Gary and Woape…
When he kissed her this time, she leaned into him. It felt
right to be with him. She wished she could wrap herself in his
embrace and stay there forever. She rested her head on his
shoulder and held onto him, closing her eyes and listening to his
Finally, he stepped away from her and pointed to the
She nodded and got back on her horse.
He glanced in her direction. Smiling, he shook his head,
said something, and hopped on his steed.
Sometimes it frustrated her that she couldn‘t understand
most of what he said, for how could she decide if what he meant
was good or not? As he reached for her hand and kissed it, her
cheeks grew warm. There were some things they could
communicate to each other that didn‘t require words. He gave
her hand a gentle squeeze before he let it go. She could still feel
his lips on it. Actually, her lips still tingled from his kiss.
No one had ever kissed her like he did. His actions were
tender. They were a great relief from what she went through
with– She closed her mind to the memory. No. She wouldn‘t
think of it. As horrible as it was, she wouldn‘t let it tarnish the
memory of this moment.
Ruth Ann Nordin
Ruth Ann Nordin‘s Books
This is a work of fiction. The events and characters d escribed herein are
imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The
opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and
do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher.
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright 2010 Ruth Ann Nordin
Editing by Stephannie Beman
Cover made by Bonnie Steffens
Cover Photo images Copyright Shutterstock Images LLC. All rights reserved –
used with permission.
Cover Photo images Copyright iStockphoto LP. iStockphoto.com/eyecrave
LLC All rights reserved – used with permission.
Cover Photo images Copyright Getty Images. All rights reserved – used with
This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by
any means including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without expressed
written consent of the publisher/author except in t he case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Ruth Ann Nordin Books
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Dedicated to Bonnie Steffens who has brightened up my life.
May God bless you and your family as you have blessed me.
And thank you for making the cover!
Other books written by Ruth Ann Nordin
The Nebraska Romances (chronological order)
A Bride for Tom/A Husband for Margaret (two novellas in one book)
Eye of the Beholder
The Wrong Husband
His Redeeming Bride
Other Historical Romances
Falling In Love With Her Husband
A Chance In Time (novella inspired by Meant To Be)
Contemporary Romantic Comedies
With This Ring, I Thee Dread
What Nathan Wants (coming late-summer 2010)
Time Travel Romantic Comedy
Meant To Be
The Virginia Trilogy
An Unlikely Place for Love
The Cold Wife
An Inconvenient Marriage
Quick Author‘s Note:
In United States‘ history, Native Americans were referred to as
Indians. (I realize some of my readers are from India, and I do
not wish for there to be any confusion. When I refer to Indians in
this story, it is for North American Indians.)
Regarding the Okipe Ceremony, the Mandan tribe celebrated this
after the first of August after they moved north. Originally, their
tribes were further south in the United States, and they celebrated
the Okipe Ceremony in early summer. (This is why some sources
site early summer for this celebration.) Since this story takes place
in North Dakota, I am going by the later celebration date. I base
my research for this and other Mandan facts from the book
North American Indian
(volume 5) written and published by Edward
S. Curtis (1909).
oape closed her eyes and forced her breathing to return to
normal. If they heard her, they‘d find her hiding place. She took
deep breaths and counted backwards from a hundred. By the
time she reached eighty, her heart rate slowed.
She opened her eyes and scanned the clearing in the
moonlight. The tree bark dug into her skin, but she didn‘t dare let
go of the large branch stable enough to hold her weight.
Thankfully, the leaves hid her. She just hoped it hid her well
She heard a horse neigh and tightened her arms and legs
around the branch. Biting her lip so she wouldn‘t inadvertently
cry out, she drew blood. She ignored the sting and the metallic
Be quiet. Just be still.
The three hunters spread out, their bows drawn. The
steeds methodically made their way along the quiet prairie. They
were getting closer. And she‘d run out of options. This was the
last place she‘d found to avoid them.
Gulping, she drew a shaky breath. She couldn‘t afford to
lose heart now. Not when all they had to do was pass under her
Ruth Ann Nordin
and keep their pursuit across the land. A coyote howled in the
distance, but she kept her ears tuned into what the hunter moving
in her direction was saying.
She‘s not here, Tecumseh said, keeping his voice low.
She‘s here. She has to be, Hothlepoya replied. There‘s
nowhere else she could have gone.
She shivered at the chill in Hothlepoya‘s voice. Why
couldn‘t they just go? What made her so special anyway?
I don‘t see her horse, Tecumseh said. She wouldn‘t
Hothlepoya and Tecumseh stopped their horses beneath
her tree and studied their surroundings. She held her breath.
They were right there! If they looked up…
Oh please don’t let them look up!
Who she made that request to, she didn‘t know, but
maybe whatever was out there guiding the fates of people was
listening to her pleas now.
Hothlepoya! Look! the third Indian called out.
Woape‘s gaze followed the trail he pointed at, and she
shifted her weight slightly to get a good view of the man leading
the mare she‘d let loose. She felt her heart rate accelerate. What
was he doing? Who was he? Why was he doing it? She glanced
back at the two men below her who nudged their horses in his
direction. Did the stranger just buy her some time?
That‘s Woape‘s horse, Tecumseh said. Maybe the
white man has her.
Hothlepoya nodded. Maybe.
Shouldn‘t she be on the horse?
Not if he hurt her. The white man can‘t be trusted.
Hothlepoya pulled out an arrow and got it ready. We
won‘t take our chances.
The other two men followed suit and the three made their
way over to the stranger who stopped as they approached.
Whatever reprieve the white man had granted her was a temporary
But what should she do about it? Was there really any way
to escape? Hothlepoya was an expert hunter, and the North
Dakota prairie spanned for miles in every direction. No. She
couldn‘t leave her hiding place. Her best chance was to stay in the
tree and hope he and his two friends would continue their pursuit
She leaned forward slightly so she could see what the three
were doing with the white man. They were too far for her to hear,
but Hothlepoya lowered his bow and arrow—an indication that
the white man wasn‘t the threat they feared. She wished she could
The white man shrugged and pointed behind him. That
was the direction her horse went when she let the mare loose. He
turned his attention back to the three Indians and handed the rope
She realized her left arm had gone numb, so she shifted
but a squirrel hopped onto her branch and startled her. Shrieking,
she lost her balance and fell to the side. She managed to catch
hold of the branch but the damage was done. They‘d heard her.
The four men turned their gazes in her direction. She
dropped to her feet, landing hard on a tree root jutting out of the
ground. Ignoring the pain in her thigh, she bolted to her feet and
ran. It was stupid. She knew it was stupid. There was no way she
could outrun the horses, but instinct kicked into high gear and she
wasn‘t thinking rationally. All she could think of was escaping.
They came after her. The sound of horses‘ hooves
pounding into the ground thundered in her ears. A gunshot rang
through the air. The horses came to an abrupt stop, and she
dropped into the grass. She‘d heard a gunshot only once in her
life and it meant bad things. Unsure if she wanted to know what
was happening, she looked over her shoulder.
Ruth Ann Nordin
The white man yelled something and waved his gun at the
other men who were six feet behind her. The white man moved
his horse in their direction at a cautious pace. He yelled again, his
authoritative tone startling her.
Hothlepoya glanced at her and their eyes met. There was
no denying the animosity in his gaze. She swallowed the lump in
her throat and forced herself to breathe. When the white man
barked an order at him, he finally broke eye contact with her and
backed the steed up.
She looked at the white man, trying to determine his
motive. He couldn‘t know what was going on. Hothlepoya
would never tell him the truth.
She tried to make out what the stranger looked like in the
moonlight, but his hat fell too low over his eyes and the shadow
of his beard hid most of his face. He spoke to her in gentle tones,
forcing her mind back to the moment. He pointed the gun at
Hothlepoya and pointed to her with his free hand.
She struggled with what to do. If she understood what he
was saying, it‘d help her make a decision. She knew Hothlepoya
would hurt her, but the white man… He didn‘t appear to be a
mean man, and he obviously wasn‘t siding with Hothlepoya. But
really…what did she know about him? Nothing.
She glanced at Hothlepoya whose fingers twitched on his
bow and arrow resting in his lap. If she went with him, she knew
what her fate would be. If she went with the white man, she
didn‘t know what would happen. But it couldn‘t be worse than
what Hothlepoya would do. And she‘d never outrun any of them,
regardless of their intents.
Slowly getting to her feet, she said, Help me.
Hothlepoya gave a low growl.
The white man cocked his gun.
The stranger tipped his hat back and that‘s when she
caught sight of his eyes. Kindness. That was the first thought
that crossed her mind, and in that instant, she knew she could
He motioned to her horse and held his free hand out to
Tecumseh raised his bow and arrow.
Before she could warn the white man, he shot the bow out
of Tecumseh‘s hand.
Did he get you? Hothlepoya asked his friend.
No, but he got close. Tecumseh studied his broken bow
and looked at Hothlepoya. Too close.
The white man said something to her in a gentle tone.
Then he held out his hand again to Hothlepoya.
We don‘t have a choice, Hothlepoya told his friends.
We must obey him. He glanced at her. You got lucky.
She quickly averted her gaze from him.
He held the rope out to the white man who took it. He
said something to her and motioned to the rope.
She wished she knew what he was saying, bu t all she had
to go on were his actions. Nodding, she approached him,
hastening her step past Hothlepoya‘s horse which snorted at her,
and took the rope. She mounted her mare.
The white man made a comment, and since he looked at
the horse‘s back and shook his head, she guessed it had something
to do with the fact that she rode the animal bareback. He spoke
to the three men and waved them in the direction she‘d fled from.
Home. She wondered if she‘d see her father, brother, and sister
ever again. She didn‘t dare retur n anytime soon. Not with
Hothlepoya near there.
She glanced at the white man and wondered if she should
leave too. It seemed logical. He‘d just given her a means to
escape. She could go in the opposite direction and go to some
other place. Somewhere far from home. She blinked back tears at
the thought of leaving everything she‘d ever known behind. But
did Hothlepoya give her a choice?
Ruth Ann Nordin
She turned to the man who finally lowered his gun as the
three men grew smaller in the distance.
He placed his gun into something that looked like a sack
attached to a belt at his waist. Then he gave her a worried look.
She didn‘t know what it meant, so she shrugged.
He smiled and spoke to her, and even laughed.
Unsure of what he wanted, she also smiled. Smiling was
good, right? He was being friendly. If he meant to harm her, he
would have. He had the gun, and she didn‘t.
His head lowered and he made another comment. He
took something out of the pouch hanging off his saddle and
handed it to her. Then he returned his gaze to her and motioned
to the land around them.
She studied the leather bag for a moment before she
opened it. Food. At least that‘s what it seemed to be from the
smell of it. She couldn‘t see it in the moonlight. Her heart
warmed, for he had no reason to give a stranger food…or
protection from Hothlepoya…but did. This man had a good heart.
The heart of a warrior.
He waved to her and headed off in the direction from
where she‘d seen him coming.
She glanced over her shoulder, reassured that Hothlepoya
wasn‘t lurking behind her, and peered back into the pouch. She
touched one of the hard pieces in the sack. Curious, she pulled
one out and sniffed it. Meat. Dried. She bit a piece off, noting
how tough it was. But it was edible and it didn‘t taste bad. She
put the rest of the meat into the pouch and closed it.
The white man led his horse in a leisurely pace. She bit
her lower lip. Dare she go with him? What if Hothlepoya
searched for her? Could she really afford to be without
protection? Another glance over her shoulder showed her that
the three Indians were now almost down the slight hill. Soon,
they‘d be out of her viewing range.
Taking a deep breath to release the nervous energy of her
plight, she nudged her mare in the sides and directed her to follow
the white man.
Ruth Ann Nordin
ary Milton was surprised when the young woman followed
him. He expected her to run off. But she stayed with him, her
horse a mere six feet behind his. Finally, he stopped and waited
for her to catch up to him. She might as well ride beside him if
she insisted on joining him.
She pulled back the rope halter on her horse as soon as
she was three feet behind him.
He turned toward her. He almost asked her why she kept
her distance but knew she didn‘t understand his language.
Sighing, he waved her forward.
Looking uncertain, she obeyed.
He nodded and led her to his campfire, noting she rode
beside him this time. Once he dismounted, he went to help her
from her pony, but she already slid from the bareback. He
marveled at her skill on the animal but figured she‘d probably
learned to ride at an early age.
You might as well rest. He took the rope from her and
led the two horses to where they would remain for the night.
She carried his leather sack and sat in front of the fire.
As he took care of the horses, he noted her appearance.
She was young. Maybe sixteen or a little older. He wasn‘t much
older at twenty, but he wondered what the other Indians could
possibly want with a young woman. What could she have possibly
done to evoke their wrath? He‘d never seen a woman that sca red
before. What was she doing—hiding in a tree? Well, this was one
of those mysteries he‘d never figure out. As soon as he made it to
town, he‘d find a place for her to stay and then she‘d be safe.
When he returned to the site, he picked up a tin cup and
poured water into it. He held it out to her. Drink.
She tucked her black hair behind her ear and looked up at
him with her dark brown eyes before her gaze drifted to the cup.
Water. He made a drinking motion with his free hand
and then pointed to her.
After a few seconds, she accepted the cup and sniffed the
liquid in it.
He thought that was odd. For someone who was eager to
follow him to his campsite, she sure did seem reluctant to take
anything from him. Shrugging, he turned his attention to what
their sleeping arrangements would be. He only had a bedroll.
Well, she‘d get it. He would make do on the grass. A quick scan
of the area showed him they were alone. He didn‘t think the
Indians would come after them, but he decided he‘d stay alert, just
in case. So he wouldn‘t need the bedroll anyway.
You sleep here, he told her and patted the bedding.
She wrinkled her brow so he closed his eyes, pretending to
sleep. When he opened his eyes, she nodded and said a word that
he guessed meant =sleep‘. Turning her attention to the cup, she
finally took a sip.
Water, he said, pronouncing the word slowly.
She took a long drink.
He poured more water into her cup and sat against a tree
not too far from her. The night was quiet except for the
occasional howling in the distance and singing of crickets. He
forced himself to relax. The Indians weren‘t returning. Still, to be
on the safe side, he kept his gun close to his side.
Ruth Ann Nordin
To his surprise, after she set the cup down, she picked up
the bedroll and walked over to him. She placed the bedroll right
next to him and settled into it.
Go to the fire, he said, pointing to it. Fire. Warm.
She shook her head and spoke in her language.
He sighed. What was he supposed to do? This was the
best lookout point in the immediate vicinity, but he couldn‘t have
her away from the campfire on a September night, even if she was
in the bedroll.
He glanced at her. He was committed to her now. It
wasn‘t something he minded. He was glad that she was alive and
safe. As soon as he got her to town and talked to his family about
where she would continue to be safe, he could continue on to his
Again, he looked out at the vacant prairie. He didn‘t
notice anything suspicious. His horse remained quiet.
Returning his gaze to her, he realized that she fully
intended to sleep right beside him, for she had already closed her
Well, he couldn‘t let this happen. It was chilly and the last
thing she needed was to get sick. What would be the point of
saving her from whatever it was those Indians had in mind if he
let her get ill? He nudged her in the arm.
She opened her eyes.
He stood up and stepped toward the fire. Come. He
waved her over and motioned to the spot where his bedroll had
She did as he bid and carried the bedroll back.
He picked up some more sticks and threw them into the
fire. Another glance along the horizon showed they were safe.
His gun was in his holster. He was prepared…or at least as
prepared as he could be.
She didn‘t lie back down. Instead, she watched him, as if
judging what he‘d do next. It became clear to him that she wasn‘t
going to sleep unless she was right beside him. Seeing that he had
no choice since he wanted her to sleep, he sat on the ground close
to where she stood. She finally set the bedroll down, but she put
it right beside him again. She must have been scared if she was
willing to sleep right by a stranger.
You know, you‘re lucky I don‘t have a wife, he told her.
She‘d have a fit if she saw this.
She furrowed her eyebrows.
He smiled to show her he was joking.
Her body relaxed and she returned his smile.
She was a pretty woman, he realized. Funny how all the
commotion made him miss that little fact before. He shook his
head and returned his attention to the land. He had more
important things to think about, like Indians who might be
making their way back.
She settled into the bedroll and turned her face to the
campfire, her back pressing against his leg.
He shook his head again. She had absolutely no idea what
something like that did to a man. Ignoring her soft body, he kept
his focus on the horse and the surrounding land. It wasn‘t until
the moon started descending into the clear sky that he finally fell
Woape woke the next morning to the sunlight hitting her eyes.
She winced and rolled over. The ground beneath her was rough.
Where was she? Images flashed through her mind. An axe..
She jerked up, gasping. She quickly examined her
surroundings. Prairie land spanned as far as the eye could see.
The campfire had gone out. The two horses munched the grass.
Everything was peaceful, so she could relax. Still, the previous
night hadn‘t been a nightmare. What was she going to do?
Ruth Ann Nordin
She looked at the man sleeping next to her. She was safe
with him. He wouldn‘t let Hothlepoya hurt her. She‘d stay with
him, wherever he went. He had a gun and he knew how to use it,
so if Hothlepoya came looking for her, hoping she was alone and
defenseless, she‘d be better off if she was with someone who
knew how to scare him off. She‘d never seen anyone who could
stand up to Hothlepoya before.
She stood and quietly made her way to a remote area
where she could relieve her bladder. When she returned to the
bedroll, she saw that the white man was getting ready to get on his
horse. She ran over to him. Did he plan to leave her behind?
She grabbed the back of his shirt. Please don‘t leave. Let
me come with you.
The white man turned and looked relieved. He motioned
to the land around them and said something.
Her only indication that he wasn‘t intending to leave her
behind was the fact that he seemed happy to see her. She relaxed.
He took her by the arm and led her to where they had
slept. She watched him as he dug out another tin cup and poured
water for both of them. She accepted the cup from him and
drank the refreshing liquid. She wanted to thank him, but she
didn‘t know how and even as she smiled her appreciation at him,
it seemed an insufficient way to express her gratitude.
He pulled out some pieces of the food he‘d offer ed her
the night before and held out a couple to her.
Her growling stomach insisted she take it. She nodded
and took them from him, no longer hesitant on accepting
anything from him. If he wanted to hurt her, he would have
already done so.
She bit into the salted meat. It didn‘t taste bad. In fact, it
tasted pretty good. She wondered if this was what white people
ate. She knew so little of the white culture since she‘d spent her
life among her tribe. A momentary wave of homesickness came
over her. Her father, sister and brother must miss her. It didn‘t
matter now. She was long gone and would never return. For now
on, her life would be in a strange new world, with this nice white
After they ate, he got his things ready for his horse, so she
followed suit. She joined him as he rode out along the prairie in
the morning light. The air was still cool, but she knew by midday,
the temperature would warm. Though the season was changing,
summer was reluctant in leaving. Since she didn‘t know his
language, and he didn‘t know hers, they remained quiet. She was
content to listen to the melodic singing of the birds.
As the distance from her home grew greater, the tension
in her body eased. If the white man took her far enough north,
then maybe she‘d never have to worry about Hothlepoya ever
again. That would be good. Then she‘d be safe.
She glanced over her shoulder. A couple of deer leapt
across the land. It was peaceful. Just like her world had been a
few days ago. She closed her eyes and sighed. She hoped her
family would fare well without her.
She wiped the tears away and forced her attention to what
was in front of her. This was her future. She wondered where it
led. Well, she was about to find out. She decided she wouldn‘t
look back anymore. All the wishing in the world wasn‘t going to
erase what happened. For better or worse, her course was set
with this stranger. She didn‘t believe in coincidences. Her parents
taught her that everything happened for a reason.
And so she set her mind on what was to come and
followed the man. When evening came, she helped him with the
campfire. By this time, she knew what to expect from him. He
didn‘t say much but he did say some words that were beginning to
sound familiar, though she couldn‘t remember what word meant
what. She figured that such knowledge would come in time.
The journey took a total of three days before they ran into
another human being. And as soon as there was one, there came
another and another until they entered a place he called town .
Ruth Ann Nordin
She examined the buildings that lined the dusty road. A quick
scan through the unfamiliar faces revealed that there was no one
like her. Everyone around her was white, just like the man she
was with. They studied her, but she didn‘t sense any animosity in
their stares. They were curious. She wondered if they‘d ever seen
a Mandan Indian before. Maybe they hadn‘t seen Indians at all.
She moved her horse closer to the man, finding his
presence comforting in the sea of unfamiliar faces. The people
spoke in tones she recognized as questions. They were probably
wondering where she came from, who she was, and what she was
doing with one of their own. Though she was now surrounded by
people, she never felt more alone in her entire life. She was
different. Would she ever fit in? This was her new home. She
hoped she could find a place here, among these people.
The man said something to her, directing her attention
back to him. He pointed to a house on the corner lot. It was a
small house with a post out front for them to tie their horses to,
which was what they did. He gently took her by the arm and led
She wondered who lived here, but she couldn‘t ask him, at
least not in a way he‘d understand. When they reached the front
door, she stepped closer to him.
He shifted a step away and opened the door. He called
out a greeting and an older woman who looked old enough to be
his mother ran out from another room. She shrieked and hugged
Surprised, Woape stood back. Another woman came
running down a narrow staircase and took her turn hugging him.
Woape bit her lower lip. This woman looked close to his age.
Perhaps he was already married? Maybe he was married to this
He gave both women a big smile and turned their
attention to Woape. They looked startled, as if they hadn‘t
noticed her standing right there watching them. He spoke to the
women and gestured at them with excited movements. When he
stopped speaking, they all looked at her.
She took a deep breath and smiled. She greeted them in
her language and waited for them to respond.
Finally, the older woman smiled in return and walked over
to her. She wrapped her arm around her and led her to a place to
sit. The cushion was soft and comfortable. The woman said
something to him and then turned back to Woape and patted her
The woman‘s kindness assured Woape that things would
be alright. Woape tried to decipher what the woman might be
saying and what the man answered, but none of it made any real
sense to her. She just smiled and nodded whenever the woman
asked something. She hoped she was acting appropriately.
The younger woman held back. She crossed her arms and
Woape wondered if the white woman was married to the
white man. That would explain the tension Woape felt when she
looked at her. Woape glanced at the white man who continued
speaking to the woman sitting next to her.
Suddenly, the woman next to her stood up and took her
Woape also stood and followed the woman up the steps
until they reached a small bedroom. Woape heard the woman
downstairs and the man talking, but the tones were hushed so it
was hard to determine if the woman was mad at him for bringing
Woape there or not.
The older woman exited the room, so Woape began to
follow but she shook her head and motioned for Woape to stay.
Woape nodded and stayed in the room. She glanced around the
room, noting the bed and other furnishings. The window
overlooked the town where several people rode on their horses.
She sighed. This was her new home. The white man had brought
her here. She wondered if this would be her new room or if she
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might sleep somewhere else in this home. Whatever the situation
would be, she‘d be glad for it and do whatever they asked her.
She‘d earn her keep.
She turned at the sound of voices and watched as the
older woman pointed to the center of the room. The man came
in with a tub. They left and returned with pails of water which
they dumped in the tub. The woman motioned for the man to
leave so he did. Then the woman turned to a dresser and pulled
out the drawer and took out a dress.
As she spoke, she went up to Woape and held the dress up
to her and nodded. She rambled on as she grabbed a towel and
set it by the tub. Woape got a warm feeling about the woman.
The woman was one of the friendliest people she‘d ever met. She
set the dress on the back of a chair before she handed Woape a
bowl with a bar of soap in it. She turned to the door and held up
a brush, spoke again, and set the brush back on the dresser.
Giggling, she waved and closed the door behind her.
Well, that was simple enough. The woman wanted Woape
to take a bath. Woape could do that. She dipped her fingers into
the warm water. Setting the bowl down next to the tub, she took
off her dress, realizing she‘d be putting on a white woman‘s dress
once she was done bathing. She realized this was more than
changing clothes. She was about to change her entire life.
As she settled into the tub, she gave the matter no more
thought. The future was ahead of her, and she was safe.
Hothlepoya wouldn‘t find her here. Now, she could relax.
ary glanced out the window and saw that the horses were
What were you thinking?
He took his time in facing his older sister who came into
the room. Her arms were crossed and a look of disapproval was
on her usually pretty face. Leaning against the window, he
shrugged. What do you mean, what was I thinking? I alr eady
explained it to you.
Right. You found her on the run from members of her
No. I didn‘t say that the Indians were members of her
tribe. I just said they were Indians. There is more than one tribe
in North Dakota.
She shook her head and walked over to him. Indians are
savages. You‘re lucky they didn‘t scalp you alive.
I have a gun and I know how to use it, Julia. It wasn‘t
me I was worried about.
She rolled her eyes as she smoothed her blond hair. It‘s
not a smart move to bring her here. What if the savages come for
Ruth Ann Nordin
I made sure to keep a lookout for them. I didn‘t venture
back to my camp until I was sure they couldn‘t see me.
I don‘t know. They‘re sneaky. They find ways to track
He groaned. Will you stop?
Playing big sister. We‘re not kids anymore. I can take
care of myself.
She didn‘t look convinced, and that didn‘t surprise him.
I knew there was a reason I left, he muttered under his
She gave him a sharp look. What was that?
You heard me.
I resent this, Gary. You left a year ago without giving us
a real explanation-
I wrote a note.
A fine one it was too. =I have to discover who I am. I‘ll
be back when I figure it out.‘ That could have meant anything.
Well, I didn‘t know who I was or who I wanted to be
with you hovering around me all the time telling me what to do.
She gasped and pressed a hand over her heart. Hovering
I can‘t believe this. I cooked your meals, cleaned your
Fought my battles.
She blinked, as if surprised. Fought your what?
You always stepped in and interfered where you
Are you talking about the incident with Harold?
He stood up straight and took off his hat. In all the
commotion, he forgot to take it off. He ran his hand through his
hair that was a dark shade of blond. The mention of Harold
always irritated him to no end. No one wants their big sister
beating up his bully for him.
Her face grew red as she placed her hands on her hips. I
did no such thing!
Really? I wasn‘t the one who gave him the black eye.
Oh. That incident. She pressed her hand to her mouth
It‘s not funny.
It was. Even today Harold runs in the opposite direction
whenever he sees me.
Yes. He does that. But he and his friends still laugh
whenever they see me coming.
No, I‘m not.
Yes, you are.
Will you stop telling me that? I know when I‘m being
You‘re imagining things. You were always a dreamer
who lived in another world.
And it was up to you to keep me grounded in reality?
Their aunt cleared her throat.
They stopped so they could turn in her direction.
What a shame. Here, the prodigal son has come home,
and all I hear is a bunch of bickering down here. She clucked her
tongue. May God help us all.
Julia stepped away from him and turned to their aunt.
She can‘t stay here.
And why not? Gary demanded.
Enough, Erin interrupted. This is my home. I took
you in when your parents died. I‘ve raised you since you were
ten, she told Julia, and you were three, she told Gary. I think
of you as my own children. And ever since you‘ve been here, you
have been at odds with one another. I had hoped that when you
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grew up, the bickering would stop. Even with Gary gone for a
year, the first thing you do when he comes home is criticize him.
I‘m not criticizing him, Julia argued, looking
exasperated. I‘m being logical. Can‘t you see how dangerous
And what if that was you? their aunt asked her. Gary
said three men were after her, and they had arrows ready to shoot
at her. Don‘t you understand that her life was in danger? Would
you have preferred that she died?
That‘s not what I meant. You don‘t understand what I‘m
talking about. I‘m saying that he should have saved her but sent
her somewhere else. Surely, there is another place she can go to.
Gary shook his head. I gave her food and figured she
would find a place to go. I assumed that she would go back to her
tribe. But she didn‘t. She followed me. Not only did she follow
him, but she hadn‘t allowed him to get out of her sight until his
aunt took her upstairs. I don‘t know what happened to her. I
don‘t know why those men were chasing her, but she doesn‘t feel
safe out there. For some reason, she only feels safe with me.
Maybe she‘ll feel safe with Aunt Erin.
Aunt Erin approached him, a concerned look on her face.
Are you heading out again?
He shrugged. I only came here because of her. He
pointed up the stairs.
Julia huffed. So you didn‘t even care to come by here to
I was on my way to Bismarck, alright? My last employer
said that he knew someone out there who needed a farmhand. I
figured I‘d give it a try.
A full year you‘ve been gone and you still don‘t know
what you want to do with your life?
His face grew red. And you wonder why I don‘t want to
be here? You wonder why I left?
Please, their aunt began, groaning, we have a scared
young woman up there, and the last thing she needs is to deal with
this. Let‘s just look at what we can do for her now. Regardless of
how you two feel about each other, it‘s time to focus on someone
else for a change.
Gary rubbed his eyes and sighed. You‘re right. Look, I
didn‘t come here to cause trouble. I didn‘t know where else to
take her. I made sure that no one followed us. I was vigilant.
Julia shifted from one foot to the other. Well, I hope no
one did follow you.
Their aunt nodded. It‘s good that she‘s here instead of
wandering around by herself out there. We don‘t want anything
bad to happen to her.
What are we going to do with her? Julia asked. She
looked at Gary. Are you going to run off again and leave us to
figure out what to do with her?
I haven‘t thought about it, he admitted. When he saw
Julia‘s lips form a thin line, he continued, All I could think about
was getting her here, where she‘ll be safe. I didn‘t think beyond
that. And don‘t say it. I know. How typical of Gary. Acting first
and thinking later.
I‘ve heard enough, Erin said. You two need to get into
different rooms before I get my broom and whack you both on
the heads. You two will be the death of me yet. She took a deep
breath. Gary, I need you to go out there and get those horses
settled into the stable in town. I don‘t have accommodations for
animals of that size. Julia, I need you to go up there and help that
woman get settled in. I‘m going to prepare lunch.
She cringed. Why can‘t I do the lunch?
Because this is my house, and it‘d be good for you to get
to know her.
How is that possible? Does she speak English?
Language is not that big of a barrier. Just imagine that
you had nowhere to go and came into an unfamiliar place.
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Really, Gary agreed, would it hurt you to think of
someone else for a change?
I grew up thinking of you all of my life, Julia retorted,
stomping her foot on the floor. I‘ve cooked for you, done your
laundry, took care of you when you were sick-
Suddenly their aunt darted out of the room.
Both of them gasped. That could only mean one thing.
Aunt Erin was getting her broom.
Later, sis, he said before he ran out of the house.
She ran up the stairs.
Woape put on the dress, feeling out of place with it on. It was
nothing like the clothes she usually wore. It was another reminder
that she was now in a new world. She wiped the tears from her
eyes and looked at her reflection in the mirror that hung on the
wall. She was a mess—one tangled, wet mess. She picked up the
brush. Considering the fact that her hair reached her lower back,
this was going to be a long and painful process.
The door opened and the second woman in the house
slowly entered the room.
Woape stopped brushing her hair, unsure of what to make
of the guarded look the woman gave her. She much preferred the
older woman, but what choice did she have? She was at the mercy
of these people. The woman approached her, and Woape took a
step back. She said something, but of course, Woape had no idea
what it was. Judging by the woman‘s stiff posture, Woape knew
the woman wasn‘t happy to have her there.
The woman sighed in exasperation before she took the
brush from Woape. She then reached out and unbuttoned the top
button on Woape‘s dress. Out of instinct, Woape slapped her
hand away. How dare she!
The woman snapped at her before she slammed the brush
on the dresser and yanked open the top drawer. She pulled out
some white clothing and held them out to her while she continued
talking to her in a frustrated or angry tone. Woape couldn‘t tell
which emotion the woman was feeling. Perhaps both.
When Woape shook her head, the woman rolled her eyes
and lifted the hem of her skirt, showing Woape that she had
similar clothing on. That was when Woape realized that the white
garments were supposed to go under the dress. She reluctantly
took the soft fabric from her and nodded. But if the woman
thought Woape was going to undress while she was in the room
staring at her, she had another thing coming.
The woman didn‘t look convinced that Woape understood
her but didn‘t make a move to remove Woape‘s dress, so Woape
didn‘t protest when she picked up the brush and started working it
through her hair. Even if the woman wasn‘t happy with the fact
that the white man brought Woape here, Woape was glad she was
gentle as she worked the tangles out of her hair.
Woape watched her in the mirror. She wished she could
ask the woman if she was married to the white man. Then she
could assure her that nothing had happened between them, in case
that was what worried her. It was a shame if he was already
married. She didn‘t know him. Not really. At least not well
enough to have certain thoughts about him. And yet…
She returned her gaze to the woman who was almost
finished. Woape refused to act on any feelings that were
beginning to emerge. She‘d snuff them out before they had the
ability to take root in her heart. It was a simple matter really. Yes,
the man was kind and brave. But he belonged to someone else,
and she could honor that. She would honor that. All she needed
was a place to stay and food to eat. She‘d find a way to prove
herself useful to this woman and the older one who lived with the
white man. As long as she never had to go back, she‘d be fine.
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The woman finished and set the brush down. Woape
touched her soft hair. The woman had done a good job. She
smiled at her to express her thanks. The woman turned aside and
opened the door and left the room. She quietly shut the door,
leaving Woape alone again. This wasn‘t going to be easy. She
gulped the lump in her throat, refusing to let the woman‘s cold
manners affect her.
She’s afraid I came to take her husband from her. It’s not personal.
It’s not who I am. When she realizes I’m not a threat to her, she’ll warm up
to me. Just give it time.
She quickly undressed so she could put on the white
undergarments before she put the dress back on. At least the
clothes gave her a sense of warmth in the chilly room. She took a
deep breath and walked to the door. Was she supposed to go to
them or wait until someone came to get her? Her hand rested on
the doorknob and she debated the consequences of either action.
Finally, she decided to test her luck and go to them.
Her bare feet fell softly on the wooden steps. She heard
two women talking in the kitchen, and as she turned to go there,
the front door opened and the white man entered the house.
He took off his hat and looked in her direction. A smile
crossed his face as he said something while he motioned at her.
His tone told her he was pleased. He stopped rambling and finally
touched her cheek and said, Pretty.
Something about the word and the way he looked at her
when he said it made her face flush with pleasure.
The older woman called out to them, so Woape turned her
attention to the two women. Though the older woman seemed
relaxed, the younger one frowned at her and crossed her arms.
Woape immediately stepped away from the white man, ashamed
she‘d gotten as close to him as she did.
The older woman waved them forward, and Woape
looked at him to see what he‘d do. He spoke and pointed to the
older woman. It took her a moment to realize he expected her to
walk in front of him. She quickly obeyed, inching away from the
younger woman who didn‘t take her eyes off of her.
Woape hated awkward moments. The only saving grace
was the friendly demeanor of the older woman who chatted away
as if nothing was wrong, but certainly, the woman knew
something wasn‘t right, didn‘t she? Woape couldn‘t be the only
one who sensed the tension in the air. She glanced at Gary who
rolled his eyes at the younger woman.
Woape wondered what it meant. If she could understand
what the older woman told the two, it would probably give her
insight into everything. She had to learn their language, and the
sooner, the better. She already knew one word. Pretty. Pretty
was a good thing, and he was looking at her and touching her face
when he said it. Her cheek was still warm from where his fingers
had been. She absentmindedly caressed the spot. Pretty. She‘d
have to remember the word.
The older woman pointed to a chair so Woape sat down.
The queasy feeling in her stomach intensified when she realized
she‘d have to spend the meal eating across from the younger
woman. She clasped her trembling hands in her lap and stared at
her plate. This was going to be a long meal.
The white man picked up the large bowl and scooped up a
generous portion of meat. He handed the bowl to Woape. Her
eyes widened in surprise. She took the bowl and did the same
thing she‘d seen him do, only she chose a smaller portion. She
wasn‘t that hungry, though she wondered if she should have been
considering the meager meals she‘d shared with the man over the
past few days. Sighing, she passed the bowl to the woman next to
her. She missed the peace of being alone with him.
The older woman smiled at her. She returned the smile,
and the knots in her stomach loosened. The man said something
so she directed her attention to him and realized he had another
bowl for her. This one was filled with a white lumpy substance.
She sniffed it.
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The older woman laughed and the white man told her
something. Woape wondered if they were laughing at her. M aybe
she wasn‘t acting right. But how was she supposed to act? She
wasn‘t white like them. Her customs differed from theirs. She
sighed. She was a part of their world now. She had a
responsibility to fit in.
The older woman‘s warm expression settled her nerves.
Maybe things were fine. Maybe she had nothing to worry about
after all…well, except for the younger woman who didn‘t join in
the merriment. But Woape didn‘t dare glance in her direction.
During the meal, the older woman rambled on and the
white man threw in a comment here and there. The younger
woman only spoke when asked a question, which wasn‘t often.
Woape tried to pay attention so she could learn the language, but
they spoke much too fast and after awhile, Woape felt as if her
head was spinning. Finally, she decided to tune them out.
She thought of what her new life might be like. She
scanned the kitchen and glanced at the small room to the side of
it. A look over her shoulder showed the room she‘d just been in.
Few things were familiar to her. She had much to learn. Turning
her attention back to her half-eaten plate of food, she finished her
oape cried in her sleep that night. She knew she was
dreaming, but the memory was lodged in her heart, and even as
she drifted between the reality of the present and the world where
time had no meaning, she took a surprising comfort in seeing her
Her mother approached her along the outskirts of their
Woape was watching her brother and his friend practicing
chunkey while she worked on finishing the dress she‘d made out
Her mother placed the bowl of beans in her lap and gave
her a curious look.
Woape glanced up from the piece of buffalo hoof that she
chose to adorn the bottom of her dress. What?
Are you not working on your wedding dress?
She shrugged and turned her attention from her mother‘s
piercing stare. The prairie wind cooled her. She was looking
forward to fall. Summer was much too hot unless she spent all
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day in the lodge. But she didn‘t want to spend her time in there
when she could enjoy the view of the Missour i River. She
couldn‘t sit out here in the winter.
Woape, her mother said, using a tone that told Woape
she should answer her.
I‘ll work on it later, she finally replied.
Her brother gave a hoot of laughter as his spear landed
next to the stone.
He just may win this year, Woape commented, hoping
her mother would forget the impending marriage.
However, her hope had been in vain, for her mother
shook her head. You are going to be married in one week, and
you haven‘t made any preparations for it.
She sighed and finished sewing the piece of hoof into the
hem of her dress. She picked up another piece and judged the
space she needed so it wasn‘t too close or too far apart from the
other pieces she‘d already put on it. I‘ll prepare for it. I still have
Seven days isn‘t a long time.
She looked up at her brother and his friend as they picked
up their spears and the stone. I don‘t want to argue again.
I don‘t want to argue either.
Then can we not talk about it?
Her mother clucked her tongue. You do not do well to
avoid it. This marriage was arranged at your birth. Just how
much time do you need to accept it? Besides, how do you know
whether or not this marriage will be good or bad? No one knows
these things until they go through with it.
Maybe I‘ll run away. Woape paused, shocked she‘d
voiced the reoccurring thought aloud. She‘d said it to herself
many times, but to say it like that…and to her mother… Her face
grew hot as she struggled to finish adorning her dress.
You are sixteen. It‘s time for you to be an adult. When
Woape refused to acknowledge the statement, her mother gently
reached out and cupped her chin in her hand. She turned
Woape‘s head so that Woape had to look at her. It is not as bad
as you fear. He‘ll make a good husband.
Woape didn‘t protest. Instead, she nodded and blinked
back the tears forming in her eyes. As soon as her mother
released her chin, she turned her attention back to the dress.
All will be well. You‘ll see. Her mother patted her on
the hand before she stood up. Start the dress tonight.
Across from her, her brother rolled the stone before he
and his friend released their spears to see which spear would be
the closest to the stone. Her brother won again and cheered. At
least someone was having a good day.
Woape glanced out of the corner of her eye and saw her
mother‘s retreating figure. Then she allowed herself the freedom
to cry. The memory ebbed as Woape woke up, still crying. How
was she to know that it would be the last time she had a chance to
speak with her mother?
She turned her face to the window. It was still night. She
closed her eyes and shivered under the soft blanket. The wind
howled outside, reminding her of the screams. She rolled over so
she didn‘t have to see the moon. Why did bad things always
happen at night? She wished the white man was beside her. She
felt safe with him. Nights were much too long and painful
without him nearby.
Gary glanced over his shoulder. Sure enough, the Indian woman
he‘d brought home was still watching him from where she sat on
the lawn. Had he not been on the roof digging leaves out of the
gutter, she‘d probably be sitting close by. He didn‘t know why,
but she followed him everywhere.
Earlier that morning, his aunt asked him to buy some
items from the store, and the Indian woman left the house with
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him. Then after he returned home to drop off the food and went
to check on their horses, she continued to follow him. He made
small talk, not because she would understand anything he told her
but because he didn‘t know what else to do with the awkward
Now he worked his way around the roof and tossed wet
leaves onto the ground, making sure he did it away from her. He
stood up and made his way to the back of the house. Out of
curiosity, he peered around the edge of the roof and—sure
enough—she hastened to the backyard. He didn‘t understand it.
The men weren‘t chasing her anymore. Why did she feel the need
to keep him in her sight? Shouldn‘t she be more comfortable with
his aunt? His aunt, after all, was a woman.
As he chucked another pile of leaves out of the gutter, he
caught her peering up at him. He was beginning to feel self-
conscious. His last boss had watched him at times, but that was
to assist in case he needed help. What did she think he was going
to do? Fly away? Disappear?
When he woke up that morning and left his room, she was
standing outside the door. He wasn‘t sure, but he suspected she
had slept part of the night outside his bedroom. He suddenly
wondered if he should be spooked by this. One more look in her
direction assured him that she wasn‘t a threat. Well, how could
she be? She was the one running from the men. And that
brought up another question. Why were they ready to kill her?
What happened to her? Did she do something she shouldn‘t have
done? Did she see something she wasn‘t supposed to see?
He finished removing the leaves and studied her. She
didn‘t strike him as the violent type. He doubted she did
something deserving of death. It must have been something she
saw…or maybe her tribe had been invaded. He heard that kind of
thing happened. He even heard that some Indians scalped their
victims. The thought made him shiver. What a way to go. What
a way to live. Not everyone who was scalped died.
Deciding he‘d let his imagination go far enough, he forced
his attention on descending from the roof. Predictably, she was
standing at the foot of the ladder when he reached the ground.
He turned to her and laughed. What are you? My shadow?
She offered him a smile.
He grabbed the ladder to put in the shed. Of course, she
followed, just as he expected. Once he placed the ladder in the
small building, he turned to leave and almost bumped into her.
You don‘t have to come into the shed with me. There‘s no back
Her response was to smile again.
She was such a pretty thing, especially when she smiled.
He shook his head and chuckled. I‘m calling you Shadow
because if you keep following me all over the place, that is what
She furrowed her eyebrows.
He pointed to her. Shadow.
Tapping her chest, she repeated, Sa…do.
Shadow, he slowly said, making sure to emphasize the
Close enough. He stepped out of the shed and waited
for her to join him.
She pointed to him.
Her meaning dawned on him. Oh. I‘m Gary. He
tapped his chest. Gary.
He nodded. That‘s right. Gary.
Gary. Then she pointed to herself. Sadow.
Alright. Maybe that wasn‘t exactly what he intended.
Now she knew his actual name, but he didn‘t know hers. He
shook his head and pointed to her. Name?
She shrugged, looking confused.
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He motioned to himself again. My name is Gary. Gary.
Then he pointed at her.
A light of understanding lit up her eyes. Woape.
A smile formed on his lips. Woape. He liked it. It
seemed to suit her.
Sadow? She shook her head.
Great. He knew he confused her. Then an idea came to
him. Woape. My shadow. He laughed and pointed to his
shadow on the ground. Shadow. He stepped back and
motioned to his shadow. Even as he took another step back, she
walked toward him. See? Shadow. He pointed from his
shadow to her.
She chuckled and nodded. Woape. Shadow.
Right. You follow me all over the place, just like a
If you‘re hungry, I got lunch ready, his aunt called out
from the front door.
We‘ll be right there. He waved Woape forward. Eat.
He touched his lips and patted his stomach. Eat. Food. He
knew she would follow him, so he went to the house.
His aunt grinned. You may have gotten yourself into
She just needs to get used to being here. Once she feels
comfortable with you, she‘ll ease up.
Maybe. She warmly smiled at Woape.
Oh, her name is Woape. He motioned to his aunt.
Erin, Woape slowly said.
Well, come on in. His aunt wrapped her arm around
Woape‘s shoulders and led her into the house. You need to eat
Woape glanced back at him.
I‘ll be there after I wash up. He held up his dirty hands
before he walked up the steps to his room. He wondered if she
would follow him, but she didn‘t. He poured water into his bowl
and used the soap to wash his hands.
I see that our guest has attached herself to you, Julia said
as she leaned against the doorframe of his room.
Why don‘t you talk to her? She could use another
woman closer to her age to be with.
You‘re the one who brought her here, not me.
He grabbed the towel from the hook on the wall and dried
his hands. If you‘d been there when it happened, would you
have let those men kill her?
No. But I wouldn‘t plan to drop her off and leave for my
I didn‘t say I was going to do that. I didn‘t even say I
was going to leave. I just said I was on my way to a job when I
ran into her.
So what are you going to do?
He threw the towel down and groaned. I don‘t know. I
just got here yesterday. Why don‘t you give me some time to
figure it out?
Well, she won‘t leave you alone, and from what I saw,
you seem to enjoy being with her.
He frowned. What were you doing? Spying on me?
It‘s hardly spying when you‘re right in the open, talking
and laughing with her.
So what? I was being nice to her. Since when is being
nice to someone a crime?
You‘re not nice to me like that. I can‘t remember the last
time you even bothered to sit and talk to me.
Maybe that‘s because you‘re always hounding me about
something. I‘m tired of hearing what I‘m doing wrong.
Well, you don‘t appreciate anything I‘ve done for you.
He looked out the window and saw the rolling hills in the
distance. Now he remembered exactly why he left home to begin
with. Being here, in close proximity with his sister, was sucking
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the life from him. He longed for the freedom of the prairie. Sure,
he didn‘t have the comforts he had here, but he did have peace
I don‘t even know why I try to get through to you, she
said, obviously exasperated.
Then don‘t, he snapped. He groaned and rubbed his
temples, willing the impending headache away. He didn‘t know
how she did it, but she brought out the worst in him. He didn‘t
I gave up a marriage to Ernest to help our aunt raise
Oh, God. Don‘t tell me she‘s going into this again.
Well, Aunt Erin couldn‘t have taken care of you all by
herself back then. Not when she was at death‘s door.
For goodness sakes, Julia, I was eleven. I could handle
things by myself.
She looked over her shoulder and jerked. Then she glared
at him. Your little guest is much too quiet. She stormed off and
ran down the stairs.
He hastened to the hallway and saw that Woape stood still,
a worried look on her face. Terrific. All she needed was to catch
him and his sister arguing. He approached her and said,
Everything is fine.
She pointed to his bedroom and then down the stairs.
Right. Eat. He passed her so that he could lead her
down the steps.
She reached out to stop him.
It was the first time she touched him, so he didn‘t expect
it. He glanced at his arm and then at her.
She spoke and pointed to the other bedroom doors.
He tried to decipher her meaning but couldn‘t. He
shrugged to show her that he didn‘t understand her.
Opening a closed door, she peered into the bedroom.
Erin. She pointed down the steps. Erin?
He nodded. Erin. Room. Erin‘s room.
She closed the door and pointed to the room she was
staying in. It was Julia‘s room, but Julia refused to sleep there as
long as Woape was in the house. Woape…room?
That was technically true—at least for the time being—so
he nodded. Woape‘s room.
She walked over to his room. Gary room.
Where was she going with this? Yes. Gary‘s room. My
Nunp mih? She pulled her long braids up and twisted
them in a bun and pointed down the stairs.
She shook her head and crossed her arms and glared at
him the same way Julia just had.
She pointed to herself. Woape. She pointed to him.
Gary. She pointed down the steps. Erin. Julia?
Oh, she wanted to know the names of everyone in the
house. He chuckled. Yes. Julia. He crossed his arms and gave
his best imitation of his sister‘s usual scowl.
She giggled and undid the bun so her braids hung down
her back again. Julia? She then motioned to the bedrooms and
Erin‘s room. He went to his aunt‘s bedroom and
opened the door. He found his sister‘s nightgown and picked it
up. Julia. Then he pointed to the spot where she slept.
Woape suddenly rambled on about something and
motioned to his bedroom. He caught the word Julia and
Gary , but that was all he understood.
He wasn‘t sure of how to respond. Leaving his aunt‘s
bedroom, he shut the door.
She entered the room she‘d been given to stay in and
looked expectantly at him.
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Uncertain, he said, Julia‘s room.
Gary‘s room? She motioned to the bed.
Oh. He shook his head. No. Gary‘s room. He
pointed to his room. Julia‘s my sister.
Sister. Then he shook his head. Not wife. There was
no way he‘d marry someone like Julia. It was bad enough he was
born into the same family she was in.
He nodded and said, Yes.
Wife. He should probably stop using the words =no‘ and
=not‘ in front of a noun. Julia sister.
A wide smile crossed her face. Sister.
Then she shook her head. Wife.
No. Julia sister.
She looked so proud of her newfound understanding of
the English language that he grinned. She laughed and then said
something that ended with the word eat .
He wondered what it was, exactly, that she was thinking
about but knew he wouldn‘t figure it out. So he chose to nod, say
eat and lead the way down the steps.
oape hoped she understood right—that her initial impression
of Gary and Julia had been wrong. If =sister‘ meant what she
thought it did, then Gary wasn‘t married. She watched him and
Julia during the meal. There was no indication that they shared
any romantic interest. In fact, there seemed to be an underlying
problem between them. She wondered what caused the tension.
Then she recalled Julia‘s mannerisms toward her. Perhaps
the reason Julia was upset…but not for the reason she assumed.
She watched Julia in the parlor, trying to decipher clues
that would tell her why she bothered Gary‘s sister as much as she
did. Since Gary remained in the house, Woape decided she was
safe enough to leave his side so she could be in the room with
Julia and Erin who worked on sewing quilts.
She sat in the chair closest to the stairs. She peered up the
staircase. What did he do up there? When she wasn‘t looking up
the stairs to see when he‘d return, she took a few peaks at the two
women or glanced out the window. The scene between Erin and
Julia reminded her of the times she spent with her mother.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she willed the urge to cry aside.
If she hadn‘t run when she did, she‘d be miserable right now. But
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she worried that the fact that she ran sentenced her mother to the
world beyond this one…if such a world existed.
She returned her gaze to the stairs. When would he come
back down? No. She had to figure out what was going on with
Julia. Once she settled that issue, then she‘d know for sure
whether Gary was free to marry her or not. He‘d keep her safe
for the rest of her life…and he was nice. She really hoped he could
Erin‘s laughter caught her attention. She motioned to
Woape and said Gary , but she spoke to Julia.
Woape didn‘t know how to interpret that.
Julia‘s sharp stare, however, was as clear as day. She
definitely didn‘t like the fact that Woape was there.
Woape took a deep breath and asked, Julia sister…Gary?
Julia didn‘t answer her. Instead, she turned to Erin and
spoke in angry tones.
Erin responded, obviously trying to calm Julia down, but
Julia stood up and threw her quilt on the couch and stormed out
of the room and outside.
Woape looked out the window and saw Julia continue her
walk down the street. What did she say that upset Julia? She
sighed. Well, now there was no denying Julia was mad that she
was there, and she didn‘t know what to do about it.
Erin eased out of her chair and approached Woape.
Woape fought the urge to flee up the steps.
To her surprise, Erin rested her hand on hers and nodded.
Julia is Gary‘s sister.
Wife? Woape asked.
She shook her head. No. No wife.
Woape was beginning to understand what =no‘ meant, and
this was good. She wished she could ask Erin why Julia didn‘t like
her but couldn‘t. She did realize that this was going to make
things uncomfortable. Julia most likely wouldn‘t like it if Woape
married her brother. But she wasn‘t going to let someone‘s
opinion interfere from doing what she wanted. Not anymore.
She had learned her lesson. Next time she chose a husband, it
would be the one she wanted…instead of the one others chose for
Gary poured another bucket of hot water into the tub. That
should do it. He turned to leave and, once again, Julia stood in
the doorway of Woape‘s bedroom and shook her head.
Her ways are not like ours, he said.
She bathes so much I‘m surprised that her skin stays on.
He rolled his eyes. Water doesn‘t make skin fall off.
Well, it‘s not normal.
What do you expect? She‘s an Indian. She‘ll do things
differently from us. And you know, a bath isn‘t a bad idea. We
could all use one.
Speak for yourself. I‘m fine.
Guess what I heard when I was in Fargo?
The Indians say they can smell a white man coming.
So what are you saying? Their sense of smell is superior
No. I‘m saying that we stink.
He laughed. They have a point, don‘t you think?
Their aunt came up the stairs with Woape. Now I‘ve
seen everything. Are you two actually getting along?
I‘m not sure, Julia said. He just told me that we all
The older woman stopped and glanced at Woape who
stood behind her. I suppose we could all use a bath.
See? Gary shot his sister a pointed look.
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Tomorrow is the Lord‘s day anyway, their aunt said.
It‘s fitting to go to church clean. She stepped aside so Woape
could get around her. You might teach us some things, she told
Woape. Then she patted her shoulder. Bath. She pointed to
Taking that as his cue to get out of Woape‘s room, Gary
moved out of the way.
Woape glanced at everyone, and Gary couldn‘t tell what
the expression on her face meant.
Erin chuckled. We should get out of here. The poor
thing must be wondering why we‘re all staring at her. She lightly
pushed Julia and Gary into the hallway. Turning to Woape, she
said, Don‘t worry about us. We‘ll get out of your hair.
Gary and his sister had just finished descending the stairs
when there was a knock at the door. He retraced a couple of
steps so he could answer it.
Mrs. Clemens stood before him. Oh my goodness! Are
you the same boy who left over a year ago?
A boy? I‘d just turned nineteen when I headed out.
She grinned. When you‘re fifty, nineteen won‘t seem that
old to you, son.
He supposed that was true.
His aunt wiggled past him so she could talk to her friend.
Did you finish making the clothes?
Almost. I want her to try them on so I‘m sure I got the
Her? he interjected.
Woape, of course, his aunt replied. I can‘t have her
wearing your sister‘s clothes all the time.
Thank goodness for that too, Julia called out from
where she sat on the couch, working on the quilt in her lap.
She‘s stretching my dresses out.
A grin crossed his face. That was because Woape was
more endowed up on top than his sister was.
Julia glared at him. I know what you‘re thinking, and
you‘d better stop.
Their aunt groaned. It‘s been nonstop fighting ever since
he got back, she told her friend. I‘m ready to pull my hair out.
Mrs. Clemmens looked at Gary. If you plan to stick
around, why don‘t you buy Matthew‘s place?
Is he selling it? his aunt asked.
Sure is, she told Erin. He just made the announcement
a week ago.
Why, doesn‘t that beat all? She nudged him in the side.
That was about the time you came here with Woape. If that isn‘t
a sign from above, I don‘t know what is.
Julia stood up and went over to them. But he doesn‘t
even know if he‘s going to stay in town or not.
He cleared his throat. I‘m able to speak for myself.
I‘m just saying that you‘ve pretty much indicated that
you‘re going to leave Woape here and head off to your next big
Julia, go upstairs and see if Woape needs anything, Erin
stated, her tone edged with the implication that Julia didn‘t have a
choice in the matter.
Julia sighed but obeyed their aunt.
Gary wished he could get rid of her as easily.
His aunt turned to Mrs. Clemmens. I‘ll send Gary over
with Woape when she‘s ready. She‘s taking a bath at the
That is fine. The older woman looked up at him. Do
you know where I live?
Yes, he replied.
As she hobbled away, his aunt shut the door. Just what
are your plans?
I don‘t want to stay in this house, he replied before he
went to the parlor and sat in a chair.
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She followed him and sat on the couch. As a grown
man, that‘s natural. What are you going to do about Woape? I
don‘t mind keeping her here. It may take Julia some time to get
used to her, but I‘m sure she‘ll adjust.
He leaned forward and stared at his clasped hands.
Should he head to his next job? Woape would be safe here. The
men who were chasing her were long gone. That was one way of
doing things. But was it the best one? He glanced at his aunt who
waited for his response. I don‘t know.
What don‘t you know?
He shrugged. I don‘t know if I want to head back out or
not. I mean, a man has to settle down at some point, right?
Some don‘t. Once Ned left, he never came back.
He looked at his aunt. Her expression told him that she
had finally accepted the fact that her son was gone for good.
There was the question if he was even alive. Maybe he never had
the opportunity to return. Gary realized those three Indians could
have killed him. If his gun hadn‘t been enough to convince them
to back off, he‘d be pushing up daisies along with Woape.
He cleared his throat. I never intended to go from job to
job my whole life. At the time, I just needed to get out of here.
A scream from upstairs interrupted their conversation.
His aunt shook her head. It‘s more than Woape that bothers
your sister. You do understand that, don‘t you?
Yes. I know.
And you also know that it‘s not your fault…just as it‘s not
hers. The two of you are like night and day.
Julia stormed down the steps, her wet hair hanging down
her face. She can‘t stay here! I want her out!
What did you do to her? Gary demanded, jumping up
from his seat.
Oh sure. Assume it was something I did! she spat,
wiping her eyes.
What happened? their aunt asked, hurrying over to her.
She dumped water on me.
Because she doesn‘t like me.
Gary shook his head. What did you do?
Their aunt shushed him. Let me handle this. Julia, do
you have any idea what set her off?
She wanted a pair of scissors so I got some, and when I
saw that she wanted to cut her hair, I tried to help her. There‘s no
way she could cut it on her own and have it look right. Frankly,
she needs a haircut. There‘s no reason anyone should have their
hair reach their waist.
Is she trying to cut her hair now?
No. After she grabbed the scissors from me, she threw
them out the window. That was right before she took a cup of
her disgusting bath water and poured it on my head. This is so
gross. She shivered as she touched her hair. Now I do have to
bathe. She turned to Gary. You better get my bath ready the
same way you get hers ready every single day since you‘ve been
She must have seen you as a threat, he said.
I didn‘t threaten her! Really, has it come to this? You
will defend her regardless of how she acts.
I don‘t believe she wanted to hurt you. If she had, she
would have stabbed you with the scissors instead of throwing
I ran from her before she could do that.
Their aunt set her hands on their arms. I don‘t believe
Woape meant any harm. Maybe she didn‘t want a haircut and
didn‘t know how to express that any other way.
Then why would she put scissors up to her hair?
I don‘t know. And since she does not speak our
language, we‘ll probably never know.
Well, whatever the reason, I will not help her anymore.
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She nodded. That‘s probably best. I can help her with
anything she may need for now on.
Julia‘s mouth formed a thin line. I want her out of here.
And where is she going to go? Gary asked, aware that
his voice had risen in irritation.
Their aunt held up her hands to stop them. This is my
home. The decision is mine.
Uncle wouldn‘t have gone for it, Julia sulked.
Well, he‘s up in Heaven, so he doesn‘t have a say in this.
The Lord wouldn‘t want us to turn our backs on someone who
needs help, and that is why she is staying.
The Lord is also against murder, his sister said.
Perhaps Woape should be reminded of that.
She wasn‘t trying to kill you, Gary argued, unable to
believe his sister was still harping on that ridiculous story.
She hates me, Julia insisted.
And you‘ve shown her such great kindness, he scoffed.
Their aunt turned to him. I agree that you need to find
somewhere else to live. Whether that is in this town or seeking
out your next adventure, I don‘t care. Y ou two will give me a
heart attack unless you leave. She then turned to Julia. Woape is
welcome to stay here whether you like it or not. So find a way to
get along with her. This is not up for debate. Gary, get Woape
and take her to Mrs. Clemmens.
Gary sighed but started toward the stairs to obey his aunt.
She reached out to stop him. Get her some things to
make her feel more at home here.
Things a woman likes.
He shrugged. What would those things be?
Julia grumbled as she stomped to the kitchen.
His aunt smiled at him. Start with a comb or brush. A
hand mirror. Maybe even a nice piece of jewelry. I believe
Indians wear jewelry. A pretty shawl. Things like that. Maybe
once she has some things that are her own, she‘ll begin to feel
Seeming to be content, she went to the kitchen.
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oape finished braiding her hair. She noted the scowl on her
face and realized how ugly her anger was making her. She took a
deep breath and tried to focus on what her mother used to tell
her. If you get angry, think of the gentle spirit of the bird. It
flies on by and leaves its cares behind to be tossed into the wind.
She struggled to find the peace her mother spoke of. She
even closed her eyes and imagined that she was one with the birds.
But she couldn‘t grab onto it because she could hear Julia
shouting downstairs and knew the woman wouldn‘t have the
decency to tell them the truth.
Care not what others say. Let your actions spea k for
you, her mother always said.
She gritted her teeth and opened her eyes. Julia was
yelling and so was Gary. Did he believe his sister? Woape quickly
finished with her braid. The knot in her hair was still there in the
few strands she wanted to cut. She tried to comb through the
tangle, but her efforts had been in vain. The stubborn thing
remained in place. Why did Julia feel it necessary to grab the
scissors from her and cut her bald?
Woape did have comfort in knowing that her hair was
safe. It was an honor to have her hair at the length it was.
Someday, she hoped it would be longer. She thought of her
mother and the others. The screaming…the whips…the ropes… If
she hadn‘t run away, she would be dead. Tears slid down her
cheeks as she touched her hair. Maybe she should cut it. Those
in mourning could do it. Was she wrong to keep her hair? Should
she have let Julia cut it? But what good would that do? It
wouldn‘t bring the others back.
The knocking at the door made her pause. Should she
She relaxed. It wasn‘t Julia. She made sure all the buttons
on her dress were done before she strode to the door and opened
Gary smiled at her and waved her forward.
Relieved, she stepped out of the room. Good. He wasn‘t
mad at her. She returned his smile.
He motioned to the staircase and then the front door.
Nodding, she followed him out of the house. She was
glad she didn‘t have to run into Julia on her way out. For all she
knew, Julia had another pair of scissors waiting for her. Turning
her attention to their surroundings, she studied the buildings and
houses lining the dirt road. Several people stopped to stare, but
she didn‘t mind since they also waved a friendly greeting. Gary
spoke to them and mentioned her by name, so she guessed he was
explaining why she was there. It seemed to her that people liked
Gary, so she concluded he had lived here for quite some time
before he headed in the direction of the Mandan Village.
As they progressed along whatever journey he was taking
her on, the cool afternoon reminded her that Fall was quick in
approaching. Fall meant change. She couldn‘t deny her life had
drastically changed in the course of two weeks. Ever since that
night she snuck away from her tribe, everything had changed. She
didn‘t recognize her life anymore. She wondered what other
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changes were coming. She glanced at Gary. Perhaps not all
changes were bad. He, after all, was turning out to be a good one.
He stopped at a house and knocked on the front door.
She wondered who they were going to see. She expected
to go to a store or check on their horses like they had before.
An older woman opened the door and smiled when she
Woape smiled in return, momentarily wondering why
people seemed friendly except for Julia. What had she done to
deserve to have her hair cut off?
The woman waved her forward and since Gary waited, she
crossed the threshold. Woape followed her to a room filled with
all kinds of fabrics and clothing. Gary talked to the woman and
pointed to some of the items. Woape watched the exchange
carefully. She heard her name but that was all she could decipher.
Neither he nor the woman said any of the words she‘d started to
He pointed to a pretty blue shirt and brown skirt, and the
woman retrieved the items and handed them to Woape. She led
her to a small bedroom, and Woape understood that she was to
put them on. Woape nodded and went to do her task. Her heart
raced in anticipation as she donned on the new clothing. It was
nice to wear something other than Julia‘s dress.
But there was a bigger reason for her excitement, for if she
understood what he was doing, then it meant he was interested in
marrying her. Unlike the man she was supposed to marry, Gary
hadn‘t brought her gifts of a horse and food. Gary didn‘t seem to
have more than one horse, and he didn‘t grow food so how could
he give her such things? However, he found clothes to give her.
When she emerged from the room, he smiled, looking
pleased with his gift for her. He told the woman something and
she quickly gathered a dress and shoes. Woape was ready to put
the dress on, but the woman shook her head and motioned to the
Woape obeyed and put them on. They felt restrictive
compared to her moccasins, but she could walk around in them
without hurting her feet. She wondered how the woman could
make her clothes and shoes without knowing her.
Gary indicated that their business at the woman‘s house
was done, so Woape collected the gifts, Julia‘s dress, and the
moccasins and followed him out of the house. They strolled
down the street until they came to a store. Woape recognized the
place since he‘d bought food from there as well, but she was
surprised when he led her to a new section. At least, it wasn‘t the
section she‘d seen before.
An older man came over to them and Gary pointed to her
and then the items on the shelves. Turning to her, Gary
encouraged her to look at the things neatly laid out.
Uncertain, Woape touched a brush with a nice shiny blue
Gary nodded, picked it up, and put it on top of the clothes
and moccasins she was holding.
Her smile widened. More gifts! This had to mean he was
asking her to be his wife, and by accepting his gifts, she was
agreeing to the marriage. She eagerly took anything he offered
her. Under ordinary circumstances, she would have held out.
After all, it had been to her benefit to delay her acceptance of
Citlali‘s proposal. Her parents had been proud of it. Little did
they realize she delayed the acceptance for as long as she could
because she didn‘t love him.
Woape‘s mind drifted back to the present as Gar y put a
bonnet and hat in her arms. He indicated for her to follow him to
the counter so she obeyed and nearly protested when he took
everything but her new clothes out of her arms. When she
realized he meant to purchase them, she relaxed. Things were
different here in the white man‘s world. It would take her some
time to adjust to her new life.
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At least, Gary was giving her a permanent place by his
side. He‘d proposed. She accepted. As soon as she joined him in
his room, then they‘d finalize the marriage. It wasn‘t exactly the
way it would have been with Citlali had she stayed for the
wedding, but in many ways, it was better. She liked Gary more
than Citlali. Gary seemed to enjoy life…and he was very brave.
He could be a chief. Anyone who could scare Hothlepoya could
lead a tribe.
As long as she stayed with Gary, she wouldn‘t have to
worry about Hothlepoya or his two friends ever again. Also,
maybe it meant that Julia would have to leave her alone. Why
Julia insisted on bothering her while she bathed, she didn‘t know.
Woape was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Maybe
she‘d start putting a barrier in front of the door so Julia wouldn‘t
be able to barge in on her. But would Julia dare enter Gary‘s
room? Woape never saw her enter it.
Well, it didn‘t matter. What did matter was that she had a
secure place with Gary. Where he went, she would follow. She
wondered if he would head off on horseback like he had before
when he‘d found her. It would make her feel much better if she
didn‘t have to deal with Julia at all. Perhaps his time here would
be limited. Regardless, the important thing was that he planned to
keep her by his side, and that was all that mattered.
He returned the items to her.
Gary…ibero, she said. She did not know his word for
=husband‘, but she could tell him her word for it.
Ibero? he asked.
She nodded. Ibero.
He smiled. Yes. Ibero.
There. It didn‘t get any clearer than that.
That night Gary went to sleep, not expecting anything unusual to
happen. For sure, he didn‘t expect someone to slip into his bed.
When a warm naked body pressed against him, he initially
assumed he was dreaming. Unlike his other dreams though, this
one seemed particularly vivid. Part of him struggled to wake up,
to find out if it was really happening. The woman snuggled in his
arms and began kissing his face. She started at his cheeks and
before he knew it, she was kissing him on the lips. He finally
stirred enough so he could kiss her back. The problem was,
unlike his other dreams, he could actually feel everything. Her lips
were soft, as was her flesh. By the time he realized that he was
not dreaming after all, he was caressing her breasts.
Startled, he bolted up in the bed and tried to get out of it.
Since he was tangled in the sheets, his attempt to distance himself
from the situation resulted in him falling onto the hardwood floor
with a loud thud. He tried to stand up but tripped and fell again,
this time landing on his stomach.
The door to his room flung open and his aunt and sister
What is going on in my home? Aunt Erin demanded,
holding the kerosene lamp up.
Once he was able to successfully stand up, he saw Woape
frantically wrapping the robe around her self. Then it dawned on
him that he‘d been doing things with Woape that he‘d never done
with a woman before. Well, of course it had to be her. No one
but her would even think to come to his bed. But why? He
glanced at his sister who stared at him and Woape in shock, her
hand over her mouth.
Gary, what is the meaning of this? his aunt asked, her
eyes a steely gray.
Wh-…I… He shrugged. I don‘t know what she‘s doing
His sister finally took her hand down and clucked her
tongue. A likely story.
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It‘s true. I was asleep and… Oh, for goodness‘ sakes!
The last thing he wanted to do was give them any details! I
didn‘t know she was in my bed.
His aunt didn‘t look convinced. You aren‘t stupid.
I was sleeping! When I woke up, she was next to me.
And no, he wasn‘t about to say any more than that!
Something was happening, Julia insisted. A woman
doesn‘t get caught naked in a man‘s bed unless she‘s planning on
something she ought not to do until she‘s married to him.
Really, Gary. I thought I raised you better than this,
We didn‘t do anything, he said.
They rolled their eyes.
He looked at Woape who didn‘t look as ashamed as he
thought she should for pulling such a stunt. Didn‘t she realize
how weak a man‘s will was when confronted with a naked woman
in his sleep? She was lucky he had the sense to wake up and put a
stop to this nonsense! He waited until Woape looked at him
before he asked, What were you thinking?
Wife, she replied. She pointed to Julia who still stood
there with her eyes wide in disbelief. Sister.
It took him a good thirty seconds before he realized what
she was saying. Wife?
She nodded. Wife. Gary ibero.
You think we‘re married? Who in the world told her
such a ridiculous tale? He looked at Julia. Did you put her up to
Julia inhaled sharply. I would never tell a woman to
engage in immoral activity.
Erin frowned at him. So you don‘t know why she‘s
insisting that you are her husband all of the sudden?
No! He ran his fingers through his disheveled hair.
Then he remembered that he was in his night clothes. Why
would I be dressed if I thought I was going to…you know…with
Hmm… His aunt tapped her foot on the floor. I guess
you have a point. Still, something you said or did encouraged
I never took her to the preacher.
Her customs differ from ours. Apparently, something
happened that made her think you married her.
I don‘t know what that could possibly be. I didn‘t kiss
her. I didn‘t even hug her.
Well, for some reason, she‘s decided you married her.
Fine. He turned to Woape and noticed that she looked
upset that his aunt and sister were still in the room. After he took
a deep breath to settle his rattled nerves, he said, Woape…no
Woape‘s eyebrows furrowed. Then she spoke in her
native tongue, and there was no way he could figure out what she
said. Then her overwhelmed tone became soft and sorrowful.
Her eyes filled with tears and she ran out of the room, pushing
past his aunt and sister. The slamming door of Julia‘s bedroom
echoed through the still house.
He stared back at his relatives, feeling as bewildered as
they looked. Finally, he sighed. I reckon that solves that
Julia still didn‘t look as if she believed him, but she quietly
turned and went back to their aunt‘s bedroom.
Julia, however, was the least of his problems. He hated
that sad look on Woape‘s face. Did it really mean that much to
her that he married her? Great. Now he felt bad. Still, if he went
along with what she expected, then how was he supposed to go to
church with a clear conscience? In her culture, maybe they were
married…how, he didn‘t understand at all…but in his culture, they
weren‘t; and he wasn‘t about to compromise that to spare her
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feelings or to satisfy his curiosity about what went on between a
man and a woman in bed.
His aunt walked up to him. You should marry her.
Because it‘s about time you settled down and established
I didn‘t get her in the family way.
No. But why not do it? She‘s a sweet girl, and I think
you‘ve taken a liking to her, even if you don‘t know it.
Of course, I like her. She‘s nice.
There you go. That‘s all you need to get started on a life
I don‘t know. He rubbed his eyes and gave a loud sigh.
I‘m not looking to get married. I‘m not even sure what my place
is in this world.
You don‘t want to end up like your cousin. It‘s not good
for a man to roam all of his life. Didn‘t you get some idea of what
you enjoy while you were gone?
He thought over the jobs he‘d done. He‘d helped out
with the railroad, learned to build houses, and delivered supplies.
None of those appealed to him. Was there a job in town that he
could enjoy doing? But maybe life wasn‘ t about seeking out the
job that a man got up every morning so excited about he dreaded
going home. Maybe life was more than that. He was sure that
God had a plan for him. If only he could figure out what that
His aunt put her hand on his arm and spoke to him in a
soft tone. Your cousin was more concerned about his pleasures
than his responsibilities. You remember what happened to him?
I don‘t like to drink moonshine.
Everyone has a weakness. Alcoholism was his.
He knew his cousin had hurt his aunt when he left.
Though his aunt managed to resolve her grief, there was a hole in
her heart no one could fill. Gary walked over to the window and
stared out at the landscape that spanned for miles. What exactly
was he searching for?
At least think about it, his aunt said.
Cousin Ned left after he married Carol. Why do you
think marriage will settle me?
Becau se you have something he didn‘t.
He waited for her to continue.
She smiled. You have an emptiness that God and this
world can‘t give you. Don‘t you know that God said it wasn‘t
good for man to be alone? She stepped toward the door.
Glancing over her shoulder, she added, Your cousin didn‘t think
God was worth considering. It clouded his vision of what really
As soon as she shut the door behind her, Gary plopped
back into bed and looked up at the ceiling. The room was dark
since she had taken the kerosene lamp with her, and he suddenly
became aware of how silent it was. His aunt was right. He was
lonely, though he wasn‘t lonely enough to stick around with Julia
in this house. He did want to leave his sister. But did he have to
He rolled over in bed and unwittingly recalled how it felt
to have Woape beside him. His body responded to the memory,
so he rolled back to his previous position. She seemed like a
sweet person. She certainly was beautiful. He didn‘t think being
married to her would be a painful experience. It wasn‘t like she
But marriage? Marriage was for life. Did it make sense to
marry someone he hardly knew? His head ached from the internal
debate raging inside of him. For the time being, he‘d put the
matter out of his mind and go to sleep. Maybe in the light of day,
things would make better sense.
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y the time Gary woke up, he heard his aunt and sister talking
downstairs in the kitchen. He knew they were talking in the
kitchen because of the clattering dishes. From the rise of the sun,
he guessed it was just past breakfast. He wondered if he could
stay in bed all day and avoid facing them and Woape. Once again,
he longed for the freedom of the prairie…but this time for
What did he do that made Woape think he proposed to
her? He slowly exhaled and wondered how he could explain
things to her, to let her know he didn‘t mean to give her false
hope. Maybe he could hide out in bed for the rest of his life and
not confront the issue at all. That really seemed to be the best
solution in the midst of this mess.
The sound of footsteps crept into his awareness. He laid
still and waited. Someone was coming up the stairs.
Neither one has ventured downstairs, his aunt Erin said.
One would think they disappeared.
Both are probably too ashamed, Julia replied.
Alright, so make that two people who were coming up the
stairs. And those happened to be the last two people he wanted
to see right now. The steps got closer to his door. He didn‘t
think they‘d come into his room. At least, he hoped not. It
wasn‘t like he was making any noises. If they thought he was still
asleep, that would be best.
They stopped in front of Woape‘s door and knocked. He
breathed a sigh of relief. Good. They wanted to comfort her.
That was for the best. He never meant to hurt her feelings like he
had. When they knocked again, he frowned. Something wasn‘t
right. He quickly stood up and went to his door. As soon as he
opened it, he noticed the neatly folded pile of clothes and other
items he‘d gotten her the day before.
He glanced up at his aunt and sister who had opened the
door to Woape‘s room. They currently stood in the empty room
and stared at him. Great. More staring. He forgot how nice it
was to be out on the land with no one watching him.
Apparently, when you got her those things, she thought
you meant to be her husband. Erin sighed. This is my fault. I
should have taken her to get them. It‘s just that she wanted to be
with you all the time, so I thought she‘d be more comfortable if
you did it. Oh, I should have gone with you both.
How were you to know that she‘d take something
innocent and turn it into…this? Julia asked. It doesn‘t matter
now. She looked over at Gary. I don‘t suppose she‘s in there?
No! Oh for goodness sakes! Did they really think he‘d
bring Woape back into his room?
Don‘t take any offense to the question, his aunt said.
The fact of the matter is that we can‘t find Woape anywhere else.
Your room was our last option.
The knot twisted tighter in his gut. He knew it. He just
knew something was wrong! He hurried back into his room and
got dressed. As he buttoned his shirt, he studied the landscape
beyond the town limits. It took a moment, but he caught sight of
a woman riding east on a horse. There was only one woman he
knew who wore a deerskin dress. He felt horrible. He never
meant for Woape to leave. Those men could still be out there
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searching for her, ready to kill her at any moment, and he had
been lingering around his bed like someone who couldn‘t make a
decision. Well, there would be no more of that. He would marry
her. It was better for her to be safe with him than to risk her neck
out there in the middle of nowhere.
When he finished slipping on his boots, he rushed to the
parlor where his aunt and sister were getting ready to leave the
I found her, he told them.
Where is she? his aunt asked.
Heading out of town. He grabbed his hat from the top
shelf of the closet and plopped it on his head. I‘ll get her. You
get the preacher.
The preacher? The older woman looked at him with a
curious expression on her face.
He flung the door open. We can‘t get married without
the preacher. Before either his aunt or his sister could respond,
he shut the door and ran to get his horse.
Woape did everything she could to evade him, but Gary caught up
to her. Why he should bother finding her when he had such
disdain for her, she didn‘t understand. For some reason, she
displeased him, and she couldn‘t bear the shame of continuing to
be in his presence. Wasn‘t it bad enough Erin and Julia witnessed
his rejection of her? Why did he feel it necessary to bring her
back under their disapproving stares? Hadn‘t she been humiliated
She glared at him as he led her horse by the reins. Even
the chill in the air wasn‘t enough to cool the heat on her face.
How could he be so quick? She wondered if he could
outmaneuver Hothlepoya. She shook the question from her
mind. What did it matter? Hothlepoya was back at his teepee,
probably enjoying the spoils from his latest conquest. She steeled
herself against the images that threatened to assault her mind. She
wouldn‘t cry. Not now. And especially not in front of Gary.
Instead, she turned her attention to the prairie that
stretched around them. The town was a good ways off. She‘d
gotten far. A little further out and she might have made it to…
To where? North. Hothlepoya was south of them. As long as
she kept going north, it didn‘t matter where she ended up. Only,
Gary had her trapped. What good had running away done her? It
seemed to her that no matter if she ran from the chief‘s son or
Hothlepoya or Gary, the result was the same. She went from one
man‘s authority to another. Since Gary was the strongest of them
all, she shouldn‘t be surprised he succeeded in the end.
Another gust of wind crossed the landscape and blew
across her skin. She shivered.
Gary looked over at her and asked her a question.
She decided to ignore him. Even when he called her
name, she refused to glance in his direction.
He stopped, and her horse—the traitorous beast she
was!—also stilled. Woape?
Gritting her teeth, she star ed forward, aware that there was
beauty around her but unable to see it in the midst of her bitter
emotions. He sighed and reached out to touch her, but she jerked
away from him. What right did he think he had to do that after
his cruel treatment of her?
Sorry, he slowly stated.
What the word meant, she didn‘t know, but she detected
tenderness in the way he said it.
She debated whether or not she should acknowledge him.
Woape wife. Gary i… ibero.
Now she knew he mocked her! She shot a glaring look at
His eyes grew wide in surprise.
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What do you expect? she asked him in her language.
You give me gifts and have me believe you will marry me, but
when I accept, you say no!
He spoke, not sounding angry but bewildered.
She had no idea what his game was, and she didn‘t care to
figure it out. She knew better than to fall for his lies again. He
could lavish her with all the gifts in the world, but she‘d been
burned once and that was one time too many.
After a tense moment, he gave a slight shake of his head
and turned his attention back to directing their horses to town.
She bit her lower lip and considered jumping off her horse
and running. Could she outrun him? He‘d have her horse to deal
with. It was worth a chance. She waited until his eyes were
turned to the town and quickly leapt off the horse. Her horse
reacted and caused him to settle it down, which is what she had
hoped for. However, her horse quickly came under his control.
The stupid animal hadn‘t been so tame in the past! She
knew it was a long shot, but she had to try so she continued to
run. As she feared, he caught up to her, and he didn‘t even have
to forfeit his hold on her horse to do it. She didn‘t know whether
to be annoyed or impressed.
He moved his horse in front of her, and she tried to dodge
him but he was too quick for her. She stomped her foot in anger
and openly glared at him. Did he enjoy making her do what he
wanted? All this time, she had thought he was better than
Hothlepoya. But maybe she was wrong. Maybe she shouldn‘t
have followed him to his home.
When she saw that he was getting down from his horse,
she turned to bolt, but his hand wrapped around her wrist. His
touch wasn‘t rough. Unlike Hothlepoya, he was gentle. The
realization was so unexpected she froze in place. She didn‘t want
to think of how he made her weak or how her heart sped up in an
unfamiliar excitement as he closed the gap between them.
Woape, he whispered. I‘m sorry.
From the concern in his eyes, she reasoned the words =I‘m
sorry‘ were ones that expressed caring. No, he wasn‘t like
Hothlepoya. Hothlepoya‘s eyes were always cold, and when he
did smile, there was a hint of cruelty on his lips, as if he deemed
everyone around him unworthy of his acceptance. Such was not
the case with Gary. He felt bad for what happened the previous
night and was trying to tell her that. The muscles in her face
He took her hand and pressed it against his chest.
Ibero. Then he pointed to her. Wife.
She shook her head. He‘d told her no. Why did he say
He nodded. Slipping his hand behind her waist, he pulled
her against him and kissed her.
The action startled her, but only for a moment. His lips
were soft and warm. His body was strong and safe. So unlike
Hothlepoya. She responded to him, thinking that this was much
better than the kiss they‘d shared before when he‘d been half
asleep. Now he was wide awake and making the move. Did it
mean he changed his mind?
When he ended the kiss, he looked into her eyes as if
trying to figure something out. He took a deep breath and smiled.
She recognized the word. It meant he liked what he saw.
She offered a tentative smile in return.
Gary. Ibero? Woape. Wife?
Was he asking her? She pressed her palm on his chest.
Yes. Ibero. Husband.
So ibero meant husband. Murse. She tapped her chest.
Woape, my murse. He motioned back to the town.
When he kissed her this time, she leaned into him. It felt
right to be with him. She wished she could wrap herself in his
Ruth Ann Nordin
embrace and stay there forever. She rested her head on his
shoulder and held onto him, closing her eyes and listening to his
Finally, he stepped away from her and pointed to the
She nodded and got back on her horse.
He glanced in her direction. Smiling, he shook his head,
said something, and hopped on his steed.
Sometimes it frustrated her that she couldn‘t understand
most of what he said, for how could she decide if what he meant
was good or not? As he reached for her hand and kissed it, her
cheeks grew warm. There were some things they could
communicate to each other that didn‘t require words. He gave
her hand a gentle squeeze before he let it go. She could still feel
his lips on it. And her lips still tingled from his kiss.
No one had ever kissed her like he did. His actions were
tender. They were a great relief after what she went through
She closed her mind to the memory. No. She wouldn‘t
think of it. As horrible as it was, she wouldn‘t let it tarnish the
memory of this moment.
He waited for her until she rode by his side. It was strange
to be next to him this way, as if he saw her as an equal. She liked
it. It made her feel as if she had some value. At least, more value
than Citlali had attached to her. She studied Gary‘s profile,
wondering what changed his mind about her. She realized she
wouldn‘t understand it until she learned his language. But there
was time. He was going to marry her, so she had the rest of her
life to find out everything there was to know about him and his
he preacher pronounced them man and wife, and Gary kissed
Woape. It wasn‘t the way he pictured his wedding when he did
give it thought, which hadn‘t been often in his life. Weddings
were more of his sister‘s imaginings. She talked of a church, a
gathering of family and friends, and adorning herself in a white
dress she‘d make herself. He figured his wedding would be
similar, except instead of a dress, he‘d wear a nice suit.
Such was not the case for him. He and Woape stood in
his aunt‘s parlor, and his guests consisted of a happy looking aunt
and a sour looking sister. He thought Julia would protest but she
held her tongue. He reasoned that Julia was relieved he was at
least doing right by Woape…not that there was anything to =do
right‘ about. But how could he prove it?
Woape was beautiful in her Indian clothes. It was strange
that she hadn‘t married yet. From what he recalled in talking to
others at his last job, it wasn‘t unusual for Indian females to marry
at fourteen. Woape was older than that, but still younger than
him. Not that such things mattered. For whatever reason, he
happened to find her when he did, and he was convinced that
there was a purpose in it. What that purpose was, he‘d find out
sooner or later.
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Congratulations, the preacher said, breaking Gary out of
He blinked and turned to the older man. Thank you,
sir. He shook the man‘s hand. Looking over at Woape again, he
said, Murse. Ibero.
She nodded, and he figured she understood that in his
culture, this is how their marriage became official.
You two make an adorable couple, his aunt gushed,
dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. It‘ll be good for you to
have a wife, Gary.
Man isn‘t meant to be alone, the preacher agreed. He
closed his book. I better get back to preparing this Sunday‘s
Well, I appreciate you coming on short notice, Gary
said, holding Woape‘s hand. Now that he‘d warmed up to the
idea of being married, he realized it wasn‘t so bad after all. In fact,
judging by the kisses he had shared with Woape so far, it had a
particular appeal to it.
It was my pleasure. The preacher placed his hat on his
head and left the house.
Gary caught Julia‘s scowl as she walked up the stairs. That
was it. There was no way he was going to keep living in this
house with her. He waited until his aunt stopped telling Woape
how pretty she looked before speaking to her. Aunt Erin, do
you think I could get Matthew‘s house?
So now you‘re staying? she asked with a twinkle in her
I‘m not opposed to being in town. He lowered his voice
so Julia wouldn‘t overhear. I don‘t want to stay in this house,
and I think you know why.
Growing serious, she nodded. I do. And I think
Matthew would be happy to talk to you about his property.
Good. He turned to Woape. You stay with Erin. I‘m
going to find a place for us to live. By the expression on her face,
he knew that she didn‘t understand him. Of course, she didn‘t
understand him. She had a limited vocabulary of the English
language. Woape here. He pointed to the floor. With Erin.
He pointed to his aunt. Pointing to himself, he motioned to the
door. I…Gary…go. Then return. He then motioned to the floor
As soon as he took a step toward the door, Woape
He glanced at his aunt who was chuckling. You‘ll have to
take her with you.
But I also have to find a job. I can‘t take her with me for
all of that.
Still in good humor, she said, Then let‘s try this method.
She put her arm around Woape‘s shoulders and steered her to the
kitchen. Cook for Gary.
Woape looked over her shoulder at him.
He sighed. What could he do to help her understand he‘d
return? Inspired, he took off his hat and put it on her head. He
wouldn‘t leave his hat behind. Gary return to Woape. Ibero.
She relaxed and nodded. Then she turned to Erin.
His aunt laughed. Well, that settles that. When you get
back, we‘ll have supper ready.
Alright. I don‘t plan to be any longer than an hour.
On impulse, he gave Woape a light kiss. Being
affectionate with a woman was new, but he certainly enjoyed it.
His spontaneous nature had led him to do many things in haste in
the past, but he knew, deep down, that this was one of the best
things he‘d ever done. Content, he headed off to see Matthew.
With any luck, he and Woape would be under a different roof
before the night was over.
Ruth Ann Nordin
It wasn‘t what Gary expected his first home to be like, but
considering his limited funds, it would have to do. And it wasn‘t
one he owned. Matthew agreed to let him rent it until he could
afford to pay for it. Gary realized this was going to take awhile.
He wasn‘t used to waiting, but he realized it was time he started to
learn how to do it. The house had very little. Matthew didn‘t feel
like lugging his cook stove or his washtub out of the house.
And that was pretty much all Gary currently had to work
with. Well, that and the camping gear he‘d taken with him when
he left town. Maybe he should have accepted his aunt‘s offer for
some money to buy furnishings, but he wanted to do this himself.
He had enough to buy a couple of items. He was just in too much
of a hurry to get away from Julia, he didn‘t care that all the stores
were closed and he and Woape would have to sleep on the floor.
The important thing was that he was finally away from
Julia and her death stares. It amazed him that they came from the
same parents. Was it his fault that he got married before she did?
She didn‘t have to forgo a proposal for his sake, but she had and
she reminded him of it every chance she got. He really hoped the
town was big enough so he wouldn‘t have to deal with her more
than the occasional run in or Sunday mornings at church…with the
possible lunch at Aunt Erin‘s place afterwards.
He glanced around the sparse kitchen. Woape watched
him, as if trying to gauge his reaction. Well, he wasn‘t prepared
for any of this, but he didn‘t regret it so that counted for a lot. He
smiled and she smiled back. That was good. At least she wasn‘t
upset with him. She seemed to be alright with her current living
conditions. And she did have her new clothes again, so that was
something else to be thankful for.
I‘m going to need my hat back, he told her and pointed
She reached up and he thought she was going to hand it to
him, but she didn‘t. Hat, she said.
He nodded. Hat. He took another look around and
motioned to the staircase. Sleep. Since he was holding his
camping gear and their clothes, he had to rely on her to hold the
kerosene lamp up as he went up the steps. As predicted, she
followed him. He grinned. His shadow was still there. Stairs,
he told her.
She was doing better at pronouncing words. He was
surprised she was such a quick learner. That was good. The
sooner he could figure out what she wanted, the better. He did
hope that someday she‘d be able to tell him why those three
Indians wanted to kill her.
For the time being, however, that knowledge would have
to wait. As soon as he reached the top of the stairs, he waited for
her to join him. He peered into the two empty bedrooms and
decided to take the bigger one. He set their things on the floor.
There was nowhere to hang the clothes or a dresser to put them
in, so he laid them neatly out the best he could.
He wondered what she was accustomed to. Did this small
wooden house match anything she grew up in? He knew some
Indians had teepees, but some tribes used them more than others.
It was a shame that his understanding of her culture was so slim.
She had to have been a part of the Mandan, Hidatsa, or Arikara
tribe. They were in the area he was heading for. That was about
all he knew too. He thought he‘d learn more once he reached
He picked up the bedroll and smoothed it out on the
floor. Woape. He paused, wondering if she‘d understand what
he was asking her. Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara?
Woape. Mandan. Then she pointed to him. Gary.
Waci? That wasn‘t the name of this town. Sykeston.
She shook her head. Waci.
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He had no idea what she meant, and he was too worn out
to care so he decided to pretend like he understood. Waci.
She seemed pleased that he agreed with her, and it made
him wonder if he should put forth more effort into figuring out
what =waci‘ meant. But then she set the kerosene lamp down and
started to undress—a process which made him forget all about
=waci‘ and how tired he was.
The moment seemed somewhat awkward since he hardly
knew her, but he wouldn‘t let that deter him from finishing what
she‘d tried to start last night. They were married, so he could do
anything he wanted with her. Now
was an exciting thought.
He quickly retrieved the blankets his aunt had given him
and added it to the bedroll. There was no box stove in the room,
and it was bound to get chilly during the night. He wasn‘t chilly
yet. He was too geared up and ready to go to care about the
temperature of the room, but he reasoned that they‘d be glad for
the blankets once they finished consummating their marriage.
Once he was done, he started to unbuckle his belt. He
glanced at her and stopped. Last night had been such a blur, and
he hadn‘t taken the time to really look at her. But now he
could…and so he did. She had wonderful curves, and he
unwittingly recalled how her flesh felt beneath his hands. The
light gave him an ample view of her front, making him wonder
why she wasn‘t embarrassed to be naked before him.
She gave him his hat and he mutely took it. Then she gave
a slight shiver before she settled under the blankets.
Right. The bed. He definitely wanted to be there with
her. He shrugged off his clothes, not bothering to see where they
ended up, and joined her. The hardwood floor wasn‘t very
comfortable, but he hardly noticed. What got his attention was
her warm and soft body. This was much better than last night.
This time he knew exactly what was happening. He pulled her
into his arms and smiled at her. He thought about extinguishing
the light in the kerosene lamp, but he was enjoying the ability to
see her too much to do that. Moonlight was fine, and there was
enough of it drifting through the small window, but the light gave
him a much better vantage point.
His eyes drifted down to where her breasts pressed against
his chest. He moved slightly back and let his fingers lightly touch
them. Soft. Warm. Very nice. Well, maybe not nice. It was
more like a thrill. If he had any idea of what it‘d be like to lay next
to a woman, he‘d have considered marriage sooner. Oh well.
Nothing could be done about that now.
His gaze drifted up and he saw that she‘d been staring at
him, still studying his reaction. He brought his hand up and
caressed her cheek. Pretty, he whispered.
A smile formed on her lips.
She really was a sweet person. He‘d never come across
anyone who was as eager to please him as she was. That was
when he decided that he‘d do whatever he could to be a good
husband for her. He‘d make her glad that she found him instead
of someone else when she fled from those men. He lowered his
head and kissed her.
She responded to him and brought her hands up to his
shoulders. She pulled him closer to her and tried to move under
him. It suddenly occurred to him that she expected him to enter
her immediately. Startled, he shifted back so she was next to him
again. Granted that neither one of them had done this before, but
he was sure the process didn‘t have to be rushed, even if the male
part of him was more than happy to oblige her. There was the
other part of him that wanted to take his time and learn her , and
that was the part he decided to go with.
He took her hand in his and kissed her palm. She looked
intrigued as he made a trail of kisses from her wrist down to her
neck. He took a deep breath, aware of how lovely she smelled.
She bathed every day, except for that day when she tried to run
off. Thankfully, she came back with him.
Ruth Ann Nordin
This time when he kissed her, he let his lips linger on hers.
She gave a contented sigh and he traced her lower lip with his
tongue. She opened her mouth for him, and he accepted her
unspoken invitation. He wondered what it would be like to share
an intimate kiss with a woman like this. He‘d heard about such
kissing from childhood friends but actually doing it was much
better than talking about it. He moaned and deepened the kiss,
enjoying the way she responded to him since it notified him that
she liked this as well.
As much as he wanted to keep kissing her, his curiosity
got the best of him and so he removed the blanket. He took his
time in exploring all her curves. He still couldn‘t believe how soft
she was to the touch. His hand stopped just below her right
breast. In the light, he moved so he could see what was wrong.
There was a scar an inch long. How did that get there?
She opened her eyes and jerked away so he couldn‘t figure
out if it was from a knife or not. Before he could question her
about it, she kissed him. The kiss seemed more insistent than it
should have been, but he was too aroused to care. He thought
about rolling on top of her, but the floor was rough and if anyone
was going to get bruises from this, it was going to be him. He
shifted onto his back and urged her to straddle him.
When he entered her, he groaned. His hands guided her
hips and he watched her as she moved. Once she developed a
rhythm that brought him closer to the peak, he cupped her breasts
in his hands and marveled at how the consummation of their
marriage could bring him more pleasure than he‘d ever known.
His release came sooner than he wanted. He had hoped to let the
experience linger longer than it had, but he assured himself that
there would be more times—many more, and so he let the
moment consume him.
After he regained coherent thought, he opened his eyes
and smiled at her. She returned his smile and leaned forward to
kiss him. Wrapping his arms around her, he held her close. Yes,
marriage was definitely turning out to be better than he thought it
would be. Those poor single saps out there just didn‘t know what
they were missing. Well, now he knew and he had to admit that
getting married was the best thing he‘d ever done for himself.
Ruth Ann Nordin
he next morning, Gary wrapped a shawl around Woape‘s
shoulders. He knew she wanted to take a bath, but they needed to
buy soap—among other necessities—before that would happen.
The sunlight poured in through the parlor window and casted a
halo around her head.
He smiled and kissed her. You look like an angel.
Of course, she didn‘t know what he meant, but that was
fine. In time, she would.
He pulled her into his embrace and enjoyed the quiet
peace the moment provided. She rested her head on his shoulder,
and he kissed the top of her head. This was much better than
roaming the countryside, looking for his next job.
The thought of working reminded him that tomorrow he
had to report to Edward Phillips the next day about building and
repairing wagons. He didn‘t know if he‘d like it or not but figured
since it was the only available job in the area, he couldn‘t afford to
be picky. He‘d do whatever job he had to in order to keep Woape
safe in a home with food on the table.
Sighing, he released her. If it was up to him, he‘d spend
the rest of his life right there, just holding her and loving it. He
grabbed his coat and hat and held his hand out to her. She
accepted it, and they walked out the front door. He wasn‘t used
to having a woman by his side, but he liked having her next to
him. This was the day where they‘d make their house a home.
The thought warmed his heart and he squeezed her hand. She
gave him a shy smile in response.
When they reached the furniture store, he let her select the
table, chairs, armoire and bed that she wanted. He‘d have to wait
until he got paid to get anything else. As it was, he only had
enough left over for food from the money he‘d saved up over the
past couple of years.
As he searched through the general store with Woape, he
wondered how much his aunt taught her in cooking. Did Indians
cook the same way white women did? After they bought
groceries and put them where they belonged in the kitchen, he
took Woape to Aunt Erin‘s house, already dreading the inevita ble
confrontation with Julia. His stomach tensed as he knocked on
the front door. At least he could get out of there and return home
with Woape when this was over.
His aunt opened the door and hugged them. It‘s so good
to see you again! Then she waved them forward. Come on in
and have a seat.
He laughed. You act like you haven‘t seen us in
Well, it‘s just nice that you stopped by. She motioned
for Woape to sit on the couch in the parlor which Woape did.
Where‘s Julia? he asked in a low tone.
She‘s at Patricia‘s.
He breathed a sigh of relief. So this would be a pleasant
visit after all.
She patted Woape‘s hand and glanced at him. You must
be good to her. She looks happy.
He shrugged and sat beside his wife and took her hand in
his. For some reason, he couldn‘t stop touching her. We‘re
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Her eyes twinkled as she poked him in the arm. You‘re
looking pretty happy yourself. I think =alright‘ is an
Anyway, he began, eager to change topics, I was
wondering how much Woape knows how to cook. Did you teach
I showed her how to make bread and that stew we had.
She likes corn and beans. There‘s not much to preparing those.
I‘m sure she‘s capable of making some things. Did you let her
pick out the food?
Of course. I don‘t know how to make anything.
She raised an eyebrow. And you wonder why I insisted
you marry. Jerky isn‘t a long-term plan. I‘m sure that she will be
able to make something tasty out of the items she picked, but if
there are any problems, I can come and help out.
That made him feel better. He looked at Woape who was
smiling at him and his aunt. Would she be smiling if she realized
that they were debating whether or not she was able to cook? He
figured that she wouldn‘t, so it was good that she didn‘t
understand what they were saying. He didn‘t want to hurt her
You‘ll be fine, his aunt said. She‘s a smart one.
They stayed for a few more minutes before they returned
home. As he glanced around the house, he knew they still had a
long way to go before it would truly feel like a home, but at least
they had what they needed—and that was a good start.
He knew Woape wanted to take a bath, especially since
she hadn‘t had one the day before, so he heated up the water on
the cook stove and filled the washtub with it. He decided to join
her, thinking he could also use a bath and it‘d be more fun to take
one with her than by himself. Since there were no curtains, he set
the tub in the bedroom where the window overlooked the land.
The last thing he wanted was for someone to walk by and see
As he poured the last bucket into the tub, he noticed that
Woape hadn‘t taken off the new dress his aunt had bought for
her. Considering how she didn‘t hesitate to undress before, he
thought it was odd. Then he figured it must be because it was
day. Maybe she was more bashful in the sunlight. He could
understand that. Still, he wasn‘t going to let the hot bath pass
them up. The last thing he wanted to do was drag hot water up
the stairs again.
He took off his clothes and grabbed the soap and
motioned for her to join him. She seemed hesitant but slowly
took her dress off. He went over to help her with her
undergarments but she shook her hea d, said something, and
Something isn’t right.
He debated whether he should press the issue or not but
decided against it. Instead, he turned his attention to the tub and
got in so he could start washing himself. He just finished rinsing
his hair with a cup when she approached him. He stood up and
helped her into the tub. It wasn‘t big enough for two people, but
he didn‘t care. It was an excuse to be close to her , and he liked
the way her body felt against his. He gave her a lingering kiss,
already imagining where things were headed. At least this time
they could make love on a bed.
When he ended the kiss, he motioned to her braids. Then
he held up the cup full of warm water. Wash hair?
She nodded and swiftly unbraided her hair.
He got out of the tub so she could sit down. He hadn‘t
realized her hair reached all the way to her waist until it fell down
her back. She had beautiful hair. He reached out to touch it and
marveled at the silky feel of it. She shifted so she faced him and
held out her hands for the cup.
He did as she bid and picked up the soap so he could
work up a good lather. She could wash her hair, but he would
insist on washing the rest of her. He took his time in rubbing the
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soap into her skin as she rubbed the shampoo in her hair. Her
body still fascinated him. He wanted to memorize every inch of
it. For some reason, it looked better in the sunlight—probably
because he could see everything. The night had a tendency to cast
shadows that obscured a clear view, and she was a view he didn‘t
want to miss. He had no idea that bathing could be so exciting. If
she wanted to keep bathing every day, he just might pick up the
habit as well.
When his fingers traced the scar beneath her right breast,
he reasoned that it was probably the result of a childhood
accident. He, after all, had accumulated a few scars from tumbles
he‘d taken. In the light of day, it didn‘t seem as alarming as it had
when he first saw it. Turning his attention to the rest of his duty,
he gently washed her breasts, noticing that she had finished with
her hair which hung nicely down her back.
He figured she might like to have her back washed as well,
so he reached for her hair to move it aside. She shoved his hand
away. The harsh movement startled him. They were having a
wonderful time together…or at least he thought they were. When
he looked into her eyes, he realized she wasn‘t mad at him, like he
initially assumed. Instead, he caught a glimmer of fear in her
expression. Fear of what? Of him?
He reached for her hand and gently held it while he
studied her reaction. No. She wasn‘t afraid of him. But it was
becoming obvious that she was afraid he‘d see her bare back,
which explained why she faced him whenever she was naked. He
waited for a moment, wondering if he should press the issue.
Finally, he decided that she was his wife and the sooner he
uncovered her secret, the better. After all, how could they deal
with whatever shadows lurked in her past if they didn‘t confront
them, especially in the light of day?
He took her other hand and urged her to stand with him.
She resisted, probably guessing at what he was doing. But he was
determined to find out what was going on.
It‘s alright, Woape. Trust me, he softly said.
She shook her head and tried to pull her hands out of his
but he wouldn‘t let her.
I won‘t hurt you. I care about you. He sighed, knowing
very well she couldn‘t understand him. Gary ibero. Woape
murse. Those words were inadequate but they would have to do.
Staring at the water in the tub, she slowly stood up.
He released one of her hands so he could brush the hair
aside. A welt ran across her back. What the…? He stepped
around her so that he had a clear view of her from behind and
pushed all of her hair out of the way. His blood turned cold. She
didn‘t just have one red mark seared into her skin. He guessed
there were twenty lashes and multiple bruises that ran the length
from her shoulders to the top of her thighs.
Is this what they did to you? Is this why you ran away?
he asked, immediately criticizing himself for the anger that laced
his voice. He wasn‘t mad at her. He didn‘t want her to think he
was mad at her. She didn‘t inflict this on herself. Woape, I‘m
sorry, he whispered. He turned her around and wrapped her in
Her shoulders shook as her tears wet his chest.
It‘s alright, honey. You‘re safe now.
She cried harder, and he didn‘t know how to get her to
stop. He hated the fact that she was crying. It made him feel
helpless. He wanted to wipe away all her pain so she‘d forget
whatever happened to her. But all he could do was hold her. And
so…that‘s what he did.
Woape was dreaming again. It was another nightmare. A
remembrance of what happened to her right before she escaped
from Hothlepoya. Hothlepoya stood in his teepee with his arms
crossed, glaring down at her as if he were a god and she was the
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disobedient creature. In many ways Hothlepoya portrayed himself
as a god. He never actually came out and said it, but it was in the
way he handled himself.
Sobbing, Woape trembled on the ground. She made a
futile effort to scramble out of the tent, but Tecumseh grabbed
her by the neck and lifted her off the ground. She struggled to
breathe, but his grip was too tight.
Let her go, Hothlepoya said in a cold voice that left no
room for argument.
Tecumseh dropped her.
She managed to roll away before he could kick her.
Enough, Hothlepoya told him. Just hold her in place.
Don‘t restrict her breathing. I want them to hear her scream.
Tecumseh kneeled down and pressed her back into the
She knew Hothlepoya liked it when people fought, but she
couldn‘t help but fight to get away. It was pointless. She knew it
was, but she used all the energy she had. The survival instinct
raged in her and demanded she do everything she could to flee.
Tecumseh had her pinned with his weight, and all the kicking and
hitting didn‘t move him a single inch.
Hothlepoya bent forward with a feather to wipe the tears
from her face. Smiling, he stood up and inserted it into his
headpiece. Another conquest. How sweet are the tears of a
She bit her tongue. She didn‘t want to cry anymore. It
gave him too much satisfaction. But even as she fought against
her tears, more slid down her face.
In methodical motions best suited for a hunter, he took
the rope made of braided horse hair off the rug and turned to her.
It was caked in dried blood. No one steals what‘s mine.
A cry escaped her throat and she dug her heels into the
ground and tried to get up from under Tecumseh‘s weight.
Tecumseh growled and slammed his hand over her nose
She‘s strong. Hothlepoya‘s smile widened with pleasure.
I like that. He looked at her. You just might be worth
keeping. Returning his gaze to Tecumseh, he said, Strip her.
In one fluid motion, Tecumseh got off of her and ripped
her clothes off. Before she had time to think, he rolled her onto
her stomach. He grabbed onto her legs so she couldn‘t escape.
Hothlepoya slowly approached with the rope. This is for
helping Tama leave. He lifted the rope above his head.
She screamed as he brought it down.
Her eyes flew open and all around her, it was dark. Her
back stung, but she knew it was the memories that hurt. She was
safe. Hothlepoya wasn‘t still beating her. She wasn‘t in his teepee.
She was… She blinked, trying to remember everything that had
happened since that terrible night. Reality emerged through the
fog as the world of dreams dissipated around her.
Gary. She turned her head and saw that he was asleep.
Relieved, she exhaled, thankful it was over. She was with Gary
now, and he defeated Hothlepoya. Snuggling up to him, she
wrapped her arm around his waist. He sighed and brought his
arm around her shoulders to draw her closer.
She kept her eyes open for a good half hour, afraid that if
she closed them, she‘d return to the world of dreams and face
Hothlepoya and the other horrible things he did to her. She never
wanted to go through any of it again. He made sure never to
harm the front of her body, saying that when he looked at her, he
wanted to enjoy his prize. Hahnee almost lost his hand for letting
the knife cut her under her breast. It was a slip, but it marred her
and evoked Hothlepoya‘s wrath.
She shivered and turned her eyes to Gary whose eyes were
still closed. He had a faint smile on his lips. He had good dreams.
How she envied him that. He wasn‘t haunted night after night.
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The nightmares had gone away when she was near him…except
for tonight. She knew why they came back. Gary saw her
wounds. He knew the truth. Well, he didn‘t know all of it. There
were many things he didn‘t know. But he knew more than she
wanted him to know. Even if he‘d been gentle with her a nd
applied some ointment to her back, it still filled her with shame
that he‘d seen her like that. Had she known he would have
looked at her back, she would never have allowed him in the room
with her when she bathed. But she didn‘t think he‘d be interes ted
in her back. After all, the back held no appeal for Hothlepoya,
which was why he inflicted his punishments on that part of her
She turned her attention to the tree outside the window.
Most of the leaves were still on the branches, but she knew it was
just a matter of time before they fell off. A full moon shone
through the cluster of leaves and created shadows on the ceiling.
The shadows hadn‘t bothered her last night. But they did tonight.
It’s not over. It’s just a matter of time before he finds you.
She blocked the
thought from her mind. She didn‘t want to think it. And so she
focused on the tangible—things that were solid and real. Things
that could take her mind off of her fears.
If only this moment could last forever. She wanted
nothing more than to spend the rest of her life in this bed with
Gary. She took comfort in his warmth. Her fingers brushed the
thin hair on his chest. She inhaled the scent of soap they‘d used
earlier that day when they bathed. How she wished he hadn‘t seen
her scars. Blinking, more tears fell from her lashes and onto his
chest. She quickly wiped them away. Would she spend her life
crying in the dark? She hoped not. She wanted to laugh again.
If only she could go back and redo the last month of her
life. Then she never would have run from her tribe. She thought
nothing could be worse than marrying Citlali. How wrong she‘d
She needed something—anything—to distract her from
thinking anymore. Lifting her head, she nudged Gary in the side.
When he was awake, it was easy to forget the demons in her past.
Maybe he‘d make love to her. He was so gentle with her that she
couldn‘t help but feel safe and cared for. Gary? she whispered.
He shifted but didn‘t wake up.
She sat up and shook his arm. Gary? she asked, making
sure he‘d hear her.
His eyes opened and he looked in her direction.
Already feeling better now that he was awake, she
snuggled up to him and kissed his cheek. If nothing else, she had
learned that it didn‘t take much to encourage him. And as she‘d
hoped, this time was no different than the others. He rolled over
so that he was facing her and kissed her on the lips. She eagerly
responded to him. The shadows were quickly fading and she was,
once again, safe.
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or the third time, Gary led Woape up the pathway that led to
their home. Woape. Home. Then he pointed to himself.
He led her into the kitchen and glanced at the clock. This
was his first day working for Edward Phillips, and if he didn‘t
hurry, he was going to be late. And Edward didn‘t have a
reputation for being patient…or forgiving.
Sighing, he turned back to Woape who didn‘t look happy
about being left behind. He wondered if she worried that he
wouldn‘t return. Taking his hat off, he placed it on her head. It
worked last time he tried it. Maybe it would again. He took her
face in his hands and kissed her. I‘ll be back. Inspired, he dug
his watch out of his pocket and pointed to the five. Then he
motioned to the clock on the kitchen wall. Gary. Home. Five.
He tapped the five. Then he tapped his hat. The action made the
hat fall over her eyes. Chuckling, he adjusted the hat so she could
A slight smile graced her lips.
Pretty, he whi spered. She was amazingly beautiful when
she smiled. He kissed her, wishing as he did that he could take
her with him. The day was bound to run long without her. I‘ll
Sighing, he exited the house. He made it to the edge of
the property before he realized she had shut the door and
followed him down the path. Stopping, he watched as she made
her way over to him. Then he recalled the wounds on her back
and the men who‘d been pursuing her. Maybe she didn‘t feel safe
Alright. He took her hand and walked with her. But
you can‘t come to work with me. I‘m taking you to Aunt Erin‘s.
She looked at him. Erin?
She shook her head. No Erin.
He didn‘t expect this to upset her. Didn‘t she like his
aunt? Woape, I have to work. He crossed the street with her
and stopped in front of Edward‘s repair shop. Gary. Work. He
pointed to the building. Work. Here.
Her eyes lit up with understanding. Work.
Yes. Woape, Erin. Gary, work.
Her face fell.
Woape home? He could tell she didn‘t like that anymore
than going to his aunt‘s. I can‘t take you to work with me. I just
She stood still and watched him with her sad eyes.
He groaned. If he didn‘t get to work, then they wouldn‘t
have a place to stay or food to eat. I‘m sorry, but you have to
spend the day with my aunt. Taking her by the arm, he led her
down the road until they reached his aunt‘s house. He noticed the
hesitation in her steps. You can‘t be with me all the time. When
they reached the white picket fence lining the property, he asked
her, Why? Why no Erin?
She furrowed her eyebrows in a way that told him she
understood half of what he said and was struggling to figure out
the other half.
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Erin. He smiled and nodded. Good?
She nodded. Yes. Erin good.
Alright. So what was the problem? Unable to think of a
suitable word, he shrugged and pointed to the house.
Her eyes grew wide and she nodded. Then she crossed
her arms and scowled at him. Julia.
Oh. That‘s why she didn‘t want to be there. She didn‘t
want to deal with his sister. Despite himself, he chuckled. He did
like the way she described Julia. Well, who could blame her? Still,
he didn‘t have much of a choice. Woape at Erin‘s. Pointing in
the direction of Matthew‘s place, he added, Or Woape at home.
No. Edward… He thought for a moment and then he
crossed his arms and scowled. Edward. Work. Setting his
hands at his sides and relaxing his face, he said, Woape no work.
She finally seemed to understand for she glanced at their
home before turning her attention to his aunt‘s house.
He sympathized with her plight. Neither option was good
Stepping forward, she went up to his aunt‘s front door.
He quickly ran after her and gave her a long hug. I‘ll be
back for you, Woape. I promise. He kissed her and then
knocked on the door. I‘ll miss you.
She offered him a smile but it lacked any enthusiasm.
His aunt opened the door. My goodness! I didn‘t expect
you here this early.
Woape doesn‘t want to stay at Matthew‘s place by
herself, and I have to go to work. Can you keep her company
until I get off work at five? I‘ll come by to take her home.
I‘ll be happy too. Erin urged Woape into the house.
Oh, Gary, you‘ll need your hat.
Before Erin could take it off Woape‘s head, he held his
hand up to stop her. It‘s alright. Woape needs to know that I‘ll
come back. He leaned forward and kissed Woape‘s cheek. Then
he realized how ridiculous it must seem that he couldn‘t stop
kissing her in public, so he stood back up. I‘ll be back.
You‘d better get to that shop before Edward explodes.
He‘s not someone you want to anger.
Didn‘t he know it! He ignored the inclination to give his
sad looking wife another hug and hurried to his job.
Julia couldn‘t believe it. As if having Woape take her room and
her clothes when she lived in the house wasn‘t bad enough! Now
her irresponsible brother was shoving Woape at her and Aunt
Erin so he could go off to work? Why did he always leave
something for her and their aunt to take care of?
Because he can’t see past his own nose. It’s always been what he’s
She brushed past her aunt who was fussing over the
Indian girl and grabbed her by the arm.
What are you doing? Erin admonished. Let her go.
Gary needs to watch her. He brought her here and then
married her. She‘s his responsibility. Not ours.
Woape slapped Julia‘s hand away and glared at her.
She resisted the urge to slap her back. The ungrateful girl
used her things and consistently swatted at her as if she were an
annoying insect. How much abuse must I endure?
Her aunt shook her head. Julia, she doesn‘t understand
what you‘re doing. She thinks you‘re trying to hurt her.
That‘s ridiculous! I‘ve never tried to hurt her.
With the way you grabbed her arm just now, I can‘t say
that I blame her. If I didn‘t speak your language, saw the scowl on
your face and had you yank my arm, I would have slapped you
Fuming, Julia crossed her arms. I can‘t believe this.
You‘re taking her side?
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I‘m not taking anyone‘s side. I‘m explaining how things
must look from her perspective.
Because you sympathize with her.
She groaned. Not this again.
Woape moved further away from Julia and sat on the
Julia gritted her teeth. Leave it to Woape to play the
victim. Woape undressed and hopped into her brother‘s bed, and
now he married her to atone for his sin. Was she the only one
who could see Woape for what she really was: a conniving shrew?
And she‘d taken advantage of her brother‘s naiveté.
Is she coming here every day? Julia asked her aunt.
Erin shrugged. It could be that once she settles into her
new home, she‘ll stay there when Gary‘s at work.
Exactly how long would that be? She hates me.
She doesn‘t hate you.
What did Erin know? Woape was nice to her! Julia
looked at Woape who stared at her hands that were folded in her
lap. She couldn‘t stand it. Woape had her a unt wrapped around
Erin walked toward the kitchen and glanced back at her.
Why don‘t you help me with the wash?
What will she do? Julia pointed at Woape who didn‘t
bother looking up.
Wait for your brother to come get her.
Julia was about to argue that Woape should do her part,
but then she realized that she didn‘t want Woape around her so
she bit her tongue and hastened to the wash.
Three days later, Woape found herself on the way back to Erin‘s
house. Since Gary hadn‘t ventured to =work‘ for the past two
days, Woape thought he was done. But that morning after
breakfast, he put on his coat and hat and headed out the door.
Startled, she threw her coat and bonnet on and joined him. He
looked surprised to see that she followed him.
Work, he said, turning to her.
Work? But he was done. Wasn‘t he?
Saturday. Sunday. No work. Monday. Work.
She recognized the days of the week. If she was right,
then Monday meant there would be four more days before
Saturday. Did that mean he would be going to work today and
four more days? She stepped closer to him. Maybe today she
could join him.
As if he read her mind, he sighed. No. Gary work.
She didn‘t fully understand what he had to do during the
day and why it meant that they had to be apart. All she knew was
that someone named Edward wouldn‘t be happy wi th him if she
was there. But Julia wasn‘t happy to have her in Erin‘s house
either. Though Erin was kind to her, Julia didn‘t hide her
disapproval whenever Erin left the room. Woape tried to make
sure she didn‘t end up alone with Julia, bu t there were times when
she‘d find herself alone with the intimidating woman.
Woape. Work, she finally said. She could lend a
helping hand. Maybe if she did, then he‘d get off work sooner.
Oh, Woape. He brought her into his arms and kissed
the top of her head.
Closing her eyes, she snuggled up to him and enjoyed the
safety she experienced every time he held her. To her dismay, he
let go of her and placed his hat on her head. She knew what that
meant. It meant he wasn‘t going to take her with him. And she
didn‘t like it.
I‘m sorry, he replied. I can‘t.
Her frown deepened.
He took her hands in his and warmed them up. Woape
want Erin‘s house?
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No. She shook her head and tightened her grip on his
hands. Woape work.
What was so funny about that? She had helped her father
and brother on occasion.
Woape home. Gary work. Women home. Men work.
He motioned to the house. Here? Or Erin‘s home?
She grimaced. How did she say no to both options? But
she knew she had to choose. He wouldn‘t let her go to work with
him. She glanced at the surrounding landscape. To one side was
the open land. To the other was the town. They were about a
mile away from the first home situated in the town, which meant
they were also isolated enough so if she was found… But what
was the chance that Hothlepoya would find her?
She gritted her teeth. She hated this! Hated needing to be
around someone in order to feel safe. And no one made her feel
safer than Gary. After all, who else but Gary could stand up to
Hothlepoya and win?
She scanned the countryside. Winter was fast
approaching. Patches of snow covered the ground. Would
Hothlepoya venture out across the prairie this time of year to find
her? Hothlepoya wasn‘t like other men. He probably wasn‘t
affected by the cold weather. She admonished herself. Of course,
the cold would bother him. He was flesh and blood. If he wasn‘t,
he wouldn‘t have been afraid of Gary. Sighing, she decided she
was better off being close to Gary, even if it meant being in the
same house with Julia while she waited for him to get off work for
Erin house, she finally said.
He pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head.
His embrace warmed her. If only he could always be with
her… Then she wouldn‘t have to be afraid at all. Maybe as time
passed, this lingering fear that Hothlepoya would find her and
drag her back to his teepee would ease. She took a deep breath
and reminded herself of what her mother had often said, You
must take things one day at a time. If her mother was still alive, it
might be what she‘d tell her now.
She glanced at the home Gary had brought her to so they
could be together. In time, maybe she would be able to stay there
by herself. But today was not that time. Tomorrow wasn‘t going
to be that time. It would be awhile yet. For the time being, she
would bide her time with Julia.
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month later, Woape watched Gary as he got dressed for work.
Once again, she debated whether or not she could manage by
herself in this house while he was gone. She wished she could stay
here. She didn‘t want to face Julia again. The woman hated her,
and even if Erin interceded on most of the disputes between Julia
and Woape, it wasn‘t good enough. And today, Woape didn‘t feel
like facing Julia, especially when that morning‘s breakfast
threatened to come back up.
As soon as he finished buttoning his vest, he turned to
her. Woape, dress?
She looked down at her nightgown. She knew what
keeping it on meant. It meant she would stay here through the
day. Grabbing a fistful of the cotton material in her hands, she
braced herself for the day ahead. She could do this. She could be
alone and be fine.
Woape? he asked.
Woape stay here, she softly said, her breath no more
than a whisper.
He frowned and walked over to her. Sitting by her on the
bed, he took one hand in his and wrapped an arm around her
shoulders. Woape scared.
Yes, she was, so she didn‘t bother denying it. But being
scared was better than another fight with Julia, especially when her
body wasn‘t up for it. All she wanted to do was lay in bed and
rest. She couldn‘t do that at Erin‘s. Granted, Erin had allowed
her to lay down on Friday when she was there, but Julia kept
finding her way into Erin‘s room to put things away or clean…and
Julia hadn‘t been quiet about it.
Just the memory was enough to cause bile to rise up in
Woape‘s throat. She needed some ginger. Her mother used to
give her that when she was a little girl. But she didn‘t buy any the
last time she went to the store with Gary. She knew she‘d need it,
but she was too afraid to get it because as soon as she did, she‘d
have to admit what was happening to her. If she admitted it, then
she‘d have to admit another possibility—one she didn‘t wish to
entertain—one that scared her much more than seeing
Woape, what‘s wrong?
She shook her head. No. She didn‘t want to talk. Not
right now. Not until she was ready. She‘d rather push her worries
aside and focus on getting through this day without Gary…and
most of all, without Julia. If she could get through one day while
he was at work, then she wouldn‘t have to face Julia again. Well,
at least not until she had to go to church.
Gary sighed. Woape, I have to work.
She nodded. She knew that.
You want to stay here?
Yes. Since her voice shook, she cleared her throat and
made sure she sounded braver when she said the word again.
He didn‘t look convinced.
She waited until she could stand up without losing her
breakfast and eased up from the bed. Woape work here. Gary
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After a moment of silence, he stood up. Alright. He
kissed her. I‘ll miss you.
She hugged him and let him know she‘d miss him too.
When he left, she remained in bed for the rest of the morning.
She could smell him on the sheets, and if she closed her eyes, she
could imagine him right next to her. When she did that, she felt
relatively safe. It wasn‘t as good as if he was truly there, but at
least it was something—and she managed without going to Erin‘s
When she finally got out of bed, her stomach had settled
down. As she slipped on her dress, she caught sight of her
deerskin dress hanging in the armoire. Even if she departed from
that life, it was still a part of her. It always would be. But there
was one thing she hoped would signify her new life. Something
she hoped wouldn‘t be a reminder of what she escaped.
She finished buttoning her dress despite her shaking
hands. Would she be able to tell the difference when the baby
was born? Her skin was darker than Gary‘s. But then, so was
Hothlepoya‘s. If she could remember when her cycle had last
come upon her, she might be able to determine who the father
was. But the days with Hothlepoya blended into each other until
there was no real sense of time. She hadn‘t wanted to be with
Hothlepoya that way. She fought him, but he was stronger.
The timing couldn‘t have been worse. She didn‘t want to
have Hothlepoya‘s child. But it might not be his. It could be
Gary‘s. The last time she‘d been with Hothlepoya was close
enough to when she had first been with Gary. She didn‘t know
how to explain it to Gary, and truthfully, she didn‘t want to either.
In some ways, not being able to adequately speak his language
gave her a good excuse to avoid it.
I should have waited until I had my
cycle before I became intimate with Gary.
But then, what if her cycle
didn‘t come? Then she‘d know she was doomed to carry and give
birth to Hothlepoya‘s child.
She glanced out the window. Snow fell softly to the
ground. She approached the glass and turned her gaze to the sky.
She wondered if God really lived up there. Whenever Gary
prayed, he was either kneeling by the bed or looking up. It
seemed silly to think a God of any sort would reside in a bed.
Besides, when he prayed by the bed, he kept his eyes closed.
When he looked up at the sky, he had his eyes opened.
It wasn‘t unusual to think of an intelligence in the sky.
Her mother sought them in all forms of creation, whether it be in
trees or elsewhere. But she noticed Gary kept his attention to the
sky. And he didn‘t seem to be staring at anything in particular,
like the sun or moon.
She studied the sky. There wasn‘t anything unusual up
there. Just a bunch of clouds and snowflakes. She wondered if
Gary‘s God would make it so that this child was Gary‘s. How did
a person even petition such a thing? Did she even venture to ask?
She decided against it and turned her attention to the tasks she
could do to occupy her mind until Gary returned home.
Today, she decided to forgo the braids and wrapped her
hair into a bun. If she planned to scrub the floors, then she didn‘t
want her braids to get in her way. A part of her knew it meant she
was adjusting to her new world—assuming a new identity. But
what could be lovelier after the hell she‘d just gone through? She
was Gary‘s wife. She wasn‘t Hothlepoya‘s slave anymore.
She spent the afternoon cleaning. When she didn‘t let her
mind go idle, she didn‘t have to think of the pregnancy or what it
might mean if the baby was born and Gary wasn‘t the father. She
didn‘t even know if he‘d be able to tell…or if she‘d be able to tell.
But Gary wasn‘t the type of man who‘d divorce her. He saw her
back and stayed with her. As painful as it would be, maybe
someday she‘d learn enough words to tell him what happened.
For the time being, she preferred to forget.
When Gary came home, she was dumping dirty water on
the grass. The sight of him made her heart leap with joy. She
Ruth Ann Nordin
dropped the bucket and ran into his arms, nearly knocking him
He laughed and gave her a big hug.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
How she missed him! But then she realized she‘d done it. She
made it through the day without him, and she didn‘t have to
spend the day with Julia to do it.
Now that‘s the kind of welcome a man‘s very happy to
come home to, he said with a wide smile on his face.
She didn‘t understand all the words, but she knew he was
happy and that‘s all that mattered. She wanted to make him
happy, for he‘d given her a reason to enjoy life again. Gary
He brushed back a stray strand of hair that had fallen to
her cheek. Woape here. Good. His lips softly touched hers and
he held her closer to him. I love you.
Love. That was a good thing. It meant he cherished her.
He‘d whispered it to her last night after he made love to her.
Woape love Gary, she replied.
Good. He kissed her on the cheek. You‘re cold. He
let go of her, took off his coat, and draped it over her shoulders.
Come. Pulling her against his side, he led her across the grass
and into the house.
Something was bothering Woape. Gary knew it, but whenever he
tried to find out what it was, she found a way to brush him off.
On Thanksgiving morning, he woke up, expecting her to be in
bed next to him, but her place was empty. Turning over in bed,
he saw that she stood by the window and peered up at the sky. It
seemed that she did that a lot lately. He wondered what she was
doing. Was there something significant with the sky in her
Sighing, he realized it was time to get up anyway. His aunt
would kill him if he and Woape didn‘t go see her. It was, after all,
a special day. He just didn‘t know how he was going to tell
Woape where they‘d be. The last time they were at his aunt‘s,
which happened to be two weekends ago, Woape and Julia nearly
got into a fight. What the fight was about, he didn‘t know.
Woape was so upset she spoke in her native tongue, and when she
had calmed down, she refused to talk about it. He really didn‘t
feel like asking Julia what happened. He was sure that whatever
the problem, his sister instigated it.
God, help us all to get through the day without killing each other,
silently prayed as he got out of the bed.
Woape turned to him and smiled.
She wouldn‘t be smiling when he told her where they‘d
spend their day, but he returned her smile and got dressed by the
box stove. Though he sealed up the drafts as much as he could,
the wind still found ways to penetrate through the window—
which was another reason that Woape‘s window vigil struck him
He hesitated to walk over to her. She was already dressed
in the blue shirt and brown skirt he thought looked especially
pretty on her. Of course, she made everything look nice. She
even had her hair braided. That was his favorite hairstyle on her.
Thursday today. Gary go to work. I make breakfast.
She stepped to the door.
She stopped and waited for him to continue.
He inwardly groaned. He hated this. Shifting from one
foot to the other, he shrugged. He might as well get it over with.
Today is Thanksgiving. We go to Erin‘s.
Her eyebrows furrowed and she shook her head.
No. Gary go. I stay home.
Ruth Ann Nordin
There was no way he wanted to go there alone. He
dreaded it as much as Woape did, but at least with Woape there,
he had someone he could be with. Not that his aunt wasn‘t an
ally, but she didn‘t see what Julia was doing. As much as he loved
his aunt, the woman had a blind spot when it ca me to his sister.
He really couldn‘t blame her though. Julia had been with her
when he left.
I don‘t want to go, he told Woape.
To Woape, it was that simple. But things weren‘t as
simple as that, and he didn‘t know how to explain why. I have
to. You come too.
I love you, he ventured, wondering if that would
convince her to join him.
To his relief, she relented and he got the buggy ready. By
the time they reached his aunt‘s house, he noted that the tension
in her shoulders had gotten worse. He wondered how long they
needed to stay there. Three hours at the most. It would be
enough time to sit and talk and eat. Maybe he should help with
the dishes. If he did, then things would go faster. Well, no they
wouldn‘t. The kitchen was too small for all of them. He could
insist that Woape sit down while he do the tedious chore with his
aunt and sister. That would separate his wife and sister, and it
would ease Woape into coming back for Christmas. Yes, that was
the best thing to do. He‘d help out in the kitchen.
As he took care of the horses, he noted that Woape stayed
near him. She was still his shadow. The thought made him smile.
He couldn‘t blame her for putting up with the cold instead of
seeking the warmth of his aunt‘s house. When he couldn‘t delay
the inevitable any longer, he took her hand and led her to the
Woape forced her feet to remain still as Gary knocked on
the door. At least she had a small bag of ginger in the purse Erin
had given her so she could carry things around. The sickness
came and went throughout the day, but she figured her stomach
might upset her even more since she‘d be around Julia.
She still hadn‘t told Gary about the child. She didn‘t know
how. Did she let him assume he was the father or tell him she
wasn‘t sure? The uncertainty stalled her from any kind of action.
He knocked on the door again, and Erin opened it.
Woape smiled. She liked Erin. In some ways, the woman
reminded her of her mother. She was warm, caring, and quiet.
She was unassuming in a lot of ways, but she was unforgettable.
Woape took a deep breath. It was because of her that her mother
passed on from this world to the next. She couldn‘t blame it
entirely on Hothlepoya. Not when it was her decision to get out
of marrying Citlali. She should have just insisted that she couldn‘t
marry him, even if her parents approved of him.
Woape, sit, Gary told her.
She blinked, letting the guilt subside. It was too easy to
dwell on the past when she was here, under the careful scrutiny of
Julia‘s eyes as she watched her from across the room. In many
ways, Julia reminded her of a grim cosmic punisher. But how was
Woape to know her action would set off a sequence of events that
led to this point in time? She never meant for anyone to get hurt.
Woape? Gary asked.
Realizing that Gary and Erin were waiting for her to sit,
she obeyed. She thought Gary would sit next to her, but he told
her he‘d be back and got ready to go to the kitchen with Erin and
Julia. She wondered what he was doing in there. Did they need
to talk in private now that she understood some of the language?
Was there something they didn‘t want her to know?
She reached for his hand. No. If they had something to
say, she‘d prefer them to say it in front of her.
Cook. I‘m to help Aunt Erin and Julia cook.
Ruth Ann Nordin
She frowned. Cooking? Whatever was he cooking for?
Erin patted his hand. Stay with her. Julia and I can
finish with the pie.
From there, they talked so fast that she had trouble
making out exactly what they said, but in the end, he shrugged and
sat down, his body comfortingly close to hers, and for the
moment, she didn‘t mind that Julia never once took her eyes off
Gary relaxed when Julia followed Erin into the kitchen.
He put his arm around her shoulders and kissed her cheek. We‘ll
be home soon, he whispered.
They spent a good ten minutes in silence. She enjoyed the
way he rubbed his hand up and down her arm. With his free
hand, he held one of her hands. She closed her eyes and rested
her head on his shoulder. Now she could handle this. If this was
all she had to deal with whenever she had to come here, it would
be bearable—pleasant even.
All too soon the spell was broken for Erin announced that
it was time to eat. Woape reluctantly opened her eyes and let
Gary help her up. Once they entered the kitchen, Woape stepped
up to a chair that would ensure that she didn‘t have to watch Julia
while she ate. Sure, it meant she would have to sit next to her, but
at least Julia wouldn‘t be in her direct line of vision.
The meal was tense. Woape didn‘t have to know their
language to understand the awkward moments of silence and
Erin‘s forced cheerful chatter meant they were all uncomfortable.
Gary made an effort to respond. Julia didn‘t even pretend to be
interested in the conversation.
At least, Woape had an excuse. The problem was, she
couldn‘t focus much on eating because her stomach felt queasy.
She needed to take a dab of ginger from her purse and put it
under her tongue, but she didn‘t dare do it. She‘d wait until she
was alone. She wasn‘t ready for anyone to know about her
pregnancy. There might be questions, and she didn‘t feel like
So she spent her time nibbling on corn and a potato. The
smell of turkey only intensified her nausea so she ignored it. The
stuffing and cranberry sauce was doable, but she didn‘t have the
appetite for those either.
Gary glanced her way several times and seemed
concerned, though he didn‘t say anything. Instead, he sighed and
looked over at Julia who frowned at him. Then he turned his gaze
to the clock. Despite any unease he must have felt, he managed to
eat extra helpings of everything on his plate.
Woape finally put the fork down and sipped some water,
wondering when she‘d be able to get a moment alone. As soon as
she tasted the ginger, her stomach would settle—even if her
When Erin announced that dinner was over, a collective
sigh of relief echoed through the kitchen. Erin motioned for
Woape to go to the parlor with Gary. Julia and I will take care of
I clean dishes, Woape quickly spoke up. Erin and Julia
Erin smiled. There are many.
No. I can clean.
Good. Let her. Julia placed her plate back on the table
and left the room.
I can help Woape, Gary said.
No, Woape argued. Talk to Erin and Julia. I be back.
She needed to get the ginger. If she didn‘t, she was going to
throw up. She recognized the all-too-familiar watering in her
mouth. She hurried to the parlor and grabbed her purse and
returned to the kitchen where Gary and Erin appeared to be
arguing. Go. Please, Woape said. Her body was beginning to
I don‘t know, Erin replied, uncertain.
Ruth Ann Nordin
Please! Woape didn‘t mean to yell. She immediately
lowered her voice. Sorry. She swallowed. Please.
As soon as Erin and Gary left the kitchen, Woape undid
the strings of her purse and pulled out the small bag of ginger.
She placed it next to the pie left out on the counter to cool and
opened it. Just as she dipped her finger into the brown powder,
Julia ran into the room.
What are you doing? Julia snapped.
Woape ignored her and got ready to put the ginger under
Julia grabbed her hand. What is this? She glared at
Woape had no idea what =poison‘ meant, but she shoved
Julia away from her. What right did Julia have to be in her
business? She wasn‘t doing anything to hurt anyone.
Julia slapped her. You will not poison me or my family!
Months of animosity finally got the better of her, and
before Woape had time to think, she slapped Julia back.
Julia grabbed the bag of ginger and dumped it in the sink.
What right did Julia have to do that? Woape tried to slap
her again, but Julia stopped her and grabbed both of her wrists.
Woape struggled to free herself but Julia‘s grip was too strong.
Another image flashed in her mind. Hothlepoya had grabbed her
wrists too and threw her down to the ground.
No! Woape screamed and grabbed Julia‘s hair. Never
again would she allow someone to bind her. She forced Julia‘s
face into the pie. No!
Someone grabbed her and pulled her off of Julia who
gasped for air. The sudden movement was all Woape needed to
throw up on the floor.
What did you do to her? Gary yelled at Julia.
Julia wiped the pumpkin from her eyes. She was going to
Erin ran to grab two hand towels. She handed one to Julia
and wet the other one before wiping Woape‘s cheeks and chin.
I‘m sure she wasn‘t going to poison us.
From there they spoke too fast for Woape to figure out
any of the words they said. Not that she could focus much on the
angry shouts between Gary and Julia or the frantic pleas from
Erin who cleaned the floor. Woape‘s skin was clammy. Though
her stomach no longer bothered her, she didn‘t have the energy to
stand on her own so she rested against Gary who held her.
Gary used a tone that told Woape he‘d had enough. He
picked her up. We are going home, and we will be home for
Christmas. Then he carried Woape out of the kitchen.
Ruth Ann Nordin
he following Monday, Gary went to work, and on his way
there, he caught sight of Julia leaving her home. Before he had
time to talk himself out of it, he rode up to her and slid off his
horse so he could speak with her.
What did you do to Woape? He took a deep breath to
calm his nerves. He promised himself he wouldn‘t let his anger
get in the way of a civil conversation. Clearing his throat, he
spoke in a milder tone. What happened on Thanksgiving?
Julia stuffed her hands into the pockets of her coat. She
was trying to poison us. She shook her head and snapped, I
know you don‘t believe me. Aunt Erin doesn‘t believe me either.
But you don‘t have to believe in gravity for it to exist.
He rolled his eyes. Leave it to his sister to make
of analogy. If Woape wanted to poison me, she would have
done it by now. I‘ve been in the same house with her for two
months, and I‘m as healthy as ever. In fact, I actually feel better.
I don‘t know what she puts in the food, but it tastes great and has
done me a lot of good.
She doesn‘t want to poison you…apparently, she
conceded. But she was ready to put something into the pie.
You saw her put poison into the pie?
I said she was about to. She dipped her finger into some
brown powder and held it up to her face.
He blinked. Was it in a small bag?
You know something. You need to stop jumping to
conclusions. She likes to taste that spice from time to time.
Maybe she‘s building up an immunity to it, so she can eat
the same thing as us and not die.
The notion was so preposterous that he laughed.
She frowned. There‘s nothing funny about it. There are
poisons that you can take in small doses so that they no longer
Oh, for goodness‘ sakes. It‘s not poison. It‘s ground
Sure. I saw her get it from the store.
What would she be doing eating it? Shouldn‘t she be
putting it in food?
She doesn‘t feel good sometimes. She puts a bit of it
under her tongue and then she feels better. It‘s one of those
things she learned while growing up. It actually works. I had a
stomach ache and she gave it to me. It settled my stomach right
Julia looked as if she didn‘t know whether to believe Gary
or not. She could be getting you used to it too.
Was she still sticking to this story? Gary couldn‘t believe
it. Woape is not trying to poison anybody.
She hates me.
I don‘t blame her.
Are you surprised? You go into the kitchen and attack
I was protecting us.
Ruth Ann Nordin
This was getting them nowhere. Look, whether you like
it or not, Woape is my wife, and you need to be nice to her.
I‘m your sister.
And how he‘d tried to forget! But he held his tongue. He
needed to find a resolution. He was going to spend the rest of his
life in this town which meant he had to run into his sister, and he
didn‘t want to be bickering with her a good thirty years from now.
After the urge to retaliate subsided, he asked, Will you try to
work with Woape? She‘s learned some words now. Maybe if you
two talked, things could be bearable when we have to get together
again for Aunt Erin‘s sake. It wouldn‘t hurt you to extend the
hand of friendship.
Did you give
the same lecture you‘re giving me?
He groaned. I‘m not lecturing you.
Yes, you are. Despite what you think, I‘m not stupid. I
can see what Woape is up to, even if you can‘t. There‘s something
going on with her, and it‘s not good.
What are you saying?
I‘m saying that she‘s conniving and dangerous.
She is not!
Their aunt emerged from the house. I can hear you two
arguing from the kitchen. What is the problem?
He rubbed his eyes. I‘m trying to get Julia to talk to
Erin tightened the shawl around her shoulders and shook
her head. Julia, go on to the store. I must speak with Gary.
Gladly, Julia said and headed down the road.
His aunt turned to him. I‘m afraid there‘s no way to get
those two to get along. I‘ve talked to Julia. She insists that
Woape was going to put something harmful into the pie, and no
amount of reasoning will work with her.
So you know Woape wasn‘t trying to do anything bad?
Oh, of course she wasn‘t. But Julia is convinced that she
was. She sighed and gave a slight shrug. I really don‘t know
how to reason with your sister.
That‘s because she‘s unreasonable.
A grin crossed her face. You don‘t know her as well as I
do, Gary. Sure, she has her moments…and Lord knows she‘s
irrational when it comes to Woape…but deep down, she does her
best. She‘s not a bad person. You just haven‘t seen that side of
her. She paused for a moment and tightened the shawl around
her shoulders. She was deeply hurt when you left.
He blinked. What?
Well, it‘s true. You were her last connection to your
parents, and when you left, it was as if your parents died all over
That‘s ridiculous. I‘m her little brother.
A little brother she took under her wing and loved with
all her heart. She gave up a lot for you. You just don‘t realize it
because you were too young to understand a woman‘s heart.
He didn‘t know whether to accept this premise or not, but
his aunt obviously did. I‘m not a kid anymore. I‘m a grown man
who can take care of himself.
But you never told her you were leaving. You just got up
and left one morning and wrote a note. How was she to prepare
for the fact that you grew up?
It always came back to that morning. He didn‘t realize it
was so important he made a formal good-bye. It wasn‘t like he
never planned to come back. He said he would. He just hadn‘t
Anyway, try to remember that there are two sides to
every story, Erin softly said. Things aren‘t always as they seem.
As for Julia and Woape… It‘s not that far-fetched to understand
why Julia panicked. I don‘t know what Woape was doing with
that bag‘s contents, but-
Ruth Ann Nordin
It‘s ground ginger. She uses it to calm her stomach. So
there‘s nothing to worry about.
She frowned. Calm her stomach? Is being around Julia
making her so nervous she gets sick?
I don‘t think so. She‘s been taking it a lot lately.
She doesn‘t look ill, and she didn‘t take it when she lived
here. She motioned to the house. It started after you two got
Is she expecting a child?
How do you know? Did you ask her?
He shrugged. I wouldn‘t have to ask. She would tell
She raised an eyebrow. Are you sure?
Yes. Why wouldn‘t she?
Does she know the words to tell you that she‘s with
He furrowed his eyebrows. Did she? Mentally working
through the words Woape knew, he realized that words like =baby‘
and =pregnant‘ weren‘t in her vocabulary. Excitement spread
through him as he considered the possibility. Could it be true?
Funny, how he hadn‘t thought about being a father. He should
have expected it. After all, he and Woape certainly spent enough
time together in bed to make sure such a thing happened.
Erin nudged him in the arm. You should ask her.
Of course, he‘d ask her! He couldn‘t wait to get off work
so he could. Work! He quickly glanced at his pocket watch.
Alright, Aunt Erin. I‘ll talk to her when I get home. I better go
before Edward gives my job to someone else.
And I‘ll try talking to Julia again, but don‘t expect me to
do that today. She needs time to calm down.
What else could he expect? But at the moment, he didn‘t
care. If his aunt was right, then he was going to have a son or
daughter next year. He wondered when that would be. He and
Woape married on September 22. At the most, it would be a little
over two months. So the baby would be born in the early
As he headed over to his employer‘s, he reminded himself
that he couldn‘t jump the gun. It was possible that Woape wasn‘t
pregnant. It really could be the stress with adjusting to her new
life and having to deal with Julia that was making her sick. But as
much as he tried to keep his imagination in check, he couldn‘t
help but run through the possibilities of having a child. He could
teach a boy to ride a horse and shoot a gun.
But the child might be a girl. He didn‘t know what he‘d
do with a girl. He shrugged. If the child was a girl, he‘d figure
something out. Maybe he could teach her to ride a horse. Woape
did it, so the notion wouldn‘t be foreign to her if he wanted to
teach their daughter to ride too. He stopped in front of the
building he worked at, tied the reins to the post, and patted his
horse. This would make a fine horse to train on.
After another admonition to wait until he verified Woape
was even expecting a child, he turned his attention to the matter at
hand. No one would be doing any good if he didn‘t get to work
on time. Time for dwelling on the =what if‘s would come soon
Woape finished working on the blanket she was making when
Gary came home. She set aside the blanket and stood up from
the rocking chair in the parlor so she could help him. To her
surprise, he gently took her hands before she could reach for his
coat. He looked so excited that she wondered what could
possibly be on his mind.
He smiled and patted her stomach. Baby?
Ruth Ann Nordin
Her breath caught in her throat. Was he asking what she
was afraid he was asking? She pulled her hands away from his and
stepped back. She wasn‘t ready for this. She wasn‘t even sure if
she‘d ever be ready. Only if she gave birth and knew this was his
child could she be fully ready.
Taking off his coat and hat, he placed them on the hooks
along the wall and approached her. Woape? He paused and
then, looking inspired, he made a cradling motion with his arms.
She watched him, unsure of what to say. She knew what
he meant, but the fact that he didn‘t know that bought her a few
seconds of time. Should she tell him that yes, she was with child
but no, she didn‘t know if it was his? He was obviously thrilled
with the notion of being a father. Would he be pleased if he knew
the truth? She placed her hand over her stomach. She just might
throw up if she had to tell him.
Are you sick? he quickly asked. He led her to the chair
in the parlor and prompted for her to sit.
Before she could argue, he ran to the kitchen and picked
up the bag of ginger she‘d placed on the counter with the other
herbs and spices she‘d lined up. How did he figure out that she
used the ginger to deal with the sickness the baby caused? She
didn‘t think men cared for things pertaining to pregnancy.
He hurried to her and handed her the bag. Then, even
more startling to her, he picked up her blanket and wrapped it
around her waist and legs. Rest.
Eat, she protested, ready to throw the blanket off. Yes,
food would be a good distraction. Maybe it would make him
forget his question if he realized his favorite stew was simmering
on the cook stove.
But he stopped her before she could stand up. I can get
it. You rest.
She just couldn‘t believe it. No matter how much she
wanted to look away, she couldn‘t. She‘d never seen him this
Woape, he whispered, kneeling in front of her and
peering up at her with undeniable hope in his eyes. Baby?
She lost heart to tell him what he should probably know.
Maybe there was no need to tell him. Maybe this was his child. If
that was the case, then what was the point in making him upset?
Should she deliver the child and see that it wasn‘t his, then she
would tell him. Pushing the nagging voice aside telling her she
needed to warn him now, she finally nodded.
He practically jumped for joy and started speaking so fast
that she couldn‘t figure out what he was saying. After a good
minute of his rambling, he glanced in her direction and laughed.
Then he pointed to the steps and went to get something.
She didn‘t care what he was doing. Wiping the tears from
her eyes, she looked out the window—her gaze turned to the sky.
Once again, she prayed to Gary‘s God that this child was truly his.
Ruth Ann Nordin
oape opened her eyes that morning, reluctant to get out of
bed. By the position of the sun, she knew it was an hour past
dawn. The movement in her womb filled her with dread. The
baby would be born in a month and a half. She wasn‘t ready.
Time had passed much too fast. When the baby was born…if
Hothlepoya was the father…would she be able to tell? Would
Gary be able to tell?
Gary came into the bedroom and smiled. You slept
It is easy to sleep with you, she slowly replied, testing
out each word before she spoke. She worked hard to learn his
language and felt that she was progressing well.
I know. You snore.
Her eyebrows furrowed. Snore?
He closed his eyes and pretended to snore to show her the
meaning of the word.
Gasping, she picked up her pillow and threw it at him.
He laughed as he dodged it.
I no snore, she insisted. Women no snore.
He chuckled and slid under the covers so he could pull her
into his arms. Women do snore. Julia does.
Julia not… She didn‘t know the correct term for what
she wanted to convey, so she settled for finishing, Julia not like
He looked much too amused to give this particular
conversation any serious thought, so Woape gave up. Besides,
maybe she did let out a little noise in the night, but it wa s
feminine, she was sure. Even so, there was no need to admit that
I don‘t care, Woape, he whispered, stroking her cheek
with his thumb. I love you.
Relaxing, she giggled. You snore more.
Yes. I do. And louder. He gave her a light kiss. You
make me happy.
Now this was much better than talk of snoring. You
make me happy too, she carefully said, trying to place the words
in the right place.
Good. He let his hand trace down her body until he
cupped her rear end and squeezed. You feel nice.
You no hungry? Usually, the day didn‘t begin until he
ate, and where he put all the food he ate, she didn‘t know.
I‘m cooking this morning.
You are tired.
No. I woke up.
His eyes twinkled as he pulled her closer to him. You
will be tired.
His meaning dawned on her at the same time he reached
up to unbutton her nightgown. Her pulse raced in anticipation.
She liked being with Gary this way. At first, it was a way to feel
close to him, to push Hothlepoya from her mind. The memory of
Ruth Ann Nordin
Hothlepoya—how he touched her with demanding hands—had
eased over the months she was with Gary. Gary wasn‘t always
soft. There were times when his passion led him to be forceful,
but it was different with him than it had been with Hothlepoya.
With Gary, there was the underlying care for her. Hothlepoya
never cared for her; he only cared for what she could give him,
whether it be her body or servitude.
But that was all in the past. She was with Gary now, and
that meant she was safe. She eagerly responded to Gary and sat
up to remove her clothing. Then she waited for him to undress
before she settled next to him. She was relieved that he no longer
checked her back to make sure her wounds had healed. She had
told him how the welts got there. The scars would always be
there, but if that was the only reminder of what Hothlepoya had
done to her—if the child wasn‘t also going to be a reminder —
then she could bear all the physical scars in the world.
Gary kissed her and the thoughts faded as the slow burn
of desire began to spread through her body. It hadn‘t been this
way with Gary in the first months of marriage. Her desire for him
had stemmed from the need to be safe and protected. But as she
got accustomed to his touch and kiss, she learned to relax and
enjoy it. Now she could fully enjoy the way he kissed her neck,
caressed her breasts, and stroked the area between her legs.
That part of lovemaking had been the biggest surprise.
Thankfully, Hothlepoya had never touched her there. So it was
something completely unique that she could connect with Gary,
and so it made it her favorite part. She concentrated on the
moment and how Gary was being wonderfully intimate with her.
He took his time, not in any hurry to bring her pleasure
that was new to her. It wasn‘t until a month ago that she
discovered her body was capable of the heightened sensations that
made her forget everyone and everything until all she could do
was get caught up in her body‘s urgent need for release. When
she climaxed, she cried out and tightened her hold on his arms.
His fingers gradually slowed, bringing her softly back to her
awareness of everything that was going on around her.
When she was ready for him, she propped her lower half
on the pillow to better accommodate his entry. Being with child
made this part of lovemaking a challenge, but they‘d worked on
different ways to enjoy the act. She watched him as he proceeded
to make love to her. She liked to watch him because it reminded
her that she was with him, loving him and being loved in return.
It was wonderful. Not cold. Not painful. But beautiful and full
of pleasure. She smiled to herself as he came, happy that she was
the one who gave him this joy that completed the marital act.
He spent a good ten minutes holding her before the baby
kicked. She didn‘t want to tell him, but he‘d felt it and spread his
hand over her stomach so he could feel the next round of
movement. I can‘t wait to see our baby.
Despite her apprehension, she smiled at him. This could
be Gary‘s child. It was possible. She took a deep breath to steady
her anxiety. A month and a half and they would know for
sure…wouldn‘t they? Was it possible that they would never know?
Then she could easily pretend the child belonged to Gary. No.
She shouldn‘t think =pretend‘. If she couldn‘t tell, she would
assume Gary was the father.
Gary kissed her. Stay put. I‘ll get breakfast. He quickly
stood up and slipped into his clothes before he headed for the
Relieved for the moment to be alone with her swirling
emotions, she rolled onto her back and stared out the window.
Even as she turned her gaze to the sky, she wondered if she was
wasting her time in prayer.
The next day, Julia sat in church—her arms crossed and back stiff
against the wooden pew. Once again, her aunt was doting over
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Woape on the other side of the church. So what if Woape was
with child? Why did that make her special? Julia hated her. Ever
since Woape came, Gary‘s attention had been drawn to her. It
was always Woape this or Woape that. Even her aunt was won
over by her.
Her aunt gave Woape a hug and Julia felt her blood come
to a boil. She couldn‘t take this anymore. She was the one who
sacrificed all of her life, devoting herself to her brother and aunt,
giving up on the simple joys of a husband and children.
Responsibility always came first. But then her brother went off to
pursue his dreams and came back with a woman who was no
better than a whore.
She groaned. She couldn‘t take this again. Not today.
She jumped up and strode out of the church, ignoring the curious
looks from the congregation. What did they care about her?
They didn‘t have to endure being constantly pushed aside because
someone else was more important.
As soon as she was outside in the bright sunlight, she
stopped for a moment. Where could she go? There wasn‘t
anywhere she could run to. Her life was here. It was here since
the day her parents died, and it would be here until the day she
died. She was doomed to be a spinster. And her wayward brother
who sought out his own pleasures was married with a child on the
way. Where was the justice? Where was her reward for years of
obedience? She‘d done everything according to the rules. And all
Nothing. She did it all for absolutely nothing.
Huffing, she marched along the road, pretending not to
see old Nelly and Jim as they approached the church. What did
they care if she said hi or not? They didn‘t. Not really.
If she hadn‘t been so angry, she might have cried. But the
time for tears was in the past. She was tired of letting life drag her
along its long, lonely road. It was time she did something for
herself. She didn‘t have to die here. She didn‘t have to keep
sacrificing and waiting for life to come her way.
Her purposeful steps paused on the edge of town. The
land spanned out before her—as endless as the possibilities. Did
she dare do it? Did she dare do the same thing Gary did? What
were the chances that a woman could manage on her own in the
middle of nowhere?
Well, she didn‘t have to travel on her own. She could wait
for the stagecoach and go to the nearest train station. She had
some money saved from the inheritance from her parents. Places
out there needed school teachers. As a teacher, she‘d be
dissuaded from marrying, but what did that matter to her? She
wasn‘t going to get married anyway. No. Love was out of the
question for her. Instead, she needed to find a place where she
could live—to be her own person. Yes, she could be a school
teacher. Sure, it didn‘t pay much. But she would be away from
Even as her spirits lifted at the thought, she lost heart. It
was a big world out there. Much too scary. Much too unknown.
She glanced toward a movement on her right, and her gaze
fell upon three riders heading her way. Squinting, she tried to
make out who they were. From the looks of it, they were Indian.
She wondered what they were doing out here. Tapping
her foot on the ground, she debated whether or not she should
wait for them to arrive. What were the cha nces that Indians
would be here? Until Woape arrived, none had come here before.
Was there a connection between these men and Woape? She
glanced back at the church. Service had begun. Naturally, no one
went to search for her…even though she wasn‘t there. Bitterness
welled up in her throat like thick bile.
Turning her attention back to the men, she decided to
walk further out of town, but not too far from the nearest
building, and waited for them. She took a deep breath as they
neared. Something in their stature made her uneasy. She couldn‘t
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explain what it was that intimidated her. Maybe it was their stoic
expression, as if they were statues. It made them seem cold.
The one in the middle held his hand up to his
companions, and they followed him over to her.
She stepped back, suddenly questioning the wisdom of her
decision to wait for them.
Greeting, the one in the middle said.
Uh…hello, she replied.
Do you have Indian woman here?
She knew it! Woape?
The man‘s eyebrows rose. Yes.
Is she your wife?
She belongs to me.
That explained why she sensed something deceitful about
Woape. Sure, maybe Woape wasn‘t married to this Indian…yet,
but he told her that Woape belonged to him. He wouldn‘t come
all the way there to look for someone he didn‘t love. And if
Woape left this man, she might leave Gary. What good would
that do Gary? All it would do was cause pain and heartache. Her
brother might have such a thing coming, but she decided she
would spare him the inevitable.
Yes, she had to protect her brother, even if he was too
stupid to appreciate it. Woape is here.
His eyebrow rose in interest. Where is she?
Right now, she‘s in church. She pointed to the building
located in town.
She‘s with people?
Of course. There‘s a service happening right now. And
that meant there wasn‘t anyone lingering outside but her. But she
wanted to be alone. At least she wanted to be alone until they
Where does she live? With you?
No. She fought back the urge to make a sarcastic retort
about how Woape had manipulated her brother into marriage. As
far as she was concerned, the marriage between Woape and her
brother was illegitimate, especially in light of this. She lives there
with my brother.
The man‘s gaze turned to the house located farther out on
the prairie. She has a man with her?
She tricked him.
His sharp eyes returned to her. You do not like this.
Why should I? She shrugged. She doesn‘t belong here.
She belongs with you, just as you said.
Yes. She is my property.
For a moment, apprehension slithered through her.
To her surprise, he gestured to the two men with him and
they rode off in the opposite direction. She frowned. Whatever
was that about? Obviously nothing. After all, they were leaving.
Sighing in disappointment, she turned and went back to the
church. So much for getting rid of Woape.
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t was in the middle of the night when Gary woke Woape up.
Her eyes flew open, automatically knowing something was wrong.
Before she could ask him what was going on, he pressed his hand
over her mouth.
Shh… He turned his attention to the window and then
the bedroom door.
Despite the sudden anxious thudding in her heart, she
listened. All was quiet. What did he hear?
You have to hide, he whispered.
The very fact that he was afraid prompted her to action.
She got out of the bed as fast as she could while he got dressed.
She wondered if she should take off her nightgown and pull on a
dress, but there wasn‘t time to do anything but follow him to the
closet in the hallway. In haste, he climbed the shelves and
removed the portion of ceiling leading to the attic.
Come on. He held his hand out to her.
She hesitated for a moment but a creak from the porch
startled her forward. Someone was outside. But who would be
there in the middle of the night?
Gary touched her arm and pulled her closer to the shelf.
Reach up to the hole.
Without further thought, she obeyed as he lifted her up.
She stepped onto the middle shelf and pushed herself up through
the hole. It wasn‘t easy to climb when her belly got in the way but
fear was a terrific motivator. Whatever was out there wasn‘t good.
She didn‘t need Gary‘s apprehensive movements to tell her that.
She felt it deep down in her gut.
As soon as she was in the attic, she turned and held out
her hand to Gary, fully expecting him to join her. But he didn‘t.
Instead he flipped the rectangular board that sealed the entrance
to the attic so she could grab the hook when she needed to get
down. She understood what he was doing. He was making it so
no one could go up there while allowing her to get out.
Gary. Come, she pleaded in a soft voice, unwilling to be
separated from him.
He didn‘t answer. He turned his head, notifying her that
he heard something from their bedroom.
Her hands gripped the fabric of her nightgown. More
than one intruder. This wasn‘t good! She didn‘t dare say anything
else, lest she give Gary‘s location away. It didn‘t surprise her
when he sealed the opening and closed the door to the closet. All
at once, everything was dark. The moonlight from the bedroom
was gone. Everything grew silent. All she could hear was her fast
breathing. She stayed still, waiting for any sounds from below.
What was happening? Where was Gary? Where were the
intruders? How many were there?
The baby kicked, distracting her—but just for a moment.
She had to focus. And that meant she had to calm down. Closing
her eyes, she took deep breaths. She spread her hands out along
the hardwood floor. It was cool to the touch…and dusty. She
wiped her hands on her nightgown and swallowed the lump in her
Opening her eyes, she noticed a sliver of light from the
corner of the small triangular space. Shadows formed slowly, but
it looked like a trunk and several crates were her only companions.
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The musty smell finally penetrated through the sense of doom
hovering around her. Turning her attention back to Gary, she
held her breath and listened. Everything was still quiet, and she
didn‘t know if that was a good sign or not.
She glanced around the eerie room. The str eam of
moonlight penetrating the darkness beckoned to her. She slowly
made her way toward it, taking great care in being quiet. As she
neared the source of light, she realized that most of the window
had been boarded up. If she removed the boards, she‘d probably
make noise. Maybe she could see enough through the exposed
Peering through it, she caught a glimpse of the grassy
plain. She caught sight of the barn that had seen better days. In
there was the buggy and horses. Farther out, she caught sight of a
coyote minding his own business. A movement behind the tree
close to the house caught her attention.
Her breath caught in her throat. She‘d recognize that
spear anywhere. Tecumseh. And if Tecumseh was there, then
Hothlepoya couldn‘t be far away. Tecumseh, after all, did
everything for Hothlepoya. Currently, that entailed being a
How did Hothlepoya find her? How did he know she
came here? And after all this time? How many months had it
been since she‘d last seen him? Seven months. About the length
of her pregnancy. The child! Hothlepoya must not see her like
this. If he did…if he suspected he might be the father… She didn‘t
want to think about it.
A gunshot vibrated through the house and with it, she
jerked. She held her breath and waited. Within a second, a
crashing sound exploded below her. The struggle raged as she
tried to figure out who was doing what and where they were.
Since she had nowhere else to look, she looked back out the
Where had Tecumseh gone? Her fingernails dug into the
boards. She scanned the land, but she didn‘t see anyone. Gritting
her teeth, she concentrated on the ruckus in the house. Banging.
Loud thuds. Another gunshot. Her stomach tensed, and the baby
kicked harder against her ribs.
If only she knew what was going on! But did she really
want to know?
The front door burst open, so she anxiously peered out
the window again. Hothlepoya came into view, fleeing as another
gunshot echoed through the night. Her heart leapt with hope.
That meant Gary was still alive! And maybe Gary would get rid of
her nemesis once and for all. Then she could really be safe again.
Don’t miss the next shot!
But another shot did not ring through the silent night.
For one long agonizing moment, nothing happened. And then,
without warning, another gunshot did penetrate the darkness
followed by the image of Gary chasing Tecumseh toward the
No! she screamed, despite the fact that she was
supposed to keep quiet.
Hothlepoya came up behind Gary and struck an arrow
into his shoulder.
Gary fell into the tall grass, and Tecumseh turned around
and stopped running.
Get up! Get up!!
Despite her silent pleas, Gary reminded on the grass and
Hothlepoya came upon him. As soon as Hothlepoya lifted the
axe, Woape fell back against the adjoining wall and collapsed on
The scene was much too familiar. She couldn‘t watch
another loved one being beheaded and then scalped. She‘d seen it
once…when Hothlepoya killed her mother. Bitter tears slid down
her cheeks. Not again. Both times Hothlepoya had robbed her of
someone she loved, and each time, she couldn‘t stop him.
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She heard the door open and knew he returned to find
her. She didn‘t dare give into her urge to wail in sorrow. That‘s
how Hothlepoya found her after he killed her mother. She
squeezed her eyes shut tight and urged aside the guilt. It was her
fault both had died. When she ran away to avoid marrying Citlali,
her mother had followed her. Except Woape hadn‘t gone to
Hothlepoya‘s set of teepees. She‘d stayed on the edges long
enough to steal some food, but her mother had stopped by to ask
How many nights did Woape spend awake, wishing her
mother had never searched for her? When her mother turned to
leave, Hothlepoya wouldn‘t let her. And then… Woape bit her
lower lip until she drew blood. Refocusing on the physical pain
allowed her the temporary reprieve from the sight of watching her
Below her, someone moved with stealth. Part of her
wanted to give up, to have this nightmare over with. But the baby
tossed and there was that part of her that thought Gary might be
the father, and if he was, this was a part of him she still had with
her. And so she remained quiet and waited.
Woape waited until dawn was breaking before she made a move
to leave the attic. She hadn‘t heard anyone shifting through the
house for roughly three hours. It was because she knew the
position of the moon in relation to the hour of the night that she
could guess the passage of time.
Lifting the board that had protected her, she tentatively
found her footing on the shelf beneath her and slowly made her
way down. The house was quiet—so much so that she could hear
the pounding of her heart. She recognized the smell of death and
had to force back the bile that rose up in her throat. Gary had
managed to kill someone last night. In light of his death, that was
little consolation. Still, she had to get out of there. She had to go
to Erin and tell her… Bracing herself against the onslaught of
tears, she turned her attention to getting to Erin. She could cry
later. Right now, she had to get out of there. What if Hothlepoya
came back? She couldn‘t risk staying there.
The hallway loomed long in front of her. She didn‘t want
to make the rounds through the house to see what had transpired
the night before, but her dreaded curiosity prompted her to
examine the damage. Shattered glass from the bedroom window,
broken furniture, clothes strewn through the room… Sighing, she
forced her feet down the rest of the hallway and to the edge of the
She screamed when she saw Agwe lying on his back at the
bottom of the steps. As soon as she realized his neck was turned
at an odd angle and dried blood covered his chest from a bullet
wound, she relaxed. But only slightly. He was dead. He wasn‘t a
Despite her shaky legs, she proceeded down the steps and
gingerly passed him. Her skin crawled when her ankle hit his cold
shoulder. She hurried out of the kitchen, and just as she reached
the door, she ran into a strong chest. She screamed again and
Woape? The Indian looked at her with caring eyes.
An instant wave of relief flooded over her. It wasn‘t
Hothlepoya or Tecumseh. It was her brother‘s friend. Chogan?
How did you know I was here?
Everyone‘s been looking for you. You had us worried.
He glanced at her belly. And for good reason.
She didn‘t feel like explaining it. Not now. You‘ll take
I was going to have you ride a horse. But with this— he
motioned to her stomach.
We—I mean, I have a buggy. We can take that. It
wasn‘t Gary‘s anymore. She stepped onto the porch and
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examined the area of grass where Hothlepoya had murdered her
husband. I should bury him. It would only be right.
Who? Him? Chogan pointed to Agwe‘s corpse.
No. I don‘t care if he has a burial or not. She refused to
pay that honor to one of her tormentors.
Him. She pointed in the direction of the barn, knowing
Gary‘s body waited for her to tend to. As much as she dreaded it,
she knew it had to be done. It was the least she could do for him.
I already took care of the white man, he said.
What? Where did you bury him?
He‘s over there.
Her eyes finally caught sight of the fire in the middle of a
well dug out pit. You can‘t burn him!
He stopped her before she ran out to the flames. I‘m
taking care of his body in the way he deserves.
In a way he deserves? You have disgraced him!
Holding onto her shoulders, he made purposeful eye
contact with her. Look at you, Woape! Your father and brother
will be shamed when they see what he did to you.
It was not him who made me a prisoner or… She
couldn‘t say =got me with child‘—not when she didn‘t know if he
was the father or not. Instead, she settled for saying, He never
As if she burned him, he released her. Our people and
our way of life are becoming extinct and you would mate with a
Her cheeks flushed with a mixture of shame and
indignation. Was it any of his business if she had a child who
wasn‘t a full-blooded Mandan? Why did she have to partake in
the burden of replenishing their tribe? She didn‘t love Citlali any
more than he loved her. Being with Gary had been worth it.
Wasn‘t love more important than blood lines?
Chogan slowly exhaled, his body visibly relaxing. All is
not lost. You can have more babies. This one… He motioned to
her belly and shrugged. This one will just have to do.
She shot him a searing look. No. This one will not just
=have to do‘. Not if this was Gary‘s child. If this was Gary‘s child
and that would be all she‘d have left of him, then she was going to
love this child more than anyone else. She rubbed her stomach,
willing the child to be Gary‘s. Because if the child wasn‘t his, she
didn‘t know what she was going to do.
Chogan‘s face softened. This child will still be a part of
the tribe. We just need the next ones to be full-blooded.
She took a deep breath. I need to bury my… She
paused. She didn‘t think he‘d like hearing her say =ibero‘, so she
opted for another word. I need to bury him. Turning to the
kitchen, she grabbed a bucket and got ready to fill it with water so
she could douse the fire.
He groaned. Why? He‘s practically ashes by now.
It doesn‘t matter. He‘ll still be buried in a manner
I would like to get back to the tribe before you give
I won‘t be ready to give birth for at least another month.
Suddenly remembering her nightgown, she added, I need to get
He reached for the bucket. I‘ll take care of the fire. You
get dressed. Glancing at Agwe‘s body, he said, I will take care of
Nodding, she handed him the bucket and went to get
dressed. She tried not to think of leaving as she brushed her hair
and redid her braids. Blinking through the tears, she struggled to
keep her hands steady. When she finished, she searched the
trashed room for Gary‘s watch and hat. She would keep those for
herself. But she wanted to bury Gary with something, so she took
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off her wedding ring and retrieved the blanket she had made for
By the time she walked out of the house, Chogan had
stopped the fire and was digging a grave. Once it was wide
enough for what she needed, she asked him to leave her alone. As
soon as he obeyed, she set the hat and watch aside so she could
spread the blanket out on the ground.
It was painful to look at the body. All the flesh had been
melted off. Nothing remained but a partial skeleton and ashes.
Crying, she collected as much of the remains as she could and
gently placed them in the blanket. This was a day she didn‘t think
would come until she and Gary had seen their grandchildren or
great-grandchildren. She thought they had time. But in one
moment, her future had been wiped away. When she finished her
task, she placed the ring on the bones on what was left of his hand
and carefully wrapped the blanket around the body. She placed it
into the hole, making sure he was sitting upright.
Chogan came up beside her with his shovel.
She knew he‘d find reason to fault her if she gave into the
urge to pour a handful of dirt over her head and openly wail. So
she refrained. Instead, she gathered Gary‘s hat and watch and
clutched them to her heart as Chogan filled in the hole.
As the reality of the events unfolded before her, tears fell
down her cheeks. Gary—her Gary—was gone, and there was
nothing she could do to bring him back.
Woape? Chogan softly asked. Can we go now?
Turning her attention back to Chogan, she realized he was
done. Even now, even when she couldn‘t do anything else for
Gary, she hated to leave him. But what other choice did she have?
Exhaling, she dragged her feet to the barn to get the horse and
ulia woke up to the sound of her aunt crying. Surprised, she
quickly put her robe on and went down to the parlor. She hurried
over to the chair and knelt by her aunt.
Erin wept into her handkerchief. Woape just left.
She furrowed her eyebrows. Why should that distress her
aunt? She lives in town. She‘ll be back.
No. She‘s going back to her Mandan tribe.
Even though this caused her aunt great distress, Julia
thought this might be a good thing. Now everyone could go back
to their lives. Sure, her aunt and Gary would be upset for awhile.
That was natural. But in time, when things returned to normal,
they could be a whole family again. Julia reached out and touched
Erin‘s hand. Giving it a gentle squeeze, she said, We‘ll get
through this. Gary can move back here and—
He‘s not coming back! Erin snapped. Immediately
looking sorry for her outburst, her face relaxed and she clasped
Julia‘s hands. Julia, I…I might as well just come out and say it.
She paused to take a deep breath. Gary passed on to the next
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It felt like the wind was knocked out of her. Julia took a
moment to organize her thoughts so she could speak coherently.
It happened last night…early this morning… She sniffed
again. Before sunrise.
Julia bolted to her feet. Why did you let that deceitful…
She bit back the word she wanted to use. Why did you let
Woape go? We need to turn her over to the marshal.
Erin shook her head, obviously irritated. What is wrong
with you? Woape didn‘t hurt him.
It‘s time you faced reality. Woape‘s not the innocent
person you think she is. She‘s wheedled her way into our lives,
stole Gary from us, and then when his use wore out, she got rid of
Standing up, she glared at Julia. That poor girl watched
an Indian kill Gary. The only reason she survived was because
Gary hid her in the attic. And all you can do is point the finger
and accuse her of foul play. Woape was a good wife to your
brother. She loved him. But all you can do is think of yourself.
This world and the people in it do not revolve around you, Julia!
Julia gasped. A-an In-Indian?
Disgust evident on her face, her aunt stormed toward the
staircase. As she set her hand on the banister, she glanced back at
Julia. The real tragedy isn‘t the Indian and what he did. The real
tragedy is that you were so selfish that you had to make Gary
miserable. No one‘s holding you here. I told you to marry when
Are you saying you don‘t want me here?
I‘m saying that you need to do what Gary did—enjoy life.
That‘s the only thing that gives me consolation. Even if you live
to be a hundred, you‘ll have wasted your life because you filled
your days with hate and self-pity.
Julia‘s jaw dropped. I can‘t believe you‘re talking to me
Well, it‘s been long overdue.
Julia watched in stunned silence as her aunt proceeded up
Though Woape stared out at the countryside, she didn‘t really see
where they were going, so she blinked in surprise when she
realized they were nearing a town.
We need food, Chogan explained.
She nodded. Of course, they did. It would be several days
before they reached their tribe. She glanced at the two horses
pulling the buggy. If she hadn‘t been with child, she could have
ridden hers. But she knew it would be best to take it easy. The
other horse pulling them belonged to Chogan. She wished it was
Gary‘s. But she had to leave Gary‘s steed behind. Closing her
eyes, she forced her attention off the sorrow that beckoned her.
There would be time for tears later—when she was safely back
with the tribe.
The baby moved, directing her attention to the life inside
of her. She placed her hand on her belly. She had to remember
this child was hers too, regardless of who the father was. That
was easier said than done though, for even now, she struggled to
hold back the urge to detest anything associated with Hothlepoya.
Chogan slowed the horses as they reached the f irst road
that marked the city‘s limits.
She straightened up, noting that her back was stiff and her
bottom was sore. It would be good to get up and walk around for
a bit. The day had been long and evening was fast approaching,
and it had been a good two hours since she had last gotten a
chance to get out of the buggy.
Chogan counted his coins and then got out of the buggy.
We should have enough. Your family will be glad to see you
when we get back.
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She winced, though he turned his attention back to the
coins so he didn‘t notice. Little did she realize running away from
marrying Citlali would result in so much pain…and death. I‘m
sorry, she whispered, quickly looking away so he wouldn‘t see her
tears. She got out of the buggy, but a rock jutted out of the
ground and made her trip.
Chogan raced over to her and stopped her from falling. I
wish you had let me help.
I‘m fine. She tucked Gary‘s hat and watch under her
arm and marched over to the general store lining the business
district. We can get food here.
He stood still, as if in shock. You can read their
Some. Not a lot. I can speak it pretty well too.
I can also speak it. Maybe not as much as you.
So can your brother and Citlali, among a few others.
How do you think we engage in trade with the white man?
She hadn‘t given it any thought. She just knew that wa s
what they did, but up until that moment, she hadn‘t wondered
how. Why didn‘t anyone teach me?
He shrugged. Why would you ever need to know it?
You weren‘t going to marry a white man or live with them. And
you certainly weren‘t supposed to have one of their children.
A slight scowl crossed her face and her hand went over
I‘m just saying that you were to stay with the tribe and
marry Citlali and have his children. Women grow the crops and
the men deal with the trade. You had no reason to know the
white man‘s language. As it is, our understanding of it is enough
to do business. We prefer to keep to our traditions and our
language. You won‘t be teaching your child the white man‘s
She didn‘t think it was any of his business what she did or
did not teach her child. Resisting the urge to argue with him, she
entered the store. She managed to get through the task of picking
up some food supplies that would last them for the duration of
the trip. Just being there, picking up the items, reminded her of
Gary, for he‘d take her to the store and stay by her side, often
telling her how much he enjoyed her cooking.
She forced back another wave of tears. How was she
supposed to go on without him? Life would never be the same
Are you ready? Chogan asked, breaking her out of her
She sighed but nodded.
After Chogan paid for the supplies, he opened the door to
She had just stepped through the doorway when her gaze
fell on Hothlepoya and Tecumseh. Gripping Chogan‘s arm, she
pulled him back into the store.
What‘s wrong? he asked. Did you forget something?
It‘s them, she whispered, peer ing out the window by the
Remember the man who was dead in my house? Two
others were with him. There they are.
He got close enough to her so that he could look out the
window. They‘re not from the Hidatsa or Arikara tribes.
I think they‘re Sioux.
He stiffened. Sioux?
She nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat.
Are you sure?
When they speak, I don‘t hear them use the letter =L‘.
Shaking his head, he said, This isn‘t good.
He didn‘t know the half of it, but now wasn‘t the time to
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Hothlepoya and Tecumseh directed their horses over to
the buggy and stopped.
She ducked and pulled on Chogan‘s arm so he wouldn‘t
stay there, gawking out the window like a moron. They‘re smart.
That explains all Sioux, he remarked.
No. They‘re different. They‘re worse. She glanced at
the store owner who stared at them warily. I don‘t think we can
stay in here for long.
Chogan looked over his shoulder at the owner. He
probably thinks we‘re going to steal something.
She could tell the owner wasn‘t happy to have them there
by the cautious expression on his face, but there was no way she
was going out there with Hothlepoya outside.
Chogan slowly stood up and peeked out the window.
They‘re coming in.
Her eyes grew wide. No.
He winced as he turned his attention back to the window.
Did they hurt you?
She hesitated to tell him, but what good would holding the
information back do either of them? Yes. The leader, the one
with all those feathers in his headdress, killed my mother. Because
she came looking for me. She hung her head in shame.
Chogan took a deep breath and wiped his palms on his
deerskin pants. I saw what they did to that white man. They
showed no mercy.
Maybe they won‘t realize you‘re with me.
Stay here. I‘ll try to get rid of them.
As he stepped out of the store, she backed up and
watched from a safe distance as Chogan stopped Hothlepoya to
talk to him. Hothlepoya narrowed his eyes at Chogan, and she
knew what that meant. It meant that Hothlepoya didn‘t believe
whatever Chogan had told him—which was meant to protect her.
Once Hothlepoya walked toward the store, she knew he‘d find
her…unless she could find a way to escape or prevent him from
She ran over to the owner. Is there another door?
Why? Is he trouble? The man indicated to Hothlepoya
as he neared the store.
As if to prove her point, when Chogan tried to stop him,
Hothlepoya shoved Chogan back and ordered Tecumseh to hold
The owner swore under his breath and grabbed a rifle
from under his counter. You might be able to get out the
window in the back room.
She didn‘t wait to see what was going to happen. She
hurried in the direction he motioned to and opened the window.
If she‘d been any bigger than she was, she wouldn‘t be able to
squeeze out of it. Placing a chair by the window, she stepped up
on it and swung one leg out. Her large belly made it hard to
maneuver through it. The sound of a struggle and resulting
gunshot made her jolt.
Hothlepoya barged into the back room. He glared at her.
She lost her balance and fell out the window. She landed
on her side, her arms instinctively protecting the child. Her side
hurt, but she knew it would just be bruises—and bruises were
things she could live with.
Hothlepoya started to climb out the window. Tecumseh!
She‘s over here!
She clutched the hat and watch before she got to her feet.
Then she ran as fast as her condition would permit her. As she
rounded the corner of a building, she caught sight of Chogan who
jumped in front of both Hothlepoya and Tecumseh in an effort to
block them. She didn‘t bother to stick around to find out if the
marshal running by her was going to help Chogan. She needed to
get out of there—and fast!
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She found an alley and raced down it, ignoring the smell of
garbage and other odors that would normally make her queasy.
A whistle blew, and it took her a moment to realize it was
coming from a train. Her heart jumped with excitement. A train.
Of course! Even if Hothlepoya got on horseback and chased her,
he‘d never catch her if she was on a train. She didn‘t have money.
All she had were Gary‘s hat and watch, and she refused to part
The train station came into sight. People were boarding.
Good. That meant she still had a chance to escape. She hopped
on the other side of the tracks and crouched behind a large crate.
Scanning the train cars, she caught sight of the cargo cars. If she
could hide in one of those, then she wouldn‘t have to pay for a
Gasping, she turned her attention to the marshal who was
chasing Hothlepoya. She nearly cried out in despair. How could
he know that she came this way?
A group of men jumped on Hothlepoya and knocked him
That was her cue. She bolted for one of the train cars full
of large crates and climbed into the one with an open door.
Scurrying to one of the corners where she could hide between two
crates, she gave herself permission to finally relax. The baby
kicked her in the ribs. She winced and moved so that the sharp
jab would lessen. All she needed to do was remain quiet and no
one would find her. She gathered the hat and pocket watch to her
chest and closed her eyes, willing her breathing to calm.
The day had been long—much too long. And it was just
the first of many she‘d have to endure without Gary. Again, she
fought the urge to cry. Once the men closed the door and the
train started, she could cry. Until then, she had to be quiet.
Where would the train take her? Would Hothlepoya find her
wherever she ended up? Would he hunt her down for the rest of
Within a minute, she heard some men load in another set
of crates before one said they were done. Then the door closed
and she was plunged into darkness. And that was when her tears
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t was true. She wanted to deny it, to look for any reason to
believe that Woape had lied, but all the evidence proved that
Indians had broken in and there was no sign of Gary—except for
the lone marker.
Julia slowly made her way back to the house where the
marshal and several men were cleaning up. The sight of blood
was finally gone, but the odor of death still permeated the air.
Her aunt carried a bundle of Gary‘s things.
I can help with that, Julia softly spoke, approaching the
Erin‘s sharp gaze met hers. I think you‘ve already done
I didn‘t know the Indians would try to kill her or Gary.
But you intended for them to take her away from him,
even when you knew how happy she made him. Don‘t talk to me
right now. I‘m much too upset.
Knowing there was nothing she could do to ease her
aunt‘s sorrow…or anger, Julia stepped aside and let Erin pass her.
Shame warmed her cheeks, and she wished, once again, that she
hadn‘t been so quick to rat Woape out like she had. She knew it
was wrong, but at the time, she hadn‘t cared.
But I never once thought
they would kill Gary.
But did she think they would kill Woape? She winced.
The truth was, she didn‘t care what happened to Woape. She
wiped the tear that slid down her cheek.
Oh God, what have I done?
I‘m sorry, Miss Milton, the marshal said as he walked by
her. Your brother was a good man. It‘s a terrible loss.
She gave a slight nod before she turned away and left the
house. Once she was out of sight of the men, she allowed herself
the freedom to cry. The magnitude of her sin weighed heavily
upon her, threatening to suffocate her. How could she stoop so
low? True, she‘d resented Gary‘s ability to go off and do whatever
he wanted, but her aunt was right: she never should have let her
jealousy cloud her judgment.
She found Gary‘s marker and knelt beside it. I‘ m sorry,
Gary. I‘m so sor ry.
Then she broke down. She had plenty of chances to make
her peace with him and Woape, but she let bitterness and pride
prevent her from doing the right thing. And now there was no
going back in time—to undo the wrong she‘d wrought. Her tears
ran down her face and splattered off her fingers which dug into
the dirt. She tried to say more, to confess her sins, but her body
wracked with sobs and she could hardly speak, let alone breathe.
She hated herself. She wished it had been her the Indians
came after and killed. If she could take her brother‘s place, she
would gladly do so. If she could go back in time and tell the
Indians that she hadn‘t seen Woape… If she had turned back to
town as soon as she saw them… If she‘d stayed in church… If
only… Her head swam with all the if only‘s racing through her
In her mind, she played out the various scenarios of how
she could‘ve redeemed herself, and each one tore at her heart,
making her sick with guilt. All it did was increase her self-
loathing. She couldn‘t go back in time and undo her wrong. She
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couldn‘t rectify her treatment of Gary or Woape. She couldn‘t do
She was doomed.
Daylight struck Woape‘s eyes and the sudden burst of activity
woke her up. She tried to hide for cover as the men invaded the
quiet interior of the freight car, but one saw her as she crawled
behind a crate. She knew he saw her. And, just as she feared, he
called out to the other three men that an Indian woman was in the
She didn‘t try to evade them as their footsteps moved
closer. What was the point? She was boxed in, and there were
four of them and only one of her. Gripping Gary‘s hat and watch
close to her, she prayed that they wouldn‘t hurt her or the child
tumbling about in her womb.
Two men pushed the crate, and from the way their
muscles strained under their shirts, she realized the contents were
heavy. Once the crate was aside, she watched them.
The poor thing looks scared, one of them finally spoke.
The one with a mustache and soot on his face extended
his hand to her. It‘s alright. We won‘t hurt you. We want to
She probably can‘t understand what you‘re saying.
Well, I don‘t know any other language.
We should get a woman, another one spoke up. I‘m
sure we aren‘t easing her fears.
That‘s a good idea. I‘ll get my wife. He turned and left
The others stood still, looking right back at her for half a
minute before one of them said, We might as well get to work.
The two nodded their agreement and turned to their task.
She finally exhaled. So they weren‘t going to hurt her.
She almost spoke to them, to let them know she could understand
them, but then, she decided it might be to her advantage to hold
her tongue. If these people thought she couldn‘t understand
them, then they would speak freely in front of her, and she‘d
know if they meant to harm her or not. Yes, she was better off
The men had unloaded half the car when a kindly looking
round woman roughly ten years older than Woape stepped onto
the train. She approached Woape and smiled. Hello. Patting
her chest, she said, My name is Rachel. R-a-chel.
You? She pointed in her direction. Your name?
Woape frowned, uncertain of whether or not to act like
she understood the woman.
Never mind, the woman replied. Jerry, do you have
the blanket with you?
Yes, honey. Jerry gave her the folded up quilt.
Kneeling beside her, Rachel wrapped the soft blanket
around Woape‘s shoulders. I‘m going to take you to the church.
The preacher and his wife will take care of you. They‘re good
Woape relaxed her grip on Gary‘s hat and watch. She was
safe with this woman, and she was certain the same would be true
with her friends. She stood up and Rachel gasped. Wondering
what startled her, Woape examined her dress. She had some dirt
on her clothes, but there was nothing out of the ordinary.
Oh my dear, what you must have gone through.
It took Woape a moment to understand that Rachel meant
her pregnancy. Woape touched her belly, aware of the
sympathetic gazes around her.
You think a white man did that? one of the men asked.
It must have been. She‘s dressed in a white woman‘s
clothes and holding a white man‘s hat and watch. Rachel reached
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for the items, but Woape shook her head and clutched them to
her chest. Rachel sighed. I‘ve heard of this kind of thing
happening, but I hoped that I‘d never see it.
What happened? Jerry asked as he came up beside her.
Rachel lowered her voice so that the other men wouldn‘t
overhear. A white man took advantage of her .
You don‘t know that. Maybe she was married to him or
She doesn‘t have a ring.
Oh. He glanced Woape‘s way before looking back at his
wife. I suspect her opinion of white people isn‘t so great then.
Probably not. Rachel wrapped her arm around Woape‘s
shoulders. You‘re safe now, and so is your little one.
Relieved to have a reprieve from her running, Woape
simply nodded and joined Rachel.
Julia exhaled. She couldn‘t eat. Taking the bowl of oatmeal to the
sink, she pondered how she could live with herself, knowing she
was the one responsible for her brother‘s death and Woape‘s and
her aunt‘s heartbreak. The burden weighed heavily on her soul,
and she lost any desire to eat. How could she enjoy food when
her brother would never eat again?
She hesitated before she left the kitchen. Her aunt was in
the parlor. Julia would have to pass her to get out the front door.
But she had to go back to Gary‘s grave. Maybe she would retrieve
his horse and… And what? She had nowhere to store a horse.
But she couldn‘t get rid of it either. Gary loved that animal. For
the time being, she would put the horse at the local stable. She
could figure out what to do with the steed in due time.
After she went to her room to collect the fees necessary
for boarding the horse, she slipped the coin into her pocket and
put a bonnet over her blond hair. One look in the mirror showed
her how pale she‘d become. Dark circles were under her eyes,
evidence of how little she could sleep. She had no desire for
sleep, for it was in sleep when the nightmares plagued her. Over
and over, she‘d find herself walking down empty corridors with
whispers accusing her of murder. Then, when she found a door
and opened it, she realized she was looking into a mirror, and she
saw herself as she truly was: a monster.
But now in the daylight, when she was wide awake and
looked in the mirror, she saw a woman wracked with grief and
guilt. Maybe she wasn‘t physica lly a monster, but she knew the
ugly side of her lurked in her heart. So much for all those years of
sacrifice, where she‘d look into the mirror and was convinced that
her good deeds made her beautiful. That beauty was just an
illusion meant to keep her unaware of the fact that in and of
herself, she wasn‘t the good person she thought she was.
No. There was no beauty in her. The image of the
monster in her dream momentarily returned to her mind. She
shivered and hastened out of the room.
As she reached the front door, her aunt called out to her,
Where are you going?
Julia turned to her aunt who sat in the chair, working on a
quilt she‘d started making out of the patches she‘d cut from
Gary‘s and Woape‘s clothes. Wrapping her arms around herself,
Julia said, I thought I‘d get Gary‘s horse before Matthew takes
his house back.
Erin nodded and wiped a tear from her cheek. That‘s a
Julia waited to see if her aunt would say anything else, but
since she didn‘t, Julia turned and left the hou se. Though the sun
beat down on her, she felt cold. She didn‘t feel like going back for
her shawl. Being chilly was insignificant compared to being dead.
Gary would never be hot or cold again.
As she passed the church, she realized there was another
funeral. Curious, she crossed the street and made her way to the
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white building. They couldn‘t be having a funeral for Gary.
They‘d already done that two days ago. So who else had died?
She waited for Mr. and Mrs. Clemmens to reach the
entrance before she asked, Who died?
Mrs. Clemmens directed her sad eyes to her. Matthew.
The one who owned the house my brother and his wife
I‘m afraid so.
How did he die?
She shrugged. No one‘s sure. He lives alone, so no one
noticed that he went missing until yesterday when I had to check
on him. He wasn‘t there, and it became apparent that he hadn‘t
been there for several days. The marshal‘s looked for him but he
can‘t find him. I‘m afraid there‘s only one conclusion we can
come to. You know, he was too old to go off anywhere, and all of
his belongings were still at his room in the boarding house. She
sighed. There‘s only one conclusion anyone can come to.
His body will turn up sooner or later, and when it does,
we‘ll bury it, Mr . Clemmens added.
Julia quickly thought over what the marshal had said the
day she and her aunt went to collect Gary‘s things. If she
remembered right, he specifically said there were only two bodies
that were found: one that Woape had dug into the ground—which
the marshal dug up before he reburied it to make sure it was a
body—and the Indian on the staircase.
What if Woape hadn‘t buried Gary? What if that was
Matthew in the ground?
Mrs. Clemmens patted her arm. Take care, and tell your
aunt that I‘ll be by tomorrow afternoon to visit.
Julia gave a nod, though she wasn‘t paying much attention
to what the woman was saying. Hope had sprung in her heart,
and she couldn‘t let it go. It was possible, wasn‘t it? Maybe the
Indians didn‘t get him. Even as she hated the thought that
Matthew might be dead, she couldn‘t deny the joy that would
come if she found out for sure that it hadn‘t been Gary.
Did the marshal and his men check out the entire
property? Perhaps Gary…or Matthew…was lying somewhere they
hadn‘t taken the time to inspect. She hur ried down the road,
gaining momentum with each step. If Gary survived, then where
would he be? By the time she reached the property, she was out
of breath. She stood still for a moment and scanned the land.
She saw the marker for the grave and heard a horse neigh.
Gary? she called out. When no one answered her, she
yelled out his name again.
Still, no answer.
She debated where to go first and finally decided on the
barn. First, she checked around it, taking her time to examine
everything in sight while she called out his name. But she found
nothing. Inside the barn, she checked the loft, which was empty.
The horse neighed at her. The poor thing probably hadn‘t
been fed since she last came out to do that. She snatched the rake
by the door and hauled some hay into his trough.
I‘ll get you out of there before I leave, she promised the
Without waiting to see if the steed would eat, she left the
barn and ran into the house. Maybe there was a secret place no
one bothered to check. She opened all the closets, checked under
what was left of the bed, and tested everything that might hide a
human body. As she opened the closet in the hallway, she found
that part of the ceiling didn‘t match up with the rest of it.
Stepping on the shelves, she touched the section and realized it
moved. Excited, she shoved it aside and leapt up into the attic.
Gary? Are you up here?
Her voice made a mild echo, which spooked her. She‘d
hate to be stuck in here for any length of time. Despite her
nervousness, she carefully studied the room and lifted old sheets
off of trunks that had long been forgotten.
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Disappointed, she sighed. She really thought this was
going to be it. She reluctantly left and returned to the kitchen.
Outside the window, she noticed an Indian riding onto the
property in a buggy with two horses. She recognized it as Gary‘s
buggy. But from what her aunt told her, Woape had gone back to
her tribe in that buggy.
Grabbing a knife, she headed out of the house. Who are
He hadn‘t been among the three men who‘d inquired
about Woape, so she didn‘t know if she could trust him or not.
Her aunt did say Woape was with an Indian from her tribe.
Maybe this was him. But Julia tightened her grip on the knife as
he climbed out of the buggy. She couldn‘t let her guard down yet.
His movements were slow, and he kept his eyes on the
knife. I look for Woape.
She stopped six feet from him, not willing to get any
closer in case he‘d take the knife from her trembling hand.
Woape‘s gone. She went home. Even as she it, she winced.
No. Woape‘s home hadn‘t been with her tribe. Not anymore. It
Oh God, why didn’t I understand that before?
had been with Gary.
Clearing her throat, she continued, You can‘t hurt her.
He looked confused. I not hurt. I am friend to her
She glanced at the buggy and Woape‘s horse standing next
to the other one. If that was true, then her aunt would recognize
him. She studied him, trying to decide the best course of action to
I take Woape, but Sioux—Hothlepoya—came. She run.
I not find her in town. She come back?
She only had a vague idea of what he meant since his
English was choppy, but she had to find out if he was from
Woape‘s tribe. If he was, then she could trust him. Come with
me. I need to see if you are who you say you are.
I Chogan, friend to Woape brother.
I have to make sure that is true.
She not here?
She fought the urge to gr oan. No. But I can help you, i f
you are who you say you are.
You know Woape location?
No, but if my brother is alive, then there might be a way
to find her. That was a long shot. It was such a long shot…but
she had to try. Doing nothing was equivalent to losing all hope,
and she couldn‘t lose hope, not when she‘d come so close to
finding out her brother might not be dead. But before she could
do anything, she had to know if she could trust this Indian
standing in front of her.
I go with you.
Good. Maybe now some of the pieces to this puzzle
would start to fall into place. She didn‘t trust him enough to get
into the buggy, so she asked him to walk with her—but at a safe
distance. The hope that Gary was alive hurried her steps, and by
the time they reached her home, she was nearly running. The man
behind her kept up with her, and although she was out of breath,
She opened the front door and waved him in. Aunt
Erin? she called out, checking the parlor but finding it empty.
I‘m up here, child.
Julia turned her attention to the staircase. Can you tell
me if this is the man you saw the last time Woape was here?
Chogan stood by the door, seeming uncertain of what to
She figured that was good. As long as he stayed in one
spot, she didn‘t have to worry about him trying to attack them, in
case he was lying about who he was.
A door from upstairs opened and her aunt‘s feet scuffed
across the floor.
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The wait was agonizing, but Julia managed to stand in
place and patiently wait until Erin finally came into view. From
the looks of it, her aunt had been taking a nap, and upon further
inspection, Julia realized that she‘d been crying. Aunt Erin, who
is he? She pointed to the Indian.
Her aunt came down the steps. Her lips quivered and
tears filled her eyes. Oh, dear God, don‘t tell me something
happened to Woape too.
Julia placed the knife on a step and gently took her aunt by
the shoulders so she‘d focus on her. Who is he?
Sniffling, Erin answered, He‘s the one who came with
Woape. He‘s part of her tribe. Chogan. She looked at him.
That is your name?
He nodded. Yes. I lose Woape in other town. Sioux
Indians came. She afraid and ran.
Julia nearly cried with relief. Now they could get
somewhere! She let go of her aunt and walked up to him. Did
you bury a man…when you found Woape here?
Two men dead. One Sioux. Other white. I burn white
man. Woape bury him.
No one else was there?
By now, she was getting so excited, she could hardly stand
still. What did the white man look like?
He white. Not Indian.
Julia, where are you going with this? her aunt asked.
Julia glanced at her. If I‘m right, and I hope I am, then
Gary may be alive.
Erin‘s eyes widened—in surprise and in hope.
Hair? Julia took off her bonnet and pointed to her hair.
Yellow like this?
Chogan shook his head. Not dark. Hair like… He
scanned the entryway. Like that color. He pointed to Erin‘s
white apron which was wrapped around her waist.
Did he have hair on his face? Right here? Julia patted
her cheeks and chin.
Julia, can it be—
This time when Julia cried, it was with joy. Woape didn‘t
bury Gary. She buried Matthew. She quickly sobered. Not that
losing Matthew is a good thing. He must have noticed something
happening at his property and went to investigate.
Her aunt wiped her eyes. He would‘ve been at the wrong
place at the wrong time. But maybe he gave Gary a chance to
escape. Woape said Gary hid her in the attic, so he knew she wa s
safe. What if he ran and hid?
We have to find him and Woape. Julia turned and raced
up the stairs.
What are you doing?
I‘m going with Chogan so we can look for them.
Stay here, Erin told Chogan before she ran after Julia.
Julia burst into her room and grabbed a carpet bag. Who
knew how long the journey would take? She wasn‘t sure where to
even start looking, but there was no way she was going to stay in
this house and wait for something to happen.
You can‘t just head off with a stranger, her aunt
whispered as she approached the bed where Julia threw a spare
dress into the carpet bag.
Why not? Gary and Woape might need help.
Yes, but you don‘t know him.
Woape trusted him, and if she trusted him, then I can
too. Julia threw some coins she‘d saved over the years into the
bag. You keep telling me that I need to stop complaining and
start living life. Well, this is the time to do that, and I can‘t think
of a better reason to venture into the unknown than this. Can
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Erin‘s lips turned up into a smile. You‘re right. But
you‘re not going alone with him. I‘m coming with you. Then she
left for her room to pack.
oape clung to the bed sheets as she slept. She knew she was
dreaming. And even though she struggled to wake up, she
couldn‘t. She was trapped in her nightmare. A nightmare where
the question haunted her ever since she realized she was pregnant:
who was the father? It was easy to push her fears aside during the
day, when the sun shone bright and people surrounded her. But
in the heart of night where the moon reined and dreams ran
rampant, she couldn‘t escape it.
She dreamt the time had come to give birth. She was
alone and it was dark, so she couldn‘t tell where she was. The
only sound audible was her screaming in pain. She squatted and
pushed. The baby crowned and then the body slid out. As soon
as the baby cried, a figure stepped into view. With her remaining
strength, Woape looked up.
Hothlepoya knelt down and took the crying child into his
hands. Ah, a remarkable resemblance. Then he turned the baby
so she could see for herself who the child belonged to.
No! She scrambled away from both of them.
Hold him. Hold my son. He held the wailing child out
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He‘s not mine. She huddled in the corner of the teepee.
He‘s not mine!
Woape finally broke out of her nightmare and bolted
straight up in bed. He‘s not mine, she squeaked.
Her heart pounding frantically in her chest, she quickly
scanned the room. Where was she? It took her mind a moment
to sort through the fog of the dream. She was at the preacher‘s
house, staying with him and his wife. Gasping, she collapsed on
the bed, sweat sticking to her nightgown and sheets.
Oh God, please let this child be Gary’s.
She choked on a sob
and resisted the urge to place her hand over her belly as the baby
squirmed. What was she going to do if this wasn‘t Gary‘s child?
She tried to tell herself she could love him anyway, but could she
really? Would she remember Hothlepoya every time she looked at
him? It was just a matter of weeks before the duration of her
pregnancy came to an end. It was too soon. Much too soon.
She turned over and stared at the empty space next to her.
Her heart hurt whenever she rested in bed and thought of how
safe she‘d felt next to Gary. She didn‘t know how she was
supposed to continue on without him…or his love. One thing
seemed certain. She was stuck in the white man‘s world. She
didn‘t mind it when Gary was with her. But being here, alone, and
knowing she was never going to see him again made her cry.
She thought she‘d cried enough already to last a lifetime.
The preacher‘s wife would give her a handkerchief and hold her
while she cried during the day. Woape hadn‘t told the woman the
truth behind her grief. She decided to let the people think
whatever they wanted and kept quiet.
She realized this was a temporary stay. Where would she
go next? She didn‘t know and she didn‘t care. Her only hope was
that it was Gary‘s child that grew inside her.
Letting her tears fall to her pillow, she prayed again to the
God Gary often prayed to. It was the only time she received any
comfort, and it was the only thing that warded off the nightmares.
Gary once said that his God could work miracles. When he said
that, he also said that she was his miracle. Well, she needed a
miracle now, and she hoped God would deliver on it.
Martha, the preacher‘s wife said.
It took Woape a moment to remember that the kindly old
woman had given her the name Martha. Woape almost told her
what her name was, but then she thought if Hothlepoya came
through town and asked for Woape , no one would know who
that was and he‘d continue on his search for her. Woape closed
her eyes and slowly exhaled. Why couldn‘t he forget her? Why
did he have to hunt her down as if she were some kind of prey?
Woape opened her eyes and directed her attention from
the parlor window.
The woman smiled and patted her shoulder. There‘s a
A momentary flicker of panic coursed through her until
the preacher‘s wife motioned to a white woman who stood just
inside the threshold of the room. The blond woman looked to be
in her mid-twenties, and she seemed trustworthy, if Woape could
judge a person‘s character based on appearance alone. Something
in her eyes reminded Woape of her mother and Erin.
Woape shifted on the couch to make room for her to sit.
This is Penelope, the woman slowly stated. Then, as if
that wasn‘t enough, she repeated, Pe-ne-lo-pe.
Woape nodded and said, Penelope.
Yes! Very good. The woman smiled at Penelope. She
doesn‘t know our language. I‘ve been doing what I can to teach
her words here and there. She‘s a quick learner.
Penelope sat next to Woape. I wonder what her real
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I don‘t know. Jerry and his men found her in a train car,
shaking with fear. The poor thing must be running from
You think this someone caused her pregnancy?
She shrugged. It‘s speculation, of course, but it‘s all we
have to go on. She was wearing that dress.
Penelope turned her caring eyes toward Woape. What
you must have gone through.
An underlying thread of sorrow marked Penelope‘s words,
making Woape wonder if they shared something in common.
She‘s all alone in the world, the preacher‘s wife
commented. A lot like you.
That comment caught Woape‘s attention. She studied
I don‘t wish to be presumptuous, the woman continued,
but I thought maybe one woman who has no one might lik e the
company of another one in a similar situation.
You mean, you wish for me to take her with me when I
Like I said, it was a thought. I figured that there might
be a sense of comfort in it.
Penelope sighed but smiled at Woape. If I were in your
shoes, I‘d be scared too.
Woape wondered about Penelope. What was her story?
But she couldn‘t ask without letting them know she could
understand them, so she didn‘t. She couldn‘t take that chance.
She would not be to blame for someone else‘s death. Already her
mother and Gary had died because of their association with her.
And all because she didn‘t want to marry Citlali. She never should
have run away from her tribe.
Penelope reached out and gave Woape‘s hand a gentle
squeeze. Though we don‘t know each other‘s language, I think
the human spirit knows when one has a connection with another,
and I feel that we could be great friends.
Woape squeezed her hand back, allowing for one
indication that she understood Penelope‘s words.
Penelope released her hand and stood. Looking at the
preacher‘s wife, she said, I should show Martha where I live. Do
you have a map?
The woman nodded and hurried out of the room.
Woape also stood.
Penelope smiled at her.
She returned her smile.
An awkward minute passed before the preacher‘s wife
returned with a map which she laid out on the table in the center
of the room. There, she told Penelope. Where is it you live?
Penelope studied the map for a moment before she
pointed to a spot that looked to be far from anyone or anything.
Woape leaned forward. She wondered where her tribe
was. She wondered where she and Gary used to live. Bracing
herself against the sorrow that wanted to emerge, she focused on
the place where Penelope pointed.
Penelope looked at Woape. I live here. She paused
before pointing to the three of them. We are here. She slid her
finger to a place that looked much more populated than where
Penelope said she lived.
The preacher‘s wife tapped Woape on the arm to get her
attention. You go here. She motioned to Penelope‘s home.
Woape knew what they were offering, and she considered
it. Part of her wanted to return to her people, but she had no idea
how to get to them. She realized she could come out and ask
them. But Hothlepoya was still out there. Did she risk the
journey, especially when it wasn‘t just her she had to think about?
She absentmindedly rubbed her belly. She had to consider what
was best for the baby. Even if the child was Hothlepoya‘s, she
had to remember the child was also hers. Besides, the child did
nothing wrong. It wasn‘t fair to not love someone who couldn‘t
change the circumstances of his conception.
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She turned her attention back to the map. The place
Penelope lived at was isolated. It might be so isolated that
Hothlepoya wouldn‘t think to go there. He‘d most likely suspect
that she‘d be hiding in a town somewhere, which is how he came
to find her and Gary.
Finally, she nodded to Penelope.
The older woman clapped her hands. Oh, now this is
wonderful! I think you two will be good for each other.
Penelope rolled up the map. Yes. I think so too.
It blesses my heart when things work out for the best.
Now, we should get ready to eat. She took the map from
Penelope and strode out of the room.
Woape turned toward the window. A part of her hated to
be dependent on the good nature of others, but she didn‘t know
what else to do.
To her surprise, Penelope said, It‘ll be nice to have
someone to talk to. It gets lonely out there, out in the middle of
Woape glanced at her, wondering why she said all of
this…unless she assumed that Woape could understand her. But
Penelope‘s next words settled that question.
I know you don‘t know what I‘m saying. I just like to
talk sometimes. You‘ll have to learn that about me.
Woape watched as Penelope approached the window and
peered out of it. I live in that direction. We‘ll head out
tomorrow morning. The journey will be two days.
She gazed in the direction of the open land. She had no
idea where it was in relation to her tribe, or where she‘d made a
home with Gary.
It‘ll be nice to have a baby around, Penelope whispered.
I was married, but my husband died. I can‘t have children, so
there‘s no one to remember him by. I often think it would be nice
to hear the laughter only a child can bring.
Woape looked back at Penelope.
I hope that whoever the father is that he was good to
you, Penelope continued, her voice still soft. I‘d like to think
that there might be something good that can happen to one of
Woape debated the wisdom of talking to Penelope,
especially since she realized they were going through similar
heartaches. No wonder she sensed a connection between them.
Sorrow, it seemed, was a universal language.
The preacher‘s wife returned and clapped her hands. I
just know that things will start getting better for the both of you!
Now, come and eat.
Woape watched Penelope as she passed her. There was
more to the story than Penelope told her, but she figured that
maybe, in time, she would find out what it was, and maybe she‘d
be able to tell her new friend her story as well.
Gary slowly stood from the spare bed and gingerly made his way
to the dresser. He checked the bandages wrapped around his
shoulder and the side of his neck. As long as he lived, he didn‘t
think he‘d forget the way that axe looked as it came down toward
him. Had it not been for Matthew riding up on the property, the
Indian wouldn‘t have missed his aim. But poor Matthew…
Gary turned from the mirror as he recalled Matthew‘s
slaughter. He shivered. He knew those Indians meant Woape
harm—that they were bad men, but it never occurred to him just
how much they delighted in the hunt…and the kill. The leader
actually looked excited as he threw the axe at Matthew.
But at least they hadn‘t found Woape. Gary had led them
out of the house and away from her. One was dead. The other
had pursued him while the leader went after Matthew. Gary
wanted to stay and defend Matthew, but he‘d dropped his gun in
the grass and couldn‘t find it. His only option was jump on the
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nearby horse and ride off, even as the muscles in his neck and
shoulder screamed at him, even as his blood ran down his body.
Gary glanced at his other side where the arr ow had
skimmed his skin. It was a close call. But still, he fared better
than Matthew. The Indian had chased Gary until the sun marked
the nine o‘clock hour when a rancher found him and the Indian—
and realizing what was going on—intervened. The Indian
retreated and headed back toward the south, and Gary was so
relieved that the remaining adrenaline he‘d been relying on to get
him through the ordeal left him. He fell off the horse and landed
in the grass. And the man and his two sons brought him back
where they worked to heal him.
An infection set into the wound along his neck, so Gary
stayed to recover. He knew he‘d be of little use to Woape in his
condition. He just hoped she stayed in the attic until the
remaining Indian departed. She was smart. She wouldn‘t come
down from her hiding place until it was safe.
Cautious, he moved his arms. The wounds hurt, but he
might be able to ride a horse. He was anxious to get back to
Woape. Turning to the chair in the small bedroom, he picked up
his shirt and slipped it on, careful not to aggravate the bandages.
Then he sat down on the bed and put his boots on. He sat still
for a few moments to catch his breath.
He wasn‘t ready to ride a horse. Not if the simple act of
getting dressed had worn him out. But he had to get to Woape.
She must be scared and wondering if he‘d ever return. He
wondered if he could handle riding a horse if he took it easy. A
simple walk might not be so strenuous if he took frequent breaks.
He had to leave today. Even if he made slow progress getting
back to his home, he‘d still be on his way to seeing her again.
He wanted to see her. He missed her. He hoped she
realized he had to run that night. He hoped she didn‘t think he
left her just because those men showed up. And that uncertainty
made him anxious too. He couldn‘t stay here in this cabin for
another day. The man and his sons had been hospitable to him,
so he‘d let them know he appreciated it. But he had to get back.
After all the time he‘d spent looking for a place to belong,
he finally found it with her. Maybe this whole thing served as a
reminder that his aunt had been right—that a man wasn‘t truly
fulfilled until he had a good woman by his side…and a child on the
He eased off the bed. He just had to take things slow.
Then he wouldn‘t strain himself. Sure, it might prolong his
healing, but he‘d rather heal with her tending to him than the man
and the two sons, even if they were nice. Gary couldn‘t wait to
I’ll be home
see Woape again and hold her in his ar ms. He smiled.
soon, my shadow.
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oape turned her gaze from Penelope. It didn‘t seem right to
watch another woman mourn the death of her husband. Penelope
had pulled up to the cemetery and told her that her husband was
buried there. Woape understood her pain, and as her new friend
grieved, Woape also cried.
It didn‘t seem fair that people should die so young, that
wives had to be separated from their husbands or that parents
should lose their children. Death, she supposed, was part of the
cycle of life, for as soon as life was granted to someone, the
minutes of time were already working to take it away. And in the
process, the loved ones were left behind to grieve.
The baby stirred in her womb, a reminder that life would
continue. How she prayed it was Gary‘s. Somehow the hat and
pocket watch next to her weren‘t enough. It‘d be a greater
consolation if she could have something that was truly his,
something that he didn‘t purchase long ago.
Penelope stood from the grave, adjusted her hat and
returned to the wagon. She got in beside Woape and picked up a
Penelope pretended to drink from the canister.
Of course, Woape knew what water was, but she didn‘t
feel like revealing the truth. Not yet. Not when she needed the
silence and space to mourn. In time, she‘d probably let Penelope
know. But for now, she didn‘t want to explain everything.
Woape accepted the canister before she pointed to the grave.
Husband, Penelope softly said. My husband. He‘s
Woape decided she could tell her something, to give this
kind woman next to her a glimpse into what she‘d been through.
My husband dead.
She looked curious. Your husband is dead? Like that?
She pointed to the grave again.
He dead. As painful as it was, she pretended to cut her
neck with an axe.
Sympathy on her face, Penelope reached out and touched
her arm. Friend. Then she motioned to herself. Friend.
Fr…end, she finally replied, smiling despi te the lump in
Penelope nodded. Friend. She turned her attention to
the brake and released it.
As the horses moved forward, Woape wondered about the
new place she‘d be staying. Would it be her permanent home, or
would fate soon lead her somewhere else?
So Gary Milton was here? Julia asked two days later.
The middle-aged man stood on his porch and nodded.
That was his name.
She smiled at her aunt who softly wept with relief into her
handkerchief. So Gary was alive! Is he wounded?
Yep. He got it pretty good in the neck and shoulder and
partly in the side, but he survived the Indian attack, the man said.
I was out herding our cattle when I saw the Indian chasing him.
Ruth Ann Nordin
Gary fell off the horse, so I went to his aid. The Indian left when
he saw my pistol. Anyway, we brought Gary in and took care of
But he left? her aunt asked.
The man nodded. He wasn‘t in any shape to head out,
but he insisted he was well enough to go. I believe he headed in
Julia glanced at the prairie land stretching out for miles in
back of them. That was where she and Erin lived. So he went
back home. What was he going to do when he r ealized that
everyone was gone? He probably wouldn‘t come back here. She
turned her eyes to Chogan who waited on his horse by the buggy.
Maybe Gary would go to Woape‘s tribe. If so, then she and her
aunt were fortunate to have Chogan with them so they knew how
to get there.
But what did that matter? Her brother was alive! They‘d
find him soon enough.
Her aunt pressed a hand to her heart. I thought for sure
Gary was gone. Poor Woape. She had no idea what happened.
At the reminder, Julia hid her apprehension. Was Woape
on her way to her tribe? Chogan had lost her. Well, they couldn‘t
put all the pieces together at once. They had to take it one step at
a time, and right now, they had the assurance that everyone was
alive—and that‘s what mattered.
I‘m all the way out in the middle of nowhere, the man
said. It‘s a long way to town. Would you like to have lunch? It‘s
nothing fancy mind you. We got beans and bread, but it‘s enough
to fill your stomach till you get to your next stop.
I appreciate the offer, but I‘m too excited to eat. Julia?
Her aunt looked at her.
We have enough food packed to last us to our
destination, and I admit, now that I know for sure Gary‘s alive, I
want to keep looking for him.
Alright. I wish you God speed.
They nodded and returned to the buggy. The tiresome
quest of asking everyone they came across if they‘d seen Gary
suddenly didn‘t matter.
Her heart light, Julia told Chogan, Gary was here. He
headed back to his home. Will you come with us? If he‘s not
there, we‘ll know he went to your tribe to find Woape.
Chogan nodded. I will.
And so, they got ready to travel south.
Woape was cutting potatoes when a contraction gripped her. All
morning, she‘d been having light pains that were easy to ignore,
but now she couldn‘t. The baby was ready to be born, and as
much as she was ready for the pregnancy to end, she worried
whose child she‘d soon be holding. It seemed like a double-edged
When the pain eased, she resumed her cutting. Penelope
had gone to the cellar to retrieve some meat. Woape glanced
around the one room cabin. The place was peaceful. It was
located as far from anyone else as she could get, and for the time
being, that was what she needed. It helped to be able to go out on
the prairie, a few feet from the cabin, and grieve. But she didn‘t
want to stay here forever. She longed for home, and if she
couldn‘t have that with Gary, then she wanted to return to her
tribe. Seeing Chogan again had brought forth a sense of
Maybe in a year, she would ask Penelope to help her
return home. Until then, she would bide her time and heal. She
did appreciate Penelope and all her new friend had done. It
reminded her that God had not abandoned her all together. And
with any luck, she might learn Gary had indeed fathered her child.
This would be a further comfort to her. She didn‘t care what her
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tribe would think if they saw her with a white man‘s child. They‘d
have to learn to welcome the child as one of their own.
The pain returned, spreading from her back and wrapping
around her. She stood in an effort to walk through it, but she
couldn‘t get her feet to move.
Penelope entered the room and quickly put the slab of
meat down. Martha? She ran over to her and helped her sit
Woape gritted her teeth and held onto her stomach. This
was definitely the worse contraction yet! Baby, she gasped.
Baby is coming?
She nodded. Baby. Hurt.
Penelope gingerly took the knife out of Woape‘s hand and
placed it on the table next to the meat.
The pain finally lessened and Woape exhaled with relief.
She‘d watched women give birth, but she didn‘t realize exactly
how much they went through. She didn‘t think she was up to this.
She wiped her forehead. Not only did she stink from not bathing
in a good month but sweat stuck to her as well. No wonder men
in her tribe often commented that they could smell a white man
coming a mile away. White people didn‘t bathe much, and this is
what happened to them.
Still, she couldn‘t deny how helpful they‘d been to her.
She reached out and took Penelope‘s hand in hers. Happy…to
be..friend, she said between gasping.
Penelope smiled and squeezed her hand. I‘m happy to be
your friend too. Baby is coming. That‘s good.
She prayed it would be. Instead of sharing her fears, she
Maybe painful but good. She pointed to Woape.
Mother. Then she motioned to Woape‘s belly. Baby.
Woape suddenly understood what she meant.
Now there was a new word. Not that Penelope hadn‘t taught her
some new ones, but this one was especially helpful. Hunde meant
Mother in her language. Woape was going to be a mother.
I‘ll get things ready for the birth, Penelope said.
Woape looked out the window and noticed the position of
the sun. She guessed it was six in the evening. She wondered
how long it would be until the child‘s was finally born.
This has to
be Gary’s child. It just has to be.
As the evening turned into night, Woape became less
concerned about the parentage of the child and more concerned
about the agony of labor. By the time Penelope announced it was
midnight, Woape just wanted this ordeal to be over, regardless of
whether the child was from Hothlepoya or Gary. She did
everything she could think of to speed up the process from
walking to squatting, but the baby was in no hurry to come into
Finally, when it was time to deliver the baby, Penelope
spread out an old blanket and laid her on the bed. Woape was
only half aware of what Penelope was saying but noted the
encouragement in her tone. When the urge to push came, Woape
gave into it and pushed as hard as she could.
You‘re doing good, Martha, Penelope said, her tone
Well, of course, she was calm. She wasn‘t going through
it! Woape screamed and pushed again. She should be squatting.
Maybe lying on her back delayed her progress. But before she
could get up, she felt the baby‘s head coming through.
One more push, Martha. You can do it!
It was almost done. One more push and this awful
process would be over! That realization renewed her energy, so
Woape put all of her strength into the last push and was rewarded
with the sudden absence of pressure. She collapsed back on the
bed, out of breath but grateful it was finally over.
Ruth Ann Nordin
Then the baby cried and Woape‘s attention returned to her
child. Was it Gary‘s? She debated whether she should see right
away or not. But she had to know. She struggled to get up on her
elbows so she could see over her deflated belly.
Penelope laughed and showed her the crying child.
Woape held out her arms and took the baby. She
recognized the high earlobes and slightly crooked nose. Gary had
those features. She cried with joy and cradled the child in her
arms. She wiped the child‘s face with the blanket. Just as she
thought, the skin was also lighter than hers. There was no doubt
about it. This was Gary‘s child!
The baby settled down and snuggled against her body,
probably seeking warmth. All memories of the labor quickly
departed, and in its place was unbelievable love and happiness. In
this child‘s birth, she had great comfort.
Girl, Penelope told Woape.
Woape glanced up, her eyes glistening with more tears. So
girl was the name for sukmihe. Girl. Baby girl. She laughed
as the child yawned. Her precious girl. Gary‘s precious girl. And
she vowed that she would teach this child about her father. Gary
would never be forgotten.
ulia bit back the urge to scream in frustration. How could they
be lost? She scanned the prairie. Nothing. In all directions, there
was nothing except the river that cut through the land. She placed
her hands on her hips and glanced at the late afternoon sun.
Okay. So that way was west, but that wasn‘t very reassuring since
she didn‘t know where they were. She had no starting point, and
the stupid horse stepped on the compass her aunt found in Gary‘s
She groaned. Leave it to her absentminded brother to
neglect to pack a map. She momentarily wondered if she should
be so hard on her kin. But he was alive and probably back with
Woape at her tribe, and since that was the case, she could be
agitated at his lack of foresight.
Well, at least they had Gary‘s things and had enough sense
to buy extra bedrolls and food. So all was not lost. She glanced at
Chogan as he took care of the horses. Looking at her aunt, she
saw that she stirred the beans on a skillet. Beans and jerky again.
Julia fought the urge to gag. It was food. Food was a good thing,
and at least Chogan was with them just in case someone showed
up and thought to take advantage of them. A muscular man like
him would ward off any no-gooders.
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She knelt by the river and collected enough water to fill up
the three canisters. Even if this wasn‘t quite the adventure she
imagined it would be, it was nice to see some of the world. So she
didn‘t need to be angry. She exhaled and let her agitation subside.
Gary was right. She needed to enjoy life instead of whining about
it. And that is what she‘d start doing right now.
She sealed the canisters and walked back to the campsite.
Supper will be ready soon, her aunt said.
She rolled her eyes but chuckled. I can hardly wait.
The older woman stopped stirring the beans and looked
up at her. Did you just make a joke?
Sure. Is that a crime?
I can‘t remember the last time you made one.
She shrugged and went over to the buggy where she set
the canisters down. Then she walked back to the campfire and
picked up the three tin cans and a pot to get more water.
Chogan approached them. Two rabbits there. He
pointed toward the north. Can eat them.
Erin nodded. I can cook them up if you skin them.
He indicated his agreement and went to retrieve his bow
It would be nice to get a break from jerky, Julia thought
and headed for the river. To her surprise, Chogan approached her
as she made it halfway back with the water.
You want to hunt? he asked.
She furrowed her eyebrows. Why would I want to
If you need food.
Isn‘t that what you‘re here for?
A small amused smile crossed his face. I not always
She didn‘t see why that should be amusing. Do you plan
to leave me and my aunt?
He shook his head. I not mean now. I mean in future.
Her frown deepened. I don‘t understand you.
We go to my tribe. I stay. You go back to home.
Of course. I‘m only going to make sure Woape is
alright…and to make sure Gary found her.
Y ou need to learn hunt. My place is at tribe.
His meaning finally dawned on her and she relaxed. I
can‘t argue with that logic. She stepped toward the campfire but
glanced his way. But you‘re staying with us until I make sure my
brother and his wife are together.
Good. I‘ll be back. She completed the distance between
herself and her aunt and set the cups and pot down. Apparently,
Chogan thinks it‘s a good idea if I learn to hunt. Once we make it
to the Indian tribe, we‘ll be on our own to make it home.
Her aunt blinked. You‘re going to hunt?
Why not? I can use a bow and arrow just as well as
I suppose. Alright. But don‘t get out of my sight.
And where would =out of sight‘ be? She motioned to the
open land around them. I can‘t even do my personal business
unless you two have your backs turned. I really do miss the
I‘m sure we‘ll find a town soon enough. Then we can
figure out how to get to the tribe.
Julia stood up and stretched. Her stomach reminded her
that she needed to eat. Hopefully, catching a rabbit won‘t take
Her aunt chuckled as if she understood something that
Julia gave her a questioning look.
Go on, child. That rabbit won‘t be over this fire as long
as you‘re standing here, and he doesn‘t look like he‘s going to hunt
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until you‘re with him. She indicated to Chogan who patiently
waited with a bow and a set of arrows.
She made her way to him and joined him as he headed out
to a part of the land where two rabbits gathered together. Slowing
her pace to match his, she realized he was trying not to startle the
They were still a good distance away when he stopped.
Hold bow and arrow like this, he whispered in her ear. He
slipped an arrow into the bow and drew it back.
She stopped herself from rolling her eyes. He did the
motion so fast that she hardly caught the subtle details, and it was
those details she needed to know. But she was too hungry to tell
him this. Instead, she waited and watched as he directed the
arrow at one of the rabbits and released it. The arrow reached its
mark and the rabbit fell while the other fled.
Easy, he said.
Right, she slowly replied, not at all convinced that her
efforts would result in immediate success.
Rabbit easy. Buffalo hard.
Sure, compared to a rabbit, a buffalo
to be difficult.
But they weren‘t compar ing rabbits to buffalo right then. They
were comparing her skill to his, and she had no skills at all while it
was obvious he‘d been doing this for a long time.
Here. Try. He held the bow and arrow out to her.
She gingerly took them. She never thought she‘d be doing
this. But this was part of the adventure, right? Trying new things.
Exploring her horizons. And she might need to know this in the
I see rabbit there.
Bracing herself for the task ahead, she turned around and
followed him a few paces, realizing her aunt watched from the
distance. Not caring for her aunt to pick up on her hesitation, she
proceeded forward and stopped when Chogan indicated to.
Shouldn‘t she practice on something like a tree? But there
were no trees nearby, so that answered her question. She nodded
and pulled back on the bow.
Looking amused, he reached out to stop her.
Her cheeks grew warm, and she suspected it wasn‘t from
Hand here. He pointed to the area on the bow just
above her hand.
She adjusted her grip and glanced at him as she pulled the
arrow through. She frowned. The arrow wasn‘t cooperating very
Again, he seemed to think this was fun because a slight
smile crossed his face. Hold this part.
The trick worked so she pulled back the arrow and let it
loose. It fell six feet from her and scared the rabbit off. It didn‘t
even get near the rabbit.
You need focus on rabbit.
Obviously. And she thought she was! But apparently, she
wasn‘t. I told you this was hard.
No. Not hard. Easy.
Will be for you. Practice. He retrieved the arrow and
brought it back to her. Try again.
She didn‘t want to try again. She was hungry, and her
stomach had no trouble letting her know that. I need to eat.
He looked disappointed. One more try. Then we eat?
She nodded. It sounded like an easy enough compromise.
She scanned the grass. There? She pointed to two rabbits
toward the east.
This time she crept to the animals and he followed. She
took a deep breath and raised the bow and arrow, directing the
arrow at the rabbit on the right. She tightened her grip and let the
arrow fly. Once again, it fell short of her mark.
Ruth Ann Nordin
Good? I didn‘t even get it.
You do better.
Better by how much? A couple inches?
Tomorrow I teach you to aim and use pressure.
Tomorrow? That meant she had to go through this again?
Whatever did she do to deserve such torture? He took back the
bow and arrow, his strong hands brushing hers, and once again
she wondered if she should find the action as exciting as it was.
He turned his back to her and released the arrow, expertly
shooting a rabbit that she could hardly see. She rolled her eyes.
Nothing should be
He smiled at her. We eat better tonight. I go get
I‘ll get the knife so we can start skinning them. Then she
headed back to her aunt.
Gary wiped the sweat from his forehead and stuffed his bandana
back into his pocket. His gaze drifted to the Mandan tribe half a
mile from where he stood with the Indian, probably not much
older than him, staring at him.
You will not come here, the man said, his arms crossed
and a frown on his face.
By the amount of feathers lining his headdress, Gary
gathered that this was an important man. But I‘m searching for
someone. She came from this tribe. Her name is Woape, and—
There is no one by that name here. You will not come
into village. We are peaceful.
The horse next to him nudged him in the shoulder as if to
indicate that they should take their search elsewhere. But Gary
had no idea where else to look. He‘d been back home, and not
only was Woape gone but so were his aunt and sister. All of them
couldn‘t have vanished into thin air. Taking a deep br eath, he
chose his words carefully. I don‘t want trouble. I come in
Woape is not here. You have no reason to stay.
Gary tried to determine whether the Indian was telling
him the truth or not. He didn‘t sense any hostility from the man
or the group of onlookers who kept their distance from them. He
rubbed his eyes and sighed. The task of finding his wife proved
more difficult than he thought it would, and with each passing
day, the pit of despair that lingered in his heart grew a little more.
What if the Indians who had come for her found her in the attic?
He thought the plan was full-proof. Maybe she left her hiding
spot. But that didn‘t seem like her. He had held out for the hope
that she would have found her way back to her people.
Gary scanned what he could of the earthen lodges and the
people hovering around them. If Woape was here, she‘d tell them
about him, even if she thought he was dead. Deciding to try
again, he said, My name is Gary Milton. Woape is my—
Citlali, I talk with him, an older man yelled out as he
The young Indian nodded toward Gary. You do not
believe me. Believe the chief.
Gary waited until the chief caught up to them, hoping his
apprehension didn‘t show. The chief had a formidable look about
him that left little room for argument. Woape is very important
to me, and I‘m important to her. If she‘s here, she‘ll want to see
But she is not here, the chief answered. Citlali has told
you the truth. Her father, brother and a couple of others have
been searching. Even we searched. He motioned to himself and
the other Indian.
All hopes that they had been lying faded. Gary wasn‘t a
mind reader, but there was no mistaking the sorrow in the chief‘s
eyes. Gary turned back in the direction that would lead him north
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of the Mandan tribe. Maybe those men who‘d snuck into their
house had found her after all. But she had to be alive. Their child
had to be alive.
The chief drew himself to his full height. We suggest you
Gary blinked for a moment when he realized that even if
they told him the truth, they were wary of him. Did they think
Gary had something to do with her disappearance? He debated
whether it would be wise to press the issue, to let them know he
wasn‘t a threat, but then he realized that only Woape could settle
the matter. And since she wasn‘t there, it was pointless to stick
around. Finally, he thanked them and hopped back on the horse.
As he headed back north, he determined that he wouldn‘t give up.
Not until the Lord made it clear to him that he should. As long as
there was the spark of hope, he had to keep looking.
oape gathered her sleeping child and stood from the chair at
the table. I want to take a nap.
Penelope smiled and also stood with a cup in her hand.
Tell me the truth, how well am I learning your language?
You‘re doing very well. She glanced at her daughter.
After her birth, Woape decided to tell Penelope what had
happened and confessed that she knew how to speak English.
From there, she‘d taken to the task of teaching her friend her
language. She‘d like to think it was a thank you for all Penelope
had done for her and her child, but she doubted she could ever
adequately thank Penelope. She returned her gaze to Penelope
who was putting the cup into the sink. I pray that Cole will
Penelope looked over her shoulder, seeming surprised.
Woape shrugged. I‘d like to see good happen for you.
Woape had her child—Gary‘s child. If Cole did come
back for Penelope, then Penelope could find happiness again.
Woape could almost hear her mother now:
No one is guaranteed a
happy ending, Woape. We learn to be content with whatever happens.
Maybe her mother was right, but Woape still couldn‘t help but
hope. Maybe that meant she was still young.
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It‘s been nice having you here, Penelope softly said.
Yes, but Woape wasn‘t planning to stay forever. Sooner
or later, she‘d have to go back to her tribe.
Penelope grabbed a hat and work gloves. I‘m going to
weed the garden.
She nodded and carried the baby to the bed. What day is
, I believe.
My daughter is not a month old and she already looks
Penelope grinned as she slipped on the gloves. I suppose
that is the nature of babies. You blink and they‘re all grown up.
Woape settled onto the bed as Penelope shut the door.
She turned onto her side so that she could watch the child as she
slept. She didn‘t think it was possible to have such comfort in
Gary‘s absence, but with this child, she knew a part of him
remained with her.
Your father was a good man, she whispered, chuckling
as the baby scrunched her eyebrows.
Closing her eyes, she drifted off to sleep. In the span of
her sleep, she didn‘t know how much time passed until she heard
the sound of laughter. At first, she thought she was dreaming but
soon realized the laughter was coming from Penelope. Surprised,
since in the time she‘d known her, Penelope rarely laughed, she
opened her eyes.
Penelope was excitedly whispering to someone who stood
in the doorway, slightly out of Woape‘s view. The man was white,
and for a split second, Woape thought it was Gary. She bolted up,
her heart hammering with excitement. But it couldn‘t be Gary.
When Penelope glanced at her, Woape‘s hope plummeted.
No. It wasn‘t Gary. But if it wasn‘t Gary, then…
This is Cole Hunter, Penelope told her, her face flushed
with joy. She turned back to him. Would you believe my friend
has been praying you‘d come back? Withou t waiting for him to
respond, she said, Martha is from the Mandan tribe. She‘s a
good friend, and she has a baby girl.
Hello, Martha, he said. It‘s nice to meet you.
It‘s nice to meet you too, Woape replied. One thing she
didn‘t tell Penelope was her real name. She worried that
Hothlepoya would make the connection if he heard anyone
mention that Woape lived out there with Penelope. But if
Martha was here, then he had no reason to connect those dots,
especially since Martha was a white woman‘s name.
Penelope turned to Cole. Why don‘t you get the wagon
He nodded and left.
Woape couldn‘t help but smile. Penelope‘s face glowed,
and Woape was glad her friend‘s happy ending came after all.
Penelope rushed over to her. I can‘t believe it. Pinch
me. Am I dreaming?
Maybe she should ask if Woape was still dreaming, for it
was Woape who fell asleep. But Woape knew they were both
awake. He loves you. I can tell by the way he looks at you.
Gary used to look at her that way. Citlali never did. There
was a big difference in the way a man looked at a woman when he
was with her for duty‘s sake a nd when he was with her because he
loved her. And Cole came back because he loved Penelope. A
woman was fortunate to have the pleasure of a man‘s love, even if
the time had been cut short.
Woape picked up the baby. We both have things to
rejoice for. We‘re blessed.
Penelope wiped some tears from her eyes, but at least this
time, there was happiness on her face. You‘re right. Cole wants
to marry me, so we want to go to town. We thought we‘d build
you and your child a cabin of your own in that direction. She
pointed northwest. You‘ll only be a few yards away.
Ruth Ann Nordin
You do not need to go through all that trouble for me.
Woape glanced at her child. She slept well and didn‘t fuss much.
Just like her father, she seemed to be content no matter what. I
was thinking of returning home—back to my people. She might
be up for the trip. Do you think I could go on the train? As long
as she stayed around a lot of people, her journey might be safe.
You don‘t have to leave. I like having you around.
I like being here too, but I don‘t belong here. You‘ve
been wonderful to me. I sense that God has something else for
me. And that might be going to her tribe and marrying Citlali.
Well, you have friends here.
The same is true for you , should you ever come to my
Penelope hugged her, careful not to squeeze the baby.
Let me arrange for your train ticket and see to it that someone
takes you to your tribe.
Woape realized this was doing more than could ever be
expected of a person, but it would solve her problems—and she
did want to return home. Thank you. That was all she could
You‘re welcome. And thank you for praying. You know,
I believe it worked. She stood up and glanced around the cabin.
I suppose I should get things ready. It‘ll be a two day trip.
With a mixture of apprehension and excitement, Woape
went to help her. She wondered if her people would welcome
Gary‘s child. She recalled how Chogan reacted. But that was
Chogan, and Chogan was set in his ways. He thought the greatest
travesty that could befall their people was to have children with
white people. Others in her tribe didn‘t share the sa me
mentality—at least not to the degree he did.
Well, if they couldn‘t welcome Gary‘s child, then they
couldn‘t welcome her. And if that was the case, maybe she‘d
come back here. But she had to try going back first.
Another arrow landed so far off her mark that Julia had to fight
the urge to break the stupid bow. This is pointless. My aunt and
I will just eat jerky on our way back home, she told Chogan
before she held the bow out to him. I‘m done.
He refused to take it. You improve. Did better.
Better isn‘t good enough. She didn‘t want to snap but
her sharp tone came out anyway. Did he really enjoy watching her
fail day after day of doing this? There are some things I‘m good
at, but this isn‘t one of them. She thrust the bow in his direction.
You need patience.
She grunted and released the bow so it fell to the grass.
As she hastened toward the campfire where her aunt made lunch,
he jumped in front of her. She shrieked and almost tripped on
You give up too fast, he said.
Gritting her teeth, she glared at him, her fists clenched at
her sides. What did he care? She had no intention of being a
You are impatient, she corrected.
No. I not lose patience. You do.
She rolled her eyes. I meant that you need to put your
verb in your sentences when you speak. You don‘t say, =You
impatient.‘ You say, =You are impatient.‘
If I say that, will you try again?
He had to be crazy! No.
Shrugging, he replied, I not say it.
She stood there for a moment, staring at him in disbelief.
Why that should startle her as much as it did, she didn‘t
understand, but for some reason, she hadn‘t expected it. You are
a stubborn man.
And you stubborn woman.
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Me? I‘m not stubborn. I went along with this whole
thing and tried shooting rabbits.
You not put your heart into it.
Because I don‘t want to do it. If I were a man, I could
see the point, but I‘m not a man.
An amused smile crossed his face. That is good thing.
She didn‘t know what to make of that comment so she
just stared at him.
I use word =is‘. Happy?
When she could finally speak, she crossed her arms and
said, Yes. You should take this chance to fine tune the English
I fine tune English language. You fine tune hunting
Sighing, she remarked, You had to slip that one in, didn‘t
It is your choice. You can shoot rabbit or other animal.
You need patience. Learning takes time. I not learn your
language right away.
So he had a point…and a good one too. She didn‘t know
if that should annoy her or not.
He motioned to the bow still lying in the grass. Come.
Try two more times. Then we eat. Then we find Woape and
Just two times? You won‘t try to talk me into mor e than
Two times until we stop for the night. Then we practice
again before supper.
She raised an eyebrow. I thought you said we were going
to find Woape and Gary.
A chuckle escaped his throat. You make joke.
She was surprised he caught onto that. Most people
seemed to miss it when she did, so she long ago gave up trying.
A small one, she admitted, relaxing. But we could find them.
That would be good. And her nagging guilt could finally leave
because she could apologize for what she‘d done.
We might. That would be good.
So try again?
You probably won‘t leave me alone until I do anyway.
She turned around and headed back to the bow and picked it up.
If I really do shoot one, you have to skin it and cook it. She
retrieved an arrow from the pile between them.
He grimaced. I think I get the bad part of the deal.
She laughed to herself as she made another failed attempt
at shooting a rabbit. I don‘t think you‘re in any danger of
You need to focus on rabbit.
You focus too much on me. I make you…nervous?
Of course, you make me nervous. You know what
you‘re doing, and you‘re watching me.
I try to help.
Well, maybe that was true, but still, he was watching her
with keen interest. Maybe if you didn‘t stare, then it would
I watch your technique.
Couldn‘t you take a break and look at the rabbits?
But I not make them stay still. They move as they will. I
can help you.
It‘s just unnerving, that‘s all. I do better if I‘m not being
stared at all the time.
But it is nice to look at you.
Her jaw nearly dropped and her face grew warm. Did he
mean that the way she thought he did?
He picked up another arrow and stepped up behind her.
I make it better then. He gently took her arms and lifted them
so that she was holding the bow up. With a nudge, he directed
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the arrow to the right where a solitary rabbit rested. Put arrow
in, he whispered in her ear.
A shiver of delight raced down her spine. Oh, he had to
be kidding if he thought this was going to help her concentrate!
This was worse. Much worse! She looked over her shoulder.
What is wrong?
Well… Seriously, how was she supposed to explain it to
I watch rabbit. You watch rabbit also. He turned her
head so that she had to look in front of her. I not watch you.
There was no way she was going to be able to concentrate.
Not when he stood so close to her that she could practically feel
his body. Not when his hand covered hers as she positioned the
arrow in the right spot on the bow. Not when he lifted her arms
so she was aiming the arrow at the rabbit.
Take your time, he whispered. Patience.
Fine. So he wasn‘t going to step away fr om her. And
there was no way she was going to tell him how distracting it was
either. She gripped the bow and bit her lower lip. His hands were
still resting on her elbows. Her skin tingled and heart raced with
unabashed excitement. She wished her body would calm down.
It‘d be much easier to release the arrow if she could just take a
deep breath. Finally, she exhaled and let the arrow go.
This time, she got within a few inches of the animal.
Excited, she clapped her hands. I almost did it!
Grinning, he returned to her side and nodded. You
She hid her disappointment that he was no longer close to
her and turned her attention to her victory. Sure, she didn‘t
actually succeed, but she was within inches of her mark—which
was much better than how she‘d done any of the other times she‘d
tried this. So yes, it was a victory.
Now we eat lunch.
As he went to gather the arrows, she called out, You
don‘t want me to try again?
No. I do not want to cook.
Oh, right. She had forgotten that part of the equation.
Blushing from where her thoughts had been, she quickly returned
to her aunt.
Ruth Ann Nordin
t was the second day on Woape‘s trip to town when Penelope
slowed the wagon. Woape turned from staring at her sleeping
daughter to see what caught Penelope‘s attention. Her breath
caught in her throat. From the distance, she couldn‘t tell who the
three men on horseback were, except that they were Indian. It
could be Hothlepoya.
Is something wrong with the wagon? Cole called out.
Woape glanced at Cole who stopped his horse.
Are they the ones who killed your husband? Penelope
Woape looked at her child. If Hothlepoya found her and
the people who had taken care of her… She didn‘t want to think
about it. I don‘t know. They could be.
Penelope quickly turned to Cole to motion to the Indians
heading in their direction before she told Woape, Here. Hide
under this cover. She scrambled to the back of the wagon and
raised a large blanket.
Woape obeyed. If Hothlepoya didn‘t see her, they might
make it! As soon as she got settled with the child at her bosom,
Penelope covered her. Her heart pounded with dread. Is this
what the rest of her life would be like? Would she always be
running from Hothlepoya? She made one mistake. She didn‘t
want to marry Citlali so she ran away on the night before her
Tears fell from her eyes. She didn‘t want to remember
what Hothlepoya did to her mother before he killed her. Her
mother loved her so much she came after her. At the time, she
didn‘t understand how a woman would leave the safety of her
tribe to look for a wayward child, but now that she was a mother,
she did. If Woape woke up in the middle of the night and realized
her child was missing, she‘d do whatever she could to find her.
She probably wouldn‘t have the sense to wake up the men.
Most likely, her mother assumed she‘d find Woape alone
on the prairie and talk sense into her. She had no idea
Hothlepoya had pitched his teepee nearby the Mandan tribe. He
was passing by. Usually, no one inhabited the area. It wasn‘t like
her mother suspected danger might be lurking nearby.
Woape heard Penelope and Cole debating what to do as
the men came closer. The baby stirred and Woape snuggled her
closer, hoping to calm her back to sleep. It worked. She yawned,
stretched, and settled back down.
Woape stilled and waited. Was that her father?
It was her father. She was ready to pull off her blanket
when he continued talking in English.
I search for my daughter. I thought I saw someone with
you. Her name is Woape. I search for her for ten months. I fear
she is dead.
Which tribe are you from? Penelope asked.
Does she have any brothers or sisters?
One brother. One sister. Brother is Achai. He is with
me. Sister is Onawa. She is at tribe. To my other side is Citlali.
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Woape should have expected Citlali to come. Honor
would prompt him to search for her. Not love. She glanced at
What are you doing? Cole asked Penelope, breaking
Woape from her thoughts.
I think it‘s alright, Penelope replied. I‘m going to talk
But… He paused for a long moment. But they have
I don‘t think they mean us any harm.
Fine. But I‘m going with you.
Woape thought she should show herself. She was safe
with her father, brother, and Citlali, but then Penelope told her
father about the baby and Woape hesitated. As she suspected,
Penelope told them that Woape‘s child had a white father. Woape
held her breath and waited, wondering if they would welcome
Gary‘s child or not.
Sioux come to our village and attack, her father replied.
We caught one and learned they had Woape. We search for her.
But we cannot find either the Sioux or her. If she is here, we want
her and her child home.
Woape‘s heart constricted at the thought of Hothlepoya
invading her tribe. She gulped, willing away the urge to cry. She
was tired of crying. She was tired of pain. She just wanted to be
with Gary‘s child and enjoy the blessing she‘d been allowed.
Penelope lifted the blanket.
Woape squinted in the sudden burst of sunlight.
Did you hear what he said? Penelope asked.
Yes. He is my father. I will talk to him. She handed the
baby to Penelope so she could get out of the wagon. Glancing at
her father, brother and Citlali, she made her way to the ground.
After being gone for nearly a year, she didn‘t know exactly what to
say. With slight trembling, she lowered her head and approached
them, suddenly feeling like a child again instead of a woman who
had a child of her own.
Her father‘s gentle tone gave her enough courage to speak.
Mother is dead beca use of me. I got up in the middle of the
night. She couldn‘t say why. Not with Citlali there—watching
her. She cleared her throat and took a deep breath. Hothlepoya,
a Sioux, found me and kept me prisoner. Mother searched for
me. He… She shivered at the memory of how her mother died.
In the debate on how much to tell him, she decided they were
better off not knowing the details. He killed her to add another
scalp to his collection. Tears filled her eyes. I‘m sorry.
It was not your fault, he softly said.
She came for me.
You did not know the Sioux were there. You often went
to the river to spend time there. Your mother told me she wished
to talk to you. Had I known danger was near, I would have gone
She noted the pain in his voice and lifted her head. Did he
blame himself for her death too? Her eyes met his and she
realized that he did. It wasn‘t your fault.
It wasn‘t yours either.
She sighed, feeling as if a weight had been lifted off her
shoulders. She‘d been forgiven, and now she could move
forward. She turned to Penelope. I go.
Penelope nodded and came up to her.
As Woape took her child, she thought it was time to give
her a name, and she thought the name Penelope was a beautiful
one. Name of baby. Penelope.
A smile crossed Penelope‘s face as she brushed some tears
from her eyes. Thank you, Woape. Friend.
Friend. She hugged her before she went over to her
father and got on the horse. As soon as she settled into place and
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the baby nestled against her chest, she relaxed. She always felt
safe with her father, just as she had felt safe with Gary.
Friend, her father told Penelope and Cole.
Friend, Penelope replied, and Cole gave a surprised nod.
As the men turned their horses, she caught a glance from
Citlali. She had no idea what he was thinking. Thankfully, she
ended up facing her brother so she didn‘t have to look at Citlali on
the way home. She would marry him. If he came, that meant he
wasn‘t married to another. As duty prompted him to continue
through with the marriage, she would too. At least she had Gary‘s
child with her. And that would be enough.
Julia glanced at Chogan who happened to glance her way at the
same moment. Blushing, she turned her attention back to her
aunt who steered the horses.
At least we‘re heading southeast, her aunt rambled.
Had I known we were that close to M ontana… She sighed and
shrugged. Well, there‘s nothing to be done about it now.
Who would have thought we were that bad at navigat ing
our way through the state?
Thankfully, that couple was a nice one.
Yes. Julia shifted in the buggy, noting that her backside
was sore from the day spent traveling. Hopefully, we won‘t get
off course this time.
From your lips to God‘s ears, though I wonder if there
was reason for the delay.
Julia shifted her gaze back to Chogan, not intending to.
She never meant to keep looking his way, but for some reason,
she couldn‘t seem to help herself. She‘d grown up thinking all
Indians were savage warriors who ran through the countryside
seeking out white people to kill. However, she‘d learned her
assumption had been wrong. Perhaps there were some who fit
that description. But weren‘t there also white people who were
violent as well?
Are you going to hunt for rabbits again tonight?
Julia gave a slight jerk.
Her aunt chuckled. Something has your interest, and it‘s
Julia‘s face grew warmer than the early evening sun that
beat on her back. No. I‘m tired, that‘s all.
The woman didn‘t sound convinced, but since she wasn‘t
going to press Julia on the issue, Julia decided to let the matter go.
When she realized that she‘d started turning her gaze back to
Chogan, she stopped herself and stared at the grasslands. Up
ahead, still a ways out in the distance, she saw what looked like a
man riding a horse.
Chogan? Julia called out. Do you see a man up there?
Erin pulled on the reins, slowing the horses down.
Chogan also slowed his steed and squinted. Where?
Coming up from the south.
He turned his head and nodded. Looks like a lone rider.
Julia‘s heart skipped a beat. It was a long shot. Oh, such a
long shot! But what if…? She turned to her aunt. Do you think
it could be Gary?
Child, don‘t give me ideas.
I‘m not trying to give you ideas. It‘s just that… Well,
what are the chances that another white man would be traveling
this isolated place alone?
Her aunt stopped the horses and stared at the man who
seemed to be making his way to them. It‘s not good to get one‘s
But we know he‘s alive and searching for Woape.
Yes, but he doesn‘t get lost like we do.
Ruth Ann Nordin
I find out, Chogan suddenly said. He nudged his horse
in the side and rode forward.
While her aunt closed her eyes to say a silent prayer, Julia
watched Chogan as he approached the rider. It had to be Gary!
There was no one else it could possibly be. Not this far out from
town. And not all by himself.
It has to be him, Julia whispered.
The lone rider stopped and waited for Chogan to catch up
Her aunt opened her eyes. What would Gary be doing
this far out west. He knows better than to get lost.
Maybe he‘s not as good as we thought.
Oh, he is. Ever since you two came to live with me, that
boy would run off all over the place and find his way home by
Julia couldn‘t take the wait any more. Please take us ov er
After a moment‘s hesitation, Erin lifted the reins and
instructed the horses to move.
By the time they had crossed half the distance toward the
men, there was no doubt about it. Julia clutched her aunt‘s arm.
It is him! It‘s him, Aunt Erin!
The older woman laughed as tears trickled down her
cheeks. Bless my soul, so it is.
Chogan and Gary turned to them, and a wide smile
crossed Gary‘s face as he urged the horse to trot forward.
As soon as Erin stopped the buggy, Julia hopped out of it
and ran to meet him. By the time his feet reached the ground, she
flung her arms around his neck and gave him a strong hug. I‘m
sorry, Gary. I‘m so sorry. I told those Indians where Woape was
because I wanted her to leave. It‘s all my fault. Can you forgive
He didn‘t return her hug. What happened to her? I can‘t
Well, she thought you died. We all did. Julia finally
released him so their aunt could hug him. Chogan here, she
pointed to the Indian who stood beside her, came to take her
back home, but then a group of Sioux Indians chased her. We
don‘t know where she is.
I see her go on train, Chogan added. Tr ain take off
before Sioux get her.
Which way did the train go? Gary asked.
I‘ve looked everywhere. It‘s like she disappeared.
Julia winced at the pain in her brother‘s voice. Once
again, she wished she had done things differently. I‘m sorry,
Gary. She wished she could say more or do something to solve
the problem, but she knew she couldn‘t. S hort of finding Woape,
she couldn‘t make up for her sins.
Others from tribe go search for her, Chogan said. She
may be at tribe.
I‘ve been to all the Mandan tribes in this state. I just left
the one south of here.
We not live this far to Montana. We live close to
I was there a month ago, but they hadn‘t found her. I
thought she might have gone to another one for refuge, but
they‘ve never heard of her.
We go to my people. Maybe she is there.
Gary glanced back at the path he‘d just traveled. She
really is a part of your tribe? And she‘s on her way there?
Yes to both questions.
He swallowed and turned back to them. Looking at Erin,
he said, She‘s given birth by now, you know.
Their aunt nodded. I‘ve been praying the two managed
Great. As if Julia didn‘t feel bad enough! She‘d forgotten
when Woape was due to have her child. She resisted the urge to
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apologize again. She‘d already said she was sorry and one more
time wouldn‘t take them to Woape.
As if she understood Julia‘s remorse, Erin rubbed her
hand up and down Julia‘s back, like she used to when Julia was
younger and needed comforting. Julia was the one who figured
out you weren‘t dead, and it was her idea to look for you and
Though Gary nodded, he didn‘t make eye contact with
Julia, and who could blame him? It‘s alright, she softly told her
aunt. She couldn‘t expect Gary to welcome her with open arms.
The fact that he hadn‘t pushed her away was more than she
I better go back to that tribe, Gary finally said as he got
back on his horse.
Erin let go of Julia and approached him. But you need to
eat. It‘s close to supper time.
He shook his head. I have jerky and water. I‘m fine.
There was no mistaking the impatience in his tone.
I suppose we would only slow you down, their aunt
replied. You need to find your wife and child.
Yes, I do.
Julia watched as her brother got back up on his horse. She
joined her aunt in saying good-bye and promising to pray that he‘d
find Woape, but he only gave a stiff indication that he heard her
before he headed off. Pushing aside the sting in her heart, she
turned back to the buggy, We might as well keep going until we
find a water source to camp by.
He‘ll come around, Erin softly said. Give him time.
Nodding, she continued on toward the buggy. She didn‘t
feel like being comforted. Gary was right to act the way he did.
She was lucky he even acknowledged her. Sitting in the buggy,
she waited for her aunt to join her. Further along the prairie, she
spotted Gary‘s retreating form. He wasn‘t wasting any time in
finding Woape, and she didn‘t know which thought pained her
more: the fact that it was her who made the division between
them or that a man could love a woman so much that he‘d race
across the land to get to her. A woman would be fortunate to be
loved that well.
Lost in her thoughts, she barely noticed the passing
landscape or Chogan who rode close by. She closed her eyes and
once again imagined that she could go back in time. The three
Indians would approach. She‘d say she never heard of Woape and
quickly return to the church where she‘d warn her brother that
someone was looking for his wife. She wiped the tear that fell
down her cheek. She hated this. Hated going over the past and
replaying it in her mind. Wasn‘t it good enough to know that
Gary and Woape were alive? Those three men had failed. That
was good. Despite what she had done, Gary and Woape had
survived. Now it was a matter of getting them back together.
Surely, that was bound to happen.
Chogan found a creek so they pulled up to a stop.
As Julia got out of the buggy to help set up the camp with
her aunt, he approached her. We hunt?
No. I don‘t feel like it tonight. She gathered the
cookware and stood up straight.
But I am wanting to cook.
She looked at him, her eyebrows furrowed.
You will shoot rabbit tonight. You are good.
Oh, right. As soon as I succeed, you have to cook it.
Sighing, she shook her head. Maybe tomorrow. I don‘t want to
He looked disappointed as he turned the bow over in his
hands. You are too hard on yourself.
Glancing at her aunt who was already making a campfire,
she replied, No. I deserve what I got.
But you apologize.
You weren‘t there. You didn‘t see how I behaved.
Great. More tears. She didn‘t want to cry—not in front of him.
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She quickly turned from him and strode toward the fire, blinking
away the tears so no one would feel the need to comfort her. She
set the pot, cups, and plates out.
Aren‘t you going to try to get that rabbit tonight? her
It‘d be a shame not to, especially since you have someone
who‘s eager to help you.
What was her aunt getting at? She looked up at the older
woman who motioned to Chogan who seemed reluctant to gather
the bedrolls. Julia shrugged. I‘ve left you to make supper too
many times. It‘s time I did my part.
You‘ve spent all of your life making meals.
So what‘s one more? She placed the utensils out a nd
grabbed the pot to gather the water.
Her aunt placed her hand over Julia‘s. Or what‘s one
less? The meal is simple. I can handle it.
Chogan came within hearing distance so the women
quietly returned to their tasks. He laid the bedrolls on the grass.
Julia tried not to think of him. It was hard to serve her
penance when he was near. I‘m going to get water. I need some
time alone. She said it loud enough for him to hear so he
wouldn‘t follow. She didn‘t feel like discussing anything with
anyone. Without a glance in either her aunt‘s or his direction, she
took the pot down to the creek.
fter the week of traveling, Woape was glad to be home.
Fortunately, caring for her child meant she didn‘t have to deal
with Citlali or any questions he might have, but she knew as soon
as they were back, she‘d have to face him.
She returned to her people with tears and hugs. For some
reason, everything looked different. Nothing had changed. The
earthen lodges formed the same circle around their village. The
same Missouri River flowed nearby. The same rows of corn grew
in the sunlight.
But she wasn‘t the same Woape who left. And now she
had a child. For her, everything had changed. She‘d learned to
live in the white man‘s world. She spoke their language, had
dressed as the white women did, and had a white man‘s child.
The curious stares from those in her tribe did not go unnoticed.
They wondered how she came to be with a child—and a white
man‘s for that matter.
Fortunately, her father gave her a reprieve and told
everyone she needed to rest. So she slipped into her family‘s
lodge and went to the animal hide that marked her room. She
pushed the door in and the buffalo hoofs attached to the rawhide
announced her entrance as it brushed along the dirt floor. She
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glanced back at the circular dwelling with the fire-pit in the center
and sunlight streaming in from the hole in the top of the roof.
Somehow, even this didn‘t seem familiar to her. How often had
she laughed with her family members in this place? Why couldn‘t
she bring back that feeling of warmth and home?
Because my home will always be with Gary.
Sighing, she stepped
into her small room and set the bar into the two small posts that
stuck out of the ground to secure the door. There. No one
would disturb her. She needed to be alone with her child.
Thankful that the place was cool despite the hot summer
day, she laid down on the furs that covered her bed and kissed
Penelope‘s forehead. The name =Penelope‘ fit the child very well,
and when she called her child by name, she would remember the
kindness of the woman who helped her.
Her child began to squirm and seek food, so Woape
quickly undressed enough so she could breastfeed. She enjoyed
the quiet moments with Penelope. It was the only time she
experienced a sense of peace, even as she still mourned for Gary.
But she didn‘t belong to Gary anymore. Now she would
be Citlali‘s wife. It wasn‘t something she particularly looked
forward to. He wasn‘t a bad man. He performed notable deeds
of valor that led to great honor among their people. He‘d hunted
more buffalo than other men his age, and the animal hide she
rested on was one of his gifts to her. He would, no doubt, make a
good husband. So why did she dread the marriage?
No. It was time to grow up. She needed to do the right
thing instead of focusing on her feelings. She wouldn‘t make that
mistake again. So she didn‘t love him. So he didn‘t love her.
Maybe, in due time, they would be content with each other.
The next day, Woape went out to her family‘s garden to check on
the crops. She brushed off any bugs she found, mindful of the
baby strapped to her back.
Her fourteen-year-old sister glanced at her from her row
of corn. Are you glad to be back?
Woape paused and looked at her. Yes. In some ways.
Not in others. But she didn‘t feel like making the distinction to
Her sister scanned the garden for their aunts and
grandmother before she approached her. Was he mean to you?
Who? Woape asked.
The father of your baby, she whispered.
No, Onawa. He was very kind.
So you really married him?
I asked Achai to let me explain it when I was ready. She
forced aside her irritation with her brother for being a loud
mouth. I need time before I‘m ready to talk.
You were always a puzzle no one could figure out.
She shrugged and went to another cornstalk. I like to be
alone with my thoughts.
She groaned and returned to her row.
Woape considered calling her sister back, but then she
decided she didn‘t wish to tell anyone what happened—at least
none of the details—until she could think of Gary without crying.
The wounds were still too fresh. Finally, she said, I‘ll tell you
when I‘m ready.
Onawa nodded, looking as if she felt better about that.
Woape couldn‘t blame her for being hurt. They‘d been
close. She‘d shared her misgivings about marrying Citlali, and her
sister had kept her secrets. But her relationship to her sister had
changed, just as everything else had. And she knew it was because
she, herself, had changed. Woape was no longer the same person
she‘d been when she ran away. Short of going back in time and
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redoing the past, she was stuck with things the way they were—
for better or wor se.
As she left her row of corn and headed for the squash,
someone called her name. She turned and fought the urge to flee
back into the cornstalks.
Citlali approached, appearing as serious as she
remembered him to be.
At least that was still the same. She took small comfort in
that. You wish to speak to me? That was a stupid question. Of
course he did.
I thought we might discuss the wedding. You said your
husband is dead, correct?
You are certain of this?
Of course, I‘m certain. I saw Hothlepoya kill him.
He nodded. I had to be sure. Someone came by, not too
long ago… He waved his hand. That doesn‘t matter. We should
discuss the marriage.
She took a deep breath and waited for him to continue.
I see no reason to delay it. We‘ve been through the
preliminaries. Our families are anxious for the wedding.
Yes, they were. After all, they arranged the marriage. But
first… Will you accept my child? She glanced over her shoulder
at a sleeping Penelope before she looked back at him.
Yes. We‘ll raise her as one of our own.
I want to tell her about her father.
He indicated his acceptance.
She didn‘t know what else to say. Her one reason for
avoiding the marriage was to protect Penelope. Shifting from one
foot to the other, she tried to think of what she might say to ease
the tension. Her gaze turned to the crops where her sister glanced
her way. She tried to look at him but found that she couldn‘t. He
must suspect that she didn‘t want to marry him and had run off.
Or maybe not. She didn‘t know what he thought, nor did she care
to ask. Some things were better left unsaid.
I thought a week from now might be a good time for the
wedding, he finally said.
She gulped. That soon? A breeze blew a stray strand of
her hair into her eyes, so she quickly brushed it away. As she did,
she chanced a glance in his direction. She couldn‘t read his
expression. He didn‘t seem to be mad at her. That was good.
She had no doubt he‘d be nice to her, even if he didn‘t love her.
He‘d make a good son-in-law, which would make her father
happy. And he‘d be good to Penelope. Few men in her tribe
would be willing to raise a white man‘s child. A week will be
fine, she managed to say.
I‘ll tell the chief, he replied.
She nodded and watched as he returned to the lodges.
For a moment, she recalled the day she and Gary married. Her
lips tingled from the memory of the kiss he gave her before he
brought her back to town. No such kiss came from Citlali, and
she doubted that it ever would. With a heavy heart, she turned
back to the garden to continue her work.
Five days later, Julia left the camp after supper so she could wash
up in the river. When she finished, she returned to the campfire
and noticed that her aunt wasn‘t there.
Where did Erin go? she asked Chogan as she sat across
She went to take care of personal business.
Nodding, she held her hands out in front of the fire to
warm them up. Though it was August, the wind had a chill in it.
He stood up and went to the buggy.
She wondered what he was doing but then decided it
wasn‘t any of her business. Her gaze traveled the length of the
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prairie, noting the beautiful shades of pinks that stroked the sky.
She caught sight of a rabbit hopping along the land and instantly
thought of the times she spent with Chogan trying to master the
bow and arrow. She hadn‘t bothered since she saw her brother
again. If they reached the Mandan tribe and if Woape was there
and if she apologized to her and Woape forgave her, maybe Gary
When Chogan returned, he brought a blanket with him
and draped it over her shoulders. You look cold. He sat close
Thank you, she softly spoke and pulled the blanket tight
around her despite the sudden heat rushing through her.
You do not want to hunt?
He asked her this every evening, and she wondered why
he continued to when he already knew she‘d say no. She shook
her head and stared at the dancing flames in front of her.
Shrugging, she mumbled, I just don‘t feel like it.
You did before we saw your brother.
She noted that he‘d made a concentrated effort at saying
all the words neatly in the sentence, and she realized he did that to
please her, though why he should bother, she didn‘t know.
I‘m tired of it.
That is not true.
A different kind of heat rose up from her neck and into
her cheeks. Then you tell me why, she snapped, giving him a
A slight grin crossed his face. You have much fire in
Surprised that he‘d say that, she blinked several times and
finally turned her attention back to where it had been moments
You are too hard on yourself.
How would you know?
I can see it…in your eyes. You bear guilt.
Yeah well, my brother has a right to hate me. If you
knew what I did, you wouldn‘t want to talk to me either.
You might be surprised.
She shook her head and closed her eyes. How easy it was
for him to say. How easy it was for her aunt to say. But they
weren‘t there that day when she told those Indians where Woape
was—nor did they know the intention in her heart to break up a
Growing serious, he said, We all have things we regret.
She glanced at him in interest. Do we?
I was responsible for the death of my wife.
Stunned didn‘t even begin to explain how she felt at that
announcement. All she could do was stare at him and wait for
him to continue.
Now he was the one who looked away from her. We
grew up together. As a child, she said she was sick. The medicine
man never found the reason. So everyone thought she made it up.
She and I married. After two years, I got tired of it. I always went
to get medicine man. Each time he said she was not sick. I told
her I would not go this time. She said she was in great pain. She
said she was going to die if I did not get medicine man. I tell her
to go to sleep. He sighed and swallowed. She would not be
quiet so I yelled at her. Then I left to sleep somewhere else. Next
morning, she did not come to make breakfast. I go check on her,
and she was dead. He looked over at her and she caught the hint
of regret in his eyes. The worst part is that I told her I wished I
had not married her. I told her I wish she would die. Then I
could have a good night‘s sleep.
Julia turned her gaze from him then, unsure of what to
Many nights I wish I could take back my words. I wish I
could go and get the medicine man. Maybe she would have died
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anyway. But I would have gotten him. I did not like myself. Her
family told me I could not have known. They had lost their
So did you forgive yourself? she whispered.
In time. But it was not easy.
She nodded. She could understand that.
You can‘t change the past.
She looked at her hands as she lightly traced the design on
the part of the blanket that rested on her lap. I‘m the one who
told those Sioux Indians where Woape was. She gave a hesitant
glance in his direction.
He just sat there and watched her, as if waiting for more.
Taking a deep breath, she finally decided to get it all out.
I knew they wanted her. They asked about her. I told them
where she lived. I didn‘t like that she was married to my brother.
In fact, I hated it. Ever since our parents died, my brother never
paid me much attention, and I sacrificed a lot for him. At least,
that‘s the way I saw it at the time. I just wanted him to like me. It
didn‘t seem like he ever did. Our parents expected me to take
care of him because he‘s seven years younger than me. And I did
my part. Only, I tried to make him dependent on me. I see now
that I was afraid to let him go.
Why? he gently pressed.
Because I had nothing else in my life to give me meaning.
Sure, our aunt took us in, but in a lot of ways, it didn‘t feel like he
was my brother. I felt as if I stepped in as his mother. I was ten.
I was there when the accident happened and the doctor took me
in to see her. Our father was already dead. Gary was three, so he
was too young to remember. But I saw her and talked to her. Ma
told me to take care of Gary. I did the best I could, and as soon
as he turned eighteen, he ran off. He didn‘t even say he was
leaving. He just left a note.
She clenched the blanket and sniffed back her tears. He
didn‘t say where he was going. He just said that he needed to get
out and find out who he was. He didn‘t even say he loved me or
that he was thankful I did my best to care for him. I hated him
after that. And then he returned, out of the blue one day, and he
tried to dump a stranger on us. That was Woape. Then I saw that
he was treating her better than he ever treated me. It didn‘t seem
fair. I‘d spent my entire lif e trying to take care of him, and he‘d
just met her.
She let out a low sigh and grew silent for a moment to
listen to the crickets. Ever since she was a little girl, she‘d sit on
the front porch in the evenings, watch the sun go down, and listen
to the crickets. And now, more than ever, the sound soothed her
swirling emotions. She‘d had no such peace after Gary returned
home after being gone, but she felt a small par t of it returning—
probably because someone was actually listening to her instead of
telling her what she must feel. And Chogan didn‘t push her to
continue. Even as she noted him watching her out of the corner
of her eye, he kept his patience.
Finally, she continued, They married about a week after
they arrived. He couldn‘t move out fast enough, and I knew it
was because he didn‘t want to be near me. Woape didn‘t like me
either, but who can blame her? I searched for reasons to hate her
and found them. I even accused her of trying to poison everyone.
But it wasn‘t poison. As it turns out, it was ground ginger.
A small smile formed on her lips. Before I realized that,
I slapped her. But she got me good. She shoved my face into a
pie. The memory suddenly seemed funny, though it hadn‘t been
at the time. She saw his amused expression and laughed. It felt
good to laugh.
You have fire in you, he softly said.
So does Woape.
Not like you.
Well, you weren‘t there that day.
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I grew up in same tribe. She has some fire but not like
She shrugged. Well, she wanted the ginger because she
was expecting. I hated her even more for that because suddenly,
my aunt was fawning all over her like a mother hen. And I didn‘t
have a child on the way who would be a new member of the
family. How can a woman compete with that? So, when I saw
the Indians, I told them where Woape was. All I could think of
was how much I wanted to get rid of her. I thought if she wasn‘t
in our lives any more, then maybe Gary would finally… She
paused and looked at the ascending moon. I thought he would
love me, or at least need me. It was selfishness on my part.
Venturing another glance in his direction, she added, I
didn‘t think they‘d try to kill him. But I knew they weren‘t nice
men. It was the way they talked about Woape. One said she was
his property. And I didn‘t bother warning anyone. I just went
about the day as if nothing unusual happened. Then my aunt said
Gary was dead and Woape was going back to her tribe with you,
and… She brushed her tears with the blanket. It was then I
realized the extent of what I‘d done. All of my life, I‘d gone to
church and did as I was told. I prided myself on being a good
person. But that day, I saw myself for what I really was, and it
wasn‘t a pretty sight.
She put her face in her hands to hide her tears from him.
She didn‘t like being vulnerable. Bearing her soul was requiring
much more of herself than she cared to admit.
He closed the distance between them and placed a
comforting hand on her back.
The simple action was intended to make her feel better,
and in some ways it did, but it also made her cry harder.
We all have moments of weakness…where we choose the
But Gary won‘t forgive me.
Then that is his path. You cannot choose his path. You
can only choose yours.
He was right, of course. It was logical. But it hurts.
Yes. A part will always hurt.
Wiping her face, she peeked at him from her blanket.
Didn‘t you forgive yourself?
I did. Forgiveness does not mean pain goes away
completely. It means pain is less and joy is more. All of life is a
cycle of joy and pain.
She realized what he meant, and he was right. The
damage had been done. She‘d have to deal with whatever
consequences came from her choices. But, at the same time, she
could start making the right decisions. The first thing she needed
to do was let Gary go. If he never loved her, then she couldn‘t
make him. As painful as that was, she would do it.
The familiar steps of her aunt approached.
Julia looked over her shoulder.
Erin smiled. Dawn comes soon. We better get some
After Chogan helped Julia stand, he went to his bedroll.
Erin took Julia by the arm and whispered, Will you hunt
for rabbits tomorrow?
Despite the cool breeze, her cheeks grew warm. Maybe.
Well, it would be nice to get a break from the jerky.
Patting her hand, she turned to her own bedroll.
Julia thought to look at Chogan, but then, she decided
she‘d had enough of her tumbling emotions for one night and got
ready for bed.
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oape took a bath with her child in a secluded spot along the
river. The water felt refreshingly cool in the hot August day. She
held Penelope and dipped into the gentle current until it reached
Now I rinse us off, she told Penelope.
With her free hand, she cupped a handful of water and
poured it over her baby‘s thin dark hair. After spending months
without regular bathing, it felt like heaven to be clean again. She
made sure to come out every day since her return. The simple
action of doing this—something she‘d done every day before she
ran away—was soothing. There was still peace at the river.
Once Woape finished, she came out of the water and
settled Penelope on the blanket so she could dry her off. She took
a moment to watch the child who gurgled. Every time she looked
at her daughter, she felt as if she still had a direct link to Gary.
She leaned forward and kissed Penelope‘s forehead. The baby
waved her arms and caught Woape‘s hair.
Laughing, Woape gently pried her fingers away. You‘re
stronger than you look.
Her baby grunted and kicked her legs.
Yes. You will be a strong one, won‘t you?
She slipped a light dress over Penelope before she stood
up to put on her own clothes. She recalled the feel of the cotton
fabric the white women wore, but she was no longer a part of that
world so she donned on her deerskin dress.
When she finished braiding her hair, she gathered her
child into her arms, picked up the blanket and comb, and went up
the bank until her feet hit the grass. She paused and thought to
run back to the safety of the river when she spotted a lone horse
rider making his way across the land. Frowning, she wondered
why a white man would be going to her tribe.
As he progressed, he slowed his horse. He was a good
way off, but not so far that she couldn‘t call out to him. He
wasn‘t looking in her direction which allowed her the freedom to
stare at him. There was something familiar in his stature. If she
didn‘t know better, she think it was…
She couldn‘t breathe. No, it couldn‘t be. The dead didn‘t
come back to life. She was seeing things. She wanted so much
for Gary to be alive, she was imagining things. Her heart leapt in
a mixture of hope and dread.
Penelope wiggled in her arms, but she ignored the child.
What if it’s him?
But it can‘t be!
But what if it is?
Would it hurt to find out?
Adrenaline shot through her and prompted her to action
before she could stop herself. She took a deep breath and yelled,
Gary? Oh, it was foolish! It wasn‘t him. It couldn‘t be him! It
was wishful thinking that made her see things. But even a s she
tried to talk her self out of calling out to him again, she yelled his
name a second time. Gary!
And he stopped.
She held onto Penelope, absentmindedly stroking the
child‘s head and back.
I’m seeing things. I have to be seeing things.
Ruth Ann Nordin
mother believed in spirits walking around, but Woape hadn‘t—at
least she hadn‘t considered it until that moment. But no. The
man who looked in her direction wasn‘t a ghost. He was too real
to be a ghost.
Woape? he called out.
She cried out, tears immediately tracing her cheeks. That
voice. She knew that voice! Gary!
One second, she was standing still, and in the next, she
was running as fast as her feet could take her. She clutched the
child to her and pressed forward. He was alive! She didn‘t k now
how but he was! He rode in her direction, quickly closing the gap
between them, and when their paths intersected, he jumped off
the horse and opened his arms to her. She ran into them. He
hugged her and kissed her. Though she couldn‘t stop crying, she
returned his kisses. Her husband…her Gary…was here!
I thought you were dead, she said once she could speak.
He cupped her face in his hands and smiled at her.
Almost but not quite.
She laughed and wiped the tears from his face. It is good
to see you. I love you.
I love you too, my shadow.
She didn‘t know why his nickname for her should make
her laugh harder, but it did. The bundle in her arm squirmed. She
quickly turned her attention back to their child. This is your
daughter. Her name is Penelope.
She‘s beautiful, he whispered. Just like her mother.
She lifted the child and placed her in his arms. Woape
leaned against him, unwilling to break any physical contact with
him. Now that he was really here…and alive, she didn‘t want to be
away from him ever again.
She‘s tiny, he said as he studied the baby who stared at
him in open wonder.
You should have seen her when she was born. She was
It‘s very possible.
I wish I had been there when she was born.
She wrapped an arm around his waist and caressed their
daughter‘s cheek. You‘re here now. That‘s all that matters. My
joy has returned and my life is complete.
He glanced at her. Mine is too.
They stood there for a couple of minutes, and even as she
felt him and saw him, she was afraid it was all a dream. She‘d
been used to nightmares. Though they had decreased in
frequency, she still had them from time to time. But she hadn‘t
once dreamt that Gary would ever be with her again. She tried to
shake herself awake, just to be sure this wasn‘t a dream, and when
her attempts failed, her heart settled. No. It wasn‘t a dream.
Thankfully, she was wide awake.
You must be tired and hungry, Woape said, reluctant to
break the comfortable silence. I‘ll fix you something to eat.
How long have you been here, back at your tribe?
Surprised at his question, she replied, About a week.
Noting the relief on his face, she asked, Why do you ask?
I‘ve been here earlier this summer, and the men I talked
to said that they didn‘t know where you were. For a moment, I
thought maybe they were lying.
They told you the truth. After I thought Hothlepoya
killed you, one from my tribe came and tried to bring me back
here, but Hothlepoya found us so I had to run. I did a lot of
running until my father found me. Then he brought me and
A man named Chogan said he lost you when some Sioux
Indians chased you onto a train.
Is Chogan alright then?
He is. He‘s with Ju lia and Erin.
She frowned. But I left your sister and aunt back where
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Julia figured out I wasn‘t dead, so she joined Chogan and
Erin in looking for you and me.
She didn‘t know why Julia should care. She thought Julia
would be glad to have her gone, but she gave the matter no more
thought. What did it matter now that Gary was here? And at
least she could tell everyone that Chogan was safe and on his way
home. Chogan‘s family would be relieved. They feared
Hothlepoya had harmed him.
Gary handed Penelope to her so she took the child in her
arms. He wrapped one arm around her waist and led the horse to
walk with them. It sure does feel good to have you back by my
She leaned into him, not in any hurry to get back to her
tribe. She wanted to enjoy this moment where she was alone with
her husband before they were surrounded by curious family
members and friends who‘d want all the details on everything that
had occurred. Up until then, she hadn‘t had the strength to
explain it, and they had honored her request to wait. But now that
Gary was with her, the heavy burden had been lifted from her
shoulders. And she could rejoice in the retelling of the events.
The season of tears was finally at an end.
That night, after Woape settled Penelope to sleep, she slipped into
bed with Gary. Due to his arrival, her father had given them a
bigger room to share. It was meant for her and Citlali, but
thankfully, it was for her and Gary instead. And there was
nowhere else she‘d rather be than with Gary. This was much
better than being with Citlali. She couldn‘t imagine coming to him
with a sense of anticipation. She didn‘t realize how much she
missed lovemaking until she felt Gary‘s naked body press against
She never thought she could enjoy a man touching her
after Hothlepoya had been with her, but Gary had eased those
wounds so they no longer held any power over her. Now, she had
the freedom to enjoy the pleasures meant for this moment.
I missed you, Gary whispered.
I missed you too, she replied.
He brought her closer to him and kissed her.
She let out a soft moan, aware that her body was already
ready for him. It seemed the length of time since they‘d last been
together heightened her awareness of him and made her tha t
much more eager to feel him inside of her. She didn‘t think such
a sensation would be so overpowering, but it was and she didn‘t
have the kind of patience required for her to take things slow.
Besides, she reasoned, there were going to be more times—many
more—so it didn‘t matter whether they rushed this one or not.
Careful to keep quiet, she rolled on top of him. She took
him inside her and bit her lip, trying not to groan too loud. She
didn‘t remember it feeling this good.
His voice almost sounded like a sigh of contentment, but
his hands which cupped her breasts and the urgent movement
from his hips told her he felt the driving need to continue as well.
She took his cue and moved with him, surprised that the tension
should mount so quickly and that her release should be as intense
as it was. Before the sensations had time to ebb, he gasped and
she knew he had joined her in sharing this moment. Her body
responded to him in another wave of pleasure.
In slow increments, her body relaxed. Satisfied, she got
off of him and snuggled against him. He put his arm around her
and kissed the top of her head. He took her hand and pressed it
against his heart. She smiled. His heartbeat was sure and strong.
Just the way she liked it.
Soon, he fell asleep, but she was too excited to sleep. She
wanted to stay awake and enjoy being with her husband again.
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She realized that Penelope would wake up in a couple of hours
and want to be fed, but what did losing sleep matter? Gary
survived Hothlepoya‘s attack. He‘d managed to escape. And now
he was with her, loving her in a way no other man could. All she
wanted to do was savor this moment in time—and so that is what
Woape knew she‘d have to speak with Citlali. He‘d been there
when she returned with Gary, but they were surrounded by so
many people there hadn‘t been a chance to explain things to him.
And as much as she dreaded this, she knew she had to do it. She
owed him that much, especially after she ran off the first time they
were supposed to wed.
As she left her family‘s lodge that morning after breakfast
so she could take care of the crops with her female relatives, she
saw Citlali collecting his bow and arrows, probably getting ready
for the hunt. She glanced at Gary and her father who remained
seated in the center of the lodge, talking and getting to know each
other. Her father cradled the baby and spoke in broken English.
The two men seemed to be having a good time, and that made her
They said you can stay with your husband today.
Woape turned to her younger sister who came around the
side of the lodge, carrying a small basket. Are you upset with
me? she asked.
Onawa seemed surprised by the question. No. Your
husband is alive and has found you. It‘s a good thing.
That‘s not what I meant. I meant the decision our father
made with Citlali‘s father, that you will marry Citlali when you turn
Her cheeks grew pink as she broke eye contact with
Woape. I do not oppose the agreement.
You want to marry him?
She shrugged. I can‘t think of anyone I‘d rather be with.
Woape breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe things worked out
for the best after all. That‘s good. I thought you might think of
him the same way I do.
Her sister looked up at her. No. But I may not be to his
He doesn‘t love me. You have nothing to worry about.
There isn‘t someone else he‘d rather marry?
I don‘t think so. Both he and I grew up being told we
would marry. I never heard him talk about wanting to marry
anyone else. I think he‘s been too involved in hunting to think of
other matters, and since he was promised to me, why should he
take note of the other young women?
I hope he‘s not disappointed.
Do you want me to ask him? I‘m a bout to go over and
talk to him.
Her eyes grew wide. No!
Startled, Woape blinked at the fervent tone in her sister‘s
voice. Alright. I won‘t.
She relaxed. I‘d rather think he‘s looking forward to it.
Motioning to her empty basket, she said, I should go. I need to
gather some buffalo berries for the meal tonight.
I‘ll join you soon.
Nodding, she headed for the shrubs lining the stream
Woape gathered her courage and strode toward Citlali
before she lost her nerve. He‘d just turned to get his horse ready
when she reached him. May I speak with you for a moment?
She cleared her throat to ward off the shaky tone.
Again, she couldn‘t tell what he was thinking. She hated
that. Citlali was never one to show his emotions, and it was hard
to decide how she should proceed. I‘m sorry.
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There‘s no reason to be sorry. Your husband is alive.
He was the white man who came here, but we didn‘t know he was
married to you. We didn‘t give him much of a chance to talk
either. We thought he might mean you harm, as the Sioux did
when they came through here looking for you.
Yes. About the Sioux… She picked at the beads around
her neck. Should she tell him everything?
You did not wish to marry me, so you left.
For a moment, she couldn‘ t think of how to respond. She
hadn‘t expected him to come out and say it, nor did she know
what to do with his stoic expression. Was he upset, relieved,
angry, or happy?
He makes you happy. You belong to him.
She didn‘t know what else to say, but then again, she rarely
knew how to talk to him. At least he accepted it. That was all she
could hope for. Thank you, Citlali. I hope my sister will make
you happy. For her sister‘s sake, she didn‘t tell him that her sister
loved him. Sure, it was more of a childhood crush, but in time,
Woape knew it would grow into something more.
I‘m sure she will, he replied.
Still, Woape could not decipher his feelings. She hoped
her sister would be happy with him. Good luck on the hunt.
He nodded and turned his attention back to the horse.
As soon as she stepped away from him, she breathed a
sigh of relief. It was over. Now she could truly get on with her
hree days later, Gary found a spot near the campfire in the
center of the tribe and laid out the blanket so Woape could sit.
He sat next to her and put his arm around her. Penelope yawned
and settled in her arms.
He grinned at Woape. I think our daughter purposely
sleeps early so she can wake us up in the middle of the night.
She giggled and whispered, You‘ve also woken me up.
Yes, but I had a good reason, he teased before he kissed
Around them, the others found a place to sit on the
ground. The air around them was festive. The hunters had
returned with two buffalo, and the meal had been one of the best
Gary had ever tasted. Now it was time for the hunters to receive
the honors due to them.
Not surprising, Citlali seemed to be favored by the chief.
In the short time Gary had been there, it occurred to him that
Citlali was revered by others in the tribe. On this particular night,
he received a new set of bow and arrows.
Then one of the men stood and made an announcement
that excited the people.
What did he say? Gary whispered.
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Woape looked at him. The Okipe Ceremony will start
tomorrow. For four days my people pray for many crops, good
health, and an abundance of buffalo. She smiled. It is much
different than what you‘re used to.
Before he could ask her how it was different, Woape‘s
brother who hadn‘t been far from Citlali since he‘d been among
the hunters, stood up and ran to the edge of the crowd. It took
Gary a moment to realize that his aunt and sister had arrived. Just
as the people had surrounded him when he arrived with Woape,
now they gathered around the newcomers. He remained still for a
moment as he decided what to do.
Woape settled the internal debate for him when she stood
He joined her and got ready to lead her to them when his
aunt managed to escape the crowd who excitedly asked Chogan
questions. He couldn‘t recall a time when he saw Aunt Erin move
as fast as she did, but the woman came up to them before he had
time to blink and hugged them both at once.
You‘re safe! We were so worried! Erin took a step back
and wiped the tears from her eyes. If this doesn‘t make my year,
nothing will. She patted Gary on the arm before turning her
attention to Woape. How are you doing, dear? How is your
child? Did you have a girl or a boy?
Woape laughed. A girl. Her name is Penelope, and I am
doing well. Gary‘s alive.
Yes. Julia figured it out a few days after you left.
At the mention of Julia‘s name, Gary sensed the tension in
the air. All he could think of was what she told him when he
found her with their aunt and Chogan on the deserted prairie.
“I’m sorry, Gary. I’m so sorry. I told those Indians where Woape was
because I wanted her to leave. It’s all my fault. Can you forgive me?”
wanted to forgive her. It should be easy since Woape was alive
and yet… He didn‘t know how to let that go.
His aunt, it seemed, noticed that Julia was a sore spot for
him since she hesitated a moment before changing the topic.
Your baby is beautiful. May I hold her?
Woape nodded and gently placed the child in her arms.
Erin grinned from ear to ear as she held Penelope. I
have to admit that I never thought I‘d see the day Gary settled
down and had a child. He was such a free spirit.
Gary pulled Woape close to his side and told her, My
aunt was sure that if I got married, I‘d be happier than when I
roamed the countryside, and I‘ll be darned if she wasn‘t right.
Woape‘s cheeks turned a pretty shade of pink that was
almost undetectable in the firelight.
A round of laughter drifted from the spot a good twenty
yards from where they stood. Gary glanced in the direction where
Chogan animatedly told those around him something in the
Mandan language. Gary could only pick out a few words, but
nothing made sense. Chogan spoke much too fast. He also
motioned to Julia who looked uncomfortable.
Gary understood why. His sister was shy in the presence
of strangers, and without their aunt right there, it didn‘t help
matters at all. He sighed. So maybe a part of him was still angry
that she told Hothlepoya where Woape was. Maybe a part of him
would always be that way, but she did make an effort to make
amends. The least he could do was honor that.
I should go talk to Julia, he told his wife and aunt.
With the baby in one arm, Erin reached out and touched
his elbow before he could leave. Go easy on her, Gary. She‘s
been through a lot.
She wouldn‘t have been through it if she‘d left well
enough alone. He immediately regretted the sharp tone in his
voice when he saw his aunt wince. I‘m sorry. I‘ll try to be nice.
Either be nice or don‘t go over there. The poor thing‘s
paid her dues. She spent many nights softly crying. She doesn‘t
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think I know but I heard her. There‘s only so much guilt a person
Not wishing to make what was a nice reunion with his
aunt unpleasant, he gave a stiff nod. He kissed Woape before he
headed over to his sister who had her arms wrapped protectively
around herself. She seemed startled when she saw him coming in
her direction. She even inched closer to Chogan.
The men and women quieted.
Taking that as his cue, Gary asked Julia, May I speak to
She didn‘t answer right away, and Chogan straightened, as
if ready to protect her if she needed it, but she finally approached
Gary. Where do you want to talk?
Glancing around, he found a vacant spot by one of the
earthen lodges. Over there?
She swallowed but nodded.
The walk to the private area was awkward. He realized
that she was just as uncertain as him, and that surprisingly made
him feel better. For the first time in his life, his older sister wasn‘t
an authority figure. Now, she actually seemed like an equal.
He waited until she sat on the ground before joining her.
After a quick internal debate on how to proceed, he ventured, I
don‘t want there to be any hard feelings between us. I know
we‘ve had our troubles in the past and what with Woape… He
sighed. I understand you feel bad about what you did to her, but
I don‘t want that to happen again.
It won‘t, she quickly said. I‘ve learned my lesson.
It doesn‘t have to be a lesson, Julia. It just has to be
something someone does to protect another person. I love
Woape, and I don‘t like knowing you wanted to get rid of her.
She‘s done nothing to you.
I know. I know all of this…now. She brought her knees
up to her chest and hugged her legs. It‘s just hard for me, that‘s
Seeing you with her. Seeing you with Aunt Erin. Seeing
you with anyone who‘s not me. You can‘t stand me.
That‘s not true.
No? She glanced at him, clearly not believing him.
No. Sure, I‘m mad, but I‘ll get over it. I see that you‘re
sorry. I know you don‘t lie. I believe you won‘t do anything to
harm Woape again. He paused, carefully thinking over what he
needed to say. If you want to be a part of my life, then I want to
be treated like an adult. I‘m perfectly capable of taking care of
Yes, you are. I‘m sorry about that too.
With her soft confession, the tension lifted, and he felt
much better. Let‘s make a fresh start, alright? As adults?
She finally made eye contact with him and smiled. I‘d
like that, Gary. I should apologize to Woape.
He stood up and helped her to her feet. I think Woape
would like that, and you should see your niece.
Her eyes grew wide. I‘m an aunt?
A chuckle rose in his throat. Didn‘t that ever occur to
you when Woape was expecting?
Well, no. Not really. I mean, it did to a point but I
didn‘t really think about it.
Now you know. You‘re an aunt, and your niece‘s name
She walked beside him as they went toward the place
where their aunt and Woape sat, fussing over the baby. That‘s a
nice name, but why didn‘t she choose an Indian one?
Apparently, a woman by the name of Penelope helped
her and delivered the baby, so she wanted to remember her.
When they reached the women, Woape turned her gaze to
Julia—almost seeming hesitant.
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I‘m sorry, Woape, Julia said. I‘ve done and said things
to you that I shouldn‘t have. She glanced at Gary, as if a sking
him how much he wanted her to tell Woape.
She already knows about the Sioux. I told her, he
Julia wiped the palms of her hands on her skirt and
nodded. I‘m sorry, Woape. I won‘t do anything like that again.
And I promise to be nice to you for now on.
Woape patted the spot next to her. Come and sit. We
Looking relieved, Julia obeyed.
As Gary chose his spot to sit, he caught the unspoken
=thank you‘ in his aunt‘s eyes.
he next evening, Julia‘s sense of unease increased as three men
covered in red paint sat before a drum covered in buffalo-hide.
She glanced at Gary and Woape who sat on the other side of Erin.
To her surprise, Gary didn‘t seem startled by the sight of three
scantily clad Indians. Maybe Woape warned him about this…
What did Woape call it? An Okipe Ceremony? Julia glanced at
her aunt who also glanced back at her, looking equally startled.
Well, at least her aunt was just as horrified as she was.
Julia didn‘t feel it was appropriate to look back at those
men. Not with the way they were dressed. Amulets on wrists,
elbows, knees, and ankles did nothing to detract from their bare
chests. Why, even their legs were exposed! There was so little
covering their private areas. Her face flushed with mortification.
Her gaze fell to the opening of the lodge. She wondered if she
could slip out unnoticed.
The three men sat in front of the drum, and she breathed
a sigh of relief. At least now she couldn‘t see everything—or just
about everything. Two men were called out from the group
gathered in the lodge, and she recognized Chogan‘s name among
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Chogan and another man—whom she thought was Citlali,
if she remembered the name right—stood beside the singers and
took a rawhide rattle. A man she‘d heard someone call the
Maker placed a pipe and a ball of pemmican in front of the roll
of rawhide. Then the three barely dressed men began singing
while Citlali and Chogan shook the rattles.
Julia shifted on the ground, still doing her best to avoid
looking at the singers. Her gaze fell on the group of people who
watched with avid interest.
After four songs, Chogan and Citlali divided the
pemmican while the singers took turns smoking the pipe.
Hoitahe, ihike kedehosh! Kamiseka, ihike kedehosh!
their leader called out.
Julia looked at Woape to see if she would give them
insight into what the man was saying.
As if she understood, Woape leaned across Gary and
whispered to Erin and Julia, He says the pipe is going. After
another man spoke, she added, That one tells the Maker to get
The Maker approached the leader of the singers and ran
his hands slowly down the length of the pipe. Then he took it and
refilled it before he set it on the buffalo costumes.
The dancers will wear those, Woape whispered.
The singers picked up their own black stone pipes to
Then their leader cried out, Numak -mahana, pke mawa-
He says to move the Turtle, Woape explained.
A turtle? Erin quietly asked.
Not a real turtle, Woape replied. Tonight, the drum
covered in buffalo hide represents the Turtle drums. Those
drums are sacred to my people. They will use those for the next
three days instead of that one.
As the man representing Numak-mahana moved the
buffalo drum to the left, the singers followed. Then some of the
onlookers began to vocalize strange utterances that Julia didn‘t
understand. The effect trickled across the lodge as more and
more people raised their hands toward the medicine bundles. She
glanced at her aunt who looked as overwhelmed as she felt. She
gripped a handful of her skirt in her hands. Just what were they
going to do?
Chogan and Citlali resumed their role of shaking the
rattles and the Maker laid the pipe and pemmican before the
drum. The singers began a new song. While the drum got passed
around, the utterances grew louder until half the people cried out
in anguish and convulsed.
Oh this was it! She couldn‘t take any more! Bolting to her
feet, she fled out of the lodge, not caring who she stumbled over
along the way. She made it out into the clear night sky and kept
running until she was as far from that lodge as she could get
without escaping the confines of the tribe.
Julia! someone called after her.
She was too out of breath to answer, but she turned to see
her aunt coming after her. By the time her aunt reached her, she
finally managed, I‘m not going back in there, and there‘s nothing
you can say to make me.
Her aunt gasped for air and set her hand over her hear t.
Who said anything about going back? She took a moment to
inhale before adding, I wished you waited for me.
What are they doing in there? She glanced back at the
lodge where voices of those crying out—whether in pain or joy
she couldn‘t tell—could be heard even from the remotest parts of
I think Woape said this ceremony is to ask their gods for
good health and abundant crops.
What a contrast to what Julia was used to in church.
Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself.
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Are you cold?
No. Just spooked.
It looks like Chogan‘s coming this way.
Julia considered running off again. She didn‘t want to deal
with him right now. She didn‘t want to deal with anyone, except
her aunt. The kind of thing she just saw… Well, she needed time
to settle her nerves. Go over to him and tell him I‘m not in the
right frame of mind to talk.
You‘re going to have to talk to him sooner or later, and it
might as well be sooner. There‘s no sense in giving him hope if
there is none.
Hope? Whatever did her aunt mean by that?
I‘m going to Woape‘s lodge. My poor heart can only take
so much excitement. Let me know what you decide tomorrow
An uneasy feeling welled up in Julia‘s stomach. She didn‘t
want to go through this. It was something she feared was coming,
though there had been that small chance she had misunderstood
what Chogan thought of her…and what she thought of him. With
a quick glance around, she was assured that there were enough
Indians outside so that no one would think her meeting with
Chogan would lead to anything it shouldn‘t . Not that she would
dream of doing anything improper, but she recalled the scandal in
her town. Poor Jane never did live down that shame.
Fighting the urge to escape, she straightened her back.
I should have told you, he said. Okipe Ceremony can
be…loud. You not use to it?
No, I‘m not. It‘s different from what I grew up with.
Different can be good. You need time to be familiar
with Mandan ways.
Another round of shrieking came from the lodge. There
was no way she could ever get familiar with that. I don‘t think
so, she softly said before she looked away from him.
It is not hard. You are welcome here.
She‘d been able to avoid the decision up to this point,
what with Woape and Gary and all. But she couldn‘t avoid it any
more. I thought about it, she softly admitted. Gary‘s staying.
He fits in well here. She took a deep breath. This was harder
than the time when she told Ernest she couldn‘t marry him. I
don‘t belong here. There. She said it. And even as she thought
she should feel relieved, she didn‘t.
You can. You have a place here. With me. He stepped
closer to her, and her heart sped up as it always did when he
neared. It is custom to give you gifts when I ask you to be my
wife. If you wait, I get them now.
He stopped in mid-turn and looked at her with an
apprehensive expression on his face.
She took a deep, shaky breath and wiped her sweaty palms
on her skirt. Really, she didn‘t anticipate having to do this twice in
her lifetime, and this time was much worse because a part of her
wanted to throw caution to the wind and agree. But as she
scanned the area and listened to the noise coming from the lodge,
it dawned on her just how different their worlds were. She just
couldn‘t be a part of this. It wasn‘t her. And maybe if she
married him, she wouldn‘t mind that tomorrow or even a month
from now, but someday she‘d wake up and realize this was a big
I‘m going to leave in a week with my aunt, she finally
said, crossing her arms and staring at the ground.
For the longest time, neither of them spoke, and she
wondered if she should walk back to Woape‘s lodge or wait for
him to respond. She didn‘t r eally want to stand there and wait,
but a part of her couldn‘t bear to leave him either. Oh, she hated
this! Why did he have to live here? Then an idea came to her.
Daring a tentative look in his direction, she said, You
could come with us.
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He winced. No. My place is here. There are few
Mandan left. We cannot afford to lose more.
Her heart plummeted. And so that was it. She didn‘t
belong in his world any more than he belonged in hers. They‘d
crossed paths for a moment in time, and now it was time to
separate. She turned from him, unwilling for him to see how
much this affected her. Not everything worked out. There were
no promises of happy endings in this life. Her aunt, after all, had
had her share of heartache. And now, it seemed, tha t it was her
turn. Julia closed her eyes. Even the night breeze couldn‘t cool
the sting of the hot tears that made their way down her face.
When he spoke, she noted the hint of regret in his voice.
I hope you say good-bye before you leave.
His footsteps receded, but she didn‘t dare look back. No.
She had to keep her focus on what was in front of her. Just as she
had with Ernest. She gritted her teeth and fought for the strength
to stop crying. No, this wasn‘t like the time with Ernest. She‘d
been fond of Ernest. He‘d been a fleeting passion. But after the
times she‘d shared with Chogan, she suspected she‘d never be the
same again. And that made this much, much worse.
t was five days later when Woape heard the war cry echo
through her tribe. She bolted up in bed and lifted Penelope who‘d
fallen asleep while nursing. The child stirred but didn‘t wake.
Gary sat up and grabbed his clothes.
You‘re not going, she whispered.
I have to, he quietly said as he slipped into his pants.
No! I don‘t want to lose you again.
As he shrugged into his shirt, he replied, This is my home
now. I have to do what I can to protect it.
Her stomach tensed. He was right. She knew he was
right. There was no honor in a man hiding when the tribe needed
him, but it pained her to watch as he gathered his gun and
checked the chamber for bullets. The night when Hothlepoya
came to their home came to the forefront of her mind. It seemed
like a lifetime ago, considering everything that had happened
since, and yet, it hadn‘t been that far in the past—not even a year
Fear gripped her heart. What if Hothlepoya had returned?
She recalled how he said that everything he acquired would always
belong to him, even if he had to track it down for the rest of his
life. Bile rose in her throat. God, no. It couldn‘t be Hothlepoya.
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But who else could it be? Her people were at peace with the other
two tribes in the area.
She quickly swaddled Penelope into a blanket in hopes the
child wouldn‘t wake and cry. The last thing she needed was for
Hothlepoya to find her child. He‘d use Penelope against her if he
could. She had to hide her. Gary removed the bar and opened
the door. Her father, brother, and uncles were busy gathering
their weapons. She caught sight of Erin and Julia who had left
their room to see what was going on.
Gary turned to Woape and kissed her. I love you.
I love you too, she said, hating how final it sounded.
You come back to me.
He smiled. I survived before, and I will again.
She hoped he was right. As he left their room, she
followed him but stopped when she reached the entrance. Erin,
Julia, her sister, and her aunts joined her. The sight of all able-
bodied men rushing for battle was an eerie one.
I think Hothlepoya‘s coming for me, she tentatively told
the women. He‘s marked me as his property, and he hates that I
The shrieks coming from the invading tribe as they moved
into the fence protecting the tribe were all too familiar. Sioux.
And the high pitch was Hothlepoya‘s trademark.
Penelope squirmed in her arms, and in that instant, Woape
turned to one of her aunts. Take her. If he finds me, he won‘t
know she‘s mine.
You‘re not going out there to him, Julia insisted.
No, but I can‘t risk my daughter‘s life, she replied.
An old man hurried over to them. There‘s a good twenty
of them. Go to the main lodge. The men can‘t keep the invaders
back much longer.
Her aunts and Erin obeyed but Woape noticed that Julia
stayed behind with her. What are you doing?
Julia watched as the women met up with the other
women, children and elderly who were assembling into the lodge
where their chances for safety were better. Julia looked over her
shoulder and darted to the stall which held the horses. She picked
up a bow and arrow that had fallen to the floor. Julia glanced at
Woape. I handed you over to him before. I won‘t do that
You don‘t know how bad things can get with
Maybe not. I have an idea though, and that counts for
You should hide.
I was going to tell you the same thing. He‘s coming for
you, not me.
We both hide.
While Julia ran to huddle behind the edge of the stall,
Woape found a new buffalo hide hanging along the wall. She
couldn‘t hide under a bed. Hothlepoya found her there once, so
he‘d look there first. The area was dark but she worried he‘d
detect her figure. Maybe if she held her breath and stayed still,
he‘d scan her over and miss her.
She closed her eyes and focused on slowing her breathing.
The lodge muffled most of the war cries, but she could envision it
vividly in her mind. Arrows and spears reaching their mark and
wounding or killing the intended victims. The invaders taking
enough time to scalp the fallen before they moved onto their next
prey. The less able-bodied men surrounding the entrance of the
central lodge, ready to defend those inside.
Even if Hothlepoya made it a habit of invading every tribe
he came across, she couldn‘t help but think this particular night
was her fault. She never should have run away. She‘d brought
too much destruction upon others through her careless actions. If
she could go back… But then, what of Gary and Penelope?
Ruth Ann Nordin
Someone stepped into the lodge. Woape tensed and held
her breath. The person moved slowly. From where she stood,
she could only see through a thin opening where the hide rested
against the wall. And that didn‘t show her anything except a trace
of moonlight shining through the hole in the ceiling.
The person didn‘t say anything as he checked the divided
rooms. His movements were purposeful and quiet—a classic
Hothlepoya technique. He could search while hearing everything
that happened in the lodge, and he must have suspected that
someone was hiding. The buffalo hoofs rattled from the door as
he departed from another empty bedroom. He was close to the
horse which neighed.
A fine horse, he mumbled. A good prize.
The door to the stall opened and the horse departed from
Akash, he called out. Take this animal. Mark it as
Yes, Hothlepoya, the man replied as he ran into the
Take it to the other horses when you‘re done.
Yes. Then he took the horse out of the lodge.
A moment of dreaded silence passed before a low chuckle
rose from Hothlepoya‘s throat. What do we have here?
Woape recognized Julia‘s startled gasp. She dared a peak
around the edge of the hide and saw Hothlepoya snatch the bow
and arrow from Julia and toss them aside.
He leaned forward and lifted her by the throat so that her
feet couldn‘t touch the ground. White woman, he snarled.
Julia dug her fingernails into his wrist and kicked at him,
but he tightened his hold on her neck.
Behave, he warned in a cold voice. I did not come for
a filthy white woman. I came for Woape. Where is she?
She struggled to breathe so the muscles in his hand
relaxed. After a cough, she squeaked out, I don‘t know.
You lie. Then he threw her to the ground.
She tumbled toward the center of the lodge and coughed.
When Woape saw him pull out the axe hanging around his
waist and approach Julia, she decided this had gone far enough.
She refused to let someone else die because of her. Don‘t!
Even though her voice shook, it rang clear in the lodge.
Hothlepoya stopped and glanced over his shoulder.
With a hard swallow, Woape emerged from her hiding
place, feeling small and weak. The week she‘d spent with him
came rushing back to her. The whip and rope… The dread she
felt that night he chose to have her go to his teepee… Foraging
for food without being able to rest… The time she‘d spent with
Gary had eased those painful memories which now came crashing
down on her like a heavy weight.
Where‘s the child? he demanded in a low voice.
Taking a deep breath, she said, There is no child.
He neared her and she instinctively stepped back, but he
reached out and grabbed her by the arm. Don‘t play games with
me. I saw that you were carrying a child before you escaped on
Despite her trembling, she shook her head. The child
didn‘t make it. He died in childbirth.
He narrowed his eyes at her as if studying her for any sign
that she might be lying. Then he slowly scanned the
circumference of the lodge.
Julia sat on the floor further from where she had landed
and watched them. Under her skirt was something she was trying
Woape‘s gaze focused in on the edge of the bow. She
could only guess that an arrow was behind Julia‘s back. Before
Hothlepoya looked in Julia‘s direction, Woape said, He is not
here! A baby will not stay silent for this long.
Ruth Ann Nordin
As she hoped, that got his attention.
He tightened his hold on her, making her grit her teeth. I
saw the baby items by your bed.
That‘s not my bed, she lied, wincing as he applied more
pressure. Her arm started to go numb. That is my sister‘s child.
You lie! He grabbed her other arm and shook her. No
women were with child when I came here before. I thought you
had learned by now that it‘s dangerous to lie to me. He released
one of her arms and drew back his hand to slap her when he
It took her a moment to realize he wasn‘t going to strike
her after all. Trembling, she lifted her eyes to his and saw the life
force in them fading. Then he crumpled to the floor on his side.
Gasping for breath, Woape glanced from the arrow sticking out of
his back and to Julia who stood with the bow in her hand,
standing there as if she expected him to jump back up. But he
didn‘t, and he wouldn‘t.
Woape‘s eyes met Julia‘s. He‘s dead. Even as she said it,
tears of relief sprang to her eyes. Hothlepoya was dead! He
would no longer be a threat to her or her child.
I…I can‘t believe I actually did it, Julia stammered, her
eyes still wide with shock.
Woape gingerly walked over his body and ran up to Julia
so she could hug her. Thank you, she whispered, blinking as
more tears found their way down her cheeks. Thank you.
Julia returned her hug.
Gary rushed into the lodge, out of breath but looking
happy. We won! They‘re retreating. He stopped when he
reached them. Am I dreaming?
Woape laughed and released Julia. Your sister protected
me and killed Hothlepoya. She pointed to the Sioux‘s dead body.
It was a lucky shot, Julia said with a shrug.
Is that what you call =lucky‘? Gary chuckled and shook
his head. Who knew that you had it in you to be a warrior?
She blushed. I wouldn‘t exactly call myself a warrior.
Woape smiled. A warrior does not have to be a man.
Those who risk their lives for the sake of others are warriors.
Cheers from outside the lodge interrupted them.
I think there will be a celebration tonight, Woape said.
She wouldn‘t have to worry about Hothlepoya anymore. Now,
they would burn his body and put to rest all the bad memories
associated with him. And finally, she didn‘t have to live with that
lingering fear that had haunted her for the past year.
Gary wrapped one arm around Woape‘s shoulders and the
other around Julia‘s shoulders. Let‘s tell them we got
Hothlepoya in here. And, he added, looking at his sister, I‘m
sure they‘ll want to give you something for killing him. There‘ll be
no hiding from this celebration, no matter how loud things get.
Julia seemed uneasy, so Woape said, I‘m surprised that
worries you when you can kill a Sioux.
Well, Julia began, it was just you and me.
Gary rolled his eyes but grinned. Julia‘s never been much
for a crowd. Even if that‘s the case, you deserve to receive your
very first feather.
In good spirits, Woape joined them and left the lodge to
enjoy the rest of the celebration.
Woape watched as Julia tucked her feather into her travel bag
which rested on the bed. Chogan will miss you, she softly said.
She glanced away before she picked up the bag. I‘ll miss
So, you will not stay?
She shook her head.
There didn‘t seem to be anything left to say on that
matter, so Woape left it alone. Instead, she approached Julia. I‘d
like to give you this. She opened her hand and showed her sister-
Ruth Ann Nordin
in-law the necklace. In my culture, glass beads are highly
esteemed. I made this for you to represent our friendship.
A smile spread across Julia‘s face as she took it. Thank
you. It‘s beautiful.
Let me put it on.
Julia handed it back to her and turned so Woape could
fasten it around her neck. It is custom among my people that a
father who is proud of his daughter will take an ornament made of
these beads and have the medicine man place them in her hair
until she‘s given in marriage. Then it is removed. She finished
the task and waited for Julia to face her before she continued. I
thought I‘d make my own custom for you. I‘m happy to have you
as my friend, and it is my prayer you find love.
Thank you, Woape. It‘s lovely. She touched her
You are always welcome here.
And you are always welcome in my home.
The women smiled at each other before they departed
from the small bedroom. Erin held Penelope and talked to Gary.
As soon as they approached the entrance, Erin handed Penelope
back to Woape.
Are you sure you don‘t want me to take you two back
home? Gary asked Erin.
No, she replied. That buggy is worn out from the trek
down here. Besides, we were due for a new one anyway. A ride
to the train station is all we need.
He shrugged. Alright. It‘s up to you.
They departed for the buggy that was ready for them, and
Woape‘s father walked up to them and handed Erin a rolled up
package of food. For the trip, he explained.
One by one, the people surrounded them to wish Erin and
Julia a safe trip back. All but one. Woape noticed Chogan
standing off to the side, just watching everything—and probably
wondering if he made the right choice.
Maybe it was superstitious on her part, but Woape had
taken some of those beads from Chogan‘s mother , thinking
maybe it would somehow bring him and Julia back together
someday. But that day was not today, and Woape didn‘t put her
faith into wishful thinking so who knew what the future would
Woape turned her attention to Erin and gave her a hug.
I‘m glad Gary found you, Erin whispered. A good
woman is a blessing to a man. She released her and dabbed her
eyes with a handkerchief. It was good to come here and see
where you grew up. She chuckled at Penelope and ta pped the
baby‘s nose. And you be good to your parents. Don‘t give them
a hard time.
Woape laughed, even as tears came to her own eyes. It
seemed that she‘d done a lot of crying over the past year, but it
was nice to have tears of joy. We‘ll see each other again, Erin.
Of course, we will. She patted Woape on the shoulder
and got into the buggy with Julia.
Gary came over to Woape and gave her a kiss. I‘ll be
back soon, my shadow.
You better, she replied.
Oh, I will. You should know by now that I‘d defy even
death itself to be with you. He leaned forward and gave
Penelope a kiss on the forehead before he went to the buggy.
The sight of him squeezing into the buggy with his aunt
and sister made her laugh. It definitely wasn‘t meant to seat three
adults, but they‘d manage for the short trip to town.
Woape joined the others in waving as Gary picked up the
reins and the horses moved forward.
Your father will be back, she whispered. He‘ll be
As soon as the buggy was out of sight, Woape turned to
join her sister in handling the chores for the day.
cover made by Bonnie Steffens
When Julia Milton refused to stay at the Mandan tribe to
be Chogan‘s wife, she assumed that was the last she‘d
see of him. After moving to Bismarck with her aunt, she
meets up with Ernest Freeman who had once asked her
to marry him. Just when she decides to see what could
have been with him, Chogan comes back into her life.
But will she choose the safe and familiar world or go
where her heart leads?
Also Coming 2011
Bound By Honor,
Bound By Love
cover made by Bonnie Steffens
The day Onawa eagerly anticipated has finally come.
She is to be Citlali‘s wife. But in the back of her mind,
she worries that he wishes she were her older sister
instead. Will her marriage be one of duty or see the
fruits of love?
Or you can read both stories as I write their first drafts
on my WordPress blog at