Author's Note: This was a story suggestion from Nesciri. Chapter One
*I can't believe we made it so quickly,* Ike said as he and Buck dismounted.
Buck nodded. "Felt good to just let the horses run. Why don't I take them to the stables while you deliver the message?" He glanced at the few soldiers outside the office and his good feeling evaporated as he took in the stares of the men standing around the yard. The crowd had already nearly doubled, and was continuing to grow. The men were doing nothing to hide their hostility. Buck took a deep breath before speaking, "Or maybe I should just wait here, and we can leave right away."
Ike shook his head and handed Buck the reins to his mount. *I'll meet you at the stables as soon as I can. Then we can clean up and eat before turning in.*
"I think maybe we should just leave," Buck said. "I have a bad feeling."
*Everything is fine,* Ike reassured him. *I'll be over soon.*
Buck stopped Ike by placing a hand on his arm. "Remember how I told you I felt something was wrong?"
Ike nodded. *We discussed it and decided you were mistaken; just worried because we haven't been here in a while. Why?*
"Feeling is getting stronger," replied Buck with a nervous glance at the growing group of enlisted men. "I really think we should leave as soon as you finish inside." He wanted to suggest going along, but Major Bently was one of the few people Ike could talk to without assistance. In fact, Major Bently was one of the few army officers Buck didn't mistrust. Although he couldn't say he completely trusted him; the major had so far never shown any prejudice against his heritage. The Major had even, after being heavily encouraged by his son, also an officer at the fort, employed a scout, Standing Bear, from one of the nearby tribes. Jason, the major's son, was the only officer Buck would admit to trusting at all. He was a few years older than the riders, but an honest an open man, whom, in Buck's mind, did not fit in with the other members of the army at all.
*I think you're just tired; I'll meet you at the stables and we'll clean up, eat, and get some sleep. Everything will be fine; you'll see.*
Buck wanted to argue, but didn't have anything other than an uneasy feeling to use. Ike watched Buck a few seconds before adding, *Why don't you find Jason? He'll help you until I get there; nothing will happen while he's around.*
Buck sighed, knowing that with the mention of Jason he was defeated. He had on numerous occasions told Ike how surprised he was to find an honest soldier like Jason. Ike had realized it too and with an encouraging smile watched Buck as he headed to the stables before making his way to the major's office.
Once inside, Ike was immediately shown into the major's office. However, meeting the major, he too got a feeling of uneasiness. The Major, normally a very friendly man, was short in his greeting, bordering on rude. 'I'm letting Buck's nerves getting to me,' Ike thought. 'The major is probably just too occupied.' While he was there waiting for Major Bently's written reply, one of the enlisted men came rushing in.
"We caught us an Injun spy," he said. "What do you want us to do with him?"
The major looked up from the report he was reading. "Detain him in the stockade until I can get there."
The man nodded, saluted, and then left.
Ike had an uneasy feeling, but knew he needed to wait. The major quickly finished reading, scribbled his reply, and handed everything back to Ike. "Want to come see our prisoner?"
Ike nodded, the dread beginning to grow.
As soon as they exited the building, Ike knew his suspicions were right. He heard Buck saying, "I'm not a spy for the Pawnee; I ride for the Pony Express."
Ike couldn't make out the other man's reply. He hurried to get in front of Major Bently. He tried to explain, but the man refused to stop and watch him, continuing with the odd behavior Ike had encountered earlier.
Ike threw up his hands in frustration. As soon as they reached the prison, Ike got the major's attention. *He came with me,* Ike said.
"You helping the savages too?" the major asked as some of the other men began to surround Ike. Ike stared in surprise at the major. He had never known the man to be this openly hostile towards Indians.
Ike shook his head. *No,* he signed. *I mean he's one of the express riders. You know him; that's Buck!*
"Injuns are Injuns," said the enlisted man from earlier. "I caught this one trying to steal a couple of horses."
"I wasn't stealing anything," Buck said from his cell. "I was unsaddling Ike's and my horses so I could curry them before stabling them for the night."
Major Bently approached the bars. "So, you speak English," he said as if he didn't recognize the boy before him. Behind him Ike frowned. The major must know this was Buck he was talking to!
Deciding it was best to play along, Buck nodded. "I have for almost 6 years now; I learned it from the sisters at Our Lady of Mercy."
Ike joined them. *He came with me,* he repeated. *You know him; he rides for the Pony Express out of Sweetwater.*
The major turned to Ike. "I understood you the first time," he said.
*So let him go,* Ike replied.
"I don't think I will," replied the major. "It's possible he was sent here by the Indians near Sweetwater with a message for the savages that recently attacked a scouting party of mine."
Slowly the two Express riders realized what could be behind the major's changed behavior. They exchange a look between them, fearing the worst.
"Jason?" asked Buck.
The major glared at him. "How did you know that?"
Buck spoke calmly. "I didn't; I was just guessing."
Ike got the major's attention. *Is he dead?*
The major stared at Buck once more. "Ask him; he seems to know." He turned to leave. Ike threw up his hands in frustration. Buck groaned softly and then said to Ike. "Go get Sam."
Ike shook his head.
Buck reached through the bars and took hold of Ike's shoulder. "You have to go get help. If you stay here, you'll end up in here with me. Think about how long it will be before anyone realizes something is wrong; we made it here three days early."
Ike took a deep breath. He looked at Buck and then the gathering crowd. Ike ran after the major and grabbed him. *Don't do anything until I get back; no trial or carrying out of a sentence.*
The major looked sternly at him then suddenly he nodded. "I won't conduct a trial or pass sentence until you return," he said with a tired voice. He then addressed the men assembled around them. "You heard, now get back to what you're supposed to be doing."
The men grumbled, but dispersed. The major glared at Buck for a few seconds before turning to face Ike. "I'll give you one week." He then left.
Ike glanced at Buck. *I'll hurry,* he said.
Ike waited until the crowd had cleared away before gathering his horse and leaving. He rode his mount hard and covered a lot of ground the first night. The next day he was fortunate to run into Sam and Barnett outside Blue Creek. Ike explained the situation.
"Barnett, go find Teaspoon and tell him what's happened," Sam instructed his deputy.
Barnett simply nodded as he rode quickly out of town.
"Now," said Sam. "Let's go see about getting Buck freed and you two on your way home."
When they arrived at the fort they were escorted directly to the major's office.
*I want to see Buck,* Ike said.
"Orders are to bring you straight to Major Bently, no stopping," the private said, fingering his side arm.
Ike started to protest, but Sam put a hand on his arm. "Best not upset anyone," he said. Ike sighed and nodded as they followed the private across the compound.
Ike glanced at the stockade, but couldn't see anyone there. He guessed Buck could be inside the little room, but had a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach as they entered the major's outer office.
The door to Major Bently's private office was slightly ajar. Someone was inside with him. As Sam and Ike came to a stop outside the door they heard, "I think he'll survive this time, but I'm not sure how much more he can take."
Ike glanced at Sam, the worry he felt showing plainly on his face. *They've done something to Buck.*
Sam didn't say anything. He simply pushed past the private and entered the room. "Excuse me," he said. "I've come to talk to you about an unfortunate situation."
The major glanced past the man in front of him to Sam, then Ike. When his gaze returned to Sam, he noticed the badge. He stood. "Marshal," he said. "I'm sorry you've been dragged into this, but it's really a military matter."
"No," Sam replied coolly, "it's not a military matter because it involves a civilian, and a friend of mine at that."
Major Bently dismissed the doctor with orders to report any change in condition immediately. He fought down his nerves. It doesn't matter if that Indian is a friend of the marshal's; he needs to pay for the misfortune that has befallen Jason, he thought.
"I must again express my regrets," he said, "but your friend is being charged with passing military information to the enemy so, I repeat, this is a military matter."
Sam nodded, knowing he wouldn't be able to change the major's mind. "May I speak to the boy?"
The major shook his head. "Unfortunately, the lad has had an accident and is presently unconscious."
*I still want to see him,* Ike demanded.
"I'm afraid that can't be allowed; he needs to rest undisturbed."
Sam eyed the man before him. "I hope precautions have been taken so that no more 'accidents' occur involving him."
The major nodded. "Those responsible have been reprimanded," he said.
*I want to see him,* Ike repeated.
Sam nodded. "I agree. We need to get a look at him. I'd hate to have to come arrest your soldiers on murder charges because you wouldn't allow us to see that he's still alive."
The major quickly realized that Sam wasn't bluffing. Weighing the pro and cons he finally nodded and escorted the two of them to the infirmary. Buck was resting comfortably, but it was obvious he had been viciously beaten.
Sam addressed the doctor, "How soon can he be moved?"
"I wouldn't move him for at least a week," he said.
Ike moved to sit by Buck's bed, but Major Bently cut him off. "He's not allowed visitors."
Ike started to protest, but Sam interceded. "Fine," he said. "He stays here in this room, under the doctor's care until I get back." He looked at the doctor and then the major before adding, "If he's not here and in better shape when I return, I'll hold you two personally responsible. You understand?"
Both men nodded.
Sam took hold of Ike's arm and pulled him away.
*They're going to kill him,* Ike said. *We need to take him with us.*
Sam shook his head. "Nothing more will happen," he said. "We need to let him rest here while we go get a letter from the governor."
Ike started to argue, but changed his mind when he saw Sam's face. He sighed and nodded. They went to get their horses. As he walked, Ike surveyed the area - he needed to be sure he was right about the location of a place where he could get in and out unnoticed.
Later that evening as the two of them ate, Ike once more tried to convince Sam that they needed to return and get Buck.
"We can't," Sam replied.
*But…* Ike started.
Sam cut him off, "But nothing. If we move him in the condition he's in, we could make things worse - especially since we'd have to move him fast. If we sit there and wait, as soon as he's healthy enough they'll hold their trial and hang him - or worse." He sighed. "We need a letter of pardon from the governor; that means we need Teaspoon. Understand?"
Ike nodded his head. *I understand.*
"Good. Now get some sleep; I want to leave at first light.
Ike quickly finished his meal and turned in. When he heard Sam's steady snoring, he quietly crawled out of his bed roll and prepared to leave. A few hours later, Ike was apologizing to the army doctor as he secured him to his office chair. When the doctor tried to speak, Ike gagged him and once more said, *I'm sorry; I don't want to hurt you, but I can't leave him here.*
Once he was certain the doctor wasn't going to be a problem, Ike made his way to where Buck was resting. He waited a few seconds before gently shaking Buck awake.
Buck moaned softly. He tried to open his eyes, but they were too heavy and swollen. "I don't know…" he whispered. He stopped speaking because it hurt too much to do more.
Ike turned back to the doctor. *What did you give him?*
The doctor shrugged to show that he didn't understand. Ike grabbed a piece of paper, wrote his question, and held it up for the doctor.
The doctor waited for Ike to remove the gag. "Nothing," he said. "I offered him some laudanum, but he refused." He decided to try once more to convince Ike of the foolishness of this plan. "You shouldn't move him," he managed.
Ike simply replaced the gag, and went back to Buck's side. He gently touched Buck's face, and then placed Buck's hand on his head to let Buck know who he was.
Ike nodded as he held Buck's hand in place. He wanted to do more, to comfort his friend. There was something in Buck's behavior that made him fearful for his friend's state of mind. Before he could do anything there was a loud sound from the window which caused him to crouch closer to the floor. He grabbed Buck's hand and felt his friend trembling. Luckily the window was high up, so whoever was outside could not look in.
"You awake, Injun?" came a menacing voice from the outside. "Your friends left - and we're gonna make sure there won't be anything left of you when they return. Right, fellas?" Laughter followed the statement and then the crowd noisily moved away. Ike fumed with anger. No wonder Buck was scared. If they had been doing this all the time, he must have been scared for his life ever since Ike left him. Ike grabbed his friend's hand and squeezed it hard, trying to tell him that things were going to be all right.
Knowing what Ike was trying to do, Buck once more tried to open his eyes. "I can't see," he finally said.
Ike once more nodded. He then returned Buck's hand to the bed. He gently shifted Buck's shoulders to show him what he had in mind.
Buck shook his head. "You need to get Sam," he said. "We need help from someone more important…" he quit speaking. Taking as deep a breath as he dared to calm his nerves, he whispered even lower, "Someone's coming." He did the best he could to hide the terror he felt at the prospect of more questioning.
Ike placed a hand on Buck's lips. He then quickly made his way to the door. The major had just stepped inside and registered the fact that the doctor was tied up when Ike hit him. As the major fell, an idea came to Ike. He quickly tied up Major Bently, and then, after resorting to the use of his gunto threaten the man, had the doctor assist him in getting Buck situated on the travois he had stolen from the supply shed near the stable.
This taken care of, Ike had the doctor help him tie the major across the back of Buck's horse. He then once more tied the doctor up and carefully moved the travois out of the office and attached it to Buck's horse. He then led Buck's horse behind the buildings to the secret exit near the major's quarters. He was pleased with himself for remembering its location from the time the major's son, Jason, had shown him around the fort. Soon, Ike was mounted on his own horse and slowly heading away from the fort to some nearby caves.
After settling Buck and the major into a particularly well hidden cavern, Ike went out and erased his tracks before laying a false trail that led anyone who came looking in the opposite direction. He then made his way back to his hiding spot. Here he hid the horses behind a nearby waterfall, and then made his way back to the cave. He started a fire and after checking to be sure that it wasn't noticeable from the main entrance, he went about getting things ready for a lengthy stay. He had just put the water on to boil when the major regained consciousness.
It took a few minutes for the major to make sense out of his surroundings. When he did, he sat up only to be pulled back to the ground when the rope around his neck tightened. He hit the ground with a thud that caught Ike's attention.
Ike left the fire and went to the major's side. He waited patiently for the older man to stop struggling before loosening the rope.
*I'll take it off it you promise not to try anything.*
The major nodded and Ike removed the noose. He kept the man's hands and legs tied. *I don't want to hurt you,* Ike explained.
The major nodded once more as he rubbed his neck. "Why did you kidnap me then?" he asked hoarsely.
Ike handed him a canteen of water. *I needed someone who could understand me.*
Ike pulled the man over to where Buck lay resting. *He can't open his eyes enough to see me; I need you to talk for me and help keep him calm.*
"Why would I want to help either of you?"
Ike shook his head and rolled his eyes. *Because you know that this is your fault,* he signed in anger.
*Stop and think,* Ike signed more calmly. *Do you really believe Buck would do anything to hurt Jason?*
The major started to repeat the "Injuns is Injuns" statement from earlier, but a moan from Buck made him stop. He watched as Ike did the best he could to make Buck comfortable. As he waited, the memory of exactly how he had come to be able to communicate with Ike filled him.
When Ike returned, Major Bently held up his hands. "Let me help," he said softly. "I know he didn't have anything to do with what happened. You're right; he'd never agree to hurt Jason or Standing Bear." He hung his head in shame, "I'm sorry. I should have listened to you earlier."
*Why didn't you?* Ike asked as he thought over freeing the older man.
The major dropped his hands back in his lap. "The boy who captured Buck is new; he arrived the day before the incident. The only survivor is his older brother. He's the other man in the infirmary, we're not sure if he'll regain consciousness or not." He sighed. "I just let myself get caught up in his need to punish someone; I wanted to make him feel better." He looked up at Ike. "I don't expect you to understand, but at that moment it really was as if I'd never seen Buck before."
Ike nodded. *I understand,* he said, *but why refuse to listen to me?*
The major once more dropped his gaze. "The men," he said. "They all want someone to blame, someone to make pay for their loss." He took a deep breath and then raised his eyes. "Shortly after you left, I realized my mistake and went back to get Buck. It was too late; they'd already beaten him. I managed to get him away and to the doctor. I'd just gotten back to my office when you and Marshal Cain arrived." He dropped his eyes to the ground and sighed. "I don't know why I behaved the way I did then. Guilt, I suppose."
Ike reached over and freed the man's hands and feet. *Make up for it by helping us now,* he said.
Sam awoke with a start. He glanced around the campsite and found Ike gone. Cursing softly under his breath, he hastily broke camp. He thought briefly about going after the boy, but just as quickly dismissed the idea. He still needed a letter from the governor demanding Buck be released; he needed to get to Sweetwater and Teaspoon. As he rode, Sam offered up a quick prayer for the Lord to watch over Ike and Buck.
He hadn't ridden very far when he met up with Teaspoon, Kid, and Cody. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Looking for you," Teaspoon replied. "Barnett said you needed our help."
Sam nodded. "Seems there's been some Indian trouble around Fort Kearny, Major Bently has placed Buck under arrest for spying."
"What?" Teaspoon asked.
"Gets worse," Sam said.
"How?" asked Cody.
"I'm pretty sure Ike's gone back to break Buck out," Sam replied.
"Guess we need to go stop him," said Teaspoon.
"I'm betting we're too late," Sam remarked. "I'm fairly certain that he left me last night. I thought I'd convinced him the best thing to do was to get help and leave Buck where he was." He sighed.
Teaspoon studied the marshal closely. "What aren't you telling us?"
Sam took a deep breath. "They beat Buck pretty bad; I'm not sure Ike moving him will be a good thing."
Teaspoon nodded. "Then let's hurry."
Sam didn't move right away. "We're gonna need a letter from the governor to force them to let Buck go. I'd like to get that as quickly as possible."
Teaspoon turned to Cody. "You have that book you're always writing in?"
"Give it here," Teaspoon said.
Cody took his journal from his saddle bag and handed it to Teaspoon. He also gave him his writing implements.
Teaspoon hastily wrote a note of introduction, and then made his request. He gave the note and an object of identification to Kid. "Get this to the governor as fast as you can. Meet us at the Fort."
Kid nodded, turned Katy towards Omaha where the governor was speaking, and galloped off.
"Now," said Teaspoon, "let's see what we can do to stop things from getting any worse."
They reached the fort just as the posse was preparing to leave. After much shouting, accusing, and general confusion, the doctor finally managed to get everyone's attention. "I don't think Ike means to hurt anyone," he said when both sides were quiet.
"He kidnapped Major Bently and helped a spy escape," Captain Jennings, the fort's second in command, said angrily.
"Accused spy," replied Teaspoon coolly.
"What?" snapped the captain.
"He helped an accused spy escape," Teaspoon repeated. "The boy may have been punished, but he ain't been tried."
The captain moved toward Teaspoon, but was stopped by the doctor.
"He's right and you know it, Karl," he said calmly. "I really think the only reason Ike took Jonathan along was so he had a way to talk to Buck."
"What do you mean, Doc?" asked Cody.
The doctor looked away from the officer he was trying to keep calm to the young man standing behind Teaspoon. "I mean that Buck was having a bit of trouble seeing clearly enough to read Ike's signs," he explained. "I'm sure his sight will be fine once the swelling goes down, but…" he let the sentence drop.
Teaspoon picked up the thought, "Since the major can read Ike's signs fine and just happened to be there, Ike figured why not take him along."
The doctor nodded. "I don't think Ike wants to hurt anyone; he just wants to make sure Buck doesn't get hurt any worse." He returned his gaze to Captain Jennings. "Remember, he didn't hurt me, and he had plenty of opportunity; he could have killed me so you wouldn't have any idea what had happened."
Captain Jennings nodded to let the doctor know he understood. "I guess so," he said in a calmer manner.
Teaspoon placed his hand on the doctor's shoulder. "I think you're probably right," he said. He then turned to face the captain. "Now," he said sternly to let the man know he wasn't open to any disagreement, "Where can we go discuss exactly what is going to happen next?"
The man started to say something about not discussing anything, but the slight movement of both Sam and Teaspoon's hands on their side arms made him change his mind. "We can use the major's office," he said.
After much more heated discussion, it was decided that Teaspoon, Sam, and Cody had three days to bring Ike, Buck, and Major Bently back to the fort. "I'll not make any promises about what happens then," Jennings said. "I'll need to know Major Bently's condition first."
"Agreed," said Teaspoon as he stood and shook the man's hand.
The doctor pointed out where he had helped Ike with the major and Buck. "Good luck," he said. "I hope you find Ike and convince him to come back."
Teaspoon nodded his thanks. "Is there something else, Doc?" he asked, his keen eyes noticing a slight twitch in the doctor's face. The doctor took a quick glance around to make sure no one was within ear shot. "When Buck was resting in my office, a bunch of men came by, banging on the window, threatening to kill him every time they had the opportunity."
"Could you see who it was?" Teaspoon asked with a frown.
The doctor shook his head. "Enlisted men, most likely, anyway, I thought you should know. If you do find the major and the boy, it might not be a good idea to return here."
"Thanks, Doc, I'll remember that," Teaspoon said. As the doctor left, Teaspoon spoke to Cody, "Well, Son, what do you see?"
Cody studied the ground. He easily picked up the trail leading out of the private entrance. He also spied the trail leading to the north and followed it until they were out of sight of the fort. Then he pulled up and dismounted as if he was trying to find the still obvious trail.
Sam joined him. "There's no way Ike leaves this obvious a trail."
Cody nodded and motioned for Teaspoon to join them. When the older man was at his side, Cody said, "I think I know where Ike went; it's where I'd go if I needed to hold up around here for a few days."
"They know about it?" asked Teaspoon with a nod in the direction of the fort.
Cody shrugged. "I don't think so. Jason was real particular who he shared it with; I wouldn't know about it except Ike told me last time we were here. It seems Standing Bear and our friendly Captain Jennings came to blows over comments the captain made about Smiling Dove, Standing Bear's sister. When it was all over, Standing Bear left. Jason had me and Ike go looking to see if Standing Bear was planning on coming back."
Teaspoon nodded. "Can we get there from here without leaving an obvious trail?"
Cody smiled. "Just need to get to those rocks," he said pointing a few feet ahead of them.
"Let's move," said Sam. "I want to have time to convince Ike to go back; I'm not entirely sure we aren't going to have to hogtie him to get it done."
Teaspoon chuckled as he mounted up. "That should be interesting to watch."
Later that afternoon, Cody was showing Teaspoon and Sam the caverns. "Which one?" Sam asked.
Cody shrugged. "Ike found Standing Bear in the one near the top of the falls, but I can't see him dragging Buck up there if Buck is as bad off as you and the doctor say."
Sam nodded. "Let's see if we can find any tracks."
A few minutes later, Teaspoon was carefully leading them into the small opening of a cave. As they cleared the narrow entry, they found themselves in a room big enough for them to stand in. Teaspoon indicated they should stop and listen; from somewhere up ahead they heard muffled voices that stopped suddenly.
Ike handed the man a gun and moved slowly toward the small opening. He paused just inside, raised his arm, and waited.
Teaspoon inched forward. He could see another small opening on the other side of this room. There was a dim light shining through it. It was just bright enough for him to see the drag marks of the travois. Taking a deep breath he called out softly, "Ike, it's Teaspoon. I'm coming in." He then offered up a quick prayer before making his way forward.
Cody followed Teaspoon closely. Sam wasn't far behind. Soon they were all sitting near the small fire trying to figure out a solution to this whole mess. "We don't have an option," said Teaspoon. "We need to get you back to the fort by the day after tomorrow. I hate to think what is going to happen if we don't."
*I'm not going back,* said Ike. *They'll kill Buck.*
"I know that's what they want you to think, Son," Teaspoon said.
"I don't think anything more will happen to him," said Sam. "There are too many of us here now."
The major agreed, "Especially since I'm thinking more clearly."
Ike reluctantly agreed to head back in the morning. *As long as Buck is up to it,* he said as he glanced to where Buck lay. It was obvious to everyone that Buck was growing tired after the added excitement.
Teaspoon helped Buck take a drink. "You need to rest so we can go back tomorrow without causing you too much pain."
Buck shook his head. There was something important he'd been meaning to ask since he'd first heard about the attack. "I need to…" he gave up trying to speak as the pain and weariness took hold.
Just as Buck drifted off, Teaspoon asked, "What exactly started all this mess anyway?"
Major Bently shook his head. "I'm still not sure. One day everything was fine; the next I had men being threatened and fist fights taking place between the enlisted men and my scouts. Then a few weeks later, Jason went missing and most of his men ended up dead."
Buck tried to sit, but the pain made him stop. "Missing?" he managed to gasp.
Teaspoon calmed the young Kiowa. "What?" he asked.
"He said Jason was missing, not dead."
Teaspoon glanced at the major who nodded. "That's right."
Buck sighed in frustration. "There's something else," he said softly. "I just can't remember what it is; it's important, but…" the sentence faded as he once more drifted off.
Ike waited to make sure Buck was asleep before asking, *Everyone else was killed?*
The major shook his head. "Three men were killed. Jason and Standing Bear are missing, and the one man made it back to the fort. That's how we knew there was trouble. Jason had taken his men out on an unscheduled mission without my knowledge. I thought they were getting ready to leave the next day on a hunt."
"What exactly did the injured man tell you?" Sam asked. "It could be very important."
The major looked at Sam. "He didn't talk to me," he replied. "Captain Jennings took him straight to the doctor and then sent for me. The man was unconscious when I reached the infirmary."
Teaspoon glanced at Buck to reassure himself the boy was still asleep. "What did he say?"
The major sat thinking. He did his best to remember exactly what he'd been told. He could sense that it was somehow extremely important that he got this exactly right.
"They came out of nowhere. It was like they were waiting for us; they outnumbered us three-to-one."
Teaspoon nodded. "That would make me think someone was supplying information."
Sam agreed. "What about your scouts? Wouldn't that make more sense than Buck?"
Before anyone else had a chance to reply, Cody said, "Standing Bear wouldn't betray Jason - that would be like Buck turning on Ike."
The major nodded his agreement. "I'd trust Standing Bear with my life," he said. "He left his family to come work with us because of his friendship with Jason." He paused just a few seconds before adding, "From what I understand, they consider him dead because he left the village to live in the white world."
Teaspoon nodded. "That sounds about right." He sat thinking. "So, who told them where and when to attack?"
*Didn't you say it was unplanned?* Ike asked.
Major Bently nodded.
"Then how did anyone tell them anything?" asked Sam, as he realized the point Ike was making.
"And," added Cody, "where are Jason and Standing Bear?"
Sam glanced to where Buck lay. "I wish Buck was healthy enough for us to take him to the attack site to look it over. Something about this whole situation just doesn't feel right."
The others agreed.
"Did it happen nearby?" asked Teaspoon.
"I'm not sure where we are," Major Bently said. "The attack took place at the washed out mine shaft about a mile northeast of the fort. If Ike doesn't mind, I can take you there in the morning."
*If it will help Buck, I don't mind,* said Ike.
"Let's get some rest then," suggested Teaspoon.
*Someone needs to stay with Buck,* Ike said. *He gets scared when he wakes up, and no one is near him. It takes him a while to realize he's not still being held prisoner.*
"I'll sit with him," said Teaspoon. "You get some rest."
Ike nodded his thanks, and everyone settled in for the night. Not long after the last man started snoring, Buck woke up. He once more tried to sit.
Teaspoon placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Ike?" Buck asked fighting down the fear he felt.
"He's sleeping," said Teaspoon. "You need to do the same."
"There's something important I need to remember," Buck whispered. "Something I…"
Teaspoon helped Buck drink some water. "It will come to you," he said. "Just rest."
Buck shook his head slowly. "It's important I remember," he said.
"Something you saw?" Teaspoon asked.
"No. It was something the doctor said," Buck replied. "Just before I passed out he told me that it wasn't really anything personal; it was because three men had been brutally murdered - shot…" he paused.
"What?" asked Teaspoon.
"They were shot," Buck said once more trying to sit.
Teaspoon once more restrained him. Their conversation had caused the others to wake. *What did he say?*
"Something about being shot," Teaspoon said.
*Shot?* asked Ike. *He's been shot?*
"No," Buck said. "The men who were killed; they were shot - with guns."
Ike looked at the major. *That true?*
The major nodded.
Buck fought off the pain that was threatening to once more overtake him. "Pawnee wouldn't waste bullets on soldiers," he said softly. "They'd use arrows." He took a deep breath to keep back the darkness. "It wasn't Indians that attacked them, it was…" he finally gave up his battle and once more drifted off.
"What did he mean, 'waste bullets'?" asked Major Bently.
Teaspoon ventured, "My guess is that the bullets are too precious to use on enemies."
"What?" asked Cody.
Sam took up the explanation, "I think I understand. Guns and ammunition are difficult for the Indians to come by; they make hunting so much easier they wouldn't use them on soldiers when arrows are just as good."
"Or better," added Teaspoon. "They put the right mixture on an arrow and at the very least you'll get powerful sick from the wound."
The major looked at the others. "If it wasn't the Pawnee," he finally asked, "who was it?"
Suddenly Cody jumped up. He grabbed Ike and dragged him toward the entrance. "isn't that washed out mine nearby?"
Ike pulled loose and nodded. *Why?*
"Where would you go if you were attacked there and either you, Buck, or both of you were wounded?"
*The fort, for help,* said Ike.
"What if you couldn't go there because that's where the people who hurt you were?"
Ike just stared at Cody. So did all the others.
"What do you mean?" asked the major as he joined the boys near the entrance to their room.
"I think someone at the fort attacked them," explained Cody.
"What do you mean?" asked the major.
"Exactly what I said; think about it," Cody continued. "It was an unexpected outing; only people from the fort would have known that they'd left. They could have followed them and caught them by surprise from behind." He turned back to Ike. "So, where would you go?" he repeated.
*Here,* signed Ike.
"Where?" prompted Cody.
*Up behind the falls,* said Ike.
"Me too," said Cody. "Let's go see."
"I'm coming with you," said Major Bently.
Cody shook his head. "It's not safe," he said. "If Jason's the one hurt and soldiers did the attacking, Standing Bear might not wait to see who you are."
Ike agreed. *If they're up there, we'll bring them here. Please stay and wait."
Teaspoon and Sam joined them and helped convince the major the boys were right. Cody and Ike left the confines of their small cave and made their way back behind the falls. Once there, they quickly climbed the incline that lead to a larger, better hidden cavern.
Soon they were back with Jason, a wounded Standing Bear, and Smiling Dove, Standing Bear's sister. After settling Standing Bear in next to Buck, Jason explained what had happened. "Smiling Dove came to tell Standing Bear that their father was ill. She knew that despite his comments to Standing Bear when the boy left to join the army, that the older man still loved his son. She wanted to give them a chance to make amends." He glanced over to where the girl sat tending her brother and Buck.
"When she reached the fort, Captain Jennings told her he'd get Bear for her and took her to a room to wait. Once he had her there, he made a pretense of sending someone to get Bear. While they waited, he forced himself on her." Jason stopped speaking so he could keep the anger he felt returning from getting the better of him. When he was once more in control, he continued, "The man Jennings had sent to 'get Bear' was really sent to notify his men, that Jennings had managed to arrange some entertainment for the evening." He once more glanced across the cave. He relaxed when he noticed that Smiling Dove was talking quietly to Buck.
He took a deep breath and once more took up his tale. "Private Schmidt saw what was happening, and who the 'entertainment' was, and came to get me and Bear. We managed to get her away when the others went to eat. Some of them had already had their way with her once, but they were planning on coming back for more."
He closed his eyes to block the image of Smiling Dove's bruised and frightened face. "We were taking her home when Captain Jennings and his men caught up with us at the dry wash. I managed to get three of them, but Jennings got away, and Bear was wounded too badly to make it back to the fort.
"I told Private Schmidt where to find us and sent him back to you for help. I was beginning to think he didn't make it."
"Well, he did, and he didn't," replied the major.
"What?" asked Jason.
"The reason Buck is in the shape he is in is that Captain Jennings told everyone you were all attacked by Indians. When Private Schmidt made it back, Jennings took him to the doctor before I had a chance to talk to the boy. He's still unconscious, but Jennings told me the boy claimed you were ambushed by the Pawnee.
"When Ike and Buck showed up, Jennings convinced everyone - including me, I'm afraid - that Buck was involved. After I placed him under arrest, they beat him pretty severely before I came to my senses and managed to get him to the infirmary."
Jason drew in a sharp breath. "Private Schmidt was fine when he left us. Not a scratch on him; that's why I sent him back."
"I don't know what happened then," the major said. "But he's not in very good shape now. The doctor said he'd lost a lot of blood; he wasn't sure what had happened, but it looked like someone tried to cut bullets out of him and patch him up so he could ride." He paused just briefly before adding, "To tell you the truth, I'm surprised he's still alive."
He glanced to where Buck lay talking to Smiling Dove. "I'm fairly certain Buck wouldn't be if Ike hadn't come back for him."
"So," broke in Cody, "what do we do now?"
"Go back to the fort," said Sam. "We promised we'd take the major back. If we don't, they'll come looking, and I don't like anyone's chances if that happens."
Teaspoon nodded his agreement. "If we all go back together, the captain will have to realize we know the truth - so will anyone else involved. Hopefully, Kid will be there with a letter from the governor, and we can legally get Buck away from them. Then we can help the major figure out exactly which of his men he can trust."
Sam added, "I can arrest the captain for his part on the assault of Buck, and for orchestrating the attack on Smiling Dove," he said. "Hopefully, he won't be willing to go down alone."
"I can give you a few guesses as to which others of his men were involved," Jason said. He once more glanced to where Smiling Dove was now resting next to her brother and Buck. "Maybe Buck can convince Smiling Dove to talk to us," he said. "She refused to tell me anything."
Major Bently followed Jason's gaze. "I think it's best to let them rest. We can try in the morning before we go back to the fort."
"I feel we could all use some rest," said Sam.
The others agreed and soon everyone was settling in for the night. As Ike prepared his sleeping area next to Buck, he replayed the conversation about what had brought them here. Jason had said something that he'd meant to question. A sound from somewhere outside the cave made him remember. He quickly located Jason just on the other side of Standing Bear.
*You told Private Schmidt where you were going, right?*
Jason nodded. "We needed…" he stopped speaking when the sound of muffled voices came from somewhere outside.
Ike felt Buck tense as the sounds woke him. Placing a hand on Buck's shoulder to reassure him that everything was alright, Ike motioned to Jason to wake Cody and the others.
When everyone was once more assembled, Ike signed, *You told him to go to where we found you, right?*
Cody glanced to the back of their cave. He pointed.
Jason once more nodded. Not wanting to risk being heard, he signed *There's an exit that comes out just past the falls, a little above where we were.*
Cody nodded and looked at Teaspoon who motioned for them to move quietly. He told the major, "Stay here and keep these three safe."
The major nodded and placed a hand on Buck's shoulder to keep him calm. "It's going to be alright," he whispered. "I promise no one is going to hurt you."
Buck relaxed, and the others quietly left the cave following Jason. They soon realized Ike had been right. A group of three soldiers were slowly advancing up the hill toward the caves. After a brief battle, they returned with Captain Jennings and two other men. They all admitted to being involved in the attack on Smiling Dove, the ambush of Jason and Standing Bear, and instigating the assault on Buck. Captain Jennings finally admitted that he had managed to sneak out of the fort to go looking for Jason when he encountered Schmidt, the private recognized him and tried to shoot him. Jennings shot Schmidt, and then tortured him to learn of Jason's condition and whereabouts. After he had the information, he took Schmidt back to the fort and pretended to have spied him approaching in need of help.
He'd just recently been able to get the men together to go looking due to the upgrade in security the attack had brought about, and the arrival of the numerous visitors the fort had encountered. The prisoners were securely tied and kept as far away from the others as possible in the confines of the small cave.
The next morning, the entire band made its way slowly back to the fort. Once there, Captain Jennings and the others were locked in the stockade. Major Bently let it be known that anyone talking to them would be placed inside with them. "I'll not have glory hungry idiots starting a war on my watch," he said as he walked away to go check on the people in the infirmary.
While he was there, Kid arrived with the governor himself. They quickly found Teaspoon. "I came as soon as I could," the governor said as he greeted his old friend.
"Thank you, Virgil," said Teaspoon. "Seems it's a little more involved than we originally thought." He quickly explained the situation.
"The men responsible are in custody," he said in conclusion. "We're going to try them in civil court if that's alright with you."
The governor nodded. "Since they took it upon themselves to involve civilians, I have no trouble with that, especially since the major here seems to be in agreement."
When it became known that the men involved were not facing a military court, Captain Jennings decided the best way to help himself was to make a deal. He agreed to plead guilty and name all the people involved if he was sent to a military prison. The men he named all agreed to plead guilty if they could also go to a military prison.
*I think Buck and Smiling Dove should get to decide,* said Ike.
The others agreed. The major went with Teaspoon to find out how the two felt about the arrangement.
"As long as they get punished," Buck said, "I don't care where it is."
Smiling Dove sat quietly next to Standing Bear's bed. He was going to be fine, and was resting comfortably. She still had not spoken to anyone other than Buck and her brother, and she had refused to let the doctor examine her.
Teaspoon spoke quietly to the major who nodded and left. As soon as he was gone, Teaspoon settled in next to Buck. "You think you can get her to tell you exactly what happened; who was involved?"
"I can try," Buck replied. He had Teaspoon help him move so he was facing Smiling Dove. Speaking quietly, he started by asking how she was doing and then explaining what the other men had wanted. At first, she didn't respond, but finally she whispered, "I want them to be punished the way that they deserve. Will that happen in this military prison?"
Buck shook his head. "They would be locked up, forced to work at hard labor, but not punished the way they would be in your village."
"Why not?" she asked finally looking up.
Buck shrugged. "I do not know," he said.
"Because I am less important?" she asked.
"No," Buck replied. "If you were white, they still would not be punished that way." He stopped to rest before adding, "This way you won't be asked to go tell what happened. We can see about getting you home."
"No," Smiling Dove interrupted. "I cannot go home. I have been made unclean; I will not be able to find anyone who will take me as a wife. I do not wish to live that way." She lowered her gaze. "I will find someplace else to make my way."
Buck replied without stopping to think about his response, "You can come with me. I will help you find someplace where no one knows what happened." He reached out and placed a hand on her arm.
Smiling Dove raised her head and smiled shyly. "I will need to speak to Standing Bear," she said. She placed her hand on top of Buck's before once more lowering her gaze. "Since it would allow me to not have to relive my shame, I will agree to the punishment suggested."
Buck shifted his weight so that he was facing Teaspoon. He worked at bringing the man into focus, but finally gave up. He explained their conversation and Smiling Dove's agreement.
Teaspoon patted Buck on the shoulder. "Get some rest," he said as he stood. "I'll go let everyone know so arrangements can be made."
Once the details were taken care of, Cody, Kid, Teaspoon, and Sam headed back to Sweetwater. The governor and his men went to his next appointment. Ike decided to stay with Buck until he was well enough to travel.
Over the next few weeks, Standing Bear, Buck, Smiling Dove, and Private Schmidt continued to mend. By the time they were able to get up and around, the men responsible for all the trouble had been removed to a nearby military prison.
Standing Bear agreed to let Smiling Dove go with Buck and Ike back to Sweetwater. "We need to get word to our parents," was all he said.
Smiling Dove nodded, "I will go to tell them if you will take me."
Standing Bear started to object, but realized that it would be the only way to let his family know Smiling Dove was still alive. "Running Buck," he said, "will you come with us so our parents will know the person to whom they are entrusting their daughter?"
Buck nodded. "I would be happy to go with you," he said.
The threesome, accompanied by Ike, made a quick trip to the nearby village. When they neared the village, it was decided that Ike should wait outside while they went in and visited with Standing Bear and Smiling Dove's family. They all felt it best not having a white man there considering the tale they would have to tell.
Once Smiling Dove's parents calmed down after hearing about the horror their daughter and son had endured and they realized that both were fine, Smiling Dove told them of Buck's offer. Despite her parents' protests and assurances that she would not be seen any differently, Smiling Dove refused to change her mind about leaving. "I will not be seen as clean," she insisted. "I do not wish to be the second wife of anyone, or the first wife of some unimportant brave."
Buck assured her parents, especially her mother, that he would take care of Smiling Dove and do his best to help her find a home.
"Will she not be staying in your home?" her mother asked.
Buck smiled. "I would be honored to have a woman of such standing stay in my home," he said, "but that would be up to her. I am not a person of importance such as she deserves."
The woman simply nodded. She had seen the way this man smiled at her daughter, and the looks Smiling Dove gave this Running Buck of the Kiowa had eased her mind much more than her words.
"I promise to let you know where she decides to make her home," he said. "I will send word through Standing Bear."
"That would be nice," the older woman said. "It would be good for him to visit with us again. Perhaps then he and his father can speak with each other again."
Buck nodded as he stood and went to where Smiling Dove sat waiting. He picked up the small bundle she had put together. "We should be leaving," he said. "Ike will be worried."
They made their way to where Standing Bear sat talking to his ailing father. Despite the older man's anger at his son for leaving to go and live in the white world - the world of his grandmother - he had agreed to see the boy. While they talked, they had reached a point where they could at least agree to disagree.
Smiling Dove told her father good-bye and the group picked up Ike and made their way back to the fort. After spending a couple more days resting, Ike, Buck, and Smiling Dove started the journey back to Sweetwater. They rode slowly to keep Buck and Smiling Dove from relapsing.
A week later, the threesome reached the way station just after lunch time. Emma greeted them and insisted they eat something before doing anything else. As they ate, she visited with them long enough to see that there was a mutual attraction between Buck and Smiling Dove. She decided she would do her best to convince the girl to stay with her for a short time to see what developed.
Epilogue - one year later
Buck waited nervously inside the circle of rocks. Ike stood beside him just outside the ring. A lone note was played on the wooden flute held by Standing Bear, and Buck turned to face the sound. When he saw Smiling Dove as she stepped from the dwelling where she'd been staying the last few evenings, his heart skipped a beat. She was radiant in her white buckskin dress.
She smiled brightly as she made her way to where Buck stood. He remembered to breathe as Smiling Dove joined him in the circle and took his hand. Together they turned to face her father - the shaman of the Pawnee - and Buck's half-brother, Red Bear.
A few minutes later, Buck and Smiling Dove made their way back to the teepee she had recently stepped out of. They closed the flap behind them and shut out the rest of the world where their families and friends - Pawnee, Kiowa, and white - continued to celebrate their union.
As they became one to start their lives together as man and wife, Buck offered up a quick prayer of thanks that on that day so long ago neither of them had met their breaking point - the place from which there is no return.