Esther May awoke to shouts and rolled off her rented cot in the Barros casa.
Julio Barros shouted through the privacy curtain separating Esther May’s sleeping area from the rest of the house, “Indians, senorita! They’re attacking the town!”
His cry sent a shiver up Esther May’s back. “Protect the horses! I’ll be right there.” She grabbed a pair of pants, stuffed her bare feet in boots, and pulled a serape over her nightshirt. She strapped on a pistol, snatched her rifle and was only a few steps behind Julio at the corral.
Her gelding and the scalp hunter’s packhorse had their heads up, but remained calm.
To the east a building blazed, fully engulfed in a roaring fire. The inferno blew flames into the dim moonlight, lighting the block and revealing running figures. People trapped in the building screamed. Their shrieks, muted by distance and clamor of would-be rescuers, vibrated through Esther May sending tears down her cheeks. Wood smoke burned her eyes and irritated her nose.
Gunfire erupted to the west.
“That’s what they want,” said Señor Barros.
Esther May hadn’t heard him arrive. “What’re they after?”
“It’s a sneak. The Apaches set fire to the building on one side of town to draw attention. Then, they go to the freight yards and steal the horses and mules.”
“Why do they want freight animals?”
“They don’t. They may keep a few of the better horses, but they’ll kill the rest. Without the livestock, we’re stuck in town. The Apaches can attack again or leave. Either way, they’ve got control of the roads.”
The horses turned their heads toward the sound of heavy panting. Both Señor Barros and Esther May spun in that direction, guns ready.
“Don’t shoot. It’s me.” Brother Pablo huffed into the group. “The mission is okay. Some families are there and the men are armed.” He bent with his hands on his knees and caught his breath. He pointed at the corral. “I’m glad your horses are here. We can get a man to ride to Doña Maria’s hacienda.”
“Good idea,” Señor Barros said.
Esther May lowered her pistol. “Why there?”
“So,” Brother Pablo continued to breathe hard, “she’ll know Apaches are back and can prepare defenses.” He took a drink from an olla Julio offered.
“And she can send some of her men with enough horses for our dispatch riders,” Barros finished.
“Just so.” Brother Pablo agreed. I’ll go back and ask for volunteers.
Esther May’s Way Now
“No.” Esther May holstered her gun. “I’ll go. They’re my horses and I was leaving today anyway. I’m packed and ready.”
Barros shook his head. “I cannot allow it.”
“Isn’t my rent paid up?”
“More than paid, senorita. It’s too dangerous for a person alone with hostiles nearby.”
“Seems to me, it’s safer right now with them being busy. Julio, if your father forbids it, I understand. Otherwise, will you fetch my saddle and tack while I finish dressing? I want to leave now.”
Brother Pablo made the sign of the cross. “It’s probably best. You’ll be safe in the hacienda.”
Only A Side Trip
Esther May didn’t tell him that the trip was a little out of her way, and once past the hacienda she’d be headed to the White Mountain Apache ground in Arizona Territory.
Is Esther May thinking straight? What are your thoughts? Leave a comment here.
What do you know about Apaches? Take a look at their culture.
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