WHERE'S EVERYBODY?: "It is good. Little Mouse's mother is an excellent seamstress." Lucha said. She pulled a bone needle through the soft deerskin to complete a final stitch, then pulled the knot tight and bit off the sinew thread. "Now it fits you," she said. Estrellita touched the blue, red, and yellow beads trimming the blouse in admiration, then turned to make the fringes fly out from the skirt. She twirled, very like a young girl with her first party dress, her now short blond hair floating about her head in a halo. "I love it!" she exclaimed, "It is perfect!" Lucha nodded in agreement. "If you have to endure life near that brother of mine, you deserve something nice." While Estrellita had another of her giggling fits, Lucha had to step outside the wickiup. [That girl is embarrassing,] she thought. From her doorway she could see Tom Goose's wickiup, where Sweetcorn was waving for her to come over. The chief's wife took Lucha aside and said, in a hushed voice, "A word of advice, child." "About what?" "On your first night, you must hold yourself back. Do not give him everything. Save that for the second night, or even the third. That way, he will be convinced that you are an eternal fountain of passion." Lucha turned scarlet. "I would never do that!" she gasped. "Believe me, he will thank you for it. It works for us and I am sure the pale-eye will be the same way." "But I am not going to get married! I have told Broken Cloud this!" "You have?" Sweetcorn paused, looking toward the shaman's tipi. "Odd. I thought we had an understanding. I will ask him." From within Sweetcorn's wickiup came a sleepy voice, "Ramon, oh my Ramon!" Lucha listened in disquiet. "Is Yucca ill?" she asked. "She is sleeping," said Sweetcorn. "Perhaps she dreams aloud." "It must be a terrible dream, if it is about my Mexican brother. I am thinking he disgusts me, with his strange ways." Sweetcorn sighed. "It is so lovely. Finding your long-lost brother and getting married, all at once." "I said I am not...." "Ah, to be young and in love again. It is so sweet!" The older woman smiled at her knowingly. "When I was young, I also told others that I would not marry my husband. I said that he wasn't man enough for me. I am thinking you are doing the same. It did make the first few days in the wickiup he built...nice." Seeing the anger clouding Lucha's face, she placated her, "Hush. I will speak to the shaman and straighten it out." Lucha frowned and headed back to her own wickiup, where next she encountered Buffalo Wattle, who tried to look past her into the wickiup, and cried, "Sister of my Beloved! Come to me!" Lucha barred the doorway. "She is not within, Oh Chief's Son. Why do you seek my sister?" "We must discuss plans for our wedding! But, I cannot find her anywhere!" "Does she know of this wedding to you?" Lucha wondered. "Of course! I have told her, when she proved that her heart was as strong as the mountain lion! She devised an excellent punishment for the horse thief!" "Oh. Right. *That* would get your attention, I suppose." "I must search for her! She will attend me as we discuss the pale-eye's fate! Perhaps at that time I will pass on her suggestion to the council. When she returns, tell her to come to me. She will be glad to hear of my thoughts!" "Be sure to tell the sky-eyed cowboy, also," Lucha said with a tiny wicked grin. Buffalo Wattle scowled. "I begin more to hate cowboys," he said. "They are liars. You have been tricked by a cowboy, and I shall destroy him! You must not be forced into this arrangement!" "I have not been tricked. I have not chosen!" Lucha was surprised at the vehemence in her own voice, "No shaman can force me to wed against my will!" Oblivious to the ongoing argument, Estrellita poked her head out the doorway. "May I borrow some jewelry?" she asked. "Go ahead!" Lucha snapped, and Estrellita, wide-eyed, drew back hastily. Lucha sighed. Buffalo Wattle had wandered off, seeking Lucha's sister. Yucca was dreaming of Lucha's brother. Where were her siblings? Perhaps she should do some searching of her own on her way to the trial. ACCEPTING COMPROMISES: "Four days!" "One!" "I don't care if you hold your breath until you blow away, you imperious old faker, we get four days! It is tradition!" "One day! And not that many, if you insist on arguing! We don't have much time!" Sweetcorn was normally mild, gentle, understanding and patient. Sweetcorn was never truculent. However, there were some things in the world important enough to fight for. "At least three days," she grumbled. "It takes that long to complete the dress. And that is for one bride, only. Now we have *two*. We should get twice as long!" "You'll have to hurry it up," insisted Nomiro. "There is a witch menacing our people, and the only way to defeat him is to marry Lucha off." Sweetcorn's strident glare abated slightly. "We can defeat a witch by holding a wedding?" she asked. "It will destroy him. If we take away the maiden he seeks, his master will kill him and we won't have to worry about him any more." Nomiro had his facts straight from Cornsilk, who had gotten them from her own demons. Even if you could not trust demons, this was a way to trap the witch. "Well...." This was clearly a different game. Sweetcorn was only slightly mollified, however. "We'll need at least a day to finish the dresses!" "Do whatever you have to do," Nomiro said. "But by tomorrow night Lucha must be wed. And the Mexican girl, as well, just to be certain." Sweetcorn swelled with determination and began to plan in feverish haste. Weddings were the province of women. This was their privilege, their right, their moment of glory. Never mind that one of the brides was unknown. Never mind that both of the grooms were unknown. Never mind that the traditional four days had been foreshortened to only one. With a double wedding to celebrate and a woefully short time to prepare for it, the women of the camp would come through with flying colors. They would redouble their efforts to gather and prepare food, while departing guests were called back. A select crowd of seamstresses would blaze through the task of preparing appropriate dresses while singers would be rushed in to sing over the garments. The brides would be wearing the finest raiment as they departed their ancestral wickiup and traveled in state to the abodes of their lucky grooms. Yes. It could be done. She rubbed her hands together and smiled as she swept through the camp, giving orders in a most undemocratic manner. TRAINING CAMP: There was a path between the camp and the twisted tree, the product of many recent footraces where youths and warriors had devised their own entertainment. They ran footraces and played hoop-and-pole, while older heads nodded together on the weightier matters facing the clan, especially when such matters involved careful deliberation of food-gathering sites and boring contemplation of politics. Ramon fairly flew along this path, glorying in his speed, the wind in his ears and the blur of brush as he flashed past. He quickly overtook Buffalo Wattle as the Apache youth loped easily along. Buffalo Wattle was running smoothly, clearly not putting any effort into outrunning his opponent. His long, black hair, ordinarily hanging past his waist, floated behind him in rippling waves. His breechclout was long, falling below his knees, while he wore tough moccasins rising almost to his thighs to protect his legs from thorns. The expression on his face was mild as he turned his head to observe Ramon, almost as if the meeting were by chance. His plucked eyebrows made that expression unreadable and faintly menacing, though Ramon had learned to read the tiny curl of lip which signified disdain. [Is he even trying?] Ramon thought, as he came upon Buffalo Wattle and ran alongside him. For a while they paced each other, their legs reaching and thrusting as they ran along the rocks and parched grass of the trail. For the most part, the trail was straight and clear. They ran across open places and around occasional straggling mesquite, skirting dense thickets of thorn and cactus, wary of each other and the possibility of stepping on fanged, barbed or armored denizens of the harsh climate. While they ran, they studied each other. The Apache was older and more developed, his wiry muscles showing under a light sheen of perspiration, and he seemed capable of maintaining a strong pace all day long. Ramon was not as tall but he ran with equal ease, matching Buffalo Wattle stride for stride. Together they came over the last rise before the terrain rose to hold the twisted tree, and Ramon glanced away from his opponent to avoid a cactus plant. He felt the hand on his shoulder and wavered, realizing that Buffalo Wattle had taken advantage of his inattention to shove him off the path. Unable to keep his balance and miss the cactus at the same time, he intentionally tumbled to the ground short of the thorns and managed to keep from falling into them. Ramon bounded back to his feet and doubled his effort, working to make up lost time. The chief's son was moving smartly along the rising trail, his long hair whipping behind him and his breechclout yanking from side to side like some kind of cloth tail. Ramon set out after him, certain he could overtake the Apache lad and pass him before they both reached the tree. One moment, he had been pounding down the trail leading to the twisted tree, close beside Buffalo Wattle, the next moment, Buffalo Wattle had vanished. Gone. Invisible. Nowhere to be seen. Ramon stopped, released an exasperated breath and resumed his flight along the trail, regretting the seconds spent in bewilderment. Somewhere ahead, a pebble rattled against another. [He's ahead! How did he disappear like that?] Buffalo Wattle was still in the race, only now he had gained enough valuable distance that he could taunt his opponent. If there was any one thing Ramon prided himself on, it was his speed in footraces. His zapatos crunched over gravel, hushed over sand, and whispered over solid granite, a rapid-fire monologue that told of haste and determination. Again, Ramon saw Buffalo Wattle as the chief's son touched the twisted tree, spotted his pursuer, and redoubled his effort as he headed back down the trail to the camp. Buffalo Wattle was no longer wasting time trying to conceal himself - he had realized that Ramon was closing the gap and was racing with all his might. Ramon touched the tree and blazed after him. He was almost close enough to reach out and touch Buffalo Wattle's long hair when he stumbled across a dry streambed. Picking himself up and hurrying on, he had a disturbing thought. [Odd...I don't remember crossing that stream on the way up....] Gravel flew as he dodged a boulder which should not have been there. He followed the trail as it drifted to the south, toward the low desert land, for four breaths. The trail then meandered back north toward the hills. It settled into an arroyo where clay walls sped past, walls that he had not seen before. It was not until Ramon found himself trying to slide through a thicket of brambles that he came to an important though very uncomfortable realization. He was lost. "Where the heck am I?" Eventually he came to a dead end, in a clearing of oak trees grown so close together that he could not see any path out - in any direction, even the one where he had come in - and Ramon came to a second, important, and crushing realization. He had not only lost his direction, he had also lost the footrace. "Man, this sucks!" He gasped as he inhaled and expelled gales of the warm morning air. He turned completely around, dancing nervously and trying to see a way out. "So. You decided to take some training after all!" spoke a dry, all-too-familiar voice. Ramon spun about once more and groaned. Cornsilk rose from her blanket and finished off her beverage before tossing the gourd cup into the underbrush. She pointed toward a nearby clump of tumbleweed, which resolved itself into the ragged, disheveled form of Mud Wallow and added, "We can teach you about some powers." APPRAISAL: Lonesome was drawing the blade of a skinning knife across a whet rock, an 'Arkansas stone' from his saddle bag, when he felt someone watching him. His first response was to shift the knife in his hand so it was easier to wield in event of an attack. His second action was to face his watcher, an action which relaxed into a broad grin as he resheathed the knife. "Good morning, ahh...Miss Lucha," he said. The Indian girl had approached so silently that he had not sensed a thing, a feat which caused him to glance about quickly to see if others might have also crept close. She seemed much more settled than she had the first time they had met. At least she was not ready to claw his eyes out, but she did not respond to his greeting. Lucha was bold enough, once her presence was known, to step right up to him and examine him closely. This gave him a chance to look at her as well, and he liked what he saw. She was slim but shapely, with somber brown eyes and a highlight of red in her dark hair. Lonesome put the sheathed knife away and picked up the pouch to store the sharpening stone, trying to hide the fact that he was looking at her. He had to admit that she was attractive. She moved closer to examine the sharpening stone, and he gulped. Yep. She was very attractive. Her touch was soft and yet tingly as she retrieved the stone from his hand, and her lips were drawn into a pout that screamed across any language barrier they might have known. "Sorry, I don't speak much Apach," said Lonesome. Again, she did not respond. "Can't understand a word I'm saying," he concluded. The girl smiled and concluded her cursory examination of the rectangular object. "It's a whet rock. I have a passel them to trade," Lonesome offered, before gritting his teeth in annoyance. His mouth was trying to run away with him. Danged if he was going to get tongue-tied by some little gal. That's how trouble got started. Next thing you know, he would be running around in circles like some lapdog and begging for scraps. Lucha held the stone out to him, a question in her eyes. "You sharpen knives with it," he explained. "Of course, your folk wouldn't have much use for it, since it don't work on flint blades, but it you had a steel knife...." There was nothing threatening about the weapon which appeared in her hand, nor in the way she presented it to him hilt-first, but Lonesome decided that it had appeared too suddenly and too close to his chest. Plenty of reason for him to be a lot more cautious when dealing with the Apache. "Oh. Well...." He accepted the haft of the weapon, discovering the blade to be excellent Spanish steel with a bone handle. "This one has a fair edge to it, already, but it could use some polishing. You see the scratches on the edge, here?" Lonesome continued, "That's caused by using too hard a rock to sharpen the blade with. What you want is something that wears away, rather than eats up the metal. Let me show you." He spat on the stone and was about to draw the knife blade across it when he became aware of her alarm. "What?" he asked. She took her hand away from her face and reached for the stone. When she had it she wiped his saliva from it with a scrap rag lying in his gear. Then she spat on it herself, and returned it to him. "Don't want to take no chances, huh?" Lonesome started to grin, but she remained somber. He began to whet the blade. He guided the steel blade as it whispered across the stone, feathering the edge until it could cut a hair laid across it. When he handed the weapon back to her, she tested the edge for herself, smiled, and put it away. Lonesome handed her the stone. "Here," he said. "Don't know what the custom here is, but I don't think they'll shoot me any worse for giving you something. Least as long as I ain't giving it to your Momma or something, so they think it's a wedding present." He shook his head. "Sort of wish you could understand me." Lucha stood for a moment, regarding the stone, before slipping it into a pouch. She gave him one more cursory inspection before stepping away from him. "Thank you," she said, and trotted off. "Dang!" Lonesome grumbled as he gathered his gear. "Guess I made enough of a fool of myself for one day!" ------------- Down the trail, Lucha paused. The cowboy was attractive, in a way. He was tall, with broad shoulders and a quiet smile, and a look to his dark eyes that spoke of quiet endurance. Endurance of what? Pain? Yes, pain, betrayal, and deep anger at someone out of reach. She was not trying to find reasons to like him - she could never accept anyone who would force himself on her. But there was a story here, behind those shadowed eyes, and she loved stories. She would have to talk to him again. Later. -------------- "What did you give her!?" demanded Wolf Walker, his face blocking Lonesome's view of the retreating girl. "Hell, I gave her a sharpening stone! That's all! She can use it to buff her nails," Lonesome drew back from the threatening visage. Somehow, he doubted that Lucha was going to put the sharpening stone to such a ladylike use. She had beauty, she had wit, but most of all she had a steely determination that had shaken him. She would not hesitate to use that knife if the occasion arose. [That might make this wedding a little chancy,] he had decided, and for the first time he admitted to himself that he had been thinking about a little romance after the ceremonies. Remembering the speed with which she had made the Spanish blade appear, he said to himself, "Not this gal. You don't love this one and leave her - she'd cut your gizzard out!" Still, Lonesome smiled to himself. [Who would have thought the Azuma warrior would be so jealous? Now, what do you make of that?] He finished packing his stones and made his way over to the cluster of people who were going to decide the fate of the horse-thief. THE TRIAL OF WILL LARRIBEE: Will Larribee landed face down in the dust. He struggled back to his knees and sneered at his guard. The slant of his lips said that he was not afraid, while the quivering of his knees told another story. Grains of sand fell from his dusty cheek, and he blew at a dried blade of grass, trying to dislodge it. Tall Horse stood beside him and announced the beginning of the trial. Jurors assembled and sat on either side - unbiased, impartial. The only reason they had brought their knives and clubs was so the sentence could be carried out without bothersome delay. The accuser stood to one side, traditionally with the imperious glare of the injured, the righteous posture of the person bringing charges against the defendant. There were those who noted that White Dog was less than severe toward the cowboy, but they put this observation down to the nobility of the accuser. The witnesses...there were members of the party which had encountered the pale-eye hunting party. Some of them were on the jury. This, however, would not affect the outcome of the trial, since they were upright, honest men. Impartial. With sharp weapons. Onlookers sat around and discussed the legal ramifications, comparing the events with other horse thefts which had occurred years before. Some of the cases being reviewed had happened in the previous century. The Apache had a good memory, and an excellent tradition of oral history. Outsiders had their own pew, sitting in a clump which only incidentally marked them as 'friends of the deceased to be'. This group consisted of Mexicans, cowboys and assorted guests who had attended the previous two days of feasting. Among the guests were a small group of Maricopas and Pimos, enjoying a rare truce with the Apache while on a pilgrimage to Mexico. The judge arrived with proper pomp, dignity, and ceremony. Tom Goose shuffled up, tossed a blanket and a pillow on the ground and collapsed onto the pile. "All right," he sighed. "What do we have this time?" "He stole White Dog's pony!" cried Eagle Claw, from the jury box. "Not yet," Tom Goose said to Eagle Claw. He indicated White Dog with his chin. "What say you, the accuser? Do you have anything to add?" White Dog shook his head. Turning to Will, Tom Goose asked, "Did you steal his pony?" "I ain't never stole no horse!" cried Will. "Horse stealing is a hanging offense!" His defiant stand was hindered by the realization that he had just given them another option for punishment. "Proceed," The judge sighed deeply, shook his head, and turned the formalities over to the lawyers. "Call the first witness," instructed Tall Horse. "He was riding White Dog's pony when we saw him at the draw," said Black Elk. "What was he doing so near our camp?" Tom Goose interrupted the proceedings to wonder. "His party was chasing runaway dogs," said Tall Horse. "He appears to have killed one dog just as it was attacking Lucha and her sister." "An act of craven cowardice!" cried Eagle Claw, "He meant to distract us, keep us from noticing that he rode our friend's pony!" Black Elk pondered. "If he did not want us to notice, why would he ride into our midst?" "He is devious," Eagle Claw glared at Will, who attempted an innocent smile but instead produced a weak grimace. Knowing that the Apache considered cleverness to be an admirable quality did not help Will's self-confidence. There was a general hubbub as onlookers discussed the arguments. Two young men got into an argument and were about to be removed from the vicinity but it turned out their debate involved their favorite methods for stealing enemy ponies. They returned meekly to the trial. On the outskirts of the gathering, the odds were running about nine to one that the cowboy would not survive until the next day. Lonesome considered taking some of the odds, but Estrellita glared him down. After the hubbub had settled down at last, Tom Goose turned to Will Larribee and asked, "How did you get the pony?" "I found it," Will muttered sullenly. "A likely story!" jeered Eagle Claw, who was sharpening his knife on a stone purchased from Lonesome. "I did!" cried Will, "It didn't have no saddle, or bridle, or brand, so I thought it had gone wild! There was no one around! I found it wandering around in the woods by the Hick's place, out behind the Greentree Settlement, and I knew it wasn't one of their horses!" Tom Goose mulled over his thoughts and asked, "White Dog, is this where you lost your pony?" White Dog maintained a stony silence. "I know of this place," said Tall Horse. "There are some Navajos who are trading there. I have heard of a pretty Navajo girl there, also. Hmmmm...." The sound of many voices striking the same note made a litany as many faces turned toward White Dog. Black Elk left his position as juror to approach the accuser's seat. There was sadness in his eyes as he remarked, "I was ready to go fight the pale-eyes." "We could still do this," suggested Eagle Claw, hopefully. "No," said Black Elk sadly. "No, now there is no reason. White Dog let his pony run free while he courted the Navajo girl, and the pale-eye found it. This was irresponsible of White Dog. We must let the pale-eye go." "Cut him loose," said the judge, who then retired to his chambers. Rubbing the circulation back into his hands, Will looked about, his face taking on a shrewd expression. He asked, "If everything's all right, does that mean I get to keep the pony?" Tall Horse said, "You may have done a brave thing, helping our sisters with the hounds. But you have taken another's pony without asking. Do not push your luck." "See? You should've let me bet," said Lonesome to Estrellita, as they straggled back into camp, "I could have made a bundle!" "Humphh! Is that all you ever think about?" Estrellita snorted delicately, "Ramon would never be so callous!" A HEART OF PEACE: In the impenetrable oak grove, Mud Wallow gestured Ramon closer to offer him some advice, "Before you can strive for anything, you must seek your heart of peace. Once you have the perfect stillness here..." the dingy shaman thumped his breastbone and dust billowed, "...then you can do anything you wish." Ramon gave him a puzzled look. "Exactly how do I go about getting this 'heart of peace'?" "Glad you asked," Mud Wallow took him by the elbow and led him up a narrow winding trail until they could look out over the entire valley floor. "First you must sit." Ramon rebelled. "I have had enough of this 'sitting'! Why is it that everyone who wants me to learn anything tells me to sit and stare at the wind?" "I see no one else here!" Mud Wallow spoke in a querulous tone, turning around as if searching. "My abuelo made me sit in the hot sun. That crazy old woman made me sit in the hot sun. Now you want me to sit in the hot sun!" "Oh," Mud Wallow blinked again, then nodded in understanding. "If this is true, then it must be very important that you learn to sit in the hot sun," he went on as if the matter were settled. "While you sit, you must pray for assistance. Ask someone to help you with your search." "I do not wish to offend you," said Ramon, "but I must honor my mother's faith. I cannot pray to your other gods." "Why must you make your life so complicated?" snapped the shaman, "Know this - there are gods, and there are gods, but there is only one God!" "Well, that's better," said Ramon. "And his name is Yuss'n!" "Eh?" "You have let confusion into your heart of peace, and now you are unable to reason!" "I can reason just fine! It is crazy people like you I cannot understand! You can talk all you want to - I am not going to sit!" Mud Wallow shrugged. "As you wish," he said as he led the way down the narrow path. "Now we must do this the hard way." SUBSTITUTE TEACHER: The path of an Apache medicine woman, even if she was an involuntary shamaness, was not easy. Cornsilk breathed a brief prayer to bolster her patience. She took another step along this path and faced the young man before her. Ramon stood before her, sullenly, and demanded, "What can you teach me?" "Oh, something." Cornsilk shrugged, then demanded, "Where did Buffalo Wattle go, when you were racing? Why could you not see him?" "I dunno. What difference does it make? I was about to win!" "He used the hiding power to elude you, you dolt! Didn't he? What chance do you think you would have had if he hadn't been playing fair?" "He disappeared! That wasn't playing fair!" "You mean he was treating you like an equal, and not like an enemy? You should remember this...when you go against a true enemy, *nothing* is fair!" "You seem awful anxious to make me learn stuff! Why should I remember anything you tell me?" Cornsilk nodded sourly, studying rabbit tracks. "You interested me. Also, someone came to me and said you would be fighting a sorcerer and needed some help." She sighed as she returned to the blanket and sat upon it, "I said I would, which shows what kind of fool I am." "Not *that* again!" Ramon said, after he had finished gaping, "Can't I get away from it? Is that what this is all about? Did an old man put you up to this? Is my abuelo around here somewhere?" "I talked to your guide!" Cornsilk matched him glare for glare. "Red Cloud?" Ramon fell back in surprise. "That's what I said! Listen when I speak, Boy!" "I am! I just don't believe it!" Cornsilk narrowed her eyes dangerously, and said, "Much as it pains me, I am going to teach you something. I am going to show you a power which will allow you to surprise and defeat even the strongest enemy." "Who says I'm going to let you? I might not go along with this!" "What? You wrestle, and you don't want strength? You run, and you don't want speed? You would face this monster with empty hands and no weapon?" "Well...maybe I could use a suggestion or two," Ramon paused, in spite of his anger. "Can you really help me fight better? And run faster?" "(sigh) That's what I'm saying, Boy. But you get your back up like a porcupine again and you can forget it! I'll let you face this sorcerer alone!" Ramon kicked a stone out of the way and grumbled, "What do you know about it? Who says I want to fight a sorcerer, anyway?" "Do you love your sister?" "Yeah, sort of. I mean, I only met her lately, but she...." "There is an old, I mean *REALLY* old man who is looking for her. I saw him once, many moons ago, and I think I now know what he is trying to do to her." "Kaliche was here?" Ramon sputtered in alarm. Her words triggered a landslide of memories that threatened to engulf him, smother him until he could not breathe. She might as well have whacked him in the face with her walking stick. Ramon stood frozen as the blood drained from his face and he cried, "He wants to hurt Lucha! I will protect her! He is not getting her! I won't let him!" "So you *do* care what happens to her. But that is big talk. How're you going to stop him? What are you going to do to protect her?" "I...I don't know what I expected to do, after I got her home," Ramon said as he scratched his head. "At first, I was only trying to find her, take her home and guard her there. Then things got complicated. But I will do *something*!" The old woman softened her gaze for a moment, "Big heart won't beat the big magic this sorcerer knows. You need more." "Okay," Ramon agreed glumly. Put that way, he could use an ally or two. Or more. Maybe an army. "What can you teach me?" HOW TO DEFEAT A SORCERER IN ONE EASY LESSON: Ramon stared from the glowing hole blasted in the rock to Mud Wallow, who was still holding a sputtering ball of fire in his hand. Crackling echoes grumbled back from nearby hills. "How the heck am I supposed to do *that*?" Ramon snapped, "I can't even pronounce it!" "I just showed you how! You must meet him face to face and overpower him!" Mud Wallow brought his hands together with a squelch, extinguishing the blaze and squirting a smoky haze into the air. "I am not a magician! Why don't *you* fight Kaliche? Ew...." Ramon wrinkled his nose as the wind shifted and tears sprang to his eyes. "Because I could not get close enough!" The dirty shaman fanned the fumes away from his face and stomped off, muttering, "You are right, that would take too long to learn. We have to try another way." HOW TO DEFEAT A SORCERER IN ### TWO EASY LESSONS: Mud Wallow went to his packs and withdrew a worn blanket, rank with age and spilled grease, and offered it to Ramon. Ramon, in turn, eyed it with some skepticism while the dingy shaman rooted deeper. Next came a leather cloak adorned with feathers and shaggy with buffalo hide reinforcement. "Wear this," instructed Mud Wallow. "Looks like good armor, but it's heavy," Ramon said. "Oh, that's not the armor," Mud Wallow said as he produced, from somewhere, the iron protection of a conquistador. "*This* is the armor. It goes over the padding. It served the Spanish against magic long ago, maybe it will help you." With the shaped metal uniform weighting him down and a steel helmet blocking his vision, Ramon staggered back. "How am I supposed to fight him if I can't see him?" he complained. "What I have given you will get you close enough," the old shaman snapped. "Then you can use *this* to cut him down." He produced a sword as long as Ramon was tall and placed the handle in Ramon's hands. This, unfortunately, overbalanced him and the entire ensemble crashed, clattered, and clanged to the ground. Ramon's voice came muffled from underneath the pile. "Don't you have something more suitable for someone like me? I am no gorilla!" Cornsilk sighed. HOW TO DEFEAT A SORCERER IN ### ### THREE EASY LESSONS: "I will teach you a power," she announced. "A technique that is so devastating that you can face an armed man and rip him apart with your bare hands!" "Great!" Ramon responded. At last, something useful! Something a man could use in honest combat, without worrying about someone calling him 'feminine'! "You mean I won't need a knife or sword or anything?" "Nothing. You could be stripped naked and your enemies will quake with fear." "Oh, man! I gotta learn that!" "It is real power," agreed Cornsilk. "You will need to work on your heart of peace in order to use it, though. I call it 'soft hands'." Ramon's thoughts jarred to a stop. What kind of a power was that? "Oh, great! Just great! I have enough trouble with girl stuff, and I have to have a power a girl would use? Don't you have something a little more manly?" "Hmmm," she shook her head. "You could use the one called `Ultimate Attack of the Hog-Nosed Serpent'." "That sounds better! Wait a minute. Isn't the hog-nosed snake the one that rolls over and plays dead?" "Oyeh." "Ahhh...no. Show me the other." Cornsilk stood beside him and grasped his hand, turning it palm upwards. "This is the art of Soft Hands," she said. "First, you must be very calm, like the stillness of the open fields. You must have a heart of peace. Then, you bend your fingers into claws," she demonstrated. "If you have achieved the proper attitude, you fingers will pass through bone and flesh like a sharp blade. When you get close to the sorcerer, reach up to his face and rake your claws across. Then run!" Ramon eyed his fingers as he curled them into a fist and straightened them out again. "Not a very difficult strike," he said suspiciously. "Why, a girl could do it. In fact...hey!" He yanked back from the old woman and cried, "I cannot believe it! You want me to scratch his eyes out, the way a woman would fight! Is that how you want me to get close to him? He is not that big a fool!" Cornsilk sighed, "Then we have to use the last resort." HOW TO SURVIVE AN ENCOUNTER WITH A SORCERER: "How fast can you run?" "Watch me!" Ramon demonstrated his fleetness by racing across the clearing, which extended before him no matter how far he went. He ran as fast as he could, hoping that he might somehow get beyond the opening and perhaps beyond the training. He glanced to his side to see the old woman pacing him, walking easily. "That's not fast enough," she said. Ramon stopped and huffed, regaining his breath. "What do you want? Do I have to run like a chicken? Why can't I just hit him with something?" "That was in the first lesson," she pointed out, using her walking stick against his skull for emphasis. "You failed that one. He can probably fly, swim, or burrow through the ground faster than you can run. We are going to have to keep working. I have seen this sorcerer of yours, and you are going to need all the help you can get!" WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS: "All right, old woman," said Ramon, "Just give me something to handle this creep and let me go! Quit dragging this out!" Cornsilk's eyes again narrowed dangerously. "We cannot give you what you do not already have, young fool!" she growled, "We can only shape what little raw material you have brought with you!" She lifted a loop of Ramon's riata with the tip of her walking stick. "Fortunately, you have been able to develop a few simple skills on your own. That will help. Now, pay attention! Listen to these chants and repeat them back to me...precisely! This is the ritual for 'seeing power', so you can see your enemies at a distance...." "Oh, man...." groaned Ramon, "Not more school! Sure I want to learn, but not this way! Give me something to fight!" How long the drills and rote repetitions might have lasted, Cornsilk did not know. Ramon's attention drifted more and more, gaining him a smack from the walking stick each time. At last, after he fumbled the pronunciation of a chant which would have improved his night-vision, Cornsilk called a halt. "You will never learn!" she announced. "You have heart, but it is not the heart of the Apache." The boy actually bowed his head, not willing to look her in the eye. He said, "I am sorry, Grandmother." "Don't try to weasel out of this with politeness, Boy! We'll just have to work harder! There has to be a way to teach you! As for now...." She was interrupted by a mild voice. "Perhaps I may be of service." Cornsilk whipped about. She gaped in shock at the slender, almost delicate man who stood by the ancient oak. His brown hair was silver at the ends and stood out from his face and head in a halo, as though there were a light at his back. His eyes glowed an amber-brown, and his robe seemed to be made of young bear pelts. "I know something of these things," he said, motioning to Ramon. "Sir, will you go with me?" "Huh? Oh, yeah. Sure," Ramon said uneasily, looking back at Cornsilk for her approval. Cornsilk remained frozen, her mouth hanging open as she stared. She realized that Ramon was waiting for her to do something, so she raised her walking stick and motioned him to go ahead. The boy and bear-man did not move toward an opening in the undergrowth, but toward the sturdy bole of the ancient tree where they faded from sight. "Who was that?" Mud Wallow asked as he wandered up. Cornsilk shook her head and blinked. Where Ramon and the stranger had stood there were thick tendrils of cloud and smoke, roiling and pouring themselves around. "Bear spirit, I think," she whispered. "Oh," said Mud Wallow, smacking his lips. "I would have expected a huge fellow, bigger than a buffalo." "He was smaller than I would have expected, also, and well mannered. You could invite him to share meat at the chief's wickiup," Cornsilk said as she drew herself erect, away from the syrupy tendrils. She whispered to the old man, "Old friend, do you remember all your rituals to drive out bear spirit poisoning?" "I remember," Mud Wallow replied. He leaned forward and sniffed as a tendril drifted across his face. It smelled faintly of rancid honey. "Do you think they would work against a live bear spirit?" "Maybe. If you wish to anger him. Simply stepping where a bear has stepped will make you sick. What could a live bear spirit do to you?" "Then the best we can hope is that he will not harm the boy too badly. I do not wish to have to explain this to the Sisterhood." Mud Wallow, facing the direction in which Ramon had vanished, shook his head and returned his attention to Cornsilk. "Who?" he asked as he scratched absently. "Never mind. The ways of women do not concern you." The crusty old shaman wrinkled his nose, sniffed, decided that he needed another drink, and shuffled off to raid Cornsilk's canteen. Cornsilk meandered away from him and waited while timid demons approached her. She listened intently as Fever's soft whisper reached her ears, then she frowned and growled a word. "Soldiers?"
CHAPTER TRIENTA Y CINCO: END