A moment of silence settled over the camp after Liluye’s stormy exit.
C.J. squirmed and butt-scooched his cross-legged seat farther from the small cook fire. He shifted his gaze between Abuela and Esther May.
Esther May appreciated C.J.’s tension. He didn’t trust Apaches and couldn’t understand their language. He needed an explanation, but first, she had a question for Abuela.
“Is the nearness of a white man upsetting Liluye? She didn’t seem this bad when the doctor came to check on her.”
“It’s this man, Riding Woman. He stirs one of Liluye’s spirits.”
“Ah, yes. You said she has two spirits. What does that mean?”
“Sometimes a person is born with two spirits. It’s good. It means they’re chosen and special. One of Liluye’s spirits makes her look like a woman. The other spirit makes her want to share her blankets with women. You’re the woman Liluye wants.”
Only One Of Each
“But that’s not right, Abuela. I think men and women belong together.”
“Liluye knows how you think, and she’s happy to be near you,” Abuela looked C.J. over, “until you show favor to someone else.”
“C.J. and I—”
Abuela held up a finger stopping Esther May’s reply. “Some say Ussen is two spirits. He has to have both to make men and women. Let Liluye find her way.”
I’m Here, You Know
C.J. scowled. “Is she talking about me?”
Esther May sighed and stirred her bowl of stew. “No. We’re talking about Liluye.”
“Well, she is a pretty woman,” C.J. said, obviously trying to add to the conversation.
Esther May burst out laughing. “I’ve missed you, C.J.”
“I think I’m missing something too,” he said. “But here’s a thought. I have to return this pack mule to the sutler at Fort McDowell. Why don’t you come with me? He has a good store, and you can stock up on supplies. We’ll catch up on old times.”
That Might Work
Esther May gave up on the stew and chewed her lip. “That may not be a bad idea. Let me talk it over.”
While C.J. frowned, Esther May addressed Abuela in Apache. “Will you call Liluye back? I have something I want to ask both of you.”
Abuela raised her chin and emitted a whistling vocalization that sounded like a quail call. Esther May grinned at the surprise on C.J.’s face.
“That’s talking it over?” he asked.
“Not yet.” Esther May giggled, and after a pause, said, “Now.”
Liluye appeared at C.J.’s back.
“Look behind you,” Esther May said.
He twisted and jumped at the sight of Liluye with her hand on a knife handle. “Geez! How do you stand being around these sneaky creatures?” He moved sat down next to the wagon wheel.
“Are you through with this man?” Liluye asked.
“No,” Esther May sighed, “and I’m asking you to trust me. This man says I can go to the soldier fort and buy supplies. While I’m gone, I think it would be wise if you would go up the basin to see if The People will let me have a place to live and raise cattle. Abuela can stay here with the herd.”
“It isn’t good for Riding Woman to be alone. I should go with you,” Liluye said.
Esther May shook her head. “The fort isn’t safe for you.”
Abuela scraped the bottom of her bowl and spoke without looking up. “It’s a good plan.”
Liluye stood wide-legged. “You want me to find a home for you and this snake?” She thrust her chin toward C.J.
Not Losing Anyone
Esther May stood and placed a hand on Liluye’s shoulder. “You, Abuela, and I brought the herd here. We’ll be the ones to build a homestead. Someday, I may take a man, but I hope you’ll always be near.”
A tear spilled out of Liluye’s eye and slid down her cheek. “I’ll find us a good home and talk peace with the Tonto People.”
“Thank you.” Esther May took a long breath and blew it out. “Now, I’m going to bathe in the creek and put on clean clothes. Tomorrow I’ll go to the fort.”
Esther May told C.J. the decision. “We’ll start in the morning. I’m gonna clean up before hitting the bedroll.” She grabbed soap and garments from the wagon.
At The Creek
Esther May had stripped to her sweat-stained long johns when she heard the shotgun blast. She jammed her bare feet into boots, grabbed her gun belt, and drew the weapon on the run. Rounding a clump of salt cedars, she saw C.J. standing frozen, his hand hovering over his pistol.
Liluye held the shotgun leveled on C.J. The man and Apache woman glared at each other in the dim light.
Esther May cast a glance around. There was no one else. “What’s going on?”
“This fool Indian damned near blew my foot off,” C.J. said. “Another half-step, and she’d have shot me.”
Esther May repeated her question to Liluye and got a reply through gritted teeth.
“She said she saw a snake.”
“She’s a liar,” C.J. said.
Esther May peered hard at C.J. “Why aren’t you back with the horses?”
Why was C.J. near the creek? Don’t forget to leave your comments.
Does your skin crawl when you see a snake? Here’s an article why they’re not a threat.
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