by Debbi K. & Nancy W.

After the booty from the pinata had been gathered up by gleeful little hands, Mary collected the children together for lemonade and cake. JD volunteered to take down the remains of the ruptured pinata, but the rope holding it got hung up in the branches of the tree, and he couldn't reach it to take it down. He jumped up two or three times, but still couldn't get it.

"You're short," Ethan Potter was quick to observe.

JD laughed. "Yep, reckon I am… but you're shorter."

"I'm just a kid. You're a grown up."

JD laughed again and took another stab at the stuck rope. "'Bout time someone noticed." He felt someone tugging at his pants leg and looked down into a pair of big brown eyes in a little brown face.

"Senor JD, if you put me on your shoulders, I can reach it."

JD smiled. Elias Romero was Billy's age, but he was a tiny little thing, a whole head shorter than the Travis boy. JD lifted him easily, and his small hands deftly untangled the rope.

"I coulda done that," Ethan said.

"Prob'ly," JD said, "but we done just fine, didn't we?" He ruffled Elias's black hair and the boy beamed at him before returning to the others.

Sometimes, "little" wasn't so bad….


Mrs. Ellsworth's screech of terror had brought the entire household running. JD had been in the carriage house several yards from the main residence when he'd heard it. He knew something awful had to have happened, because Mrs. Ellsworth was the lady of the house, and she never screamed like that. She didn't even yell at the servants the way her husband did.

When JD came running up and saw what all the commotion was about, it took his breath away. The adults around him were shouting orders and scurrying about in confusion, but all he could do was stand there and wonder how the dickens little Master Alexander had ended up where he was.

Alexander was the Ellsworth's youngest child and their only boy, so that made him special, so said his ma. He was the hair of the fortune family or something like that. He was just a little baby, not even big enough to walk and talk yet. JD thought he was cute, but he wasn't supposed to talk to him or touch him, ever. Mrs. Ellsworth had told all the servant kids so.

As JD listened to the grown-ups' panicked conversation, he was able to figure out that Alexander was supposed to be taking a nap, but instead he had climbed out of his crib and crawled out the window.

JD could barely see him, three stories up and sitting on a little wooden ledge that held a flower box in the summer. He was just sitting there, waving at everyone below him, while his nanny tried to reach him from the window.

Several of the servants had found tarp in the carriage house and were trying to position it so that if Alexander fell, he'd fall into it instead of hitting the ground, but even JD could see that wasn't going to work. Alexander was right over the entrance to the house. If he fell, he'd hit the angled roof over the foyer and he would probably die.

The ledge he was on would never support the weight of an adult, or even a large child, but JD wasn't very big. The other stable boys pointed that out every chance they got. He was seven, and the Ellsworth's daughter, Patricia, who was only four, was bigger than he was. The ledge wouldn’t break with him on it.

JD ran over to Mrs. Ellsworth. She looked like a marble statue she was so white. Mr. Ellsworth was with her, and he was screaming that someone was going to pay. He scared JD, so he patted Mrs. Ellsworth's elbow gently to get her attention.

She looked down at him. "NOT NOW, you little…" She didn't finish, she just pushed JD aside and knocked him down, which caught Mr. Ellsworth's attention. He looked down at JD and raised his hand like he was going to hit him. JD put up his arm to ward off the blow, and quickly said, "I can get him down!"

"JD! NO!" His mama came running over and picked him up off the ground. "Please, sir, he didn't mean anything by it…" She courtesied before her employer.

JD didn't think Mr. Ellsworth even heard her. He grabbed JD from her arms and ran into the house with him while his mama screamed and started to cry. JD wished he could tell her it would be okay, but before he knew it, Mr. Ellsworth was running up the stairs with him.

He kept running until they were in the nursery, and then Mr. Ellsworth stopped by the window and set him down on the floor. Alexander's nanny looked at Mr. Ellsworth and then down at JD.

Her hands went to her mouth like she wanted to scream, too, but Mr. Ellsworth pushed her aside and leaned out the window. He carefully tested the ledge. Then, he yanked down the drapery cords and began to tie them together.

As he worked, he spoke to JD. "Johnny… that's your name, isn't it?"

JD nodded.

"Johnny, listen to me carefully. I'm going to put you out this window. I want you to crawl to Alex and tie this around him and make a knot. Do you know how to tie a knot?"

That was a dumb question! JD even knew how to tie his shoes. He wasn't a baby! But, he only nodded 'yes.'"

"Keep your eyes on Alex, Johnny. Don't look down, do you understand me?"

JD nodded, but Mr. Ellsworth shook him and said, "Do you?"

"Yes sir!"

He handed JD the makeshift rope and then picked him up and put him out the window. The ledge gave slightly under his weight, but JD wasn't afraid. He got down on his hands and knees and started crawling slowly towards Alexander.

The baby turned and saw him and squealed and giggled and clapped his fat little hands together.

"Hi baby," JD cooed. "Nice baby. Stay right there and wait for me. Nice baby… We're gonna play a game… see?" JD held up the scrap of drapery cord as he reached Alexander. "I'm gonna wrap this around you… like this…" he kept talking as his small fingers strugged to make a tight knot. "Now, you gotta come with me, okay?" JD crawled backwards hoping Alexander would follow him. But the baby just laughed and said a bunch of baby things that didn't make any sense.

JD knew he was going to have to pull him back to the window. The only way to do that was to hold him with one arm while he tried to crawl backwards. Carefully, he wrapped his left arm around Alexander and then caught a whiff of an unmistakable odor. Alexander's soggy diaper was full of poop. ICK!

He'd gotten poop on him before, in the stables, though, so he supposed it wasn't really that bad. He pulled Alexander close, poopy diaper and all, and slowly edged his way back to the window. The dumb baby wanted to stay where he was, though, and tried to wiggle out of his arms, so JD had to hold him real tight, which made Alexander mad.

He was crying and red in the face by the time Mr. Ellsworth reached down and grabbed him out of JD's hands. He pulled the baby to his chest, and JD guessed he didn't know he was getting poop all over his fancy suit.

JD crawled through the window, and without waiting for Mr. Ellsworth to excuse him, he ran out of the room and back down the stairs to let him mama know he was okay so she wouldn't cry.

He passed Mrs. Ellsworth who was on the way up, but they didn't say anything to each other. When he burst through the front door, he expected only his mama would still be there now that the excitement was over. To his surprise, all of the servants were still there, and to his bigger surprise, they began to applaud and cheer as he ran to his mama.

She scooped him up in her arms and hugged him and kissed him while everyone else patted him on the back and said stuff like "Well done, Johnny boy!"

That evening, Mr. Ellsworth had come to the servant's quarters. He had a fancy pink bedspread with dark pink and white roses on it that he gave to JD's mama and told her that Mrs. Ellsworth wanted her to have it. For JD, he had a checkerboard, a bag of marbles and a whole dollar. JD's mama said he didn't need to be paid for what he had done, but JD was glad when Mr. Ellsworth insisted they keep the gifts. He also told JD that from then on, he was Alexander's special protector, and he'd expect him to watch out for him…

JD stood back watching Billy and his friends as he absently patted the letter in his vest pocket. It was from Alexander, who was now fourteen. JD smiled. It was always good to be someone's hero.

+ + + + + + +

As Billy began to open his gifts, the children jostled to be the one closest to him, which of course led to the inevitable pushing contest between two of them - although, Chris noted, only one of them did the pushing. The other, a little girl about 8 years old, allowed herself to be pushed aside as if she somehow didn't deserve a closer spot.

The girl who had pushed her stuck her tongue out and taunted "Frog-face!" The other children laughed and several repeated the taunt. The sad thing was, the target of their abuse was a painfully unattractive little girl, with large, disproportioned features and misaligned front teeth that looked too big for her mouth.

Mary hadn't noticed what was going on, so Chris took a couple of steps forward. That was all it took to get the children's attention. He glared at the group, who instantly went silent. "That's enough," was all he had to say…


Chris never could understand why kids liked to stare at Rosalie. Her face scared him, the way her nose was all flat and her top lip was in two parts and her teeth just kind of went every which way instead of being in a straight row. He wondered if you could just wake up some morning and look like that. He'd asked his mother, but she'd told him Rosalie was born that way, that it was a "curse from God." After that, Chris wondered what little kids did to get cursed by God. Didn't seem right.

Beside the fact that he didn't like looking at her, Chris didn't think Rosalie liked being looked at, at least not like she was some kind of creepy thing you found when you picked up an old log and looked under it. He wondered how it must feel to look like that, especially since Rosalie wasn't stupid. She was one of the smartest girls in school, in fact, so she had to know it when people stared and pointed and laughed or made faces, even if she pretended she didn't notice.

She couldn't pretend now. 4 boys had made a circle around her and were taunting her, calling her "hatchet face." Chris supposed the name kind of fit, because that was almost how her face looked, like someone had hit her with a hatchet. But it was still mean, and Rosalie was just standing there, crying, and couldn't get away.

Chris sized the boys up. They were all older than he was, but not too much bigger. One of them, Jeremy Poole, was the one who was telling the others to do it. The others were so stupid that they did whatever Jeremy said, which was why they were Jeremy's friends.

Chris walked up to him. "Leave her alone," he said to Jeremy, not sure what he'd do if Jeremy refused, which he most certainly would.

Jeremy pushed him, hard enough that he fell backwards on his butt hitting his tailbone on a sharp rock. The other boys laughed and began to hoot and cheer Jeremy on but Chris didn't take his eyes off him, not once. He started straight at him, holding his gaze as he slowly reached behind his back and picked up the rock he'd fallen on. He stood up slowly, still staring at Rosalie's tormentors, who were now chanting some stupid rhyme about him and Rosalie getting married.

He pulled himself up to his full height. "I said shut up," he told Jeremy. He wasn't afraid of him, not now that he could feel the weight of the rock in his hand.

"Make me," Jeremy said, and stuck out his tongue.

Chris brought the rock around and bashed him in the mouth with it. Stunned, Jeremy staggered back as blood began to pour from his split lip. "Now we can call you names," Chris told him.

Jeremy ran off wailing in search of a teacher, and when he found one, he immediately tattled just like Chris thought he would. Chris's heart was pounding as Miss Ruggles approached him with a switch in her hand. She ordered them both into the schoolhouse. She let Jeremy go on his own, but she grabbed Chris by the ear and dragged him. It hurt, but he didn't make a sound. He wasn't a crybaby like Jeremy.

Inside, she gave Jeremy a rag for his bloody lip and then asked Chris why he had hit him with the rock. Chris told her it was because he was making fun of Rosalie.

Now, he didn't really expect any kind of reward for sticking up for Rosalie, but what Miss Ruggles said took him by surprise.

"Rosalie is not your business, Christopher. Besides, anyone who looks like she does has to expect that people are going to make fun of her."

Chris looked up at her, trying to understand how a grown up could be so mean to a little girl. Or maybe Miss Ruggles was just as stupid as Jeremy.

"That don't make it right," he said.

"You owe Jeremy an apology. Now I want you to shake his hand and…"


"What did you say?"

Chris was too scared to look her in the eye. He wished he wasn't.

"I ain't apologizing to him. He deserved it."

Miss Ruggles grabbed his chin and made him look at her. Her fingers dug into his cheeks, pressing the insides of them against his back teeth. She was hurting him, but he wasn't going to let her know that.

"You will apologize, Christopher Larabee, or you're going to get a beating."

Chris jerked his head free of her grasp. "No."

Miss Ruggles grabbed a fistful of his hair and yanked him forward, but before the shock of that could even register, she bent him over a desk and delivered 5 sharp, stinging blows to his backside. Chris felt his eyes water and blinked back the tears.

"Tell him you're sorry!" Miss Ruggles commanded.


She hit him five more times, and repeated her demand.

Chris wasn't sure he could stand being hit again - his butt felt like someone had cut across it with a hot knife. But when he looked up at Jeremy and saw the satisfied smirk on his face, it gave him new courage.


Miss Ruggles hit him again, ten strokes this time. On the last one, his knees buckled. He had to bite his lip so that he wouldn't cry.

"Are you ready to apologize now?" she asked him.

Chris had to take a deep breath so he could talk, but he hated Jeremy now, and he hated Miss Ruggles, too.

"Go to hell."

For one brief instant, he enjoyed the satisfaction of watching Miss Ruggles eyes just about pop from their sockets, she got so mad, but the next moment, she was taking the switch to him again, this time hitting his shoulders and back as well as his butt. She even caught the back of his head once, and when he put his arms up to protect himself, she hit them, too.

Chris felt his resolve crumble and the tears came freely, but when Miss Ruggles again commanded, "Apologize!"

His voice sobbed out, "No."

He was on the floor by this time, curled up in a ball to give her less of him to hit. He was bawling like a baby, but still she kept hitting him.

"What on God's earth are you doing?!" a voice shouted through the confusion. It was Mr. Peake, who taught the big kids.

He snatched the switch from Miss Ruggle's hand, and furious, she explained why Chris was being punished.

Mr. Peake took the switch and broke it in half. "Discipline is one thing, dear lady. Beating a child half to death is another, and I will not stand by and allow it."

"Well, I never!!!"

"Maybe that's your problem," Mr. Peake said.

Chris wasn't sure why Miss Ruggles slapped Mr. Peake for that, but the look on her face would have made Chris laugh if he wasn't hurting so much.

Mr. Peake helped him up off the floor. Chris tried to stand up straight, but his legs were to sore from being hit.

"Suppose you tell me what the problem is, Master Larabee."

Chris managed to choke out his explanation, concluding with a defiant, "And I ain't apologizin' because I ain't sorry!"

He waited for Mr. Peake to hit him, too, but instead, he said, "One should never apologize for defending the honor of a lady… and as for you..." He looked sternly at Jeremy. "I would say a taste of your own medicine is no less than you had coming."

He turned Chris around and pulled his shirt up. "I suggest you go home and have your mother put some balm on those welts. No more school for you today."

Chris wiped his eyes, and stared at Jeremy until the other boy looked away. Mr. Peake took his hand and together they walked out of the schoolhouse. Chris was limping, so Mr. Peake had to take small steps so he could keep up.

Recess was over, and the other kids were filing back inside. They all stared at him, because they knew he'd gotten a beating and they wanted to see the marks. Rosalie watched him, too, and Chris wasn't sure what was different about the way she looked at him, but somehow, it made him really glad he hadn't apologized to Jeremy Poole.

When they got to the door, Mr. Peake looked down at him. "Christopher, I don't want you to think that I condone the fact that you hit Jeremy with a rock… That was wrong."

Chris hung his head. He supposed that was true.

"But, you know what Christopher? Sometimes, a man just has to do something that's not quite right to fix something that's even more wrong."

Then, he reached out and shook Chris's hand. Not like a man and a little boy, but like they were both men. Despite his pain-wracked body, Chris stood tall as he walked away.

+ + + + + + +

After the cake and lemonade, and the opening of the gifts, the party had pretty much turned into informal play for the children. The space underneath the picnic table Mary had set up under the tree became a fort, and the kids divided themselves into cavalry and Indians. Nothing was unusual about that until Laurie Ann Kingman declared herself a general.

"You can't be a general," Billy explained with annoyance. "You're a girl… girls can't even be in the army."

"This is pretend," Laurie Ann explained patiently. "We can pretend whatever we want, and I'll be the general if I want."

"Well, if you’re a general, then I'm a sergeant. That's better than a general."

"It is not!" Laurie scoffed. "You are so stupid!"

"Let's not have any of that talk, Laurie," Mary reminded the young lady.

"Ma, tell her she can't be the general!"

"Laurie Ann is your guest, Billy. Let her be what she wants to be."

Vin watched the exchange, wondering if anyone had once told Mary she couldn't do some of the things she had done… run a newspaper, raise a son alone. She was a remarkable woman, and maybe, like Laurie Ann, had once had an imagination that would take her places Life would never let her go.

Vin couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for the little general though. He knew what it was to be seven years old, and to want to be something you never would be…


Ebibitu… that was what color the sky was. He tried to remember the other word, the one he had known a long time ago…

Blue…. That was it.

He sat on a rock into which a hole had been carved to catch rain, and he looked down into the puddle that had formed there. He saw the sky reflected in it, and his own face, but when he tried to look at his eyes, his head blocked out the light and he couldn't tell what color they were. Corn Woman said they were the color of the sky, that was why she named him Sky-In-His-Eyes.

Corn Woman was his mama now. His other mama had died a long time ago. He was alone and scared then, but Running Deer had brought him to Corn Woman because she'd had a little boy once, but he was dead like his mama, so she needed another one.

He couldn't remember anymore how his first mama had looked, but he remembered her words to him after she told him to go with Running Deer. "You're a Tanner. Your name is Vin Tanner. Don't forget."

And he didn't forget that. Not ever, although he didn't really mind the name Corn Woman gave him. Corn Woman didn't look like his first ma, who was skinny and had long curly hair. Corn Woman was round, like a ball, and she had no teeth in the front.

Vin grinned at his own reflection. He didn't have any teeth in front either. They got loose and fell out. Corn Woman said he'd grow new, big ones. He wondered, if that was true, how come she had never grown any more. He shrugged. He still had lots of other teeth, so he supposed it didn't matter.

He looked at his hair, which caught the sunlight and was the color of cornsilk. Then he looked around at the other children of the tribe. None of them had hair that color. None of them had blue eyes.

None of them looked like him.

He didn't think you could paint your eyes. That would hurt. But he'd seen the braves paint the war ponies. They made black paint with bear grease and ashes from the fire. It turned the horses' hair black…

He knew where Corn Woman kept the bear grease, and he knew where to find plenty of ashes, which he gathered into a deerskin. Then he went to find Red Cloud so they could go to the Hiding Place that only they knew about. Red Cloud was his best friend, and so Vin brought him along to help out.

They hadn't brought anything to mix the paint in, so Vin decided they should just pour the ashes into the bear grease. Red Cloud held the crock of grease while Vin poured out the ashes into it. The fine, grey powder overfilled the bowl, and ran out into the dirt, and a cloud of it enveloped both boys as they carefully began to work it into the bear grease.

Red Cloud didn't think the mixture was getting black enough, so he went to get charcoal while Vin scooped up some of the ash that had missed the grease pot. There was a little dirt and some dried leaves in it, but after they crumbled the charcoal into the mixture, it began to resemble paint.

Both boys realized if they were going to paint Vin's hair black, they needed something to spread the paint through his fine curls. Red Cloud's sister, Sings-With-Bells, was always combing and braiding her hair, even when it didn't need it. She had a fancy brush and comb that her father had brought from a trading post. A mirror, too. Red Cloud ran to fetch them, and they set to work.

The brush didn't work as well as the comb. It got clogged up with black bear grease, so they tossed it aside. The comb worked much better, and after spreading the paint all over his head and combing it through, Vin looked in the mirror. Not only was his hair now as black as Red Cloud's, it was straight, too. Red Cloud was pleased with it. Vin almost was, too, except it felt kind of sticky, not like real hair. That would probably go away when the paint dried, Red Cloud theorized, and suggested that they hasten the process by adding a little dust. That sounded good to Vin, until Red Cloud dropped a whole fistful of dirt on his head and some of it got in his eyes.

He pushed his friend away and tried to rub the dust out, but his hands were covered with ash and grease and it made his eyes sting. He was starting to think maybe this idea wasn't going to work when Sings-With-Bells snuck up on them.

She picked up her brush and mirror and snatched to comb from Vin's hand. She was as mad as a hornet, and Red Cloud told her that her name should be "Screeches-Like-Old-Goose." He and Vin laughed at that joke until she pinched them both until they hollered and then ran off to show her mother what had happened to her brush and comb.

"Let's go get melons," Vin suggested, not really eager to be there should Sings-With-Bells return. Red Cloud readily agreed, and they climbed through a rocky crevass to a sandy spot where some melons grew. Vin knew how to pick the good ones by the way they smelled, but Red Cloud just grabbed the first one he saw. They used their knives to cut them open and Vin laughed when Red Cloud's was green inside. Red Cloud pretended not to notice and took a bite. Vin laughed again when he made a face because it wasn't ready to eat.

Red Cloud reached into the center of the melon and scooped out the runny seeds and threw them at him. They hit Vin in the chin and then dripped down his bare chest onto his leggings, leaving a wet spot between his legs so it looked like he had made water in his pants.

Red Cloud pointed at the spot and it was his turn to laugh. Vin scooped the seeds out of his melon and retaliated, and the exchange continued until they were out of seeds.

Vin offered Red Cloud half of his fruit, which was ripe and sweet, and they pretended the green melon was a buffalo and they killed it with their knives.

They were sitting in the sun, and by the time they had finished off a second melon, Vin could feel something thick and warm running down his face and back. He wiped at his forehead with his arm, and it came away slick with black bear grease. The stuff started to get in his eyes again, and as he rubbed it away, Red Cloud began to laugh some more and told him he looked like a raccoon.

That would have made Vin mad, but his eyes were really starting to burn. He couldn't even keep them open.

"Look at this crazy boy!" Vin heard Corn Woman, even though he couldn't see her. She sounded mad, but he was glad she was there. She'd know how to get that stuff out of his eyes.

He felt plump arms lift him from the ground as she continued to scold him, telling him she was an old woman but had never seen a boy as crazy as he was.

She carried him to the creek that ran past the settlement and wet her long skirt with the cool water so she could wipe his face off. After she did that a few times, he was able to open his eyes, but Corn Woman wasn't done with him.

She pulled his leggings off and made him sit naked in the cold water while she went and cut a yucca root. She made him lie back so she could wet his hair and then she scrubbed at it with the root until it was covered with foam. She rinsed it out and repeated the process over and over again until Vin thought surely she had scraped all the hair off his head.

Finally, she appeared to be done, but to Vin's horror, she took a rag from her belt and made a lather with the yucca root and then began washing him all over like he was a little baby!!

That would have been bad all by itself, but now that he could see again, he spotted not only Red Cloud, but several of his other friends who had gathered to watch the spectacle. Vin wanted to sink under the water and drown, but it wasn't deep enough.

Someone had washed a blanket and hung it over a tree limb to dry, and when Corn Woman had finished scrubbing him from head to toe, she wrapped him in it and carried him back their tent.

Running Deer looked at her as she set him down on more blankets. "That boy has good legs. He should walk," he told her.

Corn Woman didn't pay any attention to his remark and began to tell her husband what Vin had done as she dried his hair.

Running Deer didn't laugh, but Vin could tell he wanted to, so he hung his head feeling really stupid.

"Think about this question, crazy boy," Running Deer said, "and when you have had time to think, I will ask you to tell me the answer…"

Vin looked up.

"Which is better, the brown horse or the spotted horse?"

Vin frowned, but before he could speak, Running Deer silenced him with a finger to his lips. "You must think to know the answer."

So Vin thought. He thought the whole time Corn Woman was working the tangles out of his hair and arranging it in two neat braids on either side of his head. Where he lived before, only girls had pigtails like that, and at first he wouldn't let her do that with his hair. Now, though, he kind of liked it, because… well, he knew Corn Woman liked doing it.

She tied the ends of the braids with rawhide strips and then got him another pair of leggings - the ones with real arrowheads hanging from the waist. Those were his favorites.

Vin still thought about the horse question while he sat beside the cooking fire watching Corn Woman melt grease in a cook pot. She reminded him that it was lard from the trading post, not the good bear grease he had used to make paint, but she didn't sound really mad.

His mouth began to water in anticipation as he saw her prepare other ingredients; corn meal, dried cherries, honey, and pecans. She put them all in a bowl and added a little of the melted lard and some water to make dough, then mixed everything together and formed the dough into little balls that she dropped in the hot lard. They bobbed on the surface, turning a golden brown color, and Vin could almost taste them. They were his favorite food.

When the dough-balls were done, Corn Woman set them on a straw mat to cool. Vin wanted to grab one, but he'd tried that once and burned his fingers, so he waited patiently. He hoped Corn Woman had some sugar to sprinkle on them, but they were good even without sugar. While he waited for them to cool, he went back to thinking about the horse question.

Corn Woman did have sugar, and she sprinkled them on the corn balls and then piled them in a wooden bowl which she handed to Vin. She waved her cooking spoon at him, indicating he was free to return to his friends.

Vin wasn't sure he wanted to. They were probably still laughing because he got a bath.

He discovered that Red Cloud's mother had set a small mat by cook fire and told him he had to sit on it until it was time to sleep. This was for taking Sings-With-Bells hairbrush and comb, which he had done to help Vin, so Vin sat down with him and shared his food.

Sings-With-Bells was still mad. She reminded Vin of the demon buffalo Running Deer had told him about who had fire for eyes and breathed smoke out of its nose. He didn't give her any of his treat.

Later, when it was night and Vin was tucked between the soft old blankets and bear skin that were his bed, Running Deer asked if he had learned the answer to the horse question.

Vin had pondered it, and had some questions of his own.

"Is one horse bigger than the other?" he asked.

Running Deer took a puff on his pipe. "They are the same size."

"Is one stronger or faster?"

"They are the same, but one is brown and one is spotted."

"Then neither is better," Vin shrugged.

Running Deer nodded. "The spirit of the horse does not care what color horse it lives in. That is not what makes it a horse."

Vin frowned, but suddenly, he understood. It wasn't how he looked that made him the son of Running Deer and Corn Woman… it was the way he felt, inside where no one could see.

And besides, Corn Woman liked his blue eyes, and didn't care what color his hair was, so long as it didn't have bear grease in it.

His spirit was where it belonged.

+ + + + + + +

As dusk fell, parents arrived to retrieve their children and the party ended. As the town's seven peacekeepers said their farewells, Billy gave each of them a stick of candy and thanked them for coming, as Mary had prodded him to do with his other guests.

As they headed for the saloon, JD looked back at Billy and pulled the candy from his mouth long enough to ask, "Ever wish you were that age again?"

"Nope," came Nathan's quick reply.

"Never," Josiah agreed.

Chris only grunted.

"God forbid," Ezra intoned.

"Maybe 10 years older…" Buck winked and JD shoved him.

Vin just smiled, and said, "I reckon a little bit o' that age stays with a man."

The others ponder this until Josiah summed their thoughts up for them.

"Amen to that."


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