OLD ACQUAINTANCES MEET:
Bluenose adjusted his headband and entered the wickiup. The dim interior was empty. Outside, in the shade of a brush pavilion, he spied two people waiting patiently. Bluenose shook his head and went to stand before them.
It was rare that a chief commanded the attention of a shaman, especially the medicine man of another family group, or clan. It happened that Tom Goose held this particular shaman responsible for a personal tragedy, which made the interview somewhat awkward.
Tom Goose had arranged for Willow Woman to be handy when he sent for Bluenose. When the shaman of the Loose Foot Group came up, Tom ignored him, saying to Willow Woman, "There is a small matter that is troubling some of my people. I do not wish to insult that person, but I am wondering - Where are these Mexicans? That person promised that the Mexicans would behave, and now two of them are missing!"
"Two?" asked Bluenose of Willow Woman, "Exactly which two are we talking about?"
"He wants to know who is missing," Willow Woman interpreted.
"The two men," said Tom, "And another thing..."
"He is wondering about the girl," Bluenose interposed before Willow Woman could speak.
Tom frowned. "The girl, yes," he said, "My son brought in two men and a girl. Now here are two girls and no men. What is happening? Is this some prank that person would play?"
Willow Woman stretched to ease the tension in her neck and faced Bluenose. "Brother, you are known for your practical jokes," she said.
"I can explain about the girl and one of the men," said Bluenose, "But I cannot say about the other. When did he come up missing?"
Willow Woman relayed the sentence with a sigh.
"I am not sure," said Tom, "The one they call Ramon has been gone since early morning, and the tall one called Wolf Walker took advantage of the excitement during the wrestling matches to disappear."
"Do not worry about Ramon. He has gone to take care of the girl."
"I have met him, but what of the girl, Machita?" asked Willow Woman.
"She is a powerful shamaness. I am sworn to hold secret her abilities."
She nodded and asked, "And the brother, Ramon?"
Bluenose smiled at the sky. "He is part of the secret," he said.
"I am going back to cooking," snorted Willow Woman, "It is obvious I am not doing any good around here!"
Silence descended. Tom adamantly refused to see Bluenose, and Bluenose fixed his gaze on a point somewhere near the horizon.
It was at this time that a dark cloud suddenly appeared and lightning struck inside the camp. Startled out of his anger, Tom cried, "That was Broken Cloud! What could have made him use his power in the midst of all these people?"
"We must go see," said Bluenose.
Tom pulled himself to his feet and they started off, each still refusing to look at the other. They found the shards of tree lying about, with many surprised witnesses, but Broken Cloud had moved on and was not to be seen.
Wolf Walker could smell water. It was a crisp, clean scent, distracting him from his observation of the camp area. The small wolf lay still beneath a creosote bush, covered with dust until his presence was betrayed only by the movement of his eyes or the runnels of dust moved by his breathing.
He would have gladly doused himself without delay, but there was no cold water to be had within the camp itself. All containers were covered or inside shelter, with the exception of a pot suspended over a fire. The odor of water was borne by a westerly breeze, a tantalizing aroma which tugged at his nostrils.
Wolf Walker was thirsty and ready to resume human form... he would rather be seen naked than to continue thus, as a lowly beast.
He had concluded his survey of the camp and was ready to move on to find the water, when the shadow passed overhead. Alarmed, wary with the newfound timidity he had learned with his tiny frame, he remained still as he tried to spy the source of the shadow. He could see nothing, not even a sun shimmer, but he could hear a tiny high-pitched whine which seemed to come from the air overhead. The whine descended into the midst of the camp and shut off.
Shortly, the shadow moved to a rock ledge and a man appeared, talking to an Apache girl.
The wolf had emitted a high-pitched sound of his own, a growl too shrill to be considered threatening. He recognized the man - Sergeant Espuma. The words he had overheard sent a shiver of excitement down his back, scattering the dust in his fur.
They spoke of Ramon! As insignificant as Ramon was, Wolf Walker felt responsible for him. This sergeant must know where to find him! Wolf Walker was watchful as Espuma vanished again for a short period. Then a shaman appeared and began speaking to the girl, who became agitated.
As puny as he was, Wolf Walker would have risen to attack the sergeant when Espuma struck the old man, but the sudden clouds overhead warned him that there was magic at work. The crack of thunder nearly deafened him, but he could still hear the ragged whine as Espuma disappeared once more.
The noise was irritatingly loud and he could track it easily, but it meant going away from the water. The wolf cub mewed to himself as he faced the hills in the east, where the noise was heading, then looked back at the gullies to the west.
He could go toward the water, gaining his human form but losing the lead to Ramon, or follow the noise of the sergeant and forgo changing back to normal. A vagrant breeze toyed with the sound and for a second the whine faded out. Wolf Walker rose, shook the dust from his fur, and struck out toward the east at a fast clip.
There were three girls perched on a big rock by a cave, somewhere in the hills east of the Apache camp. One of the girls was reassuring herself of one of the important truths of her life.
[I am Ramon!]
She saw javelinas by the tens as they swarmed around the flat rock upon which the three girls had taken refuge. Dust filled the air, blowing with the gusting wind until the far trees were obscured. One larger boar, with long tusks jutting downward and dust matted in the coarse bristles of his gray-black hair, was straining unsuccessfully to lever himself up onto the rock.
[I am Ramon! I know I am Ramon!]
When everything has gone wrong, and there are few things to depend on, it is healthy to find a simple, honest fact and stick to it.
Javelinas by the hundred interfered with her mantra. They filled the shallow ravine before them and flooded the meadow. A hundred more came and went over the trail to the camp, towards the place where the javelinas had treed the Apache boys.
[I am Ramon! I will not be bullied by a bunch of...of mere pigs!]
"Where do you think you are going?" Lucha's voice cut through the dusty air.
"I have had enough of this! I am going to kick that big one, if only to make me feel better!"
"No, you won't! Stay back or you will get hurt!"
"Are you going to be stupid? Why would I go with you if you are nothing but a jackass?"
"Ahhh... go with me? Are you saying that you want to return to Mexico with us?"
"I am saying that I am thinking about it. Do not rush me! And stay away from that pig!"
Machita looked at Red Cloud, who arched her eyebrows and grinned.
[I am Ramon,] fumed Machita, [I am Ramon and I am being bullied by a girl! I cannot stand it!]
Espuma alit on rocky ground by the side of a hill and laid aside the flying contraption. He yanked the sash from his uniform, folded it neatly and stuffed it into a pouch by his side.
"Confound that old man, anyway!" he said, blinking, "Who'd have thought he could strike out like that? I'll be lucky if he did not use up all the charge in the shield!"
Kaliche had assured him that the sash was protection against clubs, spears, arrows and other missiles. Unfortunately, it had not stopped the brilliant flash of lightning from Broken Cloud's spell. Espuma's eyes were still dazzled.
"That was tricky, devious, underhanded...." he stopped his listing to grimace in crooked admiration, "I should have killed him while I had the chance! However - it is just as well, anyway. He is not going to cause any trouble when he can't see!"
The noise from the surrounding wood penetrated his reverie.
"Oh, yes," he said, "I have some unfinished business." With that, he stepped down from the outcropping and strolled around the side of the hill.
Smiling, he looked up and said above the rustling grumble, "Buenas Dias, Senoritas! And you, too, of course!"
UP THE WALL:
"Espuma!" cried Machita.
"Surprised to see me? You dropped me so suddenly, last time!" Espuma smiled up at the Mexican girl, "But I have such a warm place in my heart for you! And look! You have found your sister!"
"Do you know this man?" Lucha demanded.
"He tried to kill Mama," declared Machita hotly.
"He has imprisoned my people and forced them to work as slaves in Sinestro's mines," added Red Cloud.
"Am I that terrible?" tskked Espuma, "I had no idea! Really, you flatter me!" He fiddled with a control on the device in his right hand and more pigs crowded closer to their boulder. "I have plans for you two," he added, "but I am afraid that your Azuma friend will have to join the boys back in the trees. Oh, yes...those trees have very good root systems. It should take the pigs all day to dig them up. They are omnivorous, you know"
"You *bastardo*!" cried Machita.(1)
"Such language!" Espuma cried delightedly, "From such a dainty, delicate creature! I am dismayed that you have learned a single bad word! Just look at those slender, gentle hands, the mark of a true woman!"
"I am *not* a delicate, dainty, creature!" exploded Machita, jamming her fists into her waist-pouch.
"Do not fear, *Querido*(2), my little friends shall not harm you. I have complete control of them. See?" Espuma flicked the device in his hand and the javelinas retreated. "Now, if your little Azuma friend will climb down and join the boys, we can finish up this project."
"You cannot do this!" Machita said vehemently.
"I cannot? Watch this!" Espuma flicked the control again, and pointed at the girls. "Get them!" he cried to the herd. A mass of javelinas surged toward them.
While Espuma's attention was on the pigs, Machita pulled a stone from the waist-pouch and threw. Her aim was accurate, and the stone shattered the control device. Espuma waved his stinging hand and turned to shout in anger, and another stone slammed into the side of his face.
Lucha grunted in satisfaction as the man fell backward into the swirling mass of javelinas. "That should silence him," she said as she dusted off her hands.
"Ah...there is one problem," said Red Cloud, "Those javelinas are still trying to get to us!"
"Get behind me!" shouted Machita as she unwrapped the sling from her waist and grabbed another handful of stones.
"Who do you think you are ordering around?" Lucha cried, her own sling already singing about her head. She released and a stone thudded into the foremost snout.
"Machito, you forget who you are!" said Red Cloud, standing to one side in order to send a projectile into the midst of the sounds of squealing and thrashing.
Machita whirled her sling and arced a stone into the midst of the herd and a javelina went down. Another took its place immediately and they began to climb atop each other to get to the top of the boulder.
"We will have to climb to get away from them," said Lucha.
"Up there?" gasped Machita, "It is straight up!"
"You were brave enough when you wanted to play with the pigs, earlier," Lucha continued her scowl, applying it to Machita before easing into a severe smile and saying, "What is it you Mexicans say? No cojones?"
"Whaddya mean by that?!?" Machita rounded on Lucha with a growl, "You take that back!"
"Good," Lucha said, pleased with the reaction, "Come with me, then. I know the way." She led them behind the cave and higher into the rocks. Behind them, the chorus of grunts, squeals and muttering followed as some of the pigs mounted the boulder and stalled at the bluff. The remainder of the herd began to scatter aimlessly.
"This is unmanly," complained Buffalo Wattle, gazing at the muddy ripple of pigs surrounding his tree.
"Where did they all come from?" wondered White Dog. He moved to get down and instantly a crowd of javelinas assaulted the bole of his tree.
"I have had enough!" Buffalo Wattle cried, "I am not a coward, to hide in the treetops because of lowly pigs!" He was, indeed, in the top of a small, stunted tree.
As he drew his knife and prepared to detree, a wave of murmur seemed to spread across the sea of pig, beginning closest to the cave trail and rippling to the extremities of the far shores.
Buffalo Wattle raised clouds of dust in the trampled ground when he jumped down.
"I am ready, pigs!" he cried loudly, "Come to me! I will gut you standing! I will...where are they?" The last javelina vanished into the brush, trotting away from the cave, away from Buffalo Wattle.
"I have vanquished them!" cried the exultant warrior, "They fear my skill with the knife! They are afraid of me!"
"They probably fear your mouth," suggested White Dog as he stepped down, "We had better go look for the girls. They might have been surrounded, also."
The sight of the trampled ground and ruined supplies halted the three Apache lads, but they quickly deduced the situation.
"They were surrounded, but they went up the cliff above the cave, where the pigs could not go," said White Dog, who was the best tracker, "There is an old trail they can follow, going that way. We shall meet them near the camp."
LEAVE NOT A TURN UNSTONED:
There were sounds from behind, from javelinas stubborn enough to seek out another path to follow them. The girls hurried along a ledge until suddenly they could go no farther.
Lucha surveyed the gap between the massive boulders, then gazed back at Machita. She seemed to be measuring the distance they would have to climb down and back up to get to the other side, then a petulant scowl crept across her face. She turned back to Machita and spoke.
"Too bad, no cojones," she said.
"Why do you keep saying that?" cried Machita.
"You will have to go back to the lower ledge and step across, and it will take you more time to get back to the top. I will have to wait for you. I do not like to have to wait."
"What will *you* do? Jump from here!?"
"We usually do," Lucha nodded, her lower lip protruding microscopically as she eyed the younger girl.
"Then I will jump from here, too!" stated Machita. She tried to avoid looking down at the crags below, and failed. Her deep breath betrayed the sudden fear which assailed her. "I can make it," she said, more to herself than anyone else.
"Are you sure, Machita?" asked Red Cloud, "You remember that you are not as strong as..."
"I am as strong as you are! Don't interrupt me," Machita asserted shakily, "I have to concentrate."
Lucha grabbed the hem of her skirt and pulled it to her waist, revealing long limbs and undergarments. She poised and leaped, making the crossing easily. Machita goggled and turned away, red-faced. Red Cloud had to take several steps before jumping but she, too, alit safely on solid ground, her skirt held high about her waist.
Then they watched anxiously while Machita studied the open air between the ledges. There was far too much of it. She tried to swallow but her mouth had suddenly become filled with cotton.
Shutting out the drop below with an effort, she concentrated only on her destination, the wide flat boulder upon which the other girls were standing. Then, when she was ready, her feet placed to begin her run, the sound of pursuit behind brought a surge of panic and ruined her focus.
She tried to disregard the noise behind, and put all outside distractions out of her mind. Only the ledge mattered. Only the ledge. Only the ledge.... She found her legs moving of their own volition, slowly for two steps then rapidly pushing her along the escarpment, to push off in a mighty leap over the chasm. As soon as her feet left the stone of the ledge, a gust of wind hit her and she felt her forward momentum swept away.
Lucha's face glowed before her. Close, but not close enough. She could not even gasp for breath, for fear that she was not going to make it. She hit the embankment below the ledge and sprawled face down onto the unforgiving rock surface, while Red Cloud and Lucha clambered around to keep her from sliding backward. Only a jutting rock spar kept her from sliding to her death, and she gasped with pain as she straddled it.
"Ay!" she cried, "That hurt!"
Red Cloud helped her to her feet. "You would have had no trouble if you had held your skirt up," she said, "The wind caught your dress. Next time, do not be afraid to show your legs."
Machita gasped for breath and watched Lucha as she examined the scrapes and bruises. Lucha chuckled, shakily. "You jump like a boy!" she commented, "It would have hurt more if you had been a boy. Good thing, no cojones! We better go!"
Machita looked back across the chasm at the red-eyed javelinas swarming about, frustrated by the impassable gap. The pigs seemed to understand the situation. They trotted back down the trail toward the lower ledge, intent on following the three girls.
From a ledge far above them, small eyes watched the trail after they had passed, seeing the gray shapes that came trotting along shortly behind the three girls. Whimpering to himself in urgency, the wolf cub withdrew from the edge and hurried to get in front of them.
WOLF WALKER AND THE PIGTRAP:
The trail wound back and forth, ascending the 'hill' Lucha had told them to expect. They were inching around a narrow ledge with a steep slope above when they heard the mutter and grumble of javelinas behind them.
"I told you they are very fierce," said Lucha, "We will have to stay ahead of them." She led the way, heading for a wider part of the trail where they could use the slings.
She uttered an angry exclamation. "There are more javelinas blocking the path ahead!" she cried. Meanwhile, the trailing javelinas ventured out onto the narrow ledge and began to pick their way forward.
"I need a club!" cried Machita, but she found no stones or branches within reach, and the slope was too steep to climb.
"They are acting very strangely," Red Cloud said.
"The last command Espuma gave them was to catch us," said Machita.
Red Cloud was looking up the slope when she saw a gray bundle of fur as it came running, sliding, and rolling down. The small gray animal struck the first javelina broadside, knocking the boar squealing over the edge and into empty space. Scrambling to regain his footing, the wolf cub turned on the second pig, a sow. The sow was better prepared. She caught the cub and tossed it over her shoulder onto the broader path.
"Quickly!" Lucha cried, scrambling onto the wider area where fallen branches were plentiful. She found one there and attacked the sow with it.
The sow, trying to catch the animal who had injured its mate, whirled about to meet the attack. It faced three determined girls with clubs, prepared to fight. Being a pig possessed of the wit and instinct of a creature of the wild, it did the only thing it knew how to do. It charged. The wolf cub clamped onto a hind leg, slowing the sow enough for three clubs to find their mark and stun it.
RED CLOUD MAKES A DISCOVERY:
They did not stay around to celebrate. The other javelinas were coming. Lucha looked at the wolf cub in wonder, as the cub stared back at her, suddenly timid and unsure of itself. She gestured the others on. "Brave fellow, this wolfling," she said, "Not very smart, but brave."
"I think he's hurt!" said Machita. There was something familiar about this cub, but now was not the time to rack her memory for clues.
Red Cloud knew where she had seen the gray pelt with the diagonal white stripe, but she withheld her remarks. She grabbed the pup as she passed him and the animal did not struggle.
Machita paused long enough to unleash several deadly accurate stones at the pursuing pigs to delay them, before following her companions.
At the crest of the hill, Red Cloud slowed. The wolf was beginning to squirm, trying to get her to let him down. When she released him, he fled for the bushes, then stopped and looked back at her.
Red Cloud caught her breath, seeing the intent gaze. Up the side of the hill she saw silent wraiths approaching - Buffalo Wattle, White Dog and Andalejo were coming to join them.
The wolf turned to go, but Red Cloud said quietly, "Wait!" The cub paused, ready to flee. "At the springs, later today," she said, "I will leave some trousers I have found." The wolf would have gone on, but she added, "Try not to be seen. Only women carry wood and water from the spring at that time of day."
Espuma gathered the fragments of the device and fitted them back together. His headache slowly faded as he revised his plans.
"I will have the girl," he muttered, "I do not *care* what the master wishes! She is *mine*! She will dance to my tune, and she will pay for her impertinence! They will all pay!"
He found the last copper wire and twisted it into the device, but the javelinas had vanished - some to complete their last command, some to find freedom. Well, he could bring them back. Hurrying around the escarpment to return to his flying contraption, Espuma ran into an obstacle about neck-high that felt like a tree limb. The end of the branch clamped around his neck.
"You have murder in your eye," noted Machack, "Why do you persist in playing with your prey?"
Espuma fought for air as the constricting knuckles cut off his supply.
"I would not expect a barbarian like you to understand the finer points of strategy," he wheezed, "These people are resourceful. What I have here is a glorious opportunity to gain converts to our master's campaign!"
"We are not recruiting!" growled the hulking warrior, "We were to get the girl and the pendant.... Nothing else matters!"
Espuma managed to get a finger under Machack's grip, loosening it enough to catch a whole breath. "You were supposed to eliminate the others," he gasped, "Can't you finish anything? Didn't you get through playing with the young cowboy?"
He grabbed for a massive wrist as Machack swung him out over the chasm and loosened his grip slightly.
"*I* do not dance to your tune," the warrior grated, "Did you actually think I could be seduced away from my task so easily?"
"It was worth a try," croaked Espuma.
"I think I will let you drop," said the warrior, "While you recover from your wounds, I will attempt to finish out our job."
"You blunt-fingered fool!" Espuma crowed, "You have no idea what I have started here! You are incapable of seeing - urk!"
Machack released Espuma's neck and peeled his cohort's desperate fingers from his massive wrist, in a manner suggesting that he was wiping stable droppings off his hands.
As the warrior watched the body diminish into the depths below, he said to it, "You made *that* an easy decision!"
His eyes were dim but a vast panorama spread before him. Bison freely roamed the prairie to the northeast, before the People had ever appeared. Elk strode before him, bugling in the dawn. Bear prowled the mountains. Then, from the north, his people came wandering. The desert and the mountains were home to them, though inhospitable to other peoples. The bowl of the rocks held him like a giant, sheltering hand, anchoring him against the winds of uncertainty.
Still, he hesitated. Broken Cloud considered himself to be brave. He could meet almost any wild creature without flinching. Yet of all the obstacles he faced, none could make him quail like the task set before him.
Broken Cloud lifted a willow rod and slammed it against his side, welcoming the pain. He should have known. He should have seen. To allow that...that witch to foul his own niece! Truly he had been blind long before the witch had struck.
"I saw nothing," he said. "Let me stay blind! I deserve no more. Now I must tell my friend how I have failed him. I did not even look!"
Tom Goose appeared once, as Broken Cloud sat quietly, waiting for wisdom, or inspiration, or perhaps a stray scorpion to strike him down.
"How does the meet go?" Broken Cloud said without looking up. If Tom saw anything unusual about the shaman's reticence, he said nothing about it.
Instead, Tom collapsed upon the soft blanket with a sigh. "It would be better if they laughed at me," he said, "I would prefer scorn to pity."
"They have reserved their scorn for me," said Broken Cloud, "The shamans came to me earlier and questioned me about the engagement. They ask, 'Why have you done this? Nothing good will come of it. How could you send one of ours off with a stranger? Our men will kill this cowboy before they allow this, and we do not want trouble with these people right now.'
"And I told them, 'You will have trouble, but not from this arrangement. Let me take care of it.'
"'Since the girl is from your group and Tom Goose accepts what you have done, we will say no more,' they said, 'but if trouble comes from it, it will be your fault.'" Broken Cloud shook his head. "I have told them of a witch, and they will not listen. They feel that I, like you, have brought our troubles on us through our own misdeeds."
"I want a simple solution," said Tom Goose, "I want a head to shatter. I want an enemy who will stand before me and accept my challenge. I want to die fighting a worthy foe. I do not wish to sit and watch my people fade away without reason!"
"You have an enemy," promised Broken Cloud, "The witch."
"You heard something unusual, today?"
"The thunder, yes. Why did you loose it within the camp?"
"The witch attacked me. I ran him off."
Tom's eyebrows rose. "You struck with the power and it did not kill him? What kind of person is this?"
"I can handle him," stated Broken Cloud. The burden of his shame bore down upon his shoulders. He should let Tom know the truth, that Yucca was in league with the witch. He should, but he could not.
"I will speak to the others!" said Tom, "They *must* help! One who attacks us is the enemy of all! If he is the one who is distressing our people...."
"I can handle him!" Broken Cloud repeated firmly.
Tom had left in confusion and anger, unsure of his old friend, struggling to regain the composure he would need to face the other chiefs.
Broken Cloud then sent for Lonesome. "You are the cowboy with Little Comstock?" he asked.
"Yep," Lonesome said as he studied the old man. The Apache shaman seemed to stare at nothing, with an intense expression of concern.
"My eyes cannot see, for the moment," explained Broken Cloud, "I need someone to guide me around. I need someone to carry my bags and pot. Everyone else has an important task to perform, so you must be my helper."
Lonesome shook his head. "Ain't no shaman going to allow a white-eye outsider near any sort of ceremony," he said, "No thanks, old man. I've got work to do, myself."
"You will remain here at the camp."
"Well, I'm a little greenbroke to act like a slave. Never cottoned to that kind of life."
"You cannot leave the camp, anyway. See up there? The lookouts will catch you and bring you back." Broken Cloud thumped the ground with the end of his staff. "Come on and walk with me. I have something to say."
"Let me see Angie off," said Lonesome, "Will she be safe going home by herself?"
"We will escort Little Comstock to her home," promised the old shaman.
Someone had pointed her toward the horse pens, and it was there she came upon Lonesome. "I thought I would never find you," exclaimed Angie, "We have to get out of here while no one is looking!"
"You'll be ready in a minute," said Lonesome, as he reached beneath the mare's belly to uncinch the strap.
"If Dad had known they were having a get-together, he would never have brought you," Angie spindled the brim of her hat as she kept an eye on the camp, "It's dangerous to be around the Apache when they are feeling playful."
As Lonesome got both arms about the saddle and lifted it from the mare's back, she snapped to awareness. "What are you doing?" she cried, "I want to leave!"
"Just as soon as I get your saddle on my horse," he grunted, "I'll figure out how to get my saddle back from them later."
"I'm going to give this forsaken creature to the Apache, and maybe they will eat her," said Lonesome, "God knows, she's caused me enough headache."
The mare turned troubled eyes toward Angie.
"You aren't going to kill her!" cried Angie, "You can't give her away! She's a sweet, gentle horse and I love her!"
"Sweet? Gentle? Look what she did to me!" flared Lonesome, "That dang hoss has been nothing but trouble since I found her! I should have put her down then, but no-o-ooo! I had to get all slobbery and softhearted and keep her! She's been a mooch and a troublemaker ever since! They can have her and good riddance!"
"Oh, Lonesome! You can't mean it!" Angie set her chin and declared, "I won't let you do it! Give her to me! I'll keep her out of the way and you'll never see her again, I promise! Only put my saddle back on her and let's get out of here!"
Lonesome dropped the saddle and stood eyeing the pass, where lookouts stood guard. "I can't leave," he said, "I already tried to talk them into letting me go. You can take the mare and go on home, but they won't let me out of sight."
"This is insane! Whoever heard of anyone forcing you to get married?"
"Happened all the time, back home in Kaintuck," said Lonesome, "But usually, there was a little more provocation."
"You're liking this, aren't you?" gasped Angie, "I saw you when you met that girl! You looked at her and you didn't look away! You liked her!" She paused a moment and asked, more quietly, "Did you think that she was that pretty?"
Disregarding all the warning signs, Lonesome replied, "Well, yeah, she was good lookin'. Can't say I approve of their method of matchmaking, though..."
Angie said in a subdued voice, "Put the saddle back on the mare, then. I won't stand in your way."
"Stand in my way? What are you talking about? I didn't say I was going through with this!"
"Aren't you? You are practically drooling! I am not going to stand here and watch you make a fool out of me, just when I thought...." she clenched her jaw and stared at him for a moment then flounced away, heading for the chief's wickiup.
"Dang women won't listen to a word you say," complained Lonesome as he threw the blanket across the mare's back, "Then when they do listen, they hear the wrong thing!"
Now Broken Cloud sat before the heat of his tiny campfire, considering an additional burden to his conscience. Was he wrong to force Lucha and the cowboy into an engagement? He had no power to force Lucha to go with the cowboy, and only his reputation as a wise man kept Lucha and her mother from stalking out of the camp and going somewhere else.
He breathed deeply, tasting the odor of sweetgrass tangled with goatweed in the dying wind. If she would go far enough, fast enough...no, she would return. The family group was the only home they had known and they would be prepared to die defending it, unknowingly luring the menace after them. He was not even certain which he was trying to protect by sending her away...Lucha or the community.
The old shaman sighed with regret. Better a little pain now, rather than a great deal of pain later. Oddly enough, it was the same sentiment voiced by Bluenose, the shaman from the Loose Foot group. It had happened earlier. Sometimes, it seems that there are times when no amount of effort can prevent two people from meeting. Bluenose and Broken Cloud had chanced to meet again, while Broken Cloud was on his way out of camp to meet Lonesome and Bluenose was making arrows.
Bluenose had dropped the arrow he was working on and stepped in front of Broken Cloud. Feeling his way blocked, the older shaman stopped and waited. "I call your name, Broken Cloud," Bluenose said, "And I would speak with you. Grant me this."
"I would not be called Broken Cloud. Broken Cloud has failed."
"Then who is this that am I speaking to?"
The older shaman shrugged. "Nomiro Nada, because I did not look," he said. (3) He felt about behind himself and unerringly found a stool, upon which he sat.
Bluenose returned to his chore of preparing the arrows. When he had a loose dozen marked with the four sacred colors, he said, "The one who was your sister is well. She has come to the camp."
"I have expected her," Nomiro Nada acknowledged, his expression stiff and uncaring.
"She is interested..." the younger shaman hesitated.
"...she is interested in the Mexican girl, She Goes Ahead. The one who was your sister has asked about her."
"Aiyuh. That is not my concern."
"Something has followed the girl from Mexico. I think I must try to kill it."
"Hey?" Nomiro Nada responded, for the first time showing some interest, "A witch, do you think?"
"I think not. A creature of some sort."
The light, falling through the branches of the pavilion onto the older shaman's face, brought warmth but no illumination to the shadows of his unseeing eyes.
"I have word of a witch who is trying to attack a girl here in camp," he said, "I have encountered him, and I am concerned, both for the girl and for the clan. It occurs to me that this might be the same one who followed the Mexicans."
Nomiro Nada stilled in contemplation. "I am wondering," he finally said, "Is it possible that Child of the Waters and Killer of Foes missed a few monsters?"
Bluenose peered into the sightless eyes, expressing little of the shock he felt. To lose your vision thus...what could have done this thing?
"It is possible," he admitted, "Our ancestors might not have gotten them all. There were probably some hiding in another country. In my time I have seen a few which needed killing."
"You are putting on airs!" Nomiro Nada accused, "Do you claim to be capable of the same deeds as Child of the Waters?"
"Of course not," Bluenose puffed out his cheeks in denial, "But there are things out there which should not be. They come to me and ask me to kill them, so I have to do what they say."
Nomiro Nada twisted about the better to hear him, saying, "I cannot believe they want to die, just like that."
"Do you not think they would kill me if I did not kill them? They give me little choice."
"I have not seen them. I think you talk too much."
"Come with me, then, some time."
Reluctantly, the older shaman shook his head. "I do not climb the rocks so well, any more," he said, getting to his feet and heading for the trail, "If there were anything there, I would get in the way."
Bluenose had returned to his arrows and they parted in silence.
Now Nomiro Nada felt the cool of the afternoon shadows and wondered if his actions were, indeed, the actions of a wise man. The witch was arrogant enough to wipe out anyone who got in his way, and he would be back after Lucha. There was, indeed, going to be trouble. He had never faced a witch this powerful before, one who could take away his sight without even a trace of effort.
Perhaps Corn Planter could draw from his vast well of memories and identify the person, or Spider could suggest a method of dealing with him.
As he drifted between the worlds of shadow and substance, the one who was called Nomiro Nada spared a single thought for the Mexican girl. What could his sister want with her? His sister, Tom's first wife, the woman who followed that slob, Mud Wallow around - what could she want?
Difficult to guess. She had never been easy to understand, even before the sickness. Now, only an old fool who was demented himself could tolerate her - especially when the ghosts came -
A cold fog drifted against his cheek. He awoke and recoiled.
"Cornsilk!" he said.
"Ah, my brother," she said softly, "Have we come to this? You pull away from me before I can speak."
"I felt a touch," he said, "and I knew it was not you."
The man who had been Broken Cloud attempted to gain his feet, but something was holding him down. He muttered a soft chant invoking the Sun's heat, and cold fingers vanished. Then the hands holding him back were warm, and he knew they belonged to Cornsilk.
"The monster has hurt you," she observed, with pain in her voice, "Listen to me, and we can make him pay for this insult!"
Nomiro Nada became aware of a chill at his left ear accompanied by a thin chitter, a gabble of cold air hitting the side of his face. "Stop this!" he demanded.
"Shoo!" cried Cornsilk, waving at the air, "I will talk with him! Do mind your manners!"
To her brother, she said, "They want to say several things at once. First, our troubles began when the one who was Willow Woman's husband brought home a Mexican girl. Oh, she was not an evil person, but something about her brings the shadows where-ever she goes. We must get her away from here. Second, we must get rid of this person who pursues her. He is a vile creature with more power than he knows how to control. He has invaded my family, and for that he must pay! Third, those three Mexican children oppose this creature. Let us help them and they will help us."
"I have hit him with my best, and he laughs at me! What can we do against him?"
"He has a weakness. Together, we can wield a spear that will drive through his black heart!" Cornsilk said, "The boy, Ramon. He has possibilities, but he is untrained. Do you teach them yourself of your skills, and I will teach them of mine."
Angie stood outside the chief's lodge, unable to go in because Tom Goose was conferring with his fellow clan leaders. She was aware of the attention she was receiving from the other inhabitants of the camp. One person looked at her openly, an attractive girl with short hair and a hesitant smile.
"*Forgive me, Senorita*," said the girl, "*Do you know the man at the horse pens*?"
"*Don't remind me*," said Angie gruffly, then blurted, "*You speak English! How did you get here? Were you captured*?"
"*Do not worry for me, Senorita. Is there a younger man with him, a man with light blond hair*?"
"*His name is Sandy, but...*"
"*Please, give him a message. Tell him that Ramon and his friends are here, and we are well. He does not have to rescue me like last time, when he broke me out of jail *."
"*Ramon? That must be the boy Lonesome...that man was looking for*," Angie stiffened, "*I am sure he will be pleased. Why don't you tell that...that man at the horse pens, yourself*?"
"*I would rather not, Senorita. Please do not tell him about me*."
"*Hmmmph. If you wish. I would rather not speak to him, anyway*!"
The girl hesitated, then said, "*We were separated from my grandfather. Was there an old man with them*?"
When Angie shook her head, the girl turned to go then asked, "*One last thing...do you know if all the horses are well*?"
"*They lost a pack animal, but the rest are stabled in town*," Angie could contain her curiosity no longer, and asked, "*Who are you, anyway*?"
"Bueno!" cried the girl, ignoring the question. As she left, she added, "*I shall be glad to see Rayo de Lampego! I don't care what pranks he plays*!" (4)
THE ANTICIPATION OF PAIN:
Into the darker crevasses and chasms in the scree, a tiny mote floated. Think of it as the opposite of a beam of light. At the bottom of one hole it alit and focused into an image, a baldheaded doll holding a staff to which it was making minute adjustments.
"Yes, master." The answer was a groan, perhaps more from irritation than pain.
"Are you able to move about? You seem to have fallen."
The figure in uniform stood and casually brushed himself off. "Thanks to your shield, I am only bruised," said Espuma, "I was making my plans when your pet mastiff tried to maim me."
The doll image tut-tutted to itself in amusement. "You two seem to have so much fun together," he said, "I hate to interrupt. However, I need to know what is happening."
"All is going well. I will have everything you want. There are just a few things I need to take care of, first." He gave a truncated version of his intentions - to worry the Apache with wild animals while he kidnapped the girl.
The doll seemed to perceive an unspoken intent. It asked, "You weren't thinking about having an 'accident' with the girl, were you?"
"Oh, no, Master!" Espuma said, too quickly.
"If anything should happen to spoil my ceremony...your fault, her fault, even an 'accident', why...." the tiny image chuckled, "I suppose I would have to console myself with a few morning rituals. You could be the honored guest."
Espuma shuddered. He had not planned on this.
"Pain!" he whispered.
"And with your regenerative capabilities, we could hold the ceremonies every day!"
"More pain...," groaned the dutiful servant, "...for how long?"
"Oh, I don't know," mused the miniature sorcerer, "How long have I been waiting? Years? Centuries? Waiting for the right time. Waiting until the people were in a fluid state of mind! They have overthrown the invaders! They are ready for a new leader! I will be that leader!" Kaliche's image waited until Espuma's spasm had quieted, then added, "All I need is the girl. And the pendant. She did have the pendant, didn't she?"
"Yes, Master. She had a pendant." Espuma was babbling as his mind began to work. Lucha was wearing a turquoise necklace, but the boy, Ramon, her sister/brother, was also wearing a necklace. Lips curling into a thoughtful grimace, Espuma wondered if the two could have been clever enough to swap necklaces. No matter. He would preserve both necklaces. His game with the sisters would have to wait. However, there were others he could play with....
Espuma whirled back to attention. The tiny image was watching him with a complacent smile.
"I can see you already have a plan you wish to carry out," said the Kaliche doll, "Leave me, then, and take care of your responsibilities." It became milky white and faded into inconsequence.
"Oh, yes. My responsibilities." As he watched the now empty space, Espuma's lips contorted further into a leer, "If I cannot have the chosen one, I suppose I shall have to console myself with a different delicacy...."
"Also, Espuma..." Kaliche's voice cut through his reverie.
"Will you quit doing that?" cried Espuma as he jerked around, "I mean...yes, Master?"
The image had reappeared, poised on a different crag. It favored him with an indulgent smile.
"I approve of your plan to distract the Apache while you steal the girl, but it is not enough. Before you get to playing with your pets and lose all track of time...." the image said and winked, "There is another sorcerer, a friend...well, you could not call him a friend...sort of an associate...no, not even that...someone who owes me a favor. I want you to see him. He will have something to add."
Torn between anger at being shoved aside and an abiding inquisitiveness, Espuma said, "What can he do that would improve my plan?" A thin line of comprehension glowed from beneath his slitted eyelids. "This 'someone' - " he said, " - did you know him long ago? Before Egypt?"
"Oh, yes. He brings back old memories," the Kaliche doll beamed.
CHAPTER VEINTIOCHO: END
Note: Although the javelinas in this story are referred to as 'pigs', they are not true swine. Javelinas, or peccaries, are small animals usually less than 65 pounds and stand perhaps knee-high. Their tusks project downward from the upper jaw, as opposed to pig's tusks, which are more likely to project upward from the lower jaw. Javelina mothers are quick to attack when their children are threatened and the entire herd will instantly join her in defending the young.