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Calico Mary

Dreams of the Golden Aspen Ranch

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I could tell that Calico was getting real antsy to go back to the ranch, I was too, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to yank her chain a bit. But then I was missing the water hole too, especially the new one.

 

After Cora and Lil got settled down I took a walk down to Hattie's, I could feel eyes watching me as I neared her establishment. So what! I thought to myself as I entered her place. It was almost as if Hattie had expected me as she greeted me as I entered. Shed led me to her office and offered me a seat. It was if she had also read my mind as she told me about Sally's father. He was adamant she said that he would take her home with him as soon as her found her. I assured her over my cold dead body would he take her and asked Hattie keep me informed as to his whereabouts. As I left Hattie kissed me on the cheek and told me she'd keep me in her prayers, something that caught me off guard, and she told me to watch my back, and warned me that Sally's father was getting an idea that Sally had gone to the ranch. I didn't like that information a bit, but then if the fool made the mistake of showing up at the ranch, he could turn into buzzard bait rather easily.

 

On the way back to Lil's I spotted the man's horse at the saloon, in the scabbard was a new Winchester. I went into the saloon and Sally's father was sitting at a table alone, with a bottle of whiskey already have drunk. I asked Casey for a small cork, he looked at me like I was plum crazy but threw it to me anyway. I went back out and making sure that I was out of sight of the man I slid his Winchester out of it's scabbard and forced the cork down into the muzzle, then slipped the rifle back into it's place. The trick though a little different had worked well in Kansas years ago, maybe it would come in handy now.

 

I got back to Lil's and as I entered Calico spotted the lipstick from Hattie's kiss on my cheek, "Just where have you been?!" she nearly screamed.

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I started to back peddle through the door instinctively at the sound of Calico's voice, or should I say from the force of it. My hand went of my face and I felt the lipstick on my cheek, "Oh, that's from Hattie". That's all I got out before "Hattie, you got that at Hattie's, you couldn't wait?" Calico continued to speak rather loudly and forcefully. Then I almost broke out laughing, but even though I was out of reach I knew better. "I went down there to try to find out what she knew about Sally's father and she thanked me for giving Sally a home by kissing me on the cheek." I told Cali trying to soothe the savage beast raging within her.

 

"Are you sure that's all she gave you?" Cali retorted, "I was afraid you were getting tired of waiting....." I crossed the room, took Cali by both hands, looked into her eyes, "You're the only one I've been with and the only one I want to be with" I told her as softly and lovingly as I could. I was staring in straight into Cali's eyes as I said that, and I knew that I had done good!

 

Then I told her about seeing Sally's father, Bart, in the saloon and putting the cork in the muzzle of his rifle. It took her a little bit to stop laughing and then she made me tell the others about the gunfight in Kansas when I had done that with a lead round ball. Then she got a puzzled look on her face, "I haven't seen you use that slingshot in quite a while, where is it anyway?" I pulled it out of my pocket along with a couple round balls, which made her say, "you've got to show them how you can use that thing so well."

 

We all went outside into the street where Cali spotted a rat about forty feet away, pointed at it, "there, show them on that vermin!" I thought she was talking about Bart, as he had just come out of the saloon several yards past the rat. Bart spotted all of us out on the street and thought we were pointing and talking about him and put his hand on his pistol. "You've got my daughter and I want her back" he yelled at us with a vileness to his voice.

 

I could see the sheriff, Tom working his way down the street but I knew this wasn't going to wait that long. "Bart, your daughter doesn't want to go with you, just back off and leave town peaceably" I yelled back at him. By then Tom could hear me and hastened his pace towards us. Bart started to pull his pistol, the sling seemed to have a mind of it's own and a round ball was sent to Bart's wrist knocking the pistol from it. If I thought his voice was vile before, I knew it was now as he hollered, "I'll kill you, you stealing half-breed" and went for his rifle on his horse. I could see Tom draw on bead on Bart but I hollered for him not to fire as Bart drew a bead on me with his rifle. The explosion from the Winchester split the barrel into four shreds from the muzzle nearly back to the receiver, and blew the bolt back into Bart's face throwing him to the ground.

 

The bloody man lay there motionless but moaning as Tom bent down to check his injuries, then he told Bart, "He tried to tell you to leave town, you should've listened!" Then he lifted the bleeding man to his feet and led him to the doc's office. As they went past me Tom looked at me and asked, "What did you do to that rifle?" I just winked at him and told him, "What rifle?"

 

Then I got a whiff of Cali coming up behind me and felt her warm breath and her lips on my neck. "It won't be much longer" she whispered with a wink. That woman, she always did like a good gunfight.

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For some strange reason I didn't feel the least bit sorry for Bart. Whatever pain he felt from his rifle exploding was nothing compared to the hell he put his daughter through. I didn't think we'd heard the last of him though, I had a feeling that he wasn't going to give up that easily. But for now, my main concern was convincing Doc to let me go home. Well, that was my main concern now that I knew why Hattie had planted that kiss on Cheyenne's cheek. Oh, I knew somewhere deep inside that he'd never cheat on me, but on the surface I was more than a little rattled by it. After all, a man could start getting lonely after awhile....

I gave Cheyenne a kiss myself when Doc finally announced me fit to travel, but unlike Hattie I didn't hesitate to plant one right on his lips. Lil asked if I needed any help packing the stuff that Cora had brought for me, but I had never unpacked most of it. It only took seconds to throw the few things I had taken out of the bag back in there, and I was ready to go long before Cheyenne came back from the livery stable with Blackie. Doc insisted that I ride in the buggy, he wouldn't allow me to go on horseback, so Cheyenne decided to tie Blackie to the back of it and ride along with me and Doc. After giving Lil a huge hug, I was finally on my way home.

Home...what a wonderful word! It was hard not to tell Doc to drive faster, but I knew it would be a waste of time anyway. He was taking it slow and easy, and I decided not to complain, so that he would be more likely not to complain when it was time for us to head for the cabin. On the way, we discussed that exact topic, and it was agreed on that we would tell Eddie and Little Flower that we could go ahead with the wedding the day after tomorrow. Cheyenne promised to send word to the few friends in town that had been invited, and Doc admitted being glad he would finally get poor Eddie off his back. The young man was getting even more anxious than Cheyenne had been before our wedding, but remembering our wedding night I could hardly blame him.

I did promise Doc that I would try to rest in the afternoon, so after lunch Cheyenne went to talk to Karl about some things, while I helped Cora put the twins down for their nap. Then I went to lay down, I didn't intend to fall asleep, just relax for a while, but it wasn't long before I was heading off to dreamland. This time Lives Again didn't appear, instead I was sitting on the porch, watching a whole bunch of kids playing in the yard. There were so many I couldn't even count them all, and I realized I was seeing some point in the future. Mathew and Sarah were obviously much older, and Mathew was being shadowed by a boy about a year younger that was the spitting image of Cheyenne. There was another little boy that looked a lot like Eddie, and a little girl just barely walking that strongly resembled Little Flower. There were a bunch of other youngsters I didn't recognize, but there was definitely a combination of white children and those with indian blood.

As I watched the children play, I noticed that although the sky over the ranch was a beautiful blue, with no clouds overhead, the land beyond the ranch in all directions looked to be on fire. There were flames and smoke totally surrounding us, and I could hear gunfire in the distance. It seemed like I was the only one that was aware of it though, the kids didn't seem to have any idea of what was going on beyond the yard, they were too busy having fun with each other. I woke up from the dream with a start, I didn't really understand it but for some reason it felt really unsettling.

I decided that I'd had enough rest for one day, and went downstairs to see who was around. As I came down the stairs, I heard arguing from the main floor hallway, and speeded up a little to see what was going on. It turned out to be Laura and Sally, for some reason that didn't surprise me although I was disappointed. I immediately told them to knock it off, then asked what the problem was. Sally told me, "Schoolmarm told me that if I needed help with the assignment she gave me to ask Laura, but she won't do it!" Laura's response was, "I told her I'd help her, but not right now! I want to walk up and see if I can talk to Lone Wolf, he still hasn't come back yet and I'm getting worried! Then I have my own homework to do first...."

"Ok, girls, there's no need for the two of you to argue about this. Sally, give me just a few minutes and I will help you with your reading. Laura, I know you are concerned about Lone Wolf, but it would be best if you let me or Cheyenne go speak with him and his family first. For now, you get busy on your homework, and after dinner you will both be responsible for washing the dishes, and I suggest you both try really hard to figure out how to cooperate with each other long enough to get the chore done. Have I made myself clear?"

Neither girl was really happy about it, but they knew better than to argue, at least with me. After Laura had disappeared upstairs, I told Sally to wait for me in the library, that I'd be right back. I went to the kitchen to let Hop and Lu Sing know that they would have help with the dishes that night, but that they may want to supervise. Then I headed back to the library, reminding myself as I went that as soon as I could, I needed to talk to Cheyenne about what we should do about Lone Wolf. I certainly hoped that the young brave wouldn't refuse to come back, we had gotten such a good start with him...



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On the ride back to the ranch it was easy to see that Blackie didn't like being tethered to the buggy at all. I felt sorry for him but I knew that sitting with Cali all the way to the ranch would pay off in beg dividends later. Doc was full of all kinds advice, we shouldn't do this, we shouldn't do that, Cali and I would look at each other and roll our eyes every time he came up with something new.

 

Once back at the ranch Cali headed for the house and I headed for the barns to find Karl, and to see the rest of the men. I had enjoyed my time in town with Cali but now I was in my element. Karl brought me up to date on what had been going on at the ranch. It seemed the only thing that was really pressing were the young men fighting over who could spend the most time with Laura. Even Sally's appearance on the ranch hadn't caused as much trouble as those two boys. I told Karl about Sally's father and told him to warn the men about him, I knew he was going to spend time in the jail, but I didn't know how long. To seal the deal I told Karl how Bart had mistreated Sally and that Karl was to make sure that the men knew that about Bart, and that there would be no questions asked but that a bonus would be in the man's check who may take care of Bart.

 

The look on Karl's face was hard to describe, "You mean I, uh, I mean anyone who would do society a favor would get a bonus too?" splurted right out of his mouth. I chuckled out loud, "yes, Karl, do society a favor and receive a bonus, you heard me right." "Hot Damn," were the next words out of his mouth as he did a little jig.

 

I waited until her got winded and asked where Ike was working. I headed for the Clydesdale's barn where Ike was supposed to be cleaning out the stables, and indeed found him there, just about covered in horse manure. I had intended to talk with him about Lone Wolf right then but I couldn't get near him because of the stench. I did manage to set up a time later to speak with him, I figured that Calico would want in on it too so that worked out real well.

 

I looked off in the distance at Running Bear's tepees, no time like the present to go have a talk with Running Bear or Stands Alone. I saddled up Blackie and made for their camp. I was pleased to see Lone Wolf sitting with Stands Alone as I rode into their camp. They both rose as I dismounted and we exchanged greetings. Stands Alone spoke first, "I had told Lone Wolf that you would be here and that he should wait for you and that you would have words of wisdom for him from your experience with Calico." and then he winked at me. Was there anything this man didn't know?

 

I looked at the sky and I figured I had plenty of time to tell Lone Wolf the whole story about the trials and tribulations of my life once I had seen Calico and made my pledge to always protect her, no matter what. We laughed at times and at times I had to reassure the young man that I was indeed telling the truth, and each time Stands Alone would nod in agreement with me.

 

When I got done, and it wasn't long before the sun would disappear that Lone Wolf, with his eyes nearly bulging out of his head, said, "You mean I've got to make a pledge like you did? And go through all of that? What if I do all that and she still says no?" I shrugged my shoulders, what could I say, he was going to be dealing with a young woman, who knew how anything could turn out! Stands Alone added just three words, "Follow your heart."

 

I got up to leave and asked Lone Wolf if he was coming too, he hesitated a bit only to be pushed by Stands Alone. "You can't follow anything sitting here" he told Lone Wolf who got the idea and rose and in just a few minutes we could smell good odors coming from the ranch as we neared the house.

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I spent over an hour working with Sally on her reading in the library. The poor girl was really having a hard time with it, it was obvious no one had ever tried teaching her before. I remembered what it was like, and I tried to remain patient, but her frustration was getting the better of her. It wasn't long before she dropped the book back in her lap, and looked at me in tears, "I'm never going to get the hang of this, my pa must have been right...I am stupid..."

"No!" I told her, a little more forcefully than I probably should have, "You are NOT stupid, you just don't know how to do this yet. I have total faith that you will learn how to read, you just need to have some faith in yourself. You can do anything you want if you set your mind to it enough, and don't let anyone tell you different, ok? It's almost dinnertime, why don't we take a break from the reading for a while? You have an arithmetic assignment too, right?


She acknowledged that she did, so we switched to that, and she did much better. She may not be having much luck with the book, but Sally did have a head for numbers, and the arithmetic went a lot smoother. In fact, I thought that assignment was way too easy for her, and resolved to talk to Schoolmarm about giving Sally harder math to do. I thought that may help her confidence, which would hopefully transfer over to her reading. She was just finishing the last problem when I heard Laura come racing back down the stairs.

We went out in the hall just as Laura reached the first floor, a huge smile on her face. "Cheyenne's on his way to the house, and he has Lone Wolf with him! He came back!" Despite her insistence that she had no interest in marriage, the girl did obviously care for the young brave, and had missed him. She continued on down the hall towards the back of the house to greet Lone Wolf. I turned to Sally and noticed that she looked a little worried, it didn't take much for her to figure out that he must have been invited for dinner. I finally had the opportunity to bring up the subject I knew needed to be discussed.

“Sally, I realize you haven't spent much time around indians, but I want you to know that you have nothing to worry about from Lone Wolf, or his brother Running Bear, or the rest of their family either. They will be staying on the ranch for the winter, and Cheyenne and I expect you to be polite to them. Cheyenne has known Running Bear since they were both younger than you, and in fact I think they are distant relatives of some sort, like third cousins or something like that if I remember correctly. They will treat you with respect as long as you show them the same courtesy. I grew up with only the Arapaho and a few Cheyenne for friends, so please trust me on this, ok?”

Well, ok...I'll try,” Sally promised, and I gave her a hug and sent her off to get washed up for dinner. Then I went looking for Cheyenne, and found him in the kitchen getting cleaned up himself. Laura and Lone Wolf were out on the porch talking, and Cheyenne took the opportunity to tell me about the conversation he'd had with the young man, and that he'd made sure to invite the whole family to join us in two days for the wedding. I planted a big kiss on his cheek for that, and whispered that I'd thank him even more later, after we were alone....

I almost took it back during dinner, it was not exactly a peaceful affair. We usually fed the twins separately from the rest of the family, but tonight Sarah was being very clingy to me, and every time I tried to hand her off to someone so that I could eat she started fussing, so I had to eat holding her in my lap the whole time. Both Eddie and Little Flower were exciting but getting nervous, and they both were starting to drive us all a little crazy, it was unanimous that the wedding couldn't happen soon enough. And although we were all glad to have Lone Wolf join us, except for maybe Sally, his reunion with Laura didn't go as well as I think Laura had been hoping for. She was sitting next to Lone Wolf, and they were talking, but Lone Wolf was also sitting directly across from Sally, and kept glancing at her every once in a while, and Laura had definitely noticed. I didn't envy Hop and Lu Sing getting stuck having the two girls work in the kitchen that night, and I knew it was only fair that since it had been my idea that I needed to be the one refereeing what promised to be an interesting conversation between them.

I was right, the two were barely civil towards each other, and I was surprised that the dishes managed to survive the experience. Laura was obviously jealous, and Sally was still frightened of Lone Wolf, so I had a feeling I was going to have to have more talks with both of them, but not right now. I sent Laura to help Tommy with his homework, and Sally to play with Rose and then help her get ready for bed. Then I had Cheyenne help me get the twins ready for bed, although it seemed to take forever to get Sarah to settle down and go to sleep, she'd obviously missed me terribly and didn't want to let go of me now.

Then we finally had time for ourselves, so I grabbed his hand and headed straight for the indoor water hole. I'd arranged with Cora and Biblepuncher earlier to make sure that towels were laid out, and the tub filled with nice warm water, and the fire and a couple of candles were lit....I didn't care what Doc thought, we were gonna celebrate coming home tonight one way or another!

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These older kids were beginning to make my head hurt. First Ike and Lone Wolf fighting over Laura, who didn't know if she wanted anything to do with either one of them. Then Ike starts taking a liking for Sally, and then Lone Wolf starts eyeing up Sally. I was getting the idea of throwing all four in the corral and not letting them out until they settled things, one way or the other!

 

Once alone with Cali at our indoor water hole I no longer remembered the kids though. We got lost in our own little world and before we knew it the sun was sneaking through the window, and the knock on the door and Hop Sing standing there with our breakfast on a tray let us know for sure it was morning indeed.

 

I had decided not to lock the teens in the corral, but I was trying to think up of a way to make them all work together on something. We would be getting Eddie and Little Flower out of our hair for a while, but what to do with these other four? First, I needed to get Sally accustomed to the culture of the Indian. If Sand Creek wasn't so far away we would take a trip there so I could explain the tragedy that went on there. There was plenty of brutality on both sides over time, though most of it was either provoked by whites or wholly perpetrated by them. But that wasn't what was in the newspapers. It would be interesting to see how quickly Sally would accept a different side of things.

 

We hadn't hardly finished our breakfast when Little Flower was knocking at the door, wanting to talk about the wedding. I gulped my last bites down and excused myself, that just wasn't something I wanted any part of, in any manner.

 

The reaper was already at work with Crossfire Brown and Blackwater at the helm. It was hard to imagine that we had always done so much of that work by hand. It was time to bring in the herd too, the best breeders would need to be kept and the rest pushed to town for market. And in the midst of this we had a wedding, oh Lord how were we going to manage?

 

Tom had sent a deputy from town to let us know that Bart, Sally's father had managed to escape from Doc Adams place while he was being treated. If the man set foot near the ranch he wouldn't feel the sting of a round ball from a sling, he'd feel the heat from a heavy bullet or the cold steel from a knife. I wish he would just show up, we didn't need this now!

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That was one night I was going to remember for a while...too bad it was over so soon! Little Flower was almost in a panic when she interrupted us though, and Cheyenne took that as his clue to disappear. Oh well, it was time for us to get moving and get something accomplished, we had been gone long enough and tomorrow would be a busy day. As we walked back to the house, I asked Little Flower what was bothering her. “I'm supposed to have something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue....my dress is new, but I have no idea what to do about the rest of it. And Laura and Sally were arguing all morning, so that I couldn't concentrate on thinking about it! I wish those two would knock it off...I mean, Sally's not so bad, she's just...different. I feel kind of sorry for her.”

“Well, honey, all three of you went through some rough times before you came here, but your experiences were all different. What matters now is that you all have the opportunity to put it behind you for good, and have better lives. The next chapter in your life will be starting tomorrow,” and I smiled at her, but that only made her panicked look come back. “I have an idea, I'm going to loan you the necklace that Grandpa Frank gave me the day I married Cheyenne. You'll have to return it later, but it's blue and will go with your dress perfectly. As for something old, why don't we go talk to Lu Sing, maybe she can think of something that might work.”

We found Lu in the kitchen, she and Sally were washing the breakfast dishes, and Lu was trying to cheer Sally up by telling her funny stories of things that had happened to me and Cheyenne. I didn't find some of them so funny myself, but if it improved the girl's mood...I explained what Little Flower and I wanted, and Lu asked us to wait until she finished the dishes, then she had an idea for us. Little Flower grabbed another dish towel and started helping Sally dry them, and I could tell Sally was grateful, not only for the help, but also for the fact that at least Little Flower was making an attempt to be friendly. I started trying to explain to her that the reason Laura had gotten upset the night before was jealousy, that the other girl had resented that Lone Wolf had been looking at Sally.

“Well, I wish he hadn't been, and Laura is more than welcome to him,” Sally declared. “I'm just not interested, not in him anyway.” Little Flower piped up with a giggle, “Yeah, you think that Ike is the cute one!” “He is,” insisted Sally, “too bad that when I tried to talk to him he told me he wasn't allowed to have anything to do with me...”

At first I was a little confused, then I remembered Cheyenne telling me about the talk he'd had with Karl when Sally came to stay with us. The men had all been warned to leave her alone, we knew that we couldn't keep the fact she'd been working at Hattie's bordello a secret forever, if the men weren't already aware of it to begin with. As far as I was concerned though, as long as Ike was respectful and kept his hands to himself, I had no problem with him talking to Sally, although Laura might. But Laura needed to accept the fact that she had no right to demand that either Ike or Lone Wolf refrain from ever having anything to do with anyone else, especially when she was the one that insisted she was not making any promises for the future. And as long as Sally herself was interested in Ike, that was fine with me, but I would have to insist that if the two of them wanted to go anywhere, like on a picnic or riding, that they be chaperoned, at least to begin with. We couldn't keep Sally cooped up forever, and I had to admit she was rather attractive.

By then the dishes were finished, and the four of us headed upstairs. Lu went straight to Frank's room, but I was hesitant to go in, as I hadn't been in there since Frank had passed away, and I wasn't sure if Cheyenne had been either. It was obviously when we did go inside though that someone had been in the room, and regularly, there wasn't a spot of dust anywhere. I could tell by the look on Lu's face that it was most likely her, that she was taking good care of everything in there. I had been thinking about all the belongings that Frank had left behind, and I knew that he had also kept most of Lives Again's things when she passed. I didn't want to bring it up too soon to Cheyenne, as I didn't know what his reaction would be, but I thought it would be nice if all the kids could have some small item that had belonged to either Frank or Lives Again. It didn't need to be anything fancy or expensive, but a little memento for each of them would be nice. None of them would be getting anything that belonged to my parents, pretty much everything they owned had been destroyed in the fire that took their lives. I didn't even have any of my parents' possessions, much less enough to pass anything on to the kids.

Lu rummaged around in the closet for a minute, then came out holding a pair of small moccasin boots that had some of the most beautiful beadwork on them that I had ever seen. Little Flower's jaw just about hit the floor when she saw them, I could tell she was impressed as well. “Here, try these on, they belonged to your grandmother. If they fit, I know she would have been pleased to allow you to wear them during your wedding,” Lu told Little Flower. The girl quickly did try them on, and they fit perfectly. Somehow I got a feeling I would be getting another visit from my mother-in-law after I went to sleep that night, and that she was going to tell me she had no objection. Now, to make sure Cheyenne didn't....

Watching Little Flower try on the moccasins brought a smile to my face, as one of the things I had in common with my oldest daughter was we both had an extreme dislike of “proper” ladies' shoes. Oh, we both had several pairs of fashionable footwear, but neither of us wore any of them unless we had to go to town, both of us preferred moccasins or boots. Little Flower's dress and accessories were all what a white woman would wear for her wedding, but I thought it would be a nice touch for her to wear at least one thing that showed her indian heritage, and those moccasin boots would do nicely. She would also find them more comfortable, and for a second I was jealous, I knew my feet would be in agony after a day of wearing the shoes I had picked to go with my outfit for tomorrow.

While Lu and I had been busy with Little Flower, Sally had been slowly walking around the room, looking at a lot of the stuff that was in there. Much of it was of native design, primarily from the Cheyenne but with a few objects obtained from other tribes as well. Sally was being very careful not to touch anything, but it was obvious that the girl was curious about the items. Little Flower went to put the boots away in her room for the following day, and Lu excused herself to get back to her chores. I remained in the master bedroom with Sally, and let her look at whatever she wanted to her heart's content. She had an occasional question, which I tried to answer as best I could. Finally she was finished looking, and as we went back out in the hallway, Sally told me “I have to admit, some of that stuff is really pretty...sure wish I knew how to make some of it...that might be kind of interesting...”

Was this the breakthrough I had been hoping for? Would her obvious interest in the artwork Lives Again had left behind help us to help Sally get past her feelings of fear? The pottery I knew almost nothing about, and rug weaving was beyond me, but I did have some experience with beadwork, although I couldn't begin to do anything as pretty as what was on the moccasins Little Flower was borrowing. Hmmm....I was really starting to look forward to the opportunity to speak to Two Birds the following day. I crossed my fingers that she would not only be able to help but willing to do so....

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I was at the corral, just sort of daydreaming when Ike came up to me and asked if we could talk. I was amazed with the way he asked, saying he knew he hadn't been on the ranch long, and he was young, but he admitted that he just didn't understand something. "Why can't I talk with Sally?" finally came out of his mouth. It caught me a bit off guard. I had figured that all the men knew where Sally had been working, I hadn't figured on Ike. Now how was I going to handle this? Should I tell him everything? I looked around trying to find something to change the topic with. But, no one was around, and absolutely nothing else to talk about. I kept trying to buy time but Ike wasn't so patient. "Can I please talk with her, I promise on my honor I'll behave like a gentleman." I quickly decided not to spill the beans and merely said, "OK, as long as you behave like a gentleman, you can talk with her, anything else, like a walk or going for a ride, you see me or Calico first!" I tried to say it with authority instead of relieve because I hadn't had to explain anything, yet. Ike's smile was nearly blinding as he whirled and started running towards the house. "On your time, not mine!" I hollered at him. His shoulders slumped as he turned back around, "OK, but will you tell her I'd like to call on her this evening?"

"Sure" I told him as he headed for the Clydesdales' barn.

 

I sighed a sigh of relieve and went back to my daydreaming, THE WEDDING, I hadn't given it a thought! What was I going to wear? My smile returned as I made my mind up, I would honor my grandfather! I headed for the house, I would need to gather the things I would need, and spent time on my face before the Great Spirit before I would wear them.

 

I entered my father's room to find Calico and Sally there looking over my mother's things. Sally's face almost showed fright as she realized I was standing in the doorway watching the tow of them. It was hard to believe that just days before Sally was working in a whore house and now she looked like any other young girl enjoying time with her mother exploring things she had never seen before.

 

"I've decided what I am going to wear for the wedding" I told them and walked over and opened the large wardrobe that held my grandfather's ceremonial clothing. I felt Sallly beside me, it took her a second or two but she finally blurted out, "Your grandfather was a chief? Really?" Cali was beside the two of us now, "Yes, he was a chief, and not just a chief, but a great chief."

 

I reached for the head dress and let Sally run her hands over the feathers that reached the floor, her eyes looked like the were going to pop out of her head as she did. "But my fathers always said that all Indians were savages, was everything he ever told me a lie?" she asked tears rolling down her cheeks. "I don't know" I told her, "but I know this, he was wrong about two things, the way he treated you and he was wrong about Indians being savages." Cali put her arms around Sally, and told her, "Let's go have a cup of tea, Cheyenne has to be alone for a while." Sally almost asked why but Cali saw it coming and told her that she would explain it over tea, and the two of them excused themselves and headed downstairs.

 

The next several hours I spent in a cleansing ceremony, I asked the Great Spirit for forgiveness and asked for guidance during this time. It seemed like it had only been minutes before I felt Cali's hand on my shoulder, "I hate to interrupt, but everyone is waiting for you for supper, and Ike won't come in without you being present." Shoot! I thought to myself, I forgot to tell them that he was going to come calling this evening. I rose and Cali and I went down the stairs arm in arm and as I reached the last stair I caught sight of Sally, "Ike, would like to come calling this evening, is that alright with you, Sally?" "YES!" she nearly screamed almost running for the door to let Ike in. I felt a slight tap on my shoulder as Cali gave me a love tap instead of the usual thumping I often received. "You done good" she told me as she locked her lips onto mine.

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Sally and I went to the kitchen to have some tea, and talk. While the water was heating, I noticed Lone Wolf out on the back porch, and excused myself to see what he wanted. As I greeted him, he got right to the point, “Laura is angry with me again, why?” I almost laughed, but knew that he wouldn't like it, and managed to keep a straight face. “Well, I have a feeling it has something to do with how you kept staring at Sally last night at dinner. Laura wanted you to pay attention to her, not Sally. I realize that they are both nice to look at, but you may want to try to not look at both at the same time...”

“I was looking at the other girl to see if I could think of a way to get that other boy to like her, so he will leave Laura alone. I do not want her for myself, she is not honorable.” So, Lone Wolf wanted Ike to take up with Sally...why was I getting flashbacks to the days of me, Cheyenne, Buick, and Morning Star before we had finally paired up the way we did? It seemed like history was repeating itself with these four, and again I had a hard time not laughing. I told Lone Wolf not to judge Sally too harshly, that she had done some things she wasn't too proud of, that was true, but that she had had to just to survive, and that he needed to be tolerant. I also promised to try and smooth things over with Laura, how well that would go was anyone's guess.

I went back inside to Sally, and she was just pouring the water for the tea. We sat down, and I patiently answered her seemingly endless questions regarding all that she had seen in the master bedroom. I told her pretty much everything I knew about Cheyenne's mother and her family, and how Lives Again had ended up married to Frank Culpepper. I also explained about my own upbringing, with only Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes for neighbors. I think that's what surprised her the most, it had never occurred to her that whites and natives could get along. It turned out that Sally's childhood had been spent in Minnesota, and I knew that there had been a huge conflict there between white settlers and the Sioux, so maybe the girl had a legitimate basis for her fears. Still, she needed to understand that it wasn't all the fault of the indians that such things happened.

“Hon, put yourself in their place just for a minute. How would you feel if your family had lived in an area for more generations than anyone could count, and all of a sudden strangers showed up and started taking the land away. They also started killing off the game animals that you depended on for survival, and didn't care if your children starved. In fact, the strangers didn't want anything to do with you, they were fine with the idea of taking everything you felt important away from you and letting you and all your people die, how happy would that have made you?” I could tell Sally had never thought about it from that viewpoint before, and probably had been brought up to think that the other side wasn't entitled to their own feelings on the matter. It was an all too common opinion, one I didn't agree with and was determined to change in her. Sally was quiet for a few moments, then asked to be excused, as she wanted to be alone to think about what I had said.

That was fine with me, as I had things I needed to get done before tomorrow. The rest of the day passed quickly, but I did manage to find time to talk with Laura after she came home from school. She did finally agree to try and keep her jealousy under better control, but I could tell she was glad to hear that Lone Wolf did favor her. I finally had to go practically drag Cheyenne out for dinner, and I had to smile when he admitted that he had agreed to let Ike come visit Sally. Since Lone Wolf was going to be here for dinner as well, I decided to make sure Ike and Sally were at one end of the table, while the other two were seated at the other end, maybe that would help bring a little peace to the meal. Poor Ike was a little uncomfortable though, he wasn't used to being invited to eat with the boss and his family, and I could tell he was very worried about putting on his best behavior. Thankfully it seemed like Eddie figured that out too, and did everything he could to help his friend relax and get through the meal.

I was glad of one thing, at the end of the meal as we were leaving the dining room, I heard Sally tell Lone Wolf “I'm sorry for the way I've been acting, I shouldn't have judged you without getting to know you first. I hope you will forgive me, and that we can be friends.” Lone Wolf accepted the apology, then returned the favor, and to my surprise Laura gave Sally a hug. Was that a sign that the girls were finally going to start getting along? I certainly hoped so, and was happy to see that the six teens all agreed to go out to the back porch and talk for the rest of the evening. I warned them all not to stay up too late, as tomorrow would be a busy day.


Cheyenne and I took the twins out to the front porch, and watched Tommy and Rose play with some of the other children from the ranch for a while. I asked Cheyenne, “Well, are you ready to give your daughter away tomorrow?” He smiled, and told me, “I just hope things work out a little more peacefully for those two than what we've been through!” I had to laugh, I had the same thought but it wasn't very likely to happen, not around here. Still, I wouldn't trade our life together for all the gold and silver in the state. We sat and reminisced for a while, and Cheyenne kept his arm around me the whole time. Everything seemed to be going just fine, but with Sally's father still unaccounted for, how much longer was that going to last? I tried not to think about that, and just concentrate on tomorrow's celebration, with a silent prayer that it would all go just as planned with no surprises...

 

The moon was just starting to come up when we finally went in for the night. Tommy and Rose had gone up to bed about an hour ago, and the twins had nodded off in our laps. We got them upstairs and in their cradles, then headed for our room. A visit to the indoor water hole would have been nice, but since we had to get up early in the morning I knew there wasn't time tonight...but I still pointed out to my husband that we didn't need to go to sleep just yet....

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It was a while before we drifted off to sleep, and morning seemed to come all to fast. Cali gave me a quick good morning kiss, quickly dressed and was out of the room in a flash. I had barely gotten my buckskins on when I heard Calico scream for me. I was down the stairs in one leap to see Calico at the door pointing outside as she told me to get my rifle. I reached for my Sharps that was in it's rack and two rounds with it. I slipped a cartridge into the chamber and closed the action as I headed for the door. I saw Bart, Sally's father standing and yelling for Sally to come out. Then I heard Ike, he was telling Bart that Sally wanted no part of him and that if he was was smart he would leave. Bart kept hollering for Sally and Ike kept telling him to leave. I stepped out onto the porch and as I did Bart went for his pistol, I was just about to fire on him when he was lifted from the ground and then thrown backwards at the same time that I heard the gunshot. It sure didn't come from Ike though, it was much to loud and carried to much force.

 

I turned to see Eddie with the Sharps I had given him as he was lowering it from his shoulder. By the time it was lowered poor Eddie was shaking like a leaf, not unlike I had done the first time I had killed a man. Laura and Sally came running out of the house along with Little Flower. They knew immediately what had happened and Sally walked over to her dead father and spit on him, Laura did the same and then Little Flower drew her knife and ran it along his scalp. Then she wiped the blade off on Bart's clothes and put it away, as the three girls stood there hugging each other.

 

I walked over to Eddie and took the Sharps from his shaking hands, "You did what you had to do, it will go away after a while, go sit on the porch and talk with Biblepuncher." I then turned my attention to Ike, who was still standing in the same spot, shaking and saying, "I was going to protect Sally, what happened?" I pointed him towards Karl and told him to talk with him.

 

Prairie Dawg was already bringing a wagon to haul Bart into town, the sheriff would surely want to see that Bart and we didn't have time today to mess with him anymore than we already had.

 

Calico was gathering the girls, and taking them into the house but Little Flower joined Eddie who was talking with Biblepuncher.

 

Well, we had one problem out of the way today, and now I was hungry!

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Why did things like this always have to happen at the worst possible time? I managed to herd the girls towards the door, but once I got inside I realized that only Sally and Laura had come in the house, where was Little Flower? I went back out to the porch, and she was sitting there trying to help Biblepuncher comfort Eddie. While I knew Eddie was upset, I quickly grabbed Little Flower and told her “Git your butt in that house, you know two aren't supposed to see each other today until the ceremony starts!” She protested the whole way in, saying “But Eddie needs me right now...”


“Ok, fine....Laura, you go see if you can help Biblepuncher calm Eddie down. Little Flower, you go see if Cheyenne's breakfast is ready...how that man can think of his stomach at a time like this is beyond me! And if it is, get yourself a tray to take upstairs, you can eat while you're making sure you have everything ready to go. Sally, how about you and me going in the parlor for a minute, ok?” I could tell Sally was very upset too, and although Little Flower wasn't real happy with me I finally got all the girls heading in the direction I had sent them.

I had no idea how long I sat in the parlor with Sally, letting her cry on my shoulder until she ran out of tears. Even though she hated the man for what he had done to her, he was still her only living relative, her mother having died when she was a small child. I think the main reason she was so upset is that she felt like she ought to be, and was ashamed that she wasn't, and it was the guilt that caused her to cry so much. I almost wished Biblepuncher and I had traded places, this was far more a crisis of faith than I knew how to deal with. Killing for the first time, even when justified, was a very hard thing to deal with, but at least I had been through it myself and had some experience with the feeling. Sally's issues were something totally beyond my understanding.


We finally got everybody's emotions under semi-control, with the exception of Little Flower's nervousness, and it was time for us ladies to pile in the wagon for the ride to the cabin. Little Flower would be getting ready there, so her dress wouldn't get dirty on the ride. Her dress was carefully wrapped and put in the back of the wagon, and then the three girls climbed in. Cora handed off the twins to Laura and Sally, then helped Rose up as well. Rose was very excited, she was going to be the flower girl and was thrilled to be allowed to take part in the ceremony. Tommy was ring-bearer, but he wasn't as impressed with the role, as it meant he had to behave and stand still through the whole thing, not an easy task for most nine year old boys.

The men would be following along later, to allow Little Flower time to get ready before they showed up. The guests were supposed to be there by noon, the ceremony would be held then with lunch and a reception following after. We decided to have everything a little early, so that there would be time to celebrate and still have everybody but the newly married couple back to the ranch proper before dark. I don't think those two were going to mind having to have dinner alone and the rest of the evening to themselves...

When we got to the cabin, I noticed that everything was ready, the kids had done a good job. All the benches were set up, and there was a decorated arch in the front for Biblepuncher and the bride and groom to stand under. Cora and Laura started unhitching the horses, and Little Flower and Sally took the twins and Rose inside the cabin. I grabbed the dress to carry it in, but as I was heading for the cabin I glanced over towards the trees for some reason and for a second I thought I saw Frank and Lives Again standing there. I shook my head and took a closer look, but decided I must have been imagining it, there was nothing there but the trees. I went inside, and the rest of us spent the remainder of the morning helping Little Flower get dressed and fixing her hair. She was going to look absolutely beautiful, and I couldn't help but be proud of how far she had come since we had taken in that scared, scrawny little Ute orphan.

It was almost time for the men and the guests to start arriving, so I wasn't surprised when I heard the sound of horses approaching. I excused myself to see who it was, and as I went out on to the porch I saw that it was Cheyenne and the boys, and Running Bear and his family were with them as well. I could also see that they were being followed a little ways back by several of the other guests. I knew the men would head straight for the corral, so I stepped off the porch to go over there to greet them. As I came around the side of the cabin, a slight movement over by the trees caught my eye again. This time I stared straight at them, and sure enough I was seeing Frank and Lives Again...and my father and mother as well.

It was one thing to see my in-laws in my dreams, but while I was wide awake? That settled it, I WAS going crazy, I had to be...people weren't supposed to see dead people except in their dreams, were they? I'd never really believed in ghosts before, but I knew it wasn't my imagination...I quickly went over to Cheyenne, who had just climbed down off of Blackie, and grabbed his hand, intending to show him what I was seeing. But as I turned him around, I realized that the four grandparents had all disappeared, I'd gotten to Cheyenne too late. He was looking at me funny, I don't think he had any clue why I had grabbed him like that before starting to drag him over towards the trees, then suddenly stopping. I wasn't too sure I really wanted to explain...just what in the world was he going to think? Maybe it would be best to keep my trap shut, at least til after the ceremony.....

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Cali acted a little surprised when I said I was hungry and wanted breakfast, heck she had be keeping me up half the night, I needed my nourishment.

 

Biblepuncher had done a good job getting Eddie to settle down and Karl had done the same for Ike. I did feel sorry for the both of them, Eddie was much to young to have had to kill a man and poor Ike was like a calf looking at a new gate. Eddie recovered pretty quickly when he remembered that he and Little Flower would finally be getting to be together all the time, well more, like they were going to be able to spend the night together.

 

It was amazing quiet after the women fold had left for the cabin, but we had so much to do we didn't really enjoy it that much. Ike was helping Eddie get ready, though Ike didn't have much of a clue either about ties and such and if it hadn't been for Hop Sing helping them out I think that Eddie may have gotten strangled. I had to admit though when they did get him all fixed up he did his new suit justice.

 

It took me a while to get into my grandfathers leathers and finally the headdress. It wasn't that he was hard to put it on correctly, but it was the ritual that I went through before and during. It was hard for me to feel worthy enough to wear it, even though I was in line lineage wise for it. I did feel different each time I had ever worn it, and it humbled me tremendously. I made a second pledge that day, any tribe would always be welcome on the ranch as long as they came in peace.

 

Karl had Blackie waiting for me as I stepped outside, the breeze wafting through the feathers of the headdress made me think of the times my grandfather had worn it, mixed emotions went through my soul, first a sadness and then a strength that was hard to describe. Karl, Bilblepuncher, Eddie, Ike and I rode out first, heading for the cabin. The last time I had made this trip towards the mountains was to bury my father. I suddenly needed the strength I had been feeling. The rest of the men that were coming were just getting their horses saddled as we rode out.

 

Eddie and Ike were full of questions about my grandfather and mother as we rode, that was a good thing because it kept their minds off of the mornings events. I smiled at the thought of the day Cali and I married, more so that night, it would have taken my mind off of killing a man too.

 

We hadn't ridden far when Running Bear and Lone Wolf joined us, Lone Wolfs eyes bulged as he saw my headdress. Running Bear had his hands full answering Lone Wolf's questions.

 

As we rode I noticed two eagles, one to the far right and one to the far left keeping the same pace flying towards the mountains and the cabin. Just before we got to the cabin I caught sight of Ol Grizz riding towards us, and dang it if he wasn't dressed for the wedding too. It was the first time I had ever seen him without some kind of skin on him. He actually looked human!

 

We rode on to the cabin, without a word said further between us and put our horses in the corral. As we walked towards the cabin it almost took all of us to reign Eddie in, he was talking a mile a minute, asking a thousand questions. Ike looked like he didn't know what to think, he still had that calf looking at a new gate look on his face, though this time I think he may have been looking into the future and seeing himself and Sally.

 

The rest of the men, along with their wives arrived just as we were taking a seat, I had to admit the men of the Culpepper Ranch were a fine looking group. Now we just had to patiently wait for Little Flower to appear.

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I tried to forget what had happened and concentrate on greeting our guests. It was nice to see that ole Grizz had made it, we hadn't been sure if he was going to come or not. He had been one of the first people invited, as he was the one that had brought Little Flower into our lives to begin with. I was also glad to see Running Bear and his family, especially his sister. I spoke with Two Birds for several minutes, explaining to her about Sally and how I wanted the girl to meet her. Two Birds was more than happy to help me out with that, and even let me hold the new baby while we were talking. After I had handed the baby back to her mother, Stands Alone touched my elbow and asked me to take a walk with him.

He led me over in the direction of the trees, to where I thought I'd seen both Cheyenne's and my parents. Once we were out of earshot of the rest of the guests, he turned to me and said “Do not be ashamed of what happened to you earlier. Your eyes were only seeing what your heart wanted you to see. Keep this thought in mind, they will all be with you today, in here...,” pointing to my head, “and in here,” and then he pointed to my heart. Then with a smile Stands Alone walked back to join the rest of his family, leaving me standing there staring after him with my mouth hanging wide open.

Just how in the world did that man know the things he knew? I hadn't even said anything to Cheyenne, there was just no way the elderly medicine man could have heard me tell anyone. Even so, the fact that he had somehow known what I had gone through didn't bother me, in fact it was strangely comforting. I had already felt a lot of respect for him, and this just increased that feeling. I also felt very honored that someone with the gifts he so obviously had would be willing to share the results of those gifts with me.

With a smile on my face, I went back to greeting everyone as they arrived, and it wasn't long before everyone was there. After checking with Biblepuncher to make sure that Eddie, Tommy, and best man Ike were ready, I returned to the cabin to see if Little Flower, maid-of-honor Laura, and Rose were as well. Although Little Flower looked paler than I had ever seen her, they were finished getting ready, so it was time to get things going. Cora and Sally took the twins and went to find their places on the first row of benches. After giving Little Flower one last hug and a kiss on the cheek, I made my way to the front row where Cheyenne was sitting, talking with Karl. “Ok, hon, it's time to get things going, your daughter is waiting for you,” I told him. “Waiting for me, for what?” he asked, looking confused. “Well, for you to come get her to walk her down the aisle!” I reminded him, and after muttering, “Oh yeah,” he jumped up and headed for the cabin. “You better get used to it, this won't be the last time you have to do this!” I called after him, as everyone else around us started laughing. I thought about Laura, and Sally, and Rose, and little Sarah, and realized that no, this wasn't the only time we'd be going through this. I just hoped that it would still be a while before we had to with Laura or Sally. All this wedding stuff had been exhausting, and with one more wedding already in planning for the spring, I could wait a while before we had any more....





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I was sitting there lost in memories that Calico and I had shared at the cabin and it's waterhole. Even Ol Grizz throwing the dynamite at us after we had made him dance with out six guns. My father's father had chosen this spot well, perhaps sometime in the future Calico and I would be able to return here on a more permanent situation.

 

Then Calico brought me back to reality, it was indeed time to walk Little Flower down the isle and give her to Eddie. Who would have figured that when Eddie had come into our lives after his father had given his life for Calico, that he would be so handsomely rewarded with such a beautiful young woman as Little Flower. Now in a way I was repaying Eddie's father with this wonderful gift to his son.

 

I took my place with Little Flower and we had almost started to begin our walk down the isle when I heard I wolf's cry, except it wasn't quite right. Then I recognized it, it was a Ute call announcing that he was in the area. Little Flower knew it too and I could see the uncertainty in her eyes as she looked up at me. I could tell by the movement among the men that they had heard it as well as they were all drawing what firearms they had upon them.

 

"What should we do?" was Little Flowers question for me. "Just be patient, they'll signal again for permission to come in" I answered her barely before another wolf call came from the tree line. I quickly assured the men that Utes would be coming in and that the Ute peaceful and to put their firearms away. I could see the "Are you sure?" look on the men's faces and after I assured them I was sure they put away any firearms they had made ready.

 

I returned the call to the Utes telling them to come in and within seconds about ten Ute braves came into view from the tree line and slowly trotted towards the cabin. Calico had already joined me and Little Flower and I could see the fear in her eyes. Not a scared look for our safety, but a look of fear of the uncertainty of what was going to happen next with the wedding.

I have to admit I was feeling that same uncertainty, but I knew that I couldn't show any fear in my eyes as I was about to talk with the Utes.

 

I stepped away from Little Flower and Calico as the Utes neared and dismounted. We exchanged greetings, with the Utes showing the respect due to a Cheyenne Chief. Their main concern of course was Little Flower and her well being. By then Calico was at my side and I knew she felt the need to assure the Ute's of Little Flower's well being with us and that it would continue with Eddie.

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If I'd have known this was gonna be a fancy shin dig, I might have bathed in the river on the way over. Nah, prolly not, where's the vittles?

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I don't think any of us were expecting a bunch of Ute braves to show up, the least of all Little Flower. When I walked over to her and Cheyenne I quickly whispered to her, “Do you know these men?” She nodded, “They are all from the village where I grew up. The oldest one is my uncle, and two of the others are his sons, my cousins. I didn't think I'd ever see them again...” While Cheyenne was exchanging greetings with them, I looked around at everybody, to make sure they were all following Cheyenne's instructions not to do anything that might make the new arrivals nervous. The men were alert but calm, and most of the women were as well. Sally looked more than a little scared, and seemed on the verge of tears, but Mathew was starting to get wiggly again and that was helping keep her distracted. Biblepuncher and Ike both had a hand on Eddie's shoulders, warning him to stay where he was and let Cheyenne handle it. Everyone was watching the conversation with interest, well, except for ole Grizz, he hadn't taken his eyes off the picnic tables piled high with food for lunch since he'd arrived.

I moved to Cheyenne's side and tried to follow the conversation, and I noticed that Stands Alone and Running Bear had stood up and moved to join us. Little Flower had taught me some Ute, but I was far from fluent, and had trouble following the conversation, so Cheyenne paused at one point and started translating what they were saying into his mother's tongue. Turned out that the men had been searching for Little Flower and her family for quite a while. Little Flower's uncle seemed to understand what Cheyenne had said, so the conversation continued using both languages. While this was happening, Little Flower had slowly walked up to join us, and I could tell she was very nervous about the whole thing.

“Where are your parents and siblings, we have been looking for you for many moons,” her uncle said. “My parents and brothers and sister were all killed, I have been living here ever since. This is my home now, Uncle, though I am glad to see you,” Little Flower replied. “The others were killed? By who?” was his next question. Little Flower hesitated, and Cheyenne winced, this wasn't going to go over well with our uninvited guests. But before any of the three of us could reply, Stands Alone spoke up. “Your sister and her husband and their children except for this one were killed by whites, bad men, but this couple have made sure that those cowards will never kill another Ute again.” Little Flower's uncle translated the medicine man's words into Ute for the rest of his bunch, and it wasn't hard to tell they were all furious to find out that white men had killed her family.

Her uncle looked straight at Little Flower, “You must come with us, you belong with your people, not here. It doesn't matter if these are not the whites that killed my sister, they still have no right to force you to stay here!” “But they're not forcing me, Uncle, I stay because I am part of their family now, and I am about to marry the man I love” she insisted, and I knew she was taking a big chance, it wasn't her place to argue with an older male relative. Biblepuncher was having a hard time controlling Eddie, his fiancée had taught him enough of the Ute language that he obviously understood everything that was going on. Cheyenne signaled to him to calm down and stay put, but it was anyone's guess how much longer the young man would be patient.

Stands Alone again came to the girl's rescue, “Little Flower's place is where her heart tells her to be. The spirits have spoken to me, and I know from them that her destiny lies here, not with her old village. They have told me she will be happy, and live a good long life with the man who has won her heart. Do not interfere with what the Great Spirit has planned for her, it is not up to you to make this decision, even for the daughter of your sister.” I wasn't exactly sure what the old man meant by that, and I could tell no one else really understood it either. But it did make Little Flower's uncle pause, and I could tell he was thinking really hard about what had just been said. But would he and the others with him be willing to accept it?

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Me and Buford is with Griz. Let's get this shinding goin, so's we can eat.

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I could sense that I was going to have to get this settled quickly. Eddie was almost coming unglued, Ol Grizz had already snagged a turkey leg, and Buford, Grumpy Ole Man's cattle dog was getting hard to keep from the food that had been prepared. The men had all turned their seats so that they were facing in our direction, and I knew that they were getting mighty edgy.

 

I laid it out to the Ute's as plain as I could, respect Little Flower's wishes or one of them would have to fight me, in my present state a Cheyenne chief. Neither choice set well with the Utes, they didn't like Little Flower being able to decide and they sure didn't want to fight a Cheyenne chief to the death over a young woman that didn't want to go with them in the first place. I felt the heat from Cali's eyes as I laid out my choices to them, at least she didn't belt me like usual when I said something she didn't like. To do so in front of the Ute's would have given them an huge advantage in our negotiations.

 

Stands Alone spoke again, "Little Flower would have perished had Ol Grizz not found her and brought her to this place and these people. For you to demand to take her does dishonor to all that our people live by. She has found a home here and she wishes to marry here. She has done nothing to dishonor you or your people." and with that said he stepped back.

 

I remained silent as the Utes talked among themselves, it was easy to see that they weren't happy but nor were of one mind in the matter. They finally came together and decided to let Little Flower do as she wished, as soon as Eddie figured out that it was ok he let out a whoop that even startled the Utes. Almost a little too much for that matter. But even the Utes had to smile a bit over his exuberance. We of course invited them to stay and enjoy our food with us after the ceremony.

 

We all could finally breathe again, Cali whispered in my ear, "It's a shame we can't use the water hole out back again" and then she took her seat as Little Flower and I got ready for our last walk together before I would give her to Eddie. We waited until the men got settled again, somehow someone had even got Ol Grizz to take a seat and leave the turkey leg on the table. The Utes were keeping a close eye on Buford as he had been pulling at the rope Grumpy had put on him as the Utes rode in. Buford wasn't real happy and the Utes had picked up on that real easily.

 

Finally Biblepuncher signaled us to start down the isle, I wish it had been further, I just wasn't quite ready to give Little Flower away just yet. Funny how your feelings do strange things in situations like that. But I stiffened my upper lip and gave her a kiss on her cheek as I put her hand into Eddie's. I took my seat next to Calico who took my arm and slid hers under mine and then reached up and gave me a kiss. I really didn't hear that much of the ceremony, I was lost in my memories of Calico's and my early days, our wedding and then the water hole out back. Before I knew it Eddie and Little Flower were kissing, and kissing and kissing.

 

I don't think they would have stopped had not Ol Grizz hollered that it was time to eat. Everyone headed for the tables of food, but Cali and I took a walk out back. The water hole was still there of course, and I could see that look in Cali's eyes. Hmmmm. everyone was busy eating....

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For a second I couldn't believe my ears...what was Cheyenne thinking, challenging them like that? Normally I wouldn't have given it a second thought, but that broken rib was far from healed, he was taking a pretty big risk. Still, I knew better than to say a word, this was between the men, and I needed to stay out of it. I was rather relieved when the Utes decided to listen to Stands Alone, and declined to fight. So was Little Flower of course, and Eddie couldn't have controlled his enthusiasm if he tried.


I had tears in my eyes as I watched Cheyenne walk Little Flower down the aisle, I had to admit she made a beautiful bride. Sally was huddled up to me on one side, as close as she could get, the seat on the other side of me was reserved for Cheyenne. I couldn't help but think back to our wedding, it really hadn't been that long ago, even considering everything that had happened to us since then. The ceremony turned out wonderful, and before I knew it Biblepuncher was pronouncing the couple as man and wife, and he didn't need to tell Eddie twice to kiss his bride. In fact, I starting getting worried that one or the other of them was going to end up passing out from lack of oxygen.


Then the party really started, and Cheyenne and I took a few minutes to have some time alone. We walked down by the water hole, and I knew that if it weren't for our guests, we would have ended up in the water in no time flat. As it was, although all the ranch hands knew better than to disturb us there were other guests who might not be familiar with our habit. So after promising Cheyenne that we'd have more fun tonight in the indoor tub (which would be a lot warmer), we decided we had better return to the celebration.

After getting something to eat ourselves, we split up and wandered around, making sure our guests were all having a good time. I stopped to talk to Ole Grizz for a minute, he was sitting next to Grumpy Old Man and both men were sharing what was on their plates with Buford, who was finally ignoring the Utes in favor of snack time. I kind of wished I hadn't bothered though when Grizz looked up at me and said, “This is some tasty grub, I guess you didn' have nothin' ta do with tha cookin, did ya?” Grumpy got a good laugh out of that and so did Grizz, I had to excuse myself before the urge to pull out that hidden derringer got the better of me.

As I was walking away from the two old geezers, I noticed Stands Alone looking in my direction, and he indicated that he wished to speak to me, so I headed over to him. He had been talking to Little Flower's uncle, who's name was Black Horse, and both men greeted me politely. Although Black Horse had been very upset when he first showed up, I think the love that was evident between his niece and Eddie had already started changing his mind about her staying here. For my sake the conversation between the three of us was in the Cheyenne tongue, and Black Horse complimented me on my skill with that language. Stands Alone had already explained to him about my upbringing, and how I had come to know how to speak both Cheyenne and Arapaho.

“Black Horse would like to stay at our camp for a while, and have me teach his younger son some of what I know about communicating with the Great Spirit,” Stands Alone told me, “He thinks it will be good for the young man. I am willing, but this is not our home, so I am hoping that you would speak to your husband about this, and ask if he will give his permission. Black Horse is also hoping to spend some time with his niece before they leave, though he does understand that she needs some time alone with her man first. Would this be acceptable to you and Cheyenne?”

I certainly didn't object to Black Horse staying to visit with Little Flower, and I didn't think that would be a problem with Cheyenne either. But as for Black Horse's younger son, well, I'd noticed him looking at Laura earlier, and unfortunately so had Lone Wolf. I couldn't help but wonder if Stands Alone and Black Horse may have gotten into some of the whiskey that I knew was being passed among some of the hands. Just when I thought we'd gotten things worked out in the teenage romance department, now they wanted to throw a new wrinkle into it? I almost laughed, but just in time I caught myself and kept a straight face. These two men and Running Bear would be the ones that would have to deal with any problems, and as long as they were willing, as far as I was concerned that was their business. I told Black Horse he was welcome to stay as long as he wished, and the others with him were welcome as well, but he did indicate that he was planning on sending his other son and the rest of their band back to their village with news of everything that had happened.

After making sure both men had gotten enough to eat and that there wasn't anything else they needed, I started heading towards Cheyenne to tell him about it. Before I got there I ran into Karl and Prairie Dawg, they had one of those bottles of whiskey with them and were more than happy to share it with the boss's wife. After that a few more of the men decided to share what they were drinking with me as well, so by the time I finally made it to Cheyenne's side I was in a pretty good mood. I was starting to get a little anxious for the party to be over though, so the two of us could head back home and start getting that big tub filling with some nice warm water....

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Things were winding down pretty much when Calico and I finally got back together, I could tell instantly that she had been doing more than sipping. But then I could also tell that she was more than willing to head for the indoor water hole at home. Then she told me about Black Horse's son staying behind with Stands Alone, and that he had noticed Laura, I almost forgot about the water hole at home. When Lone Wolf and Ike got into it, not much happened because they had no idea how to fight each other. But, two young braves, with similar customs, that wouldn't be good if they got into it.

 

Before Cali and I could leave for the ranch I knew that I had to speak with Black Horse and his son first. Ground rules needed to be laid out, I sure didn't want the blood of either young man spilt on the ranch's land over a misunderstanding or over puppy love. I made Cali to promise me she'd not drink any more whiskey and then found Black Horse, his son and Stands Alone. Stands Alone spoke just as I walked up, "I sense your fear for the young braves, Lone Wolf and Runs with the Wind will become close friends and the only blood may be spilt by them will be in defense of the other."

 

I took a deep breath, let it out slowly and nodded my approval. I had noticed that Black Horse had been admiring Blackie in the corral. The two of us walked over to the corral and I whistled for Blackie. Blackie came straight to me and put his muzzle near my face for the usual rubs and the kiss I always put on his nose. Then I handed his reins to Black Horse, "You, through your brother have given us Little Flower, this is my present for you." Black Horse must have seen the tears in my eyes and he handed the reins back to me, "If I were Little Flower's father I would most gladly accept your gift, your gift to us was taking Little Flower in and treating her as your own." The two of us pulled our knives simultaneously and drew the blade across our palms drawing blood and then joined our hands sealing our friendship unto death.

 

I again handed the reins to Blackie to him and nodded, he understood and took the reins from my hands. He led Blackie over to where Runs with the Wind was with Stands Alone, said his good-byes, slid up onto Blackie and slowly trotted off toward the tree line. I felt Cali's arms surround me and felt her warm breath on my neck, "I guess we'll just have to ride together in the wagon on the way home." she told me in the sweetest voice I'd ever heard. "I think you'll enjoy it" she finished.

 

I looked up to see the face of every man there, they had seen the gift to Black Horse and every person there new the enormity of it. Karl had the wagon brought over for us and Cali and I stepped up on it and got ready for our ride home. Before we left though Little Flower and Eddie came running over, they made us both get down off of the wagon and Little Flower, with tears rolling down her bright red cheeks said, "I always knew you loved me, but that really showed me how much." Then she hugged me. Eddie just stood there shaking his head side to side, "I knew how much you loved Blackie" and then he shook his head some more.

 

Cali whispered in my ear that she really wanted to get home, we said our good-byes to the young couple and started home again. A couple of the men wanted to join us but Cali waved them off in no uncertain terms, later I found out why but at the time it confused me.

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I was as shocked as anyone when Cheyenne gave Blackie to Little Flower's uncle, I knew how much that horse meant to him. As we climbed up on the wagon, I noticed that his eyes looked a little wet, and that worried me. I had such high hopes for tonight, and it had took a lot of planning to get ready for this...I had made sure that the indoor water hole was all ready for us, except for adding hot water to the tub. I'd arranged for a bottle of wine, candles, and a vase of pretty mums, which were about the only flower still blooming at this time of year. There were plenty of towels, and a fire laid out, ready to be lit when we got there. I'd also packed up some leftovers from lunch, we wouldn't have to worry about dinner. Biblepuncher and Cora were going to watch the kids, and had promised me that they wouldn't be in any hurry to get them home, so hopefully the younger ones would all be ready to go to bed by the time they got back. Yes, tonight was gonna be special...if I didn't pass out on the way home!

I realized I had drank too much when I leaned forward to take my shoes off and almost fell off the wagon seat. It's a good thing Cheyenne had fast reflexes, if he hadn't have grabbed me I would have been in big trouble. But it felt so good to get those darn shoes off, and Cheyenne got a bit of a laugh out of that. “Should have worn moccasins like Little Flower...” he told me, I just wiggled my toes and scooted over as close as I could get to him on the seat. “Can't you drive this thing any faster?” I whispered in his ear. “What for, you can barely stay on the seat now! We'll get home when we get home, don't worry about it,” was his reply.

Dang! He was still upset about that horse, but I was bound and determined that as soon as we got home, I was going to make sure that was the last thing on his mind the rest of the evening. Well, that's what I thought, until we got back to the ranch complex, and noticed a big cloud of dust heading our way. “I wonder what the heck that is?” I said, confused. Everybody else was still at the cabin, I'd made sure that Biblepuncher was going to convince the others to hang around long enough to give me and Cheyenne plenty of time alone.

“Don't know, but it's heading our way,” Cheyenne said, as he pulled the wagon up beside the corral and got down, turning around to help me down. I still needed it, as that whiskey had packed a bigger punch than I'd thought it would. I knew I probably shouldn't have had so much, but today was a day of celebration, in more ways than one. As the dust cloud approached, we were finally able to tell that it was horses, about a dozen or so, with four more carrying riders, two in front and two at the back. They were galloping straight for us, and to our shock it was only a minute or so before Jesse and Pete were reining their horses in right in front of us. I saw that the two riders bringing up the rear were their new wives, the former Taittumn and Sydney Barrett.

 

“Howdy, folks, glad we're finally here,” Jesse told us, “Ya got a corral ready yet?” Cheyenne and I just stared at each other, we had no idea why our friends were here with these horses, much less why they thought we should have a corral ready, and told them so. Pete scratched his head, and asked, “Didn't ya get Buick's letter? He wrote ya about a week or so ago, telling ya he needed us to drive these new mustangs up here for safe keeping.” We had to admit, we hadn't gotten any letter from Buick, so the two of them, with an occasional word thrown in by the ladies, started to explain.


Turns out that Buick and his hands had just rounded up a new bunch of wild horses up in the foothills when one of his neighbors passed away in an accident. The man's wife couldn't handle their ranch all on her own, not with a passel of kids all under ten, so she sold everything and moved to join her family in California. Buick had bought all of her horses to help her out, but between them and the new wild ones, he was now short of both corral and barn space. That wouldn't have been such a big deal earlier in the year, but winter was just around the corner. Plus Jesse and Pete told us that some more horse thieves were rumored to be moving into their area, so Buick didn't think it was safe to have all those extra horses around, too hard to keep track of them with no barn to put them in. So he had sent a letter asking us to take some of the wild mustangs until he could come up with a plan B, figuring that we had plenty of room and wouldn't object.

Well, I had no objection, and we did have plenty of room, but I wasn't sure how Cheyenne was going to feel about it, especially after giving Blackie away earlier in the afternoon. It wasn't Jesse and Pete's fault that we hadn't gotten Buick's letter yet, but I was more than a little disappointed to have them show up at such a bad time...it hadn't been easy arranging to get Cheyenne alone for a couple of hours! Still, we couldn't just tell them to turn around and go back, so between the six of us we got all the wild horses into one of the corrals, got the wagon unhitched, and helped our new guests get their horses unsaddled and taken care of. Then we sent the four visitors over to the new house, with instructions to make themselves at home. I told them when they got hungry, they were welcome to come over to the main house and raid the kitchen of anything they could find, as long as they stayed out of the little building in the back yard.

By that time the whiskey was finally starting to wear off, but I was still looking forward to the evening, and maybe a little of that wine that was waiting for us. Jesse and Pete hadn't had a hard time figuring out that they and their wives needed to leave us alone, and besides, they were all a little tired from driving those horses up here and were more than willing to excuse themselves to the new house to rest. We could figure out what to do with the wild mustangs later...for now, that bathtub was calling our names!

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The gift of Blackie to Black Horse was easier than I thought it might be, heck even Blackie behaved and let the new rider on him without so much as a kidk. What was worrying me was, if giving Little Flower away bothered me this much, and she had been with us only a relatively short time, what would it be like when I had to give Sarah away?

 

The ride home was interesting, I was kind of mopey about giving Little Flower away and Calico was having a hard time keeping her clothes on. I thought she was going to fall under the wagon trying to take her shoes off, how she had gotten some of those other things off had me a tad bewildered. She kept telling me faster, but I was already pushing the team as fast as I thought it was safe too. Besides when I pulled her back up into the wagon a thought my rib was going out my back and each bump didn't do it much good either.

 

We got the horses put away and the one's from the Golden Aspen as well, and shoed off Pete and the rest of them so that we could head for our little water hole. The warm water would feel good on my ribs and the wine would help too. Course the wine would help Cali along a bit too, though the way she was acting she wasn't needing any help.

 

Later we heard the others coming in from the wedding, but we had no desire whatsoever to let them interrupt us. I was right about the wine in both cases, I wasn't feeling any pain and Cali was even more randy than on the trip back from the wedding.

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Grizz heard the wagon coming and quickly finished his work. It had taken him the better part of a week to catch all those catfish and keep them penned up first in a pond, and then in a barrel so he could bring them to the Culpepper place. Must have been over 100 catfish in those barrels, Grizz tried to count as he first tossed, then just dumped the barrels in. He sure hoped Cheyenne and Calico appreciated it. He'd heard them say once how they like to eat catfish, and they sure seemed to spend a lot of time at this particular water hole, though it don't look much good for fishing. No matter, it would be now! There were a few that didn't make the trip, but most were alive and well and more than happy to get back into open water.

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One thing that did almost put a damper on the night was the screams we heard coming from the water hole up by the new house. It was Pete and Jesse, but most of the noise was coming from their wives. It only lasted a few minutes and then we heard Pete yell, "There must be a million catfish in that water hole, no wonder they built that cabin with the large tub in it, you know they could have warned us."

 

We had a good laugh and went back to better things.

 

That morning I had made my mind up to try and buy the mustangs from the Golden Aspen, if they would sell them that is. We hadn't had time to go after any mustangs this past year and we were getting low on unused mounts. I had been looking forward to making a special trip just for that need, but as late in the year that it was, this would be a good substitute. I would need to start training a new mount and if they agreed to sell, I could get started all that much sooner.

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BANG! BANG! BANG!

What the heck was that? It had been a glorious evening, and Cheyenne and I had finally gone to sleep very early in the morning, wrapped in blankets in front of the fire. I didn't regret any of it, except for maybe drinking too much, I was in for one heck of a hangover...and someone out there was being very rude, shooting at this time of the morning....

Shooting? All of a sudden both Cheyenne and I were wide awake, and he was grabbing for his pants, hastily pulling them on and reaching for the rifle he had left leaning against the wall by the door. I was trying to get some clothes on too, but everything seemed tangled up and it took a while to get my bloomers and chemise straightened out enough to get at least that much on, not being able to open my eyes very far wasn't helping. My head seemed like it was going to explode with every shot I heard, this had better be important!


I grabbed one of the pistols that Cheyenne had left behind when he went running out with the rifle, and followed him out the door. It was pure chaos out there, Jesse and Pete were shooting at a whole bunch of strangers milling around the corrals, and I heard Pete yell to Cheyenne, “They's the horse thieves we told ya about, they're after the mustangs!” Well, from the looks of it, those thieves were after more than just the mustangs, there were some of them by almost every corral, and quite a few more hanging around most of the barn doors, including two that were by the barn where my prize Clydesdales were!

Jesse and Pete were concentrating on fighting the men by the corrals, and Cheyenne was already picking targets there as well. I saw that most of our men were stumbling out of the bunkhouse or their homes, but most of them weren't in much better shape than I was, and not a one of them was fully dressed yet either. But I was glad to see that all of them had sense enough to come out armed. We were gonna need the help, there were more thieves than just the four of us could handle. Most of our hands were rushing to help Cheyenne, Jesse, and Pete defend the corrals, but my only thought was to get to those two over by my precious Clydesdales.

As I worked my way around the fighting to where I could have a better shot at those outlaws, I passed Karl just heading outside, wearing nothing but his boots and his long johns. I yelled at him to follow me, but after I had gone about 20 yards I heard a whistle from behind me. Karl was still standing in the same spot, but staring at me with his mouth wide open. It wasn't until that instant that I realized my bloomers were gaping wide open in the back, but now was no time to worry about that. I yelled at Karl again, this time telling him to get his act together and come help me, and he snapped out of it long enough to catch up. We took cover behind a wagon, and started to take aim at the two fellas by the barn.

Just before I pulled the trigger, I noticed that Rose and Little Bear, Two Bird's oldest son, were over by the outlaws, they had obviously been playing together by the barn when the attack started, and were panicking, not knowing what to do or where to go. I don't think Karl saw the children, because he got off his shot, and one of the two outlaws went down with a bullet straight through the heart. I grabbed Karl before he could get off a second one, warning him about the youngsters. As I did that, the remaining horse thief took the opportunity to try and grab Little Bear. The young boy tried ducking out of the way, but the outlaw had a long reach, and was just about to grab the back of the boy's shirt when Sally came running out of the barn and got to Little Bear first. As she scooped the child up, however, the outlaw pulled out his gun and started to bring the barrel down across her head. All I could do was scream a warning, but thankfully Ike had followed Sally out of the barn with his pistol already drawn. Ike was able to shoot the man before he could do serious damage to either Sally or Little Bear. I was thankful for that, but reminded myself to ask those two later what they were doing in that barn alone this early in the morning, when most everyone else was still asleep...

Leaving Sally to get both Little Bear and Rose out of danger Karl and I motioned to Ike to come with us, we had to join the others in fighting off the rest of the thieves, not only were the new mustangs in danger, but so was the rest of our herd. We couldn't let these scum get away with even one of our precious mounts, I just wished my head would quit hurting!!

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It was almost pandemonium when I stepped from the cabin, most of the men I didn't recognize but it didn't take long to figure out what was going on. The heavy bullet from my Sharps lifted one of the intruders clean out of his saddle. I took the rifle down from my shoulder and drew my pistol, an intruder was bent down from his horse trying to open the gate to the corral, my shot on him was a little low, hitting him in the leg but from the wound came a huge spray of blood, he turned and started to bring his pistol to bare on me but my second shot found his chest rolling him off of his saddle and onto the gate he had been trying to open.

 

Grumpy was shooting from the porch of his place and one of the intruders was sneaking around the side of his cabin to try to get the drop on him. My pistol had instinctively rose on the man but before I could get the shot off Buford sprung up from behind the man and locked his jaws on the man's neck. As the man went to his knees Buford swung around and his teeth found the soft skin of the man's throat, with a quick jerk Buford took a gunk out the man's throat, leaving him kneeling there grabbing at his throat and gasping for air that never found his lungs.

 

Blackwater had come out of his cabin with pistols blazing, but as he was both of his pistols locked up leaving him unable to return fire and with nothing to hide behind to work on his pistols. He had just begun to draw fire when Prairie Dawg and Skipper emerged from their cabin, Skipper with her rifle spewing fire and smoke and Dawg with his long barreled pistols spitting out fire and smoke as well.

 

From above us I heard a rifle open up from the cupola on top of the ranch house, Hop Sing had grabbed a rifle and a box of shells and took his spot and from his high spot had already dropped two of the thieves.

 

My jaw almost hit the ground when I spotted Karl and Calico firing from behind a wagon, Karl was naked except for his hat and boots and there was Calico with her pistols blazing in only her bloomers, I almost laughed as I thought that she wouldn't have to worry about hot brass going down her blouse and getting caught there, she wasn't wearing anything for brass to get caught in even if she had been shooting a rifle.

 

Then I caught sight of something that took my mind off of Calico and her bare br.... a man was attempting to light a torch to throw into the barn that held the Clydesdales. I had just gotten a round into my Sharps when I heard a big bore rifle erupt from just within the trees near the water hole. The man with the torch to be was know a headless horseman that was being drug by his horse with his boot caught in the stirrup.

 

The smoke was making it hard to see much of anything and the morning sun was making matter worse, but the intruders couldn't see us either. One of them must have gotten cold feet and I heard the hooves of a horse in near full gallop heading to the right, I swung the Sharps up and waited for the man to clear the edge of the smoke, just as he cleared the smoke the Sharps spoke again putting a huge hole through the side of the man's neck. He dropped down onto the horse's neck and rolled over and off the horse hitting the ground with a thud.

 

Then there was quiet, and then the voices of our men and their wives calling back and forth, and an unrecognized voice occasionally calling and being answered by one of his pards.

 

I called for the surviving intruders to surrender but they told me to go to....

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Karl, Ike, and I needed to get closer to the rest of the fighting, but lack of cover caused us to have to go around back of some of the cabins before we could make our way back up to where Cheyenne and the others were. I wished I'd had time to put some shoes on, we really needed to do some work on the weeds growing behind the cabins, it wasn't long before I was limping from getting stickers in my feet. When we finally made it around to Cheyenne's position, he turned to see who was coming up behind him and noticed me walking funny, and just about had a fit. I assured him I wasn't injured, but told him I wouldn't mind a nice foot massage when this was all over, he just rolled his eyes and said he'd think about it.

Word was quickly passed down the line that Sally had made it to safety at Doc Eells's place with the two children, and that she was helping him treat our wounded. I cringed when I heard that part, but I was glad to hear that none of the injuries was too serious. Little Joe had taken a bullet in one shoulder, but Doc had gotten the bullet out and said that Little Joe would recover, and a couple of others had minor flesh wounds that just needed stitches. All the same, I was furious that any of our men had been hurt, those thieves had to pay for that! Most of the outlaws had taken cover inside the barn closest to the house, smart move on their part as Hop Sing had a clear view of anywhere they could have hidden outside. It made it difficult for us to get to them, but at least we had them cooped up in one spot, now we just had to figure out how to deal with getting them out of the barn. There were a few injured outlaws that hadn't been able to make a run for the barn, but as far as I was concerned, they could just lay there and suffer. Doc Eells was being paid to provide medical treatment for us, our ranch employees, and their families, not criminals.

Ike did assure us that there were no horses in that particular barn, all the ones that normally were in there had been let out into the corral so that he could get the stalls clean, and he hadn't yet put any of the horses back in. He had just finished that barn and had moved to the Clydesdale barn to get started on that one when the attack started. I asked him what the heck he was doing in there with Sally, he turned bright red and muttered, “Nothing! She was watching the little ones play and just stepped inside to say Good Morning...I didn't touch her....Honest!!” Cheyenne didn't look too happy to hear that the two of them had been alone in the barn, but as nervous as Ike was I figured he probably was telling us the truth. He did deserve credit for stepping up to try and protect her, so I wasn't about to yell at him too much for it, though I was going to remind Sally to behave herself first chance I got. He also deserved credit for being about the only one of the ranch hands without a hangover, which is why he was the only one up and working already. The others needed more time to recover from the previous day's festivities...I feeling I most certainly shared. This whole gunfight thing would have been a lot easier to handle if my brain wasn't trying so hard to escape from my skull....

The horses that were still in the corrals were starting to settle down a little, the thieves had only managed to get two gates open and thankfully the horses in those corrals were all well-trained ranch mounts and not the new wild mustangs. The horses that had been let loose had all scattered, but it would be easy enough to round them all up later. The ranch horses all knew where the food was, if we didn't catch them they would come back on their own sooner or later as soon as they got hungry enough. I was furious though to see that my autumn pony, who was one of the horses left in a corral, had blood on her rump, she'd obviously been grazed by a bullet. I wanted to go make sure she was ok, but Cheyenne wasn't about to let me, he didn't trust the outlaws not to fire on me just because I was a woman. He assured me that the injury to my pony didn't look too bad, and that she was calm enough that she couldn't have been in too much pain. All the same, it wasn't easy staying where I was, I loved that horse and hated seeing her bleed, even if it was just a little bit. Oh, those men were gonna pay for that!

Cheyenne and Karl were starting to discuss possible ways of getting the outlaws out of the barn when we heard horses approaching, and fast. We all turned to look, and saw that it was Running Bear, Black Horse, Lone Wolf, and Runs with the Wind galloping straight for us, they'd heard the gunfire and had come to see what was going on. Cheyenne quickly signed for them to dismount a ways back and continue forward under cover, and they quickly followed his advice. As they got closer, Running Bear called out, “Where is Little Bear? Two Birds let him spend the night here last night, but she is worried now.” I let him know that his nephew was safe for the moment at Doc's, he acknowledged that information then gave me a real funny look. Cheyenne noticed it too, then looked back at me and shook his head. “I forgot, you didn't get a chance to get dressed. Git yer butt back in the bath house and git yer clothes on!”

I started to protest, but only until Karl muttered something about me being a distraction to any sane man, and half the insane ones, so I decided maybe following Cheyenne's advice for a change might not be such a bad idea after all. Unfortunately for me the only clothing I had in the bath house was the outfit I had worn yesterday to the wedding, a lovely outfit to be sure but not one that was exactly appropriate for taking part in a gun battle. I knew that Cheyenne would probably prefer for me to stay put inside the bath house anyway, but I wasn't about to just sit there and do nothing when our horses and our men were in danger. Maybe I could just skip a few items and put on enough to keep me covered a little better, but do a few minor adjustments to the skirt so I could move a little easier.....



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After Running Bear obviously noticed Calico's lack of clothing I looked over at Karl who was showing proof of his enjoyment of seeing her in that state of, well lack of clothing. Then he nearly shot himself in the foot when he tried to cover the evidence of his appreciation with his pistols. I had to laugh inside because I was also appreciating the view. Calico took off for the cabin as we laid down cover for her.

 

Once Calico was safe we held our fire and let the smoke settle again. I hollered for the men in the barn to surrender, but again they told me to go to hades. Then I said, "Fine, we've got water, food, and our women folk, I reckon we'll just wait you out for a while!" I sent Karl to get some clothes on, after all I didn't want to get sunburnt where the sun had never shown before. Karl headed for his cabin trying to cover himself as much as he could to the hail of whistles and calls from every woman on the ranch. His face had turned so red that I would have sworn that he was a long lost brother.

 

Running Bear, Black Horse were looking at each other and then at us, you could see on their faces that they sure didn't understand us, and well, I understood them. Lone Wolf and Runs with the Wind were worried about Laura and while keeping out of danger went looking for her.

 

I looked around to see the men reloading their rifles and pistols, and the women bringing out more ammo, and bandages for the lesser wounds. I called for them to get every shotgun available, if we went into barn after the horse thieves I wanted every advantage we could get. I knew if we went in now we would be at a distinct disadvantage because our eyes would not be adjusted to the darkness inside the barn. We would wait, I didn't want to put my men at any more risk than necessary to clear the barn of the evil no gooders that had taken refuge there.

 

We decided to take turns getting food and better dressed for our siege on our own barn, I could tell that Black Horse and Running Bear wanted to try to sneak into it, but I finally convinced them to wait with us instead. I headed for the house to get my buckskins and while there I grabbed Calico's as well, hoping I had grabbed ones that would fit, considering her little bump. I knew that I had to try to convince her to stay safely back, there was a fat chance back of that happening.

 

From the back porch I spied Ol Grizz off by the trees chewing on a cigar, "Howed you like your catfish I left in your water hole?" he yelled. I waved him over to the cabin, and once he got there I opened the door to show him our new water hole. His jaw nearly hit the ground as he looked in, I wasn't sure if it was because of the water hole inside the cabin or Calico sitting there on the bed trying to rip her skirt to make it better to fight in. She looked up and I knew right away I should have knocked first since Ol Grizz was still standing there with his tongue hanging out. I quickly threw Calico's buckskins to her and slammed the door shut almost breaking Grizz's nose in the process. Oh, I was going to pay for that for sure.

 

I came up with an idea as we were headed back towards the barn, Ike, Grizz and I would all take our Sharps and from the barn closet the barn with the intruders would start picking spots that we figured one of the outlaws would likely be hunker down in.

 

I could already feel the knot that I was going to have in my arm when Calico finally got hold of me again, oh that was going to hurt!

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I really appreciated Cheyenne bringing me some buckskins, though why he had let Ole Grizz look in the room was beyond me. I mean, it didn't really bother me that much to have the ranch hands see me running around in my underwear, but Ole Grizz? There were some things that fella just didn't need to see! It was too late to do much of anything about that, so I just concentrated on getting dressed. I did kind of wish he'd brought an extra pair of his britches instead of mine, they may have been a little too long but at least the waist would have fit better. I couldn't get mine all the way closed at the top, oh well, the shirt was long enough to cover, better than nothing I supposed. At least this meant he wasn't going to forbid me from taking part in whatever was going to happen next.


It turned out not much did happen, at least for a while. I went back out to where Cheyenne was taking cover, along with our guests, Ike, Grizz, and Karl, who had also managed to throw some clothes on. Cheyenne started going over his idea of him, Grizz, and Ike taking cover in another barn to take shots at the outlaws from there if possible, but a large part of that involved waiting to see if they would come out on their own. There was no food or water in the barn, aside from any that the outlaws had on them, so they couldn't stay in there forever. Sooner or later they'd have to make a break for it, and that would be the best time to start taking them down. While Cheyenne and his team were in the other barn, Karl would be in charge of the rest of the men, we needed to make sure we had the entire barn surrounded, but also making sure our men had the best cover possible.

Before the three left to work their way around to their new position, we noticed Lone Wolf and Runs with the Wind coming back around the side of the house, but without their ponies this time. Off on the other side of the house, we saw Laura on Lone Wolf's pony, racing away but with the house between her and the outlaws so they couldn't see her leave. When the two youths finally made it back to our vantage point, we asked them where Laura was going. “I sent her to get Sheriff Tom,” Lone Wolf told us, “Was it wrong to do that?” We assured him that it was fine, if any of the outlaws survived what we had planned they'd need to be locked up, might as well warn the sheriff what was going on. I was actually impressed that he'd thought of it, turning to the sheriff was not something that a brave would normally do, I guess he was starting to pick up on our ways after all. “She wanted to take part in the battle, but we didn't think you'd want that, so Lone Wolf gave her something else important to do,” Runs with the Wind explained.

Running Bear and Black Horse then volunteered to take the two younger braves and try to get the rest of the ranch mounts out of the corrals and get the horses to safety. I was all for the idea, as too many of them were in dangerous spots and we'd been lucky so far that the only animal injured to this point was my pony. Black Horse promised to take special care of her, and make sure she was ok, a gesture that cemented our friendship right then. Cheyenne gave his approval, but told the men to leave the wild mustangs where they were, as it would be hard to round all of them up again, and their corral wasn't in the direct line of fire anyway. The rest of the men would start sending bullets towards the barn where the outlaws were, they might not be able to hit anything but they'd at least keep the thieves busy and occupied while our people were moving around. Right before Cheyenne left with Grizz and Ike, I told him I planned to take Jesse and Pete with me and make sure that my Clydesdales were protected as well.

“I don't suppose I can convince you to stay put in the bath house, can I?” he asked me, shaking his head. “Nope, you should know better by now,” I told him, “I know you're worried, but Jesse and Pete ain't gonna let nothing bad happen to me, and I gotta protect my four-legged babies too!”

“You and them darn Clydesdales, what was I thinking buying those things for you?” he replied, but then he grabbed me and kissed me soundly, whispering “Be careful, I don't want anything to happen to you or the baby. And when all this is over with, I want another night alone with you like last night!” Well, that sounded like a good plan to me....



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I needed to get away from Cali because I need to keep my mind on the matter on hand and not "other things". Grizz, Ike and I set up in windows of the other barn, I knew the barn the thieves were hiding in like the back of my hand and was hoping with some well placed shots we could convince them to surrender.

 

We would shot at the same spot, but with our rounds spaced about a foot apart, even if we missed them, the splintering hardwood would become projectiles and hopefully find their way into the flesh of the miscreants hiding in the barn. On my signal we all fired and while we didn't hear anyone screaming from a hit, we did hear lots of cussing. The three of us could hardly load our rifles because of our laughter. I was going to call for them to surrender again, but then, I thought since we were already loaded....

 

Our second folly did bring more cussing, along with moaning. I called to them again, "Well?" and was answered by return fire from the windows of the other barn. The three of us again sent a folly towards the side of one of the windows that the return fire had come from. This time we heard cussing again and the man returned to the window in plain sight with blood oozing from several spots and starting to fire in our direction. The fire that the man attracted from the my men below was thunderous. There was just a fine red mist left in the window as the smoke cleared. Now I was in no mood to ask them to surrender again, if they hadn't figured out what kind of predicament they were in they were just plain stupid.

 

I heard a voice come from the barn, "If you don't let us go we'll set fire to your barn and burn it to the ground," Really? I thought to myself, "Karl" I yelled, "get the man a torch!"

 

Then I called for our men to open fire on the barn, I'd rather have holes to patch than a barn to rebuild. The men opened fire and emptied their guns into the barn, sending lead and splinters flying into the barn. It only lasted about thirty seconds before the men stopped to reload, a few seconds after they stopped firing the barn door slid open and two riders tried to make a run for it on their horses. Ike, Grizz and I all fired on the same man with our Sharps turning him into mush as the heavy slugs tore his body apart. The other man took arrows into the heart and lungs from Black Horse and Running Bear. Somehow he wasn't thrown from his horse until two rounds from Cali's pistols rocked his head back rolling him backwards off of his mount.

 

Grumpy was having a hard time holding Buford back from running into the barn, good dogs were hard to come by on the range and we sure didn't want to loose Buford to a bullet. I called out to the barn one last time, "Well?" "We ain't gonna hang, so let's get this over with." was the reply from the barn. I told the other two to take a different window and no sooner had I said that a man appeared in each window with guns blazing, and then three more riders emerged at a full gallop from the barn. I felt that all to familiar heat in my shoulder as I squeezed off a round that doubled over it's target. The other two men suffered the same feat as Ike and Grizz sent two more men to their judgment.

 

Two of the three men that rode out of the barn met the same fate as the men in the windows, but the third somehow had managed to get through the carnage, I couldn't raise my rifle and hollered for Ike to take the shot, but before Ike could fire I saw Black Horse running for Blackie and at a full run he leapt upon Blackie's back and was in full gallop after the man in seconds. From the windows of the barn we watched as Black Horse caught up to the man and knocked him from his horse with a thump to the man's neck with his war hatchet. Black Horse gathered the man's horse and weapons and slowly trotted back to the ranch.

 

Meanwhile Calico hollered up at the barn, "Cheyenne, why didn't you take the shot?" By then Ike and Grizz knew I had taken a round in the shoulder and were stuffing the wound with shreds of clothing trying to stem the bleeding. Ike hollered back "You better get Doc, NOW!" Ol Grizz added, "If he wasn't distracted thinking about you in that water hole he might not have gotten shot!"

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Ike didn't give any indication of how bad Cheyenne was hurt, and I panicked. I didn't know how many more men there were in that barn, but I somehow had to make it to Doc's office. After telling Jesse and Pete to cover me, I started running for a wagon that was part way there, I could duck behind that and from there be out of sight of the barn. As I headed for the wagon, I passed a water barrel, and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw something behind it, but wasn't paying much attention. As I got to the wagon, sure enough I heard the sound of a shot coming from the barn, and quickly ducked, but as I did I heard a high-pitched scream from right behind me, from the area of the water barrel. As I turned to look, I heard Running Bear yell “NO!” and then he was running straight for the barrel.

It took only a second to see why he was yelling, his young nephew Little Bear was crying, laying face down behind the barrel which was now leaking from a direct hit. Whoever had been shooting at me had hit it, and poor Little Bear was what I had seen hiding behind it, he must have snuck out of Doc's office while Sally was busy helping with the wounded. Running Bear reached the child just before I did, and as he snatched the child up into his arms I grabbed his elbow and shouted, “Follow me, we need to get him to the medicine man fast!” The distraught uncle didn't need to be told twice, and he followed me to the office as fast as he could run while holding the boy. The rest of the men had opened up on the barn again, to cover our retreat.

I yelled back over my shoulder to Grizz to take care of Cheyenne, but wasn't sure if he heard me. I just about tore the door off of Doc's office opening it for Running Bear. As he laid the boy down on the nearest table, I noticed that his buckskin shirt was streaked with his nephew's blood, and I almost started crying. Then I saw Sally standing nearby, and knew I had to pull myself together, as she was not going to be much help. As soon as she was that Little Bear was injured, Sally turned as white as a sheet, and was sobbing hysterically. “How did he get hurt, he was just in here, I swear! Rose was so scared when the shooting started, I was trying so hard to comfort her, I could have sworn he was still in the room....” Looking up at Running Bear I saw that he looked furious, and when Sally noticed as well she took a couple of steps back away from him, obviously scared.

 

But neither of us had to worry, as Running Bear told her in his tongue, “It is not your fault. I blame only the man who shot in the direction of my sister's son.” Then he turned his attention back to the boy, just as Doc reached the table and started examining his newest patient. I quickly went over to Sally and translated the brave's words to her, and whispered, “It's ok honey, we know you were trying to help Rose, everything will be ok.” I sure hoped so, and started praying that I wasn't lying to the girl.

I don't know if the prayers helped, but it only took a short time before Doc announced, “Well, he hasn't been shot, the only injuries seem to be all these splinters in his face. Most of them aren't even that bad, although the one on his temple and maybe one of the ones on his forehead will probably scar. It looks like he got his eyes shut in time, no damage there, it just looks worse than it is because facial wounds bleed so bad. I'll get all of the splinters out in no time, and he should be fine as soon as he gets over being scared.”

I started to translate Doc's words to Running Bear, but he just shook his head, telling me he understood well enough. Then he picked up his nephew and held him in his arms, whispering to the boy to be brave as Doc started removing the slivers of wood. Little Bear tried really hard to do as his uncle had asked, and I was amazed at how well he behaved for the procedure, as it had to have been uncomfortable. Finally Doc was finished, and I helped him get his patient's face all cleaned up, and told Running Bear to stay there as long as necessary to make the boy feel better. Then I told Doc that Cheyenne had been hurt as well, how badly I didn't know, and to grab his stuff and come with me.

We headed back towards the barn, and by then the shooting seemed to be over with. I noticed that Sheriff Tom had arrived, and with help from Karl and some of the other men was rounding up the wounded outlaws. The sheriff knew better than to ask Doc to attend to them, the outlaws would just have to suffer until he got them back to town and the two doctors there. As I led Doc into the barn where Cheyenne had been with Ike and Grizz, I also noticed a mule tied up outside the building. That was strange, as we didn't have any mules on the ranch, and I wondered where it had come from.


Grizz and Ike had managed to get Cheyenne down out of the loft, and he was seated leaning up against one of the stall gates. An old man that I'd never seen before was leaning over him with a knife in his hand, and for a second I couldn't figure out why Grizz and Ike were just standing there watching this stranger get close to my husband with a knife. I must have made some sort of sound, because the stranger hesitated, looking back at me and Doc, then he stopped. Somehow he must have figured out that Doc was our sawbones, because the man told him, “That bullet didn't do much damage, but it's gonna hafta come out, the sooner the better! But I suppose I oughta let you do it....” and then he stood up. As Doc took the man's place kneeling in front of Cheyenne to examine the wound, the old man just stood there looking me up and down. It felt weird, but if the man was only trying to help, I couldn't really object too much.

Just then Sheriff Tom came in, and told me he'd be taking the six wounded outlaws to town to be treated then locked up for trial, and that he had no doubt that there would be a hanging soon. Then he introduced me to the old man, telling me, “This here is Padre, he's an old friend. He'd come by to buy me a drink when Laura showed up, and well, he wouldn't let me leave him behind.”

“Well, any friend of yours is certainly welcome here, especially during an emergency like this,” I told the men, and Padre answered, “That's good, cuz I like the looks of this place, I think I'm gonna stay here for a while....” I hadn't intended to issue an invitation for him to stay, but as worried as I was about Cheyenne I wasn't in the mood to argue the point....



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It wasn't much fun getting down out of the loft of the barn, I was upset that I had given the man who had shot me such a good target, but then he was the one that was dead. Then this strange looking fellow showed up with Tom and started poking at my shoulder, and then he said he wanted to take out the bullet himself. He pulled his knife, which I wasn't to keen about, but before I could actually protest Calico and Doc showed up.

 

Before Doc could look at my shoulder Karl hollered to me, "There's two more in the barn and Black Horse and Running Bear are wanting to go in after them!" I knew I couldn't let them go into the barn alone, heck they had no idea of it's layout and I had played in there since I was little and knew every spot of that barn like the back of my hand. "Tell them to wait, I'm not that bad, tell them to wait for me!" I reached my hand up to Ike and he pulled my up, "Is your pistol loaded?" I asked Calico, who wasn't real happy about my plan. "It is, but" she started, "No buts about it, you know I've got to do this" I told her. She slowly pulled her pistol and handed it to me, "You get shot again, don't plan on any water hole time for a while" she told me, followed by a wink and a kiss to my cheek.

 

I led Black Horse and Running Bear to a door of the barn that was in the shadows, and the three of us slipped into the barn, quickly pulling the door shut behind us. I pointed to the spots I figured the mostly spots that the thieves would be hiding in. Our eyes adjusted to the darkness in the barn as we moved towards the first spot. I saw something that seemed out of place and pointed to it, Black Horse drew his bow back and sent an arrow into the spot which turned out to be the foot of one of the men we were hunting, he let out a scream and grabbed at his foot, revealing his head which was found by a bullet from my Colt.

 

That left one more man to find and if need be, kill. My shoulder was throbbing as I pointed towards another spot, as we got almost to it I heard a sneeze coming from the spot. Running Bear motioned that he was going to circle around in the other direction, Black Horse could see the pain in my face and motioned the he would go in front of me, I knew I couldn't go much further and nodded approval. I sat down on a stool as the two began their stalk, I heard a bow twang and an arrow zip through the air, a thud of it finding its' target, a grunt and then straw being pushed about. That was followed by the victorious yells of Black Horse and Running Bear. As I tried to focus my eyes I could barely make out Running Bear holding up a scalp, "He shot at a woman and wounded a child and I took my revenge on him" Running Bear said without much emotion.

 

I tried to yell, "It is finished, the battle is over" but I'm not really sure how much of it I had gotten out before Calico was holding me in her arms with tears running down her cheeks. "Don't do that to me again, please." Just before my eyes closed the thought went through my mind, "That's the first time I ever heard that" and then I was soaring high in the clouds,,,,,,

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I stayed out of the barn as long as I could, not wanting to get in the way of the three men going after the last of the outlaws. But as soon as I heard Cheyenne start to yell, not even Karl could hold me back. I went running in just in time to see Cheyenne start falling off the stool he was sitting on, he'd lost a lot of blood and was starting to pass out. With tears streaming down my face I grabbed him before he fell, but I certainly couldn't get him out of there all on my own. Running Bear and Black Horse came to help, and next thing I knew Karl, Doc Eells, and the old man Padre were right there as well.

Black Horse looked closely at Padre, then exclaimed, “Brother! I thought that was you.” I knew enough Ute to understand the words, but the meaning of them had me confused, Padre looked like a white man. Maybe Black Horse was referring to him as a blood brother, and not a relative, and I was curious to see if either man would be willing to share their story. Now was not the time though, Cheyenne needed Doc's attention and fast.

The other men managed to get him inside the main house, but put him in the parlor instead of trying to get him upstairs. Before they laid him on the sofa though I insisted on taking the time to throw a quilt over it, the quilt would be easier to wash and he wasn't done bleeding yet. I was starting to shake a little, I knew he should be ok but it was still upsetting to see him like that, and my pregnancy made me emotional most of the time anyway. Doc noticed how I was acting, and asked Karl to please take me somewhere else to wait, that he'd send for me if I was needed. The two of us retreated to the front porch, then Karl stepped back inside to get some whiskey for himself, and a glass of wine for me.


“Drink this, it'll help calm ya down,” he told me, I wasn't too sure I wanted it as my hangover wasn't completely gone yet, but I didn't feel like arguing, so I took it and had a few sips. We sat and watched as Laura and Sally returned from Doc's with the two children, Sally leading Rose by the hand and Laura carrying Little Bear, who had stopped crying but still looked a little shaken up. As they approached, Lone Wolf went over to them, and I couldn't hear what he said to Sally but the next thing I knew he was giving her a hug, and Sally looked incredibly relieved. He must have repeated what his older brother had told her, that she was not to blame for what happened. I thought it was nice of them, it wasn't easy dealing with two young, rambunctious children at the same time, and I knew Sally felt awful about losing track of Little Bear.

That made me start thinking about the next few years, when the twins and the baby I was carrying now would be a little bit older. I'd have three to handle, this wasn't going to be easy! At least I had quite a few other people around to help out, but the main responsibility would still be mine. Was I really ready to deal with this? Not that I had much choice, but all the same it was a little unnerving to think about. Just then I heard a voice from behind me say, “Quit yer worryin'...you'll be fine. Ya just gotta start havin' a little more faith in yerself. Yer gonna need it, cuz you two ain't gonna be stoppin' at three!” I turned to look and Tom's friend Padre had come out on the porch, and was staring at me like he could read my mind. Considering that I hadn't said anything out loud about what I was thinking about, maybe he could....

He continued on, “Black Horse and me got some catchin' up ta do, so me and ole Bess my mule are gonna go over and stay with him and his son in their tipi fer a while. Black Horse wanted me ta ask permission first, so I guess I'm askin', but I ain't got no intentions of goin' nowhere until I darn well feel like it!” The man had some nerve, people generally gave me and Cheyenne a little more respect as the owners of the ranch than that, but since Black Horse and Cheyenne had become blood brothers at Little Flower and Eddie's wedding, if this man had the same relationship with Black Horse that made him family of a sort, so I couldn't very well say no.


Karl offered Padre a shot of the whiskey, which the old man gladly accepted, and he and Karl ended up having more than just one a piece by the time they were finished. But they hit it off ok, and listening to them talk at least kept my mind off of Cheyenne for a while. Finally Doc was finished and came to get me, telling me that I could go sit with Cheyenne but to try to stay calm, I wasn't doing either of us any good by getting upset. I went inside and sat on the floor next to the sofa, and held Cheyenne's hand for quite a while. He was awake again, but didn't seem to feel like saying or doing much, so I just sat there with him until Cora came to fetch me for dinner. I tried to tell her that I wasn't really hungry, but Cheyenne insisted, telling me, “Hey, you need to eat, I'll still be here when ya get back. Don't really feel like going anywhere just yet.”

I leaned over and kissed him, and whispered, “You better not be going anywhere any time soon, ya got too many people here that need ya, and not just me! And I am gonna hold you to that night alone together again, we just probably should wait a day or two...” He smiled ear ta ear, then closed his eyes and told me to get going and eat my dinner. As I was doing so, I couldn't help but wonder just how the heck I was gonna get him upstairs tonight....



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I'm not sure just how long I had laid there on the sofa when Karl and Padre staggered in singing some song about a drunken sailor. I knew what I wanted to do with the two of them, but at least they had saved the last swig of whiskey for me. I took the bottle and tilted the bottle up pouring the last bit into my mouth and then swirled it around enjoying it as it passed every taste bud in my mouth.

 

The two of them pulled up chairs close to me and sat down, but not before Karl got another bottle and opened it. This time he handed me the bottle first, and I took it and did the same as I had done before, getting every bit of enjoyment out of the swig that I could. I wasn't sure if I would get another turn at it so I made the most of it. Well, I did get a few more turns at it and soon we were all singing that silly song about a drunken sailor, but we changed the words as we went along to, what do you do with a drunken cowboy. We were having a pretty good time when I noticed someone standing in the doorway, with their hands on their hips. Calico was just standing there staring at the three of us drunken sots. I wasn't sure if she was mad of if she was waiting her turn to join in with us.

 

Then Doc Eells joined her, "Well, it doesn't look like he's in pain does it?" Doc said as he stepped into the room to join our drunken trio. Now a quartet the volume of our singing continued to increase, next to join us was Hop Sing Chinese accent and all. Calico was still standing there in the doorway, shaking her head side to side, but at least now I could see her smiling. She finally joined us, though she passed up the whiskey, her wine glass seemed to refill itself mysteriously every few minutes. Before long even Buford and Grumpy and most everyone else on the ranch had joined in, after the day we had just had Even Crossfire Brown on mamma joined in.

 

Someone brought in some lemonade, with the warning that it may just have something more in it. Some snake oil salesman, I think his name was Copperhead Joe had brought it and after taking a taste I told him we'd take all four barrels he had on his wagon, and then I invited him to stay.

 

Before long Calico looked me in the eye and told me, "If you've got enough strength for this, we're going out back!" I wasn't in much shape to argue, not that I wanted to and she put her arm around me and led the way. As we stepped down the steps off of the back porch I heard the rest of the drunken cowboys from the ranch singing, "What do you do with a drunken cowboy, take him to the water hole!!!!!!" followed by all kinds of hoots and hollers. Just before I entered the cabin with our water hole I turned to see every woman on the ranch leading her man back to their own cabins. I chuckled a little as Calico pulled me the rest of the way into the cabin. I wasn't able to move much that night, but that didn't seem to bother Cali much.

 

I woke up the next morning in obvious pain and pretty foggy, "Was that all a dream?" went through my mind. The pain in my shoulder told me some of it wasn't a dream for sure, and I was hoping the rest of it hadn't been either. My head was telling me more of it wasn't a dream either. Calico was at my side, I sure hope that part, what I thought I could remember, wasn't a dream either.

 

I just thought to myself, life is good, closed my eyes and went back to sleep.

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The next morning I had a hard time waking up...two hangovers in a row wasn't such a good idea after all. Cheyenne wasn't much better off, and the pain in his head was matched by the one in his shoulder. Today I really needed to see about getting him some help getting upstairs, we couldn't keep sleeping in the little cabin out back every night. As much fun as the last two nights had been, Cheyenne would heal better in a real bed, and I had to get back to taking care of my babies. I'd had the other ladies and Laura and Sally do enough babysitting lately, it was time to get back to caring for Mathew and Sarah myself.

Thankfully Biblepuncher stopped by to see Cora, and between him and I managed to get Cheyenne up to our room. I brought Mathew and Sarah in to see Cheyenne, and playing with the babies at least put him in a good mood, even if he was still hurting. Doc stopped by to check on him, looking none too stable himself, and said that the shoulder was doing all right. Then he asked me to step out into the hall, where he proceeded to tell me, “Look, that shoulder is never gonna heal unless Cheyenne gets some rest, and I DO mean rest! You are supposed to be taking it easy too, do you think you could possibly behave yourself for at least a couple of days? Sleep in one of the guest rooms if you have to...” Then he stomped out, muttering something to himself I couldn't hear, which was probably a good thing.


Well, I didn't like the sound of that, but I had to admit Cheyenne did need to rest, I couldn't argue that one. Karl came up to see Cheyenne for a while, and they discussed what to do about the wild mustangs. They would need to be broke for riding, but there was no way Cheyenne could take part in that any time soon. Both men told me in no uncertain terms I was not even to think about it, even though I hadn't been. Karl said that Running Bear had suggested letting Lone Wolf help, as the young man had a way with horses, and wanted a chance to prove he could do it. I was a little concerned about him getting hurt, but the men all agreed that Lone Wolf wasn't any more likely to get hurt than anyone else, and as long as he was willing...

After lunch, Ike came to the house, he had been sent to town on some errands, one of which was to stop by the post office. Buick's letter had finally shown up, a little late but oh well, the mustangs were already here and we weren't about to make Jesse and Pete drive them back with no place to put them at the Golden Aspen. Buick said he'd pay us for whatever it cost to put them up for the winter, and a fair amount for our men to start training them if we agreed. His letter also contained an invitation for us to bring all the kids down for a visit sometime, and I decided to see if Cheyenne would be willing to go. We'd have to take that dang train, but it would be worth it to see Buick and Morning Star again. The letter ended with Buick saying that he was also sending one of his new hands up to help take care of the mustangs for the winter, as he needed Jesse and Pete to come back as soon as possible.

It was after dinner that evening when the new hand from the Golden Aspen showed up. Jesse and Pete and their wives had been invited for dinner, and we all had a good time talking about some of our past adventures. Biblepuncher and Cora just sat there shaking their heads, it was obvious that they thought we were all crazy. Afterwards Cheyenne wanted to sit on the porch for a while before going back upstairs, to get some fresh air. It was while we were out there talking that we saw a rider approaching, and as the stranger got closer Jesse called out to him, “Hey Danny, over here!” The rider dismounted in front of the porch, and Jesse introduced him as Daniel Mason, the man Buick had sent to help us.

As the introductions were being made, I had to remind myself that it was rude to stare, but I almost couldn't help it. Danny looked to be in his mid twenties, muscular but slim, with shoulder length light brown hair and gorgeous brown eyes. This was one of the most attractive men I had ever seen, and I almost forgot my manners while I was busy trying to keep my jaw from dropping to the floor. I managed to get a grip before Cheyenne noticed, and I sure hoped no one else did. We talked to the newcomer for a while, and even Cheyenne was satisfied with his background. Danny would take primary responsibility for Buick's mustangs, with help from Lone Wolf and as many of our men as needed. Ike had come by to see Sally, and offered to take Danny over to the bunkhouse to get settled in, as soon as he was done talking to Sally of course.

 

With that settled, I managed to get Cheyenne upstairs by myself this time, the pain was starting to subside a bit. Since he was feeling a little better, Cheyenne gave me a big smile as we got ready for bed, but remembering Doc's orders I told him I was tired, and only wanted to cuddle for a while. He looked rather disappointed, but drifted off before long anyway. For some strange reason it took a lot longer for me to fall asleep....



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