Hund trotted into the pen where the skewbald horse had Easterly penned against the corral fence. Like a sheepdog, Hund barked and danced back and forth in front of the mare. The horse moved to keep Hund in biting range giving Easterly a chance. He one-handed the saddle onto the mare’s back.
She froze. Just like yesterday. That time, Skewy had stood still while being saddled and mounted. She didn’t buck until Easterly used his spurs. Well, he’d fixed that. He wasn’t wearing any. If Skewy had tender flanks there was no reason to goad the animal into a wild-eyed explosion by poking her with rowels. He took his time, making sure the saddle was cinched and secured as he talked to calm her down.
“We’re gonna do this just fine, ain’t we, Skewy? No need to make a fuss. We’ll be cozy partners … show the folks they came by for nothing.”
He climbed aboard and leaned forward as his right foot searched for the stirrup. Skewy threw her head back slamming the bony lump between her ears against Easterly’s nose. Stunned and hurt, Easterly gave way to rage. He’d been punched hard while all he intended was to make friends with this horse! He doubled his fist to hit her back when she lowered her head and spun to her left. Without a proper placement in the stirrup, his right foot came out and he fell in that direction. His left foot, however, stayed in its stirrup and dragged it up over the top of the saddle.
The other horses in the pen bolted away giving the spinning mare plenty of room to swing the young cowboy like he would twirl a lasso.
Easterly grabbed for the flopping reins. He heard the spectators shout but couldn’t tell if they were laughing or yelling advice. He didn’t care either way. His face hurt and his nose was wet. Bloody or running or both.
He was flung out of his boot.
He was free from spinning, free from the proximity of pounding hooves, free to fly, free to hit his head on a corral post.
What a headache!
Easterly made faces to help open his eyes. There was no bright glare of the outside sun. No noisy crowd yelling, “Ride ‘em, cowboy!” From the smell of dirt, beans, and the leathery aroma of antelope hide, Easterly reckoned he was in the hogan. He was as dry as jerky, his throat a washboard that words had to riffle past before he could speak.
“What time is it?”
The unconcerned voice of Atá Halné answered. “Noon. A little after.”
Their voices hurt Easterly’s head. A pounding ache was playing a tom-tom to the beat of his pulse. He explored his nose with delicate fingertip caresses. It didn’t seem broken, but it was plugged up with scab boogers. His eyes were puffy. He hoped they weren’t black. A sharp pain sent his fingers on an excursion to the back of his head. They found a very tender lump, more scabs, and matted hair. He was banged up, but alive. And thirsty.
“Got that water gourd?”
“Yeah, here.” The Navajo handed the canteen to his partner.
Easterly took two deep swigs and felt the water hit the bottom of an empty stomach.
“Put away. You slept through lunch.”
“I think I’ll lay down again, then. Get a little siesta.”
“That’s my plan.”
“Make sure I wake up, will you?”
“Don’t worry. That dog’s been watching you like a brother. He’ll let us know if you’re in trouble.”
Easterly rubbed the top of Hund’s head. “He got Skewy off me, didn’t he? Thanks, pal.”
Hund received his petting, circled and flopped down on the animal skin rug.
Easterly tipped up the gourd again. Funny. When he drank from it yesterday the water was tepid and stale. Today it tasted cool and fresh. Either Atá Halné refilled it, or water was better when you needed it.
“That isn’t what I meant,” Easterly said.
“What are you talking about?” Atá Halné muttered, clearly already half asleep.
“I meant make sure I wake up in about an hour. I have to give Skewy some more oats.”
“Crazy Gringo,” Atá Halné said, repeating one of the phrases Easterly had heard at the corral.
What will it take to convince Easterly to leave Skewy alone? Leave a comment.
To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.
Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.
Thank a veteran. The time to do so is precious.