Her light-brown eyes looked upon him with slight annoyance, as a mother upset with a child. Looking to be only a couple of years younger than the Marshal, she carried herself as one who was all too familiar with the situation presented to her.
"So, did Marshal Cross do what he is best at?" she asked satirically, as she leaned over Lancelot Cross to look at his wound and feel around it. She always could find a way to make him feel stupid for his life decisions—something very few could do. There was a reason he didn't want to see her, after all.
"It appears that he did," Speaks with Hawks answered. "He has kept quiet about what happened when he went to Eagle's View."
"So, this is what it takes to quiet him?" Running Dove smiled.
"And what am I best at?" the Marshal groaned.
"That didn't last long. Help me take his coat and shirt off," Running Dove said, in a manner that told him she was not going to listen to whatever he had to say. The Marshal sat up, slipping off his coat and doing his best to remove his shirt through his pain.
"Lance, stop fidgeting and let me and Speaks with Hawks remove it! You won't be able to remove your shirt on your own, so stop trying!" Running Dove scolded him.
"Just let me get the buttons and—" he said with the pride of a damaged man.
"No. Stop being stubborn for a moment!" she shouted, despite her eyes asking him gently.
She moved behind him, examining the wound carefully as she lightly ran her fingers over and around it. There was no gentleness in their touch, just a calculated, focused search for what would come next.
"Ahh!" he shouted as he felt something sharp graze inside him, burrowing its way into his damaged flesh. With each turn of whatever instrument was inside him, slowly prying out the bullet, he felt a faint, yet still extraordinarily noticeable, increase in pain that caused him to growl like a wolf.
"Please . . . hand me my flask," he demanded through a grunt.
"You will have your poor excuse for medicine when I'm done with you," Running Dove answered sharply, her tone masking budding aggravation. He rolled his eyes, holding back his thoughts about the situation.
"Urgh!" He suddenly felt a massive pain explode from his shoulder, a pain that stretched to his temples and ended at his toes. He was still reeling from the bullet's removal as Running Dove's delicate hand became visible to him as she started to wrap a bandage around his shoulder. Speaks with Hawks handed him his flask, signifying to him that the procedure was over.
"So, how did it go?" Speaks with Hawks asked. "Clearly you got shot for a reason."
The Marshal was contemplating his answers as Running Dove tightened his bandage, ironically not as bitterly as he feared.
"I attempted peaceful resolution," he said through a sigh and grunt combined. "I didn't kill any of them, though. Would have been easier, I tell you what. Though, I learned that the man who raped Little Water is named Silas. And what's more, he is the Sheriff's deputy. Seein' as they shot me, I don't think that they're gonna hang him."
"What! Why didn't you kill him, then?" Speaks with Hawks voice turned to ice. Running Dove remained silent as she helped the Marshal get his shirt back on.
"It's bad business for a lawman to kill other lawmen, even the bad ones. I scared them right good, though. By not killing them, I've put the fear of god into them. They now know that you are under my protection, and should think twice before they harm your people."
Speaks with Hawks glared at him. "Lance, your idealism is beautiful, but naïve. They will seek vengeance for you hurting their pride, but they will not place that vengeance on you—they will place it on us. I must go and meet this Sheriff before he makes it to the rest of the tribe. I've trusted your judgement in the past, but not in this matter. I knew we should have taken care of this ourselves." Speaks with Hawks moved towards his horse, the drums of war beating in his heart.
"Speaks with Hawks, listen. Don't do this," the Marshal said as he rose to his feet with grim determination. "That Sheriff, that town, they see you as nothing more than savages. They are eager to hunt you. You are better than they are, so don't give them provocation. Go to your people and defend them if you must, but don't seek war with the town. If you attack them, you are risking so much more."
"I don't expect you to understand, Lance. The town has already declared war on us. You may have been as a brother to me long ago, but Little Water deserves justice, justice which you failed to give. So, we shall get it on our own. Come, Running Dove. You should head back and warn the others."
"I will stay for a moment," she said with quiet strength. He silently gazed at her for a moment, upset at her defiance.
"I understand. Just say what you need to and get back as soon as possible," Speaks with Hawks said coldly.
He turned and shouted at his men in their native tongue, and within in a minute they were gone. The old man of the party looked upon the Marshal with bitter disdain, the sense of betrayal in the lines of his face more frightening than the blood-red war paint under his eyes. He was the last to leave and soon caught up to Speaks with Hawks.
The Marshal sighed again, upset with himself for not stopping Speaks with Hawks—another failing to add to the day's tally. He had started a war today by trying to keep the peace.
"Is there any chance that you can you talk some sense into him, before he heads to town? That's where I'm guessin' he's headed."
"That is where he is most likely headed, yes. But no, you were the one who could talk him into anything when we were younger, you know that." She shook her head, a tragic smile of lost youth on her lips.
"Why didn't you kill the sheriff and his deputies?" she asked, her nostalgia quickly washing away to the reality of the present. "I know that you have shot men for less."
The Marshal cringed, having to answer to the most ultimate form of jury he could. "Because, I . . . felt obligated to try to give the law, such as it is, a chance," he stated as he moved over to Foxcatcher, putting on a shirt with less bloodstains. He grunted with every movement of his left shoulder, his eyes telling Running Dove not to help him. "Speaks with Hawks is right. I believed that the sheriff would do his job, as I do mine. I was very, very wrong—and naive. Especially when I found out Silas was a deputy. I wanted to avoid a bloodbath, worried that killing them when only incite violence against y'all. Instead, I only created the grounds for more. Now, I have very few options. Either I stop the sheriff and his deputies, or I stop your brother."
She looked at him with softness for the first time in many years, reading his heart as he fumbled with the buttons on his shirt. Even after him leaving three years ago, she held out more hope for him than he did for himself. She also knew this would be the last time she saw him for a few more. She moved to him gracefully, and placed her hand on his, soothing his restlessness, if only for a moment. His eyes met hers as she smiled warmly and took over the task of buttoning his shirt.
"You are a strange man, Lance Cross. And a stubborn one. So, who are you going to try to stop—my brother, or the sheriff?" she asked him as she finished with his shirt. "And yes, I hope no harm comes to my brother, before you ask."
He pulled out another, even more warn-out coat that he draped quickly upon himself, with more effort than he was willing to show. He moved over to the tree, picking up his damaged coat, which he stuffed with frustration into his saddlebags. She watched him intently, knowing he couldn't keep himself quiet for much longer. He stopped and met her eyes. He brought her close and kissed her forehead.
"To answer your question, I'm going to stop the one that I can," he said as he looked in the direction Speaks with Hawks had rode in, searching the skies for the bird that always seemed to follow his old friend. He slowly turned to her, a powerful affection in his eyes.
"I know I haven't said this often enough, Dove, so I will damn sure say it now. Thank you." He then spurred Foxcatcher, riding with the power of the wind towards the valley.
She bowed her head, and uttered a prayer of peace, her heart heavy with the grief only loved ones can bring.
The Marshal looked over the valley that was only a mile or two from the clump of trees where his shoulder had been dressed at. He was high on top of a ridge overlooking the wide, green pass between two hills, with the ability to shoot anyone that passed through. The sun was finally making its way home in the west, the crickets and cicadas awakening for their nightly prowl with a song. The long blades of grass danced gracefully in the winds coming from the east. He was hunched over the back of Foxcatcher slightly, his shoulder still the source of a copious amount of pain. He reached back to his saddlebag, and pulled out his flask. A swig of whiskey was all he had for the pain, so he took the medicine gratefully. He tried to keep his weary eyes peeled, hoping that he'd made the correct assessment of the direction of travel for both parties. Both were likely expecting an ambush, but neither were expecting it to be him.
The sound of the wind was soft and continuous, the kind that was easy to ignore or fall asleep to. The downside, however, was that it made it all the harder to hear anything moving through the valley, namely horses and men. In his weakened, painful state, this was more effort on the Marshal's part to focus than he wanted. He looked towards the northwest entrance to the valley, the direction that the town of Eagle's View laid in. He shifted his eyes towards the east as well, to the land of the Comanche. Halfway between the most likely route that both would take to meet each other, or so he hoped. He then scanned the vicinity immediately in front of him—small, grassy areas punctuated by breaks of large rocks that were easy to seek cover behind.
He pulled out his Peacemaker and checked to make sure that all six rounds were loaded. He grunted to himself as he put two .45 rounds in, replacing it back with rough care into his even rougher holster. He then pulled out his lever-action Winchester and checked to make sure that it too was fully loaded. He put the rifle back in its saddle-holster and took off his dark-gray, flat-billed hat to wipe his brow.
Dammit, Dove, he thought to himself. Why are these the only circumstances that I allow myself to see you under? Before she answered him in his mind, he heard something else: the violent rumble of horses. He looked to see which direction that it came from, hoping to catch a dust trail. He scanned the area and saw dust being kicked up from the west. Good.
As quickly as he could, he dismounted Foxcatcher and pulled the Winchester from its holster. He hit Foxcatcher's rear, and the horse ran off in the direction from which it came. The Marshal ran to a nearby rock and took cover behind it. As he pulled up the sights, he took stock of those who entered.
The sheriff led a posse of eleven into the valley, Silas amongst them. He wore the wild grin of madman let loose upon the world, eager for blood. If there was any doubt in the Marshal's mind as to his guilt, the savage grin convinced him otherwise. The other lawmen had eager looks on their faces as well; years of pent-up hatred towards the Comanche now close to having a sanctioned release.
The Marshal had shortened time to make his move. He fired a shot in the air to get their attention then quickly moved to another rock before anyone could spy where the shot had come from. The posse scattered for a moment upon hearing the shot, then stopped. Their eyes scanned both sides of the valley, weapons drawn. This was not only the least safe way to handle an ambush, it was also the exact thing the Marshal hoped for. He aimed his sights right at the sheriff.
"Sheriff Smith!" he shouted. "I highly suggest that you and your boys turn around! If you go any further, this won't end pretty. I can't promise you what will happen if your ride back home, but I can if you ride into Comanche territory."
The sheriff looked at one of his deputies. "I thought you said you got him!" The deputy shook his head in disbelief.
"You should be dead, Cross!" his bitter, gruff voice echoed across the valley.
"I got better!" the Marshal shouted back. "You should really teach your men to be better shots, Sheriff."
"Sonofa . . . " the sheriff said to himself.
"Why don't you come out o' wherever you're hidin' and we can give them the practice they need. How about that?"
"Temptin' offer, but they ain't my responsibility. Now, how about you reconsider mine?"
Silas' mad smile quivered with sick anticipation. His brown eyes eagerly looked to the sheriff.
"Cross, I'm tired of your games! I'm sick of your mouth and all the—"
"Is that Silas?" the marshal interrupted him. "Haven't heard you talk in a while. Gotta say, I liked you more with the gag in your mouth."
The sheriff shot an angry look at Silas, and then his posse. "He might be tryin' to hold out for some of help or somethin'. Spread out and find 'im!"
The posse began to fan out, searching with vigor. The Marshal, sensing their growing bloodlust, picked up a rock.
"Sorry you feel that way, Sheriff. Coulda ended this right here peacefully." He threw the rock at another nearby boulder, which created a massive clank.
The sheriff and his deputies all started firing on the rock, just as the Marshal had hoped. He got up, quickly aiming at the chest of one of the deputies. He shot his target, and instantly recocked his Winchester, shooting his next before the man could move his weapon. The Marshal then ran three steps, and dived, the impact ringing through his shoulder. Dove would love seeing me undo her work, he thought with a grunt as he crawled to another rock.
"He's over there!" The sheriff pointed to the cloud of smoke where the Marshal had fired the shots from. Good, he thought to himself. They don't know where I'm at.
The Marshal pulled himself up behind the boulder, moving to its western side, out of the posse's sight. He looked around the corner, cocking his Winchester. Two of the deputies were now close to his first firing position. The other seven men were slowly moving in his direction as well, but they were not the immediate threat the other two posed. He let out a breath of air as he put down his Winchester and pulled out his Peacemaker. He wanted to save the rifle's bullets for his enemies that were at a longer range. Plus, the Peacemaker would be a quicker fire for the two, closer targets.
He turned the corner of the rock, pulling his hammer and then his trigger in one fluid motion, felling his first target. He used the kick of his Colt to line up his next shot, and repeated the same motion on the second target.
The man fell from his horse, striking the earth with a cold, impassionate thud. The Marshal holstered his Peacemaker and picked up the Winchester. The seven other targets knew his location now, and there was no trickery he could use to give himself any kind of advantage.
Bullets began to ricochet off the rock he was hiding behind, the rumble of the horses' hooves moving in on him. He turned the corner to see three deputies charging his location, intent upon violent action. Each had six shooters aimed right at him. He aimed at the closest and fired. The man fell off his horse—right into the legs of the horse to his left.
The beast buckled, falling over itself. Its rider was flung powerfully forward, letting out a scream cut short as his mouth smashed right into a rock. The Marshal would have been impressed with his handiwork had it not been for the bullet that sang past his right ear. He then took out the final rider headed his way, before resuming station behind the rock again.
He breathed in the overwhelming stench of gunpowder, which, oddly enough, kept his nerves at bay. His shoulder pain was now only an echo of its former self in all the excitement, and was going to remain that way until either he or his targets were dead.
He had four more, including the Sheriff and Silas—sixteen bullets, no more tricks, and possibly no more luck. My luck most likely got all used up on the horse that I flipped. He smiled to himself as he finally had a chance to admire his handiwork.
Well, time to take a bullet or five, he thought as he prepared his Winchester once again. He took a deep breath as he rose to his knees, then took one more draw of air as he rounded the corner.
He aimed his Winchester at one of the remaining deputies' neck, and pulled the trigger. The man fell to the ground quickly, his life ended in an instant. The Marshal quickly looked for another target, but found the three other riders on the other side of the valley—taking shots elsewhere.
He stood up cautiously, not willing to give up his one piece of cover so easily. He realized that when the bullets flew towards him, he may have missed something—the sound of the low roar that was the Comanche descending upon the valley. There were nine of them in total; some armed with Winchesters themselves, some spears and tomahawks. All, however, were armed with burning hatred for the sheriff and his deputies.
They were swarming the three men, who found out too late that they were in no position to flee. They tried to head back the way they came, but were quickly enveloped. The Marshal knew what was coming next.
He whistled to Foxcatcher, who ran up to him swiftly. He holstered the Winchester, mounted his horse, and cantered to the surrounded lawmen. The Comanche were going to be twitchy, and he didn't want them to mistake him for another one of the deputies.
"Speaks with Hawks!" he shouted calmly from his stomach. "If you could speak with me before you do whatever it is you're about to do, maybe I can convince you why you shouldn't."
The four Comanche still on their horses turned to him with annoyance. Three were restraining the surviving deputies in the middle of the circle. Speaks with Hawks moved towards him with an angry swagger, a tomahawk in his right hand.
"What is it that you want, Lance?" Speaks with Hawks questioned in vexed rage.
The sound of a blunt object slicing through flesh followed by the sound of a man choking on his own blood interrupted them.
"Dancing Tree!" the Marshal shouted. "Speaks with Hawks, please stop him now!" Speaks with Hawks rolled his eyes then turned his head. He shouted in his native tongue, and forward walked the angry old Comanche.
Blood covered his tomahawk and arm, with a heavy splattering of it running the length of his right side, from his brow to the knee of his paints; his eyes dark eyes were on fire and his eyebrows furrowed. His lips were locked, straining under the pressure of the violent obscenities he wanted to shout. The quivering bodies of the sheriff, Silas, and the lifeless body of the other deputy—the one who successfully shot him—silently pleaded. The Marshal locked eyes with Dancing Tree for a moment, an understanding between the two men communicated. The Marshal then moved his eyes to the sheriff.
"Now, Sheriff. I've got a question for you. How should we handle this? You and your deputies have shot a federal agent and attempted to kill him. This is also after one of your deputies—Silas—also violated a federal treaty with the Comanche. If you were in my boots, how'd you handle this?"
"Are you actually askin' for my opinion, or are you just bein' an ass, Cross?" the sheriff asked defiantly, still on his knees, his peppered hair disheveled. Speaks with Hawks had a look of outrage.
"Yes, Lance. Why are you leaving it up to him? He deserves nothing less than death."
The sheriff shot Speaks with Hawks a violent look. The Marshal kept his poise, and answered him calmly.
"All in all, Sheriff, I want to see what your answer is. Speaks with Hawks is most correct. You are looking at death, most likely. But, if you can give me a reason to let you live, you may just leave this valley alive."
"Same for me?" Silas asked with a nonsensical optimism.
"Depends upon the Sheriff. What do you purpose we do with Silas, Sheriff? He is your deputy. This is your last chance to make a wise decision."
Silas' brown eyes pleaded with his boss, begging for mercy. The sheriff nodded slightly.
"You kill both of us, Cross, and you leave Eagle's View without a sheriff or any deputies. So, one of us has to go free, unless you want Eagle's View to be without law."
"You're headin' in the right direction, Sheriff. That bein' said, Eagle's View only needs one sheriff. But, both of you are criminals in the eyes of the law. Even so, I'm feelin' like lettin' one of you go free to be the sheriff of this town. The other, well, the other will be hanged. Or do you have another proposition?"
The Comanche were angered by this statement, and Speaks with Hawks raised his hand to quiet them. He turned back his friend, curious as to where the Marshal was going with this.
"That's mighty generous of you, Cross. But I have another idea. I stay Sheriff, and you release Silas to me? I promise he will be punished."
The Marshal rubbed his chin for a moment, thinking it over. "So, you wouldn't hang him?"
"He made a stupid error, not one that deserves hangin'. But I ain't got any use for him, and he's caused me more trouble than he's worth. He won't be a deputy anymore and he's gonna be punished severely."
The Marshal's brows narrowed. "Is that your final proposition? Also, are you seriously simple enough to . . . well, make that proposition in front of him?" He pointed to Dancing Tree. "I mean, how would you feel if the man who raped your daughter got anythin' less than death?"
"It's . . . it's the fairest one that I can think of," the sheriff answered with a growing reluctance.
The Marshal locked eyes with Speaks with Hawks, and shook his head as looked back at the sheriff.
"No, sir. That's it. I'm done with this," the Marshal said. "I gave you a chance to go about this sensibly and you chose not to. You've forgone upholding the letter and rule of the law."
"What does that mean?" the sheriff asked, his indignation giving way to nervousness.
"Yeah . . . yeah . . . what do you mean, Marshal?" Silas asked, fear coloring his voice and eyes.
"Meanin' . . . " He paused, wiping his forehead a little bit more dramatically than the situation called for. "The Sheriff's comin' with me, and you're stayin' here with the Comanche."
"You can't . . . you can't do this!" Silas shouted.
"That isn't legal, Cross," the sheriff stated.
The Marshal shrugged. "I tried the law in your town, Sheriff, and it didn't work out the way it was supposed to. Last time I tried to turn Silas over—well, here we are. Now that you have violated federal law, I'm gonna have to take you in on my own."
The sheriff smiled. "Oh, so you're gonna try to turn me over to the mayor?"
"No, I won't make that mistake either. I'm gonna see to it that you are punished to the full extent of the law—at the federal level. Such is my jurisdiction. Between breaking a treaty with the Comanche, and firing upon a Federal Law Officer, what do you think your punishment's gonna be?"
Speaks with Hawks smiled at the Marshal, who then nodded to Dancing Tree. He did not smile, but his eyes told the Marshal "Thank You."
Speaks with Hawks began to shout at the Comanche warriors, who then tied up the sheriff and Silas. The sheriff resisted with a stiff, defiant posture, whereas Silas resisted . . . loudly. The Marshal got down from his horse and walked over to Speaks with Hawks, placing a hand upon his shoulder.
"Tell Running Dove that she will see me again, and next time without any bullets in me," he said with a smile.
"You never fail to surprise me, Bleeding Fox," he said as he looked at the dead deputies throughout the valley.
"Didn't think that you would ever call me that again." The Marshal cocked his head. "That impressed?"
"No," Speaks with Hawks answered. "That grateful."
The two looked as the sheriff was loaded onto the back of Foxcatcher—the old gal grunting as she was once again burdened with extra weight.
"So, what do you think the chances are that I'm gonna get run out of town again?" Lance asked.
Speaks with Hawks laughed as the Marshal got on his horse. "We will remain nearby just in case."
"Just as well, I will still stand by my original statement. Next time I see Running Dove, I will not have a bullet in me. Ain't that right, Sheriff?" he asked with a pat to the back of the man now tied up on his horse. The sheriff didn't respond at all.
"Oh, you're not a talker like Silas. I think I can use some silence after all this commotion anyway. Speaks with Hawks," He tipped his hat. "Be well. I will see you again soon, under more peaceful circumstances."
"You're not a good liar, as I have told you. May the spirits of peace find you. At least when you let them find you."
The Marshal nodded sadly, and turned his horse. He rode into the growing night, leaving Silas to the judgement of the Comanche, and the sheriff to the judgment of the law.
Justice had been served as far as Marshal Lancelot Cross was concerned.