Issue 21: "Brothers In Arms" Jan 18, 2011 14:54:16 GMT -5
Post by markymark261 on Jan 18, 2011 14:54:16 GMT -5
Weird Western Quarterly
Issue #21: “Brothers In Arms”
Written by Susan Hillwig
Cover by Borize
Edited by Mark Bowers
Issue #21: “Brothers In Arms”
Written by Susan Hillwig
Cover by Borize
Edited by Mark Bowers
“You wished to see us, sir?”
“Yes, come in.” Colonel Trent sat behind the small table he used as a desk and watched the two men enter the tent. One was dressed as a Union cavalryman, his brass buttons properly shined and his kepi set straight upon his brown-haired head. The other couldn’t have looked more opposite in his buckskin clothes and moccasins, with a yellow bandana tied around his forehead to keep his mane of long black hair away from his tanned face. They both stood at attention before the colonel, who said, “I’ve been looking over your record, Captain Savage, and I must say, it’s rather impressive.”
“Thank you, sir,” the cavalryman replied.
“You’ve been in the Army for ten years now...quite a long time, I must say. I’d think that someone with so much commitment and experience might have risen a little higher by now.”
“Actually, I’m rather happy with my position, sir. I’ve always had a good rapport with the lower ranks.”
“Is that the only reason you haven’t advanced, captain?” The colonel gestured to the buckskin-clad man next to Savage. “Because I was thinking your relationship with him might have something to do with it.”
Colonel Trent stood up, plucking a sheet of paper off the table as he did so. “Your former commanding officer made a few notes in your record about this Indian. Like how he tends to show up every few months no matter where this regiment is, and how you sometimes disappear for a while when he does. Fortunately for you, the help he has provided us with in the past was enough for your C.O. to overlook these...excursions, but I’m afraid that period of leniency is over.” The colonel walked up to Savage and gave him a stern look. “I may be new to this regiment, captain, but that does not mean I am unwilling to change the way you people operate. On the contrary, I tend to eliminate any and all insubordinate behaviors, starting with this laissez-faire attitude towards the presence of your pet Indian. I want you to tell him that he is no longer welcome in this camp.”
“No ‘buts’! Indians are no better than wild animals. He’d slit your throat on a whim.”
“Ke-Woh-No-Tay is nothing like that, sir, I swear.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I just...I just know, sir.” Savage’s eyes dropped to the floor of the tent.
“Well, that’s certainly a convincing argument.” Still looking at Savage, Colonel Trent pointed at the Indian and said, “If he’s anywhere within the vicinity of this camp when the sun sets, I’m going to bring you up on disciplinary charges. Is that understood?”
“Yessir.” Savage left the tent once the colonel dismissed him, Ke-Woh-No-Tay following right behind. There were many other soldiers milling about the camp that afternoon, and some turned to look at the odd pair as they made their way over to the perimeter. When they’d gotten a good distance away from everyone, the Indian said, “I’m sorry, Matt.”
“Fat lot of good that does me,” Matt Savage replied. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“What could I say that would change his mind?”
“Oh, I dunno...maybe that you’re my goddam brother? I’m getting sick to death of this ‘Ke-Woh-No-Tay’ business, Brian. Bad enough you don’t want me to tell our sister that you’re alive, now your stupid little secret might get me thrown in the stockade!” Matt took off his kepi and smacked his brother across the chest with it. “I knew this was going to happen when Colonel Bailey got killed. He gave me a hard time too until he learned the truth.”
“Which he did by accident, the same as Bat Lash,” Ke-Woh-No-Tay replied, “partially because you insist on calling me ‘Brian’ when I’ve repeatedly asked you not to.”
“I call you that because it’s who you are: little Brian Savage, who got taken away by the Kiowa so long ago that he now thinks he is one.” He rolled his eyes as he said it.
Crossing his arms over his chest, Ke-Woh-No-Tay said, “I have never thought of myself as a full-blooded Kiowa...but I also do not think of myself as a white man. What’s so wrong about holding on to the identity that I’m comfortable with?”
“Because it’s the wrong one. Besides, don’t you realize how much easier your life would be if you dropped this act? For one thing, people wouldn’t think of you as a primitive idiot like Colonel Trent does. I don’t think he’s aware that you even speak English.”
“It can sometimes be an advantage to have people underestimate you. It makes it easier to surprise...” A sudden shout interrupted Ke-Woh-No-Tay, and both brothers turned to see a commotion of some sort forming elsewhere in the camp. Not knowing if it was simply a scuffle between a couple of soldiers or an all-out attack by the Confederates, the two men ran over there to see what was the matter. Upon arriving, they saw a corporal trying to restrain a colored man, who was shouting, “I cain’t be here! They’s expectin’ me!”
“And that’s exactly why you’re staying!” The corporal forced the man face-down onto the ground and dug a knee into his back. A crowd was beginning to form, and the corporal said, “Somebody go fetch me a rope. I’m gonna hogtie this Nigra and teach him some manners.”
“Belay that,” Matt called out as he and his brother pushed past the onlookers. “What’s going on here, corporal?”
“I caught this boy spying on us,” he replied. “I was out in the woods on the north end of camp, doing my personal business, when I saw him a ways off. Soon as he saw me, he broke into a run, so I gave chase...and believe me, that ain’t easy when you’re trying to button your trousers at the same time.”
Some of the men laughed at that, but not Savage. “What makes you think he’s a spy?”
“He ran, didn’t he? Ain’t no reason for him to run from a Federal. We don’t throw colored folk in chains.”
“No, we don’t...and we don’t threaten to hogtie ‘em, either. Now get off of him before I cuff you one.” The corporal did as he was ordered, and Ke-Woh-No-Tay stepped forward to help the colored man to his feet. The colored man looked about nervously, as if unsure whether this might be some trick. “Sorry about the rough welcome,” Matt said. “What’s your name?”
“Andrew,” the colored man said, “an’ I ain’t no spy. I was just lookin’ for firewood, an’ I strayed too far from camp.”
“What camp is that? Are you with the Rebs?” It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption: even though the Emancipation Proclamation had been in effect for well over nine months, there were still many Negroes who remained loyal to their masters, some of whom had brought slaves along to attend them after they’d joined the Confederate Army.
Andrew shook his head vigorously, saying, “No, sir. I’d sooner spit on a Reb than work for one. I ain’t never lettin’ ‘em toss me back in chains.”
“So you’re a runaway, then?” Ke-Woh-No-Tay asked, which made the colored man stiffen under his grip. “Don’t worry, I’ve helped many a runaway travel north to freedom, and I can help you as well.”
“Don’t need no help. Miss Conjura’s takin’ good care of us...but she’s gonna be awful cross if’n I don’t come back soon.”
“Who are you to be threatening us, boy?” the corporal snapped.
“Shut it, mister,” Matt ordered, then said to Andrew, “Look, I believe that you’re not a spy, but I can’t just let you go, either. My friend and I are going to escort you back to your camp, and if you’ve been on the level with us, then you have nothing to worry about. Okay?”
“Miss Conjura ain’t gonna like me bringin’ strangers around,” Andrew said.
“Let us worry about Miss Conjura.” Matt pointed towards the woods, and Andrew turned to lead the way. Ke-Woh-No-Tay followed close behind him, but Matt hesitated a moment to tell one of the other soldiers, “Keep mum about this for now. If we’re not back in an hour, let Colonel Trent know so he can send some troops after us.”
“You keep goin’ on French leave like this with that Indian of yours, cap’n, and you’re gonna find yourself in some mighty hot water,” the soldier replied.
“Don’t I know it,” Matt muttered, then ran to catch up with the others.
* * * * * *
The runaway’s camp was roughly a half-mile away from the Federals’, though calling it a camp was being generous. There were no tents in sight, and perhaps six blankets to shield the twenty Negroes present -- a mix of men, women, and even a few children -- from the cool night to come. A single fire burned in the center of camp, with a small cooking pot bubbling above it. Upon seeing Matt and Ke-Woh-No-Tay, a murmur of concern ran throughout the colored folk, but it died just as quickly as it started when one of them approached the newcomers. She was a young black woman, small and slender, with a long, mustard-colored scarf wrapped artfully over her hair and around her neck -- it stood out in contrast to the burgundy homespun dress she wore. On her feet were a pair of black high-button shoes that seemed far too clean for someone standing in the middle of the woods. She looked up at each of them with a gentle smile before saying to Andrew, “We were wondering where you’d gone. Made some new friends, I see.”
Andrew hung his head low. “I’m sorry, Miss Conjura. I wasn’t payin’ no attention to where I was goin’. I didn’t mean to break the circle.”
“I know, Andrew, I know...but now I’m going to have to lay it out again. That takes up more power.” Her voice was soft, with an accent that bespoke of a Northern upbringing. “I need to conserve as much as possible so that we can finish our journey tomorrow.”
“I’m really sorry. I’ll stay behind if’n I have to...”
“No one is staying behind, I promise you that.” She touched the side of his face, and his expression brightened a little. “Best go to your wife now, she’s been worried...and no more wandering off.” As Andrew departed, she turned her full attention to the other men. “I want to thank you for letting him return. I haven’t lost one of my charges yet, and I hope I never will.”
Matt gave her a nod. “You’re very welcome, Miss...Conjura, is it?”
The woman’s gentle smile broadened. “My given name is ‘Kajumba’, which means ‘beautiful’ in the African tongue. Many people find it a difficult name to say, so I have accepted ‘Conjura’ as an alternative.”
“I believe I’ve heard of you before,” Ke-Woh-No-Tay said, “from members of the Underground Railroad. Some of them claim you use magic to ferry slaves to Canada.”
“I have rather unique ways of doing things, yes. You can call it magic if you like.” She tilted her head and shrugged, a gesture that made her young face look even younger. “And what of your name? I sense that you have more than one.”
Lifting an eyebrow, Ke-Woh-No-Tay answered, “I am known as ‘Scalphunter’ by many members of the Railroad.”
“Then Scalphunter you shall be here. And what shall I call you, my dear captain?”
“Savage will do fine,” Matt said. He didn’t consider himself racist towards blacks in the least, but this woman’s behavior seemed strange to him. It was the assertive, confident way she acted, not at all like he’d seen other Negroes behave around white people. Then again, nearly every Negro he’d ever met before was, or had once been, a slave. Conjura, on the other hand, carried herself like she was unaware that there was any difference between herself and the two men standing in front of her. He tried to put it out of his mind as he told her, “On behalf of the United States Army, I’d like to offer you and your charges our protection. My regiment is camped not far from here, and I’m sure we could arrange an escort...”
“That won’t be necessary, Captain Savage,” Conjura interrupted. “We’ve come this far by ourselves, and I don’t want you to have to worry about us should you be attacked.”
“Pardon my saying so, but what will you do if you’re attacked, either by the Rebs or any locals you might come across? I don’t see any guns...how would you people fight them off?”
“They have me to fight for them, captain. That’s all they need.” There was no hint of ego in her words, just a simple statement of fact. “Now, unless you want to get in trouble with your superior again, I suggest you head back to your own camp. And be quick about it: I have to lay out a new circle before it gets dark, and you’re standing right in the middle of it.”
Matt opened his mouth to speak, then shut it. If this woman wanted to risk her group, it was her choice, not his. He couldn’t very well force them to come to his camp. “Fine,” he said after a while, “but if you change your mind, we’re just a half-mile south.” He and Ke-Woh-No-Tay turned around and began to walk back the way they’d come. When he caught his brother looking over his shoulder towards the runaways, Matt asked, “There a problem?”
“I’m thinking I’d better stay with them.”
“You think they’re risking their necks out here, too?”
“That’s not it at all,” replied Ke-Woh-No-Tay, shaking his head. “If the stories I’ve heard about her are true, I’d say Conjura can handle any trouble the Rebs throw at them.”
“What, you mean that stuff about her using magic?” Matt scoffed. “Now I know you’ve been with the Indians too long.”
“She knew you were in hot water with Colonel Trent.”
“A vague statement like the one she made doesn’t equal magic powers.”
“She knew I had more than one name.”
“Yeah, but she didn’t say any of them, she just ‘sensed’ it, whatever that means.”
Ke-Woh-No-Tay grumbled, “Fine, she’s not magic. She’s just an ordinary colored girl with very clean shoes...but I should still stay with them.”
“And why is that?”
“Because Colonel Trent kicked me out of your camp. Remember?”
Matt stopped walking. “Aw, Hell, I forgot about that part.”
“Yeah, I noticed. What were you planning on doing, hiding me under your bedroll?”
“I dunno, I haven’t had a chance to think about it. Hell.” Matt took off his kepi and slapped it against his leg. “I can’t just let him run you off like this. You’re my brother.”
“I know that, but he doesn’t, and you know I’d prefer to keep it that way.”
“Yes, and it’s asinine! To Hell with your secrets, I’m gonna tell him!” Matt began to march in the direction of the Federal camp again, but Ke-Woh-No-Tay grabbed him by the shoulder. “Let go of me, you stupid Injun!” he blurted out, then realized what he’d said. “Christ...Brian, I didn’t mean that.”
“I think a part of you did.” He didn’t sound sad or angry when he spoke, and that seemed to make the words sting more. “Maybe it’s time you stop trying to make me the brother you want me to be, and just let me be myself.”
“So...this is it? After four years of us getting reacquainted, you’re just gonna disappear from my life again?”
“Until this war is over...perhaps I should.” Ke-Woh-No-Tay shook his head. “I don’t fit in your world, and my presence in it doesn’t appear to be helping you any. So it’d be best for both of us if I removed myself from it for now. If needs be, we could use Bat Lash as a go-between. The colonel shouldn’t object to his presence as loudly.”
“No...no, I won’t let you just wander off. You’re my brother...”
“Only by birth. Other than that, we’re nearly strangers to each other. You need to face up to that, captain.” Matt took notice that, already, Brian was distancing himself by calling his brother by rank instead of by name. “I’ll follow you back to camp and collect my horse, and after that, we will part ways.”
There was a long silence, barely broken when Matt finally voiced a resigned “Okay.” The two men continued walking back to the Federal camp, neither saying a word. When the other soldiers saw them returning, a few approached Matt to inquire about their little excursion. Matt talked to them in an almost mechanical fashion, his mind more on wanting to spend every last available second with his brother. Perhaps, now that they were back at camp, he could talk Brian out of it, and they could think of some other plan that didn’t involve his brother vanishing like he had decades before.
But by the time Matt pried himself away from the curious soldiers, Ke-Woh-No-Tay, alias Brian Savage, was already gone.
* * * * * *
“I knew you’d be back soon.” Conjura was walking slowly around the perimeter of the runaways’ camp, a small leather pouch in her hands, from which she removed pinches of a grainy mixture that she sprinkled onto the ground. She hummed a tune under her breath as she did so, and Ke-Woh-No-Tay noticed that the tune didn’t seem to stop even as she talked to him. “I’m almost done with the circle, so hurry up and get on this side before I close it up.”
“What exactly are you doing?” Ke-Woh-No-Tay asked, sidling his horse next to her.
“Building a fence to keep folks away from camp. Anybody that steps into this circle from the outside is gonna regret it right quick.”
He looked at the mixture as it left her slim fingers. “Is that salt?”
“Partially. Salt’s always good for making barriers, even against regular folks. Will you get inside already?” Despite the urging tone in her voice, the notes of the tune she hummed didn’t waver a bit. That oddity was enough to make him obey, and he guided his horse across Conjura’s path, though he avoided crossing over the pale white line she’d made upon the ground. “Thank you. Now, don’t you dare cross back until I say so. Can’t keep redoing this.” She walked past the area Ke-Woh-No-Tay just treaded upon, sprinkling more of the mixture as she went. About twelve feet away lay the beginning of the circle, and when Conjura tossed down the last handful to connect the two ends, Ke-Woh-No-Tay felt an odd shiver go up his spine. She waved her hand in the air above the spot, saying something that he couldn’t understand, then she turned to him with that gentle smile. “There we are, safe as houses.”
“Do you really think a line of salt is enough to keep trouble away?” he asked as he dismounted.
“What do you think?”
“I think that even the most powerful shaman usually keeps a good, sturdy knife at hand.”
“Then I suppose it’s good that you decided to join us.” She wiped her hands together to get rid of the last bits of salt as she began to walk towards the heart of the camp. “I hope that you brought your own provisions. We don’t have much to spare.”
“You’re not even going to ask me why I came back here?”
Conjura glanced over her shoulder at him. “I already know why you came back, but I am not sure if you know why yet. You should know by the end of this trip, though.”
Ke-Woh-No-Tay furrowed his brow. He had some experience with shamans, back from his days with the Kiowa, and knew that they could sometimes speak in riddles, ones that required a good amount of thinking in order to find the wisdom in them. Conjura appeared to be doing the same to him right now. He also knew Matt would write off her words as nonsense, and would probably think Ke-Woh-No-Tay a fool for having any faith in her, despite what the other people on the Underground Railroad had said regarding her abilities. Just another example of the gulf that lay between the two men.
None of the runaways possessed horses, so Ke-Woh-No-Tay found a spot on the edge of camp (inside the circle, of course) where some long grass grew and tethered his animal there. He had indeed brought his own provisions, and had even procured a couple of extra blankets and some dry rations before leaving the Federals’ camp so that he had something to share amongst the coloreds. They seemed wary of his presence, but Conjura assured him that Scalphunter was a friend, and they soon began to relax. As the sun set, they began to bed down for the night, huddling together by twos and threes under the blankets in order to keep warm. Ke-Woh-No-Tay offered to stay up and keep watch over the camp, but as he was checking the rounds in his pistol, Andrew approached him and said, “Miss Conjura told me I gotta take first watch, and you can take over once you done talkin’ with her.”
“Is something wrong?”
Andrew shrugged. “Dunno, she just said y’all have to talk a bit.”
Ke-Woh-No-Tay was puzzled, but he headed off in the direction indicated by Andrew. A couple of blankets had been hung up between the trees at one end of camp, and he could tell by the shadows cast against the fabric that a small fire was burning behind them. “Conjura?” he said as he approached the screen of blankets.
“I am here, Scalphunter,” she replied. He walked past the blankets to see Conjura sitting cross-legged in front of the fire, her eyes closed. She had removed her scarf, revealing her close-cropped black hair, and had unbuttoned the top half of her dress just enough to expose an intricate golden pattern that lay across her skin, which he surmised to be some kind of tattoo. It started just below her collarbone, arching in graceful curves across her shoulders and encircling her neck, and Ke-Woh-No-Tay could even see it glittering beneath her hair. Perhaps it was merely a trick of the flames, but the entire pattern seemed to glow with a light of its own. Her eyes remained closed as she said, “Please, sit with me a while.”
He did as she asked, sitting down so that the fire lay between them. “Andrew said you needed to speak with me?”
“I don’t need to at all...but you need to hear what I have to say.” Conjura leaned close to the fire -- far too close, Ke-Woh-No-Tay thought -- and blew into the flames. A puff of sweet smoke issued up and swept over the two of them, reminding Ke-Woh-No-Tay of his experiences with sweat lodges. “I have been meditating in preparation for tomorrow, letting my mind wander up and down the various patterns of force that hold our world together. My marks reflect my ability to control these natural forces, and they have grown because of it.” One of Conjura’s hands crept up to the hollow of her throat, touching a particularly elaborate section of her tattoo there. “My first mark was rather small, but it was enough to catch the midwife’s attention, and know that I was special. She talked my mother into sending me north, so that I could grow up in a safe place and fulfill my destiny...one that didn’t involve chains.”
Ke-Woh-No-Tay cocked an eyebrow. “You were born into slavery?”
“That’s what I was told by the family that raised me. I never knew that life, nor my birth family, because my mark told others that I needed to be kept as far from that life as possible.” Her hand continued up her neck and touched a spot just below her ear, saying, “When you first came to our camp, I saw your own mark, and as I was meditating, I saw how it helped you find your family, and the life you were taken from.”
Scalphunter’s own hand reached up and covered the strawberry-colored birthmark on his neck, right where Conjura had indicated. “I suppose it did,” he said quietly, “though it wasn’t a life that I was even aware of until that moment.” He recalled that incident four years ago, when Matt prevented him from being hung because his brother recognized the birthmark. Shaking his head, Ke-Woh-No-Tay told her, “I sometimes think, especially lately, that I might have been better off not knowing about that other life.”
“Oh, that’s a terrible thing to say. Had your brother not realized who you were, you would be dead now. More than that, you never would have become the Scalphunter, and helped so many slaves find their way to freedom. How would that be better?”
“There would have been others to help those slaves.” Scalphunter didn’t question how Conjura knew so many secret things about him: she was a person steeped in magic, and people like that had ways of seeing the world that didn’t involve normal sight. It made him uncomfortable to know that a stranger could learn so much about him with so little effort, but he trusted her to use the information wisely. “I have made no great difference, save to cause my brother grief because I am not the man he wishes me to be.”
“No great difference?” Though her eyes were still shut, her eyebrows raised in surprise as she let out a chuckle. “Didn’t you save the President’s life last year? Can you imagine what would have happened to our already-fragile Union had those assassins carried out their task?” She nodded at him, saying, “You are very important, Scalphunter, both to those you have helped and to those that love you. The so-called ‘grief’ you’ve caused your brother is nothing compared to the guilt he’s felt his entire life because he thought you were dead. This is why he tries so hard to keep you close, to reconnect with you. When it comes to family, a person will go to extraordinary lengths to do what they think is right. For my mother, that length was sending her only daughter on the road to freedom while she stayed behind. For your brother, he would rather give up his military career than lose you once more.”
Ke-Woh-No-Tay shook his head again, saying, “He’d be a fool for doing so.”
“No, he’d be obeying the command of his heart, through which pumps the same blood that resides within you. He understands this is a command that shouldn’t be denied, while you will always struggle to hear it.” Through the smoke, he could see a pall of sadness come over Conjura’s face. “I see a day, Scalphunter, when you finally accept your white heritage and begin to live as one of them, and this will make your brother very happy. But he will be taken from you not long afterward, and then you will know what true grief is, because you will regret all those years you wasted by denying your heritage.” She opened her eyes then, and began to button her dress back up. “I suggest you keep what I said in mind when you go and greet him.”
He was about to ask what she meant about the greeting when he heard Andrew call out, “Miss Conjura! It looks like that Federal’s headin’ back here!”
Matt? Ke-Woh-No-Tay thought, then jumped to his feet when he heard his brother scream. He tore off across the camp in the direction the sound had come from, and he soon found Matt writhing on the ground. Matt’s horse stood nearby, and while it was shaking its head about and nickering, it certainly didn’t appear to be in the same amount of distress as its owner. “What’s wrong with him?” Ke-Woh-No-Tay asked the runaways who were gathering around to watch. “Did one of you shoot him?”
“No, he simply entered the circle.” Conjura came up beside Ke-Woh-No-Tay, her hands deftly wrapping her scarf around her head and neck once more. “I told you anybody that came in from the outside would regret it.” She nodded towards the horse. “Doesn’t do a thing to animals, though. They’re innocent parties.”
“So is he!” Ke-Woh-No-Tay knelt down next to Matt, whose eyes had rolled up into his head as he gasped for breath. “Whatever you did to him, stop it now!”
“It’s not going to kill him,” Conjura explained, “so calm down and hold him still.” He did as she asked, pinning Matt’s arms down as Conjura sat on the ground beside Matt’s head and placed her hands over his face. She spoke softly to the captain, using words that were unfamiliar to Ke-Woh-No-Tay, until Matt’s writhing lessened to just a few fits and jerks. After a minute, those faded as well. “That was a very stupid thing you did, Captain Savage,” she told him once his breathing became normal.
“What happened?” Matt groaned. “Felt like something was digging into my brain.”
“Something was, in a way,” she replied with that gentle smile of hers. “I set up a spell that shuts down a person’s mind for a few hours. Some pass out immediately, others struggle against it like you did and just cause themselves pain. Much more effective than guns or knives...don’t you think, Scalphunter?” She looked up at the Kiowa warrior.
“Very much so, but you need to learn to distinguish between friend and enemy.” He helped Matt to his feet, then asked, “What are you doing here? If the colonel finds out...”
“The colonel can go to Hell for all I care,” Matt said. “I’m through with that nonsense.”
“What do you mean?” Then Ke-Woh-No-Tay thought of what Conjura had said mere minutes before Matt’s arrival. “You...you quit the Army? Just so you won’t lose track of me?”
“I think ‘deserted’ is the word Colonel Trent would use, but yeah.” Matt rubbed a hand over his face, as if trying to wipe away the lingering effects of Conjura’s spell. “I’m sick of it, Brian. I’m sick of the way the colonel and the other soldiers treat you just because they think you’re an Indian. I shouldn’t have to tell them you’re my brother just so you can stay around. My word should be good enough.” He sighed. “But it’s not good enough for them, even after I’ve given them ten damn years of my life. So if I’ve got to choose between losing my only brother twice in one lifetime or keeping him...well, you see the answer to that.”
Ke-Woh-No-Tay stared at him in disbelief. “You can’t be serious. They’ll hang you if they catch you!”
“Either that or throw me in prison, I suppose...but that’s assuming they do catch me.” Matt glanced at Conjura and the other coloreds standing not far away. “You’re all headed to Canada, right? Would you have any problem with one lowly white boy tagging along?”
“I believe that decision should be up to Scalphunter,” Conjura answered, “as he has the most to gain -- and lose -- by you joining us.”
Matt looked at him expectantly, and after a moment, Ke-Woh-No-Tay said with a note of reluctance, “If this is what your heart says you must do, then I cannot stop you.”
* * * * * *
Scalphunter didn’t sleep at all that night. Even after one of the other runaways took over the night watch for him, he lay awake upon his bedroll thinking about Matt’s reckless decision. How could the man abandon his life just for the sake of a brother who barely acknowledged their kinship? Ke-Woh-No-Tay had made woefully few personal connections over the years, and certainly none that could be considered familial. Even with Matt, he thought of him merely as a good friend, despite the knowledge of their shared blood. The brotherly bond had been broken when the child once known as Brian Savage was only three years old, and seemed irreparable no matter how hard Matt tried to graft his own memories and feelings onto that stunted part of Ke-Woh-No-Tay’s soul. Not even this selfless act on Matt’s part could bring forth emotions that didn’t exist, other than perhaps guilt and pity. Every time he glanced over at Matt’s sleeping form, he could picture the man swinging from a noose while his former Union comrades glared up at him in contempt...an empty sacrifice made to a blind and deaf god.
Morning came soon enough, and the runaways prepared to leave alongside their new companions. As they packed up what few belongings they’d brought with them, Conjura walked through the camp, speaking to them of the trip ahead. “I’ve built up a good reserve of power right here,” she said, pressing her fist against a spot at her midsection, “so as soon as I find a nice strong path home, we’ll jump right on top of it.”
“Is we hoppin’ a train, miss?” one of the children asked her.
“Oh no, this is better than a train,” she answered, bending down so as to look the child in the eye. “This is going to be like stepping from one room in a house to another. Quick as a wink!” She skidded one palm against the other to convey the speed of it.
One of the other children nearby appeared disappointed. “But if there ain’t no train, why’s all the grownups call a railroad?”
Conjura laughed, a musical sound that echoed off the trees. “Oh, you precious thing! Come here!” She reached out and hugged the child tight and laughed some more.
Off to the side, Matt and Ke-Woh-No-Tay watched this display of affection. “That girl really is something else, isn’t she?” Matt said. “She’s got them all convinced this trip’s going to be over in the blink of an eye instead of hundreds of miles over hostile territory.”
“I wouldn’t sound so sure about that,” Ke-Woh-No-Tay replied. “If she says it’ll be a fast trip, then I reckon it will be.”
“Let me guess...more magic nonsense?” He snorted.
“The ‘nonsense’ laid you out pretty good last night, or have you forgotten already?”
Matt cringed at the memory. “I’m still not sure what that was. I’m not ready to label everything I don’t understand as ‘magic’, though. ‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth’, as the saying goes.” Ke-Woh-No-Tay didn’t know a lick of Shakespeare, however, so the quotation meant nothing to him.
The group set out not long afterward, Conjura taking the lead as they moved through the woods. Both Matt and Ke-Woh-No-Tay offered their horses to members of the party that were too old to make good time walking -- the pair of animals was kept in the center of the group, while the two brothers took up position on either flank with their pistols at the ready in case of trouble. An eerie silence settled across all present when they eventually came to a dirt road that cut through the woods. None of them dared to set foot upon it at first, then Conjura went and stood in the middle of it for a full minute, her face turned to the sky with her eyes closed. Once she nodded and gestured to the others that all was well, they proceeded on down the road.
After about two hours of walking, Conjura suddenly called for them to halt. “We’re really close to a path,” she told them, then pointed off to their left. “It’s over thataway...feels a little wobbly, but I think I can shore it up.” She started to walk back into the woods, but not before saying, “You keep everybody together for me, Scalphunter. This might take a bit.”
Matt looked over at his brother and raised his eyebrows in a silent question, to which Ke-Woh-No-Tay responded with a shrug. To the others, he said, “Everyone sit a while and rest, but be ready to move again if we need to.” As the runaways began to settle down at various points along the roadside, Ke-Woh-No-Tay watched Conjura. She had stopped in a small clearing in the woods, and was now holding her hands up in the air, palms outward, and was moving them about like she was tracing the outline of something only she could see. After a few minutes of watching her do this, Ke-Woh-No-Tay could almost swear that he saw something as well. “Matt,” he whispered huskily, “come over here a minute.” When his brother came alongside, Ke-Woh-No-Tay gestured towards the young woman and said, “Tell me...what sort of label would you put on that?”
“I...I don’t know,” Matt replied with a hint of fear. He stared in astonishment as a shimmering oval of light began to form in the air. It was only about three feet long at first, but then Conjura slowly started to move her arms in ever-widening circles, sometimes bending at the knees or stretching up on her tiptoes in order to lengthen the oval vertically. Minutes slipped past, and soon the rest of the group was gathering behind the two brothers, all of them enrapt at the spectacle taking place. When the oval was about six feet tall and three feet wide, Conjura closed her hands so that only her index fingers stuck out, then pushed them into the center of the oval and wiggled them about until she’d made a little hole. Then she opened her hands and ran her palms along the edges of the hole so that it slowly began to widen. When it was barely ten inches wide, Matt let out a gasp and said, “Brain, there’s...I can see a house on the other side of that! It’s way off in the distance, but...this is like looking through a hole in a fence, but there ain’t no fence, just the hole!”
“I noticed that,” Ke-Woh-No-Tay answered, then he abruptly turned away. Even though he accepted the idea of magic in general, watching Conjura perform this act was overwhelming to his mind. A hole in the air that led from one spot to another...but where did that hole lead? Canada, presumably, but all of the sudden, Ke-Woh-No-Tay was afraid to step through that hole and test that presumption. He stared up the road leading north, thinking that he’d much rather risk the long journey on horseback than jump into a hole made out of nothing. Then he saw something that disturbed him worse than what Conjura was doing: a platoon of Confederate soldiers marching down the road towards them!
Grabbing his brother by the shoulder, Ke-Woh-No-Tay said, “We need to get everybody into the woods. We’ve got Rebs coming!” Matt turned briefly to see the advancing troops for himself, then the two of them began to herd the runaways off the road. While doing so, they heard one of the advancing soldiers shout at them to halt. “Great, we’ve been spotted,” Ke-Woh-No-Tay muttered.
“Then we’ll just have to hold them off until Conjura’s done with...whatever that is,” Matt replied. From the cover of the trees, he looked up the road to see a few of the Confederate riflemen moving into a firing position. “Think she’s got a trick for stopping bullets?”
“Everybody down!” The report of the rifles sounded like thunder in the woods. Luckily, the only victims of the first volley were some nearby trees, as everyone had dropped flat to the ground upon Scalphunter’s order. There would only be a brief respite while the men reloaded, so they had to take advantage of it. While Matt began to return fire with his pistol, Scalphunter crouched low and ran over to Conjura’s side, saying, “How much longer do you need?”
“We can start right now,” she answered. The hole was roughly two feet wide and four feet tall now, and Ke-Woh-No-Tay could see not only a house in the distance, but a barn and a dirt road that didn’t appear to lay far from wherever this strange hole originated. “It would be easier if this was bigger, but we can at least pass the children through.”
“Good idea.” He turned to the runaways, many of whom had taken cover behind the larger trees as a second volley of gunfire rang out. “Anyone with children, I need you to come forward now!” No one moved, whether due to fear of the Rebs or disbelief that the hole really led to safety, he didn’t know. “Please, you’ve trusted in Conjura this far, don’t stop now!”
A woman with a little boy clutched tightly in her arms began to move towards them. She was sobbing, but that didn’t stop her from handing the boy to Scalphunter so he could pass him through the hole. He noticed that the air on the other side seemed cooler, and after a moment, he realized that was because the other side was so far north. It was a difficult concept to believe, but it was true. He then hoisted the woman up into his strong arms and, with great care, guided her through the hole feet-first -- she was slim enough to pass, but barely. Once on the other side, she stared back at them through the hole with wide eyes. “Please, stay there,” Ke-Woh-No-Tay told her. “This will go faster with you there to help others through.”
The woman nodded, and Ke-Woh-No-Tay turned to Conjura. “I have to help Matt. Will you be alright if I leave you for a while?”
“Of course.” She talked in a calm manner, as if she hadn’t noticed the gunfire all around them. “The portal should be wide enough in a minute or so to let everyone through easily.”
The third volley had started, and this time some of the bullets found their targets. A couple of the runaways were wounded, and one of them had taken a direct hit to the head, his road to freedom sadly coming to an end in those woods. Scalphunter ignored all this as he made his way to his horse and grabbed his own rifle, then went to Matt’s side. “How many?” he asked.
“About a dozen, mostly with rifles.” Matt hunkered down behind a tree right next to the road as he fitted percussion caps over the fresh loads in his pistol. “I’ve gotten two already.”
“My turn, then.” Ke-Woh-No-Tay brought his rifle to his shoulder and let the bullets fly. Unlike many of the Rebs he was shooting at, who still carried single-shot carbines, Ke-Woh-No-Tay had acquired a new Henry .44 rifle, which could let off over fifteen shots before having to stop and reload. The ammunition was harder to come by in the middle of a war, but it was worth it in situations like this. As some of the Confederates paused to reload their weapons, Ke-Woh-No-Tay picked them off one by one, which caused the remaining soldiers to hastily fire upon his position. Most of the shots went wild, but one connected with the tree in front of them and sprayed bits of wood everywhere. The brothers ducked down until the volley ended, then they returned fire. More Rebs dropped, and soon there were only three that remained unwounded -- assuming the odds against their unseen enemy were too great, they eventually turned tail and ran.
“Ha ha! We got ‘em!” Matt jumped up from cover and ran out into the road, hollering insults at the fleeing soldiers. Ke-Woh-No-Tay merely nodded in satisfaction at how the battle had turned out. He then looked back towards where he’d left Conjura and the others, and to his surprise, no one was there. The portal still hung in the air, however, and he ran over to it. On the other side, he could see Conjura speaking to the runaways and pointing towards the house in the distance. As he watched them, Matt ran up alongside his brother. “What’s going on? Is everybody okay?”
“See for yourself.” He pointed at the scene on the other side. The runaways were beginning to walk towards the house, and they could see that two men were carrying the body of the one who’d been killed -- they must have been intent on burying him in free soil. “Do you still want to go with them?” Ke-Woh-No-Tay asked.
“Only if you’re coming with me. I already told you, I’m not losing you again.”
“And you won’t, Captain Savage,” Conjura said as she came towards them. She remained on the other side of the portal, talking to them through it as if she were merely standing in a doorway. “Everyone has a place in this world, and for now, yours is with your regiment.”
“Not without Ke-Woh-No-Tay,” Matt replied. “If Colonel Trent doesn’t want him around, then I’m not staying with them.” He tried to step through the portal, but an invisible barrier had materialized within it, barring the way. “Hey, what is this? Let me through!” He banged his fist against it, and it rebounded off nothing.
“I let you come this far for Scalphunter’s sake,” she explained. “There were some things about you that he needed to understand, and I think he does now...at least I hope he does.” She looked from one man to the other, saying, “You are the brothers Savage, and you always will be. What the rest of the world knows of this is of little consequence, so long as you both know this in your hearts and never deny it.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” Matt asked, looking a bit puzzled. “Just go on back and act like nothing happened? And what about Ke-Woh-No-Tay?”
“I’m sure you’ll figure out what you need to do by the time you get there.” Conjura smiled at Scalphunter when she said it. Then she placed her hands on either side of the portal and slowly drew them together, making the hole shrink. “When you see me again, you can tell me how it all worked out.”
“What does that mean?” Ke-Woh-No-Tay asked, but Conjura didn’t answer, and soon the hole in the air ceased to be, with no trace left of its existence save for the memory of two men. Ke-Woh-No-Tay passed his hand through the space where the hole once was, but he found nothing unusual about it. He then looked over at Matt and said, “So, can we call it magic yet?”
Matt’s puzzled expression quickly soured. “Button it, little brother.”
* * * * * *
A few of the Confederates they’d shot were still alive, so Matt and Ke-Woh-No-Tay rounded them up and, after rounding up their horses, began to march the new prisoners back towards the Federal camp. The two brothers said little, as both of them were fairly sure of what would happen to Matt: despite returning of his own free will, he’d most likely be branded a deserter, and punishment for that could range from a mere flogging to imprisonment, depending on what his C.O. thought was appropriate. There was always the option of the two of them continuing to flee, but now that Matt had thought about his rash decision for a day, he saw how foolhardy he’d been. Desertion may have meant being able to keep his brother around, but it also meant losing his sister Samantha, as a man on the run couldn’t risk contacting family. It was a no-win situation, and the only thing he could do now was take the option that (hopefully) would do the least amount of damage to his life.
Their arrival in camp caused quite a stir, not only because no one thought Matt would return, but also because of the prisoners he had in tow. As a group of soldiers moved the captured Rebs to a secure section of the camp, many others came up and congratulated Matt for the deed, followed by assumptions that he’d done so to save his neck from Colonel Trent’s wrath. That last part was soon put to the test as the colonel stormed up to Matt, fury in his eyes.
“Captain Savage! I expressly forbid you from associating any longer with this Indian, and yet you had the goddam gall to sneak off with him in the middle of the night!” He stabbed a finger in Ke-Woh-No-Tay’s direction as he yelled in Matt’s face. “And then you just come waltzing back here like you were merely out for a Sunday stroll! What in God’s name makes you think that you could get away with such bald-faced insubordination?”
“I didn’t think I would, sir,” Matt said, his tone even but quiet, “and I’m willing to take whatever punishment you deem fit.”
Colonel Trent scoffed. “So now you’re humble? Now you expect mercy?” He grabbed Matt by the collar of his uniform, saying, “How in the Hell did someone like you ever reach the rank of captain? You are the sorriest excuse for an officer that I’ve ever met!” He brought up his other hand as he made ready to strike the captain, but before he could, Ke-Woh-No-Tay stepped forward and grabbed Trent by the wrist.
“If you insist on striking my brother,” the Kiowa warrior told him, “then you must strike me as well.” As both Matt and the colonel stared in disbelief, Ke-Woh-No-Tay said, “It is only because of his loyalty to me that Captain Savage strayed from camp last night...a loyalty born from the bond of blood we share.”
“You expect me to believe that you’re related to a white man?” Trent scoffed.
“He and I are family,” Ke-Woh-No-Tay replied, “but not in the way most whites think of it. Four years ago, Matt Savage saved my life. He recognized a kinship in me, the sort that comes from warriors who fight for a common cause. I swore an oath to him that day, to always be there whenever he needed me, and he swore the same to me. We have fought side-by-side ever since then, each of us shedding our blood for the sake of the other.” His gaze moved from Trent’s face over to Matt’s as he said, “I came to him last night and told him of the Confederates moving through the area, and that I wished to have his help in ambushing them. Despite your warning, he accompanied me, and together we wiped out the platoon.” His gaze went back to Trent. “He performed his duty as a soldier admirably, something his leader should commend him for, not punish...but if you feel that punishment should still be administered, I offer myself in his place.” Ke-Woh-No-Tay then let go of the colonel and, bowing his head in a submissive gesture, unbuckled the belt his knife and pistol were attached to and let it drop to the ground.
Colonel Trent regarded Ke-Woh-No-Tay for a minute, then said, “I don’t know how it is with you Indians, but in the Union, a soldier is expected to follow orders at all times.” He let go of Matt’s collar and told him, “The next time you two get it into your heads to try some guerilla tactics on the enemy, you have to clear it with me, understood?”
“Yessir,” Matt answered, more than a little shocked by the turn of events.
“In the meantime, captain, you’re confined to camp, and I expect you to report to me personally at least four times each day so I know you’re actually here. And as for you, er...” The colonel paused. “What do you call him?”
“My name is Ke-Woh-No-Tay, sir,” the Kiowa warrior replied, “but many whites refer to me as Scalphunter.”
“Well, whatever you’re called, if you’re so serious about your loyalty to Captain Savage, then perhaps you’d be willing to extend that to the U.S. Army as well. That would, however, entail that you follow my orders, not whatever notion that pops into your primitive little head.” Trent scooped up the weapons Ke-Woh-No-Tay had laid at his feet, saying, “If you want these back, you’ll be at my tent in a half-hour. I’ll have some papers for you to make your mark upon by then. Dismissed!” The colonel turned and began to walk back in the direction of his tent, pausing only long enough to yell at the others soldiers gathered, “Don’t just stand around like that, there’s a war on!”
The others dispersed, leaving Matt and Ke-Woh-No-Tay alone. “This...this has been a very strange couple of days,” Matt finally said. “The colonel had every right to skin me alive.” He turned to Ke-Woh-No-Tay and asked, “What in the world possessed you to say all that?”
“You told me before that I should say something to him, specifically that I was your brother. Considering what you were willing to give up for the sake of our kinship, I thought perhaps it was time to say it...or at least a close approximation of it.” He shrugged. “It seems you were right.”
Matt let out a short laugh. “I swear, you surprise me every day, little brother...and now you can’t get mad at me for calling you that!” He threw an arm around the other man’s shoulder, saying with a smile, “How long until I can start calling you ‘Brian’ as well?”
“Let’s not be too hasty about this.” He was smiling as well, though his mind he recalled what Conjura had told him: I see a day, Scalphunter, when you finally accept your white heritage and begin to live as one of them, and this will make your brother very happy. But he will be taken from you not long afterward, and then you will know what true grief is, because you will regret all those years you wasted by denying your heritage. Ke-Woh-No-Tay didn’t know how true that prophesy might be, but if it was, then he was now walking a very fine line. How far could he cross over that line that separated red man from white before he left the former behind? His declaration today didn’t cross that line, but it certainly nudged it a little. He would have to be very careful of how many nudges he made, lest his meandering path back to his long-forgotten white heritage endanger Matt’s life.
And in a moment of sheer irony, the man who would one day proudly bear the name Brian Savage finally began to feel that brotherly bond stir within him again.
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