Part 3. Sorry!
Morning again. The sun had been up for a while when she woke from a sleep punctuated by the nightmares she could not ..no . would not hang on to into her waking. There was no-one in the cabin. She got up and went outside and sat on the veranda step where she had sat the night before. Her feet were still bad and her back was stiff but better. There were still bandages round her wrists but they were clean they must have been changed while she slept. She hadnt felt it. Not like THEM She would always know when they came in the night.
The three men from last night were still there and had been joined by a tall stranger. They were over by the corral again. The man dressed in black was riding a big black horse, trying to break it by the looks of it. Nathan looked round and, seeing the woman, came over.
Want some food? It aint great but it is the best Vin can do. He stepped into the cabin and returned with a plate of eggs and bread. I think you can manage this today. Leaving the plate near her on the step and walked back to the corral. Blue Eyes looked round at her from where he was standing. An easy laugh was coming from him as he watched his friend on the horse. His expression turned serious when he saw her. Chris was making hard work of breaking the horse kept falling off. His merriment at Chris turned to concern when he saw her, so pale and vulnerable.
Hope my cookins OK? It aint much but I was up first so I did the cookin!
So, Blue Eyes is called Vin. Nathan and Vin. The names didnt sound like ones shed heard before. Not THEM! Or An uneasy feeling came over her as a memory lingered just out of reach.
Cmon, Chris! They shouted. The man in black is Chris.
Their names - Nathan, Vin and Chris.
Cmon the mare! Shouted Vin and they all laughed.
Watch it, Vin! Chris looked up at what Vin had said just as the mare bucked harder, lost his balance and fell off. Unhurt but slightly ashamed he got up and went to mount the ornery horse again. By now the mare had been caught by Nathan and Vin and they had hold of her by the fence.
So the day wore on. The horse breaking carried on, punctuated by some cussin and breaks when they took a rest and when the mare got her breath back too! The other men trying their hand but the mare was not going to run out of energy before they did.
The big man had wandered over to her at the cabin. He looked into the distance as he approached not wanting her to feel uneasy. He just sat down on the chair where the man in black, Chris, had sat before.
The names Josiah, maam. Mighty pleased to meet you! He said, touching his hat with two fingers, without looking into her face.
The big man, Josiah! Nathan, Vin, Chris and, now, Josiah. The woman rolled the names round in her head. No feelings associated with them. She was sure she had not been around them before.
Josiah had decided that the only way to get her to talk to him was to talk nice and easy to her. Maybe if she knew who they were shed open up to them. Then theyd be able to do something like finding the people who did this to her.
So he talked and talked and talked. He told her about how theres seven of them protecting the town Four Corners, how theyd come together, for one dollar a day plus room and board. He told her how they had come together and how they stayed together.
Josiah found himself enjoying his role as storyteller. It felt good to recount what he knew of the lives of the men he cared about. It had a calming influence on him. His audience was so attentive and quiet he almost forgot she was there and started to tell his own story. He caught himself reliving his past and for a moment almost stopped as it became too painful.
The woman noticed his pain, saw tears well up in his eyes as he talked of his family but just sat watching this gentle giant of a man. He was tall and strong but with a tender heart. How could this man kill another with his bare hands?
She listened intently trying to learn as much as she could about these strangers. More names but no faces yet, JD and Ezra and Buck.
Josiah finally paused in his telling and sat without a word for a long time. She said nothing staring into the distance.
The men by the corral had given up for the day. The mare won and the men were tired, sore and defeated, for today at least. Mid afternoon, the man called Buck arrived with a woman, older than she. Nettie, they called her, had sat for a while but with nothing to say she muttered one word Sorry and went straight into the cabin and busied herself with the preparation of a meal which they all ate in the evening.
Nettie had brought with her some boots and clothes and gave them to the woman when she arrived. After staring for them for a while she tried the boots on. Her feet were a little swollen but she eased them on. That was better. The clothes were flowery and frilled and not to her liking.
Nettie brought out a plate of food and some water to the veranda and placed it beside the woman sitting there and went in again. The woman ate heartily. She didnt think she had been hungry but the food went down well. Gradually she felt sleepy again. Tiredness overcame her and she fell asleep where she sat. Nathan had put the sleeping draught in her food so she could get more rest, the rest she needed.
Later Vin went out and lifted the woman carefully and carried her into the cabin and onto the cot. Shed felt his strong arms lift her and looked up into the night sky seeing the moon as he carried her into the cabin. Moon. Thats the name. Moon.
Her gaze moved to those clear blue eyes and she opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Covering her with a blanket he was touched by her beauty and thought about how lucky Chris was to have a woman like Mary who cared about him. His thoughts were tinged with envy and yearning.
Shed almost spoken as hed carried her in. Hed paused waiting for a sound to come but nothing. Its OK. Take yer time. he said, Take yer time. She closed her eyes and slept.
He moved back to join the others by the fire. Theyd slept in the barn last night while Nathan looked after the woman. Tonight it was Vin who offered to stay with her.
Cmon you guys. I aint bin riding a buckin bronco all day! You need the rest! he teased his friends with a grin.
Thats because youre yella! joshed Nathan whod taken his turn on the mare. They all had, except Vin.
It was a brave man who called Vin Tanner yellow but Vin didnt mind it from these fellows.
I aint yella, just smart! Ill leave it to you to wear her down. he replied with a big grin.
They talked quietly for a while of the woman and the mare and standing up carefully, to ease their painful joints and bruises, Chris and Nathan went out to the barn, grateful and looking forward to a good nights sleep.
Buck had returned to town with Nettie. Shed taken one look at the young woman and felt a great well of pity and shame that one person could hurt another so bad. She had sat for a while in the afternoon with the woman but had not known what to say. Softly she just said Sorry and wiping a tear with her apron she had rushed inside where she felt less helpless to busy herself with some food. It was the best she could do for them all now. She would have liked to help more.
Poor thing. she said as Buck took her back. What do you think happened?
Sorry, Nettie but she aint said a word since she came to.
Part 4. The Mare
Next day. The woman woke late again feeling a little groggy. They must have put something in her food to put her to sleep. Her private demons had come again but by the light of day she could not recall them.
Vin had been aware of them though. Shed talked in her sleep, restless, crying and thrashing about fighting something someone off. She talked in her own language. Vin understood some of it, the rest was lost to him. He decided not to tell the others. What shed said was meant to be private and he wanted to save it for her. He went to her and stroked her hair just as he had the first night. It seemed to soothe her.
Maybe she cant talk Chris had said as they ate breakfast.
Vin just said, Maybe
Theyd gone out to the corral. They stood there a while. It had to be done. The mare was too good a horse not to break and ride. They argued jokingly over who was going to take the first turn this morning.
Vin was standing his ground. There aint no way you will get me up there! My mama didnt raise no fool. His smile left him as he recalled his childhood. Chris saw this and quickly added, Dont bet on it. Youve done some pretty stupid things in your life. Face it, Vin, its time you tried.
In the end Chris got on first and so the battle continued. The man and the mare, one against the other, neither giving way.
The woman rose, took a drink of water from the pitcher and looked down at her hands. Again new dressings had replaced the old during the night. Her body ached less as each day came and went. She needed to stretch herself today and see how far she could go. There was still the need on her to be somewhere else but she was not sure where to go. Chris had said she could stay to heal but that was going well and theyd want her to leave soon.
The sun was bright in her eyes as she went outside and it took a while for her to get accustomed to it. The noise from the corral caught her attention. The men were there again, watching and cheering as the great mare got the best of Chris . again!
As she approached he was getting back up on the horse. The others turned for a moment to look at her.
Mornin maam Josiah greeted her. She looked at him for a brief second and then dropped her eyes to the ground. Not yet he thought.
The woman settled herself resting her arms on the top spar, along the fence, out of arms reach from the men, watching the fun before them. Poor animal she thought.
At that very point in time things went wrong for horse and rider. As she reared one of her hind legs slipped on the loose earth and she fell sideways taking Chris to the ground heavily. His head hit the dirt with a dull sound and he lay there breathing heavily. All the men standing by the fence jumped over in unison to help their friend. They all rushed forward as the mare raised herself upright again and ran away. But the mare turned back with an angry look in her eye. Vengeance!
Vin was the first to see the mare but suddenly his view was obscured by the woman! She was standing between them and the horse.
Look out! was all he had time to say as his friends lifted Chris up. The horse was bearing down on the woman. He was holding Chriss legs and couldnt let go as Nathan and Josiah were pulling Chris towards the fence. They couldnt get him out the corral on their own. The woman stood her ground.
As they manhandled Chris to the side of the corral Vin was able to see her face. She was staring wide eyed at the beast with her head cocked. A kind of sideways look, straight into the eyes of the mare. The mare came forward suddenly stopping a few feet from the woman, towering over her.
They were held there for what seemed like an eternity. Glaring at each other. Eye met eye. It was a power struggle. The mare hoofed the ground and snorted. The woman took a step to the side to move herself between the men and the horse again. Her gaze did not move from that of the horse.
Sensing they were safe behind her, the woman edged to the corral fence and took a horse blanket hanging there. She walked steadily back to the centre of the corral, dragging the blanket behind her and continued to stare at the mare.
Chris was coming round and as his vision cleared he could see his friends looking into the corral. They had dragged him under the fence and were bending over him but their eyes were on the woman. There she was just standing there. They were doing nothing to stop her.
Hey, get out! Do something, Vin.!
Together Vin and the woman turned to look in Chriss direction. The woman glared at Chris a look that said Shut up! and turned back to the mare who by now had taken a step forward.
Ive seen this before whispered Vin, Just watch!
The woman moved to the left and flicked the blanket toward the horse. Her eyes, now, were looking away but still seeing the horse from the side. The horse shied at the blanket and moved to her left away from it. Again she flicked the blanket and again the horse shied but returned to face the woman who was trying to gain ground. On and on they moved trying to out-maneouvre each other and gain an advantage. Her eyes never left the mare yet not looking directly at her. The mare was confused. This was wrong. She was fighting for ground and losing. It seemed to go on forever.
She is acting like another horse, fighting for position in the herd said Vin quietly. A swift sideways glance from the woman told him shed heard and wanted him to keep quiet. He tried to look apologetic but she had already looked away.
Slowly the mares breathing became less rushed, she snorted noisily and her hoof pawed the ground. Shes beaten she thought. Shes won! thought Vin as he stopped himself from shouting. Just.
Now the movement in the corral changed. The woman turned her back on the mare. The mare in turn sniffed the air and took a couple of tentative steps toward the back of the woman. She took a step forward and the horse took a step. She stopped and the horse stopped but only for a moment then continued reaching the woman in a few easy strides, her head hung low.
As the mare reached the woman she nuzzled up to her and nudged the womans shoulder. The woman turned away. The horse moved round and the woman faced the horse slowly. They watched as she blew on the horses face seeming to whisper, her lips moving but they heard no sound. Her hands sought out the horses face, under the chin, up the front to the mane and down to the front of her body. The mare continued to hang her head but raised it to look into the eye of her leader, defeated.
Slowly the woman moved to the side of the horse moving her hands all over the horses body seeking out sensitive places, soothing and caressing. No-one had made a sound for almost an hour by now. The men stood and watched amazed at the scene before them.
She had reached the saddle and lifted herself easily onto the back of the horse. For a second it seemed as if she would rear again and throw the slight figure off her back but the mare settled and balanced from hoof to hoof, skipping.
Vin had been moving slowly towards the gate of the corral. Now he reached up and opened it.
What are you doing! whispered Nathan.
The woman turned the mare and walked her through the gate. With little urging they rode off quickly disappearing out of sight over the hill in the distance.
Would someone like to tell me what just happened? Chris reacted first breaking the stunned silence.
Well it began, brother, when you fell off the horse said Josiah smiling. He had also seen this before.
She was breakin the horse. The way Ive seen the Indians do it. Gentle like. I cant explain it, they just do it. Not all of them can do it, only a few. But I seen it before and it never fails to amaze. Vin said, still looking in the direction the woman and the mare went. He was filled with admiration for her. Some woman!
It has to do with how horses act when they are fighting amongst themselves in a herd. That was all I was told when I asked once. It takes some learnin to understand what happens in the minds of a horse. Its a gift. Some got it. Some aint. and that was it. That was all the explanation Chris got.
Nathan roused himself from his thoughts and turned his attention to Chriss head. He had a cut on the side where hed hit the ground. He prodded and poked until Chris shouted for him to stop. Youll live he said and looked again into the distance.
Thanks Chris said gruffly.
With the woman, and the horse, gone Vin felt a strange emptiness inside. He missed her. Shed only been gone a few minutes but he missed her.
Josiah had gotten used to the woman being around. There was something about her that made her easy to talk to even though shed never uttered a word hed felt at ease in her company.
The realisation hit Chris. Hey she stole my horse!
Freedom. Running free. Horse and woman moved as one. On and on covering the ground at a hell of a lick. The horse was easy to ride, a smooth and even pace. Like sitting on a rocking chair.
Keep running away .from THEM. But it wasnt them and the horse was not hers to keep. I could get away faster and farther than I dreamed. Where would I go ? The horse belongs to them!
Making a long sweeping turn she gave the horse her head and went back, reluctantly. After a while she walked the mare. For a time she dismounted and strolled along beside the mare. They were happy in each others company and for a while, just a short while, all was well.
As she came over the hill and looked at the cabin she stopped, taking in what lay before her. There was no movement down there. No sight of the men shed left hours before. She hopped into the saddle again and walked the mare down the hill.
And so another beautiful woman walks out of your life Buck! teased Nathan.
Aint many do that. I dont reckon she had an eye for me though. A rare thing for a woman not to fall for my obvious charm.
Maybe yer losing yer touch. Another dig from Nathan. Hows yer head, Chris?
Chris just growled from his seat. He had been watching Vin who was staring out the cabin window and was pondering on what the young tracker might be thinking. He had been surprised that Vin had not taken after the woman. It would be easy for him to follow so why didnt he?
Vin had been looking out of the window, hoping and as he saw the figure approaching the cabin, his heart leapt at the sight of her. He rushed out the door, Theyre back! A new emotion began to take over no he didnt even know her!
His excitement, and what he said, took the others by surprise. Nathan and Chris looked at each other and then at the backs of the two men already heading for the door.
She brought my horse back? Chriss eyebrows raised in surprise as he stood up and went to join the others. Thats why he didnt follow her. He knew shed come back. How? Hes a good judge of character, he decided.
The men all came out through the cabin door at once and stood before her. Chris was standing at the front of them hands on hips. Vin was leaning on the porch. Shed dismounted some way out and was walking up to the cabin. She held the reins in her hand lightly not needing to because the horse was following close behind. Her head was bowed. Those blue eyes had looked straight at her and seemed to be smiling at her. For a moment she was embarrassed and looked down to the ground.
When she looked up again she saw Chris staring back at her. She stared, trying to appear braver than she felt, but suddenly feeling tired. She walked up to Chris and offered him the reins.
They looked into each others eyes. Respect and surprise merged.
Chris was the first to look away. The woman was trying to stand up to him. Shed thought hed be angry but saw none of it in his face. He looked down at her hand holding the reins before him. She searched his face for something, anything to see what he was feeling.
He felt guilty. He had no idea why he should feel this way. He thought shed stolen the horse when shed actually broken the mare. Vins character assessment had been right. She came back. He couldnt take the reins. He couldnt take the horse back now. It had been she whod won the horse. She should have the horse. Plain and simple.
You keep the horse and, when you want to leave, you take her with you. He said evenly.
Her expression changed suddenly. Fear, no not fear, now it was her turn to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. This could not happen. She had nothing to give in return. She stared at him a minute, confused and detached then with an angry look at Chris she, slowly, head hung low, hesitantly, she walked the horse to the barn.
You shouldnt have done that, Chris! This from Vin.
For Gods sake why not?
Because she has nothing to give you. That is the way. You give, you get. Remember.
Damn Chris made a move to follow her but found his way stopped by Vin who placed a hand on his chest.
Leave her. Ill explain. I dont reckon she wants you around her right now.
Chris was surprised by the young trackers actions. There was something in the way he had watched for her return and the excitement in his voice when her saw her coming back. This could mean trouble for all of them.
They all stared at her back as she slowly walked, still with her head hung low, to the barn and then at Vin as he followed her.
That boy is heading fer trouble! remarked Buck. It was like he had read Chriss mind. So hed thought it too.
What dya mean? asked Nathan.
Well that woman is now all riled up because she aint got nothin to give Chris for the horse. No tellin what an angry woman can do. Now me, Id just stay clear for a few hours, let it blow over.
I wanted to give them something in return for helping me. I know its not my horse. Its his. Now shame I have nothing to give. Got to get away from here.
She reached the barn. She led the mare into a stall and unsaddled her. She is beautiful and a real joy to ride. She spent time feeling her face, neck and mane, putting her scent on her. The horse responded back, wanting to be near this woman whod won her. Tears welled up, happy, angry and sad all at the same time. A noise behind her!
It was Vin. Hed entered the barn quietly and watched her for a moment not wanting to interrupt her bonding with the animal. She turned as he shuffled his feet breaking the magic. Sorry he said Chris forgot. He saw her tears.
He really means you to have the horse, no obligation. I know that aint much to you, but he really thinks you should have the mare.
Nothing. This was frustrating! Why wont you talk, damn you! he thought, then I can take all the hurt away. He hated seeing someone in such pain. Im sorry he said as if she could see right into his anger.
She sat, no, slid down on the floor, tired and weary, too fatigued to do more. Leaning against the stall wall she looked up at him in sympathy. You look like a good man. She reached up and pulled a blanket down over her wanting to sleep though scared to try.
Vin moved forward to help her back to the cabin but she moved back from him, so suddenly, he stopped himself. Putting up his hand in surrender, he simply said gently, 'Okay, okay! If you want to sleep here, its fine, okay. He turned and went back to the cabin returning a little later with Nathan.
I need to change those bandages, maam. He moved slowly forward. She backed into a corner her eyes darting here and there again for a way to escape. Stay calm Vin offered, He aint gonna hurt ya. It seemed fine as long as they kept their distance but when any one of them tried to get close she backed away again.
Please? whispered Nathan, I just need to check those bandages. She looked into his eyes then at Vin, who nodded. She was looking for any threat and seeing none offered her hands, pushing them out reluctantly.
Nathan looked down. She was trembling her whole body was quivering, a tear rolled down her face. He worked quickly, peeling back the old bandages and examining her wrists. Healing well. He wrapped clean dressings round expertly and stepped back from her. She withdrew her hands and wrapped her arms about her not meeting his gaze, still shaking with fear.
Nathan sighed and withdrew. What she done had taken a lot of courage. He thought. Vin didnt follow. At the door to the barn, Nathan turned and looked at the trackers back. You comin?
Later Vin said. Nathan went back to the cabin.
Vin eased his gun belt off and hung it on a hook by one of the stalls. He sat down slowly some distance form the woman. Whats yer name?
He waited. Nothing. I know ya can speak, you talked in her sleep last night.
Slowly, she picked up a straw and drew something in the dirt. He peered over at it. A crescent moon.
Moon? She nodded slowly without returning his gaze.
Well Moon, Im Vin Tanner, pleased to meet you. Wanna tell me what happened? She looked up slowly, wanting to. He could tell she wanted to, but still she said nothing, and just looked back at the floor of the barn. Vin took out his old harmonica and blew. Nothing she could recognise came out.
Dont make no difference. Take yer time! he paused, There aint no hurry.
His voice was soft and quiet, she was soothed by its gentleness and so tired, she relaxed her guard. Hed taken off his gun to show her there was no danger from him. He would no hurt her. She closed her eyes and drifted off as he tried to play his harmonica.
He watched her sleeping for a while, watched her breathing softly, at peace, for now, he thought. After a time, her expression changed, she was dreaming. Bad dreams. Nightmares. She cried again. He wanted to comfort her and take it all away. Helpless. That was all he felt. He recalled his own nightmares as a child. Hed buried them deep but now they threatened to overwhelm him.
Finally as he watched her face become more serene and at peace he wandered thoughtfully back to the cabin to join the others.
Well? asked Buck.
Vin glared at him. He was still angry with Chris for what he did. He was his closest friend of all the regulators but what hed done was wrong.
Shes gonna sleep in the barn. He glared at Chris.
Chris glared back. It had been a mistake and there was no reason for Vin to get so mad about it. You wanna say something to me?
Look. Im sorry I forgot. Whats makin ya so mad?
She is just about to trust us and you go and do that?
I think you are makin just a bit much about this. Chris was surprised still at the way Vin was acting. He was getting just a little too close to this woman.
You dont understand how big a deal it is for her!
I do. Ill explain tomorrow. Chris said finally. He was still worried.
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