Chapter II -- Gentlemen's Club

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Summer, 1874 / Rock Valley, Wyoming

Running-Deer casually made her way through the woods, ever careful to examine the bark of the trees as she passed, along with the leaves of plants that covered the ground around her feet, certain that through the blessing of the spirits, roots of the plants she sought would be far more plentiful here in the heat of the lowlands.

She'd climbed the ridges with the healer Crazy-Bear days earlier in search of supplies that would replenish those that may have been used during the spring.

With such warmth gifted them by the spirits of late, they'd also enjoyed clouds that lay soft and cool across many of the high lands as they crossed them.

Now on their way down, the thick heat of the valley once again had proven a better choice for the search than the high ground above them, something of a lesson that she appreciated having learned.

Shunned by most of the tribe since her first season with them; the exotic result of a French-Canadian trapper and Ute Indian Mother had proven skilled at learning from the wily old Sioux healer who had patiently taught her.

He'd taken the young orphan in when others of the tribe had refused to care for her; if not for his patience she would have certainly been lost to the wild.

Now, as the young warriors reached manhood and discovered what they had dismissed in cruel arrogance, she just as easily avoided their advances; having managed to remain without child or mate as others of her age brought new life into their village as many expected of them.

The frustration of those who thought her not native enough to be part of their tribe, yet woman enough for their beds, brought with it much amusement for her.

Willowy and lithe from years of having climbed high rock and crossing steep slopes, her skin appeared just darker than those of her adopted tribe while the color of her waist length hair matched the many black bear that often kept her company as she collected both root and flower alike.

She'd formed a bond of sorts with them and rarely had felt threatened even when their cubs may have moved nearby.

Intent as she was while she studied various trees and plant life, she almost stumbled over the body of a man as it lay hidden in the tall grass at the edge of a clearing.

She looked up as she moved around the body, just as startled to have discovered a saddled horse nearby that watched her from the clearing.

Powerful jaws worked the grass, as it studied her and showed little concern for her sudden arrival.

When she stooped over for a closer look, she gasped and fell back upon the ground when she realized that the body was that of a white man.

No doubt a soldier; not unlike the ones that had run she and her people off their lands and forced them into areas that held little if nothing to support them.

Angrily she kicked at the dirt as she got back to her feet and turned from the dead man to continue her quest with little or no regret.

The forest would claim what it could from what the spirits had left behind.

It was as she considered his horse, that she heard the soft plaintive groan from behind her; wracked with pure agony which only caused her to clench her fists in frustration, arms rigid at her sides.

The spirits had yet to come for this man as he lay attached to this life rather than having moved on to the next as he was expected to.

Her eyes filled with anger as she raised them to the sky to glare at the cruel spirits that tested her with this man while her hand found the curved handle of her blade.

Such depth of pain that the groan had carried with it caused her to struggle as she considered showing him more mercy than her people had ever received from his.

She vented resigned frustration with a low growl at the woods around her as she carefully turned back to look at the man who quite possibly had been amongst those who had burned and destroyed their camps.

Crazy-Bear's teachings would not allow her to let this man die if the spirits had put him in her path for reasons that only they might understand.

The man lay sprawled on his stomach, shirtless with long white hair that streamed over muscled shoulders. Blood mixed with dirt, branches and leaves lay thick across his upper body. She found more blood and bruising as her eyes moved down his back to discover torn pants that clearly differed from those of the white man's soldiers.

This man's pants were brown without the stripe that the other soldiers wore on theirs. A dark stain of blood soaked into the fabric of one leg as she examined it.

Her eyes narrowed as they moved back to the nearby horse while it continued to slowly chew grass, unperturbed with her presence near its fallen owner; it also was unlike many of the horses that the soldiers often used.

Clearly it appeared more to be more like the wild horses that she'd often rode when the spirits had allowed her.

Another plaintive groan from the man caused her to kneel in concern and gently roll him over onto his back.

The raw open wounds of his chest brought her hand to her mouth in horror as she gasped at what she saw. The ground could do ugly things to a body, if the spirits allowed such punishment.

Perhaps he was just one of the many settlers who crossed the mountains to join the other white men that passed before him.

Now she knew her choice was clear. Find Crazy-Bear and let him decide the fate of this white man. She could not just leave him here to die. The spirits had plainly shown their desire to see him live.

She rose and quickly made her way back through the forest showing that her name said much about both her speed and agility.

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