The Bend in the River
Copyright 2001 Hawkshadow Publishing Company, Inc.
Emma was crouched and huddled tight under a lone tree on the prairie. Her back was to the fierce west wind. Her worn shearling coat, thin calico dress, old boots and a couple of threadbare blankets were all that insulated her from the rogue October snowstorm of 1877. The air was bitter cold and the wind chafed her exposed face. The tree offered no protection against the mighty prairie blizzard.
Her eyes closed. The pain in her frozen limbs was fading, no feeling left. Three days alone on foot were now exacting the price. She felt herself sliding away from the tree trunk to lie on the hard ground dusted with fine, powdery snow. Oblivion was moments away and her mind drifted. She was sitting near the hearth in the sod house where she was born seventeen years ago. The voices of her parents swirled through her memory.
The smell of acrid smoke woke her and she opened her eyes. Her earlier surrender to the elements was quickly replaced with relief. She was in some sort of small shelter, out of the cold and warmed by a crackling fire pit surrounded by stones.
She stirred and groaned. Her throat burned from too many hours in the cold sitting under that tree, giving up, surrendering.
A man hunkered down beside her and studied her, expressionless. “How do you feel?”
The shadowy firelight gave Emma a look at the man’s dress and long black hair tied with feathers. An Indian! She was suddenly, terribly afraid. He reached for a bowl of water and held it to her lips as she sipped. It did little to cool her throat and she winced as she swallowed.
“I found you yesterday. I thought you were dead from the cold.” He spoke good English.
“I was trying to get to Bockmeier’s,” she said.
“The trading post is north. You are far south of it now. You are in the Indian Territory.”
He looked puzzled and Emma knew why. The Indian camps were south of her Kansas home that bordered the Indian Territory; Bockmeier’s was twenty miles to the northeast of her family’s homestead.
Admitting little memory of the past few days, it was obvious that she had become terribly lost. Her father, Arthur, had repeatedly warned her about crossing the border between the homestead and the Indian Territory. Only well–armed troops would dare venture where the savages lived, he had told her.
“I must’ve got lost. Thank you for helping me, but I have to go.” She tried to rise, but every muscle in her body revolted, stiff and sore. She flopped back upon her bed of blankets. Then, the shock of her predicament slammed into her. She hoped that she could reason with this Indian. Maybe he would take pity on her and let her go. She vastly preferred to take her chances in the open and get to Bockmeier’s, rather than be a prisoner of an Indian. She had grown up with stories of young girls and women being taken by Indians and forced to marry the braves and bear their children. Those were the lucky ones who were permitted to live.
“You are not well enough to go anywhere,” he said.
Her heart thudded with rising panic. “Am I your prisoner?”
He looked mildly amused. “No. But it is better if you come with me. I will take you to Fort Reno. It is near our camp.”
“Your camp? How far?”
“The Cheyenne Agency is three days south. That is where I live.”
“No. I’ll go to Bockmeier’s.”
“You are too far from Bockmeier’s now. I passed it days ago. The weather is closing in. You do not have enough supplies to get there—and no horse.”
“Why are you so far from your reservation?” she asked in her slight drawl, reaching for the bowl of water. She knew that the Cheyenne lived miles south of the border between Kansas and the Indian Territory.
Her eyes now adjusted to the darkness and she saw the man better. His face was rugged, with fine chiseled features and the characteristic high cheekbones of an Indian. His mouth was wide and thin–lipped and his nose narrow and pointed. His face was finished with a firm chin and angular jaw. His skin seemed unusually fair, but his deep set eyes startled her—a clear light blue. He wore a homespun red shirt, like those worn by whites, but with Indian–style buckskin leggings and moccasins that laced up to his thighs. In spite of the cold day, he wore no coat or cloak. Heat radiated from him; she could feel it.
He did not answer her question; instead he handed her a bowl of dried berries. She shook her head. He frowned, his gaze steady into her large, round, deep blue eyes. “You must eat.”
“I can’t—my throat hurts.” She coughed then asked, “What is your name?”
“Shea Hawkshadow. What is yours?” he returned.
“Why were you out alone?”
Tears burned her eyes and her answer was a long time coming while she coughed and sipped more water to cool her throat. “My parents—they died—left me alone.” Her eyes closed tight. “It was cholera, I think. After they died, I couldn’t stay on the homestead alone, so I was going to Bockmeier’s trading post to winter there.” She wiped tears along her sleeve, in grief for her parents as well as relief for having been rescued from freezing to death. The devastating loss of her parents finally penetrated and she wept bitterly for them. It had happened only days ago, but the memory was already hazy. It had been a traumatic time for Emma, who had watched helplessly as her parents died and left her utterly alone.
His look upon her was intent. “If you were on a farm, why did you not ride a horse or mule to the trading post?”
“They ran off when I tried to saddle them. I had to walk.” When she swallowed, her throat seared with pain. “Why are you so far from your reservation?” she asked again.
“I was in Colorado. I have family there among the Arapahoes. I have been traveling for days, avoiding settlers, soldiers, and Cherokee. We are on Cherokee land.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Cheyenne are not allowed to leave the agency near Fort Reno. No Indians can leave this territory. I had to sneak away and travel at night.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“I wanted to see my cousins,” he replied with a shrug.
Without the strength to leave, Emma submitted to Shea’s care for two days, uncertain what he planned to do with her. She had gone outside his tepee, a small conical tent, now and then, trying to get her bearings. The flat country was dusted with snow and she saw nothing familiar, not even the tree where she had huddled against the storm. She slowly realized that she had indeed headed south when she meant to go north. She had lived off the land all her life and felt ashamed for making such a simple mistake; she attributed it to grief over losing her parents.
The morning of the third day she seemed stronger so Shea took down the tepee and packed it on his horse. “Can you ride?” he asked.
Emma nodded and he pulled her up behind him on his tan pony. “How far are we from Fort Reno?”
“If we avoid other tribes and the weather holds, three days.”
Emma reluctantly put her arms around Shea’s waist as the sturdy pony trotted south. The featureless plain was devoid of people and civilization. She saw no trail and wondered how Shea knew the way. She felt utterly alone and frightened, with this blue–eyed Indian as her only hope. Uncertain what awaited her, and with no one else in the world to help her, she resolved to cooperate with him and get to the safety of the fort.
Shea did not talk much, but made sure she stayed warm during the ride. Hoping to avert any harm he might do her, she cautiously got to know him a little. His answers were distracted, as his eyes were constantly scanning the tall prairie grass and horizon for signs of other Indian tribes hostile to the Cheyenne.
When she asked him why he risked the journey to Colorado, he replied, “I wanted to see my family. They are cousins to my mother and took us in when we came south from Montana years ago. And I was bored at the agency near Reno. There is little to do there.”
“Why don’t you live with your cousins in Colorado?”
Shea said, “After the Custer fight, your government punished the tribes of Little Wolf and Dull Knife for being a part of the battle. We were forced to leave our home in Montana and come here. Little Wolf is a Soldier Chief and I am one of his Dog Soldiers.” Emma looked mystified. “Dog Soldiers are warriors—a soldier’s society. I am loyal to Little Wolf, so I followed him here.”
That night, camped inside the tepee, she said, “Your English is good, very good. Where did you learn it?”
Shea sat down beside her and offered her several pieces of dried meat he had pulled from a pouch. “My father was white, an English trader. He was married to my mother, Little Hawkshadow.”
“Was? What happened to him?”
“He left to go hunting when I was seven and he never came back. We do not know what happened to him. He taught me his tongue and the ways of the whites, but I chose to stay with the Cheyenne. I was named for him—Shea Russell. To hide our disgrace after my father left, my mother made me take her name.”
His gaze unsettled her. She looked away. For a brief second, she saw the pain of the abandoned little boy in Shea’s eyes, but he quickly masked it. His pain was old, but still very near the surface. Her pain was fresh and she wondered how long it would be before she felt normal, felt something other than loss and grief. She was abandoned too and sympathized with the look she had briefly seen in his eyes.
“Your mother lives at the camp near Fort Reno?” she asked.
“She died four winters ago.”
“And your wife?” His lips thinned in exasperation. She realized too late that she had touched a nerve.
“I am a half–breed. Cheyenne maidens will not take me as their husband. My white blood taints the blood of my Cheyenne ancestors.”
Emma simply did not understand the implications of the question and was embarrassed. It struck her how being half white carried such a stigma among the Indians. It was a corner of her attitudes that she had never troubled to examine.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
On the third day of their journey, another blizzard roared across the flat prairie. Shea’s pony could not carry both of them in the deep snow, so Shea let Emma ride and led the animal through the drifts. Emma was frightened, the biting cold a bitter reminder of lingering near death under that tree mere days ago. Shea hardly seemed to notice the worsening weather, but he did remark that they had to keep moving for his supply of food, meant for one person, was very low. Emma had little food with her, except for some cornmeal, flour, lard, sugar, and coffee.
“How far from the fort do you think we are?” she asked.
“Because of the weather, two or three more days.”
They slogged through the snow, the wind unstoppable as snow drifted three feet, sometimes more, in places. They could only make about ten to fifteen miles a day, instead of the usual twenty in good weather. Emma was very hungry, but said nothing to Shea. He doggedly kept on. Emma was chilled and shivering and took great pains to hide her discomfort from Shea. He had kept his word so far and had been kind to her. She would do nothing to upset him. However, her strength was failing and she fought to stay atop the pony.
The morning of the sixth day, she perked up, smelling wood smoke on the air. She scanned the horizon and soon saw wisps of smoke miles away.
“That has to be the fort!” she cried. “We made it!”
Shea had been intent on moving through the high drifts of snow. He stopped to catch his breath and squinted into the distance. “That is Little Wolf’s camp, where I live.”
“So how far is Reno from the camp?”
“Another few days in this weather. We have to stop to rest and get food at my camp before we go to the fort.”
For hours they traveled and to Emma’s frustration, the camp seemed no closer. She looked to the east where Shea had said the fort lay, but she saw nothing but flat, endless prairie. “If we head for Reno now, maybe they will give you enough supplies to get home.”
“If the trails to Reno are anything like this, we will run out of food. We have to go to my camp first.”
Emma became afraid. She was lucky, because Shea had been kind to her, but she was aware that she would not likely encounter a warm welcome among the Indians. She had heard about how the savages made captured whites run through a painful gauntlet, in which the captive was beaten with clubs. She tried to bargain. “I have money. Can I buy a horse and supplies from your people? Then I can head to Reno myself.”
He stopped walking and faced her, exasperated. “The fort is two days away when the weather is good. You have lived on the land. Look at the sky and tell me what you see. More snow is coming, you know that. Besides, we need our horses. We do not need your money.”
Emma backed down, plainly seeing that he was worn–out, just as she was. “I’m sorry. I figured the quicker I got to Reno, the better for everyone. It’s the only way I know how to repay you for saving me.”
He looked away. “You repaid me already. I did not have to dig a grave for you in the frozen ground.”
She fell silent at his comment and concentrated on staying on the pony as the cold stiffened every joint in her body.
Near nightfall, small fires of the camp were seen in the distance, but the deep snow kept them plodding at a snail’s pace. The cold made Emma feel unusually sleepy. She lolled in the saddle of blankets.
Finally, they entered the camp. Shea led the pony to a lean–to and helped Emma dismount. Her legs were numb and she immediately sank to the ground, utterly exhausted. He carried her inside a lodge and laid her on a mat of woven bulrushes covered with blankets and hides. Shapes moved around her in the dark shadows thrown around the walls by the firelight. Voices nearby spoke a language that she did not understand, but she recognized Shea’s deep, gravely voice.
An old woman with a face like a dried apple came into view and hovered a moment. Her long gray braids brushed Emma’s cheek.
“I’m so cold,” she said between chattering teeth. She was too disoriented and weak to care if they harmed her. She just wanted to be warm again.
“Okay,” the old woman said with a strange accent. Emma realized that the old woman probably did not understand English.
The old woman grabbed a blanket, smiling as she gently tucked it around Emma.
Shea knelt beside her. “This is Red Leaf Woman’s lodge. She is a widow and both of her sons are dead. She and her niece, Little Fox, will care for you. The trails are blocked with snow, but the soldiers will come soon with our winter rations. Then you will go with them, eh? You will be here a few days.” A blast of icy wind slipped inside the warm lodge as Shea left.
Red Leaf gave her water from a wooden bowl. “Thank you very much,” Emma smiled. Her only defense was to be as polite as possible and get out of there as soon as her strength returned.
The old woman felt Emma’s forehead, then brushed her knuckles lightly against her cheek. “Okay. Sleep.”
Emma heard the old woman rustling around, going in and out of the lodge. Before she drifted off, Emma looked at her hands. The work gloves she had worn did little to protect her hands which were red and swollen from exposure. She clenched them into fists to restore some circulation. Finally, she burrowed in and slept.
She woke the next morning feeling better, but still stiff and a bit feverish. A young girl sat nearby weaving a basket from long, dry grasses. She smiled and put down her work, offering Emma a tin cup of hot liquid warming near the fire pit. She untangled herself from the blankets and accepted the drink, which she thought was some sort of coffee or tea. It tasted strong and bitter, probably distilled from bark, but Emma did not care. It was hot.
She nodded her thanks. “You must be Little Fox.” The girl smiled and returned to her weaving.
Then, hoping to find a way out of camp, but even more urgently needing to make her toilet, Emma found her shearling coat, patted the pocket and ducked out of the lodge. She trotted on wobbly legs to a clump of bushes as far from camp as she dared. The wind had at last died down and the sun was dimmed and dull, stuck behind gray clouds. She looked back once to see that Little Fox had followed her at a distance and was joined by another girl. The girls looked to be a few years younger than Emma, maybe thirteen or fourteen, with wide, pleasant faces and dark hair in pigtails tied with leather thongs. They wore calico dresses, similar to Emma’s own, but with long leggings underneath and moccasins on their feet. They wore no cloaks against the cold.
Emma quickly surveyed the landscape, noting sandy hills to the north and a rather pitiful stream to the east, trying to imprint an escape route on her memory. The ground was mostly flat, so if she made a break, it would have to be at night through the hills, she reasoned. As she hunkered down behind a screen of tall grass, she pulled a small tobacco tin, encrusted with caked dirt, from her coat pocket and assured herself that the wad of bills was still inside. She tucked the tin between her breasts for safekeeping, then headed back to the camp.
Perhaps sixty lodges occupied the shallow valley. Many were colorfully painted with stars and animals. They had a simple, regal appearance, rising tall against the snow–dusted hills. The lodges looked otherworldly in the white stillness with smoke from cooking fires curling around them. Emma felt as if she were dreaming and, for a moment, wondered if all this was a vivid dream. Maybe she was still slumped against that tree where she had nearly died in the cold. But she was here; she was quite alive—her aching muscles attested to that. But she missed her parents. She missed the sod house, shabby though it was. She missed the familiar horizon of their land and the little creek that ran through it. She missed the only world that she had ever known.
The camp was busy with activity in comparison to the quiet, isolated one–hundred and sixty–acre farm where she was born and raised. Many Cheyenne women were bent over cooking fires and children and dogs ran and played throughout the camp. Everyone was busy cooking, sewing, or weaving baskets. Several women were using fleshers and scrapers on animal hides staked to the ground. Few men were evident, out hunting, Emma supposed, and she did not see Shea’s tan pony in the lean–to. People watched her curiously, but pleasantly. She was relieved that no gauntlet awaited her.
She surveyed the flat, gray sky knowing that more snow was coming even though it was only October. Panic tightened her chest. Her father had been right. He had said that winter would come early this year. She had no time to lose. Tonight she would get away and head east to the fort. Shea had said it was across the river and Emma resolved to find a shallow crossing somehow.
The two young girls followed her back inside the lodge, grinning and giggling softly. Little Fox handed Emma a bowl of dried berries and said, indicating her companion, “This is Porcupine Girl.” The girl smiled shyly.
“My name is Emma,” she said.
“What does your name mean?” asked Porcupine Girl in a thick accent.
Emma shrugged. “I have no idea.” She jumped as Porcupine Girl reached out and tugged her long auburn hair .
"Ema’o," Porcupine Girl said with a smile to Little Fox.
“No. My name is Emma.”
Porcupine Girl touched Emma’s hair again. "Ema’o."
Emma was a little perturbed. She repeatedly tried to teach Porcupine Girl to say her name correctly, but she eventually gave up. The girls dissolved into giggles and whispers. Emma smiled weakly, not understanding what was so amusing. Her name was not that hard to pronounce.
Despite her raw throat, she gobbled the berries and was pleased when Little Fox gave her more. She would need to eat as much as possible to fuel her escape, now that she had her bearings. She dug around the lodge, hoping to find the bundle of food, clothing, and books that she had packed before leaving home. She found it under a pile of hides and blankets. Everything seemed to be there except the pistol she had tucked in there. It was gone.
Nevertheless, her plan to run was in place. She would sneak out of the lodge that night while Red Leaf and Little Fox slept. She would head upriver and look for a place to cross.
That night, a gusting, icy wind tugged at the lodge skins. Emma was nervous and wakeful. She heard the patter of rain on the skins stretched across the lodge poles. In the wee hours, she crept to the lodge opening and peered out. A cold blast brought an involuntary shiver. Rain had changed to heavy snow. For a moment she reconsidered, then pulled her shearling and bundle to her as quietly as she could. Just as she crawled out, a strong hand on her ankle grabbed her and she spun around. It was Red Leaf. The old woman pulled her back inside and guided her back to her bed place without a word. Emma laid down, clutching her coat and bundle, feeling guilty that she had been caught. Red Leaf sat by her throughout the night and did not sleep.
The next morning, Emma woke with a start feeling a presence near her. Shea sat cross–legged next to her. Red Leaf and Little Fox were gone.
“Red Leaf told me what you tried to do last night. Do not try to leave. The soldiers will be here soon. I told you that.”
Emma sat up and crawled to the opening and looked outside. Nearly three feet of snow had fallen overnight. “I had to try.”
“Why? Is this how you repay me for saving your life? Did I not take care of you—have not my people? Have we not fed and housed you?”
He was right. So far, she had been unharmed; she just did not know how long it would last. “But I don’t belong here!” Emma complained.
“Neither do we!” Shea shot back, his voice low and rough. “You will wait for the soldiers!” He rose to leave.
“Where is my pistol? Did you take it?” she questioned Shea.
“Yes. I took it. You will not need it.”
With her plan exposed, she had no choice but to stay. Everywhere she went, she was watched. If she strayed too far from camp, Little Fox and Porcupine Girl called her back. When the warriors started to dog her as well, she became afraid but resigned herself to settle in to wait, hoping that the soldiers would come soon. To her surprise, Red Leaf Woman and Little Fox were kind to her, seeing that she ate and teaching her to weave baskets and cook simple foods. Red Leaf also taught Emma the customs when entering a lodge: Always turn to the right when entering, and never pass between the fire pit and the owner of the lodge. And most especially, never go to the part of the lodge where the sleeping mats were. That area was considered private space for the family.
One morning, Emma was with Little Fox who was cutting cattails along the river’s edge. Emma had not bathed in days and decided to brave the cold water. She kept her camisole and breeches on and bathed quickly in the freezing river. Shea had been riding out to hunt and saw her through a stand of spindly trees at the river’s edge. He stopped his horse and quieted it, watching. As she emerged, her copper hair clung to her head and her thin cotton camisole stuck tight to her slim body. She looked up and saw him looking at her. She defiantly stared back at him, making no move to cover herself. He rode away.
The early storm was no freak; it snowed steadily over the next few weeks. Stuck in the camp for the winter, Emma eagerly scanned the horizon each day, watching for the soldiers with the winter rations. But each day she was disappointed. No one came to the little camp.
One afternoon Emma, Little Fox, and Porcupine Girl had returned from gathering firewood. They had walked a long way to bring back only a few armloads of branches. Little Fox and Porcupine Girl left Emma to stack the firewood outside Red Leaf’s lodge. Shea walked over to Emma.
“Are you getting used to living here or do you still want to run away?” he asked with a teasing lift of his eyebrows.
“You made your point on that,” she answered, contrite. She looked away from his piercing blue eyes. She now regretted being so bold that day he had seen her bathing at the river’s edge. Since that day, every time Shea passed her in camp, he watched her with a look of discomforting intimacy. “But I’m getting used to how things are around here.”
“Winter has not been too bad so far and you have room to roam. If you were at Fort Reno, you would be closed in by walls. I do not think you would like that,” he affirmed.
“You’re right, Shea. My biggest problem is with the language, though. Red Leaf is getting better at speaking English, but I can’t get Porcupine Girl to say my name right.”
“How does she say it?”
"Ema’o," Emma answered. “No matter what I do she keeps saying it wrong, then she and Little Fox start giggling.”
Shea laughed. “They think it is funny that your name and our name for the color red are nearly the same.”
“Emma means red?” Emma asked, puzzled.
"Ema’o means red in Cheyenne. The girls think it is funny that you have reddish hair and that your name is Emma.”
As Shea walked away he said, “They are playing a prank. You should learn more Cheyenne so you will understand. We have a sense of humor.”
Gradually, Emma became used to living with the Cheyenne, with Red Leaf and Little Fox to guide her, especially when her period started and she was hustled off to a lodge whose only purpose was to house menstruating women. Emma thought it very odd, until Red Leaf explained in her sparse English that their laws forbade men and women to be together during that time. Emma asked, why, if no men lived in their lodge? She was told that it was what they had to do in case a man ever entered the lodge. Emma spent an awkward few days there, trapped with several other women and young girls.
With little to occupy her, she started learning Cheyenne. Little Fox’s English was fairly good so she was able to teach Emma many words in her language. Red Leaf understood more English than she spoke, which made conversations between them tedious and brief, but it gave Emma something to do to pass the time.
The old woman seemed affectionate and motherly toward Emma. Her behavior went against all Emma’s parents had taught her about their uneasy neighborhood composed of white settlers and Indians. Emma accepted the old woman’s ministrations, finally sure that no one in the camp would hurt her—as long as she conformed.
As the weeks passed she grieved for her parents, but stifled anger at being abandoned to this uncertain fate. In rare moments alone, she wept bitter tears.
One afternoon in November, the sun was bright and made sitting outside pleasant. Emma alternately stirred a pot of squirrel stew and read one of the tattered books that she had bought from Bockmeier’s for ten–a–penny during the last trip there with her parents only a few weeks before. A lot of travelers dumped books by the side of the trails or gave them to Bockmeier, admitting that they were added weight as their journey west became more difficult. People stopping at the trading post had little use for them, so Bockmeier sold them cheap, especially when the shelves overflowed. Emma had largely been educated with them, purchasing as many as she could with the few cents her parents gave her.
She looked up and saw Shea approaching. She closed her book and rose to meet him.
“How are you doing?” he asked, his gaze taking her in from head to toe.
She was determined to appear fearless for as long as she was held here. But it did feel strange that she did not feel uneasy around him, even that day he watched her bathe in the river. “So you’re not mad at me anymore?”
He shrugged. “You did what you thought you had to do.”
“I’m sorry for trying to run off, but I was scared. I’ve heard stories about how whites are treated by Indians.” Hoping to appease him, she added, “Those stories aren’t true about your people. Everyone has been kind.” The awful fate she envisioned had not materialized and she was becoming more unafraid by the day. “When will the soldiers get here?”
He frowned. “The supply wagons cannot travel in deep snow. If we get anything, it will not be until spring.”
She was deflated; no help would come until then. “So your people have no food rations for the winter? What will you do?”
“We will go farther to hunt, we will eat fish from the river. If there is little food, we will eat less.” He told her that promised shipments of food and tools rarely got past corrupt Indian Agents who sold them to other people before they could reach the camps.
“I have money with me. Can we buy food at the fort?”
His voice was sullen. “No amount of money will get them to sell us food. The Indian Agents make more money selling to other whites—more money than you have. The food is probably not even waiting for us at Fort Reno and will not be brought here in spring. It is how things are for us.”
“What can you do?”
He rolled his eyes at her ignorance. “Nothing.”
Emma was embarrassed, realizing that she indeed knew nothing of the privations the Indians endured. “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand.”
“Your offer to buy supplies shows you have good manners, but you cannot help us. If the rations the government sends get here, they are spoiled with bugs or mixed with sand. Most of it is impossible to eat.” Shea looked her in the eye. “My people starve. The whites have killed nearly all the buffalo. Now we live on rabbits, squirrels, dogs, and skunks.”
“I have some dry goods with me—flour, lard, cornmeal, sugar and some coffee,” she offered. “It’s not much.” She felt ashamed for not offering it in all these weeks, reasoning that she would need it for herself when she finally was allowed to leave.
His look softened. “I will let you know if we need it.”
After a long pause, she said, “Can’t you farm this land? With the river nearby, it should be easy to get a few crops going. I can tell you how.”
Shea shook his head as she spoke. “The veho government says we will get seed, plows, food, and medicine, but it never comes and we are never in one place long enough to grow anything. We have a home for a while, then the army comes and tells us we have to move to keep peace because more whites want our land.”
She was quiet a moment before asking, “What does veho mean?”
“Spider. It is what we call the whites,” he replied as he helped himself to a piece of squirrel meat from the pot. Emma learned another Cheyenne word.
Emma knew less than nothing about the politics concerning Indians. Although she had always lived on the border of the two lands, she had had little exposure to them; her father had seen to that. His perpetual order was that she was to remain out of sight if a wayward group of Indians left their reservations to trade with them. Emma obeyed her father, nonetheless, and she and her mother, Jane, automatically retreated to the soddy when Indians were spotted in the distance.
This day, Emma was surprised that Shea seemed to want to spend time with her. Since she had tried to escape, he had been curt, brusque, even. Today, he was unusually talkative. He told her of the bitter privations of the Cheyenne, Sioux, and other tribes of the plains and how their numbers had been decimated by war and white man’s diseases. A once–strong tribe of thousands had been reduced to mere hundreds, scattered across the frontier, with two main camps of Cheyenne. This camp, the southernmost, held three separate groups headed by soldier chiefs, Little Wolf, Dull Knife, and American Horse. The larger northern agency, Red Cloud’s Pine Ridge, was in northern Nebraska with the Oglala Sioux, cousins to the Cheyenne. That agency was to be moved to South Dakota in spring.
“We are trapped here. If we try to leave, the army will bring us back here—and kill some of us to make their point.”
“I’ve lived so near all my life,” Emma began. “I never knew that it was this bad for you. I guess you think I’m really stupid.”
“No,” he interjected. “You have little understanding of the world around you. Maybe that will change now. Your own life has been hard, right?”
“I never thought so.” And she had never thought about it before, knowing little else. The only surviving child of her parent’s union (three children had died in infancy before she was born), she had worked the farm and been to Bockmeier’s a few times a year to sell the harvest. That was all that she knew.
As she watched him walk away, she noticed his lean, hard muscled body and the easy way he moved with strength and a lanky grace. She willed herself not to notice and returned to stirring the pot of squirrel stew.
She was now becoming aware of a larger world and a violent one, one consumed with self–interest and corruption. Her parents had tried to shelter her from it, hoping that she would eventually marry one of Bockmeier’s many sons (he had eight boys), or snag a soldier from Camp Supply in the Indian Territory to the south of the homestead. At once, she understood their choice of such an out–of–the–way homestead, far from the Santa Fe Trail, but wondered what was out in the world that made them so afraid of living near a town. When she was forced to abandon her home, she had found a tin of money, rusted and coated with dirt, hidden behind a loose stone in the soddy’s hearth. The tin held more than a thousand dollars and Emma wondered why her parents had not purchased better land or moved near a town.
December turned sharply colder and more snow fell, settling a fresh muffled blanket upon the camp. The stream had not frozen over and some small fish were caught, but unless large game was killed soon, already meager food reserves would run dangerously low. While Shea and the other braves hunted desperately, going farther and farther each day, Emma was grateful for Red Leaf Woman who kept her occupied. She spent the days learning Cheyenne ways and visiting with the women as they worked. Her knowledge of the language was improving. She found the soft tongue as gentle as the people. Other languages, German, Dutch, French, and others which she had heard from people at Bockmeier’s, did not compare to the soft inflections of Cheyenne. Out of sheer boredom and with more than a little guilt, Emma pitched in with youthful energy, learning how to dry meat and fish and prepare dinners for Red Leaf and Little Fox. Her first attempts were inedible, but Red Leaf was patient until she got the trick of it.
Many afternoons she worked with Red Leaf Woman on her English. The two spent much time together during the short winter days. Red Leaf Woman had a unique insight into Emma in her isolation from her own people. The little round woman made her feel safe—and she clearly knew how to survive. That Emma plainly inferred, noticing there were few people anywhere near Red Leaf’s age in the camp.
Another afternoon, Emma sat outside the lodge fixing a broken basket, a newfound skill, while enjoying a wild snowball fight among the children. Even the dogs joined in, catching the balls in their mouths. Red Leaf Woman sat nearby chewing on a hide to soften it, one eye focused on avoiding the flying snow.
Shea had just returned from the hunt; Emma had seen him in the distance riding in on his pony toward the corral. A short time later, Emma grinned, seeing Shea, pelted by snowballs, making his way toward them.
“How was the hunt?” Emma asked.
“Good today,” he said, holding up several rabbits. “These are for Red Leaf’s lodge.” Red Leaf thanked him in Cheyenne and quickly began skinning and butchering them with a knife that she kept in a sheath at her waist.
Shea looked uncomfortable. “Can I talk to you—alone?”
“Okay,” Emma said, perplexed, as he led her away.
It took him some time to screw up his courage. “Can you teach me to read and write?”
Emma stared at him. “Uh, sure. But why? Your English is really good.”
“Since I speak English better than anyone here, Little Wolf has told me to learn to read and write it.” Something in his face foretold more.
“What has changed, Shea?”
“We are being moved to Kansas next summer. There will be a treaty, as usual. Even though the veho will break it, Little Wolf wants it read to him by someone he trusts.”
Emma had seen Little Wolf as he walked through camp. He was an older man, lanky and with a face chiseled by a life in the open. He always nodded to her, but they had never spoken. He seemed hardly concerned that she was in his camp. Red Leaf had told her that Shea was Little Wolf’s most trusted warrior.
“I’ll help you, but why are you being forced to move again? Red Leaf said that your people have only been here for a couple of years.”
“It is the way things are for us.” He stopped and looked back at the camp. “There is one thing. You have to teach me in my lodge so no one can see.”
“It is embarrassing for a Cheyenne man to be taught by a woman.” Emma was not insulted. She was finally understanding. “It will be a surprise for the veho. It is a weapon they will never suspect.” It was the first time that she had seen him smile.
“All right,” Emma said. “When do we start?”
“Tonight,” he answered. “I have to learn much before you leave in spring.”
The only time that Emma could teach Shea was in the evenings when he returned from hunting. Entering his lodge was awkward. It was on the edge of camp with other families of Dog Soldiers; all warriors’ lodges ringed the camp as a first line of defense. She attracted much attention as she went to Shea’s lodge each night and ducked inside. The lessons went late into the night, so Emma and Shea often ate dinner together. Red Leaf openly disapproved of the fact that they were unchaperoned and wanted Little Fox to accompany her. Emma stubbornly refused.
“I’m his teacher, nothing more,” she defended.
Shea’s progress was remarkable. He had a natural ability to recognize words and within a month he was reading very well. Learning to write (on paper torn from Emma’s books) quickly frustrated him; however, he persisted, anxious to please her.
Little Fox had once mentioned that Shea liked coffee, so Emma gave him her pouch of grounds one evening before their lesson began.
“It is not proper to give a Cheyenne warrior a gift.”
She smiled. “I’m not Cheyenne.”
He returned her smile. “No, you are not.”
One night while they shared supper she was feeling restless and admittedly baited him a little. “Shea? Why don’t you call me by my name?”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t call me anything except for you.”
“I never thought about it.”
“I have a name. It’s Emma. Why don’t you call me Emma? Then I’d be sure that you were talking to me.”
The way he looked at her made her heart jump. His blue eyes ran over her fluidly, appraisingly. When he spoke her name it came out soft, tender. “Emma.”
She blushed deeply.
Red Leaf Woman was resolute that Emma should not be alone with Shea and went to Little Wolf to argue her case. Little Wolf, overwhelmed by the task of relocation in summer, paid little attention, telling her that Shea was aware of the level of conduct expected of a Dog Soldier.
In many ways, Red Leaf had become a surrogate mother to Emma and she admonished Emma to keep her conduct above reproach when alone with Shea.
This made Emma smile. “You worry too much, Red Leaf.” For the first time in her life, Emma was pleased with herself, feeling a sense of pride. Her grief was masked by this temporary contentment and distraction. It kept her demons, which hovered just outside her consciousness, at bay.
One afternoon, Emma crouched at the river’s edge, distractedly washing out some clothes. She wore a buffalo robe that Shea had given to her; she liked it despite the weight and smell because it was warm. Because she had kept careful track of the days, she realized that it was Christmas Day. Her memory drifted back to the many happy Christmases spent with her parents, but what really bothered her was that she had become absorbed in her life with the Cheyenne and was starting to forget her past. And she felt terrible guilt for not mourning for her parents better—longer. Worse yet, dates were fast becoming meaningless. Nearly three months had passed and she had become completely enveloped in life on the quiet reservation. She quickly wiped away tears when she heard a horse approaching. It was Shea, returning from the hunt, leading his pony. He had a dozen rabbits dangling from a rope over the horse’s withers, the snares still around their feet.
He could see that she was upset but said nothing as he tied the pony to a sapling. He beckoned her to sit beside him on a fallen tree trunk at the river’s edge.
“It’s Christmas,” she said.
“Ah! My father told me about it. It is part of your religion.”
“I never cared much for religion. I mean, I’ve never been to church, but Christmas was always a special time in my home.” To her surprise, Shea’s arm curled around her and more surprisingly, she rested her head on his shoulder. All these months, she had been untouchable and she had longed for simple affection. His warmth and attention served as some solace, but she felt this was wrong. She was enjoying it too much.
“We should get back.” She pulled away, gathering up her wet, stiff clothes over her arm, and fell in beside Shea. Both of their hands reached to untie the pony from the branch and as their hands touched, Emma felt a shock run through her body. Shea kept his hand upon hers. Across the waist–high barrier of the branch, he kissed her softly. She did not pull away. Neither of them spoke as they returned to camp.
The next night, Red Leaf accompanied Emma on her walk to Shea’s lodge. She spoke in her language as they made their way through camp, but Emma did not understand a word. Red Leaf was obviously very agitated about something as she gestured to Shea’s lodge, shaking Emma’s arm as they walked.
Shea had not yet returned, but Red Leaf went inside his lodge and glanced around, talking to herself.
Emma followed her inside. “What is wrong?”
“You and Hawkshadow. I see you by river,” she scolded.
So, Red Leaf had seen the kiss—she missed nothing. Emma had no defense and did not want to offer one. Her feelings for Shea had undergone a profound change. She had been afraid of him at first, but as they spent time together, he revealed a thoughtful intelligence that attracted her. She respected Red Leaf, but her feelings for Shea were strong.
Just then, Shea returned home. Emma remained inside while Red Leaf went outside with him. She peered out and saw him standing mute under a verbal barrage from Red Leaf Woman who shook her finger at him. Shea heard her out and mumbled something as he ducked inside the lodge, pulling the flap down behind him.
He shot an amused, sidelong glance at Emma as he knelt and pulled several pieces of dried meat from a skin pouch and placed them in wooden bowls. “She is our oldest watchdog.” He handed supper to her without ceremony. The meat, buffalo or deer, Emma hoped, not dog—was dark in color. She sniffed it, then ate it anyway.
“She saw us by the river yesterday. That’s why she’s mad.”
He looked directly at her. “I do not care, do you?”
“No, I don’t,” Emma admitted, but she wanted to drop the subject of their budding relationship. Thinking too much about the situation would upset the delicate emotional balance that she had been maintaining.
At length Shea spoke again. “She is angry because it is improper for you to be here alone with me.”
Emma’s eyes widened and she paused in mid–chew. “I don’t understand. We’re not doing anything wrong.”
“She wants someone here while you teach me.” He seemed more hungry than concerned about Red Leaf’s objections as he bit into the dry, tough meat.
“Do you want that?”
“I do not want anyone here but you.”
When their lesson concluded near midnight, Shea pulled her to him and they kissed and held each other for a very long time.
The next afternoon, Emma and Red Leaf Woman walked along a path cut in the deep snow to the river, carrying water skins. She knew that she was in for it just from Red Leaf’s carriage. Her eyes never left Emma and she was clearly angry. The old woman knew exactly what was going on.
“What he do with you is bad. No girl be with man until wedding. Cheyenne do not do this!” Her tone was emphatic.
“We haven’t done anything wrong!” Emma countered. “I’m doing what Little Wolf wanted. I teach Shea to read and write. So we kissed. So what?”
“You doing more than teaching. I know. You must stay away from Hawkshadow.”
“No!” Emma cried. “We like each other. What’s wrong with that?”
Red Leaf grabbed Emma by the shoulder and spun her around. “He Cheyenne, you white!”
Emma fell silent. She was caught up in her first infatuation and unwilling to see their differences. “He’s so lonely and he has no wife.”
Red Leaf grabbed Emma’s water skins, pushed past her to the river and proceeded to fill them, slapping them on the riverbank. Emma followed.
“I want this—Shea wants this, too, I know he does.”
“You both too young. He is not twenty summers old—and you too young to know better. You stop this!”
Emma took her water skin from Red Leaf. “I don’t want to.”
Red Leaf gripped her arm hard. “You must be sure. You will have a hard life if you stay with him.”
“I can’t change how I feel. We are both alone and we make each other happy.”
Red Leaf’s words held a stern warning. “Do not become a wife to him before you marry!”
January of 1878 came and although neither Emma or Shea spoke of their relationship, it was now behind all they said and did. She looked at him differently and saw herself differently, too. Her feelings and attitudes were changing, growing, maturing; of that she was sure. Many days, she felt that she could stay in this peaceful valley with the Cheyenne forever, as long as it was with Shea. She had forgotten all about going to Fort Reno in spring.
Emma felt special and safe with Shea, and, in her heart, admitted the thrilling shock whenever he turned his blue eyes to her. She had wicked thoughts about what it would be like to be with a man.
Red Leaf had reluctantly backed off for a while, confused because Emma was not a Cheyenne and not subject to their laws. Nevertheless, the old woman watched the two intently.
Emma continued to teach Shea most nights, but when the lesson was over, they lingered together long into the night. They had not progressed past kissing and for the time being this was fine for Emma. Shea’s growing affection for her supplanted her sorrow, but some of Red Leaf’s words had wormed through. Emma wondered what in blazes she was doing. Was she encouraging something that could never be? What was Shea thinking of her? But she came to believe that somehow her future and his were becoming inexorably linked.
As January froze into February, Shea allowed Emma to teach him outside his lodge on warmer days, for all to see. Finally, some braves approached Little Wolf asking for Emma’s tutelage, so she formed an evening class for the men for an hour each day. She found many contrary and resistant, and they had a terrible time accepting instruction from a female. She persisted, knowing that they had to use any means to get what they could from the government. Some men stayed; many left, unwilling and with little patience to learn. Emma was unable to persuade them to stay and was soon left with a half–dozen male students, mostly young men, in her humble classroom built of sticks and hides.
One morning, she was summoned to Little Wolf’s lodge. He told her to soften her demeanor while teaching the men, but Emma countered, speaking in Cheyenne, “There is no time for that. I am all they have, so they will just have to get used to me.” Little Wolf’s eyebrows rose at her reply, but inwardly he had to agree. When she asked if she could hold classes for the women and girls, Little Wolf’s response was an emphatic no. She had won a small victory with the men’s classes, but she did not pursue the issue. She now knew that teaching the women and girls was impossible—for now.
“I do not like sharing you with the others. It takes you away from me and I have no one to talk with when I return home,” Shea said to her one evening when she arrived late.
Emma returned his smile as he fed the fire. Over dinner of roasted rabbit, they exchanged searching glances and looks, each trying to appear not to do so. They accomplished little that night. The talk turned to the progress that she was making in her school with the men. He encouraged her to keep at it and not be intimidated.
That night, whatever the topic, the undercurrent was intimate as they talked. Both were nervous and Emma giggled, she thought, a little too much. Emma caught a look in his eyes—a look of desire—and resisted the temptations pounding within her. She allowed him to kiss her, but nothing more.
The thaw began in early March and with the ground exposed again, Emma was encouraged by Red Leaf Woman to go out with the women and girls to dig roots—anything to keep her and Shea apart. Emma had little idea of what roots she was to dig up, but she was given a root digger, a long curved stick, and spent many days with the girls. They had to travel far and Emma’s success was disappointing. The girls tried to teach her how to spot the wild turnips they sought but Emma usually found little or nothing, to her continued embarrassment.
One afternoon, as Emma returned to camp with the root–digging party, they were suddenly set upon by several mounted young braves riding fast toward them. Frightened, Emma broke and ran but quickly realized that this was some sort of game when she heard the laughter and squealing of the girls. She recognized Shea on his tan pony riding with the braves. The women and girls quickly formed ranks after positioning hastily gathered rocks a few feet in front of them. Little Fox explained that only men who counted coup (hitting an enemy with a quirt or stick—a sign of bravery for a warrior) could cross the line of stones.
“What happens then?” Emma asked.
“The man can take all the roots he wants.”
Emma sat down with the others and watched the men swirl around them, laughing, calling, and teasing. Several girls had already had all their roots stolen. Then, suddenly, Shea crossed the line of rocks and dismounted in front of Emma.
“I will take your roots.”
“Your roots. Give them to me.”
“Uh, I didn’t find any.”
Everyone laughed. Shamefaced, Shea remounted and rode away with the other men, their mock raid ended.
The women giggled and talked as they gathered up what roots were left and resumed their walk to camp.
Porcupine Girl came beside Emma. “Hawkshadow like you.” She looked wistful. “When man go to only one girl to steal her roots, he like her.”
“But I had no roots.”
“You will have to learn to find them, Ema’o!" She giggled and scampered away.
Disquieted by Porcupine Girl’s statement, and guessing that probably everyone in camp knew about her and Shea, Emma battled strong feelings whenever she was near him. She was very attracted to him. And Shea made his feelings very public during the mock raid. She was at once confused and exhilarated by his attention.
A few evenings later while in Shea’s lodge, she rose to leave. “Well, I think we’re done. I can’t teach you anything else. You’ve done really well, Shea. I’m proud of you. But you read as well as I do, even though I was educated by my mother. You don’t need me to teach you any more.”
“You are right. I do not need you to teach me reading anymore.”
“Okay, well, good-night, then.” She reached for her shearling, but Shea’s hand on her arm stopped her.
“I still need you, Emma.”
She knew what he meant and she did not pull away. He pulled her down to him and his mouth was on hers in a lingering kiss, followed by another and another. His hands moved over her body; she touched his muscular chest under his shirt. They parted from the embrace, their eyes locked. They both knew where this was headed and impulsively came together again. She felt swept away as Shea embraced her in his strong arms and unbuttoned her dress, his hands reaching in to caress her breasts. She pulled off his shirt. Soon, they were naked beneath the warm robes and blankets. Shea lay on top of her. She felt his hardness against her belly, but he made no move to do more than kiss and touch her. She felt nervous, aroused.
“Are you a virgin?” he asked, his sharp features softened in the firelight.
“Of course,” she said, her whole body tight with nerves.
Trying to be gentle, he began to probe, but she recoiled several times in pain. But each time she rolled away, she pulled him back on top of her to try again. Finally, with a grunt, he was inside her and moved slowly, trying not to hurt her. She was tense and he kissed her tenderly. “Relax—relax. It will not hurt as much if you relax.”
Her eyes were wide as the mystery surrounding sex unfolded. But as he moved within her, fear fell away and pain had abated somewhat. His race mattered not to her now; he was a man and she a woman and this ultimate expression of love was what she had been craving. She lay very still for a time, but soon began to move under him. A sensation of pleasure thrummed in her loins and she moaned with passion.
Soon, he began to move more urgently and straightened his arms, his chest making a sucking noise as it pulled away from her breasts. He sweated freely as his hips moved, thrusting himself deep inside her, and moments later, he grunted and flopped back on to her, panting. She did not know how to react or what to do. Correctly, she figured that he was finished, and she was sore where he had entered her. A few minutes later, he withdrew and rolled over beside her, stroking her breasts and belly.
“It hurts the first time. Next time it will be easier for you.”
Emma lay enfolded in his arms, wondering at the desires awakened in her heart and body.
Reading and writing were no longer the subjects of their nights together. He became her tutor. Over the new few weeks, he made love to her again and again. It gradually became less painful and she enjoyed the sensations he had awakened in her. They lay entwined under the warm robes, mindful to be quiet and not betray the affair.
She enjoyed watching him as he took her each time and found places to touch him which gave him pleasure. He was particularly fascinated by her breasts, taking them into his mouth and tonguing her nipples until they were erect. She loved to see his nude body as he came to her each night. Some nights he finished quickly, some nights, he lingered in her, moving a little to keep himself erect. He covered her with kisses and caresses.
One night, he rolled her on top of him and her instincts took over as she moved sensuously on him and came to orgasm. She lay on him afterward, her long hair trailing across his shoulder.
“I love you, Emma,” he said, kissing her deeply.
“I love you, too,” she said. However, that night as she reached another orgasm, her incautious cry alerted the sharp ears of Red Leaf Woman who, unbeknownst to them, hovered nearby Shea’s lodge.
No one was more surprised than Emma that she had fallen in love with a half–breed Cheyenne warrior. Just a few months ago, the thought would have been inconceivable, but here it was reality and a sweet surprise, and a welcome one. For since the day of her parents’ deaths, her loneliness had increased to the point that she could hardly bear up. She was grateful to the Cheyenne for saving her life, but she had no trusted companionship except that of Shea and Red Leaf Woman. She felt that Shea understood her better than she understood herself. He knew what she needed and she accepted his passion and tenderness.
Shea had formed a strong attachment and need for Emma. On that day near the stream he had taken a chance by kissing her and she had not recoiled in horror (something that had happened to him many times when he had tried to steal a kiss from Cheyenne maidens). Since he was a half–breed, he was considered somewhat undesirable, despite his handsome face and his status as a proven warrior of many coups. He accepted the fact that he would never marry; it was simply that Cheyenne women preferred bearing full–blood Cheyenne children nowadays. He had been an outcast, but that had dulled. Now, he was a young man in love.
Emma gave no thought to the fact that she might get pregnant. All she knew was that Shea loved her and that was enough.
“Who taught you?” she asked one night, enfolded in his arms.
“To make love?”
He smiled. “An Arapaho girl I knew in Colorado. Little Neck.”
“She wasn’t your cousin, was she?” Emma giggled.
“Of course not.”
“Is that why you went to Colorado months ago?”
He grinned. “Partly.”
“That’s a long way to go to be with a woman!”
“Cheyenne maidens guard their virginity. Not some Arapaho women.”
“You’re glad I’m not Cheyenne?” she quipped.
“I am,” he said, cradling her.
One thought struck Shea again and again as he and Emma coupled and their love for each other deepened. He wondered if she would leave him in the spring; he also worried about what they would do if she became pregnant. These thoughts weighed heavily on him and he spoke to her as she lay naked next to him under the robes.
“You need to decide which world you will live in. If you stay with me, life will not be easy. If you want to leave in spring, I will not stop you.”
Emma rolled over and laid her head on his chest. “I don’t want to leave you, Shea. I love you. I need you.” She sat up, her full breasts brushing his chest. “Do you want me to go?”
He shook his head. “No—but you can go, if that is what you want. You might change your mind.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
He traced the outline of her delicate face with his fingers. “Do you really love me, nameh’o?"
“My beloved one,” he answered.
Emma smiled. “I do love you, Shea.” She placed her mouth on his.
Neither Red Leaf Woman nor the majority of the Cheyenne missed the change in the relationship between Emma and Shea. They had been sleeping together for weeks, and, despite the wagging tongues of the women, Shea had not asked Emma to marry him. Even though they took pains to disguise their passion, everyone guessed their relationship had become sexual; the frank meeting of their gazes and the little smiles tossed back and forth between them were a dead giveaway. But neither of them wanted to face the next step in their relationship. Shea was Indian, Emma was white.
After grudgingly allowing the relationship to go on for a few weeks, Red Leaf Woman confronted Shea as he tended his horse in the paddock on a sunny March day.
“Hawkshadow! Send her to Fort Reno or marry her!”
Shea smiled crookedly as he watched Emma playing with the children in a patch of snow a short distance away. “She does not want to go back to the veho. She wants to stay with me,” he answered.
“Then you have wedding before the week is out. Her child will need a name.” With that, Red Leaf Woman turned on her heel and stomped back to her lodge.
Later that night under the skins, at rest after love, Shea made his decision. “Emma, will you marry me?”
She lay on her side, her slim body against his. She was momentarily startled, but considered it for a few moments. Unable to foresee the consequences, she impulsively answered. “Yes, I will!”
“Good,” he said, nipping at her hair. “We will marry tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” She sat up, surprised.
“When a Cheyenne man asks a girl to marry him, the wedding happens in a day or two. It is how we do things.” Shea took one of her exposed breasts in his mouth and Emma slid beneath the skins giggling.
They were safe in their own world, inside the quiet, isolated valley. The outside world had not intruded for months and although Shea knew full well what an outsider’s opinion of a mixed marriage would be, he was blinded by his beautiful Emma and felt nothing but her soft, slender body as she gave herself to him. In those moments, truly, nothing else mattered.
Shea had a difficult time convincing Little Wolf that his marriage to Emma was legitimate. The ceremony was hours away and the two men argued in Wolf’s lodge.
“The veho soldiers will come soon. They will not understand. You put everyone in danger,” Little Wolf warned.
“I can protect us.”
“What about the people in this camp? Can you protect all of them from the rage of the whites when they find out? They will think she is a captive and try to take her away by force. People could die.”
“But I love her. No other maidens want me. Do I have the right to take a wife and raise a family like everyone else? It is not my fault I am half white.”
“A family—yes—what about that? Your children will be mostly white. Where will you live then?”
“Are you telling me I cannot live here with my wife?”
“No,” Little Wolf interjected. “Only that you are trying to live in two worlds. You cannot. You must choose one or the other.”
“Emma has chosen. She wants to live with us.”
Eventually, Little Wolf gave his permission for Shea to marry Emma. “When the soldiers come, if she wants to go, you will let her—without a fight. She must realize the truth and make her choice. And if she stays and there is trouble, you both must go. I will not sacrifice lives over this.”
Shea agreed and returned to his lodge to dress for his wedding. Since Emma owned nothing, the traditional Cheyenne wedding dowry of horses, food, and buffalo robes was overlooked. Neither of them had immediate family to provide such things. For the ceremony, Red Leaf Woman lent Emma her own wedding dress of white doeskin, elaborately beaded and butter–soft to the touch. When Emma put it on, she realized how tiny the now rotund Red Leaf had once been. Although it was a bit short on Emma’s tall frame, it fit. She placed an affectionate kiss on the old woman’s cheek in thanks.
Red Leaf smiled. “Nahtona,” she said.
“What does that mean, Red Leaf?” Emma asked.
“How do you say in English? If I was your mother.”
Tears filled Emma’s eyes. “You mean daughter?”
“Yes. Daughter. You daughter to me.”
The ceremony, conducted by the shaman Bridge, was simple and asked both Emma and Shea if they agreed to live as man and wife. Red Leaf Woman had coached her on her manner and the proper responses in Cheyenne. Minutes later, Emma Louise Jorden became Emma Hawkshadow, wife of Shea Hawkshadow, Cheyenne Dog Soldier.
After a feast of venison and roasted rabbit, accompanied by singing and dancing, the women scooped Emma up in a blanket and carried her to Shea, who waited outside his lodge.
They loved throughout the night. Shea was an intense lover and made her forget her recent trials. When he held her, he clutched her as if she would disappear if he did not hold tight. Emma reveled in the passionate feelings that he had awakened in her. Except for the times she had to retreat to the menstrual lodge, she made love with her husband almost every day.
One morning, after Shea made fast, frantic love to her, Emma lay nude under the blankets and skins and smiled, watching him dress. He returned her smile, then she saw his smile fade.
He could not bear hurting her, but Little Wolf had been right. It was time for truth between them. “The trails are clearing. The soldiers will come soon.”
“I am not leaving, Shea,” she said, all stubbornness, having read his expression aright. “My life is with you.” She hesitated, then said, her eyes looking anywhere but at him, “I’m old enough to decide what I want, but can they take me away against my will?”
“No,” he lied. He knelt, placing a kiss on her forehead. “I will never tell you to leave, Emma.”
“What if the soldiers try to take me?”
“Whites have lived among us before. The soldiers would not take you against your will,” he lied again, then rose and headed for the lodge opening.
“I love you,” she said, emerging from the skins, walking toward him, her nude body shadowy in the firelight. Her mouth was on his and his hands moved greedily along the curves of her body. She knew that she had him; he was a willing slave to her. She felt a curious power over him and used her sensuality to keep it.
“I will return tomorrow,” he said, playfully slapping her hip and brushing her breasts with his lips.
As he rode away that day, Shea felt guilty for losing his nerve. What he told her was not altogether true. The soldiers could indeed take her away if they really wanted to, regardless of the fact that they were married. He would be powerless to stop them. He sent silent thanks to the Wise One Above that she was not pregnant yet. He feared losing her for he loved her dearly and hungered for her in the night. She quenched his loneliness.
When Shea came home the next evening, he swept her up in his arms and pulled off her clothes, barely getting his own off as well, as Emma pulled him down to her. They forgot to eat supper that night.
In April, a troop from Fort Reno rode into the Cheyenne camp with several wagons loaded with much–needed supplies. The Cheyenne swarmed around the wagons, curious to see what the government had sent them—and they were surprised and grateful that they had received anything at all. Their natural politeness kept them from touching the myriad of goods until the soldiers began unloading the wagons.
Red Leaf pointed out an officer who led the troop, Major Lawrence, who, she said, had always been kind to the Cheyenne. Emma watched him. He rode tall, looking very dashing in his blue uniform. His brown hair was rather long and stuck out from underneath his hat. He also sported a couple of days’ growth of beard.
He looked bewildered when he spotted Emma and instantly rode for her, saluting as he dismounted. “I’m Major Adam Lawrence. What are you doing here?”
“Hello, Major, I’m Emma Jorden,” she said, mindful to use her maiden name.
Sweaty from his long ride, he took off his hat and ran a hand through his dark hair. She got a good look at him. He was well–built and handsome, with light brown eyes flecked with gold.
“What are you doing here?” he repeated, pausing to look her over carefully. He was not leering, but rather checking her outward appearance to ensure that she was uninjured. “How did you come to be here?” he said again in a brisk tone. He was used to dealing with soldiers and Indians, not young girls.
Emma informed him of the circumstances that brought her to the Cheyenne camp—her parents’ demise, then the snowstorm that had interrupted her journey to Bockmeier’s.
“Where is the property? We patrol as much as we can, but I can’t think of where it is. I know most families living near the Kansas border of the Indian Territory.”
“We lived on a homestead near a creek that fed the Cimarron.”
Her beauty unsettled him; his thoughts were momentarily unfocused as she spoke. “Were there any other people—other children—with you at the homestead?”
“No. I was an only child,” she answered.
She made him nervous, looking so lovely in the bright sun; when he became nervous, he tended to babble. “Oh, I see. Well, I’m real sorry about what happened. When I was sixteen, my parents died days apart from small pox. There are few doctors in these parts, really. I understand how you must have felt.”
She took a deep breath knowing that she must be careful. He is a stranger to me, she thought. “There was nothing I could do to save them. I never felt so helpless in my life.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, miss. Cholera takes people very quickly.”
“We came back from selling the fall harvest at Bockmeier’s in October. That night, both my parents complained that their stomachs hurt. They went to the outhouse a lot and got weaker by the minute. By the evening of the next day, both of them had died. I can’t think of anything they ate or drank that was different from what I had. Maybe they drank water at the trading post that was tainted. But I can’t remember anything unusual that day.”
“But why would you go back to Bockmeier’s if you believed that the cholera came from there?”
She looked down at the ground. “What other choice did I have? There isn’t much out here. Believe me, I had no intention of coming here. I got very lost. Shea Hawkshadow saved my life and was going to take me to your fort, but the weather closed in and I had to stay here for the winter.”
When she looked up, he saw that her face had drained of color. He pitied her, aware that she had spent the entire winter with people so unfamiliar to her, hard on the heels of losing her parents.
“I was at Bockmeier’s a few weeks ago. There was no mention of an illness last fall. Look, why don’t we walk a little, miss? It’ll take time to unload the supplies.”
As the major ushered her away Shea, alerted by Red Leaf, emerged from the lodge. He came to Emma’s side moments later. Major Lawrence immediately saw the protective posture in Shea’s manner. Shea fell in beside her, and the hairs on the back of Adam’s neck prickled with apprehension. He tried to forget the beautiful girl at his side and allowed the soldier in him to take control of his roiling emotions.
He looked to Shea in an effort to dismiss him. “With all she’s been through, I’m grateful to all the Cheyenne for taking care of her.” Shea nodded once but did not leave. “Well, then, it’s a good thing that I came today. Miss Jorden. I’ll take you to Fort Reno. I’ll have one of my men help you pack.”
Emma’s thoughts were a jumble. “Major, I understand your concern, but I want to stay here. It’s probably hard to understand but as you can see, I’m well and safe.”
“What? Well, you can’t!”
The thought of being taken away from Shea deeply frightened her. He was her security, her strong warrior husband—her only grounding. “The Cheyenne rescued me, cared for me. I do not want to leave.”
“Shea, help persuade her to come with me. She’ll be safe, I promise you,” Adam said.
“What harm does it do, Adam? Why can’t she stay?” Shea asked.
“Shea, you do know that your tribe is being moved to Kansas very soon.”
“I will go wherever they do,” Emma cut in.
“You don’t understand. When the tribe moves, settlers and soldiers will see you traveling with them. People will think that you’re being held against your will.”
She did not want to bring trouble to the gentle Cheyenne, but her dependence on Shea was very strong. “I will disguise myself then, so no one notices me. It won’t matter once the tribe is resettled,” she said.
Major Lawrence tried, unsuccessfully, to rein in his growing exasperation. This girl was stubborn and immature. “Miss, there are no fences or walls around Indian lands. Word will spread that you are among them, no matter where you live. The army can’t police every inch of border. It’s not safe for you. If you care for the Cheyenne, you must leave.”
Emma stopped walking. “I cannot. I’m sorry.”
“I can take you by force if necessary, but I don’t want that.”
“I’m not making any trouble,” her voice rose. “Why can’t you leave me alone? I just want to live in peace with—” Emma bit back her words.
“With who?” Adam’s eyes widened, flicking to Shea then to Emma. He hoped that he was wrong.
“I want an answer. Who keeps you here?” Adam demanded.
Emma stood mute, looking pleadingly to Shea.
“I am her husband,” Shea revealed. “We married this winter.”
Adam staggered back a full pace. “You’re joking!”
There was a long, tense silence. Emma cursed her slip, but perhaps it was better that the truth was out. But Shea was edgy, ready for trouble. Major Lawrence gaped at them, searching for words.
Emma broke the silence. “Major, we just want to be left alone.” Sensing that Adam believed she was coerced into the marriage, and with a look to Shea to stay behind, Emma led Adam away. Shea watched them, his arms folded tightly across his chest, his expression grim. “Believe me, I didn’t enter into this marriage lightly, Major Lawrence. I’m not a child.”
He stopped and faced her, his voice low, but tense. “You can’t be more than, what, eighteen? Were you forced into this? ‘Cause if you were, I can get you out of here right now. Just say yes and we’re gone.”
“I wasn’t forced into anything. This is what I want.”
“It’s not that simple. There is no place you two can live in peace. People will hurt you. You both could pay with your lives.” Adam took her by the arm and pulled her farther from camp. “I understand you feel obliged to repay the Cheyenne for saving you, but people will not understand why a young girl wants to live with Indians.” He paused to think for a moment. “Your marriage doesn’t officially exist off the reservation. You could leave with us then stay at Fort Reno. I could get you some money and you could go anywhere you want.”
“I’m not leaving. And when the Cheyenne move, I’ll go with them.”
“You are taking a big chance, more than you realize. Look,” he continued, glancing at Shea in the distance, “I don’t want trouble either. You’re a naïve, foolish girl and I don’t say it to be mean. Regardless of the feelings that you have for Shea, this can never work.” He walked off several paces, slapping his gloves in his palm, and stood in silence for a long time. The situation was too volatile at the moment with Shea and Emma’s marriage so new. He did not technically have the authority to take her and decided to get advice from a superior officer. He had to acquiesce for now. “Since the weather’s broken, soldiers will be here often. They will be under orders to safely convey you to Fort Reno any time you want. All right?”
Emma walked him to his horse.
“It’s dangerous for you, but more so for the Cheyenne. Be prepared to live with the consequences.” Adam mounted his horse and rode away to meet up with his troop. He glanced back at Emma, reminding himself of what this young girl had recently endured, but he battled to squelch his consternation.
Shea came to her and she tried to head off his anger. “I’m sorry, Shea, I know I slipped. But I thought if I talked to him alone it would help. He thought that I was forced into the marriage.”
His look was troubled. “He will be back and he will ask you again.”
“I won’t leave you.”
“Are you sure you want to stay?”
Emma placed a soft kiss on his mouth. “They will have to kill me before I let myself be taken from you. But if you say go, I will.” She had him hemmed in, but there was suddenly a look in his eye that told Emma that he was thinking about something else entirely.
Shea brooded for days. He knew that Emma was young, innocent and caught up in living with a people much different than anything she had ever known. And she masked her grief in her newfound life, but Shea knew full well the hardships a young girl alone in the west would endure. He figured that his love and protection was the best security that he could offer. Deeper down, he had to confront the terrible loneliness he would suffer if she were taken away. She had become his best friend and he, her ardent lover.
In May, Shea and Emma walked along a ridge above the camp. They stopped near a grove of spindly trees and rested, watching the shadows of fast moving clouds on the valley floor below.
“Emma, we go to Kansas soon. The journey will be hard.” He studied her as he spoke. “It will be hardest on you. Stay at Fort Reno until we are settled, then come later.”
“No!” she cried, full of misguided boldness. “I’m not afraid. I’ll go with you, no matter what.” But her face fell with foreboding. “Why are you bringing this up now? Are you telling me to go?”
Shea looked at her somberly. “Not yet, but one day you may have to. I have to keep you safe, remember that. It is what husbands do.”
She still had no idea what she was facing living with the Cheyenne; she was love–struck and refusing to see the realities closing in around her. Major Lawrence would come again and Shea feared that she would change her mind and leave him. Unable to let her go in his heart, he pulled her close and kissed her. Soon she lay under him and they made love under the canopy of trees. He was hopelessly addicted to her.