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.


The Invitation Stick
(42nd in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

"But as gold became harder to find
and more and more men tried to find it,
envy, covetousness, sharp practice
and prejudice became common"

(The Forty-Niners -- W.W. Johnson)

"Hold up! We're making a stand!"

"It's too late, Robert! We've got to leave it."

"The gold, Clay! The gold!"

"It's not worth it -- there's been too much killing, already."

Clay Mosby, sat straight up in bed -- alarmed by the disturbing dream. He breathed as one under great stress.

"Clay! Wake up! You were dreaming."

Clay turned slightly, staring at his wife in the early morning light. Ashley brushed his dark curls out of his face, gazing into his confused eyes.

"Clay! You were dreaming," she replied once again.

He allowed for a deep breath then nodded, collecting his scattered thoughts.

Ashley Mosby, now three months along in her pregnancy, stroked her husband's back. "Would you feel better if you talked about it, Clay?"

"No," he quickly answered. "It was merely a dream. Go back to sleep, Ashley."

Ashley frowned. "Well, if it was just a silly ol' dream, then why are you still so tense?" Her hand -- quite adequate at releasing tensions of various kinds -- made its way to Clay's groin, where she began to massage his manhood -- drawing an immediate response. To her disappointment and frustration, Clay pushed her willing hand away, turning his back to her. He sat for a moment then stood up.

"Clay?!" Ashley groaned. "Don't do this to me. Don't walk away when I want you."

Clay barely glanced at his wife. "I am quite sure you will find a suitable means of satisfying your insatiable desire for lust, my dear. You have quite a talent for creative self-satisfaction." He pulled on his trousers and walked out of their large bedroom.

"Damn you, Clay Mosby," Ashley quietly said. She would have to wait to fulfill her carnal needs until her unwilling husband had gone to his saloon.

Clay descended the flight of stairs and made his way into the kitchen where he poured a cup of coffee. The servants had been attending their duties for nearly an hour. Shirley, the dark haired English girl stepped quietly into the spacious room.

"Will you require my services, Mr. Mosby?" She reached down to raise her skirt, ready for Clay to use her body as he desired.

"No . . . not now, Shirley. I wish to be left alone," Clay informed his favorite servant.

Shirley curtseyed. "Yes, Mr. Mosby." She quickly departed from the kitchen, relieved that her master had no desire to copulate with her. She was still sore from their heated and passionate fornicating late last night and would greatly appreciate an occasion to rest her body.

Clay sat alone in the peaceful kitchen. He was beginning to regret having mentioned the gold to Robert which lay on the Lakota land. Robert Shelby, though a faithful and reliable soldier, had a weakness for gold. He had been willing to kill, if necessary, Austin Peale, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Newt Call in order to retain the stolen gold. It was the reason Clay had woke so suddenly from his dream -- reliving the occasion when he had first arrived in Curtis Wells and attempted to rob the vast fortune of gold belonging to the Grand Duke Alexis (Aleksei Aleksandrovich) Romanov, third son of Czar Alexander II. He remembered how he and Robert had been the first to ride off when the posse appeared -- deserting the very men they had hired to help with the robbery. Leaving them at the mercy of the Curtis Wells posse, while they rode off to safety.

"To hell with those red savages, Clay!" Robert had argued. "Men such as us -- Southern gentlemen -- should never lower ourselves where niggers, Mexicans, and savages are concerned!"

"And what, exactly, do you propose we do, Robert?" Clay had replied.

"Kill them! Kill all of them!" Robert answered with a quickness. "Their way of life is over, Clay. Not many are still free. Only those Apaches down in Arizona and New Mexico -- Geronimo and his filthy band of cutthroat savages. I say we butcher these Lakota. They've butchered and mutilated far too many white folks -- women and children included, Clay."

Clay stood in the quiet kitchen, thinking. He emptied his coffee and poured another cup. Robert had served with honor and distinction during the war. Too much had happened, though -- too much time had elapsed. Clay knew it was wrong to kill Red Crow and the women and children of his village. Clay knew Red Crow on a personal level. He had no desire to be part of this insane plan. Robert was clearly not thinking straight.

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

Paige Brandt, youngest of the three Brandt sisters, smiled at the two babies -- her nephew and niece. Both infants bounced happily on her knees -- each smiling -- an ability only recently learned. Victoria's son, Daniel, would be two months old in two more days -- Becky, Gretchen's daughter, would be one month old in one more day.

"Mother and Father's visit ended much too quick," Victoria commented. The sisters' parents, Jefferson and Rebecca Brandt, had arrived in Curtis Wells nearly two weeks earlier -- staying a full week to delight in not only their three daughters, but their new infant grandchildren as well. Both parents had found Victoria's husband, Ephraim Cleese, to be a perfect gentleman. The recounting of his dedication and tireless efforts to deliver Gretchen's baby without the need to cut open her stomach -- risking the life of both

Gretchen and the baby -- the telling of which caused Rebecca Brandt to sob for an extended period -- saddened at not being present when her daughter needed her.

Jefferson and Rebecca Brandt both had enjoyed visiting their other son-in-law, Newt Call, on his ground. They made no remarks at the stark difference between the two-level, expensive Cleese house, and the much smaller, simple house in which Call and Gretchen lived. They were pleased that both married daughters were well provided for by good husbands. Rebecca Brandt, being a loving mother, cared not that Daniel Cleese wore an embroidered gown with fancy booties while the less-affluent Rebecca Maggie wore a long undershirt, a bonnet, and a blanket of flannel.

The sisters spent long hours discussing the subject of babies with their mother. Mrs. Brandt at one point had produced a folded piece of newspaper which she had been saving. "This article is quite interesting, girls," Rebecca had stated. "It's two months old -- the Sacramento Bee -- all the way out in California. Do listen now, all of you." She began to read: "If I had a dozen children I would want them all boys," said Mrs. Thrifty. "Boys can take care of themselves; they are energetic, enjoyable, and it doesn't take half as much sewing to keep a family of boys along."

"Now, if I should have any choice," said Mrs. Workhard, "I should rather have my children all girls. Girls are so gentle, so helpful, have so much more refinement than boys; and then it is such a pleasure to sew for them, they look so pretty in the garments made for them."

"Very well, ladies," said Mrs. Sensible, "you are both right and wrong. I believe in a mixed family -- part boys, part girls. The boys influence the girls to self-reliance; the girls refine the boys by their gentleness. A boy who is brought up with sisters makes the most manly man, and the girl who is brought up with brothers makes the most womanly woman."

"Oh, Mama," Victoria replied, "what a delightful article. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have always hoped for a daughter."

Gretchen and Paige were in complete agreement, also. "Baby Brandt girls, like us," Paige happily added.

The sisters were all in tears -- saddened by the departure -- when it came time for their mother and father to return to St. Joseph. The infants were kissed repeatedly by Rebecca Brandt as they boarded the stage which would carry them to the same train Call and Gretchen had ridden in nearly six months earlier.

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

Finding not one single man willing to stand against the indomitable Clay Mosby, Mr. Creel agreed to sell the general merchant store. His one condition being that he would stay on as an employee with the opportunity to purchase the store if the Dewberry sisters decided to return to their home in Michigan. Clay found the condition somewhat amusing and agreed.

"Good morning, ladies," Clay smiled, stepping into the general store.

"You must be here to collect the rent," Suzanne Van Atta said, staring at Clay. Her younger sister, Elizabeth Dewberry, put her hand to her mouth, subduing a small laugh.

Clay grinned at both sisters then followed Suzanne into the back room where she slid the curtain across the doorway. Moments later her moans of pleasure could be heard by her sister as Clay Mosby collected the rent.

Beth Dewberry turned as the door opened and Call stepped inside.

"Oh! How nice to see you, Mr. Call," Elizabeth smiled. "It seems we have all been rather busy lately. I understand your wife gave birth recently."

"Where's Creel?" Call asked. He suddenly tilted his head, listening to the grunting sounds of passion behind the nearby curtain.

Elizabeth Dewberry swayed seductively over to Call and attempted to take his hand, to lead him away from the lustful noises. Call pulled his hand away from Beth, frowning.

Beth huffed, placing her hands on her hips. "You don't have to be afraid of me, Mr. Call. I won't bite you."

"I asked you a question," Call replied.

Beth became angry. "Mr. Creel sold his business to Mr. Mosby. My sister, Suzanne, and I, are now running the general store. Although Mr. Mosby has given allowance for Suzanne and I to become the proprietors if we should indeed desire to remain permanently in Curtis Wells. Is that why you came here, Mr. Call? To bother me with your boring questions?"

Before Call could say anything, Clay Mosby pulled back the curtain and entered the main area of the store with Suzanne Van Atta.

"Mosby?!" Call said, first glancing at Suzanne Van Atta and then back at Clay. He laughed slightly, just to irritate Mosby.

"I was just about to come looking for you, Call," Clay said.

"I can see that," Call sarcastically replied.

Mosby frowned. "It's your uncle. He stabbed a man in the hand over at the No.10. I was hoping you might accompany me to speak to him."

Call paused purposely then smirked. "Sounds like you're a mite scared." He shrugged. "I was fixing to head over to the dry goods. Get my wife. Seems Mason's got you all riled."

"I am not afraid of Mason Dobbs!" Clay Mosby loudly replied. He glanced at Suzanne and Elizabeth.

"Mr. Call," Beth Dewberry said, "why are you such a troublesome sort? Perhaps if you were with the right woman you might be a more sated and assuasive individual." She said this with a confidence that he would not know the meanings of the words.

Call squinted, as expected. Clay laughed with the two sisters.

"I ain't set on staying hereabouts all day, Mosby," Call finally replied, ignoring Beth, to her chagrin. He stepped outside. Clay nodded to the sisters and followed Call.

"You are shameless, Elizabeth," Suzanne said. "That man has no interest in you, whatsoever."

Beth looked at her sister. "And what of you, Suzanne? You and Mr. Mosby were quite noisy in your erotic romp in the back room. Your groans stimulated me -- unfortunately that damn Newt Call most likely wouldn't look at me if I bared my chest and shoved my breasts in his dirt-covered face."

****

Mosby stepped into the canvas-covered saloon where Mason Dobbs sat with Rosa, the Mexican whore from Twyla's.

"Howdy, amigo," Mason greeted Clay. Rosa watched silently, sure that something bad was about to happen.

"Why did you resort to stabbing that man, Mason?" Sometimes the direct approach was the best way to get information out of Mason Dobbs.

Mason looked at Clay. "A matter of different opinions, amigo." Mason didn't feel like explaining the drunken man had just staggered over from Twyla's where he had been too liquored up to get an erection, let alone reach climax. His obnoxious attitude toward Rosa, whom he had seen inside the sporting club, set Mason off. A two inch gash -- requiring a few stitches to the hand -- was enough to send the man screaming out of the saloon.

"I can't have you stabbing men, Mason, just because you have a difference of opinions. I am trying to build Curtis Wells into a civilized town. Couldn't you at least have merely struck the man with your fist?"

Mason winked at Clay and turned back to Rosa. "Sit down, amigo. Have a drink. You worry too much."

Clay shook his head and left. It was obvious Mason Dobbs just wasn't in the mood to talk.

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

"It's been quite warm for early autumn," Josiah Peale commented. "Tomorrow is October."

Amanda Carpenter and Austin Peale both nodded in agreement. "Well, I, for one," Amanda said, "am just relieved that Clay Mosby didn't put those Dewberry sisters in charge of the hotel."

Austin, reclining on his chair, smiled. "I think Beth and Suzanne will be a whole lot better for Curtis Wells than that greedy Creel."

Amanda snickered, casting a glance at the sheriff. "That's because you hope to get as lucky with those two as Mosby has."

"Oh, no, not Clay," Josiah replied, defending Mosby. "He has a wife who's pregnant. He wouldn't cheat on Ashley."

Austin and Amanda both gazed at Josiah then looked at each other. Neither cared enough to reveal the truth. Amanda changed the subject. "The railroad will never come this far north. There's nothing but cattle and horses up here. This town is going to always be nothing more than a stage stop."

"I think you're right," Mattie Shaw said, stepping inside the Dove.

"Why aren't you with Mason Dobbs?" Austin asked. He had a habit of being nosy and asking questions that didn't concern him.

"I guess he's as scared of a relationship as I am," Mattie replied, sitting down.

Amanda stood up. "Well, I better go make some coffee. We might be here awhile."

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

The peaceful quiet of evening had a way of soothing a man. Call sat on the porch steps waiting for his wife to join him. Soon, Gretchen softly walked out onto the porch, plopping down in her husband's lap, exhausted.

"Is Becky asleep?" Call asked, nuzzling his lips against Gretchen's neck as he pulled her close to him.

"She's finally sleeping. Poor little girl. I think I had her out too long today. Paige can't get enough of Becky and Daniel. She loves them so much, Call." Gretchen closed her eyes, leaning near Call's face. She groaned a little, pulling back. "Call, get your hair out of your face."

Call looked at Gretchen. "I reckon your hair could use a combing. It looks like you just climbed out of bed."

Both were slightly edgy -- sleep had been broken with Becky crying during the night, wanting to eat -- constantly waking the young couple. Gretchen began to laugh, extinguishing what could have developed into an argument of irritability before it could ignite.

"I guess we're both tired, aren't we, Call?"

"Tired and ornery," Call replied, laughing with his wife.

Gretchen stood up, pulling Call with her. "Maybe we should get in bed before our daughter wakes up and wants to eat again."

Call nodded, walking back inside the house with Gretchen.

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

Ephraim Cleese was proud of his two month old son, Daniel. "Look at him, Victoria. He's smiling at me. Do you suppose he will want to be a doctor? Or, possibly a Senator?"

Victoria sat nearby, mending one of her skirts. "It's much too soon, Ephraim. What if our son wants to be like his Uncle Newt, and shoot guns and ride horses?"

Ephraim's gaze suddenly changed. "I . . . never thought of that. I would prefer he be gentle and seek to help others. Newt Call has not shown an interest in our son, Victoria. Perhaps he would rather not familiarize himself with Daniel? I must admit, Victoria, I feel somewhat offended, and even hurt, that Call has not interacted with our son."

Victoria shook her head. "No, Ephraim. Newt just doesn't know how to deal with babies. He's been a wonderful father to Rebecca Maggie. Just be patient with him. I'm sure he'll take to our son once he accepts this is the way his life is going to be."

"Yes, that does sound rather accurate, concerning Newt Call. Your sister has had quite a positive impact on him," Ephraim agreed. His smile suddenly soured as Daniel threw up his mother's milk on Ephraim's chest.

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

It wasn't what she expected -- though it wasn't a complete surprise to either of them. Both Call and Gretchen had been waiting for the invitation to Red Crow and Singing Bird's wedding -- a Lakota celebration that had been delayed until Gretchen Call had properly healed from her arduous childbirth, one month ago.

Gretchen had just finished feeding tiny Rebecca Maggie, now one month old on this first day of October, when she covered her bare breast -- still holding a droplet of milk -- when Call walked into the house. Gretchen was gently patting Becky on the back so the infant would belch as she hummed softly to her child. She gazed oddly at the wooden stick with the strange markings that her husband held in front of her.

"What a peculiar looking piece of wood. What is it, Call?" Gretchen asked, just as Becky coughed up a small squeak of a burp.

"The Lakota call it an invitation stick. Red Crow would have put one by Singing Bird's lodge to make his intentions clear -- he was set on courting her. I found this here one over by the well. Means we're invited to a celebration."

Gretchen lowered her chin -- kissing Becky's small head. "What are those markings, Call?"

Call looked at the carvings and markings. "This bird is Red Crow, cause it's painted red. This other bird is Singing Bird." The second bird had its mouth open with small etchings between the open beak. Call squinted, observing the rest of the message. "Seems Red Crow wants us to bring Becky to the village."

Gretchen smiled. "It's just as well. We have to bring Becky with us wherever we go, Call. She has to have my milk." She lifted her infant daughter, looking into her eyes. "Did you hear that, Becky Bug? You're going to a wedding." Gretchen pulled Becky close to her. "When is it, Call?"

"Later this week." Call stared at his wife. "You sure you're up to this picnic, Coyote Girl?"

Gretchen leaned in close and kissed her husband, then bit his lower lip. She stepped back, laughing. "See, Becky?" she said to the smiling infant, "your papa likes me to bite him. You're going to be your papa's Little Coyote." She smiled at Call. Her green eyes alive with joy and happiness. Call couldn't help but think that just one month ago, he might have lost both Gretchen and Becky. Gretchen had told him after giving birth that Singing Bird had helped her to relax just enough for Ephraim to shift Becky's shoulders in her womb, allowing for a normal birth.

Call gently pulled his wife and infant daughter close to him. "I reckon we best take the wagon to the 'Tree.' It's closer. We can have us a picnic down by the river next time."

"Anything you say, Call," Gretchen intoned. She turned quick, her skirt sweeping out in a wide arc, and went inside to gather the food -- Call following to help.

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

Out of breath and sweaty from riding fast and hard, Robert Shelby searched for Clay Mosby as he entered the Ambrosia. "Clay!" Robert said, rapidly crossing the saloon floor until he reached Clay's private table near the rear door. "It's set," he quietly, but excitedly said.

"What's set, Robert?" Clay calmly asked.

"I hired enough men to carry out our plan. It appears that I only had to mention Indian depredations against white folks and there were plenty of eager volunteers. The pay we give them will be worth it once we steal the Lakota gold. I need a drink." Robert moved over to the bar.

"Robert!" Clay said, following him. He went behind the counter, grabbing a bottle and two glasses. "We said we would think about it."

"There's no time, Clay," Robert Shelby replied, snatching the bottle from Mosby's hand and pouring two full drinks. "We have to strike quick -- attack at night when they least expect it."

"No, Robert!" Clay insisted. "I will not be part of this disgusting massacre in which you so foolishly seek to engage in. I happen to know Red Crow and though the Lakota sit on the gold, I cannot abide your desire to wipe out an entire village which includes women and children."

"Fine, Clay! We won't shoot the women -- just the men."

"I'm sorry, Robert. I truly am. I would stand by you through almost anything. However, this time you out of line, Captain Shelby."

Robert emptied his drink and gazed at Clay. "Then, I shall do it myself, Clay." He abruptly walked out of the saloon.

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

"She don't hardly do much, does she?"

Gretchen laughed. "Call, she's just a little baby." She leaned over, taking Becky's tiny hands and wiggling them. The blanket lay spread underneath the large tree Call had carved his and Gretchen's initials into before they were married. "She's so tiny, Call. She's like a little bug, our Becky."

Call watched his wife -- her affectionate ways with their infant daughter made him smile. "I need to go to Hat Creek, Gretchen. I was thinking . . . if you had a mind to, maybe we'd ride out from Red Crow's camp -- head straight for the Cap'n's place. That's if you still want to bring Becky and ride along?"

Gretchen smiled, nodding. "Uh huh. I still do, Call. All of my strength isn't back yet but I feel good now. I hope the next time we're going to have a baby it isn't as difficult as it was this time. Victoria was so lucky. She had a much easier child birth than I did."

Call's mood suddenly changed. He turned away from Gretchen -- not wanting her to see his face -- the worry, the concern. After the extremely painful and troubled experience she suffered through giving birth to their daughter, he was frightened that if she conceived again, she might possibly die the next time. It was more than Call could handle -- the thought of losing Gretchen.

He turned around, looking at his wife. She was breast feeding their baby -- a content smile on her face. She raised her head slightly, locking her hypnotic green eyes on Call. She smiled warmly, causing his insides to melt.

"I'll put Becky down for a nap after she finishes and we can spend some time close together, Call." She looked up at the tree which had their initials carved in it and smiled.

He walked over and sat down next to his wife and daughter. Runt, laying on his side, looked as lazy as a content dog could appear. His tail raised slightly a time or two as Call rubbed his head.

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

The steady smothering of the grassy plains and prairies by white settlers resulted in hostile tribes that once warred with each other to forge new alliances, in an attempt to strengthen their weakening existence. One alliance had been formed nearly six months ago -- early in the spring -- after Call and Gretchen had returned from their excursion to Missouri. The 3rd Cavalry, out of Fort Laramie, had captured Red Crow and Hehakasapa (Black Elk), of the Cheyenne, imprisoning the pair of leaders within the dank, unsanitary stockade at Fort McNabb.

Black Elk, along with his two wives -- as well as Etienne Meloche, the French-Canadian painter, and his young wife, Young-Grass-That-Shoots-In-Spring, departed from the protected confinement of the Cheyenne encampment -- nestled within the Big Paw Mountains, west of the junction of Flat Willow Creek and Box Elder Creek, where the waters ran down from the great mountains of the north, and forests of pine grew in abundance -- having received their own invitation stick to Red Crow's wedding. A three day celebration meant guests would arrive at different times -- some spending the entire time while others would merely spend one night.

Red Crow and his bride-to-be, Singing Bird, had cousins spread out among the seven sub-tribes of the Lakota -- Sans Arcs, Miniconjous, and Brules. Some hadn't seen each other in years. Swift Wind and Falls-Off-His-Horse, two of Red Crow's Sans Arcs cousins, brought great happiness to Red Crow -- having not seen them in five years, when they arrived in the Lakota encampment.

Although the gathering would not be a formidable host, there would still number almost thirty-five to forty -- including women and children. Only fourteen were warriors of fighting age.

****

The morning of Friday, October 6, 1882, brought Call and his wife, Gretchen, into the Lakota encampment. Gretchen held Rebecca Maggie, their five week old daughter. Paige Brandt, Gretchen's younger sister, also attended the celebration. The old men and squaws were eager to gaze upon the infant child that supposedly had been blessed by the Great Spirit, Wakantanka. The old men came to see the tiny face of Tokala Cikala (Little Fox) -- to see for themselves if the baby had been given powers by the Great Spirit.

Akahpe Kici Hiya Peta (Lodge With No Fire), the old man who planned to kill the white infant girl, watched both Gretchen and Becky with a hatred.

"Well, howdy, Newt!"

Call turned in the direction of the booming voice. "Bill Cody?!"

"In the flesh!" Buffalo Bill Cody, slightly tipsy, approached the Call party with open arms. "We meet again, Mrs. Call," Bill said to Gretchen, kissing her hand after removing his hat. "I've heard a lot about your child from the Lakota," he said, gazing at the tiny baby in Gretchen's arms. "Some of these jaspers believe your baby has powers."

Gretchen shook her head. "Our daughter is just a normal child, Mr. Cody. The only power she has is her unquenchable hunger -- she eats constantly."

Bill laughed -- he liked Gretchen. "Who's this pretty little filly that bears a fair resemblance to you, Mrs. Call?"

"My sister, Paige Brandt," Gretchen informed Bill.

Paige curtseyed. "How do you do, Mr. Cody. I'm quite honored to make your acquaintance."

Bill bowed, taking Paige's hand in a grand showmanship that had the Lakota squaws giggling. "You done real good, Newt," Bill said.

Once she spotted Gretchen, Singing Bird hastened to greet the young woman she had been witness to watching her agony and sufferings before finally giving birth. Singing Bird was covered with ornaments -- row after row of blue and red beads about her neck. She wore broad armlets and anklets made of brass, pinchbeck rings and a soft buckskin dress and beaded leggings that were heavily embroidered. Her extreme youth with its ever alluring enchantment was cause for all other squaws to give up the field so completely to Singing Bird.

Singing Bird reached out toward tiny Becky Call, smiling at the infant and then at Gretchen. Gretchen was hesitant to hand her daughter over to Singing Bird, unsure what the young Lakota girl wanted to do.

"She will not harm your child," Red Crow said. "You are a sister to her now."

Gretchen looked at her husband for approval. Call nodded. Gretchen smiled and gently allowed Singing Bird to hold her baby. Although Gretchen had been to Red Crow's village four times now -- Paige was on her second visit -- both Missouri girls still were cautious in the somewhat-hostile environment. The half-naked braves -- the uncivilized frontier, so far removed from order and common sense back east -- struck a measure of fear within the pounding hearts of both sisters.

Singing Bird smiled happily and sang quietly to tiny Rebecca Maggie. Red Crow turned to Gretchen. "She sings a blessing to your child, Little Fox."

Singing Bird handed Becky back to her mother, eliciting a sigh of relief in Gretchen.

Can Wape Tona (Many Leaves), the old woman who predicted Gretchen would struggle extremely when she would give birth, hobbled slowly out of her lodge to look at Gretchen and her child. Many Leaves stared at mother and daughter with a toothless smile. She began speaking to Red Crow -- pointing at Gretchen and her baby.

Red Crow nodded. "Can Wape Tona (Many Leaves) says she remembers you, Coyote. She tells me it was wi ote<'hi ka wi, the moon of hard winter (January), when she last saw you. She says she prayed to Tunkasila (Great Spirit) for you and was told in a dream that Singing Bird would help your baby find the entrance to this world after you had suffered much."

Gretchen and Call looked at the old woman. For Call, it was still so fresh -- Becky being only five weeks old. He knew Gretchen's recovery had been slow -- her body requiring longer to heal than her sister, Victoria, from her less arduous delivery, in comparison. Call put his arm around Gretchen. She looked into his eyes, smiling.

"Come, Sun<Ka Watogla (Wild Dog)! Sung Ma<He Tu (Coyote)! And, I Sta<Mahpiya Bloketu (Eyes of Summer Sky). Bring Tokala Cikala (Little Fox)," Red Crow replied.

"That's me!" Paige excitedly said. "I'm Eyes of Summer Sky."

Buffalo Bill Cody laughed. He joined the group as they walked through the festive village.

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

When Clay Mosby decided to return home during the early afternoon, he half expected to find his lustful wife copulating with one of the servants. He was pleasantly surprised to find Ashley alone -- bathing in the warm waters of her tub. Her eyes lit up as he removed his boots and dropped his holster on the floor, stepping into the soapy waters fully dressed, and sat down. Ashley quickly and expertly undid his trousers, freeing his straining member with her smooth, soft hands. She rose, straddling Clay -- teasingly, at first -- just brushing her private garden against his engorged manhood -- lightly, seductively -- causing him to groan, wanting her. He shoved himself deep inside his wife. Ashley moaned loud as the soapy waters slushed violently onto the floor -- her groin smacking harder each time their bodies collided in mid stride. Their bodies, hot from passion, grew hotter from the warm waters as Clay pounded her garden relentlessly -- as if he were going to split her apart.

"Harder, Clay!" she begged, scratching his cheeks with her sharp nails as Clay penetrated her insides so deep she threw her head back, consumed in ecstasy as he filled her completely.

Her eyes closed, Ashley let her body collapse against her husband's wet clothes. She breathed hard and began gyrating her groin, hoping to fan the fires of passion within Clay's still erect manhood. "More! I want more!" she groaned.

Clay had hoped to climb out of the tub. His unexpected stepping into the tub fully dressed and the affect it had on his naked wife was enough to keep him firmly planted in the warm waters as he drove himself hard -- stuffing Ashley -- causing her eyes to bulge as he worked feverishly, until he satisfied her a second time.

Ashley, thoroughly worn out, slumped back in the tub -- half the water now on the wooden floorboards -- and looked content at Clay. "Clay, dearest," she said, her chest heaving as she still breathed hard, "whatever made you come home this early? I'm certainly glad you did. You wear me out."

Clay grinned as he removed his wet clothing. "Always the flatterer, aren't you, Ashley." He looked at the water spread out on the floor. "Do be sure to have the servants clean up properly. I hope you will be content until I return."

Ashley suddenly sat up. "I don't like the way that sounded, Clay. Are you planning on not coming home tonight?"

"I have urgent business with Robert. It may require some time."

"You will look after him, won't you, Clay? And please try to take care of yourself, as well."

Clay's legs were still minimally shaking as he kissed Ashley and hurried down the stairs and out of the house.

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

Whether he was stealing watches from a stagecoach or anticipating killing Indians to steal their gold, Robert Shelby's hatred of what the Union Army had done to his beloved South was a common result found in many idealistic Confederate soldiers after the war.

"What took you so long, Clay?" Robert barked when Clay Mosby walked into the Ambrosia Club. "Have you changed your mind? I want you with me, Clay."

"I was detained, Robert," Clay replied. He had serious doubts about this foolish idea of Robert's. Clay was a smart man. He knew he could make his fortune without having to resort to murdering unsuspecting Indians. He knew Robert Shelby would pursue this mad scheme whether he rode with him or not. "I seem to recall you telling me you wanted to turn your life around, Robert. What happened? Have you lost your desire to lead a decent life so quickly? You are, after all, a lawman, Robert."

"Let it go, Clay," Robert pressed. "We should have that gold. Indians don't need gold. I'm riding. The men are waiting about an hour's ride north of here. I do wish you would go with me."

"You disappoint me, Robert. A man named Hiram Cobb was murdered on this street when we robbed the bank here in town. You nearly had your own head blown off when you tried to intercept and steal that Yankee gold during the war. I understand that was to assist the cause of the Confederacy, Robert, but this is wrong." Clay shook his head. "I will not be part of this and I do implore upon our friendship that you desist this diabolical scheme."

"Not this time, Clay." Robert offered his hand to Clay. "I will see you once we have the gold."

Clay tightened his grip on Robert's hand. "And what of my hotel? I put you in charge, Robert. You are also my deputy here in Curtis Wells."

"Goodbye, Clay. I'll return soon."

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

"Ah, Monsieur Call! How delightful to make your acquaintance once more."

Call frowned. "What the hell are you doing here, Frenchy?"

Monsieur Etienne Meloche, the diminutive painter that somehow continuously showed up at the most inopportune moments, was smiling at the taller Newt Call. "Ah, mon ami, I have been given the invitation stick by Monsieur Red Crow to attend his wedding celebration. I have painted his likeness -- it was an occasion soon after last we parted. Did you not know Monsieur Call that Monsieur Clay Mosby traded me his little Cheyenne wife?"

Call laughed. "I didn't know that."

Gretchen and Paige -- who had been sitting on a spread out scarlet blanket on the ground with another scarlet blanket stretched from poles above them for an awning -- joined Call.

Etienne Meloche smiled. "Ah, Madame Call et Mademoiselle Paige. It is so nice to see you, oui." He looked at Gretchen. "Ah, a little baby. Perhaps one day you will allow me to paint a family portrait of you and your husband and your baby?"

Paige curtseyed -- Gretchen curtseyed as best she could with Becky in her arms.

"S'il vous plait," Etienne said. "Pardonnez-moi. Say bonjour to my Cheyenne wife, Young-Grass-That-Shoots-In-Spring."

Gretchen and Paige smiled at the young Indian girl. "You shaved your beard, Monsieur Meloche," Paige noted, pointing to the painters face.

"Ah, oui. My beard! It was, how you say . . .? oh, oui! Scratching her face. She developed a nasty rash. It is just as well," Etienne replied.

Call groaned. He believed Etienne Meloche was bad luck. The man was a pest during the occasion when they had gone with Ephraim and Victoria into the caves near the Cheyenne encampment. He had wandered off during the tense moments after Call, Mason Dobbs, and Clay Mosby had freed Red Crow and Black Elk out of the stockade at Fort McNabb.

"And, my friend, Monsieur Mosby," Etienne asked, "how is he? And how is his voluptuous and lovely wife, the Lady Ashley?" Etienne fondly remembered the time Ashley seduced him in her and Clay's bedroom. It had been the sexual highlight of his entire life.

"Mrs. Mosby is with child," Paige informed the little painter. "She's due to have her baby in late March, next year."

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

They were all mean-eyed types -- men whose hatred of the Lakota spurred their desire to shed the blood of even women and children. Robert had hired a motley group of cutthroats and murderers.

It was too late to call off this madness. Robert had gone around filling their ears with what they wanted to hear -- the scalpings and mutilations these filthy savages had committed on countless innocent families. The hired guns -- nine, in number -- gathered around Robert Shelby, as he drew in the dirt -- first the Lakota village, then the layout of the surrounding low hills and the creek that flowed nearby.

They were to converge on the unsuspecting Lakota and then charge straight through the village -- killing only the men. Robert knew this group of men wouldn't pause if a Lakota squaw or child happened to be in their way. It was going to be a massacre.

"All right!" Robert hollered. "Move out! We attack within the next few hours."

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

When the old Indian, Akahpe Kici Hiya Peta (Lodge With No Fire), realized Gretchen Call was left handed -- she had been stringing beads on a necklace with Singing Bird -- he became agitated and started arguing with the old men that she was a witch. Etienne Meloche, who sat with the women, understood enough of the old man's words to quickly inform Gretchen that the disgruntled old Indian considered her a witch.

"I'm not a witch!" Gretchen protested. She grabbed Becky and ran toward Call. Paige, suddenly afraid, followed her sister.

Call had been near enough to hear everything. He stood in front of Gretchen and Paige -- his arms out wide -- his eyes locked, unflinching, at the old Indian. Before trouble could unfold, Red Crow knocked Lodge With No Fire to the ground. He spoke with authority, demanding the old man's obedience, since the white women were his honored guests for his wedding ceremony.

"I am sorry, my friend," Red Crow told Call. Then, he turned to all the warriors and people of the Lakota. "Heci tawaci hiya oyake Tokala Cikala! Iye mitawa oskate hi. Wanahon wana." " (There will be no speaking about the child, Little Fox! It is my celebration. Obey me now."). He pointed to Lodge With No Fire and said, "niye iyaya wana!" ("You go now!").

Red Crow repeated himself, making sure talk of a gifted white baby or her mother being a witch would now cease. This was a wedding feast and he would not allow an old fool like Lodge With No Fire to tickle the ears of his people.

The sun had already melted far away in the western sky, leaving a golden orange-yellow sky as twilight filled the sky. Gretchen refused to leave Call's side -- asking him to walk with her at the edge of camp -- near the water.

"Remember when we stood here last year, Call? I told you about wishing on stars. I was so in love with you, then." Gretchen smiled.

Call nodded. He was wary now -- watching carefully toward the lodges.

"Look at us, Call," Gretchen said. "We're husband and wife now. We're married. We have a baby daughter, Call. She needs us. I need you."

Call pulled Gretchen close, kissing her and kissing Becky. "Don't fret none about their ways."

"Just because I'm left handed they believe I'm a witch?! Why, Call?"

"I reckon some of the old ones have superstitions," he said. "Come on. We best get back. Paige is alone."

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

Robert Shelby, along with his group of hired gunmen, clung low to the top of a hill on the near side of the village. Using a spyglass he scanned the area then suddenly said, "What?!" He looked again, seeing Gretchen Call holding her newborn child in her arms. "No!" he loudly cried. "We have to stop! My God! She'll be killed! The baby will be killed!"

Robert suddenly turned to the hired gunmen. "We are not going through with this. There are white women inside the village."

"Then we'll kill them, too!" one of the most outspoken of the hired guns said. "If white women are with those savages they deserve to die!"

"No, you damn fool!" Robert argued.

The man drew his pistol and shot Robert before he could respond. "We don't need Shelby or his money."

The new leader decided they could wipe out the unsuspecting Lakota village without Shelby's help. It was getting dark and the Indians seemed to celebrating something. "Get ready to charge the village," he ordered. "Get your weapons ready. Shoot anyone who moves."

********

Bam! Bam!

There was confusion when the two shots were fired. Out of the oncoming night a young, longhaired man came running through the tall brown grass into the Lakota camp. He ran with exceptional speed and a quickness rarely seen by the Lakota.

"Takpa! Tapka!" ("Attack! Attack!") yelled the young man as raced inside the village. The rifle shots had caused the Lakota to look around.

Red Crow quickly approached the wild looking youth. "Taku yaka" (What do you mean!"). He noticed the young man wore fringed pants as well as a fringed shirt. He had two knives strapped on -- one on each side of his hip.

The young man pointed with both arms stretched to each side of the camp. "You're under attack! There's riders with guns! Many guns!" He was breathing hard.

Red Crow turned quickly. "Akicita! Akicita! Mazawakan ota!" ("Soldiers! Soldiers! Many rifles!")

Then all hell broke loose! Guns were exploding from both sides of the encampment. The sounds of charging horses entering the village. People screamed, running in fear. Lakota warriors ran for their rifles or bows. Buffalo Bill Cody, drunk, drawing his pistols, ready to fire.

"Call!" Gretchen screamed, running with her husband. "We have to find Paige!"

Call didn't answer. He held his Colt, moving with his wife and infant daughter as shots were exploding through the camp.

Lodge With No Fire, the old Lakota, spotted Gretchen running with Call and drew his hatchet.

****

When the two shots were fired, the new leader led his bunch of hired guns -- lathered and smelling blood -- riding straight into the village.

****

Paige Brandt stood motionless, looking around for her sister and brother-in-law. "Gretchen! Call!" she screamed. Tears were streaking her cheeks as Lakota women ran screaming. One young woman fell near Paige, shot through the back of her head.

"Take cover, you little fool!"

Paige turned. It was the longhaired young man. She was too frightened to say anything. He grabbed her hand and pulled her away with him, running for the creek. "My sister!" she cried.

One of the hired gunmen spotted Paige and the longhaired youth and led his horse toward them.

"Get down!" the young man ordered Paige. He drew one of his knives and stabbed it deep into the rider's thigh. He raised his rifle and shot the gunman, knocking him out of the saddle, onto the ground. He pounced on the man and sunk his bloody knife into the man's chest, killing him. He drew his blade and turned to Paige.

"Hurry! Get up," he ordered.

Paige obeyed and the young man took her hand and raced for the creek.

Red Crow had quickly gotten the upper hand as his warriors, saved by the young man's warning shots and accurate report, were holding their own against the hired guns.

Call shot one of the hired gunmen as he moved toward the creek with Gretchen and Becky.

"CALL!" Gretchen screamed.

Call turned just as Lodge With No Fire raised his hatchet to kill Gretchen.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

Call fired three of his remaining five shells into the old Indian's chest. He pulled Gretchen behind him, shielding her body with his own. The old Lakota fell backward, hitting the ground. He lay in the tall brown grass, feeling the lifeblood drain from his body. He closed his eyes, never to rise again.

Call looked at Gretchen. Her eyes were wide with a fearful gaze. She clutched her baby close to her chest. "Save us, Call. Please find Paige."

Call quickly brought his wife and baby to a large tree and reloaded his Colt.

By now, most of the hired gunmen had given up the fight -- not expecting the Lakota to be prepared for battle. They rode off -- the ones still alive -- in several directions.

Robert Shelby had been shot through the shoulder and was bleeding more than he had hoped. There was nothing he could do now. He knew if Call ever found out he had organized this attack that Call would likely kill him for jeopardizing the lives of his wife and baby. Robert urged his horse -- stained with his blood -- to ride off. He would head for the safety of Clay and Ashley's large house. Clay would surely help him.

Red Crow was loudly telling everyone to stand ready and be prepared in case they regrouped and charged the village again.

Among the casualties were Falls-Off-His-Horse, Red Crow's Sans Arcs cousin and the Cheyenne wife of Etienne Meloche, Young-Grass-That-Shoots-In-Spring. The little painter wept over his young wife's dead body.

On the edge of the village -- along the creek -- Gretchen found her sister. Call and Gretchen saw the longhaired young man leading Paige toward them. Her hand was in his. Call raised his Colt, causing the man to pause.

"Call! No!" Paige implored. She let go of the young man and ran toward them. "He saved my life, Call. Don't hurt him." Paige and Gretchen hugged each other with a firmness born out of the desperation of the situation.

Call eyeballed Paige's savior. "I reckon we're obliged to you. How is it you came running into camp just before they attacked?" Although the young man appeared to be no threat, Call remained vigilant. It was too soon to trust anyone they didn't know.

Paige turned back to look at the young man. "That's right. I don't even know your name."

The young man smiled at Paige. "I'm Boone Mackinaw. I was hoping to become a mountain man but it seems the old ways are fading."

Bill Cody came over -- making sure everyone was alive. When he told them Etienne Meloche's young wife had been killed by a bullet to the back of her head, Gretchen and Paige cried.

"You did a fine job there boy," Buffalo Bill said.

Boone Mackinaw nodded, offering a hint of a smile. "Who were those men and why did they attack the village? There were women and children."

"They need no reason," Red Crow said, as he stepped over to the group. "Men like that kill for pleasure. They want our land. They take everything we have. I am pleased your wife and child are safe, Wild Dog. I am pleased your wife's sister, I Sta<Mahpiya Bloketu (Eyes of Summer Sky), is safe." He looked at Boone. "My people are thankful to you. Come, you will join us. I have placed warriors around the camp to be on guard. I have given you a new name. You will be called Masti Ska Mila Nu<Pa."

"What does it mean?" Boone Macinaw asked.

Red Crow smiled. "Rabbit Two Knives."

"I have a Lakota name, too, Mr. Macinaw," Paige excitedly replied. "It's Eyes of Summer Sky."

Boone smiled at Paige. "You have the prettiest blue eyes I ever saw."

Paige blushed.

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

"Robert?!" Clay said, startled to see his friend leaning against the doorway, bleeding.

"I saw Mrs. Call and her baby, Clay. Call must have been there, too. I tried to stop the men." He raised his arm, groaning in pain. "They turned on me and shot me, Clay."

"Was it worth it, Robert?" Clay was angry. "We don't even know if Mrs. Call or her baby are alive. My God! Whatever came over you?"

"I was wrong, Clay. Can you forgive me for not obeying you?"

"Of course I forgive you, Robert. We all make bad judgements occasionally. Perhaps we can stop the bleeding until morning. Then, we shall visit Dr. Cleese."

"And what will we say?" Robert asked. "He cannot know how I acquired this wound."

Clay nodded. "And, he shall not know. We will devise an appropriate response."

Ashley, clad in a nightgown and robe, came running down the stairs. "Bring him inside, Clay."

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

Though the unexpected attack on the Lakota village changed the mood of celebration -- the dead and injured were tended to -- Red Crow provided lodges for all guests.

Gretchen clung to Call, holding Becky close to her.

Paige sat near a fire with her sister and Call. Boone Mackinaw sat with them. Through the large fire's dancing flames, it seemed Boone and Paige couldn't stop looking at each other. The young man had quietly decided to visit Curtis Wells. It was time to come out of the mountains.

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

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