This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the Lonesome Dove television show, which belongs to Rysher Entertainment and Hallmark. No infringement on copyrights is intended.


Bad Medicine
(33rd in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

All women tend to be troublesome.
Some, more than others. Why, just ye
take a look at Eve. Ain't it in the Good Book?

(Nate "Burly" Grim, Rocky Mountain Fur Co. -- 1832)

It was shocking -- even for the Lakota. The dried blood, splattered like a bucket of red paint, carelessly strewn upon the spring grass -- in bright contrast to the droplets of morning dew clinging to the green blades. The overturned wagon, whose horses had been unhitched and were nowhere in sight -- the old man and old woman -- whose bodies had bullet holes riddled from head to belly -- left the small band of Indians to wonder what vicious, two-legged enemy would cause so vile a scene.

The five Lakota warriors, led by Red Crow, slid effortlessly off their ponies and searched the surrounding area. In a thicket of bushes another body was found. It was a young woman.

"Le wi cin oniya!" ("This girl is still breathing!") one of the Lakota said. The other four joined him. Red Crow bent down to examine the young woman. There was a gash on her forehead -- dried blood covered half her face. She lay unconscious near a stout pine tree.

"Unkis icu wi cin ," ("We take woman") Red Crow replied.

"Hiya! Le pejuta sica!" ("No! It is bad medicine!") one warrior replied.

"Wiya tawaci te lel," ("She will die here,") Red Crow protested.

The Lakota feared the longknives would find the girl if they took her -- blame them for the deaths of the old couple as well as kidnapping the girl. Red Crow believed they should take the young woman back to their summer camp, which they had only recently returned to.

The unconscious girl was placed on Wears-Hat-Like-Soldier's pony. Red Crow swung up onto his pony and the small band rode off, heading east, where their village stood.

*****************************************

Newt and Gretchen Call had finally returned from Missouri. The whirlwind adventure had taken a toll on Call's wife. Though Gretchen was young and strong, the hard travel, coupled with her carrying child, became a hardship. She spent the majority of time from Fort Laramie, Wyoming, to Miles City, sleeping. Either leaning against her husband's shoulder or if vacancy permitted, laying her head in his lap. She ate little -- growing slightly weaker and paler. Unlike the initial trip, Gretchen lost her stomach twice -- barely managing to climb out of the coach and reach the side of the stage stop, in order not to be seen by other passengers.

Unable to lighten his wife's burden, Call grew surly and short tempered with everyone, except Gretchen. In Miles City, he displayed no patience with his father, Captain Call. His first concern was tending to the needs of Gretchen -- Clara Allen's horses be damned. Call gently assisted his wife into their wagon and brought her directly home.

***

The strong-willed Gretchen Call needed only a day to recover. Feeling better than she had in a week, she suggested her and Call celebrate their return home by rising before dawn and riding double on the Hellbitch to a secluded stream a half mile south of their home.

The young newlyweds laid a blanket in the grass, near a weedy bank of the stream. It was still dark -- the sun hadn't shone itself yet. They laid side by side -- Call behind Gretchen -- holding her close to his body. As the Hellbitch grazed nearby, they dozed.

It was Gretchen who opened her eyes first. The sun had begun to swell up, casting the first light of day across the low rolling hills. "Call! Wake up," Gretchen urged her husband. He opened his eyes. They experienced the brilliance of dawn illuminating the earth.

"It's so beautiful, Call," Gretchen whispered. Her eyes shined with joy. She would be eternally thankful to Call for bringing her to Missouri to visit her mother and father. But, something strange had occurred while in St. Joseph. Gretchen realized that Montana was her home -- with her husband. And soon, her and Call's first child. She wanted only to return to the frontier where she had first seen the only man she would ever love. She was becoming a frontier woman -- something that would have eluded her back in St. Joe, along the Missouri River, in a more civilized town. This was Gretchen's home. With Call.

In the quiet moments just before the morning sun separated itself from the distant hills, Gretchen Call had discovered Heaven on Earth. She began to unbutton her blouse, letting it fall off her arms, into the wet grass.

Call stared at her. "What . . . are you doing?"

Gretchen giggled happily as she unbuttoned her camisole, exposing her firm breasts. "Call, let's go in the water. I want to. It's such a lovely morning. No one will see us."

Call wrinkled his face, confused. "You mean . . . take off . . . everything?"

"Yes, Call. Everything." She slid her skirt and petticoat down her legs, then pulled her bloomers down. Then her nine-button shoes. She stood before her husband completely naked.

Call stared at her, hypnotized. Though Gretchen was now almost five months pregnant, she showed less than her older sister, Victoria, who had conceived at nearly the same time.

"Hurry, slowpoke!" Gretchen replied. She waded into the cold stream, turned, and splashed Call.

"Oh, now you're gonna get it," he threatened. Casting his clothes carelessly about, Call ran into the waters.

"Is that a promise, Mr. Slowpoke?" Gretchen said, teasing him.

It was. Call grabbed his wife and pulled both of them down under the water.

Gretchen came up laughing and screaming. "Call! You're so mean to me!"

Call pulled Gretchen close, their wet bodies glistening in the early morning. They began kissing -- soft at first, then passionately. Gretchen suddenly bit Call on the lower lip, hard.

"Ow! Hey! You . . . Coyote Girl."

Gretchen giggled and turned but Call pulled her back to him.

"Make love to me here, Call," she whispered. "In the water."

Call lifted his wife -- Gretchen wrapped her legs tightly around his sides. This was now her frontier. She meant to embrace it as she had Call.

The Hellbitch raised her head a moment then went back to grazing as a pair of wild geese flew across the vast complexion that made up the early morning sky.

*******************************

Clay Mosby sat alone in the dining room of the town's one hotel. His mind wasn't on the hot coffee set before him. Ethereal trails of steam wafted into his nostrils as Amanda Carpenter grinned from a short distance away -- concluding that it was one of those scenes worth a thousand words.

Clay frowned -- taking a slight offense to her brash invasion of his private thoughts. "Obviously, you find something rather amusing, Amanda." His tone hinted of an irritable nature. "Well?! Are you planning to just stand there?"

Amanda approached Clay, sitting down next to him. "Someone got up on the wrong side of their fancy bed today. What put you in a bad mood?"

"Whom, would be more accurate," Clay snapped.

Amanda waited, smiling. She wasn't one to shy away from good gossip.

"Very well," Clay finally replied. There would be no peace -- no silence, until Amanda heard the story. Clay sighed. "It would appear that as of late, nothing I do seems to satisfy my dear wife, Ashley. I have provided her . . . as well as myself," he grinned, "a most acceptable home. She insists on being difficult, though."

Amanda shrugged. "Clay, I think you married the wrong woman. Your little Southern belle is never satisfied. You know something, Clay, it is sort of amusing, what you once said."

"Refresh my memory, Amanda."

"Well, after you and Call killed that John Stocker, over the cows he had, you made a comment about Call being a . . . ? . . . a . . . single . . ."

"A single ball and musket," Clay interrupted. "Yes. I remember. And, your point?"

Amanda shrugged. "Single ball and musket," she mocked. "Well, that single ball and musket, as you call him, seems to be progressing just fine. He's got himself a wife and a child on the way." She looked at Clay.

"I assume you are referring to the fact that other than that, things have progressed quite minimal around here?"

Amanda rose -- there was work in the kitchen that needed attention. "Assume what you want, Clay. I just think you married the wrong woman." She walked away quickly, having once again gotten in the last word.

Clay watched her disappear into the kitchen. It was true -- Ashley was demanding. They had just relocated to the empty mansion southeast of town. He suggested there would be numerous occasions that would require him spending the night in town -- sleeping in his room above the saloon. It was met with defiance and an argument. He had hoped the addition of reliable servants would diffuse any resistance on Ashley's part. She hadn't budged.

*********************************************

Though the white woman found by the Lakota had no bullet holes in her body, such as the old couple she had been traveling with, she had still lost a lot of blood from the gash on her forehead. The tribe's healer applied a poultice of roots and mud to the young woman's injury. She tossed about, restless, on buffalo hides, within the warmer confines of one of the lodges.

When her fever broke, she began to speak -- one of the square-faced squaws informed Red Crow, who, along with two other men of importance, entered the lodge.

Her senses returning, the woman -- horrified at the sight of the savage Indians, recoiled -- screaming. It required four squaws to hold her down, until Red Crow, speaking in the tongue of the white man, was able to make her understand she was not in danger.

"Kage ci wi can iyaya toki!" ("Make the girl go away!")

"Ki akataha ogle to tawaci un conze!" ("The bluecoats will be angry!")

Red Crow listened to the two men. He shook his head. "Hiya! Wiya tawaci iyaya el wi ca<sa ska tipi." ("No! She will go to the white man's village.").

"Ki mila haske tawaci hi. Tona akicita. Wik ce<mna zap tan akicita! Opa win< ge akicita!" ("The long knives will come. Many soldiers. Fifty soldiers! One hundred soldiers!").

Red Crow ordered his men out of the lodge. The squaws, except for one, were also ordered out. Allowing one Indian woman to remain would help calm the white woman. Red Crow sat down on the spread-out buffalo hides. He motioned for the Lakota woman, who was called, Sings-In-The-Morning, to sit with him and the woman. She obeyed, saying nothing.

"Do not be afraid," Red Crow began. "I am not your attacker. I did not hurt you."

The young woman stared -- caught up in fear of the Lakota -- fear of the unknown. "My grandfather. My grandmother. Where . . . are they?"

"We found you. The wagon was broken. The old people dead."

The girl burst into tears -- throwing herself over. Red Crow waited patiently.

"Men on horseback chased us," she finally said. Her eyes were red and swollen. "Our wagon turned over. I was thrown. My grandfather yelled for me to run into the bushes. I don't remember anything else."

"How are you called?" Red Crow asked.

The girl hesitated -- for a moment she had forgotten her name. "It's . . . why, it's Mary, of course! Miss Mary Piatt. I feel rather poorly. My head hurts a great deal. And I am very hungry."

Red Crow stood up. "I will take you to your own people. There is a town. It is called Curtis Wells. There, you will be helped." He turned to the squaw. "Niye au ta<lo. A guya<pi. Mni. Iyaya wana." ("You bring meat. Bread. Water. Go now.")

The Lakota woman, Sings-In-The-Morning, immediately stood up, pulled the flap aside, and disappeared.

Red Crow looked at Mary Piatt. "You eat -- then we go."

************************************************

Good horses were scarce in the new range country of the Montana Territory. In some areas, they were better legal tender than gold dust. Whiskey traders and gangs of outlaws were responsible for an epidemic of stolen horses. Aid was requested from military posts but few horses were ever recovered.

Major A.W. Evans, Post Commander, 3rd Cavalry, out of Fort Laramie, had been recruited to bring a detachment of soldiers -- hard nosed, no-nonsense types, such as himself -- north to handle the thieving outlaws.

Two days after Red Crow and his Lakota braves found the white girl, Miss Mary Piatt, Major Evans, and the 3rd, happened upon the ghastly scene where the two dead bodies were being eaten by vultures and swarms of flies. Holes in the bodies were found to be filled with fat, brown maggots. The odor from the decaying flesh caused most of the soldiers to gag.

The troopers delayed pursuit of those responsible -- digging two shallow graves. The remains were given a decent Christian burial. Hoping wolves or other predators wouldn't dig the decaying flesh, the 3rd Cavalry rode off for the nearest town.

************************************

When Paige Brandt saw the wagon, she rushed inside the open door. "They're here! They've come back! Gretchen and Call are home! Hurry, Victoria! Ephraim!" The youngest Brandt sister was gone in an instant -- running outside, into the street -- her arm waving wildly back and forth, as she jumped up and down.

Victoria and Ephraim followed her into the street.

Call pulled the wagon up alongside the dry goods. Gretchen could hardly contain herself. Call jumped off the springy bench seat and helped his wife down. The sisters rejoiced in their reunion -- hugging each other. Even Call wasn't immune from the affection. Paige kissed him on the cheek -- Victoria hugged him, embracing him longer than she had ever done before.

Gretchen handed her sisters the presents from Missouri. "These are from Mother."

Victoria and Gretchen unwrapped their presents at the same time, as requested by Rebecca Brandt. Each sister received a blanket for the baby they carried. Paige was given a string of pearls. She insisted that Victoria immediately place it around her neck.

"I slapped Millie in her face," Gretchen remarked, causing both sisters to stare. "She made uncalled for comments about my husband and my baby."

"My goodness!" Victoria said, surprised by her younger sister's boldness.

"I wish I had been there to see that," Paige laughed.

"Papa put a bathtub upstairs . . . in the house," Gretchen added.

Both Victoria and Paige stared at each other. "In the house?"

By now, Call was ready to find another location to spend the day -- a saloon -- the livery. Any place that was free of female chatter.

Paige suddenly pointed toward the bath house. "Look! It's Red Crow!"

Call turned. Red Crow rode slowly past the windmill. A white girl sat behind him, her arms wrapped around his waist.

"Wa Kan Tanka has blessed me. I have found my friend," Red Crow said, pulling up in front of the dry goods.

"Red Crow," Call nodded.

Paige and Gretchen both smiled. "This is our older sister, Victoria," Paige replied.

Red Crow looked at Victoria. "I see the same face in all three women."

Call walked up to Red Crow's pony. "What happened?"

"We found the woman. She is called Mary Piatt. Her great father and mother were killed. We take her to our village. The people are afraid -- say she is bad medicine. Soldiers will come. There will be fighting. Too many lodges are empty -- too many warriors have died. I am bad medicine, now. I bring Mary Piatt here, to you, my friend, Wild Dog."

Call helped Mary Piatt off the Lakota pony.

Dr. Cleese approached. "This woman needs to be examined. She will require medical attention."

Mary Piatt stood before the group. She appeared to be around eighteen, nineteen years old. She had dark eyes, almost a muddy brown. Her hair matched her eyes, dark. Her dress was torn and dirty. There were scratches on her face and hands. She looked at everyone, but didn't speak.

"I go," Red Crow said, "I will perform the ritual of removing the bad spirit."

His depature was interrupted by the sudden arrival of a dozen cavalrymen, wearing dirty-shirt blue. They stopped in front of the dry goods. Folks began to gather -- one rarely saw cavalry and Lakota, together on the streets of Curtis Wells.

Clay Mosby emerged from the hotel -- his breakfast half eaten. Sheriff Peale and Robert Shelby were at his side. "What's the meaning of this?" Clay inquired.

Mary Piatt ran to the soldiers. "That Indian! He killed my grandfather and grandmother. He kidnapped me!" She began crying, hysterically.

The soldiers immediately drew their weapons -- aiming them at Red Crow.

"I did not hurt the woman!" Red Crow exclaimed. "We found the others dead."

"Shut up, you stinking, filthy Injun!" the troop commander replied, dismounting. He stepped over to Red Crow. "I am Major Evans. United States 3rd Cavalry. Put him in irons!" he ordered.

"Just hold on!" Call said, angrily. "He's telling the truth."

"He's not!" Mary Piatt yelled. "Look! Here!" She pointed to the gash on her forehead. "He did this to me!"

The soldiers quickly pulled Red Crow from his pony -- slapping irons on his wrists.

"I ain't sure why she's set on lying," Call said to the Major, "but she ain't being honest."

Major Evans looked at Call. "I find your words offensive, sir. No white man should ever be foolish enough to take the word of a hostile over that of a white woman." The Major turned.

Call put his hand out, stopping the Major. "I ain't no liar!" He stared unflinching at Major Evans. "This ain't about right or wrong, is it? You're just set on bringing him in. If I were you, I'd find out why she's lying."

The Major looked Call up and down. He smirked. "Thankfully, I am not you."

Clay Mosby interceded. "One moment, Major. Perhaps this could be settled inside my saloon. Your men look tired. A drink, maybe?"

"No, sir," the Major replied. "I intend to bring this hostile back to Fort McNabb. We are currently stationed there -- with orders to pursue and prevent any further horse thieving in the territory. This hostile will be secured in the stockade."

Fort McNabb!

Mosby and Call both glanced at one another. Ida Grayson's husband, Aaron, scouted for 'B' Company when they first arrived in Curtis Wells -- at Fort McNabb.

"What about the girl?" Sheriff Peale asked.

"I really should examine her," Dr. Cleese replied, stepping close to Call.

Major Evans looked at Mary Piatt. "Will that be satisfactory with you, Miss?"

She looked around at everyone. She didn't seem fond of Call -- walking toward Clay Mosby, whom she was immediately attracted to. "Yes, Major. I trust this man. And, the doctor. Not him!" She pointed to Call.

Gretchen opened her mouth to speak her piece -- defend her husband -- Victoria motioned her to be still.

"Very well, Doctor," the Major said. "I hold you personally responsible for this woman until I send a wagon for her. Mount up!"

The soldiers, with Red Crow in irons, rode out of town. Red Crow looked at Call as they left.

Confused, Ephraim decided to examine Mary Piatt in his office. Call stepped in front of the young woman.

"He didn't do that and you know it," Call snapped at her.

"Didn't he?" Mary Piatt replied. "Why would I lie?"

"I intend to find out," Call answered, "soon as I free him."

Clay reached out, touching Call's arm. Call pulled his arm away from Mosby.

"Damn it, Call!" Clay said, lowering his voice. "I believe you. She's lying. Let me go with Cleese. Perhaps she'll trust me?"

Call hesitated, then nodded.

********************

"I'll wager I can do both -- get us in and out before they know we got Red Crow."

Call shook his head. "Dammit! We just got back home. Was hoping me and Gretchen could have us some peace and quiet -- least before she has the baby."

Mason grinned at his nephew. "I do believe I will be present when that happens. You're going to need someone to steady you -- with all the groaning and screaming that will be going on."

"What're you saying, Mason?"

"Hell, boy! Didn't no one ever learn you about babies?"

"Nope."

Mason closed his eyes, sighing deep. "There's a small matter, Newt . . . something I've been meaning to tell you . . . about me."

Call waited patiently for his uncle to speak.

"I have a little daughter."

Call's eyes widened but he held his tongue.

"Me and some of the Concho County boys used to cross the Rio Grande, below El Paso. We'd hole up in Cuidad Juarez. There was a senorita. Little Mexican gal. We got real close. I was with her the night she had the baby." Mason stared off at the livery walls. "She screamed and hollered. The Padre thought she wasn't going to make it." He looked at Call. "She's about two now. I am determined to go back and see her . . . someday."

Call was quiet -- he had no experience with babies.

"There you are!" came a new voice.

Mason and Call turned. "Howdy, amigo," Mason said to Clay Mosby.

Clay joined the pair. "I have no doubt that the girl is lying. She's obviously keeping something hidden." There was frustration in his voice. "She seemed frightened of something . . . or, perhaps, someone."

"We're riding out to the fort," Call said. "We'll get Red Crow out of there."

"Be advised, Call," Clay Mosby remarked. "Those soldiers will not hesitate to gun you or your uncle down. I would imagine everyone of them has quite a passionate hatred of the Lakota . . . or any other Indians."

"Ain't got no choice," Call replied.

Dr. Cleese appeared in the livery -- he seemed nervous. "Excuse me, Clay?"

Mosby turned. "What is it, Cleese? Has the girl said anything?"

Ephraim tucked his finger inside his collar, pulling slightly. "No. There is someone here who requires our help."

"Ah! Monsieur Mosby! You are well? Oui?" Etienne Meloche, the French Canadian painter stepped into the doorway, smiling. "I have urgent need of your services, s'il vous plait."

************************

The Brandt Sisters had their doubts. Two men -- even skilled fighting men such as Newt Call and Mason Dobbs, would still be vastly outnumbered upon entering Fort McNabb. Victoria was adamant about her sister's husband attempting to free the Lakota warrior, Red Crow.

"I understand that he provided for you last summer when you were bringing Gretchen and Paige to Sand Springs," she had said. It was the time Gretchen used her devious ways to insure Call would sleep in the same lodge as her and her sister. She had first been given the name, Coyote, on that occasion -- it was a name that she had come to affectionately accept.

Gretchen didn't argue. She knew if her husband was planning to break Red Crow out of the stockade, there was no other way. "Promise me that you will come back, Call?"

"I'll come back, Gretchen." He held her close, inhaling the sweet smell of her skin. "I reckon I'll be wanting to wake up by that stream again, with you."

Gretchen blushed. "Shhh, Call," she whispered. "I want to do that again with you. It was so exciting, like we were part of nature, out there in the water, with no clothes on. I want to be in our house now, Sweetheart. I don't want to stay at Victoria's. Paige will stay with me. I love you, Call."

Call kissed his wife. "I love you, Coyote Girl." He put his hand on her stomach -- it had become a ritual with the two of them. "I expect we'll be back come morning. I'm leaving the sawed-off with you."

"Anything you say, Call." Gretchen hugged him once more. "I don't ever want to let go."

**********************

Since he had first appeared in Curtis Wells, Etienne Meloche was trouble. Not by his own actions -- he just seemed to make decisions before properly thinking them out. The little man who barely stood five feet tall, with the bushy beard and narrow set of eyes, quickly explained his predicament to Mosby and Dr. Cleese -- the two men who had posed for his paintings, less than three months ago. He had remained in the secluded Cheyenne village that was nestled within the Big Paw Mountains at the junction of Flat Willow Creek and Box Elder Creek -- on the other side of Field Glass Point.

"Hehakasapa -- Black Elk," Etienne Meloche said, "not the Sioux Black Elk. This one is Cheyenne -- they merely share the same name, non? Black Elk now leads the small band. No hide, the old man who claimed to lead the band when you visited a few months back, has died." He shrugged. "A pity, oui? I am fearful that if I do not enlist your help, I will be put in the cooking pot. There are murmurs among the people that I have bad medicine, as they say. They begin to consider that I am a spirit stealer. They are but a foolish and primitive race, oui? The soldiers have captured Black Elk. He is held, uh, where do you say . . .? Oh, oui! A place called Fort McNabb. He is sick. If he does not return to his people they will hunt me down. I will never attain the fame that Monsieur George Catlin has earned."

**********

The citizens of Curtis Wells began to wonder who Mary Piatt was. Many were familiar with Red Crow -- though not on a personal or friendly level, such as Call. They tended to side with the young white woman, rather than believe the hostile's story.

"I believe you will be fairly treated here, in town," Josiah Peale said to Mary. It seemed to comfort her.

"I am very hungry -- quite famished, actually," she said, when asked by Amanda Carpenter if she was hungry.

"It was nice of those sisters to give me this dress," Mary mentioned. "I must have looked just frightful in my other clothes -- with all the rips and scuff marks. I like everyone in town, except that longhaired, mean man . . . Call, I think?"

"Call's married to one of those sisters," Amanda replied.

"Oh, my!" Mary Piatt said. "I must learn to be thankful."

Ike had taken a liking to the young woman -- which did not go unnoticed by Austin Peale.

"I'm the sheriff," Austin boasted, pulling his vest back, so Mary Piatt could see the tin star.

"And such a handsome, intelligent looking man," she replied, smiling at him.

Mattie had to turn her face, so she could laugh. Austin, enjoying his moment, puffed his chest. "Maybe I could show you around town, Miss Piatt?"

"I would feel safe around you, Sheriff," she replied.

Mattie had to retreat to the kitchen -- where she laughed with Amanda. "Do you believe those men?"

"Pathetic, aren't they?" Amanda replied.

Robert Shelby quietly took in all that transpired inside the Dove. Clay Mosby had asked him to observe the girl -- something about her wasn't right. Robert honored Clay's request by sitting at a table and quietly watching.

************************************

Clay Mosby wasn't fond of taking orders -- he gave orders. With reluctance, he wisely stepped aside, allowing Call and Mason Dobbs to command the five-man party that had ridden to Fort McNabb.

"I been inside there, once," Call said, referring to the time he had delivered the gold pocket watch to Aaron Grayson -- just before Spotted Elk's warriors killed Ida's husband.

Mason, having spent part of his youth on the other side of the law, envisioned how they would sneak into the fort, approach the lone, half-buried stockade, and free Red Crow and Black Elk. All without stirring the attention of the Indian-hating guards of the 3rd Cavalry.

Etienne Meloche was ordered to remain outside the fort -- as was Ephraim Cleese. Someone had to stay with the horses. Too many bodies moving inside the fort would only lead to trouble. Their part -- the doctor and the painter -- in this adventure, would come to fruition once Black Elk was freed -- returned to the safety of the Cheyenne camp.

There was a small, grassy knoll behind the fort -- close enough that a man could conceivably climb over the wooden wall if he were to stand atop his horse. Mason's gray was placed on the knoll, allowing the three invaders access into the sleeping fort.

Ephraim Cleese sweat profusely, as Etienne Meloche quietly sang a song in his native French tongue. It was said that he lacked the sense to analyze reality, at times -- this, no doubt, due to his love of painting -- embracing perhaps an unrealistic view of life.

Mason couldn't stop grinning as they quietly dropped to the ground inside the fort. For him, this was life -- attempting to pull off a daring robbery right under the noses of a host of soldiers.

Call led them along the side of the walls, where no moonlight shone. Only three guards could be seen -- one parading along the catwalk above the great doors in front -- one nodding off on the wall to the right -- one reclined against the sunken stockade.

Clay Mosby, being the most experienced in military ways, boldly approached the stockade guard. Call and Mason managed to circle the lone jail -- which wasn't much bigger than a few outhouses placed together.

"Do you have a smoke, guard?" Clay quietly said.

The sleepy guard looked up -- then sunk into unconsciousness -- a sizable lump on the back of his skull -- courtesy of Mason Dobbs' pistol. Clay quickly removed the keys from the guard and handed them to Call. So far, so good.

"Red Crow," whispered Call. There was no sense in taking foolish chances. To step inside the darkened stockade could result in being attacked by the pair of hostiles.

Red Crow sat up -- neither he, nor Black Elk slept.

"We're getting you out," Call quietly said, turning the key in the lock. The wooden door creaked as it slowly opened. The stockade had been build on a large hole, on a dirt floor. The smell of urine was overpowering inside the damp, musty jail.

"The soldiers -- they have bound us," Red Crow said, raising his shackled hand.

Mosby quickly retrieved the ring of keys, searching for the small key that would unlock the chains.

"He is not well," Red Crow said, nodding toward Black Elk.

"Someone's coming!" Mason said in a high whisper. He stepped up near the door, trying to see. It would be bad fortune if the three of them were to be caught and locked in the stockade. Chances were they could be tried as enemies of the United States Army -- shot by a firing squad.

There was grumbling outside, as the new guard bent over his unconscious friend. Mason drove his gun handle into the back of the unsuspecting guard's head. He grunted and collapsed. Mason turned, looking inside. "Move! We no longer have time."

Clay unlocked the shackles that bound Red Crow and Black Elk. The Cheyenne Chief had to be helped out of the small jail. Mason dragged the two guards inside, shackling their hands. He gagged both men then quietly locked the door, leaving the ring of keys on the damp, earthen floor.

"Our ponies," Red Crow said, "they are in the fence -- with the soldiers' horses."

"Best leave them," Call replied, as the five men moved quickly, searching for the quickest means of escape. They found a ladder leaning against the rear wall and climbed with haste. All it would take was one soldier, firing his rifle -- waking the entire fort. They would be chased within moments.

Black Elk was lowered to the other side. Ephraim held the horses -- but Etienne Meloche had vanished. He wandered off and now was missing.

"Damn him!" Call snapped. "I should of put a bullet in his fool head last time we saw him."

Red Crow mounted behind Call -- Black Elk was placed behind Mason. With only four horses, Ephraim would again ride double with Etienne Meloche.

"My friends! You are safe, oui?" Etienne Meloche strolled back as if there were no urgency to the matter at hand.

Suddenly, a rifle shot cracked the silence of the night.

"Mount up, Frenchy!" Call yelled. Two more shots were fired from the wall of the fort. Etienne Meloche climbed up behind Dr. Cleese, and all four horses rode away, heading west across the open prairie. A safe distance of two miles separated the two sides by the time the soldiers had quickly dressed and mounted to pursue the escaped hostiles. No one had caught even a glimpse of those responsible for freeing the enemy -- it was supposed that Lakota or Cheyenne, maybe both, had taken part in the act of setting the prisoners free.

**********

It was one of the few times when an encounter with an enemy was pulled off without incident. Despite his shortcomings -- which were numerous -- Etienne Meloche was able to lead the small, unlikely band to the hidden entrance alongside the Big Paw Mountains, near the Flat Willow Creek.

The majority of the night was spent inside the lodge of Black Elk, where Dr. Cleese labored to heal the leader of the small band of Cheyenne. A bullet had been discovered just under the right armpit of Black Elk. Dr. Cleese was able to remove the bullet and stitch the wound.

Etienne Meloche proclaimed Clay Mosby as the savior of the Cheyenne people. Mason Dobbs and Call were just content that the Cheyenne never connected them with the deaths of their two warriors a few months back, inside the underground caves.

*************************************

At first light Call was up -- mounted and ready to ride. He intended to see that Ephraim made it safely back to town. He had promised Victoria that he would watch over him.

Mosby and Mason were ready to ride, also, when Etienne Meloche hurried over to stop them.

"Pardonez-moi, Monsieur Mosby," he cried out. "You cannot leave just yet. You are a special guest."

"I have a town to run," Clay replied, "not to mention, I have no idea how my wife has been."

Etienne Meloche laughed.

"Do you find that to be amusing, Sir?" Clay asked.

The little French Canadian painter waved his hands. "Ah, Monsieur, Mosby. You are quite humorous. I have told these people that you rescued their chief."

The squaws of the small Cheyenne village surrounded Mosby, speaking in their native tongue. An older woman stepped into the gathering of squaws, took a young Cheyenne girl by her hand, and stood near Mosby.

She began speaking. Red Crow interpreted. "She says you are the great chief of the wooden tipis. The girl who stands with her is called Young-Grass-That-Shoots-In-Spring."

Clay nodded. "Enchantingly poetic. She is quite lovely."

The old woman placed the young girl's hand in Mosby's hand and shut her eyes. As Clay frowned impatiently, the woman began to mumble a singsong of Cheyenne formulas. Etienne Meloche put his finger to his lips, urging Clay not to speak or offend the woman.

The old woman cast her eyes upward -- it was in trancelike reverence. Then she slowly moved her hands down, past Clay's face -- past Young-Grass-That-Shoots-In-Spring's face. She moaned, "manito! Manito!"

Clay finally turned to the painter. "Mr. Meloche! What exactly is this woman doing?"

Etienne Meloche flashed a broad grin. "Why, Monsieur Mosby. She is marrying you to that squaw."

Call busted out laughing. Mosby glared at him. He turned to Etienne Meloche. "You know damn well that I already have a wife! You tell this woman I have no interest in marrying this girl."

Etienne shrugged, throwing his arms up. "It is too late, mon ami. She is now your wife. I fear, Monsieur, that you will now be responsible for feeding her family."

Clay Mosby's face was flushed with anger. "Her family?! And just how many would that be?"

"You will be most surprised, non? I would expect that everyone here will now claim to be her family." Etienne Meloche laughed.

"I reckon you best up and head for Utah, Mosby. You could be one of them Mormons now," Call said, rubbing it in.

"Is that so?" Mosby replied. He lunged for Call, pulling him off the Hellbitch. Clay punched Call in the mouth, drawing blood.

"You sonofabitch!" Call yelled, throwing his fist into Mosby's mouth, drawing blood, as well.

The two men became entangled, throwing punches. The squaws immediately began kicking and punching Call -- defending Clay Mosby.

Mason fired a shot into the air, causing the strange brawl to end as suddenly as it had begun.

Red Crow spoke quickly to the Cheyenne then turned to Call. "My friend, Wild Dog. It would be good for you to leave here. Take the doctor and the one who has the eye that twitches," he said, referring to Mason.

Call stared at Mosby. He wanted to tussle. But he wanted to return home -- be with Gretchen, more. He nodded, picking his hat up and climbed up into his saddle.

"I will see you again, Sun Ka<Watogla," Red Crow said to Call. "You and your wife, Sung Ma<He Tu, and her sister, I Sta<Mahpiya Bloketu, are welcome in my village. You have saved me from the soldiers. I will honor your deeds. Go in peace."

Call, along with Mason and Ephraim rode out of the Cheyenne village as the sun broke from the eastern horizon. It wasn't Call's concern if Mosby now had a Cheyenne wife that had been given to him, by their estimation, in an underhanded way. The bastard could stay there and rot, for all Call cared about it.

*******************************************

Amanda Carpenter and Mattie Shaw stood in front of the Lonesome Dove Hotel. Both shared the same thought as they watched Mary Piatt charm the men of Curtis Wells.

"Would you look at her?" Amanda said, shaking her head.

"It's disgusting," Mattie added.

Sheriff Austin Peale, Unbob Finch, Luther Root, and Josiah Peale were all grinning trancelike at Mary Piatt. She was touching each man on the arm -- raising the bottom of her dress slightly, allowing each man to glimpse her ankles, and even her shins.

"Well, Clay will be back soon," Amanda replied. "He'll deal with her." It was a confident statement.

"I think she's going to be trouble for this town," Mattie remarked. "Oh? Look! They've all come back." Mattie pointed toward the windmill, where only two horses --the Hellbitch and Mason's gray, could be seen.

"Where's Clay?" Amanda asked. "He isn't with them."

Call and Mason pulled up in front of the dry goods store. Victoria came running out, watching her husband, Ephraim, dismount from behind Call's saddle.

"Ephraim! You're safe! Thank you, Newt. Mason."

"Wait till you hear what happened to Mr. Mosby!" Ephraim excitedly said to Victoria.

"What did happen?" Robert Shelby asked, joining the group.

"Come inside, Mr. Shelby," Dr. Cleese replied. "Perhaps it would be better if I spoke away from gossips."

Paige Brandt had just come out of the Dove and ran across the street. "Call! Is everyone safe?"

"With us in charge?" Mason Dobbs replied, winking at the youngest Brandt sister.

"Call?" Paige said. "Gretchen is still inside the Dove."

Call nodded and headed across the street.

"Morning, Call," Mattie and Amanda both said. He nodded and went inside.

"Call!" Gretchen cried, rising immediately from her table, where she was still drinking her coffee -- something she required after sleeping poorly the night before -- worried about Call. Giggling happily, Gretchen hastened into her husband's open arms. He lifted her off the ground, her black nine-button boots dangling in the air.

"Take me home, Call," Gretchen whispered. "You can tell me all about it on the way home."

Call lowered Gretchen, then they walked out into the street. Mary Piatt had taken notice of the returning party with interest. She was now talking to Mason.

Gretchen waved to her sisters, wrapped her arms tightly around her husband's waist and smiling, laid her head against his back. Call made sure she was ready, then turned the Hellbitch to leave.

"So, she's the one . . . that's his wife," Mary Piatt quietly said.

"You say something?" Mason asked.

Mary turned. "No! I didn't say anything."

******************************************

Red Crow returned to the Lakota village -- purging the bad medicine that had come from the white girl, Mary Piatt. He was grateful to Call and the others for rescuing him. He had fought the soldiers and won, before. He knew they would come again one day.

***************************

Clay Mosby used his silver tongue to not offend the Cheyenne. They, however, expected him to return and claim his bride, Young-Grass-That-Shoots-In-Spring. On the ride home, he imagined how Ashley would react to the surprising announcement.

"You WHAT?! Francis Clay Mosby! How dare you marry a heathen Indian woman! If you ever do 'you know what' with her, I swear that I will take your gun and kill you! And, don't you even think of bringing that filthy thing into our home!" Ashley stomped off and slammed their bedroom door as hard as she could. The four servants heard the loud noise.

Clay groaned. Ashley had reacted exactly as he imagined she would. He left Ashley alone in the room -- better to just walk away from a quarrelsome woman. He went outside, mounted his horse and headed the short distance to town. Robert would have some sound advice about the Cheyenne girl. Clay laughed just a little. For an Indian, Young-Grass-That-Shoots-In-Spring was quite attractive. A rich complexion -- pearly teeth -- a well-shaped head crowned with a luxuriant growth of silken tresses as black as a raven.

As Clay climbed down from his horse in front of the Ambrosia Club, Mary Piatt, who seemed to be everywhere, approached him, smiling. Clay wasn't aware of it, but Robert Shelby took note of Austin Peale's jealous stare toward Clay. Even Luther had an angry glare fixed on Mosby. Robert shook his head. This girl is going to be trouble, he thought.

+++++++++++++++++++++ The End +++++++++++++++++++

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