Thursday, May 2, 2019

Lodestar (A Story in Three Parts), Post #83

Courtesy of Brillo
Time for the second installment of our story. In case you are confused, Lodai’s name mean Lodestar in English. And lodestar is another name for the North Star. Again, this installment is longer than usual for a blog, but I hope you’ll stick with it.

So here we go on the morning after Jim Tobar and his two companions capture an injured Indian following the assault of White Hair’s band by the militia.


(Part Two)

In the morning, the Indian’s calm eyes studied me carefully as I hand-fed him breakfast and a cup of water. After that, we resumed our trek with the prisoner’s ankles tied by a length of rope below his pinto’s belly.
We were headed for some scalawag trader’s camp along the trail, but I had not realized we were so close. Mid-afternoon we approached the post situated in a grove of cottonwoods on a small, fast stream. The paint-starved main building—which leaned drunkenly windward—was flanked by a smaller outhouse and a sagging necessary situated downwind. Our party caused a minor commotion. The trader, a one-eyed, greasy man named Tate, greeted my companions by name, as did the customer at the bar, a jadish character who went by the handle of Hoover.
“Damnation, Auslander,” Trader Tate said, squinting at our captive. “Whut ya doin’ with White Hair’s son?”
“Who?” Hap asked.
“That Injun ya got tussled up. He’s White Hair’s kid. Name’s Lodai.”
“Be damned,” Nettles said. “We come across him on the trail. Figger he pulled it when the troopers hit.”
“Heard ‘bout that. Apt to bring more trouble than profit. Old White Hair was all right.” Tate turned to the captive. “Yer old man make it out, Lodai?”
The Indian made a noise low in his throat. “No.”
Hap turned on him abruptly. “You talk English?”
Tate laughed. “An old papist priest went to live with them years back. Taught the young’uns to talk it. Whut’cha doing with him, anyhow?”
“Commanding officer a that militia commissioned us to kill any stragglers we come across.”
“So how come he ain’t dead?” Hoover asked from the end of the bar.
Auslander didn’t answer the question directly. “You got women close by?”
From the look on the man's face, Hoover caught on immediately. “No closer’n White Hair’s camp, and them won’t do nobody no good.”
Hap turned to Tate. “You got objections?”
“Not ‘less you gonna be hoggish,” the trader said, proving himself a false friend to the dead White Hair.
Auslander laughed, a sound not pleasant to the ear. “Plenty for everbody. Right now, I wanna wet down the idea.”
“Lock him in the outbuilding.” Tate suggested.
Seeking escape, I headed for the necessary, alert for the rattlesnakes Tate had cautioned about. I encountered no cold-blooded reptiles, but if I had, they would have been preferable to the four drinking inside the trading post. I exited the foul one-hole shack as Auslander and Nettles started for the trading post after locking Lodai in the outhouse. When they were safely inside, I eased over to the building, lifted the wooden latch, and slipped inside.
“You all right?” I asked, pulling a hog-tied Lodai to his feet.
“You will help?” His deep voice sent gooseflesh down my back.
“If I can figure a way without getting myself in trouble.”
“You can come with me,” he said, a frown of worry creasing his brow. “My hands are dead, and I will need them to work when the time comes.”
It took overlong to cut the cruel knot without slicing into his flesh. Lodai almost cried aloud as the blood rushed back into his hands.
“I will be back. I want to see what they’re up to,” I whispered, beginning to realize the consequences of my actions.
All conversation died abruptly when I entered the post. The room was unnaturally quiet; evil emanated like a green miasma from the table where the four men huddled. In that instant I determined my better chance lay with the Indian.
Hap boomed in an overly loud voice. “Thought you fell in.” The other three laughed. The spell was broken, and they resumed talking.
I interrupted, hoping my voice sounded normal. “I’m gonna water the horses. Can I use your stock tank, Mr. Tate?”
“That what it’s for.”
“Want me to water yours, too, Mr. Hoover?”
“Right kind a you, son.”
The hot animals eagerly dipped thirsty muzzles into the big tank. After transferring Lodai’s rifle and bow to his pony, along with some supplies from our packs, I hid our two mounts behind the outbuilding, leaving the others to over-fill their stomachs. It was cruel, but better than hamstringing them.
Lodai stood ready to fight when I slipped through the door. “I’ve got horses and weapons and food to sustain us for a while.”
“Good,” he grunted, starting for the door. I stayed him with a hand on his arm; his firm, silken flesh set my fingers to trembling.
“I need your promise, Lodai.”
He looked me level in the eye. “You have my promise.”
“N-no,” I stuttered, thrilled by the reaffirmation. “I want your promise not to kill them.”
He frowned. Clearly, this was not his wish. Then his expression eased. “This promise I give. We will run away like children.” He started for the door. “Unless they catch us. Then I will kill.”
I dropped the latch on the door, hoping it would be some time before the men in the post discovered we were gone. Lodai eyed the three horses around the water tank.
“Don’t worry, they’re bloated,” I said, tugging him around the corner of the outbuilding. We mounted and headed back down the same trail we had traveled earlier in the day, keeping the outbuilding between the trading post and ourselves. Once over the rise, Lodai slowed his pony to a walk.
“Don’t wind them.”
“Lodai,” I spoke my unease openly, “I’m lost if you betray me.”
“I will not betray you,” he answered. “Give me some of that pack in case we have to run for it.”
Night fell with no sign of pursuers, but Lodai traveled deep into the darkness. We sheltered for a short while in a small wash but were on the move again by dawn. We stayed horseback all day. When the light began to fail, Lodai drew Red Hand, his pony, around and searched the distance behind us.
“They come,” he said, resuming a leisurely pace. “They are far behind. They will keep coming tonight, but not gain much ground. Tomorrow is the time to hurry.”
We traveled the night through. Under a bright hunting moon, Lodai halted in the middle of a broad, shallow stream and instructed me to dismount. Taking only my rifle and blankets, I waded to the northwest, trying to reassure myself he was traveling south—with my Nellie’s reins in his hand—to lay a false trail, not to abandon me on this broad, lonesome prairie. The icy water soon bent my fears into concern for my numbed feet, but I resisted the temptation to walk the bank. Draping the blankets around me helped until I fell headlong into the water.
Slogging along against the current made the journey seem longer, but sometime in mid-morning, I found the pile of big boulders Lodai had described and designated as our meeting place. Climbing into the midst of the stones, I dozed on the sun-drenched rocks like a cold-blooded creature, moving with the sun until I was dry, then seeking the cool shade. Only then did I begin to despair. Had I played the fool by handing over my mare to Lodai?

Has Jim Tobar been abandoned by, Lodai? Tricked into handing over his pony and left to fend for himself afoot on the prairie? The next installment will tell all.

Amazon permits you to read a short passage of my novels, Cut Hand and Johnny Two-Guns. I also believe the STARbooks-published River Otter, Echoes of the Flute, and Medicine Hair are still up. I sure would like to get the final book in the Cut Hand Series, Wastelakapi… Beloved, published, but it’ll take some help from readers to get Dreamspinner interested.

My contact information is provided below in case anyone wants to drop me a line:
Website and blog:
Twitter: @markwildyr

The following are buy links for CUT HAND:

And now my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

Until next time.


New posts at 6:00 a.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month.

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