Read Bittersweet Ecstasy Online

Authors: Janelle Taylor

Bittersweet Ecstasy (34 page)

BOOK: Bittersweet Ecstasy
6.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Sun Cloud furtively observed his family and friends. He knew one of Bright Arrow’s daughters was happy and one was miserable. He was delighted by his friend Thunder Spirit’s joy and victory. It did not trouble Sun Cloud that Little Feet and Tashina were loyal to their
father; that was expected and natural. He loved them like sisters and he understood their emotions and behaviors. For Tashina’s and Soul-of-Thunder’s sakes, he must speak privately with his brother about their feelings. Silver Hawk had a wife, and Tashina loved another. Since Bright Arrow was a friend to Soul-ofThunder’s father and to Silver Hawk, perhaps he could solve this predicament.

Watching Silver Hawk, Sun Cloud admitted the Blackfeet warrior would never relinquish that beautiful treasure, and it pained him. He had been close to Tashina since her arrival at two winters; he hated to see her lose her hopes and dreams, and go to that wicked man. Only by exposing Silver Hawk’s treachery could he free her, and that would be difficult, if not impossible.

Soul-of-Thunder could not challenge for Tashina, for the Cheyenne warrior had not spoken for her in the past. Long ago, Gray Eagle had challenged Silver Hawk’s father Chief Brave Bear for Shalee’s hand in joining, but only because Gray Eagle had already mated with her while she had lived as his white captive, which had given his father the right to call for
ki-ci-econape,
the death challenge. If his father had not spared Brave Bear’s life after his victory, Silver Hawk would not exist! But neither would Singing Wind and her two sisters.

A flurry of cold thoughts fell over Sun Cloud’s mind, forcing him to shove the frigid ideas from his path. He could use that same challenge to fight for his lost love, but the other man would be his own brother. He could not commit such a shameful offense, not even to obtain Singing Wind, especially when his brother was unaware of the bond he had severed. Too, others would learn of their passionate mating by the pond, and a female’s purity was her highest
coup.
Singing Wind’s face would be stained, and he could not allow that
disgrace. He was as tightly ensnared as a helpless animal in the white man’s steel traps!

The following morning, Sun Cloud and several men went to hunt fresh game for their families and for those in need, including his brother’s family, as Bright Arrow and a small band of warriors were leaving camp for a few days to scout for cavalry details on the move and to spy on the fort once more, to see if the new white commander had arrived with his soldiers and wagons, for that would signal the beginning of the next conflict. When Sun Cloud’s band returned, it was to guard the women while they gathered wild vegetables in the area which surrounded their camp, then keep guards posted.

Sun Cloud had thought of going to visit Singing Wind to try to resolve their personal dilemma. He ruled against that impulse, for he was needed at home, and following it would change nothing. He worked hard on not appearing overly quiet that morning, but only half succeeded.

Thunder Spirit hated to see his friend so low and so on guard with his words and behavior. As they tracked game, he remarked, “I wish it did not have to be this way, my friend. Be patient and do not lose hope. Grandfather will make things right soon, as He did for me.”

A haunted look made Sun Cloud’s eyes a shade darker. “It was five winters before Grandfather answered your prayers, my friend. I cannot wait that long to be happy again. Tashina is caught in the same trap as Sun Cloud, but we must both do our duties,” he stated bitterly.

“It will be as your father saw it in his vision, Sun Cloud. The same evil which shadows our lands shadows our camp and your brother’s heart. Grandfather will remove them when the season is right. You did not tell Bright Arrow of your love for Singing Wind
or Tashina’s love for Soul-of-Thunder?” his friend inquired knowingly.

“I will not speak to him of my feelings, but I must reveal his daughter’s to him. He did not know of Little Feet’s love and he gave her to another to suffer for many years. The same must not happen to Tashina; she is very special to me. Grandfather has a large plan for her life, but only at the side of Soul-of-Thunder.”

“Then, it will be,” Thunder Spirit reasoned.

“Evil also lives and breeds on the face of Mother Earth, my friend. Sometimes evil is stronger and defeats good. If this was not true, our war with the evil whites would have been won long ago, and my parents would not be dead. Grandfather tries to work His will, but sometimes He cannot,” Sun Cloud replied dejectedly.

Thunder Spirit encouraged, “Do not lose all heart and spirit.”

“I have already lost my heart, and my spirit is battling to survive. I fear for the evil of Silver Hawk, for others are blind to it. Tashina cannot escape his snare unless I defeat him, and I cannot defeat him with instincts alone. She cannot even run away to the tall grass and return as Soul-of-Thunder’s mate, for Windrider’s son would never break the bond between his people and mine by taking another chief’s promised.”

“But Silver Hawk is not chief yet,” his friend reasoned.

“He will be chief soon, Thunder Spirit; he will make certain. I fear for Medicine Bear’s life, but I can do nothing to save him. To approach him with such a warning would defeat all I work and live for. My father told me many times, ‘The lives of many are more important than the life of one or a few.’ Medicine Bear is a walking dead man, and I curse my helplessness.” Before his friend could respond, Sun Cloud lifted his
hand to signal for silence as a large buck appeared.

During the afternoon trouble struck. Sun Cloud was too restless to remain inside Mind-who-Roams’ and White Calf’s tepee. When movement caught his attention, he was sitting near the edge of the forest and leaning his back against a tree, almost concealed by leafy bushes. His gaze widened, then narrowed and chilled as he observed two Crow warriors sneaking toward the burial scaffolds on their stomachs. He knew what they wanted, and rage consumed him.

He stealthily made his way to the ceremonial lodge and seized his sacred bow from its resting staff; there was no time to seek help from others. He slipped into the forest once more and moved as closely as possible to the scaffold ground, which was located in a cleared area. He laid two arrows beside him and placed the third’s nock against his bowstring, then drew it taut, and aimed carefully. As the first Crow reached Gray Eagle’s scaffold and stood up beside it, on the side away from their camp, Sun Cloud released his fatal arrow.

The foe screamed in pain and was thrown backward, falling against his mother’s scaffold and causing it to shake precariously. The other foe made a wild dash for the forest to his left, but Sun Cloud was swift and accurate and lethal. He knew it was the Crow’s way to leave a scout with their horses, so he had a third enemy to find and slay.

War chief Big Elk had heard the commotion and witnessed part of Sun Cloud’s new
coup.
He saw the younger warrior sneaking into the woods to seek the last Crow. He quickly summoned others to help and to warn the guards, for there could be more than one Crow remaining.

Big Elk was accurate; two Crow warriors were awaiting their daring comrades. When Sun Cloud had
them in view, his heart began to drum heavily; Little Feet and her oldest son had been captured, along with Elk Woman, wife to Crowsheart. Before he was sighted, Sun Cloud loosened his last arrow and killed the warrior who was trying to load a bound Buffalo Boy on his horse. The boy fell to the ground, but was uninjured. The fourth Crow seized Little Feet’s hair, yanked her before him as a shield, and placed a blade at her throat. The Crow warned Buffalo Boy and Elk Woman to remain still and silent or he would slit Little Feet’s throat, then slay them.

Sun Cloud daringly approached them and scoffed, “Crow are cowards; they hide behind women and children. I spit on you, white man’s dung,” he shouted, then spat on the ground as if removing a foul taste from his mouth. “You are so weak, I will fight you without a weapon to make us even.” With that, he drew his knife and flung it forcefully into the earth, the blade sticking deeply and the handle vibrating wildly.

“You think Crows are fools,” the man retorted sullenly. “She is my shield. Others will come soon, and it is foolish to remain to prove I am a better warrior with both hands bound than you with two free.”

The Oglala warrior laughed insultingly. “You fear the son of Gray Eagle this much, white man’s dung? You are no match for Sun Cloud.”

That bittersweet disclosure was the other man’s undoing. In his astonishment, his grip loosened; Little Feet rammed the back of her head into his nose and jerked free. Sun Cloud surged forward to place himself between the Crow and his Oglala hostages to prevent his foe from grabbing and using one or all again. A lopsided grin teased over Sun Cloud’s face and brightened his eyes. He glanced at the knife in his foe’s grasp and taunted, “White man’s dung, were you taught how to defend your life when you have no female shield?”

“I will slay you, son of a fallen eagle,” the man vowed smugly, gripping his knife securely to attack and ignoring his bloody nose.

Sun Cloud agilely dove for his own blade and retrieved it as the man stumbled past him. He knew others had approached and were watching suspensefully, but his attention never strayed from his foe. The two men circled each other, looking for an attack point. The Crow lunged at him, but Sun Cloud first delivered a stunning chop to the man’s wrist and then to his throat. Almost in the same movement, his other hand sent his blade into the man’s left kidney area. His foe staggered, one hand covering the gushing wound. Sun Cloud had the urge to play with his foe, but that was not his way. He swiftly shoved the injured man backward, straddled him, and drove his blade home. He stood, then stared at the dead man for a moment.

He turned to Big Elk and said, “The four scalplocks are yours. Wear them when we ride into battle with our white foes.” To others, he gave the Crows’ weapons, horses, and belongings, except for the
wanapin
of the man who had tried to kidnap Buffalo Boy, to whom he presented a skillfully carved buffalo’s head. He told Little Feet’s son, “Wear it always to remind you of my love and the power of your people.”

Crowsheart rushed forward to cut his wife’s bonds and to embrace her with love and relief. He looked up at Sun Cloud and worriedly said, “This new
coup
is large, and it is special to me, but I cannot change my council vote because of it. Do you accept my gratitude and understand my problem?”

Sun Cloud smiled encouragingly. “Do not worry, Crowsheart. You must follow the words Grandfather puts in your head and heart. It would be wrong for this deed to sway you. You owe me nothing. If those who voted against me were in danger, I would still risk my life to save them, as they would risk their lives to save
me. It is our way.”

Big Elk immediately summoned all warriors in camp to a meeting where he admonished some for their carelessness and cautioned all others to be more alert. Holding the scalplocks above his head and shaking them, he stated, “This is why Sun Cloud was ordered to burn his father’s possessions. If Grandfather had not made his spirit restless this sun and if he had not obeyed his father’s command, our chief’s sacred belongings would be stolen and his body dishonored and those of his bloodline would be slaves to our hated foes, as with others of our fallen warriors. If it had been a Crow war party, our camp would be under attack and many could have been wounded or slain. We ask Sun Cloud forgiveness for our anger at his actions that sad day. He has shown his many skills and courage this sun; it is good he is Oglala, not a Crow, or we would fear him greatly. I give you this eagle feather with great pride,” the war chief announced, placing it in Sun Cloud’s hair: a special
coup
feather with four markings to reveal he had slain four foes, and other markings to show he had captured enemy horses and possessions and saved three Oglala lives.

“This will not be the last time someone tries to rob the scaffolds of our chief and his slain people. Other Crow and Pawnee crave the weapons, medicine bundle, and
wanapin
of Gray Eagle, for they know of their great power and magic. All Oglalas are known for their prowess and powers. We must also place a guard near our death scaffolds,” Sun Cloud suggested, and all agreed. “When we have defeated the whites, I will take their bodies to the sacred hills for safety.”

“It will be as you say,” Big Elk replied, a new glimmer of respect for this young warrior in his eye. He grasped how cunning Sun Cloud was, for only Sun Cloud had realized there was a traitor among them. Perhaps Sun Cloud’s mind and body were not as young
as his age.

Crowsheart tried not to allow this deed to sway his thinking, but it did, especially Sun Cloud’s words and kindness afterward. Sun Cloud was not wild and undisciplined, as he had stated in the meeting. Nor was Bright Arrow, the first-born, more generous, as he had believed.

Sun Cloud went to make certain Little Feet and Buffalo Boy were all right. “Why were you in the forest during the rest time?” he asked.

Little Feet looked him in the eye and replied, “To give Sun Cloud another
coup
in his battle for the chiefs bonnet, as it should be.”

Sun Cloud embraced her affectionately and whispered in her ear, “It is good to have you home, Little Feet. My heart is filled with joy to know my friend has reclaimed his lost love. But do not speak such words aloud, for they will cause pain in your father’s tepee. When Grandfather reveals his choice for chief, all will accept it.”

Little Feet did not explain that she and her son had been restless too, and had gone to swim in the river. Her unexpected words had not been spoken from gratitude, but from her heart and mind, for she truly felt that Sun Cloud should become chief; and she prayed her father would come to know and accept that reality soon.

Tashina hugged Sun Cloud and thanked him for rescuing her sister and Little Feet’s child. Sun Cloud caught her beautiful face between his hands and fused their gazes as he murmured softly, “Do not fear or worry, Tashina, for I will never allow Silver Hawk to take you. You belong with Soul-of-Thunder, and I will not allow evil to change your rightful destiny. This I swear on my life and honor.”

BOOK: Bittersweet Ecstasy
6.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Instruments of Control by Schaefer, Craig
So Vast the Prison by Assia Djebar
Filthy Rich by Dawn Ryder
Life After by Warren, P.A
RUSSIAN WINTER NIGHTS by LINDA SKYE,
Breakaway by Kelly Jamieson
Knifepoint by Alex Van Tol
Something Wicked by Sterling, Jillian