Dances With Wolves
by Michael Blake

CHAPTER XI

one

 

Ten Bears’s council ended without resolution, but this was not an uncommon occurrence.

More often than not, a critical council ended indecisively, thus signaling the start of a whole new phase of the band’s political life.

It was at these times that, should they choose to do so, people took independent action.

 

two

 

Wind In His Hair had lobbied hard for a second plan, Ride down and take the horse without harming the white man. But instead of boys, send men this time. The council rejected his second idea, but Wind In His Hair was not angry with anyone.

He had listened openly to all opinions and offered his solution. The solution had not been adopted, but the arguments against it had not convinced Wind In His Hair that his plan was poor.

He was a respected warrior, and like any respected warrior, he retained a supreme right.

He could do as he pleased.

If the council had been adamant, or if he put his plan into action and it went badly, there was a possibility he would be thrown out of the band.

Wind In His Hair had already considered this. The council had not been adamant; it had been befuddled. And as to himself . . . well . . . Wind In His Hair had never done badly.

So once the council had ended, he strode down one of the camp’s more populous avenues, looking in on several friends as he went, saying the same thing at each lodge.

“I’m going down to steal that horse. Want to come?”

Each friend answered his question with one of their own.

“When?”

And Wind In His Hair had the same answer for everyone.

“Now.”

 

three

 

It was a little party. Five men.

They rode out of the village and onto the prairie at a studied pace. They took it easy. But that didn’t mean they were jovial.

They rode grimly, like blank-faced men going to the funeral of a distant relative.

Wind In His Hair had told them what to do when they went for the ponies.

“We’ll take the horse. Watch him on the way back. Ride all around him. If there is a white man, don’t shoot him, not unless he shoots at you. If he tries to talk, don’t talk back. We’ll take the horse and see what happens.”

Wind In His Hair wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone, but he felt a wave of relief when they were in sight of the fort.

There was a horse in the corral, a good-looking one.

But there was no white man.

 

four

 

The white man had turned in well before noon. He slept for several hours. Around midafternoon he woke, pleased that his new idea was working.

Lieutenant Dunbar had decided to sleep during the day and stay up with a fire all night. The ones who stole Cisco had come at dawn, and stories he’d heard always singled out dawn as the preferred hour of attack. This way he would be awake when they came.

He felt a little groggy after his long nap. And he’d perspired a lot. His body felt sticky. This was as good a time as any to get in a bath.

That’s why he was hunkered down in the stream with a head full of suds and water up to his shoulders when he heard the five horsemen thundering along the bluff.

He thrashed out of the stream and went instinctively for his pants. He fumbled with the trousers before throwing them aside in favor of the big Navy revolver. Then he scurried up the slope on all fours.

 

five

 

They all got a look at him as they rode out with Cisco.

He was standing on the edge of the bluff. Water was dripping down his body. His head was covered with something white. There was a gun in hand. All this was seen in glances thrown over shoulders. But no more than that. They were all remembering Wind In His Hair’s instructions. With one warrior holding Cisco and the rest bunched around, they tore out of the fort in tight formation.

Wind In His Hair hung back.

The white man hadn’t moved. He was standing still and straight on the edge of the bluff, his gun hand hanging by his side.

Wind In His Hair could have cared less about the white man. But he cared greatly about what the white man represented. It was every warrior’s most constant enemy. The white man represented fear. It was one thing to withdraw from the field of battle after a hard fight, but to let fear fly in his face and do nothing . . . Wind In His Hair knew he could not let this happen.

He took his frantic pony in hand, swung him around, and galloped down on the lieutenant.

 

six

 

In his wild scramble up the bluff Lieutenant Dunbar was everything a soldier should be. He was rushing to meet the enemy. There were no other thoughts in his head.

But all that left him the moment he surmounted the bluff.

He had geared himself for criminals, a gang of lawbreakers, burglars who needed punishing.

What he found instead was a pageant, a pageant of action so breathtaking that, like a kid at his first big parade, the lieutenant was powerless to do anything but stand there and watch it go by.

The furious rush of the ponies as they pounded past. Their shining coats, the feathers flying from their bridles and manes and tails, the decorations on their rumps. And the men on their backs, riding with the abandon of children on make-believe toys. Their rich, dark skins, the lines of sinewy muscle standing out clearly. The gleaming, braided hair, the bows and lances and rifles, the paint running in bold lines down their faces and arms.

And everything in such magnificent harmony. Together, the men and horses looked like the great blade of a plow. rushing across the landscape, its furrow barely scratching the surface. It was of a color and speed and wonder he had never imagined. It was the celebrated glory of war captured in a single living mural, and Dunbar stood transfixed, not so much a man as he was a pair of eyes.

He was in a deep fog, and it had just begun to dissipate when Dunbar realized one of them was coming back.

Like a sleeper in a dream, he struggled to come awake. His brain was trying to send commands, but the communication kept breaking down. He could not move a muscle.

The rider was coming fast. stampeding toward him on a collision course. Lieutenant Dunbar did not think of being run over. He did not think of dying. He had lost all capacity for thought. He stood unmoving, focused trancelike on the pony’s dilated nostrils.

 

seven

 

When Wind In His Hair was within thirty feet of the lieutenant, he pulled up so sharply that, for a moment, his horse literally sat on the ground. With a great spring upward, the excited pony gained his feet and began at once to dance and pitch and whirl. Wind In His Hair held him close all the while, barely aware of the gyrations going on underneath him.

He was glaring at the naked, motionless white man. The figure was absolutely still. Wind In His Hair could not see him blinking. He could see the bright white chest heaving slowly up and down, however. The man was alive.

He seemed not to be afraid. Wind In His Hair appreciated the white man’s lack of fear, but at the same time, it made him nervous. The man should be afraid. How could he not be? Wind In His Hair felt his own fear creeping back. It was making his skin tingle.

He raised his rifle over his head and roared out three emphatic

“I am Wind In His Hair!”

“Do you see that I am not afraid of you?”

“Do you see?”

The white man did not answer, and Wind In His Hair suddenly felt satisfied. He had come straight to the face of this would-be enemy. He had challenged the naked white man, and the white man had done nothing. It was enough.

He spun his pony around, gave him his head, and dashed off to rejoin his friends.

 

eight

 

Lieutenant Dunbar watched dazedly as the warrior rode away. The words were still echoing in his head. The sound of the words, anyway, like the barking of a dog. Though he had no idea what they meant, the sounds had seemed a pronouncement, as if the warrior was telling him something.

Gradually he began to come out of it. The first thing he felt was the revolver in his hand. It was extraordinarily heavy. He let it drop.

Then he sank slowly to his knees and rolled back on his buttocks. He sat for a long time, drained as he had never been before, weak as a new-born puppy.

For a time he thought he might never move again, but at last he got to his feet and wobbled to the hut. It was only with a supreme effort that he managed to roll a cigarette. But he was too weak to smoke it, and the lieutenant fell asleep after two or three puffs.

 

nine

 

The second escape had a different wrinkle or two, but in general, things went the way they had before.

About two miles out the five Comanches settled their horses into an easy lope. There were riders to the rear and on either side, so Cisco took the only route left to him.

He went forward.

The men had just begun to exchange a few words when the buckskin leaped as if he’d been stung on the rump, and shot ahead. The man holding the lead line was pulled straight over the head of his pony. For a few fleeting seconds Wind In His Hair had a chance for the lead line bouncing along the ground behind Cisco, but he was an instant too late. It slipped through his fingers.

After that all that remained was the chase. It was not so merry for the Comanches. The man who had been pulled off had no chance at all, and the remaining four pursuers had no luck.

One man lost his horse when it stepped into a prairie dog hole and snapped a foreleg. Cisco was quick as a cat that afternoon, and two more riders were thrown trying to make their ponies imitate his lightning zigs and zags.

That left only Wind In His Hair. He kept pace for several hundred yards, but when his own horse finally began to play out, they still had closed no ground, and he decided it wasn’t worth running his favorite pony to death for something he couldn’t catch.

While the pony caught his breath, Wind In His Hair watched the buckskin long enough to see that he was heading in the general direction of the fort, and his frustration was tempered with the notion that perhaps Kicking Bird was right. It might be a magic horse, something belonging to a magic person.

He met the others on his way back. It was obvious that Wind In His Hair had failed, and no one inquired as to the details.

No one said a word.

They made the long ride home in silence.


 

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