June 2010 Volley Challenges:

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chance

The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers.

This is Me You're Talkin' To (Trisha Yearwood)

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Willing to Take a Chance by: Dee Taylor
Take a Chance On Me by: Mollie
Leave it To Chance by: Ellie and Nina
Beginnings by: Karen
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Talk to Me by: Karen
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Willing to Take a Chance
by: Dee Taylor

Lou sat on a hay bale with her knees pulled up to her chest, her arms were crossed over the tops of her knees and her chin was propped on her arms, lost in thought. She had taken so many chances in her life; leaving her brother and sister at the orphanage, trying to find work in St. Joe, dressing like a boy and finally becoming a pony express rider. Now she was about to take the biggest chance of her life, marring Kid.

Lou sighed to herself and thought, "Am I doing the right thing"? She had all ready said "no" to Kid twice and she and Kid had so many differences. But she reasoned they were getting better they had accepted that they would always have differences but instead of arguing about them they were finding ways to compromise.

"But marriage," Lou thought again.

The express was ending they all new it was just a matter of time. The boys had all ready started making plans. Buck, Ike and Kid had decided to buy the express station and start their own ranch. Lou had been undecided about her future. She knew the boys wouldn't ask her to leave and she had seriously been thinking about just staying on when Kid had asked her to marry him.

"We'll bring your brother and sister here." He'd told her, "Rachel will be moving into the teacher's house in town so we can have her house. I've all ready talked it over with Buck and Ike and they're fine with that. There's plenty of room there for the four of us." He had made it sound so wonderful.

But now in the light of day Lou was beginning to have second thoughts. Was she ready for this kind of change? Was she ready to take over running a household? Was she ready to take this chance?

Kid paused in the doorway of the barn watching Lou. He could tell she was deep in thought and he was worried that maybe she was changing her mind about marrying him. He took a deep breath and went into the barn.

"Hay Lou," He said softly so not to startle her.

Lou looked up and smiled at him, "Hi Kid."

"Can I sit down"? Kid asked going ahead and sitting down on the hale bale next to her before she had the chance to answer. "So what's going on"? Kid asked casually pulling a piece of straw from the bale of hay, "You look lost in thought."

Lou smiled weakly at him. It amazed her how Kid seemed to read her mind and know exactly what she was feeling. She could tell by the casual way he was acting that he was actually very worried about her.

"Nothings going on," Lou replied, "I was just thinking. You know Kid if we marry we'll have an instant family with my brother and sister, it won't just be you and me. And I still can't cook and I'm not much of a house keeper. In fact I'd rather be out here with you and Buck and Ike working. I'm afraid I'm not going to make you a very good wife." Lou could feel the lump forming in her throat. She had been thinking this to herself but to finally voice her insecurities made her feel very sad.

Kid sat quietly twirling a piece of stray between his finger and thumb trying to find the right words to help make Lou feel better. Finally he said, "You're right Lou we will have an instant family, but I'm all right with that. I really enjoy your sister & brother and I can't wait to have them here. Plus I know it will make you happy and that makes me happy. Now your cooking and housekeeping…well that's another story," He said with a soft chuckle, "but I was thinking and if it's all right with you, we could hire someone to take care of all that. Personally I'd rather have you out here with me any way." Kid paused and looked at Lou he could tell she was beginning to relax. "Besides I love you and really that's all that matters."

Kid then held out his had to Lou and said, "So what do you think Louise McCloud…are you willing to take a chance"?

Take a Chance On Me
by: Mollie

She found him fishing by the creek, an old habit of his when he was upset. He'd heard her approach but hadn't turned around; he knew only one person made that much ruckus simply walking. "Which one of them sent you after me?" he asked grumpily, keeping his eyes trained on the line in the water.

"No one sent me," she answered, finally reaching the water's edge and batting uselessly at the mosquitoes swarming around her freckled skin. She flopped ungracefully down on the creek bank and rolled up her trousers to untie her muddy boots. She peeled off her filthy socks and stuck her feet into the water with a satisfied sigh.

"Don't, Katie, you'll scare the fish off with the smell of your feet," he snapped, joking a little.

She ignored him. "Teaspoon told me you asked Maggie Glen to the dance on Saturday. Said she told you no."

"So he did send you!"

"No," she protested, "He didn't. I thought I'd take a walk out here to be sure you weren't pouting over some useless giggly girl."

He grimaced. He didn't want to think about it. "She said she couldn't be seen with an Indian," he said softly.

"She what?" Katie screeched. "I knew she was stupid, but I didn't know she was that stupid for Pete's sake. You want me to shoot her? 'Cause I would, Sam, if you asked me to."

He laughed; Katie had a way of making him laugh. "No, thanks, Katie," he said with a shake of his head. The laughter faded from his lips. "It's just a dance; won't be a big deal to miss it."

"There's other girls you could ask."

He started to pull in his line. He hadn't caught anything, but then that hadn't been the point. "Everybody's already going with someone, besides nobody else would want to be seen with me either."

"That's nonsense, Sam Cross, any girl in that town would be tickled pink to go with you. They've all been staring starry-eyed at you since we were in school. Maggie's a prissy, stuck up brat."

With a sigh, Sam leaned his fishing pole against a tree. What did it matter how the girls stared at him? None of them would ever think of touching him let alone dancing with him. He picked up a rock and with a quick flick of his wrist, he sent it skipping across the creek.

Katie picked up her own rock and tossed it idly in her hand. "Nobody's asked me to the dance yet. I'm still free." She sent the rock across the water and it skipped twice before sinking.

"That's because you don't want to go," said Sam, tossing another rock, snapping his fingers in irritation as it plopped into the water and plummeted immediately to the bottom.

"Who said I don't want to go?" asked Katie.

"Come on, Katie, everybody knows you'd rather shoot a man than look at him, let alone dance with him." Sam laughed and rolled his eyes at her.

She sniffed with irritation and slapped a mosquito dead on her arm, flicking the smashed carcass off with a disdainful finger. "I look at you all the time, and I don't remember ever shooting you." She effortlessly skipped another rock across the creek.

Sam looked at her. "You'd have to wear a dress."

"I know that. I have one, you know."

Sam sat down beside her and draped a friendly arm around her shoulders. "I appreciate the offer, Katie, truly, but you don't have to do that for me."

"I wouldn't mind," she whispered, turning an orange stone over in her hand.

Sam caught her hand just as she was about to let the stone go. "You're not serious, are you, Katie? You want to go?"

"Sure, I guess, if you do," she mumbled.

Sam stared at her, mulling it over. At last he gave her shoulders a little squeeze and said, "Nah, I wouldn't make you make a sacrifice like that for me, Katie. But thanks, all the same." He stood up with a stretch and a groan and smiled down at her. "I should get going. Haven't done any of my afternoon chores." He grabbed his fishing pole and turned to go; Katie didn't move. Sam looked back at her and paused. The late afternoon sun had turned her hair golden, and she looked oddly elegant as she leaned back against the tree. Sam shook his head as though to dislodge a troubling thought. "Thanks again, Katie." He ruffled her hair affectionately and quickly dashed off through the trees towards home.

She called after him as he left, "If you change your mind…"

Author's Note: Based loosely on ABBA's Take a Chance on Me

Leave it to Chance
by: Ellie and Nina

Chance Sterling was a mountain of a man already at age seventeen, standing six foot six in his bare feet and weighing in at a solid fourteen stone of muscle, bone and sinew. He was the grandson of a cattle rancher on his mother's side, and had never spent overmuch time on book learning, which was fine for the soft and the weak, he supposed, but not for him. No, at age ten he'd told his ma and pa that school was done as far as he was concerned and that from here out he was working for Grandpappy Jonas on the ranch full time. Though Ma had protested, Grandpappy was more than pleased at his choice, since he had no sons and this meant that by the time Chance came of age, there'd be someone to take over the ranch and run it for him. And in the meantime, Chance did a grown man's day's work at age ten . . . and now, it would probably take two men to replace the work he could do.

Aside from being the grandson and heir apparent for the richest rancher in the county, Chance had other advantages too. His pa was the law in Dry Gulch, and all things considered, Prillie Myers should be his for the asking. She was the prettiest girl in Dry Gulch or the surrounding towns, Chance had determined after some careful study, and therefore should be on the arm of the leading young bachelor in town, himself. He was the wealthiest, the hardest working, and the strongest, so to Chance's way of thinking, the asking for Prillie's hand in marriage was a formality, or should be. He always meant to declare his intentions in her regard once he had finished sowing his wild oats, and had no doubt that she would wait patiently for that day, particularly since all the young fellas in Dry Gulch knew full well of his said intentions Prillie-ward and arranged their own plans accordingly elsewhere. Some day, she would be his wife and the mother of a half-dozen or so big, strong sons and a half-dozen more pretty blonde-haired gals, he felt comfortable in predicting.

So it was probably just a matter of a misunderstanding; that was all. This morning, when he'd been to town to pick up some feed for Grandpappy, and he had dropped by Prillie's to call unexpectedly as he always did, expecting her to be there alone or with a girl friend, and he saw something that he most certainly did not like. An Indian, a skinny, sawed-off one at that, hanging around Miss Prillie Myers and drinking lemonade on her porch just as plain as the nose on his face, and Prillie not seeming to mind one part or particle. Chance stood glowering a long moment at the gate, his big hams of hands clenched around the stems of a bunch of daisies he'd picked on the way in to town.

Prillie's ringleted head tossed as she laughed, her pearly teeth gleaming in a smile the likes of which Chance had never seen her bestow on him. She always seemed like a shy, kinda quiet gal, and usually didn't make a peep when Chance came calling and talked to her about the ranch or the doings at the Grange. But with this Indian fella, she seemed to have found her voice, and Chance gawked to hear her chatter as she pointed to something in a book spread on her lap, and the Indian watching her and listening quietly. What did it mean? He tossed the daisies away and stepped forward, where Prillie could see him.

"Miss Prillie?"

The smile faded, and she looked quickly at Buck before rising. "This is a surprise," she mumbled, her lips a little pale. "I didn't know you were coming into town."

"I can see that," Chance said, looking down at her from his great height. "Who's your friend?"

"This is Buck Cross," she said unwillingly, fluttering her soft, pretty hands at the stranger.

"I ain't seen you 'round town before," Chance said, his eyes narrowed as he stared at Buck over Prillie's head.

"Buck's a Pony Express rider," Prillie whispered hoarsely. "And he's been coming to see me when he comes through on his runs."

Chance's eyes whisked down at Prillie a moment. "He has, has he? So you're sneaking around behind my back now?"

Prillie shook her head furiously. "I never have. There's no ring on my finger and you don't own me, Chance Sterling, even if you think you do. I'm free to see whom I please, and I'll thank you not to come here again."

She started to turn away, and Chance closed a hand around her arm, his big knuckles white around her muslin-and-lace sleeve. She winced and the Indian stood up angrily.

"Take your hands off her."

Chance's eyes widened in disbelief. "Did you just tell me what to do, Injun?"

"That's right." The Indian's hand went to his gun, and Chance released Prillie's arm with a slight shove.

"Tell you what, Injun. I ain't got my sidearm with me today, or this'd end a sight different, but that's fine. You two have your little tea party today, and you ride on outta here on to your next stop, fair enough?"

The Indian's eyes glittered black in the sun as he waited for the next pronouncement, and Chance delivered it promptly. "But you come near my woman again or set foot in town again, and you won't live to regret it. That's a promise." With that being said, Chance turned around and walked down the street towards the sheriff's office.

"I'm sorry about that," said Prillie as she reached out to take Buck's hand in hers.

"Not your fault," Buck said. "He's sweet on you, is he?"

She shrugged. "Chance, well, he's thought of me as his gal ever since we were youngsters. I never had a say in the matter." She sighed, discontentedly. "Since he staked his claim on me, nobody else around here's ever even dared ask me to dance at a social," she said glumly. Her big hazel eyes, round with gold and green flecks, dolefully watched him from under a thick curtain of eyelashes. "Suppose this'll be the last I'll see of you, too, now that he's warned you off."

Buck squeezed her hand. "That's not for Chance to say, Prillie. That's up to you and me, don't you think?"

The kaleidoscope eyes brightened a moment. "Nobody's ever said that before," Prillie murmured, pleased. "Nobody's ever thought I was worth getting Chance's dander up over." Her smile faded and she freed her hand. "But … maybe I'm not. Maybe you'd best not take that chance."

"Is that a pun?"

"No," she said, sadly surveying him. "It's just I like you too much to let you do anything that'll end with you getting hurt." Her cheeks suddenly flooded with red and she ducked her head, gulping down the remainder of her lemonade. "I'll understand if I don't see you next time," she said hurriedly, getting up and setting the glass down on the tray.

As she reached the door, she heard his voice behind her. Calm and serene, it said, "Did I ever tell you . . . your lemonade is the sweetest thing I've ever tasted?"

She smiled, blinking back tears and holding the door's handle, her head bowed shyly.

He got up from his seat and gently turned her around, and took her shaking hands in his, pressing them together between his own and then raising her right hand to press a gentle kiss to the back of it. "From the sweetest hands," he murmured softly, breathing in the fresh clean lemony scent that faintly clung about her always. She turned her pretty face up, looking into his eyes, and he leaned closer to touch his mouth to hers for their first sweet kiss.

*~*

Two weeks later, Buck rode in to Dry Gulch way station, right on time as always. Some months ago, Buck had asked Rachel to arrange the schedule so that he would have all the special runs through Dry Gulch, so he could see sweet, lovely Prillie every two weeks. Since his last run, his world had upended when the man he felt a brotherhood with, Ike McSwain, had died for love, literally, and he longed desperately for Prillie's arms and comfort now.

Riding towards the Dry Gulch station, Buck smiled for the first time in two weeks as he knew it wouldn't be long until he would see Prillie's sunny face, and hear her bright burbling laugh, and taste her sweet lips again. The memory of her slender arms around his neck as he kissed her again and again on her porch, their first breathless declarations spilling from them both, took some of the sting and bitterness over Ike's death from his heart.

He felt he understood Ike's sacrifice, why he had risked so much for Emily, as he stabled his horse and headed into the Dry Gulch way station to get ready to go see Prillie in defiance of Chance Sterling's edict. He was buttoning the top button on a clean shirt he'd packed and brought along on the trip, when Joe Redfern, the station master, appeared in the doorway of the station. The tall, lanky bronze-skinned man watched from the entrance for a moment, leaning against the door jamb, the breeze from the yard rippling his long black hair.

"Carl said you'd ridden in," Redfern said finally, shutting the door. "Getting ready for a social call, are you?"

"Yes. I'll probably stay in town for dinner," Buck said, straightening his tie. He turned and picked up his gun belt, strapping it on.

"If you're planning on taking Miss Myers to dinner, you'd best make sure those are loaded," Redfern suggested. "Or better yet, maybe you should just stay at the station and outta trouble. I've known Chance Sterling since he was knee high to a grasshopper, and he's trouble, always has been. Nobody's ever taught that kid to take no for an answer."

"Maybe it's time somebody did." Buck reached for his hat.

"Buck," Mr. Redfern sighed, shook his head, and sat down on the bench. "Come sit down for a minute."

Buck sighed but obediently took a seat across from Redfern.

"I know that you've got your heart set on Miss Myers. And everybody knows she likes you, and never wanted Chance's attentions."

"She's got a right to see who she wants. And so do I, whether that fella thinks so or not."

Redfern tapped on the table, patiently. "Buck, you gotta remember, it's different for you. You ain't exactly . . ."

"White," Buck finished.

"Yeah. And from one half-breed to another, I can tell you that if you want to survive in the white man's world, you have to play by the white man's rules. Hankering after a gal like Miss Meyers is asking for trouble you don't need. Especially since the Sterlings basically run this town. Let it go, son, don't press your luck with Chance. Just lay low and - -"

"And stay in my place, is that it, Joe?" Buck shook his head. "No. I'm not backing down, not this time."

"You know the law is on Chance's side, money is on his side, and this town will be on his side when a half-breed tries to court a white woman. All the odds are against you, Buck, you can't win in a fight against all that."

"Maybe, maybe not, but I can't win if I don't fight at all, either, if I turn tail every time the white man says heel. That's fine for you, Joe, if you want to live like that. But I don't call that living at all," Buck said, passionately. "I'm drawing the line here, today, now."

He got up and patted Joe on the shoulder as he passed, and the older man nodded grimly. "I already figured that's what you'd say," he murmured half to himself as the young man passed by and out the door.

~ *~ * ~ * ~

Prillie Myers paced on the doorstep of her house as her mother and father sat on the porch watching her. Her hands were twisting a square of linen mercilessly as she walked back and forth, her face pale.

"That half-breed's not coming," her pa said, confidently. Prillie twitched a glance over her shoulder at her pa, who was sitting with his feet up on the rail watching her with amusement. "Shows he's got some common sense, I suppose. Chance threw a good scare into him, I reckon." He spat a contemptuous stream of tobacco juice over the rail and onto his wife's petunia bed.

Prillie looked down at her hands, as her still young-looking mother glanced sympathetically at her over her mending. "Priscilla, maybe it's for the best, honey. Buck's a nice boy, but . . . well, you know. He's . . . well, it wouldn't be an easy life being married to him, after all. Maybe you'd be better off married to Chance. He's maybe not the most refined fellow in the world, but you'll never want for anything if you marry up with him. And it would be easier on you in town, being Mrs. Sterling, than being married to a half-breed." She took her scissors and snipped a thread. "And your Pa's right; it's better to know now that Buck doesn't care that much for you, if he backs down at the first sign of trouble," she pointed out helpfully.

The girl nodded, her huge eyes squeezing shut to hold in her tears. She didn't want Buck to come here, if it meant he would risk getting hurt. She didn't. But it hurt to think she wouldn't see him again, and that he didn't think she was worth fighting for. She ran a sleeve across her face, heedless of the pretty yellow sprigged fabric. "I'll go for a walk," she choked out, trotting past the stained flowers and toward the gate, jiggling it open awkwardly and rushing out.

She headed down the lane, not seeing anything in her path, her mind filled with the memory she'd treasured for two weeks of Buck's arms, his kisses, his words and promises. Pa and Ma were right, about one thing anyway. It would be hard to be an Indian's wife in some ways; they would have to struggle and fight against a world that didn't approve of their love. But she would have been willing to do just that, for Buck. She admitted that to herself freely, and she couldn't face the thought of marrying an oaf like Chance Sterling just because that was the destiny that he and her parents and the town had mapped out for her. She would run away, if Buck didn't come for her, before she did that. She didn't know how she would survive on her own but . . .

Her heart leaped for joy as rapid hoof beats approached. Nobody around here rode that fast, nobody except the Pony Express riders, and she prayed with all her heart that Buck had come for her as he had promised he would. The tears spilled down her cheeks as she ran to the middle of the road, waiting breathlessly for the horse to round the corner, and as it swept into view, she cried out for joy. It was him, it was Buck, he had come for her. He saw her standing in the road and pulled on the reins just in time to avoid running her down, and he leaped down in a smooth motion to catch her up in his arms.

Holding her close, he felt the dampness of her face against his as she wept into his chest.

"Were you afraid I wasn't coming?" he chided her.

"I was afraid you weren't . . . afraid you were," she sobbed. "Oh, Buck . . ."

"It's okay," he said. "I'm here and I love you," he whispered. "I need you," he added. "I want to marry you and take you home with me. Today, let's get your parents and go into town right now."

She hesitated, and his face fell slightly. She hastily added, "Buck, no, it's not that I don't want to marry you. It's that it's not safe in town. Chance will be there. No, let's get on your horse and go someplace else to get married."

"Run away?" he said, his face darkening. "No, that's not how I want to start out. I want to have your parents there, and have a proper wedding."

"Oh, Buck, they won't approve anyway," she said reluctantly. "It doesn't matter, all that matters is that we're together. Let's go before - -"

She groaned as she heard the sound of horses coming from behind them. Turning, her heart sank as she recognized Chance Sterling, riding at the head of a group of grim-looking young men and boys from town, and saw . . . Chance had a coil of rope in his hand, at the ready for a hanging.

"Buck, get on your horse and get out of here," she blurted, her throat dry and rough, her head spinning with dizzy fear. "Get away before they kill you, run," she begged him, pleading as he put her gently from him, kissing her on the cheek and guiding her to stand near a tree by the side of the road. She gripped the tree-trunk for support, and shook her head, disbelieving and horrified, as he turned and walked not toward his horse, but toward the oncoming mob with his gun drawn and his mouth pressed in a grim, steely line.

"Buck, please!" Prillie shrieked, before twisting her head away as gunfire exploded in the air.

Talk to Me
by: Karen

Buck watched as the man stumbled out of the saloon. He followed quietly behind him, sticking to the shadows so no one would see him. He didn't need to be interfered with as he completed this mission. He wondered again what it was that could make a man leave his home and turn to drink the way his friend had. He also wondered how one went about getting the spirits, as alcohol was called here, to let go.

Buck watched from the shadows as the man entered his dwelling and collapsed on the couch without even bothering to close the door behind him. Buck waited until he could hear the man's snores before he entered the house. He quietly moved around the small dwelling, straightening things up before putting on a fresh pot of coffee.

While the coffee was brewing, Buck searched the house for some food. He finally found some hidden in the kitchen. He managed to figure out what he could make that would feed both of them. He then began to search the house in earnest for all the bottles that still contained some liquid. These he emptied outside the back door where he stacked all the bottles in a pile.

This done, he went in and began to prepare the meal. He didn't worry about being quiet; his companion was dead to the world due to his drunken state.

When the meal was ready, Buck went to the couch and shook his friend awake. "You need to get up, eat, and clean up," he said.

"Why?" came the blurry question, as his friend rolled away from him and tried to go back to sleep.

"She sent me to get you," Buck answered. "I'm not sure why, but she wants you back."

This caused the man before him to roll back and face Buck. "What?" he asked, as he slowly sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

"Lou sent me to find you. She told me exactly where to go. She said to bring you home even if I had to tie you across the back of your horse to get you there." He paused. "I figured you'd rather ride on your own, but…" he shrugged.

Kid simply nodded. "Thanks," he said, as he allowed Buck to help him to his feet. With Buck's assistance, Kid was soon sitting at the table eating the meal Buck had prepared.

A week later, the two of them entered the yard of the old Pony Express Station in Rock Creek. Kid and Lou had turned the place into the best stock pens in town before Kid had left the first time after a heated disagreement with his wife. He had returned on his own a few days later. Things ran smoothly for a while, but every so often Kid would disappear. Finally, Lou had gotten one of the hired hands to follow him. That's how she knew where to send Buck this time.

As Kid entered the house, Buck took the horses to tend them and give the couple time alone.

"You need to learn to trust me, Kid," Lou told her husband when he came into the office where she was going over the bills. "I love you and always will, but next time you leave like that I'm not going to send Buck or anyone else after you." She sighed, "I'll give you a week, and then…" she let the sentence drop.

"But he was…"

Lou held up her hand to stop her husband from finishing the sentence. "He was injured, and I was doctoring the wound," she said. "I can't help it if the boys you hire find me attractive." She paused, "You want me to go back to dressing like I did when we first met?"

Kid shook his head. "No," he said softly. "I just want you to not enjoy the attention so much."

Lou stood and moved from behind the desk to her husband's side. She placed her hand on his arm, "I can try," she said, "but I'm not making any promises. After all that time spent dressing as a boy and watching you and the others fawn over women, it's kind of nice being the one having men desire her." She paused and shook her head. "Just know that you're the only one I want to be with, but if you keep leaving…" she once more let the sentence drift as Kid pulled her into an embrace.

Beginnings
by: Karen

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold; when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. - Charles Dickens

The riders approached the smoking wagon cautiously - waiting to be attacked for daring to offer help. The leader of the group sensed someone was hiding nearby, but neither he nor the two boys could locate the position of the threat. After a few tense seconds, he motioned for the others to dismount.

The three quickly searched the area. They found the remains of two adults and one male child. As they turned to leave, the smallest of the group spied something hidden away under the charred seat of the wagon. He pried it loose and carried it to the other boy. As he handed him his find, he spoke in an excited manner.

The older boy listened and together they approached the leader. The older boy spoke as he handed the leader the object. "Father, I think she is still here."

The leader took the charred rag doll from his son. "You think she is who we feel?"

The boy nodded. "She must be hiding in the trees. If we withdraw, she will come out, and then we can help her."

"What makes you so sure she will come out of hiding?"

The older boy placed a hand on the other boy's shoulder and nodded. "She must be cold, her coat is still in the meadow at the front of the wagon. She will need to get it soon, or at least move into the sunlight to warm herself."

The leader studied the youngster closely before once more addressing the older boy, "Why did you…"

Before he could finish, he son cut in as he also tightened his grip on the younger boy's shoulder. "I did not do anything, it was Running Buck who found the doll and told me these things." The older boy paused before adding, "He learns much by watching you and the other elders. This is why I keep telling you he needs to be allowed to begin his trials."

The older man grunted, "His mother requires his help."

"Perhaps the girl will be able to replace him as her helper," Red Bear said.

Lone Wolf once more grunted. "Very well," he said, "we will try this plan of yours."

"Not mine," replied Red Bear with a slight smile at the young boy, "this is all my younger brother's idea."

The three gathered their horses and left. Once they were hidden from the trees by the wagon, Running Buck and Red Bear dismounted and stealthily made their way back to the place they had dropped the doll and coat.

It wasn't long before the frightened girl made her way out of the trees. She stood just outside them allowing the bright sun to warm her. After a few minutes, she slowly moved across the clearing to where her coat and doll lay. She made sure she stayed away from the bodies of her family. Just as she reached for her belongings, she was grabbed from behind. She fought with her captor, but was no match for him.

When she stopped struggling, he set her down. She was surprised to find herself facing a boy not much older than she. He handed her doll to her. "She will need you, Little Bird," he said, as he picked up her coat.

Red Bear gently picked the girl up and followed his younger half-brother. "Why Little Bird?" he asked as he handed the child to his father.

"She sounded like a hungry baby eagle," said Running Buck as he quickly mounted his horse.

He then moved beside Lone Wolf. Taking a deep breathe before addressing the older man, he said, "Would you like for her to ride with me?" As he spoke he gestured so the girl understood the question.

The girl looked at the fierce man who was holding her and then at the smiling boy. She waited for the man to loosen his grip and moved to crawl behind the boy. The relief she felt was almost as good as the warmth the sun hand granted her after her time hiding in the shade. She wasn't sure what lay ahead; she just knew it had to be better than what she was leaving behind.

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