Aravaipa Canyon narrowed as Alejandro predicted. The wagons had to stay in the stream. Even then, road-building was often necessary: moving rocks and cutting overhanging branches.
Walking was also easier in the shallow water. The cattle and people, everyone got their feet wet.
Not Friends – Not Enemies
The herd led the way, pushed by Snake Bite and Chews Loud. The former adversaries seemed to take no notice of each other, but they cooperated nonetheless. Esther May’s ruse must have worked when she pretended to speak the words of Ussen.
As the canyon walls narrowed, pace downstream slowed. Cattle bunched up, creating an obstacle the grumbling Apaches tried to find a way through or around.
Esther May, on her gelding, stopped next to Abuela’s wagon.
“This is not good,” Abuela said. “The people won’t like stopping. It’s like being shut-in and trapped.”
As she spoke, three youngsters riding in the wagon jumped off and trotted downstream.
“Where are they going?” Esther May asked. “We’re still moving, just going slower is all.”
Looking For Safety
“They’ll find their mamas and make sure everything is all right.”
Esther May stood in the stirrups and let her gaze follow the water. “I don’t want things to get tense again. I’ll go down and see how fussy they are.”
She looked over the remaining children in the wagon. They stared at her with the wide-eyed, open-mouth face of innocence—except for one boy.
A grin split his mouth, pulling his wrinkle-free skin tight. His bright eyes drew Esther May in with a surge of—what? Caring?
When the men who killed her father got through with Esther May, she should have died. The part of her that could produce life did.
Esther May had accepted the fact and forgot about children, but this Apache child, perhaps five or six-years-old, grinned his way to a spot in her heart that still lived.
She dipped her head, acknowledging the boy. “What’s your name?”
“Riding Woman!” Abuela whispered. “Talk Mexican.”
“I think I will use my power of speech for this one.”
Esther May waved a finger at him and asked again. “Your name?”
I Have A Name
The answer came through his grin. “Nitis.”
“Means friend?” Esther May looked to Abuela for agreement and got a nod.
“A good name,” Esther May said. “Well, Nitis, do you want to ride ahead with me and see what the holdup is? Abuela wants to keep going.”
“It’s not wise to take him,” Abuela said.
Esther May waved for Nitis to come on.
The boy scrambled out of the wagon bed and hopped up behind Esther May.
He placed his thin, cinnamon-colored arms around her waist and hugged her.
Hugs Are Bonds
It wasn’t his grip that took her breath away. His small nearness and faith that she would keep him safe overwhelmed her.
Everywhere there seemed to be a threat to a little boy’s safety. She reined the gelding around, conscious of the size of the horse’s legs compared to Nitis’s arms.
Esther May guided the animal down the creek, carefully watching to make sure he didn’t step on a slippery rock and stumble.
She peered into the moving water like a crystal ball and placed a hand over Nitis’s. What would motherhood be like?
Lost in her emotions, Esther May became aware that she was being jostled among the cattle.
She had passed Alejandro and the Black Rock Apache tribe while daydreaming of children. She’d put young Nitis was in the worst possible position if anything spooked the herd.
Esther May is out of character. What happens now? Leave your comment.
Nitis should like his horseback ride. Here’s a short article explaining how Apaches felt about the animals.
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