Authors: Madeline Baker
For my grandsons, Will and Wade. May you each find your own happy-ever-after.
The Black Hills
Tate Sapa stood alone at the foot of his mother’s burial scaffold, his arms extended over his head, reaching upward in supplication as he pleaded with the Great Spirit for guidance. The eagle feather he wore on a rawhide loop around his wrist fluttered in the faint breeze that whispered over the holy mountain.
Tate Sapa lifted his voice to the heavens in mighty prayer, pleading for the welfare of his people. The old ones had lost hope, the women were discouraged and tired, the children were hungry and afraid. And the young men…
As always, the young men were eager for war, anxious to prove their bravery in battle, to count coup on the enemy. The blood of their parents, their wives and their children watered the ground, crying out for vengeance against the Blue Coats.
The hearts of the young men were filled with anger, with the need to fight, to seek vengeance for the wrongs inflicted upon the people by the
Tate Sapa understood their anger. His blood burned as hotly as theirs with the need for revenge. He too had lost loved ones. His gentle mother, his young sister, both had fallen before the soldier coats in the last battle. And yet, as much as he yearned to lead the warriors into battle, to ease his anger by shedding the blood of his enemies, Tate Sapa knew war was not the answer. The time to fight had past. The Lakota were brave warriors, fearless in battle, but their numbers grew smaller each year, while the
seemed to be as numerous as the blades of grass that covered the prairie in summer. The Lakota did not have an endless supply of weapons and ammunition and young men.
The fate of his people rested heavily on his shoulders. “Help me,
show me what I must do.”
He stared into the sun, oblivious to the chill in the air, to the cold wind that sent shivers down his spine. He had been three days without food and water. Hunger gnawed at his belly, his tongue felt thick in his mouth, his throat dry as a buffalo wallow in summer.
Weak with hunger, burdened by despair, he dropped to his knees and bowed his head.
,” he cried softly. “Help me lest I perish.”
Hands resting on his thighs, Tate Sapa stared into the distance, listening to the wail of the winter wind as it howled across the mountaintop. His home was here, in the heart of the
. Indeed, this land was the heart of his people. Stretching away from the sacred Hills lay a land as empty as the sky, patchy with buffalo grass, sharp green cactus and sage. But the Hills themselves abounded with life—deer, elk, porcupines, beaver, badgers, squirrels. The wolf and the bear made their home in the sacred Hills. Once, he had roamed the prairies, the great buffalo herds causing the very earth to shake as they passed by. But the
had hunted the shaggy beasts relentlessly until there were only hundreds where there had once been countless thousands.
It was one more reason why he hated the whites. They killed the buffalo indiscriminately, taking the hides, sometimes the tongue and the tail, leaving the meat to rot in the sun.
He shivered as the day turned suddenly dark. Looking up, he saw black clouds racing across the sky. Thunder shook the earth beneath him; lightning crackled overhead.
And there, between one lightning burst and the next, he saw a vision of a white woman, saw her as close and as clearly as if she had been standing before him. She had dark-brown eyes, a generous mouth, a fine straight nose and lips redder than any he had ever seen. Curly brown hair fell to her shoulders. The shirt she wore was white, with long full sleeves, the pants were snug blue denim that emphasized every feminine curve. In her hands, she held a piece of paper, and on the paper he saw his own likeness, clearly drawn.
He stared at her, at his image, in astonishment, wondering how a white woman had captured his likeness. What did it mean? What cruel trick were the gods playing on him, to send him a vision of a white woman when he had come seeking their help?
A bolt of lightning sizzled across the sky, the brightness blinding him, and in those few seconds when his sight was gone, a kaleidoscope of disjointed images flashed through his mind—Blue Coats plundering a Lakota village, an iron-barred house, a noose swinging in the wind, bodies lying broken and bloody in a green valley, and over all, the face of the white woman, her dark brown eyes filled with tears…
In the blink of an eye, the images were gone, the sky was clear and the sun was shining as before.
Rising to his feet, Tate Sapa fastened the eagle feather to the scaffold that held his mother’s remains. He stood there a moment and then he began the treacherous climb down the mountain, the woman’s image imprinted in his mind, his heart heavy with the knowledge that, in some way he did not understand, his life had been forever changed.
Los Angeles, CA
Susannah Kingston sat staring at her computer’s blank blue screen and wondered if her career as a romance writer was over before it had really begun. She’d had dry spells before, days when she just wasn’t in the mood to write, when the words didn’t flow easily or wouldn’t come at all, but never anything like this.
Every day for the past two weeks, she had planted herself in front of her computer, her mind as blank as the screen. Maybe it had been bound to happen. Maybe after ten category romance novels and a couple of short stories, her creative well had gone dry.
She had tried taking long walks in the park in hopes a little exercise might stir her creative juices. She had tried watching romantic movies like
Somewhere in Time
Legends of the Fall
. She had tried reading some of her favorite romance novels over again, hoping for a little inspiration. She had listened to nothing but soft romantic music, and taken even longer walks. Nothing had helped.
She grimaced as she switched off the computer. There was no maybe about it. She was definitely out of ideas.
Leaning back in her chair, she reached for a bite-size Milky Way. When in doubt, eat chocolate.
Susannah stared out the window that overlooked her tiny backyard. Maybe something would click at the next Romance Writers of America workshop. Her best friend, Vivian Hardiman, had talked her into going to the meeting, suggesting that a change of pace might be what she needed.
Susannah unwrapped another dark chocolate Milky Way and popped it into her mouth. Maybe Vivian was right. Maybe it was time to switch from short contemporaries to longer historicals. With any luck at all, the Wild West reenactors who were putting on the workshop might be able to help. If they could just ignite a spark, plant the germ of an idea…but she doubted it would happen. She had never cared much for the Old West. All that dirt and grit. She didn’t like horses or guns or wild Indians, didn’t swoon at the thought of being rescued by some arrogant male, but what the heck, she had nothing to lose.
And maybe, just maybe, something would click and she would come up with an idea that would send her next book flying to the top of the bestseller lists.
* * * * *
The meeting place was more crowded than usual. Susannah wandered through the hall, nodding to several other writers she knew as she made her way to a display table laden with antique guns and rifles.
Susannah knew several romance writers who wished they had been born back in the days of the wild and wooly West, but she had never been one of them. Why anyone would want to live in the past, in a time before dishwashers and microwaves, indoor plumbing and computers, was beyond her. Not for her the rough-and-tumble life of the Old West. She was perfectly happy living in her air-conditioned condo, driving a car instead of riding a horse, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt instead of mountains of petticoats and high-button shoes. Vivian insisted there was a mystique to the Old West, a fascination for a time gone by, but Susannah was positive that life in the Old West was nothing like the stuff romance novels were made of.
She spent the next two hours listening to the reenactors talk about life on the plains: about clothing, weapons, childbirth and contraception, food storage and preparation.
By the time the workshop was over, she had an even deeper appreciation for the ease of life in the 90s. No wonder women in days gone by had grown old before their time! She tried to imagine what it would be like if she had to draw water from a well or, worse, a river, if she had to wash her clothes on a scrub board in a wooden tub, gather wood for a fire, bake bread from scratch. She looked down at her jeans and shirt and tried to imagine what it would be like to wear bloomers, a corset, a million petticoats, a bustle, long cotton stockings and high-button shoes. The very idea was enough to make her shudder. She didn’t even like wearing a bra!
“Wasn’t it great!” Sandy Browning exclaimed. “I’ve got so many ideas, I don’t know where to start.”
“That’s terrific.” Susannah pasted a smile on her face and tried to look happy. “Listen, I’m going home.”
“Yeah, me too,” Sandy said. “I want to get these ideas on paper before I forget. See you at the next meeting.”
Susannah was about to leave for home when she saw it—a faded 8x10 black-and-white photograph of an Indian warrior standing in front of what looked to be a jail of some kind judging from the thick iron bars on the window.
Wondering how she had missed it before, Susannah stopped at the table, mesmerized by the warrior’s countenance. His eyes were dark and compelling, set in a face that managed to be beautiful and masculine at the same time. His nose was blade straight, his jaw strong and unyielding, his cheekbones high and well-defined. There was an eagle feather tied in his hair, long black hair that flowed like a dark river over his bare shoulders. He wore only a loincloth and moccasins.
“He’s something, isn’t he?”
Susannah glanced up to see Vivian standing behind her. Susannah and Vivian had met at an RWA meeting four years ago and become instant friends. Viv was a trifle plump, with curly blonde hair and gray eyes. She was one of the most energetic people Susannah had ever known. Like Susannah, she wrote category novels, although Viv wrote historicals.
“He’s something all right,” Susannah agreed. “Such a strong handsome face. And his eyes…” She laughed self-consciously. “He seems to be looking at me across the mists of time.”
“I wonder who he is?” Vivian mused aloud.
“His name was Black Wind.”
Susannah smiled at the reenactor who had answered Vivian’s question. The man was tall and blond, with a sweeping cavalry-style moustache. He was dressed like an Army officer circa 1875 or so.
“Larry Brightman,” he said, extending his hand.
“Vivian Hardiman, and this is my friend, Susannah Kingston.”
“Pleased to meet you both,” he replied politely.
“Where was this picture taken?” Susannah asked.
“Fort Collier, South Dakota. He was a prisoner there.”
“Why was he imprisoned?”
“They caught him butchering a cow stolen from a white man. The Army arrested him and sentenced him to three years hard labor.”
“They sentenced him to three years in jail for stealing a cow!” Susannah exclaimed. “Maybe he was hungry.”
“I’m sure he was,” Brightman said with a shrug. “Back then, they were all hungry.”
“What happened to him?”
Brightman shook his head. “No one knows. It was said he killed a soldier in a fight over a white woman. They were going to hang him, but…”
“Well, no one really knows what happened to him. He could have been hung, I guess. Records from that far back are sketchy, at best.” He glanced across the hall. “Excuse me, I’ve got to start packing up my gear.”
“Is there any chance I could have this photo?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Please. I’m writing a book and he looks just the way I see my hero. I’ll be glad to pay you for it.”
“Well…” He frowned. “Twenty-five dollars and it’s yours.”
“Done,” Susannah agreed, and paid him before he could change his mind.
Picking up the picture, she held it against her breast. Black Wind. She said his name in her mind, felt a surge of heat flow through her.
“Do you want to go out for coffee?” Vivian asked. “Stu’s mom is watching the kids. She won’t mind if I’m gone the rest of the day. Heck, she probably wouldn’t mind if I left town and never came back.
Susannah grinned. “Are you having trouble with your mother-in-law again?”
“No more than usual,” Viv replied with a melodramatic sigh. “I’m too fat, Stu’s too thin, I don’t pay enough attention to the kids, my house isn’t clean enough, I spend too much time writing…” She grabbed Susannah by the arm and dragged her toward the coffee shop. “Come on, Suse. Humor me.”
“Why not?” Susannah said. “There’s no one waiting for me at home.” Any excuse to put off sitting down at the computer, she mused.
In the coffee shop, they took a booth in the back and ordered pie and coffee. For a moment, they talked about writing, and about Viv’s kids. She had four, a boy and three girls, and swore Jeffrey was more trouble than all three girls put together. And then came the topic Susannah had been dreading.
“So,” Vivian said, leaning back in her seat. “Still looking for Mr. Right?”
Susannah shook her head. “There’s no such thing.”
“Of course there is! Everyone has a perfect match somewhere.”
“Listen, Suse, Stu’s got a cousin…”
Susannah held up her hand. She had just ended a two-year relationship and she wasn’t quite ready to start over again. It still hurt to think of her ex, to know that Troy had been cheating on her with a nurse from the hospital where he worked.
“I’m not ready to get on that merry-go-round again, Viv. Not yet.” Perhaps never.
Susannah smiled to take the sting out of her words. Vivian meant well. She was happily married, with four children and a thriving career. And like all happily married women, Vivian wanted the same thing for everyone she knew.
Susannah glanced up at the waitress. “No thank you.” She looked down at the photograph on the seat beside her. Silly as it sounded, she wanted to go home and be alone with her Indian.
She tossed a couple of dollars on the table, then stood up and gave Vivian a hug. “I’m out of here, girlfriend. Give my love to Stu and the kids.”
* * * * *
Susannah spent the next five days haunting every library and historical museum in town, searching for more information on Black Wind, but to no avail. She learned quite a bit about Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and General George Armstrong Custer along the way, as well as a good bit of Lakota history and lore, but nothing about the man called Black Wind.
And then, quite by accident, she saw an ad in the newspaper for a powwow. She quickly jotted down the time and place, thinking that she might go if nothing better turned up.