The Republic of Texas 1843
Lone Wolf hid within the shadows of the forest. He’d hung a string of human pelts round the neck of his mustang and washed the war paint from his face. His warriors had returned to camp, anxious to celebrate their victory, but he took a different route. The rush of the kill still blazed inside him and he waited there, patiently, eager for one last conquest.
He watched the rider clear the hill at a ferocious pace. This was what he loved most, the anticipation. Already, his heart pounded wildly, and his skin dampened with excitement. It would be this way always, he knew.
When his prey grew closer, his dark eyes narrowed, and he draped his bow over his shoulder. The girl raced like the wind across the plains, lying low and clinging to her horse’s mane. Her slim figure made the pure white steed appear mammoth, and when she glanced back to see if anyone followed, her blonde, waist-length hair whipped about her face.
At last, she dashed by him. Lone Wolf let out a shrill cry and burst from the trees. The girl saw him and shrieked, then dug her bare heels into the animal’s flank, urging him to gallop faster. Her horse complied, but Lone Wolf was hot on her trail and gaining quickly. Soon, he was within arm’s reach, but she suddenly veered off the path and charged toward the grassy field edging Red River.
Hungrily, he pursued her. She kept her distance, though he didn’t know how, then leapt to the ground without slowing and disappeared over the river bluffs. Lone Wolf unleashed his blade, left his horse and tracked her every step to the top of the berm.
From his lofty vantage point he studied every inch of the hillside and the rushing waters below. Growing impatient, he moved cautiously yet with purpose down the sandy bank. He spotted her small footprints, but her quick breaths gave her away. She had tucked herself inside a small cove, thinking she could hide from him. He gripped his knife tightly and crept closer.
He was going to enjoy another victory, and with this trophy he would gain the utmost respect of his father and their entire Comanche tribe.
The girl peeked out and he lunged toward her. He shoved her back against the sandy wall and pressed himself over her to keep her still. Slowly, he lifted his sharp blade and touched the tip of it to her neck. “Kiss me or die…”
She threw her arms around his neck and crushed her mouth over his. Lone Wolf cast the knife aside and snatched her to him, kissing her violently and groaning with pleasure. The feel of her body against his and the sweet taste of her lips thrilled him beyond belief. It took every bit of restraint for him to release her mouth. When he did, he held her tight and gazed into her vibrant blue eyes.
“No matter how fast or far you travel, Fire Blossom, you will never escape me.”
She smiled at him, pulled him close and whispered, “It is said when a warrior touches a woman’s breast, she belongs to him. Touch me, Lone Wolf. I want to belong to you.”
It felt to him as though he stood within a raging fire. His blood ran hot and it was the sweat of his thoughts that immersed him. He wanted to take her now, right here. They were meant to make love for the first time in this place, at this very moment when their passion flowed as swiftly as the currents below. He waited too long already. It had been four years since he first set eyes on this beauty and fallen in love with her.
“Tonight, my father promised to pick his finest horses as a gift to your father, Chief Two Hatchets. Upon his acceptance, you will be mine forever.” He caught her mouth again and let his hand travel to the sumptuous feminine mounds awaiting him. Though her leather dress hindered the feel of her, he fondled her ravenously while kissing her neck.
Yet, their traditions suddenly gripped him. “We must wait….”
“Wait for what? I belong to you now!”
She couldn’t know what her pleas did to him. She was too young and innocent to understand the intensity of his thoughts, or the disaster of them. Comanche wives waited until marriage. They didn’t tease and torment a man mercilessly. They kept their distance and offered nothing of themselves except a few coy glances until the horses were exchanged and the ceremony was performed. And the wife of a Comanche chief must be respected.
But she was unlike all others. She drove him out of his mind with what the white man called lust. He had no idea what the word meant until he saw her. He’d only known the Comanche way, liking a woman’s appearance, feeling comforted by the fact that she would warm his bed at night and take good care of his children. He’d been taught to conceal his feelings and block out all emotions. It was a matter of survival, the way a warrior learned to face pain and death.
And yet, he lusted after this dove. With her in his arms he felt like the worst of all cowards. The mere thought of spending one moment without her made him tremble with fear. But she would belong to him soon enough and it was up to him to make sure they followed Comanche tradition.
“I must return to camp and hurry my father along.” He kissed her again, then unleashed a beaded necklace from his pouch and slipped it around her neck. “Wear this, Fire Blossom. I want you and all others to know the love we share. It was given to my mother when she married Chief Eagle Horse. She says it will bring us much happiness, like that which she has enjoyed all these years.”
Fire Blossom gazed up at him. “I promise to wear it always. But tell Chief Eagle Horse that I grow impatient. Tell him if he does not tend to the matter more swiftly, you and I will have our own private ceremony right here by the river.”
He laughed. “I will deliver your message along with a stern one of my own.”
“And give him my love,” she said as she slid her hands over his bare chest.
He caught her around the waist. “You do belong to me, Fire Blossom, now and forever….” And he kissed her again.
Fire Blossom floated home on a heavenly cloud filled with hot and exciting thoughts of her beloved. She smiled as she pictured their union in three days and glorious night to follow. Lone Wolf was already known far and wide as the strongest and bravest warrior. His destiny, she knew, would be that of a legend. She would make it so. The happiness they shared together would drive him, as though it were the very backbone of his existence...just as he was the backbone of hers.
She lost her dreamy smile when she reached the grove of pines surrounding the east end of her campgrounds. She saw broken limbs in these woods, several of them clearing a path. Comanche never left even a twig out of place, she considered; otherwise white men might be alerted to their whereabouts.
She studied the meadow behind her. The grass was matted as though a herd of horses had charged through, thirty to forty of them, she guessed, coming from the south and swinging wide to approach through the trees. Moving warily, she followed the path through the woods. She didn’t hear anything unusual. Yet, she couldn’t even hear the voices of her people within the camp and that alone seemed odd from this short distance.
She stopped her horse and froze as the stench of charred hides caught her. Or burning flesh, she considered feverishly. With that thought, she charged forward, disregarding every lesson taught her. Rather than conceal herself from the intruders or race away to Lone Wolf’s tribe for help, she slapped her heels against her horse and raced toward camp. As she reached the edge of the forest, she heard white men hooting and hollering as great billows of black smoke filled the air with that putrid smell. The thicket of trees shielded her from the enemy and prevented her from viewing the destruction within. Yet, her mind drew ghastly images and she couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down her cheeks.
Her only chance was on foot now, so she slid off her mount and used the skills Lone Wolf had taught her to make her way unnoticed. She darted from tree to tree, stopping briefly, only to make sure the way was clear. Then, the soft and agonizing moans of her people caught her, and her heart stopped beating.
Somehow, she managed to continue. She was petrified of witnessing the massacre of her tribe, but even more determined to get her family to safety if there was a chance they had survived. And if that meant dying herself, she owed them her life. With that resolution, Fire Blossom pushed herself away from the last tree and ran toward her tent with all the speed of a hunted doe. She looked nowhere but in front of her and concentrated only on the hope of finding her family.
She slipped beneath the back opening of their tepee and saw her older sister, Morning Star, lying in a pool of blood. “I will take you from here, dear sister,” she cried.
Morning Star protested weakly and begged Fire Blossom to save herself, but she refused. Quickly, she dragged the makeshift cot over and managed to lift Morning Star onto it. With the poles in hand, she pulled with all her might and dragged the cot outside. She pressed on, undaunted by her heartache and fears, and miraculously they made it to the forest unseen. Her sister had lost consciousness by that time, yet that was comforting since their most difficult struggles were yet to come.
Several times Fire Blossom failed to lift her sister up onto her horse. Between her tears and trembling, she simply couldn’t muster the strength. Out of sheer frustration, she whipped her horse with a thin branch until he lay on the ground. She was covered with blood, herself, when she draped her poor sister’s body over the horse’s back. And she swiftly led them away.
A white man spotted her. He called to the others and within seconds, six men on horseback were chasing them. Fire Blossom knew if she mounted and tried to outrun them, neither of them would make it. Her horse was exhausted and couldn’t withstand the extra weight, let alone the energy needed to escape. She eyed the forest to her right, then slapped her horse’s rear and shouted for him to find Lone Wolf. The steed galloped off across the meadow while she ran toward the woods. As she hoped, the men followed her rather than Morning Star, but she was running for her life now.
White men were killers and breeders of hate, she knew. They raided Indian villages and killed without reason. They used pistols to murder the children and they viciously raped squaws, then tortured them and sliced their bodies into pieces. They had no conscience, no morals or character. They thrived on destruction and killed only for pleasure. And if they caught her, she would suffer a horrible death, too. So, she raced toward the woods, praying her vast knowledge of this forest would give her the advantage.
Yet, one of the killers had caught up to her. His horse trailed her every step, whichever direction she turned, trampling bushes and tearing branches. He was laughing wickedly and yelling to the others. He didn’t speak Comanche, yet his language was familiar to her and for a moment she wondered why. Then, she eyed the thickest part of the forest where a horse was unable to pass.
She dashed away, but the man jumped from his steed and tackled her to the ground. She screamed at him, clawed his face and sank her teeth into his flesh. His sinister laugh turned into outrage and he cursed loudly. He was twice her size and strength, but she fought so wildly, he couldn’t grab hold of her hands or feet. And when he moved away from her for an instant, she drove her knee into his groin.
The man doubled over in pain and she darted off again. But now, three other men grabbed her. Fiercely, she battled against them, trying to free herself from their iron grips, kicking them and spitting in their faces. Yet, she soon found her hands shackled behind her and a cloth stuffed into her mouth. They lifted her onto one of the horses and led her back to camp.
“Hey, Dirk, look what we roped ourselves!” one of the men called out.
They yanked Fire Blossom off the horse. She fell to the ground and no longer cared what they did to her. She just stared blankly at the bloody bodies sprawled across the campgrounds. Her family was dead, the entire tribe, her friends, the children and even their dogs. No sign of life remained.
Another image suddenly flashed in her mind. It was of a different place with different people and surroundings. Yet, the cloudburst of blood, the mutilated flesh and the smell of death was the same. That vision quickly fled when she noticed her other sister lying face down in the grass with their father and brother beside her. Fire Blossom burst out crying.
Lone Wolf joined his father in his tent and found him sitting on his blanket, meditating. He waited silently.
Chief Eagle Horse opened one eye and scowled at his son. “What is so urgent that you break my time of reflection?”
“Did Black Crow tell you of our victory?”
“It was a harsh lesson to teach the white settlers, but a necessary one. Their ambush left us little choice but to retaliate.”
“We must take the horses to Chief Two Hatchets tonight, my father, after you choose the finest.”
“Such a defiant minx is not worth my best horses!”
Lone Wolf grinned and knelt beside his father, who had grown old and tired these past few years. His sight had nearly left him, and his legs were only strong enough to carry him on horseback. But he had kept his wit and Lone Wolf’s respect. “She says if you do not bring the gifts soon, we will perform our own ritual and no longer need them.”
His father’s eyes grew wild. “She is a shameless creature. I do not envy Two Hatchets. He has had his hands full these years. And you! Of your own free will you choose to lift such a burden from him.”
“She is a beautiful burden...”
“Did she call me a growling bear again? I have killed warriors for kinder insults.”
“She sends her love.”
“Only because she wants me to bring the horses!” But the old chief was smiling, too. “You must take them, yourself, Lone Wolf. I cannot make the trip and we dare not keep your young bride waiting or I will never hear the end of it.”
“Did you want supper before I leave?”
“I have lost my hunger. Bring that unruly child to me in the morning. Her playful spirit has brightened the last years of my life and I wish to see her once more before...” he rephrased his thoughts, “before she becomes my daughter.”
Lone Wolf nodded. “I am grateful to you for many things, Father, but mostly for your permission to take her as my wife.”
“If I objected, you would take her anyway.”
“And do you blame me?”
His father chuckled. “If I were thirty years younger, I would steal her from you.” He was growing tired and laid down to rest. “Tell Two Hatchets to come, too. My good friend and I have much to talk about.”
Lone Wolf covered his father with a blanket and worried that their chief would not survive the night. “I will bring them both to you.” After his father fell asleep, he went outside to search for Black Crow, their medicine man, and found him by his tent. “My father cannot make the journey. We must ready the horses ourselves.”
Black Crow pointed to the five large stallions across the way. “Chief Eagle Horse gave the orders earlier. They are ready and waiting.”
Lone Wolf was pleased. “A fine lot. So, he is as eager as I am.”
“It is Chief Two Hatchets and his daughters who have stalled. They are reluctant to let their youngest go.”
“Both tribes have much to gain from this union, although it is I who will reap the greatest rewards.”
“There is one among us who is against this marriage,” Black Crow said, nodding toward Running Doe as she emerged from the next tent. “As children, you and Running Doe were very close. She always hoped you would choose her.”
“She will make a fine wife, but for someone else.” He smiled. “I have chosen the shameless minx with passion in her eyes. I hunger for her, Black Crow, like a blood-thirsty wolf craves the doe. Never again will my nights be fraught with peaceful slumber, for the Gods have blessed me with a beauty who has more fire in her blood than I do.”
“I approve of this union, but do not forget that her memory may return one day. If that happens, she will look upon things differently.”
Lone Wolf laughed and slapped his good friend on the back. “Nothing will ever change our love for each other. And she cares nothing about her past. She worships the Comanche and shares our hatred for all white men.”
“Still, you should be prepared. Why don’t you try to soothe Running Doe’s broken heart while I gather the horses?” And he made his leave.
“How is our Chief?” Running Doe asked Lone Wolf with his approach.
“He has lost strength, but he accepts his fate.”
“Everyone prays for him.” She hesitated. “I heard of your intentions. Has Chief Two Hatchets accepted the proposal?”
“I will have his answer tonight. You knew this time would come, Running Doe. I have not hidden my feelings.”
“And I cannot hide my disappointment.”
“Fire Blossom feels badly and hopes for your friendship someday.”
“She stole my greatest dream, Lone Wolf. If another brave won her heart, would you make friends with him?”
He burned with rage at the thought. “I would kill him.”
Running Doe lowered her head. “I have decided to accept Red Hawk’s proposal. I will be joining his tribe tomorrow. Perhaps my heartache will ease when you are out of sight.”
“Red Hawk is a fine warrior and will make a good husband.”
“I would have been happier with you,” and she hurried off.
As Lone Wolf rode with Black Crow at a leisurely pace across the plains, he put thoughts of his father and Running Doe out of his mind. Instead, he gazed up at the sky and studied the crystal blueness of it. Fire Blossom’s eyes held more brilliance, he thought with a grin, and her hair was by far more golden than the sun.
He couldn’t believe his good fortune. He shuddered to think what his life would be like if the Kiowas had killed her during the raid or decided not to gift her to their neighboring tribe. And without a shred of guilt, he was glad that Chief Two Hatchets had lost his white woman, coercing him to accept the young captive into his family. From the moment Lone Wolf caught sight of her peeking out of the tent, defying her adopted father’s strict orders, until now, he blessed every twist of fate that had brought her to him.
“There is a horse grazing near the river,” Black Crow announced suspiciously.
Lone Wolf saw the huge white steed and recognized it immediately. “Ah, you scold me for my impatience, yet she scoffs at our traditions to hasten our vows. This is our meeting place, Black Crow. She waits for me, knowing I would come this way.” With a shrill cry, he broke away from his friend and raced ahead.
As Lone Wolf grew closer, he noticed a body lying in the grass beside the horse. Never had he felt such cutting fear. He shouted to Fire Blossom and quickened his pace. The blood covering her dress was made more vivid by the bright sunshine, but so too, was the dark color of her hair. Still, his breath wouldn’t come. Morning Star was bleeding from several wounds and unconscious, yet the fact that she had taken Fire Blossom’s horse alarmed him even more.
He lifted the woman onto his steed and swiftly took her back to their camp. He carried her into his tent and paced heatedly, waiting for Black Crow to revive her.
“She is badly hurt, yet given time, I can make her well. It may be morning or later before she is able to tell us what happened,” Black Crow stated.
Lone Wolf hurried from the tent. “I cannot bear this. I am taking the warriors to her village. Do your best to save Morning Star.”
He rode his mustang hard and fast as he led his war party east along the river. Though he tried with all his might, he could not stop his mind from imagining the worst. Nor could he block out the raging emotions that he’d been taught to suppress all these years. The agony of his thoughts was beyond any torture he had ever known.
Yet, as they entered the neighboring camp, he sat stiff on his horse and showed no emotion at all. For those first minutes, he appeared as a statue, not breathing or blinking, and only his pupils moved as he dared to scan the area.
“White men came,” he was told. “The warriors were unprepared.”
Lone Wolf wrestled with his voice, trying to speak. “Are there survivors?” When the brave shook his head, Lone Wolf closed his eyes, swallowed hard and his next words emerged as a tortured whisper. “Where is she?”
“We have not yet found Fire Blossom.”
Lone Wolf dismounted and glared at her tent, but he was too much of a coward to move toward it. Everyone else in the village had been killed by guns and rifles, the white man’s weapons. Chief Two Hatchets lay on his back in the center of camp. He was a wise, old man with a brave son of his own who would have led their people well. Tall Trees was lying beside him and Prairie Flower, too, not more than a few paces away, her dress torn and bloody as though she had fought hard for her life.
“Search her tent, the one still standing,” he instructed.
Lone Wolf watched his men enter and stood stiff again while clenching his fists. It felt to him as if a knife had pierced his heart and was slowly being dragged across his chest, slicing his flesh and ribs, draining him of every ounce of blood until his entire body went cold, then numb. It was in such drastic contrast to what he had felt earlier when she was in his arms scorching him with desire.
If she was dead, he would kill himself, too, he decided. In three short days, they were going to be joined for eternity. If that meant in death, then he would uphold their future promise. Nothing would keep them apart.
He took his first breath when a warrior emerged from the tepee and told him that it was empty.
“Perhaps she escaped with Morning Star,” Bear Claws offered hopefully.
“She would have come to me.” Lone Wolf took another glance around the death camp and closed his eyes. “They took her. Because she is white, they took her with them.” He instructed the others to bury the dead. “At dawn, we will ride into battle. This time, we will search every homestead and village and kill every white man in our path until she is back in my arms again.”
With that, he took his horse and rode to the river alone. He stood in the spot they had claimed as theirs, and he glared at the rushing waters below. The numbness had left him. Instead, his body was shaking with rage and heartache. Tears began to stream down his dark face, the first ever. He fell to his knees and buried his face in his hands.
As storm clouds rolled in, blocking the sunlight, he lifted his head and howled her name across the valley.