Summary: A Comanche war party comes looking for information about a child. When they arrive at the homestead, a tragedy has befallen a little boy who is all alone.
As they reined in their horses, the war party saw a small, lone figure dragging something. Apparently it was too heavy for the small one because he or she could only go a short way before dropping down beside the burden to rest a bit, then pull again. Puzzled, the warriors walked their mounts closer.
It was a boy. One who ran back inside the cabin and dragged a shotgun out and tremblingly attempted to aim it at them. He had reddish blond hair and very blue eyes.
This, thought Buffalo Dancing, is my brother's son? This skinny, pale thing with white eyes and sticks for arms and legs?
It was then he realized that what the boy had been dragging was a human-sized bundle wrapped in a quilt. So, the woman had died before they had arrived. This could present a problem which Buffalo Dancing had not foreseen and was in no mood to deal with. With a weary sigh, he dismounted.
"I am the brother of your father, boy. What has happened here?"
"Get off our land." The shotgun wavered a little but still held, apparently by sheer force of will.
"We will take you to your grandfather."
"I ain't goin' nowheres with you. Now, git!"
With a nod, he signaled for his companion, who had circled around behind the boy to grab the shotgun and pull. The boy, who had refused to let go of the gun, swung in the air, dangling from it. In another situation, they all would have laughed at the welcome sight of his fierce bravery, but they needed to get out of the area, knowing a patrol was nearby. Grass Hill Man struck the boy, who thumped to the ground, the breath knocked out of him.
Two of the others went inside the cabin, returning with shells for the shotgun and nothing else. As they went out the door, one threw in a lit lantern and a blaze flared up, showing they had spread some of the lantern fuel before coming out.
The boy jumped to his feet and started to run back into the cabin but Two Bears swung him up into the air, in spite of the spindly legs which furiously kicked at him. They decided to tie the boy to save time and their own energy. Let him rage against the ropes and wear himself out. It would make it easier for them all. With the condition he was in, it should not take long.
When they began to ride off, the boy howled, kicked and bit out at Buffalo Dancing, who slapped him hard on the side of his head.
"NO!" screamed the boy. "You can't leave her there! They'll get her!"
Hesitating, Buffalo Dancing thought a second. His brother had loved this woman. Loved her enough to defy their mother and father and try to make a life with her. He supposed he owed it to the brother he had loved and idolized even though he did not give even one thought to the woman or this scrawny boy which he doubted was really his brother's child.
Two Bears looked questioningly at him and he nodded. Count on Two Bears to feel sorry for the boy. Sometimes that man was too soft but he was a good man and had been his brother's best friend. Buffalo Dancing always enjoyed being around him. He made all things seem brighter.
Gently, Two Bears picked up the bundle and reverently carried it the remaining way the boy had not been able to manage to the hole which had obviously been painstakingly dug. With the same amount of care he would have used for the living, the silent warrior laid the burden down, then gently replaced the dirt. After that, he walked over to the large wheelbarrow on the side of the yard and placed it over the grave to keep out the animals. Rocks would have been the preferred method but they did not have time for that. Not with that patrol nearby. It was more than most would have done and the others were already impatient to go now that the smoke might draw curiosity.
The child was now sitting still as a stone, eyes moving from grave to blazing cabin, tears shimmering but not falling. Two Bears stood in front of him. "I was friend to your father and I have honored your mother, Sky Without Clouds."
The boy nodded.
Surprised at Two Bears giving the child a name in their peoples' tongue, Buffalo Dancing accepted it as his due for being best friend to the boy's father. The boy's calmness made Buffalo Dancing wonder if it was a trick but he felt a strange feeling in his heart. That simple, dignified nod from the tiny boy had reminded him so strongly of his brother it touched him somewhere deep inside. Uncomfortable with that feeling, he motioned for them to move out, which they did silently. The boy took one last look back and then sat staring forward.
In spite of the boy's looks, Two Bears could feel the spirit of Many Tongues protecting the child. This was indeed the son of his friend and that warmed Two Bears' heart. At that moment, he vowed to protect this boy with his life and gave the boy a name of their people. One that spoke to his heart because of those eyes. They reminded him of summer days when he and Many Tongues would sneak away, lying on their backs, staring up at the cloudless, endless sky and dream of their futures. It was a good name, a fitting one.
After many miles they came to a stream and, after watering the horses, Buffalo Dancing handed the boy over to Two Bears. "You take him for a while, friend."
Two Bears pulled the child up in front of him. "Come along, Sky Without Clouds. We will ride together and I will tell you of your father."
The sad-faced little boy nodded.
As they rode along, Two Bears smiled. "When your father was born, he was called Sick Calf but after he grew, he was called Many Tongues because he learned to speak many languages. I know you never knew him but he was a good man."
"I know. He had to be if my Mama loved him."
Not able to argue with such logic, Two Bears bit back a grin. Yes, this boy was truly the son of Many Tongues. "And your mother must have been a good woman since your father loved her."
The boy twisted around to look into his face. "How do you know?"
"When your father met your mother, he told me about her. He said when he first saw her, he had thought she was a spirit because of her white hair and pale eyes but he soon fell in love with her because of her beauty and sweetness. And I think he was impressed by her bravery when she almost stabbed him defending herself from the savage at the stream where she was fishing."
A small quirk that was almost a smile flicked over the boy's mouth. "She said he was a great warrior."
"Yes, he was. That's true. What did she call you?"
"Vin. Vinton Lee Tanner. I was named for her grandfather. She was a Tanner. So'm I."
"I see. I have given you a new name. A name in your father's tongue."
"What's it mean?"
"Sky Without Clouds."
The boy considered for a moment, then nodded. "All right."
Suddenly, they all froze. The scout who had been out came back, silently motioning for them to halt. All of them knew they would be hanged or worse if they were caught with a tied up white boy.
Maneuvering the horses behind the scrubby trees and hoping no one looked their way too closely, the warriors waited tensely. Luckily for them, the riders had no interest in even slowing down let alone looking their way and were soon gone.
Moving out again, Two Bears looked down at his little saddle-companion. The boy was sitting up straight, seemingly not bothered by the ropes that had obviously cut into the thin wrists and ankles. Two Bears could abide it no longer and cut the ropes.
"The son of my friend does not need to be tied on like a baby so he does not fall off," he announced, politely pretending the ropes had only been there to prevent him from falling and not to secure him from escape.
For the first time, the boy lost the hard control he'd had over himself and a tear fell from each eye. A single sniff of the little nose and the storm was over and the boy once more squared his shoulders. "I AM five," he announced proudly, as if that explained everything and let them know he was almost a man, not a baby.
The rest of the men smiled in amusement. It had not taken long for this boy to prove himself. He truly must be the son of Many Tongues. They rode on toward home.