Western Fiction posted January 10, 2021 Chapters:  ...23 24 -25- 26... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
Jane pins her only hope of escape through an unexplored cave

A chapter in the book The Spirit of the Wind

White Slave

by forestport12

Jane lost her first husband a year into their fledging homestead in Nebraska. She remarried, determined to make roots in a volatile west. But raiding Indians had other plans.
Stomping Bull laid beside me in the tepee, sleeping off a bender from a cache of whiskey in a former raid. I dared not move a muscle, afraid he would awake and have his way with me. I endured the smell of his sweat and his snoring, praying for the sunrise.

Mercifully, the sun chased the shadows of the morning across the canyon. Seeing it bring light and life to the Indian village filled my heart with hope I could work with the other squaws and not have to look into the fierce eyes of Spotted Owl, or to catch a glimpse of Stomping Bulls sadistic grin.

I was taken out near the stream where the women busied themselves, gathering firewood or tanning hides. I was expected to stay with my ruthless guardian, Spotted Owl. Hopeless were all routes of escape where the canyon cliff faces were like prison walls.

Stomping Bull was never from us. I believed he wished I would run so he could torture and rape me without consequence or fear of what the council's decision would be.

During the morning hours, I carried several clay pots of water back and forth between the stream and the Indian village until my arms ached and the damage to my shoulders caused a knifing pain. On my last errand, I dropped a vat of water, spilling it at Stomping Bulls feet. He promptly kicked me in the ribs until I found my feet. Then I was given a new task to find wood to burn for a large evening fire.

Little Deer appeared in the distance. She washed a deerskin in the brook. I took a chance and walked over to her with my bundle of wood.

Oh, this poor half breed, caught between two worlds, ripped from a Christian home and taken captive. Tears pressed against my eyes because I knew prayers for her own freedom have gone unanswered into a void between this devilish den and heaven.

Little Deer was careful when and where she placed her words because some of the red devils are quick learners of the English language. I reckoned the noisy creek helped to conceal her voice.

On the water's edge, I kept my back to those who eyed me. "Do you know if there is a way out through the other side of the cave?"

She hesitated. I'm not exactly sure. I've heard stories. Some have felt the brush of fresh air and a breadth of wind from within. But this only terrifies them more, believing it is an evil spirit lurking inside."

"Where you go, I go. Live or die. If I die, I'm free."

Little Deer's brown eyes filled with tears. "My husband, Standing Bear, courted me when I was adopted into the chief's family. Surprisingly, it protected me afterwards from the cruel punishment I took at first. He would sit out in the rain at night in front of their tepee, even in a drenching rain. At first, I rejected him. I told him he was crazy. Indian or white men are both alike and lose their minds for love. But I knew there was no choice in the end. I knew he would not beat me like others do."

"Just maybe we were meant to find each other."

Then she told me why she was determined to escape. "I married Standing Bear and accepted my fate. I thought I could convince them of my Christian faith and bring change. But one night I looked into his items of protection and found jewelry of a friend and a piece of her scalped hair. She was a white girl I played with. Their family sought refuge in our home because we were Indians. We tried to hide them, but it was no use."

Little Deer tilted her head into the reflection of the water at her feet. There was an awkward silence between us, except for the flowing water at our feet.

Stomping Bull broke the peace. He stalked toward me, upset that I'd wasted time with girl talk. He grabbed me by my bruised battered shoulder and yanked me away. I lost the firewood. I crouched down to gather my bundle. He was about to kick me in the ribs, when he saw Standing Bear who had come for his wife.

There was a meeting of the warrior tribes, and I was ordered to be taken and placed in front of the painted elders in a circle beneath the tepee. Little Deer followed me through the opening with her husband.

I tried to push down the swelling fear inside me, as the painted men stared at me. It was impossible to be modest in my ripped and twisted calico dress from their prying eyes. I pretended to be fierce and fearless, as they passed the peace pipe between the Brule and Arapaho leaders. I was no better than a piece of property to be sold or traded.

A raw edge of silence fell between them. Their leathery baked faces seemed to show the deep lines like rivulets of life lived hard. Their stiff jaws hardly parted for air. Others sat with their legs crossed in bowed silence and respect. Chief Spotted Tail looked silently at me with his penetrating eyes. He was adorned with a parade of feathers and more scalps around his belt than I could dare count.

I choked on the smoke and coughed from my lungs, breaking the sacred silence. I was determined to remain planted and gave them the stiffest jaw I could muster, though my heart exploded inside with fear.

"Chief Spotted Tale spoke in his Sioux language. But Little Deer had forewarned me he speaks English too from when the army imprisoned him. "The chief says you will go with the Arapaho by dawns light. You will become one with them. Though we found you, we offer you as a token of peace to our warrior friends."

Then the chief spoke two words. "Thate Thanka." Before Little Deer could speak to interpret it, he spoke with his English tongue. "I call you Strong Branch." I reckoned it must have had to do with the beating I gave Spotted Owl. But he continued in English to make his point. "There is strong spirit in wind. We must face our future with deep roots and learn how to bend with the wind and not break."

I knew then I'd be taken over the mountains west and there would be little chance of ransom or rescue. Little Deer and her husband ushered me out from the council and guided me to their tepee. They were to dress me in a deerskin dress with ornaments as some kind of sacrificial lamb.

Stomping Bull had been listening. He wanted me for himself. He followed us with flared nostrils and venom in his eyes, cursing.

Standing Bear guarded the door. I fell to the floor of rugs with Little Deer who whispered in my ear. "We must leave tonight. When the village sleeps."

Some names like Spotted Owl are used to take authentic characters and imagine moments not recorded in their life when he was between two worlds which is really a bigger part of the whole story of those who pushed west and the Indians who pushed back, a tug of war on how to live in freedom or peace.
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