Esther May’s vision blurred as she watched Abuela stuff dried venison, corn, and bullets into the saddlebag.
“Thank you, Abuela. I thought you might try to talk me out of going. I appreciate your help.”
The gray-headed Apache woman moved with the agility of one half her age. A few deep lines around her eyes and mouth indicated her seasons. Still, the strain of surviving burning summers and near-starvation winters had only made her stronger.
Assisting. Not Approving
Abuela pulled the hem of her brown and white calico shirt, tied with a leather strip belt, and faced Esther May.
“It’s an evil heart that drives you now. The same evil that made Chews Loud kill your lieutenant.”
“An eye for an eye, Abuela. Besides, if I’m evil and Chews Loud is evil, no matter which way this goes, there’ll be one less evil in the world. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”
“This isn’t a game of kick the rock, Riding Woman. Remember what Tesahay said: Chews Loud camp won’t be easy to find.”
Esther May glanced around the windowless room Sergeant Laurey assigned her. Against the wall, the cot with a straw mattress held the folded Army blanket. A tall-legged nightstand supported a pitcher and basin; otherwise, the room was bare.
“I’m ready, Abuela. If any soldiers ask for me, tell ’em I’m checking the herd.”
Esther May laid a hand lightly on the older woman’s arm. “Forgive me. That’s wrong. Just tell ’em what you think is best.” She swung the saddlebag over her shoulder. “By the way, where’d you get the shirt?”
“Traded for it.”
“It looks good on you,” Esther May said. “It must have been a fortunate trade.”
“He thought so.”
Aravaipa to San Pedro to the Gila
Esther May rode her gelding along the Aravaipa Creek, noting her herd was still brushed up along the waterway. Let the cattle rest and fatten up. If her plans went well, she’d be back and the drive would continue.
She glanced rearward at Camp Grant, and her chest ached. She could have been happy there with Lieutenant Charles Bodkin, and it was her fault he’d been killed. She should have finished off Chews Loud when she had the chance.
Attending to that little detail was what this trip was meant to fulfill.
She reached the north-flowing San Pedro River, turned right, and followed the stream. Sergeant Laurey said the San Pedro flowed into the Gila River about ten miles ahead.
Tesahay had brought word that Chews Loud had to stay beyond the Gila River: that was the border of his banishment.
When Esther May huddled with them, the consensus among the laundry women was Chews Loud went to a place the whites called Pinal Mountains. The Apaches called the range Pine-Burdened Mountain. It was high country and rich with plenty of game. A person could survive there.
But Esther May doubted that’s where she’d find Chews Loud.
Sergeant Laurey said the patrol had followed the Gila River past its confluence with the San Pedro another twenty miles before Lieutenant Bodkins fell. They had traveled west. Pinal Mountain was east.
Esther May was betting that Chews Loud would be in the monotony of burnt, black rocks and rough, steep gorges along the river. There, he would be able to raid travelers, which would provide a living and entertainment.
No matter the abundance of game, living alone wouldn’t suit Chews Loud’s arrogance and need for attention.
Lady With Dirty Fingernails
Well, Esther May had needs, too. Dark and vengeful desires filled her heart. A memory of telling Charles that she was no tea-serving lady burst into her thoughts.
Esther May gritted her teeth. She was Riding Woman, and she had slain Apaches.
At the Gila, she stopped to water her gelding, eyes, and ears straining.
Was that a bronze body slipping around the boulders?
Is Esther May brave or foolish? Don’t forget to leave your comments.
Watch a video of the trip from Pinal Peak to Globe in under 8 minutes. The vegetation changes with elevation.
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