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Authors: D. Sallen

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BOOK: Grail Quest
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Opposite a large island, Moyock smashed his canoe against a submerged object. The canoe overturned dumping Moyock and our supplies into the river. Behind him, I beached my canoe on the north shore and ran through shallow water to help. Moyock stood in waist deepwater and struggled to free the canoe from a now free floating log. I could see the canoe was damaged more than we could repair.

“Can’t be fixed…let it go, Moyock. Let’s see if we can salvage some of the cargo.”

As I came up from diving in the mucky water I heard Leahna shout: “Squire, Squire, over there!”

Flicking water out of my eyes, on the opposite point of land, I saw a troop of Red-Indians
mounted on ponies!
Moyock came up with a small bundle. I said we’d better get back to the other canoe. I counted five riders, men who watched us as though amused. The leader wore a curious headdress resembling a helmet. His companions had feathers stuck in their hair. All appeared to be wearing trousers of some sort, instead of aprons, and were bare-chested. Their horses were nowhere as big as my steeds. All three of us raised our arms in peace signs. The strangers didn’t respond, just watched us. They talked among themselves.

“What do you make of them, Moyock?”

“Don’t know. Never see Naturals with horses before.”

“So far, they don’t appear to be hostile, so let’s recover our cargo.”

No longer of any use, the broken canoe floated downstream. “Squire, I think you stay here and watch strangers. I’ll fetch supplies from river.”

While Moyock felt around in the water with his feet and then dived, I said to Leahna, “I’m surprised those horsemen just sit there watching us. They are well armed. Try sign language to talk with them.”

While Moyock returned with a package, Leahna gestured to the horsemen. One of them signed back. She said, “They ask if we are Spanish.”

“Tell them no. We’re not Spanish. I am English, you and Moyock are Naturals. We don’t know any Spanish.”

“They say, how we know you not Spanish?”

Obviously, from contact with them, they are hostile to the Spanish. So that’s why my white appearance didn’t scare them. “Tell them we are enemies of the Spanish. We fight against the Spanish.”

We watched as they palavered among them. “Ask who they are, where are they from?”

Moyock returned empty handed from his last dive and watched the horseman reply. Neither He nor Leahna understood them.
Moyock shouted across the river using words he’d picked up from the Unilah. After several minutes of verbal and sign exchanges Moyock said: “They call themselves Tenesans. They are from way south. They run away from the Spanish.”

From first seeing them, I looked at their horses as a way west. Now how to acquire them? The two packs Moyock retrieved from the river contained food. Any trade goods in the canoe were lost. What were left in my canoe were our personal things, weapons, some tobacco pots, strings of beads and wool cloth. I didn’t know if the river was some kind of barrier to these people. They hadn’t moved since first contact. “Ask if they want to trade for horses.”

“They want to know what you have to trade.”

Leahna’s robe was not packed so I flung it up to billow. “Say we will trade four of these for four of their horses.”

“They say, what else you have to trade?”

I retrieved a colored glass bead necklace and showed how it was worn by Leahna. “Say I will trade five of these for a fifth horse.”

The Tenesans talked to one another and seemed to find something humorous. “Squire,” Leahna said, “I not like this. Maybe they think we weak.”

After their conference the leader in the helmet shouted, “We not trade. We just take goods. We beat you. You carry goods back to my camp. Maybe kill you, you work hard, maybe not. Big girl be much fun. We use red-haired girl for sport.”

In English I shook my fist and shouted back. “You scurvy blackguards come on over here! We’ll teat you to a quick trip to hell!”

We watched as the horsemen rode upstream along their side of the river looking for shallow water. Finding a ford that suited them, and shouting their war cries, they rode into the river. I flipped the pistol to Moyock. “They must think we are helpless. Load up. Be ready to reload. Don’t shoot before I do. Leahna, stand by the canoe. Out of sight have your bow and arrows ready. Keep your hatchet concealed but be ready to throw it. We need to grab their horses.”

Brush on our side of the river prevented the horsemen from gaining the shore. Instead, single file they galloped towards us in the shallow water. While still thirty or so yards away the leader gestured and shouted. He must have seen a break in the shrubbery because the rear three turned uphill out of sight. Now facing a two pronged attack I told Moyock and Leahna to take cover in the woods up the bank.

Seeing us disappear from the shore the leader reined back to a cautious approach. Great. That gave me the chance for a long shot. I nailed him in the chest. He fell into the river. His follower screamed in fright. In panic turned his horse into deeper water. Big mistake. I reloaded…shot him in the back.

We heard the other three calling for their leader. I reloaded, and told Moyock to follow me, but stay to the side. Figuring on surprise, I headed in the direction of their voices. I only saw two of them. When they saw me they charged with their spears. Bad move. I dodged among the trees. The first thought he had me trapped. I side stepped…swung my saber into his midriff. The second man was surprised to death when Moyock rose up and shot him in the face. Where was the third warrior?

Leahna screamed. I ran out of the trees. I saw the last man come off the river behind a fallen Leahna. She sprang to her feet. I hollered and ran to her. Because she was between him and me I was afraid to shoot on the run. Leahna twisted and threw her hatchet at him. He brushed it aside. He thrust his spear. A black bolt shot down from the sky…and drove it’s claws into his face! The rider was thrown off balance into the water. The raven flew off. I leaped on the man. He struggled to rise. I parted his hair with my hatchet.

Rising, I saw that Leahna was shaken but unhurt. I ran and wrapped her in my arms. She trembled. Holding her close I smooched her forehead. When she calmed down she turned her face up to be kissed on the lips. Much as I preferred to carry on further with her, one was all I allowed. We had a higher priority, “let’s catch those horses!” I shouted.

All of them remained on our side of the river. We found them busy eating the lush grass in a clearing behind the shore. Moyock showed us the way. He got behind the nearest one and slipped slowly up by its side. Then he threw himself over the horse’s head and grabbed its reins. On closer inspection I could see why he could get so close. The scrawny ponies were hungry, starving. We rounded up the other four and I hobbled them close to our camp.

Where up the Ohio I hated to trade horses for canoes, now I thought it expedient to abandon the remaining canoe for ponies and head inland. Our mounts lacked saddles. They were controlled by the cruel Spanish bits to which their reins were fastened. If they ate too much grass on an empty stomach I feared bloating. I let them feed for only long enough to satisfy their immediate hunger.

The body of the first man I shot was out of sight, the second floating in mid stream. Moyock and I gathered the remaining corpses and threw them into the river. The leader’s headdress protruded from the mud in shallow water. I picked it up. Sure enough it was a Spanish helmet. With the idea that it could add to our bizarre appearance, I asked Moyock to try it on and wear it.

“It’s too big and too heavy. Just slow me down.” He pitched the helmet into the river.

I retrieved it. Being metal and probably something no one else had seen this far north, maybe I could use it. True it was heavy but I would only wear it on particular occasions.

“We’ll load as much of our gear and supplies as we can on these five ponies, and set out walking them to the west. I suspect the five horsemen were a scouting party. We don’t know how many other Tenesans are about. I want to get as far away from here as we can manage before dark.”

From what we had seen on the way down from the Unilah, the land along the river contained more open areas between the woods than we saw upriver. The forests were not as thick. Some open areas contained growing crops of corn, beans, squash or melons. Banks of sunflowers often bordered these plots. We had wandered about quite a bit on the river’s meander. Even so I reckoned we’d put over a hundred miles between us and the falls of the Ohio.

Considering we skirted planted plots, after we traveled about seven miles by my reckoning, I called a halt in woods near a small stream. Leahna and I unloaded the ponies and set up a minimal camp. Moyock scouted all around to ensure we didn’t have unwelcome neighbors. After we ate cold jerky and relaxed from a harrowing day, Leahna trembled and sniffled. I felt of her head. She didn’t feel feverish. “What is wrong, Honey?”

She stopped sniffling and stared at me. “Why you call me that Honey?”

“Wellll, it’s an Englishman’s pet name for a girl he likes.”

“You like me?”

“Of course I like you. I think you are a smart, strong, pretty girl.”

“That good.”

She turned on her side. She sighed. Her eyes watered up again. Moyock said, “I think she not sick. I think she have pain in her heart”

I sat next to her and stroked her head. “What troubles you, Leahna? Tell me why you feel so sad.”

“I scared. Raven save me from Tenesan. Raven was Coyote. Why he do? I think Coyote left behind. Not so. Now what he do?”

“You sleep between Moyock and me again. If he shows up as Coyote-Man we will protect you.”

“Maybe you can’t help me. Coyote witch. Maybe Coyote witch make you sleep. Sleep hard. You not know he come. What I do then?”

“Maybe you worry too much. You have charm to control him. Maybe Coyote-Witch has no power over Englishman. We have never seen Coyote-Man. If he shows up, how will we know him? What does he look like?”

“Always dark. I not see him. Only hear him, only feel him. Feel knick on ear. I think Natural man with knick on left ear…like Coyote-Dog.”

“Stop worrying. If I see a Natural man with a nicked ear near us, I will shoot him with bullet. I care too much for you to let anyone hurt you.”

Leahna relaxed. She smiled. “You care much for me?”

“Yes, I care very much for you. Now get some sleep. Tomorrow will be a tough day. You must learn to ride pony.”

The next morning after tea and jerky and while Moyock scouted around the vicinity for intruders, I helped Leahna get used to riding a pony bareback. The first time she tried to ride side saddle like a proper English woman, she promptly slid right off. I could see that wouldn’t work. She’d just have to ride like a man, except she had no trousers or underclothes to protect her.

“We’ll have to figure a way for you to keep a seat on a horse’s back,” I said.

“Hah. I can do, Squire.” She solved that problem by pulling up her deerskin dress far enough to allow her to straddle the pony.

I led her mount around in circles until she seemed comfortable on her seat. Then I explained how to control the horse with reins. These docile animals were beaten into submission by previous owners. Leahna had little trouble riding around by herself. “Maybe better than walking far,’ she said. “Maybe make me sore too.”

After redistributing our packs on two of the ponies we set off to the west. Leading one of the pack horses, Moyock rode point. Leahna followed next. Leading the second pack animal, I came up last.
That way I could keep an eye on Leahna. None of us were in shape to ride bareback for long. Until we got accustomed to riding, I stopped every thirty minutes or so to walk. So she could fashion a more comfortable seat, Leahna
slit the sides of her dress. We’d be stiff enough without pushing the riding time.

By noon we came upon another meander of the Ohio where the river appeared to head south again. Before nightfall we reached another wide river flowing almost due south. It had to join with the Ohio. The second great river of Leahna’s people?

We followed this new river north for two days, during which its meandering course turned north easterly. Uneasy about that direction, we stopped at a village to ask the Naturals where Leahna’s people were located.

While Leahna joined the ladies, Moyock and I sat in front of the Chief’s wikkiup and palavered. Although not hostile acting, these Wabash people seemed very dour. Chief Wayanoose said, “We not know her people. Never see big girl. Never see white man. Never see big dog you call pony. Where you live?”

Moyock gave him an abbreviated version of our travels. While we exchanged pleasantries I was aware that the some of the men kept looking at Leahna. Where some Naturals were frightened of her strangeness, I sensed she was admired here.

Moyock warned me, “Big Buck behind the Chief never takes eyes from Leahna.”

Perhaps I had a rival. With mutual histories out of the way, the Chief
came to the point.

“Big squaw very strange. I think big squaw have big sons. You
have many sons?”

“I have no sons. Princess Leahna is not my squaw. We escort her to the Mandan to be Chief Onalaska’s wife-mate.”

BOOK: Grail Quest
7.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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