He thought of Moon Hawk, of her dark, beguiling eyes gazing at him over the top of the buffalo robe that night she’d come out of the lodge. He thought of the contemptuous look she’d given him when they’d spoken at the root-digging. He, a Good Young Man, and she’d treated him shamefully in front of all those old women. If he didn’t return with a picketed horse as he’d promised, he would forever hear her laughter ringing in his ears.
‘We are raiding horses,’ Running Fisher said. ‘Horses from the Shoshone who dared to enter our lands to steal our own.’ His arms were folded about his pipe-bag as if around a new-born child. He looked very grave, and went on, ‘These Bannock have been given to us like wounded antelope caught in a thicket. They have been given to us as a test by First Maker. We shall not fail that test. We shall skirt the Bannock. We shall not show ourselves to them. We shall raid horses from the Shoshone. It is what I prayed for. It is what I was promised.’ He turned away, indicating that there was to be no discussion.
They altered their route and took a wide circle round the Bannock, travelling until the sliver of the risen moon was high overhead. Running Fisher finally called a halt. For the first time since leaving the Apsaroke village, they wrapped themselves in their buffalo robes and stretched out on the ground to sleep.
Winter Man stared up at the silver arc almost lost in the winking stars. His thoughts were not of its beauty, nor of the stories his people told about its origin. His mind dwelled on the fine horse he would take, and on the moist lips of the woman who would trill to acclaim his victory. Perhaps, if he was very patient, those lips would kiss his own. It was a thought which stirred his blood.
It was still dark when Running Fisher bade them rise and begin their trek afresh. He called a stop at dawn so that he could meditate with his Medicine. Winter Man and Hillside gave prayers to the rising sun, asking that they might stand at the next dawn and give thanks for their deliverance. That night, they knew, would be the night they entered the Shoshone village.
Frost and Hunts The Enemy returned to the group just before noon. A village had been sighted. It was not particularly large, but had a good herd of horses distributed over the surrounding hills. Frost had witnessed a horse-race. A large roan had won it easily. The animal had been washed in the nearby creek and led into the midst of the village. A picketed horse. A roan. Winter Man decided that that was the horse for him.
They hid the rest of the day in a dry wash, joking and sleeping and wagering on dice. Each was nervous, but none would admit it to the others. As the shadows lengthened and the twilight grew, each took himself away from the group and spoke privately with his Medicine. There were rites to be fulfilled, taboos to be upheld, prayers to be sung. With the onset of night, they set off.
Winter Man, Hillside and Skins The Wolf went straight to the edge of the village. There would be little time, they knew, before the others began to cut horses from the herd. They would do it as quietly as they could, but horses were inquisitive creatures, easily unnerved. It took only one startled animal to set the rest in motion. Such a noise would bring every Shoshone alive down on them.
Winter Man crouched behind a woman’s willow lodge, his friends at his shoulders. He was breathing hard, too hard, he knew, and perspiration was beginning to bead on his naked back. There was too much noise in the village, too much movement for the depth of the night. He could hear drumming from several lodges, and voices were lifting in song. The Shoshone were celebrating. He wished it were otherwise, but it was not. There was no point in waiting for them to sleep. The Shoshone could still be singing at dawn.
He hung his head, staring at the packed earth between his knees. His friends were waiting for his decision, for his instructions. Their lives depended on him now, the way all their lives depended on Running Fisher. Leadership was, indeed, a heavy responsibility. His head snapped up. His eyes took in the scene again. He turned with purpose to his friends and gave his instructions by sign alone. They signalled their acknowledgments, and left him.
Winter Man moved outside the circle of the glowing lodges, watching every footfall for dry firewood and discarded possessions, his eyes staring into small impenetrable shadows in case he came across a dog. If he set a dog barking, he might as well stand and sing his death song.
He crouched low as he heard voices laughing in the night. Two young men, decked in their finery. They passed on the other side of the tipi he hid behind and didn’t notice him. Winter Man strained his ears to hear what they were saying, as he knew a little of the Shoshone tongue. Their peoples did not always think of each other as enemies, but the young men’s words were spoken too quickly for him to grasp.
He moved across the gap into the shadow of another tipi. There was a horse picketed outside its door, a chestnut, a fine horse, but not the one he was seeking. He had told his friends that he would take the roan. To change his mind might place them in jeopardy. A man brazenly courted ill-luck by changing his mind once a raid had been mounted. Winter Man padded on. He caught sight of Hillside moving between the tipis some little way off, and sent a silent prayer to First Maker that his friend should keep his head down. Of Skins The Wolf he could see nothing. Then he saw the horse. The roan.
There was no wondering at how it had won its race so easily. The length of its leg was truly amazing. He had seen long-legged horses at the fur-traders’ fort to the north. He had even bartered all his skins for one after seeing it run, but it had been no good as a buffalo-horse, and had not been strong enough to survive the harshness of the winter; but this horse, this roan . . . Its parentage was mixed. It had the sturdy body of horses he knew well. This one would live to graze the spring grass. It would live to produce young of its own. How Moon Hawk would look when he paraded this horse in front of her.
If you have enjoyed this excerpt, find time to either leave a comment or Tweet the post. Other excerpts are available; just search #samplesunday and take your pick of genre. There's always something to tempt you. Thanks for reading mine.