Topic #50: Wolf Pictures
Wolf by: Miss Chrissy
|Comes Back to
Bite You by: Raye
Knows by: Cindy
Wolf by: Raye
and the Wolf by: Cathy
||Lead Me On
By: Miss. Chrissy
Lou always loved it when she had to make a run in winter, the land was always so beautiful, and Lighting didn’t seem to mind the leisurely ride either. As she rode she came upon a clearing with a small pond, she knew she should keep going but the place was just to breathe taking to resist. “Come on girl,” she whispered to her horse.
She slid off the horse and began exploring the area. She never remembered seeing anything so majestic in her life, this place is really something, the cool wind nipped at her, but she didn’t mind it actually felt exhilarating. She stopped closed her eyes and took a deep breathe of the cool air, it felt like something she’d ever felt before, it was cool and crisp it even felt full of life. She grinned as she brushed off a rock to sit on, she turned to Lighting, “this place is truly a winter wonderland,” she told the horse, who was busy forging for something to eat.
Lou decided after a couple of hours that she needed to get back on her run, it saddened her though she’d never find this place again, she knew that in her heart, she sighed deeply and started towards her mount, but was stopped short of the horse when she was a small, grayish wolf appeared from the small wooded area. Lou’s heart raced though a beautiful creature but wolves are also violent and very territorial. But this wolf didn’t seem like any of those things, in fact this wolf seemed not to care that Lou was only a few feet away. She watched as the wolf came up to the small pond and began to drink, and she watched as it disappeared into the small wooded area again. Lou shrugged and mounted her ride.
She was about to ride off when she saw the wolf emerge again only this time she was being followed out by four cubs. Lou watched as the mother wolf stopped and looked at her, almost saying she was glad that Lou had loved this place as much as the mother wolf and her cubs has.
Lou left the mother wolf and her cubs and headed home.
He was lying in the snow but yet he felt warm; his skin was wet with sweat. He looked down at his body and found he was naked and alone. He felt eyes watching him. Running Buck rolled over onto his stomach and scanned the tree line for the source of his discomfort. She wasn't hiding, in fact she was sitting very calmly observing him. He nodded his head; she returned the nod. Somehow he knew he was supposed to follow her. He felt no fear, he should, but the blue gray eyes that searched his own said 'I mean you no harm.'
Running Buck stood and walked toward the gray timber wolf. "Hello, I'm looking for my guide, are you my spirit guide?" The wolf nodded and stood waiting for the boy to finish crossing the clearing. When he was close she turned and followed a path into the trees. Running Buck hesitated only a moment and then followed the wolf. Her fur was brown and grey and appeared to shimmer. She seemed to glide rather than walk and the young Kiowa realized she left no paw prints in the fresh snow.
The path opened into a small clearing of sorts where a stream tripped and fell over frozen rocks to form a small pool. The wolf stopped and looked into the pool and Running Buck stepped forward and did the same.
His mother stared back at him. "Do not be afraid my son, I know your life has been hard and you still have many trials to face but know this…I never regretted giving you life. When you return to the village many will be gone. Little Bird will be among those you can not find but she has not gone on to the spirit world. You will meet again many years from now and save her from a fate worse than death but she is not to be yours. You will soon be a man and will prove yourself to be a proud and brave warrior; you will make Red Bear proud to be your brother. I am proud of the man you will become Running Buck, but your destiny does not lie within the village. You must go and honor your white blood too, for only when you have found both parts of you, can you become whole. Be true to yourself and remember I loved you."
Running Buck fell to his knees as his mother's image faded. He dipped his hands in the cold water trying to touch her image. "Mother, come back…Please don't go….." Running Buck felt the wolf pushing him back from the water and he fell backwards on to the hard ground looking into the wolf's soft blue grey eyes.
"Running Buck, wake up, Running Buck….." Red Bear gently slapped his brother's face in an effort to wake him. Running Buck's horse had stumbled during the hunt throwing the boy violently to the parched ground of the open prairie.
Running Buck's eyes snapped open and he was looking into the deep brown eyes of his brother, eyes that matched his own. "Mother, I…" Bed Bear helped Running Buck to sit up, several men stood nearby including the Man of Dreams. "Did you see her? Our Mother, a grey wolf led me to her…"
The Man of Dreams motioned for Red Bear to speak privately with him and the warrior obeyed immediately. Running Buck watched the two men and shuddered when they both looked at him intently.
Red Bear came back to where Running Buck was still sitting on the ground trying to make the world stop spinning. "What happened? My head feels funny…." Running Buck wiped his hand on his tunic and left a smear of blood from a cut on his head.
"Shhh, you had a pretty hard fall. The Man of Dreams feels that you had a vision while you were asleep, did you?" Red Bear offered his younger brother a skin filled with cool water to drink. "Tell us what you remember, Every detail, it could be important."
"I saw our mother….and a wolf with blue eyes….." Running Buck told Red Bear and the Man of Dreams of his vision and the predictions his mother had made.
"He has seen his Spirit Guide and it is a powerful one, a wolf. We must call off the hunt and return at once to the village. I fear we are already too late." The Man of Dreams told Red Bear and left to begin preparing for the journey home.
"Red Bear why did Mother come to me? She joined the Spirit World four summers ago…." Running Buck had many questions not the least of which was how he had been hurt on the hunt but they would all have to wait for another day as Red Bear ordered the camp broken down and the immediate return to the village.
The next afternoon they rode up to a village in ruins, many
were dead and Little Bird was gone……
The leaden sky threatened snow at any moment as daylight became an earlier than normal dusk. Buck shivered as the air turned colder and bit at his exposed skin. "No amount of money was worth this much misery", he thought out loud to the weary horse. The horse responded with a shake of his head as if to say, 'you're telling me? I'm the one walking….'
It all started about two months ago when a wagon train of weary settlers bound for California limped into Fort Laramie. Teaspoon had sent Buck and Jimmy on a special run with an Army dispatch to the fort and they arrived the same day. Jimmy managed to catch the eye of the daughter of the leader of the group. Buck had to admit she was perfect for Jimmy. The petite blond haired, blue eyed spitfire was as independent and strong willed as Lou yet very feminine all at the same time. It didn't hurt that she could shoot and ride almost as well as Jimmy too. The over night stay at the fort became two, and then two became a week. Buck wanted to go home to Rock Creek but Jimmy wanted to stay until the wagon train was ready to continue on. He pointed out that since the Pony Express had ended they really didn't have to be anywhere anytime soon. Buck finally relented and rode back to Rock Creek alone.
Jimmy arrived about a week later with Sarah at his side and announced they were married. Rachel hugged them both; Teaspoon shook his head but hugged them both as well. Buck rolled his eyes and groaned but congratulated the happy couple. Lou and Kid invited everyone over to their home for a small celebration the next night and Buck's immediate future got decided.
"Buck, Sarah and I are riding out tomorrow to meet her family and finish the ride to Sutter's Fort in California. I figure it's a good place for me to get away from Wild Bill and start a new life as a family man. We were wondering if you'd ride with us until we catch up to the group." Jimmy asked as they all sipped coffee on the front porch after dinner.
"You rode all the way back here to ask me to ride all the way back again with you?" Buck looked at Jimmy like he'd lost his mind. The look Sarah gave Jimmy spoke volumes. "OK, fess up what's the real reason you want me to ride out with you?"
"Um, well the Wagon Master's guide managed to get himself killed over a card game and they need someone who can read the land and hunt and stuff." Jimmy looked at his boots as he finished.
"If we wait for another tracker to come from Independence MO. it'll be too late in the season to go and we don't want to wait at Fort Laramie or worse, end up like that Donner party back in '47." Sarah took Buck's hand in hers as she spoke. "Please Buck, Jimmy says you're the best he's ever seen and that if anyone can get us through it's you…"
Buck tried to avoid looking into the lovely blue orbs but failed, he knew he would do anything this woman asked.
"You'll be paid Buck, Sarah's father gave me $250.00 dollars to give to you now and when they reach Sutter's Fort you'll get another $250.00." Jimmy reached in his pocket and handed Buck a roll of money.
Buck just sat there and nodded. He'd never dreamed of having that much money all at once.
The wagon train had arrived safely and without incident in California and Buck had made it back over the mountains before the weather turned bad. The last two weeks had been miserable and cold, winter had come early and food was scarce. Sarah and Jimmy had tried to get him to stay with them but Buck wanted to get home. Teaspoon had offered him a job as his deputy while Lou and Kid had suggested that when he came back he should go into business with them on a horse ranch. Right now Buck was wishing he'd at least stayed for the winter.
He was still three days ride from Rock Creek and it had snowed everyday for the last six days. The snow made the going slow and the landscape hard to distinguish; Buck longed for one of Rachel's meals, any thing as long as she cooked it for him and maybe if he was lucky some apple pie for dessert. Buck was jerked out of his daydream as his horse reared and snorted, obviously panicked about something. The snow made for a soft landing as Buck was unseated and watched his horse bolt back the way they had come.
"Damnit, what the hell….. come back here….." He swore some more as he watched the animal retreat. It was then he heard a sound that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up; the unmistakable low guttural growl of a large predator.
Buck was still sitting in the snow where he'd landed and turned his head slowly toward the sound. He was almost face to face with a large black wolf; its teeth were bared and he could feel the animal's hot breath on his skin. Buck swallowed hard. He reached his hand carefully toward his boot where his knife was all the time keeping his eyes on the wolf but not looking directly at the animals eyes. He'd been taught as a child that you never stare at a wild animal and don't show your teeth, both are signs of aggression and an invitation to trouble. He didn't want to kill the magnificent beast but if it was a choice between him and the wolf, he'd fight to the death.
His hand had just closed around the handle of the knife when Buck noticed movement behind the wolf. A smaller female wolf was limping along with one paw dragging a partly sprung trap. The animal was followed by two smaller wolf pups Buck guessed to be about four or five months old. The black wolf was just protecting his family. The Indians respect the wolf because the animals mate for life and have a very specific social order within a pack. Buck decided to try speaking to the animals in the hope he could back away from them, he hoped they weren't as hungry as he was.
The female cautiously limped to her mate's side and Buck had a chance to study the trap on her paw. She'd been lucky, the chain which usually keeps the captured animal tethered to the trap and the trap in place had either pulled free or broken. A small tree branch had fallen into the trap too so that when she stepped onto the trap the branch had prevented the it from closing all the way and breaking her leg as it was meant to; if that branch got loose the trap would close the rest of the way on the animal's leg. Buck continued to speak to the animals and one of the pups bounded up to him licking his face. One of the adults growled a warning but the other pup joined the first. Buck stayed as still as he could and prayed the pups would go away; they didn't.
The female stepped forward and nudged one of the pups away from Buck. "Easy Momma, I'm not gonna hurt your babies." Buck hoped his voice didn't sound as scared as he felt. The female sniffed him then pushed her snout under his hand. Buck instinctively patted the animal as he let his hand fall back to his side. She repeated the action several times and finally Buck reached for her head and scratched her between the ears. The male came closer and Buck again wondered if wolves played with their food before they killed it.
Buck felt a weight on his thigh and looked down to see the female put her paw with the trap in his lap; she nudged his face then nudged the trap, she repeated this several times. A sound from the male sent both pups scurrying behind their father and Buck's stomach turned over. He reached down and pressed hard on the two ends of the trap releasing the female's paw. She pulled it out and began licking the injured area. Buck let the trap close all the way and then pushed it away. It was then one of the pups jumped on Buck's chest and knocked him over Buck moved his hands in front of his face quickly as he heard the male yip then growl. He felt a warm rush of air near his cheek as one of the animal's licked his face. Buck opened his eyes and looked directly into the eyes of the female she nudged his face and hand again then licked her paw and placed it on his hand; then she licked both. Buck felt rather than saw the male behind his head and squeezed his eyes shut waiting for the attack that never came. A moment later he heard a wolf howl from a distance away. He opened his eyes and looked around. He was alone and the tracks of the wolves led off to the west toward the forested hills. The howl was repeated this time further away Buck stood up quickly and saw the wolves joining a pack a few hundred yards away. As one, the pack turned and disappeared into the rapidly waning evening light.
With a sigh Buck brushed himself off and began following his
horse's tracks while he could still see them. "OK Cody top that!" Buck
chuckled to himself….
“Son, your Mama told me to put you to bed.”
“I’m in bed.”
“She didn’t say I couldn’t have a story.”
Jimmy couldn’t resist the laugh. “You sure have a certain way of looking around the problem.”
“Grandpa ‘Spoon told me I see the world like he does.”
“Heaven help us.”
“Daddy!” Louis’ feet kicked at the cocoon of blankets that Jimmy had tucked around his legs. “I wanna hear a story.”
“Just a short one.”
The boy nodded his eyes solemn, “Just a short one.”
“It was a cold morning during the Express-“
“Awww… an Express story?”
“You wanted a story, so take it or leave it.”
His young son folded his arms over his chest and fixed a disappointed pout on his face. “I’ll take it.”
“It was a cold morning during the Express and I was out on a run for your Gramps-“
“He doesn’t like it when you call him Gramps.”
Jimmy continued on without missing a beat. “I had the short straw, again, and I took the special dispatch out to-“
“Where was Mama?”
“Your mother was asleep in her bunk, very warm.”
“Did she miss you?”
Jimmy gave a little huff that didn’t quite cover over his smile, “Your Mama and I were friends then... just friends.” He concluded before his son could ask the question.
“So I had to head through a little town called Harrington. It was pretty darn new, they didn’t even have an Express Station, and the trail curved around the edge of town, past the hotel and restaurant.
“Everything was either white with snow or brightly painted store fronts, so it was easy to see the black heap in the snow.
“A couple of kids were crowded around something and I had one of those feeling in the pit of my stomach. Something wasn’t right.”
“Oh,” Louis put his hand to his blanket covered middle, “I get those too, but Grandpa ‘Spoon says I just ate too much candy.”
Jimmy ruffled his hair. “Not that kind of feeling… I slowed down my mount and made a kind of half circle around the boys to get a good look.”
“Look it, Mister,” called the loudest boy, “I got it!”
“I could barely see around them, but what I could see made my stomach turn over. A wolf lay in the snow, blood darkening patches of its fur nearly black.”
“My Daddy said that the dogs around here have been messin’ with our garbage. He was gonna hire someone to shot them, but look! I got one all on my own!”
“Hey,” argued the other boys, “We helped!”
“I didn’t know what to think, but it didn’t matter, we had other problems.”
Louis’ eyes went wide with anticipation, “What was it?”
“There was a growl coming from behind the trash pile… low but definitely there.
“The boys didn’t seem to notice, they were too busy cheering about their kill. I didn’t have a chance to do much more than tell them to-"
“Back away from the wolf, now.”
“Wolf? That’s a dog!”
“You boys don’t have the sense God gave a worm, back away before-“
“One of the younger boys fell over his own feet backpedaling to get away from the wolf that had appeared out of nowhere.
“Teeth and eyes, fierce angry eyes, I’m sure that’s all the boys saw, because that’s all I could focus on. This could go bad… fast.”
“Back up, all of you.”
“The older boy seemed frozen in place even though his friends had deserted him at the first sign of trouble.”
“Make it go away, Mister… make it go away.”
“Back up, boy.”
“I… I can’t move.”
“I had a moment were I felt sorry for him, but it was gone pretty quick. I didn’t like what he’d done to the other wolf, but I wasn’t going to let him die because of it. I’m not the judge… the problem was that Mother Nature seemed to be putting her hand in and she was mad.
“I put both reins in my right hand and moved my mount a few paces to the right, making a straight path between the two. I could have made a run for it right then, but I had to try to get a little space between the boy and danger.
“I didn’t get a chance to say anything before the boy drew another stone out of his pocket.”
“Put it down.”
“I’m gonna hit him like I did the other one. It’ll make him scared... he’ll go away.”
“You make him mad, he’ll kill you.”
“That got the boy’s attention. He took one half-step back and tripped over something in the snow. He waved his hands to get his balance and the rock flew from his fingers.
“It took me a second to get my mount moving and we went straight for the middle. I didn’t have time to watch the wolf, except to see it start forward before I leaned off the left side of my saddle.
“I was worried about the wolf going for the horse, but I hoped it would take a second to think about attacking another animal nearly three times its size. All I could think of was grabbing that boy. I had a hand on his jacket and I yanked… hard.
“I didn’t realize it at first, but with my gloves on, I didn’t have that good of grip on the boy. Lucky for him he managed to grab onto my arm and hold on tight as we rode back into town.
“Several of the townsfolk had already come out to see what was the matter when the other two boys had come screaming past. They watched me ride in and put the boy on the boardwalk.
“It only took a moment for his Daddy to come out and demand an explanation from me. So I gave it to him.
“Your boy here and his friends killed a wolf goin’ through your trash. I’m guessin’ that its mate took an exception to what your boy did. You built the town near the woods, so now you have that to deal with it. You’re on their land now, and if you want them to stay away from you, I’d suggest keepin’ your trash far away from town. The smell of easy food is near impossible to turn down, especially for a starving animal.”
Jimmy looked down into his son’s half-closed eyes and smiled. “Remember that, Louis… there are living things that were here before us and we’d better learn to respect them and give them their space… or it just may come back to bite us later.”
The slight acrid smell from the fire brought Aloysius Hunter out of his reverie. He grabbed his stir stick from the makeshift rack beside the fire and scraped up the thickening beans from the bottom of the pot.
“Damn it.” He quickly muttered an apology and then laughed into the wind. “No one here to hear it.”
The words sounded a little too pathetic to his ears.
Wrapping his hands with rags he lifted the pot from the fire and set it on a flat rock he’d been using for a table. His lean-to, while solid and warm was a little too small for dining and the view was spectacular.
Picking up his one remaining eating utensil he lifted a helping of beans from the pot and blew on it. The view was just amazing; he could see miles and miles of mountains and snowcapped firs.
Just once, though, he’d like to see something else... something with two legs and a gift of gab.
‘Yep,’ he thought, ‘pathetic.’
He’d left a good house, with four strong walls and all the trappings of a cozy life to head into the mountains of California for the gold rush.
He’d left his wife. Wife number three. It had been more of a surprise to him really. He’d come home from the assay office to find a pack on the step with his clothes neatly folded inside.
She hadn’t even been home when he’d arrived, her note said she’d gone home to her family and she wished him the best.
He’d given up trying to figure out why she’d left him. Perhaps it had been their less than affluent lifestyle. He’d made good money for an assay clerk, but she was from a privileged household in San Francisco and the simple life of a clerk was hard on her delicate nature.
Then again it could have been his incessant talk about the Gold Rush. He’d been quizzing the miners that came through the office and studying maps of the territory and had convinced him that he’d found ‘the’ mine to make them rich.
She would sit there quietly through dinner and on occasion nod her head as if she were agreeing with him, but her eyes never left her plate and she never said a word except to ask for a plate of food or to excuse herself.
It was probably a combination of a lot of things, but mostly the way they had never mixed… like oil and water. There certainly had been a lot of fire and fury at the beginning, but it didn’t last.
The beans slid down his throat with little effort, but he knew he’d be paying for it later when his heart would burn like the dickens in the dead of night, but at least the beans were filling.
Setting aside his spoon and bowl he leaned back against a rock and looked up into the gathering evening clouds.
He hadn’t seen another soul for near about two weeks now. Hadn’t seen folks for a few weeks prior to that, there had been those Kanakas from the Sandwich Islands that had popped in and they’d had a grand time talking about the tropic heat.
Reaching into his coat he pulled out his flask and unscrewed the top while his mind debated over taking a swallow. He didn’t have much left and winter was just getting into full swing.
“I should head to town.” But even as he said it he knew he wouldn’t. Wouldn’t give up his stake in the river. Wouldn’t give up his chance to be rich. Wouldn’t give up his chance to prove his wife wrong. He would stick it out.
“Just wish I weren’t so darned lonely.”
It wasn’t a heavy sound. Hell, it wasn’t really even audible. It was more of a feeling deep down in his chest.
It could have been claim jumpers after his gold. It could have been the tooth fairy for all he cared… all it was, was company and on a night like this he was lonely enough not to care.
“Go ahead, come on out!”
The winter wind was his only answer.
“You can have whatever you want just come on in!”
He laughed to himself. He probably sounded a bit dotty… it wasn’t that far from the truth after all.
Leaning forward, he fanned his fingers out before the fire to warm them as best he could. That’s when he caught site of her. He blinked his eyes a few times to make sure that he wasn’t seeing things. Two, three, four times and she was still there, a wolf with a beautiful coat of fur, peering back at him with quiet eyes.
“Well, howdy there, Miss. Come to share my fire?”
The wolf stared back.
“Don’t be a stranger, now. Come closer… I won’t bite you.”
Oh now he really sounded sane.
She made to move forward, still and silent on all four paws.
Slowly, he reached into his pack and pulled out a few choice pieces of pemmican. He put one chunk between his teeth and tore off a hunk, noisily chewing it.
“Yumm!” He intoned and tossed the rest of the piece a few feet away and continued to chop on the meat. “Yumm!”
He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw her move. Thought he saw her lift her nose in the air and scent the meat in the snow.
“Oh, this is good.” He tore another piece between his teeth and chewed like it was his last meal.
She paced closer, putting her nose to the first piece of meat and took a long time investigating the morsel.
‘Picky woman,’ he huffed as she shook her nose at the jerky before gobbling it up.
“Good, huh?” He held out a piece, “Want more?”
She sat down in the snow and watched him. Eyes solemn and thoughtful.
“Don’t trust me, huh?” he let out a long-suffering sigh, “Don’t blame you. Don’t rightly trust myself really.”
He tossed the piece into the snow before her paws and this time she only took a moment before she took it in.
“That’s a girl…” he smiled a bit, a wistful smile, “It’s a small enough price for the company. I hope you don’t have anywhere to go right now, it would be a great honor to have you stay awhile.”
Yeah, he was losing his mind. Too bad he didn’t care.
That was the first thing she was aware of. Then came the sensation that she was very wet, and that it was very dark.
Emma forced her eyes open, and that at least took care of the very dark problem. And she could feel rain on her face, hear the thunder in the distance, which explained the wet feeling.
Slowly she tried to move, exploring the pain issue. When she got to her left arm, the sharp sting in her shoulder stopped her for a moment as she sucked in her breath. Her right arm seemed all right, and her right leg, but there was definitely a twinge as she tested her left leg.
Memories came back now, and she looked around, locating the wagon she’d been in. It lay twisted to one side, a wheel totally broken off. There had been a loud SNAP, that she remembered. And then falling . . .
She gasped, wrapping her arm across her abdomen. If she had fallen too hard . . .
Relief came as the baby chose that moment to make its presence known with some very active kicking. She and Sam had waited so long for this baby to come along.
She carefully used her right arm to push up into a sitting position. She could see the horse now, laying on its side. The animal’s flanks were heaving with each breath, but from where she sat she couldn’t tell any more about whether the mare was injured.
Her first attempt at getting to her feet ended when she fell back unceremoniously onto her butt.
Taking a deep breath, Emma slid slowly toward the wagon, pausing when she got there to gather her strength. Then, with the frame of the buckboard for support, she finally managed to get to her feet. And still using the wagon for balance she made her way to the front and began to fumble with the harness, which had twisted to hold the horse too tightly in place.
The attempt to use her left arm quickly resulted in a wave of pain that threatened to make her pass out. She tried again, awkwardly using only her right hand to release the harness. It seemed to take hours, but she finally worked the horse free – and then stood back, relieved to see the mare scramble to her feet. The horse moved off a few feet, seeming to favor a rear leg, but otherwise in one piece.
“Well, that’s a bit of luck,” Emma said softly. She wasn’t really sure why she was speaking out loud – the horse certainly wasn’t paying attention to her. Maybe she just needed to test her voice, just as she had tested her body.
Or maybe she needed to hear her voice to offset the knowledge that she was injured, miles from anywhere – and all alone.
The sky was darker, and it wasn’t from the rain clouds. Night was fast approaching, and she turned her attention to that fact. “Well, we need to find some shelter,” she said, hobbling over to the horse. Somehow just saying the words seemed to be a good first step.
She scanned the area, looking for someplace to actually accomplish her plan.
There was a bluff not too far off, with the reassuring sight of trees on top. The rocky surface offered promise of a cave, or at least a sheltering overhang, as well – if she could find a way to the top that her injured leg could handle.
Emma scrounged a few things from the tipped wagon – the canteen, her jacket, the remaining food, and the rifle that Sam insisted she keep handy. She placed everything on top of the jacket and tied it up into a neat pack. And then, limping slowly, she started for the bluff, leading the horse behind her.
Leaving Sweetwater on her own to head for Green River maybe hadn’t been such a good idea after all. Sam was not going to be happy.
She wondered if he had gotten the telegram yet . . .
The sign welcoming him to Green River was a welcome sight indeed, Buck decided. He’d been in the saddle for several days, and it was taking a toll, especially with the rain. He sat up a little straighter, stretching his back. Hopefully he wouldn’t have trouble getting a room at one of the hotels he remembered from his last time through. A hot bath, a warm meal, and a soft bed would do wonders to make him feel better.
He guided his horse down the main street, dodging a couple of wagons along the way. He passed the livery, the blacksmith shop, the boot maker, the newspaper office. The hotel that was his target was in sight as he came up toward the marshal’s office. Someone was just tying up a horse in front of the office as Buck rode by, but something made him look back and then stop.
Sam Cain looked up, tipping his hat back as he did. The voice sounded friendly enough, but his hand inched toward his gun anyway, a habit born of long years around both sides of the law. But it only took a moment for him to recognize the speaker and relax his guard. “Buck!”
Buck dismounted quickly, his aching back forgotten. In a matter of seconds the two men were shaking hands.
“Damn, it’s good to see you, Buck,” Sam said with a grin. “What are you doing here?”
“Good to see you too, Sam,” Buck replied, and then he shrugged. “Just passing through, I guess. Heard there were some places hiring up north in Montana. What about you? Last I looked, Green River wasn’t the territorial capital.”
Sam laughed and shook his head. “Not hardly. But there’s been a gang operating out of this area for a while now, making life hard for the miners. So I figured I’d come check it out myself.”
“Did you find them?”
Sam shook his head again, but now the smile was gone. “Not a trace,” he admitted. “It’s like they were never there at all – ‘cept I got widows and injured men who say otherwise.”
“Anything I can do?” Buck offered.
“Well, that’s an interesting offer,” Sam replied. “Might just be I’ll take you up on it.”
“I’ll help if I can,” Buck said, then changed the topic. “How’s Emma?”
Sam’s smile returned. “Emma’s just great. She’s expectin’ our first child!”
“Sam, that’s great!”
“Buck, you in a big hurry to get to Montana?”
“No special hurry, I guess.”
“Well, Emma’s in Sweetwater. When I said I was coming out this way, she decided to come along and visit some old friends. When I’m done here I’m headin’ back that way – and I know she’d love to see you.”
“I’d like that too,” Buck answered.
“Well, come on in the office,” Sam said, leading the way. “I got a little paperwork to take care of, and then we’ll go get caught up!”
It was the low growl that stopped her in her tracks.
The sun was nearly set, with just a faint glow showing over the western horizon. She had reached the trees on the bluff, and was almost to the top, when the sound reached her ears.
Going forward didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore – but with the way her leg felt, going back down didn’t seem like a good idea either. And there was the ominous boom of thunder in the background as well.
Emma set the pack down carefully, keeping the rifle out and handy. She tied off the horse’s reins to a small tree, took a deep breath, and edged forward.
The growling came again, followed by a piteous mewling sound. And now Emma was really confused as to what might be ahead of her. She paused to dry her sweating hands and then moved forward again.
The trail opened into a small clearing at the top of the bluff – and suddenly in the fading light Emma had her answer.
In front of her, a black wolf half stood, half lounged, across the trail. The animal’s lips were pulled back, revealing wicked fangs. And the low, angry growling came again.
Emma’s hands tightened reflexively on the rifle, sending shooting pain through her left shoulder again as she did so. She started to bring the rifle to bear on the wolf when something stopped her. A crack of lightning glinted off something metallic behind the wolf.
Slowly, watching the wolf with each step she took, Emma moved closer. It puzzled her that the animal, which continued to growl, had made no move toward her.
And then she saw the reason.
A chain trailed away from the wolf’s back left leg – and it was attached to a trap which was firmly snapped around that leg.
“Oh, my,” Emma whispered to herself as she leaned back against a rock. This certainly posed a dilemma she needed to think about.
Sam’s fist hit the desk as he swore, startling the deputy sitting there.
Buck stepped up closer. “What’s wrong?”
Sam held out the telegram he had just read. “She was supposed to wait for me in Sweetwater.”
Buck took the telegram and quickly saw what was upsetting the other man. SAM, LEAVING SWEETWATER NOW, WILL ARRIVE GREEN RIVER LATE THURSDAY, EMMA.
Sam was already pulling on his jacket when Buck turned back to him. “Well, let’s go.”
“Buck, you been ridin’ for days,” Sam said. “You don’t have to go.”
“Are you saying you don’t want me to come?” Buck asked.
“I ain’t sayin’ that,” Sam began.
“Good,” Buck said quickly, cutting the lawman off. “Because I’d just follow you anyway.”
“I could try and lose you,” Sam said, though he really didn’t seem to be arguing any longer.
Buck shook his head. “That would cost you time getting to Emma,” he pointed out. “Besides,” he added with a grin, “I’m a better tracker than that.”
Sam just laughed and nodded his head. “I’d be glad of the company,” he admitted. “But the truth is, we’ve both been ridin’ a lot.” He turned back to the deputy. “Carl, you take our horses over to the livery and ask Frank for a couple of fresh ones.”
“Sure, Sam,” the young man agreed, rushing out the door.
“Buck, you an’ me are going over to the hotel for some dinner before we head out,” Sam continued. “We’ll get Les to pack up some grub for the trail too.”
As if sensing that the human visitor was no longer a threat, the wolf dropped to the ground again and resumed the soft crying sound Emma had heard before.
For her part, Emma just stayed where she was, still thinking. Part of her said to just shoot the wolf – they were dangerous creatures, and even more so when injured. The wolf could pull the chain free at any moment and attack.
But that thought warred with another, which was that this beautiful animal was trapped, hurting, and frightened – much as Emma was herself.
Then the wolf stopped its crying for a moment, and Emma heard another sound. This one seemed like crying too, but much softer, weaker . . . smaller.
She hobbled toward the new sound, noting that the wolf tried to scramble to its feet – but also noting that there was no more growling. Just in case, she kept the rifle between her and the wolf.
Of course, that put the gun in her left hand, and she wasn’t sure she could have even used that arm so much as to raise the rifle.
The terrain was rocky, and with her injured leg, progress was slow. But the sound was closer, and she was starting to suspect what she would find. She climbed carefully up over some loose rocks and looked down, finding a crevasse in a larger rock below. And in the depression among the rocks were three tiny pups, trying to scramble up the side.
The adult wolf cried out again, and the pups responded in unison. They renewed their attempts to climb out, but their tiny bodies simply wouldn’t let them escape.
All thoughts of shooting the wolf fled from Emma’s mind as she looked down at the tiny babies. “Oh, you poor little things,” she whispered, laying the rifle aside. Her own baby chose that moment to kick, reminding her of other new life on its way.
Emma reached over the rocks, finding it extremely awkward since she had only one good hand to keep her balance, and only one good leg to work with. But then her searching fingers found soft fur and she pulled the first pup free.
Out of the shadows, she could see that the pup was even younger than she’d thought, with its eyes barely open. It cried again as she cradled it close, and then leaned over to lick at her fingers.
Emma turned with her precious little bundle, and found the black wolf regarding her with keen interest. She held the pup out in front of her. “Is this your baby,” she asked, hoping the sound of her voice would keep the wolf calm. “I’m sure it is, and you were trying to get back to your babies when you got caught, weren’t you?” She was almost to the wolf now, and found herself wondering just how long that chain was. But just then the animal lay back, exposing a belly full of milk-engorged teats.
“Well, here’s your first baby,” Emma said, leaning down slowly. “And if you don’t bite me, I’ll get the others.” She lowered the pup to the ground, near the wolf’s belly.
The wolf’s head moved suddenly, and Emma leapt back with a startled yelp. But the wolf had eyes only for the pup, and was now nudging the baby toward the waiting nourishment.
“Well, you scared me half to death,” Emma said, surprised at how her voice was shaking. “But you didn’t bite.”
And so, true to her word, she went back to rescue another pup.
Sam couldn’t remember being on a tenser ride, and he was very glad Buck had come along. On his own, he would have been inclined to just race across country back to Sweetwater and try to follow Emma’s trail. But Buck had pointed out that there was really only one route available to someone traveling in a wagon, and Sam was sure Emma wouldn’t try to ride in her sixth month of pregnancy.
Of course, Emma could be stubborn . . .
No! He was sure she’d be in a wagon.
So they’d stuck close to the wagon road, riding apart when the road widened so that they’d see any sign of trouble.
And the longer they went without seeing any sign of Emma, the more he was sure that trouble was exactly what they’d find – or that trouble had already found Emma.
The branch broke suddenly, sending Emma stumbling backward. She finally caught her balance and then stood there, looking at the pieces of wood in each hand.
She’d hoped the hefty branch would have given her the leverage to spring the trap open, but it hadn’t worked.
Emma looked down at the little family at her feet. The pups had had their fill of milk and were curled in one big ball next to their mother. They looked happy and content.
The mother wolf, on the other hand, wasn’t looking very well at all.
The black wolf lay panting, tongue hanging out, eyes closed. She looked weak, Emma decided.
The wolf moved just a bit, jangling the chain, and drawing Emma’s eyes back to the foot caught in the trap. She’d tried to clean the wound, but there was so much she couldn’t do because of the heavy jaws of the trap.
With two good arms, and two healthy legs, maybe she could have opened the trap.
Of course, if she’d had two good arms and two good legs, it might have meant the wagon accident wouldn’t have hurt the horse either. And then she’d have simply gotten on to the draft horse and ridden on her way.
“I think I was meant to find you,” she said softly, smiling as the wolf looked up, meeting her eyes. Then the wolf lowered its head again and curled closer around the sleeping pups.
“You’re a good mother,” Emma continued, lowering herself to sit on the ground nearby. “Just thinking about your babies.” She rubbed a hand over her abdomen. “I’m going to be a mother too.”
Emma reached over to one side. She’d found a large rock with one side partially hollow, and it served well as a bowl after catching the night’s rain. She pushed it close to the wolf and then slowly got to her feet and made her way over to where she had made a small shelter for herself.
The horse stood nearby, and Emma reached down to feel the injured leg. It seemed better, but she could still feel some swelling.
She couldn’t walk out, and she couldn’t ride the horse yet. So she was stuck, just like the wolf in some ways.
At least she could take comfort in the certain knowledge that Sam was looking for her . . .
Sam pulled his horse around, heading for where Buck was. The younger man seemed to have found something, and Sam could only hope it wasn’t another false lead.
“It hasn’t been here long,” Buck said, pointing at a wagon as Sam rode up.
Sam dismounted and looked for himself. There was a wheel snapped off, but he had to agree with Buck – it hadn’t been there long. No weeds grew over the wood, and the paint on the wheels still looked fresh.
“Sam, look at this.”
Sam took the shawl from Buck’s hands – and felt his heart rise up into his throat. “It’s Emma’s,” he managed to whisper, gripping the gold colored material tightly. “I gave this to her for Christmas.”
“Well, the shawl is here, but she’s not,” Buck pointed out. “Sam, she’s not here,” he repeated, pointing around the wrecked wagon. He cursed silently at the rain that had wiped out any possible tracks. “The horse is gone too.”
“We didn’t see any riders,” Sam said slowly, trying to take in Buck’s words. Emma must have been alive . . .
“She could have headed back to Sweetwater instead of going on,” Buck said. “Or if she was hurt she might have taken shelter.”
“Hurt?” That had Sam worried again and he looked around. “But where?”
Buck pointed to a nearby bluff. “There are trees up there, maybe a cave,” he suggested. “That’s where I’d go.”
Sam looked in the direction Buck was pointing, squinting as if he could make out details at the top of the bluff. And then he started running in that direction.
The voice seemed to come out of nowhere, and yet it surrounded her.
Emma struggled to her feet, looking around. “Sam!”
She hurried as fast as she could go on her still painful leg, heading for the path she had used to climb the bluff two days earlier. She stumbled over a root and bumped her sore shoulder against a tree. Stifling her cries of pain, she moved on.
Finally she was out of the trees, near the edge of the bluff – and there were two figures coming her way!
“Sam!” She cried out again, waving. If her leg had hurt a bit less, she would have run down the path – but common sense won out. She didn’t want to fall and re-injure the leg. Not now, when Sam was so close.
She could definitely tell it was him now – his gait was familiar, as was the hat he wore. There was something familiar about the other man too, but they were still too far away to make out any details.
It felt like hours as she watched the two men climb – even though she knew it was really only a matter of minutes. By the time they were halfway up, she even thought she knew who the other man was – though how Sam had managed to meet up with Buck Cross way out here, after all this time, was a mystery.
At least it was a mystery that would soon be solved.
Finally she couldn’t wait any longer and she started down, closing the distance to where Sam was climbing. When they eventually met, she threw her arms around his neck – the pain in her shoulder was more than offset by the feel of his arms around her.
Sam just held his wife tightly for a long moment, not even daring to speak. But finally he pushed her back just a little, looking into her face. “Emma, what happened? Are you all right?”
“The wheel broke off the wagon. I’m sure you saw that,” she replied. “I hurt my leg and shoulder when I was thrown out, and the horse came up limping too. So I couldn’t walk out, or ride out.”
Sam’s eyes had gone wide when Emma mentioned her injuries. “You’re hurt? How bad is it?”
“I’ll be fine, Sam,” she assured him, and then she turned toward her other rescuer, reaching out her arms. “Buck, how in the world did you come to be here?”
Buck took her carefully in his arms, mindful now of where she was hurt. “I just happened to run into Sam in Green River, right before he got your telegram. So of course I had to come and make sure you were all right.”
“You were up here the whole time?” Sam asked.
“A little farther up,” Emma said, turning that way. “The horse is up there now. I think her leg is better, but she’s still limping.”
Sam knew he didn’t really care about the horse’s limp, especially not after seeing how Emma was favoring her left leg as they walked. But when he spoke, he left that thought unsaid. “Emma, how bad is it, really?” The path was narrow but he stepped up next to her, putting his arm around her waist to support her.
“Nothing some rest won’t heal, Sam.”
He was almost afraid to ask the next question. “And the baby?”
Emma turned back and smiled. “The baby’s been kicking up a storm!”
“Did you have any food?” Buck asked.
“I had a little with me for the trip,” Emma replied. “And with all the rain, we had plenty of water.”
They reached the small clearing now – and the men stopped suddenly as a low growl filled the air.
Sam pulled Emma behind him, instinctively reaching for his gun. He was vaguely aware of Buck coming up on her other side, his own gun coming out.
The black wolf lay ahead in the path, her teeth bared.
The only thing Sam saw was danger and he cocked his pistol . . .
He pointed the barrel away as Emma jumped in front of him, her arms raised.
“Emma, get out of the way,” he pleaded, reaching for her arm. But she stepped back, out of his reach – toward the wolf.
He hoped now that Buck had a shot. But even as that thought crossed his mind he saw Emma pushing Buck’s pistol away too.
“Emma . . .”
“Sam, she’s caught in a trap,” Emma said firmly. “She’s tired, and hurt, and scared.” She stepped closer to the wolf and pointed down. “And she’s a mother.”
From his vantage point, Buck could see the chain now that held the trap. He stepped forward, his gun still ready, but mindful of Emma’s protectiveness over the wolf. And as he approached her, he could see three little bundles of fur sitting up alongside the adult wolf, curious as to what the intrusion was.
It took Sam a moment longer to move, struck as he was by the surprise of finding the wolf – and of seeing Emma protect it. But now he stepped forward too. “It’s been here the whole time you were?”
Emma nodded. “I heard the growling, just like you did, and I almost shot her too. But then I saw the chain, so I put the rifle down. And that’s when I heard the pups. They were down in a little hole in those rocks,” she said, pointing. “They couldn’t get to their momma, and she couldn’t get to them.”
Buck edged a little closer to the wolf. He’d been raised to respect wolves as a powerful symbol of nature – but they still had sharp teeth and finely honed hunting instincts, so it was better to pay respect from some distance. “So you got the pups out?”
“One at a time – that’s all I could do the way my arm and leg were hurting,” Emma replied. She looked down at the babies. “They’ve been feeding fine, but their momma’s had no food. She wouldn’t eat what I tried to give her from my pack. I think she’s getting weak.”
Sam just stared at his wife. Stranded in the wilderness, injured, with no idea when rescue would come – and she was trying to share what little she had with a wolf? Well, come to think of it, that’s exactly who Emma was. “You’re amazing, Emma,” he said softly.
“I tried to get the trap off,” she said. “But I just couldn’t get enough pressure on it.”
“I think we can open it,” Buck said. He’d been studying it now, comparing it to traps he knew about. “It looks like it’s meant to have a special tool to open it, but we can try.”
“Oh, Buck, please do,” Emma said.
Buck stepped carefully around the wolf, shaking his head. This was a situation he really hadn’t imagined being in. For Emma’s sake he was going to try – but there was nothing to say the wolf wouldn’t turn around and snap his arm even though he was trying to help her.
But even as Buck got closer, the wolf just curled in tighter around her babies.
“How do you want to do this, Buck?” Sam asked, moving closer himself.
Buck pointed at the back of the trap. “See if you can get some pressure on that,” he answered. “I’ll try to force the jaws apart.”
Sam looked a little dubious at the plan. “What if it tries to turn and bite?”
“I think Emma’s right, she is weak,” Buck said – wondering if he was really trying to convince himself. “I can lay across her body, hold her down that way.”
That called for a BIG dubious look from Sam. But one look at his wife’s face told him he had to give this a try. Still, they needed to take some precaution. “Emma, you get that rifle,” he said. “Buck an’ me will try to get that trap off. But if that wolf comes at us, you have to shoot.”
Emma caught her breath – after all they’d been through together, the idea of shooting the she-wolf hurt. But she nodded and picked up the rifle, holding it ready. If it came down to a choice between Sam or Buck and the wolf, she would shoot.
Buck pulled his jacket off, wrapping it around the arm that would be closest to the wolf’s head. Then he got down on his knees next to the wolf and waited for Sam to get into place on the other side.
Sam crouched down, studying the trap. He wasn’t an expert on this, but he’d seen trappers with special tools to open these. Still he thought he could see what Buck wanted to try. “Ready.”
Buck nodded, took a deep breath, and draped himself over the wolf. He could feel her body tense underneath his, but she made no attempt to swing back and bite. Whether that was because she recognized they were trying to help, or because she really was too weak, he wasn’t sure. But he reached down for the jaws of the trap, not wanting to waste any time – time for the wolf to think about biting.
Sam pushed, Buck pulled – and for a long, tense moment nothing seemed to be happening. And then each man reached down for an extra bit of strength. They tried again, and the jaws of the trap slowly began to part.
“Emma, grab a rock or something,” Sam called out. “We need to block this open.”
Emma quickly dropped the rifle and grabbed a rock. She brought it up close, forcing it between the jaws of the trap as Buck pulled them open.
As soon as the trap was blocked open, Sam pushed himself between Emma and the wolf. But the animal still made no hostile moves toward her rescuers.
“You should get back, Sam,” Buck said quietly, not wanting to startle the wolf. “Then I’ll get up.”
Sam did as he was told, still keeping Emma behind him. And just for good measure, his hand hovered near his holster.
Keeping his weight on the wolf as long as possible, Buck got his feet under him and then pushed himself back and away. When he was clear he walked over to stand next to Emma and Sam.
They stood and watched as the wolf tested her new-found freedom, stretching her leg out and pulling it in. Then she leaned over her pups and began to lick at the wound where the jaws had held her captive. Finally, she got tentatively to her feet.
“That’s a good sign, isn’t it?” Emma said hopefully.
“Yeah, it’s good,” Sam agreed.
“We’ll see if she can put any weight on the leg,” Buck cautioned.
They all three seemed to be holding their breaths as they waited to see what would happen. The wolf seemed to be wondering too as she stood, looking down at her pups, holding the injured leg off the ground. But then she looked down the path on the other side of the clearing, looked back at her pups, and put the leg down as she turned the other way. She whined softly in pain, but she took another step, and another, using the leg.
Emma smiled and finally took a breath, reaching out to take Sam and Buck by the hand. “Oh, that’s so wonderful,” she whispered.
Sam squeezed his wife’s hand and just smiled. What was wonderful was that he had found her, and that she was relatively unharmed. The worry he’d gone through since getting the telegram in Green River seemed to have aged him. But with Emma beside him again, those extra years seemed to be melting off again.
They continued to watch as the wolf took a few more tentative steps around the clearing, and then she returned to the pups. She leaned down and grasped one of them with her teeth by the scruff of its neck and disappeared down the trail. A few minutes later she limped back into view and picked up the second pup. And a few minutes after that she returned for the third pup.
“Found a new home, I guess,” Sam said.
Emma nodded, but then a new concern occurred to her. “Do you think she’ll be able to hunt?” If the wolf couldn’t hunt, and eat, all of this would have been for naught.
It was getting dark by the time the drama with the wolf and her pups ended, so they decided to stay on the bluff for the night. It seemed to make more sense than trying to get Emma down the narrow path in the dark. And with dark clouds threatening to open up and rain at any time, the shelter she had found would be welcome.
While Sam gathered wood and got a fire going, Buck went back down to the horses to get some supplies. He was gone for a while, and when they heard shots coming from the valley floor, Sam went to the path to see if there was trouble – but there was no one else in sight.
When Buck reappeared on the bluff, he had the supplies – as well as a couple of rabbits and a wild turkey. They kept part of the turkey to roast over the fire, and Buck took the rest of the fresh meat partway down the path the wolf had taken. He left it there and returned to the camp.
The three people spent the evening in pleasant conversation, catching up on what had happened in their lives over the three years since Sam and Emma had moved away from Sweetwater. And when they were done for the night, they built the fire up bright and strong – just in case any prowling predators might come along.
“The meat’s gone,” Buck announced. Perhaps fueled by Emma’s passion for the wolf, he’d felt the need to check before they left.
“You figure it was the wolf?” Sam asked.
“The drag marks head where I think she took the pups,” Buck replied. “And we didn’t see or hear any sign of anything else that big up here.”
“I hope that means she’ll be all right,” Emma said.
“That was enough meat to last a few days,” Buck replied.
“Gives her a chance to get some strength back,” Sam added. “Without having to worry about hunting.”
“She’ll make it then,” Emma declared. With time to rest, and the desire to be strong to take care of her pups, she had confidence in the wolf she had shared so much time with.
“And you’ll make it too, if we get going off this hill,” Sam said.
Emma smiled at her husband. “I’m ready, Sam.”
Buck led the way, guiding the draft horse down the trail. As Sam and Emma followed, Sam turned back to his wife. “I just still can’t believe you were here with that wolf all that time and she didn’t try to bite you.”
“I think I was meant to find her, Sam,” Emma said. “And I think she knew I was only trying to help her.”
Sam smiled at his wife and just shrugged his shoulders. If that’s what she believed, he didn’t figure he could change her mind. But personally, he was just thanking good luck that he had his wife back in one piece.
He started forward, holding out his hand for Emma.
She paused to take one last look at the clearing. Despite what she figured Sam was thinking, she was the one who knew what had happened there with the wolf. As her baby kicked, she rubbed her hand absently over her belly and whispered, “A mother knows.”
And then she took Sam’s hand and headed down the hill.
A/N: It’s been a little while since I’ve done one of these; pardon me as I shake off the rust. This story is a sequel to Wolves and begins several days later, after the storm ends.
When Buck finally emerged from the cabin he found shelter in, it felt warmer than it had in months. Whether that was true, or he had merely lost the chill in his soul, he wasn’t sure. The Spirits had told him they had had not forgotten him; they had promised that they would lead him where he was supposed to go. For a man who had felt abandoned, lost, alone, he now welcomed the peace that infused him, filled him with surety.
He trudged through the snow to the barn and found his horse where he had left him. What little food there was had been consumed, but his horse was alive and just as Buck had faith that he would be protected and guided, he also knew that his horse would be taken care of as well. After all, he relied on his mount to get him where the Spirits wanted him to go, surely they would provide for the animal that would take him on his journey. He made quick work of saddling his horse and preparing him for the trip, and then led him out of the barn that had housed him for the past three days.
Once Buck was seated in his saddle, he nudged his horse forward slowly and looked around. He knew that the Spirits would not abandon him now; they would show him where to go. The only question he had was what sign would they use, and would he be astute enough to recognize it. One hand held his reins, and the other lightly touched the medicine pouch around his neck, while his lips moved in silent prayers that he would recognize their guidance.
As his eyes swept the landscape, they were arrested by the sight of a lone wolf standing by the tree line. Her pale coat was dusted with snow and she nearly blended in with the landscape, but she moved slightly just as he was scanning the area and he stopped, suddenly alert at her presence. Wolves had circled the area surrounding the cabin during the storm, adding their mournful cries to the howling winds. The winter was harsh, food was scarce and his hand fell away from his medicine pouch and drifted towards his gun. If she charged, thinking to make a meal of his horse, he would be prepared.
Instead, the wolf made no move to advance, the only movement she made was a precise pacing in front of the stand of trees. Yet, her eyes were always locked on him, she never wavered and he found himself unable to break the gaze. Without knowing what he was doing, he realized he had nudged his horse forward, heading towards the wolf. As soon as he was aware of his action, he pulled his horse to a stop and scarcely drew breath. Would she attack now that he was closer? Yet, the wolf didn’t move. Except for the same circuit she had pace since he first saw her. A low whine drifted from her throat, a plea almost, an entry for him.
He shook his head, certain he was imagining things. It was almost as if the animal was asking him to follow. Maybe hunger and fatigue had dulled his mind, were making him see things that weren’t there, and yet… As he watched the wolf, her eyes stood out against her coat. They weren’t like any eyes from any animal he had ever seen. They were pale blue, and they seemed almost…human. They watched him with an intelligence that startled him, but he wasn’t afraid of it. He was drawn to it, he felt safe, he felt protected…he was guided.
The wolf was his guide. The Spirits had sent her to him, to show him the way. He was certain of it. The howl that seemed to hold the answer to his pleadings had come from her. She was who he had been looking for. Accepting the truth was easy and replaced all doubts. With renewed conviction, he nudged his horse toward the path she showed.
For two days Buck followed his guide. At times he felt like they were zig-zagging across the countryside, but he followed her without fail and certainly without question. She was always in motion, always just visible to him as she paced ahead of him on the horizon. At times she was closer, like whey they reached a fork in the faint path they seemed to be following and she wanted to make sure he knew the way to go, and then she’d once again advance before him. The pace was never so hard as to tax his horse, but she kept them moving at a steady enough pace so as to not be danger of the elements.
He would hear her circling his camp at night and he knew she was doing that to keep him protected from other predators. He hadn’t seen any, but he’d heard them far off in the distance, and all she needed to do was howl once to let others know that they were forbidden near him. It was oddly comforting, yet also strange, to know he was being protected by an animal others would normally be wary of and would chase away. Yet, she was gentle, and he followed where she led him.
They were lost. There was no other explanation for it. He knew they had passed this fence before, the tree jagged and scarred by lightning had first been on their right, and then on their left, and now it was retreating behind him towards the right.
His horse was growing weary trudging through the snow, and he was tired of being out in the cold, left to fend against the elements. Any time he wanted to go towards a town to get feed for his horse, a warm bed for himself, the wolf would bar his path. She never was fierce with them, but she would stand braced, her lips curled back slightly to show her teeth and her eyes…it was her eyes that told him quite clearly that he was not to travel that path. At first he accepted it, but now, days later and stomach sharper with the pangs of hunger, it was harder to blindly follow.
When he had received what he thought was his answer all those days ago in the cabin, he had felt peace. He would be led to a home, something that had been missing in his life since he left the Express. He had never really regretted turning down Teaspoon’s job offer, Kid had a family that he could support with that job instead of leaving to fight in the war, and Buck had wanted to soothe and provide comfort for Lou. He wouldn’t have felt right if Kid had left town because Buck had a job that her husband could have used.
But now…now he wondered whether he had made the right choice. What if Kid had followed through with his insistence that he was going to fight for his homeland? What if the other man hadn’t taken the job and Buck had turned down a perfectly good job that would have kept him warm and fed? Why was he out here freezing, wandering around aimlessly when he had family back in Rock Creek that he knew would help him? All he had to do was swallow his stubborn pride and go back. There was no shame in that, he wasn’t failure, he was man enough to accept help where he knew it would be willingly offered.
Decision made, Buck drifted off to sleep, knowing what he was going to do in the morning.
When he saddled his horse that morning, he was sure that the wolf was gone. He hadn’t heard her circling his camp during the night, and he hadn’t heard her lonesome howl in well over a day. He had been abandoned by the Spirits, if the wolf had even been a guide from them in the first place. He most likely was just a fool who was following a wolf as she hunted for her sustenance during the winter and he’d gotten himself lost during the process. Well, no more. He was going back to Rock Creek. He’d strike out on a path, find the nearest town to make sure of his location and then return.
Except as he headed his horse on the trail he intended to take, he was stopped by the presence of the wolf. She was closer than she’d ever been, pacing in an arc before his horse and her lips were pulled back, the hair on her neck raised and a low, threatening growl emanated deep from within her throat. Her eyes, blue so pale they were almost translucent, glared at him and accused him for his unbelief. She wouldn’t let him pass, no matter how many times he tried to sidestep his horse around her, and his horse was being driven back by the beast before it, determined to make them go the way she intended.
When Buck finally stopped trying to get around her, and instead held his horse still, she paused for a moment, legs braced as she regarded him, and then slowly, she walked past him. He turned, twisting in his saddle as he watched her go, but somehow it never crossed his mind to direct his horse forward once she was past him. As he now gazed behind his horse, the wolf stopped and looked at him, waiting, expecting him to comply with her command. He was to follow her, and as she began to edge slowly towards the horizon, she intended him to follow her now.
With a sigh, Buck swung his horse around and set out along the path she broke. He wondered what he was doing, continuing on when he had been determined to go back to Rock Creek, but if the Spirits had decided to let him know they had not abandoned him, he would listen. He felt regret for having doubted, it all seemed so simple now. She was leading him in her own manner, in her own time, and he had to have faith to follow. She wasn’t going to make this easy, these things never were; it was a trial of his faith, not an immediate reward.
As she reached the horizon, the wolf turned, as if to make sure he was following her. She also whined low in her throat, an entreaty for him to increase his pace. Properly chastised, he nudged his horse with his heels and pointed her in the direction the wolf disappeared.
They were approaching a town. Buck did not know the name of the place, only that he was aware of the signs of life beginning to be present. Fences became more prevalent, buildings dotted the fields surrounding them, but he still followed the path of his guide. She seemed to unerringly wind her way through the properties, without trespassing upon them, as she led him to her ultimate goal. He began to wonder if it was a house, the town itself, or was he merely going to be allowed to stop and rest for a moment before they would continue on.
It wasn’t until they crested a hill and came upon a house with a picket fence surrounding the yard that he began to feel, deep in his heart, that he had arrived. He didn’t know who lived there, or what he would say, but there was something about the laundry snapping in the breeze as it dried that stirred the heart of him, teased at his memories. The wolf stepped in front his horse and he reined in the animal, watching the house and the guide to see what she would do. She stood, a sentry before him, refusing to allow him to pass, her head trained on the building, her ears slightly back as if she was waiting, listening for something to present itself.
And then it happened. The front door opened and a woman stepped out on the porch. A child followed after her, toddling on short, unsteady legs and the woman shifted the basket and reached down to hold the child’s hand. Red tendrils escaped the bun she’d done up that morning, and Buck sighed, beholding a sight he thought he would not see again.
The wolf turned her head, her eyes blue and bright, and he understood. She stepped aside, allowing him to pass and without thought, Buck led his horse down towards the house. Emma looked up at the sound of the approaching horse, one hand coming up to shield her eyes, and then surprise bloomed over her face, followed closely by sheer delight.
“Buck? Buck Cross, is that really you?”
She dropped the basket to the ground, swept up the child into her arms and approached the fence. He stopped his horse, swept his hat off his head and smiled down at her. “Hello, Emma.”
“Well, bless me,” she sighed as he dismounted and stepped forward to hug her, careful of the child who eyed him warily. “Come inside, Buck, come inside. Sam will be home for lunch in just a few minutes. There’s plenty of food to eat.”
And just like that, he had a meal waiting for him, and he knew that he’d be sleeping in a warm bed tonight. He had been led to family, just not the family he had been thinking of. As he turned to follow after the happily chattering mother, he glanced back at the tree line. His guide was sitting, something he had never seen her do. She had always been in motion, always ahead of him, always leading him to where he needed to go, and now she was sitting, resting after delivering him safely home. For indeed, he was home now.
Lou’s announcement resulted in a flurry of motion. Jimmy jumped from the chair where he’d been sitting and ran into the bunkhouse to grab his coat and his pistols, while at the same time, Ike ran to the barn to saddle Jimmy’s horse. By the time the rider had reached the yard, Jimmy was ready and waiting for the handoff.
“Ride safe, Jimmy!” Lou called after him.
Turning to the incoming rider, she added, “Teaspoon’s been worrying about you.”
Cody slid gingerly to the ground, barely masking a wince as his feet hit solid ground.
“You hurt?” Lou asked in concern.
“No, just a little beat up is all,” the other rider responded.
Further conversation was interrupted by the appearance of the Teaspoon Hunter, the station manager. “Where you been, Cody?” the older man asked gruffly. “We were expectin’ you yesterday.”
“You’ll never believe what happened, Teaspoon,” Cody answered. “It was the most amazing thing I ever saw.”
Sensing that the story was going to be another of Cody’s infamous tales, Teaspoon sighed. “You go get cleaned up,” he ordered. “You can tell us all about it over dinner.”
“Good!” the younger man replied cheerfully. “I’m hungry enough to eat a bear!”
Teaspoon found himself once again marveling at Cody’s capacity to eat while at the same time relating the story of what had delayed him on his latest ride. Without missing a beat – or a crumb – the boy was regaling his companions with what had to be the most outlandish excuse he’d ever come up with.
“So there I am riding along, no one or nothing around, when suddenly my horse pulls up and nearly throws me off,” Cody said around a mouthful of Emma’s stew. He paused to pull off a piece of bread and slather it with butter.
“Well?” Buck Cross asked impatiently. “What caused the horse to stop?”
“I tell you Buck, what I saw was amazing,” Cody replied, taking a big bite of the thoroughly covered bread. “I ain’t never seen nothing like it!”
He paused a minute as if to chew but hurried on as the others began to shift angrily in their chairs. “I looked up ahead and there in front of me on the trail was the biggest, meanest looking, coal black wolf you ever did see.”
After another spoonful of stew, he continued, “She was a standing there all tense and growling at me. Before I could get my gun out she leaped forward and my poor old horse just got so scared she up and threw me!’
Cody looked around to see if he had everyone’s attention. Seeing he did, he added, “My gun went flying and the horse went running off back down the trail and there I am, just laying on my back, waiting for the biggest old fangs I’ve even seen to rip my throat out.”
Ike made a few motions and ended by giving the other rider a rather incredulous look.
“I know, Ike,” Cody replied. “That’s the craziest part about the whole thing. Here I figured I was going to be some wolf’s dinner and was ready to fight for my life – and nothing happened. Instead this big old she-wolf just sat down and waited until I got my wind back and was able to sit up.”
He handed his bowl to Emma for a refill and attacked another slice of bread while he was waiting. The others waited for him to continue – and waited. Finally Lou could take no more.
“Cody, you’re telling us this wolf scared off your horse and then didn’t attack or anything?” the girl demanded.
“I swear on a stack of bibles, Lou,” Cody vowed, holding a right hand that was firmly clutching a spoon. “She just sat there staring at me for the longest time – and then she started to whimperin’ like maybe she was hurt.”
“Don’t tell me,” Kid challenged. “She had a thorn in her paw and wanted you to take it out?”
Somehow Cody managed to look wounded even with his mouth full of stew soaked bread. “No, I’m not gonna tell you that!” he replied. “If you don’t want to listen, I’ll just tell Teaspoon and you can go do your chores.”
“My chores are done!” Kid retorted. “And so are yours since you weren’t around and Lou and I had to do them for you!”
“Kid,” Teaspoon stepped in, “let Cody tell his story.” Turning to the blond, he crossed his arms and waited.
“Well, Teaspoon,” Cody said, pointedly ignoring the others, “the she-wolf started a-whimperin’ and she kept looking over to the side of the trail like there was somethin’ she wanted me to see. I didn’t know what to do but I figured it wouldn’t hurt none if I went over to where she was a-lookin’ and see what was going on.”
He paused yet again to take a long swallow of milk. “So I stood up real slow and easy like,” he continued with a smack of his lips. “That old wolf watched me real close and she wouldn’t come near me but when I started to go one way she would jump around me and growl ‘til I turned the way she wanted me to go.”
“Finally, I come to the edge of this big gully,” the rider said after another swallow of stew. “The sides of this here gully were straight up and down. And it was a long ways down to the bottom too. I started to walk down the edge to see if I could find a way around but that old wolf wouldn’t let me.”
“So what was she trying to do?” Buck asked, an idea beginning to form in his mind. “She want you to jump in or something?”
“I was beginning to think just that thought, Buck,” Cody replied. “She kept crowdin’ me towards the edge and wouldn’t let me go any other direction. And then I heard somethin’ – there was this cry, kinda like a newborn baby cries, coming from the bottom of that there gully.”
Knowing he had the undivided attention of the other riders, Teaspoon and Emma, Cody was in his glory. “I knew by now that the she-wolf wasn’t gonna hurt me, so I lay down on my belly and edged as far out over that gully as I could. You’ll never guess what I saw way down at the bottom.”
“A baby wolf!” five voices sounded as one. Ike’s hands were moving even as they spoke.
“No!” Cody replied, his eyes twinkling in delight. “Way down at the bottom of that big old gully, so far down I could just barely see ‘em were two baby wolves. Both of ‘em were as black as their mama and both of ‘em were just a-crying and a-crying.”
“So what did you do?” Lou asked almost against her will.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Cody admitted. “The mama wolf wasn’t gonna let me leave without helpin’ her babies and I didn’t know how I was gonna get down there to get ‘em.”
He looked at his companions as if daring any of them to tell him what they would have done in the same place.
“I got to lookin’ around, tryin’ to find somethin’ to use to get the babies out,” he continued. “Finally I noticed this big old tree that had been knocked down in a storm. I figured if I could get the tree down in the gully, I could climb down the trunk and get the babies and climb back out.”
“So I started to move towards the tree but the she-wolf wouldn’t let me get away from the gully. She just stood there in front of me with her teeth all bared and all and growlin’ like a grizzly bear. I didn’t have a choice but to tell her that I needed to get to that tree or her babies would be stuck down in the gully.”
“And she listened,” Kid responded sarcastically.
“She had to!” Cody answered, ignoring the sarcasm. “She didn’t have a choice if she wanted to get her young’ns back.”
“It took me a while to get that tree over to the gully, ‘specially since my horse had lit out for who knows where, but I finally got ‘er done. Then all I had to do was shinny down the trunk and pick up them babies and bring ‘em back up. That’s how my shirt got torn, see, ‘cuz I made a sling outa it so’s my hands would be free to climb back up. When I did that she-wolf gave me a big old lick across my face and they trotted off into the woods.”
Cody stopped talking and looked around to find nothing but skepticism on the faces of his friends.
“Not sayin’ I don’t believe you, Cody,” Teaspoon mused, “but if your horse got scared off by the wolf, how’d you manage to ride in here today?”
“That was another amazin’ thing, Teaspoon,” Cody responded. “I figured I was gonna have to walk all the way back here and without my pouch, too. It’d be the first time I ever lost a pouch and I figured you’d be really mad.”
“So?” Teaspoon prodded, “how did you find your horse?”
“Well, after walkin’ for almost a mile, I looked up to see that old she-wolf again. And this time she had another wolf with her.” Cody answered. “This other wolf was leading my horse along by the reins just as nice as you please. They led my horse to me and then they just ran off.”
Kid snorted in disbelief.
“I don’t care what you think,” Cody told the other riders. “That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.”
A/N: Continuation of QF #49, The Favor.
As the snow came down harder, Buck was glad for two things. One, that he'd had the foresight to send Teaspoon's package and a message about what had happened with Roy, the stage driver, just over two weeks ago. And two, that he'd been able to convince both Thomas and his daughter, Rebecca, into wearing sturdy, warm work clothes for the trip. Not believing him when he'd said it was going to snow, they'd insisted that it was too early, it being the beginning of October; they'd actually laughed.
'Who's laughing now?' Buck thought, chuckling to himself, as the flakes fell around them; he on his horse, the Blaines in the wagon.
Buck had wanted to leave immediately but Thomas Blaine had disagreed, insisting they wait until Buck's wound had healed. Of course Buck had tried to explain that in his line of work, he'd had worse but the Blaines, Rebecca in particular, wouldn't hear of him exerting himself until the doctor said he could.
'Exerting myself,' he thought incredulously. 'How would loading a wagon and riding beside it cause me exertion?'
At first Buck had been embarrassed over all the fussing that Rebecca had done but after a few days, he had been quite willing to stay put and let Rebecca fuss all she wanted to. However, by the end of two weeks, Buck felt too much like Cody and, knowing that he had to get back to work and Mr. Blaine needed to get his supplies to his tailor shop, Buck had sworn that he was fine and two weeks was more than enough for him to recover. Hoping to appease Rebecca, he'd even enlisted the help of the doctor to convince the young woman, which had been harder than both men had thought. She was very concerned and had asked numerous questions on how well Buck's arm had healed and how to continue caring for the wound.
"You gentlemen may not feel the need but if we don't stop and allow me to stretch, I'm going to be stuck in this position forever."
Pulled from his thoughts by the very subject of them, Buck glanced over at Rebecca, who was trying to stretch her legs in front of her but wasn't having much luck. He laughed, causing her to look over at him. Because she was bundled up with layers of scarves and a floppy hat, all he saw of her face were her eyes and they were squinting at him. He continued laughing because he knew she wasn't angry when he saw the sparkle that had first attracted him to her.
"Alright, we'll stop to water the horses," Buck said, smiling slyly at Rebecca. "They need the rest."
Rebecca looked away, her nose in the air, and tried to cross her arms over her chest, trying for a very indignant look. It didn't work because of all the layers of clothes she was wearing. She heard Buck laugh harder.
"Father," she said, with a slight sniff, "do you hear how he is talking to me?"
"Yes Rebecca," Thomas said, pulling the horses to a halt. He looked over at his daughter and added, "And I must say, you do look rather amusing."
She swatted him good-naturedly and turned back to Buck, who was dismounting. "How much farther? Do you know?"
"Well," Buck said, stretching as he shook the kinks from his legs, "it's hard to say. Distance doesn't matter; it's time. And I think we've got a few more days ahead due to the snow and the amount we carry." He walked over to the wagon and offered his hand to Rebecca.
Rebecca sighed accepting Buck's extended hand. She was anxious to get to Rock Creek and her new life and she'd had about enough of sitting on the wagon. They'd been traveling for almost two days and her body was aching in places she really never thought would ache or should. Jumping the rest of the way to the ground, she would have collapsed if not for Buck catching her under her arms.
"Um," he said, chuckling as he helped her regain her feet. "Not a good idea after you've been sitting for as long as you have."
"I'll remember that," she replied, holding onto Buck's arm for probably longer than she needed. She pulled the scarf down, revealing her entire face and smiled up at him, as she said, "I'm fine now, thank you."
He stood there staring at her, still holding her to him.
Startled, Buck pushed Rebecca away, looking up to see her father standing there, wiping his moustache in an amused gesture.
"So, I suppose we need to get the water then," Thomas said, trying very hard to hide his smile behind his gloved hand.
Thomas Blaine really did like Buck and had since he'd met all the riders in Rock Creek. Everyone in the Express family had been very kind to him in helping get his business up and running. He was fond of all of them but there was something about Buck that had intrigued the tailor and as he got to know the Kiowa, he'd learned how truehearted Buck was.
"Right, water," Buck mumbled, walking over to the wagon to get the buckets. "I'll be back in a minute." He grabbed Star's reins and, leading the horse, he set out to get the water.
Not far from the wagon, Star began to pull at her reins trying to get free. As she whimpered, Buck put the buckets down and stroked the beautiful mare's neck.
"Easy girl," Buck murmured, hoping to calm the agitated animal.
Looking around, he didn't see anything odd but, as the horse still pulled, Buck knew there was something. Releasing the reins to allow Star some freedom, he walked forward, slowly, listening for anything out of the norm. As the snow crunched under his boots, he thought Star had just heard a bird or small animal but then there it was - a low, mournful whine.
He moved further into the brush and saw the hole. Immediately Buck knew what it was and a feeling of anger washed over him. It was a trapper's hole, one dug to capture wolves and other animals for their pelts. Buck walked closer to the hole and peered over the edge.
Buck jumped back as a wolf lunged for the opening, trying desperately to get free and probably kill Buck. He scrambled backwards, to get as much distance between him and the enraged animal. Panting, he contemplated what to do to help the wolf. He knew that he couldn't just put his hands in and grab her because, even if he'd be saving her life, she'd rip his arms to shreds.
He hated things like this and was so lost in thought that he didn't hear Thomas and Rebecca approach.
"Is everything alright, Buck?" Thomas' concern was apparent in his voice.
Turning around, Buck saw both Thomas and Rebecca looking intently at him. "I'm fine, it's just..."
At that moment, the wolf announced her presence with a soulful cry, sounding almost human.
"Oh!" Rebecca gasped, clutching her father's arm. "What was that?"
"A wolf," Buck muttered, staring at the hole.
"Good Lord, where?" Thomas exclaimed, glancing around frantically in search of the animal.
"In there," Buck growled and walked toward the hole, stopping short of the edge. "And I want to figure out how to get her out."
"Out?" Thomas couldn't believe Buck was going to get that wild animal out of there. "Why?"
"Because she's suffering," Buck stated, struggling to keep the anger from his voice and to help him, he looked around the area for something to use to help the wolf out of the hole.
"Well, can't you just shoot her?"
Buck abruptly stopped his search and cleared the distance between him and Thomas in a heartbeat.
"Shoot her?" Buck growled, standing toe-to-toe with the tailor. "Why? This isn't of her doing. This is man...in all his glory. She's at the bottom of that hole - waiting." He paused looking from Thomas to Rebecca and back. Knowing neither one would ask, he did. "Waiting for what? Either starvation or a bullet in the head, supplied by the trapper that created this horrific trap. That's not gonna' happen if I have anything to say about it." Stomping off to find anything that would help the trapped wolf, he tried to ignore his traveling companions.
Rebecca and Thomas exchanged glances and, knowing this was very important to Buck, held hands and walked to the edge of the hole. Peering over, they were greeted by a lunging, snarling wolf, causing them to almost fall over in their effort to escape. Hurrying over to where Buck was standing helplessly looking around, they began to search for a means of escape for the wolf.
After a few minutes of silence, Rebecca softly asked, "How do you know it's a she?"
Buck couldn't help but smile and looked over at Rebecca, his anger deflating. "Because the wolf's stomach looks swollen so I think she's with child."
"Oh," she replied, suddenly feeling for the wolf. Staring at the hole, she concentrated as her father and Buck walked over to the wagon.
Both men were discouraged as they looked over the contents. They'd been so sure that there would be something to help but all that was in there were trunks, suitcases, boxes with supplies and a small writing desk.
"Buck, I'm truly sorry but we must take care of the horses and get moving," Thomas said, quietly, as he placed his hand on the young man's shoulder.
Buck just nodded and turned to finish getting the water for the horses.
"What about limbs?"
"Limbs?" Thomas asked, as he followed Buck over to where Rebecca stood, staring at the hole.
"Yes," she said, with more enthusiasm. She was sure this would work. "If we pile in as many limbs and brush as we can, she can climb out." Very happy with herself, she turned only to have her smile drop when she saw Buck's and Thomas' expressions. "Well, I'm not leaving until we get her out, so do either one of you have a better suggestion?"
Shaking his head, Buck smiled at Rebecca and, with renewed passion, began to collect limbs and brush, as did Thomas.
"Pile it up beside the hole," Buck ordered. "I'll put it down there." He knew this was risky; especially once the wolf was out of the hole.
"Um," Rebecca whispered, looking around her. "I have this strange sensation that we're being watched."
"We are," Buck said, "There's at least one wolf nearby watching us, keeping a vigil for her. Possibly her mate. I've felt it since we stopped actually but didn't understand it until I found her." He continued gathering and piling not acknowledging any presence but their own. "There could be more so I wouldn't draw attention by looking for them."
"Fine by me," Rebecca muttered as she, too, continued to collect and pile.
Soon, they had a large pile of limbs and brush beside the hole. Buck walked over to see what the wolf was doing and saw that she was curled up at the bottom, whining softly to herself. His heart was breaking and he couldn't wait any longer.
"You both go get in the wagon," Buck said, holding his hand up for the argument he knew would come. "I don't want to hear it. You need to get ready for when she comes out. Keep Star beside the wagon and I'll run as fast as I can once the branches are in there." He smiled hoping to alleviate any anxiety Thomas and Rebecca felt over this plan.
"Good idea," Thomas agreed, taking his daughter by the hand to pull her towards the wagon.
Grumbling, Rebecca followed.
Once Buck saw both Blaines seated, he began throwing the brush down into the hole. At first, the wolf growled and barked at him but after he started on the branches, Buck noticed that the wolf realized what he was doing and began to climb up, using the branches for support. Finally, as Buck put the last limb in place, he looked up and could have reached out and touched the top of the wolf's head. Knowing it was time for him to leave, he turned and ran as fast as he could, not looking back.
Jumping onto Star, he kicked her into motion as Thomas snapped the reins to get the wagon moving. Glancing over, Buck saw the wolf clear the top of the hole, jumping to get out. She stood there staring at him; not moving and Buck wondered what she was thinking.
"Well done," Thomas enthused, smiling at Buck. "That was extraordinary. I've never been a part of something like that...that alive and wild." He was silent a moment, the smile fading slightly. "And I'm truly sorry I ever said to shoot her. I'll never think that way again."
Smiling, Buck nodded but said nothing. He was so completely lost in his thoughts that soon it was time to stop for the night. Since they'd lost quite a bit of time helping the mother wolf, they weren't too far from that spot.
"Do you think she'll..." Rebecca began, looking around at the trees.
"I doubt it," Buck assured her. "If she'd wanted to come after us, she'd have done it when we were there. But, I honestly think she knows what we did for her."
"Ah, right," Rebecca agreed and, feeling a bit foolish for asking a stupid question, hurried off to set up camp.
Sensing her embarrassment, Buck turned and called to her retreating back. "Rebecca, it's okay." When she turned to face him, he continued, "It's a wild place out here and you're not used to it. But, give it time." She smiled shyly and turned to continue with the chores.
Buck busied himself unhitching the wagon team and taking care of bedding down the horses. Buck was so lost in his tasks that when Thomas came up behind him, Buck was startled. Buck was annoyed with himself but that was soon forgotten when he saw the peculiar look on Thomas' face.
"What is it?" Confused, Buck thought the expression was of embarrassment and he couldn't understand for what.
"Um, Rebecca went off a bit ago to, well, um," Thomas hemmed, not sure how to tell Buck what Rebecca was doing.
"I understand," Buck said, stifling his laugh. "She's not back?"
"No," Thomas answered, and, looking at the ground, added, "I'm not equipped to go looking for her."
Buck knew the man couldn't shoot. Thomas had made that clear when he asked Buck for the favor, which is why he needed Buck in the first place.
"I'll find her," Buck said. "Look I'll tell you what I told Rebecca. You both aren't used to it out here. It's very different than where you come from and it'll just take some getting used to." Buck smiled in encouragement. "Now, are you sure you want me looking for her, considering..."
"Oh, I doubt she's still..." Thomas laughed.
"Which way did she go?"
"Towards those trees," Thomas said, pointing towards a small copse.
"I'll get her," Buck said. "Why don't you go get warm by the fire."
Buck hurried towards the trees and called out for Rebecca.
"Rebecca!" No answer. "Rebecca! Where are you?" He looked at the thicket and knew it wasn't that dense that she couldn't' hear him so he stepped in. Just a few paces and he spotted Rebecca cowering by a tree, sobbing quietly.
He then heard the low, guttural growl.
Just to Rebecca's right was a black wolf, hunched in a threatening stance, his penetrating blue eyes fixed on Buck. The wolf growled again, showing a very sharp, extremely lethal set of teeth. Buck wasn't sure what to do; he hadn't felt the need to put his gun on. He swore under his breath, all the while keeping his eyes glued to the wolf. Even though the sky was grey and what little light there was, was fading, the wolf's black fur stood out so brilliantly against the pure white snow. If it weren't for the situation, Buck would have thought the wolf beautiful. Glancing towards the fire, he thought of calling to Thomas but what could the man do?
Just as he decided to draw the wolf away from Rebecca by running, he heard a howl that pierced the silence. Buck looked through the trees and spotted a huge silver-furred wolf, which had to be the leader, coming over the rise. Soon more joined him. Buck wasn't sure but at that moment he counted eight others. Quickly looking back to Thomas, Buck saw that the man had heard it too and was grabbing the shotgun from the wagon.
Looking back at the black wolf, Buck thought this one was the scout until he saw something in the threatening animal's eyes.
The wolf was looking in the same direction, his growl turning to more of a whine. Buck didn't understand it but wasn't sure he cared because right then the only thing that mattered was getting Rebecca away from that wolf. As the black wolf's attention was on the other wolves, Buck edged his way towards Rebecca, keeping his eyes locked on hers.
Everything happened so fast. The black wolf took off and the leader and his followers were on him in a flash. Buck was by Rebecca holding her up as her father tore through the trees, still holding the gun. Buck released Rebecca only when Thomas had her, and grabbed the gun out of the man's hand.
'That's all we'd need,' Buck thought as he took the gun and swallowed over the lump that he knew was his heart.
Hearing the fight in the distance, Buck and Thomas kept up a flood of soothing words and meaningless comments hoping the young woman wouldn't hear the howls and screams.
"Oh God!" she wailed. "What is that?"
Knowing it was no use; Buck and Thomas exchanged defeated looks.
Sighing, Thomas knew he couldn't explain this and was annoyed by it because, for the first time in his daughter's life, he couldn't answer her questions. Pursing his lips, he tilted his head towards Rebecca as he looked, pleadingly, at Buck.
When Thomas nodded and Rebecca looked up, Buck took a deep breath. It wasn't often that people - white people - actually were willing to listen to his culture and learn from it.
"A wolf pack is very much like a family. They are tightly knit and have a structure in place to keep the pack organized for purposes of the hunt and care of the pack," Buck said. "I know it's hard to believe, but wolves don't normally attack people." When Buck saw the disbelief on Thomas' and Rebecca's faces, he continued, "It's true. They will attack when provoked or if they are starving but normally they stay clear of man."
"That's very interesting Buck." Thomas rubbed his moustache, thinking about what Buck had said. He was truly impressed with Buck's insight into both humans and animals. "Alright, I'll defer to your knowledge on wolves," Thomas said, "but can you explain why they took off after just him?"
"Not really," Buck admitted. "I know that sometimes they will run affected pack members off to maintain the strength and organization of the pack. But, again, I don't know about this instance."
When Buck stopped talking, they realized the fighting had stopped. Putting up his hand, motioning the Blaines to stay still, Buck eased to the edge of the trees and peered out. He didn't see anything, no movement of any kind. Turning towards Thomas and Rebecca, Buck waved them over, signifying it was all clear.
"I think we can go back to the fire," he said, as Thomas walked by, holding Rebecca close to him.
As the weary travelers made their way to the warmth of the flames, Buck glanced over at the rise and stopped suddenly. Thomas, with Rebecca, ran into Buck's back. Following the young man's line of sight, they saw the same huge, silver wolf, sitting on the rise, silhouetted by the glowing sky.
"Buck," Thomas hoarsely whispered, "what do we do?"
Buck raised his left hand slightly, indicating for them to be silent and held his medicine pouch with his right. Moving slowly to stand in front of Rebecca and her father, Buck saw another form beside the leader. A smaller brown and silver wolf.
"It's our wolf," Rebecca squeaked out.
Buck chuckled to himself at Rebecca's possessive statement. Relaxing, he held his hand up in thanks to the pair. As quickly as they were there, the wolves were gone, descending down the opposite side of the rise, off to find shelter elsewhere.
They stood there for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts of what had happened. Thomas was the first to break the silence with a sigh and moved towards the wagon to get the bedding ready for sleep. Rebecca then followed, placing a hand on Buck's arm and squeezing. She wandered over to help her father.
Buck stood there for a few minutes more, hand lightly resting on his medicine pouch, taking in the beauty of the world and the silence of the surroundings. Breathing in the crisp, cold air, he felt very much alive. Smiling slightly, he headed over to help Rebecca and her father prepare their camp.
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