The War Party
From the Wagon Train Diaries
It was the season of heavy rain. The river that led to the next village was swollen with flood, rushing the banks as if it had somewhere important to go. The wagon train dipped then rose again as it tried to keep pace with the ever growing flood. A black cloud erupted around the wagons making them come to a complete stop.
The wagon train scout, White Deer, returned to the train carrying some disturbing news. He was looking for the wagon master Alastar Brown. He pushed his brown gelding toward the third wagon and stopped directly in front of the train.
“How is it?” Alastar asked as he popped his head out of the wagon.
“Not good,” replied the scout as he dismounted the horse and sloshed over to the wagon master. “The war party has lined up three miles from here waiting for us. I believe the war party has about fifty Braves.”
“Damn,” Alastar almost whispered. His expression was one of pain. “We’re going to have to meet them head on.”
“We got about thirty men willing to defend this train,” the scout added.
The wagon master grimaced. He remembered the last time he came across a war party. What greeted his eyes was a slaughterhouse. The Indians choked the space between the wagon trains and littered the grounds with gutted, lifeless bodies. He remembered scalped skulls grinned up at him with broken teeth and hollowed out eyes. The supply wagon was a silent tomb as the women and children were murdered mercilessly. It was a massacre he didn’t want to relive again. He remembered his best friend, Myles Stevenson, who use to sit high on the wagon riding shot gun, just as Alastar remembered him. Except at that time when he was slumped to one side, a blackened hole in his chest where a flamed arrow had pinned him to the wooden deck and his eyes were sunken and staring.
“Get the men together,” he ordered.
The scout nodded and turned away leaving the wagon master with his thoughts. Rain was falling in great, hissing dollops, making it difficult to see even fifty meters in front of him. Maybe it was the advantage he needed. He thought.
After several minutes, White Deer came back with twenty seven men armed and saddled. They were ready to engage in battle. Alastar Brown sat back and gnawed at his cheek. He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and said. “Thank God for the heavy rain.”
The scout thought that he knew what the wagon master was thinking. The rain was an advantage, but it wasn’t a guarantee.
“White Deer,” he started. “You’re going to stay here with the train. If we are not back in two days, take the train back to the town we just left.”
The wagon master made it sound so simple.
So White Deer gave him a simple answer. “Got it.”
The wagon master was looking at him, just a short connective pulse beat of understanding that they were both going into situations that didn’t suit them. The wagon master’s job was just to get people from the East to the West, and White Deer’s was just a terrain guide.
The men of the wagon train were armed now, prepared for rough terrain and situations that spat back. Alastar didn’t like seeing the men dressed for trouble, but he had no other choice. It was literally kill, or be killed.
After giving the scout a few more instructions the men rode off into the pouring rain. White Deer realized that only now, in that instant, that the wagon master was leaving him in total charge of the train. He was just hoping that he didn’t get blamed by the law if something went abhorrently wrong. After all, he was an Indian living in a white man’s world.
The next twelve hours passed slowly for the scout. He spent his time trying to comfort the other passengers on the train. He felt dark and depressed inside, but he didn’t allow any of that to show.
The morning had arrived and the rain had ended. He looked out of the back of the supply wagon and there he saw the small clergyman conducting his daily morning mass. It was something to keep the passengers’ mind occupied and in that alone he approved wholeheartedly.
During the final few hours the wagon scout let himself worry, because he knew that his orders were to pull out and head back to the last town.
The day was deceptively welcoming, with the river as calm as ever and the shrubbery begging for sunlight. The land rolled which was soft to the eyes, and the mountains sparkled with morning fog burning off slowly. The scout saw it all with a sweeping glance before pulling himself together. He had orders to carry out and he was going to execute them until he heard the thundering sounds of horses pulling forward. He looked back and saw Alastar coming back with thirteen men.
“Alastar!” he half shouted.
“We can move forward,” Alastar said as his horse came to a complete stop.
Alastar didn’t answer.
A warm wind blew ominously through the wagon trains, raising spiral dust spirits as it went. The scout felt the souls of the other men pass through his body as the wind blew in his face, his eyes narrowed gradually to slits.
© 2013 Frank Atanacio
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