Authors: Shirl Henke
CAPTURE THE SUN
Originally published by Warner Books
Copyright 1988 by Shirl Henke
All rights reserved. No part of this ebook may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic means without the written permission of the publisher.
Cover art by Max Ginsburg
Other electronic works by Shirl Henke:
A FIRE IN THE BLOOD
“Billie Jo and the Valentine Crow”
The Blackthorne Trilogy:
LOVE A REBEL…LOVE A ROGUE
The House of Torres Saga:
PARADISE & MORE
RETURN TO PARADISE
The Cheyenne Series:
THE ENDLESS SKY
CAPTURE THE SUN
The Black Hills, 1869
The fierce Dakota sun beat on the tiny willow lodge that sat isolated in a clearing. Not even a scrub pine offered shelter, although many grew a scant hundred yards away. Inside the cramped hut laid a slim youth, his body glistening with sweat. The narrow confines of the lodge barely accommodated his long frame as he panted in the blazing heat. The night would soon bring its cooling touch, removing the perspiration from his bare skin until he shivered. Thus he had waited the past four days, alternately enduring heat and cold, with no food, no water, no complaint. Sharp pebbles and twigs bit into his back as he lay supine, but his mind paid no heed to his body. His spirit soared far above the low roof, high in the brilliant blue freedom of the sky.
This is the fourth day, the last day. It must happen now, before Grandfather returns at sundown. Perhaps no sacred vision can come to me
. He forced the disquieting thought from his mind and drifted back into his semicoma. Once again his fevered mind pictured the face of his mother, radiant as she lavished her love upon a small boy. Gradually her image blurred. When it cleared, she was no longer clad in a buttersoft buffalo-skin dress. Rather, she wore the stiff garments of a white woman, with long skirts and cinched waist. Laughing Woman was gone. In her place stood Marah. Marah, wife of his white father, as full of bitterness as the missionary name she had been given. Her arms slipped from the boy she had held fast only a moment before, leaving him cold and alone. He cried out to her as the vision faded. Her tight
dress seemed to bind her, holding down her arms as they strained to reach for him. She was gone.
Another figure entered his trance. He Who Walks in Sun stood staring intently as if peering into the soul of his only manchild and finding it wanting. Of course, he would always think it so. He always had. Nothing was ever good between them.
The youth shook his head to clear the weight of sorrow from it. Then he tensed. A new figure appeared beside that of the father he could not banish. This one the days and nights of feverish dreaming had never before revealed. She was
, a white for certain, yet supple and slim despite the foolish clothing she wore. Her face was blurred, the features indistinct, but the fiery red of her hair was as brilliant as the rising sun.
Who is she to stand next to my father?
His mind slipped into oblivion, once more.
The keening of a Cheyenne death chant—high, thin and clear—reached him in the darkness of sleep. In his mind's eye the strong, lovely face of a Cheyenne woman appeared, imploring him for something—he knew not what. Her liquid eyes were filled with wistful sadness. He groaned as a deep pain crushed his heart, stopping his breath until she vanished from his trance. The death chant faded with her.
He awakened, yet did not stir. He had been forbidden to move from his prone position until the sacred vision came. These troubled nightmares, peopled by his parents and the two unknown women, were not the message from the Powers for which he had fasted and prayed. Time was running out.
Again he sent his mind high, reaching toward the vast clear sky beyond the lodge. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle in anticipation of something that would change him, direct his life, give him his destiny.
Suddenly in the open sky a hawk soared powerfully and effortlessly against the canopy of brilliance. Just as the sun was setting, or rising—he could not tell which—the hunting bird swooped downward to rake its sharp talons through the dense coat of a wolf, leaving deep bloody furrows. Then once more the hawk soared skyward, this time with a newborn wolf cub held alive in its possessive grip. The last thing he saw was the outline of the bird's wings as it flew into the fierce orange rays of the sun.
* * * *
St. Louis, 1869
Hearing her daughter cry, Naomi Patterson rose and slipped into Carrie's bedroom. The child was having a nightmare, unusual for the sunny-natured, calm seven-year-old.
“Shh, baby, it's only a dream, a bad dream,” Naomi crooned, stroking the springy red curls and holding the girl to her breast.
Carrie's eyes widened as she recognized her mother and the familiar room. “Oh, Mama, it was awful! A dog with mean gray eyes was tearing me up, and then a big fierce bird came down, and they wrestled—”
Before she could relate anymore, Naomi interrupted, “It's all right, darling, don't worry. Papa and I will never let any wild animals hurt you. You're safe. Nap time is over. Get up and enjoy the lovely afternoon. Just remember that there are no wild dogs in St. Louis. This is a clean, modern city. You're protected.”
Suppressing a hiccup, Carrie let her normally cheerful disposition triumph over the dark dream. She was loved and secure. What could happen on such a beautiful summer day?
* * * *
The Black Hills, 1869
The old Cheyenne laboriously climbed the hill, then knelt at the opening of the hut. “The four days are ended, my son. What have you learned?”
The face of Iron Heart was strong and seamed with years, yet handsome in its granite austerity. His eyes mirrored an openness of soul that had won for him his name signifying courage. Now those black eyes looked down expectantly at the awakening youth. The old one never doubted the boy would experience his medicine dream. Others in the band scoffed, saying the Powers would not grant such a blessing to one of mixed blood who lived with the
. Iron Heart knew better.
The boy sat up disoriented, taking the outstretched hand that pulled his weakened body from the tiny hut. He shivered in the cool air of sunset until Iron Heart placed a robe of soft buffalo hide around his thin shoulders and offered him a drinking horn brimming with water. When he had regained his voice, scratchy and uneven from thirst, the youth told the vision to his patient mentor.
The old man's eyes were shuttered. He was surprised by, the description of the stolen wolf cub. That he must ponder. For the rest, it was clear.
“What does it mean, Grandfather? Why would a hawk attack a wolf? Such a thing does not happen.” The face was earnest, not yet a man's face, but now more than a boy's.
“What is not real in the world out there,” he gestured to the hills surrounding them, “can be quite real inside the soul.” He touched his tong-scarred breast. “First consider the he-wolf brought down by the hawk. Was not your father once a killer of wolves?”
The boy nodded uncertainly, always uncomfortable at the mention of He Who Walks in Sun, as the Cheyenne called his golden-haired father. It was true, his father had once been a wolfer, killing the sacred and beautiful animals for their pelts and bounty. But that was long ago when the People were many and the
few. Now he was a wealthy rancher. The whites were many and the Cheyenne few.
“Then who is the hawk who dares hunt the wolf and steal from him?” The boy considered the animal metaphor carefully as his grandfather sat silently, waiting for the youth to supply his own answers. “I am the hawk! I dare to challenge him!” His jet eyes flashed and his nostrils flared as he realized the full implications of his medicine dream. The chiseled features turned hard and shuttered, revealing his Indian ancestry. Yet the arrogance of his expression was an inheritance from his white father rather than from his Cheyenne mother.
Iron Heart nodded in approval. “Yes, you have judged rightly. From this day you shall be called Hunting Hawk.”
St. Louis, 1880
“What do you mean, Gerald, you can't marry me?” A note of suppressed hysteria sharpened Carrie Patterson's voice while a tinge of color blossomed in her cheeks. The young man sitting next to her in the closed carriage cringed.
“We set the date for this very spring, as soon as you finish your term in medical school. Isn't it a bit late to be getting cold feet?” Carrie pulled her small clenched fists from the larger hands enveloping them and sat stiffly against the leather seat cushion. For several moments the only sound she could hear was the clop-clop of the horse's hooves as the carriage threaded its way through the elegant brick streets of Lafayette Square near her home.
Gerald Rawlins, a tall, slender young man with thick sandy hair and bright blue eyes, nervously cleared his throat. This morning he had finally worked up the courage to confess. He had to get it all out, by damn, and tell her! Of course, Carrie wasn't making it any easier for him. Not that he could blame her. He listened to the monotonous drum of hoofbeats on the bricks, swallowed hard, and took a deep breath. Not daring to look at her bewitching face, he stared straight ahead at the front wall of the coach. He must not weaken now. Patience and Hiram Patterson would never give him a second chance.
“I can't marry you, Carrie, because I have agreed to marry your cousin Charity at the end of summer!” There, it was out. He felt her stiffen and draw in a sudden gasp of breath, but he dared not face the blazing green fire in those eyes.
“Charity! I might have known. She's been making cow's eyes at you since we were sixteen. But why, Gerald? Why? I don't mean to sound vain, but I know I'm better looking than she is.” That was certainly true. Carrie was unfashionably tall for the ideal of feminine perfection, but her figure was well proportioned with slim, soft curves, her face delicately sculpted into strong, elegant features. She had dark green eyes and a great mass of red hair that glowed like a living flame when touched by the light. Her cousin Charity was a tan-blonde with watery blue eyes and a dumpy figure.
“Of course, you're beautiful and Charity is, er, merely pleasant.” He sighed. Strictly speaking, that wasn't even the truth. God knew Charity's disposition was far from pleasant. It bordered on downright shrewishness when she did not get her way!
Haltingly, Carrie ventured, “Do—do you love her, Gerald?” She turned and looked squarely at his handsome profile.
He still could not meet her eyes. “I fear, my dear, love has little to do with a practical marriage. I must be brutally frank with you, Carrie. When I graduate from St. Louis University Medical School I'll need a good deal of capital to set up a practice. You know how hard it's been, scratching out a bare existence on my inheritance from Grandfather. Well, it's run out now, and I find myself in debt for this past term's expenses. I didn't want to worry you with such gross monetary concerns, but there it is.” He flashed the boyish, engaging grin that had always melted women's hearts. It wobbled a bit when he looked at Carrie's face.
“There it is, and there was my Uncle Hiram, I'll just bet! My rich uncle, desperate to marry off his eldest spinster daughter, never mind if he had to buy a groom, even steal him from his niece! How much, Gerald? How much is it worth to you to endure Charity for the rest of your life?” Her voice dripped scorn as she valiantly hid the ripping in her heart.
He attempted to take her cold, slim fingers in his grasp and pull her to him, but she stiffened and wrenched away. Then she methodically removed a faultless white kid glove and slipped the small silver ring from her finger. “Here is your ring. My felicitations to you and my cousin. I hope you have joy of her!”