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Brand of the Red Warrior

By Ike Boone

Many scalps of the enemy once graced Cheyenne coup-sticks. But now Two Bears' people were beset by sickness. They were tired and hungry . . . and even Two Bears himself, once the proudest of warriors, felt his courage wavering at the advance of the swift-charging Long-Knives.

TWO BEARS DUCKED out the flap of his lodge and stood a moment, feeling the bite of the cold wind, sharp and bitter to his old bones. He shrugged the blanket about his shoulders as he turned toward the river. Two of the women came up over the rise of the bank with a kettle of water between them, and they moved slowly, showing their tiredness. The snow came to the knees of his fringed leggins as he stepped out of the single trampled trail to the watering place.

And slowly and insidiously the thought formed in his protesting mind, The Spirit has turned his face from my people.

His eyes searched the sky with unconscious wisdom, and told him that the end of the snow and the cold was not yet, and he turned back toward the camp. It was a poor camp. Eighteen lodges, huddled in a rough circle, with snow banked about their feet; poor lodges, for they were patched and laced with rawhide, but there had been no buffalo for hides to renew them, and not enough hunters, if there had been buffalo, for the Spotted Death had run through the tribe like a great blind knife.

He trudged back through the heavy, hampering snow to the trail, and then feet thudded behind him, and an excited voice shouted his name. He turned, and saw his grandson, Little Knife, a lad of 14 summers, who came plunging through the deep snow where the trail curved.

Almost instantly that Two Bear's eyes came on him, Little Knife slowed his pace to a sedate walk, but the words burst from the hard breath of his running.

"The Long Knives, my grandfather! The Long Knives come in blue coats! Just beyond the ridge!"

And almost on the heels of his words, they did come, first a single rider, who loomed up, sharp-cut and black, against the dull gray of the threatening sky, and then a file of them, pulling up along the line of the ridge, halting their mounts, to sit stiff and square in their saddles, with a dull gleaming of buttons.

Then one rider broke from the group and came down the slope, slouching easily in the saddle as his pony kicked a spray of snow ahead of its sliding hooves.

Two Bears turned and walked slowly to the outer circle of the lodges, then stopped and turned again to face the rider, who took the shallow ford of the river in plunging leaps, the horny hooves of the pony making a great crashing in the ice of the edges. He knew the rider now, Burden Frazee, and the uneasiness inside him subsided.

BURDEN HELD his pipe out before him with one hand. He rode up within ten feet of Two Bears before he pulled up and slid out of the saddle. Two Bears reached his own pipe, which hung on a thong around his neck, inside the blanket, and held it out toward Burden who grinned and stepped forward.

"My brother, Buffalo Man, is welcome to my lodge," said Two Bears formally, using Burden's Indian name.

Burden Frazee grunted polite acknowledgement, and followed Two Bears to the lodge, his keen blue eyes missing nothing of the patched and tattered poverty of the camp. One side of his mouth quirked under his wiry sandy beard, though he made no sound. But Two Bears knew he saw, and inside his chest a shamed anger grew that his white blood-brother should see him thus.

But he made no sign of this, and when Burden was seated at his left in the lodge, and the pipe had been lighted and smoked, Two Bears waited.

Burden Frazee—Buffalo Man—spoke with a blunt voice that was near anger. "My heart is heavy," he said. "The Long Knives come with peace in their mouths and war in their hands." His blue eyes flicked at Two Bears and then away. The edge was sharp in his voice now. "They come for the young men who stole the horses of the black trader."

"They were our horses," replied Two Bears calmly.

Frazee did not dispute this; did not even say "maybe," for that would be calling Two Bears a liar. He said instead, "The black trader died, and the Long Knives have come for the young men."

"The black trader fought them," said Two Bears. "When a man fights he must expect to die. Else why does a man fight? Besides, what will the Long Knives do with the young men?"

Burden shrugged, as Two Bears might have done, for he was as much red as white. "Perhaps they will lock them up for a time," he said, but his voice did not carry much conviction.

"They will hang them by their necks," said Two Bears. He did not say it as if he disputed Burden. It was simply that Two Bears remembered what had happened once before.

"No," said Two Bears. "The young men are needed here." For the first time a little of his inner bitterness came out.

"We are poor," he said simply, shaming himself before Buffalo Man who was his brother, "we have not enough hunters to feed us now. If the young men go, we die."

Frazee looked down and his blue eyes were cloudy. Then he lifted his head and pointed with his chin at the line of cavalry on the ridge.

"They have come for the young men," he said bitterly. "Believe me, my brother, I did not know it was my brothers they sought when I joined with them."

His eyes fell away from Two Bears', and looked at his crossed knees. "If the young men do not go with me, the Long Knives will come after them. They carry war in their hands. There will be wailing in the lodge of my brother."

Two Bears digested this in silence. He knew the bitterness and anger in Buffalo Man's voice was not for him. Buffalo Man was his brother. They had hunted together in the old days when only the mountain men knew this land. Burden's woman had been Two Bear's sister, and they had shared their meat and their fires. But even when the beaver...

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