RIVER OF SOULS
A Novel of the West
Montoya squatted in greasy buckskins and worn moccasins by the fire chewing a last piece of roasted antelope. He could tell from the night sounds that the horse herd was grazing peacefully. As he chewed, his hands rubbed the cutting edge of an arrowhead over and over across the thick piece of cowhide. This one was the last of some twenty arrows whose heads he had honed for war.
Of his five Indian companions, two were out with the horses, two slept and one picked between the small bones of the antelope carcass with a razor sharp knife for the last of the meat.
Montoya dropped the last honed arrow into his quiver and fingered the solid wood kachina which hung from a thong around his neck. It was his totem; and, with it, he saw the future in the rising puffs of smoke from the dying fire.
He stood as a new sound caught his ear from out of the night. The walk of a horse, not loose, but ridden. His small, black eyes pierced the darkness in the direction of the sound. His nostrils flared to the whiff of new dust.
"Hola! El rancheria," sang a voice from the night.
"Seņor Pedro," called Montoya. "Venga."
Montoya's nostrils narrowed and so did the eyes. A quick sneer came and went with the purse of dark lips.
With a wave of the hand, Pedro entered the firelight.
Montoya stared back, expressionless. He did not return the wave.
The sleeping Indians were fully awake; but they did not move. Their bead-eyes watched Pedro dismount and warm his hands at the fire. The bead-eyes noted the two pistols in Pedro's sash and the musket on his saddle.
Pedro motioned with a shake of the head and a smile to the Indian by the fire to off-load the pack mule. Then Pedro turned to Montoya.
"How goes it?"
"We move the herd in the morning, Montoya. Papa will be here with the sun. The pack mule has supplies for a week. See that the boys get some sleep. And yourself. You'll need it."
Pedro pulled the saddle from his horse and spread his blanket near the fire.
Montoya nodded; but stood his ground. He was a head taller than his Pueblo Indian companions and as tall as Pedro and thick in the shoulders and arms. The Navajos, who sometimes raided the Cortez rancho, knew him to be a fighter. So did Pedro. Although Montoya was only three years older, he had worked for Papa Cortez for as long as Pedro could remember.
In that time Pedro had seen him fight as a man; and, in the early years, Pedro had fought him knuckle and thumb, as boys will fight. Pedro had heard him sing and watched him dance in the firelight; but had never seen him smile, except for the quick sneer.
As Pedro settled down in his blanket, Montoya again squatted by the fire. He tossed several sticks on the fire and watched them catch the lingering fingers of flame and stretch them high into the dark. He caressed his kachina totem and saw the future in the rising sparks and smoke. He saw death in the rising sparks and smoke; and saw the killing. He saw horses prancing and biting writhing flanks and galloping up in the rising sparks and smoke. And, he saw lodges on a barren prairie and a Comanche woman, kneeling in the dust, chanting her death song in the rising sparks and smoke.
While Pedro slept, Montoya followed the smoke until it disappeared in the dawn; and they both awoke to the rattle of Papa Cortez coming into camp.
Pedro went to greet his father. Montoya watched the two white men, one his master for all of his life; the other his boyhood friend. He watched them embrace. His only expression was the quick sneer.
Then Montoya kicked the other Indians out of their blankets.
"It will be today," he signed with his hands. "I have seen it in the rising sparks and smoke."
"When you have eaten, Montoya," said Papa Cortez. "We will begin. We must move the herd fast; drive them to safety in the high mountains."
"Si, Seņor Cortez," said Montoya.
The quick sneer flashed and vanished.