Easterly pulled his arm an inch at a time out of the dusty shirt sleeve.
Atá Halné examined the blue and purple bruise sitting on Easterly’s shoulder. “It’ll be sore, but nothing’s broken.”
The would-be horse tamer winced and rubbed his bicep. “I hope it’s not worse than it looks. It’s too dark to see anything in here.”
“Your eyes will get used to it in a minute.”
Items appeared as Easterly’s vision improved. They were in a domed wood and adobe hut. A windowless home style used by Navajos.
Atá Halné pointed at an antelope rug covering a patch of dirt floor near the hogan wall. “Have a seat or bed. That’s your spot while we’re here.”
Easterly squinted in the direction indicated and struggled his sore arm back into his shirt.
The older man whisper/sang a tuneless chant as he turned to stir a pot over a small fire. Easterly got used to the pre-meal ritual while they were on the trail. He guessed it was his partner’s way of saying the blessing.
Wispy cooking smoke rose next to a central post and escaped through a hole in the roof. Gourds used as food and water containers hung on the pole.
Atá Halné finished his tune. “You can try to find other work. For now, have some frijoles and rest ’til you feel well. We can stay here several weeks.”
Easterly grunted like an old man as he took his place on the hide. “That’s softer than I thought it’d be. How’d you come by this place?”
“It belongs to a woman whose father had a brother that married into my mother’s clan. It practically has a ‘Home Sweet Home’ sign over the door. We’re related.” He winked at Easterly. “They’ve gone to the high country for piñons and game.”
He gave Easterly a bowl of beans followed by a plate of flour tortillas. The aroma of warm beans gave Easterly’s saliva glands a kick. He licked his lips and shoveled in a spoonful. He gave Atá Halné a contented smile before the burn began. He lunged for the water gourd.
As Easterly gulped water, Atá Halné spoke around his own mouthful. “Frijoles is a Mexican word for beans. Their food is the best, but you can expect it to be spicy.” He watched with a grin as Easterly sucked lungsful of air and expelled it hard enough to blow his lips away from his teeth.
While Easterly settled down and wiped his watery eyes, Atá Halné ate his last spoonful, sopped his bowl with a tortilla and belched. “Now then,” he said, “why didn’t you tell the man that you only wanted to clean his stables? Why did you try to break a horse?”
Easterly dragged a sleeve across his nose. “For one thing, that’s all he offered. For another, I’d rather do that than shovel manure.”
“Fortunately, the horse apples will be there tomorrow. Maybe he’ll still hire you to shovel them up. There’s no shame in honest work.”
“I’m going back to break Skewy.”
“That skewbald mare.”
“I’ve got a plan.”
Atá Halné frowned. “Don’t you think—?”
Easterly felt something cold and wet touch his hand. He jerked and yelled. Twisting, he saw the adoring face and brown eyes of the dog that licked him awake at the corrals. He held his sore shoulder with his good hand so he could point. “What’s that dog doing here?”
Atá Halné shrugged. “I was going to ask you the same thing. He’s been following you all afternoon.”
“Oh.” Easterly ran through the events in his mind. “I think he belongs to a Dutchman. His name’s Hund.”
“The dog or the Dutchman?”
“The dog. They called the man, Dutch. I figured he’s a Dutchman.”
“Reasonable assumption. What’s unreasonable is that you want to try to break a horse you said nobody’s ridden.”
“I’ve been thinking about it. There’s no need to wear spurs in a corral. They only goad a horse into action. I’ll leave ‘em off.”
“That’s your plan?”
“Yes. But there’s more. I’ll chum him. Like this,” Easterly said, as he gave a bite of tortilla to Hund.
Atá Halné stretched out on the hide he’d been sitting on and placed his hat over his face. “I’ll have to see that,” came his muffled voice, “but tell me where to contact your folks. They’ll want to know what happened to you if you try to ride that horse—”
Will Easterly’s plans work? Leave a comment.
To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.
Thank a veteran.