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DARKNESS WRAPPED LONG, concealing fingers around the world as the silence of the upcoming night swallowed the busy activities of the day. The ranch’s vast stables finally belonged to the young Cheyenne warrior. Only the steadily rising wind kept him company. Now the young warrior could take his chance on stealing the horse he must have.
The barn wouldn’t be easy to access, but the desperate brave had been hiding in the deep shadows, holding his breath and breathing through his nose ever so shallowly, while the stableman made his rounds. There would be no reason for the man to return to this corner of the barn. Still, the warrior waited, his chest barely moving, as his heart beat with a pulse that was inaudible to all but him.
With no noise in his step or actions, the warrior knew he must disappear, just like in the hunt. When pursuing an antelope or deer, only the warrior could know the pursuer was there. The animal must sense only the feeling of safety. Then, the warrior could attack. Only, this time, it wasn’t an animal’s life at stake.
It was his own.
The young warrior was glad he had washed in the river at midday to smell more like the white man. The cold water had burned his skin, but he’d rubbed his arms and legs vigorously with a flat rock to scour away the scent of the wilderness, letting the clear, rushing water carry it away. His sturdy, leather clothing was folded and stashed under a large rock should he need it again, marked by a branch he’d notched with his knife. He was wearing a white man’s clothes that had been left behind from many years ago. He had been a little over nine at the time. He was more than twice that age now, and the clothes fit well. The pants were neither too long nor too short. His knife sheath hung snugly at his side. His tanned, muscular arms just reached the end of his shirtsleeves. Even the leather jacket fit him well.
Nevertheless, he felt strange in them. He’d fumbled with the strange buttons, and the pockets for carrying things seemed unnecessary. And the fabric, so stiff. They weren’t soft like the buckskin now lying under his rock. He had known he could adapt to the strangeness of the white man’s clothing, just like the butterfly that sheds its cocoon to wear a new skin, but the boots were a different thing. For silence as he walked in the white man’s world, he continued to wear his knee-high moccasins. Beautifully beaded by his mother with a traditional design, they would keep his feet warm and his steps silent.
He hadn’t cut his long, thick wavy hair, but that would come soon, and then he could pass for a white man. He had been teased often enough about being a “half-breed” when he first came into the Cheyenne camp. Now, for once in his life, his light skin color would be to his advantage. He would walk among the white man to fulfill his destiny. They wouldn’t know him for who he really was, Shadow Hawk, a Warrior, a Wolf Soldier of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe. Until then, his thick mane was bound and hung in a dark bundle just below his broad shoulders. His knife was at the ready when he must remove the strands from his head.
The medicine man had told him he would find his answers among the white people. He knew Shadow Hawk had many questions. The wise Old One was right. He only confirmed what Shadow Hawk had known all along. He must go into the white man’s world to find the one who had disgraced his family. It might take many years, but he had the small leather pouch of gold from years ago to help him buy the time he needed. He would find that man, and when he did, he would kill him and then return to his mother’s people, forever an Indian.
EVEN THOUGH SHADOW HAWK fit into the white man’s clothes, the young warrior wasn’t yet considered an adult, for he hadn’t taken a wife. His mother was alone, and no other warrior in the tribe would have her. She had needed him, so he had remained in her tent out of a deep sense of obligation and protectiveness. Also, the bitterness of his childhood and the fear of rejection he felt within the tribe kept him from approaching the unmarried maidens.
At those oddly-spaced occasions or ceremonial events when a young woman of the tribe did try to speak with him, he would shy away out of fear of ridicule. He had never shared the many times he’d been taunted by the young people of the tribe, even with his mother. He had focused on one thing, avenging his mother’s dishonor, and his own retribution for the injustices of the white man’s betrayal.
There were also the dreams of a girl that kept him from the young maidens of his tribe. He wouldn’t admit to them, for he would be embarrassed to reveal his dreams weren’t of an Indian girl, but of one with the skin of the white man. He tossed on his buckskins at night, and the older he grew, the more the dreams possessed him, until he couldn’t drive them from his head, and only the mornings brought relief. Yet, even in the daylight, the memories of the dreams tugged at him as if they were burrs underneath a softened strip of tanned hide. Some nights, darker visions haunted him, ones of a father who had abandoned both Shadow Hawk and his mother. He had said he loved his wife and son, that he was proud of Shadow Hawk, but his promises were the hiss of a snake, spoken with a forked tongue, a white man’s words that carried no substance, Shadow Hawk now knew. The Cheyenne told Shadow Hawk never to trust the white man, and his father’s behavior was just cause not to.
After waiting almost eight days alone, with no sign of his return, Shadow Hawk’s mother, Laughing River, stood among the tall trees along the riverbank and told him to prepare to return with her to her tribe. As the wind whipped through the topmost branches, and an eagle circled overhead, Shadow Hawk had begged his mother to stay and wait one more day for his father. The tall grasses along the shore were buffeted by the freshening breeze, and the sun cast ever-lengthening shadows as he waited for her answer, needing her to feel his hope. Instead, she drew a deep breath and replied quietly, saying if he were coming back, he would have arrived by now, that he was not returning. She led him inside, and the light of hope dimmed in Shadow Hawk, as Laughing River began to sort their few belongings. Packing only the essentials and things needed for trade, they left and never returned to the comfortable trapper’s cabin they had called home, leaving behind the only life young Shadow Hawk had ever known.
ALTHOUGH ABANDONED AND forced to return to her people without a husband and accompanied by her half-white child, Laughing River walked with her back straight and her head held high. Shadow Hawk steeled himself to be laughed at and told to go away, but warm words and a welcome fire greeted them, as Laughing River and Shadow Hawk were welcomed by the tribe. That night, Laughing River shared with her son that the Cheyenne tribe’s custom was to always receive a member back without questions. Later, young Shadow Hawk decided it was also because of the three horses and the many hides and furs they brought with them. It was only years later that his mother revealed to him the three large saddlebags of gold hidden among her things. She had buried them in a shallow trench under the tent, taking care to retrieve them each time the tribe was on the move. Shadow Hawk knew then his father had left her prepared for any emergency, even though he had left, never to return. He didn’t understand how it could be so.
Upon returning to his mother’s people as a child, Shadow Hawk had endured brutal teasing, which only made him more determined to show the other Indian children that he could do everything they could do, and even better. How embarrassed he’d felt when he couldn’t understand what the other children were saying to him! His father had spoken English with his mother, except when they wanted to keep a secret from him, and Shadow Hawk had learned little Cheyenne. He worked hard to prove himself, and much to his tribe’s dismay, despite what he endured, he became known as one of its strongest braves, as well as one of the best trackers and hunters in the Southern Cheyenne band. He received many eagle feathers for his accomplishments and bravery and earned the honor to wear a war bonnet.
Despite all his abilities, he felt hollow and empty inside. The shame of abandonment always brought up cruel and hurtful memories of his youth. His father’s desertion and humiliation had left a mark on his pride no victory in the hunt or any feats of strength were able to erase.
Upon returning to her tribe, Laughing River, called Lari by Shadow Hawk’s father, never remarried. At first Shadow Hawk thought it was because of her humiliation. It wasn’t until he was almost grown that he realized the devotion his mother still felt for his father. Her love for the man who had abandoned them made him angry, for they had been betrayed. Though she seldom spoke of his father, Shadow Hawk heard her softly whisper a prayer for him many nights before she went to sleep.
LAUGHING RIVER COULDN’T understand why Shadow Hawk felt the way he did about his father. He had been a good man and an excellent provider for them both. In her heart she knew he would have returned if he were able. The only thing that would have kept her man from returning was if he were dead.
Jeremiah had told her before he took the final load of furs that his life was in danger. Someone had been snooping around, watching him. The word had come back to him from the fort that some folks thought he’d found gold.
The idea of gold made some people desperate.
He took no chances. He left the gold behind with Laughing River, just in case the worst came to pass. He held Lari close to him and whispered in her ear that he’d be back in a week if everything went well. He also told her to leave immediately after the seventh day if she was convinced he wasn’t returning. The people that might come after him would also come to the cabin looking for the gold. He didn’t want Lari or his son to be in peril.
Jeremiah’s worst fears became fact. After he didn’t return at the end of a full week, Laughing River dreaded what she must do. She had no choice but to flee to the nearby summer camp of her people, a three-day ride.
WHEN SHADOW HAWK was old enough to understand, she tried to talk to him, but he would rush from the lodge in anger, only to return with a silent sulk still surrounding him. He refused to listen to anything about his father. He knew his mother had to feel shame, because he felt it inside of him, constantly boiling just below the surface in everything he did, ready to explode at any time.
Once more, two days ago, she had tried to explain why his father hadn’t returned. Laughing River always defended his father, which made Shadow Hawk even angrier. How could she still love someone who had betrayed her? On this occasion, he stormed out with a purpose into the darkening skies of a gathering, winter storm. He needed nothing from his father or his mother. Now was the time to let his anger take its vengeance. He would repay his father for leaving them all those years ago. He would take nothing that would not fit in his buffalo hide satchel. He would prove his manhood.
Shadow Hawk hadn’t considered the consequences of either leaving on foot or not taking any provisions with him. He hadn’t thought at all, blinded by the tortured reminder of his abandonment and the words of the medicine man. He left with only the white man’s clothes in a small pack. He knew he wouldn’t return until he had found peace from the tormented anguish of his father’s abandonment and his feelings of desertion.
But that had been two days ago, and now he was beginning to realize he had indeed been foolish to leave as irate as he was. Acting or reacting to anger had constantly been his downfall. His lack of foresight had him stuck in a predicament of his own making. He had no one to blame but himself, and he had no one to help him. His had been a foolish decision from the beginning.
Despite that, his heart remained set on revenge. With only himself to depend on, he must figure out life for himself. He also knew one other thing. His past emotions no longer mattered. Whether he had once been loved or even whether he had returned that love as a boy was of no consequence. Even the hate he had felt since made no difference. He knew his fate, that of the medicine man’s words. Fulfilling that destiny now involved getting out of this barn with a horse.
After the stableman had secured the barn for the night, Shadow Hawk waited for what seemed like an eternity. His stomach growled with hunger. He hadn’t eaten since he left the Southern Cheyenne spring camp. That was another thoughtless gesture on his part, not bringing any provisions with him. However, food would have to wait. He must escape first. With his senses finely tuned, he was ready to steal a horse. The Indian scout felt a small twinge of guilt, but only for a minute. His father had known the people that owned this ranch, and as a boy, he had been here a few times to visit the family. That was how the young brave knew they had plenty of good horses.
Shadow Hawk remembered when his father had brought him here the last time. Shadow Hawk had been about seven or eight years old. They had traded with the family and shared conversation. His father and one of the men had gone alone into the mountains early that day. Shadow Hawk had stayed at the ranch and followed the cowboys around. He had been fascinated at the way they handled the horses and the cows. Several of them had called to him and let him walk up and ride their gallant and beautiful horses with them.
There had been several children there, also, including one small girl who was about his age. She seemed shy, although she was very pretty in the white man’s way. He remembered her hair the color of the fire of autumn, and her eyes the turquoise color of the river, when he thought of her for many days after that. He would hate to admit it, but he still thought of her autumn leaves and turquoise-colored river when he was alone at night. Sometimes still, he would wake, and as he turned to find a comfortable position, he would imagine it was once again that day back on the ranch, and she was running through the tall, grassy pastures.
It was much later in the afternoon when Shadow Hawk’s father and the ranch owner returned with very somber faces. His father didn’t speak much the rest of the evening. Their ride home the next day had been exceptionally quiet also, the reason he remembered it so clearly. It had been unusual for his father not to talk and point out things on the trail or share funny stories with him on any type of outing; and on this return trip, he was as quiet as a deer’s footsteps as it traversed the forest paths.
Now, all these years later, the young warrior felt a twinge of guilt at what he intended to do. This family had trusted his father. That was a long time ago, however, and a great number of things had changed. The past couldn’t help him now. Only what he took in the quiet of the night could be of benefit to him.
Slowly, Shadow Hawk got up from the dim corner and made his way toward the animals, talking softly to them. The horses only understood commands in English, so he had to concentrate and remember his childhood tongue. After passing up a stallion and two other horses, he observed a young mare. She was the color of his soft doeskin moccasins. She also looked to be part paint pony, the preferred horse of his tribe. Carefully he approached her, speaking softly in his rusty English.
“Come to Shadow. Shadow not hurt you. Shadow need you.”
His English wasn’t perfect, but the horse seemed to understand, and she moved toward him. He slipped the bridle into her mouth and grabbed an old saddle blanket from the corner. Carefully, he led the horse to the double doors of the barn. He put his hand through the narrow crack in the door to feel the heavy plank in its cradle on the outside. He had to move it very slowly and cautiously, if he wanted to escape undetected.
The minutes crept by as he quietly tried to inch the plank along, holding it firmly against the door to keep any sound from escaping. But even with his warrior’s strength, he couldn’t dislodge the heavy wooden crossbar. A light sweat formed on his brow despite the cold damp night air. If he were caught, he would be killed for sure. The white man felt the same as his own people about horses and horse thieves.
He could do no more with the heavy plank still in place. He had no choice but to escape through the only other available exit, the hayloft, to move the beam from the other side. He crept to one of the log columns supporting the four-story barn. He couldn’t use the ladder; it would be much too clumsy and would make too much noise.
He made the fateful decision to climb.
He judged his path with a keen eye and placed his hands on the rough wood, thrusting his body upward as he shifted from handhold to handhold. With barely a pause, he effortlessly scaled the twenty-five-foot pole and grabbed onto the edge of the second story floor to throw himself onto the loft. Swinging his weight out and grasping for the uneven wood of the loft floor, his right hand was jabbed by a long splinter, deeply imbedding itself from his finger into his palm. He almost fell; the piercing agony made him want to cry out, but he knew he couldn’t. A low groan escaped his throat, and he quieted it as soon as it formed. With a grimace of pain, he slowly pulled himself onto the loft.
He lay there for a minute in extreme anguish, trying to overcome the pain. Now he would have to carefully crawl to the hay window and jump to the ground below. He couldn’t think about the burning in his hand and finger. He had to escape the barn with a horse, if he was ever to fulfill his destiny.
Crawling to the small hay window, he opened it cautiously and peered into the darkness. All was quiet on the ranch. Only the howling wind could be heard. With the quarter moon high in the sky and surrounded by clouds, he knew it was time to leap the twenty-five feet to the ground below. Even though the pain in his hand kept him distracted, there was no wavering in his intent. This horse would be his. He knew more pain would be, also, and he paused, grimacing.
Still, the man in him refused to delay what he had to do. He held his breath and leaped into the frosty night air. The cold wind buffeted his body and whipped his clothes against his chest and legs. The ground came at him faster than he expected, and he landed with a soft thud on the ground. He let out a huffing sound as the air was forced from his lungs. He immediately knew he’d landed on his right knee, and he doubled over in an agony so intense it was unendurable . . . that was if he had truly been born a white man.
He rubbed the leg and felt carefully for broken bones. It seemed to be no more than jammed and stiff. He gingerly tried to balance himself, when agony seared him like a heated knife. His knee was another predicament he had gotten himself into.
Dragging himself through the cold and facing winds that had become more than just a simple, inconvenient night breeze, Shadow Hawk opened the barn door and gently whispered to the horse. The beautiful little mare followed him willingly. Once the horse was outside, he struggled to replace the thick plank on the barn door, so as not to arouse suspicion in the early morning ranch hands.
Limping, he pulled the horse behind him, heading toward the mountains. He couldn’t afford to try mounting her yet. She might spook and run, or make noises that would awaken the ranch workers, preventing him from completing his escape.
Shadow Hawk continued to walk cautiously, limping slightly, his moccasins making only the lightest of footsteps, all the time wincing with pain. He wouldn’t need to cover their tracks, and he was thankful for that. The strong wind would take care of hiding his footprints. The young brave focused on his knee and hand that throbbed with excruciating agony, shivering in the brisk breeze. He needed a place to rest his leg and pull the splinter from his hand. He also needed to make it deep into the mountains before the stars faded and daylight appeared. Surrounded by the cold night, the familiar mountains seemed a long way off.
With determination in his heart, he pushed on through the darkness, enduring the grueling pain that turned the minutes into hours. He passed the stockade fence and the cattle pens, working his way around the manmade obstacles. After a time, he could sense the far meadow, and beyond, he knew he would find the mountains.
Shadow Hawk wrapped an arm around the horse’s neck only a few feet into the meadow, whispering his words only when no sound would be carried on the wind.
“You are good to Shadow. Shadow like you.”
The beast let the young brave mount without incident, and he rode through the rest of the grassy pasture. During the unendurable night, the young scout continually climbed upwards toward the mountains, always whispering to the horse and gently nudging her on.
By early sunrise, as the night sky began to fade, the Indian was exhausted and had to find a place to rest. A gentle snow had begun to fall with the first soft glow of morning light. The young Cheyenne brave was aware of the excruciating cold and damp. He knew he had to have shelter soon, if he was to survive. In this weather, the heartiest of men could die with continued exposure to the elements. His hand was stiff and throbbed with pain, and his knee rippled with unendurable agony at each step of the horse.
He continued to climb into crags of the Rocky Mountains, making slow progress and growing wearier and more chilled as the hours passed. Pushing himself until the daylight started to grow long, he knew the sun would dip behind the mountains shortly. He had needed shelter long before, and now he couldn’t go farther without stopping to rest. He also knew that stopping unprotected in the cold meant certain death.
The area grew steep, and pockets of snow littered the path. This could be a dangerous journey, Shadow Hawk knew. He reached his good hand to the mare’s face and, rubbing her jaw, he whispered to her, “Be strong, my girl. Together we will make this journey. You are young as I am. When we are young, we have the strength of many men.”
The young mare stepped carefully. Painstakingly, with his head bent into the stiff breeze, Shadow Hawk persuaded the horse to continue up the nearly vertical slope. Snow-covered pines and aspen whipped in the strong wind. Their branches roughly scraped against the man and the horse, and Shadow Hawk knew the animal must also sting with pain. Yet, to give up was never an option, and together they continued the ascent, with Shadow Hawk gently encouraging the mare.
A large boulder appeared to block the narrow animal trail they were following. Shadow Hawk softly whispered to the horse to be careful. When she balked at the narrow track and the steep precipice at the edge, he rubbed her neck and let himself to the ground, holding to her as he balanced on his one good leg.
Placing his face next to hers, the brave stepped carefully, limping when he must, as he worked the mare around the boulder. He knew if he could distract her attention, she could be inched along the huge, snow-dusted precipice. Once clear, Shadow Hawk pulled himself awkwardly onto his new steed, and the young brave pressed his knees into her sides to encourage her a little farther. The sure-footed beast whinnied and began to step forward up the incline.
In the dappled sunlight a hundred feet in front of him, Shadow Hawk spied what appeared to be a shallow cave, hidden mainly by spruce and pine. He pushed the mare closer to the welcome opening in the rock. It was, he saw with relief, only a short distance away. He could stop there, and if everything was safe, he could both breathe a sigh of relief and get some much-needed sleep. He needed to recuperate from his injuries from the night before.
“After I find food,” he whispered to his new steed, “then maybe I will be able to decide how to fulfill my destiny.” Just reminding himself of his plans kept his heart encouraged, and hungry and hurting, he needed as much encouragement as he could get. Weary and fatigued, he started to dismount, only to have the horse cry out and shy away from him. He stumbled but held to the reins, and once the animal was steadied, he examined her carefully. The horse didn’t have any noticeable cuts on her hide or stones in her hooves.
All Cheyenne understood that animals could sense danger before humans did. This mare must realize something he was unaware of. Shadow Hawk knew to take the horse’s actions seriously. She must hear or smell something that his human senses hadn’t yet discovered. Maybe another animal was nearby, already occupying this domain. Shadow Hawk tied the horse to a limb away from the cave and warily moved closer to investigate. He had only taken a few limping steps up the dangerous slope when his heart stopped, and a chill went up his spine. He sucked in his breath and held it for a long, painful time. He could smell now what he hadn’t been able to hear before. The realization of all that was around him came into focus in his thoughts.
The noise and smell of the horse must have finished arousing it from its deep winter slumber. Shadow Hawk had smelled bears and hunted them many times, both with his father and with the Cheyenne. This was the first time he had ever been alone with one. The thought didn’t encourage him, either. He was in the presence of a bear, hurt and definitely alone.
What were his choices? Should he leave and take the risk of being tracked by the beast, or should he take a chance at trying to kill the sleepy giant? If he left, would he find another shelter? Could he survive much longer without protection, warmth, or food?
The choice seemed evident. He would have to kill the animal, if he was to survive. As it emerged, Shadow Hawk could see that the bear, small and therefore young, was a black. He hated to fight against such a creature. However, it was giving him little time for thought, for it was up and lumbering toward him.
Adrenaline began to surge through Shadow Hawk’s body, and he could feel a strength that belied his injuries. He pulled his long hunting knife from its sheath and began to yell at the bear, trying his best not to show any fear. The bear took a swipe at him. Having just awakened, the groggy animal roared a frustrated howl when its claws went wide.
Shadow Hawk tried to back up, and his foot caught a stone, forcing his knee to give way. He stumbled, nearly dropping his knife. It took only seconds for him to recover, but the bear was on him in an instant. Its growls and hot breath pressed toward him. One of the bear’s thick paws scraped Shadow Hawk’s back, shredding the jacket and shirt and flooding his flesh with pain. The warmth of his blood flowed from the deep crevices torn in his body like a blanket of heat roasted beside a fire.
Shadow Hawk called on the power of the Indian medicine man, and pulling on the inner strength of his oldest ancestors, he used all his might to roll over and plunge his knife deep into the chest of the attacking monster, holding on tightly to the back of the thickly furred body. Twisting to avoid the savage teeth, he remembered the words his father had spoken.
“Son, the closer you cling on the bear, the less power it has.”
The admonition flashed quickly through the young brave’s mind, and instinctively he hung onto the fur as tightly as possible. Again and again Shadow Hawk tore the knife from the bear’s body and plunged his weapon deep into the bear’s quivering flesh, ripping apart muscle, and taking care to avoid the animal’s ferocious head, in order to keep from being viciously ripped apart.
“Brother Bear, you do not know me, but I need this cave. You must let me have it,” Shadow Hawk shouted in Cheyenne, as the bear wobbled and stumbled out of the cave’s entrance. He had succeeded. Watching cautiously, he breathed a sigh of relief when the bear finally sank to the ground and tumbled down the escarpment, dripping a trail of blood onto the white snow below, never to rise again. He was thankful it wasn’t an adult bear, or the outcome might have been quite different.
The horse was skittish from the smell of the bear and blood. It pulled at the tree branch as Shadow Hawk approached.
“Shadow here. Don’t be afraid. Come in cave. Get warm. Shadow needs rest,” the Indian brave softly crooned. His short, choppy sentences seemed to sooth the mare, and she settled under his grip.
He knew he would survive. Later, he could climb down the slope and carve meat from the bear. The hide could be skinned, prepared, and made useful for many things. He smiled, considering that perhaps his father’s white God had come to his aid in the form of a bear. If so, his father’s God had given himself to Shadow Hawk for a gift. His smile falling away, the youth conceded it was more likely that Brother Bear had been in just the right place at just the right time to offer himself to a brave of the Cheyenne people. In any case, the bear would provide food, and the hide could be used for trade.
The mare relaxed as the weakened young Indian held his arm under her neck and gently led the animal toward the cave. She shied where Shadow Hawk had fought and mortally wounded the bear, but the brave was able to talk the soft words of encouragement to her, and she seemed more secure as they moved past the place.
Approaching the cave, Shadow Hawk could see it was a sharp indention in the mountain wall where a slide must have happened many years before, digging out this small fissure. With the tall trees around it, the cave remained camouflaged from the outside. It went back into the mountain quite some way, though it was narrow, perhaps only ten to twelve feet in width.
Shadow Hawk gathered a few dry twigs and made a small fire. He put the horse toward the front of the cave. He knew its nature was such to allow it to alarm him if any other beasts approached.
Even though weakened, the young brave managed to push a rock on the reins to keep the mount from wandering off. He was drained of all his strength, and his back was hurting from the bear’s claw. He knew he had to sit down, as the heat from the fire started to warm him. Without rest, his injuries would soon cause him to collapse. He laid the saddle blanket near the fire, so he wouldn’t be on the cold, damp cavern floor. Then he cleaned and heated his knife.
“If there’s a God, I need Him now,” he murmured softly in his people’s language, as he watched the metal warm and then begin to glow. He glanced at the horse that had carried him all this way, and he watched the moisture form clouds in the air around her nostrils, as her breath exited her body. He knew what he had to do, and he knew it wouldn’t be pleasant.
“Maybe a little prayer to You wouldn’t hurt,” Shadow Hawk whispered, as he glanced up to where his father had always said his white man’s God lived. Shadow Hawk couldn’t understand how a god could live in the air with no food to eat or water to drink, but his father had said it was so. He had even believed it at one time, too. He had been a boy, though, and once back with the Cheyenne, he had learned of the true gods of his people. Still, Shadow Hawk knew it never hurt to step on all the rocks when the ground in the forest grew soft. He whispered a simple prayer asking for help from the white man’s God that lived in the sky before he dropped his eyes back to the task at hand.
Shadow Hawk was thankful he was warming up and would have shelter, as night was approaching again. This was rough country, and with the injuries his body had sustained at the ranch, he soon wouldn’t be able to move well at all. If his injuries from today didn’t get better quickly, he might have to return to the ranch where he had stolen the horse. It might be the only way he could survive.
With a deeply drawn breath, Shadow Hawk began the painful task of cutting the splinter from his hand. He placed the knife against his skin just at the splinter’s edge and pressed down. There was a sharp sting, and then he saw thick yellow pus and pale pink blood burst forth.
With his eyes starting to blur, and his breathing rapidly becoming shallower, the young brave realized the cave around him had begun to swim. The crackle of the fire became distant, and he faintly heard the horse whinny. He caught the ting of metal on stone echoing in the stone chamber, as his knife fell from his hand. Then, he closed his eyes for a moment, and that was the last thing he remembered.
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