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Authors: Cassie Edwards

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BOOK: Wild Ecstasy
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“I was riding alone,” Mariah said, fear gripping her insides when she realized that he saw her as an enemy. “There was no one riding with me when my horse threw me.”
Chief Silver Wing looked over at Nee-kah. “My wife, why is it that you brought the white lad to me, instead of Wise Owl?” he asked, his eyes accusing. “Did you again turn your back on my orders? Did you go into the forest alone?”
“I do not like to search for medicinal herbs with a brave always there, spoiling my concentration,” Nee-kah said softly. “And I did not travel that far, my husband.”
“What am I to do with you, my young wife?” Chief Silver Wing said, a gentle smile tugging at his lips.
Then he became solemn again. “This time your escapade caused you no mishap. But what of the next?”
The scolding sent Nee-kah's gaze to the floor, humbled by her husband's words and by his sincere love for her.
Then she looked quickly up as Chief Silver Wing rose to his feet, clapping his hands. Two braves soon came into the wigwam and took their places on each side of Mariah.
“Take him away!” Chief Silver Wing said in a snarl. “He will be our prisoner until we see if what he says is true. If we discover that he was riding alone, then we will release him, lend him a horse, and let him go on his way. If we find others close by, then we will know that he has lied, and he will suffer for such a lie!”
“I am not lying,” Mariah cried, wincing when the braves grabbed her wrists painfully and began dragging her away. “Please listen to me! Please!”
She looked frantically at Nee-kah. “Nee-kah!” she begged. “Tell your husband that I am not your enemy! Tell him again, Nee-kah, that I do not even carry a weapon!”
“Young lad with the shrill voice of a woman, your words are wasted on my wife,” Chief Silver Wing said, drawing Nee-kah next to him possessively. “She, too, knows the dangers of the white people's words, which are so often said with forked tongues!”
Forcing herself not to cry, wanting to look brave in the eyes of this stubborn Indian chief, Mariah quit struggling and was allowed to walk peacefully between the two braves to a small wigwam set back from the others.
When she was taken inside and shoved to the floor, she expected to be tied and gagged, and was relieved when they did neither. They soon left her alone in the small cold dwelling, the fire in the firepit having burned down to only smoldering ashes.
She wanted to busy herself, to try to bide time until the chief decided to believe her, now wishing that she had been brave enough to tell him the full truth. That might have been better for her, if she could have convinced him that she had had only the Chippewa people's welfare at heart all along.
Moving to her knees, crawling to the firepit, she gathered up some loose twigs scattered on the floor beside the firepit and laid them on the glowing embers. Leaning low over them, she began to blow on them, sighing with relief when her efforts stirred up some sparks that soon turned into flames burning along the twigs.
And when a pleasant fire was burning, she looked more closely at the wigwam. It was neat and clean. Cedar boughs were spread on the floor, with mats spread over them for comfort. On a sleeping platform at one end of the dwelling were more mats and coverings, rolled up into bundles. Toboggans and snowshoes hung on the walls.
She crawled across the soft mat floor and took one of the bundles from the platform. Unrolling the furs, she spread them on the floor beside the fire, then sat down close to the warmth and tried to see something positive in that the chief had not ordered his men to kill her or to tie and gag her. She could not tell whether or not he had heard of the massacre in the neighboring village, or if he was cautious every time any strangers came near, without reason.
“Whatever,” she whispered to herself, “I am an Indian captive!”
Just as she was trying to think of a way to escape, a noise at the entrance flap made a quick fear grab at her heart. She sighed and smiled when Nee-kah came into the wigwam, all sweetness and smiles.
“I have brought you nourishment,” Nee-kah said, handing Mariah a makuk, a dish made of thick bark, filled with rabbit stew. She then filled another makuk with a cold drink made of raspberries and water, and placed this on a mat before Mariah.
“Did your husband give you permission?” Mariah asked, eyeing the stew hungrily, its rich smell causing her stomach to growl.
“I do not have to ask his permission for every move I make,” Nee-kah said, shrugging. She sat down beside Mariah. “And I did promise you food, did I not?
Wee-si-nin
, eat.”
Mariah's eyes lit up, most definitely seeing a friend in this beautiful mother-to-be. She had been given no spoon or fork, so she began to eat ravenously with her fingers, realizing that Nee-kah was studying her even more closely in the light of the fire.
“Beneath that mud I believe I would find a face that is too pretty to be a boy's,” Nee-kah said, moving a hand to flick some of the dried mud from Mariah's chin.
Mariah almost choked on her food. If Nee-kah did discover that she was a woman, then Nee-kah would wonder why Mariah had not been truthful about this, and perhaps see that Mariah could have lied about other things as well.
“Nee-kah!”
A voice outside the wigwam was Mariah's reprieve, for Nee-kah scrambled quickly to her feet, just in time for Chief Silver Wing to come into the wigwam and find her there.
“You are here instead of seeing to our most valued guest?” Chief Silver Wing said, his voice sharp.
“I went to him,” Nee-kah quietly explained. “He was asleep. Nee-kah did not want to disturb his sleep. Rest is valuable also. When he awakens, then I shall force more medicinal liquid between his lips.”
“And so, while waiting, you spend time with the white lad?” Chief Silver Wing said, his brows meeting together as he frowned. He gestured with a hand for Nee-kah to go to him. “My wife, you trust too easily. Come. We leave the boy to the food you were so generous to bring to him.”
Nee-kah smiled weakly over her shoulder at Mariah as her husband led her to the entrance flap, then left with him, leaving Mariah alone, fearing that the new friendship she had thought to have found had just ended.
“I must find a way to escape,” she whispered, her heart pounding at the thought of trying. She gazed at the closed entrance flap, having seen a guard standing just outside as Nee-kah and her husband had left. “If I could slip past the guard and steal a horse and resume my journey to Fort Snelling, then later I could explain everything to Nee-kah and let her know that her trust had not been misplaced.”
Yes, that was what she would do. Later tonight, when the villagers were asleep, hopefully the guard would also drift off long enough for her to flee past him.
She began stuffing the most solid pieces of the stew into her mouth, not wanting to get stranded again somewhere without a full stomach.
* * *
Nee-kah slipped back inside Echohawk's wigwam and took her place at his side.
Echohawk stirred awake momentarily. He gazed through his blind haze up at Nee-kah, his limbs too weak to rise from his sleeping platform.
“Lie still,” Nee-kah said, running a cool, gentle hand across his fevered brow. “Nee-kah will make you feel better.”
Her thoughts returned to the young lad in the wigwam not far from this one in which Echohawk lay so ill. She looked questioningly down at Echohawk, then shrugged, having decided it was best not to reveal to him, at least yet, that a white boy was in the village, fearing it would upset him.
Yet, would he even be aware of what she was saying? she wondered. He had become mindless with the fever.
She moved away from Echohawk and stood in the shadows as a Mide priest entered and began performing his healing rituals over Echohawk.
Chapter 6
All's to be fear'd, where all is to be lost.
—Byron
 
 
 
Mariah placed another log on the fire, then peered up at the smoke hole. A full night had passed. The sky was just beginning to lighten, which meant that escape would be virtually impossible should she wait much longer. Soon the sun would rise, and with it the Chippewa people, bustling around, doing their morning chores.
Having slept erratically through the night, checking on the guard outside her door each time she had awakened, she was still bone-tired.
She glanced toward the entrance flap, frustrated over having not once found the guard asleep through the night.
Her chance to escape had become an impossible task!
Yawning, stretching her arms over her head, Mariah decided that she would try just one more time. If the guard was still awake, then she would have another full day to wait.
The mud on her face even tighter this morning, since she had not been given a basin of water to wash herself, Mariah rose quietly to her knees and crawled to the entrance flap. With trembling fingers and an anxious heart she lifted the flap, and her heart frolicked within her chest when she discovered that, finally, the guard had fallen asleep!
And not only had he fallen asleep. While he was asleep, his fingers had loosened around the rifle and he had dropped his weapon!
Her pulse racing, her eyes searching wildly around for any signs of anyone stirring in the village, she was filled with exhilaration.
Finally!
She would be able to leave this horrid place!
She would steal a horse and hurry on to Fort Snelling. The colonel would be a godsend to those Chippewa who had lost not only a good number of their people but also their means of survival—their village!
Mariah wondered just how far Echohawk and his people had traveled by now, and if Colonel Snelling would ever be able to find them, to offer assistance.
Determination firming her jaw, Mariah crawled stealthily from the wigwam, her eyes never leaving the sleeping brave. She smiled to herself when his snores reverberating into the air gave proof that it was safe not only to slip past the brave but also to take his rifle for good measure.
Her heart pounded as she inched her hand toward the rifle. When her fingers were securely around its barrel, she brought it slowly toward her.
Then, clutching it hard, she crawled on around to the back of the wigwam and out of the viewing range of the brave, should he awaken.
Mariah moved slowly to her feet and leaned her back against the wigwam, taking time to get her breath, trying to get her heartbeats slowed. She was afraid that if she got caught escaping, she would be shot on the spot, without further questions.
Especially now that she had a firearm in her possession.
Getting her bearings before going any farther, Mariah scanned the land for a good route of escape. Her eyes stopped when she found the Indians' horses at the edge of the forest, grazing inside a fence. She studied them closely and chose which one would be the easiest to steal. Several of them were still saddled, apparently ready for riding should an emergency strike the village.
Again she looked slowly around her. When she still saw no one, she took a deep quavering breath, then sprang away from the building and began running toward the horses. Once there, she scooted beneath the fence.
Going to her chosen steed, a palomino pony, she ran her hand down its withers in an effort to make an instant friend. When it turned to her and nuzzled her hand with its muzzle, its eyes dark and warm as it gazed up at her, she knew that she had won her first victory today.
Smiling, she took the pony's reins and led it to the gate. After getting it outside, she felt that it was best to lead it away from the village on foot. That would make less noise.
After peering back at the village again to see if anyone had come out of a dwelling since she had started out for the horses, and seeing that she was still safe, she hurried the pony onward until she found the river. She had decided to follow it to its outlet at the Mississippi River, which then would take her on to Fort Snelling.
Just as she reached the sand beach at the river mouth and felt that it was safe to mount the palomino pony and ride away, she stiffened inside. Up ahead, through the thickness of the trees, she could hear voices and soft laughter.
“Who could that be?” she whispered to herself, an eyebrow forking. It was early. She had thought that everyone was still asleep in the village.
She tethered the pony to a low-hanging limb, and with her rifle poised for firing, tiptoed on through the forest and stopped suddenly. She stared disbelievingly at two young Indian lovers on a blanket beside the river, nude. Her face turned crimson at having caught the young brave and maiden in the midst of a passionate tryst, their bodies tangling while making love, their mouths hungrily kissing.
Embarrassed, feeling quite the intruder on such a private moment, Mariah started to turn and leave, realizing that these two lovers were so intense in their lovemaking they wouldn't be aware of a horse riding through the forest close to their love nest.
But then something else caught her eye, stopping her further escape. Her heart began to pound as she watched a water moccasin slithering across the water in a determined fashion, heading straight for the embankment where the two were making love. One of these young people would soon be the target of this snake! It was obvious that it had spied them and was going straight for them!
“What do I do?” Mariah worried to herself, knowing that should she intervene and kill the snake, her escape to Fort Snelling would be stopped. One blast from the rifle and the whole Indian village would be drawn from their sleep. Her escape would soon be discovered, for they would follow the sound of the gunfire and find her.
Beads of nervous perspiration pearled up on her brow as she watched the snake getting closer and closer to the shore, the young lovers still too involved in their passion to know that something evil was moving their way.
“I must!” Mariah whispered agonizingly to herself. Having learned well the art of shooting a firearm from her father, who had taught her most of the skills of young men, she lifted the rifle, aimed, and just as the snake began slithering from the water, pulled the trigger. A perfect aim, she hit the snake broadside, spattering its body back into the water in scaly pools of blood.
Mariah gazed at the young couple, who had bolted to their feet. They were watching the snake as its severed body floated away, then looked over to Mariah, their eyes wide with wonder.
The young maiden was the first to realize the dilemma that she was in as she glanced down at her nudity, then up at her lover.
In a rush, the young woman had pulled on her dress, the young brave his breechclout, as their eyes never left Mariah.
Mariah started to leave without explaining, explanations not necessary since they had seen the slain snake, but she was stopped when suddenly Wise Owl and several braves were there, in her path.
In what seemed a flash of lightning, Wise Owl had taken the rifle from Mariah, while another brave had her wrists twisted behind her.

Gah-wen
, no! Do not harm him,” the young brave said, stepping forth. “He killed a water moccasin that was only moments away from biting me or Wild Flower.”
Mariah bit her lower lip to keep herself from crying out as the brave's hand did not lessen its grip on her wrist. It seemed that Wise Owl and his companions had not heard what the young brave said. They apparently did not think that her having saved the two young lovers was a redeeming act at all. And because of their stubbornness, she was going to lose all of her freedoms again, and perhaps her life.
Yet Mariah could not feel that she had made a wrong decision. She was proud of her act of selflessness, and would do it again if given the choice between her own freedom and the lives of these two beautiful young people.
Wild Flower stepped to the young brave's side, her eyes downcast as he slipped an arm possessively around her waist. The blush to her cheeks was proof of her embarrassment.
“Wild Flower, you leave your bed before your mother and father and come and meet Brown Bear by the river? You were so caught up in each other you did not see the snake approaching you? What were you doing, daughter? Better it not be that you went further than holding hands!” Wise Owl grumbled, stepping up to his daughter, lifting her chin with a forefinger, so that her eyes were forced to meet the anger in his. “My daughter, you shame yourself by such actions. Go. Return to our dwelling. Do not leave again until you have my permission!”
Sobbing, Wild Flower turned with a jerk away from her father, and without casting her lover a glance, ran toward the village.
Wise Owl stepped up to Brown Bear. “It would be simple to banish you from our tribe for what you have done,” he said blandly. “But you have proved more than once that you are a young brave with much promise. And so shall you also be a good husband. You will marry my daughter. Soon.”
“This I do with much pride,” Brown Bear said, lifting his chin boldly. Then he glanced over at Mariah. “And what of the young lad? In my eyes, he is a hero, and should be treated as such.”
Wise Owl went to Mariah and stood over her, glaring down. “Release your hold on this lad,” he ordered his brave. Then he stood there a moment longer, as though contemplating her fate.
Mariah went almost limp with relief when he suddenly smiled at her and clasped a friendly, gentle hand on her shoulder.
“I will forget that you did this act of bravery in the midst of escaping from our village of Chippewa,” Wise Owl said. “It would have been easy for you to have gone on your way, with only thoughts of self. Instead, your thoughts and deeds were for someone else. My daughter and her future husband! And because of this I shall encourage Chief Silver Wing to give you your freedom.” He nodded. “But you will not leave our village before I offer you clean clothes, a bath, and much food.”
Mariah's heart thrilled at the thought of having become an instant friend of this powerful Chippewa brave. It seemed that he had much influence with Chief Silver Wing.
Yes, she would soon be free. Then she would ride with haste to Fort Snelling.
She regretted with all of her heart that she had been sidetracked so long. The wounded, ailing Indians from Echohawk's village had needed assistance immediately. Some had perhaps even died because of her inability to get help sooner than this.
But she knew that she could not act too hastily in wanting to leave these Indians. Again they might get suspicious of her. And she was not free to confide in them about why she was so desperately eager to get to Fort Snelling. They must never know her part in the massacre. Too soon their trust of her would be cast into the wind.
“Brown Bear, take the white boy back to the wigwam that he escaped from,” Wise Owl said. “I will talk to Chief Silver Wing. He will also see the lad as someone who is a friend, not a foe.” Wise Owl moved to Mariah and gazed down at her. “Soon you will be free to go wherever you choose to go. If you need an escort, even that will be arranged.”
“Thank you for everything,” Mariah said, her voice low, trying to sound boyish. “I appreciate everything that you are doing for me.” Seeing so much kindness in these Indians made her guilt twofold for having been forced to be a part of the raid against others of their same race. Oh, but if they should ever discover this truth, how quickly their attitude about her would change! As quickly as she had become their friend, she would again be their enemy.
“Come,” Brown Bear said, nodding to Mariah. “I am indebted to you. How can I ever repay you?”
“It's not necessary,” Mariah said, falling into step next to him. “That I am being looked to as a friend is all that is important to me.” She smiled at him. “And I was glad to be able to save you and your beautiful friend from that horrid snake. Water moccasins are deadly. Your death would have been instant.”

Ay-uh
, yes, instant,” Brown Bear said, his smile fading. Then he looked quickly over at Mariah, his eyes dancing. “I shall give you my most prized bow. My grandfather made it for me. While you carry it into the hunt, my grandfather's spirit will be with you, always.”
Mariah smiled weakly over at him. “Truly, you don't need to give me anything,” she murmured. “Especially not something that has so much meaning to you. All I want is to be able to go on my way. Soon.”
“As Wise Owl said, first you must accept clean clothes, a bath, and food,” Brown Bear said, guiding her on into the village and toward the wigwam in which she had been imprisoned. “This is expected of you, white boy. You must accept our gifts graciously, or look to my people as though you see our ways as beneath you.”
Mariah swallowed hard, not wanting to do anything to upset the Indians now that she had gained a foothold with them. “I appreciate all of your people's kindnesses,” she said, glad to see Nee-kah waiting for her at the doorway of the small wigwam.
“I heard of your heroism,” Nee-kah said, rushing toward Mariah. She took Mariah's hand and led her into the small dwelling. “I have been assigned many duties these past several days,” she giggled. “You are now one of them.”
Mariah looked down at a basin of water, then over at a clean fringed outfit of breeches and shirt, and then at the food awaiting her beside the fire. It was a feast. There were fish, broth, rice with maple sugar, and dried berries.
“First I bathe you,” Nee-kah said, her hands eager on Mariah's heavy jacket, already removing it.
Mariah panicked, knowing that if she did not stop Nee-kah, her secret would soon be revealed. And she did not see that as wise. She now had the Indians' trust. Should they see her deceit, then what?
BOOK: Wild Ecstasy
8.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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