They made camp as the sun was going down. Nathan had let Chris and Vin know that the Judge couldn't handle much more. Vin had snagged three rabbits on the way, Josiah had potatoes in his bags and Nathan had stocked up on bread in town yesterday. The meal felt like a celebration, and Orin Travis looked and felt much renewed.
Josiah volunteered for first watch, and headed out for a once around. Vin and Chris sat by the fire; Chris lit a cheroot and waited for Vin to say his piece.
"I think we're being followed. We lost the fellers from town after we changed directions. These fellers are different, they ain't tryin' to catch us, only stay with us. I only caught on cause of the birds. Figure we should pay em a visit."
Chris took the added piece of news in stride, only saying, "K," then stood up and walked over to Buck. Keeping his voice low, he filled him in on what he and Vin were about to do. "If we're not back by morning, come find us."
Buck looked at his friend and conveyed how serious he was, "You got it pard."
Vin and Chris took off on foot and as they passed Josiah, they also let him know what was up. They kept on for about fifteen minutes in silence before Vin signaled a stop. He motioned for Chris to continue straight ahead and that he would circle around left. Vin then pointed to his ears and eyes and then to Chris.
Chris signaled he understood to keep his eyes and ears open. Vin then took off by creeping slowly to where he believed their followers were. By stepping carefully and quietly he made it to the edge of a campsite with two Sioux Indians. They were looking in the direction that Chris was coming, so alert to him, Vin came up behind them unnoticed. He about scared them into becoming ghosts, they put their hands up right away. Chris then joined them in the campsite.
Vin then simply asked, "What do you fellers want?"
The two Indians looked at each other, and sat down. The one on Vin's left started talking, "We don't mean hurt to you, we only want to follow."
"What for?" Chris icy voice said from behind.
"We heard tell of village where Indians outcasts, peace searchers, darker skin ones all live together in harmony. We want to be there."
"The Seminole village. Why follow us? " Vin asked.
"My brother and I are story tellers, we want to tell stories, not make them. Most of our people seek harmony, but our leaders want to fight the white ones. If we stay and not fight we disgrace our elders. We leave to pass stories on of our people, so all Sioux not die forever." He paused, and glanced at his brother, who nodded back at him. He then continued, "We hear darker one speak of the peaceful village back at the creek, we knew then that our fox spirit guide had shown us the answer. We follow."
Vin looked over at Chris, and he could read the same answer on his face, they would help him. "We invite you to travel with us, and we will get to the Seminole village." Vin conveyed sincerely. "I'm Vin, and that's Chris."
"I am called Anztwoki, my brother is Rokuri, and we thank you. But why do you help? White ones say one thing and do something else. It is hard to trust."
Vin looked at the horizon, then back at Anztwoki and gently replied, "I can not speak for other white men, but I don't judge a man by his people, and I don't judge a people by a man."
Chris'voice sounded in the dark, "I learned a long time ago to trust my instincts, then look at the man."
Anztwoki believed his fox guide had led him here, meaning he should trust these men. He looked Vin in the eyes and nodded.
Vin felt he should warn them, "Not all that we meet up with will feel the same. Be prepared, not all men can be trusted."
Rokuri spoke for the first time, "That we have learned well."
Chris and Vin led them back to their camp. Upon arrival, they found six men awake around the fire.
"Good to see you, Pard," relief was evident in Buck's voice. Then it took a lighter quality while asking, "Who are your friends?" Buck didn't want to jump to conclusions this time. He had learned with the Chanu situation that not is always as it seems when dealing with Indians.
Vin motioned for their guests to sit about the fire. He then relayed their story to the whole group before they turned in for the night.
Four Corners, New Mexico Territory
Mary and Jeffery were just exiting the hotel after a Saturday morning breakfast when the stage pulled in half a day early. Curious as to why it would arrive so early had Mary hurrying over to check it out. Mary was quite shocked to see the two passengers that got off the stage, Evie Travis, her mother-in-law and her son Billy.
Before Mary could say a word, Evie asked, "Have you heard from Orin?"
"No, Evie, why what's wrong."
"I'm worried, he's missed two circuit stops, and he usually wires me every couple of days. No one has heard from him in over a week. I don't know what to do."
Mary had Billy's hand in hers and put her other arm around Evie. Mary could feel how upset the usually unflappable Evie was, and held her a little tighter.
Jeffery could see how upset Mary was and crossed the street to join her. Gloria and Katie had come out to see why the stage was so early, and joined Jeffery just as he was reaching Mary.
Mary looked to Jeffery over Evie's shoulder, and explained, "She thinks the judge has gone missing."
Katie looked a bit uncomfortable with that information and she knew she should share what she did know. "A Mary, yesterday, when I said that Chris and them had gotten a message to rescue someone, well, . Judge Travis was the person they left to rescue. Chris said not to share that information with anyone."
Evie and Mary both looked horrified by the news. Jeffery stepped closer to Mary in hopes of providing her a little more comfort. Mary asked, "When are they suppose to be back? What happened?" Evie wilted against Mary.
Gloria interrupted with, "Let's go over to my store and sit, it will be easier than standing here in the street." Gloria then led the group over to her store. She put the closed sign on the door, and went to get some coffee she always kept brewing in back.
Billy had been given a cookie and was playing with some toys on the floor. Mary looked at her son with love as the coffee cup warmed her hands. She then turned her focus to Katie, and prodded, "Explain everything."
"On Monday morning, Jonny Secco rode in from Tilford looking for Mr. Larabee. He said the Judge had sent him to find the man in black. He said the Judge was in prison and was to be hung on Friday." Katie looked over to the Judge's wife, but her head was down in her hands. She continued, "Our men then saddled up and left within the hour, Chris said he had a plan. He figured they should arrive some time on Monday. That's what I know, Chris said not to tell you, said you'd worry needlessly."
Mary's eyes were as big as saucers, and Evie was shaking all over. Gloria took them all in hand; she suggested that Evie lay down in her back room, while Billy took his nap. She then suggested that Mary wire the newspaper office in Tilford for any information. Mary looked grateful for something constructive to do as she and Jeffery left for the telegraph office.
Katie looked to Gloria and smiled, "Yes ma'am!"
Gloria returned the cheeky smile, then sobered, "They need to stay busy. But knowing the boys, they have rescued the Judge and are returning home, so we'd better get cracking on the Thanksgiving plans."
Katie nodded her head in agreement, "You're right, and we'd better get Mary and Mrs. Travis involved too. I figure they'll be staying here for the holiday now," and the two of set off to start the work.
The ten men rode as hard as the horses could take, for they wanted to be done with Pike's Peak. Vin worried that Orin and JD, both would have a difficult time with the cold. So when they hit the saddle of the mountain around one o'clock, Vin knew they would make it down before nightfall, so they stopped for a breather.
The air was crisp and cool and the view appeared to go on forever, and Vin loved the feeling that he was standing at the top of the world. He wasn't surprised when Anztwoki and Rokuri joined him, and he wasn't surprised when they stood there in awed reflection. It's how he felt the first time he crossed here.
A brief rest left them ready to ride, and they made their way carefully down the mountainside. The bottom couldn't come soon enough for JD, he was already cold. He remembered all too clearly how he felt just a few days ago.
Nathan kept his eye on Orin, he knew his injuries were worse than he let on. All that hard riding wasn't helping his injured ribs, or his pride. Orin Travis didn't like appearing less than he was, but he seemed determined to keep as much of it to himself as he could. Because they all needed to get back as quickly as they could, Nathan just watched, letting Orin think he was keeping his secret.
They made it to the valley by nightfall, and set up camp there. Nathan, Vin, and Rokuri went out hunting for fresh game while Josiah and JD got a fire going. Orin sat next to Chris and told him, "Evie has probably wired Mary, I usually let her know when I change location."
"Miss Harper knows where we went, she'll tell Mary if it's necessary."
"Don't think I'll make it back by Thanksgiving, Mary'll have left this morning. They're bound to be disappointed." Travis'voice sounded weary.
"They would have been more disappointed if you couldn't make it back at all." Chris looked sideways at Travis as he said it.
Orin got a knowing look on his face and nodded his agreement with Chris.
After their meal, they all settled in for the night looking forward to reaching home by tomorrow evening. The ten men rested easier knowing their destinations were not much farther away.
Ezra was up first so he could get the morning coffee going. The sun was just about to come up and the rest of his comrades would be up with it. He saw Chris get up and wander off into the bushes, but Josiah was sitting on his bedroll in silent laughter. Ezra furled his brow in question at Josiah, who only pointed to Vin, still asleep in his bedroll. Ezra stepped closer to see what had captured Josiah's fancy, and was amused himself to see an old friend. Ezra gently kicked Vin in the foot and waited as he woke up.
For the second time on this trip, Vin found himself waking up to Ezra's smiling face. "I sure hope you don't make a habit of this." Vin said to Ezra.
Ezra's smile grew even larger as he said, "I don't believe I could compete with your choice of bed mates."
"Ah, Ezra, not again," Vin looked behind him, and sure enough a raccoon was sleeping there. Only this time, there are three little ones with her. Vin crept out slowly and backed away before standing up.
Josiah couldn't contain himself any longer, and his laughter burst from him startling Buck and Nathan from their slumber. Buck roused JD so he wouldn't miss the fun. Vin again, left some food for the raccoon, which she took as she herded her brood away from the loud creatures around her.
Vin was afraid the whole town would end up hearing accounts of this story.
Four Corners, New Mexico Territory
Nettie and Gloria kept Mary and Evie busy all day with chores for the Thanksgiving feast. Most of the town had confirmed that they would be there for the midday meal. Nettie was also keeping Jeffery busy, busy minds couldn't worry.
Katie and Becky were making trips to neighboring farms for chairs on loan for the dinner. They also collected the last minute changes of the food donations. Families that found it was too difficult to contribute food, were in town contributing their time instead. Nettie knew they would feel good about eating the meal if they had done something to contribute to it. The saloon and the hotel were both ready to receive food for keeping warm and for serving. It was all pulling together, the only fly in the ointment was whether those darn men were going to make it back on time.
As the sun was going down Nettie, Gloria, Katie, Evie, Mary and Jeffery were sitting in front of the general store completing their checklist for tomorrow. Gloria mentioned, "Tables and chairs need to be set up and tablecloths laid ," she broke off as they all looked to the cloud of dust forming outside of town. As the cloud became recognizable people, a collective sigh emanated from the group, and they gathered to greet them.
Ten weary men rode into town and they were glad to give up their horses to Katie and Jeffery, who offered to stable them. Evie rushed to Orin; overjoyed to have him back safely, even if he looked a little worse for wear. Gloria was bringing out refreshment, hoping to catch the story of their trip.
Vin introduced the two Indians, and explained their quest. "I'm gonna ride them out with them to the Seminole village in the morning, I think they'll find acceptance there."
Katie offered to put them up at her place, since they would have to pass by it anyway. Then she upped her offer to include supper for everyone. "Becky has Billy at the ranch, and I was fixin'to invite the planning committee over anyway. There really is plenty of food."
They all agreed to ride out to Katie's for supper and to clean up.
After supper the tale of Judge Travis'rescue was told to the satisfaction of most. Katie wasn't sure all parts of the story were brought to light, but as all returned safe, the story stood as told. Gloria then shared the Thanksgiving plans for the entire town dinner. JD joined into the spirit immediately, and offered his complete support. Josiah also agreed to help, just not with the same enthusiasm, for he didn't jump out of his seat yelping with glee. Vin and Chris exchanged glances and ever so slightly, nodded at each other.
"Ma'am, those plans sound real fine, but tomorrow, Chris and I need to guide Anztwoki and Rokuri to the Seminole village," Vin tried to sound disappointed.
Ezra smiled a knowing smile at Vin and Chris, and Buck just laughed out loud. Chris and Vin said they were turning in, so they could leave early. Buck called after them, barely containing his mirth, "You're not fooling anyone, pards."
The remaining guests finished their plans, and got ready to depart. Mary fetched Billy, and rode off with Jeffery. Orin and Evie, and Nettie joined Gloria in her buggy. Nathan and Josiah offered to ride with them. Ezra, JD and Buck bid them all good-night and rode off to town and a soft bed.
Just after sunrise, Chris and Vin saddled their horses and joined Anztwoki and Rokuri. They were about to set off when Katie rode up on her horse, all set to go with them. Chris looked side ways at Katie and asked with a glare, "What do you think you're doing?"
"Coming along to invite the entire Seminole village to our Thanksgiving tomorrow," Katie replied as though it was a done deal.
"Don't think the whole town will agree," Vin tried to caution her. But Katie refused to be deterred; "The whole idea of Thanksgiving is to share. You guys helped them when they needed it. You didn't stop to ask if people would agree with you. We live in the same territory; we can share one meal together. Now, let's get going." Katie was on her horse and ready to ride.
Chris turned quickly to hide his smile, no need for her to see how he enjoyed her feisty answer. Chris and Vin then shared a look that spoke volumes; they still hadn't managed to avoid the Thanksgiving dinner. The Indian brother's gave her their genuine smiles and indicated with their hands for her to proceed before them. The five of them set off to the west.
+ + + + + + +
Thanksgiving morning in Four Corners started with clouds in the sky, but as the town's people began their set-up, the wind gently dispersed the clouds, leaving only the sun behind. Gloria had confided in JD about Katie's intention, and he eagerly assisted by rounding up even more tables and chairs. JD was all for a festive celebration, for his mother had instilled those traditions in him since he was a little boy. With this large undertaking, he felt she would have heartily agreed, and this made him feel closer to her.
Food was coming in large quantities; the saloon and hotel were ready for it. Linens for the tables were laid out, place-mats and silverware set up, marking the seating arrangements. JD and Jeffery placed chairs accordingly, both feeling the excitement building as it drew closer to the start time.
Mary, Nettie and Gloria had most things running smoothly. Mary also knew of Katie's plan, and was glad that she was able to be here for this important moment in her town's history. She looked over at Jeffery, who was also looking her way and they shared a smile. She was also thankful at this second chance at love, and family for Billy. Her town had come a long way and she had her father-in-law and seven men to thank for that, in Mary's eyes, this was a good day.
Josiah was fixing his preacher's collar as Nathan joined him, "Feeling spiritual today, Josiah". Nathan smiled at his friend.
"Yes, my brother I am. Today I feel hopeful for the future," Josiah voice rang with sincerity.
"I like Katie's idea, somehow having Indians at the meal goes in hand with the history of this day," Nathan replied earnestly.
"Good morning, gentleman," Ezra greeted them as he joined them near the hotel.
Nathan returned Ezra's greeting, adding, "My, you surly look dapper this day."
"Why, thank you, Mr. Jackson. You and Mr. Sanchez also look well dressed today." Ezra responded.
"Have you seen Buck?" Nathan asked, directing his question toward Ezra.
"Mr. Wilmington was just returning this morning, I believe, from entertaining a lady." Ezra coughed discreetly at the last.
Josiah and Nathan smiled knowingly, then Josiah suggested they all go help JD.
JD grinned as they joined and told them their intent, "You timing is great, guys, I'm finished."
Ezra returned pertly, "Ah, just as we planned." He then smiled genuinely at the boy.
They walked together over to the refreshment area and were selecting their drinks when they, along with most of the folks gathered there, noticed a very large dust cloud moving toward them. As it drew closer, Gloria, Nettie, Mary, JD, Ezra, Nathan, Josiah, and Buck, who had just got there, went out to greet Chris, Katie, Vin and all their guests.
The people joining them was comprised of Seminole, freed slaves, outcasts of other Indian groups and Indians that willingly sought them out, such as Anztwoki and Rokuri. They all were carrying food that they had brought with them and Mary showed them where to deposit it.
As expected, some of the towns'folk were disgruntled that they would be expected to share a meal with savages. But before any real scenes took place Josiah exclaimed loudly, " Lord, today we are blessed, that we can put aside our differences so that we may share a meal together is truly a proud moment for us all." This pretty much silenced those that might of started a ruckus.
People took their plates, filled them with a grand assortment of food, and found places to sit. Some as far away from the guests as they could get, or in the instance of the seven protectors and Mary, Gloria, Nettie, Katie, Jeffery, and Orin and Evie, they sat in amongst the new arrivals. When everyone had been seated with food, Mary felt a toast or words of some kind should be spoken. She then turned to Ezra, " Ezra, would you, in all your eloquence, say something appropriate. I think you would truly be the best choice."
Ezra flattered and dismayed at the same time, stood up and clanged his water glass to achieve everyone's attention. Ezra wasn't sure what he was going to say, but as it became quiet he quickly reflected on this last year and began. "Folks, today we all came to celebrate Thanksgiving, a time of good food, and sharing it with friends and family. Today we are actually very fortunate to get a chance to celebrate it the way our forefathers did, with guests of different nationalities, colors and religions. Today provides us with a chance to reflect, as I have done myself, that though we see great differences on the outsides, there are great similarities on the inside. Today, I raise my glass to toast those similarities and to share this day together, Happy Thanksgiving!"
Each person at the Four Corners Thanksgiving celebration raised their glass as Ezra did and all said, "Happy Thanksgiving." Then they all began to eat.
Mary turned to Ezra saying, "Ezra, that was truly lovely, I knew you would do a wonderful job. Thank you so much."
Josiah also added his thoughts, " Ezra, that was inspired." Josiah then lowered his voice for just Ezra, "Your depth at times never ceases to amaze me. You try to keep it hidden, but it is there. I, for one am very glad you stayed here with us."
"Why, thank you sir," Ezra said without the usual boisterous in his tones.
The town's people ate and chatted and ate more until they were content. Some enjoying the company, some enjoying the food, some reflecting on the day itself. Whatever their thoughts, they continued on pleasantly till the days end. Many thanked Mary, Gloria, Nettie and Katie for putting together a fine holiday feast and getting the entire town involved. Others stayed to help with cleanup process and collecting and sorting the borrowed things for delivery to their owners.
After most people had left for home, Vin went over to Katie, "When JD got all fired up over this holiday thing, I really wanted no part of it. But, Katie, what you did here today, seemed so right. I'm glad I was here." He nodded to Katie, then headed over to Nettie, and offered to see her home. Nettie waved to the others as they rode away.
JD was standing next to Gloria as Katie was helping some leave-takers, he quietly said to her, "Mrs. Potter, thank you for carrying on with all of the Thanksgiving plans. This one holiday always meant something special to my mother, and it sure would of made her happy to know that the town that I live in also treated it so special."
Mrs. Potter smiled at JD and put her hand on his shoulder, saying quietly, "I think she already knows, JD." JD looked up at her, his eyes growing wide, and then gave her a big smile and nodded his head in agreement.
Orin and Evie were on the way back to the hotel as they passed Chris. Evie stopped him and said, "Mr. Larabee, I greatly appreciate what you and your friends did for Orin. I will never forget that," she then smiled at Chris as she concluded. Orin just grasped Chris by the forearm and squeezed down, nodding, but it was the eye contact that conveyed his heart-felt thanks. Chris tipped his hat and nodded back.
Chris joined Ezra, Buck and JD in saying thank you and good bye to Katie and Gloria as they readied to depart; Josiah arrived in time for the final wave. JD couldn't wait to impart his news, "Nathan's escorting Raine home with the others to the Seminole village; and you know what else? Jeffery Albright is courting Mary Travis." JD only paused long enough to catch his breath. Josiah quickly clasped his shoulder as Ezra said, "Ok, JD, slow down, let's go to the saloon and you can fill us in on all your news." Ezra smiled at Josiah, and then with indulgent eyes, at JD, then they all turned and walked together toward the saloon.
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