Whispering Wind
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Pregnant and alone, Tsopo, Wind, leaves her Blackfoot people to save her lifelong friend, Kom-zit-api, An Honest Man, from untrue accusations. Kom-zit-api finds Wind and asks her to be his sits-beside-him wife. Before she can give him an answer, he dies saving her from Crow warriors. Trapper, Jake McKinney hears her cries and finds her down on a ledge, birthing a child that has arrived too soon. Now Wind finds herself at a crossroads. Ashamed and confused, she accepts McKinney’s offer to go with him to the Big Belt Mountains, where his Confederate war buddies are prospecting for gold. They meet brothers, Tucker and Alexander Walsh on the trail. McKinney, with his valuable bales of furs and buffalo robes, and the Walsh brothers, with their four wagons of supplies, strike a partnership. They’ll start up a general store for miners on the east side of the Missouri River near Diamond City. Wind reveals possession of a gold nugget the size of her thumb. Her father gave it to her, and she knows where in Confederate Gulch it was found. The men make her an equal partner in their business they are now calling Whispering Wind. Nothing like her peaceful village, Wind finds herself among ramshackle clusters of tents, lean-tos, and crude log cabins. The main street is a knee-deep mud trail mixed with horse manure, lined with make-shift stores, hotels, rowdy saloons, and a single assayer’s office. Wind aspires to find love and happiness where greed rules actions above common sense. Dressed like a white woman, hiding her part Blackfeet blood, she faces being one of a few women in a wild, lawless mining territory. Who can she trust? Can she survive where so many men have failed?



Publié par
Date de parution 30 avril 2014
Nombre de lectures 4
EAN13 9781773620008
Langue English

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Whispering Wind
By Rita Karnopp
Digital ISBNs
EPUB 978-1-77362-000-8
Kindle 978-1-77362-001-5
WEB 978-1-77362-002-2
Amazon Print 978-1-77362-003-9

Copyright 2014 by Rita Karnopp
Cover art by Michelle Lee
All rights reserved. Without limiting therights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publicationmay be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic,mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without theprior written permission of both the copyright owner and the abovepublisher of this book.
The Blackfeet were known as the savages , the cruel and bloody raiders of the northwestplains . If you could have lived among them though, I believeyou would have found them to be caring, compassionate, kind,generous, friendly, joking and laughing, loving and lovable humanbeings. They were accomplished stealers of horses, yet sincere andhonest, and were relentless killers of their enemies. You can becertain though; the Blackfeet were undoubtedly killed by the whiteman before he became a killer of white men.
This is dedicated the spirit of the Blackfeet—past,present, and future.
Wide brown plains, distant, slender,flat-topped buttes; still more distant giant mountains, blue sided,sharp peaked, snowcapped; odor of sage and smoke of camp fire;thunder of ten thousand buffalo hoofs over the hard, dry ground;long drawn, melancholy howl of wolves breaking the silence ofnight, how I loved you all! James Willard Schultz, My Life as anIndian
Chapter One
Montana Territory Spring 1865
“ Kai yiwahts , daughter?” A-sa-na-kiAhki sat on the buffalo robe beside Tso’po and pattedher knee. “You’ve been brooding for months. Do you want to talkabout it?”
“ Sa! Matsikiwa .”
“It must be something or you wouldn’t behiding here in our tipi instead of gathering ok-kun-okin with the other young girls. Tell me, kai yiwahts. ”
“I wanted to pick sarvis berries, but I haveother things on my mind. You know what bothers me. How could younot?” She placed her mother’s palm across her swollen abdomen. Tso’po stared down at the bulge beneath her soiled, elk workdress. Tears threatened.
“Who is the father of pokaup ?”
“You know, mother. You might not want toadmit who, but you must know.”
“I trusted Kom-zit-api . How long hasthis been going on between you two?”
Tso’po sharply glanced to the rightand stared long and hard at the woman who should have protectedher. “Why would you ask me this? Kom-zit-api is as his namesays; an honest man. He has too much respect for me to have. . .caused this.”
“Even an honest man can find himself in thisposition. He has made it no secret he wishes you to become hissits-beside-him wife. Your father is going to be very angry withboth of you.” A-sa-na-ki Ahki got to her feet and filled twowooden bowls with buffalo stew and returned to sit beside herdaughter.
Tso’po took the bowl and quickly setit down on the buffalo robe. The smell of cooked meat sent herstomach retching and she fought down the bile that rose. She movedthe bowl further away and drew in the scent of sage that smolderednear the campfire. It helped a little. “First I will say O’kyai’-yu is not my father. He has never been a father tome. Buck Marshall was my father and I’ve missed him every day sincemy tenth summer. I wish he’d never died.”
“I wish that, too, Tso’po . It’s notoften our people accept a trapper among them. Everyone knew he was e-kus-kini . I have told you many times, we must not thinkabout him. It will not serve us. ”
“Yes, he was a very powerful person. I lovedhim. I will always love him. He would have protected me.”
“ O’kyai’-ya married me with ahalf-white child. He accepted you. No other warrior offered to dothat. We could have been left out on the prairie to die. He savedus and we must be grateful.”
“I wish we had been left to die.”
“Kyai-yo! You must not say such things.”
“Don’t sound so surprised, Mother. O’kyai’-ya sneaks around like the ota-tuyi .”
“You must not call him a red fox.” A-sa-na-ki Ahki set her bowl down and wiped at the tear thatrolled down her cheek. If Kom-zit-api is not the father ofyour child, then who is?”
“Are you saying you still don’t know? You whobrought me into this world. You who knows all there is to knowabout me. You who sleeps in the same tipi as me. You do not knowthe father of pokaup ?”
“How could you doubt I’m speaking the truth?Tell me you didn’t know he first came to me when I was twelvesummers? I cried for days. I told you I hurt. You told me it wouldpass. You knew he came to my sleeping blankets and you said matsikiwa .” Tso’po grit her teeth and swallowed hard.She refused to cry. Soon the people would be calling her Cries AllThe Time Woman, like they did her mother.
“I never said it was nothing. I said therewas nothing I could do. If O’kyai’-ya gets angry, he couldkick us out. Where would we go? How would we live?” A-sa-na-kiAhki openly trembled and cried.
“I could i’nit’-si’wah !” Tso’po jumped to her feet and faced the back of the colorful tipi. Todayit brought her no joy.
A-sa-na-ki Ahki scrambled to her feet.“Look at me.”
Children ran past their tipi, laughing asthough they’d played a joke on one of their mothers. She wished tobe young again, running through camp with her friends. She longedto spend long sunny days on the riverbanks guessing which of theyoung warriors they would marry.
“I said look at me.” A-sa-na-ki Ahki’s tone allowed no choice.
Tso’po spun around and glared at hermother.
“You must never say you could kill him. Youmust never consider such a thing. His relatives would kill you—alife for a life. They would strip everything that was his inpayment. I would be left with nothing and no one. Is that what youwant?”
Tso’po stood silent for a moment. “Youshould have protected me from him . . . and you didn’t. You let him. . . do that to me and now you want me to . . . what? You know O’kyai’-ya put pokaup inside me,” Tso’po screamed.
“ An-nat-or-kan-nai ! Do you wanteveryone in the village to hear you?”
“No, it’s not enough. I will not carry thisshame alone. They will take pity on me when they learn thetruth.”
“You will keep silent. We’ll figure somethingout. Maybe Kom-zit-api will still want to bring forty horsesfor you to be his wife? He’s much like the honest man he is named.You must know he’s very much in love with you. He may not careabout pokaup .”
Tso’po looked at the woman she calledmother. It seemed impossible she wished to hide the truth. Sheprotected her husband and not her daughter? Tso’po shook herhead. “I won’t remain silent. I refuse to let the people think solittle of me. O’kyai’-ya should have to face the people andadmit his shame. He did me wrong.”
“You’re a ahsi tupi . We are not soyoung. The deed is done and what good would come of shaming yourfather and me? If they send us from the village—where does thatleave you, if Kom-zit-api doesn’t want you? Say nothing andwe’ll keep you and the child with us.”
“You wish people to think Kom-zit-api is the father, and shame him when he denies it? He’ll always haveto live with that shame, even though he’s innocent.”
“We don’t have much choice in the matter.We’ll protect you.”
“What? You want me to become O’kyai’-ya’s second wife? I refuse! I’m nearly seventeensummers and you both have ruined my life. I would never ask Kom-zit-api to take me now.”
“No one must know O’kyai’-ya is thefather of your child.”
“Ahksi Kiwa!”
“What do you mean, you care for nothing?”
“ Ahksi Kiwa! ” Tso’po turned andran from the tipi. She followed the rocky shore, blinded by hertears. She ran, ignoring how the low hanging cottonwoods scratchedat her bare arms and how the sharp rocks cut into her feet. Soonthe early evening light turned into shades of black. She stopped,her chest burned, and she gasped for air.
Scrambling up the hillside, Tso’po managed to pull herself on top a large boulder. Standing, shescanned the land in all directions. She shouldn’t have actedwithout thinking. Even the campfire smoke from her village couldn’tbe seen. She had taken no food, water, or even a blanket with her.Should she go back or continue following the Big River east? Shewasn’t familiar with the low direction. If she traveled ap-put-os-ohts , what her father called north, she might beable to find her people in Grandfather’s land they call Canada.
It was the time when grass starts up and thebuffalo calves were yellow. It was also the time when rain replacedsnow and brought life to the land. Already clouds built and windstung her cheeks. A screech owl settled in a nearby cottonwood. Hisways were evil, containing the restless and unhappy spirits ofpeople long dead. Would he bring her misfortunes? Could he bewarning her of death? Quickly she pulled a strand of beads from thebottom of her braid and laid it on the rock. “You are my relative,”she said, knowing if he thought she was related, he would not harmher.
It didn’t take long to scurry down from theboulder and run yet further away from camp, always keeping thecreek within sight. Breathless once again, she stopped to lookaround, using the light from the moon, inching between a break inthe clouds.
Exhaustion gripped her. She needed a safeplace to sleep for the night. Several water drops hit her cheeks.If she didn’t find shelter soon, cold and wet would become her newconcern. Tso’po ’s gaze rested on a slight indention in therocky wall. Not wasting time, she attacked the steep, rockyincline, praying to Napi the moon would stay free fromclouds, aiding her safe ascend.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Tso’po jumped, lost her footing andsliding downward, bouncing her bottom hard across the rockyincline. Within seconds she hopelessly picked up speed until shefound herself in Kom-zit-api ’s firm arms. She didn’t haveto look into his dark, mysterious eyes to know it was him.
“Put me down. You nearly killed me!” Shedidn’t miss how gently he set her feet to the ground.
“What were you doing? You could have easilyfallen to your death.”
“Well, I nearly did, thanks to you. What areyou doing here?” Tso’po glanced around, grateful he camealone.
“I’ve come to bring you to your senses. Tsima’ kit-aak-itap-oo-hpa? ”
“It’s none of your business where I’m going. Aahsa k-omoht-o’too-hpa?” She wanted to be angry, butcouldn’t help being relieved she wasn’t alone in the dark.
“You know why I came. Your mother found meand told me . . . told me you’ve run away from the village like aspoiled child. She asked me to bring you back.”
“She tell you why I left?” Tso’po watched his expression as best she could in the dim moonlight. Hisblank stare told her he knew nothing. She took his hand and placedit on her swollen stomach.
He jumped back and stared back at her. “Tsa anistapii-waatsiksi? ”
“It’s a baby,” she snapped.
“I know, but who is the father of pokaup ? I know of no other warriors you have given favor. Ialways thought you would be my sits-besides-me-wife. I . . . tellme . . . who?”
“Maybe you should ask O’kyai’-ya? ”
“Why should I ask your father? You’re notmaking any sense, Tso’po . I don’t understand why you woulddo this to me.”
She didn’t need to see his eyes to feel hishurt. “I didn’t do this to you. I didn’t even do this to me.”
“Then explain what’s happening because Idon’t understand.” Kom-zit-api stared at her.
“You may not wish to know. There is no answer. . . other than I need to leave the village.”
“Not without an explanation, you won’t.”
Tso’po drew in a deep breath, sweptaway the single tear that rolled down her cheek with her fingertip.She released a rush of air and shouted, “ O’kyai’-ya is thefather of pokaup .” There, she’d said it. She held herbreath, waiting for the disbelief.
“Tell me kit-itakomimm-oki-hp-yi andI’ll still take you as my sits-besides-me wife.”
Tso’po stared at the handsome warriorbefore her, frozen in place. Should she tell him she loved him? Shedidn’t. She liked Kom-zit-api and considered him a goodfriend. “And what of pokaup ?”
“Do you . . . wish to . . . did you share thebuffalo robe with O’kyai’-ya willingly?”
“How could you ask such a thing? I despisehim. I wish him dead. My mother . . . stands by him.”
“Give pokaup to your mother. It’s moretheir child than yours.” Kom-zit-api stomped his moccasininto the ground.
“I’m leaving the village with my shame. If Ido as you say, pokaup will always be known as the child noone wanted. As much as I don’t want a baby of his growing insideme, I cannot do such a cruel thing to pokaup .”
“I want no child of O’kyai’-ya ! Notonly is it a bad seed, but it’s a seed of force. Only evil willcome from such a child. Pokaup is not welcome in my tipi.Give the child to your mother and come to my tipi.” Kom-zit-api’s stern expression allowed no discussion in thematter.
“You ask too much. I’ll leave the village.” Tso’po leaned against the boulder, exhausted beyond belief.“Go back and say nothing. Soon the people will understand I leftbecause of my shame. It isn’t your responsibility. Miistap-‘aaatoo-t annoma .”
“You really want me to go away from here andleave you alone? You don’t have any supplies to travel. What if pokaup comes and you’re all alone? Are you ma-zap?Omatap-izitaw . I’m sure you must inip-izi? ”
Tso’po didn’t want to think about thechild coming. Surely it wouldn’t be for many moons. “Yes, I feelit’s raining and you can tell I’m cold. That’s why I was headed upthere.” She pointed to the small indenture in the rocky wall above.“And you know I’m not crazy!”
“I’ll help you get up there. We could waitout the storm together and then go back to the village in themorning.”
They would call me mazapaki if youstay the night with me. It would not help your cause in making thembelieve pokaup is not yours. Nohk . I repeat,please , you must go back to the village.”
“I wouldn’t let anyone call you a prostitute. Nita-akah-kayi for the night . But you must promise tostay here and wait for me to bring you supplies and a horse. I’llask my father if I can take you to my mother’s sister in Kikoh-kia-ayowa’s camp.”
“I’m glad you’re going home for the night. Doyou mean Butterfly Woman? I remember her and her husband Black Bearwith much fondness. Do you think they’d take me in?”
“If my mother asks them to. I’ll ask her ifshe has a gift I can give to A-apa-ni-akiiwa. They are close andwould do anything for each other.”
Tso’po allowed a slight smile to riseat the corners of her lips. She found the strength to push off theboulder and took several steps toward the incline she’d recentlyslipped down. The now steady drizzle made the rocks slippery andthe climb all the more dangerous.
It didn’t take Kom-zit-api long topass her and offer his hand to help. She couldn’t help beinggrateful for his help. Each step became a chore to her tired body.By the time they reached the slight indenture in the rock, Kom-zit-api nearly carried her.
“Wait here so I can make sure no snake or afamily of ap-ai-kai-koa has made this home.”
“I think you exaggerate. I don’t think such asmall cave would be home for a family of skunk. Snake, maybe, whichI would not care to share with. They aren’t even fit to eat.”
Kom-zit-api broke off a shrub branchand swept it around the dark cave, then returned limping, grippinghis leg. “It bit me . . . kyi . . . it bit me!”
“What bit you? A snake?” Fear filled her. Shedidn’t know what to do for such an injury. “Let me see where youwere bitten.” Tso’po dropped to her knees.
He raised his elk skin pant leg and waited asshe searched for the bite marks. “I don’t see anything. Where . . .where did it bite you?” She moved her palms up and down his leg,yet found nothing.
“It didn’t bite me. There was no snake! Youshould have seen your face. Even in this darkness I could see—”
“You think this is funny? We are out in themiddle of nowhere and you think it’s funny to make me think . . . Iimagined you were going to die?” She grit her teeth and stared athim.
Kom-zit-api shook his head. “You oncethought such tricks were funny. I only wanted to make you iyim’-mit. You do care about me, don’t you?”
“Well I don’t feel like laughing. Now isn’tthe time to laugh. We’ve been friends our entire lives. Of course Icare about you. I’m tired of getting wet. Is that cave safe ornot?” Not waiting for an answer, she stomped past him.
“I’ll build a fire so you can get warm anddry. I’ll make a pile of wood that should last you into the earlymorning. You promised to stay here and I will hold you to it. Yousure you don’t want to me to stay here with you? I will.” Making amound of dried leaves and sticks, he quickly brought fire tolife.
Tso’po sat behind the fire, her backinches from the back rocky wall. She wanted Kom-zit-api tostay, but she refused to admit it. Besides, she needed the suppliesand horse he promised. She would pray his mother would consent toletting him take her to Black Bear’s camp. A single tear rolleddown her cheek, and before she could stop them . . . several morefollowed.
“Mi-inas-ai’ nit.”
“I didn’t mean to cry . . . but . . . rightnow it seems I don’t have a choice. My tears come of their own freewill.” She quickly wiped them away with her palms. “Don’t tell nik-sissta where I am. Ohk, don’t tell anyone butyour parents. I’ll wait here for you. If you can’t go with me, I’llunderstand. I hope you can at least bring the supplies andhorse.”
“I won’t let you go alone. If you won’t stayat our village, I’ll take you to a safe place to live. Give seriousthought to being my wife. I won’t change my mind about pokaup .”
She swallowed hard and cleared her throat.“Then I won’t change my mind either. You give serious thought tothat.” Silence fell between them. She shivered and moved closer tothe small fire.
“There’s plenty of wood. Here’s some jerky toeat and I’ll leave my water bladder for you. Don’t let the fire goout . . . and you’ll be safe.”
Reaching for the water and jerky, shesuddenly realized how hungry she was. “ Iiks-soka’piiwaotai’-soota-ahsi. ”
“You’re right, it is good that it’s raining.Many animals will be hunkered down to stay dry.” He added severalsticks to the fire. “I . . . want to go to camp and kill yourfather for what he’s done to you. My anger is building insideme.”
“ Ohk . . . ohk . . . don’t do that.It’ll only dishonor you and your family. I’m not worth that muchfuss or effort. I . . . would not wish to be the reason you can’tever return to your home. I promise to stay here and wait for you,if you promise to only speak with your parents. Promise me you’llnot do anything as foolish as attempt to kill O’kyai’-ya .He’s no boy warrior. He could easily kill you.”
“Is that what you think of me? You believeI’m a boy warrior?”
Tso’po pressed her palms across herface and sobbed. “I didn’t mean . . . I didn’t mean to insult youand suggest you were anything but a fine warrior and honest man.You’ve been nothing but kind to me. You . . . are all I have forhope right now. Ohk, forgive me for speaking wrong.”
“ Mi-inas-ai’ nit . It saddens me to seeyou cry. I’m not angry with you. Eat and drink and try to get somerest. I’ll be back at first light. You sure you don’t want me to .. . you want to stay here alone?”
“I’m certain. Tell iyi’m-mit that Iwould be most grateful if she would ask her sister to help me in mytime of need.”
“I’ll tell my mother that, but I don’t thinkit’s necessary. She has always liked you and was hoping to have youas her daughter. She’ll be happy to do this.”
The baby moved and Tso’po placed herhand on her hard abdomen. She looked across the fire at Kom-zit-api .
He stared back at her for a moment, turnedand walked away.
Completely alone, Tso’po crossed herarms and rubbed her aching shoulders. She wanted to yell for Kom-zit-api to come back, but she remained silent. Shouldshe have accepted his offer? It wasn’t her fault that a baby grewinside her. She didn’t want pokaup but she didn’t want harmto come to it either. Was Kom-zit-api right? Was the child abad seed? Tso’po rubbed her stomach, comforting the childwithin her.
After adding more sticks to the fire, shelowered herself down on dried leaves. When she started this day shehadn’t imagined it would end with her sleeping alone in a cave. Herbody ached and she fought to keep her eyes open.
* * * *
Startled . . . Tso’po bolted upright.The smoldering campfire burned her nose. She quickly added sticksto the pile and a fire snapped alive. What had wakened her? Shelistened. She searched out into the darkness.
A Crow appeared in front of her. He pointedand shook a sharp spear toward her. The feathers dangling downappeared to be dancing. He was stripped down to a loin cloth andhis body was painted black. White lightning strikes rose from thecorners of his mouth across his cheeks. Several grizzly claws hungfrom leather strips tied into his black hair which hung loose,nearly reaching his waist.
Tso’po stared at the isapo’-aikoan . She understood much of the Crow language andwasn’t sure she wanted to reveal it.
“ Awushi’m chihpa-shi’k. Iiku-sh-chi’. ”He motioned for her to come toward him.
She already knew the cave was dark. She wouldhave laughed at his comment, had she not feared the Crow. Theydidn’t treat Blackfeet captives well. She would be taken to theirvillage and be given as a slave to one of their women. She remainedon the other side of the small fire.
“Bia’ iiku-sh-chi’.”
Woman come out? Was that the best he coulddo? She wanted to scream at him to just de’e . But she knewhe wasn’t going to just go and leave her.
“ I’lu’u, I’tch-ik-shi bia’.” Hemotioned for her to stand.
She wondered why he suddenly felt a need tocall her a pretty woman. Now she wished she hadn’t sent Kom-zit-api away.
“ I’lu’u ,” he shouted.
“ Tso’po rose to her feet and remainedin place. It unsettled her the way he glared at her apparentswollen stomach.
“Bi’a i-iwale-ewi laxpa’-ake ko’ok.”
She didn’t care if he thought women were thecause of their existence. It was true, but sounded strange comingfrom an isapo’wa .
“I-ichi’ile ahu’k.”
She didn’t believe there were lots of Crowsas he said. The isapo’wa were liars. She held herground.
Fear filled her. Should she ask him wherethey were going? She’d leave signs for Kom-zit-api along theway. He would know the Crow took her by the imprints theirmoccasins left in Mother Earth. He would not leave her to the fateof a Crow slave.
“Hu’u, ah-pa-axe’ shipi-tee-tak.”
She agreed, the clouds were dark. Shemotioned for them to come into the cave, and out of the colddrizzle.
The Crow shook his head, and again shouted, Bia’ iiku-sh-chi’. ”
She doubted she could stall any longer. Ifonly they’d have come into the cave and stayed the night. Kom-zit-api would have seen them and returned with manywarriors. It would have been a good day to have killed manyCrow.
“ Hu’u ,” the Crow said in a gentlertone.
Swallowing hard, Tso’po moved slowlytoward the enemy. How could things have gone so wrong?
“You are Blackfeet and also of the white man.Both are our enemies. You try to kala’a and we will killyou. You I’ka-a , don’t you?”
She wanted to nod and admit she understoodmost of what he said. She gave him a blank stare. If they didn’tthink she knew their language they might talk freely.
He pointed at his chest and said,“ Che’-etxi-ili-saa .”
So, his name was Gray Wolf. She pointed atherself and answered, “ Tso’po .”
“So, you are called wind. I would like toknow why, but that will have to wait.”
His comment revealed he understood herlanguage. Silent, she watched him wrap a blanket across oneshoulder and knotted a leather strap around his waist, holding itin place. Pulling a knife from the fringed sheath, he pointed theblade at her. “Follow Black Feather. Basbi’-tchi-iaat-ta’k. ”
She didn’t doubt his knife was sharp. Withoutexpression or comment, Tso’po followed the short warrior wholooked no more than twelve summers. Exhaustion settled in and allshe could think about was putting one foot in front of the other.Complaining or falling to the ground would prove her weak andthey’d kill her. They walked until the sun inched over the edge ofthe distant Rocky Mountains.
“Du’-ushi’. We will rest here. Iha’wi. ”
He didn’t have to tell her twice to lie downand sleep. She crumpled to the cold, wet ground. Shivering, shesaid nothing. In spite of the fact that she was prisoner of threeCrow, exhaustion won. Her eyes grew heavy and she could fight it nomore.
How long she’d slept, Tso’po wasn’tsure. She kept her eyes closed and listened to the men talking inhushed tones.
“She is weak, I, Bish-ka’, say we killher and get out of Blackfeet lands.”
“ Bi’a carries a child. I say we takeher to our village and give her to Many Lost Babies. She wouldwelcome mother and child. Her tipi has been empty way toolong.”
Crazy Dog did not like her and would kill hergiven the chance. Tso’po recognized Gray Wolf’s voice andwas glad he wanted to keep her alive.
“We must take the bi’a with us. Shewas put in our path for a reason. It’s not up to us whether thewoman lives or dies.”
Black Feather surprised her with his wisdom.She shook off the heaviness that threatened to reclaim her.Sitting, she moved her fingers in front of her lips, indicating shewas hungry.
Gray Wolf tossed her a piece of jerky and awater bladder. “ Du-ushi’ .”
Even though the meat had been made by Crow,it proved to be incredibly tasty. In spite of her hunger, shechewed the meat slowly, making it last. It seemed impossible todrink enough. Traveling had been hard on her body.
Had Kom-zit-api returned to the cave?Would he come after her? She had broken his heart and still heasked her to be his wife. Would he consider her worth going after? Tso’po fought to convince herself he would stop at nothingto make sure she was safe.
“Ilu’-u. Kamma-ale’-ewook.”
She didn’t want to go now or anytime withCrow. She glanced around at the landscape. She didn’t recognize thearea. She’d considered running, but feared more what would happenwhen they caught her.
“ Daxa’-lus-shili-ik, ” Crazy Dogshouted.
She gave him a quick glance and realized hetruly wanted her to go ahead and run.
He pulled an arrow from his quiver and raisedit to his bow. “ A’x-xax-xi. ”
Tempted by his suggestion, she consideredrunning. She’d rather die than to spend her life with the Crow.
“Stop, Bish-ka’ . Dak-sak-shi’ and make sure no one comes. We’ll follow the cliff edge to thewaterfall. Once we cross it, our tracks will be no more. We’ll waitfor you on the other side. Then we’ll travel south out of Blackfeetland and find our people camping near the Yellow River.”
Tso’po heard the men speak of theYellow River. Her father called it the Judith River, named after animportant white man’s wife. She found it difficult to understandwhy the Napi-kwan’ changed the names of rivers andmountains. Could they not have asked the people of the land whatnames belonged to them?
Snapped from her thoughts, Tso’po ranto catch up to Black Feather, and followed submissively. She foundno joy in her steps; each taking her closer and closer to theenemy’s camp.
A loud thwack announced the arrow that struckand penetrated Black Feather’s head. He dropped face-down on theground. Dead.
Chapter Two
Tso’po fell to her hands and knees,hoping to dodge any on-coming arrows. She spotted a boulder amongthe sagebrush and quickly headed toward them. A warrior grabbed asolid grip of her hair and pulled her to her feet. She glanced upinto the eyes of Gray Wolf. He held her tight against him.
He swung her around and she watched Kom-zit-api fighting Crazy Dog. “ Hu’u ,” Gray Wolfshouted near her ear.
“Come where?” she asked, realizing she’drevealed understanding him.
“I knew you I’ka-a ! There’s a ledgejust below. I’ll lower you there.”
“Why? I’ll fall. Why are you doing this?”
“Crazy Dog will kill your man. I’m not farfrom meeting my ancestors.”
Tso’po realized his blood now soakedthe back of her elk dress. “Please, don’t make me go down there.I’ll a’x-xax-xi and hide far from here.”
“Your only chance is to hide in the indentureand climb up after he leaves. If you don’t do this, Crazy Dog will dap-pee’ you. I want to save your life.”
“Maybe he won’t kill me. Don’t do this,” shecried out.
Before she could say another word, Gray Wolfgrabbed her arm and while dropping to the ground, swung her outbeyond the cliff edge and swung her toward the opening of the holein the rocky ledge . . . then released her.
The drop seemed to take seconds before Tso’po hit the small ledge, stomach down. The force took herbreath away. She rolled away from the edge of the narrow cliff,pressing her back against the inside wall of the small cavity.
What was happening above? She strained tohear, barely making out grunts and moans of the fighting men. Kom-zit-api wasn’t an experienced fighter. Crazy Dog on theother hand had scars that proved he’d survived many. She didn’twant Kom-zit-api to die for her. If he survived and pulledher up from the cliff, she’d agree to be his sits-beside-him wife.He deserved her love.
Silence settled around her. She no longerheard the men fighting. Should she call out? What if Crazy Dogsearched for her? She didn’t like that warrior any more than heliked her. She shivered in the hollow of the cliff.
A sharp pain gripped her stomach and shestifled the scream that tore at the back of her throat.Perspiration formed on her upper lip. Tso’po drew in a slow,steady breath, then released it. Another sharp pain stabbed at herinsides and she tightened her arms around her swollen stomach.Again she drew in breath after breath, releasing them slow andcalm. The clenching pain eased.
Where was Kom-zit-api ? Why didn’t hecall out to her?
Tso’po pressed her palm to the stonyfloor and pushed herself upright. Agony seized her thoughts as itripped across her lower abdomen. Without warning, her backcontracted and she screamed out . . . shrill and piercing. Tearsfilled her eyes and she shuddered as shocks and twinges tookcontrol.
Screaming didn’t help. The all-consumingdiscomfort tore at her inner parts. She didn’t know what to do.“ Kom-zit-api ? Kom-zit-api, are you there?”
Silence answered.
She drew air in—deeply through her nose,blowing it out through her mouth. Her back tightened asunbelievable pain shot down to her tailbone. Tso’po screeched in agony.
“Hey, what’s happening down there?”
Tso’po caught her breath and listened.Had she imagined the words of a white man? Had her father come tohelp her?
“Lady, you must be hurt. I’s comin’ downthere to help you?”
She opened her mouth to answer and a grippingcontraction ripped across her belly. Tso’po cried out hersong of strength. One clenching cramp followed another. She couldbarely breathe.
Fighting back her tears, she raised up to asquat and pushed, screaming as the effort took control.
“How in Sam Hell did you get yourself downhere? It’s tightern’ a virgin on her wedding night. You been shotor somethin’?”
“I’m . . . I’m having a baby.”
“You don’t look near plum old enough to behavin’ a papoose. I surely don’t know much about birthin’ babies.I’ve helped a calf or two, don’t expect it can be too muchdifferent.”
Tso’po pushed and cried out as anotherwave of pressure clenched her body. “It’s . . . way . . . tooearly. Did you see Kom-zit-api ?”
“If that be one of them Injuns I seen upthere, you best forget about him. Least ways those warriors I seendone kilt each other. Damnest thing ever. They’s all be dead. Ifanyone was alive he’s done skedaddled.”
She wanted him to stop talking, but anotherurge to push took her to another place of pain and unbelievableagony.
“What’s your name, girl?”
“ Tso’po ,” she whispered. The smell ofsomething dying nearly made her wretch. It didn’t take long torealize the disgusting smell emanated from the man in front ofher.
“Wind, huh? Blackfeet is ya? I packed me aBlackfeet squaw for nigh onto six years some time back. She werethe spunkiest, kindest woman I ever knew. Avalanche took her. Stillsorely miss the woman. Reckon I loved her. My name’s Jake McKinney,but most folks just call me McKinney.”
“Would you stop . . . talking . . . and helpme, McKinney?” Tso’po rolled her head back and gripped a legwith each hand and pushed hard. She screamed as blood and waterrushed from her body. The filmy sack containing her baby dropped tothe rocky ground.
“The worst is over, missy. I’m filled withregret to say you is right. It were too early. There’s hardly muchhere. I’s mighty sorry. If'n it’s okay with you, I’ll findsomething to wrap—”
“Burn it.” Tso’po moved away from thebloodied area and turned her back to him. Using dried leaves, shewiped her woman area and legs clean as best she could, then loweredher elk dress.
“What? You really wants me to burn—”
“You heard me. I don’t want some critterfeeding . . . just burn it!” Tso’po wiped the single tearfrom her cheek. She didn’t want the baby in the first place. Sheswallowed hard. She would have been a good mother. Napi hadchosen a different path for her.
“If ya gots ta cry, go ahead. I reckon I’veseen enough woman’s tears and heard enough whaling not to let itbother me none. You go ahead and take a few minutes to rest. Thatthere took some almighty energy and I’m powerful impressed. Soon asyou feel up to it, we’d best pull foot. We can’t build us no fireto burn this . . . here. We jest might have Blackfeet and Crowafter us if they think we had anything to do with them warriorsbeing kilt up there. But as you can see, there won’t be no crittersscavenging down this cliff. I’ll just put all this birthing twicksthe leaves and shove it in this here corner and cover it withrocks.”
“We’ll have no trouble with the Blackfeet;Crow on the other hand could prove different. They were stealinghorses and came across me. They wanted my baby for a woman in theirvillage. Now that there is . . . no baby, they’ll have no need forme either. I want to go back to my village.”
He sat and leaned his back against the rockywall. “Can’t say as I blame you, girl. Thing is . . . I ain’texactly stuck on the idea of movin’ deeper into Blackfeet country.Drank me a jug of whiskey and gots twisted around some and found mydirections powerfully confused. Been in Montana Territory nigh ayear now and nothin’ like this happened before. Been trappin’ myway from Fort Benton to a gold strike at Grasshopper Creek. Seemsby the time I gots to Gold Creek it be plumb played out. Was hopin’I were headed toward Prickly Pear Valley when I’s heard yourscreams.”
“I don’t know such a place,” she mumbled, notreally interested in what he had to say. Choking back her emotions,she glanced away. The image of Crazy Dog and Kom-zit-api fighting crowded her mind’s eye. She couldn’t help asking herselfif she really should return to the village. Would they welcome herback or blame her for his death?
“Wind, you gotsta know where the Big BeltMountains are?”
She glanced back at the big, smelly trapper.“I do know the Mapsi Istuk , McKinney. Our people go everyspring where the buffalo are and use the pis-skaan one moonsouth of the Ipumi Stukskwi .”
“The Rock Ridge Across?”
“Yes, the white man calls the Great Falls. Doyou know of it? How are we going to get off this ledge?” She fearedthe edge.
“I know the Great Falls, but I’m notinterested in it or the pis-skaan , Wind. I’m headed fer theBig Belt Mountains. I came down with this here rope. We just pullourselves back up. Would be easier if we had someone top side.”
Wind spotted the rope and glanced up. “Maybeyou should go first and pull me. My strength hasn’t returned yet.The Mapsi Istuk you seek are pe-nap-ohts . . . thelow direction of Ipumi Stukskwi. ”
McKinney pulled off his worn leather hat andscratched his head. “I just knew they was east. I’s run into atrapper in January, I think it was, and he jawed on and on aboutthere bein’ gold found July of sixty-two at Grasshopper Creek. Thenthey’s found gold in the Prickly Pear Valley just last July. WhatI’m excited about is they just done found gold in the Big Belts,and I’m aimin’ to get there before it’s all gone this time.”
“We won’t be going anywhere until we get offthis ledge. I’m not afraid to admit I get a bit skittish on rockyoutcroppings. I’d rather we continue this conversation on solidground.” She fought to keep her nose from wrinkling at his foulsmelling body. It reminded her of a rotting bear she’d once comeacross and stopped to retrieve his claws.
It’s times like this I wish I’d packed on afew less pounds. Like ta eat, always have. What ya gotta do is putyour feet into the rock crevice and pull yourself up, just steadylike. I’ll be pullin’ you most the way, so you don’t have to worrynone about falling.”
Wind couldn’t remember hearing anyone talk asmuch as McKinney. Her people spoke when there was somethingworthwhile to say. To talk . . . just to talk . . . just didn’tmake sense. She longed for silence. She waited while he steadilymoved up the rocky edge without much effort. It seemed doubtfulshe’d been able to get off the ledge without McKinney’s help.
“Okay, girlie. Wrap that there rope aroundyour waist. Knot it good. Let me know when you’re ready.”
She did as he instructed, knotting the rope athird time for safe measure. “It’s tied good,” she called up tohim. A hard jerk not only startled her, but raised her upincredibly fast. She did the best she could to keep from slammingagainst the rocky wall.
“There you are, on top already. What’d I tellya? You best not look around too much. Bloods splattered all overthe place. We might get a price for their scalps.”
“You do that and for sure we’ll have the Crowand the Blackfeet after us. They can tell by the tracks that we hadnothing to do with the deaths of these warriors. Respect and leavethem, their horses and their weapons as they lay.” Wind walked pastthe young warrior. “Black Feather was a nice young man. Even thoughhe’s Crow, it saddens me that such a young man had to die.”
“A dead Indian is one less that’s tryin’ tokill me.”
“This was Che’-etxi-ili-saa,’ theleader of the group.”
“I knowed of a Crow named Gray Wolf. He andseveral others showed up at the American Fur Company on the westbanks of the Missouri River last summer. Not sure he’s the sameone. They all looks alike to me.”
Wind glanced over at McKinney and shook herhead. She ran over to Kom-zit-api and dropped to her knees.“This was An Honest Man, my friend. Bish-ka’ killed him.”She quickly brushed a tear from her cheek.
“Actually, I think this Crazy Dog was withGray Wolf. I recognize his bear claw necklace.” McKinney reacheddown and cut the leather, pulling it free from the dead Crow’sneck. He tossed it at Wind. Might just bring you good luck.”
“Claws from the kyaio will give meprotection and good health.” Wind knotted the leather behind herneck.
“Well that rightly shines on you. We bestfind us a stream so you can wash that blood from your legs anddress. We be inviting lots a varmints to find us otherwise. We’dbest skedaddle whilst we can. Looks like we just might get a soakersoon. I gots me my horse and you best take your friend’s horse andexpect the Crows to be satisfied. I’m bankin’ on your bein’Blackfeet if they be powerfully sore we took that horse.”
Did the man ever stop talking? Wind got toher feel and took in the landscape in all directions. “Once we getdown from this ridge, we’ll run into what my white father calledthe Blackfeet River. We will follow it pe-nap-ohts .”
“East, girl. You need to learn yourdirections in the white man’s tongue.” He handed her the braidedreins of Kom-zit-api’s black and gray buffalo horse.
“His name is Aisi’tsi,” Wind said.
“ Kom-zit-api named his horse ManySmokes? I’m a might confused by that one.”
“Aisi’tsi was born where niz-it-api, traveling south, came upon what they thought was the smoke of manycampfires. When the night came there were no fires. They found outlater what they had seen was the mist from the hot springs. Mypeople call this land many smokes .”
“Indians got a good story for everything,don’t they? Well, git goin’ and I’ll foller. I’m guessin’ youlearned English from your father? Your mama is Blackfeet?”
Wind found his many questions offensive. Whydid he need to know so much about her and her people? “Yes, myfather was with me until my tenth summer. He was a trapper likeyou. My niksi’ssta is Blackfeet. The niz-it-api findbold questions to be rude.” She turned her steps sideways, easingdown the steep embankment. She hoped Aisi’tsi would keep hisfooting and not trample her if he got nervous.
“The real people should understand; I’m adirect man. I don’t like hiding behind a bush, I just say it theway it is. If'n I wants to know something, I figure the best way tofind out is ta ask. What was that Indian back there to you?”
“ Kom-zit-api was my friend sincechildhood. He wanted me to become his sits-beside-him wife. Hesaved me from the Crow. I loved him . . . as ni’-sa .” Herthroat choked-up and she fell silent.
“Your older brother? Now ain’t that justdownright sentimental. He the buck who got you with child?”
Wind stopped in her tracks and glanced backat McKinney. She shook her head in disbelief. “No, if you mustknow. But that’s all I’m saying about it. Never approach me aboutthis again.” Abruptly turning around, Wind hurried down toward theapproaching river’s edge. She dropped Aisi’tsi’s reins andran into the freezing water. Turning her back to the shore, sheused sand from the river bottom and frantically scrubbed her bottomand legs clean.
Glancing back at McKinney, she shouted, “Goaround the bend and clean yourself. I’m sure your scent can bepicked-up a mile away.”
“You tryin’ to say I stink, girl?”
Wind nearly laughed. “Can’t you smell . . .you?” She crinkled her nose at him. “It’s like the rotting carcasson the prairie. Even the apikaiya smells better.”
“A white stripe? Oh, a skunk? You sayin’ Istink more than . . . that’s downright hurtful, girl.” He turnedand walked the shoreline. “One would think that’d be more hurtfulor rude than askin’ questions. T’aint a person in all my life toldme I stink worse than a skunk. Who would guess a spit of a girl . ..” He moved around the bend and out of sight.
Grateful his words were carried away on thewind, she savored the peace that surrounded her. It became nearlyimpossible to think with McKinney’s many words filling the air. Shewanted him to go back with her and wrap Kom-zit-api in hishorse blanket and place him on a platform high in the trees withhis bow and arrows, his favorite knife, and his i-nis’-kim necklace. He prided himself having found the buffalo rock. Hewouldn’t have his medicine, pipe, or even his war clothing. Sheunderstood they couldn’t go back, but it didn’t hurt any less.
Wind scrubbed at her elk dress and moccasins,erasing any evidence a child had been born. Numb from the coldwater, she walked back to shore. Shivering, she squeezed the waterfrom her dress the best she could. Shaking, she grabbed Aisi’tsi ’s blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders. Sheclosed her eyes and leaned into his sturdy body, drawing in thewarmth.
She weighed her options; go back to hervillage . . . and what? Face living with her mother and O’kyai’-yu ? Become his second wife? Have his children? Sa.’
If she decided to travel with McKinney, wouldhe do . . . what O’kyai’-yu did? She would not let ithappen. Wind moved her palm over the beaded isttoa’i sheath.She could use the knife for more than skinning. He was going to theBig Belt Mountains. What future would there be for her? Confused,she closed her eyes and rested her head against Many Smokes.

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