The Cavalry Takes A Walk
The three naked and sheared soldiers walked tender-footed down the wash and into the long shadows preceding sunset. Their only sounds were grunts when thin-skinned soles met sharp, hot pebbles. The Arizona evening was still over 100 degrees.
“They’re not gonna make it back to McDowell,” C.J. said. “You’ll kill ’em, Esther May.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” she said. “Now that we’ve got their horses, we don’t need the sutler’s mule. In the morning, do you want to catch up with ’em and give it to ’em? They can ride two at a time and change off, or rest one or two in the shade while the third goes back to the fort for help.”
You Can Help
She couldn’t read C.J.’s expression in the dusk, but he stood frozen, so she continued. “They won’t die, and you’ll be seen as helping in case the Army decides on retaliation.” She shrugged. “You can go with them or return and catch up to us.”
You Want Me To Leave?
Small, quiet, and pleading, C.J. sounded like a child asking to stay up past bedtime. “You don’t care if I stayed away?”
His meaning was in the tone as much as the words, and Esther May received it as a body blow. She stepped forward to hug him but stopped at a cry from Liluye.
The Apache woman already didn’t like C.J. Showing him affection would further torment her.
“I would like it very much if you would come with me, C.J., but I want you to want it as well. That’s all I meant to say.”
She heard the rush of breath as C.J. exhaled. “Dammit, Esther May, you know I wanna go with you, or I wouldn’t be here.”
She gave him the hug, keeping her ears tuned for a cocking shotgun hammer.
New Victory Songs
During the evening, Liluye brought in the three cavalry horses and watered them at the pond. They almost drank it dry.
Singer, Gray Head, and Bent Hands wore their new army hats and sang songs about Riding Woman scalping the soldiers and taking plunder.
“Don’t forget Liluye saved us,” she told them, and they started into a new verse about the fierce women in their group.
The songs sounded like the three men had formed a new clan—Riding Woman’s band.
Esther May watched Liluye in the firelight. Some of the lyrics caused the Indian woman to smile, but when she looked at C.J., nothing but Apache hatred burned in her glare.
In The Morning
At daylight, C.J. distributed the pack mule’s load among the three cavalry horses. He started to put a bag of flour rolled in a blanket behind Liluye’s saddle but recoiled when she casually dropped the shotgun to point between his eyes.
“Do you have room for this, Esther May?” he asked, holding it up.
“Yeah, bring it over.” Liluye was a coiled rattler when it came to C.J., and Esther May had to keep from grinning. When they had a moment in private, she’d tell him why he was a target. Meanwhile, her job was to keep Liluye and C.J. from harming each other.
On To Camp O’Connell
C.J. rode away, leading the mule with an empty pack. The three Apache men were still in high spirits since each now rode his own horse.
“Remember,” Esther May told them. “You only ride them to Tonto Creek. You have to slip away before the Army at Camp O’Connell sees you.”
“We keep the hats, yes?” asked Bent Hands.
Esther May laughed. “You keep the hats, yes.”
While the men told their stories as if the others hadn’t been there all along, Esther May rode next to Liluye.
“You saved us last night, Liluye. How did you happen to find us?”
“I went to the red rock country and found the People of the Yellow Speckled Water. They have heard of Riding Woman. Their chief, Elk Horn, will meet with you. If he likes you, he will let you stay.”
Liluye raised her chin in a gesture Esther May recognized as pride. “I came back, but Abuela said you were still gone. I came to find you. I knew the white man would try to keep you away. White men are trouble.”
“Almost every time, Liluye. But remember, a white doctor fixed you up once.”
“After white men beat me.”
Esther May sighed. She wasn’t going to change the Indian woman’s mind. “Let me tell you what happened,” she said.
Will Liluye warm up to C.J.? Don’t forget to leave your comments below.
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