Copyright © 2011 Karen Kay
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Junction of the Upper Missouri and Cheyenne Rivers
Why was there thunder?
Tchankee glanced toward the sky. There were no clouds, no rain, no humidity. Was this a miraculous vision or…
The thunder exploded, then within seconds, it exploded again.
Tchankee’s eyes met those of his friend, Matoiwa. What was the meaning of this?
Matoiwa, as though in answer to Tchankee’s thoughts, whispered, “Perhaps it is the firesticks of the white man. I have heard of the noise these make.”
Tchankee nodded. “We must investigate.”
None from the hunting party chose to disagree. Tchankee was a noted war leader. And though this was only a hunting party all would follow him. His record in battle was untouched. Besides, it was an unwritten law that any disturbance, when it occurred within Lakota Indian territory would need to be investigated; any possible danger would have to be reported to the tribes.
Slowly, carefully, the four Indians crept forward.
Then they saw the source of trouble: two white soldiers, dressed in blue coats. They were surrounded by thirty, maybe fifty, wild turkeys.
Tchankee’s glance quickly scanned the area. Surely there were more people here. Why else would the two white men shoot so much game?
But his keen eyes saw nothing.
Could the appetite ofthe white men be so enormous?
“I must stop this!” Tchankee signed in hand motions to Matoiwa and the two other men in their hunting party.
“No!” Matoiwa grabbed at his friend, but Tchankee shrugged off the hold. “Listen to these men,” Tchankee gestured in sign. “Look at what they do. Do their firesticks contain some evil medicine to turn it on these birds? What if they should turn their powers on our village? What then?”
“They are too far away from our village to do it harm. I have heard that these white men could not find the Big Muddy River itself if not for their Indian guides. They will not bother our village. Come, let’s go from this place before they discover us.”
“No!” Tchankee said. He was already treading forward, his hand outstretched in the gesture of friendship. Matoiwa made a grab at him, but he was already out of reach. Matoiwa glanced at the two other Indians in their party. There would be trouble.
A shot was fired. Tchankee fell.
One moment he stood before them, the next he was down, a hole blasted through his chest. Matoiwa flew out of their cover to help his brother. A bullet struck his chest just seconds before he held out the red stone peace pipe in a gesture of good will. He fell next to his friend.
The remaining two Indians stared at the scene before them with something akin to amazement. Never had they witnessed such useless killing. They crouched low behind the covering of trees and bushes. Were they next?
“Did ye be a seen’ that thar, Charlie? Got them Injuns in only one shot.”
Charlie McGreggor eyed his companion as though he had suddenly taken leave of his senses.
“Dunna ye iver think, McKlinsley? Where thar be two Injuns, thar be a dozen. And by the bull barley, I ain’t stayin’ ta welcome the rest of thar party.”
“Ye be a talkin’ dither, and ye know it. ’Tis only the two Injuns here and they be dead. Be ye afraid of the dead, Charlie?” McKlinsley’s laugh held little humor, but what there was of it was lost upon his companion. Leaving all the turkeys behind, Charlie ran across the prairie as though the devil himself were in pursuit. “Why ye be nothin’ but…” The wind rustled through the grasses of the prairie, creating an eerie whisper. Robert McKlinsley shivered and, with wide eyes, he glanced quickly about him. He’d heard tell of what Indians could do to a man.
He bolted after his friend, feeling no remorse whatsoever. After all, he’d only shot a couple of Injuns, a worse nuisance than the coyotes and wolves. Everyone knew that.
Fort Leavenworth, Lower Missouri River
Kristina swiveled about, trying to absorb all that was around her: the green prairie stretching out endlessly, the delicate scent of the grass, the faint breeze that stirred her bonnet. Kristina raised her face to the subtle warmth of the sun and smiled.
“Kristina, sit up straight!” her mother admonished as the carriage made a sudden jar where the road narrowed and dipped. “And wipe that ridiculous grin off your face. Proper young ladies don’t smile unless addressed.”
“Mother, really!” Kristina said. Nevertheless, she brought her gaze once more to the front, her sight on the narrow path that could barely be described as a road. Some of the prairie grass had been chopped short from usage and there were slight indentations of wheel ruts, but other than that, it was little more than a track.
“There it is,” said Kristina’s father, who sat on the opposite side of her mother. He pulled at the reins and brought the carriage to a halt as they all three scanned the silhouette of the outpost, the extreme western settlement on the frontier. From their distance, the fort appeared to be no more than short sticks stood upright, and it might have been difficult to tell if there were life in and around it if not for the gentle rise of smoke, curling its way upward, indicating that somewhere within there was most likely life.
“There’s Fort Leavenworth, Maggie,” Major Bogard exclaimed, embracing his wife. “Your new home.” His smile was broad, his eyes glittering as he beheld the swaying grass stretching endlessly to the horizon. “I’ve come to love this country, and I hope you and Kristina will feel the same way, eventually.”
“I love it already, Father.”
That statement earned Kristina a beam from her father and a glare from her mother.
“I don’t know, Wendall, what has possessed me to follow you to this godforsaken place. We were perfectly happy back east. There were many eligible young men asking for Kristina’s hand. We were attending balls, concerts, and shows. I never promised to live here. Only to see it. Well, I’ve seen it.”
“Mother, you’re not telling it right. I hated it back east. Those men were soft…charming, but with no depth. I had the impression they were more interested in what I was worth than in any other assets I might possess.” Kristina’s voice was soft, yet insistent.
“You didn’t give it a chance, Kristina. You were just too used to military life. Oh, if I had never left home to follow your father’s military career, you might now be comfortably married. Yet here you are, eighteen and no marriage prospect in sight.”
“I haven’t been called Maggie in years, Wendall. I prefer Margaret now.” She cast her husband a meaningful glance. “Haven’t you stopped to consider that this life out here might be too rough for our daughter? Isn’t it a little wild? Aren’t there Indians here? I think this is hardly the place for us. How can you be sure the savages won’t massacre us all?”
“Mother! Father would hardly send for us if there were…”
“Sit up straight, Kristina.” Margaret Bogard reinforced her command with a jab into her daughter’s ribs. “I hardly think any of the soldiers or settlers here could offer proper company for our daughter,” she continued as though Kristina had not spoken.
Wendall Bogard smiled tolerantly and pulled his wife closer, giving Kristina a wink over Margaret’s stylish coiffure. “We’ve been through all of this before. There’s quite a civilized community in the fort, Maggie.” He emphasized the last. “Several other officers have their wives and children with them and there’s quite a few young women who would welcome Kristina. Most of the children and young adults attend a school and have many things to do. You’ll see wild, dashing carriage rides over the plains, horse racing, picnicking. Strawberries and plums abound here, just ripe for picking. Sure there are Indians nearby, but they’re the tame sort. These particular Indians are mostly farmers now, and those that aren’t…well, they’re no more than beggars. Maggie, don’t you remember Many Moons, Kristina’s nanny? She was Indian and we all loved her. At least come into the fort and see it for yourself. I’ve missed you and Kristina, Maggie. Come look at the fort, won’t you, for me? Kristina’s right, and I promise you, if it weren’t safe here, I wouldn’t have sent for you. We could have a wonderful life here, Maggie. Won’t you at least try?”
Margaret Bogard was having a hard time swallowing, and glancing nervously about, she sighed deeply. “I’ll look. But it’s all that I’ll promise you.” Wendall Bogard smiled and hugged his wife closer to his side. It was a long while before hefinally uttered, “You won’t regret it, Margaret. I promise you. You won’t regret it.”
Kristina looked away from them. I’ve been waiting for this all my life. Her gaze took in all that was about her, her deep, green eyes mirroring the grassy plains, her honey-colored hair gleaming in the sunshine. “Did I ever tell you, Father, that Many Moons told me wonderful stories? That is, before Mother and I went back east. Did I tell you that she taught me to speak in sign language?”
“Kristina! You never said a word to me!” her mother replied. “Why that dreadful savage!”
“It’s no matter,” Major Bogard interjected. Her father’s look silenced Kristina. “Now, Margaret. Aren’t you forgetting that you liked Many Moons as well as Kristina and me? Besides, what harm could the knowledge cause Kristina? In fact, it might come in useful out here on the plains,” he stated calmly, and set the horses into motion.
“I won’t allow it to be ‘useful’, Wendall. Let’s come to an understanding on this right from the beginning. Oh, if only I’d stayed east and not followed you from post to post. An Indian nanny! Now look what it’s done.”
“Enough!” Major Bogard put the reins in one hand and drew his wife closer with his other. He kissed her solidly on the mouth. “I’ve missed you, Maggie. Remind me to thank you for following me from post to post. I’ve enjoyed every minute.”
Margaret Bogard appeared to forget her protest for the moment, but she never quite smiled.
Major Bogard, however, gleamed. “We’re trying to educate the Indians,” he said, addressing Kristina. “There are not many of these Indians who can even speak English, let alone read it. Most would be mystified that a thought can be transferred to paper. But we might teach them, even yet. Perhaps, just perhaps you can be of some assistance in the school.”
“No daughter of mine will be working with, let alone teaching, some half-naked savages the advantages of civilization. Leave that to the missionaries,” Margaret interrupted.
“I thought,” Kristina spoke quietly, doing her best to dampen her enthusiasm, “I thought that the Indians here would be too wild to learn these things. I’ve heard that most of them haven’t even seen a white man, let alone heard the language.”
“The Indians in these parts are not that wild. Maybe the Pawnee occasionally, but even they leave us alone as long as we give them room. No, most of the Indians here are running from the civilization that’s pushing in on them from all sides. They say there are still some wild tribes further up the Missouri River—around Yellowstone. Heard tell there’s some tribes there that have never seen a white man. But that’s a long way away. There’s no civilization there—only a fur company. No, you won’t see many of the wild Indians here.”
Kristina’s eyes, as she cast her vision over the spring-green fields, saddened slightly. She thought of Many Moons, her former nanny and her best friend. There had been a dream, a vision that Many Moons had been reluctant to relate to Kristina, but she finally relented. Kristina had never shared the secret with a soul. She thought of it often. Maybe that was because it foretold her own future.
And then, of course, there were the stories, the legends. Ever since she had learned the tales of the brave warriors from Nanny, there was an excitement that took hold of Kristina when she thought of the Indian. Yet her determination to meet these mysterious people was not solely driven by Many Moons’ predictions, for Kristina herself had dreamed. In her vision she saw buckskin and leather, skin-covered lodges, and a man, a man with flashing, black eyes that looked straight through her. And Kristina knew that Nanny hadn’t lied to her.
In truth, she had often wished she had more freedom and a little more courage. She was compelled to reach out to that wild frontier. She knew that someone or something out there waited for her, and she was afraid that if she didn’t hurry, whatever it was might be forever lost.
Kristina sighed. She could no longer ignore the allure of her dream. Like it or not, Kristina was following her vision.
Kristina laughed gaily, and, giving her horse his lead, she bent over his head in a reckless dash to the fort. Behind her Julia, her new friend and co-conspirator, urged her mount on at a furious pace. They made quite a spectacular sight, the delicate girl with hair the color of fresh honey in the lead and her dark-haired companion in second place, but quickly closing the gap. The colors of their riding suits, Kristina’s of deep, forest green and Julia’s a genuine royal blue, shone under the warm intensity of the sun.
They flew into the fort at an extended gallop, their bonnets having flown off their heads long ago to catch the breeze in their wake. Both girls halted their mounts in front of the schoolhouse, their laughter wafting through the air as they quieted their horses.
“I won!” Kristina claimed as she dismounted and led her horse to the barn.
“Only by an inch, if that,” Julia retorted, following Kristina with her horse in tow.
“I still won which means…” Kristina lowered her voice, “…I claim the first dance with Kenneth tonight.” This she whispered with a twinkle in her green eyes.
“You beast!” Julia cried.
They both laughed and, entering the barn, they handed their horses over to the soldier in charge of the livery.
“What are you wearing tonight?” Julia inquired.
“I don’t know yet,” Kristina replied, somewhat distractedly. The look in her eyes was distant, and there was that touch of sadness to her that Julia had often glimpsed in her friend. But, like all the other times, it was so quickly gone that it was easily forgotten. “I’d like to wear that pink dress of my mother’s with the low front,” Kristina continued. “Do you think she would let me out of my room in it?”
“Not likely,” Julia said, with a shake of her head.
“One of these days,” Kristina asserted, “I’m going to defy my mother!”
“Well, good luck. If you can do that, then the Indians will surely be no challenge to you.”
While nodding her agreement with Julia’s remark, Kristina was again distracted. She stopped, thinking she caught a movement in her peripheral vision. She swung her gaze around, but whatever had drawn her attention was gone. Disturbed and feeling suddenly dizzy, she tried to refocus on Julia and smile, but it wasn’t easy.
“What’s the matter?” Julia asked, concerned.
Kristina passed a hand over her eyes. “Oh, nothing. I think I was out in the sun too long.”
Julia smiled at her friend. “That’s easy to do here. Come, let’s go prepare for the dance tonight. Maybe wearing a pretty dress will cheer you up.”
Kristina leaned back against the door of her bedroom. She closed her eyes and took a deep, steadying breath.
It had happened again. There in the livery with Julia she’d seen him, the man in her vision, just as clearly as she had the first time she’d dreamt of him. Though he was Indian, she wasn’t afraid. She never was. No, her emotion toward him was more one of fascination—never fear. He meant something to her, something good, something that was pure and flawless, but what?
There was no face. Just the unmistakable image of an Indian, someone she felt she should know. Why was it happening so often now?
Kristina had begun to enjoy her life at the fort. Over the past few months she had made friends, some of them Indian. She never lacked for company nor for escorts; there was always plenty to do, frequent visitors to entertain, and numerous events to attend. For a while, she had convinced herself the dream meant nothing. Almost.
What was she to do? Recently she couldn’t quiet her vision, yet she knew her world was one that at the best of times only mildly tolerated the Indian. Usually, the natives were spoken of as though they were children or unworthy heathens. Often the soldiers openly belittled them and further insulted them by fingering their rifles whenever the natives were about.
But Kristina knew there was more to the Indian than her contemporaries chose to see. Perhaps it was Nanny’s influence that opened up the world of observation to Kristina; perhaps it was her own astuteness. Whatever it was, Kristina couldn’t deny that she saw things others tended to miss. Where others saw poverty, Kristina beheld economic freedom. When others degraded them for their lack of schooling, she upheld them for their honesty, their integrity, their extreme sense of honor. Maybe it had been the stories. While many of her contemporaries cut their teeth listening to tales of massacres along the eastern shores, Kristina had learnt of the courage of a brave, of the romance of Hiawatha, of honor and of love.
Her friends insisted the Indian was savage and stupid because he could not read or write, yet Kristina observed the system of hand motions by which all tribes could communicate. The system was intricate and expressive. Kristina had learned this language first from Nanny, with a mixture of phrases thrown in from her father, and then the Indians themselves, who indulged a young woman who strove so hard to master their language. She’d practiced it until she could communicate in this way as though it were a second language to her.
Yet there was more. There was Nanny’s vision, plus Kristina’s own dream.
Her future was entwined with the Indian people. Hadn’t Nanny said so? Kristina tried again to remember the exact words. What had they been?
Many Moons had been a mere ten years older than Kristina when she had taken the post of nanny at Fort Pitt, near the fork of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers in Pennsylvania. She had been mother, sister, and best friend to a young girl when no one else, not even Mrs. Bogard, had particularly cared.
Kristina’s father was often gone and Margaret Bogard had at first needed nursing during her stay at the fort. Then later Mrs. Bogard had decided that caring for a young child was beyond her abilities.
It was only natural that the nanny and her charge would become close, so close, in fact, that Nanny felt safe in imparting her own heritage to the young child.
And Kristina, in return, had loved and respected her nanny. Many Moons treated her charge as though the child were already an adult capable of making her own decisions and Kristina, as a result, exhibited more independence and stronger will than most of her female contemporaries.
Kristina had been only fifteen when Many Moons had dreamed. Later Kristina would think it odd that her friend’s vision had been for that of a young, white girl, a complete alien to the Indian culture, but Kristina had never had the chance to tell this to Nanny. Looking back, it seemed to Kristina that Many Moons had no sooner related her dream than she was taken away.
“Kristina, come quickly!” Nanny called out and patted a place on the floor in front of her.
“What is it?” Kristina sat where Many Moons indicated.
The young Indian girl’s glance flicked around the room nervously. Finally, her gaze fell on Kristina. “I have had a vision, a dream.”
“That’s wonderful!” Kristina giggled. She gazed at her friend with the adoring eyes of one who had never experienced prejudices, although it surrounded her at the fort.
“Hush now and listen to me! The vision was not about me, Kristina. It was about you.” Many Moon’s dark, almost black, eyes looked straight at Kristina.
Awed, Kristina returned the gaze, feeling as though her friend had touched her very soul. “Me? Your vision was of me?”
Many Moons nodded. “I don’t have time to tell you all of it; I fear your mother may come here at any moment. She has ordered me to leave you. She fears my influence over you, fears that I have made you too sympathetic to the Indian. I have been told to have no further contact with you. But before I go, I must tell you this: Follow your heart. At times there may appear to be too many obstacles, but you must be true to your heart. Don’t listen to the demands of others, but do what you know, yourself, to be true.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t suppose you do. Listen, Kristina. To the Indian,” Many Moons began to sign as she spoke, and Kristina followed the hand gestures as easily as she heard the words. “To my people, a dream, a vision, is more real; more important than the very world in which we live. It is how the Great Spirit talks to us. What he says we must try to make happen. It is the way. My dream was for you. I must tell you this. In the vision, Kristina, you were Indian. You were still you, but you were no longer living in the white man’s world. Nor were you living in my world or anything resembling our village. I believe you were living somewhere out west among the free tribes that still live there and roam as their ancestors did long ago. And Kristina, there was much happiness there, yet I am afraid for you. You are white. I do not know how your future can lie there. Yet I believe that only there will you find true happiness. I fear that if you do not seek passage west, all that is good for you in this life may never happen. You must somehow travel west. You must seek this place out for yourself.”
“With you.” Kristina grabbed her nanny’s hand. “You and I will go there together.”
“No,” said Many Moons, staring at their hands entwined together before she continued. “Your mother has dismissed me. What you do, you must do on your own. Perhaps I have dreamed so that I may encourage you. I only pray that the choices you make will bring you happiness. Now I must go. I have already said too much.”
“Don’t leave me,” Kristina choked out the words. “I will speak to my father. It won’t matter, then, what my mother says or orders.”
“No. Your father is gone and your mother has changed this past year. She stares at me now as though I am not quite human. She is taking you back east. She no longer requires my services.” Many Moons hugged Kristina to her. Wrapped in her nanny’s arms, Kristina felt that she could not have loved a sister more. “Remember what I have told you,” Many Moons pressed. “You must seek your future out west. I believe your happiness lies there.”
“Kristina, are you there?” Margaret Bogard rapped sharply on the door and Kristina was thrown back to the present.
“I’m here, Mother,” Kristina replied, but she didn’t open the door. “I’m dressing for the dance tonight. I’ll be a few moments, please.”
“See that you are ready soon. Your father and I are waiting downstairs.”
“Yes, Mother,” Kristina complied. Slowly, she wandered to her closet. She selected a dress, but her mind was still far away.
She had never seen Many Moons again. And though she had made inquiries about her friend later, she had never discovered what had happened to the young Indian woman. Kristina hoped that Many Moons had foundhappiness. She knew of no one who deserved it more.
Kristina pulled the dress over her head. What was she to do? She longed to travel up the Missouri River to the wild tribes. She, too, believed her destiny belonged there, and she yearned for it. But only the stoutest of men had made that journey. What chance did she have to make that trip?
Kristina settled the dress down over her figure and sat in front of the mirror. She sighed. Would she always have to hide this ache inside?
She would have to make that journey to the north.
Then, and maybe only then, would this restlessness be quieted.