Ridden Down (Jon Clapier)

3 Words: Flavor, Estimate, Brown

Ridden Down

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by Jon Clapier

Walks-with-fire lay in the long grass of a prairie ridge and watched the war party of Kiowa far below. The morning sun warmed his back as the sight of the warriors chilled his heart. They we're four times the number of his fingers and we're slowly working out the trail of his people. So many, and his family we're so few.

His pony, Buffalo Runner, was hidden in the depression behind him, and a few miles beyond that his family fled from their enemies.

For three days Walks-with-fire and his two brothers had skirmished with the Kiowa, harassing them, slowing them and giving time for the women and children to escape. Walks-with-fire shivered, remembering how his brothers had saved him and he breathed a silent prayer that their spirits would be allowed to help him from the other world before they began their eternal hunt in the sky.

He checked his weapons. Only four arrows remained in his quiver but the missing arrows counted for at least two Kiowa who would never hunt again. His war club was still unused, as well as his flint knife. His shield of buffalo hide was with his horse. That he was still alive he attributed to a combination of the thickness of his shield, luck, and the speed and endurance of Buffalo Runner. And the selflessness of his brothers.

If his family could make it through the gap in the mountains, the one carved by the tusks of the great beast, they could find other tribes of the People. Many of the Arapahoe should be gathering at the river of the Wind, but his tribe would need time to find them, and the Kiowa we're too close.

Walks-with-fire worked his way backwards until he could stand without being seen, and then he trotted to where Buffalo Runner munched quietly on grass. He leaned against the warm brown neck and breathed deeply, enjoying the smell. He tried to gain strength from the horse, wondering briefly if he would ever taste the flavor of roast venison again. Buffalo Runner looked gaunt but his eyes we're still bright as he raised his head and nosed Walks-with-fire.

You and I, we have done well, my brother. But there is more to be done. Our family must have time after they get through the gap made by the great beast.

The horse sighed, snorting as if it understood, and then began grazing again.

There is no more time, my brother, Walks-with-fire gathered the long rawhide thong tied around Buffalo Runners lower jaw and climbed onto the horses back, grunting with the effort. He kicked the horse into a trot and worked his way toward the gap that was visible now, only a few miles away.

Holding to the low ground, he tried to estimate when the Kiowa would see his family. His worry forced him to climb a ridge that had a scattering of trees to hide his silhouette. What he saw filled him with dread.

The valley below him was nearly flat saving for the banks of the winding stream that flowed through the gap. He could see the ponies and travois of his family, nearly there. But he could also see the Kiowa. They had seen his family and galloped across the plain towards them. He could only imagine the yells of victory they must already be shouting.

Leaning over the neck of Buffalo Runner, he said, You have run many miles, my brother. Do you still have the strength we need now?

Buffalo Runner pawed at the ground, sensing his riders urgency. Walks-with-fire gathered a fistful of mane and shrieked his war-cry as they charged down the ridge. The wind screamed past them as they sped across the sage-dotted flats.

Only Walks-with-fire could feel that the stride of Buffalo Runner was not what it once was. Even his great strength wasnt unending. He moved with the horse, trying his best to become one with him, to add to his speed. And he prayed it would be enough.

The Kiowa we're there, on his right side less than a hundred paces away. Walks-with-fire nocked an arrow and shot. They saw him but his shot went wide. If they would turn to pursue him he could yet buy the time his people needed. But the Kiowa ignored him other than shooting a few times in return.

He ducked along Buffalo Runners back as an arrow sang past him. The gap was close. He could see the last of his family going into it. The Kiowa we're baying like wolves. If they beat him to the gap then they would murder everyone. His grandmother, sisters and young cousins.

He leaned close to Buffalo Runners neck and spoke into his ear, Now, my brother, run! Run!

The staccato beat sped up as Buffalo Runner threw all his remaining strength into speed. Slowly he drew ahead of the mounts of the Kiowa. Walks-with-fire dared to believe he might make it.

Slowly the gap became a canyon. Arrows landed all around the running horse but none found their mark. Galloping hoof-beats echoed from stone walls. Walks-with-fire screamed in exultation.

And then the stride of Buffalo Runner faltered. His heaving, foam-flecked sides struggled for breath and he went down in a tangle of legs, dying.

Walks-with-fire tumbled free, trying to find his weapons through tear-blurred eyes. He grabbed his shield and war club, stopping briefly at the dying horse, I am sorry, my brother. Thank you.

Standing tall, he began his death song, knowing that there would only be one possible end to this day.

The Kiowa screamed war cries as they entered the gap and could see Walks-with-fire standing alone. He tightened the grip on his weapons, wanting to wipe the tears from his eyes before he died. The tears made the air beside him shimmer. He quickly wiped at them, but the shimmer was still there. Standing on each side of him we're his two dead brothers, armed and ready.

 

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