The Travelers

by SoDak7


Vin, Chris

Note: Kind of a sad little piece but I would like to give a big thank you to my beta for helping this flow better. I am in a constant state of learning.

Chris Larabee stopped his hammering on the corral fence, squinted, and looked to the horizon, watching as a horse and figures came walking towards his homestead. Unmistakably, one of the men on foot was Vin Tanner, leading his horse, Peso, a woman atop the animal with what looked like a young boy sitting in front of her. Another man was walking beside the horse, his hand near the back of the saddle. The strangers appeared to be Indians.

Putting the hammer down, Chris stepped nearer his weapon, though not sensing any danger, he, nevertheless, slung the gun belt over his shoulder, the pistol within quick reach.

Stopping a good fifty feet from where he stood, Larabee watched as Tanner dropped the reins, turned to say something to the man before turning back around, then started walking towards him. As the Texan approached, Chris took notice as the Indian helped another smaller child off the back of the horse as the woman and the boy, in front of her, climbed down also and stood beside Peso . . . waiting. They looked tired, haggard and underfed.

With an eyebrow raised in question, Chris' eyes met Vin's and held for a second.

"Need ta ask a favor of ya," Vin rasped. Getting a nod from Chris to go on, he continued, “These people are passin’ through and they’s close ta starvin’. Need somethin' ta eat and . . .”

“Got some stew on the stove already," Larabee responded. "I’ll just add some more. No problem.”

Chris saw the relief in his friend’s blue eyes, heard the “Thanks” before Vin ducked his head, and left to go back to what Chris figured was a family. Watching for a minute as Tanner talked to the man both in spoken words and in sign language, noting that nothing looked dangerous, Chris turned his back and headed into the cabin to add more vittles to his stew.

+ + + + + + +

While the stew simmered on the stove, Chris watched as Vin helped the family make a little campfire to warm themselves from the cool October evening. They hadn't come any closer to the house, choosing, instead, to stay out where they had first stopped. When the food was ready, it hadn't taken the family long to eat, their hunger apparent.

Chris had stayed back near the house as Vin had talked with the Indians. He watched in disbelief as his friend had untacked Peso and tried to give the horse over to them. When they didn't take the animal Chris found himself actually sighing in relief. He knew Vin wouldn’t do something like give his horse up if it weren’t of the utmost importance for he knew how much the animal meant to the tracker. There was more going on here than just a family moving from place to place. So far they'd refused extra food to take along and now they refused the horse. Chris hoped his friend would enlighten him later.

Chris watched Vin take out his bowie knife, hold it out to the Indian man, heard Vin talk, and saw him nod toward the woman and children. That gift was taken, finally, and in return, the woman took off the belt she wore and handed it to Tanner as she said something to him, gesturing with her head over to where Chris stood.

Vin walked back to Chris and held out the belt for him to take. “Running Deer says to give this to the light-haired man . . . for feeding her sons,” and gave him a slight nod of his head.

Chris took the item from his friend, the beautifully beaded belt still warm from the woman’s body heat. Looking first to her and then back to Vin, Chris started to refuse but was cut off by the ex-bounty hunter.

“Take it Chris, it’s a gift. If you refuse it, she’ll think she’s unworthy.”

“Tell her I’m honored then.”

Giving Larabee a nod, Vin walked back to the family, clasped forearms with the man, and the four travelers walked off heading east.

Chris could tell by the slump in his friend’s shoulders that the man was bothered deeply by what had happened. There was also a sadness in Vin's eyes that Chris wasn’t accustomed to seeing. He walked over to where Vin still stood, watching the family leave, neither man saying anything, both lost in their thoughts.

Clearing his throat, Chris finally broke the silence, “Still some stew left,” he offered, not knowing what else to say and realizing Vin hadn’t eaten much with the family. Neither had he, Chris came to think of it, having been too busy observing and thinking on what had been happening.

“Maybe some coffee,” came the response as the tracker finally tore his gaze away from the retreating people.

“Friends of yours?” the man in black asked with a tilt of his chin towards the direction in which the family disappeared.

“Found 'em . . . just off the trail. Could see they were in trouble and needed some help. Have a long journey 'head of ‘em.” Vin paused before adding, “Appreciate yer help Chris, not many would have done that,” he said, looking into his friend’s eyes, reading the questions there, but knowing Larabee would never ask.

Chris gave a small shrug of his shoulders, passing off his help as being nothing. “Welcome to stay the night Vin. Goin’ to be a mite chilly out tonight.” As soon as the words left his mouth both men glanced once again towards the area where the young family had gone, both thinking about how the Indians would manage.

“Reckon I’ll do that, thanks.”

“I’ll get us some coffee,” Chris told him, heading to the house as Vin went to settle his horse in the corral and grab his bedroll.

+ + + + + + +

A few minutes later both men were sitting in chairs, out on the small porch, sipping their whiskey-spiked coffee. Chris listened with a heavy heart as Vin told what he had learned about the people he’d fed just a little bit ago. He’d learned that the man’s name was Eyes of the Sky for he had blue eyes. The woman was called Running Deer. The older boy was Night Owl and the younger was called Born of the Ashes.

Vin told of how the family’s People had been mostly wiped out by a wildfire that had raged though their Land. Although they had tried to stay and continue to live there, still more of their People had died because there was no more food. So they were forced to move on and take the journey to join up with a sister tribe that lived to the northeast. As far as Vin could figure, they would have to walk another thousand miles to reach their destination. Hard miles they would be and winter was coming on. They weren’t welcomed by any outside tribes because of Eyes of the Sky being part White, so they had to keep moving on.

Chris had only interrupted once when he asked about the family possibly going to Kojay’s or to the Seminole Village. Vin had told him that if they did go there and were welcomed, they’d do the same as they had done here . . . just eat and then leave, their belief that they needed to keep going leading them, their vision strong of reaching their brothers and sisters in another Land.

When Vin had told Chris about them having to put to death their newborn daughter only a couple of weeks earlier because the mother had no milk to feed the baby nor food to keep her alive, opting, instead, to put an end to the infant's life rather then letting her suffer, Chris had felt a sorrow that reached down deep inside of him. He couldn’t fathom the pain of having to do something like that. It just wasn’t something he could even think on. He’d closed his eyes feeling the burn behind his eyelids.

When Vin finished talking he'd opened his eyes and looked to the heavens. Life was just plain hell at times and no rhyme or reason to it as far as he could tell.

Turning to look at his long-haired friend, Chris asked softly, “Think they’ll make it?”

“Might.” Vin's hands played with his empty coffee cup. “Chances would’ve been better if they’d a taken the horse.”

Now Chris understood why his friend had tried to give them his horse. It would have provided a means of travel, companionship, and, ultimately food and clothing if needed. Vin had known all that and yet offered up his prized horse to them. That, in itself, almost brought tears to Chris' eyes again. This good friend of his knew no boundaries when it came to helping someone in need.

“I’m sorry Vin,” the useless words came out, but it was the way he truly felt, knowing how deeply Tanner felt for anyone who was hard pressed, no matter what their skin color. He shook his head and was starting to get up when he head his friend's quiet raspy voice . . .

"And the day will come
when the earth shall weep
and the heavens will bend low,
for the times we know now
will be lost,
just as sure as the wind does blow.”

Chris sat back in his chair, the words turning over in his mind. How true they were and how sad. He had nothing to say. Once again Vin left him speechless, this poem of his hauntingly beautiful, coming from a man who knew so little about the written word, amazing him even more. Not for the first time, nor for any one reason, was Chris proud to have Vin Tanner as a friend.

The Texan rose from his chair, picked up his bed roll and opened the door heading into the house . . .

“You comin’ cowboy?”

Silently Chris got up and followed Vin inside instinctively knowing sleep wouldn’t come easy this night . . . for either man.