The blizzard raged across the mesa, and down into the valley. Brittle bushes and mesquite
frosted over. Ice spread on the carcass of a young prairie dog. The cold had frozen the
present and, in the dead stillness, yesterday's specters moved in the snow. The painted
faces of great chieftains, like ancient trees felled; children and womenfolk, spared no kinder fate.
* * *
Hanska raised a hand to greet them, but they had vanished, all of them.
Snow settled on his buffalo headdress and robes. Fierce though the storm was, he did not fear
it; the land was angry, but this anger would pass. He rode not, but walked alongside Wana; he
would not burden her in such conditions. Winter clung to every crevice of his face, yet he felt
no chill, his skin tougher than elk hide. Some flesh withered with age; some hardened. The weather
could not defeat him.
Yards ahead, a horse lay dead in a small drift. Its rider sat nearby, embracing himself. When he
saw Hanska, he struggled to his feet and pointed a pistol at him."Damn nag gave up on me."
Hanska nodded, assessing the white man. "Yes. Too tired."
"Not tired, you dumb old Injun. Dead." He spat on the beast's corpse. "Couldn't cross a field
without givin' up." The white man leered at him, yellow teeth between thin, blue lips. "You look
mad as a hornet. What is it?"
"Horses are wakan," said Hanska.
"I don't speak red nigger tongue, but on account of y'all bein' horse fuckers, I reckon that you
love horses. That right?" He waggled his pistol at him. "Well, don't you worry—I love horses,
too. Matter of fact, I love your horse. Hand over those reins. Now."
The pistol shook in his frostbitten fingers. Poor aim. But Hanska always hit true. A gunshot cracked
the air, its bullet wasted. The white man fell down, his brain rushing out to meet the snow; Hanska
pulled the feathered tomahawk from his skull, and cleaned it.
Desperation and hatred, as they must, had led the white man to a sad fate. Sad, yes, but not without
purpose. The carrion would feed, and know another day. Life and death, a circle. Hanska looked to the
skies. Dark, clogged, no sun. He guided Wana onward.
On the sixth day, the blizzard thinned, and the reddened siltstone of the valley floor resurfaced. Shrubbery
breathed again, birds took flight. Kestrels, an eagle, even a skein of Canada geese. A thin bobcat shepherded
three cubs northward to learn the way of the hunt.
Hanska smiled. The land was a woman: it could warm the heart as well as it could throw storms. Better than
to be a man, he mused, or an end would never be seen to storms. Soon, he would reach the Great River,
which he then must cross. It was time to do so.
He continued on, each dusted footprint an important step in a long, long journey. His faded deerskin
moccasins stuck like lichen to the weathered rocks that were his feet.
After two leagues, strange structures appeared on either side of him. Big towers that seemed to drink from
the earth. Wana in tow, he passed under their lasting shadows, disturbed by their din. Ahead sat a town,
in between two vast buttes. Crimson Hooves beneath the Clouds. He remembered them, yes, but not the town.
The only way was through this new settlement. Wana pawed the ground, raking up dust and stones. One hand
on her flank, the other brushing the tangled hairs of her mane, Hanska whispered in her ear. A horse's mind
needed soothing, and often, for they saw much, and knew more. The last of the snow swirled around them while
she listened to his voice, her wide eyes filling with calm.
Hanska did not like towns. When a man entered a town, and stayed too long, it became his world. Townsmen
forgot about the land. Forgot about honor. Forgot about their own souls. Too busy picking at each other
like starving coyotes. No, he did not like towns. Most finished in flames. He walked along the street,
careful not to look at people, but still seeing everything. One's eyes must strike like lightning, was
his wisdom. Only dead men stare. In the mouth of a large barn, a Mexican man polished what looked like a
metal wagon. He offered Hanska a slight nod, but said nothing. Further on, two white womenfolk sat on a
porch, bug-eyed, nostrils flared, watching him pass, but they, too, said nothing. Hanska, no fool, did
not hope for such silence to hold.
Four white men emerged from the livery and stood in front of him. Young, rough, unclean. Maybe ranch hands,
maybe drifters. Hard faces. Faces that did not value silence.
The shortest of their number spoke first. A small leader for small men, thought Hanska. "Howdy."
Hanska nodded to him, his eyes at work. All four were armed, two guns to a man.
"I said, howdy."
"Maybe he don't take to that kind of salutation, Charlie," said the man on the far right.
"Or maybe," said the man called Charlie, "his horse kicked his brains out when he was lickin' its ass." He
turned to Wana. "Howdy, horse—or good afternoon, if you do prefer." The men let out rabid howls.
"She says good afternoon," said Hanska. More howls.
Their leader grinned. "What you doin' here?"
"Careful, Injun," said another man.
"Why, now, Billy Boy, there ain't no cause to threaten the gentleman. Alright, so you're walkin'—but where you walkin' to?"
Small leader Charlie laughed. "You're a funny old redskin, and your horse is real polite. But . . . well,
you did come on in here uninvited, and that was bad manners."
One man, no matter the man, Hanska could defeat. Four, no. The many always won.
"Could git you your head blown off, buffalo balls," a bald man told him.
"Business before bullets, Skinner," said Charlie, "bein' that we're the civilized ones here. We'll make
you a deal. I sure liked how that horse of yours returned my salutation, so you give it here, and you can
go . . . on."
Hanska shook his head.
"No? Your right of passage for a horse, and you're tellin' me no?"
"She is one of the first."
"I took her from the yellow men. We are bound."
"He talkin' about Spaniards, Charlie?"
"I do believe he is, Billy Boy. One of the first . . . " He ran a hand through his
greased hair. "You're tellin' me that you and your goddamn mare are from 1600 or whatever the hell
year those spiggoty sons of bitches came on over here with their horses—that right?"
"We are bound," Hanska repeated.
Charlie frowned. "See, I thought you were funny, Injun. Now, I just think you're plain crazy."
His hand dangled beside his holster. Children were called inside. People shut their doors and windows. "Last chance, chief."
Hanska sighed, and pressed his head against Wana's muzzle. He kissed her.
"That's right, chief, say bye. Let's see if she's as good at her farewells."
He turned around, stared at each man in turn, and said: "You have taken enough." The tomahawk flashed through the air,
quicker than any gun. Wana's death was swift, painless.
Seconds too late, the white men's bullets punched red holes in him. Hanska fell to the ground, where he lay, and died.
He did so without a sound.
He had valued silence.
The townsfolk buried the native and his horse in the same hole, near the cemetery. Some were of the opinion that the
killing cast a poor reflection on the town—that these were modern times—but most considered it an
unfortunate necessity. One woman said that you would shoot a stray wolf on the street, because you could not rightly
fathom such a creature and its intentions. Same with an Injun, she reckoned. Charlie and his boys had just been
guarding the hearth. The Justice of the Peace agreed, and acquitted the four of them.
Two weeks later, the blizzard returned. Temperatures plummeted past minus thirty-three Fahrenheit. Snow rose to men's
thighs. Trade became irregular, and folks had to ration. Young and old succumbed to pneumonia. The wind tore the
livery doors off their hinges and set the frantic horses bolting toward uncertain destinies. As winter persisted,
families barricaded themselves in their homes and prayed for its end. The blizzard did go, but it took its time, and
countless more perished.
Those who survived, and later sought a new settlement far from there, remembered that final night like no other. The
snow fell faster and thicker than before. And it was then, the survivors claimed, that they appeared.
Dark haired children and women, men with painted faces, moving out there in the storm. Among them, clearer than the
others, an old man in buffalo furs who walked alongside the most beautiful horse they had ever seen.
Come morning, the blizzard, and the figures, were gone.