Headwaters of the Salt River

Photo by Guillermo Alvareza on Unsplash

So That’s That

Imala’s threat echoed in C.J.’s ears. That she had rejected him for an old Apache medicine man burned his mind.

Her actions should have broken his heart, but with a burst of clarity, he knew Imala was wild, just like all Apaches. She’d never be tamed, no matter how civilized she apeared.

He’d let himself be attracted to her as he would an exceptional horse. That’s all it was—his desire to own something pretty.

Well, that was her tough luck. C.J. wished her all the evils of living in primitive conditions if that’s what she wanted. His job now was to get out of Cibecue alive.

Where To Go?

To the west, northwest, about 120 miles away was Prescott, the capital of Arizona Territory. At Prescott was Fort Whipple.

C.J. wouldn’t have to worry about vengeful Indians there.

He wasn’t sure of the best way to travel there. From what C.J. had heard, the 120-mile estimate to Prescott was a straight-line distance, and there was no way a man could go straight in this mountainous country.

He snickered at his unintentional pun and headed south.

Watching Every Direction

After most of the day spent looking over his shoulder and riding where he found the most concealment, C.J. reached a shallow stream.

With two steps, he could cross the running water in the middle of the channel, but the rocky riverbed was almost 90 feet wide.

The place wasn’t a valley; nevertheless, the flat width was surprising in this steep land of narrow gorges.

The Confused West

C.J. stepped out of the saddle, removed his hat, and dragged a sleeve across his forehead while Skewy drank.

A strange country, this Arizona Territory. Upon the high plateau, among the pines, elk, deer, and bear, water was only found in nature’s pots—depressions in the hard clay that held murky red water from rain and melted snow.

Down in these lower hills, with the desert mere steps away, was running water.

Maybe living in this backward land explained Imala’s irrational decision to leave him.

What Was That?

Skewy, his skewbald mare, lifted her head from the water, ears forward, and softly whinnied.

Dang, it. C.J. had let his mind wander. He’d dropped his guard, and he hadn’t refilled his canteen yet.

He remounted and spurred the mare into the brush on the opposite side.

Wishing for Esther May’s rifle, he leaped off and crouched behind a manzanita.

For long minutes, C.J. scanned for movement. He could detect nothing, but Skewy’s attention was downstream.

Patience of a Rattlesnake

C.J. waited past the time Skewy finally relaxed before he flexed his cramped legs. The sun was ready to slip below the western hills.

He kept his voice low and talked to his horse. “What do ya think, old gal? Did you just hear a mountain goat?”

C.J. lifted his canteen from the saddle horn. “We’ll get away from here, find somewhere else to brush up for the night. But first, I’ll top this off.”

He eased his way through the brush to find the closest route to the creek and quickly refilled his water supply.

Exposed

Back on his horse, and riding cautiously downstream, C.J. felt like he was high as a flagpole—an easy target for any Apache coming for him.

He was making himself jittery and could tell he was transferring his feeling to Skewy.

He felt her muscles tense as they passed a side draw.

Was that a glint of light he saw?

Is C.J. trapped? Tell us what you think. Leave a comment.

C.J. has found the headwaters of the Salt River. Here’s an article about the Salt River Canyon.

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.

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