"Jesse, wake up, boy. We've got to get this herd movin' if we want to make it to the next water," the teen's father said, shaking him from his sleep. Rubbing his eyes, Jesse got out of his bedroll, dreading the day coming up. Looking around, the boy could see the rest of the men getting ready for the long ride ahead of them.
Standing four inches over six feet tall, the young man towered over most of the other men on the drive. Adding to this, his blonde hair and blue eyes only served to make him a handsome young man. Unfortunately the teen was too shy to talk to a girl, let alone ask one to one of the many socials they held on Saturday nights in Laredo.
"Sorry, pa, I had a rough night," Jesse told the older man. Grabbing his saddle, the young Texan walked over to his hobbled horse and began saddling the paint gelding. As he began tightening the cinches around the horse's broad middle, he noticed the cracking in the broad strap. Making a mental note to repair it when they reached their next camp, the young man put it out of his mind, wanting to concentrate on the day ahead of him. Walking back to the fire, Jesse grabbed a cup of coffee, the strong brew warming him inside. Once he had finished, he dumped out the grounds from the worn coffee pot on the blaze and packed it into his saddlebags, and then walked back to the fire and extinguished the already dying flames, kicking dirt over the embers.
James White was proud of his eighteen-year-old son. He had raised the boy and his sister by himself after the Cheyenne uprising in 1874. Now, six years later, the gangly boy was turning into a man, one that would leave large footprints across the land.
"Come on boy, we're wasting daylight," James told his son, ready to begin the new day.
"Right behind you, pa. Remind me to fix the cinch on my saddle tonight, okay?" Jesse asked, not waiting for his answer as he climbed into the saddle on the spirited horse. Quickly getting his other leg into the stirrup, Jesse waited for the gelding's bucking which had become a morning ritual. Riding out the small crow hops, the young man and horse came to terms and headed out to the herd, taking right flank to help keep the lowing cattle in a bunch as they headed for Dodge City, Kansas.
Chapter 1 AMBUSH!
Jesse took a couple of swallows from his canteen before reaching into his saddle bags for a stick of jerky. Unless they were close to water, they wouldn't be stopping until later in the day. Looking around him, Jesse felt a bit of pride as he surveyed the herd. They had only lost a couple of the animals in the Canadian River in Oklahoma, and now they were only about one hundred miles from Dodge City. It had been a relatively quiet drive from the J-bar-W ranch and it didn't look like the rest of the drive would be any different.
Jesse let his mind wander as he rode, thinking about his sister waiting at home for their return. Josephine, or Jo for short, was his confidant, the only girl he had ever managed to talk to without the telltale blush that always seemed to accompany his stammering attempts to talk to the opposite sex. Even though they were siblings, they were nearly complete opposites. Where Jesse was tall with blonde hair, Jo was much shorter with curly red hair. Other than parentage, the only thing the pair shared was their clear blue eyes. Jesse allowed himself to think about his sister a few more minutes before he felt his penis beginning to grow. Disgusted with himself for the thoughts he was having about his own sister, Jesse shook his head, trying to clear the thoughts out of his brain of what Jo would look like in his bed.
"Wake up, we've got a few more miles to go before we stop," James told his son, startling him out of his reverie. When Jesse's face turned beet red, his father smiled knowingly and went back to the other flank of the herd. Jesse watched his father go, glad the older man couldn't read his mind. Clearing his thoughts, Jesse turned his attention back to the cattle, making sure none of them wandered away from the herd.
Paying close attention to the herd, Jesse didn't see the riders coming up from behind them. With bandanas pulled high over their faces, the gang took their time, letting the J-Bar-W cattle get closer to Dodge City before taking them. Satisfied with their progress, the outlaws began to make their way back into the rocks, to avoid being seen.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jesse caught a hint of movement, drawing his attention to the hills quickly enough to see the last outlaw crouch behind the rocks. Circling behind the herd, Jesse rode casually toward his father, wanting to tell him what he'd seen.
"Pa, I saw some men up in the rocks. They didn't act like they wanted to be seen," Jesse told his father, glancing back at the outlaws' hiding place. Seeing nobody there, Jesse thought he might have been mistaken, until he saw a head pop up for a moment.
"Yeah, I saw them a few miles back. They'll probably wait until we get a little closer to the railhead before doing anything. Keep your eyes open, though. You never can tell about rustlers," James answered, proud of his son for spotting them. With a nod, Jesse rode back to the other side, looking back once in awhile to make sure nobody was coming.
"Boss, I think they saw us," the youngest rustler said, pointing to Jesse. With a grimace, Andy Harding took the spyglass from his subordinate. Seeing the boy glancing their way, he quickly covered it with his hand, not wanting the sun to reflect from the glass.
"Damn, we're going to have to go in sooner than we wanted. I can't believe we were seen by a damn kid," he muttered. Looking at the crew around him, Andy knew he shouldn't have been surprised. They were a motley bunch at best, but they were all he could find on such short notice. Overhearing some ranchers talking about the giant herd coming their way, he'd had to move quickly if he wanted to be able to steal them. With a disgusted glance at them, he headed toward his horse, wanting to grab the cattle before the boy had a chance to warn anyone else. Taking his pistol from his holster, the raven-haired outlaw checked the chambers, making sure there was a bullet in each of them. Satisfied, Andy pushed his horse down the hill, toward the cattle.
Jesse glanced back at the rocks, only to see the rustlers hurrying toward them, dust flying from their horses' hooves. Hurrying back to his father, Jesse pointed toward the approaching outlaws, letting him know of the approaching bandits.
"Get back to the chuck wagon and tell Cookie. I don't want you involved in this," James told his only son.
"Not this time, Pa. You need me and I'm not going to go back there. I'm a man now and I intend to help, so you might as well save your breath," Jesse told the older man, taking his new Winchester out of the boot on the front of his saddle. As the teen rode back to warn the other men, James couldn't help the burst of pride he felt for his son. Taking his own rifle out of its gun boot, James made sure it was fully loaded, wanting to be ready for the descending robbers.
"Move em out, boys. We've got company," James yelled, warning the others of the incoming riders. Sensing the men's urgency, horses and cattle began running, trying to put distance between the rustlers and themselves. Hoping to find a place to make their stand, James kept looking around until he spotted some rocks ahead of them. Trying to push the herd toward the hiding place, James felt the wind from a bullet as it went by, followed quickly by the report from the outlaw's rifle. Realizing they wouldn't make it to safety, James turned around and began firing back.
"Let em have it. They won't get this herd without a fight," he exhorted his men. As he turned around to fire at another of the bandits, James felt the sting of a bullet as it drilled into his shoulder. As he began falling, he grabbed for the saddle horn, hoping to keep his seat. Pulling himself upright once more, he felt three more shells hitting him, knocking him out of his saddle.
"Hold on, Pa. I'm coming," Jesse yelled, riding toward his father. As he got closer, Jesse saw his father fall from the saddle, his horse narrowly missing the older man's head. Forgetting about the outlaws, the teen concentrated solely on his wounded parent.
"Come on, Blaze. We've got to get there," Jesse yelled, exhorting the animal to go even faster. As he neared his fallen dad, the teen felt his horse going down, tripping on the uneven ground. Leaping out of his saddle, Jesse miscalculated his jump, landing head first, opening a gash on the top of his head. Wanting to reach his wounded father, Jesse began crawling toward him, hoping against hope, to find James alive. Upon reaching him, Jesse looked into James' face, hoping to see some sign of life in the man's pain-filled eyes. Wiping the blood from his own eyes, Jesse looked down on the injured man, willing him to live.
"Pa, you can't die. We've got a lot of work to do if we're going to get our cattle back," Jesse told his father. Taking the older man's right hand in his, Jesse was comforted to feel signs of movement.
"Boy, you're going to have to do this one on your own. I'm not going to be much help, I'm thinking. I'm proud of you, son. I know you'll get those cattle back. Take care of your sister," James told his son. As each minute passed, the older man's breath became shallow, before finally stopping. With a sob, Jesse threw himself onto his father, wanting to pull him back from wherever his father had gone. As his grief and blood loss finally caught up to him, Jesse's mind clouded before finally the darkness overtook him.
"Give me a minute, Pa. I can't seem to get my eyes open," Jesse moaned, trying to roll over for just a bit more sleep. Feeling the bindings around him, Jesse attempted to sit up quickly, finding himself unable to do that as well. Looking around, the teen winced at the sharp pain at the sudden turning of his head. Noticing his arms were free, Jesse reached up to his scalp, only to find it covered with some kind of animal fur. Tentatively looking around again, Jesse saw Cheyenne braves all around him, some with bloody scalps from a recent raid, hanging at their sides. As his eyes alit on one of the warriors, the proud fighter walked to his side, motioning him to rest. With a resigned sigh, Jesse let the blackness envelope him, giving himself up to his fate.
When Jesse awoke the next time, he found himself lying on a soft bed of furs. Tentatively sitting up, Jesse gritted his teeth against the waves of nausea that ensued. Lying back down, Jesse could feel the sweat trickling down his back from his exertions. Jesse knew he was in bad shape, but couldn't help wondering where he was. Looking around slowly, the young man could see different types of animal skins piled up by the opening they used as a door. As he continued his inspection of the teepee, Jesse noticed spears leaning against the walls of the shelter. Hearing the sound of movement outside the tent, Jesse's mouth dropped to his chest as a pretty young Cheyenne maiden lifted the flap and came in.
"You're awake! We thought we would have to sing your death song for you," the maiden told him, smiling down at the injured teen. Turning around quickly, the girl ran back out, her excited laughter echoing throughout the village. Though hurt, Jesse couldn't keep himself from staring at the girl's firm ass when she left, the images playing in his mind after she was gone. As he began to relax, Jesse began drifting off to sleep, until another member of the tribe stepped inside.
"Willow told me you were awake. I am Soaring Eagle. I think since you have lived this long, I might be able to help you. I will use my medicine to keep you alive, but I can promise nothing," the elderly man told Jesse. Dressed in buffalo robes, the smaller man wore a pair of bison horns on his head. As he removed a bag from his garments, his coppery flesh shone brightly, the fire in the teepee glinting off his skin. Opening the leather pouch, the wizened man dipped into it, taking some gray powder into his fingers.
"Wh-what's that?" Jesse asked, watching the medicine man warily. With a grunt, the old man ignored Jesse and began sprinkling the powder all over the teen. After completing this, Soaring Eagle began a low chant, the words unintelligible to the young man. As Jesse watched the aged shaman, he felt his head begin to tingle, starting at the base of his skull and working forward. As this feeling reached his forehead, Jesse passed out, blissfully unaware of his surroundings.
When Jesse awoke once more, he felt different. He couldn't decide exactly what the change was, but he knew he had changed somehow. Reaching up, Jesse felt the soft fur covering his head. Gingerly touching the spot that had been hurting him, the young man was amazed at the absence of pain. Pressing harder, Jesse still felt no tenderness from the wound. Happy, Jesse tried getting to his feet, only to have his legs buckle beneath him. Lying down immediately, Jesse could feel the perspiration gathering on his brow, the streaming rivulets of sweat making a trail down his face. As he lay on his back, Jesse looked around, trying to remember where he was. Seeing the furs and tools around him, the memories came rushing back to him.
"Ah, you're awake," said the feminine voice he remembered from earlier. Looking up, Jesse saw the bronze-skinned girl that had tended his wounds earlier. Trying to speak, the teen was unable to say anything above a whisper.
"Water, I need water," he rasped. Bending down beside the teen, the girl brought a gourd to his lips, the refreshing fluid in it restoring life to the parched membranes in his mouth. Greedily, Jesse tried to get more of the cooling liquid.
"Slow, you have to drink it slow," she told him, pushing his hands away. Seeing the wisdom in her words, Jesse relented, taking small sips and swirling the almost clear liquid around in his parched mouth. Letting the water trickle down his throat, Jesse could feel the life-giving moisture. As he felt the dampness reach the water-starved tissues in his gullet, he found himself more able to use his slightly swollen tongue.
"Thanks," he told the beautiful maiden, his words still not much more than a whisper. With a smile, the girl dropped a fur into the previously unseen bucket she had brought with her. Jesse wondered where she would have gotten a white man's tool, but put it out of his head when he noticed the girl's pert breasts pushing against the doe skin dress she was wearing. Jesse smiled to himself at the realization that he could still have erotic thoughts in his weakened condition.
"My father says you must lie here for now, but you will be able to get up soon," the girl told Jesse, as she sauntered toward the flap covering the doorway.
"Wait, you haven't told me your name," Jesse told her. Even though his voice was barely above a whisper, the girl heard him.
"I am Laughing Willow," she told him before stepping through the door. Laughing Willow, hmmm? It suits her, he thought. Watching her walk out, Jesse enjoyed the sight of her swaying hips as she walked across the dirt floor. Jesse watched the girl until she stepped through the door and closed the flap. Feeling hot again, Jesse looked for the fur Laughing Willow had used to wipe his brow. Searching inside the teepee, Jesse saw it about 6 feet away, perched on the bucket she had brought with her. Even though he knew it was ridiculous, Jesse stretched out his hand toward the cooling pelt. Unable to reach it, Jesse began laughing at himself. Figuring there was nothing else to keep him amused, Jesse tried again, figuring at least it would give him something to do. Stretching as far as he could, the teen tried once again, his exertions causing him to sweat even more heavily, increasing his need for something to cool him off.
"I can't believe I'm actually trying this," he said, not realizing he had spoken his thoughts aloud. With a last ditch effort, Jesse was trying once again, when, suddenly he felt a tingle starting at the nape of his neck, expanding until it spread throughout his whole head. Wonderingly, Jesse watched as the fur slowly drifted toward him. When he finally had the wet pelt in his hands, the teen had completely forgotten why he wanted it in the first place.
"What happened? I was just trying to reach it, and the damn thing comes to me on its own," he almost shouted in his excitement. Worn out from his exertions, Jesse drifted off to sleep, with dreams of different objects flying all around him.
"Wake up and eat this," said a feminine voice, drifting into his consciousness. Opening his eyes, Jesse looked directly into the doe brown eyes of none other than Laughing Willow. Toward the end of his dreaming, Jesse had been having some highly entertaining dreams of the blushing girl at his side. Wondering why she should be blushing from just bringing some food for him, Jesse had to ask her what was going on.
"What's the matter, Laughing Willow?" he asked, not expecting the nervous giggles that came as a result of his question. Looking into her eyes, Jesse saw glimmers of the girl and himself lying on the ground, with Jesse on top, grinding his pelvis into the young woman's beneath him. Shaking his head to rid himself of the erotic images, Jesse stared wonderingly at Laughing Willow, realizing without knowing how, that the thoughts were not his, but the blushing maiden's own ideas. Reaching up, Jesse pulled Laughing Willow's head down, and brushed her lips with his own. Like a startled deer, the girl sprang away from him, bolting toward the door. Jesse was scared, afraid he had frightened the girl away when he saw her turn around and smile shyly at him. With a giggle, Laughing Willow ran out of the teepee, giving Jesse plenty to think about as he drifted off to sleep.
Waking up the next morning, Jesse was surprised to see something that looked like beef jerky on a plate beside him. Grabbing a piece of it, he was pleasantly surprised at the taste. The tough meat softened in his mouth as he chewed it, revealing itself to be venison instead of beef. As revitalizing juices slid down his throat, he could feel his energy returning. Not wanting to eat while lying down, Jesse attempted sitting up, gratified when he was able to do it on his second attempt. Leaning back against the teepee walls, Jesse took a better look around, studying the different objects piled neatly on the floor and against the sides of the huge tent-like structure. As he looked around, Jesse remembered the incident with the pelt. Seeing the bucket sitting by the wall, Jesse tried to remember how he had done it the day before.
"If I can just remember what I did yesterday..." he began. As he concentrated on the bucket, he watched it slowly rise and start heading toward him. When it got nearer to him, Jesse forgot to concentrate, causing the pail to drop to the dirt floor. The clatter of the falling container rang loud in the still air inside the teepee. Apparently it was loud to those standing outside as well, because Laughing Willow came rushing in.
"What happened? Are you alright?" she asked, her eyes showing her concern. With an affirmative nod, Jesse took the time to really look at the beautiful girl. From her long raven hair, and lower to her dark brown eyes, her luscious lips, past her long, regal neck, her pert breasts gently pushing out on the doeskin she was wearing, Jesse let his eyes wander. Taking in her small waist which flared out to shapely hips, and on down to her shapely thighs and small feet, Jesse took in all of this. With a low appreciative whistle, Jesse showed his approval. Remembering his manners, Jesse shook his head to clear the cobwebs from his mind.