The Apaches along Cibecue Creek scattered when C.J. shot Great Hawk. The warrior’s body lay in the grassy area under the cottonwoods, still clutching his knife.
C.J. wheeled his skewbald mare and spurred her back across the creek to the wickiup where he left Imala.
She was outside with bowls of colored powder from the medicine man’s lodge and knelt over them.
Adrenaline To Admiration
The exhilaration of winning—beating Great Hawk, the biggest man in the tribe—left C.J. in a whoosh.
Imala, stripped to the waist, dabbed her fingers into water, then powder, and drew colored lines over her arms and chest.
Even during their intimacy, C.J. had never seen her exposed. Jolts of contradictory emotion flashed through him.
Sorting It Out
He yearned for her, yes, but the ache was worse than that. Why couldn’t she want him in return? She was slipping away, despite his efforts to please her.
An angry burning settled in his stomach. The sight of her like this should be for him alone, not out here where anyone could see.
Imala raised her head, silky, black hair falling over her shoulders, and stared at him. A bright red mark blazed on her cheek where he’d hit her.
“I thought it’d be you coming after I heard the shot. If Great Hawk had won, you might have been able to scream while he took your scalp, but his blade would have been silent.”
Can’t You Say, “Glad To See You?”
“Is that what you want? To see me scalped? What if I cut off all your hair?” C.J. sat on his horse. The sight of beautiful Imala made him weak-kneed. He wasn’t sure he could stand.
Imala trailed two fingers of ocher in a zig-zag down one arm, then the other. “If I were untrue to an Apache, he’d cut off my nose.”
It was a matter-of-fact statement that further infuriated C.J. “How about I pop you on the other side of your face and give you matching bruises? Would that satisfy you enough to make you behave? Get on that horse, and let’s get out of here.”
Imala continued painting designs on her body. “That’s Taklishim’s horse. You took it and left the old man in the high country. The people may forgive you for killing Great Hawk. He was arrogant and not White Mountain. But if you have made our medicine man suffer, you are in danger.”
“Then, come on, Imala. Let’s go!”
“I paint as Imala, the leader. I’ll bring Taklishim back. He’ll have sung the mountain spirit back into the hidden place by now, but it doesn’t matter. You have already forced me to come to Cibecue.”
Who’s To Blame
“That wasn’t me. That was your big, long-haired buddy boy.”
“You drove the níłchʼi from the secret valley, but let’s not argue. If you want to go with me, I’m ready.” Imala took the bowls back inside the wickiup and came back out fully clothed.
C.J. wondered if married couples experienced the sense of oneness he felt toward Imala. They knew each other, had shared their very beings. He couldn’t imagine not having her by his side. “Finally! Which way?”
Imala mounted the brown mare. “To Taklishim. Weren’t you listening?”
But It’s Us, Together
C.J. heard the pleading in his voice, hated it, but couldn’t stop it. “Please get on Skewy with me, Imala, and let’s ride out of here like always.”
She gathered the mare’s reins in one yellow-dotted hand. “You knew Cibecue was my destination, C.J. I told you Taklishim and I have a promise to the people.” Imala squinted her eyes at the cowboy. “Is there something you’re not telling me? Taklishim was all right when you left him, wasn’t he?”
“He … um … may have had an accident.”
Make It Clear
“This one thing I do for you, C.J. I let you leave now. But if I return without the medicine man, I’ll kill you myself.”
What does C.J. do now? Take off, or gamble that Taklishim lives? Post your comment.
See and hear a painted Apache Crown Dancers ceremony. You might catch sight of maidens with hair like Imala.
To read the series, click here for the first post. This will be Tales Old Roy Told. Tap the down arrow in the Archive box to open the list. After Tales Old Roy Told, work upward.
Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.
Please thank a veteran. The time to do so is precious.
Want the story to ride into your inbox? Click on the picture or here.