FROM A VANTAGE POINT: To the southwest of the Apache camp the ground dropped off gradually, forming a series of gullies, arroyos and washes. This natural maze forced anyone entering the camp into a path visible from hills above the open, flat area where the camp lay. From one of these vantage points, two young warriors stood and conversed. Tall Horse peered out across a vista of brown, gray, and sand, laced with mesquite trees and the gray-green of the untouchable cacti. He saw with the eyes of the wilderness, brown on brown, deeply penetrating, able to spot the smallest change or any movement out of the ordinary in the land below, where the oaks gave way to mesquite. A visitor from the present would say he had the eyes of the eagle, but though he raised his head in pride he would demur. "No eagle. Only an Apache," he would respond. These eyes saw the flicker of blue cloth, moving past a gap in the brush, moving toward the camp. It was a tiny movement, miles away, a fleck of blue and white behind a wall of mesquite and catsclaw, glimpsed quickly and then gone. From another ridge a mirror flashed as Eagle Claw signaled that he too, had spied the intruder. Tall Horse noted the position and calculated where he would next see the rider appear. The worldview of an Apache warrior was both simple and complex, immense and tiny, as all encompassing as the sky and the earth combined and aware of the smallest divergence. It has been said, perhaps by those over-awed by the deceptive ease with which the Apache moved through even the most inhospitable reaches, "They were not simply *of* the mountains and the desert. They *were* the mountains and the desert." Since they had come to this land, they had taken pains to be aware of everyone who came near, intruders, interlopers, and trespassers all. How a man came to be standing guard over the trails leading to the Apache camp was of no consequence. Some of the sentries were learning the way of the warrior, from the secret language and customs of the warpath to the drinking tube the novices were required to carry with them always. Some gravitated to the high reaches because they felt the need to keep the camp secure; others might choose to be alone and had found this the most convenient way to find some peace and quiet; still others preferred to conduct their prayers on a high point overlooking the trails. Tall Horse was there on business, making his way from one sentry post to another. He had seen the wisp of trail-dust and the flicker of blue cloth, but waited before he announced his observation. He had patience, more than some. He glanced away from the panorama below, toward the object of that patience. The man standing beside him met that gaze, held it, then faltered. "All right, all right." Hits Standing grumbled as he dug in a small leather pouch, "Two copper coins, right?" "Three," Tall Horse corrected him. "Eagle Claw demanded a fresh portion of meat from the feast, so I am going after it right now. That's the last time I bet with him." "You were too confident that the Mexican would win." "He was doing all right until the excitement," Hits Standing frowned as he handed over the coins. Tall Horse smiled as he put away his now fatter pouch. "He has to stay around in order to win the fight," he said. "No one has seen him since." Then he added, "Someone is approaching." Being an Apache, he did not speak these last words aloud. Instead, he announced his discovery by raising his head a fraction of an inch and peering intently in the direction of the wash through which the trail led. In response to Hits Standing's unspoken query, Tall Horse moved his head enough to be seen, showing that he did not know exactly how many were in the party, and he pointed with his chin to indicate the location of his sighting. "I still say the tall stranger could have taken Buffalo Wattle," Hits Standing complained as he watched vainly for a glimpse of the approaching riders. "He was winning." Tall Horse waited while his friend scanned the trail. Hits Standing saw only dimly the far mountain crests, but close-up his eyesight was sharp. While he was not the best sentry, he was deadly in a hand to hand brawl. Tall Horse did not aid in the search for movement on the trail. To do so would only humiliate the stout warrior. "They both lost, actually," said Tall Horse. "They were fighting to impress Lucha, and she had already chosen the white-eye." Hits Standing made a sour face, having spotted the riders on the trail below. "I once thought she had good sense," he said. "Who knows what women think?" Tall Horse shrugged, and said, "Did you have a pony outside her doorway?" "No." Hits Standing shook his head and grinned ruefully, "I bet on Buffalo Wattle...Lost that one, too." "It is not finished, yet. She is a woman. She may yet change her mind. Let's go see who our visitors are." Descending the rough hillside through a deep wash, they missed the silent explosion of mirror-flashes as sentries announced other intruders. Hits Standing mused, "Still, I wonder where that tall guy went. Maybe we could get a rematch."
Wolf Walker SURROUNDED: Wolf Walker stirred his feet...paws...about and let his mind go blank. There was a shallow depression to his left, no more than a mud hole, but wet enough. He had trouble with the notion of 'left' and 'right' as he kept his eyes closed tightly and worked his paws deeper into the loose sand. Beneath the hot sand lay cool soil, conductor of the earth currents, bearing messages of water not a hundred yards away. Turning into a wolf had not affected his ability to find water. If anything, getting down on all fours made the talent even more reliable. It was almost as if he could sense the land around him, clear in all directions. Or perhaps not so clear. Something kept him from sensing straight ahead. There was water ahead, but it seemed to be moving.... Closing his eyes more tightly, he tried to visualize the water and sensed only a vague blur. When he opened his eyes he was nose-to-nose with a javelina. He bounded backward in terror at the apparition which loomed before him - a boar javelina had crept within a few feet, close enough to rush in and slash him to death had it been able. The javelina stared with gleaming reddened eyes, moving slowly, favoring a left hind leg which bore caked blood from a jagged tear in its side. The wolf pup backed away from the boar, bristling and growling. This warning growl came out on a shriller note than he had intended, and the advancing javelina did not falter. Wolf Walker glanced quickly about himself to avoid being surrounded. There was another boar coming up behind him, and more javelinas moving in from other directions. He pelted through an opening in the cordon, swung wide around the javelinas and headed toward the water he had sensed. Though he quickly left the javelinas behind, he knew better than to believe that he had lost them entirely. He approached the sunken water-hole stealthily only to find it, too, was guarded by javelinas. He moved on, but slowly he realized that there were too many javelinas circling. His escape had been cut off.
A RING AROUND THE PIGGY: The fevered yelping of a distant pack of hounds burst loudly into Red Cloud's ears, momentarily tearing her attention away from the wolf cub being surrounded below her. The dogs were coming this direction, though they were still too far away to have caught her scent. She fought down the feeling that something else must be driving them, an inner suspicion that the hateful creatures were being urged in her direction. With an effort, she controlled her urge to flee and tried to think coherently. She returned her attention to the scene below. Javelinas had ringed Wolf Walker, marching around him as if to pen him in, leaving no opening large enough for him to slip through. Red Cloud noted the enclosing boulders and bushes for avenues of escape and crouched, muscles bunching for a pounce. Wolf Walker whined apprehensively, then fell silent. Self pity was going to do no good. Realizing that he had been trying to turn with the circling javelinas, he ceased his spinning and sat still. By turning his head slightly, he could watch in all directions for a sudden attack. The gloom of dusk had settled in, leaving the javelinas in silhouette as they marched past, red eyes gleaming. Their tusks reflected red from a lone cloud in the west, glowing from the dying sun. Suddenly, all the javelinas stopped and faced inward. The wounded boar, directly before Wolf Walker, dragged himself forward. Wolf Walker backed away from him until he could feel the hot breath of the javelina behind him stirring his tail hairs, then he darted toward the boar. The old boar, weakened by his wound, did not swing around fast enough and Wolf Walker sidestepped his snout to slash at the wounded side. Puppy teeth could not cut as deeply as the teeth of an older wolf, but they drew fresh blood and made the boar step away from Wolf Walker for a moment. In that moment, Red Cloud entered the picture. Two hundred pounds of jaguar crashed into the middle of the swarm of javelinas, slashing and tearing at them and forcing them to flee. With powerful forelimbs, she threw javelinas left and right until there was a clear space around her and the wolfling. She paused to give the wolf cub a chance to retreat to safety through that open area, but Wolf Walker remained nose to nose with the boar. The stubborn javelina had turned his attention toward Red Cloud, trying to march up to her blind side as she faced the other way. Instead of fleeing, Wolf Walker went after the old boar again. Red Cloud held the open area with disdain, flicking away the lone javelinas bold enough to try an attack. She ignored the old boar, and Wolf Walker standing him off. Somewhere within her, she heard the voice of caution warning her to cut short her stand and escape. That wisdom struggled with the taste of blood in her mouth, the feel of peccary flesh rending in her claws, and the scent of fresh meat. She was hungry, and here was food, food, and more food. Slashing and running, Wolf Walker pulled his adversary away from Red Cloud. He was wearing the boar down when the remaining javelinas counterattacked with reinforcements. Javelinas flowed like muddy black water across the space around the cat and wolf. They began to die as the jaguar screamed in defiance and met them with claws slashing, and still they kept coming.
A PRIDE OF DOGS: The wheel of time had rolled on, and the spokes of the Sun gleaming through western clouds announced the gathering dusk. Four men on horse: Trader Larribee, Will Larribee, Olaf Gustavson, and the Alcalde Roberto Mansino gathered about Noah Amberly. Their talk meandered from a discussion of hunting big cats to the more practical problem of finding lost dogs. Roberto Mansino liked cats. There was always a feline moocher or two prowling about the office the Alcalde maintained in Rio Peligroso. Mansino was handsome in a sleek, well-fed way, the way a cat stuffed daily with mice, cheese and milk would seem handsome. As Alcalde, or Mayor, he could indulge a couple of eccentricities and his habit of collecting pets was one of them. The other was his penchant for hunting larger cats, a passion he shared with his old friend, Trader Larribee. The two men had practically built up Rio Peligroso from a vagrant village, attracting venturesome Yanquis and cattlemen from Mexico to invest their time and lives in the harsh weather and scant vegetation of southern Arizona. Senor Mansino saw nothing wrong with feeding cats on one hand and killing them on the other. He always admired the spirit and fire of the beautiful beasts as they fought for their lives, even as Trader's dogs tore them apart. They always put up a splendid fight. He watched closely as Noah examined the ground. Trader's chief tracker, Noah Amberly, spat an amber stream into the sand. "If you hearken real good you might hear them searching fer something." He added, "Their trail leads east. We'd best be careful of Injuns." "The Injun camps are all farther north." Trader said, "Let Luke and Molly loose. They'll find their kin faster than we can track them." "Hell, they ain't no kin to them curs you bought from Europe." Amberly said, "I know what Russian Wolfhounds look like, and they ain't them." "I didn't say they was Rooshian Wolfhounds." Trader snapped, with a sneer on his lips, "You never seen such a sissy bunch of long-haired skinny mutts in your life. What I bought was Polish Wolfhounds, all the way from Liechtenstein." Noah paused to tighten the cinch on his saddle. "What you got," he muttered, "Is mixed blood curs. Likely came from some alley-way outside of Paris." "They's tougher and meaner than any wolf, not to mention they have shorter hair. They can take the heat better than them long-hair types." "They're mean because someone wore a wolfpelt and beat them near to death." The tracker grumbled, "Makes them hate wolves worse than anything." "So maybe they'll find a wolf or two before we find them. I'd like that." "Hell, I could find wolves, that's all you wanted." Noah said, "You sure put a lot of stock in them mutts." "Aw, Noah!" Grinned Trader, enjoying his friend's complaints, "You ain't gettin' jealous, are you?" "Not by a peck 'er a bushel! But you done let them hounds get out of your sight. They ain't coming back. If they don't wind up on some bear's dinner table, they'll find themselves a nice cushy job working for some Navajo sheepherder." "Only Navajo around here is the family over by the trading post." Trader laughed, "And they eat beef regular." "You know what I mean." Noah said, "This land weren't meant fer hounds. As it is, if we find them we'll be picking cactus spines out of their paws for a week." Luke and Molly, the two dogs, milled about until one of them caught the scent of their missing compatriots, then, as one, they whined in eagerness and bounded off across country. Tense with excitement, Trader turned in his saddle to address the Swede, the Alcalde, and his son. "Me and Noah are going to be riding hard." he announced, "Best keep together. Anyone has a horse go lame or pick up a rock or something holler out. Will, you keep up as best you can." "I'll be on your heels." Will said, "You slow down and you'll be eating my dust!" "Big talk for a Momma's boy." Trader snorted, "Where did you get that pony, anyhow? Your Momma give him to you?" "I found him." Will replied, only slightly subdued, "and it's Finders Keepers." "Landogoshen!" Noah jumped in alarm as the roar of a jaguar filled the land. "Man alive! That weren't no painter!" "That's music to my ears!" Trader replied, "They did it! Them dogs done treed a cat! Let's ride!"
SANDY AND ESTRELLITA COME TO CAMP: As they rode into the Apache camp, Estrellita noticed that Sandy was moving carefully and favoring his right side as if he were sore. She chided him for getting hurt while fighting Will. "Guess he got in a lucky punch," Sandy admitted. He did not tell her about the big warrior who had buffeted him about the stable. "Anyway, I am glad you changed your mind and let me come along." Estrellita said, "It has been such a long time since I saw Ramon." Sandy's shoulders slumped as he lied, "Least I could do, seeing as how you didn't really want to stay in town." To himself he added, "Now, if only we can survive this...." The Apache guards seemed to materialize out of the air, appearing so suddenly that Estrellita yanked on her reins and caused her horse to rear in alarm. She looked to Sandy for guidance, green eyes wide with alarm, ready to bolt for the back-trail. "Relax. They are friendly." Sandy said as he slowly raised an arm in greeting, "If they weren't we wouldn't be talking right now." "I would hate to see them if they did not like us," whispered the rancherita. "You wouldn't," Sandy promised under his breath. To the Apache guards he said, "We are looking for a girl named Machita and a cowboy named Lonesome." The guard's face took on an expression of shock, incredulity, and dismay...for an Apache, this meant that the corners of his mouth drooped slightly. "The Mexicans," he said very softly. "I heard they might be in camp," Sandy added helpfully. "What do you make of this?" Hits Standing asked of the second guard. The question was conveyed silently, with a turn of the head, a point of the chin, and a miniscule lift of the right eyebrow. The second guard, Tall Horse, lowered his club. "I will take you to them," he said aloud. Hits Standing shrugged. The stony expression on his face softened fractionally into mere irritation. "This place is getting too crowded," he muttered.
TAPS: Machita had decided that being alone in an Indian camp was not being alone. She was always under some sort of observation, whether from curious children, the eternally busy women, or the men who would raise a discreet eyebrow at her hair then seem to ignore her. Even so, she missed Red Cloud. At least she had not run afoul of Yucca. She had waited the appropriate amount of time and had gathered a container of cold water and a bundle of Red Cloud's clothing. She was carrying them back to the sheltered rock when she felt a tap on her head. She looked about, but could see no one. Suddenly, she was floating above the canyon, seeing with the remarkable razor-sharp vision of the eagle. Distracted by the view, she stumbled and almost dropped the water-basket, the trail and surrounding shrubbery obscured by the sight of distant peaks and valleys. Machita blinked and used her free hand to rub her eyes, straining to see the ground nearby instead of the spreading vista. Gradually the eagle's sight faded, and she could walk unhindered. [What could have brought that on?] she wondered. -tap- Machita rubbed the top of her head. Again, there was no one around. Wary of the blinding vision, she stopped and waited, but this time it was not a lapse in eyesight which afflicted her. Instead, the handle by which she grasped the water basket became rough and coarse, until she had to change her grip to protect the palms of her hands from splinters. The fibers woven into the basket were as bristly as thorns, and the pitch used to make it watertight gave off such a strong odor that she wrinkled her nose in distaste. [This...is unusual,] she thought. She closed her eyes and concentrated, remembering the way the basket had felt when she had filled it a few minutes earlier. As with the unwanted eagle's sight, the prickly feeling of the yucca fibers faded into normalcy and she could lift the basket to continue on her way. -tap- "All right! Who is doing that?" she demanded, but there was no one. The closest people she could see were in the main part of the camp ahead. [Who could have done that?] she wondered to herself, [It felt like that old woman, but....] The wind began to sing to her. The soughing melody of the breeze whispered in her ear, with an insect accompaniment playing from the bushes. She twisted about in amazement and the soft suppleness of her deerskin mantle stroked her shoulders with such luxurious softness that she froze, a look of concern upon her face. Then her hair rippled pleasantly with the tune of the breeze and she sat the basket on the ground to touch her head. The basket sagged against her leg and she felt cold water trickling out onto her foot. She lifted the basket and took a long swallow, letting the cold liquid spill past her lips and down the front of her dress. A laugh bubbled out of her throat and she clamped a hand over her mouth before it cascaded into a giggle. She felt so good that she dipped her hand into the water and tossed a handful high above her head, laughing. To think that she had ever worried about cold water. How silly! However, the trickle of cold down her back was not falling water spray. She became aware that she was being watched. She straightened and looked about at surreptitious stares and astonished faces. There were boys who clearly did not want to look away, although politeness demanded it. There were older women who seemed amused by her actions and younger women who, just as clearly, were not pleased at all. "Ai?" said Machita. [I did it again!] she thought, [I did something to make those guys stare! What is the matter with me?] -tap- "No you don't!" she cried, fighting the feeling of pleasant warmth that threatened to overwhelm her, "You are not going to do that again! I do not *want* to feel good as a girl!" There had to be only one explanation for her odd behavior. Machita dropped Red Cloud's buckskin dress over a thorny branch and left the water basket propped precariously upright on a narrow shelf of rock. Red Cloud could spill the water on her by rubbing up against it. "That crazy old woman! She did this! When I find her, I am going to...to...." Machita fumed as she stomped along, the chore of preparing for Red Cloud's return already forgotten. "She can't get away with putting a spell on me!" Her rant was interrupted by a glad cry from the trail behind her. "Sister of my beloved! Wait for me!" Machita sagged and slowed as Buffalo Wattle hurried up. "Why me?" she moaned. Buffalo Wattle had been thinking, and the expression on his face indicated that the process had been deep and painful. He fell in step beside his second love to give her the benefit of his long hours of deliberation. "We must make plans." he said, "For, once I have wed your sister, I will naturally have to marry you. Because you are the younger sister, your mother will not demand as many horses, but I wish to offer an amount which will not offend you." "I am not marrying you!" Machita spat, "And are you not forgetting something? My sister is engaged to the Yankee cowboy!" "That is nonsense," said Buffalo Wattle. "It goes against tradition." He thought about it for a few steps, then added, "It is unnatural. It is a misunderstanding." "You don't know the half of it!" growled Machita. Over the burning of her anger, piercing even the grating discomfort of her situation with Buffalo Wattle, she heard a chilling sound. From far away, distorted by wind and echo, she heard the baying of dogs. It was unlike the musical belling of the hounds around Don Pedro's rancho. This was a chorus of snarls lifted in urgent, angry tones as the dogs followed the scent of something they wanted badly.
A DISTANT CLAMOR: The noise of the baying of dogs came again, closer and more frantic as they voiced their eagerness. They were still on the trail of their prey, and Machita could tell by the pitch of their cries that they were getting close. Then, even nearer, another sound split the air. The shrill cry of wounded javalinas burst upon her, over-shadowed by the ripping squall of a cornered jaguar. The noise sent shivers down her spine. "Red Cloud!" Machita's heart raced and her breath grew short with fear. Red Cloud was out there, in that direction. Stepping faster, Machita heading for the path to the far side of the hill. She looked back to see Buffalo Wattle tagging along. "Four ponies and ten blankets would be too much, of course." he was saying, "However, I have to maintain my status. I cannot let it be said that I thought so little of you...." "Listen! I do not have time for this!" Machita said, turning back to Buffalo Wattle, "If you want to help, get me a weapon and get out of my way!" "Me? I do not carry women's weapons!" Buffalo Wattle flexed his sinews, "And you do not need them. You have me to protect you. Why would you want a weapon?" "I do not want to be protected, you big oaf!" cried Machita, her voice beginning to fade, "I need a spear...Or an ax...Or anything!" She hurled herself into Lucha's wickiup, saying, "I need a weapon, quickly!" Lucha tossed her a spear and reached for her own bow. "Where are you going?" she asked. "No time!" Machita answered as she raced out of the doorway. She stopped abruptly. Others had noticed this sound as well, and all around her Apache men were grabbing weapons, eager to investigate the racket. Buffalo Wattle remained, moving closer while warily watching the trail. Another fear threatened to choke her - Apache men and boys were going to get to Red Cloud first. They would not discriminate between pigs, dogs, or jaguar. All were considered fair game. Meat for the table. Mountain lion hide was prized for arrow quivers - jaguar hide would do as well. She turned quickly and dashed back into the wickiup, grabbing up a Mexican canteen sloshing with water. "I have to get to her first!" she grunted, settling into a dead run for the trail. As she ran, she realized that she would be too late. The battle cry of the jaguar and the shriek of javelinas were too far away. [I must not panic,] thought Machita. [I will not panic.] Then she saw men racing for the horse tethers to get their ponies. They would ride their ponies and get to the battle before she could even get out of camp. [Okay,] she thought. [Now I can panic!] She could not keep up her desperate strides and slowed, cursing the form which had stolen her male speed. Her breath came in deep gasps, and she could not have cried out even if her voice had not faded. As her footsteps faltered she heard another sound, coming from behind. She chanced a quick glance. Utter chaos greeted her eyes as cooking fires, food, baskets and drying racks burst aside. The alarming racket was accompanied by the yells and screams of those unfortunate enough to be caught in the path of a horse barreling pell-mell through the camp. She had time to wonder whose horse had gone crazy before she saw the bay coloring and the white blaze. She knew that horse --- Rayo!!! Machita stopped, gasping for breath as she waited for Rayo to get to her. Her prayers were answered. She could leap into the saddle and race to help Red Cloud. She could.... Rayo interrupted her plans as he galloped nearer, too close to stop in time. He thundered up to her, thrust all four feet out before him, sat down and slid into her, knocking her sprawling to the ground. "Can't you do anything right?" cried Machita. She scrambled to her feet, gathering the canteen and spear. Rayo, after swarming upright, wanted to rub his head against her but she climbed quickly into the saddle. "We don't have time for hugs and kisses! Let's get going!" she commanded, grabbing the reins and digging in with her heels. Lucha was standing in her path. There was no question in her eyes about how her sister had obtained a horse, complete with white-eye saddle. She expected to ride with Machita. "I do not have time for this!" Machita said, even as Rayo ploughed to a stop, allowing Lucha to clamber onto the saddle behind her. Lucha had to throw her arms about Machita's neck when Rayo exploded forward again. Rayo quickly found the path, flying over the distance that had seemed so overwhelming a moment before. Machita bit her lip in frustration at the loss of precious seconds, while muttering a prayer of thanks to Mama's God and whatever spirits might be around for the power of a good horse to make up for the lost time. How had Rayo found her? No time to wonder how he got there. She had a chance to get to Red Cloud. If they could get there in time, if the men were not already on their ponies and riding ahead of them.... There were ponies running through the undergrowth, but they all seemed to be alone, without riders, although there were men trying to head them off and call them back. One pony was dragging a tether rope, as though he had yanked it, bush and all, from the ground. Had Rayo spooked them? Machita smiled grimly. "Good boy!" She said, "You are as crafty as a Coyote, after all! Let us get there, quickly!" Off to the right came the blur of another rider, sitting with his back straight as he slapped the ends of his reins across his horse's rump to urge it on. In the growing gloom, Machita could not make out details, but the rider seemed oddly different from an Apache horseman. She intently urged Rayo onward, trying to stay ahead, but the rider kept up with her. She glanced toward him and saw by the blond hair and blue shirt that it was Sandy. The blond cowboy pulled closer and hollered, "Hey! Where are you going? What's the hurry?" Machita shook her head and clung to saddle horn and mane as Rayo topped the hill and they plunged into a draw. Explanations would have to wait. The sounds of pigs and jaguar fighting were directly ahead.
CHAPTER TRIENTA: END