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Author's note: Picture, courtesy of `MULESKINNER .COMÍ
* LILIYA *
"Sweet Mary, Mother of Jhasus, but it's cold." Trooper Monaghan's words literally froze as they were expelled from his mouth. The vapour of his breath formed into icicles on his beard, and moustache. He had never been so cold in his life. Why the hell hadn't he rejoined the navy instead of joining this bloody army. He had never been this cold in the navy.
Well, maybe. That trip to Iceland in the winter of `54. God damn. Twenty years ago to the month. Now that was cold. Ice water was freezing it was so cold. The spray from the waves would freeze the moment it hit the rigging.
The sheets would become so heavy with ice they would rip in half. Great sheets of ice fell to the deck, killing his mates.
Clinging to the yards. Trying to chop the ice away so you could stand, then hacking at the ice with swords, hammers, anything heavy. And cold, that wind cutting through the thin clothing.
At least this army allowed you to wear whatever you pleased, at least when no officers were around, and that was fairly often.
`Glad I'm here and not there', Trevor thought, `These buffalo robes are plenty warm.'
If he could only stay in them all day. Actually he could. There was no hurry. Those Yankee whiskey peddlers weren't moving very fast. Their waggons were too loaded down, and their mules were cold. He could easily catch up to them again.
Except that now he may be the hunted. He couldn't afford to stay in one place for too long.
`Son of a bitch. Where was that Yankee bastard? He could be crawling up on me this very minute.'
Reluctantly Trevor crawled out from under his blanket of snow covered robes. Cautiously peering about through the trees, he saw nothing.
Quickly, opening his flies, the cold air nipping at his privates, he exposed himself to the cold air, his urine freezing as fast as it the ground. As soon as he had done up his buttons he rushed back to his robes and dug out his mittens, covering his fingers before they froze.
Looking up, through the trees, he saw thousands of stars, twinkling brightly, in the still, frozen, air.
`God Damn, why couldn't it cloud over? The temperature was so much warmer when there were clouds to hold the heat in.'
Heat. God what a country. In the summer you could fry an egg on a rock and in the winter you could bounce the same egg off the same rock without cracking the shell.
And where was the snow. It's winter, it should be snowing. If it was snowing, it would be easier to sneak up on those bastards and easier to sneak away again.
He was only going to sneak up once today. He had one arrow left. He would kill the second one with his flintlock, and then there would be only one. If he didn't have time to reload the rifle, he had one shot in his pistol, and of course his sabre.
One way or the other it was over today, unless that other one had come back. Damn he wished he could have followed those tracks.
Removing the robes that covered the horses he tightened the cinches on their packs and repacked the robes. No time or chance to light a fire. Another morning of pemmican, washed down with a mouthful of snow, for breakfast.
Stumbling through the dark, leading the horses, walking on snowshoes, it was impossible to keep quiet. He kept blundering into trees, knocking snow off their leafless branches, and cursing when the snow fell in his face.
After a few minutes he came across the trail of the whiskey peddlers. The snow was packed, and frozen hard, from the mules and waggons. Able to take his snow shoes off, and tie them to the pack horse, he could move ahead quicker, and quieter.
Trevor was holding the reins of the horse, tightly, behind him. Which is probably what saved his life. His horse sensed something, and lifted it's head, which pulled him to a stop.
Lightning bright light flamed across the front of his face, as a thunder like shot boomed in his ear. His horse reared, throwing Trevor, who fell, onto his back, onto the frozen ground.
The horse came back to earth, one hoof on each side of him, and stayed there, afraid to move, in case he stepped on Trevor.
Trevor was afraid to move because he couldn't see, but he was afraid to stay where he was, in case his enemy could. Sliding his hand along the leg of his frightened horse, he pulled himself erect until he could grab the saddle horn to steady himself.
Waiting for his sight to return, he leaned against his horse. With one hand he slowly rubbed the mare's neck to calm it while, with the other hand, he removed his bayonet from its scabbard.
A voice came from further up the trail, "Did you get him?"
A second voice answered within a couple of feet of Trevor, "I think so."
The first voice came back in a demanding tone, "What do you mean, you think so?"
The voice beside Trevor answered petulantly, "I can't see. I forgot to close my eyes when I fired."
The first voice cursed, "You stupid fool. You idiot. Get out of there. He might be right behind you."
The second voice didn't answer, and never would. Still blinded by the flash of the flame, from the end of the gun barrel, Trevor had stepped behind the voice of the unseen man and put his hand over the man's mouth. With the bayonet in his other hand, he slit the man's throat.
Silently Trevor stepped back into the trail and with his foot he located the rifle he had dropped when he was shot at. Leaving his horse ground reined he moved forward in a crouch, his soft mukluks, making no noise on the frozen ground.
As his eyesight began to clear, he could make out the silhouette of a man squatting at the edge of the trail. A voice called, softly, "Morgan? Is that you Morgan?"
It was only a shadowy outline beneath the stars as the man brought his gun to bear but Trevor threw himself on the ground raising his weapon and closing his eyes. He heard the bullet pass over him and opening his eyes he took careful aim from the prone position.
His Enfield muzzle loader roared and the flash lit up the night but, again, Trevor had closed his eyes.
His barely seen enemy screamed and began thrashing about on the ground. Trevor reloaded his weapon and then affixed the bayonet to the end of the barrel. Slowly he walked up the trail. Carefully he approached the man, wreathing and moaning on the ground.
Squatting beside the man he put his hand on the man's shoulder, "Where are you hit?" he whispered.
"What do you care?" the man moaned. "Who are you anyway?"
"The law." Trevor answered quietly, still scanning the trail ahead of him.
"Sheriffs don't use bow and arrows, and hunt like Indians."
Trevor ignored the man's statement, "Why did the man go across the lake yesterday?"
"I ain' tellin' you nuthin'"
Trevor removed the bayonet from the end of his rifle and ran the point of the cold steel across the man's throat, "Where is he?"
"Yes. You were supposed to follow him and I was going to come up behind you."
"The others? They are still with the waggons?"
Trevor didn't reply. Leaning back, to avoid the spray of blood, he pulled the blade across the man's throat.
When the man had quit thrashing Trevor wiped his bayonet clean on the man's coat. Fumbling about in the dark, he found the man's powder horn and proceeded to reload the dropped weapon.
After dragging the man's body to one side of the trail, Trevor walked back to Morgan's body. Locating Morgan's weapon and powder, he reloaded the weapon, then moved to his horse. He hung the acquired bullet pouches from his saddle horn so as not to confuse them with his. He would wait for daylight to see if they were the same size calibre balls. The weapons he would drop as they were used, saving his own for the last.
Patting his horse on the neck, and saying soothing words, Trevor assured the animal it was he who was about to mount. His foot slipped, on the icy stirrup, but he was able to retain his balance and, after a second try, gained his seat on the saddle. As he urged his mount forward, his thoughts turned back to last winter when a similar incident had left him without a rifle.
Trevor had shot a rabbit while out on patrol. The force of the bullet had knocked the rabbit off the edge of a sheer cliff.
The rabbit's fall, to the frozen creek below, had been stopped by a root sticking out of the side of the cliff. By lying on the snow and affixing the bayonet to the end of his weapon, Trevor was able to spear the rabbit and retrieve it.
The horse had shied at the smell of the rabbit's blood and Trevor forgot to clean the snow from the bottom of his moccasin. When he stepped into the stirrup his foot slipped and falling backwards he had flung his arms trying to find something to stop his fall. He had managed to grasp a stirrup, with his hands, but had flung his rifle into the air. The weapon and the rabbit ended up on the ice covered creek.
Trevor had spent the rest of the day searching for a way down the cliff but had eventually returned to the fort, weapon less. The Sgt. had been furious at the loss of the gun and the next day, after routing around in the shed had discovered an old Enfield, with powder horn, that had been confiscated from a whiskey peddler.
His thoughts returning to the present, Trevor rode slowly along the trail, the stars twinkling above a break in the trees that seemed to run in a straight line. A short ride, which seemed to last for hours, in the bone chilling cold, brought Trevor to a wide break in the trees.
The clearing seemed to be surrounded with waggons. To one side of the trail, innumerable mules were gathered with several horses, to share the warmth of their bodies.
On the other side of the trail, a small fire burned and two buffalo robed figures crouched beside it. One of the men was holding his hands towards the fire and rubbing them together.
Trevor adjusted the rifles beneath him. Laying along the back of his horse, he started it walking slowly into the clearing. As he proceeded he began to moan.
He was well into the clearing before the two men heard the clop, clop of the horse over the crackle of their fire. The man that had been rubbing his hands above the flames, stood up and backed away from the fire, "Is that you Clancy?" He called, trying to adjust his eyesight to the darkness.
Trevor answered with a loud moan.
Tuning to his partner, the man said, "I think Clancy is hurt B..". He never completed his partner's name as the ball from Clancy's or Morgan's musket ripped through his chest.
As the man fell to the ground, Trevor dropped the empty musket and took a second to calm his horse before readying the second gun.
The man's partner was shucking off a mitt and putting his finger to the trigger of a musket he was bringing to his shoulder. He never completed the manoeuvre as a ball entered his forehead, through the brim of his fur cap.
Again Trevor dropped a musket to the ground and calmed his horse. Slipping from the saddle, and leaving his horse ground hitched, he walked to the bodies of the two men. First he took the gun away from the man on the far side of the fire and then assured himself the man was dead.
When he approached the second man, who had left his musket by the fire, he nudged the man in the ribs. The man moaned so Trevor pushed him again. Again the man made sounds through the blood frothing in his mouth. Trevor unsheathed his bayonet and slit the man's throat.
On the side of the fire Trevor found a coffee pot, which he ignored, and a small can filled with melted snow. Thirstily, Trevor swallowed the warm water. Stepping back from the fire, Trevor found a clean patch of snow and refilled the can. He replaced the can where he had found it.
Beside the fire was a heavy skillet and a chunk of meat. With his bayonet, he chopped off a chunk of the frozen meat and set it in the pan. Within seconds, after setting the pan in the fire, the meat began to sizzle.
Beside the fire was a small supply of Buffalo chips. Trevor added a chip to each side of the fire and then turned over the meat. For a brief moment Trevor wondered what kind of meat it might be, then dismissed the question as immaterial.
Stepping back from the fire he allowed his vision to clear and surveyed the clearing. The only movement he could see was his horse shaking its head and eating snow beside the trail.
Trevor unsaddled his horse and put it in with the mules and other horses. The whiskey peddlers had looked after their animals well and there was plenty of hay on the ground.
Going back to the fire Trevor stabbed the meat with his bayonet and held it aloft for a few seconds to cool. Within seconds the cold prairie air was undoing the work the fire had taken several minutes to do. Ravenously Trevor tore into the medium rare steak before it could begin to freeze. By the smell and taste Trevor realized he was eating Prairie Antelope.
Having satisfied his thirst and hunger, Trevor went to the nearest waggon. Finding it full of buffalo hides, he burrowed his way under the top of the pile and went to sleep.
The sun was well above the tops of the trees by the time the call of nature finally forced Trevor to vacate his warm burrow. Reluctantly he climbed down from the waggon.
At the fire, Trevor broke the skim of ice on the top of the water and drank his fill. Refilling the can with clean snow, he placed it by the nearly dead fire. From the fuel pile, he took a couple of meadow muffins and, using his bayonet, cut them into small pieces. With his bayonet he stirred the chunks of dung into the hot coals of last night's fire. While the fuel became warm enough to ignite, he washed his blade with snow and cut off another steak from the chunk of antelope meat.
In the daylight he was able to follow the tracks of the peddlers back to the waggon that held their supplies. The waggon was well stocked, with provisions for several men, all of whom were now dead.
There was more coffee, bacon, the fixingÍs for sourdough, a hind quarter of what was, by the size of it, probably buffalo, and a front quarter of an antelope. With his blade he hacked off a ragged, steak size, piece of buffalo and returned to the fire.
Putting the buffalo meat in the pan beside the antelope meat, he placed the pan on the fire which was now showing small flames. While the meat was cooking, he strolled over to the bodies of the men he had killed. From each body he took powder horns, bullet pouches, and knives.
Stopping by the fire to turn the meat, Trevor left the guns and the powder horns, and took the bags of balls over to his saddle, which still lay in the middle of the trail, where he had left it last night. Recovering the two bullet pouches from his saddle horn, he compared the size of their balls to those he used in his weapon. Three of them were of the same calibre as his. The fourth he poured into his hand and threw towards the trees.
Back at the fire he pulled the pan back from the heat to allow the buffalo steak to cook a little longer, without burning. The antelope steak he speared with his bayonet and, giving it a quick wave in the Arctic air, began to eat.
The snow, in the can, was melted now and he washed the meat down with the tepid water and then refilled the can with fresh snow. The second steak was cooked now, so he ate again.
With his hunger appeased, he began to look about, wondering how he was going to be able to handle this entire mule team by himself. He wondered what was in the various waggons.
Picking up his musket Trevor approached the first waggon. It seemed to be filled with buffalo hides. Trevor was thankful the temperature was below freezing, otherwise the smell from the hides would have been unbearable. The second waggon was loaded the same as the first. As he got closer to the third waggon, he began to hear mumbled shouts coming from the inside. Leaning his gun against the waggon he climbed up the big wooden wheel and peered inside.
Essentially the waggon was full of buffalo hides with a large space between the hides and the front of the waggon. Lifting the hides that covered the space, Trevor looked down into the face of a young lady. Her skin was dark, her features were fine, her hair was in total disarray, and she had a handkerchief tied about her head so that it kept her from talking.
Trevor climbed down inside the waggon and undid the lady's gag. A torrent of words came out of her small mouth, in a language that Trevor did not understand. Trevor shrugged his shoulders and spread his arms to suggest to the girl that he didn't understand. With much wiggling the girl rolled over, covering her naked breasts and exposing her hands, which were tied together at the wrists.
Reaching into the small cave, that was built into the center of the pile of hides, Trevor used his bayonet to cut the girl's bonds. With her hands now freed, she pulled herself forward until Trevor could see that her ankles were also lashed together.
Quickly Trevor cut her free. Whimpering from the pain, as the circulation came back to her limbs, the girl scrambled to the top of the waggon where she hunkered over the edge and voided her overfull organs.
When the girl was finished she quickly slid down the pile of hides. Putting her arms about herself, she swung from side to side and said, "Brrr." Having shown that she was cold, the girl now patted her naked stomach to indicate that she was hungry.
Trevor nodded that he understood. She then made drinking motions with her hand in front of her mouth. Again Trevor nodded that he understood and rose from his crouch position. The girl crawled back into her burrow and began to rub her sore wrists.
Back at the fire Trevor cut off a piece of antelope and started it cooking. Picking up the can of warm water, he carried it to the waggon and moving the hide covering, climbed down inside.
The girl crawled part way out of her cave and, rolling onto her side, took the proffered container. Thirstily she tried to swallow the contents all at once and succeeded in choking herself.
Trevor slapped her on the shoulders while she coughed a couple of times and then she greedily began to drink some more. This time she controlled the coordination of breathing, and swallowing, and avoided chocking but was still in such a hurry some of it missed her mouth and ran down the side of her face. When the can was empty, she handed it back to Trevor and shook it showing she wanted more.
Trevor climbed out of the waggon and pulled the buffalo hides back across the opening. On the way back to the fire he found some clean snow and refilled the can. At the fire he added some more fuel and turned over the meat.
When the meat was cooked Trevor set the pan in the snow. He speared the meat with his bayonet and picking up the can of water returned to the waggon.
While the girl was eating, he removed his clothing and crawled into the, body heated, hide, cave. Resignedly the girl, when she was finished eating and drinking, lay on her back and spread her legs.
Obviously the whiskey peddlers had been using the girl whenever they had wanted, and she was resigned to her fate of being a receptacle for male fluids.
Trevor had not seen a female, other than Indians, for several months and was not about to miss taking advantage of the situation. Young and full of energy he was randy enough to take her more than once. The first time he gave no consideration to the girl's feelings.
The second time, followed shortly after the first, with only a slight pause for rest. More satiated after the second time, while remaining inside her, he took the time for his hands to explore his unwilling partner.
The body beneath him was young, firm, smooth, flawless, and filthy. It was obvious that she had been kept in this cave for some time and her body was covered with flea bites, male semen, and blood from the buffalo hides.
Though filthy, her face was pretty. Her breasts and hips were small but firm and responded to Trevor's, now gentle, caresses. When Trevor started to move a third time, the girl was inclined to move with him. The two of them peaked and then Trevor slipped his weight to one side and fell asleep.
The girl lay awake for some time while Trevor began to snore. When Trevor had first pulled the robes aside at the top of the waggon and she had seen his face, all covered with hair, she had assumed he was just another of her captors.
At that point she didn't care who it was, as long as they would let her get out of the cave before her bladder burst. She was filthy enough without covering herself with her own offal.
Surrounded by the hides on all sides, her own body heat, kept her warm. Unfortunately the warmth extended to the near portions of the hides around her, and little hopping insects, that would have otherwise been frozen, were jumping about and biting her. She had no idea what kind of pests they were, or where the hides came from. She could tell they were from some hairy animal that must be awfully large and she would just as soon not meet one, while it was alive.
Unlike the others, who would, untie, her hands, Trevor had used a wicked looking knife to cut her bonds. When he first took the bayonet from its scabbard, she almost lost control. She felt sure he had come to do her in. When he cut the rawhide thongs from around her wrists the flow of fresh blood caused such pain, she was sure he had cut her. As much as it hurt she was afraid to cry out in case he might hit her. Normally her captors would kick her when they untied her.
This man actually helped her up the pile of hides and held her hands, to help her balance, while she squatted over the side of the waggon.
She had hesitated to ask him for clothing, for fear of being hit. When he nodded understanding of her plight, she became bold enough to ask for food. When he disappeared without tying her up again, after she asked for water, she began to have hope that maybe this wasn't one of her captors. Was it possible that she was being rescued? After all these months? He wasn't one of the usual men who came to use her.
He hadn't covered the hole after his first visit. Though it was nice to see the sunlight, the air coming in was much too cold and, climbing from her hole, she pulled the hides back over the opening. Before she pulled the second hide over the hole she took a quick look around the clearing.
Back in her little, again dark, cave, she tried to analyze what she had seen. The man, or a man, squatted by the fire, presumably cooking. From the back, dressed in Buffalo robe coats, all men looked the same.
She had seen, to the man's right, the upper part of a man, lying in the snow. The snow around his head was red. She assumed it was blood and she assumed the man was dead. To the left of the fire was another body. This one was obviously dead as his face and the front of his coat as well as the surrounding snow was red from frozen blood. This would explain the two shots she had heard fired last night.
The shooting hadn't bothered her as shots were a common occurrence. Most of the time she never knew who was shooting or why. Occasionally she had seen the hunters shoot an antelope and once she had seen one of them kill an Indian. Two men had held the Indian woman while a third cut her clothes away, with a large knife.
When she was naked the two men made her kneel in front of the third, while he removed his trousers. When the Indian had refused to take the man into her mouth he picked up a pistol from his pants and pointed it at her head. When she still refused to service him, he shot her. All three men laughed about it.
Then they had come for her. Untying her from the waggon wheel where they had had her naked body exposed to the burning sun.
They had forced her to her knees and had given her the same option they had given the Indian. She had three pistols, of flesh, pointing at her face and a pistol, of steel, pointing at her head.
Choking back tears, and vomit, she made the opposite choice to that made by the squaw. She chose to live. While the men laughed and slapped her in the head, she learned how to service them without choking.
Now two of those men were dead. At least she assumed, prayed, the two bodies were that of her captors. Why were they dead? Had they had a falling out, amongst themselves? Was this man the victor? Was he one of them? Where were the others? There had been over twenty when she was first captured? Had they left? Were they out on a hunting trip, soon to return? Were they all dead?
Her head was reeling with questions and worries when the hides were pulled apart and the cold air came streaming in along with the sunshine. The man offered her a can containing water and thirstily she took it and began to swallow as rapidly as she could.
In her hurry she forgot to not breathe and some water went down her windpipe. When she began choking the man slapped her on the back, laughed at her, and said something. When she could breathe again she drank the rest of the water and gave the can back to the man, indicating that she would like some more.
The man left, this time closing the opening. The girl wiped the water from her chin. Now her chin was partly clean.
How glorious it would be to have her whole body clean. To lie in her terrazzo tub and soak for hours. Just to be home with her family. But she had gone over this before, a thousand times. Her family was no more. These Americans had slaughtered her family. Before her very eyes they had shot her father and both her brothers. They had raped and killed her mother and her grandmother. One of them had even violated her little sister. Poor, poor, Pochinka. Only four years old. What terrible perverted beasts these Americans are. Oh, why had her family ever come to this accursed country. These Americans didn't even have their own language. They spoke the same language as the accursed English.
Again the hides were moved apart and with the cold air, came the hairy man. He climbed down into the waggon carrying his wicked looking knife. Something was suspended from the end of it and it smelled delicious. Nearly cutting her fingers on the knife she grabbed the meat and devoured it quickly. By the little light that filtered through the crack between the hides she was able to see that the man was undressing.
Suddenly the meat didn't taste as good. The man was another of her captors. The meat and water were only to keep her alive so that she could service his needs. She should quit eating. She should starve herself and die. Then she would be of no use to them and they would free her.
But what good, freedom, to the dead. No, she would service them. She would stay alive. Somehow, somewhere, sometime, she would get free and then she would find these men.
Though her family was dead they had been wealthy. Now she was wealthy and if she couldn't find these bastards she could hire someone who could. Then they would be dead. To this end she would stay alive.
If staying alive meant pleasing this man, so be it. Besides, what was one more? Had there not been twenty of them already? Twenty men, and how many nights. She had lost count weeks, months, ago.
This man seemed younger and leaner than some of the others but like them he was also impatient. Barely had she finished the water and rolled onto her back before he was on her. Quickly she spread her legs and reaching between them she spread herself as much as possible, so that it would hurt as little as possible. It was over quickly. Two thrusts, a ragged cry from his throat, and a burst of his seed. Now perhaps he would leave.
No, he was greedy. His hands began to stroke her body. At first she cringed from his touch, but then she relaxed. She let her thoughts turn to summer, and warmth, closing her mind to the weight upon, and within, her. A second time she felt the warmth within her.
This hairy brute shifted to one side and let his weight rest on his shoulder. Unlike the others who would simply collapse on her, smothering her with their weight.
After a rest, still inside her, the man began to caress her again. Slower, and softer, than the time before. She felt him swell within her and the warmth of his hands came through the dirt caked on her body. She felt him explore her hills and valleys. She felt him sense the pest bites on her skin and compare the smoother flesh beside the bites. His fingers could sense the clots of filth.
They explored the filthy mop her, once lustrous, hair had become. They stroked her cheeks and followed the contours of her nose and eyes. When his hand tried to lift her small breast, his palm seemed to burn her skin.
Against her will, her body was responding to his touch. His warm caresses were awaking something inside her that she had never experienced before. None of his predecessors had ever made love to her. They were all animals and had taken her like dogs in heat. She had been a virgin when her family had been attacked by this band of outlaws. Unmarried and unbedded, promised to a Count, her deflowering was to have waited until her wedding night on her seventeenth birthday.
Her birthday had come and gone while in the hands of her captives, far from the Count and his palace.
Her mind returned to the present. The heat within her body was intense. Uncontrollably her body was responding to his. She met him thrust for thrust. An entirely new sensation swept through her and she cried out as she dug her fingers into his shoulders, trying to pull him into herself.
Shudders racked the man's body and he collapsed on top of her. Her lungs screamed for air. When the man had partially recovered he seemed to sense that she could no longer endure his weight and, as before, he shifted to one side. Caressing her face softly, he kissed her on the cheek, said something soft in his hateful language, and fell asleep.
Later Trevor awoke, the two of them still connected at the hip. Still lying on their sides, they made slow sensual love that left them both exhausted. Finally they had to pull apart so they could climb out of the waggon to answer the call of nature.
While the girl climbed back into her hide cave, Trevor put on his clothes and climbed out of the waggon, taking the water can with him.
The sun was now behind the trees to the west. Cutting fuel into small pieces, he built up the fire to cook some more meat and melt some more snow.
While the fire was getting hot he checked the mules and horses to be sure they had sufficient fresh snow within their reach. Following a trail of hay he found a waggon full, and making several trips, carried a supply to the animals. In the back of another waggon he found several bags of oats, this too, he distributed to the animals.
Putting the meat in the pan and the pan on the fire, Trevor found a couple of pots and began to melt large quantities of snow. After the meat was cooked, and while the snow was melting, Trevor took the meal to the waggon.
After the two had finished eating, Trevor searched the waggons and found a thread bare towel, a shirt, and a piece of cloth. In one of the waggons he found a couple of buckets.
At first Trevor tried to take the boots and the coat from the body of the peddler he had shot through the head. The body was frozen stiff and it was impossible to remove the items of clothing.
Searching through the waggons, Trevor was able to locate another coat, and some boots. He placed the buckets and clothing in the waggon with the girl. Making several trips with pots of melted snow, he filled the two buckets with water.
Climbing into the waggon Trevor pulled their hide door closed. In the dark he found the piece of cloth and, coaxing the girl out of her hole, he gave her a bath. After he dried her with the towel he gave the girl the rag and let her wash him, using the second bucket of water. Shivering, the two of them crawled into the hide cave to spend the night.
Several hours later the two, satiated with love making and sleeping, groggily, fumbling about in the dark, dressed, and climbed out of the waggon. There was no worry of spilling the buckets of water, for by now each of them had a half inch layer of ice across the top.
Trevor didn't know it but this was the first time the girl had had here feet on the ground in several weeks. On unsteady legs she tottered through the ankle deep snow in the over sized boots.
She enjoyed her new found freedom but quickly returned to the warmth of her cave as the boots only came above her ankles and the coat only came to just below her knees leaving her legs exposed to the bitter cold.
Trevor proceeded to rekindle the now dead fire. While the two had been sleeping, the fire had gone out and coyotes had come into the camp site. As Trevor and the girl had emerged from the waggon the coyotes had left the clearing dragging the antelope meat with them. Avoiding the teeth marks of the coyotes Trevor cut out a chunk of buffalo meat.
After setting some meat to cook, and some snow to melt, Trevor began the task of harnessing the mules to the waggons. Normally a job for several men, it took Trevor a long time. Having never worked with mules, Trevor assumed that harnessing them was similar to harnessing a horse. He did know that draught animals pulled better when working together and he found that the peddlers had staked the mules out on strings.
Assuming each string was a team, he led them to the waggons, where he began to put them into harness, in the order in which they were on the string, hoping that they had been unharnessed and strung out in opposite order.
Of course it is impossible to tell one end of a rope from another so he was only guessing which end he should start at. The sky was still clear and the stars were still bright. The only light in the clearing was that of the small fire. Trevor had no idea what time it was, not that it mattered. In the wilds of the North West Territories no one, and nothing, ran on time. Most people made schedules according to the position of the sun but basically time was irrelevant.
By the time he had harnessed the last mule the sun was well above the horizon though not yet above the bare branches of the birch and willow trees that surrounded the clearing.
While the girl cleaned up the cooking area and stowed the utensils back in the supply waggon, Trevor tied the horses behind the last waggon. The girl, her feet chafed from the over sized boots, stood in the waggon, while Trevor, using sections of rope, tied each of the lead mules to the back of the waggon in front of it.
The sun was well past its zenith when, with much coaxing, Trevor led the first mule out of the clearing and South, on the trail he had followed through the woods. He knew that unless something serious, such as a cougar, scared the lead mule, they would not go crashing into the forest. They would go South following the trail they had made going North.
Trevor stood at the edge of the clearing checking the harness on each animal and the wheels on each waggon as they went past. When the last horse had passed him he walked along the other side until he reached the head of his mule train. Feeling all was in order he waited until the waggon with the hide cave caught up to him and then jumped aboard. Giving the girl a wicked grin, he crawled across the top of the load towards her. With a giggle she disappeared into the cave.
When the two reappeared, from their cave, the sun was below the tops of the trees and almost to the horizon. While there was still some light left, Trevor halted the waggons and after much searching found a pair of pants that, though much too big, with some tucking and tying, would keep the girl's legs warm.
Trevor started a fire beside the supply waggon and showed the girl how to prepare a meal. Leaving her at the fire, Trevor began hauling hay to the animals.
After their meal the girl helped Trevor finish feeding the animals. By the time this chore was finished it was full dark. The animals were still eating so they couldn't travel. Trevor and the girl didn't feel like going back to bed as they were both satiated. As it was dark they couldn't do too much exploring but Trevor began a preliminary examination of the waggons.
Starting at the back, of the mule train, the first waggon they inspected was full of hides, as was the next one. The third waggon was full of barrels. Whiskey. What to do with it? There was little point, wearing out the mules, pulling it all the way back to Ft. Macleod. It couldn't be left where it was or the Indians would find it. There was an axe on the side of the supply waggon. But the noise would scare the mules pulling the next waggon in line.
Trevor untied the mules from the back of the whiskey waggon and also untied the mules, pulling the whiskey waggon, from the waggon in front of them. With a great deal of coaxing, the mules hadn't finished their rest yet, Trevor managed to get the mules to pull the waggon around the waggon in front of them.
When the waggon was off the trail Trevor stopped the mules and then brought them their hay.
Removing the back board from the waggon of whiskey, Trevor pondered on how best to tackle the job.
Not particularly wanting to get showered with rot gut, he didn't relish the idea of simply cutting open the side of the back barrel. If he went through the waggon simply cutting open the tops, he wouldn't drain the barrels, which is what he wanted. He wanted all the barrels to be completely empty.
Climbing into the waggon, he tried to tip one of the barrels over. It was much too large and heavy for one man to move, plus it was frozen to the bed of the waggon. Climbing back down from the waggon he retrieved the axe from the supply waggon and, being sure that the girl understood to stay back out of the way, he clambered back atop the barrels. From the top of the barrel he could swing the axe down below him and the whiskey would not spray on him. It took several good swings with the axe before he broke through one of the staves of the barrel. Within a few minutes there was a lake of booze on the frozen ground and the barrel was half empty.
Some of the rot gut had flowed down the side of the barrel, along the floor of the waggon, melting the ice that held the barrel to the floor of the waggon. Now Trevor was able to tip the barrel. It was still difficult to tip, by himself, because the barrel was still bottom heavy, but with a great deal of heaving, he managed to send it crashing to the ground. Trevor used the same procedure with the barrel beside it.
Standing atop the next barrel, which was now one barrel width back from the tailgate of the waggon, Trevor contemplated his next move, while he caught his breath. Should he continue this strategy for all the barrels? The next ones wouldn't simply fall out of the waggon when he tipped them over.
Strange noises caught his attention and he walked to the edge of the waggon. Below him, the girl was struggling with a long piece of dead tree trunk, trying to lift it onto the waggon. Trevor climbed down from the waggon and gave the girl a hand to pull the log to the back of the waggon. With it leaning on the tail gate, Trevor used the axe and removed all the branches. Then the two of them lifted it into the waggon.
Climbing into the waggon, they lifted the log onto the top of the barrels. The two of them mounted the barrels and with much experimentation, and after several failed tries, managed to wedge the log between the tops of two barrels ,and with their combined weights, were able to tip one barrel over.
Climbing down to the waggon bed, they managed to pry it around, with the help of their lever, and then roll it to the end of the waggon. To their surprise, they found that they didn't have to climb down to break the barrel with the axe. When the frozen wood hit the ground, it shattered, spewing whiskey in all directions.
The fourth barrel landed on the remains of the three that had gone before it and didn't break. Trevor climbed down from the waggon and chopped the end out of it with his axe.
He urged the mules forward a few feet to get clear of the debris. After that, he moved the mules every second barrel and he no longer had to chop open any of the barrels, as each one fell on frozen ground and broke of its own weight.
By the time Trevor and the girl had rolled off the last barrel they were exhausted and the mules were rested. After a short rest, the two picked up all the pieces of barrel stave, that they could lift, and put them on the waggon for future use, as firewood.
Then Trevor moved the front part of the train forward, put the empty waggon back in line, then brought up the rear portion of the train. Once he had the entire train heading South again, Trevor and the girl climbed back into their cave.
Several hours later Trevor and the girl emerged. The mules were still plodding along but Trevor stopped them. By the time he and the girl had distributed food to all the animals the sky was turning light.
While the girl cooked breakfast, Trevor continued his exploring. The waggon ahead of the, now empty, waggon, was half filled with hides. On top of the hides was the front quarter of buffalo, that they had been eating from, as well as a hind quarter. The two would have plenty of meat to get them back to the fort. Which was good because Trevor had his hands full with the mules without having to worry about hunting for meat.
The next waggon was their supply waggon and in it, he found some ladies clothes which, presumably, belonged to the girl. There were a pair of shoes, which were impractical for this weather. The mukluks, he had cut out of a buffalo hide, were much better for her.
The next two waggons were full of hay and oats. The next waggon was the waggon with their cave in it. The last waggon, or lead waggon, contained more hides. The peddlers had had a successful trip so far. Only one waggon of whiskey left.
Soon the peddlers would have been able to turn South. Probably swinging East, to trade the remainder of their whiskey and fill the waggon with hides.
Finding a crosscut saw in the supply waggon Trevor returned to the empty waggon. Disconnecting the team and the waggon from the train he walked the animals off to the side of the trail as he had last night. Between each set of harness, he cut through the waggon tongue, with the saw. Each pair of mules, that he cut loose, he walked to the front of a team and, using some rope, tied the piece of tongue between them, to the tongue of the waggon behind them. Thus, he added one pair of mules to each team in the train.
He knew he would have to keep a constant eye on the ropes, as they would wear through, but it would ease the burden on the other animals. And, he, certainly, had no intention of dragging an empty waggon, all the way, back to the fort.
The girl had put away the breakfast material and, after finding the clothes that Trevor had set out for her, had helped him hook up the last of the animals. While they were at it, they untied the front two teams from the train and moved their cave waggon to the lead.
After helping the girl aboard the new, lead waggon, Trevor got the train in motion and after walking around it once, to see all was secure, he climbed aboard and joined the girl.
Before them, the trees fell back. The mules were passing the last of the birch, and alder, as they left the forest. Ahead of them stretched miles, and miles, of miles. For hundreds of miles, in every direction but behind them, were rolling hills, covered with a layer of white, that glistened in the sun. Trevor had seen this many times, as he had followed the waggon train North. The girl had been tucked away in the hide cave and had never seen such an awe inspiring sight.
The surface of the snow was frozen hard and reflected the sun like pieces of broken mirror, very much like the moon shining on the ocean when a slight swell was running.
Finally the cold became too much and the pair climbed into their cave. A while later, the girl, dressed in her own shirt, the dress and crinolines being useless, and bloomers, which helped fill out the man's pants she was wearing. Taking a look at the view, the girl could see something on the horizon. She tapped Trevor on the arm and pointed. Trevor nodded that he could see.
The truth was that he had already noticed it and hadn't said anything. The girl had seen enough violence at the hands of the men that had captured her, but, short of tying her back in the cave, there was no way to avoid letting her see what was ahead.
As the mule train, slowly, moved South, the little black dots on the horizon became closer, and more distinct. Eventually in the late afternoon, it was clear that the dots were actually tee pees. The remains of an Indian camp. Trevor had seen the carnage left behind, by the whiskey peddlers.
The burnt tee pee, where some drunken brave had scattered the cooking fire, burning out his family. The bodies frozen to the ground, where they had passed out. The body of the maiden, eight or ten years old, frozen to the ground, where she had been raped and left unconscious by some buck. The weeping and moaning of the women, unable to move the dead until spring. The begging of the men for more whiskey. The begging of the children for food, because the men were too hung over to hunt.
It had taken three days, but Trevor had been able to find a small herd of antelope. He had killed two of the animals and brought them back to the village, before continuing his pursuit of the peddlers.
The story had been the same in every village he had passed through, on his journey North.
Trevor didn't stop the mule train in the village. He had no desire to spend any time with the natives. As the train passed between the hide abodes, he leapt from the waggon and walked to the back of the train. By the time the last waggon was in the middle of the village, he had it untied from the waggon in front of it. Coiling the rope about his shoulder he moved to the back of the waggon and untied the horses.
Mounting one of the horses, bareback, he turned the others and led them back out of the village. Riding in a circle, he skirted the village. When he caught up to the waggons, he tied the horses to the back of the last waggon of the now shorter waggon train.
Throwing the rope into the supply waggon, he joined the girl, as she stood looking at the shrinking village. In horror, she watched, as the Indians killed the mules Trevor had left behind.
Trevor knew, that, the Indians, unschooled in animal husbandry, would not feed the animals and slaughter them as needed, they would kill all the mules at once. Most of the meat would be left outside where it would freeze. What wasn't stolen, by coyotes, or eaten by their dogs, would be brought in, to thaw, as they needed it. With any luck, it would keep them alive until the braves could venture forth and shoot some antelope or deer.
The waggon would be broken into pieces and used to heat their tee pees. One or two of the Indians would probably become over exuberant with the dry wood and build too big a fire, burning themselves out of house and home.
Trevor turned the girl so she was facing away from the Indian camp and held her tight. Silently she buried her face in his shoulder.
In the West, the sun was setting. The sky became alive with bright oranges, and reds. Trevor lifted the girl's face and turned her so she could see.
As the display finished, darkness began to settle over the land. The girl was leaning over the edge of the waggon watching the ground pass by when she called to Trevor.
Beside the trail was the barrel of a musket. More pieces of gun were noticed and the girl asked a question with her eyes.
Trevor shrugged his shoulders to indicate he didn't know what the pieces of metal were.
In truth Trevor knew only too well what they were and why they were there. Not wanting to leave weapons the Indians might find Trevor had dismantled the weapons and scattered the pieces. It also helped to ease the boredom of the slow trip North as his horses plodded along the trail left by the whiskey peddlers.
Trevor hoped it would be totally dark soon and the girl wouldn't see the bodies of the peddlers he had taken the guns from. It was getting late and time to make camp but he wanted to wait until the mules were well South of the scene where the peddlers had camped that night.
Trevor had followed the peddlers for several weeks. Every other night he would creep up to their camp and kill the outposts. First he would skirt the camp and reconnoitre the positions of the guards. Then he would take out any that were out of hearing of the camp. He would kill with his knife, those that he could creep up on.
If he couldn't get close he would use a bow and arrow. Night after night, week after week, he whittled down the size of the crew manning the mule train.
Because of the way that Trevor killed, the peddlers suspected they were being pursued by Indians. Also Trevor wore moccasins, or mukluks, and took the horseshoes off his horses. Hit and run tactics that left the peddlers frightened and afraid to sleep. Wearing them down making them careless until, finally, there were none left.
Until Trevor had come West to Ft. Macleod he had never met a native North American. At first, they were a novelty with their dark skin, painted faces, bright beads, and feathers. He and his troop mates were novelties to the Indians with their bright red tunics and their shiny guns and swords.
Having lived with people of dark skin Trevor, unlike his troop mates, did not take an instant disliking to the Indians. He started to make friends with some of them, learning their language and their ways. They taught him how to make a bow, to feather an arrow, and to shoot straight. In turn they expected him to supply them with fire water.
He lost their friendship when they eventually learned that he was not there to get them drunk, but to keep them sober. They felt the association was one sided, Trevor received but didn't give, and as they weren't allowed into the fort, they couldn't steal.
Trevor felt sorry for how they were treated by the American whiskey peddlers. Men, mostly of English descent, who, claiming to be of a civilized nation, would cheat, steal from, and kill, the Indians to obtain their furs. Trevor felt no hesitation of returning like for like when ordered to arrest these men.
At this particular site, Trevor had killed four sentries. The Americans had camped amongst a series of rolls in the prairie known as foothills. Trevor circled the campsite from far away and had been able to make out the forms of the careless men against the fire in their camp. He, with his buffalo robe turned inside out, blended with the darkness and the snow covered hills. Trevor observed the men for several hours and learned the times they changed guard. When they changed shift near midnight, he was in position.
Coming from the East, he had slithered on the snow like a snake. Silently the tanned side of the coat had slid across the snow, until, like an apparition, Trevor had risen behind the man. On his left hand he wore a beaver fur mitten, that he had bought from an Indian. The mitt effectively silenced the muffled shouts of the sentry as Trevor covered the man's mouth. Inside the large fur mitts Trevor wore smaller woollen mittens.
Slipping his right hand from the fur mitt, Trevor slid his, razor sharp, bayonet from its scabbard, the woollen mitten prevented his hand from freezing to the metal handle. A short stroke with his right arm slit the man's throat.
Moving quickly, in a crouch, back the way he had come, Trevor saved time by stepping in his old footprints until he reached the point where he had left his snowshoes. He now had less than two hours before the next changing of the guard. Quickly he circled to the North.
Between his new position and the next sentry lay a patch of small willow that would rattle if Trevor tried to crawl through. He waited behind the dead brush, until the sentry turned to stare at the fire, and then shot him in the back, with an arrow.
To the West of the camp was a small draw along which Trevor was able to walk, crouched, below the level of the surrounding prairie. It was only a matter of crawling a few feet, from the draw, to put him in a position to dispatch the sentry, with his bayonet.
The fourth sentry was just as easy and Trevor was soon slipping over the top of the hill to the South, sliding on his belly, so as not to be outlined against the stars.
Returning to his horses, he rode South for several miles, his tracks, losing themselves amongst those made by the mule train.
At all times Trevor walked or rode at a pace that would not cause him or his horses to pant. Medium breathing was OK but in this cold air, heavy breathing could freeze the lungs. Also if one moved too fast the wind chill could freeze exposed skin faster than standing still for too long.
When the mule train was far South of the old campsite used by the peddlers, Trevor halted the waggons. Trevor started a fire and by its light and the faint light of a new moon, Trevor and the girl began to take the mules out of their traces.
Even with the girl's help, in the feeble light it was a slow and arduous task. By the time they were finished, the last mules to be moved were suffering from the cold.
Trevor realized that in future they would have to stop before dark so they would have the light of the day to help speed the process. This would mean less travel time every day as it was still early December and each day would have fewer minutes of daylight until they reached the first day of Winter. Also they would have to start later in the morning so that they would have more light to hitch up by.
Once the animals were taken away from each other they needed to be connected to the waggons and started moving for the same reason that they couldn't be left standing alone at the end of the day's pull.
The next day was a short day of travel as Trevor didn't start assembling his train until it was light enough to see what he was doing. Without fumbling around in the dark it went much quicker. Also he ended the day's travel before dark and was able to herd the animals much quicker. Though the animals found this much more to their liking it left Trevor with a feeling of frustration.
One can only sleep for so many hours in a day and when the temperature is forty degrees below zero there is not a lot to do out of doors. Neither is there a lot to do indoors when your home is only seven feet long, four feet high, and five feet wide.
For their first long night Trevor devised a means of spending their time. After supper he built a smudge fire in the back of their home. While the smoke drove all the crawlies out of the fur walls of their cave, the two gathered fresh snow. They melted large quantities of the cold white stuff, until they had two buckets of water in the waggon and several pots full of snow melting by the fire.
Removing the dampened dung that was burning in the large skillet at the back of the cave the two stood in the entrance way and gave each other a sponge bath. Though the entrance way was not overly large and was covered it was still very chilly so they washed as quickly as possible. However, when two people are young, of the opposite sex, and without a source of light, washing each other cannot be done too quickly. After their bath, the two retired to their cave, until they were warm.
Trevor slipped on his coat and mukluks and with bare legs and hands he emptied the pails of dirty water over the side. Taking the buckets to the fire he refilled them and took them back to the waggon. Lying inside their cave, the two reached into the entrance way and, using the buckets of water, washed their clothes. Wringing it out, as best they could, by hand, they lay their laundry along the side of the cave, to let the heat of their bodies dry it overnight.
The next morning, the pair rose late, made slow sensuous love, enjoying the pleasures of a bug free home and dirt free bodies, although, still, a bit smelly from the smoke. After a long leisurely breakfast, as soon as it became light enough, they started to harness the mules.
The day was uneventful. The mules plodded slowly along, up one foothill and down the next, inexorably moving South. Because of the short hours of daylight, in these Northern climes, during the winter months, the two only travelled for about five hours per day before it was time to unhitch the mules and set up camp for the night.
The spot they had stopped at, was just North of a spot that the peddlers had chosen for a campsite.
They passed through the peddlerÍs site shortly after they started their travels the next morning. There was nothing to be seen except for the odd meadow muffin, left by the mules, which Trevor picked up. Any that had frozen, before they had decamped, the peddlers had taken with them.
From the trail, the girl could not see the kill left by Trevor. He had made two kills at this spot. Both were to the East of the trail. He had killed one sentry and been surprised by a second. The one who had been relieved had returned. Presumably to say something to the one he had relieved. The man had seen Trevor moving away and had called to him thinking he was the man Trevor had just killed. From a crouch, Trevor had sat back on his buttocks and notched an arrow into his bow. The man was dead before he knew he was in danger.
In mid afternoon, close to sunset, they came to another Indian encampment. Like the one before, there were bodies frozen in the snow and signs of fights. Unlike the previous village there were no dogs barking and no faces peering from tent flaps.
Trevor jumped down from the waggon as it entered the circle of tee pees and looked inside the nearest one. There amongst the scattered remains of a cold fire were several frozen bodies.
Obviously a fight had broken out amongst the drunken Indians. Whether the winner was amongst the dead, now littering the tent floor, was unknown.
Trevor moved to the next tent and here he saw more death. A squaw and two papooses, wrapped in buffalo robes, presumably dead from starvation. Similar scenes greeted Trevor as he looked in each tee pee. All except one, contained bodies. Only one tee pee was empty.
As it was getting near dark, Trevor caught the lead mule just before it reached the last tent and circled the waggons in the center of the encampment. Trevor, and the girl, began the task of unhooking the mules.
After supper, using a torch for light, Trevor more thoroughly explored the other tee pees. He brought back to the girl several items of clothing that would fit her. A dress made of elk skin, which was fringed with animal skin and beautifully decorated with white, red, blue, black, and yellow beads. Also he had found a pair of buckskin leggings that he thought might be her size. These too, were fringed with skin.
For her feet he had found a pair of mukluks and a pair of moccasins. Both brightly decorated with beads and porcupine quills.
For himself he had found a buckskin shirt and a pair of leggings. The leggings were decorated with dyed quills and horsehair tassels. Also he had gathered several more arrows for his bow and confiscated several guns. These he tossed onto their cave waggon. He would dismantle them, and scatter their parts, as they travelled, the next day.
Donning their new attire, the two danced around the fire, in the middle of the tee pee, in imitation of the Indians. As they had travelled South, Trevor had dismounted from the waggon and collected road apples that they had found on the trail. He felt they had a sufficient supply of fuel and could afford to splurge this one night. He built the fire large enough to warm the interior of the tent.
Enjoying the freedom of quarters that offered a little more cubic space than a double coffin, the two, for the first time, were able to look at each others body.
Naked they cavorted about the tent, making love in positions that hadn't heretofore been allowed them, by the confinement of their hide cave.
During their long hours of togetherness in the darkness they had been teaching each other words in their respective languages. By touching and exploring, they had learned the words. Now, by the light of the dancing flames, they visually relearned, the meaning of, the words they had learned by touch. Slang words, Trevor had learned in the Navy, pet words he had learned in the Ewe language from Okoni, and now, the same words, in the girl's language, whatever that was.
Not quite as important, but something equally educating, was names. Trevor learned how to pronounce the girl's name, and she, his. The name Liliya, which gave him no indication of her origin.
Reluctant to leave their spacious new quarters, but anxious to leave this camp of death, they started the mule train heading South, the next morning. Before the day was out, they were wishing they had stayed.
About noon, Liliya, looking around, interrupted Trevor's dismantling of the guns. Pointing to the rear, she quizzically showed him a long black line, stretching across the entire horizon. Cursing, Trevor began to look all around. They were in the middle of a large flat area. Not a hill or a gully in sight. They couldn't have been in a worse spot for what was to come.
Trevor climbed down from the waggon, and guiding the lead mule, turned the mule team until it was facing West, then brought it to a stop. With the limited number of words that they knew of each other's language, Trevor was unable to communicate to the bewildered girl what was about to happen.
Helping the curious girl to climb down, he set her to work unhitching the mules from the lead waggon. Trevor untied the second team of mules from the back of the lead waggon and led them forward and North, until the back wheels of their waggon were even with the front wheels of the lead waggon. The next waggon in the train, he brought in tight behind the second waggon, so that it overlapped the first waggon.
Every so often Liliya would call to him and point North. Trevor would ignore her and wave at her to continue with her work.
Without looking up from his work, Trevor knew that the black line across the horizon was getting closer and closer.
As it got closer, it became higher and higher, stretching from the ground to the sky.
Ahead of the black line, the sky was grey and would soon blot out the sun. The grey, in turn, would turn black, and stretch from the horizon in the North to the horizon in the South. In truth, there would be no horizon, in any direction. Their world would be as black as night and as small as they could reach with their arms.
The breeze that had come up as Trevor had halted the waggons was now a wind. As he worked, it became steadily stronger, picking the dried snow off the ground and drifting it into their faces.
As fast as Trevor could untie one team, from the waggon in front of it, and urge the reluctant animals to start moving their burden, he would move the waggons forward, until he had two rows of overlapping wooden boxes. When he had this accomplished he helped Liliya remove the mules from the tongues of the waggons and tie them on the leeward side of the waggons.
When only the horses were left to move, Trevor helped Liliya into their waggon. Bent over against the wind and pulling the hood of his coat close about his face, he skirted the mules.
Leaving the protection of the last waggon, he began to untie the horses. In the face of the growing storm he managed to untie the last of them as the last of the light left the sky. In the darkness, he strung the horses single file between the waggons and the mules.
Climbing into their cave waggon, he was just in time to catch one of the hides that covered the opening, as the wind was preparing to carry it to Montana. Stuffing the frozen sheet of animal hide into their entrance hole, he similarly secured the second hide and entered their cave.
Without the hides to cover the hole above, the wind whipped snow down, into their entrance. Bundling up their extra clothing Trevor used it to stuff the entrance to their cave. The storm continued to grow in its fury and howled past the top of the waggon.
As the wind grew in intensity the waggon began to rock.
Terrified, Liliya wrapped her arms around Trevor who held her tight and after awhile fell asleep. Frightened, Liliya stayed awake all night, never noticing that Trevor wasn't as frightened as her, too frightened to even notice that he was asleep.
Trevor had been through similar storms. At sea the winds had washed his ship with salt spray, ripping the canvas. In the winter the salt spray had frozen, breaking lines and spars. Last summer, in this very prairie, the wind had whipped dust into their faces, actually smothering one of his troop mates. Thus, nonchalantly he slept.
Had he stayed awake, he would not have been able to reassure her. The words in her language were not known to him. How could he tell her that the terrible thumping and grating sound was caused by the waggon, to the windward side of them, being tipped and banged against theirs. How could he explain that the bangs on the leeward side of them were the frightened animals kicking the side of the waggon or banging it with their heads, as they tried to shake the snow out of their eyes.
When people think of the frozen North, they think of lots of snow. The truth is that the colder it gets, the less it snows. The snow on the ground crusts over as do the rivers and lakes. The weak winter sun is unable to evaporate any moisture, thusly clouds don't form and consequently it doesn't snow.
Blizzards usually happen in warmer weather. Clouds lose their condensed moisture in the form of snow and winds blow it about.
Wind storms in the prairies are similar in winter and summer.
The winds scour the surface of the earth, pick up grains of dirt, or snow, and drive them, with hurricane force, sandpapering off the hard surface and producing more granules, until the air is so full that it is nearly impossible to breathe. The dirt or snow will pile up, in drifts, against obstacles such as fences, trees, people, houses. A drift can be as much as twenty feet deep.
The difference between a dust storm and a snow storm is the temperature. Prairie winters can often reach fifty degrees below zero or eighty-two degrees below freezing on the Fahrenheit scale. Add a fifty mile an hour wind, and you have wind chill factors of one hundred fifty degrees below freezing.
The silence in the wee hours of the morning brought Trevor awake. Liliya, still wrapped about Trevor, like a vine on a tree, had finally fallen asleep. Gently Trevor eased Liliya's arms away from him and slid her to the side of the cave. She mumbled something in her sleep but didn't waken.
Trevor, pulled away from the entrance, the balled up clothing. He moved the clothing into the back of the cave. The opening of the cave was blocked with snow that had piled up against the clothing. With no tools available, Trevor used his hands to dig the snow and shove it back beside him. Eventually he managed to dig a tunnel to the top of the waggon.
A partial moon lit a scene of white and black. Black ruled the world while white tried to penetrate its strangle hold. At the sound that Trevor made, the animals turned their heads to look at him. Snow, cascading from their backs, they turned, from white mounds, to patches of black, above a white carpet.
Sliding down the snow, banked against the side of the waggon and stumbling through the deep snow, Trevor made his way to the supply waggon and found a shovel. His first chore was to dig out the entrance to their cave. He needed to remove the snow from the cave before it melted.
The animals were knee deep in snow and there was a five-foot wall, of the white stuff, to their leeward. Trevor dug a path through the snow drift in front of them and then led the animals out to the open where the snow was only a foot or so deep. Here they could cut through the crust with their sharp hooves and find the dried prairie grass below. That would keep them contented while he found the hay waggon and shovelled the snow off their feed supply.
Surveying the situation Trevor decided it would be easier to move the waggons away from the snow drift. Shovelling under his cave waggon Trevor made paths through the snow to the far wheels. Reaching through the spokes, he dug little tunnels around the hubs through which he could pass ropes.
Hitching several mules to the ropes, he dragged first, one end, and then, the other end, of the waggon sideways. Once free of the snow he hitched a team to the tongue and moved the waggon out to the open.
The movements and noises had finally woken Liliya. She peered over the top of the waggon to see what was happening. Exclaiming excitedly, she climbed to the top of the snow, atop the waggon, and slid down the back end, to the ground.
Running to Trevor, Liliya scooped up a handful of snow and threw it at him. Laughing, the two of them tussled in a snow bank and finally ended their play with a long, good morning, kiss.
Together the two shovelled the snow off the top of their waggon and then set to work removing the second waggon from the snow drift. When all but one waggon was freed and cleared of snow the sun had risen and set. The waggon that had been behind Trevor's in the train, the waggon load of hides, that he had pulled to the windward side, and the fore, of his waggon, was too deeply imbedded in the snow drift. Pull as they might, the mules could only break the ropes that Trevor strung around the wheels.
They unloaded the last of the hay, and wood, from the partially filled hay waggon. One waggon would be left behind when they resumed their journey on the morrow.
Chores done they turned to building a fire. The two hadn't eaten since breakfast, the morning before, nearly thirty hours ago.
Each night the moon became fuller which meant that each morning Trevor could start harnessing the mules earlier. Now with two less waggons to hook up, it took much less time. With the extra mules added to the other teams they would be able to travel faster than before. Except that now the trail was partially obliterated. In many places it was drifted over and Trevor would leave the track to circle around the deep drifts.
It was much easier for the mules to pull the waggons, breaking through the crust and running on the frozen ground, than to try to pull through a deep drift. Sometimes there was no way around and Trevor would have to shovel a trail through the larger drifts. Despite the extra mules, pulling fewer waggons, travel was slower than before. Starting earlier, travelling slower, stopping later, added up to the same number of miles travelled per day.
Three days later they came across another Indian village. The Indians had dug tunnels through the snow drifts from the entrances to their tee pees. The snow piled up around the sides of the tents would help maintain the heat inside.
At this camp, like the first one they had encountered, Trevor left behind the end waggon and team without stopping the train. This time Liliya didn't watch the carnage and destruction, as the Indians slaughtered the mules and destroyed the waggon.
Over the next few days the mule train continued plodding South. Uneventfully, and unknowingly, they passed through Christmas and New Years. To while away their time the two of them taught each other each other's language. They could now, in both languages, name every part of the human body that could be touched with a finger. Every part of every waggon and everything that was contained therein, they could speak of in both tongues. Without paper or pencil they were unable to teach each other how to read or write the other's language and as the open prairie held few objects their vocabulary was very limited.
One morning, during the second week of January, Trevor was awakened by the gentle rocking of the waggon. He could hear the wind sighing about the entrance to their cave. With trepidation, he ventured to peek outside. If another storm was coming, there wouldn't be time to hitch up the mules and gather the waggons.
The first thing that Trevor noticed, as he crawled from his cave, was the lack of the biting cold. When he peered over the top of the waggon, he noticed a slight breeze that wasn't very cold. Hurriedly he woke Liliya and told her to get dressed but not to waste time putting on a coat. Without his coat or mittens, Trevor climbed out of the waggon and hurriedly began to harness the mules. The work progressed quickly as the two didn't have to wear mitts.
Within an hour they had the train rolling South along the trail. Now it was important to be on the trail. Where animals walk on uncovered, frozen ground they drive the frost into the ground. Waggons will drive it even deeper. When warm weather comes it will take longer to thaw out a well-used trail. Trevor had only experienced a Chinook once before, but he knew that, if the waggons weren't on the trail, they would be axle deep in mud, as the warm winds would melt the thin crust of frozen top soil, very quickly.
As the sun rose, so did the winds and the temperatures. Though they wouldn't reach extremes, the winds would become brisk by early morning and the temperatures would reach well above the freezing mark.
By noon the mules were stepping in slush and Trevor was having to dig trails through the soft snow drifts. The snow would stick to his shovel and the work was hard.
Another day without stopping for a meal. Trevor kept the wagon moving until dark. He wanted the wheels to be turning as the winds eased and the ground froze. If they were parked, the wheels would freeze into the mud and he would never get them loose.
Eventually the winds turned to a breeze and then as darkness fell the air became still. The cold returned and the ground hardened. The walking became easier, for the mules, and he kept them going until the waggons' wheels quit cutting through the top of the road. Finally late at night, Trevor was able to remove the harness from the mules, and bed them down. Thankfully the Chinook had been a short one and not one that lasted for days.
By the next morning the cold weather had returned with a vengeance. Having to bundle up in buffalo robes and mittens was a chore after the warmth of the day before. Daylight saw the teams hitched to their waggons.
As the wagons started South, Liliya was surprised by the change in the vista around her. What had been white was now brown. The snow had completely disappeared. The sun reflected brightly off ice. Ice, that had been puddles of water in the afternoon and snow in the morning, yesterday.
Now it was easy to discern the old trail but it was no longer essential to stay on it, as the ground beside the trail was frozen again as though it had never melted.
In the distance they could see an Indian encampment. Other than the waggon containing their cave, and the one with the hay and firewood, their was only one waggon left with hides, and it was only partially full. On top of the hides was their supply of meat.
Several days later, near the end of the day, the moon was full in the sky. Trevor kept the mule train going until the sun set and then by the light of the moon, had unharnessed the animals.
Early in the morning Trevor was awakened by the excited braying of the mules, whinnying of the horses, strange noises, and voices. With weapon in hand Trevor peered cautiously over the top of the waggon.
In the fading starlight he could make out many men dressed in buffalo coats hooking the mules to the waggons. With fear and curiosity he watched until, peering in the direction they were travelling, he could make out, in the early dawn light, the tops of the block houses.
His troop mates had found the supposedly abandoned mule train and were taking it to the fort.
Liliya was half awake, dreaming of being warm in her family home beside the sea. Trevor shook her, bringing her fully awake, and urged her to get dressed. Climbing atop the waggon, he called to the nearest horseman. Trevor laughed at the startled look on the trooper's face.
When Liliya appeared, the two were put on horses and taken into the post. The next two hours were spent in the office of Sgt. Fitzgerald. The two related their stories.
Reports, the bane of every police officer, everywhere. Trevor spent the next two days putting his story on paper.
The first day of his report writing was interrupted by a find in the hay waggon. Beneath the hay were several wooden crates. Three of them were cases of rifles, while others contained cartridges. These weapons were obviously destined for someone other than the whiskey peddlers as the peddlers had still been using flintlocks. The cases contained new forty-five calibre Martini-Henries.
As happy as Trevor was to get back into the routine of being in the fort, he missed being on the trail. As cold and arduous as the journey had been, he had been alone with Liliya.
Now Liliya was in her own room, which men were not allowed to enter. Trevor was quartered in the barracks with other troopers.
As normally happens, the last weeks of February turned warm. False Spring caused the ice to melt and the earth to turn to gumbo. Liliya gave the troopers a hand, packing factory cotton into the cracks between the logs, and gluing it in place with a layer of mud.
With early March came the return of Winter and people tended to stay indoors. A Chinook in mid March brought an end to winter's grip and true Spring began to show up in warmer nights and melting snow. The troopers were sent out on patrols. Liliya had little to do but visit the few stores and homes outside the post, hoping she could find someone who could speak her language.
Trevor travelled West for several days. The trip was slow and arduous. During the day the sun would be comfortably warm but at night the wind was still bitter cold. The horses had a hard job to walk through the mud. Often they would slip and slide on ice, covered by the mud.
With no particular destination in mind Trevor rode towards the Rocky Mountains. Following a small creek that was rippling with cold water from melting snow, Trevor allowed his horses to drink. Leaning far over he dangled his canteen into the water and let it fill with the brackish water.
As he rode out of the creek, following a deer trail, leaving behind the babble of the noisy brook, he heard voices. Two men, their voices raised in anger, were arguing about land.
Cautiously Trevor rode through the trees until he could see three men dressed as farmers standing in a small clearing. One of them pointed a finger towards Trevor and said, "Your land ends at that edge of the clearing. Right where that soldier is."
It suddenly dawned on the three men what the younger one had just said. Trevor, bringing his rifle to rest on his saddle horn, rode slowly into the clearing. The older of the three, and from the looks of the patches on his overalls, the poorer, said, "What the hell? A Red Coat!"
The youngest of the group, wearing mud spattered denims and a new denim shirt, spoke to Trevor, "You lost, mister? You Red Coat's lost the war many years ago."
"Only in the United States," Trevor replied, slowly looking around the clearing for signs of others, while keeping his sights on the three.
The one who hadn't spoken yet, dressed in cowboy garb, complete with chaps and spurs that were caked in mud, said, "This is the United States, Brit."
"The United States claims some territory this far West, but it is far south of here." Trevor replied, "This part of North America still belongs to England."
"The old man stamped his foot, "No it don't. This here piece o' land belongs to me.'
"No it don't," The younger man interrupted, "This here piece of land is mine. And I got the papers to prove it."
"You back off." The old man pushed the younger, who slipped and sat in the mud. "You can't read." Waving a paper in the air he continued, "This paper shows clear as day, I'm standing on my land. Your land starts on the other side of the clearing."
Trevor rode into the clearing. Reaching down he asked to see the papers.
Scanning the documents he said, "These look pretty official. They would probably be legal, except this here land official," he tapped a signature at the bottom of the paper, "doesn't exist."
What do you mean, he don't exist?" The old man demanded, "I just paid him two hundred dollars not two hours ago."
Trevor handed him back his papers, "He may exist physically but not legally. If I were you, I would take these papers back to him and demand yore money back, before he disappears. Those papers aren't legal."
The younger man, trying to wipe the mud from his hands after having stood up, asked, "How do ya figure they ain't legal?"
"Like I said," Trevor replied, "this isn't the United States."
"O' course `tis." The older of the three men argued, "These papers say so. They got a Gov't stamp on them."
"And one day's ride behind me. I've got a fort with three hundred peace officers that will tell you this land belongs to the Hudson Bay Co. It is their land to trap. Chartered to them by the Crown. If you want to live in the United States than I suggest you saddle up and ride South for four or five days. Right now you are in the heart of the Northwest Territories."
It took a few moments for the three men to digest this information and then the cowboy asked, "What about our money? My Pa paid hard cash for this here land."
"You said you only bought it two hours ago. If we hurry, we might get yore money back before the scoundrel absconds."
"I'll get it back," the man said, patting the gun at his hip.
Trevor stared him straight in the eye and said in a cold, quiet voice, "You will leave that in your holster or I will hang you for murder. I'm the law in this area and I don't need any help." Trevor held his stare until the man broke away. Silently the three mounted their horses and Trevor followed them back through the trees.
Several times on their short journey they passed settlers who were cutting trees to widen small clearings. The men Trevor followed, would stop and talk to the settlers.
As they travelled, their party grew. Other men, their wives and children, joined them. Trevor wondered where all these people had come from.
Wading through a small creek, swollen with the spring run off, they rounded a group of trees.
In a large clearing sat three large tents made of heavy canvas. Patched and weathered, Trevor thought they looked like they were made from old sails.
The first tent, backed onto the creek, was obviously being used as a general store. Goods of all kinds were piled around the outside. Two waggons, filled with more goods, were parked along the side of the tent. The next tent was obviously a saloon. The proprietor had erected a hitching rail in front and there were two horses tied to it.
A man had been about to exit the last tent. When he noticed the parade heading in his direction, he ducked back inside.
The last tent had a sign hanging from the front peak that read, `Land Office.' As they approached, a man, in a black broadcloth suit stepped outside and began tying the flaps closed.
With practiced nonchalance he welcomed the group, "Gentlemen, and Ladies. As you can see I've just closed for the day. If you would like to come back tomorrow I would be happy to wait on you."
Trevor stepped down from his horse and drew his sabre. With a quick flick of his arm he severed the leather thongs that tied the tent flaps closed. "It looks to me like you've just reopened," Trevor said.
Before the man could reply, Trevor heard the unmistakable metallic sound of a pistol hammer cocking. He stepped back just in time. A hole appeared in the flap of the tent, followed by a breath of hot air across his face.
Reaching forward, Trevor thrust his sword through the flap of the tent. His parry met with resistance and was answered by a scream. Trevor, twisted his wrist and pushed his hand down, as he withdrew the sword. A loud cry of agony followed.
Trevor held back the tent flap with his sword while, with his left hand, he seized the would be land officer by the neck and shoved him into the tent.
Inside the tent a man was kneeling on the earthen floor. Holding his right hand over a gaping wound in his left shoulder, he tried to stem the gusts of bright blood that were pumping between his fingers. A pistol lay between his knees.
Trevor flicked the pistol across the floor with the point of his blade and turned to the awed onlookers, "Could someone bandage this man's arm?"
Several women tried to push into the tent at the same time and Trevor pushed the land seller further into the tent. "We seem to have most of the people here, so now is probably as good a time as any for you to give them their money back." Trevor told the man.
"Why should I return their money?" The man blustered.
Trevor held his sword at the height of the man's neck, "You do not work for the British Gov't. You are selling Crown land." The man was back pedalling away from the sharp edge of the blood smeared sword. Behind him two rough sawn boards, supported by two whiskey barrels, served as a desk.
The man backed into his desk, knocking the boards to the ground. As he sat on one of the barrels, Trevor continued, "The people you are selling this land to are not British subjects. Myself, I would say we have grounds for trial. I can take you back to the fort and there you will be hanged for treason."
Placing his hand across his throat, in a weak voice, the man asked, "Or?"
"Or, you tell me where the money is, you pick up your saddle, and you ride South."
For two short moments the man looked into Trevor's eyes. Momentarily his gaze shifted to his partner being bandaged by the women. The gunman's moans of pain had finally stopped, when he had lost so much blood that he had lost consciousness.
Rising slowly the man moved to a valise, and showing Trevor that it was empty, began putting clothes into it. Some of the clothes had been lying atop a wooden trunk. After the top of the trunk was bare, the man lifted the lid and showed Trevor the money inside. Picking up a saddle near the back of the tent, the man pushed through the people gathered in the entrance.
Dragging the trunk out of the tent, Trevor gathered the people. "What has happened, is, that gentleman, has tried to defraud you. He is not an employee of the Govt. and the papers he sold you are not legal. If you bring me the papers I will return your money."
One voice spoke up, "I don't want my money back. I want to keep my farm."
"Me too," a voice said, in broken English, "I comed all da way from Sveden. And I have it nice place on da river. I already felled it ten trees to build it my house."
Trevor held up his hands and waited for the babble of voices to subside, "I am not going to tell you, you have to move. I cannot tell you, you can stay. All this land was deeded to the Hudson's Bay Co. It is their land to trap for furs."
A voice interrupted, "I not trapper. I farmer."
"Farming destroys trapping. There is less land for the animals," Trevor replied. "However, that is not my concern. I do not work for the Hudson's Bay Co. My job is to catch law breakers. That man was breaking the law and it is my duty to give you your money back."
"So," a New England accent asked, "you are saying that we can have our money back and the land too?"
"I didn't say that. Maybe the Hudson's Bay Co. will send someone here to tell you to leave. Maybe they will ask you to pay for the land. Maybe they will never know you are here."
Trevor's statement was followed by a few moments of silence which was finally broken by a deep German growl, "Yah. I stay. I take back my money. If this Bay Co. comes, I pay them. Maybe they never come, I have free farm. Ist gut, ya?"
A mixture of voices from many countries echoed the man's sentiments. Trevor had them line up to present to him, the bogus deeds they had been sold.
For the next two days Trevor was busy returning the money to the people. Some of the settlers hadn't been present and Trevor had to ride through the valleys searching for them and repeating the story. When the last of them had been contacted, he returned to Ft. Macleod.
While Trevor had been on patrol, a mule train had come North, bringing supplies to the various police and Hudson Bay posts. After unloading in Ft. Macleod, four of the waggons were heading back to Ft. Benton.
Liliya's English was still too limited to explain where she had come from, so the Sgt.'s only recourse was to send her South, where hopefully, she could find someone who spoke her language.
Liliya was heading for New Orleans and a ship home. After the waggon ride South to Ft. Benton, it was a luxury to sit back in her cabin on the Dakota. With her door open, she watched the water of the Missouri flow by.
In Ft. Benton, Liliya had bought a wedding set at a pawn shop. Looking out across the prairies, her thoughts turning to Trevor, she twirled the cheap diamond on her finger. The Count would not object to marrying a widow.
Liliya held her hand to her abdomen and thought of the strange tales she could tell the Count. Of her capture by renegade Americans, her rescue by a dashing policeman, a whirlwind marriage, the demise of her husband at the hands of vicious savages.
Almost as impressive would be her tales of the climatic extremes, in the land where his stepson was conceived.
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