When Tsúyé, the gray-haired Apache leader, finished breakfast and belched, Abuela made a show of eating his leftovers.
She then went to Alejandro, conversed a moment, and returned with a pipe and tobacco.
After Tsúyé picked his teeth, Abuela offered the homemade, mesquite-wood pipe and tobacco pouch. “A good smoke for Tsúyé, so he may have a light heart toward Riding Woman.”
Alejandro spoke in Spanish. “Tell him to keep the pipe.”
Abuela kept her eyes on Tsúyé’s moccasins and answered in the same language. “He will.”
“Uh, the tobacco, too?” Alejandro’s question hung in the air.
Abuela didn’t answer, and the chuck wagon cook dropped his shoulders. He gave Esther May a resigned shake of his head. “I guess it’s better to lose tobacco than a scalp.”
“Si, mejor,” Esther May said. “Much better.”
Observing It All
Esther May moved to position herself where she could watch the outcome of Abuela’s conversation with Tsúyé and the activity across the creek.
On the other side of the two-step-wide stream, the Black Rock women shared the cut-up meat for roasting. They stretched the three cowhides for scraping.
The older men plopped down in the shade and waited to be served.
Some of the children knelt at the stream letting the water run over their hands.
Most of the young men were in a group discussing the possibility of putting Riding Woman in her place.
One man stood alone—immobile. His shoulder-wide stance, with his arms hanging loosely at his sides, indicated his comfort.
He seemed no more imposing than the other warriors. He was built as most: five and a half feet tall, broad, deep chest, and a forehead cloth tied around his shoulder-length hair.
He wore a knife on one side of his belt and a leather quiver holding arrows on the other. A bow hung on his back with the bowstring diagonal across his chest.
He never took his eyes off Esther May.
At least, she didn’t think he did. It was hard to tell since his lids formed natural visors over his dark pupils, but his face never turned from her.
A Touch Edgy
She made sure her Colt wasn’t strapped down in the holster.
Esther May kept the watcher in her side vision as she casually made her way to the chuck wagon.
She was able to overhear Abuela’s conversation with Tsúyé.
So far, it wasn’t much. Abuela kept her tongue while Tsúyé smoked.
Abuela caught Esther May’s quick, questioning shrug, and just as subtly flattened her hand palm down. Wait.
A Snail’s Pace
Time dragged for Esther May.
The People across the creek ate, except the one who watched her.
Alejandro made little noises closing up the chuck wagon for the trail.
Sweat ran down Esther May’s sides.
Finally, Tsúyé tapped the pipe against a rock to dislodge the ashes and made a small hand movement like a half-hearted, slow-motion swat at a fly.
Abuela said, “In your smoke, I saw a sign. If you allow Riding Woman to go down the river to Camp Grant, she will give you a horse.”
Esther May stopped herself from nodding. She didn’t want The People to know she understood the Apache language, but Abuela had a good idea.
They had been trailing the four extra horses left by the dead vaqueros. Sometimes too much is a burden.
Yes, But …
Tsúyé grunted. “I could take everything.”
Abuela kept her eyes down. “Where is the honor in that? All these men against Riding Woman? Surely, you will kill her, but she will first kill many. The songs they sing will not remember how Tsúyé got rich. They will sing of Riding Woman killing most of his clan.”
What is the warrior’s interest in Riding Woman? Leave your thoughts here.
How did women fit into the tribe? Read this article, especially toward the end.
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.
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