The playful scurrying of squirrels and chirping of birds filled the air in the tranquil woods as the young boy waited for his twin brother to find him. Jeremy Little Red Hawk’s right foot was falling asleep and he desperately wanted to move it so it would stop tingling. Leaning against the tree, he adjusted his weight to his left side. He wiggled his toes and flinched at the dull pain. This would not do at all. He was aghast at the humiliation. A brave warrior’s foot did not fall asleep while he waited silently for the enemy.
He was fortunate today. The wind was silent, allowing him to hear any unnatural sounds in the woods surrounding him. There were no rustling leaves or falling branches to mask footsteps. He listened intently, the way his father had taught him, and became one with the forest. He waited diligently for the sound of crushed leaves, for the telltale footstep or the snap of a twig underfoot. The rules were strict. He had to keep his position unless he heard his brother’s approach, and then he would search for another hiding spot.
The two boys played in the woods behind their home. To be a Lakota brave, one must be able to creep up without a sound and touch one’s enemy on the shoulder. Thus his brother, Emanuel, could proudly declare that in the year 1890, upon his 7th winter count, he had become a true Lakota brave.
Emanuel was improving immensely. Jeremy had not heard the stealth approach of his brother’s vulpine steps. The sudden deafening betrayal of silence in the forest alerted him to the persistent vigilance of the enemy. The creatures in the area were holding their breaths in anticipation, alerting him with their finely honed senses. He could hear his father’s wise words whispering in the silence. Become a part of Mother Earth. Become one with nature and you will become a true and proud warrior.
Jeremy slowly moved his head left and then right. Which way should he go? Which way was his brother? The trail was ten feet behind him. He would go there and then retrace his steps to this same spot. Wiggling his toes, he bit his lip against the pain as his foot popped back to life.
Crouching, he silently inched his way to the trail and the open copse. The snap of a branch rang loud in his ears as his brother emerged from the shadows of the trees. Jeremy ran onto the trail, his new moccasins dulling his sounds of retreat. He circled to an open area of the woods where he found himself staring at a saddled thoroughbred beside a man sitting against a tree. The man appeared to be asleep; his head leaned back, mouth open and eyes closed.
The young boy rounded silently and walked into his brother, Emanuel.
“Not fair! Look.” Jeremy pointed to the sleeping man. “Isn’t that Mr. Burke?”
“Looks like him. Why’s he sleeping in the woods?”
Mr. Burke’s hat was sitting askew, shading his eyes, a bottle of whiskey clenched tightly in his right hand. His clothing was crisp and starched, pristine as always. Nothing appeared unusual except, of course, a man of Mr. Burke’s status would not be sleeping in the woods. His well-trained horse stood gallantly by his side.
Jeremy frowned as Emanuel soundlessly walked over to the man and shook him gently. “Mr. Burke … Mr. Burke? Are you well?”
The man slumped backward, dried blood crusted under his nose, his limbs rigid. Thickened blood trickled from his mouth as the body descended to the ground. The boys jumped and screamed in terror, running blindly home. Attaining the dream of a warrior’s first coup was far from their minds.
The boys’ father, Andrew Little Red Hawk, and Karen Black Elk were sitting quietly in the morning room, drinking excessively sweetened coffee and enjoying freshly made pastries.
“It has been a while since your last visit.”
Karen Anderson Black Elk, known to the Lakota as Spirit of the Mountain, rarely traveled the long road to his world. Her second husband, John Black Elk, never traveled to the home and lands she had once shared with her first husband, Standing Deer.
“I miss my friends and this town. I am happy I found this peaceful corner of South Dakota.”
“If not for you … you encouraged us to build the town. It is a menagerie of the world, a rainbow of cultures.”
“The only other choice available was the reservations,” Karen added. “Many felt as you did. They would rather have died than become dependent on the government. It was depressing, watching the ranch burn; watching the death of such a well-placed safe haven. I cried for many days.”
“I am glad you did not lose faith.”
The vision of the hot fingers of blackened smoke slashing the skies burned in her memory. “It was not easy. We have lived through many tragic and happy times together. Of course, I prefer to remember the happy.”
“Well, here’s to another celebration.”
Andrew’s dark Lakota features brightened as he lifted his cup of coffee in cheer. Karen laughed and clinked her own cup against his.
Although Andrew lived in the white man’s world now, he had never deserted his Lakota heritage. He kept his raven-black hair long, tied back with a leather strap. While he was in town, he would don the white man’s clothes, but when he worked on his ranch, buckskins and moccasins prevailed. He easily moved between cultures, blending them in a way unique to him alone.
He taught the ways of the Lakota to his children, a legacy of a life he had once known. They learned to live and thrive in both worlds. He cleverly combined the teachings of the Christian religion with the spiritual beliefs of the Lakota. All of his children knew how to live off the land. His attitude of taking care of Mother Earth helped his ranch thrive, making him a very wealthy man. If it had not been for his life-long friend, where would he and his family be now?
On her last visit, he had requested Karen’s assistance. She had readily agreed to take his oldest daughter, Devry, to Standing Rock to visit Sitting Bull. It would be a year of good memories, happy times, and celebrations.
He had heard the tales of how she had come from a different world, a world filled with incomparable magic. He had listened to stories around the fire of how she had resisted what life had planned for her, how she had fought destiny. She had refused to accept her fate until she took the lessons of the Lakota into her heart. Once she had opened her soul to the breath of the Great Spirit, her life had changed. She had found an incredible love for eternity.
When he had first encountered Karen, he had instantly understood why the Lakotas had named her Spirit of the Mountain. Green eyes imitated the grass and leaves of the trees. Her hair radiated the colors of autumn, streaking rays of sun-kissed yellow and gold. Even now with age painting its colors in her hair, the silver strands glittered in the sun’s rays, brightening the aura that surrounded her.
After the Battle of the Little Big Horn and Standing Deer’s death, her family had stopped returning to the Dakota Territory. Only on a few occasions had Karen come to their home or gone to visit Sitting Bull and her Lakota friends at the Standing Rock Reservation. She was one of the strongest-willed women who had ever crossed his path. Their mutual respect and deep friendship would last until the end of their days.
Andrew smiled. “When is Matthew …” He was startled at the sound of the rear door slamming against the wall, followed by the distinct sound of glass breaking as a vase was knocked to the floor.
The boys charged through the house. The shrill screams of terror interrupted the comfortable table banter. Karen and Andrew ran from the room and found the boys running down the hallway toward the morning room, revulsion etching their angelic faces.
“What is it?”
“What has happened?”
Jeremy’s eyes were full of fear, tears streaming down his dirty face. Emanuel bounced, stuttering in a high-pitched squeal. “The … woods … Mr. … Burke … dead … blood … horse …”
Jeremy gripped Karen’s skirt as she bent down to hold him. Andrew calmed Emanuel with soothing words.
“Now son, tell me slowly. Take a deep breath. Try to stay calm and tell me from the beginning …”
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