Night Wolf Ch. 01byLady_Blackhawk©
Wyoming Territory -- 1860
The trail had been long and hard in the three months since leaving Independence, Missouri. For weeks, no rain came, baking the ground into rutted cracks. The lack of rain had brought once flourishing streams to slow muddy trickles. Late June had turned hot and muggy with the forecast for July bearing no sign of relief.
It meant hardship for the settlers crossing the buffalo plains west. Stock succumbed to heat exhaustion and death from the broiling sun and too little water. But as greener pastures beckoned promises of a better life outside the crowded eastern cities and the ever-present threat of war, the settlers flocked westward in droves by wagon train, searching for a better life.
Amongst the westward bound settlers was the Gillen family. Fleeing the strained politics of the east and the threat of Virginia's succession from the states, Charles Gillen sold his farm and lumber mill, packed his family up and headed for the lumberyards in Oregon Territory, where he'd accepted a position as a logging foreman, much to the dismay of his young daughters.
Sixteen-year-old Samantha with pale blonde hair and bright blue eyes objected heavily. How could she leave her beau when surely he would ask for her hand in marriage and what of her friends? She'd miss the cotillion planned for the following month, and all of the Independence Day celebrations as well. Several of her suitors had already asked her to the Independence Ball, and she already had her dress!
On the other hand, eighteen-year-old Ione with flame colored tresses and brilliant green eyes didn't seem to mind the sojourn west. Although she'd become a governess for a wealthy family who owned a magnificent antebellum plantation, she knew nothing could hold her in Virginia since a stampeding horse had trampled her fiancé to death. She relished the chance to get away from her sorrow and start over in a new place. The west was full of men. She'd been told they outnumbered the women three to one. Perhaps she'd meet one in Oregon. Allowing her thoughts to wonder, she pictured the kind of man she would meet. He would be tall and handsome, also strong and brave, yet gentle and sensitive to her needs. Yes, surely such a paragon of men existed, just as her fiancé Seth had. That man had to be out there somewhere.
Ione picked up a small looking glass, taking in her reflection. She was young and beautiful. She'd never had a problem attracting suitors. They flocked to her like bees to honey, but once she met Seth, she had set her heart on him. He was everything that she ever could have wanted; the only thing about him she didn't like was his twin brother, Samuel, who sent shivers racing along her spine every time she thought of him. Ione didn't like the way her leered at her so openly. It made it hard to believe that the two were brothers. They were such opposites. She sighed heavily. Moving west would be an adventure, she surmised heartily. It would be the very thing she needed.
As the wagon hit another bump, Ione recalled their journey thus far. She thought back to the day they packed their two wagons, taking only what was essential and hitching up the team of oxen. Spare horses and a milk cow plodded docilely behind the two wagons. Her hopes had been high as they pulled out. Upon leaving Virginia, they crossed Tennessee and headed down into Missouri where Charles hoped to meet up with other settlers going west. He knew joining a wagon train would provide safety, companionship, and strength in numbers.
Upon reaching Independence, they came upon a small organized wagon train headed to Oregon Territory via the Oregon Trail. Charles immediately sought out the wagon master and inquired about joining up. Once permission was granted, the older Gillen returned to his family and followed the wagon master's orders, lining up at rear of the convoy, ten wagons back from the front.
Ione groaned as the rutted trail rocked the wagon her younger brother was driving, still thinking about the trip thus far. Although the trail had been rough and hardships occurred, the many families banded together to help each other. When an ox died due to the scorching heat, another family offered a replacement from their extra stock to the family in need. Snakebites, broken wagon wheels and dehydration plagued the train as they valiantly trudged across the plains. An elderly man succumbed to a heart attack while a young boy fell prey a hungry cougar.
Finally the wagon train reached Wyoming and the cooler mountain passes brought a measure of relief the weary sun beat travelers.
Soon the rains came, drenching downpours that plundered the dry earth and sent rivers of mud and muck racing over once parched ground. Streams swelled quickly, their saturated banks unable to withhold the rising waters. The wagon train halted at the raging Green River. The imminent threat of severe flash flooding turned the placid meandering wagon train of westward bound travelers into a chaotic mix of racing horses, livestock and the settlers hell bent on controlling them. Amongst the turmoil, Charles and Mariana discovered a less treacherous crossing, thus finding themselves separated from the rest of the fellow travelers and on a lonely well-hidden trail.
Although he'd hoped to find the main trail he'd so foolishly left, Charles traveled further off course and deeper into Crow hunting grounds, unaware of the danger they faced. He soon came to realize that he would not find the other settlers if he stayed on this trail.
And as they made camp for the night, Ione helped her mother with supper while her father hunted for fresh meat. John, Henry and Andrew, Ione's three younger brothers and the lovely Samantha occupied themselves with feeding the livestock. As she went looking for berries and nuts to supplement their diet of salt pork, beans and cornmeal, Ione found a secluded waterfall. How beautiful and inviting it looked, she thought. She longed to take real bath for once instead of the sponge baths she took within the cramped confines of the wagon. She would come back the next day before they broke camp to bathe. Yes, she sighed, she would return to the waterfall for a most sought after bath before her father headed their wagons onto the dusty trail in hopes of locating the rest of the train.
She clutched her wide calico apron, bundling it in front of her as she filled it with sweet succulent black raspberries and stared out into the crashing waters. Her thoughts roamed and one person came to mind. She thought of the friend she'd made while traveling across the plains and if she'd ever see her again. Silvery blond hair and beguiling blue-eyed seventeen-year-old Tessa Bennett had most of the single men on the train lining up at her family's wagon to help in any way possible just to gain her favor. Ione and Tessa became fast friends, nevertheless. Ione wished she knew where Tessa was or even if she was alive. She prayed her father would soon catch up with the rest of the wagon train. Being alone without the safety of the whole train made her somewhat uneasy. She knew there had been signs of wild Indians sighted, but none in the flesh. A shiver coursed through her at the thought of coming face to face with a savage. She'd read stories in the eastern newspapers of settlers being murdered, the farms burned to the ground, their horses and livestock stolen by the heathen Indians who inhabited this wild land.
It was best not to think of it. She pushed the thoughts from her head as she heard her father call her name. She knew she should get back to camp before he thought some ill had befallen her. Dutifully she made her way back and presented the berries she had found to her mother.
"Those will surely make a delicious cobbler!" The red haired woman exclaimed heartily. "Your father will be pleased."
"Yes, mama, he will. It'll be a welcome change from the normal fare we've eaten. I am so tired of beans and cornbread. I hope papa brings back some fresh meat... a deer or a rabbit even. I think I'd even be happy with squirrel. A good hearty stew would taste divine and the cobbler would make the meal that much more special," Ione chirped as she sat down to help her mother, who hummed a happy church hymn.
"Mama, do you think we'll catch up with the rest of the wagon train?"
"I have faith that we will. Your father said it'd most likely be in a day or two. He knows the direction Fort Bridger lay in."
Ione nodded thoughtfully as she began to sort out the berries by size and ripeness. She gazed at her mother as she chewed her lips. "I miss Tessa. She's my best friend now. She told me that her father's destination was the same as ours. We'd be living in the same logging settlement as her family."
"I know, dear. I'm sure you'll see her soon." Mariana smiled with a gleam in her eyes. "What about that nice Kendall boy? He seemed quite taken with you."
"Thad Kendall is hardly a boy, mama. It's just hard to accept a new suitor. I know it's been six months since Seth died, but deep down, I still miss him and I still love him. It takes time to move on. Thad Kendall doesn't have the maturity Seth had, but I have to admit he is more handsome."
"Samantha had hoped he'd court her since you were unavailable." Mariana commented as she saw her younger daughter approach the small campfire and sit down beside her, joining their talk.
"I did hope Thad would have gotten more serious with me. He is a fine looking man."
"Samantha!" her mother scolded.
"Mama, he makes eyes at her when he thinks she's not looking. He told me he thought she was quite beautiful and wouldn't mind courting her since he couldn't have me. And I know for a fact she looks at him the same way. I think you might have a new son by the time we reach Oregon Territory!" Ione divulged.
"Is that true, Samantha?" A shocked expression crossed Mariana's face.
"Yes, mama. He even kissed me. It was wonderful. He told me he planned on asking papa for my hand in marriage, but I saw him and your shameless friend Tessa go underneath a wagon together so I told him I would not have my future husband dallying with other girls." Samantha replied, "It's not right for the man I'm to marry to be trying to besmirch the honor of someone else."
"He didn't do anything like that to you, did he?" Mariana asked, scandalized.
"Heavens no, mama, I would never allow that. Not before marriage. I'm not some strumpet."
Mariana nodded as her eyes narrowed at her younger daughter. "You had better not. I didn't raise you to lift your skirts for the first man that came along. Decent men will not accept soiled goods as his wife and the mother of his children."
A blush covered Samantha's cheeks. "I wouldn't do that, mama."
Then Ione spoke up, taking the heat off of her sister. "I did want to thank you, mama."
"Whatever for, dear one?"
"For not pressing me to let suitors court me yet, I'm simply not ready." Ione replied with a smile on her face.
"That's what a mother is for, sweet child. You'll know when it is time." Mariana leaned over and kissed her oldest daughter's forehead as she continued to peel vegetables for the stew.
The next morning, Ione arose as the sun began to peak over the horizon. It looked like it would be a beautiful day and she intended to have her bath. Gathering a clean dress, a bar of finely milled lavender soap and a length of toweling, she made her way to the waterfall, unsuspecting that she had attracted a watchful visitor who remained hidden.
She undressed fully and laid her clothes on a large rock then waded into the cold water. A shiver ran through her as the water became deeper, but it felt too heavenly to pass up... the cold water enveloping her nude body. She splashed, giggled and frolicked like a water nymph. As she scrubbed her hair and skin, her thoughts wandered. What would life be like in Oregon Territory? Would she find a new life, a husband, a family of her own? Would she meet someone who would take Seth's place in her heart? Seth, sweet gentle Seth. She giggled as she thought of all the times she wished he'd kiss her, but never did. He'd blushed scarlet the first time he'd held her hand and kissed her cheek. She knew Samantha had already allowed a number of beaus kiss her on the mouth, including Thad Kendall. Had she been as interested in Thad as he had been in her before she told him she wasn't ready for a suitor yet, would he have kissed her instead? At eighteen, a maiden pure, Ione had never been kissed properly. Seth wouldn't until they were man and wife. A few chaste pecks on the cheek were all he'd ever given her. Seth, sweet, gentle Seth. His shyness toward her never seemed to go away, even after he'd asked for her hand in marriage. Now Seth was gone and she was alone again. She ducked under the cascading falls to rinse the soap from her body and hair. The water stung as it hit her skin, but it was well worth the discomfort to be able to bathe. Yet one lingering thought itched in her brain. Would there be a new beau for her in Oregon? She knew not what to expect, only that men in the west outnumbered women greatly. She also knew that only time would tell.
Night Wolf smiled to himself as he watched the flame haired female come toward the waterfall above which he had camped for the night. It was she! His vision woman. The years that had passed had not diminished the glory of her beauty. He knew he shouldn't watch her bathe, but to move from his spot would betray his presence here and deny her the bath she sought. He watched her undress, removing her calico gown, corset, pantalets, stockings, and lastly her chemise. Her flawless ivory skin beckoned him to recall the, oh so vivid vision he had sought ten years prior. The fiery mix of copper, red and brown glistened in the dappled early morning light that streamed through the canopy of trees. She was breathtakingly beautiful, more so than he could have ever imagined. He knew someway, somehow he would claim her as his own. She would be his. This part of his sacred medicine dream had come to pass.
Looking at her again, he noticed how she moved beneath the flowing water. He studied her graceful limbs, her flat concave stomach and gently rounded hips to her long shapely legs. She turned around giving him a view of her sleek back and toned bottom, but what really delighted him was the sight of the brilliant copper color mound at the juncture when she turned back around to face him and left the sparkling pool. That sight alone sparked his mind to imagine the secrets held within, secrets he vowed he alone would discover. A groan slipped forth from his lips as a gnawing ache persisted in his loins. Only time would keep them apart. He vowed to Maheo'o that she would be his... very soon.
His eyes continued to follow her every move as she picked of the drying cloth she'd brought with her to race away the wetness remaining on her skin. Night Wolf studied her slender form once again all the way from her delicate facial features to her slender ankles and small feet. Maheo'o, the Cheyenne Great Spirit, had truly blessed him this time, and he whispered a soft prayer as she dressed. "Oh, Great Spirit, revered mystery above, I give thanks for the blessing you wisely bestow upon me this day. I am ever humbled by your generosity and pledge my life to protect her and will always be good to her."
He remained on the ledge upon which he sat above the waterfall. A soft tremble escaped his lips as he watched her leave in the direction she had come. Only then when she was out of sight did he move from his coveted spot. Once he returned to his camp, he walked over to the big stallion tethered to a tree. He stroked his hands over the warhorse's flesh; softly whispering to the big animal he had named Black Wind. "My faithful friend, you have been valuable to me, giving me your all, your strength and your courage." The horse nickered softly as if in response. "I have found her, my vision woman. Soon I shall make her mine."
He brushed the horse down and readied him to head back out on the trail. Then he gathered the meat that had been drying on a rack and stored it away in a beaded parfleche before he doused the smokeless fire and broke camp, strapping the loaded travois of dried meat and semi-cured hides onto the packhorse. He then took point, riding out on the black.
His hunting excursion had been successful with a few more days left to hunt as he made his way back to his village that was still seven suns away. He knew the whole tribe would benefit from the meat and hides he was bringing back. He thought about the families who had no one else to bring them fresh meat, the elderly, the women whose husbands had been killed in battle against the enemy Crow, Ute or Pawnee tribes.
Yet he couldn't keep his mind from wandering back to the beautiful girl at the waterfall. He smiled as her name came to him. Falling Water, it fit her well. Her name would be Mahpetana'otse. His manhood hardened as he recalled how splendidly beautiful she looked as the water flowed over her, barely concealing the ivory smoothness of her supple skin. She had held him in awe of her grace.
It wasn't that he'd never seen a woman's nude body before, despite the fact that Cheyenne maidens were revered for their purity and their mother's took every precaution to keep the men from possessing a maiden before she was wed. Night Wolf knew of the ways of lust. He was proud of his prowess, thankful for the two women who'd taught him well. He was well aware that the widow, Summer Moon, hoped he'd take her to wife, but he knew he wasn't the only young Cheyenne warrior who'd shared her bountiful favors.
Other maidens had shown much interest in him and their fathers had approached him with words of encouragement that he join with one or another. Night Wolf had declined each time. He knew where his destiny lie... with the flame haired one. Never before had a male from his father's lineage intermixed with a Ve'ho'a'o --white woman. How would they accept this? What would the whole village think when the son of their revered chief, Medicine Bull, a great hunter and warrior, chose a white woman over all of the beautiful maidens? Would they demand he take a second wife, a Cheyenne wife, to appease his people's anger? The what-if's consumed his thoughts. He pondered them long and hard. He knew he just simply couldn't take a second wife. He wanted only one. The flame-haired one was his destiny... He meant for her to be his only wife.
He sighed heavily. It was much to think upon and he knew he would have to have a long talk with his father or the Coyote, the shaman, once he returned to his village. Then hopefully he'd still be able to find Mahpetana'otse again, for he would not rest until he possessed her heart, body and soul.