However, #SampleSunday carries on. This excerpt might seem action-filled - Winter Man is on a horse-raid so as to get the better of Moon Hawk by parading a fine mount - but the intricacies of building on the page a viable lifestyle alien to our own are much in evidence, especially how men behaved, or were supposed to.
This horse 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.
The lodge was quite dark. No sound came from it that he could hear. Perhaps the occupants were singing in another tipi. Winter Man stole round its covering to the edge of the shadow cast by an adjacent lodge. He spied Hillside. Hillside could also see him, because he gave the signal that meant all was well. Winter Man looked for Skins The Wolf, but his friend must have been too well hidden for him to be noticed.
Winter Man eased himself into the starlight. The roan saw him and pulled slightly on the restraining rope tied about its neck. Winter Man stood a moment, letting the animal see him, showing himself for what he was. Slowly, he advanced upon it. The roan eyed him with distrust. Winter Man began shushing to it, holding out his free hand so that the horse might take his scent. His other hand loosened the plaited riding-thong from his belt, ready to slip the loop over the animal’s lower jaw. He advanced further, attempting to stroke the horse’s nose. It bared its teeth at him, bared its teeth like a dog. Winter Man’s blood ran cold. If the horse began to shy . . .
‘Quiet, horse,’ he whispered. ‘I am Winter Man. You are my horse now. Accept me as your rider and I shall tie red streamers in your mane. I shall paint my honours on your coat and ride you in parades so that all might gaze upon you and say, “Winter Man’s horse is the most prized among all the Apsaroke horses.”.’
The roan pricked its ears at his words and eyed him afresh. It seemed a little quieter. Winter Man smoothed his hand down its neck and across its shoulders. It stamped a hoof and flicked its tail, but it did not try to pull away from him. He looped the riding-thong and slipped it about the horse’s neck, deciding that a choke harness might be a prudent idea. The animal snorted, annoyed that it should be meddled with.
Winter Man licked his own lips as he prised the horse’s lips apart and eased its jaw open. It had good teeth, the sort that could bite off a man’s fingers. Carefully, he moved the jaw-thong into position and tightened it.
He was ready.
Expelling his held breath he raised his head to signal to Hillside, but Hillside was frantically signalling to him. Away to the left, two figures were walking slowly between the tipis. They seemed to be bent, large shouldered. Lovers sharing a robe. And they were walking towards Winter Man.
He ducked beneath the roan’s neck to stand in its shadow. Yes, lovers. They were engrossed in each other. If the horse did not whinny and he did not move, they would come and walk straight by him and not notice his existence. He watched them come towards him. His heart beat so hard that it hurt his ribs. Keep still, he told himself. All he had to do was keep perfectly still. He glanced across to where Hillside had been standing, but he had retreated into the shadows. Winter Man looked back towards the lovers. His stomach lurched. There were three figures now, one behind the other two. Skins The Wolf! What was he doing?
In a moment of horrified perception, Winter Man realised exactly what Skins The Wolf was doing. He was getting ready to count a grand coup — in the middle of a Shoshone village.
Everything moved slowly then, so very slowly, yet so terrifyingly fast. The cry that leapt from the mouth of Skins The Wolf could have been heard clear beyond the edge of the village. The Shoshone unravelled himself from the robe and his lover’s arms with admirable speed, but he was not quick enough to dodge the blow Skins The Wolf delivered with his fist. The man fell to the ground as the Apsaroke’s cry of victory rent the air. His call was still jangling in Winter Man’s ears as the Shoshone woman began to scream. Skins The Wolf silenced her with a single blow from his stone-headed club. She fell heavily, knocking into her rising lover. Skins The Wolf dealt another blow, and, without a single look around him, darted away between two lodges.
Winter Man grasped the roan’s mane and heaved himself on to its bare back. All around him people were spilling from tipis, wondering what had happened. Winter Man drew his knife and cut the restraining rope which picketed the horse, leaving the loop and a short lead dangling from its neck. Free at last, the roan skittered backwards. Winter Man crouched low on its back, trying to control it with his knees, trying not to look conspicuous. He glanced about him. Where was Hillside?
The roan shied. It rose on its hind legs, a deep bellow forcing its way up its throat. Every Shoshone in the village looked at Winter Man. Their cries were unintelligible to him, but he knew what they meant. He had to get out of there. He had to get out of there quickly.
He fought with the roan, finally bringing it under his control. A searing pain streaked across his back. Men seemed to be all around him. He pushed one down with his foot, lashed another in the face with the end of the riding-thong. Then the horse was moving, kicking out with its hooves, lengthening its stride. A tipi loomed in front of it. The horse veered to the left to be confronted by a propped-up travois. The roan leapt it as fluidly as a springing mountain cat. Winter Man felt the blood surge in his veins. He would escape. He would live. Freedom was his!
Where was Hillside? He looked behind him. No one had caught a horse to follow him. No one, not even the enraged Shoshone. He reined in the roan and turned it back towards the village. Hillside was in there somewhere, without a horse, without a friend to die beside. Winter Man kicked the roan, kicked at its belly until it galloped like a true spirit-dog, streaking its mane and tail out behind it in the wind it created. They were upon the lodges before Winter Man realised. The Shoshone threw themselves aside as they galloped through, curving this way and that to create more confusion. The frantic pace fired the roan. It hardly needed a touch of command. It was, indeed, a spirit-dog sent by First Maker. Winter Man filled his lungs and cried out the fighting call of the Fox warrior society. Almost at once he was answered. Hillside was still alive.
Winter Man dragged the roan to a standstill and looked in all directions. A crouching figure darted from the shadow of a nearby tipi. Winter Man’s fingers sought his sheathed knife before he realised it was Hillside. A hand was raised. A hand was lowered. They clasped each other about the forearm and Winter Man pulled Hillside up behind him. He felt the fletching of an arrow pass his face and he kicked the roan into motion. The Shoshone were organising. Their initial surprise had been swept aside. They would be running for their horses, ready to give chase.
‘Go! Go! Go!’ Hillside shrieked.
The two Apsaroke went like the wind. Winter Man gave the roan every encouragement and the roan gave them all its speed, so sure-footed that it did not falter at the creek; it did not hesitate as the land broke up into a series of narrow gullies. It leapt them with ease, one and two and three. All Winter Man had to do was to keep heading it where he hoped the other Apsaroke were waiting.
They came upon Running Fisher long before Winter Man expected to. He was alone, sitting astride his captured mount, the riding-thongs of two others held in his hand. Hillside slipped from the back of the roan on to the back of one of the spare horses.
‘Change your horse!’ Running Fisher commanded. ‘The roan is tired.’
Winter Man shook his head. The roan was tired, but if he changed mounts now, he might lose it. ‘Skins The Wolf ?’
Running Fisher pointed ahead and kicked his own horse forward. Hillside and Winter Man followed him. Winter Man repeatedly thrashed the end of the riding thong across the horse’s rump, forcing from it reserves of speed and endurance it hadn’t known it owned. At any other time Winter Man would have continually praised it for such a feat, glorified its triumph, but his mind was full of confusion and doubts.
Skins The Wolf was alive and well. Running Fisher had already given him a horse, but… Skins The Wolf had been on foot. To have arrived before himself and Hillside, he must have run from the village as soon as he’d taken the coup. Winter Man wouldn’t accept that it was possible. He and Skins The Wolf had been on horse-raids since early manhood. It was inconceivable that one so experienced couldn’t have been aware of what would happen as soon as the coup was called. He’d known Hillside and himself were there. He must have done.
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