~~ The South Wind ~~

by TJ

The ladies’ man watched the coach roll East out of town. He saw his oldest friend wave goodbye to Billy Travis and his mother. And, as the stage disappeared in the distance, Buck shook his head and wandered over to the livery. It was his turn to make the rounds of the outlying ranches. Not expecting any trouble, he'd allowed JD he could go fishing with Casey. Today he'd be making the circuit himself. Yosemite had his horse already to go and the rogue thanked him, mounted up and rode out of town.

From above the livery, Nathan too, had watched the stage leave from the other end of town. He waved Buck off as he rode out and then looked down the street to see who else was around. Watching Chris wander back to the restaurant porch, the healer smiled and raised his chin in the air. Sun's warm this mornin'!

Ezra was probably still in bed and Jackson had heard that JD was heading out to fetch Casey Wells. He’d seen Josiah go into the church just a few minutes earlier. After listening to the man complaining over breakfast, the healer guessed that Sanchez would be busy fixing that front pew by now.

Nathan could see Tanner sitting alone, balancing his chair against the hotel wall and he grinned. The tracker seemed to be settled somewhat and that made them all relax. Taking one last breath of fresh air, Jackson headed inside his clinic.

A couple of hours later, Wilmington had done his required rounds and was about two miles out of town when he heard a horse neigh behind him. Buck stopped his own mount while readying his gun hand. He spun around to face the person who had somehow managed to ride up on him.

The stranger smiled, almost shyly and then slowly guided her grey over to the big oak that sprang up just beyond the trail.

The tall rogue couldn't quite decide what to do as he watched after her. She drew her horse to a stop and dismounted. Wilmington noted that she had no saddle today either. He watched again, as the woman seemed to whisper something to the horse. The big grey eyed her as she settled to the ground then snorted loudly before galloping off.

The woman sat quietly leaning against the tree with her eyes closed.

The ladies’ man couldn't resist the scene. She wasn't a typical woman for sure. Not a lot about her made any sense to him. He guided his own horse over to the tree and looked at the woman again. Yep, she ain't typical… but there’s somethin'. Wilmington dismounted and ground tied his horse a short distance from the oak. He joined the stranger in the shade of the tree and simply stood and stared for several minutes. "You gonna be around long?" he finally tried to strike up a conversation.

There was no reply and he shuffled his feet slightly. "Sure is a beautiful horse you got there... Miss!" he tried again.

She didn’t move or open her eyes but a whisper escaped the woman’s lips. "Emo'onahe. Vovestomosanehe."

Buck looked at the stranger curiously. It was clear that she'd been around some Indians but for some reason, he hadn't expected her to speak their language. "I don't speak that stuff!" he spoke almost gruffly and turned away from her.

There was a long silence before the soft voice spoke again. "He is handsome," she translated. "My teacher!"

Wilmington smiled and glanced back at the lady.

"He is not mine though… one can not own the wind," she continued quietly. "He allows my own journey when he feels I am in need of his guidance."

The rogue thought on what the woman had said. He pursed his lips quite sure he didn't understand a word. Settling down beside her casually, the man puzzled her words. "Ride the wind?"

The young woman showed no sign of objecting to his advances. They sat silently for a moment before she continued. "His lesson is well heeded… He graces me with his presence when he sees fit."

Suddenly Buck felt like he was intruding. He moved to stand when she laid her hand on his knee.

"The water of his soul cools the fire in mine."

Wilmington's eyes followed the woman's hand as she returned it the earth. He couldn’t help but hear the depth of her soft whispers… he was vaguely aware of her meaning. He had a fire of his own too. His fiery temper sometimes got the best of him… but that was just his way.

The rogue studied the woman's face as her eyes opened and she looked at him. For the first time, he was able to see into them clearly and he sat mesmerized by her stare. Buck had considered the woman to be average looking at first glance but it was now clear to him that her true beauty was inside.

"Netonesevehe?" she asked quietly. Suddenly remembering that this man could not understand the language, she dipped her head slightly. "What is your name?" she translated her question before looking at him again.

His eyes sparkled and a customary coy smile breached the man’s handsome face. "Buck Wilmington, Darlin’," he pushed the hat back on his head. "But you can just call me Buck."

The woman cocked her head and the slightest hint of a smile graced her lips. "Tohe'kesaeve'ho'e!" she whispered softly.

The ladies’ man had no idea what she had just said but he liked the way it sounded.

Glancing up from his book, a dumbfounded Nathan Jackson spied Wilmington riding towards them. "I just don't believe it!" he called to the tracker. "Look at that man, Vin... ain't he got no shame?"

Tanner looked up from his whittling and smiled. She works fast! Putting his knife away, he got to his feet and leaned against the support beam. Without any hesitation, the tracker knew that the woman who rode beside Buck had begun her work. He was still plagued with her thoughts… all the time… yet; he hadn’t managed to make much sense of them. But, right now, it wasn’t his mind that was conveying this feeling… it was his heart.

The ladies’ man and the stranger brought their horses to a stop in front of the jail.

"Lovely afternoon ain't it, boys?" Buck glowed. He dismounted and tied his horse at the hitching post. He turned back to the woman and motioned her to follow him.

She smiled for him but shook her head. With a quick movement she and her mount reversed their steps and were gone.

The ladies’ man grinned from ear to ear as he watched her leave. "Don't reckon I understood most of what she said but it sure was pretty."

Vin stepped closer. "She spoke to you," he questioned curiously. Tanner considered this a significant step. Whatever was gonna happen would probably happen soon.

Jackson set down his book but continued to eye the departing woman. He stood and moved closer to his fellow peacekeepers.

"She speaks one of them Indian languages but her English is real poetic." Wilmington spoke as she disappeared out of sight.

The tracker tilted his head slightly. "Do ya recollect anythin' she said?" he asked seriously. He thought perhaps that he might know the dialect.

Buck rubbed his chin. "Well... she said lots a things. She spoke lots in riddles. It ain't easy tah follow."

"Do ya remember anythin' special?" Vin questioned again. "Anything in Indian?"

"No, not really," the ladies’ man replied. It was easy to tell when he was thinking by the hand scratching the back of his neck. "Oh, Wait... what does... Tohe’kesaeve’ho’e... mean?" He did his best to remember the word she had used and how she spoke it.

The tracker considered the mispronounced word carefully. He tried to run it through his mind, lending his knowledgeable ear to Wilmington's attempt to speak a native tongue.

"What was you doin' with her, Buck?" Nathan questioned. He was still uneasy about the stranger. "We don't really understand why she's here. You could 'a got yer self killed or somethin'."

Buck grinned again musing the healer's words. "The ‘or somethin' sounds pretty good 'bout now."

"Cowboy!" the sharpshooter exclaimed loudly. He looked at the ladies’ man and cocked his head. "Reckon she called ya, cowboy."

The rogue looked slightly confused at first, but then he remembered how she'd said it. A satisfied smirk curled his lip as he looked as his two companions.

Trying hard to ignore Wilmington, the healer frowned. "You recognize the language, Vin?"

Looking down the street in the direction the woman had disappeared; Tanner turned back at Nathan and nodded. "Reckon it’s probably Cheyenne." His voice grew quiet. "And they take all their stories real serious like!"

The next morning the leader of The Seven sat in front of the restaurant trying to lose himself in a book. He’d spent another uneventful night in Four Corners and this whole business with the strange woman was driving him to distraction. He just didn't like not knowing what was going on in his own town. He didn't like the woman's ways or this mysterious wolf story that Vin seemed to believe in so much. He just didn't like any of it...

The stranger had been watching him closely for about an hour now. She was well aware that not all of his concentration was on the page in front of him. A part of his consciousness saw everything that went on about the little community. He was also very aware of her interest in him. This man only trusted a few people and she considered that estimate, generous. He would be the hardest to guide on his journey. He would not be led willingly. He might take more than I have to give…

Closing her eyes, the woman made the decision to approach the man in black. If she didn’t try to reason with him now, it might be too late when it counted the most. With her usual slow movements, she walked toward the gunslinger. She mounted the step and quietly slid into the chair next to his. Closing her eyes, she waited.

Five minutes passed slowly and the tension between the two grew. Larabee was well aware of the stranger across the table from him. He thought perhaps, if he ignored her… then she might go away.

But, she did not leave. More time ticked slowly by and still she had not moved.

Slowly it became clear to Chris how Tanner felt in her presence. "Something I can do for you?" he finally asked, still not looking up from his book.

The man’s tone was none too pleasant but the woman refused to back down from him. Another moment past before she responded. "I am only here to help." Her eyes were still closed. "It would be wise if you welcomed my assistance in your test… and on your journey."

Larabee slammed his book shut and turned to look at her. How dare she presume to tell him what he should do!

Her face was as calm as her voice as she opened her eyes to meet his gaze.

"You got something tah say, then say it. If not, get the hell out ‘a here."

Everything about his demeanor would be unnerving to most but the young woman simply looked at him. She could tell him little more than she already had. But, had he understood, or even heard, her message? Yes, she thought, this one may take more than I have to give!

Chris continued to stare at the woman coldly.

"I shall leave you here and now," she paused. "But I will be near when it happens... and we will make the journey when it is necessary." With that statement she gained her feet and slowly moved off down the street.

Chris growled and fumbled with the book for a few minutes before he stood up. He was pissed off and he really couldn't get a fix on why. He was upset with the woman for not backing down. He was upset with himself for not understanding the message she was trying to get across to him. Think Larabee ... Think! He scolded as he watched the departing form.

Evening in the saloon found the usual crowd gathered. Nathan was retelling his version of how Buck had come back into town with the stranger by his side yesterday.

"So she spoke to ya, real pretty," Dunne mused to the rogue as he came back with their drinks.

"Now, don't you start with me, kid!" Wilmington shot back. He was none too pleased that the lady had chosen the southerner’s company over his tonight. He looked at the poker game going on across the saloon. "Why'd ya suppose she's warmin’ up to Standish?" he miffed before swallowed some beer.

"I do believe that Ezra was in your company when she first laid her eyes on you," Sanchez answered. "Seems to me, Vin said it was the four of you she was here for."

The ladies’ man looked horrified. "Now don't go sayin' it like that, Josiah. Makes it sound like she's an undertaker or somethin’."

"Thought the ‘or somethin’ sounded just fine to ya, yesterday?" Jackson mused.

"That ain’t funny."

The kid laughed. "Hell, I think it’s funny."

Quieting his amusement, the healer continued. "Well, we still ain't heard it from her why she's here."

Josiah took a deep breath as his eye drifted over to the lone figure that occupied the corner booth. "I'd say at least one of us has!" the preacher stated all too seriously.

Larabee sat in the semi darkness alone with his thoughts and his whiskey. Sometimes he was just better that way.

The pre-dawn shadows took on their own life as a solitary figure moved quietly down the street. As he neared the tracker's wagon, the man stumbled slightly then found himself face to face with the loaded mare's laig.

Releasing the trigger slowly, the tracker hissed. "Damn it, Chris! You tryin' ‘a get yer self shot." Vin looked at his leader and smiled his crooked smile. Cocking his head, he helped the man into his wagon and waved the odor from the air surrounding his friend. "Just exactly how much did ya drink last night, pard?"

Chris held up an almost empty whiskey bottle and grinned. "Think this is the third... maybe fourth!"

"Whew!" the tracker sighed. He took the bottle away from his friend. "What the hell happened?"

Larabee took in the younger man's features. He was glad they had become good friends. Yet, something was bothering him and friendship alone couldn’t make him understand. Suddenly the gunslinger’s expression changed. "Tell me about the wolves, Vin. Tell me about the journey."

Tanner sat back against the side of the wagon and thought how best to relate the story he had heard long ago. He knew his leader well enough to know that he didn't put much stock in any Indian tales. It was also obvious, that the strange woman's presence in town was putting Chris on edge. Setting the whiskey bottle aside, the younger man took a deep breath. "Many tribes tell stories ‘bout the four winds," he began.

Chris seemed to relax into the sharpshooter’s voice.

"It's told that the doors to the North, South, East and West Winds are all watched by nature’s creatures. Each wind and its creature, have different things that's special about 'em." Vin looked at the blond quickly. "The four winds only meet up when somethin’ gonna happen…"

The gunslinger watched as Tanner took a deep breath.

"When the woman first rode in tah town I saw that eagle. He’s the East Wind who guided her here. Reckon the horse is the West Wind ‘cause it’s marked with the gray wolf." The sharpshooter paused again. "She’s the key though. She’s the South Wind... That’s what the red wolf means. This creature tells of fire and change... We both know a red wolf's as rare as buffalo these days. Spirit of the red wolf's harder tah find. The South Wind comes with change... some say a life journey. She’ll guide us through it. And, ‘cause she's paired with another spirit wolf... the teaming makes the red wolf stronger. She sees, hears and feels things others can't."

There was a moment of silence before Larabee spoke. "The future?" he questioned solemnly. He had been listening intently to what Vin was saying.

Vin cocked his head. "That's what the tribal stories say... The South Wind is some powerful. They say she may see what's tah come but doesn't always understand what she sees. That's why she needs the other winds to guide her… so she can guide those who she’s suppose tah help."

It was the blond’s turn to breathe deeply. "So that's the journey she's talking about."

The tracker looked at his friend suspiciously. "You tellin' me she spoke to you too?" Tanner couldn’t help but be a little annoyed. He’d heard her whispers in his mind but never directly to his ears. He couldn’t help but wonder why she hadn’t spoken to him yet?

Chris realized why the tracker miffed. Of all The Seven, Vin was the one who understood her reasons. The one that was most like her. "She's talked to ya, pard. Just up here is all," Chris tapped his temple. He realized now that this stranger had communicated with his friend from the very beginning.

The sharpshooter nodded in understanding. He knew she’d been in his mind even before she got to town. He felt like she was looking for information and was using him to get to the others. He didn’t like being used and he’d been trying to figure a way of blocking her probing thoughts. But, none of that was going to answer Larabee’s questions… "No," he answered his friend’s original query. "The journey she's here for ain’t begun yet... Don't reckon I know what's gonna set it off."

The man in black rubbed his chin. "She said something about a test."

Tanner considered the premonition carefully. "When?"

Pursed lips supplied the answer. "She didn't say... Don't think she knew."

The tracker turned serious all of a sudden. "Chris listen… there's a whole lot ‘a people out there that believe in what I just told ya. I reckon I count myself in with 'em. I seen things I can't 'xplain… If'n she tellin' us there's gonna be some test then we should try 'n be ready."

Flailing hands showed the gunslinger’s frustration. "Ready… for what?" He really wasn’t expecting a reply.

The tracker gazed off at the waking town. "Reckon we’re safe ‘til the North Wind joins ‘em," he warned. "Just keep yer eyes open for another wolf!"

As the sun rose behind the buildings in front of them, Larabee and Tanner sat quietly considering the information they had just shared.

The next two days past slowly in Four Corners. Nothing out of the ordinary happened and Chris was becoming more restless as the hours ticked slowly by. He again sat in front of the restaurant, still trying to read the same book he’d had three days ago. He was apprehensive about this whole situation. Even if he could get used to the young woman walking slowly about the town, he couldn’t accept that she was always listening for something. It made him nervous and angry. There was no real reason why having another set of eyes on things could do any harm but he hated knowing that she was expecting something... And, he hated the feeling he got when she was looking at him.

Thankfully, she wasn't doing that right now.

Out front of the jailhouse, John Dunne balanced a chair on its back legs while he too, tried to read. The kid, however, was reading one of those dime store novels the others always bugged him about.

The preacher couldn’t help but smile as he came of out their office. "Enjoying the afternoon sun, JD?" he questioned happily.

JD glanced over his shoulder while covertly sliding the dime novel into his pocket. He noticed Sanchez was polishing his Schofield revolver with an old rag. "Did ya get it good and clean like Vin said?"

Josiah smiled broadly. "Inside and out." He finished up and put the weapon back in its holster. Checking the draw, he nodded. "As smooth as the day it was made. Kind of like the day a baby comes into the world," the preacher took a deep breath. "The lord is always smiling on days like those."

The kid frowned thoughtfully. "You think God had anything to do with sending that girl tah help us, Josiah?" he was serious with his question. Dunne had listened carefully when Vin had related the Indian legend and the Red Wolf. Tanner had told them of some test he was sure was coming and how four of them were somehow going to need the woman's help.

Placing the old rag on the back of the kid’s chair, Sanchez raised an eyebrow. "The lord works in mysterious ways!" he said cheerfully. It was a standard line for the preacher but it seemed to work for everything. For his part, Josiah believed it was true. "The people of the mountains and the plains are his children, too."

Dunne frowned again. "But she's a white woman."

Sanchez cocked his head. " ... Indeed she is, boy... Funny thing about people though… they're all the same on the inside."

The kid couldn’t help but smile. "How'd you reckon she ended up with them Cheyenne anyway? " he sat up. "And how come she's got such a funny name?" JD was full of questions today.

"Son, I believe there are too many questions that we will never know… or understand the answers to." Josiah turned to leave as he patted his young friend on the shoulder. "One thing’s for sure though," he smiled. "We shouldn't question the lord... no matter how he sends the message."

John Dunne watched the preacher as he headed towards the church. Content, for now, with the answers he had been given, the kid glanced about town happily and spotted his leader. Well… at least some of us don't got ‘a fight everythin' that comes our way.

That evening found the visitor engaged in a long game of poker with the town's resident gambler.

Standish was tense and everyone could sense it.

"What’d ya reckon he's gonna do if she wins another hand?" Wilmington asked to no one in particular.

JD looked at the others questioningly. "That's can't happen... can it?"

The preacher was warming to the girl nicely. "Don't believe I've seen a stranger creature than that lovely lady!" he smiled.

"Seems tah me our con man's done been conned good," laughed Jackson. "He deserves to be beat by the girl. He's taken her money three nights runnin'. Only fair she gets some back."

"Yeah..." Vin straightened in his chair. "She's a quick study," he had plenty of time to study her too. "She spends most ‘a her time watchin' us. Reckon by now she's got all a' us pegged."

Glancing at the poker game, the tracker smiled at the woman. She’d grown on him, now that he was slowly learning how to fend off her exploration of his thoughts. He still wished she would speak to him though. Just like the rest of them, Tanner had a million things he wanted to ask her. But, having shared minds with the woman, his questions were just a little more intimate.

"Anybody else seen her writing somethin’?" Dunne asked as he swallowed some more beer.

The healer nodded. "Not just scribblin,’ that for sure. This mornin' I done saw her at the post office mailin’ somethin'... Mr. Allen told me it was a whole lot ‘a paper tah some fella in New York."

Everyone seemed to take a minute to process the information. It seemed the more they learned, the more they had questions.

JD, in particular, always had another query. "What'd ya suppose that's all about?"

"One can only presume an answer, son. We'll probably never know the true reason." The preacher was curious himself but resigned to the fact that some questions never received a good answer.

A peaceful morning in Four Corners was shattered as six shots rang out through the small community.

The townsfolk cleared the street as their seven protectors appeared at random. Each man looked around to gauge his position in reference to the others and to find the source of the shots.

Another six shots were heard and The Seven men pinpointed the source over towards the boarding house.

As they headed cautiously to the east side of town, an anxious looking Will Anderson came running into the street holding up his hands. "It’s alright, Mr. Larabee," he called out. "It’s just the woman. She said she needed to do some practicing with them fancy pistols of hers." The young man looked nervously at the gunslinger. "I told ‘er she’d best check with you first," he added quickly.

As the peacekeepers walked down the alley into the field, they found exactly what Anderson had been trying to describe. Having set up some old cans and pieces of wood, the stranger had been firing at them from about fifty feet. Both her weapons were drawn as she fired again at the targets and each fell in turn with her shots.

So intent were The Seven on her display, that none of the others noticed Larabee. The gunslinger’s blood was beginning to boil.

"Hell, I can do that," the kid exclaimed loudly. When it came to two-handed shooting, Dunne was indeed, the best of The Seven.

Having found the source of the gunfire, most of the peacekeepers had relaxed by now and were putting away their weapons.

Tanner closed his eyes briefly and smiled as he opened them. "Bet ya can’t do it with yer eyes closed!" he mused.

The kid looked at the tracker with a disbelieving look on his face. The stare questioned No Way!

The sharpshooter grinned and cocked his head in reply.

Still none of the others had noticed the angry glare of their leader. "What the hell do ya think your doing?" Larabee demanded as he grabbed the woman roughly by one arm and beckoned her attention.

The stranger was her normal calm self as she placed her peacemakers’ back into their holsters.

Larabee tone was violent. "Did you hear me?"

"Let her be, Chris," Vin suggested, almost defensively.

"No…" Chris warned Tanner away. "It’s about time we got some answers." He looked at the woman again. "Who the hell are you?"

Her reply was calm and quiet. "You have known my name since the day I arrived."

The healer remembered how he had mispronounced her name. Not that any of them had used it much. "Athena?" he reminded them.

"That ain’t no Indian name and it ain’t what I meant." Their leader’s focus was still on the girl and his tone was becoming increasingly menacing.

"It is the name given to me by she that gave me life… She was not of the tribe." Having been turned by the blond’s rough handling, the woman’s gaze drifted back to the meadow. "The tribe took me in when I was young. They called me ma’heono’ and gave me the ema’o ho’neche."

Five pairs of eyes settled on the tracker.

Vin was listening to her soft voice for only the second time and a gentle smile spread across his face. She still wasn’t speaking to him, but he enjoyed listening to her words. He translated the language for the others but only he understood her tone. "They called her ‘the spirit ’and marked her with the ‘red wolf’."

Athena was not surprised to hear her words translated. She had been inside this mind and was familiar with his soul. Yet, somehow Tanner still managed to hide his secret from her and he was now learning how to send her thoughts away. But, all these thoughts would have to wait. She was being questioned and she desperately needed to gain control of the situation. "The spirits guide my way now," she smiled softly. "They are my companions."

Larabee still had hold of the woman’s arm and he pulled her around to face him completely this time. "What are we waiting for?" he growled. He studied her eyes but found no fear in them. Not receiving the expected reaction, the gunslinger grew even more irate. How could he truly judge someone he couldn’t intimidate?

Athena lowered her head. "I do not know how the change will come… I only know that I must be here when it does. I must guide the four who will make their journey."

Chris had his reasons for being angry. This stranger had come into his town eight days ago, telling a story he didn’t, or couldn’t believe. How could he possibly play a part in that fairy tale? By nature, he was suspicious of anyone he couldn’t get a feel for. It was the only way he had stayed alive this long. This woman might have represented the worst of the ‘bad element’, had it not been for Tanner’s belief in her. Even when he couldn’t see her, he sensed she was looking at him. Sometimes it made his skin crawl. The blond grabbed the woman by both arms and shook her violently. If she’d been a man, he surely would have knocked her down. "You can’t just walk in here…"

"Let her go, brother!" the preacher commanded forcefully. He could see the anger in his leader as he stepped forward. Josiah knew that they all shared his frustration but most of them had a lot more patience than the man in black. Sanchez tried to calm the situation before it got worse. "She’s here to help, Chris," he said gently. "Seems she don’t know why, or when, or how… but we should take comfort in knowing that she’s here." The big man slowly removed his leader’s hands from the young woman’s arms. "It ain’t easy waiting on one’s future… but it would be best to remember we’re not traveling the road alone."

Larabee met the older man’s eyes gruffly before looking around at his men. His customary glare was evident but so was his anger. The gunslinger’s desire to be in control had long ago grown beyond being just a simple need. Control gave him the edge… it had kept him alive. It had become an essential component in his daily life, no less important that breathing… and right now, Chris couldn’t.

The remainder of The Seven all understood the meaning behind the look. They all watched in silence, as the gunslinger turned angrily and marched back into town.

The woman had appeared undaunted by Larabee’s stare but inside she was scared. Afraid, not only of the man, but of the anger he held inside. His touch had revealed something that she had not seen before. She now knew that she would not be able to break through the blockade he had in his mind. She would have to face his rage unprepared … and alone.


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