eyes that he kept tightly shut. After a few moments he lifted his head and looked at the woman in front of him, wiping his eyes with the back of one hand. An embarrassed laugh escaped him. “Guess you got to see a white man cry after all. Goddamn tears.”
Wanekia moved her hands to his face and caught his eyes within her gaze. She wiped away the wetness around his eyes with her thumbs, letting her hands linger on the sides of his face. Their eyes stayed locked together for a few seconds and then she moved closer and was lightly pressing her lips against his. When he didn’t move away she kissed him again. For a few seconds Adam had toyed with responding. He knew his feelings for this woman were growing, but her kiss, at this time, somehow seemed…amiss. He briefly placed his hands on her arms but then thought better of it and bowed his head, breaking away from her kiss. She sat back on her heels, reluctantly letting her hands drift from his face. They fell to his chest where she focussed her eyes, a look of confusion playing across her features. Adam put his hand on her cheek, trying to draw her eyes upward.
“I’m sorry, Wanekia, but, I don’t want this…like this. You’re here because you feel sorry for me. I like you, God, you have no idea how much, but…”
Adam was stopped in his tracks when Wanekia looked up at him, and pushed her hand against his chest, feeling his heartbeat beneath her palm.
“You are sad, Adam. I want to take the sadness away.” She paused, not knowing how to say what was burning her inside. “And…” She stopped again, took a deep breath and fixing her eyes again on his chest, her words rushed out of her. “You are the face I see when I awake, and the face I look for when I work, and when we eat, and I see you when I look at the stars, and I see you last thing at night before I close my eyes to sleep.” She picked up his hand and placed it over her heart, looking back up into his eyes. “You are…here.”
Adam recalled all the times during past days when he’d looked up and she’d been there within his view. He’d attributed it to his constant searching for her, the need to see where she was and what she was doing. He wondered now whether she had been purposely looking for him too. And he remembered the flash of desire he had seen in her eyes just the previous night, and the teasing conversation by the creek. Adam knew then that her kiss was more than one of consolation; he could read the desire in her eyes. There was no pity in her expression, just a deep longing. Ever so slowly, Wanekia drew herself closer to him, hesitant that he would reject her again, but this time he knew he wouldn’t cast her away. He opened his lips to hers.
Their kiss was initially cautious, their mouths barely moving as their lips gently touched. But then as Adam felt his mind calm in the warmth of Wanekia’s arms, the kiss became a longer caress as they began to discover each other’s lips and mouths. Her fingers skimmed over the beard that covered his throat and cheeks. Adam ran the tips of his fingers over her jaw line, over her throat and neck, stroking the tender skin behind her ears and toying with the soft strands of hair that had escaped the confines of her braid.
The gentle touch of her hands and the soft caresses of her lips were drawing Adam back from the brink of despair, and he found himself wanting this woman to stay in his arms forever. He felt a new emotion starting to blossom within him: he started to feel hope. Hope in a future where he wasn’t alone but could maybe, just maybe, experience life in a family again. He’d noticed how strong and united the families were within the village and it had dismayed him to think that he would never know that feeling of protection and security—and love—again. But as Wanekia shifted closer to his body, and wrapped her arms around his back, Adam recognised that, despite the tragedy that had made him want to curl up and stop breathing, Wanekia offered him salvation. And with that new thought in his mind, and as they slowly broke away from their kiss, Adam enfolded Wanekia in his arms, pressing her body to his and burying his face in the smooth curve where her shoulder met her neck.
They stayed locked together for several minutes, Wanekia’s nearness and touch acting like a balm on Adam’s troubled mind, erasing the memories of the day. And after they’d reluctantly pulled out of their embrace, they sat back on the bank of the creek, side by side, shoulders touching. Their skin glowed in the dying light of the sun’s golden rays. But as the last vestiges of the sunset seared a staggering beauty across the evening sky, the majesty was lost on them. They were each too aware of the person at their side.
As the sun disappeared and the sky turned the colour of freshly cut watermelon, Wanekia stirred next to him. “I must go,” she said.
“I’ll come back with you,” he said and started to rise with her. But Wanekia stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “No, you stay. I cannot be seen with you like this. Not yet.”
Adam knew that the Indian tribes had complex rules regarding the death of a loved one. Wanekia was still officially in mourning for her husband, and for her to be seen alone with another man at this time could bring shame on her and her family. He pulled her back down to her knees and gave her a last sweet lingering kiss. As he drew back he saw Wanekia smile for the first time since he’d arrived in the village. Her unconventional features were such that most people would consider her interesting to look at but not an out and out beauty. Adam, however, saw the most exquisite face looking back at him and now, when he saw her smile, he was taken aback by how her eyes flashed and her shy smile produced a pair of dimples much like Adam’s own. His heart swelled as he realised that the burgeoning attraction he had felt for this woman had developed into something more significant.
She pulled out of his arms and stood. Then lowering her eyes, she adopted the mantle that she wore when she was around the other Ute, and walked quickly away back to the village.
That night, alone in his lodge, Adam thought back over the day he’d just experienced. And he wondered at how, for the second time in a few short weeks, his life had been unexpectedly turned around in barely a few minutes.
As had become his normal practice, he had sat with Cameahwait’s family for the evening meal. Wanekia had hovered nearby serving his helpings to him. But not a word was said, or glance exchanged. When she had handed him his bowl, she had kept her fingers where they couldn’t accidently brush against his. Yet it had been all Adam could do to stop himself from grabbing her as she passed, pulling her down to his lap and pressing his lips against hers. He had been distracted knowing she was so close, and disjointedly entered into the conversations around him.
And when he had eventually been able to make his escape and return to his lodge, he had been startled to find a straight razor lying on his blanket. Cameahwait must have traded some of their precious pelts for it earlier in the day. He ran his finger over the blade. It needed to be honed before Adam could use it so he decided that he would make that his first task of the following day. He was overcome by the Ute’s quiet, unspoken generosity, especially considering he’d nearly jeopardised the success of the trading party.
He lay on his furs and closed his eyes, his thoughts wandering to Wanekia. She had been the light in a very dark day. He was ashamed of how he had lost control at the trading post, an act that could have had dire consequences for his Ute benefactors. And he had wallowed in self-pity, as feelings of grief and sorrow and anger had flooded back to the forefront of his mind. But then, just as the anger was threatening to consume him once more, Wanekia and her touch alone had vanquished the emotions that lay simmering below the surface. Instead a new emotion had arisen, one he had not felt in a long time: she had given him hope; a vision of a future that suddenly didn’t seem so dim.
As he lay there in the dark of his lodge he tried to sort out his feelings for her. He knew he had a deep affection for her. But was he in love? He wasn’t sure. It seemed too soon. But as he recalled the touch of her hand on his chest, and her face so close he could feel her soft breath on his cheek, a smile played across his lips. And he felt anticipation, anticipation for the times ahead, of getting to know Wanekia better, of tasting her lips again, of holding her body close to his. He’d experienced more emotions than one person should rightly feel in a day. But for the first time in a long while, Adam felt optimistic about the new day to come. He would treat it as a new beginning.
The following morning Adam rose as the sun, still shrouded behind the peaks of the mountain range that stood sentinel over the village, was starting to lighten the eastern sky. The light was dim but it was bright enough for Adam to make his way to the creek. There he hacked away at his beard with the razor that he’d sharpened on the leg of one of his leather boots. Without any soap, and a mirror to see what he was doing, it was a slow and careful task to remove the last vestiges of hair from his face. He used the latent memory of his everyday shaves at home, and touch alone, to undertake his shave but at last he could feel that all the beard and moustache were gone.
When he approached Cameahwait’s lodge to break his fast, he was met with a gaggle of children who reached up to stroke his face, chattering away nineteen to the dozen and keen to study the razor and see how it worked. Adam showed how it unfolded from its handle and how he could run the blade over his cheeks. They reached up to grab it but Adam, laughing, held it over his head out of reach and playfully shooed them away. He noticed Wanekia preparing the meal. She had seen the clean shaven Adam walking towards the tepee, and Adam had been gratified to notice her do a small double take when she realised that it was he. She blushed and looked away but not before a tiny smile drifted across her lips. Cameahwait merely lifted his chin in approval when he saw Adam’s face.
The next few weeks were a time of learning and evolving as Cameahwait took it upon himself to rid Adam of his ‘white man’s bad habits’ and adjust Adam to life in an Indian village.
Cameahwait had refused to let Adam hunt, proclaiming that he had all the stealth of a buffalo who had stumbled into a hornet’s nest. Adam remembered with a sad smile how Hoss had been the undisputed champion when it came to tracking. He was so attuned to the seasons and to the creatures that walked the earth, that no matter where he was, whether it was the windblown high country with its hidden waterfalls, soaring ponderosa pines and rocky granite peaks, or the thickly forested sides of the blue lake that was so integral to the Cartwright boys’ nature, Hoss could track man and beast with ease. Hoss’s abilities were so renowned throughout the territory – had been renowned, Adam reminded himself sadly – that he had been called upon to lead posses, tracking down fugitives and outlaws. But Hoss was gone, and that just left Adam. Adam was no amateur when it came to tracking. He could track a wolf or cougar with the best of them. But he was no Hoss and as he discovered when Cameahwait took him out into the woodlands, trekking up to the high tree line, his skills were sadly lacking in comparison to the Indians.
Adam could easily identify animal tracks and follow them successfully. Cameahwait, though, would pull him back roughly time and again to point out signs that Adam had missed: evidence that an animal was moving at speed or cautiously; where it had stopped; what it had done when it had halted; signs that it was injured. Adam’s patience would be stretched as, with calm deliberation, and keeping his voice as controlled as he could, he would point out that he knew the animal was injured. To which Cameahwait would ask how it was injured and when Adam couldn’t answer, Cameahwait would explain what could be learnt from the creature’s prints or a mark on a tree trunk or a barely distinguishable scratch on the ground. And despite Adam’s impatience at being treated like a wet behind the ears boy, he couldn’t deny that he was taking in invaluable knowledge.
Cameahwait blamed Adam’s short hair for his deficiencies. “If you had the long hair of my people, you would have better instincts, Adam Cartwright. When your hair is long, you will think and see like me.”
Adam raised an eyebrow; there was not a lot that he could say to that. His hair was longer than he was used to but it had only grown a small amount, and not enough to satisfy Cameahwait’s exacting requirements.
Cameahwait wasn’t even happy with how Adam moved when following a creature in the wilds. He had dropped to his ankles and run his fingers through his hair in exasperation when he had asked Adam to show how quietly he was able to walk through the woodland. Cameahwait had exclaimed that Adam’s footsteps were enough to waken even the spirits of the dead. So Adam was taught how to move and observe in the age old way of the Indian people. With his feet clothed in soft moccasins Adam was shown how to place his heel on the ground first and to then roll his foot forward onto the ball of his foot. The trackers would walk in a single file, placing their foot noiselessly into the spot that had just been vacated by the person in front. It took time to perfect and made tracking a slow and meticulous process, but Adam was now able to walk in complete silence through a forest bedded with twigs and leaves. He found it to be very calming. With his new ability to stay completely silent, he would notice sounds that he would not have picked up on before. He began to feel more attuned to the world around him, to the signs that could be read in the trees and the plants. Adam had always felt his skills in reading animal behaviour or the indicators for coming weather were good. He now knew he’d been sadly lacking as Cameahwait educated him to see what he’d not seen before.
Within a few weeks he was joining the other men on their daily hunts. Armed with all manner of weapons from bows to spears to rifles, they would set off before the sun had properly risen to take advantage of the creatures that, ironically, felt most secure when the shade of night had fallen. Cameahwait had given Adam a rifle to use and this was one area in which Adam did shine. He was a masterful shot, more accurate with the weapon than the Indians with their limited practice were. On his first hunt he successfully took down an adult male mule deer. The other young men, including Nashoba, who had accompanied Adam and Cameahwait on the ill-fated trip to the trading post, looked with begrudging admiration at Adam. He was still a white man in their midst, but with every passing day he was accepted a little more as one of them. Nashoba walked over to Adam as he stood over the dead animal and nodded sharply at him. Adam knew this was an acknowledgement of his new found skills in stealth and his talent with a rifle. And as they made their way back to the village, Adam was aware of respectful glances being sent his away, and felt contented because of it.
The carcass of the deer was handed over to the women of the village to prepare the evening’s meal. The venison would also provide jerky for the upcoming winter and its skin would be made into rawhide. Adam caught Wanekia’s eye as he and Nashoba dropped the animal at the feet of the women. It was hard for him to drag his eyes from her face, but he knew he had to be discreet; no one could know that Adam and Wanekia were steadily, and without question, falling in love with each other. During the weeks when he had been learning his new Indian skills, he had barely seen her from dawn to dusk. The only times they had been able to speak was when she served his meals to him and he would occasionally, but only occasionally for propriety’s sake, ask her to sit by her side while they ate. Cameahwait’s youngest child, Yazhi, usually settled herself between his legs, eating off of Adam’s plate, and on those occasions when he could talk to Wanekia, he would pull the child up on to his knee and use her as a barrier between Wanekia and himself. It was then that he was able to learn more about her, and her history, as she talked about her marriage to her first husband and her life before she married Cameahwait’s brother. And he saw the profound sadness in her eyes as she told of the child she had borne who had died of a childhood disease when just a few months old.
As one or the other would rise from where they sat cross-legged around the fire their fingers would surreptitiously touch as they moved to stand up. For Adam these tiny moments when he could feel her skin against his were tantalising but oh, so brief. He longed to feel her arms wrapped around his body again but opportunity never arose until one late mid-November morning when he unexpectedly found himself alone with Wanekia in the forest behind the village. The morning was frosty. Adam could see his breath materialise in puffy white clouds as he enfolded himself in a fur blanket and wandered into the woods to empty his bladder. He was so taken with the beauty of the woodland in the early morning light that he walked much deeper into the forest than he usually did. Although the pines were dropping and the colour was being drawn from the trees, the crisp light made everything seem sharp to his view. The highest branches of the trees appeared silhouetted against the sky, and the green of the pines were so dark, they were almost black. And hovering a foot above the ground a hazy mist drifted over those most hardy of plants that were starting to shrink back into the earth to survive the winter.
It was then that he saw her. She too was wrapped in a blanket for warmth. Moving slowly across the forest floor, with her head searching the ground from side to side, she would occasionally bend over to pull a root from the earth which was then thrown into the wide basket she carried in the crook of one arm. Adam decided this was the perfect opportunity to practice his new found skills. Dropping to a crouch, he placed his feet in the way he had been taught and moving from tree to tree and staying out of her vision, he managed to edge up slowly behind her. He removed his fur blanket, placing it quietly on the earth at his feet and positioned himself behind a wide trunked tree, waiting for her to move closer.
Wanekia was a couple of feet away from Adam and completely unsuspecting when Adam reached out and grabbed one of her wrists. She yelped and dropped her basket, scattering roots around her feet as Adam pulled her towards him. He placed one palm softly over her mouth so she wouldn’t make another sound. As recognition entered Wanekia’s eyes, Adam took his hand away from her mouth and slowly released her wrist, moving his hands to tenderly caress her upper arms. Her blanket slipped off her shoulders and dropped to the ground. He leaned back against the trunk of the tree, lowering himself slightly to her height so her feet were in between his and she had to lean against him as he held her.
She stared at him with the last vestiges of surprise in her eyes then breathed his name with relief and longing. But Adam didn’t want words. He relaxed his face into a dimpled smile and after a few moments tilted his head to kiss her. Wanekia stopped him with a finger to his lips. She wore a look of intense concentration as she ran her finger carefully over his mouth, pausing at the scar that cut into his top lip. Her touch made his breath quicken and his mouth dropped open slightly. She flicked her eyes up to his and watched him as she delicately touched the tip of her finger to the moist fleshy part of his bottom lip. Adam gripped her arms tighter as he felt his desire building and his control lessen.
Having finished her exploration she moved up to kiss him. But Adam was so intoxicated by the vision of her in front of him, by her look of yearning and the boldness in her eyes as she had watched him react to her touch, that he wanted to examine every inch of her skin and breathe her in. As she closed her eyes and leaned back, Adam knew she was expecting his mouth against hers. Instead he placed his hands on either side of her face and gently brushed his lips across her forehead and her eyelids and her temples. He took his time to softly kiss every inch of skin. As he worked his way down her cheeks, he could feel her body tensing within his arms and her breathing accelerating. She clutched the front of his shirt as he pulled her tighter against his body, until finally his mouth hovered tantalisingly over hers. With one last breath and each body as taut as an animal snare, they couldn’t hold back any longer and yielded to the need they both craved.
Adam curved his arms around her, pressing her closer to him. Wanekia crept one hand to the back of his neck but kept the other grasping his shirt; she felt if she let go she would collapse on the ground from the tremors that were threatening to overtake her. They kissed desperately and hungrily. The desire that had been building in both of them since that first exquisite encounter by the creek found an intense release. Hands once under control now roamed, grasping the other’s back and neck, never staying still as for several blissful minutes they forget where they were or who they were and just gave in to the intensity of the kiss. Neither one of them felt the rawness in the air, so lost were they in each other’s grip.
It was Adam who broke away first. He came up for air, murmuring, “Oh God, Kia,” as he placed his cheek next to hers. Wanekia had never heard her name shortened before. She liked it. She also knew straightaway that she’d never let anyone but him call her that. Their intermission was short as Adam sought out her lips again and they renewed their ardent embrace. But with their hunger sated, they slowed and took their time, relishing a kiss that was sensual and deep.
A twig snapped behind them.
They both froze and slowly prized their lips apart. Without moving from Adam’s arms, Wanekia carefully looked around the side of the tree. The tension within her body eased and her head fell against his shoulder in relief. Adam shifted away from the tree trunk and peered around to see a mule deer standing a few feet away. As it caught sight of Adam’s movement it bounded away with a stiff-legged gait.
Wanekia looked up at Adam. “You must go,” she whispered. Adam wanted to stay, to lose himself in this woman’s arms for all eternity, but he knew she was right. Regretfully pulling himself up to his full height, he retrieved her blanket from the earth and wrapped it carefully around her shoulders. With his hands pulling the warm covering together, he bent down to softly kiss her lips. Wanekia grasped his hands as his lips brushed hers, but just as quickly as he had come, he was moving away, grabbing his fallen blanket as he went and moving silently away into the woodland.
Wanekia pressed her hands to the tree trunk and watched him go. She knew she had fallen so deeply in love with him that if he were to leave she would shrivel up and die. Her feelings for Adam had been ignited from the moment he had been dragged into the village on the back of Cameahwait’s travois. He was different to any of the young men of her village and she admitted to herself that maybe it was this difference that excited her. But she’d also seen a strength and determination in him as he fought through the fever and delirium that had ravaged his body. She believed it was his sheer strength of will that had brought him back from almost crossing over to the unknown lands of the afterlife. She had heard him call out in his ravings for his brothers and his father, and watched as he had cried with all the pain and anguish of the broken hearted. She had wanted to comfort him, to pull this inconsolable man to her breast and rock the hurt away. But the fever had broken and he had settled into a sleep that seemed to last forever. When Adam eventually awoke he remembered nothing of his emotional outbursts, or of the woman who had sat so diligently by his side, enamoured by his obvious love for his family and drawn to his physicality like a honey bee to a spring blossom.
And although he had been broken by the knowledge of his family’s death and had seemingly given up on life, again she had watched as he had finally won the battle he had waged within himself and returned to the world once more. Wanekia knew his withdrawal was because of the desolation he felt at the loss of his father and brothers. It had touched the very core of her heart. And as he started to live again, she had been impressed by his willingness to throw himself into a life so opposite to his own.
Wanekia would list to herself the worthy virtues of his character in order to justify her growing attraction to him. His strength and determination, his gentle interactions with the children, the love he felt for his family, his courage in the face of overwhelming change, his tenderness. However she couldn’t hide from herself the truth: that she was overcome by her reaction to his sheer physical presence. He was taller and broader than most of the men in the village, Cameahwait being the exception, and his lack of a smooth chest and arms excited feelings in Wanekia that she’d never known before. When she had cared for him, there wasn’t a single part of his body that she hadn’t seen, or bathed or wiped the sweat from at the height of his fever. And when he had calmed into that long endless sleep, she would skim her fingers slowly over his chest, just lightly enough to feel the soft dark chest hair stimulate her finger tips. Cameahwait nearly caught her on one occasion but luckily had been distracted by something outside as he’d drawn back the tepee’s flap and hesitated before stepping through. After that near miss, Wanekia didn’t touch Adam again in that way.
And in the weeks that followed, as her eyes surreptitiously followed him as he moved around the village regaining the strength in his weakened muscles, she would recall in her mind’s eye how his chest hair tapered down below his navel and remember the feel of his strong legs beneath her hands as she had tended his wound. The resultant tightening in her belly would be so sudden and exhilarating that she’d have to steady herself before she could continue what she was doing. When he looked at her with those dark, long-lashed eyes, they seemed to see right into the very centre of her being. She had found herself longing to touch his mouth which, at rest, curved up slightly creating a look of permanent amusement. So when he had started to kiss her just now, she had taken her chance to study his sensuous mouth, feeling a thrill of excitement course through her when she had run her fingers across his lips. When he had removed his beard, and she had seen those lips unadorned by facial hair for the first time in weeks she had almost had a physical response as he’d walked towards her. It had taken all her self-restraint to not leap on him there and then, to not wrap her arms around his body in front of the whole village.
Wanekia knew she was in love with Adam because this was an emotion she was experiencing for the first time in her life. At the time of her marriage to Shilah, Cameahwait’s brother, she had believed it had been a good one. He had been a reliable husband, hard-working; an excellent hunter and tracker. If Shilah was on a hunt, the village was almost guaranteed a good stock of meat for the coming months. She would work alongside him, turning meat into jerky for the winter, skinning hides for clothing and making rope from rabbit skin. They made a good pair. She felt comfortable with him and they took pleasure in each other’s company. And Wanekia had believed that what she felt for him was love. It was only now, she realised, that what she had felt for Shilah was nothing more than affection. The passion she felt for Adam was a whole new sensation for her.
As a child, when Wanekia and Cameahwait’s families would join for council or ceremony, Wanekia would be drawn to Shilah. He was the same age as her and their families were bonded by marriage and ancestry. He became her best friend. They would laugh together, cause mischief and forever be running side by side, giggling at their escapades. So when the time was right, it seemed only fitting for everyone involved that Wanekia would become Shilah’s wife. She didn’t have the right to object and why would she? He would be a good husband to her, she knew him better than anyone. She was wed to him in a quick and simple ceremony in her own village and with a breaking heart had had to leave her parents and siblings, and the only life she had ever known, to accompany Shilah and his parents back to their village as his wife.
Their life together was warm and comforting, but although Wanekia believed it was love she felt for her husband, she recognised, even then, that her life with Shilah lacked a certain…fire. In an environment such as they lived, it was not uncommon to hear the sounds of love-making in the lodges, especially in the depths of night when the land was at its most silent and sound carried farthest. For Wanekia and Shilah, though, their couplings were quiet, dutiful and passionless. For Wanekia it had been nothing more than an obligation that she, as a wife, would have to submit to. She concluded that not everyone was meant to enjoy this most intimate of activities and that it was her fate to be one of those unfortunates. It did not occur to her, until she met Adam that is, that there had been no passion because Shilah had been more of a brother to her than a husband. She realised now that the affection she had felt for Shilah had been one that is felt for a best friend, a family member. She had not loved him the way a wife should love a husband because she wasn’t attracted to him in that way. Wanekia felt nothing when Shilah touched her; she wasn’t revolted or disgusted, she merely felt nothing at all. When Adam touched her though, all the nerve endings in her skin seemed to fire at once, causing a shiver to run through her as if she’d been hit with a blast of cold air. Despite their marital shortcomings, she had never stopped caring for Shilah, and she knew he had been a good husband to her. He had treated her with kindness and they were still able to laugh together even if their night-time fumblings only seemed to bring satisfaction to her husband. And when he had died, she had mourned as a good wife should. In her heart she had stopped grieving long before Adam had come to the village, though custom and obligation meant she had to maintain a veneer of sorrow even though she no longer felt it.
Dropping to her knees and pulling the blanket tighter around her shoulders, Wanekia absent-mindedly retrieved the fallen roots and tubers that had been scattered when Adam had pulled her to him. Staring at his retreating figure she wondered if she would ever be able to be with him the way she yearned to. Although alone, she blushed at the thoughts in her mind. She was a grown woman acting like a lovesick girl! She also longed for a time when they wouldn’t have to walk deep into woodland and hide behind trees to be together, or when they could be alone in a tepee without causing shame to fall on her family. She wanted to be able to hold his hand and look at him openly without the need for secrecy. But for now, she would have to be content with the faint brushes of their fingers at meal times or the rare times, such as these, when they found themselves alone and hidden and no one was any the wiser. Wanekia picked up her basket and slowly made her way back to the village.
Wanekia was so consumed with thoughts of Adam, that she didn’t see the elderly Indian make his way out into the open from where he’d been standing, and watch her as she walked back towards the village. He had observed the pair as they had kissed passionately in the misty woods. He had seen as the deer approached the tree where they had been leaning in a clinch against the rough bark and raised an eyebrow when they had started in surprise, believing they had been caught in their incriminating act. And as the white man had tenderly kissed her goodbye and walked away, the old man had stayed hidden as he saw Wanekia fumble with the roots on the ground, her eyes on her lover and her thoughts a million miles away.
The man was Otetiani, the village elder who, with two short sentences, had convinced Adam that his family were dead, sending him into a spiral of grief and desolation. For these two young people to be exhibiting behaviour such as they had done was shameful and could bring dishonour on Cameahwait’s family. Otetiani knew he could not stay silent over what he had just seen. But there was something in the way that Wanekia and the white man had embraced and held each other which spoke of more than just lust and salacious desire. It spoke to Otetiani in such a way that he recalled his own youth and the tumblings and caresses that he had enjoyed with his own precious love, now long departed to the world above. He had observed Adam tenderly kiss Wanekia’s face and had recognised the look in their eyes which only appeared in the eyes of two people who were deeply in love. It conjured remembrances in him that stirred sensations he’d not felt in a long time. But something would have to be said; he could not stay silent about what he had seen between the white man and the young widow.
Later that day, Otetiani summoned Cameahwait to his fireside. Quietly, and with the sparsity of words that characterised his speech, he disclosed what he had seen. And as Cameahwait’s eyebrows drew together in a frown and he immediately took umbrage at Adam Cartwright’s presumption towards one of the women of the village, Otetiani calmed his nephew with the words borne of age and experience.
“The white man is like the lone wolf. He is separated from his pack.” Otetiani pulled his fur closer around his shoulders. His old body felt the cold keenly at this time of year; the chill permeating his bones despite his nearness to the fire. “Would you have the white man live as the wolf who wanders the earth alone?” His eyes watched the flames dance before him. “Every day he is less white man and more Ute. We have made him so. If he is the one you seek, would you have him live this life without the warmth of a woman by his side?”
The old man stopped speaking, recalling his own solitary nights and seeing the empty space where once his wife had lain.
Cameahwait pondered his words. After many minutes of contemplation, he raised his eyes from the fire.
“Adam Cartwright is a good man. He grows stronger. His heart is true. He is not like other white men who seek to take but not give back. I had thought of him living amongst us, but I had not considered him with…” Cameahwait’s voice trailed off.
“Wanekia has been alone a long time. She has grieved for many seasons.” Otetiani’s slow words were soft in the dim light of his tepee. “Is it that the white man loves your brother’s wife, Cameahwait? Is that what angers you?”
Cameahwait looked up, nodding as though in agreement. “That may be so, uncle. You see what I do not.” Cameahwait readied himself to rise. “I have seen the spirit of the hawk many times in the last few days. He flies high but his cry reaches my ears. He calls me to him.”
Cameahwait climbed to his feet. “I will leave today.”
Cameahwait said nothing to Adam and Wanekia before he left the village carrying nothing but half a skin of water. He had no food and no weapon; he needed to undergo whatever hardship or deprivation the Great Spirit would have him endure. Bundled up in a fur blanket, he wrapped his arms around his wife in the seclusion of their lodge and squeezed Yazhi until she squealed. Then he walked out of the village and up towards the high snowbound peaks that towered above them. The trek would take a couple of days, climbing above the tree line and into the rocky desolation of the mountains. He knew he had to go now, before the winter snows made the route impassable. The sound of the hawk had pierced the early winter skies for several days, its desolate sound echoing far across the land, and Cameahwait knew he was being called.
With Otetiani’s news of Adam’s and Wanekia’s dalliance in the woods, he had further questions that needed to be asked. And once he had reached his destination in the high peaks, he hoped he would receive further enlightenment as to Adam Cartwright’s role in the village. In the weeks that passed, he had expected guidance in his dreams, or that something would have happened to show why the man of many spirits was so important to his people. But there had been nothing. He was still in the dark.
As the evening on the first day approached he started to near the tree line. The pines were getting sparser and the terrain rockier, and, completely alone in the wilderness, Cameahwait stopped and listened. The only sound was the wind whistling through the tops of the trees and…there the hawk again, ever present, guiding him upwards. It was leading him towards the remote outcropping where he had communed once before with his spirit guide.
His thoughts were preoccupied with the white man and his place amongst his people. The villagers were growing used to Adam Cartwright’s presence, especially now that he was able to remove the hair from his chin and cheeks every day. With his black hair starting to edge down his neck and over his ears, he was losing the tidy controlled appearance of the white man. And because he wore Indian clothing, and wore it comfortably—no longer looking self-conscious in it—he could, at first glance, be taken as one of them. He spoke Ute at every opportunity, learning new words every day. As far as Cameahwait knew, Adam Cartwright only used English words with him as their conversations were longer and more personal than those he held with the other villagers. But even those long talks were now increasingly in Ute and only punctuated with English when the Ute word was unknown. And as well as his appearance, Adam was also fast learning the skills of the Indian people. He was becoming an accomplished tracker, could hunt with the best of them. He would happily fish for hours, either with the large nets strung across the creek to gather in the trout or standing stock still in the chilly water with a spear poised, ready to stake a fish as it swam past his legs. And because of all this, the villagers were starting to treat him as one of their own. They greeted him as they greeted any fellow villager and some had brought him furs and adornments for his lodge. Cameahwait concluded that Adam Cartwright would be a beneficial member of the village, though he still felt he needed to know what insights his spirit guide would bestow upon him. He had questions. He only hoped the hawk would have the answers.
It was several days later that Cameahwait stumbled back into the village, long after the sun had set and the families in the village were hidden away in their tepees for the night. Adam was startled when the skin over the entrance to Cameahwait’s family lodge flew back and a cold and shivering Cameahwait staggered into the warmth, swaying with relief at his arrival home. Adam jumped to his feet and with one arm around his friend’s shoulders, helped seat him on the ground in front of the fire. A thick fur was thrown around Cameahwait’s body to help warm him. After a skin of water and some hot food Cameahwait looked revived and one by one his children had gathered to his side to hug their father and welcome him home.
It had been a physically challenging few days, but Cameahwait didn’t bemoan the weakened state of his body: the Great Spirit demanded that he show strength in his mind and soul before he would send the hawk to bestow his wisdom. As he had toiled up the mountain he had taken no water or sustenance. And on his arrival at the remote outcropping, he had lain on the rocky ground and awaited a sign from his spirit guide. The chill of the cold earth had seeped into his bones. His limbs had grown numb with the cold but he had remained strong. And as he had lain there for hours in the icy darkness, staying awake in anticipation, he had sensed the nearness of the creatures of the night. But they had stayed away and Cameahwait felt protected and safe. And with the arrival of the dawn came the piercing cry of the hawk and Cameahwait had given himself freely to the visions. For a day he was subjected to images as the hawk spoke to him and abstract words filled the air around him. When he closed his eyes he was beset with dreams and when he opened them the dreams would persist.
It was many hours later, as night had taken a firm hold on the mountain, that Cameahwait awoke cold and stiff on the hard ground. As the visions had faded, he had slept. But although he felt enlightened, he also felt as flummoxed as before. Forcing himself to his feet, he found a hollow in the mountain side, built a fire and tried to get some shelter from the cold wind that blew over the mountain range from the north. As light broke the next morning he began his journey back down the mountain. It took longer than the outward leg. Chilled to the bone, weak from lack of food and thirsty for water, his limbs had not co-operated at all times and he had found himself stumbling over the tiniest obstacles. But two days after his vision quest had ended, he had arrived home to the welcoming arms of his wife and a hot meal to warm his insides.
Now, seated at the fire, warm for the first time in several days, Cameahwait was comforted by the people who surrounded him. As he scanned the faces of his wife and children he paused at the profile of Adam Cartwright. Adam had stayed close to him, concerned at Cameahwait’s weakened state, and was ready to offer any assistance that Cameahwait might need in moving around. As the Ute gazed on Adam’s face, he nodded several times as if settling an issue in his mind. His eyes then found Wanekia. He made to rise to his feet, brushing off Adam’s attempts to help, and summoned Wanekia to his side. To Adam’s surprise, he took her by one arm and led her outside into the cold night air. They were gone for just a few minutes, but on their return, Wanekia’s eyes were wide and her mouth open in shock, and as she caught Adam’s eye she reddened and turned away from him, dropping to her knees and busying herself in the shadows of the tepee.
Adam didn’t know what to make of her obvious worry and embarrassment. He wanted to catch her eye to indicate she should come and sit next to him so he could whisper his concern, but she kept her head down and out of his line of vision. Eventually she settled opposite him where he wouldn’t be able to see her properly through the glare of the fire. Her head was bent low as she feverishly repaired a tear in one of her dresses. After a while, Adam excused himself, feigning fatigue and a desire for his own bed. It would be when they broke their fast in the morning that he might have a chance to quietly enquire as to what had caused her unease this night.
He sat on his fur bedding throwing a few sticks on the fire’s embers in the centre of his lodge and thought about his surroundings. Just three months ago his own room had comprised four walls, a door, a soft pillowed bed and all the accoutrements which said so much about him—his guitar in the corner, the books on his shelves, his bureau covered in maps and plans. Now his ‘room’ was a tepee, layered with fur hides and blankets, a raw fire and little else. Adam missed his books. He missed reading, curling his mind and tongue around the elaborate phrases of Shakespeare, Keats and Coleridge. He lay back on the soft animal hides that now made up his bed, and with Wanekia’s face in his mind, he found himself reciting lines of poetry softly to the smoky air:
“I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?”
He tried to recall the next lines of the verse but his memory was letting him down. He had once been able to recite pages of Shakespeare from memory to his brothers. If he was in the mood, Hoss would listen intently, captivated by the sometimes impenetrable, though eternally lyrical language. More often than not, he and Joe would exchange a look, raising their eyes to the ceiling, and when Adam had closed his eyes in rapture at the prose, would back quietly away from him to escape the recitation. Only now could Adam think of their antics with fondness. At the time he would wonder how he had ended up with two philistines for brothers.
For a long time Adam lay there remembering lines of poetry and verses of Shakespeare, but the lines to that one poem eluded him. The fire died a little, so he fed a few more twigs to the flames. As he lay back on his blankets, ankles crossed and hands clasped behind his head, his mind filled with rhyme and composition, he was startled by the hide on his tepee being drawn back and a figure entering. The figure moved into the ring of firelight. It was Wanekia. She stood before him as he uncrossed his legs and raised himself onto his elbows. She was bare-legged and as she entered and pulled the flap tight behind her, she carefully kicked the moccasins off her feet. Her hair was hanging loose down her back. He’d never seen it like that before and even from where he was lying he could see how thick and heavy it was.
“Adam,” she started. Her voice was breathy, indicating her nervousness. “Cameahwait has freed me from my mourning.”
Adam sat upright as the woman in front of him took another step forward. She bent down to grasp the hem of her dress and Adam stirred slightly as she stood upright, pulling her dress over her head, revealing her nakedness to him. For a moment, as she held her dress in her hand against her belly, her weight shifted onto one hip, Adam was reminded of a statue of the Venus of the Bath that he’d once seen in the Boston Athenæum. The bashfulness of the figurine as she held her wrap tight against her skin to shield her nudity, created a vision of purity accentuated by the milky white marble. But Wanekia was no virginal girl and as she dropped her dress at her feet, she watched him boldly as he gazed upon her. His eyes fell on her full breasts that lay heavy against her torso; and he saw the narrow waist that seemed to accentuate her rounded hips. Adam noticed the tiny white lines of childbirth on her curved belly. To him, she wore the markings of life, and it only made her all the more alluring to him. The flames from the fire cast a golden flickering glow over her dark skin and her hair shone in the firelight. As his eyes left her form and travelled up to meet her gaze, he noticed the tiny reflections of golden flames dancing on her pupils. Maybe it was the poetry that had filled his soul this night, but to him it was as if the spirit of fire was standing before him, a being alive with flame, light and heat.
Adam held out his hand, and Wanekia came to him. As she moved to sit astride him, he found himself mesmerised by her, unable to touch the golden skin that seemed to shine in the firelight. Instead he combed his fingers gently through her hair pushing it back from her face, and slowly kissed her. Their kiss continued as Adam drew her down with him as he lowered himself on to his back. They broke apart as Wanekia straightened her arms, pulled herself up, and looked down upon him. He watched with a smile as she moved her shining mane of hair over one shoulder and tilted her head to one side, a smile forming as she saw his tongue flicker across his lips in expectation. Adam’s arms encircled Wanekia’s body and his hands stroked up and down the soft skin of her back, his fingers lingering in the tantalising dip at the base of her spine, before rising back to curve over her rounded shoulders. He pressed her body down against his and sought out her lips with his own.
As Adam’s clothing was shed, and they explored each other with hands and lips, it was as though time and place became insignificant. The bliss of their union made their love a tangible thing. It was suddenly real, a thing they could see and touch. Afterwards, they lay wrapped in each other’s limbs, their skin glistening in perspiration, and the words to the poem he had been searching for came to his mind:
“If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.”
As he stroked her hair and felt the heat of her body against his, the words never seemed truer; he couldn’t have imagined anyone more beautiful than Wanekia. And he realised then that he would never be able to leave her. The village was his home now. He pulled a blanket over them and they fell asleep in the glow of the dying fire.
When he woke the next morning he was alone. He had slept so soundly that he had not stirred when Wanekia had slipped out from under the blanket and swiftly dressed, shivering in the cold morning air. She had stared at him for several minutes as he had breathed deeply in slumber and then softly stroked her hand over his brow and cheek. Adam had stirred slightly and as she reluctantly drew her hand away and crept out of the lodge, he had fallen back into a deep sleep and did not rouse again for another hour. As he stretched and recalled their love-making of the night before, a smile found its way on to his lips and he lay there in blissful recollection. But just as quickly as it had come, his smile left his face as he wondered how something so perfect could have come out of something so tragic? Why had he had to lose his entire family in order to discover such a joy in his life? A sudden longing for his family swept over him. He was unable to share his newly discovered love with them and that cut sharply inside him. And he felt a stab of guilt. Guilt for feeling joy so soon after his family had been lost. Snap out of it Cartwright! he told himself, and gathering his clothes together from where they had been discarded around the tepee, he dressed and made his way over to Cameahwait’s lodge.
Wanekia was there, as he knew she would be. For the first time since he’d arrived at the village, she looked boldly at him whilst in the presence of others. She didn’t glance at him and lower her head, or hide her eyes in whatever she was doing. Instead she looked directly at him and tilted her head and smiled. And now it was Adam’s turn to feel somewhat discomfited. He became aware of knowing looks on the faces of the adults as they exchanged glances, enjoying Adam’s embarrassment as he took his place at the fire. The older children picked up on the shared looks and started to pester their father to find out what was being unsaid around them. At that, Cameahwait shooed them out into the fresh air.
“How are you feeling today, Cam?” asked Adam, keen to move the attention away from him.
“Hot food, a warm bed and the arms of my wife,” answered Cameahwait. “I feel strong in my bones.” Cameahwait eyed his friend sitting on the opposite side of the fire. “That is what the love of a woman can do for you.”
Adam’s eyes flicked upwards, meeting Cameahwait’s shrewd gaze across the flames.
Wanekia dropped silently to the ground next to Adam, handing him a bowl of dried fish and cornbread. She sat close enough for her arm to rest against his. He was surprised at Wanekia’s audaciousness. She looked at him with eyes ablaze with love, her shoulder pressed against his. She was making no effort to hide her feelings for him. And although Adam wanted to take her hand and press it to his lips, and show the world that he loved this woman, he was confused by what was going on around him, by the unsaid words. He didn’t know how to act so he concentrated on his food, keeping his eyes away from Kia and safely on his meal.
“The hawk spirit tells me that Wanekia’s heart does not beat for my brother any more. That she is your woman now.”
Adam choked slightly on his food and swallowed quickly.
“She is your wife now.”
Adam nearly dropped his bowl. “My wife?” He looked at Wanekia and back at Cameahwait. “But…”
“It is not necessary for our people to have a joining ceremony, like the white man and white woman. For the Ute, it is enough for two people to lie together. You are now husband and wife.”
There was silence in the tepee as Adam digested what he had just been told. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on him. He had reddened when Cameahwait had spelled out what Adam had begun to suspect; that it was known he and Wanekia had made love the night before. His mouth dropped open in shock at being told he was considered a married man now. When they had lain together just hours previously and Wanekia’s body had ceased shuddering in his arms, he had pressed his cheek against hers and whispered in his own language that he loved her. And she had whispered back the words in Ute so now Adam knew how to say ‘I love you’ in her own tongue. And he did, with all his heart and soul and every fibre of his being. But to be told he was now a husband was a shock. The thought crossed his mind that she had tricked him and he turned to her with a frown. It was as though she read his mind.
“I told no one, Adam, that I was coming to you last night.” She met his eyes with hers and blushed. “We were heard.”
Cameahwait grinned. “The women of the village have named you, Adam Cartwright. They gossip when they gather water and now call you Liwanu.”
Adam shook his head slightly, his eyebrows drawing together. “Liwanu…?”
Cameahwait’s grin grew wider. “It means growl like a bear.” Cameahwait stood and walking over to Adam slapped him hard on the back. “Ha, you growl, Liwanu, like a bear, when you take a woman.” And laughing he left the tepee with Luyu, leaving Adam and Wanekia alone.
Adam was in a daze. He dropped his head into his hands, shaking his head, feeling his ears grow hot with embarrassment. He had immediately brought to mind his father’s tale of how his mother had said Ben had growled like a bear. But that was when Ben was talking; this was somewhat different. And the shame of the village’s knowledge in his and Wanekia’s nocturnal activities made his skin burn. But then a soft hand drew across his back and Adam raised his head to see Wanekia smiling gently at him.
“Do not feel shame, Liwanu. It is a natural thing for a husband and wife to do.”
Adam couldn’t stop shaking his head, a wry smile crossing his lips. “Husband and wife,” he said. He leaned across and brushed his lips across hers. “I love you, Kia, I just…well…it’s rather sudden! It’s going to take me some time to get used to it,” he said with a laugh in his voice. “I’ve never been a married man before.”
Adam couldn’t help but smile. It was just another example of the way his life seemed to be going now. Unpredictable. Out of his control. He wanted to be with Wanekia, there was no doubt in his mind about that. But he couldn’t help but feel that just being told he was married, well that didn’t make a married man out of him. Even sleeping with her out of wedlock brought a tinge of morning guilt. He reminded himself that these people did not worship his god, they believed in ceremony but not the type of ceremony that a good Christian man and woman would undertake to become husband and wife. It seemed that the very act of making love to Wanekia was enough to serve as a form of wedding.
As each new day dawned and the more in accordance with the ways of the Ute Adam became, the more distant his old life seemed. He couldn’t see a time when he would return to his own world; that was an idea that grew increasingly faint as each day passed. So Adam decided that if this was the way of things, then he would go along with it. If the people of this village considered him to be a husband to Wanekia, then a husband he would be. He would provide for her, keep her safe, love her.
That day Wanekia moved her few possessions into Adam’s lodge, and almost immediately Adam’s tepee felt like a home. Before that he had regarded it, in turn, as his prison cell, the place where he’d almost given up on his life and existence, then a place of recuperation. It had been simply a place to rest and to sleep. And although Kia owned little to call her own, it was her very being, her presence in his lodge which imbued it with a feeling of home. The very light seemed to change. The fire which had, in Adam’s eyes, only provided light and heat, seemed to glow with a mellowness that saturated the lodge with comfort. And the sight of Wanekia sitting amongst the extra furs and blankets, with her weight resting on one hip and her legs crossed to one side, made Adam realise that home was indeed where the heart was. Oh, it was an old cliché, and Adam groaned inside when that phrase came to his mind, but it was true. His home had been where his pa and brothers were and that home had been wrenched from him in the blink of an eye. But now Wanekia was his family, she was his home.
The villagers accepted the new arrangements. At first the women lowered their eyes as he passed, exchanging glances with each other and giggling once he’d moved past. The men also gave him knowing glances, but their looks showed that they knew all about what went on between Adam and Wanekia each night. No matter how hard they tried it was fated to be no secret to those who occupied the surrounding tepees. Adam and Wanekia behaved as all young newly married couples were want to do. Each night, once they had closed the flap behind them, they would fall together on to the fur blankets beside the fire and enfold their bodies around each other. As the fire died back to embers, Wanekia would cry out as the trembling passed through her body.
On one such night, in the afterglow of their lovemaking, they lay side by side, their poses almost mirrored as they both rested on their stomachs, resting their head on the back of a hand. Wanekia kept her other arm bent and tucked in against her chest relaxing to Adam’s soothing touch as he ran his fingertips up and down the smooth skin of her bare shoulder and back. Their eyes were locked together as they lay in the flickering fire light.
“Husband,” whispered Wanekia.
One side of Adam’s face dimpled as he half smiled at her.
“You know, with my people, it’s customary to have a ceremony to be considered married,” he teased.
Wanekia looked puzzled. “A ceremony?” she said slowly. “What sort of ceremony?”
“Ah, well, the man and the woman gather in a church with family and friends and say words to each other, proclaiming their love and how they’ll be faithful and true to one another for the rest of their lives.”
Wanekia nodded, closed her eyes for a moment as if trying to picture the scene and then looked back at Adam. Her dark eyes twinkled as a small smile broke across her lips.
“Say the words to me, Adam.”
“You want me to recite the words that a man would say to a woman?”
Wanekia nodded, her cheeks high from the smile on her face.
Adam shifted slightly so he was nearer to Wanekia and, reluctantly giving up his rhythmical stroking of her skin, he pulled her hand out from where she had it tucked beneath her and entwined his fingers with hers.
“Okay, well it goes something like…er…I, Adam Cartwright, take you, beautiful Wanekia,” her smile widened at his words, “to be my wife.” Adam looked down at their joined hands, opening and closing his fingers around hers, as he slowly spoke. “To have and to hold, for better, for worse, richer, poorer…” Adam laughed. “I forget the rest.”
But then he leaned forward and sought out her mouth, lingering there as their lips brushed gently against each other’s.
He pulled back. “But I remember the last bit.” He moved across her, tipping her gently onto her back, and whispered, “And with my body, I thee worship.” As he felt her hands on his shoulders and her legs wrap around his, it suddenly struck Adam that no official ceremony could have been more loving or right or true than the one he’d just enacted. As they made love again, he felt as if their marriage was properly consummated. And for the first time, he considered himself a married man.
The next morning the sounds outside their lodge seemed muffled and something was pushing against one side of the tepee. As Adam cautiously opened the flap, he saw that the village had been coated overnight in a blanket of pure white snow.
Winter had arrived.
The winter snows were very late this year, but in the days before Cameahwait had embarked on his vision quest, he had shown Adam the signs that the snows were finally on their way. He had taken him down to the creek and pointed out the family of muskrats that were burying deeper than usual into the creek bank. And hunters returning from high above the tree line told of finches gorging themselves on insects. The signs had been heeded, preparations made, and now it was time to move.
It took several days for the villagers to reach the lower grounds. But they had been prepared, and with an efficiency and speed that impressed even the meticulously hardworking Adam, the tepees had been pulled down, packed up and bundled on to the backs of speedily constructed travois within hours of the village awakening. The ponies began the descent with the families walking besides them wrapped in several layers of blankets and furs.
At first Adam recognised the route they took. The trek down the mountainside was the same as that which he had travelled on the ill-fated visit to the trading post. But then the route changed and he could tell they were journeying south, following the line of mountains as it stretched into the distance. They stayed within the forests, camping under hastily constructed wickiups each night to keep the worst of the winter weather from them. But the further south they travelled and the lower they descended, the less snow they encountered, before eventually they arrived in a shallow valley where the winter village was to be established. Cameahwait described it as the low place in the high mountains. They knew it wouldn’t be long before the snows would follow them down to their new encampment, but at least at the lower levels the villagers stood a chance of survival. In the high country, the crushing levels of snowfall would prevent them from hunting. In the shallow valley they now called home, they would hopefully avoid the worst of the weather, and both they and their animals would surely starve.
Just as quickly as the tepees had been pulled down, they were erected. The poles, which had been used to make the travois, were hoisted into position to form a skeleton before the animal hides were sewn into position, held together with wooden pins. Adam watched as Wanekia and Luyu erected first Cameahwait’s family lodge and then started to work on Adam and Wanekia’s home. He was amazed at the speed and dexterity with which they worked. In no time the lodges were occupying the once empty valley and the horses were safely corralled. Fires were lit and food from their precious winter stores was consumed. The men would soon need to hunt again for the smaller creatures that abounded in the lower lands. And now, more than ever, was a time for conserving their stores. The nuts, seeds and dried berries gathered that autumn were stored in pits lined with bark.
As the evenings grew longer, the families would gather together around the fire and stories would be told of the earliest times when the earth was newborn and the only creatures to walk the earth were the creator, Sinawav, and the Coyote. Otetiani was particularly keen to tell of the adventures that Coyote enjoyed. He would orate the tales in his slow, careful manner with the children hanging on every word and the adults nodding their heads as they heard the hidden meanings behind the phrases. Adam listened in as rapt attention as the children; he had never heard the stories before and it was the perfect way to increase his dictionary of Ute words. The slow oration meant he could follow the stories and when a new word was said he was able to work out what it meant from the actions of the children as they play acted the story.
They had been down in the lowlands for a handful of weeks when Wanekia told Adam that she was with child. She was always the first one to rise in the morning, enshrouding herself in a blanket to feed the fire. Adam would watch her as she bent over her work, carefully laying a collection of twigs in the fire pit and covering it with dried pine needles and leaves to catch the spark from two rocks that she struck together. She would carefully build up the fire with larger pieces of firewood until the flames were roaring nicely and casting a welcome heat around the lodge. But this morning she hadn’t moved from his side.
When Adam awoke he saw that Kia had her back to him, curled up with her head tucked closely against the fur blanket, her face hidden. Her breathing was shaky and Adam knew she was awake. Concerned, he gently tugged on her shoulder and pulled her over onto her back. He leant over her and saw that her cheeks were wet and, gathering her up in his arms, he murmured comforting words to ease her distress. And when he asked what sorrowed her, she clung tightly to him and whispered in his ear, “I carry your child within me, Liwanu.” Adam pushed back, a frown creasing his forehead as he looked into her eyes, but he could find no words. Wanekia spoke again. “You are going to be a father, Liwanu.” Adam shook his head as a wide beam broke out on his face and he clutched her to him and laughed with joy. But after a few moments he pulled back and looked into her eyes again. “But why are you sad, Kia?” he asked. “Aren’t you happy?” Wanekia smiled. “Oh so happy, my love,” she replied, and she rested her palm against his cheek. “But what if this child should die, like my lost baby?” Her fear brought tears to her eyes once more and Adam held her to him and murmured close to her ear that she wouldn’t lose this child too; she had a Cartwright baby in her belly, and the Cartwrights were strong, they were fighters, she had nothing to fear. As Wanekia calmed and began to smile again, Adam knew what he had said wasn’t strictly true. He could no more hold back the ravages of a childhood sickness than he could hold back the tides of the sea. But he had to believe, for Kia’s sake as much as for his own.
Adam’s life moved with the seasons. He had always been attuned to the different times of year, as were his father and brothers; it came with living the life of a rancher. But the earth now spoke to him in a different way than it had before.
It struck Adam on awaking one morning that the days were starting to lengthen again, that the early mornings didn’t seem as dark as they were. And he realised with a start that he had missed the turn of the New Year and Christmas. His weeks of incapacity had thrown his calendar out of whack and although he’d thought he had a rough idea of at least what month it was, it was a shock to realise that it must be January. How strange to think he had missed Christmas. He had lain back and recalled the family celebrations: watching Joe and Hoss struggle through the front door on Christmas Eve, laden down with the biggest tree they could manage, brushing the snow off their thick coats, and causing puddles of water to splash across the floor. Sometimes it had been like trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle, but after much heaving and tugging and Hop Sing’s admonitions at the mess they were making, they would get that tree through the door and to its place by the hearth. And once decorated with candles and baubles it would lighten the large room like a warning lighthouse beacon on a stormy coast. The room would smell of pine from the tree and from the garlands that were thread around the staircase and over the mantle. And the food, oh, the food: a huge turkey, lashings of cranberry sauce, Hop Sing’s special dumplings and to finish off, apple pie. It was a feast fit for a king. Adam had had to cover his eyes with the back of his hand as he realised there would be no more Christmas celebrations with his family. He had missed them at that moment so fiercely that his eyes had reddened and become moist with tears. Wanekia had stirred next to him, aware of her husband’s despair. Instinctively she knew that he was missing his family and so moved his hand from his eyes and gently wiped the wetness from his cheeks, kissing his eyes to stay the tears. Adam had choked out a laugh and dismissed his anguish by searching out her lips and reaching out his hand to lie over the slight bulge of Wanekia’s growing belly.
The winter was hard, harder than they had anticipated and tougher than it should have been in the lowlands. The late snows hit with a vengeance confining the villagers to their tepees for several weeks. The men sat around the fires working on their hunting weapons: sharpening knifes and spearheads. Adam had mastered the art of making arrowheads and could make as many, and as well crafted, as the more experienced men in the village. In return he showed the men how to clean the few rifles in their possession, explaining the need to keep the rifle bore clear of rust and deposits. This was also a good time to repair the nets that would be used for fishing and catching small game. As he worked, Adam’s eyes would be drawn to the women working on the other side of the fire, searching out Wanekia, and watching as she made new clothing and repaired old shirts and leggings. They were surviving off dried berries, seeds and stews made from pinyon nuts, yet Adam worried that Kia wasn’t getting enough food at this time when she needed it the most. As the winter months seemed to stretch out in front of them with no signs of the snows abating, and with their meagre supplies of jerky beginning to run low, Adam would find himself watching the sky for any indication that the snows would stop. It reminded him to a certain extent of being snowed-in to the Ponderosa ranch house for weeks on end, cut off from the outside world, and enduring the same meals from their supplies day after day. Hop Sing could work wonders but even he could only do so much with a rapidly dwindling supply of herbs and spices and a depleted supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. The Indians’ food supply was even more limited and as Adam passed over half of his ration of food to Wanekia and their unborn child, he saw that he was starting to lose weight fast.
Wanekia suffered greatly at this time. With the child growing inside her she felt nauseous from the moment she awoke in the morning. Oftentimes she would scramble to her feet, grabbing for the nearest blanket and lurch outside to lose the contents of her stomach into the snow. She would return to the lodge, shivering and exhausted. The reduced supply of food didn’t help, and despite Adam handing over as much of his ration as he could spare, she still felt sick for much of the time. She was listless with fatigue and yet struggled to sleep at night. She would toss and turn under their blankets, and if Adam was awoken in the small hours by her continual shifting, he would suddenly find his wife edging towards him, her hand creeping down his chest and below his waist, waking him even further as she moved across his body. Her condition seemed to only increase her appetite for him.
Kia’s nausea gradually lessened and with it came the first signs of spring. The snows were a lot less severe now and the rise in temperatures brought life back to the valley. The icicles that hung like sharp pointed fingers from the trees started to melt in earnest. Wildflowers which had stayed safely nestled in the earth beneath the blanket of snow, responded to the increasing warmth and the snow melt, and pushed their tiny shoots above the ground. Within weeks the shallow hills of the valley were swathed in a stunning display of azure blue, startling yellow and flaming crimson blooms. They heard birdsong for the first time that year, and Cameahwait kept an eye open for the sound of his spirit guide overhead. The men of the village would leave for several days at a time on the hunt to replenish their dwindling supply of food, returning with catches of squirrels and birds. The village boys had been set to work in the nearby rivers to catch a plentiful supply of trout. The lengthening days created an air of rejuvenation in the village; after the enforced confinement of the winter months it felt good to be outside, breathing in the fresh clean air and feeling the sun on their skin again.
Adam’s child clearly showed now. And Wanekia’s amorous, but more than welcome, advances towards Adam didn’t cease. He worried that he would hurt her or the child during their lively love making. But when he raised his concerns Kia would put her fingers on his mouth and silence his fears with her assurances that nothing he could do would cause harm to either of them. She would then take his hand and place it on her breast and Adam’s fears would be forgotten.
As spring edged into summer and the days grew longer and warmer, Adam came to realise that he had fallen into a way of life that suited him. It wasn’t a slow realisation; rather it hit him with a jolt one afternoon as the village participated in a rabbit drive. It was a family affair with everyone taking part. Adam joined one of the two long lines of people, steadily moving in towards each other across the low valley. There weren’t many rabbits at first, but gradually the creatures were forced out of their cover and bounded ahead of their long legged opponents who blocked off their escape route. As the lines of people became closer, there was only one way the rabbits could go, straight into the netting that crossed their paths. There the creatures were speedily clubbed to death, yielding a bountiful harvest of meat and fur for the village. The villagers told anecdotes as they moved slowly across the land, their hands held wide to stop any stray creature from doubling back and flying between their legs. There was laughter and tomfoolery, and as Adam neared the nets and noticed Wanekia already hard at work skinning the fur off a large rabbit, he paused and looked around him at the people who had become his friends and now treated him as one of their own. He was happy with these people, here, now.
His days were a round of hunting for meat, gathering food and maintaining weaponry; and at night, after the evening meal, of sitting around the fire listening to stories. And later, when it was just the two of them alone in their lodge, there was the ecstasy of Kia’s body, now even more wondrous to him than it had been before. With a plentiful supply of food again, her arms had become rounder, her breasts were fuller and her skin glowed as the child grew within her. His existence was simple. Gone were the business negotiations, contracts, payrolls, recruitment of ranch-hands. He was surprised that he didn’t miss it. Life moved with the seasons and Adam’s only responsibility now was for his wife and unborn child. And life would be almost perfect if it wasn’t for the constant needling in his heart that wouldn’t go away. For no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t curtail the sorrow that would wash over his soul when he thought of his brothers or his father. The grief had lessened but it hadn’t died. It was always there, harrying away at him. A crease would line his brow and his eyebrows draw together when a memory struck him from the blue. Occasionally he would stop dead in his tracks before shaking his head, trying to banish the remembrance, and continuing on.
Adam’s relapses into the intrusions of his memory did not go unnoticed by either Wanekia or Cameahwait. A simple touch from Kia would be enough to draw Adam back to the present; Cameahwait, however, felt more draconian measures were needed. He took Adam on a trek across the low valleys on the pretext of looking for fresh hunting grounds. Adam wasn’t fooled. He knew that the Ute knew this country intimately, that there was no corner of a valley, or ridge on a mountain, that they didn’t know down to the tiniest rock or individual tree. But he went along with the ruse and when they had settled back on their haunches to consume some dried meat and berries, he waited patiently for Cameahwait to speak.
“You see the faces of your blood, Liwanu.” It was a statement, not a question. Cameahwait spoke matter-of-factly, his head tilted to one side as he gnawed on a piece of jerky.
Adam glanced over at him, then levelled his gaze on the distant horizon. “I see them, Cam.”
“And yet, your visions bring you sadness, my friend.”
“I see something that reminds me of them and the memory is good,” Adam picked up a long blade of grass, running it through his fingers, “and then I remember that they are dead, that I won’t look upon their faces, hear their voices…”
Cameahwait looked at Adam, at the sorrow that once more etched lines into his forehead, made the hazel eyes darken as his loss ate away at his friend’s spirit.
“You must let them go, my friend. You keep their souls tied to this earth with your sorrow. Free them, so they can…” Cameahwait waved his hand upwards towards the sky.
Adam didn’t answer. He kept his eyes fixed on the blade of grass, turning it over and over between his fingers. Eventually, he flashed a look at Cameahwait before turning back to pull more grass from the earth.
“I can’t just…forget them…Cam. They are a part of me, of who I am.”
Cameahwait gave up on the piece of jerky, wiping his hands on the grass. He twisted in Adam’s direction.
“Liwanu, look at yourself now. You are more Ute than white man. Look!”
Cameahwait was right. From a distance, or even at first glance close-up, Adam would be taken for an Indian. His days spent outside from dawn to dusk meant his skin was darker than ever from the sun; his hair had grown several inches and was now held back at the nape of his neck by a leather thong. He hadn’t regained all the weight he’d lost over the winter, leaving a leaner look to his limbs. The corded muscles in his forearms rippled under the skin as he worked. His face looked longer with sharper cheekbones. And whereas he had once felt uncomfortable in the Indian garb, he now embraced it for the comfort it provided. He had long abandoned his leather boots in favour of the soft moccasins, which, although not as waterproof, provided stealth when he was hunting and were easy to kick on and off as he entered the lodges. He still wore the choker of beads that Cameahwait had given him to visit the trading post and Wanekia had made him a beaded necklace with a large stone pendant as a gift. Any physical semblance to Adam Cartwright, the rancher, no long existed. Physically, an onlooker would only see Liwanu, the Ute Indian.
“Your memories keep you tied to the white man’s world.” Cameahwait knew what he would say next would be hard for Adam to hear. “You have a Ute wife and a child who is neither Ute nor of your people. You must let go of the memories of your family, you must become Ute so your child will not live his life as one not welcome wherever he goes.”
Again, Cameahwait was right. Adam knew the difficulties that faced his child, growing up as a half-breed in a world that didn’t tolerate children who came from mixed parentage. To the whites they were considered to be dangerous with ‘savage’ blood; whereas the Indians looked equally askew at those who carried the blood of the white man in their veins.
Adam stayed silent.
“Your child will be well cared for and loved, Liwanu, but what happens when he leaves the village, when he seeks out the people of his father…”
Adam sighed and looked again to the horizon.
“You still don’t know why your spirit guide wanted you to find me, do you?” Adam looked over at Cameahwait. “It’s still a mystery as to why you needed to bring me to your people?”
“That is so, Liwanu. I may never know the reason. But…” he paused and twisted so he was facing Adam face on, “…you are strong, a good man to live amongst my people. Wanekia cares for you, and…you are my friend.”
Adam looked into the sincere face of the man he considered a friend too. It was a big decision to make, to decide to let go of his white heritage, to stay with these people forever. But the decision wasn’t one that he needed to mull over. He knew he wasn’t going anywhere. His place was here now. With the village, with Cameahwait, Kia and his child.
He reached over and the two men clasped their forearms together. Adam nodded.
“What must I do?”
Adam was barefoot and stripped down to his leggings when supportive hands pushed him through the narrow entrance to the sweat lodge and deposited him on the hot earth. Water poured over hot stones sent steam billowing around him and for a few moments he gasped for air whilst his lungs struggled to adapt to the lack of oxygen in the confined space.
It was a few days after his talk with Cameahwait in the flat vales surrounding the village. Cam had explained that Adam should undergo a purification ritual in a steam lodge far from the village. That way the blood coursing through his veins would be cleansed of the taint of the white man and, on successful completion, he would be seen as full Ute. He had left Wanekia early that morning, holding her close to him in the seclusion of their lodge. The feel of her lips on his lingered long after he had left the village, following behind Cameahwait, Hanska and Nashoba as they trekked towards the warmer desert lands. After a day and night had passed Cameahwait came to a place, hidden amongst the rising ridges of the desert’s edge, where he decreed the ritual would take place. Adam was instructed to sit, to take no part in the construction of the wickiup; so he watched as the men hacked away at sparse shrubbery and entwined them over the long supple branches of saplings they had gathered on their way. Adam hadn’t been allowed to eat since they’d left the village and could only sip small amounts of water, so he was glad to sit and let the other men do the hard work. He was developing a headache from lack of water and had to endure another night without food and only sips of fluid. But at sun-up, a fire pit was lit in the lodge, and stones placed on the fire to heat up. It was time for the ritual to begin.
Adam was told to remove his moccasins and tunic. He then watched as Cameahwait had blended herbs together and added the mixture to a skin of water.
“Drink,” he had intoned to Adam. “All.”
Adam had upended the skin to his mouth, tipped his head back and gulped the water down. It had a bitter taste to it—that must be the herbs—he thought, but he didn’t care. He could feel the fluid hit his empty stomach and it felt nourishing and delicious.
The men sat unspeaking outside the wickiup. Adam wasn’t sure what they were waiting for, but then he felt his stomach roil and he was hurrying to turn around and was on his hands and knees heaving up the water he had consumed. He sat back down, his face wet from sweat, and looked blearily at the men who stared back at him as he carefully dropped to his butt. Cameahwait handed him another skin, indicating to drink again. This time it was harder, his throat closing at the bitter taste; but each time he put the skin down, Cameahwait was there, forcing it up to his lips. “You must drink it all, Liwanu.”
Adam forced the bitter liquid down, and as before, after a short time, he was throwing it up again. His body temperature flared as adrenaline raced through him and his face and torso were now coated in sweat. His hair stuck in long strands to the side of his head.
“Enough,” said Cameahwait. “You are ready.”
Arms picked him up and manoeuvred him through the makeshift flap into the sweat lodge. He was left alone on the hot, sandy earth, his stomach in knots from the vomiting. He curled up into a foetal position, his fingers digging into the sand as his empty stomach spasmed after its ordeal. The heat was unbearable. He was already burning up, but added to that was the heat from the steaming rocks and the hot steam and Adam was gasping for breath. He lay still. If he didn’t move, his stomach wouldn’t react, and if he could only calm himself down and get his breathing under control…
He became aware of sounds outside the lodge. He could hear chanting and the beat of a drum. The chant was rhythmical and Adam found himself closing his eyes and drifting off as the heat, and lack of oxygen, and his weakness affected his ability to stay awake. The singing was ever present. He thought he slept but wasn’t sure. He was only aware of the beat of the drum which matched the rhythm of the blood pumping through his veins as it pulsed in his temples. After a while his stomach seemed to have calmed and Adam uncurled himself, flipping carefully over onto his back. He was uncomfortably hot and his leggings were stuck to him, soaked through with his sweat. His whole body felt slippery with moisture. With a force of effort that made his head swim, he managed to sit up and peel his leggings off, flicking them into a corner of the wickiup. He lay back naked on the earth and closed his eyes once more.
He became aware of someone next to him. He opened his eyes and saw his brother, Joe, sitting by the hot stones. Joe had a look of serenity on his face, a smile that shimmered as he stared into the fire pit.
Adam stretched out his hand to touch him but he couldn’t seem to reach.
Adam strained again to touch his younger brother. He needed to feel Joe’s warmth. But no matter how close Joe seemed to be, he was always just out of range.
Adam’s head was heavy with heat and dizziness. He let his hand drop.
“I miss you, Joe…”
Joe shifted position. He looked away from Adam, grinning widely as if responding to a voice that Adam couldn’t hear. Adam heaved himself up onto his elbows and looked in the direction that Joe was facing but there was no one there. He lay back and closed his eyes briefly. And when he opened them again, Joe was gone.
“I miss you, Joe,” Adam whispered.
Was it minutes that passed, or hours, or days? Adam had no conception of time. The heat from the hot stones never abated, never died down. The steam would fade and suddenly be everywhere again, choking him, leaving him gasping for air. Adam’s head was so heavy that the slightest movement caused waves of dizziness to smother his brain. He lay not moving, not thinking, only aware of the constant weight in his head.
A hand touched his chest. He opened his eyes and Wanekia was next to him stroking the tiny damp curls on his torso. Her naked skin shone in the half-light that filtered through the cracks in the sides of the wickiup. He forgot the pressure in his head and pulled her down next to him. They made love in the steamy atmosphere of the hut and when they were both exhausted from their exertions Adam lay back and waited to feel Wanekia’s head rest on his chest. When she did not come to him, he opened his eyes and he was alone again.
Sleep overtook him again. He did not dream but lay flat on his back with the sweat glistening on his skin, unaware of time and place. But then he was jerked back into consciousness by masked men crowding around him. There were too many of them for such a small space, he had nowhere to hide, to escape to. He looked around him frantically. They were everywhere, in front, behind, above him. And he was scared. He couldn’t remember feeling so terrified in all his life. And the space seemed bigger all of a sudden, and there was a man on a horse. The man dismounted and moved towards Adam with such speed that he had no time to run. Adam tried to scramble up and get away, but the man was on top of him and stabbing, stabbing, stabbing. Adam cried out in pain and shock and fell to the ground, curling up, feeling the hot wetness of the blood seeping through his hands where he grasped them tightly over his stomach, trying to keep his body intact, afraid it would split apart at any second.
But the pain and the noise subsided and when Adam raised his head, oh so slowly, and looked around him, the men had gone but there was a new noise approaching. And the ground seemed to be vibrating and suddenly he was surrounded by large beasts, stampeding past him, but never touching him. He felt no fear, and uncurled himself on to his back to watch the glorious stampede of bison as these majestic animals ran past him and over him but never harming him. One huge beast, larger than the rest, lumbered towards him through the milling herd. It spoke to Adam. Adam understood the words but couldn’t recall them even a second after they were said. He felt safe and comforted. The beast kneeled on its front legs and then dropped its rear to the ground. Adam lay back against the creature’s side, feeling the heat and the heartbeat of the great beast. Secure in its warmth, Adam fell asleep.
And Adam dreamt of the Ute, he saw them as they used to be, wandering the Great Plains in large numbers, making war against the Cheyenne, Shoshone and Sioux. He saw the great buffalo hunts. He was witness to the first hesitant meetings between the Ute and the Spaniards who introduced the horse into their culture. He saw the coming of the white man, the expansion westwards and saw how they lost their ancestral gathering grounds. Adam stirred in his sleep, conscious of anger and rage towards the people who took so much and gave nothing back in return. But he quietened as the bison spoke reassuring words to him and he fell into a dreamless sleep.
When Adam awoke the air was clearer; the rocks merely steamed now without the billowing clouds of vapour of before. And although the air was still hot and clammy, Adam’s head felt clearer. He levered himself up on to his hands and knees and crawled to the opening. He fell onto his back into bright sunlight and let his lungs take in great gulps of fresh clean air. The cooler air felt delicious on his naked body. Cameahwait was there, kneeling at Adam’s side.
“What is your name?” he asked Adam, using the English words.
Adam looked up at him from where he lay, drawing in the soft, silky air with large breaths. He felt no embarrassment at his nakedness.
His reply was in Ute. “My name…” he breathed, “…is Liwanu.”
Adam Cartwright had entered the sweat lodge, but it was Liwanu who crawled out.
He was different, Wanekia could tell straight away. Some changes were noticeable, others indefinable. Adam and his companions had returned to a village in full preparation for the long trek back up to the mountain where they would spend the summer and fall months. The first change that Wanekia noticed was that he didn’t speak in his own language any more. Adam had always used a mixture of both English and Ute to communicate; invariably of late he had used more and more of the language that he heard spoken continually around him. But when struggling to make himself understood or when he needed help with the correct Ute word, he would speak the word in English and gesticulate or mime what it was he was trying to say. Alone with Wanekia, they would laugh out loud at some strange gesture that Adam would use as a description. Since he had returned however, he did not say the English words. Instead he continued with the mime, and the laughter continued.
Other changes were slighter. He seemed to move differently, almost like he was lighter on his feet. Gone was what she considered his straight-legged white man’s walk, slow and deliberate. He became more lithe, swifter on his feet, and quick to drop to the ground. She would catch him crouched to the earth with his head cocked to one side as if listening. She would walk slowly to his side, and gently touch his hair at which he would look up, smile and explain that he’d been listening to a bird in a tree or observing an insect on the wing. It was as though he was becoming one with the natural world around him, attuned to its movement and breath and the very heartbeat of the earth.
And when he was transfixed like this, she didn’t worry about his silence, for these new lapses into quietness were different to before. Adam’s attention no longer drifted off to a place of sorrow and pain; the blank unseeing eyes were a thing of the past. Wanekia was relieved. It was as if a new vigour pulsed through the veins of her husband. The sadness that had lingered like a rain cloud had scattered, leaving a rejuvenated, energetic man in its wake.
Adam also noticed the changes within him. Cameahwait had explained on the trek back that his white blood had been cleansed from his system. The sweating and vomiting had served to purge his body of the taint. Adam didn’t see his blood as a curse, to do that would be to insult the memory of his father and mother. But he had seen things in the sweat lodge that he couldn’t explain. He had seen the history of the Ute from the time of creation. He had seen things he hadn’t been told or heard in stories. Perhaps his imagination was at work and he taken snippets of many stories to create fictitious events in his mind. But when he related some of his visions to Cameahwait, the Ute had stopped in his tracks and stared at Adam in wonder; for Adam had spoken of long forgotten stories that only the old ones of the village knew. And when he asked Adam what animal he had seen, he had felt a pang of envy when told of the great bison who had offered Adam comfort and protection. “You have been honoured, my friend,” said Cameahwait softly. “The bison, the great one, he does not offer himself as guide to many. You are one amongst men.”
To Adam it felt as if the Ute way of living, their beliefs and lore, their very essence, had enveloped him. He wasn’t prepared to deny his white blood but as he adopted more and more of the Ute doctrine, and underwent the purification ritual, he found that he was able to push his previous beliefs and his past memories to a place buried deep within his mind, locked behind an iron door. He confined the overpowering memories of his father, and Hoss and Joe, to deep within this hidden space, burying the sorrow, grief and pain with them. He determined that he would think of them no longer, afraid that if he let them out to batter his mind with their faces and voices, he would once more crumble into fragments and struggle to piece himself back together again.
And so Liwanu took his place amongst the villagers, welcomed into the fold like a long lost son and brother. He was an admired hunter, a beloved husband and was soon to be a father. He did more than his fair share in keeping the village healthy and productive and was now looked upon as a vital member of the small community. And to Adam, he felt like he truly belonged. His life was wrapped up in the present and the future, no longer the past.
The village had not long been back at its high summer encampment, when the arrival of a Ute from another village threatened to up-end Adam’s new found peace. The Ute’s wild-eyed horse had thundered into the camp, the rider yanking back on the reins, causing the creature to rear its head, snort and stamp the ground in protest. The young man had vaulted off the horse before the animal had stopped its angry capering. The village leaders had immediately gathered around the rider, as other Ute started to gather. Adam could see the boy bending over to catch his breath but all the while panting out his story to the rapt listeners. He approached to hear the words being said, but before he had got to the crowd of men, many of them had torn past him, heading to the corral where their horses were kept.
Cameahwait ran up to Adam. “We must ride,” he cried. His eyebrows were pulled low over his eyes as his forehead pressed together with anxiety.
“Where are we going?” Adam was already running next to Cameahwait. “What’s happened?”
“One of our villages has been attacked.” Cameahwait stopped and grabbed Adam’s shirt pulling him close. “By white devils.” He spat the words out, staring hard into Adam’s eyes, and then, as if realising what he’d done, he let Adam’s shirt go but gestured for him to follow.
The band of riders ripped out of the village at tremendous speed, coursing down the side of the mountain and into the hills below. They stayed far from the homes of settlers, keeping low behind ridges and on the hidden sides of valleys, in forest tracts where they wouldn’t be noticed. After many hours the riders had to ride single file along a track which followed high above a roaring river. The track took them into dense woodland and as the trail dipped down towards the valley floor a Ute camp opened out in front of them. But this wasn’t like the village that Adam had just come from. There were no teams of children playing or women cooking or men working industriously together. The group rode silently into the camp and witnessed the devastation before them.
The bodies of the villagers lay where they’d been gunned down. The braves had clearly run forward to meet their killers. Their bodies were sprawled in the dirt where they’d been thrown back from the force of the bullets. Women lay where they had grabbed their children before their lives were snatched prematurely from existence. The old men of the village had been shot near their meeting fire having not got far in the defence of their village. The lodges had been ransacked and the corral stood empty. Whoever had ridden in and butchered these people had taken anything of value, and for the Indians, that was their horses.
Adam slid off the side of his pony and stepped slowly through the village, tiptoeing carefully over the bodies of the fallen. The recollection of that brutal day several months ago when he had lost his own kin teetered near the surface of his mind. But Adam was able to control the memories; he was not going to let them get the better of him. As Cameahwait walked past him, Adam reached out and gripped his arm.
“Was it the same people, Cameahwait?” he asked softly. “Was it?”
Cameahwait snatched his arm away. “I do not know, Liwanu. But just as before, they kill all the people and take the horses.” He glared into Adam’s eyes. “This is what your white people do. They kill, no mercy. All dead. Look around you.” He turned, swinging his arm around to take in the broken village. “They kill children, mothers, the old people.” He spat. “And they call us the savage.”
Adam knew it wasn’t the time or place to have an ethical discussion on the actions of either race, but Cameahwait was suddenly treating him like the enemy. His blood began to heat within him and he wasn’t about to let that one go.
“You know full well that atrocities happen on both sides. Look at how many settlers have been attacked crossing the plains. Your people aren’t opposed to taking scalps from people who are not yet dead.” Adam recalled the Indian attack that had taken Hoss’s mother, Inger, from them. “And what you do to soldiers that you capture…cutting, burning, breaking and twisting fingers, stringing out their death for days.”
Suddenly the differences between the two men which had been so carefully sidestepped were beginning to break through the barriers that had been built to hide them away.
Cameahwait drew himself up to Adam looking him square in the eye. “What we do to the white man is only because of what they have done to us. They say the land belongs to them. Pah! It belongs to no one. They kill the bison so the tribes will starve. They bring disease so they don’t have to waste their bullets!”
Adam bowed his head.
Cameahwait looked away and stared over the bodies which lay everywhere within sight. “But this, Liwanu,” he shook his head, “this was not done by the soldier. No, this was done by thieves and murderers,” he looked at Adam, “who wanted nothing more than to take. This was done by greed.”
Cameahwait looked around him with anger and revulsion in his eyes. He suddenly paused, his vision fixed on the ground a few feet away. He moved towards the spot and dropped to his haunches. Adam followed him slowly. Cameahwait was running the tips of his fingers over a collection of hoof prints in the earth.
“What is it? What have you seen?” Adam bent over Cameahwait, watching as the Ute flicked earth away with a fingernail.
“This hoof print,” Cameahwait pointed to the print of a shoe with a small v-shape in the outline. “You see the crack in its hoof.” He hissed through his teeth in disgust. “This animal has not been cared for well.” He rose and faced Adam. “But I have seen this print before, in the place where I found you.”
Adam’s eyes grew wide. He immediately forgot about their argument and dropped down on one knee next to the print. He ran his fingers over the incriminating mark.
“It’s them,” he murmured. “We can track them.” The iron door was starting to swing open, releasing those emotions and memories that Adam was striving so hard to keep locked up. He was stunned by the immense weight of feeling that was beginning to bubble up within him. These monsters were all of a sudden within reach and Adam needed to find them, face them, make them pay for what they’d done. He made a move towards his horse but Cameahwait grabbed his arm, stopping him from going any further.
“Not you, Liwanu.”
Adam wrenched his arm out of Cameahwait’s grip. “Why not me?” he hissed at the Ute who stood squarely in front of him, unintimidated by Adam’s building rage.
“You have too much anger in you.”
“I don’t care, Cameahwait!” Adam shouted. “These people murdered my family! I need to go after them…now!”
“And then what?” Cameahwait glared back into Adam’s furious eyes. “You will be the one to kill them? Maim them? Have your revenge?” Cameahwait stopped and looked around him at the bodies being carefully gathered up for burial. “Look! These…men,” Cameahwait spat on the ground, “these animals, we will catch them, and we will make them suffer for what they have done. You…you are like a wounded bear, stamping in fury; they would hear you and be gone. No, Liwanu, I will not let you go.”
Adam anger’s went from a slow boil to a raging torrent with the knowledge that the men responsible for his family’s death were within his grasp and yet he was being denied the opportunity to go after them. He desperately wanted to hurt them, to make them suffer the way they’d made his brothers and father suffer. He’d seen how Joe had been dragged away in a senseless action that would have drawn out his little brother’s death; Hoss had been alive until one man had been sent to end his life. The gang had shown a callousness and evil pleasure in torture and death. They deserved nothing less themselves, and Adam intended to be one to do it.
His anger spilled over into sardonic words that he regretted the moment they’d left his lips.
“What’s wrong Cameahwait? Afraid I’ll die? Because that’ll mean you’ve been wrong for months about me? That your spirit guide was talking mumbo jumbo…”
Adam was stunned to find himself suddenly on his back with a furious Cameahwait kneeling hard on his chest and holding a knife to his throat.
“If it wasn’t for the…” Cameahwait paused as he rolled his tongue disparagingly around the words, “mumbo jumbo…of my guide, I would kill you where you lie.”
The knife against Adam’s throat drew blood. Adam could feel the sting of the blade and the wetness of his blood as it trickled slowly down the side of his neck. He held his hands up slowly in surrender. Cameahwait spun off him leaving Adam to roll onto his side, putting his hand to his neck to wipe away the droplets of blood. The fight had left him, and his anger faded as he realised what he’d said. He was never one to mock someone’s beliefs, and he knew that Cameahwait’s belief in his spirit guide was the leading force in his life.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…I just want to find the men who…” Adam’s words drifted. He stayed on the ground letting his head slump in defeat. Cameahwait dropped to one knee beside him and looked out beyond Adam and the village, as if picturing what would happen when they caught up with the outlaws.
“The young men of our village will find them, Liwanu. They will find where these rats have their lair. And when we find them, we will kill them.”
He looked back at Adam and rising to his feet, held out a hand to him. Adam grabbed it as Cameahwait pulled him upright.
The ride back to the village was subdued. Adam had said things he didn’t mean to Cameahwait. He had belittled the Ute’s beliefs. His shame meant he lingered a few feet behind his friend, afraid to meet Cameahwait’s eye, frustrated at his own foolish words, especially when he considered his own unexplainable visions in the sweat lodge. But he had wanted to lash out, to vent the anger inside, and Cam had been the obvious target. He moved his pony up to Cameahwait’s and apologised for his words, explaining that he had spoken in anger, that he did not mean a word of what he’d said about Cameahwait’s spirit guide. Cameahwait had grunted in response, which was all that Adam felt he deserved.
That night he wrenched himself out of a deep sleep to escape the intense visions that drove through his sleeping mind. He jerked awake and sat up slowly, chilled from the sweat that covered his face and torso. What had just happened? It did not feel like a nightmare, it had felt real. But most of all, Adam felt…reprimanded. It was the same feeling as when his father had lectured him as a child—and sometimes as an adult, he ruefully recalled—for indiscretions. His ears burned as those same feelings of shame washed over him. He leant forward, drawing a knee up to rest his elbow upon. And as he drew his hand over his face he could still feel the rage of the great bison as it had invaded his dreams. Everywhere Adam had turned the beast was there, its massive head and shoulders bearing down into Adam’s face. He hadn’t been able to escape the black eyes that bore into his soul with rage, and the words that had thundered in Adam’s mind, a head-splitting blast of anger, recrimination and repulsion.
But now all was silent in the lodge. Adam looked down at the woman sleeping beside him. Wanekia was stretched out on her side, one arm already reaching across the warm space that Adam had just vacated. He gently moved it back towards her and lay down, turning on his side to face her. He couldn’t help himself from briefly running his hand over her expanding belly. Her presence calmed him, as it always did. He flipped over onto his back and found himself reciting Hamlet. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” He mumbled the words softly into the summer night air, and Adam couldn’t agree more. His recent experiences were beyond his understanding, and he decided it was best to not even try. But he could not help but think that there was a guiding hand directing his actions, and even more disturbing, one that saw fit to punish his transgressions.
Cameahwait barked a laugh when Adam told him of his dream. “You will not mock the spirit guides ever again, Liwanu, will you?” He slapped Adam on the arm. “The anger of the great bison is not to be taken lightly.” Adam apologised again for his words of the previous day, but Cameahwait merely waved them off. “What can I say, Liwanu, that the great beast has not already said? It is finished, we will not speak of it again.” And that was that. Cameahwait acted like nothing untoward had happened, treating Adam as he always had. Adam toyed with his guilt but with the subject of his misguided words acting like nothing had happened, he cast off his self-reproach. It was enough for his spirit guide to punish him; he was not going to punish himself too.
Over the following weeks, Adam had to keep that iron door locked and bolted or he would have grown angry waiting for the return of the young braves who had been sent out to track the marauders. He kept the rage and the burning desire for revenge buried. Their time would come he promised himself. For now, he needed to concentrate on Kia and his unborn child.
As the weeks progressed and her belly expanded, Kia started to become breathless. Just moving around the camp would leave her panting for air. But she had been through this before and knew there was nothing to worry about. For the expectant father, however, not even her soothing smiles and words would stop him from running to her side when he saw her lumbering towards him, breathing hard and pressing her hand into the small of her back. He would grab the basket that she was carrying on her hip and admonish her for carrying any sort of weight around; to which Kia would laugh and put her hand to his face that had creased with anxiety. And then to stop his worrying she would take his hand and place it over her belly where he would feel the tiny fluttering movements within. His words of rebuke would cease as he felt his child kick outwards in response to his touch.
Adam had concentrated so much of his energy and thoughts on his wife and child over the last few weeks, that when the small band of riders arrived back in the village late one summer afternoon he could only stand and stare as the young men were welcomed back by their loved ones. He watched as they sought out Cameahwait and dropped cross-legged around the fire by Cameahwait’s lodge.
Cameahwait stood and beckoned Adam over. He was loath to move, to find out whether the braves had traced the men who had slaughtered his family. He was suddenly filled with trepidation. His eyes dropped to the ground. What if they had truly found them? The moment that had consumed his mind for so long may suddenly be upon him. He could finally have his revenge on the men who had taken so much from him. So why couldn’t he move? And then that iron door creaked open an inch and he could hear his father’s voice, proclaiming that the right way to deal with law breakers was not through hot-headed retaliation, but by using the law and through the courts. Adam so desperately wanted to make those men pay, but his father’s voice was overwhelming. He could hear him saying get the proof, let the courts deal with them. But Adam knew the only proof was a hoof print, and the only witness was a man who had spent the last few months in a savage’s village, out of touch with the civilised world, probably brainwashed and no longer capable of thinking like a white man. There was no proof any more. He knew he had to see these men with his own eyes, to find the leader, Mackie, and the boy who had shot Hos;, those faces that were so indelibly engraved in his memory.
And then Adam remembered the time when he had talked his younger brother Joe out of killing the man responsible for putting a bullet in Hoss’s back. They had all suffered so much thinking that Hoss may not pull through from his grievous injury. But Joe had been consumed with a need to make the man suffer, to make him pay for his crime. Adam had stood inches away from Joe as his brother had held a gun to the man’s head—Red Twilight, that was it—and told him if he pulled the trigger he’d be no better than Red himself. And Adam had convinced Joe, because Adam had believed it, and Joe had heard the conviction in his words. Joe would have sunk to Red’s level. Would Adam now sink to the level of his family’s killers? He was torn in two; torn between his over-riding need for vengeance, and for what he knew was right. He looked over at Cameahwait who beckoned to him again impatiently. Slowly Adam found his feet and walked towards the huddle of men.
The ride was long and hard and Adam battled with his conscience over every hill and through each valley they travelled.
The young men had told how they had picked up the trail of the attackers a few miles out of the settlement. There had only been one navigable route for horses to get in and out of the village, and Cameahwait’s party had more or less ridden over any tracks which the marauders had made. But the braves had studied every inch of ground, eventually spotting the incriminating hoof print where the animal had strayed off the trail and into the surrounding foliage. And there it was again a few feet away, and again, and again. Until finally the tracks veered away with a whole collection of others and the Ute were on their trail. They followed the prints for days, observing where the men stopped and made camp, seeing where one or two would leave, or new men would join the main pack. Eventually they realised they were getting close when the prints appeared to be fresh. The Indians then dismounted and followed the rest of the way on foot. There, in a high box canyon, they came across a large body of men. A roughly built cabin housed a handful of them, whilst the rest bedded down on saddles and blankets around a hotchpotch of camp fires. A corral was filled with horses, the spoils of their murderous activities.
The Ute had stayed silent and watched for several days. When a party of men left, so would they. On one occasion they trailed them to a tiny encampment of wagons and witnessed their brutality as they gunned down the occupants and stole everything of value. To the young men witnessing this atrocity, this was validation that they had got their men.
Adam had listened silently as they told their story. He observed the young men getting more animated, shouting their demands to go after the killers and butcher them as they slept. One brave jumped to his feet and demonstrated with passion the way he would use his knife on them. Then another joined in, and another. And before long the communal fire was surrounded by a swirling mass of men working their way into a war-like frenzy.
As the afternoon waned away in favour of the evening, the young men, the warriors, painted their faces and danced to the chanting sounds of ceremonial song and drum. They shuffled their feet, bending and twisting, pummelling the dust at their feet so it rose into the air like puffs of smoke. As they danced, their faces wreathed in an ecstasy of purpose and emotion, their skin glowed in the light from the fire which had been built to a goodly height. Their war dance focussed their prayers and they called to the spirits for success against the white killers of their people. And when sated, they sat around the flames and breathed into their lungs the smoke from a shared pipe, uniting them further in their purpose.
Adam had stayed away from the war dance, preferring to stay in his lodge with Wanekia. As the drums and singing continued into the night, the two lay side by side. No words were exchanged. He lay with his head resting on her chest, one hand slowly circling over her distended belly, following the movements of the child within. Kia wove her fingers through his hair. Feeling his head beneath her hand kept him close. They were both lost in their own thoughts, thoughts of each other, of the child, of what the dawn would bring. Adam refused to think of what would happen when he caught up with the outlaws, despite the constant reminder of what was coming from the chanting men outside. This time was for his wife. He concentrated on the feel of her skin beneath his hand and cheek, of the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed, the tickle of her hair as it rested on his shoulder, the taste of her mouth when he kissed her, her dimpled smile. And he stored away the fluttering sensation of his unborn child as it stretched within his wife’s womb. He needed these memories to bolster him in the coming days, to remind him of what he was leaving behind and what would pull him back. The coming day would bring separation, and they both refused to acknowledge the fear that it could be forever. So that night they focused on the now, knowing they couldn’t hold off the morrow.
Dawn broke and the men of the village mounted their ponies and rode out. In the privacy of their lodge, Kia had clung to Adam and wept and as he had pulled away and left the tepee without looking back, Kia had collapsed to the earth and wailed at his departure. Adam could hear her heart-breaking cries as he strode to his pony but knew he couldn’t stop. If he stopped, he would go back, pull her to him and kiss her tear-streaked face, and never leave. He flung a leg over his pony, gathered up the reins and, stony faced, kicked his beast into motion.
Adam lay on his stomach, many heads to either side of him, and observed the encampment beneath him. He hadn’t seen the man, Mackie, yet or Hoss’s killer and none of the other faces held any familiarity to him. The ride had been long and strenuous as they’d followed the familiar route down the mountain side and then branched off to follow the veiled side of a low-lying ridge for many miles, eventually turning to climb again over rocky, perilous terrain. Adam appreciated his nimble Indian pony, realising that his own sorely missed and well-loved mount would have struggled on such ground. The land about them grew barren and desolate until eventually any sign of greenery had died out in the high desert landscape. He wondered how the outlaws could survive up here, surmising they must have access to a desert water hole.
As they rode, the air had grown heavier and humid and the sky had begun to darken in the way that only a summer storm could strip the light out of the brightest day. The horizon was lit with distant flashes as lightning lit the far off sky.
The sound of Ben Cartwright’s voice boomed through Adam’s head, and seemed to get louder with each passing mile, as they had ridden onwards towards the outlaw’s camp. Adam! There’s a right way and a wrong way. And this is the wrong way! He tried to shake off the voice that refused to go away. He tried to picture Wanekia but her image was blown apart by the face of Ben looming large in his mind. Let the law take care of it! You do this and you’ll be no better than they are! But Pa, you don’t understand. I need to do this! I need to stop them. They’ll just carry on killing and murdering. They are a scourge on this earth. This is for the best. Adam! You are justifying murder! This is nothing more than your own vengeance! But Pa… This is not what I taught you boy! This is not how a Cartwright behaves!
Adam had wheeled his pony off the track, stopping still, letting the others pass him by. With his hands on the reins he had turned his animal back the way he’d come but didn’t move. He watched the men ride on without him, torn between his father’s words and his own need for retribution. Cameahwait trotted back on the track, stopping a short distance away.
“What is it that stops you, Liwanu?” Cameahwait sat bolt upright on his pony, a strip of black paint covered his eyes and streaks of red splayed down over his cheeks. His eyes glinted white against the blackness. Adam had refused the war paint. It had seemed like a celebration of the upcoming massacre. And that’s what it would be. And suddenly Adam wanted no part of it. His father was right. This would make him as low on the level of humanity as it was possible to go.
“I can’t do this, Cam. It will be a slaughter. No matter what they’ve done, we can’t just go in and butcher them.”
Cameahwait kicked his pony forward until he was next to Adam.
“What is it you want, Liwanu?” Cameahwait spat the words. “Do you want your white man’s law to take these men and lock them up?” His pony shifted beneath him, aware of the mood of the man on its back. “Pah! Your white man law’s is not the Indian’s law. They care nothing for the Indian. This is our way, Liwanu. They must pay with their lives for taking the lives of our people.”
Cameahwait reined his horse back onto the track. “Go! If that is what you want.” He kicked his beast into a trot.
It was as though the two halves of Adam that made the whole were at war with each other. It was Adam versus Liwanu, and both sides felt they had the upper hand. But Cameahwait was right. The law didn’t give a hoot for the Indian’s plight. And even if he could identify the boy that had killed Hoss, there was no proof that the leader of these men, Mackie, had killed anyone. Mackie had been present in the gorge, but Adam had no recollection of him pulling a trigger on anyone but him, and even that memory was hazy. Adam knew he would make a poor witness and that Mackie would perhaps serve a few years, but he wouldn’t hang, and before long he’d be out, gathering a new gang of degenerates to do his dirty work for him. So out of all the killers, perhaps the boy—the only one that Adam could identify—would hang; the rest would continue thieving, murdering and worse. With, or without him, Adam knew the Ute were going to have their reprisal on these men for the massacre of the Indian village. And with that knowledge in mind, Adam came to a decision. He shouted after Cameahwait who reined his beast to a stop and waited for Adam to catch up.
“I’ll take no part in the killing of this gang, Cam. But if Mackie is there…and the boy who killed my brother…then they are mine.” And with that, he urged his pony forward leaving Cameahwait behind him, breathing in the dust raised by his pony’s hooves.
The ponies had been secured in a canyon a couple of miles from the outlaw’s lair and the remainder of the journey made on foot. They had padded softly up into the rocks in single file. It was hot work and the heavy atmosphere drew the oxygen out of the air making the men breathless as they worked their way up higher.
And now Adam and the braves were high above the hidden valley observing the lazy activities of the men below them. Many slept on their upturned saddles, hats resting over their faces, a handful were bent over a game of dice. He noticed a couple of girls sprawled near a sputtering fire, half empty bottles of liquor by their sides. Adam watched as one man grabbed the wrist of one of the girls, pulling her to her feet, and propelled her behind a large boulder. Minutes later the man stumbled out, adjusting the belt on his pants. The girl followed after, her feet tripping over themselves as she went back to her companion and lowered herself gently to the ground and the waiting bottle. Adam looked away in disgust, turning onto his back and lowering himself a few inches below the ridge. It would be no great loss for the world to be rid of these men.
Adam’s companions took turns to keep a close eye on the activity within the camp. No move would be made until the night was at its blackest. They huddled below the ridge, saying nothing, praying to their spirit guides. There would be death this night and the warriors made their peace knowing they may be joining the spirits of their ancestors before the night was out. A commotion in the camp brought Adam to the ridge. As he peeped over he saw a handful of riders had arrived. There was no sign of the blonde boy, but there, amongst them, he recognised Mackie. Adam’s heart started to race. His tormentor was there. The man who commanded this pack of wild villains, who had led them to the gorge, who had instructed that his family and all those innocent settlers be butchered. He took in the tall figure as he dismounted. Adam recalled the quiet, calm voice and the man’s movements seemed to echo the way he spoke. He appeared to glide, his gait being careful and deliberate. Adam wondered if this man was capable of moving quickly. He was tall, lean, his black trousers topped with a black shirt and leather vest. His attire reminded Adam of his own, long ago, wardrobe. They dressed like each other. But that’s where the similarity ended. Adam wasn’t like this animal. Mackie strolled through the camp throwing out an instruction here and an order there, before entering the cabin and softly closing the door behind him. Adam stayed fixed in position, his eyes unmoving from the small cabin. He had no intention of resting. He needed to know where Mackie was at all times.
Night drew in and the oppressive atmosphere did not ease. The lightning flashes were closer now, followed by deep rolling rumbles as the pressure in the air expanded. It would be a wonder if any of the outlaws could sleep through this but they had spent the evening drinking and carousing so many were unconscious from their consumption of hard liquor.
As the electrical storm seemed to move away into the distance, and the vibrations from the thunder lessened, Cameahwait gave a signal and the men left the ridge. Their feet making no sound, they edged down the side of the canyon, their movements quiet and soft as they approached the unsuspecting outlaws. They fanned out keeping close to the sides, darting like ghosts from one side of the camp to the other, hiding behind rocks and in the shadows. Adam headed towards the cabin, his rifle held close to his body, finger poised over the trigger. At another signal, the Indians moved towards their targets.
For many of the outlaws their lives ended between one heartbeat and the next as the Indians crept up behind them and cut their throats. Where Adam was positioned, squatting on his heels beside the cabin, he saw bodies slump where they lay, never to rise from their slumber. He looked away, hating what he was witness to. A flash of lightning illuminated the Indians as they crouched, knives in hand, moving from one victim to the next. There was a shout and a gunshot and the Indians’ advantage was lost. The outlaws had been roused from their stupor. Men burst out of the cabin brandishing rifles and handguns, aiming at the shadows that moved amongst them. Another flash of lightning highlighted a young brave moving out from a rock. An outlaw aimed his weapon but wasn’t quick enough. Adam fired his rifle and the man dropped to the ground. Despite his vow to Cameahwait that he wouldn’t kill any of the gang, when push came to shove, he couldn’t sit by and see his friends die. The camp was a riot of gun fire and the war cries of the Ute, their need to be silent past. Cameahwait moved up a rocky slope and threw himself upon the back of a man scrabbling to his feet. Cam’s knife glided between the man’s ribs and the outlaw slid out of the Indian’s grip to the ground where his blood pooled over the hard earth. Adam stayed close to the cabin, picking off anyone who was taking aim to fire or creeping up behind one of his friends.
Mackie hadn’t shown his face and Adam knew he had no choice but to enter the cabin. He had no idea how many men were inside but he couldn’t take the chance that this man would escape. Staying low, dropping beneath the cabin’s windows he fell to his haunches to the side of the door and pulled it open, dropping away onto his front as he did so. A hailstorm of bullets fired out of the entrance. He reckoned there were at least three gunmen inside. He stood up, smashed a window and threw himself away again. A volley of gunfire erupted through the window.
Suddenly there was a body on top of him. One of the marauders had managed to extricate himself from the fight in the camp and moved around behind Adam. He was pinned to the ground, the weight of the man keeping him prone against the ground. Hands scrabbled to grasp his rifle, to pull it out of his grip. Adam risked releasing one of his hands from where he was tightly gripping his weapon. He heaved his elbow back, hard into the side of his assailant. He heard a grunt and the man’s weight slipped from his back. Adam pushed back feeling the man fall off him and sprung to his feet, hands held tight to his rifle one more. But the man wasn’t through. As Adam was lowering his rifle to fire, the man had clambered to his feet and launched himself into Adam’s torso, knocking them both back to the ground. The weapon flew out of Adam’s grip, skidding along the earth out of reach. Both men threw themselves after it, desperately trying to be the first to reach it. It was no good. The man heaved himself on top of Adam and pushed his hands against Adam’s throat. Adam gagged as he strained to take a breath. The man’s face was close. Adam could smell the fumes of rot-gut whiskey on his breath. But then the man released his grip. He looked with wide-eyed surprise at Adam and heaved forward, lying still on top of him. Adam slowly pulled his knife out of the man’s stomach and felt his tunic grow warm and damp with the man’s blood. He lay for a moment, finding his breath, wiping the sweat off his face and out of his eyes but inadvertently smearing his assailant’s blood across his face. He pushed the man off of him and retrieved his rifle.
There was no sound from the cabin. Adam was back on his feet, edging himself towards the smashed window, this time making sure he could see anyone in his vicinity. The cries of dying men filtered through the sounds of gunfire. He glanced around and as the lightning flashed he could make out individual battles between white man and Indian. A few of the outlaws had found themselves boulders to crouch behind but even then they weren’t safe. Armed with their rifles and looking out into the dark, they would neither hear or see the Indian who crept up behind, or down from above, and ended his life within the blink of an eye.
Adam turned his attention back to the cabin. As quickly as he could he peeped through the smashed window and saw a sweaty, wild eyed face staring frantically back at him. He heard a guttural shout and bullets sprayed aimlessly through the window. When the firing stopped, Adam stepped up and fired through the smashed casement. There was a strangled cry, the thump of a body hitting the wooden planking, and a voice cursing. A second later Adam had thrown himself to the ground as bullets sprayed through the wooden walls. How he wasn’t hit as he scrambled to keep his body flat against the earth he couldn’t say.
He could hear shouting from within the cabin. There seemed to be an argument taking place. Then the door burst open and a man brandishing a handgun leapt out, firing in all directions. He twisted on his feet, searching in the dark for the Indian who had fired and killed his compatriot. Adam lay on his belly, his rifle in front of him and waited for the man to run out of bullets. As the cylinder emptied, he seemed to freeze as he took in the scene before him, his eyes disbelieving as he saw his fellows lying dead or dying all around him. The fighting was sporadic now as those who had held out the longest were hauled out of their hiding places. Adam slowly rose to his feet. He left his weapon on the ground and, bending low at the knees and with a steady, unhurried step, moved towards the motionless gunmen. The man caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and swung around. All he saw were the whites of Adam’s eyes and the face of the devil before a fist connected with his jaw and he was knocked out cold. This wasn’t the man that Adam wanted, so he left him to the Ute to do with as they wished.
Adam didn’t need his rifle. Taking his knife from its sheath, he felt the weight of it in his hand. It felt comfortable and he held it with an easy grip. Moving towards the door of the cabin, he kicked it open gently with his foot. A lightning flash showed the last occupant, Mackie, seated on a rickety chair facing the door behind an equally unsteady table. He was thumbing the cylinder in his revolver, over and over, ignoring the man who stood to one side of the door, peering around to view the scene within.
“It’s over, Mackie,” said Adam.
Mackie looked up, surprise registering on his face at the white man’s voice filtering through the door. Adam walked slowly into the cabin. As the heavens flickered overhead, Mackie took in the tall lean man standing before him, his Indian dress, the tunic shiny with blood, a blood soaked hand gripping an ugly Indian blade. He saw the dishevelled black shoulder-length hair and the smear of blood from one side of his face to the other. The eyes glittered but were calm. Mackie thought he would see anger or mania, but there was none. Just resignation, possibly regret, but most of all, stillness.
“You know my name.” He looked back at the cylinder revolving slowly under his thumb. “And you’re no savage,” said Mackie. It was more statement than question.
“I’m what you made me,” replied Adam as he walked further into the cabin. He pulled out another chair, placed it at right angles to Mackie, spinning it around to face away from the table. Throwing a leg across it, he lowered himself gently and leant forward on the chair back.
“Umm, I see.” Mackie looked over at Adam. “I think I would recall meeting a white man dressed like a savage. You seem to have the upper hand here, stranger. You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
Adam’s mouth quirked in a half smile. “They call me Liwanu. That’s my name now. It wasn’t when we first…met.” He had paused before he said the word, choosing it carefully. Mackie concluded the meeting was unlikely to have been a pleasant one.
“And you say it’s down to me why you’ve gone native?”
Adam rose from the chair, walking over to the doorframe to watch the activity outside. As the lightning continued to sizzle through the sky above them, he would catch glimpses of the Indians pulling the bodies of the white men into a collective heap. Others went through the men’s meagre possessions, putting aside rifles, revolvers and foodstuff. Adam leant against the frame, his back to Mackie. He could hear the rhythmic ticking of the cylinder as it clicked over and over under Mackie’s thumb.
“Last fall, your men attacked a wagon train out in the desert west o’ Utah Territory. Little place called Juniper Gorge.”
The ticking stopped. Adam twisted over his shoulder to look at Mackie. “You remember it.”
Mackie looked up, eyes squinting, mouth open as if sifting through his mind to find the correct memory.
“I do believe I recollect a little place called Juniper Gorge. Very profitable, as I recall.”
Adam spun around and in two strides was at the table. He swept his hands across the table surface sending the remains of cups and bottles smashing to the floor. Mackie didn’t flinch as Adam slammed his hands down on the table and leaned over him.
“Benjamin Cartwright. Eric ‘Hoss’ Cartwright. Joseph Francis Cartwright. My father. My brothers. They all died there, at your hands. I want you to remember their names as they will be the last words you’ll ever hear.”
Adam pushed off from the table. He had intended to stay calm, but the man’s callousness, his complete indifference to the death and destruction he had caused had worked its way under Adam’s skin. And now he could feel nervous energy coursing through him. He paced around the small cabin trying to control his temper, aware constantly of the man’s thumb on the cylinder, the click, click, click as it rotated around.
Mackie looked over at Adam as he moved around the cabin. “So this is your revenge, is it? My men are all dead, I presume.”
Mackie’s cold words astounded Adam. “This is not my revenge. This is their revenge.” And Adam pointed out of the open door at the Indians moving around the camp. “You invaded an Indian village, killed every occupant. Just like with the wagon train. Every man, woman and child. That was your mistake. You shoulda left the Indians well alone.”
Mackie sneered. “And you’re not getting any satisfaction from what you’ve just been a part of. Your virtue…your righteousness is intact.”
Adam paused his restless pacing. “I’ll probably pay in hell for what happened here tonight. But at least I’ll know I’m in good company.”
The ticking stopped once more. Adam turned to see Mackie place the revolver carefully on the table surface. He leant back in his chair, looking long and hard at Adam.
“You haven’t told me how you ended up native. You certainly look the part. Very convincing. You even move like a savage.” A look of disgust fell across Mackie’s face. “But you turned your back on your own people.”
“I didn’t turn my back. I chose…a different way of life.” Adam found himself in front of the old stone fireplace. He rested his elbow against the cold rock, leaning in to stare at the black empty fire pit. “You left me for dead. The Ute found me, nursed me back to health. I have…reasons for wanting to stay with them.”
“Aha, now we’re getting somewhere. You’re sparking with a squaw!”
Adam should have jumped him, pounded his fists into the side of Mackie’s face until he was no longer recognisable. But instead a peace settled over him. He felt at ease with his life, as though talking with this lowlife gave justification to his decision to stay with the Ute. He pushed away from the fireplace and resumed his seat at the table. Mackie noticed the cool composure in the man’s face and for the first time he felt vaguely unsettled.
“What happened to the blond kid?”
“There was a boy at the gorge, barely outta diapers. Very light blond hair, almost albino. You instructed him to shoot my brother, like it was an initiation.”
“Alec! You mean Alec?” Mackie shifted in his seat. “Boy went and died on us. Couldn’t take his liquor. Not long after the gorge as a matter of fact. Choked on his own puke.”
Adam sighed and raised his eyebrows. Poetic justice.
The two men sat unspeaking for a few minutes, both keeping their eyes averted from the other. Adam broke the silence.
“How many bullets you got left?”
Mackie hadn’t expected that question.
“Two,” he blustered, “one for me and one for you. To put you out of your misery.”
“Seems to me you don’t have many options open to you,” began Adam. “One, you let me hand you over to the law. But we both know that you’d walk. Me, a white man turned…savage, handing over a no-good, thieving murderer. I’d be the one laughed out of town. Ironic really. And you’d be back to your old tricks. We both know I won’t let that happen.”
Adam’s voice was calm as he spoke, staring hard into Mackie’s eyes. Mackie was unable to look away.
“Two, I hand you over to my friends out there. They’ll play with you for a while, maybe four, five days. You’ll die slowly, in more pain than you thought possible.”
Mackie’s cold calm façade started to crumble. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead and he picked the revolver up, the clicking fast beneath his thumb.
“Or, I kill you myself. But I’m not going to…”
“You saying you’ve never killed a man before?” Mackie burst out. “You saying that you’ve never raised your gun against another human being and pulled the trigger?”
Adam settled his heavy-lidded gaze on the man. His voice was smooth, deep, calm.
“I’ve killed. It’s pretty hard not to out here in the West. But I’ve never killed in cold blood. I’ve never put my gun against another man’s head and shot for the hell of it. Or murdered someone to make a profit or take what they have. I’m not like you. That’s why I won’t kill you now.”
Mackie’s thumb stopped moving. Adam watched as he positioned a bullet in line with the gun’s hammer and barrel and snapped the cylinder shut. He nonchalantly pointed the gun at Adam’s chest, the gun surprisingly steady in his hand. There was a movement near the door. Adam slowly turned his head and saw Cameahwait edging into the cabin. Adam held his hand up towards the Indian, making him pause in his tracks. Mackie’s head flicked towards the newcomer and back to Adam.
“I should have finished you off at the gorge, Cartwright. That’s your name, isn’t it? Cartwright?” Mackie’s words were harsh, his self-control shattered.
Adam leaned out of the chair back and placed his knife back in the sheath at his waist. “You can kill me now. Go ahead. But my friend there will rip out your heart. Or you can shoot him too, in which case you’ll become a plaything for all the…savages just waiting outside the door.”
Adam rose slowly from the chair, the revolver beginning to tremor as it followed his every move. Cam backed out of the cabin, leaving Adam to pause in the doorway.
“There is one…last…option, Mackie.” He stared hard at the man who had shakily lowered the gun to the table, and who sat there, breathing hard, the beads of sweat now trickling slowly down his face. And with that, Adam pulled the door closed behind him and walked away from the cabin.
Minutes later, the sound of a single gunshot echoed around the canyon. Adam hung his head. It was over.
Adam wasn’t proud of what happened that night. But he was relieved. He felt he could put the events of Juniper Gorge behind him once and for all. That chapter in his life was now firmly in the past. The iron door behind which he’d shut away his anger and grief could be permanently unlocked. He knew he’d be able to think about his family now without pain and sorrow washing over him. He’d just remember the good times and the fun times, their warmth and love.
He’d always had a picture in his mind of what he would do to Mackie when he caught up with him. And a knife or gun was usually involved in his imaginings. What he hadn’t envisaged was a fairly rational conversation with the man. Or how Mackie’s fate would suddenly become so clear to him. Adam’s words had stoked the fires of Mackie’s fear. And Adam hadn’t been lying when he had hinted at what the Indians would have done to him. So he’d offered the outlaw the only way out. And although Adam wasn’t proud of the nudge he’d made in Mackie’s mind, he knew it was the only option left for the man. And Adam felt no guilt. His hands were clean.
The bodies of the outlaws were burned, as was the cabin with its one solitary occupant. One of the two girls who had been used as whores by the outlaws had died as bullets crisscrossed the camp. The other had scrambled behind a boulder. She had screamed and lashed out when the Ute approached her and it took a slap across her face to get her under control. She’d had to be dragged out from where she had hidden and as she started to fight back, she’d been thrown to the ground in the open where she laid whimpering and crying into the sand. She was a skinny thing, barely out of girlhood, and what to do with her was a dilemma. She shied away every time anyone went near her until they grew impatient and just threw food and a blanket at her feet, throwing their hands up in disgust. It took Adam’s soothing tones and gentle words to calm her. She heard the voice of a white man, one of her own, and although she couldn’t understand why he looked like one of them, he spoke like she did, and she opened up enough to share her name. The decision was made to take the girl, Emmie, to the nearest trading post where Adam and Cam would leave her. It went against everything Adam had been brought up to do. She was the type of character that any one of his family would have enfolded in a saddle blanket and taken back to the Ponderosa for a hot bath, nourishing food and a soft bed, before a suitable resolution was found. But that was no longer an option. So although he didn’t like the idea of leaving her at a trading post alone, there was no alternative.
Cameahwait declared that the Great Spirit himself had been watching over them that night, as not a single Ute lost his life in the attack. There were many injuries, scrapes and bruises, a couple of broken limbs and several gunshot wounds, but nothing serious enough to cause death. Adam raised his eyes to heaven and thanked his family for looking over him and his friends. He also found himself saying a silent prayer of thanks to the Great Spirit. No matter whose gods had thrown a shield of protection over them, Adam owed them his gratitude. Cam wondered whether this was the reason for Adam being brought to the village, a suggestion which Adam pooh-poohed.
“But I saw you Liwanu. You stopped many of the white men as they attacked my brothers. You saved their lives.”
By ending another’s thought Adam bitterly. “Do you really believe that this is why you dragged me from the gorge?”
Cameahwait had slapped Adam on the back. “I do not know, my friend. Maybe there are many reasons I had to find you.”
Another miracle happened that day. As the Ute were rounding up the horses from the corral, Adam spied an old friend amongst the beasts. Sport! He had run between the milling beasts, slowing as he approached his faithful old mount. The animal had nickered, lowering its head as it approached Adam. You still know me, huh, pal? Sport paused and then recognising the scent of his old master, had pushed his head against Adam’s shoulder. Adam had sunk his head into the creature’s neck, breathing the familiar smell of his fur and mane. You were too much trouble, huh! They couldn’t sell ya. Or is it that you’re just too fine a horse to get rid of, huh, hey boy? Adam couldn’t believe his eyes. He had assumed that all the Cartwright horses had been rounded up by the gang, and presumably sold on for a tidy profit. But they had kept Sport for the whole time. And he was in good condition too. He came to the conclusion that they had probably tried to sell him, but he was such a difficult beast to control, pulling back on the reins, tossing his head at every opportunity, that his fiery temperament may have deterred would-be buyers. Good for you, boy. He scanned the other horses on the off chance that he may see Buck, Cochise or Chubb, but Sport’s stablemates were not amongst the other beasts. He tied him to one of the corral’s rails and let his hands roam down Sport’s neck and back, and down his legs, checking his hooves and then his teeth. Once satisfied that Sport was in prime condition he led him from the corral.
And now mounted on the back of his old friend with a comfortable leather saddle and Emmie behind him—arms wrapped tightly around his chest—Adam and Cam had left the other men behind them and detoured away on the journey to the trading post. At night, as they built a campfire, Emmie stuck close to Adam, always wary of Cameahwait. But she was gutsier than she had first appeared. As they rode, Adam managed to extricate her story from her; of how her mother had been little older than she was now when she’d given birth to her.
“I was born in San Francisco, that’s a big city. Bigger than these liddle-biddy two-bit towns out here…” she had squawked in Adam’s ear as she clung to his chest, “and one of these days I’ma gonna get back there too, away from all the rufflers, rogues, tinkers, swadders and pedlars that you get around here.”
Adam had raised an eyebrow, a look of amusement crossing his face.
“And what do you intend to do when you get back to San Francisco?”
“I’ma gonna find me a nice cock robin to look after me all my days, to buy me nice lacy dresses and a carriage to go a-visitin.”
Adam’s look of amusement had turned into a grin. She seemed none the worse for her experiences at the hands of Mackie’s gang. His reservations about leaving her at the trading post were starting to lessen. He became serious for a moment.
“What the men did to you…back at the camp…”
Emmie was silent for a moment.
“It’s alright. I’ve had to look after myself since I were nine years old, after ma mama gone left me on the steps of Mission Delores with just the clothes I was wearing to my name. It’s the oldest church in San Francisco dontcha know, built specially for St Francis of Assisi.”
Adam did know. But he wasn’t going to be diverted by the history of San Francisco’s Catholic heritage.
“At the camp though…”
She didn’t answer straightaway. Adam was just about to turn around when she spoke.
“It’s alright Adam, you don’t need to fret none. I do what I have to do. Always have done. Always will, I guess. I just…close my eyes and…take myself off somewhere…think a somefin pretty.” She grew quiet and Adam turned his head back to see her face. She was staring out at the distant hills but then she noticed him looking at her and, as though pulling a mask on, she pinned a smile on her face, looked up at him and laughed. “Looks like you do too, ya know, do what has to be done, looking at the way you is dressed.”
Adam turned back to the trail ahead of him, comforted by Sport’s nodding head as he walked steadily ever onwards. Maybe once I did. Not anymore. They’re my people now.
When they arrived at the trading post they crouched low in the surrounding trees, observing the comings and goings. Over the course of several hours they saw fur trappers offloading their furs, tinkers trying to sell the proprietor bits and pieces that he would critically view, then pass back to the tinker with disgust, waving him off with a dismissive hand. The occasional family of settlers would wind their way down the road and pull into the yard, and Adam would point to them. But Emmie would turn her nose up, cross her arms across her chest and point blank refuse to entertain the notion of joining a wagon of screaming children. As the day was starting to draw in, and Adam and Cameahwait’s frustrations were starting to show, Emmie drew herself forward and pointed as a buckboard loaded with furniture and household goods came down the trail. They watched the driver heave the reins across to one side turning the team on a wide turn into the yard.
“Them,” said Emmie.
Adam looked at the couple on the buckboard. They looked to be a married couple in their fifties. Even from this distance, he could see the woman’s kindly face as she spoke to the man beside her, and they watched as he patted her hand in response. But why this couple rather than the families that had passed through earlier, he could not tell.
Emmie stood, pulling her shawl around her thin dress and waited for Adam and Cameahwait to stand too. She stepped forward and flung her arms around Adam’s chest, squeezing him tightly for a brief moment. She nervously raised her hand to Cam and turned to go.
“Ya know, you and me, we’re a lot alike. She fingered his blood-stained tunic. “We’re survivors.” And with that she walked out from the trees and moved towards the couple who were climbing down from the wagon.
Adam saw her posture change. Her shoulders slumped, she raised her shawl over her head and a limp materialised out of nowhere. After a couple of steps, she kicked off her shoes, dirtied her feet on the sandy ground and continued. Utterly bemused, Adam saw how she made to move past the couple but then seemed to trip and fall over on her hands in the dust. The couple were by her side within seconds, pulling her to her feet, dusting her down. Emmie’s shoulders slumped even further down and then Adam could see her shoulders shaking as if she was crying. And the woman’s arms were around her holding her close and the couple were looking around as if to see where she had come from. And then they were moving off slowly towards the trading post, the woman’s arm firmly around Emmie’s shoulders. Adam and Cam looked at each other, shaking their heads in amazement. Within the half hour, Emmie reappeared with the couple. She was wearing a new, clean dress and fresh shoes and although the slumped, defeated posture was still in place, as was the limp, her face looked brighter than it had done before. Adam watched as she climbed up on to the buckboard’s seat next to the woman and, as they pulled out of the yard, Adam was sure she glanced in their direction and winked.
Adam’s favourite time of day had always used to be those quiet evening moments spent in front of the great hearth, a post-dinner brandy warming his stomach and the prospect of his well-earned soft bed to look forward to. His father would be at his desk looking over some paperwork, or perusing the latest edition of the Territorial Enterprise, his occasional grunts signalling his opinion of the paper’s leader column. Joe, invariably, would be running rings around Hoss over their customary game of checkers. Why Hoss hadn’t given up long before now had often crossed Adam’s mind. It was clearly not the game itself that Hoss relished, rather he just enjoyed being in his little brother’s company. As for Adam, he would sit with a book, or pluck the strings on his guitar, one side of his body being gently toasted from the heat of the fire and he would enjoy the comforting peace in the room. Although those days were gone, he was able to look back on those times with a smile now, rather than with sorrow.
He now had a new time of day that gave him the most pleasure. Just as before it was the evening, and again, it was a time of quiet and tranquillity. It was those moments with Kia before sleep would take him, the fire spitting out its flame and throwing a soft light over the pair of them as they lay together on their furs. He would prop himself up on one elbow, gently caressing Kia’s large belly. He never got tired of running his hand over and over her skin. Sometimes the child would move; other times it was clearly sleeping. Once he even believed he saw the impression of a foot appear but it was fleeting and he wondered whether he had imagined it. He would sometimes think of the girl, Emmie, and wonder what had become of her. But he wasn’t worried. She was a fighter; she adapted to meet head-on whatever was thrown at her. And Adam promised his unborn child that he would never let him end up like Emmie, having to fight to survive. No, this child was going to be loved, protected, would never be thrown to the elements to fend for himself. And with those thoughts foremost in his mind, Adam would fall asleep with his hand resting on Kia’s belly.
Kia would watch him succumb to sleep, watch as his breathing lengthened, and think herself the luckiest woman to walk the earth, to belong to a man such as Liwanu. Since he had returned, unharmed, from dealing with the white men who had caused so much hurt and pain, he had been happier, more open. She knew he hadn’t wanted to, or enjoyed, the killing, but it was as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, a weight of loss and grief, and, for the first time, he spoke of his brothers and father to her, shared incidents, told her what they were like. The part of his mind that had been so filled with anger was now clear and filled with thoughts of the future, of her and his child.
It would not be long until the baby came into this world. There had been two full moons since Liwanu and the other braves had returned and Kia had felt the child move lower within her womb. She could feel it kick under her ribs and the discomfort would take her breath away.
But it would be another week before Adam’s child began its long painful haul into the world. It began its journey not long after he and Kia had fallen into sleep before the midnight hour had come. She had not been able to get comfortable for weeks and lay propped up on her back against a collection of furs and blankets. The autumn air brought a chill as the sun was chased from the sky but she was too hot for blankets, preferring to lay unclothed with the cool air helping her to sleep. Adam had been woken after what seemed like only minutes of sleep by his wife forcefully hitting his back as he lay facing away from her.
“You would sleep through the earth shaking,” she admonished with gritted teeth. “Go! I need Luyu! This child will wait no more.”
Adam had scrambled to his feet, only just remembering to put his leggings on before he hurtled from the tent and careered into Cameahwait’s tepee in search of help.
He found himself banished to the outside of his lodge, his friend by his side, as his wife was tended to by Luyu and several other women. Adam listened with worry creasing his forehead as she intermittently cried out in a voice strangled with pain. The village would not sleep this night, so as he sat and fiddled with his fingers, or paced the ground, or tried to lie down, or do whatever his tense body required him to do, he would be joined by others who sat with him by the newly built fire, the men sharing their own experiences of expectant fatherhood. They would laugh as at each anguished cry Adam would start up and head towards the entrance to the lodge, before Kia would settle down again, her loud panting easily heard through the animal hide coverings. The fathers of the village had seen it all before and found witnessing their own actions in someone else was an amusing distraction in the long night. Adam would settle down again after a few moments, looking towards the entrance with agitation etched on his face.
As the dawn started to break over the distant horizon and the tired village began to rouse itself properly for another day, the men drifted away to tend to their own families’ needs and Kia’s cries became more frequent. After one prolonged scream where she had repeatedly howled out Adam’s name, he could stand it no longer and, despite Cameahwait’s warning words, had run to the tepee’s entrance and wrenched open the flap. Cameahwait smiled to himself as Adam backed out slowly, hands in the air and a knife pointing towards his chest. Once she was sure he’d got the message, Luyu lowered the knife, muttered an expletive under her breath which made Cam chuckle, and returned to her duties, the flap abruptly pulled back over the entrance. He had caught a glimpse of Kia kneeling on all fours, rocking back and forth, her head hanging limply.
“She’s on her knees!” Adam’s voice was sharp. “She should be lying down, for god’s sake!”
“No, my friend.” The calm voice of Cameahwait broke through Adam’s indignation. “Only the white woman lies on her back and pushes, pushes.” Cam’s words were said with a sneer. He softened his tone. “Your child will fall from its mother onto leaves from the trees and the earth will welcome the child of my friend.”
Adam refused to leave the lodge. Food and water were brought to him, although he had no appetite. When he needed to relieve himself he would run to the edge of the woods, and heedless of whether he could be seen, would do what he had to do and then run speedily back.
A couple of hours after the sun had reached its apex in the sky, Kia’s cries were almost constant and the voices of the women were getting louder along with the frequent sounds of loud panting. And then after a scream that seemed to shatter the air into a thousand tiny particles, a silence drifted over the lodges. The whole village seemed to stop, everyone halting in their tracks and staring towards the tepee, outside of which Adam stood frozen mid-pace. Was it their imagination or did the birds stop singing and the wind cease to blow through the tops of the trees? Then a thin piercing wail sounded through the village. Adam’s heart started to beat again as he heard the first sound that his child made on this earth. Cameahwait was on his feet, gripping his arms, a wide beam upon his face; and after a moment of disorientation, of disbelief, when all Adam could do was stare dazedly at the ground, he looked up, grinned wildly, and headed towards the lodge. Knife, or no knife, he was going in.
He paused before entering, composing himself, trying to steady his racing heartbeat. He entered quietly and this time the women did not stop him. He took in the sight before his eyes. Kia was pulling herself out of a crouched position; one of the women helping her to lie back against a thick bed of furs. She kept her knees drawn up and apart whilst the women fussed with blankets and water where they knelt between her legs. Her naked body glistened with sweat, and her loose hair stuck to her forehead and cheeks. She looked exhausted, but on seeing Adam she held out her hand, drawing him to her. He knelt next to her, clasping her clammy hand in his and with the other smoothing the damp hair from her face. His eyes flickered between his wife’s tired eyes and the activity between her drawn up legs. He could hear tiny whimpering sounds and then a bundle of flailing legs and arms was being handed to him. Adam cupped both hands together and looked in wonder at the tiny baby that was placed there. He was utterly dazed.
“You have a daughter, Liwanu.”
Adam looked down at his baby girl as she lay there with her eyes squeezed closed and her arms punching the air with clenched fists. She was a marvel, a miracle. He checked; she had ten fingers and ten toes. Perfect. And a mop of dark hair covered her crown. She was beautiful. And for Adam, it was love at first sight. He choked on a breath as his heart was engulfed by emotion so powerful that it almost crushed him where he sat. He felt as though he had never loved—not truly, not with every breath he took, each beat of his heart or pulse of blood through his veins —until that moment. And he was unaware that as he gazed at her, he was making a vow, deep within his soul, that he would protect her and keep her from harm, forever.
He stared wonderingly at the tiny baby. She had come from him and Kia. They had made her. And she was perfect. Adam looked to Wanekia with a look of wide-eyed elation on his face. He was so enraptured by the creation that he held in his hands that he didn’t realise that he had tears trickling down his cheeks. But these were tears of joy, an outlet for the emotions that were welling up inside of him. Wanekia held out her hand to his face, wiping the wetness away with her fingers. Keeping the child close Adam moved nearer to Kia and rested his head against hers, whispering words of thanks in her ear. The child opened its mouth and let out a loud wail that brought both mother and father back to their senses. Laughing, Adam placed the babe on Kia’s chest and Kia held her daughter for the first time. As the child lay against her breast, Kia pulled Adam in close to capture his lips with hers, a brief kiss of love, relief, thankfulness.
To make Kia more comfortable, Adam manoeuvred himself behind her so she was resting her back against his chest and his legs were either side of her body. The women still bustled around them, cleaning up the detritus of childbirth, but eventually Adam and Kia were left alone with their child. He leant forward to grab a nearby fur to cover his wife’s lower half. The babe had been placed on Kia’s breast where it now suckled the milk which came readily. They were both captivated by the tiny mouth gently sucking on Kia’s nipple and the eyes that gazed blindly around. No words needed to be said. Adam was content to hold his tired wife in his arms and revel in the feelings of joy and contentment that washed over him. It suddenly dawned on him that he had a family again: his own family. Oh Pa, a girl! You’ve got a granddaughter. Bet you never thought that would happen what with all the boys in the family! And with that thought he raised his eyes briefly to the sky and prayed for his mother and father and brothers to watch over the tiny child.
Wanekia suggested they name their daughter Mimiteh because she was born under a new moon. Adam had looked at his wife and then looked down at his child where she lay between them, arms and legs curled up, quiet for once as she slept. “Mimiteh.” Adam rolled the name over his tongue and nodded. “Mimiteh.”
Before—Adam now differentiated between his life as a Cartwright and his life with the Ute with this one solitary word—before, Adam had considered himself to have had a fairly phlegmatic character. Stolid was another way he had described himself. He had never been overtly demonstrative, finding the shared expression of emotion rather uncomfortable. He was not like his little brother Joe, whose fervour could barely be contained on occasion; Joe’s passions had simmered like the hot air in a combustion engine, the pressure building until it had no choice but to burst out of him like the steam from a train’s chimney. Joe had been tactile where Adam was reserved. His brothers would be lucky to get a friendly pat on the shoulder from him sometimes. And his wide toothy smile which reached all the way up to his eyes was so rare that when he shared it, people were taken aback by the transformation in his face from his sometimes dour expression to a face that exuded warmth and light. He knew that he was considered to be impassive, incapable of expressing his feelings, but instead Adam had kept them hidden. It wasn’t for others to know what he was thinking or feeling at every moment of the day.
But all that had changed. He had changed. He already knew that he had become more expressive and demonstrative in the months he had been in the Ute village. But the birth of his daughter had opened up Adam’s heart in a way that he hadn’t expected. The first few months of Mimiteh’s life became one constant see-saw of emotion for Adam as the joys and ravages of fatherhood hit him like a stampeding bull. His emotions ran much closer to the surface now. The pleasure he felt was so much more intense than anything he’d felt previously that it was hard to keep it contained. He shared his emotions more freely, wearing his smile proudly and easily. Privately with Kia, he would not stop his tears, for they were tears of joy, of heartfelt elation, of love so strong that he could not hold them in.
And yet he found himself worrying constantly. Was Mimiteh warm enough? Shouldn’t she sleep in a cradle? Should Kia have her strapped to her back when she’s working over a hot fire? Will they have sufficient food for the coming winter? Was it right to leave them for days on end when on a hunt? There were so many things to think about, to concern himself with. But one by one his concerns were dealt with by Kia or by Cameahwait.
His first job as a father had been to build a cradleboard. Cameahwait sat with him, directing him as he carved the wooden frame and attached the leather straps so that Kia could wear the contraption on her back. Mimiteh was rarely out of Kia’s reach, either secured to her as she gathered herbs and roots from the woodland, or by her side as she worked with the other women preparing food for meals or drying them for their winter stores. The child was swaddled so tightly, that one of Adam’s worries was instantly eliminated: there was no way that Mimiteh would ever be cold.
Being around babies was nothing new to Adam; he had taken care of his younger brothers since they were born. But it was different with his own child. Being able to tend to her needs, no matter how unpleasant, was a satisfaction rather than a chore. When he wasn’t hunting, or involved in some other task in the village, he would bundle her up tightly and with one hand supporting her under her bottom, and the child lying against his chest, he would walk around the village and the woods and down to the creek. And if she was awake he would tell her the names of the trees and the birds, and tell her about her grandfather and her uncles. And if she was asleep, he would lie back on the grass by the water with his daughter on his chest, feeling her tiny heartbeat against his own, and wallow in the profound peace and pleasure that washed through him.
Mimiteh’s first months coincided with the move down to the site of the winter village. This year, the decision was made to move the village to the lowlands after just one or two light sprinklings of snow, before the winter snows took a vigorous hold. Barely a day had passed in the weeks leading up to the move when Adam hadn’t been out hunting. With a tiny child reliant on her mother’s milk, he was determined not to go through the harsh experiences of the previous winter when food had been scarce and they had all needed to endure strict rations to survive. This time he wanted to be sure, in his own mind, that they had enough. So day after day he left at dawn with Cameahwait, Nashoba and Hanska on the hunt for deer, rabbits and squirrels. Their skills were such that they were usually successful, but on those days when they returned empty-handed, Adam would berate himself and the worry would crease his face again at the prospect of the months to come.
But this winter didn’t prove as harsh as the year before. The men were able to get out of their lodges instead of being virtual prisoners, and hours were spent wrapped in several layers of fur smashing holes through the ice that coated the nearby ponds. It was cold and uncomfortable work balancing on a blanket on the ice for hours on end, jiggling a small carved decoy in the water to tempt the larger fish; and then when the target swam to the lure, stabbing down with a spear. But although the fisherman would return to their lodges cold and wet, it was satisfying work, and Adam knew that Kia and Cam and his family would eat well that night.
Mimiteh was a good baby, or perhaps it was because she slept so close to them at night that when she awoke demanding a feed, Kia could quickly put her on the breast and she would settle. Adam had expected these months to have been like Joe’s baby years. He would wake and bawl at a volume that Adam hadn’t thought possible, waking the entire household. He and Hoss would bury their heads under their pillows in the room they shared at that time, waiting for Joe’s mother, Marie, to quieten him down. Mimiteh did possess an incredible pair of lungs, as Adam would learn on many an occasion. But those times when she lay on her back screaming, arms punching out as if taking on the world, when nothing would appease her; or those unfortunate instances when Kia or Adam would find themselves covered with pee —or worse—those times would be outweighed by the laughs and smiles. Adam would tease her by walking behind her with a rattle in his hand whilst she lay on her back, enthralled as she turned her head to follow the sound and movement. And she recognised his voice. Adam’s heart would soar when he entered the lodge and his daughter heard his voice and squealed.
The cold winter months brought another initiation for Adam. The braves who had participated in the attack on the outlaws’ camp had gathered in Cameahwait’s lodge to mark their bodies with a permanent scoring on their skins. A carved line for each man killed.
“You must have the mark, Liwanu, you were a part of the battle.”
Adam had looked up, his brow furrowed in disbelief. “That was no battle, Cameahwait, and I take no pleasure in the death of another.”
Cam shrugged his shoulders.
“And I will not mark my skin with my…kills.”
Cam stayed silent for a while longer, observing the men around them as they sat upright bearing the pain of a sharp implement being driven into their skin.
“This is our way, Liwanu. Are you not Ute now?”
“I…” Adam stopped. He felt like he belonged amongst these people, but there were still some elements of their world that he couldn’t quite reconcile to his old life, and this was one of them.
“It’s not that, Cam,” he said softly. “It’s just…I’ve killed men. But I don’t want to be reminded of it. To me it’s…” Adam could think of the English word, but wasn’t sure how to translate ‘barbaric’ for his friend. “It’s cruel…” He wanted to say savage but knew that would be an insult. “I’m not proud of what I did,” he said softly.
Cam nodded. “Would you wear a mark that showed you were one of us?”
Adam looked up. “What sort of mark?”
Cameahwait made a few scratches in the earth. “One like that.”
Adam looked at the rough design for a few moments, and nodded.
It was an hour of pain, through which Adam did not make a sound. Oh, he wanted to. He wanted to gasp out loud, to grit his teeth. But the only indication of the ordeal was the occasional twinge of his top lip and flaring of his nostrils. The old man who marked him drove the implement into his skin over and over, a succession of dots joining together to create the mark on his chest. Cold soot was rubbed into the indentations, permanently marking his skin. When it was blessedly over, the hour was late and Adam crunched back through the snow to his lodge.
Kia roused from her sleep when he dropped to his furs beside her. As he pulled his tunic over his head and she saw the symbol, she climbed to her knees in front of him, resting one hand lightly on the slope of his neck for balance. With her other hand she lightly fingered the symbol, high on the left side of his chest, the black markings prominent against angry red skin. He winced and pulled her hand away. She gazed in open-mouthed wonder at the face of the bison that adorned her husband’s body. The creature’s brow hung low over black eyes that looked up with a glint of power and strength. Fierce pointed horns curved around the crest of the animal’s head. The beast’s nostrils and small straight mouth drew the eyes down to the tuft of beard that hung at its neck. The artist had done well with his limited tools. Kia had settled back on to her ankles, her hand hovering over the image; she was awed by the vision in front of her.
“The great one…the bison…” she whispered. “You have been honoured, my love.” A fingertip gently touched the inflamed edge of one of the horns, but Adam didn’t pull away. He was stimulated by her touch and the sensation of pain that she had excited in him.
“Cam told me that as well as being a sign that I truly belong here, that this is a symbol of protection.”
Kia’s hands were snaking up to his neck as she rose to her knees. “He will make you strong, my love. This is a sign that you hold power amongst our people.”
And Adam did feel different that night. As the animal bone had torn into his chest time and time again, and the shape of the bison’s head had become more apparent, it was as though the creature itself was entering Adam’s body through each puncture of his skin. The animal’s strength seemed to permeate every muscle of his body. He knew he would feel his old self tomorrow, that he was perhaps a little intoxicated with the adrenaline pumping through his veins, but for now he felt he could wrestle a grizzly bear and the bear would not come out of it well.
Adam caught one of Kia’s hands and raised it to his mouth. And with his eyes fixed on hers he slowly sucked on the tips of her fingers. Then with one fluid motion he flipped her on to her back. They scrambled and fumbled to remove his leggings and their love making that night was rough and unbridled, leaving them both breathing hard to pull air into their lungs as they collapsed back against the blankets. And they had both laughed as they panted and reached out to grasp each other’s hand in the half light of the lodge. Kia couldn’t help but wonder whether they hadn’t made another child that night.
The spring brought rain. The rise in temperature was welcome after the cold months of winter, but torrential rain meant the village was a permanent quagmire. It was impossible to escape the mud. Shoes and leggings were always wet and covered in the slippery, cloying substance. It was impossible to walk from one lodge to another; or to the overflowing ponds to fish or collect water; or into the low lying shrub for reasons of comfort (Comfort! snorted Adam, what I wouldn’t give for the stinking outhouse right now) without ending up wet, filthy and miserable. The mud seemed to claw its way up their clothes and get next to their skin. Kia abandoned her leggings. It was easier to clean her legs in one of the ponds every day than to wear muddy clothes.
Seldom had a day gone by without someone slipping over in the mire. Kia had ended up face down in the mud with Mimiteh fastened to her back. The child had let out a long wailing scream from the shock of the fall but was otherwise unhurt. It was only Kia’s dignity which was injured. Once Adam and the other villagers had heaved her to her feet again she had stood there with her arms held out to the sides, mud dripping from her hair down to her toes to the tips of her fingers. The expected sympathy from Adam had not been forthcoming; he had doubled over with laughter at the sight of his mud-soaked wife. She had glared at him, the whites of her eyes shining through the dark glistening mud. And when he didn’t stop, she had shouted at him and pushed him. She turned away leaving him shaking with laughter and gingerly started to walk in the direction of the ponds, her cold damp dress flapping uncomfortably around her legs. After he had composed himself, Adam had taken Mimiteh from Luyu, strapped her to his back, grabbed some blankets and a fresh dress from their lodge and carefully followed Kia. She allowed him to assist her as she plunged into the icy cold water but refused to show the pleasure she felt as he roughly rubbed her down with a blanket to get her dry and warm. She settled a look of annoyance on her face for the rest of the day and refused to say another word to Adam until they awoke the next morning.
For one who had once been so fastidious in his appearance, these weeks were highly unpleasant for Adam. He managed to shave every morning, an easier proposition since the previous spring when a visit to the trading post had resulted in a mirror and soap. But he had learned not to have Mimiteh anywhere near him when he did so. She was endlessly curious, constantly reaching out for anything and everything around her. And since she had learned to sit upright by herself, she had grown impatient to do more and before long was lunging forward in an attempt to move or grab something that had caught her interest. Thus a moment of distraction on Adam’s part had almost resulted in a tiny fist grabbing the deadly razor that Adam had only just placed on the ground. An expletive escaped his lips as he gently uncurled his daughter’s tiny grip from the razor’s handle and removed the offending object out of her reach. There had been tears of indignation. But a cuddle from her half-shaved father and a large comforting hand across her back and a gentle rocking motion had stayed the child’s tears. And as he placed Mimiteh down on the blankets next to her mother, the tears had dried up and the incident immediately forgotten as the fringe on Kia’s dress grabbed her attention. Yes, Adam was learning the hard way that now his daughter was no longer swaddled in the cradleboard, and could reach and grip, he had to have eyes in the back of his head.
Despite the rains, spring was a time of renewal and new life. Once again the valley walls became a sea of colour as the wildflowers erupted from the earth. Adam would take Mimiteh to stand amongst the flowers, leaning over her, holding her hands up high as wobbly legs supported her weight. The buds were too much of a distraction though; one hand would pull out of her father’s grip as she reached for a brightly coloured bloom and she’d topple to the warm earth, fingers crushing fragile petals. But now that the snows and hard rains had passed this was a time to hunt for larger game, and precious moments that could be spent with his daughter were few.
With the coming of summer, the village would once more move back to its high camp but before preparations could be made, the regular life of the village was disrupted by the arrival of a small party of Indians. They rode in hard one morning, their beasts’ heads hanging low from fatigue and foaming with sweat. The party of half a dozen braves were led by a warrior of about Adam’s age. His was a young face, aged prematurely with the lines of leadership. A prominent jaw made it look like he wore a permanent scowl, a feature emphasised by the three vertical lines scored into his chin. The characteristic high cheekbones of his people drew attention to ink black eyes which lacked warmth, seeming to carry a look of perpetual contempt for everything and everyone. His hair was worn in the customary style of the Ute, pulled back behind the ears and braided on either side at the nape of his neck. He barked orders at his men, and his clothing, a martial style jacket with epaulettes on the shoulder and a hat resembling a gentleman’s top hat, made his bearing all the more like that of a military commander. His name was Matwau. He demanded to see the leaders of the village and was led to the lodge where Otetiani resided.
It was many hours following their arrival that Adam and Cameahwait walked back into camp after a day of hunting. It had not been a successful day, with several kills escaping them. Hot, sticky and somewhat bad tempered the two men had thrown down their weapons at Cameahwait’s lodge and had just folded their exhausted bodies to the ground when they were summoned to Otetiani’s tepee. With heavy sighs they heaved themselves back to their feet and followed the young messenger through the village. He explained about the visitors and when Cameahwait heard the name of their leader, he bristled.
“A warrior from a village, many, many days from here,” he explained to Adam. “He is like a wild cat; his claws, they want to scratch.” Cam sneered in disgust. “And always ready to pounce.”
Cameahwait flung back the tepee’s hide with force and entered, but Wanekia stopped Adam at the entrance with a hand to his chest. She had been in the lodge for much of the day providing food to the men who debated and smoked around the fire.
“You should not go in, my husband,” she whispered. “They speak of taking war to the white man.”
Adam nodded and patted his wife’s hand, but after a pause he followed Cameahwait into the lodge.
Although the day was warm the fire burned within. The lodge was hot from the mass of bodies that sat cross-legged on the floor, shoulder to shoulder with their neighbour. Adam waited a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the dark smoky air before locating Cam and walking carefully behind the men’s backs to squeeze into the space next to him.
Matwau had noticed Adam the moment he entered the lodge. He had shifted his position in an instant, his relaxed back become stiff, his knee drawn up in front of him as if ready to strike. His eyes had narrowed into slits as he followed Adam’s movements.
“So, the words that are heard on the wind are true; a white dog fouls your village.”
There was immediate commotion, voices raised in indignation and anger; men were ready to rise to their feet, glaring at each through the smoke of the fire, hands hovering over knives, ready to pull weapons. Adam didn’t move; he merely watched Matwau whose eyes were driving into Adam with contempt.
Matwau spat into the fire. “He does not even understand my words; just like a white man, stupid like the dumb cattle they bring to infest our land.”
Adam’s heavy-lidded eyes blinked slowly as he lowered his gaze to the fire. “I understand your words,” he said softly, “but they are the words of a pup. I choose not to hear them.”
Matwau was on his feet, his men close behind. Cameahwait moved to intercept, the villagers pulling knives from their sheaths. There was shouting, arms gesticulating as tempers rose. But a calm voice sliced through the clamour, quieting the angry shouts. Otetiani hadn’t moved from his place. He still sat cross-legged; his gaze never left the flames in front of him. He held his arm up, palm facing forward and spoke just one word. “Enough.” And it was enough, enough to cool the hot tempers. Men on both sides of the fire resumed their places on the ground, slowly crossing their legs, sheathing their knives. But Matwau refused to take his eyes from Adam, who had stayed silent through the uproar. The warrior pulled his eyes away and spoke directly to Otetiani, his tone angry. “It is an insult to our people for you to let this…dog…live amongst you.”
Otetiani turned his head towards the young hothead and in his usual slow, deliberate way, responded to Matwau’s words.
“It is you who offend, Matwau. You eat the food we prepare, you have smoked from our pipe. But you shame us with your words. Liwanu is Ute. His white blood was purged. He is protected by the Great Spirit, as are all of us. As are you.”
Matwau’s nostrils flared in anger but he stayed silent. Otetiani turned his head to the other men. “The Great Spirit will punish those who bring such words to our fire. You will say them no more.”
He turned back to Matwau. “But I will hear again the words that bring sorrow to my heart. My nephew must hear these words.”
Adam and Cameahwait listened with unease as Matwau related the news that he had brought to the village.
“The white man comes. More and more of them. More than all the birds in the sky, more even than all the fish in the rivers. They come and build their wooden houses on our hunting lands. They cut the trees from the forest. And now they stop our people from returning to the gathering places. Many people in the lands beyond the great lake have been taken as they were about to journey to their summer villages. Instead they have been taken far away, to new land and told they must stay. They must not leave to hunt, to gather. This land is the land the white man does not want for himself.”
Matwau’s eyes briefly strayed to where Adam was sitting, but he pulled them away, aware of Otetiani’s earlier words of censure.
“They will come for us next. But we cannot let it happen. The white man has to be stopped!” he barked out the words with vehemence, staring at every man in turn. “We must gather together, as one we are strong. Together we can drive these yellow-eyed devils from our land.” He glared at his audience.
There were murmurings amongst the men as each man turned to his neighbour, wondering at the visitor’s words. A quiet voice brought silence to the gathering.
“Matwau speaks true,” said Adam, nodding his head slowly, indicating the warrior who had raised himself off the ground, his backside resting on a heel, knee bent in front, as if ready to spring. “The white man is like the wasp that swarms, one of too many to count. And he will keep on coming, he will not stop.” Adam ignored Matwau, casting his words at Otetiani and Cameahwait. “You cannot stop him. You kill one, two will come to take his place.”
Matwau twisted around, leaning into the circle of men. He glared at them as he pointed at Adam.
“The white man seeks to save his own people. The white man cannot speak the truth, he only talks in lies.”
Cameahwait jumped to the balls of his feet, crouching low, his eyes black with fury.
“You go too far, Matwau. You call him a liar, you answer to me…for it was I who brought him to the village. Liwanu speaks the truth.”
Adam gripped Cameahwait’s arm to stop him before he should say anything else.
“If you make war on the white man, they will send soldiers with…” He paused. How did one say cannon in Ute? “…giant weapons made of metal, where one shot will kill many all at once. There will be no body left for you to bury. These weapons will make your body…disappear.” Adam curled his fingers together and splayed them wide as if demonstrating an explosion. “Is that what you want?”
He looked back at Otetiani. “If we fight, they will come. And they will kill every man, woman and child.” Adam’s heart was racing. Kia. Mimiteh. What would happen to them? They were his life. He couldn’t risk anything happening to them. “We must leave tomorrow, go to the summer camp. We will be safe up there. And if the white man comes, I can talk to him. We need time.”
There was silence in the lodge. All eyes turned to Otetiani, except Matwau. Matwau stared hard at Adam, contempt for the white dog hardening his soul.
“Please, Otetiani.” Adam’s beseeching plea was strained.
Otetiani sat and contemplated. He stared into the smoke as if he would find the answer there.
“We will leave for the high camp when the sun rises.”
Adam released a breath he didn’t realise he was holding. The men started to rise to their feet; there was much to do in what daylight hours remained. Matwau and his men swept from the lodge, and as Adam and Cameahwait ducked through the entrance, blinking into the light, they watched as their visitors vaulted on to their ponies and spurred them into motion, thundering out of the camp without a backwards look.
“I have a feeling that’s not the last we’ll see of that one,” said Adam wryly.
The villagers were subdued that night. As Adam and his small family sat with Cameahwait and his brood and consumed their evening meal, the adults struggled to keep the worry from their voices. Adam had known about Indian reservations for a long time, yet he was shocked to hear that the Ute were now being affected by the enforced removal from their ancestral lands. It was only a matter of time before the army would come. And then what would happen? His friends and his family would be forced to live on poor land; it would become a struggle for survival. Adam knew he could leave, he could take Kia and Mimiteh, take a job on a ranch, earn enough money to buy a plot of land. But could he abandon his friends? Cameahwait, Luyu, little Yazhi, Otetiani? He knew he couldn’t. The future suddenly seemed very uncertain. But first they had to deal with the long trek to the high country. They needed to move fast, leaving no trace, no trail to follow.
Adam looked down at Mimiteh lying fast asleep on his lap, her head leaning back against one of his thighs. She was angled towards his stomach, her feet resting on his opposite leg. Adam rested his hand gently on her chest feeling the rise and fall of her lungs as she breathed. Her heartbeat was strong beneath his palm. And as he looked at his daughter, he knew he would do everything in the world to keep her from harm. And keeping her safe meant keeping her with the people who were her family. Cameahwait was no blood relation, but he was like an uncle to her, and his children would be akin to cousins. Otetiani treated her like a granddaughter. So keeping Mimiteh safe would involve keeping his friends safe. And Adam was at a loss to work out what they needed to do. He suddenly needed air. He carefully handed his daughter over to her mother, but as he was moving to rise from the ground, he paused and turned back. Putting his hand on the back of Kia’s neck he drew her towards him. Initially surprised by his kiss in the company of others, she soon forgot her shyness, responding in kind for the few moments that they were joined. They parted as the children started to titter. With one last stroke of Mimiteh’s cheek, he left the lodge, breathing deeply of the warm, early summer air. He glanced over at his lodge, barely discernible as clouds slipped across the moon. He wondered whether this would be the last time he would sleep in this lovely valley. When they left in the morning, would it be for the last time? Would they be able to return next fall? Where would they even be next fall? He sighed deeply, lowered his head and pinched the top of his nose as these thoughts crowded his mind.
He never saw the man who emerged like a shadow from the darkness, bludgeoning him with a club at the base of his skull. A quiet grunt escaped him as he fell. It was the strike of a skilful fighter, one who knew that the victim would fall with minimal sound, instantly unconscious. As rough hands picked him up and dragged him away into the darkness, any trace of Adam or his assailants were efficiently erased. When Adam’s disappearance was discovered by the village, it was as though he had vanished into thin air.
Adam came to with a jolt, his head jerking off the ground where he lay crumpled on his stomach; grit studded his tongue from where his mouth had hung open against the rocky ground. He spat into the dirt and a shooting pain shot across his skull. The acute stabbing at the back of his head spread like crawling ants over the crown of his skull, settling in a dull ache behind his brow. He closed his eyes quickly, his eyebrows pulling in, forehead creased, trying to shut out the throb, and lowered his head slowly back to the ground. He started to move his hand up to assess the damage. But his hands wouldn’t move. They were secured together behind his back, as were his ankles. Adam raised his head again, slower this time and squinted out through eyes shadowed with pain.
How long had he been out? It was daylight, how late in the day he couldn’t tell. But it was warm, almost hot, so the hour must be fairly advanced. He was thirsty, his body was craving water. If he was taken last night he shouldn’t be this thirsty, surely? And was he alone? He lifted his head higher, gritting his teeth against the stab at the base of his skull, and heaved it around until he was facing the other direction. He let his head drop again. His vision was blurry but he could make out shapes nearby. Indians. He could tell from their postures. And then one was rising to his feet and walking towards him, and Adam could make out the shape of a tall hat on the man’s head. Matwau.
Matwau used his foot to nudge Adam over onto his back and then crouched down next to him. Adam groaned as his skull hit the hard earth. His vision cleared and he saw the face of the young warrior.
“The dog wakes from his slumber.”
Adam heard laughter from the other men.
“What…?” Adam’s throat was dry. He attempted to clear his throat, started again. “What do you want with me, Matwau?”
The Ute leaned in over Adam. “I want nothing of you, white man. There is nothing the yellow eyed devil has that I want.” He rose to his feet, turned away.
“Then why am I here?” Adam needed water; his words were starting to catch at the back of his throat. Just how long had he been out?
Matwau turned back to him and once more crouched by his side.
“You are a white man. You do not belong with my people. They say you were purified, that your white blood was taken from your body, but they do not see that a white man’s wicked blood will always flow within him. It is impure, rotten, corrupt.”
He jumped to his feet again, pacing around Adam like a cat. Adam’s head followed his movements. He swallowed hard when he saw Matwau un-sheath his knife and stroke the blade between his fingers.
“You’re gonna kill me?”
“I was,” Matwau stopped pacing and leaned across Adam, yanking his tunic collar down and ripping it in his violence, “until I saw that.”
Half of Adam’s tattoo peeped out from beneath his tunic. An angry black eye stared blankly up at the Indian who, in disgust, snatched the tunic back to cover the bison’s image.
“You are protected by the spirits. I cannot kill you.”
“Then what are you going to do with me?” Adam asked the question softly, visions of torture at the hands of his crazed man making him feel nausea at the back of his throat.
“If I cannot kill you, then the desert will.” And suddenly Adam’s sight went black and his head lurched to one side as the handle of Matwau’s knife connected with his temple.
It was the sun on the back of his head that woke him. Hot. Burning his hair and scalp. This time he came around slowly, a gradual awareness of blistering heat beneath his face and body, of a scorching whiteness that kept his eyes squeezed shut, of a thirst that made it a struggle to swallow. His hair had come loose, falling over his face and getting in his eyes. He shook his head to move the loose strands from his face, but that only served to start a severe throbbing at the back of his skull coupled with a new pain, a sharp stabbing at his temple. His memory came back slowly. Matwau. Suddenly alarmed, he forced his eyes open and swung over on to his back. The white light blinded him but he had to see. With eyes like black gashes on his face, he squinted through his barely open lids. He was alone. And he was in the desert. And this wasn’t the rocky desert with ridges and canyons, boulders where he could find shade. This was flat, white, hard earth. Flat as far as the eye could see, with just a low line of mountains in the far distance. So far away. He’d never make it. Not without water. And not with his wrists and ankles tied.
Adam lay back. It was hard to think beyond the thirst; and the pain that was returning to his head with a vengeance. He had to free his feet. He stood no chance otherwise. Gently he manoeuvred himself on to his side, the earth burning beneath his body. He tried desperately to pull his ankles up behind him to where his hands were, but they just didn’t seem to reach. He could feel the skin beneath his bindings tearing as he twisted. His contortions began to wrench muscles that weren’t used to being used in such a manner and he collapsed back to the ground, panting from the mild exertions. He’d have to try another way. He forced himself up on to his knees. Bending his shoulders back as far as they would go without him losing his balance, he blindly grabbed for the straps holding his ankles together. His sightless groping pulled at the muscles in his arms but he just couldn’t get a grip on the thin hide. Suddenly he managed to get the very tip of a finger under one of the straps. He paused, relaxed his muscles a little. Stay calm, old son. He pushed further down but the straps were so tight that he couldn’t get any purchase. He winced as he rubbed against his torn skin. And then his finger slipped free. Adam bellowed in frustration. He tried again and again, but after several attempts his fingers were beginning to feel like sausages, the skin tight over his flesh, the blood pounding behind his nails.
He sat back on his ankles, his head falling forward as he tried to think. It was so hard. The pounding in his head made it difficult to concentrate. A rock! If he could find a rock somehow maybe he could saw through the straps. He looked around him, scanning the white expanse. He nudged along on his backside reaching out with his long fingers to grip any rock that looked like it may have a sharp edge. One caught his eye. It was the size of a fist, pointed at one end. He dropped to his side, desperately snaking across the desert floor. He positioned himself next to it, picked it up, felt along the edge. This may do. But it was hard to get a good grip. He tried sawing upwards to try and cut the bonds around his wrists but it was impossible. He dropped the rock. Cursed. Grabbed it again. He tried the straps at his ankles, but again his swollen fingers made it hard to keep the rock within his grasp. He thought he had a good hold and started to move the rock edge over the strap. Over and over. It hurt like hell. The straps in his wrist were biting into his skin. He could feel the skin tear, blood welling up. His hands grew slippery, but he managed to keep a hold of the rock. He twisted his head around trying to see what progress he had made. The bonds seemed as tight as ever. He grimaced as he tried to pull his ankles apart, hoping beyond chance that he’d cut a weakness into the hide and it would snap apart. There was no give. And then Adam dropped the rock. Goddammit! He fell back to his side.
Desperation and panic were starting to take over. He could barely think with his head growing worse by the second. Dehydration. Adam’s rational mind conjured up the word. Dehydration. He had no water in him, he couldn’t sweat and it was making his head worse. If his body couldn’t combat the heat, he would die. Somehow he forced himself upright, staring at the low ridge of mountains in the distance. So far away. But he needed to get there. Because there would be water. And if he didn’t get water in him soon, he wouldn’t survive. And he needed to survive…for Kia. For Mimiteh. And as thoughts of his wife and child intruded into his mind, Adam’s panic started to take hold. He managed to get himself to his feet, somehow keeping his balance with his ankles bound together as they were. His head reeled with dizziness. He jumped, both feet in the air and landed upright. A wild, slightly hysterical laugh escaped his lips. He could do this. He jumped again. And fell hard to the ground. For a moment he just lay there, breathing hard, not even noticing the sharp grit digging into the skin of his face. And then he lifted his head and roared. He roared with frustration, anger, desperation. But most of all he roared out of sheer terror that he’d not see his wife’s beautiful face again or hear the sweet laughter of his child. He lowered his head, his hair covering his face where it pressed against the earth. As he closed his eyes, a lone tear furrowed a track through the dirt that covered his face.
He roused when he felt himself being turned over and lifted into a seated position, his eyes squinting against the harsh glare of the sunlight. His arms were forced up behind him and he felt a cool knife against his skin, slicing through the rawhide that bound his wrists. As his ankles were freed, he carefully rolled his shoulders forward, groaning as his stiff muscles protested. He raised his head slightly, daring to half open his eyes but the glaring light was like a thousand pins stabbing into his pupils so he squeezed them shut and dropped his head. But then he felt a canteen being pushed into his grip. After a moment of doubt and confusion he heard the slosh of water and recognised the weight in his hand. He swiftly but unsteadily up-ended the container to let that delicious fluid pour down his throat. And even though it was lukewarm and tasted like the inside of the barrel in which it was kept, it was the most wonderful water that Adam had ever tasted. They had to pull it away to stop him from making himself sick.
His unknown helpers got him to his feet but his legs buckled beneath him so he was half carried, half dragged to a wagon where uniformed arms pulled him up into blessed shade. He could feel wooden planking beneath his fingers. Nausea was building from the pain in his head and he realised he hadn’t eaten in…he didn’t know how long. Hands roughly pushed his head forward to feel the swelling at the back of his head; an action that made Adam shrink away and lash out to stop the painful prodding. His head was then pushed to one side and his hair roughly brushed off his face to study the bruise and laceration at his temple. He heard a gasp, someone saying “Good God!” and then gentler hands helped him to lie back on a pile of gunny sacks and he was left alone. He forced his eyes open, the welcome shade of the wagon letting his pupils adjust less painfully. He could hear the murmur of voices outside the wagon. Snatches of conversation filtered through the hot air.
“…not an Indian…” The voice was well spoken, sounded educated, young. The response was muffled; Adam guessed the voice’s owner had his back to the wagon.
“Well, he was clearly a prisoner.” The educated voice again. Adam strained to hear the garbled response, but his head ached from the beating it had received and he was just so relieved to be off the desert floor, out of the killing sun. He lay back carefully, squeezing his eyes closed to shut out the constant throbbing behind his eyes, and the feeling of sickness in the back of his throat. He felt so tired. His limbs were starting to feel like dead weights. The voices continued but it was too much effort to try and listen, even though they were talking about him.
He became aware of movement, the wagon pitching slightly to one side and then the sound of someone sitting on a wooden box next to him. He felt a hand briefly touch his shoulder, enough to make him turn his head sluggishly and open his eyes. He lifted his hand to his forehead, an effort in itself, and gingerly felt the lump at his temple. He winced when he pressed it.
“Well now…” It was the young educated voice. Adam blinked slowly in his direction and took in the man seated next to him. He was army, smartly dressed, his coat buttoned to the neck even in the hot dry heat of the desert. He was covered in a thin layer of dusty sand yet his hair was neatly slicked back, his hat positioned correctly on his head. And the way he sat, so upright, chest out, hand resting solidly on his thigh, elbow pointing outward, well, Adam’s mouth rose slightly at the corner and he quietly snorted. What an exhibition of pride, what a vain waste of effort to take such care in his deportment, out here, in the middle of hell. Yet he recognised a semblance of his old self in the man, that desire to be well turned out, no matter the circumstances or whereabouts. He closed his eyes again and laid his head back.
“My name is Lieutenant Dean, 4th Regiment, Humboldt Volunteers. Can you tell me your name?”
Adam shook his head slightly. He suddenly felt exhausted, too tired to even think, certainly not to talk. His eyelids felt heavy, it was an effort to try and open them.
“Do you know how you came to be out here? Who left you in the desert?”
Adam’s tired mind found a name. “Matwau.” It was more of a whisper, breathed on a sigh.
There was scuffling and the wagon pitched again. A gruffer voice spoke. “Injun.”
“You were held prisoner…by this…Matwau?”
Adam shook his head again slowly. “No…” The words were a struggle. “He…took me…left me to die.”
A hand patted his leg.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you back where you belong. You just rest, I’ll arrange for you to have some food and water.”
The wagon swayed, there was movement and he heard the scuffling sounds of feet landing on sand. “Brace, get this man some provisions, he looks half starved. Barclay, we’re moving out, ready the teams.”
The words broke through Adam’s fatigue. He forced himself up off the sacks, leaning his hand for support against the box that Dean had been sitting on.
“Where…where are you taking me?”
Dean reappeared at the wagon’s rear. He put a canteen of water and a plate of hardtack and dried beef by Adam’s feet and pulled the wooden tailgate up to close it.
“We’re on our way back to our garrison, should be there in a few days.” The tailgate securely fastened, leaned over. “Don’t worry, you’re safe now, we’ll get you to our barracks and then home to your family.”
He moved out of sight leaving Adam breathing heavily. “No, I’ve got to…I’ve got…” His voice was lost in the rumble of the wagon wheels as the vehicle stirred into motion. He fell back against the gunny sacks, the ache in his head and behind his eyes, along with his exhaustion taking its toll. He succumbed to sleep, mumbling, “need to go back…”
It was the light that Adam noticed first. It was a dusky purple, filtering through the wagon’s canopy; a gap in the material throwing a warm strip of flame across his body where he lay sprawled on his back. And the wagon was still. He must have slept for hours for the sun had lost its burning heat and appeared to be almost level with the flat earth. It was dusk in the desert. He blinked a few times, raising his head slowly. The ceaseless throbbing had faded, leaving just the sharp ache at his temple and base of his skull, but he could live with that. His stomach had also settled and when he spotted the food by the tailgate he shuffled over to it on his backside and chewed gratefully on the jerky. He peered over the tailgate as he ate, for the first time properly noticing the people who had rescued him.
He could see three wagons in a rough circle. A fire was burning in the centre, and a small troop of dusty, unkempt soldiers were seated around the blaze. Some were biting into hardtack in such a way as to avoid breaking their teeth; others were spooning up what looked like beans which had been cooked over the fire. Most sat huddled forward, shoulders displaying resignation and weariness. An older man stood apart from them. He didn’t wear the military uniform that the other men did; rather he was dressed in civilian clothing. He was unshaven, choppy dark hair held back from his face by a floppy wide brimmed hat. His trousers were fringed on either side and tucked into knee high boots. A fringed jacket hung over a belt of ammunition, a revolver casually tucked in over his navel. And Adam saw that when he moved, he limped; with each step he dragged his crippled foot off the ground to flop it back down again. The young officer also sat apart from his men; his back was straight as he sat on a wooden box, next to one of the wagons, with a book open in one hand and a pipe in the other.
Adam moved away from the tailgate to the front of the wagon as silently as he could. The sleep and the water had brought strength back to his muscles so he was able to move lightly. He peered through the gap in the canopy. He could see the mules and a handful of horses, hobbled for the night to stop them from wandering. If he could get to one of the horses…
A voice behind him made him jump.
“See ya woken up.” It was the civilian. “How’s ya head?”
Adam moved away from where he had been crouching on one knee observing the horses, and settled back on the gunny sacks. He pulled his plate of food towards him.
“Well, that’s what ya get when someone cracks ya a coupla times across ya noggin.” The man lowered half of the tailgate down so he could lean his forearms across it.
“Care ta tell me ya name?”
Adam ignored the question. He took a swig of water from the canteen. “Where are you taking me?”
The man looked down at his feet before raising his head to look back at Adam.
“Well, right as not, we’re goin’ on back ta the garrison, you’ll get some doctorin’ there.”
Adam’s head shot up. “Fort Nash?” he exclaimed. It couldn’t be. He couldn’t have been taken that far by Matwau. “Nevada?”
“Well sure, where’d ya think ya was?”
Adam dropped his plate. Before Bill could even blink Adam had scrambled on his hands and knees over to the tailgate where he grabbed Bill’s collar.
“I’ve gotta go back, you’ve gotta take me back.”
Bill pulled Adam’s hands off his jacket and pushed him back.
“What’s so darn important back wherever it is ya gotta go?” Adam wasn’t given a chance to answer. The commotion had attracted attention. Men around the campfire were looking in their direction and Lieutenant Dean had risen to his feet, placing the book on the box he’d just vacated and walking over to the two men.
“What’s the trouble, Bill?”
Adam sat back on his rear where he’d been pushed by Bill. Wild eyes flicked desperately to the young officer.
“You’ve got to let me go, I need to get back to the mountains, the eastern mountains.”
“You want us to take you across the territorial line, into Utah?” The young officer shook his head. “I’m afraid that’s quite out of the question.”
“You don’t understand…”
“I’m afraid it’s you who don’t understand. We’ve been out on this patrol for the last week and a half. We can’t just detour off towards Utah, it’d take us days out of our way. We don’t have enough food to last us that long, or the guarantee of available water.”
Adam sat back, shaking his head. He looked back to the young man.
“Then let me go. Give me a horse. Please. I need to go back.”
“I can’t just give you a horse. And besides, how far would you get? You wouldn’t make it a day out there. I’m not going to be held responsible for you killing yourself.”
“It’s my choice.” Adam’s voice hissed through gritted teeth.
“No, it’s not.” Dean drew himself up. “You’re my responsibility now. We’re taking you back to Fort Nash. We’ll have a doctor look at you and…” he looked Adam up and down, “and get you some decent clothing.”
Adam sat back. He didn’t take his eyes off the lieutenant and as his eyebrows slowly drew together, his unblinking eyes drew dark. Decent clothing. Adam felt the insult as if he had been born Ute. And then, before he had even contemplated the consequences of his actions, he had scrambled swiftly to his feet and used the tailgate to propel himself off, hurling himself past the two men. He landed hard on his hands and knees but wasted no time in clawing his way to his feet. He never quite regained his balance though and as he heaved himself up off the ground he tumbled forward on to the sand. He could hear shouts and feel hands grabbing him. Then his arms were being forced out to either side and he was pinned to the ground by the weight of several men. With hands holding on to him tightly, he was pulled to his feet and yanked over to where the lieutenant stood by the tailgate.
“A fairly pointless endeavour, don’t you think? I didn’t want to secure you to the wagon but you’ve proved you can’t be trusted.” He nodded to the two men who had Adam’s arms outstretched between them. They started to move him towards the wagon when Adam spoke. They were soft words of a language that Dean didn’t understand. He spat them out, his eyes flashing beneath the straggly dark hair which had fallen across his face, though not enough to hide the venom that spewed forth from his lips. And the words didn’t stop as he was hauled back up into the wagon and his hands tied to the metal circle in the wagon floor.
“What’s he saying?” he asked Bill.
“Ya really don’t wanna know, lieutenant. It ain’t for discriminatin’ ears.”
The skin on Adam’s wrists stung where the rope rubbed against his lacerations. He shifted forward in an attempt to move the rope to a part of his wrist which didn’t smart so much, and to ease the pressure on his sore arm muscles.
It had been three days since he’d been discovered in the desert, and he assumed it was probably double that since he’d been taken from the village, from Kia and Mimiteh. He knew his behaviour had warranted the treatment that had been dealt out to him. His despair at learning he was so far away from his home, and of being told they wouldn’t let him go, had resulted in a thoughtless attempt to escape and his resulting confinement. His anger had spilled over into a desire to make life as difficult as possible for his rescuers-cum-captors. He hoped the more disruptive he was, the more likely they would be to let him go; after all, he wasn’t an Indian, so they had no real right to hold him. But his plans had backfired, leaving him even more infuriated. He was also exhausted; keeping up a near constant barrage of abuse and bashing the sides of the wagon was painful and wearing. But he didn’t care. If these people were set on treating him like a savage, then he’d act like one.
But then Bill Half-Foot had climbed into the back of the wagon. And although determined at first to ignore anything he had to say, there was something about him that broke through the wall that Adam had built. For the first time since he’d been wrenched apart from his old Cartwright life, he heard a sympathetic voice in one of his own kind. And there was something else too. When Bill had exclaimed out of sheer frustration at Adam’s obstinacy, Adam had been struck dumb as he’d been forcibly and shockingly reminded of Hoss. Adam had got used to the loss of his family; memories of them no longer generated the debilitating sorrow and grief that he had once had to endure. But the curse, the tone of voice, it had rocked him to the core. He had had to turn his head away quickly out of fear that Bill would see the tears that threatened to well up. And there was something about the older man that reminded Adam of his father; that brought to mind Ben’s inherent compassion for others. And so Adam found himself able to open up to Bill Half-Foot, and he started to share the basics of his story. He had related how his family had been killed in an attack on a wagon train and how a lone Ute had rescued him from almost certain death.
“Strange, that,” Bill had said, “they mostly just leave the white folk to die.”
Adam wasn’t sure how much to tell him, but he felt he could trust Bill. “He said he…saw…something in me; that I was important somehow.”
“Huh. And why was ya important to ‘im?”
Adam smiled wryly and puffed a breath out through his nose. “I don’t think he ever found out, but by then it was too late, I was…family…to him.”
“Uh-huh.” Bill smiled and nodded knowingly. “Ya married one of ‘em.”
Adam had been staring at the bindings around his ankles, gently moving his feet to ease the soreness of his skin. He looked up at Bill and nodded once. Bill noticed his eyes cloud over with pain, a sense of loss pervading his expression.
Adam spoke, quietly. “You understand now, why I need to go back.”
Bill nodded. “Yes, son, I think I do.”
Bill’s initial assessment of this man had changed in the hours he had been sitting with him in the back of the rumbling wagon. He had thought him wild, uncontrollable; that he had adopted the very worst traits of the savage. Bill understood this well. It was something that he himself could so easily have done if he had stayed with his mother’s people. What a temptation it would have been to leave the so-called civilised world behind, and turn one’s back on the rules that governed enlightened society. Bill could have chosen to live in the wilds, following the seasons, fighting against those people who refused the Indians access to their ancestral hunting grounds, or who tried to force their religion on them. He had thought he was looking at a man who had integrated so entirely into the Ute culture that his own culture had been suppressed. But whilst talking to him, he realised he had been wrong. Adam’s aggression had been born of desperation, his anguished need to return to his wife. Bill felt a touch of envy that Adam’s love for his woman was so strong that he was willing to risk stealing a horse—a hanging offence in these parts—and brave the hazards of the desert to get back to her.
Bill felt a need to help this young man. He wished now that he hadn’t made the suggestion to hand him over to the nearest sheriff’s office. If they’d have taken him back to the fort, he could have taken Adam under his wing, requested a leave of absence from his duties and perhaps gone back to try and find the village that this man called home. But it was too late now. They had already detoured off their usual route and Lieutenant Dean was unlikely to deviate once more on the whim of his civilian aide.
“Where’s ya village, son?”
“I can’t tell you that.” Adam’s reply was blunt, his tone harsh.
“Cain’t or won’t?”
“You’re army. I’m not foolish enough to tell you where my village is so that you can round them up and put them on a reservation.”
Bill’s head dropped. It was a fair answer. He raised his head to look back at Adam. He felt a need to offer some form of hope to him.
“You’ll get back, son, I know ya will. You’ll get back ta ya woman.” He leaned forward and patted Adam on the leg. “You just look up ol’ Bill here, Fort Nash, we’ll get ya back.”
Adam gave him a searching look and then raised his head in a nod.
Bill patted Adam’s leg again and shuffled back into his corner. He watched as Adam made himself as comfortable as he could with his arms pulled back behind him, leaning one shoulder against the wagon and letting his head drop against the wood. No more words were exchanged as both men sat, lost in their own worlds and contemplations.
It had been a long hard ride for Ben Cartwright. And as he crested a low ridge and saw the small town of Darwin lying in the dust bowl ahead of him, his breath hitched in his throat as his heart began to unconsciously beat faster. He leant forward, closing his eyes as his hands clung to the pommel of his saddle.
He heard the tread of a horse and felt a hand placed on his thigh. “Pa?”
Ben raised his head, taking a deep breath, and looked into the blue eyes of his middle boy. “I’m okay, son.” He straightened his shoulders. “Just tired after the ride.”
Hoss took in the sight before him. Darwin sat on the edge of the desert, a white dusty town that had begun its existence as the result of a way station which was established on the intersection of two roads. The way station was soon followed by a trading post. And when a lone prospector, one John Darwin, took his chance in the surrounding low hills and came across a seam of silver, the town expanded with a rapid influx of men keen to strike it lucky themselves. And with the miners came the saloons and the merchants and the barber shops. In most cases the tradesmen became more prosperous than the miners, but nevertheless, a town had been born and whilst silver was being found in the hills, its location in this inhospitable part of the territory was guaranteed.
Hoss gazed at the rough-hewn buildings and knew that it was more than just fatigue which was wearing his father down.
“Is that all, Pa?”
They were interrupted by the arrival at their rear of Joe, dragging a packhorse behind him up the slope. He pulled up next to them and viewed the town.
“Darwin.” Ben exhaled the word on a breath.
It seemed like weeks since Roy Coffee had ridden at speed up to the Ponderosa ranch house, when in fact it had only been five days. Roy had pulled back hard on the reins, pulling his weary, sweating horse to a stumbling halt, before alighting at a pace more befitting to his advancing age and aching muscles. Ben had met his friend at the door with a welcoming smile and handshake, but as Roy wordlessly handed over the wire, he had paled as he read the printed words before him. Man calling himself Adam STOP found in desert STOP Report Darwin, Nevada Territory. Roy had explained that he often got reports wired through to look out for missing people, and on occasion received notification of people who been found under unusual circumstances. He himself wired a network of towns within the territory about people who had ended up in his office; more often than not they were the victims of Indian attacks, and typically they were children. But it wasn’t unknown for wires to be sent out about adults, drifters usually. And when this one had been delivered to his office by the unusually breathless telegraph operator, Roy had done as the operator had just done and run for his horse. Within hours, Ben, Hoss and Joe were on their way to Darwin.
They were now minutes from their destination, but Ben found he couldn’t kick his horse into forward motion. He had been in this position before: a possible sighting, a man fitting the description of, a corpse in an undertaker’s. In the first few months of Adam’s disappearance he had raced to each new place from where news had emerged that someone fitting the description of Adam Cartwright had been spotted. And each time he had been disappointed, returning home dejected and deflated. As the months had passed and the sightings had become fewer, Ben had tried to convince himself that his son was dead, that he had been taken by the outlaws who had caused such death and suffering in Juniper Gorge: taken, killed and then buried in a shallow grave. But the idea of Adam lying alone in the earth had given Ben nightmares. He would wake shaking in the night as images of his son rotting in a cold and lonely grave would besiege his dreams. As time progressed, Ben noticed that the nightmares had ceased. He couldn’t place just when they had stopped, but the realisation had hit him at the same time that he recognised the sightings had dried up too. He had then ridden up to the viewpoint overlooking the magnificent blue lake that Adam loved so much and said a tearful goodbye to his son, laying him to rest in his mind and letting his spirit fly free. After that, life had settled down with a sense of equilibrium. The ranch was operating on an even keel, his boys were laughing together again and, having said goodbye to his eldest son in his heart, Ben found a semblance of peace return to his soul.
But now, as he looked down over the small town of Darwin, he wondered whether he could bear to tear open the old wounds again, to have his hopes raised only to have the earth pulled from under him. The closer to Darwin they had got, the quieter and more subdued Ben had become. His initial optimism had started to fade into doubt; his hope of who would be waiting for them became fear that once more they would have to turn on their heel and return home; having to pick up the pieces after another disappointment had shattered their lives.
Ben felt the solid hand on his thigh again. “Come on, Pa. We’ve come all this way, we cain’t turn back now.”
Another hand settled on his shoulder. “Hoss is right, Pa. My brother may be down there and there’s only one way we’re gonna know for sure.”
Ben looked at his two boys, pride filling his heart as he recognised the strength of character that his sons possessed. He let himself absorb some of their steadfastness and, after reaching out an arm to either side to squeeze their shoulders, he straightened his back and set his mount on the downhill path to Darwin.
Ben followed the sheriff through a pair of double doors into a room containing two cells. He’d asked Hoss and Joe to wait for him in the outer office; he needed to do this by himself. If it was Adam, and he sincerely doubted it would be, then he’d need time alone with his son. And if it wasn’t, then at least his two sons would be spared having to look upon the face of a stranger, the face of someone who wasn’t their brother. He could spare them that at least.
Ben stood next to the sheriff outside the locked cells, only one of which was occupied, and edged closer to look at the single occupant. The man was sitting lengthways on his cot with his back to the two men, facing the cell’s outer wall. A high window cast a hazy light into the room. He seemed quite lethargic, his shoulders slumped against the bars, one leg pulled up and the other straight out in front of him. His arms were crossed across his torso and his head was leaning against the bars which separated his cell from the next. At his first glance at the man’s rawhide clothing, the decorated tunic and beaded adornments, Ben thought he was looking at an Indian. He frowned and looked questioningly at the sheriff.
As if reading Ben’s mind, the sheriff spoke. “He ain’t no Injun”.
Ben moved further into the room. He tried to get a closer look at the man’s face but it was facing away from him, turned inwards towards the bars where he rested his forehead. The long black hair was tied at the nape of his neck and much longer than Adam would ever have worn it. He was also too thin. His son was well built, solid in the chest and shoulders. He grimaced. This was not Adam. This was not his son. He was too thin, too ragged; this man was dressed like an Indian for goodness sake! Ben turned away. His disappointment was like a weight that threatened to press his head and shoulders into the earth. But then a movement caught his eye, and he watched as the man lifted his head so it was sideways on to him.
“You promised no more gawkers, sheriff. I’m not an animal in a menagerie that you can keep on display.”
The voice was unmistakable. The smooth deep tones hadn’t changed in the nearly two years that Ben had gone without hearing it. And the profile that Ben was now looking upon: the dark eyebrows over heavy eyelids, the elegant nose, the lips which were so like Elizabeth’s. Ben reached out slowly to grasp the bars of the cell, his knees threatening to buckle. He closed his eyes, his breath catching in his throat. And when he opened them again, it was the same beloved visage that he thought he’d never look upon again.
The sheriff saw Ben’s reaction, and when Ben nodded shakily in his direction, he bent down and unlocked the cell door. He retreated quietly from the room, leaving Ben alone with his son.
Adam had turned his head away from the unwelcome observers. For days now, visitors had been entering the room and staring through the bars at the white man turned native. They had gawped at him like he was an exotic creature. He had kept his back to the lot of him. Some asked him to say something in Indian. He stayed silent. Others, more daring, had poked him through the bars trying to elicit a reaction. He had merely moved further away, out of their reach. A gaudy young woman from one of the saloons had made inappropriate suggestions of how she could make his time in the cell more pleasurable if he would only come closer to where she stood. Adam had closed his ears to her voice.
Instead he had concentrated his attentions on what he would do when they finally released him. He had no idea why he was still locked up in a cell; he was merely told that the sheriff had been asked to keep him here, although he was not told why. Adam determined that once he was freed, he would find a job, on a ranch maybe, or in a livery, anything that would mean he could earn enough money to buy a horse and then get back to where he’d been taken from so abruptly. He was desperate to get back to Kia and Mimiteh. His heart burned from missing them. He knew Mimiteh would be well cared for, by her mother and Cam and Luyu, and all the other villagers. But he worried about Kia. He knew first-hand the shock of having a loved one ripped away, and he prayed to God, and to the spirits, for her to be strong until he could find her again.
Adam was surprised to hear the key in the lock. It was too early to be one of the scheduled meal times and visitors were never allowed into the cell with him—the sheriff had been told that he could be volatile; it wouldn’t be safe to let anyone near him. Curiosity got the better of him and he turned his head towards the tall figure stepping cautiously into the cell. Adam found himself looking at a ghost from his past, at the face of a man who had died two years before. He couldn’t speak as his mouth opened in shock and he could only stare at the father he had thought was long dead.
Ben moved to the cot and, slowly lowering himself to Adam’s side, he gazed on the face of his son. Adam was frozen, his eyes fixed on Ben as he sat down. Ben quickly took in the sun-darkened skin; it was darker than he remembered. He saw how the loss in weight made Adam’s cheekbones more pronounced, more pointed around his cheeks and eyes, a feature that made him even more striking than he was before. But then, Ben conceded with an inner laugh, he was biased. Adam’s eyes were wide with shock. Ben watched as his son ran his tongue over suddenly dry lips and gulped. His breath had become shaky. Ben smiled and reached across to rest a hand on his shoulder.
“Adam. Adam, my son.”
Ben’s voice broke through Adam’s stupor.
“It’s me, Adam, it’s your pa.”
And then Adam acted so uncharacteristically that Ben’s heart almost soared with joy. Ben’s ordinarily undemonstrative son reached forward and pulled Ben to him in a hug that took his breath away. After a moment of hesitation borne of surprise, Ben encircled his son’s body with his own arms and held him close. He luxuriated in the feel of the strong muscles in Adam’s back, and as Adam’s hands clung to the back of Ben’s vest in a vicelike grip, he realised that Adam may be leaner but he was still as strong as ever. Ben could have kept holding him for an eternity; it was affirmation that Adam was flesh and blood. He almost believed that if he let go, Adam would fade away like an apparition; it was only the solid feel of his son’s body beneath his hands that kept him secured to the earth. Ben could feel Adam clutching him so tightly that it was almost painful and it was with regret that he gently pulled back and looked into his son’s eyes. He kept a tight hold on Adam’s shoulders and as he stared at the face of his eldest son, a laugh of joy escaped him. Adam returned the grin and laughed as well. Ben was torn between wanting to look at him and between holding him close, but then he felt tears begin to well so he grabbed his boy to him again and lost himself in the delight of feeling his son’s body in his arms.
“Pa,” the word was like a soft breath against his neck and Ben rejoiced to hear Adam say it. But what Adam said next made him gently pull back from his hold. “They told me you were dead.”
Ben let his hands linger on Adam’s upper arms keeping him firmly in his grasp. Adam had dropped his head, hiding his face from his father.
Ben could see Adam’s chest rising and falling as he took in deep breaths.
Ben ducked his neck down trying to draw his son’s face back to him. He repeated his name until Adam lifted his head and met Ben’s enquiring gaze.
“Son, who told you that?”
Adam’s eyes were pained. “My fam…” he paused. “The people I was with.”
Ben kept Adam’s gaze locked on to his and squeezed his shoulders. Laughing, he said, “Well, as you can see, they were clearly mistaken. We are all very much alive and well.”
Adam’s eyes grew wide. “Hoss and Joe?”
“Outside…in the sheriff’s office.”
Adam shook his head, over and over; he couldn’t believe his father’s words. “I saw Hoss die in front of me.”
Ben sighed. “You saw what the boy who was sent to kill Hoss wanted everyone to see. But Hoss didn’t die. He was badly wounded, but he didn’t die.”
Adam crumpled forward. “Oh God, Pa.”
Ben caught Adam as he slid down the side of his shoulder, grasping his upper arms and pulling him up. Adam briefly flicked a wet glance at Ben, before letting his head fall forward again. Ben saw a face contorted with misery and as Adam tried to hide his tears, Ben slipped a hand behind his son’s head and pulled him across on to his shoulder. He let Adam quietly cry, enfolding his distraught son within his arms. He didn’t know what had caused Adam to weep so nakedly in front of him, what had caused him to break down and openly display his grief. He stroked his back, murmuring soothing words that he hadn’t used in such a way since Adam was a boy. After a few moments Adam quietened, and Ben heard his breathing settle. He raised his head from Ben’s shoulder and after a moment, swung his feet around from behind his father and on to the floor, sitting next to Ben, their shoulders touching. He sat forward, resting his elbows on his thighs, rubbing at his face with upturned palms.
Ben put his arm around Adam’s shoulders, squeezing him a couple of times against his side.
“It’s okay, son, it’s all over now, we’ve found you. You must have been through a dreadful ordeal, being held captive all this time by the Indians. Who was it, was it the Shoshone, the Paiute? But you got away, you escaped.”
Adam straightened and twisted to look at his father.
“No, no, Pa, it wasn’t like that. I stayed with them…willingly.” Adam stood up, turning away slightly from his father, straightening an arm out to grip one of the cell bars. “They saved me…in more ways than one.”
Ben was silent. He couldn’t begin to understand what had befallen his son. Seeing him so thin and unkempt, his face scarred and bruised, dressed like an Indian, he had naturally assumed that Adam had been kept a prisoner, with no way to escape until now. And although it was clear that Adam had believed them all to have died at Juniper Gorge, that didn’t explain why he had not returned to Virginia City when he had had the chance. Now Adam was telling him he had stayed with the Indians of his own free will. Ben respected the Indians he had come into contact with. They were a strong proud people and he admired their attitudes towards the land and the world around them. But he had never thought for a moment that his own son would end up living like one of them. This was his college educated son, the architect, the engineer, the planner and doer. And he’d turned his back on all of that to live the life of a common Indian. There was clearly more at work here than Adam was letting on, but this wasn’t the time or place to discuss it.
He rose to his feet and placed a comforting hand on Adam’s shoulder.
“I’ll be forever grateful to them for your life.” Ben wasn’t entirely sure that his seeming benevolence towards the people who had saved Adam was true, but it seemed to bring comfort to his son who lifted his head to him and smiled sadly. After a moment Ben pulled back his shoulders and slapped his hand lightly on Adam’s back.
“Those brothers of yours will be wondering what’s going on. Let me get them…”
Adam straightened. “Wait, Pa, there are more things you need to know.”
“Adam. I’m sure they can wait a little longer. Let’s get you out of this jail cell and into some different clothes and,” Ben’s eyebrows raised, a smile playing across his lips, “maybe a visit to the barbers is in order.”
Adam looked at him for a couple of seconds before pulling his mouth into that familiar half smile that Ben had missed so much.
“But before we do that, I don’t think your brothers will be very happy to have been kept waiting for quite so long.” He moved to the open cell door. “I’ll have a few words with them first, prepare them. Seeing you like this will be quite a shock.”
Adam watched his father walk to the dividing doors and leave. He sat back heavily on the cot, hunching forward to rest his head in his hands, swamped by a gamut of emotions. When he had turned and seen the figure of his father standing in the cell doorway he had been overcome with shock. He had been unable to speak, so stunned was he to see the man he’d thought he only meet again in his next life. And his pa hadn’t changed; he was still larger than life. Although, he wasn’t sure whether his memory was at fault, but it seemed to him that his father was a bit whiter around the temples than he remembered and there seemed to be a few extra lines around his eyes. But it was his father. His pa. Alive. And his brothers were alive. He could not believe it. They had all survived the attack. Learning that Hoss and Joe were just feet away from him had been more than his battered emotions could take and he had broken down in his father’s arms, pouring out his relief and almost two years of longing for his family. He had buried the need to see them, talk to them, share his life with them, buried it so deep that it had burst out of him like a jet of water from an artesian well.
But now he had calmed and had been left alone, Adam started to feel an anger build inside him. And it was an anger aimed entirely at Cameahwait. Cam had lied to him for nearly two years. Cameahwait had kept him there under false pretences, under a huge life altering untruth. Had Cam known that they were alive? Or had he not bothered to check, so keen was he to fulfil the prophecy told to him by his spirit guide. For almost two years, Adam had lived with a false knowledge that had torn him apart. It had almost killed him until he had come to terms with it. Adam shot to his feet and walked to the tiny window in the cell wall. He leaned his arms against the sloping sill, thoughts coursing through his mind. His whole existence in the village had been based on a lie. He should have left. All those months ago when he had made the decision not to return to the Ponderosa…oh, what a mistake that had been. If he had just escaped the village, got back to Nevada somehow and got home, he would have found his father and his brothers, alive. Adam’s anger started to feed inwards. He became angry at himself for not leaving, for not going home. Home. Where his family was.
His family. Adam returned to the cot and shakily sat down. Kia. She was his family. She and Mimiteh. A jagged thought ripped through Adam’s heart. Had she known? Had she been part of Cam’s plan to keep him in the village. But just as quickly as the idea had come to him, he discarded it. No, she hadn’t lied. He recalled Kia’s fear that their growing relationship be discovered. And he remembered the nights in their lodge, the way she had held him, touched him, the whispered words of love. No, that had been no lie. And Adam suddenly missed her with an intensity that made him suck in a breath and close his eyes to keep her image alive in his mind.
The door to the cells began to open and there was his father again, a nervous smile on his face. Adam’s thoughts skipped back to the present, for following his father there was the imposing figure of his younger brother, Hoss, and the slighter figure of Joe, almost hidden behind his brother’s large frame. He rose slowly to his feet, rubbing his hand over his mouth and tentatively moved forward a step as they both moved into his cell. They hadn’t changed a bit.
Hoss was still a giant of a man. He stood there with his hat in his hands, anxiously moving the brim round and round between his large hands. His cheeks bunched out under his eyes as his pressed his lips together in a timid smile, his nerves at facing his long lost brother apparent.
“Well iffen you ain’t a sight fer sore eyes, older brother.” Adam’s heart nearly skipped a beat to hear those warm comforting tones again. Hoss’s eyes flicked over his brother’s attire. “But a mighty strange one at that.”
Joe stood stiff-backed but with a smile working its way across his face and his eyes shining from the tears which were beginning to shimmer on his eyelashes. “Hey, Adam,” was all he could manage, his voice a pitch higher than normal as he struggled to get even those simple words out.
Adam stood for a moment taking in the sight of his long lost brothers. He could find no words so simply held his arms out and pulled both of them in close. He could feel their arms on his back and their heads resting against his. He had never been one for familial embraces, but his time away had changed him, had made him appreciate what he knew he could no longer take for granted. He rejoiced in the feel of his brothers’ closeness, enjoying their warmth and the solidity of their bodies beneath his hands.
But Adam had to know. He pulled back from his brothers’ embrace, although his need to keep them close ensured he kept a tight grip on their shoulders. He dropped his head, aware that the emotions associated with that long ago day could so easily come to the fore.
“For almost two years, Hoss, I’ve lived with the memory of you dying before my eyes. I saw that boy walk over to you and fire his revolver into you.” He looked up into Hoss’s distinctive blue eyes, squeezing his brother’s shoulder tightly. “How can it be that you’re standing here in front of me, now?”
Hoss sighed. “He couldn’t do it. I came round just as that li’l lad was pointing his pistol at my head. I looked right at him, and he looked right back, and I saw somethin’ in his eyes which said he just couldn’t do it. So at the last he moved his gun a fraction and shot me in the shoulder instead. Dadgum, Adam, I ain’t never felt pain like it. He then kicked me over and I made sure as dammit that I stayed as quiet and still as I could. Think I passed out not long after.”
Hoss looked down. “When I came to I looked fer ya, Adam. But you were gone.”
Adam cupped his hand behind Hoss’s head, squeezing several times as if to affirm to his brother that everything was okay now. He then turned to Joe. “And you, little brother, the last I saw, you were being dragged away behind a horse.”
Joe grinned. “You know me, Adam, I have the constitution of one of those prize bulls Pa is always buyin’. You can’t keep me down for long.”
Adam’s voice softened into the quiet concerned tone of the older brother that Joe had missed so much, cutting through the bravado. “What happened, Joe?”
Joe looked down briefly. “Let’s just say it took a while for all the broken bones to mend.”
“He was found about a mile down the pass,” said Ben, moving to stand next to his youngest son. “The attackers left him on the side of the track. He was barely alive.” Ben’s hand rested lightly on the small of Joe’s back before he blinked his eyes a few times, drawing a smile across his face. “But you know your brother, he’s a fighter, he pulled through.”
“And you, Pa?”
Ben took a deep breath. “Ah, well, I also took a bullet… We were all in a sorry way for a while. But we got over our wounds and injuries.”
Adam waited but Ben said no more. He knew that the injuries to his family went deeper than mere flesh wounds and fractured bones. They had all been broken in other ways; by the ordeal they had gone through; by his disappearance. And the knowledge, and subsequent guilt, that he hadn’t found a way back to the Ponderosa washed over him again.
Then Joe spoke. Gone was the swagger; rather his face wore that familiar intense look of barely supressed emotion worrying beneath the surface of his skin; that look which made his eyes flash and his shoulders stiffen.
“What happened to you, Adam? Where have you been all this time?” Joe’s tone was curious, but Adam sensed something else in his voice, a trace of anger, he guessed borne of nearly two years of not knowing whether Adam had been alive or dead, of seeking and not finding, of heartache and grief. And Joe’s eyebrows had drawn together, narrowing his eyes slightly, reinforcing the impression that Joe was holding on to a long simmering rage. Whether that ire was aimed at him, or the circumstances that had taken Adam from them, or at Joe’s own guilt, Adam knew it was only a matter of time before he would find out.
Ben was suddenly there, moving into the circle of brothers. “Now Joseph, we agreed not to press your brother until he’s had time to…to rest, have a good meal.”
Joe dropped his head briefly and when he raised his face once more Adam saw the relaxed appearance of his youngest brother again, a cheeky grin wiping away any trace of the anger that had fleetingly been displayed.
“Sorry, Pa. You’re right.” He squeezed Adam’s shoulder. “Sorry, Adam.”
And then Ben was taking charge as he always did.
“Joe, see if you can find some clothes that’ll fit your brother. And Hoss, we’ll need a couple of rooms. We passed a hotel on the way in. Check the horses into the livery while you’re at it.”
Adam watched his brothers leave the room. Joe was through the door, his head down, without a look back. But Hoss lingered, his mouth in a closed mouth smile that pulled his chin up and pushed his cheeks out and made him look shy and uncertain. He raised his hand in a brief gesture of farewell before ducking his head and retreating through the door, pulling it gently to behind him.
Adam kept his gaze on the closed door. “Joe’s angry.”
“He’ll come round, son, it’s been hard on him, hard on Hoss too.”
Adam turned and looked at his father.
“And what about you, Pa?”
Ben smiled. “Hard on all of us. Not knowing.”
Adam sat down heavily on the cot and put his head in his hands. He sighed heavily.
“I’m sorry, Pa, I should have left, I should have come back, I…” He shook his head, his words failing him.
He felt a weight on the cot next to him and his father’s hand on his back.
“We have all the time in the world now, son, to talk about what should have been or could have been. The important thing is…you’re back.” Adam heard the smile in his voice and sat up straighter on the bed. “You’re back with us, son. And we’ll soon have you back on the Ponderosa. You’ll be home again.”
Home. Home is where the heart is. He’d recalled the same phrase when deciding to say with the Ute. But where was his home now? Where did his heart belong? He was suddenly torn. He had a tremendous desire to go to back to that comfortable and familiar place that had been his home for the majority of his life; to return to his old room at the ranch house, to wrap himself in the warmth and closeness of his family. He’d been away from them for too long and he just wanted to go back, to be with them, talk to them, hear their stories, find out what had happened in their lives all the time he’d been away. He missed the normality. He unexpectedly found himself missing the everyday running of the ranch: balancing the books, working out payrolls, pouring over contracts. It could be tedious, complicated, dull. But it was his family’s business. And with his father sat next to him, resting his hand on his back, he wanted nothing more than to be sharing the tedium with his pa and brothers again.
But equally powerful, if not more, was the need to return to the Ute village, to his beloved wife and child. And no matter how strong the urge to return to the Ponderosa with his family was, the longing to be with his new family was so great that it hurt inside. He knew what he told his father now would hurt him, but he had no alternative.
“Pa, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“Let it wait, son, until we’ve got you settled into somewhere more comfortable, out of this…jail cell.”
Adam could hear the jubilation in his father’s voice and his heart was starting to break.
“Pa. I can’t go back to the Ponderosa.”
Ben turned to look at him. A look of confusion had replaced the wide smile on his face.
“What do you mean you can’t go back? The Ponderosa’s your home.”
Adam’s mouth felt dry.
“Pa, I have a wife.”
Ben’s hand dropped from Adam’s back.
“A wife!” Ben wasn’t quite at full volume, but his bewilderment at hearing his son was married had sent shockwaves through him. He stared incredulously at his son.
“Her name’s Wanekia. She’s a…she’s a Ute Indian.”
Ben rose to his feet and paced a few feet towards the high cell window and then back again.
“That’s not all, Pa.” Adam stood and moved to stand in front of his father. “You’re a grandfather. I have a child.”
If the circumstances had been otherwise, Adam would have laughed at the expression that came over his father’s face. His eyes widened as his mouth dropped open, a look of complete astonishment claiming his countenance.
Adam grinned. For the first time since he’d been reunited with his family his face revealed a look of sheer unadulterated joy.
“You’ve got a granddaughter, Pa. We called her Mimiteh. You should see her. She’s beautiful.”
And then Adam saw a wide grin reclaim his father’s shocked face and he was being pulled into a bear hug as his father smacked him enthusiastically on the back.
“A granddaughter! I have a granddaughter.” Ben was laughing and rubbing his son’s arms as he took in this truly unexpected news.
“But, Pa,” and Adam knew he was about to take the wind out of his father’s sails, “you see why I can’t go back with you. I need to get back to Kia and our daughter. I need to go back to them. They’re my family too.”
Ben looked at Adam and saw that familiar gritted teeth look of concern that he’d not seen in so long. He realised he had missed it, even though it usually signified that his son was experiencing a measure of turmoil within him. He relaxed his hold on Adam’s arms.
“Adam…son…believe me when I say I understand. I, of all people recognise that need, that urgency to get back to your wife, to your children.” He paused as a thought struck him. “As far as you know are they safe, taken care of?”
Adam glanced at the floor, pondering the question. “Yeah, I think so. They’ll be well looked after.” A wry look crossed his face. “I think it’s safe to say that the men who left me in the desert no longer walk this earth. So yeah, Kia and Mimiteh are safe.”
“Then, son, please come back with us. You’ve been hurt, you need to recover from what happened to you…”
“Pa, I’m fine…”
“Adam, please indulge me. You’ve been away for nearly two years. Two years in which we thought…well, we didn’t know what to think. Eventually I had to accept that you were…” Ben turned away, the memories of the last two years beginning to crowd him. “Please Adam, come home. We need you.” He paused. “I…need you.”
Adam let his mouth quirk into a half smile.
“Adam, we’ll help you find them. All of us. We’ll find your wife and…my grandchild. You’re not turning your back on them if you come back with us. But for now, please son, please come home.”
There was a long moment as the two men looked at each other: one with eyes heavy with hope, the other’s displaying turbulence and indecision. But then Adam nodded; a quick flick of the head up and down. Ben pulled him close again, closing his eyes in relief. He couldn’t bear to lose his son again so soon after finding him. He kept Adam enfolded in his arms for as long as he could. He still marvelled at his newly tactile son but didn’t want to chance his luck. But he could feel Adam relaxing against him and holding his father as tightly as he was holding him and so a contented smile crept across his face.
Father and son were sitting side by side on the cot when Joe returned, soon to be followed by Hoss. Joe handed over a pair of denims, a red shirt—the girls always liked you in red, brother—and a dark blue vest. He’d also bought a pair of boots, and he prayed that everything would fit him.
As Adam pulled off his tunic, Ben had gasped and jumped to his feet. He’d spotted the bison head tattoo which Adam had completely forgotten to hide from his oftentimes quite conservative father.
“It’s nothing, Pa, nothing for you to worry yourself about.”
Ben bristled. “I’m not worried Adam, I’m just…surprised.”
Adam quickly drew the shirt across his chest, shutting away the offending image. Ben continued to huff a little, but on seeing that he’d get no further illumination from Adam as to why he had the symbol of a bison inked onto his chest, he made himself useful folding the Indian attire that Adam had removed. He needed to feel he was doing something.
After the sheriff had formally released Adam into Ben’s custody, they made their way down to the hotel rooms that Hoss had secured. Adam felt uncomfortable in the leather boots and with a belt around his waist. He knew he’d get used to wearing them again but for the moment they felt restricting. He clutched his Indian clothing to his chest as he walked. Ben had wanted to leave the garb behind at the sheriff’s office, but Adam had grabbed the collection of clothing and held on to it as if his very life depended on the items that he clasped tightly in his hands.
As they passed a barber, Ben stopped. He said nothing but Adam knew the pointed look he gave him was a Ben Cartwright directive to have his ponytail removed. Adam fingered his long hair. As it had grown longer it had been encased in a tube which hung down his neck. But he reckoned that Matwau had torn the tube off him before leaving him in the desert. He guessed it made him too Ute in Matwau’s eyes. Bill Half-Foot had then given him a piece of rawhide to tie it back off his face. His hair had become a part of him; just as his neatly cropped hair had identified him as Adam Cartwright, rancher, in those long ago days before his life was turned upside down. Adam glanced down at his new attire. If it wasn’t for his hair he’d look like any other cowboy out on the range. Ben could see the conflict in his eyes and moved closer to him.
“It’s just hair son; it’ll grow back.”
Adam fingered his ponytail.
“I can’t do it, Pa.”
Ben’s eyes squinted together. “It’s only a haircut.”
“You don’t understand, Pa, and I can’t explain it. It’s more than just hair, it’s…who I am.”
Ben smiled. “You’re Adam Cartwright, you’re my son.”
“And I’m also Liwanu, member of the Ute Indian tribe.”
And with that Adam had bowed his head and slowly moved away from the barber’s shop, stopping a few feet down the wooden sidewalk, his eyes staring into the distance, unable to hide the disorientation that he felt.
It had been a slow realisation, but it suddenly dawned on Ben that Adam had changed in more ways than his physical appearance. Some differences were clear: he carried his emotions closer to the surface, he had become more expressive. Yet there were deeper changes, ones that Ben was only just beginning to realise. And it made him nervous, because although he had found the son he had thought lost, in many ways that son was still missing.
The four horsemen reined the horses in at the top of the ridge and took a moment to catch their breaths after the exertion of riding up the steep trail. As they turned their mounts to look back the way they had come, they observed the small town of Darwin lying in the dust bowl beneath them. The town hadn’t changed in the twenty-four hours that they’d been there, but life for the Cartwrights had altered dramatically. Hoss and Joe had their brother back. Ben had his son. And Adam? He was back with the family he’d thought of as long dead and he rejoiced at that. But he was also conscious that he was about to travel further away from the woman he loved, and the adored result of their union. He stared at the town and at the desert beyond, the desert that separated him from Kia.
He had shared glimpses of his life with the Ute the previous evening. And he had revealed to Hoss and Joe that he had a wife and child.
“Good gosh, Joe, I’m an uncle! You’re an uncle! Dadgummit, we’re uncles, Joe!” And Hoss had started to list all the things he was going to do with his little niece when she got old enough to appreciate a big strapping uncle like him: how he’d teach her to ride, take her fishing in that little place he loved—ya know, the pond with the trout surrounded by all them pines—and how he’d teach her about all the wild things that shared the Ponderosa with them. Adam had leaned against the headboard of the first proper bed that he’d seen since leaving the Ponderosa, and with his fingers caressing the pendant that Wanekia had made for him all those months ago, that he now wore tucked beneath his shirt, he had let a small smile work its way across his face as he enjoyed his brother’s enthusiasm.
Joe was less animated. Adam was aware of an underlying tension that was just itching to work its way to the surface. He seemed happy enough, and joined in with the conversations going on around him, but Adam would spy a fleeting look in his eye, a momentary expression that spoke of a friction within him. And Joe was not one to keep things inside for long. Eventually, whatever was bothering him would spill out, and lo betide anyone being in the vicinity when that happened. Adam determined to stay close, to be there when the inevitable explosion occurred.
Adam was seated on a newly acquired gelding. He was spirited like Sport. As he and his brothers had saddled their horses that morning he had shared the irony of having recovered his beloved mount only to have to be parted from him again. He mentioned that Sport had been found after the discovery of the outlaws’ camp, but he didn’t mention Mackie, or the fact he was dead, or the revenge attack by the Indians. It wasn’t the time or the place. That would come later.
Hoss and Joe wheeled their horses around to traverse the downward trail away from Darwin and towards the Sierras and the magical blue lake and home. Adam loitered a moment longer, his thoughts far away on the other side of the desert, in a high mountain village, in a lodge, besides an open fire. In his mind’s eye he could see Kia holding their daughter and she looked sad and lost. Adam closed his eyes and prayed to the Great Spirit to keep her safe. The tattoo on his chest started to itch and after a few moments whilst Adam unconsciously scratched at the mark, he threw his leg over his horse’s head, falling lightly to his feet, and moved to the lip of the crest. He dropped to his heels, picking at a bit of bare scrub with one hand, before lifting his eyes to the distant desert.
He became aware of his father standing next to him.
“You’re not coming back with us, are you, son?”
Adam stayed silent as Ben crouched down by his side.
“I’m sorry, Pa”.
Ben nodded and sighed heavily.
Adam shifted, throwing a quick look at his father’s downcast face.
“It’s not that I don’t want to come home. I do. It’s just…” Adam’s glance fell to the ground. “Pa, I feel like I’ve been split into two halves. The home I had with you and Hoss and Joe… I thought I’d lost it forever. But…here you are.” He looked up into his father’s face, a smile curving his lips, yet his eyes miserable with the knowledge that once more he’d gained a family at the expense of another.
He rose to his feet, pulling his shoulders back, lifting his head. And when he spoke it was with a determination missing just seconds before as he was struck with the realisation of what he needed to do.
“But this time, Pa, I’m going back. I didn’t go back before. I didn’t look for you. I trusted a man’s words without knowing whether what he told me was true or not. This time I’m going back.” Adam spat the word with a ferocity that made Ben wonder just what had happened all that time ago to convince Adam to stay with the Indians that had adopted him. “I need to return to my wife and my daughter. I need to know for myself that they are safe.”
Ben had risen to stand by Adam and had nodded at his son’s words, his head bowed and eyes closed as he resigned himself to knowing that his long lost son was going to be parted from him again.
“I understand, Adam. I do. I was…only thinking of myself before.” He grasped Adam’s shoulder. “I’d only just found you. The idea of you leaving again, it was more than I…” Ben’s words were interrupted by the strong, resolute tones of his middle son.
“Then we’ll go with ‘im, Pa.”
Hoss and Joe had ridden back up the trail when they’d realised that their father and brother had not followed them down. Now both men were on their feet, their horse’s reins in their hands, both wearing a look of dogged single-mindedness.
“We’ll go with ‘im, and help ‘im find that little gal who’s made an honest woman of older brother here.”
Adam looked at his brothers, a look of hope replacing the despondency that had creased his features.
Joe moved forward to his father’s side. “We won’t lose him again, Pa, I promise.”
Ben looked at each of his sons in turn. He saw Adam’s chest rising up and down as his breathing accelerated, his eyes shining with anticipation. And he saw Hoss and Joe, unwavering, resolved to help and support their brother, intent on keeping him from any further harm.
And then Ben was nodding again, but this time it was a nod of affirmation, not resignation.
“Okay. Go and find your wife…and my granddaughter.” He fixed a fierce glare on Hoss and Joe. “And you…don’t let him out of your sight.”
Adam’s face fell.
“Are you not coming too, Pa?”
“I’m going to need to sort out some business back at the Ponderosa. But I promise you I will follow when I can. You wire me at every opportunity so I know where you are.”
And with his head down, Ben quickly mounted and wheeled his mount towards the downward path to home. He paused briefly, turning in his saddle to take one last look at his three sons, together again once more.
“I mean it boys, keep him safe. All of you, stay safe.”
And with a kick to his horse’s flanks, he was gone.
Adam, Hoss and Joe stood for a moment watching where the dust rose in the air from their father’s trail. And as his father had done himself so recently in this exact same spot at the top of the ridge, Adam reached out and grasped his brother’s shoulders. They were together, and together they were strong. And without another word they mounted, wheeled their horses about to face the direction from which they had just come, and headed toward the desert.
The story continues in The Man Who Lost His Heart.
 The Paiute War
 The Savage
 Blessed Are They
 The Good-Morrow by John Donne
 The Good-Morrow by John Donne
 Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Act 1, Scene 5, Lines 167-8