Chapter IX -- Blood Trail

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Summer, 1878 / Near Goblin's Toe, Wyoming

Bow in hand with arrow notched, Running-Deer moved with the natural ease of a practiced hunter.

Sweat glistened across her bare skin and leathers, smeared as they were with blended charcoal mixed beneath powdered herbs and dried berries for camouflage, while sharp bone-handled knives rested flat and sheathed against her bare thigh and forearm.

Willow and lithe from years of climbing high rock and having run steep slope as a youth, her pitch black hair lay flat as a veil across her back.

Clothing that she'd worn in town lay neat and folded within the saddle bags where she'd left her horse.

The pleated skirt, blouse, boots and broad-brimmed hat would not be useful for this hunt. She'd also left the pistols and rifle; having resorted instead to her usual weapons of choice and buckskinned leather for comfort.

Although she'd lived among the white man as a deputy, she'd not forgotten what the healer Crazy-Bear had taught her long ago -- that the guns of white men spoke fire and thunder, while it was often better to be the whisper of morning mist that brought little or no warning to her prey when she found him.

Ever cautious, she stepped from a cluster of spruce and out into the open; each step carefully weighed and measured as she eased through the high blades of grass beneath the ridge.

Favored with clear sky and bright summer sun, an unnatural silence seemed to blanket everything around her.

Nothing moved as the spirits held their breath, and the air remained still.

She welcomed the silence like the gentle caress of an imagined lover.

The wounded white man that she hunted was one of four that had tried to rob the bank in Goblin's Toe where two of the men had died during the foolishness along with a detective who worked for a company called Pinkerton.

She'd tracked the man from where he had abandoned his horse and set out on foot.

Her quarry was in a hurry; having stumbled and fallen twice as he'd crossed the ridge behind her.

With utmost caution, she studied the blood-trail that he'd so eloquently left for her to follow.

Every few steps she stopped to pivot slowly on the balls of her feet as dark-amber eyes carefully searched for the next part of the trail.

With practiced caution, Running-Deer lowered her body to a crouch and searched for blood.

There were occasional gaps, but she had only to show patience and search until the spirits showed her the way once again.

Without having taken her eyes from the trail, she used a waxed chalk stick to mark nearby trees as she passed for others who might follow.

Something Poe had made sure that she understood as part of being a deputy, should something like this have occurred as it had.

Perhaps something the spirits may have suggested to him; or not, as living with white people had by now proven that they were often smarter than they first appeared.

If there was any good that came from this hunt, it was to once again prove that she could never claim to entirely understand white men or their ways with how they treated one another.

Her quarry must have thought that those who chased him would not notice when he sent his horse ahead and made his escape through the woodlands on foot.

He would not be amused to learn that the deputy who followed him had grown up Sioux and knew enough of tracking that his actions would not go unnoticed.

Her almost father, the healer Crazy-Bear would be proud of how well his tireless training now reflected in his almost daughter.

With faint credit to her prey, Running-Deer was forced to admit that even she had almost missed the white man's trick, forced to backtrack when the hoof prints from his horse changed in depth along the trail.

Clearly obvious once she saw where it began, she chided herself for having missed it in the first place. The white man had jumped from his horse and managed to land just off the trail to cause even more injury that would slow him down if the spirits were helpful to her.

Caught up in the thrill of the hunt, Running-Deer began to realize just how much that she'd missed spending time in the wild.

Suddenly she froze as sound of distant gunfire reached her.

Two quick shots were enough to tell her that the man she now hunted was not all that far away and still had his weapons.

With another spruce carefully marked with chalk, she moved forward to close the gap between hunter and prey.

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