Treachery Repaid

Pot of water

Aftermath of the Shooting

Esther May was clearly on edge when Atá Halné rode into camp. She peeked around the wagon and watched him approach. He suspected that she had her pistol in hand.

“It’s just me,” he said. “I brought my gear with me.”

He put his horse on picket with Skewy and the stud and toe-nudged Easterly. The young man grunted, shifted position, but stayed asleep.
Satisfied his companion lived, Atá Halné checked on Hund. The unconscious dog breathed in a regular cycle but felt warm. His heart was pounding hard enough to detect, but there was no fresh blood on the bandages.

“Are these new wrappings?”

“No,” Esther May said. “You don’t want to remove them until it’s time to clean the wound.”

“Your pepper worked, then. How did you know to use it?”

“My daddy. He was in the war. I reckon he learned some ways to treat the wounded.”

The Navajo set a pot of water over the fire. “Did they leave us the makings of a stew?”

“I haven’t gone through the wagon.” Esther May stared at the fire.

Atá Halné saw Esther May withdraw. She would shut down if he couldn’t keep her talking. He rummaged around at the edges of the firelight until he found the overturned pot the dead men had used to prepare their meal. “It looks like they had meat and vegetables. Too bad it’s all dumped on the ground.” He glanced at the young woman’s profile flickering from the mesquite flame. “There were a lot of casualties in the fighting. I’m sorry if your father was one.”

“Daddy survived the war. He even fought in the battle of Palmito Ranch where they gave the Yankees a last, good licking.”

“Ah, you’re a southern sympathizer,” Atá Halné said. “Sometimes the two sides used different names for the same event, but I haven’t heard of the battle you mentioned.”

“It was down near Brownsville, Texas. A Yankee stirred it up a month after the war was over. My daddy and his men put a fierce whippin’ on ‘em.”

“So you only trust those with white skin?”

“No. I never did hold to slavery. My daddy didn’t either. We just didn’t like Yankees. Daddy didn’t like some Rebs, either. Mostly Yankees, though.”

Atá Halné groped under the wagon seat. “Hey, here’s some salt beef. We eat as soon as it gets soft.” He splashed a wedge of the meat into the pot. “Where’s your father now?”

Esther May hugged herself and kept her dry-eyed gaze on the fire. She bobbed her head to where the bodies fell. “Those two killed him.”

The Navajo poked at the still stiff meat. She would tell him if it suited her.

Esther May Talks

“Daddy and I were on our way to settle in northern Arizona. We’d camped not far from here when they came along.” She set her jaw but her mouth twitched. “They were very nice and polite. We shared biscuits and jam with them and they gave us the knockdown peaches.”

Atá Halné expected she was re-living that night. Hurry meat. Soften.

“They gave daddy more peaches than I got. I was awake but limp and unable to move.” She straightened her spine. “They robbed daddy and stole his boots. They laughed when they stabbed him. I don’t know if they put him in the river or buried him.”

“Dinner’s almost ready.”

“They stole our wagon, property, and team. I reckon all this left here is mine.”

The Navajo frowned at her. “No one would deny your claim to it. Couldn’t you put the sheriff on their trail instead of killing them?”

Esther May turned her face to him. Moving and deepening shadows from the dancing fire made her expression impossible to read. Her hands fidgeted as if they had a life of their own until she clasped them.

“I would have shot them for killing daddy. I wish they killed me. They … did things and left me for dead.”

Her story told, Esther May relaxed. “I’ve been tracking them for five months. Ever since I recovered.

What happens now? 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.

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