This is a birthday fic for Jeanne. She asked for a story about Native Americans.
This idea came to me after reading Mari Sandoz's book The Horse Catcher.
It is ATF LB. There are no warnings. I hope you enjoy it, Jeanne and Happy
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction. I am not making any money from it and I don't own the boys.
From the loft where he was hiding, Vin watched the old pick-up make its way slowly up the long drive to the Larabee ranch. He watched as an aged Indian parked the ancient vehicle close to the barn. The old man carefully got out. After closing the door he shuffled to the rear of the truck, let down the tail-gate and started removing his tools and supplies.
Vin was fascinated with John Nighthorse. The little boy had been in the barn grooming Patience, the small mare Chris had bought for the boys to learn to ride on, when the farrier had arrived last Saturday. Chris had told him that a man was coming to re-shoe the horses and to not bother him.
Vin hadn't known what to expect but the little wizened old man surprised him. He walked with a bow-legged shuffle and looked as if a sudden gust of wind might blow him away. His face was a mass of wrinkles, his hair iron gray; long and pulled back in to a pony tail. He wore a faded denim shirt with jeans equally worn. On his head was a battered straw cowboy hat with two feathers stuck in the hatband.
Nighthorse had walked right by Patience's stall and didn't seem to notice the little boy. Vin peeked around the partition to watch as the farrier backed Beau, Buck's gentle gelding, out of his stall. He led him out into the paddock and tethered him to the railing.
There, the young boy watched as the farrier talked in a low, caressing voice, looking the horse in the eye and gently stroking his muzzle; as if explaining what it was that he was going to do. Then he began a methodical examination of the horse's legs and hooves.
Every once in a while, he would take what looked like a funny shaped knife out of his pocket and scraped the bottom of the hoof. He took careful measurements and wrote them down in a little notebook he pulled from his back pocket.
Once finished with each of the legs, the old Indian, using both hands, gently ran them over the rest of the horse.
Vin was fascinated at how still Beau was standing. The horse was by nature a gentle creature but under the hands of the farrier, he stood as if hypnotized; eyes half closed.
When he finished his examination, the Indian moved back to the horse's head. Placing his hand on the big animal's nose, he brought his face next to Beau's. The two stood that way for a few minutes and then he returned Beau to his stall.
Pony, Chris's big black gelding, was next. The whole process was repeated and once again Vin was amazed at how much the horse seemed to enjoy the attention.
The little boy still didn't know if the farrier was aware of his presence, but he was fascinated with the man's actions, so he decided to climb into the loft before he brought Pony back into the barn.
Lastly, Nighthorse brought out Patience and repeated the performance. The little mare seemed to love the gentle touching and kept trying to nuzzle the Indian.
Once he finished, the old man led the horse back into her stall. When he came out, he climbed into his beat-up old truck and left.
He had not mentioned to anyone that he had spied on the farrier; afraid Chris wouldn't like it, but he was also afraid that Chris wouldn't let him watch if he knew.
He hated being sneaky and knew it was wrong but he but he just had to see. So when Buck and JD prepared to go into town the next weekend to run some errands, Vin declined their invitation to join them. He told them that he wanted to just hang around the house even if Chris was going to be busy catching up on some paper work.
When Vin announced that he wanted to stay home, Buck looked questioningly at Chris, who shrugged and nodded that it was okay. After they left, Chris turned to his son, "I've got to do this office work. What are you going to do?'
Vin evaded his dad's eyes and tried to look nonchalant, "I don't know. . .maybe watch a video without JD talking all through it."
Chris grinned. Vin had a point. Although Vin didn't say anything, the adults could tell that he sometimes got frustrated that JD couldn't watch a video quietly.
"Okay, I'll be in the office if you need me," And he watched as Vin headed to the den.
When it was close to the appointed time, Vin stopped the DVD player but turned the TV to a cartoon station. He then, quietly, let himself out the back door and ran for the barn. There he climbed the ladder to the loft and hid behind a hay bale.
The Indian parked his truck and slowly gathered his tools and placed everything on the lowered tailgate. Vin saw that this week the tools were different. Chris had told him that the farrier had measured each of the horses' hooves the week before. This week he would put new shoes on them and check for any hoof problems.
Vin watched from the window in the loft that was used to load hay to the upper level as the old man shuffled slowly into the barn. Long minutes passed as the little boy waited.
He began to get worried; after all the Indian was awfully old, maybe one of the oldest people the little boy had ever seen. Maybe something had happened to him.
He was lying flat on the floor of the loft. He rose up on his hands and knees and started to back up. Turning slowly in order to not make unnecessary noise, he was startled to see the old Indian sitting on the very bale of hay he was hiding behind.
Vin could do nothing but stare back.
"Come," the farrier said and started back down.
Vin closed his eyes briefly. He just knew that the old man was going to tell on him. He sighed deeply. He hated to disappoint Chris, but the Indian just fascinated him. He hadn't meant to get in the way.
With reluctance, Vin followed. When he reached the bottom, Nighthorse was waiting for him. The little boy stood and waited with his head down.
After what seemed an eternity he looked up to meet the eyes of the Indian. Expecting to see anger, he was astonished to see the old man smiling and he was even more astonished when the farrier winked and cocked his head toward Beau's stall.
Understanding swept through the young boy. Grinning he headed toward the stall. When he reached the large grey, he turned back to the old man. He found himself alone. Wildly he looked around, but he didn't see the old man until he stepped away from the stall. He could see out the barn door and there, leaning against the tailgate, gazing at the sky, was the farrier.
Then he remembered that he was supposed to bring the horse out and hurried back to get Beau. All the horses already had halters on, so all he had to do was back Beau out and lead him outside.
Once he had the gentle gelding standing beside the battered, old truck, he tied him to the corral railing as he had seen the farrier do the week before.
Patiently, the Indian showed the young boy how to check the hooves and what to look for if there was a problem after he removed the old shoes. He showed him how to clean the hooves, file the edges and put the new shoes on. The old man said little but Vin hung on every word that he did say.
When they finished with Beau, Vin returned him to the barn and brought out Patience. They repeated the procedures on the mare only this time, without asking questions, had Vin talking him through it and the little boy could tell him how, almost verbatim.
When the youngster hesitated or seemed unsure, the old man patiently guided him to the right answer. Before long, Patience was finished and Vin led her back into the barn.
Chris had thought it a little strange that Vin had passed up the chance to go to town with Buck and JD, but understood the reason the boy had given. He was giving his back a break from sitting at his desk for so long and had peeked into the den. He discovered that Vin was gone and had a feeling where he might be.
He stepped out onto the back deck just as Vin was leading Patience out. He almost rushed down to put a stop to it but when he saw how the Indian and the boy were interacting, he refrained and just continued to watch.
However, when he saw that the farrier was going to let Vin bring Pony out by himself, he hurriedly started toward the barn. He didn't run; he didn't want to alarm the sometimes skittish gelding.
If the Indian was aware of him, he didn't show it. He just continued his observation of the sky. Before he could reach the barn, Vin came out with Pony.
Chris froze. He didn't want to spook the horse or the boy. Vin had the reign in one hand and the was holding the halter with the other. He appeared to be talking to the horse and the big gelding had his head bent low, as if listening.
The little boy took the big black over to the fence railing and tied him by the lead rope. He whispered a few more words to the horse and then turned. Seeing Chris, he stopped.
He knew that he was in trouble now; for two reasons, first he had been told not to handle the horses by himself and second, he had been told to not bother the farrier. He was guilty of both.
Chris was frowning but when he saw the terrified expression on his son's face, he schooled his own to be more neutral, "Vin?"
Vin just stood there; rarely had he outright disobeyed Chris. Part of the little boy knew that Chris wouldn't send him away for breaking a rule or two, but there was still a part of him that couldn't let go of that fear.
Sensing what the boy was thinking, Chris started to reassure him.
"He's got the way."
Chris jumped slightly. He had forgotten about the farrier in his concern for his son.
Nodding his head toward the child who was still frozen to the spot, he repeated, "He's got the way."
Perplexed, Chris asked, "The way?"
The old Cheyenne nodded once, "My people believe there are some born with the 'way.' They have the spirit of the Horse people within them."
Perplexed, Chris continued to stare at the farrier. In the meantime, Vin slowly approached the pair.
Chris, out of the corner of his eye, saw Vin move closer. Now, he was in a dilemma. He didn't want to embarrass either of them by chastising them in front of each other, but on the other hand, he wasn't happy about what had happened.
At that moment the Indian turned to Vin, "A nice cold glass of water sounds mighty good."
Vin looked to his father, who nodded his permission.
When Vin was out of earshot, Chris turned to the Indian, who was grinning at him, "The horse would not hurt him."
"You can't know that."
The Indian looked him squarely in the eye. Chris met his look and those old, wise eyes he saw the absolute belief in what the farrier was telling Chris.
The look and very demeanor to the man spoke of a knowledge beyond Chris's understanding. Chris was a no nonsense, facts only, kind of guy. Yet, there was something about this old man. . .
It was Chris who finally dropped his eyes. This old farrier had been around horses his whole life. He knew more about them than anyone Chris had ever met. And from talking to other people, he was regarded as something of a magician with the large mammals. There were many stories about the seeming miracles he could work with a horse. Some of the tales had become legend.
Several minutes passed and Chris heard the back screen door slam as Vin returned with the water. Chris once again let his eyes lock onto those of the Indian.
"The horse would not hurt him."
Chris let a little of his anger show, "This horse is difficult to handle, even for an adult. Under normal circumstances the horse tolerates Vin, but what if something had startled him?"
Calmly the Indian face Larabee and repeated, "The horse would not hurt him."
A strange feeling passed through Chris Larabee as his eyes locked with the Old One's. Although logic warred with instinct, Chris found himself believing him.
He felt rather than saw his small son move silently up to stand beside him. He continued to look at Nighthorse a moment longer before turning his attention to Vin.
Softening his expression to not let the little boy see his agitation, he said, "Hey, buddy, I see you're helping Mr. Nighthorse."
Solemnly, Vin nodded; his big eyes not leaving his father's face, trying to read how much trouble he was in.
Chris saw the worry in his son's eyes and kneeled down in front of him, "Mr. Nighthorse says that you have been a lot of help."
"I didn't bother 'm or get in th' way," Vin vowed.
"I know you didn't Cowboy. It's just that I. . .," Chris stopped and looked at the expectant face, "I want you to do just as Mr. Nighthorse tells you so that you won't get accidentally hurt."
"I will," he promised.
Glancing at the farrier, he felt reassured that the man wouldn't deliberately put Vin in danger. He took a deep breath and decided to trust his instincts and the man in front of him who had a lifetime of experience handling the large equines.
He gave his son's shoulder a squeeze and a reassuring smile, and then turned and walked back toward the house.
The little boy watched his father walk away and then, still holding the glass of water, turned wide eyes to the old Indian. The farrier winked and held out his hand for the cool refreshment.
Vin grinned and handed him the glass.
Chris watched as the farrier fitted his sometimes irascible horse with new shoes and carefully checked for hoof disease. Each step was carefully shown to his enthralled pupil. The ATF agent was amazed at how docile Pony was with the boy.
Once finished, Vin led the big black back into the barn. While he was putting the horse back in the stall, Nighthorse put up his tools and supplies.
When Vin came back out, the old Indian was leaning against the corral fence with a foot resting on the bottom rail. Vin stood beside him a moment before climbing the fence and sitting astride the top rail.
Chris watched curiously as the child and the old man just seemed to look out over the land. He guessed that they were talking because every once in a while he saw the small boy nod his head. He wondered what they were talking about.
Later that evening, after dinner, Vin was helping Chris with the dishes while Buck was entertaining JD in the den. Chris had told Buck about the day's activities and the big agent was giving the two a little space. Vin had been unusually quiet ever since the farrier left.
Keeping his voice very casual, Chris said, "Looked like you and Mr. Nighthorse had quite a talk."
Vin placed the plate carefully in the dishwasher then turned to face his father. Although Chris hadn't said anything, he still wasn't sure if he was in trouble.
"Yeah," he said, watching Chris's face.
Seeing the trepidation on his son's face, Chris turned off the tap dried his hands and knelt down in front of him. Putting his hands on the narrow shoulders, he said, "Vin, I'm not angry with you."
The blond watched as the little boy relaxed some and give him a small grin.
Chris took a deep breath, "Mr. Nighthorse told me that he asked you to help."
The little boy nodded.
"But. . .just because we let you handle the horses today doesn't mean that you can do it without an adult present. You understand?"
Vin nodded solemnly.
"Promise me that you won't go near the horses without permission and without an adult with you."
"I promise," But the expression on the little boy's face told Chris he wasn't happy about it.
Sitting down at the kitchen table, he gathered his son into his arms and gave him a reassuring hug. "Look, Vin, Mr. Nighthorse has been around horses his whole life. He knows more about horses than anyone I ever knew."
Vin looked, wide-eyed into those of the man he idolized, finding it hard to believe anyone could know more about horses than his dad.
"Even you?" he asked, incredulously.
Chris smiled at the question and the sentiment in the boys eyes. "Yeah, even me."
Slightly embarrassed at the disbelief he saw on Vin's face, he continued, "Anyway, Mr. Nighthorse had already been with the horses today, before he let you bring them out. He knew that they were calm and not excited. He knew that it was safe for you to handle them by yourself. . .this time."
Vin looked at him expectantly.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Chris continued, "He can teach you a lot about horses but I don't want you around them unless an adult is there with you."
At the crestfallen look on the little boy's face, Chris said, "I know that you are good with the horses, Vin, and that they like you, but you are just a little boy and they are big animals. They might not hurt you on purpose but they don't think like people and you can't expect them to act like people."
When Chris paused, Vin nodded gravely, "That's what Mr. Nighthorse said."
Not surprised, Chris smiled, "He did; did he?"
Solemnly, the little boy nodded again, "Yeah, he also said that a long time ago that there were special warriors in his tribe that took care of the horses." The youngster interrupted his narrative to look eagerly at his father.
Chris acknowledged that he was listening, "Really?"
"Yeah, they were called Horse Catchers." At this the boy screwed up his face and made some unintelligible sounds.
"Huh?" Chris asked, surprised.
Vin shrugged and blushed slightly, "He told me the name in Indian, but I guess I forgot."
Chris twisted his mouth slightly to keep from laughing but allowed himself a small smile as he corrected the boy, "Cheyenne."
"Cheyenne; Mr. Nighthorse is a Cheyenne Indian and he speaks the Cheyenne language."
The little boy looked at his dad, "What's a Shy'anne Indian?"
"Well. . .," Chris began not quite sure how to explain the different tribes belonging to one race. Then he had an idea.
Getting up, he said, "Wait here, I'll be right back."
He was gone for several minutes and when he came back he was carrying a large picture book. It was about the various Indian tribes of North America. He placed it on the table and then motioned for Vin to join him.
The boy climber up on his lap as Chris opened the book. On the first page was a large map of the United States with the names of the various Indian tribes printed in different sections of the country.
"Do you know where we live?" Chris asked.
Vin quickly pointed to Colorado on the map and then looked up at his dad and grinned. The proud father gave him a hug and a big smile.
"Yep, that's right, and see how the sections of the map are shaded different colors?"
Again, the little boy nodded.
"Indian tribes are divided into groups. Each of these shaded areas represents a group. The Cheyenne are in this group." Chris pointed to a narrow, shaded section that ran through Colorado.
Vin gazed intently at the map and then looked up at Chris, waiting for him to explain.
"The Cheyenne are in the group called the "Plains" Indians. The Plains Indians are nomadic. Do you know what that means?"
The little boy shook his head and Chris smiled. "It means that they didn't have a permanent place to live."
Chris stopped his explanation as big, sad eyes met his. It took a second but then he mentally kicked himself for his poor choice of words. The memory of not having a home was still too fresh in the little boy's mind.
Chris laid a reassuring hand on Vin's shoulder. "It's okay. That's the way they wanted to live."
Vin's expression turned to one of disbelief. Thinking briefly back to a time when he and JD were on the streets; why would anyone not want to have a house to live in?
Reading the boy's face correctly, Chris flipped a few pages of the book until he came to a picture of a Plains Indian's lodge. "Do you know what this is?"
Vin nodded, "It's a tipi."
"Right, but the Native American's call them 'lodges.' Theses lodges are where the Indians live. They are made of buffalo hides. They are made like this so that they can be taken apart and moved very fast."
He paused a moment to let the information sink in. "The Cheyenne, along with other Plains tribes, lived off the buffalo."
Again, turning some pages he came to an artist's rendition of a vast buffalo herd.
"A couple hundred years ago there were thousands and thousands of buffalo in a herd. They moved constantly to find new grass. It takes a lot of grass to feed that many buffalo."
Chris watched the little boy as he stared at the picture, nodding absently. The agent knew that Vin was trying to imagine what a herd of bison that big looked like as it roamed the prairies.
"They say that when the herd was on the move you could feel the ground shake and it sounded like thunder," Chris continued as Vin looked up at him in awe. "Well, since the Plains Indians hunted the buffalo, they followed the herd. That's why their lodges were made so that they could be moved easily. Could you see us trying to move our house to follow a buffalo herd?"
Vin giggled at the thought of taking their house apart and putting it back together every time they needed to move. Then his expression changed slightly and he looked up at his dad with what Chris recognized as hope and he could guess at what the boy was thinking.
"Does Mr. Nighthorse live in a ti. . .lodge?"
Chris smiled, "No, he lives in a regular house just like us."
Vin sighed deeply. "Darn, I wish I could see a tipi; I mean a lodge."
The agent reached over and ruffled his son's hair and Vin looked up at him. "I think I might be able to arrange for you to see one. How does that sound."
The little boy's face broke into the big smile that his father never tired of seeing. "Can Buck and JD go, too?"
"Sure, if they want to."
"Yeah!" And the child who such a short time ago had trouble expressing emotion, jumped out of the chair and threw himself at his dad.
The next week seemed like it was years long to the two boys. Chris had called John Nighthorse and asked him where he might take the boys to see a Cheyenne lodge.
The agent was only slightly surprised that the old farrier told him that he had one set up at his ranch and that the family was more than welcome to visit his place the following Sunday.
The two little boys could hardly wait. JD, having not met John Nighthorse, peppered Vin with questions. For the most part, the little blond answered good-naturedly and even shared his new-found knowledge about Native Americans, but there were times that the men could tell that JD was wearing on his brother's nerves. So, Chris and Buck did there best to distract the little urchin to give Vin some short periods of peace.
The boys also showed a renewed interest in the movie 'Spirit". They watched it about a half-dozen times that week and each time JD had more questions.
At last the appointed day arrived. That morning Chris and Buck had no trouble getting the kids up and moving. Chores were done; breakfast eaten and at last they were on their way. If they thought that JD had asked everything possible; they were sorely wrong.
"Da?" the precocious five year-old queried as he swung his legs back and forth; kicking the seat on which his car seat was secured.
Buck rolled his eyes and grimaced slightly before glancing over at his friend who was smiling. The little boy had actually been quiet for several minutes with just the rhythmic tapping of his sneakers as he gazed out the window. Both men knew that if JD had been thinking on something this long the question was going to be a 'doozy'.
Mentally bracing himself, Buck half turned in his seat. "What's up Little Bit?"
JD stopped kicking and looked at his dad. "Will Mr. Nighthorse have that stuff on his face?"
"Stuff?" Buck asked.
With a slightly worried expression on his face, he explained, "Yeah, you know, in the movies, the Injuns put stuff on their face and they go 'whoo, whoo, whoo," here he demonstrated by making the sound and tapping his mouth with his hand, "and then they 'tack someone."
Chris and Buck looked at each other a moment; the identical thought going through their heads. They were definitely going to have to screen what the boys watched on TV a little more carefully.
"JD!" Vin's tone of voice reflected exasperation, "That's only on TV. It's just pretend!"
"Really?" the little brunette queried, looking to his dad for confirmation.
Buck smiled, "Yeah Little Bit, that's only on TV."
Relieved, JD grinned, "Okay."
About two seconds later though, he asked, "But at the moozeum they had some Injuns with paint on their faces. How come?"
"First of all; it isn't polite to call Native Americans 'Injuns'. You should say Native Americans, okay?"
"'Kay," the little boy agreed.
"Second; I think it would be alright to ask Mr. Nighthorse about the paint, but you need to just ask him why Native Americans paint their faces after you ask him if it is okay to ask a question. Got it?"
It seemed like forever to Vin, but finally they turned onto a dirt road cut through what appeared to the boys, as a forest. Several minutes later the trees spaced out and the found themselves in the front yard of a slightly ramshackled ranch house.
Eager to get out of the truck, Vin unbuckled his seat belt and started to open the back door when Chris said, tensely, "Vin, wait!"
Vin stopped and looked up at his dad. "Dogs," was all Chris said and then the little boys saw that two large dogs were running out from behind the house and were barking furiously at the newcomers.
Not quite understanding what was going on but recognizing the tone of Chris's voice, Vin gently pulled the door closed. Shortly, John emerged from the house and quietly gave a command in a language they didn't understand and the dogs ran to him and sat down. Giving them another order he stepped off the porch, smiling. The two canines remained as motionless as if they were frozen.
Nighthorse walked toward the truck and waved for his guests to get out. Chris looked at Buck and the two of them silently agreed that if the old Indian said it was okay; then it probably was, but both decided to keep themselves between the boys and the dogs until they were sure.
Taking his cue from Chris who was warily getting out of the truck, Vin slowly opened the door, hopped down, closed the door and then went to stand by his dad. While Buck was getting JD out, Nighthorse walked up to the truck, smiling and his hand extended; he said, "Don't worry about the dogs, their bark is worse than their bite."
Shaking the man's hand, Chris smiled and glanced toward the porch where the dogs had yet to move. Noting that they both looked to be part Pit Bull, the agent seriously doubted the truth of that statement.
Buck and JD joined the others and Buck shook hands with the old farrier. Nighthorse then greeted the boys, "Your dad tells me that you would like to see a Cheyenne lodge."
Both boys grinned and nodded.
"Okay, let's go around back."
He led them slowly and silently around to the back of the house. Both Chris and Buck surreptitiously watched the dogs, who hadn't moved a muscle except to turn their heads to watch the men and boys.
Vin and JD were a little disappointed when they reached the back and they didn't see a lodge. They weren't sure exactly what they were supposed to see but they had seen the pictures in the books Chris and Buck checked out of the library for them.
But Nighthorse kept walking. Directly behind the house were a large, well-kept barn and a fenced pasture with several horses in it. The farrier led them past those to the woods which were about a hundred yards beyond and to the east of the house.
As they got closer, Chris could see a well-worn trail. Here, they entered the forest. They followed the path for about ten minutes until they came to a break in the trees.
When they stepped into the clearing, both Chris and Buck experienced a bit of disorientation. It was like they had entered a time warp.
There, before them, was a Cheyenne encampment as it must have appeared one hundred and fifty years before. What was even more astounding was that there were Indians apparently living there.
A man was sitting on a log outside the large lodge chipping on a piece stone. A woman was attending a fire.
The little groups stopped at the edge of the clearing. Nighthorse moved silently to one side to give the visitors an unobstructed view. As they watched, mesmerized, the woman took a long forked stick and plunged it into the fire. Carefully, she maneuvered it and then lifted a hot, smoldering rock, turned and dropped it into a skin pouch. After a moment the pouch began to jiggle slightly. Every few minutes, she repeated the process.
Suddenly there was a commotion to their right and two small boys burst out of the trees, obviously playing a game of tag.
All the people in the tableau were wearing skin clothing and had long hair.
Now, the man seemed to just notice their arrival. Smiling, he stood and approached the newcomers.
"Vá'óhtáma," he said when he got near.
"Welcome," he said in English. "I'm Tom Nighthorse; John's son."
He shook hands with Chris and Buck as they introduced themselves and then he turned to the two little boys who were watching him with big eyes and open mouths. They were standing close to their dads and hadn't moved since entering the camp.
Well aware that his visage might frighten the youngsters; Tom slowly knelt down so that he was eye level with them. Still smiling, he observed, "You must be Vin and JD."
When neither boy responded immediately, he continued, "My dad, John," gesturing toward the old man, "told me that you wanted to learn more about Indians."
Vin, finally realizing that the man wasn't a threat, nodded. JD's gaze had switched to Vin. In unfamiliar situations, he still took his cues from the older boy; just like he did when they were on the streets.
Seeing Vin's reaction, JD grinned and said to the younger Nighthorse, "Yeah and I gots lots of questions that my da didn't know but he said it wasn't polite t' ask unless I askt if it's okay t' ask." The smallest stopped and screwed up his face slightly as he thought about what he had just said; not sure if it was what he wanted to say.
Tom, grinning, said, "Your dad is right, but it's okay for you to ask questions. That's why we are here."
JD grinned back.
The younger Nighthorse glanced back at the older boy, who remained staring somberly at him. He seemed to sense Vin's reticence.
Standing, he addressed the whole group, "Please, welcome to our home. Come and meet my wife and sons."
He turned and led them across the clearing to where the woman continued her chores.
"This is my wife, Cara." The woman had been stirring whatever was in the skin pouch. She straightened, smiled and greeted their guests.
Tome turned to his sons and spoke to them in Cheyenne. The boys, who looked to around eight and ten, had stopped chasing each other when their dad walked over to the visitors and stood watching quietly. With the okay from their father they ran over to him.
"These two are Mark and Michael, my sons."
All four boys grinned shyly at each other.
The two families spent the next couple of hours getting to know each other and Vin, JD, Chris and Buck were introduced to a way of life that had disappeared over a hundred years before.
The first thing the boys asked about was the lodge; so, Tom took them into the dwelling. They were all surprised at how large it really was. He explained how they used buffalo skins with the hair off for the lodge itself and they used the skins with the hair on for robes and beds. He let the boys lay down on them; they were amazed at how soft they were.
He showed them how that when they were cooking inside the lodge, the Indians would open a flap at the top to let the smoke out and when it rained or snowed it could be closed.
JD was excited about the willow twig backrests and asked Buck if they could get some to use when they watched TV.
The adults laughed and Buck told him that they would have to see.
They were all enjoying themselves so much that they didn't realize how much time had passed until Cara called all of them over to the fire. She invited them to sit down and then she handed each a horn bowl filled with a luscious smelling stew and a smaller piece of horn which was to serve as a spoon.
The boys watched the Indians tentatively; unsure of what they were supposed to do. Chris saw their hesitation and gently nudged Vin with his elbow. The little boy watched as his dad dipped the smaller horn into the larger. Chris blew a little on the stew to cool it down and then took a bite. He chewed and swallowed, smiling at his son. "Try it; it's good."
Vin used his horn spoon and scooped up a small amount. Cautiously, he mimicked Chris and blew on the food before putting it in his mouth. He discovered for himself that the stew was very good and made quick work of it.
Cara gave the boys small skin canteens that contained water and showed them how to drape the strap over the shoulder and across the chest so that they could be carried without worrying about them falling off. Tom handed out tin cups of coffee to the men.
After the mid-day meal, Tom brought out small bows and arrows for the kids. He explained that young boys learned to hunt small game with bows such as these. He also showed them what he was working on when they arrived.
He was making arrowheads; a method called flint knapping. He showed them how he attached them to the arrow shaft and explained that later he would put feathers on the other end and that was called fletching.
Vin asked why they put feathers on the arrows and Tom explained that it was to help the arrows fly straight.
After the little demonstration, he set up some practice targets and showed Vin and JD how to shoot the bows.
Mark and Michael, of course, were very proficient, but surprisingly, so was Vin. It took him a few tried to get the hang of notching the arrow and aiming, but soon he was hitting the target with unusual accuracy.
Tom had laced a strip of leather on each of the boys' bow arms and Vin and JD soon learned why. If they didn't hold the bow arm just right, the bowstring would hit their arm when released. Besides spoiling the aim, it would've hurt if the leather guard hadn't been there. As it was, it still stung a little.
JD, on the other hand, was having some difficulty. His arrows were landing several feet short of the target; mainly because he wasn't taking the time to pull the string all the way back before letting go. The youngest was beginning to get frustrated.
Tom solved the problem by having the boys shoot in turn and when it came to JD, he had the youngster move up a third of the way to the target. He also convinced the little boy to take his time, aim and pull the string back to his ear.
Soon JD was hitting the target, if not the bull's eye. The youngster was thrilled.
The afternoon passed quickly. The boys weren't the only ones that had fun and learned in the process.
All too soon, it was time to go home. Tom, Cara, Mark and Michael walked with them to the edge of the clearing and told them to come back anytime. Tom shook hands with the men and then the boys; JD was last.
Tom smile down at the suddenly solemn little boy who stared up at him. Sensing that there was something on his mind, he knelt down in front of him. "Do you have something you want to ask me, JD?"
"Is it okay?" he asked.
"Yes, JD, you may ask me anything you want."
The urchin glanced up at his dad, who smiled and nodded. Then he returned his gaze to Tom. "On TV, Indians put this stuff on their face and then they kill people; why?"
"JD!" Buck exclaimed, embarrassed and appalled. He figured that the question was about the paint, but the rest of the question caught him completely off guard.
Tom grinned and held up his hand to Buck to stop the reprimand. "Kids ask honest questions and they deserve honest answers."
The Indian faced the little boy and briefly tried to gage how much information he could comprehend. The child seemed exceptionally bright but some things were hard for adults to understand, let alone children. So, he decided that since children usually ask just what they want to know, he would keep it simple and straight forward. If JD wanted to know more, he had no doubt that he would ask.
"Well, JD, that's a very good question," he said and watched as the boy relaxed. JD had been afraid that he was in trouble.
"A long, long time ago, the Indians and the non-Indians didn't get along very well. There were many reasons for this, and unfortunately there was killing on both sides. That happens sometimes when people don't understand each other. That is why I'm glad that you and Vin and your dads came here today; so that you could understand Indians better and we can get to know you."
JD nodded his understanding. "But. . .we didn't want to kill you before we came."
The adults chuckled and Tom said, "I know JD. All that was over a hundred years ago."
JD grinned, "Okay."
"And the stuff we put on our face is called 'paint'," Tom continued. "We use it when we pray. Do you know what that is?"
The little boy nodded vigorously. "Uncle 'Siah says that is when you talk to God."
"That's right and we put paint on our faces sometimes when we pray."
JD regarded him thoughtfully before saying, "So before you fight, you pray and you paint your face."
"Okay," the urchin grinned. Obviously, his question was answered.
"What do you say, JD?" Buck reminded.
"Thank you, Mr. Nighthorse," JD grinned.
"You are very welcome, JD. You and Vin come back and see us, okay?"
"Thanks for letting us come, Mr. Nighthorse," Vin seconded.
"You're welcome, Vin."
The group started back toward the house, waving a last time at the younger Nighthorse family before they were lost to sight.
When they reached the back lot of the house, the farrier told Chris and Buck that he had just acquired a new mare and asked if they wanted to see her. He knew that the men had been discussing getting another horse for the boys.
The two agents both said that they were interested. As the Indian led them into the barn, Chris turned to the two little boys to caution them to stay close and not wander away. He still wasn't a hundred percent sure about the dogs, although they were no where in sight.
The men spent about thirty minutes looking and talking about the horse. Chris and Buck tried to keep an eye on the boys at the same time. JD was amusing himself with kittens that he found. Vin spent most of the time staring out into the pasture.
The agents were impressed with the mare and told Nighthorse that they would think some about it but felt that he was asking a fair price and that they would let him know in a day or two.
Chris noticed that Vin was no longer in his line-of-sight but didn't think too much about it until he left the barn. His first reaction was to run to the boy and get him out of harm's way, but Nighthorse grabbed him by the arm. "Wait."
Frantically, the father tried to pull away, but the Indian tightened his grip. "If you startle them the horse may panic. Wait," he whispered.
Chris looked at him as if he were crazy and then turned back to the horrifying tableau before him.
Vin was inside the pasture talking soft and low to a large black gelding with a white blaze on his nose. The horse was tossing his head and his teeth were bared; his eyes wild. He was gingerly pawing the ground with his right hoof and his ears were laid back; his tail lashing back and forth viciously.
Vin seemed to be totally unaware of the imminent danger as he carried on his soft litany. He was standing perfectly still, his hands loose and relaxed at his sides.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Buck holding JD, coming out of the barn. JD had wanted to show his dad the kittens, thereby delaying him.
Buck wasn't paying attention to where he was going; talking and laughing with JD and almost ran into Chris, but Chris was ready for him and clamped his hand down on his friend's arm.
"Hey," Buck exclaimed, protesting the iron grip of his boss.
"Shhh. . .," Larabee hissed and pointed at the scene unfolding in the pasture.
"Holy Mary. . .,: Buck started but caught himself as he realized the threat.
Luckily, JD, because of his time living on the streets, was instantly aware that something was wrong and became very quiet, but he tightened his hold on Buck.
Several minutes passed. Gradually, the horse calmed down and as he did so his threatening posture relaxed, although he continued to hold his right hoof up off the ground.
Except for his soft reassuring murmurs, Vin had remained perfectly still. Once he saw that the gelding was no longer frantic, he very slowly raised his right arm; palm up.
Initially the black shied from the movement and Chris braced himself to run to the boy's rescue but within seconds he had calmed down again and Chris forced himself to relax a little.
Vin kept his hand out; still talking. Soon the horse's natural curiosity got the better of him and he moved slowly forward, favoring his right leg. When he got close enough, he sniffed Vin's hand.
Sensing no danger, he gently nuzzled the little palm. The boy brought his other hand up carefully and softly stroked the elegant nose.
For the first time, Vin acknowledged that he was aware of the other people. Without any sudden movement, he raised his head and looked sideways at his dad and the farrier.
Then with a gesture so small that Chris wasn't even sure he saw it, he signaled the farrier to join him. Not saying a word, Nighthorse slowly made his way to the gate and let himself into the paddock. Walking carefully, he came up behind the little boy and as he did he could hear Vin assuring the horse that Mr. Nighthorse was a friend and that he would help.
The young boy continued to caress the horse's muzzle and at the same time explained to the Indian that something was wrong with its hoof.
The old man nodded and began talking to the horse while the boy continued to reassure with his touch. Removing a pick from his back pocket, the man knelt by the horse's leg and ran his hand gently down the leg. Carefully, he lifted the foot and he could immediately see what the problem was. A sharp stone was wedged between the shoe and the hoof. In a deft, quick move, he used the pick to remove the rock.
It was all over in a heartbeat, but the horse reacted by tossing his head and stamping his foot. Immediately the intelligent creature realized that his foot no longer hurt and took a few tentative steps backward.
Nighthorse and Vin stood still and relaxed. As anxious as Chris was at seeing his small son that close to an animal that could easily kill him in a second, he had to admire the unusual maturity and knowledge Vin was displaying.
The horse also stood stock still, but initially wasn't as relaxed as the humans. He seemed to be thinking things over. Finally, he appeared to make up his mind that they weren't any sort of threat to him and his stance visibly relaxed.
He lowered his head and took a few steps forward. Vin, again, slowly raised his hand, palm up.
The large black gave the impression that he was fully aware of the danger he posed and approached the boy cautiously. It really looked as if the gelding was trying to not spook him.
Gently, the horse nuzzled the open hand and Vin stroked the handsome face. Then just as slowly, the black backed up and when he was a safe distance away, he turned and at first walked; then that changed to a trot and then a canter as he enjoyed a pain free romp around the pasture.
Vin and Nighthorse smiled watching the big gelding and then the Indian bent toward Vin and said something to him. Chris could see the small shoulders slump. Nighthorse laid his hand on the boy's head and ruffled his hair. Still talking, he pointed where the rest of the family was waiting and Vin turned to face his father; no longer smiling.
Buck leaned close to his friend's ear and whispered, "I don't envy you this one, pard, but I gotta tell you, he was amazing. I've never seen anything like it."
Chris sighed deeply not taking his eyes off Vin. Buck was right; the young boy seemed to have a gift; just as Nighthorse said.
The two approached the others. The farrier's hand now rested on Vin's shoulder.
Not knowing what else to do, Chris knelt down and gathered the little boy into his arms and hugged him tightly. Vin, who hadn't expected this reaction, hesitated momentarily before returning the embrace.
After a few moments, Chris pulled away but kept his hands on the boy's shoulders and made eye contact with him. "Are you okay?"
Vin nodded. Chris continued to look into Vin's eyes before he gently squeezed his shoulders and said, "We'll talk about this later."
Again, Vin nodded. His dad stood up and thanked Nighthorse once more and then the little family headed back to their truck.
As they passed the front of the house, they noticed that the two dogs were still there. Other than that they were lying down, it was as if they had never left.
It was a very quiet ride home. Chris lost in thought about how he was going to handle the situation; Buck thinking about the same thing only secretly glad it wasn't him; Vin still not sure how much trouble he was in and JD not understanding exactly what was going on but knew it was serious.
Later that night Buck and Chris put the boys to bed and Chris spent a little extra time assuring Vin that even if he had disobeyed and could have been badly hurt; nothing would make his dad stop loving him. Chris also told him that what he had done was very serious and that he was going to have to decide on an appropriate punishment. Vin told his dad that he was very sorry and that whatever Chris decided on was okay.
The grownups retired to the deck, each with a cold beer. After settling in and enjoying the peace and quiet for a while, the men discussed the situation. Ultimately, they decided that Chris would consult the boys' therapist.
The next day the two agents bid the boys goodbye and headed into the office, leaving the youngsters in the capable hands of Mrs. Potter.
Before they left they got assurances from both boys and in particular, Vin, that they wouldn't go near the horses.
The boys promised.
Chris hadn't been in the office long when John Nighthorse called. The two talked for some time. Just as he hung up, Buck knocked and walked in to give his boss a folder.
He noticed the thoughtful look on Chris's face and asked him what was going on.
The senior agent looked at him a long moment before answering, "A possible solution to the situation with Vin, but I want to talk with Dr. Will. That was Nighthorse on the phone and he knows that Vin disobeyed me and should be punished but he believes that Vin has a special ability with horses and that it should be encouraged."
Buck perched a hip on the edge of the desk. "Well, I know that I've never seen anything like it."
Chris nodded. His gut told him that this was going to be a good thing for his son, but it was such an unusual road that he wanted a professional opinion.
"I'll let you know 'cause you'll be a part of it, too," and Chris grinned.
The senior agent had left a message for the boys' therapist. Around eleven o'clock, he called back. He listened carefully to what had happen and the tentative solution.
Chris was mildly surprised when Dr. Will agreed wholeheartedly. Vin had a self-esteem problem. His mother's illness and then his time on the streets had delayed his schooling and he struggled with it. It didn't help that learning came so easily to JD, who was younger.
All the people in the boys' lives were careful to not make comparisons. Now that they had found something at which Vin could excel, it might prove to be a catalyst. Granted there was a certain amount of danger involved; both physical and possibly emotional from failure, but Dr. Will felt, and Chris agreed, that learning how to handle failure was almost as important as success.
The slightly reticent dad voiced some concerns, mainly involving Vin's size and age.
Dr. Will asked about how big John Nighthorse was. Chris thought for a moment before answering. In truth, the farrier, at his age, wasn't that much bigger than Vin and Vin was probably stronger and more agile.
Dr. Will commented, "I don't know a lot about horses but I imagine that working with them requires knowledge and skill more than physical strength."
Chris had to agree but then there was his age.
The therapist suggested that it was more a matter of maturity than age, and Vin, in some ways, was mature far beyond his years.
"That's true," the agent sadly agreed.
"I have a feeling that John Nighthorse could be very good for Vin and not just because he can teach Vin about horse," the doctor observed.
The two talked a few minutes longer and after hanging up, Chris called Buck into his office and told him of the conversation.
The big agent thought the plan sounded like a good one and the two agreed that they would discuss it with Vin before calling Nighthorse back.
"What about the punishment?" Buck queried.
"Well, I think maybe a week of not TV should get the point across," Chris said thoughtfully, "but when we tell him about working with John, we'll set up some strict guidelines."
Buck grinned and started to leave. "Sounds like a plan."
After dinner that evening, JD was settled in the den with a video and a promise that Buck would soon join him. They would tell the youngest about what was going on after everything was agreed upon.
Vin sat solemnly at the kitchen table; Chris beside him and Buck across from him.
The little boy sighed when his dad told him about the punishment and said that he thought it was fair.
Then Chris told him about what John Nighthorse had proposed. Vin stared at him; wide-eyed and open-mouthed. He couldn't believe his ears. The two men smiled at his response.
When Chris explained the guidelines; the most important of which was that he never, never worked with the horses by himself; Vin nodded his agreement enthusiastically; still not believing that this was real.
"Now, Vin, this is very serious; you break this rule and there will be no more lessons. Do you understand?"
The excited child nodded eagerly.
"We mean it, Vin; if you break this rule, no more."
"I understand, Dad."
Then Chris relaxed his stern expression. "All right then; you'll start this Sunday. We'll take you out to his ranch and you'll spend the day there and then we'll pick you up. We think that at first you can go once a month and then we'll see. It also means that when school starts you'll need to work hard there, too."
"Okay. Can I tell JD?"
Chris and Buck looked at each other briefly before Buck said, "Well, Cowboy, why don't you let me tell him first and then you can talk to him about it. That sound all right?"
Buck winked at him and then left to explain things to their youngest.
To their relief, JD was excited for his adopted brother. They had been afraid that JD would want to go, too, but the generous-hearted urchin realized in his own way, that Vin had a special relationship with horses. And while JD liked horses; Vin REALLY liked horses.
Buck gave the youngster a big hug for his understanding and then the two of them watched a video.
Chris and Vin read a story together and Vin decided that maybe a week of no TV wouldn't be so bad if it meant more alone time with Chris.
Once again, it seemed that Sunday would never arrive and when it finally did, Chris drove Vin out to the Nighthorse ranch.
Buck and JD had made plans of their own. They had invited Chris to join them when he returned, but he declined, deciding to catch up on some paperwork.
At four o'clock that evening, Chris picked up one tired but very happy boy. Uncharacteristically, he talked almost as much as JD.
They were about half-way home when Vin suddenly stopped talking. It was so abrupt that Chris glanced at him in the mirror. "You okay, Cowboy?"
Vin met his eyes in the mirror and seemed to stew on something a minute before answering. "Yeah, I'm okay."
A few more minutes passed. "Dad?"
"Yeah?" Chris again looked at his son.
"You know that big black horse of Mr. Nighthorse's?"
"Yeah," Chris relaxed a little. He thought he knew what was coming.
"Well, he said that I could have him if it is okay with you." Vin turned hopeful eyes to his dad's.
Nighthorse had talked to Chris about it and at first, he had been vehemently against it but after some conversation the dad had acquiesced with stipulations.
"Did Mr. Nighthorse tell you the conditions?" he asked.
"Yeah, he said that him and me have to work with for a long time before I can bring him home. He said that he was 'bused and that made him scared of people."
The other condition was that Chris had to be absolutely assured that the horse wasn't an abnormal danger to the boy. There was always an element of risk when working with any animal but especially one that large. Chris had to be as sure as possible that the large horse, because of his past, wouldn't be an additional risk.
He figured that by the time he was fully satisfied, the danger was within normal limits, Vin would be older, bigger and a lot more experienced.
"That's right and that may take a long time. This is something we aren't going to rush, for his sake as well as yours."
Chris looked at his son to see his reaction and was pleased when he saw Vin nodding his head.
"Mr. Nighthorse told me it might even take a year or two before Peso was used to people again."
"Good," and then Chris realized what the little boy had called the horse and asked, "Peso?"
Vin giggled a little before explaining, "Yeah, the man Mr. Nighthorse got him from said he couldn't do anything with him and that he wasn't worth a peso."
Chris laughed, too, but he realized that Vin was unaware that the man the Indian was referring to was the man that had abused the horse. "Do you know what a peso is?"
"Mr. Nighthorse said it was a kind of money they use in Mexico. He said that a peso was worth less than a dollar. Did you know that, Dad?"
Chris, smiling, said, "Yes, I knew that."
The little boy was quiet for awhile and then said, "Dad, Mr. Nighthorse gave me a Cheyenne name."
A little surprised, Chris asked, "He did?"
"Yeah, he said that I had the heart of a warrior so he gave me the name 'Horse Warrior."
Chris could see the pride on his son's face. While he still had concerns about this decision, he no longer doubted the wisdom of it.
Smiling at the boy, the proud father said, "That's a good name."