THE LAST SHAMAN
At last Ravenhawk made his way to the base of the towering mesa, his legs felt like lead and his breathing was a little unsteady from the long and dangerous climb back to where the horses waited his return.
Finally on level ground, the long climb down over and done, Ravenhawk looked about him as he caught his breath, the two horse looked up from the small patch of grass they had been feeding on and gave him a welcoming snicker as they both walked towards him.
Ravenhawk slowly walked to the shallow pool and drank deeply, his stomach rumbled with hunger as he had not fed in five days and only the small sips of water each morning had kept him going on his long vigil.
After washing his face and hands with the cooling water from the pool, Ravenhawk redonned his scant clothing, took up his bow and coup stick then mounted the Pinto, it was time to return home, he had much to talk over with his Grandfather.
The long ride home was taken at a fast walk, both horses side by side as the small group made its way through the rolling prairie grass and along the old dry river bed, it would be late afternoon before he caught site of the old cabin that he called home, around the trio was a strange and unsettling quiet, it took Ravenhawk over an hour to realise things were not as they should be.
It was two hours later that the first sign that everything was not right came to him, standing in his path were the shimmering shapes of two of the guardians, an unsettling sense of fear ran through Ravenhawk's young body as he spied the silent pair standing in his path, immediately Ravenhawk began his chant of recognition and respect, with his knees he brought the Pinto to a halt and waited for the Guardians to make their choice.
Much to his surprise, Ravenhawk watched as the two shimmering figures looked deeply at him then disappeared into thin air, Ravenhawk breathed deeply and nudged the Pinto forward, he had to admit he had been scared and hesitant when he had spied the two figures, no one, not even a Medicine Elder, fooled with or tempted the Guardians.
Another hour passed after the unsettling sign and then Ravenhawk saw something that made him sit up and take notice of his surroundings, standing right in his path was a white Heron, it had one wing drooping down as though it was injured, its dark eyes were watching every move the trio made, as they got closer, the Heron seemed to take a few limping steps towards them, it then stopped, looked, and with an agility that seemed other worldly, it took to the air with one mighty sweep of its long white wings and flew to the North and out of sight.
Ravenhawk may have been young, he was also not fully trained as a Medicine Man, he was also only a half breed and added to that he was a two spirit boy but he was not ignorant of what he had just seen in the two visitations, had he known what he was going to see later in the day he would probably have thought twice about hurrying home but the two sightings had given him pause for thought.
The Guardians were either interpreted as a warning or they could be a protection, that much was clear but, the sighting of the Heron pretending to be injured raised real concern, the heron was the signature appearance of the Great Mother, the one who kept order over the Earth, to see her embodied as he had could only mean one thing, danger or destruction.
Ravenhawk was now concerned, as he quickened their pace to a slow canter and began to think of short cuts back to the house, it was two hours later and only one more to the house that the third sign came and this one could not be ignored nor mistaken.
He had been working his way homeward at a steady pace, the sun was now well past the meridian when he saw it diving towards him, the Great Eagle dove low and then began to turn in circles directly above his head and no higher than a hundred feet, it was turning anticlockwise, a sure sign of undoing, after completing three circles, the Eagle screamed then rose and flew to the North, another sign that it was the finish of something large, the North gate was the mark of the beginning and the end and everything today had signalled the end, Ravenhawk hurried the Pinto towards home.
On the reservation the people did not live cheek by jowl but they were not so far away from each other that they could not sometimes see or hear what was going on at another home.
As Ravenhawk drew close enough to see his house, the sudden quietness got to him, he should have been able to hear the yelling and laughter of small children or at least some sound of loud voices, even the sound of a radio or TV could not be heard, it was unsettling.
Ravenhawk rode up to the front of the house, when he saw the closed door at this hour of the day he well knew something was wrong and the stillness gave him more to think about.
Ravenhawk slid from the back of the horse and looked around, the old house looked as though it had been abandoned some time ago but he knew that could not be true, it was then that the faint sweet but sickly smell hit him and it was coming from inside the house.
Ravenhawk dropped his weapons and Medicine bag on the ground as the ran towards the closed doors, without a warning yell of arrival, Ravenhawk opened the door and ran inside, he was struck by the now strong smell of death as he breached the doorway and saw the tableau in the front room.
The four major men in his life were all slumped over the dinner table, partially eaten food on the plates were at least two days old, the heavy smell of death filled every corner of the old house, even then, Ravenhawk knew he would not be able to live in the house ever again , but first he had his duty to do.
Somehow holding back the tears that threatened to break out, Ravenhawk set about the job he had to do, each body had to be washed and prepared for their final trip through the mists to stand at the side of the Creator, for a boy as young and slight as Ravenhawk, it was not an easy task but he refused to give in to the thought of getting help from others.
Ravenhawk worked hard well into the night, when he had finished, he looked over what he had done, each Uncle and his Grandfather were now laid out in their finest beaded war shirts, leggings, moccasins and head dress, each held an item of power he had placed in their hands, only the very old and powerful Calumet of his Grandfather was left out, this had been promised to Ravenhawk and would go with him when he left this place.
Ravenhawk went out onto the front stoop, he carried his Uncles large drum even though he was by no means an expert with it but it seemed the right thing to do this time, sitting on the stoop cross legged, Ravenhawk began the beat and then the chant for the carrying of souls through the mist, he was not sure if his family had had time to sing their death sings but hoped his song would still help them on their final journey.
The early morning sun found him still sitting on the stoop alone, even with the drumming and chanting, there had been no one coming to see what was going on, Ravenhawk thought this was strange but he had other duties to perform.
His next task after the song ended was to get the four bodies to the burial ground, for this he went and got two of his Uncles horses and hitched them to the old wagon that they used around the small acreage, again it was a final struggle to get all four men, dressed in their finest onto the wagon.
After an hour he had completed the task, he had now not eaten for six days but this was far more important, and still no one had shown themselves at this time of mourning for an Elder, Ravenhawk took up the reins and urged the wagon forward, in an hour he would be at the burial ground.
As the wagon and its grizzly cargo creaked along the worn dirt road, Ravenhawk tried to sing the death songs of the four men or as much as he could remember of them as he rode to the burial ground, it was there he saw why no others had come.
Standing on the outside of the confines of the burial ground were a number of others, on the ground before them were the bodies of more than half of the community and those standing around looked to also be very ill, none of them would enter the grounds as they did not know the songs of protection from the spirits.
Ravenhawk stopped the wagon and looked at those who were left, the soft crooning voice of the few remaining women sounded hollow in the still air, Ravenhawk got down off the wagon and went to the oldest looking man, he was about mid forties.
"Why do you wait, it is time to bury those who have passed?"
"We have no Elders left, there is no one to sing the songs and we cannot enter the grounds without the chant of protection."
"Then I will call the chant and sing the songs."
The face of the man looked doubtfully at the half caste teen, the once proud and inscrutable face of the Lakota warrior was now lined and aged like an old man, he was also looking ill with sweat on his brow and his hands trembled, his eyes were blood shot and he shook with a fever as he stood watching Ravenhawk's reaction.
"You are too young and we have not agreed to your heritage or ability to sing the songs of the Elders."
"Then who will do it? I must do it for my Grandfather and Uncles, if you wish to bury your dead then you may join with me, if not I will do it alone."
For Ravenhawk it was the end of the discussion, he began to unload the four blanket wrapped bodies one by one, once on the ground he began the first chant of protection as he walked onto the burial ground, he carried only his Medicine bag over his shoulder as he made his way to the central ring of stones at the centre of the grounds.
Once there he set about making a small fire with the pile of old wood left for just that purpose, as the fire grew, he began the songs for the dead while he sprinkled the sacred Ghost Sage and then tobacco on the small flames, the smoke carrying the words of the song high into the air so that Creator could receive them.
When the songs were over, Ravenhawk looked around for the poles he would need to make the platforms for his four family members, much to his surprise, those he had left outside the grounds were now at work constructing the platforms, many were made large enough for more than one body to be placed upon them, Ravenhawk set about his own task but he then saw two of the women began to carry poles over to him.
Ravenhawk along with those who were left and able, constructed one tall platform for his Grandfather and then three shorter ones for his Uncles, it took all his strength to help place the four bodies on the platforms, once all the others were also placed he began the last song as he paid homage to the dead while standing over the dying fire, using more sage, tobacco and a special blend of Kinikinik he sent the final prayers to the Sky Father, Earth Mother and Creator so that the spirits of the dead would find an easy passage through the mists.
High above the scene below flew four Golden Eagles; they circled time after time directly above the burial grounds as those below began to drift back to what was left of their lives, only Ravenhawk would live to see three more days.
On his return home, Ravenhawk set about gathering what he thought he would need, taking everything out to the old barn, Ravenhawk took a last look at the house he had known as his only home, after spreading kerosene around the building he set it alight, the loud crackling of the flames and the heat from the fire as it devoured the dry wood could be felt as far away as the doors of the barn.
Ravenhawk now had only one thought in mind, tonight he would fast and sing more songs and, when the sun rose he would release all the horses belonging to his Grandfather and Uncles so they could run free for the rest of their lives, in the barn he began to sort out everything he had carried there, if he was to leave this place he would have to decide what he would need, but first he had to find some answers to what had happened.
The next morning Ravenhawk realised he had not eaten now for seven days, while his mind was not on food he knew his body desperately need it, to this end he set about making a large breakfast, how he got through yesterday was a mystery to him, he had to have been working on pure will power as he went through what he need to do.
After his heavy breakfast, Ravenhawk started to go through everything he had removed from the house last night, much of what he had he would not be able to take with him when he moved, it was time to think about his future but first he had to find out what was going on.
Ravenhawk called for the Pinto, he would ride into town and see why all his family had died and what was happening to the others of the tribe, as yet he did not feel ill or sick, something was not right.
At a steady canter, Ravenhawk made the small town in good time, when he entered the main street he knew that it was already too late, the stench of death was everywhere and he could plainly see a few of the dead had fallen in the street, the town echoed to his Pinto's footsteps as he went deeper, there were no sounds or movements anywhere.
Once at the centre of the town, Ravenhawk pulled the Pinto to a halt and sat to look around, ravens had already found the easy source of food and were attacking the few bodies lying out in the open, he had little doubt that larger animals would also make use of the easy meals during the coming night, if they had not already done so.
Ravenhawk looked around, there was little he could do and he was about to return to his home when a thought caught him, if he had to travel a long way away he would need some things, there was no way the Creator would have let all of humanity die, if this was so then he would have to look to his own protection at some stage.
Turning his head around he finally spied the sports goods store, what he would need would be in there, Ravenhawk kneed the Pinto towards the dark doorway of the store, he had already deduced that the animals seemed to have not been subject to the mysterious disease, at least he would be able to live off the land.
Ravenhawk went to the door, much to his surprise it was unlocked, he then spied the old man Mr. Simpkins lying on the floor, he was obviously dead, he pushed open the door and entered the shadowy store, the lights had not been put on and the daylight barely entered the painted windows.
Ravenhawk began to look around for what he might need, first would be a means of hunting and defence, to this end he selected a short 30-30 carbine, next he went in search of the ammunition, as he did so he saw a good quality bow hanging on the back wall, it was a top quality recurve, it would be better than his own hand made one although he would take that with him as well, he would also have his Uncles 44-40 Winchester.
The next item he selected was a good hunting knife, while his own was good, it would do no harm to have a second one for emergencies, after another look around the only thing he thought about taking was a good sleeping bag then he paused, he would have his Grandfathers buffalo hide, that was a far better and harder wearing cover than the nylon bag.
The next item he took were a few boxes of fire starters, he knew he could start a fire with just about anything but why make it harder if he had only wet wood, Ravenhawk was not so stupid that he would not use what the Whiteman had created, the only item now was a pack that could be used on the Appaloosa, after a short time of consideration, Ravenhawk selected three packs, when he got back home he would alter two of them to fit the horse, the other he would carry himself.
At last Ravenhawk left the silent town, his new goods were a little awkward to carry alone on the Pinto but he persevered, he was thankful when he finally caught sight of the top of the barn, he was nearly home, he had decided on two days to sort out what he should take and what he would hide away for some other time, as yet he had not seen another human being.
Ravenhawk was pleased to get back to the barn, the weight of the boxes of ammunition in the pack were pulling on his slim shoulders, he got to the ground and, after dropping the pack inside, he stretched and uttered a small groan as the kinks worked themselves out of his aching back, the Pinto wander off to join the Appaloosa nearby.
Ravenhawk began to ready a meal, he would have to build his strength over the next two days for the trip into the unknown future, he began by firing up the old potbelly stove kept in the barn for winter warmth, it was a little rusty but usable, once it was alight he began to put together a solid meal from the stores he had taken from the old house before he fired it.
As the sun set in the West, Ravenhawk went through the large amount he had taken from the house until he came across the thick well tanned buffalo hide his Grandfather had had for many years, there was no sign of wear or deterioration on the large thick hide, it would do for many years to come, he laid it out on the floor of the barn over a thick carpet of dry hay, it would make a good bed after the long days he had already had.
Ravenhawk was so deep in sleep he didn't even hear the two horses come into the barn where they selected a place for themselves and settled down to sleep, both were side by side as they had been since being foals.
The next morning found Ravenhawk stripping the two larger packs of their frames, with a heavy sack needle he began to alter their straps so he could lay them over the back of the Appaloosa with a girth strap around its belly to hold them in place, next he sewed on three long straps to hold the rolled up hide and tie his Uncles rifle with, the rifle was held in its own hand made deer skin scabbard with a long fringe down one side.
For his new rifle he made a leather strap to go over his shoulder, the new bow would hang on the Appaloosa along with the rifle, the large bundle of machine made arrows he tied and they would go on the Appaloosa as well, his own bow and handmade arrows would be in his quiver over his shoulder and the bow he would carry in his hands.
Over the next two days he worked relentlessly, the items of his forebears he had to find a hiding place, to this end he dug deeply into the floor of the barn and buried everything he could not take, his own supplies would only consist of flour, salt, sugar and cooking grease, there was also still a large amount of dried meat in the old smoke house, he would take as much as he could carry.
All he had to decide now was which direction to go to find a new life when he left in the coming morning, Ravenhawk thought about it long and hard and, as the night rolled on and he was about to lay his head down, he finally decided to go South and West, there was more open land in that direction and less chance of finding trouble he could not handle, he laid his head down and was fast asleep before the two horse came in to join him.
The sun had barely risen over the horizon when he was up and about, as he fitted the revamped packs onto the Appaloosa the horse hardly moved, while the horse refused to be ridden, it did not mind carrying whatever Ravenhawk put on its back, no one else could get close to the horse, even his old Grandfather, a man with the reputation of calming even the wildest of animals, could not get near the horse, only Ravenhawk was allowed to touch or be near the Appaloosa.
After two hours he was ready to leave, he had rolled up his deer skin clothes and was now wearing jeans and a thick shirt but still wore his long moccasins, the two packs were nicely balanced on the Appaloosa and the hide was neatly rolled up with the new bow and rifle strapped tightly beside it as it rested on top.
Ravenhawk had the Pinto kneel so he could mount with the heavy pack on his back, it carried most of his spare clothes as well as cooking utensils and extra ammunition, in the long side pocket he had carefully place the old Calumet, he had put extra padding around it so it would not get damaged, it's importance was too great to let it be damaged or destroyed by carelessness.
The sun was three hours old when he finally set out to the South West, he would follow this line until he felt he should go another way, the West Coast was two thousand miles away over the mighty Rockies, it would be a long and lonely trip if he made it at all.
One day ran into another as Ravenhawk travelled the open and barren prairie, sometimes he wondered if anyone had survived and he was still not sure why he had not caught the disease that had taken everyone else.
He travelled all day only stopping for a quick meal at midday and, close to evening, he looked for a safe place to sleep, there had been a marked increase in wild animals, now that there were so few humans around they had little fear of showing themselves during the day or out in the open.
Ravenhawk had been travelling for more than ten days when he saw something that made him pause, about five miles ahead he could see a number of large birds circling, it could mean anything, a dead animal or an injured one or maybe even an injured human, Ravenhawk felt he had to go to investigate, something was pulling him in that direction.
Not being one to ignore things that had no explanation, Ravenhawk turned the Pinto towards the high circling birds, from the shape of their wings he thought they were Buzzards a common carrion bird on the plains, both horses seemed to understand something was different and they went willingly forward.
As he had thought, Ravenhawk spied something laying on the ground amongst the taller grass, it looked like a person but it was hard to tell as he was still a little far off, Ravenhawk kneed the Pinto into a faster pace.
Five minutes later and Ravenhawk was looking down at the thin body of what looked like a dead young teen, his clothes were in rags and he looked as though he had not eaten in a long time, as he watched the body he thought he saw a small movement of the back muscles, as he sat and watched he then heard a soft low groan from the body, Ravenhawk quickly slid off the Pinto and stepped closer.
The boy on the ground must have felt something was close to him as he coughed and tried to roll onto his back, his breathing was elevated and there was a smell of fear in the clean air, the teen rolled right over and stared up at Ravenhawk with fear filled eyes, he lifted his hand then let it fall by his side, there was little he could do if the person standing above him wanted his life or anything else he had.
Antonio Bevan collapsed back onto the ground, he was done, he had nothing left, how the virus had missed him he would never know but the sight of all those others dropping down dead around him had left him empty and alone.
He had survived the last two weeks by sometimes finding a farm house with a little food that was edible, he had purposely stayed well away from towns because he didn't know if the virus was still active in them, somehow he had found himself way out here on the plains, it was not long before he was too hungry and thirsty to go on and had laid down and waited for the end to come.
As a last ditch attempt to survive, Antonio tried to stand once again in a final attempt to fight off the man standing over him but he had nothing left and he slumped down to wait for his last few seconds, in a way it would be a relief from the torment he had gone through up until now.
Ravenhawk looked at the teen, he was thin and dirty but Ravenhawk was beginning to like what he could see, the teen looked to be about the same height, his hair was dark like Ravenhawk's and the eyes were deep brown, his skin was lightly tanned and he looked to be perhaps of Hispanic origin sometime in his past.
He watched as the teen fell back to the ground, he looked to be on his last strength, Ravenhawk slipped the pack off then went to the Appaloosa and relieved it of the other packs, unrolling the thick warm hide, he carried it back to lay beside the teen, next he rolled the teen onto the hide and wrapped the rest around him.
Taking the small water bottle from his own pack he began to dribble water over the chapped lips and finally getting a little to enter the teens mouth, the teen opened his eyes and tried to smile his thanks but was too weak, he lay his head back and was fast asleep before Ravenhawk could get a word out of him.
Looking around, Ravenhawk decided it was as good a place to camp as any other, letting the two horse wander away to feed, he began to set up a small camp so he could watch over the teen now sleeping peacefully under the thick hide, Ravenhawk thought he would have to sleep close to the fire this night, he did not want to disturb the teen when there was no reason, the weather was warm and the location looked safe.
As he sat watching the sleeping teen, Ravenhawk began to think things through, if the teen wanted to stay with him he would not object, even if it was only for the company, the loneliness of the last ten days had effected Ravenhawk and he was wanting some company, this teen was just the right type, if he stayed Ravenhawk would have to go out and find a new horse for the teen, there was no way the Appaloosa would let anyone ride him.
Ravenhawk found the Appaloosa an enigma, he could pat him and sing songs to him, the horse would willingly carry his packs and also defend the small group but he could not be ridden even by Ravenhawk, he would have to leave the teen here in the small camp and go in search of a new horse for him if the teen wanted to stay together.
Ravenhawk stayed crouched over the small fire all night long, sometimes he dozed lightly and awoke whenever he heard a small groan coming from the pile of buffalo skin where the teen slept solidly, during the night he heard no sounds of wild animals, it was as though they were protected by some unseen power, as morning dawned, Ravenhawk stretched his tired limbs and looked over towards the still sleeping teen, it was time to ready something to eat.
The sun had been up in the sky for more than an hour when the teen finally opened his eyes, Ravenhawk had the fire built up enough to cook some of the food he had trapped the previous day, the fresh rabbit along with a few small eggs he had collected, went towards a good breakfast, taking the tin plate from the side of the fire, Ravenhawk offered it to the still sleepy teen.
Not surprisingly, the plate was empty before Ravenhawk had started to eat his own food; all that remained now was for the teen to be cleaned up and dressed in some better clothes than the rags he was wearing at the present.
Ravenhawk scraped the last of the food from the pan onto the teen's plate, he was in more need than Ravenhawk was, next he offered his small water bottle and watched as it was nearly drained in seconds, the teen was in a bad way by the look of it and Ravenhawk had all the skills needed to look after him, as yet both teens had barely said a word.
Antonio looked at his saviour, it was plainly obvious the teen opposite him was a Native American and Antonio was a little scared of him although all his life he had had a fascination with the true people of this land, how did he talk to him, did the boy understand English, was he really friendly or just helping him for his own ends, Antonio was in a quandary, what did he say, finally he settled on what little he knew, or thought he knew.
Ravenhawk almost broke into laughter but kept his face impassive, did this teen really think that was how they greeted each other, Ravenhawk thought he would play a little joke on the teen.
"You said How, so I ask you, how what?"
"I...I thought that was how you said hello."
Ravenhawk could hold back his laughter no longer, after almost crying with mirth, he looked at the teen and decided to put his confusion at rest.
"That is not how we greet each other, the right way is like this, lift your right hand and the words are simply, Aho, if you wish to make it a little more formal then you can add these words, Matak-ye-asin, it means, under the eyes of the ancestors but Aho is enough, how do they call you?"
Yes, your name that was given to you?"
"Oh...oh yes, my name is Antonio Bevan, what is yours?"
"I am called Ravenhawk of the Lakota."
"Lakota, who are they, I don't think I have heard that name before and I've read a lot on Native Americans in school."
"The Lakota were called Sioux but I am not a full blood, my mother was Chiricahua Apache so I am a half blood in their eyes."
"Oh, Apache, I know about them."
"Do you, what do you know?"
"Well I've read all the books about them."
"Ha, then you have a lot to learn, the books were written mostly by the Whiteman and only from his side, perhaps you would like to learn the real truths."
"Yes I think I would, how do I go about it?"
"Stay with me and learn like I did, as we move you will learn things the Whiteman never knew about, that is if you want to go with me?"
Antonio looked at the teen, he certainly had a mysterious pull towards the boy and he was not doing any good on his own, he needed someone that could keep him alive and the last ten days of being alone had made him more aware that he needed a good friend.
"Yes, I would like that if you will let me go with you."
"Good, then it is settled, we will travel together like friends and brothers, first though, I need to go and find you a horse, you can ride?"
"Not very well and I was only a little kid when I did, I'm from the city, there is not much use for horses there."
"Ok, I will go and find a gentle horse for you, you must stay here, my Appaloosa will stay to defend you, do not worry, I may be away for a number of days but you will be safe as long as you stay here."
"Could I not ride the grey horse?"
"The Appaloosa, no, no one rides him, he is a free spirit and only follows because he wants to, he will protect you, can you cook and light a fire?"
"The fire, yes but cooking, I don't think so, perhaps boil water but that is all."
"Ok then, in my pack is a large amount of Jerky, just chew on that when you get hungry, when I return we will find a place for you to wash and I have some better clothes for you to wear when you are clean."
"Thank you Ravenhawk, but tell me, why are you doing this?"
"Because you are alone and also I like you; that you are not a Whiteman also helps." Antonio saw the smile spread across the lips of Ravenhawk and realised he was joking.
"Well my Father was White but my Mother was half Puerto Rican."
"Then you are not White, now stay here, I must find you a horse and it may take a few days, can you shoot?"
"I've never tried, why?"
Ravenhawk turned and took the 30-30 from his shoulder, he showed it to Antonio and then jacked the lever to load it, he did this slowly so Antonio could see everything he was doing.
"You should not have to use it but I would feel better if you kept it close while I was gone, I can take the other rifle, when I am close on my return, I will fire one single shot into the air to let you know it is me, please do not shoot me when I come back, it might make me angry or dead."
Again Antonio saw the smile on Ravenhawk's lips as he took the carbine in his hands and watched as Ravenhawk took a longer rifle from a very nicely decorated deer skin scabbard that had been resting against one of the large packs on the ground.
Ravenhawk gathered up the rifle and then slung his bow and quiver over his shoulder and called the Pinto, of course the Appaloosa also walked over and stood waiting, Ravenhawk went close to the Appaloosa and asked it to watch over Antonio and the camp then jumped up on the Pinto.
"Aren't you taking some food with you?"
"No, you will need it, I can find what I need as I go, remember, I will fire a single shot when I am close, stay near the camp, do not wander around."
Ravenhawk turned the Pinto with his knees and headed to the north, he thought he had a better chance of finding a new horse in that direction, he had not seen any but he had a feeling that was the direction he needed to go.
It was not long before Ravenhawk was out of sight and Antonio again felt the loneliness around him, if it was not for the silent Appaloosa close by he would have thought he was left to the vagaries of the plains but the horse did seem to understand that the teen needed him and stayed close.
Ravenhawk rode for two days before he found any sign, it looked to be four horses together, not really a herd but enough for what Ravenhawk wanted, what was even better was that the signs showed the horses to be shod, they were already broken, this would save a lot of time, he began his tracking, thankful for the long lessons he had spent with Uncle number two.
As the signs grew fresher, he could now tell they were only hours in front of him, he settled back on the Pinto and tried to think of where they would go, they were in no hurry and seemed to be just wandering along, eating when they were hungry, the only thing they would need to stay close to was water, in the distance he saw the faint green smudge of trees, it had to be a water course.
Half an hour later and Ravenhawk was working his way silently through the thin willow trees that bordered a small stream, he could hear the faint snickering and snuffling of horses close by, the Pinto had picked up its ears but also seemed to know that he had to move slowly and quietly.
Slowly the duo came out of the trees and onto the stream bank, there only a few feet away were the four horses drinking from the clean clear water, Ravenhawk lay down along the back of the Pinto and urged it slowly forward, as though reading Ravenhawk's mind, the Pinto stepped lightly into the group of four horses without trouble, they all looked at the strange horse with its lump on the back and went back to drinking.
Ravenhawk had already selected which of them he would take for Antonio, a smaller Bay gelding still had a halter, it was this one he had marked as a good horse for his new friend.
Slowly and with the patience only a good hunter could train himself to have, Ravenhawk drew close to the Bay gelding, using a soft voice he began to sing quietly to the horse, as he did so he reached out with one hand and easily attached his lariat to the halter, rising up from his lying position, he turned the Pinto and led the Bay away from the group, it followed as though it had little or no fear.
With his capture in hand, Ravenhawk began the long journey back to where he had left Antonio under the care of the Appaloosa, not having to worry about going slow to track, Ravenhawk made better time back towards the waiting camp, he crested the rise before the camp only one and a half days later, the Bay gelding still in tow and seemingly happy to have a human around.
As soon as he spotted the rising smoke from the camp fire, Ravenhawk took his Uncles rifle from across his knees and fired a single shot into the air, as he came up over the last rise he could see the smaller figure of Antonio standing close to the Appaloosa, one hand shading his eyes and the other was waving towards Ravenhawk.
The pair of horses with the rider came at the camp in a canter, the Appaloosa threw its head back and whinnied a call to the Pinto as it tossed its head up and down in greeting, Ravenhawk pulled the two horse to a stop as he slid from the back of the Pinto and smiled at Antonio, the teen looked more rested even though he was still dressed in rags that had once been very fashionable clothes and his body was still covered in dirt and now grass from the prairie camp.
"Uhm, Aho Ravenhawk." Antonio replied hesitantly.
"Here is your horse, we will eat now and I will rest, tomorrow we go to find water for you to wash, did you have any trouble while I was gone?"
"None, the Appaloosa guarded me very well; nothing came close to the camp."
"That's good, we can stay one more night then it is time to move on."
"Uhm, Ravenhawk, I don't really know how to ride, what do I do?"
"Let me eat and drink then I will introduce you to your horse, he is gentle and is already broken, you will have little trouble."
To make sure the new gelding did not get it into his head to stray, Ravenhawk fashioned a hobble from his lariat, next he sat by the small dying fire and ate then drank some of the remaining water, as he did so, Antonio watched every move, he felt a strange attachment to the teen, it was more than just about being saved by him, his nether regions also were responding to the closeness of his new friend.
Ravenhawk noticed the looks he was getting from Antonio but he kept his face impassive and continued with his meal, there would be plenty of time for the two of them to get to know each other in the days to come, his own body was also responding in much the same way as his friends.
Once he had finished his meal, Ravenhawk rose and gestured for Antonio to walk close beside him as he went to the new horse, whispering soft words as he moved closer, Ravenhawk took Antonio's hand and gently laid in on the neck of the Bay.
"Just pet him on the neck lightly and talk to him in a soft voice; the words don't matter, it is the tone of your voice he will listen too, stay calm and make him your friend."
Ravenhawk watched as Antonio followed his instructions, although he was a little nervous, and it showed at first in his unsteady voice, the Bay seemed to understand that the human meant no harm, the Bay stretched out its neck so the human could rub and pat it better, the human had good hands and a soothing voice, the Bay dropped its head in a sign of acceptance.
When Ravenhawk saw the head go down he told Antonio to go closer and hug the horse but keep taking to it, it was soon apparent that the horse had accepted Antonio, next he had to get the inexperienced teen up on the horse, it proved easier than expected, showing Antonio how to crook one leg, he helped with a lift and push to get Antonio up on the horses back, the horse barely flickered as Antonio's weight came down on its back.
"Uhm, Ravenhawk, what about a saddle and bridle, how will I control the horse and stay on its back?"
"You are already sitting on the horse, you do not need a saddle and no horse should have those steel bits in their mouth, if a horse likes you it does not need all those things to control it, you must trust it and it will trust you."
"But without a saddle I will fall off."
"So? If you fall off you just get back on, it is not a problem."
"But, but the horse might run away."
"Not if he trusts you and you trust him, if you fall off he will stop and wait for you to get back on, do not worry so much, he needs you just as you need him, horses are very intelligent animals, you have made friends now, he will watch over you just as my horses watch over me, trust me and you will see."
"Well ok, but if he runs away and leaves me in the dirt it will be all your fault."
Ravenhawk looked and smiled at Antonio, his new friend was certainly a city boy, he would have to show and teach him so much or they would have problems along the way.
"Ok my Brother, slide back down here, we will remove the hobbles and you can lead the horse around by the halter, just tie the shorter length of rope to the halter, just walk around, after a little, throw the lead rope over your shoulder and release it from your hand, let the horse decide if it wants to follow you, if he does then he has made up his mind to stay with you."
"And if he doesn't?"
"Then you will be walking for a long time."
Ravenhawk laughed at his joke, he could already tell the horse was comfortable with Antonio, the teen would have little trouble, Ravenhawk went over to his large packs and sat on the ground as he watched Antonio lead the horse in a circle, eventually he dropped the lead rope over his shoulders and released his hands from it, the Bay just continued to follow him around, it was a good match, Ravenhawk decided.
That night Ravenhawk once again slept by the small fire and Antonio slept in the warm buffalo hide blanket, in the morning it was time to get things ready to move, Antonio watched as Ravenhawk called his two horses, he noticed that his new Bay came along as well, all three horses seemed to be happy with each other.
Ravenhawk made Antonio watch how he settled and fixed the two large packs and rolled buffalo hide on the Appaloosa, he then helped Antonio to mount the Bay and threw himself up on the Pinto, Ravenhawk had cut his own horse blanket in half to make two pads so that Antonio would not have to be too uncomfortable, the teen would take some time to get used to riding bare back.
Ravenhawk turned the horses South West again, Winter was not far away and he wanted to be somewhere that was not frozen over, he had estimated he would have two months to find a place to stay for the winter, as yet he had not seen anywhere suitable but he would keep looking, he also now had Antonio to watch out for, the teen would need new clothes and some other things, they could not eat out of one plate forever.
It was early on the second day when they finally came to a small stream that had what looked like a deeper hole in the middle, it was a good place to wash, Antonio's smell had only got worse as they travelled, it was time for Ravenhawk to see what was under all the grime, his own groin had been giving him signals he had not had before and he was sure that Antonio felt the same by the looks he gave Ravenhawk when he thought the boy was not watching him.
Ravenhawk had no hesitation in stripping off naked and diving into the clean fresh water, the first shock of the cold water made him gasp but he soon got used to the temperature and began to wash himself, Antonio, being a city boy was not so sure about nakedness, after a little coaxing by Ravenhawk and the promise not to look, Antonio stripped and quickly jumped in the water to hide his boy bits.
Ravenhawk took note that Antonio was underweight, that and that his skin had not seen the sun in a long time, he still had that faint tan colour which was a natural part of his heritage but he need some sun to give him a healthy tanned look, he also badly need feeding and bulking up to hide the ribs showing plainly on his torso, Ravenhawk would soon take care of all that.
Ravenhawk had taken a large bar of soap from his personal pack, using a piece of torn tee shirt, he offered it to Antonio so he could wash away the built up grime of so many days without washing, slowly what Ravenhawk saw as the beauty of Antonio began to make itself seen under the grime, taking a chance, Ravenhawk reached for the wash cloth and began to rub the dirt from Antonio's back and shoulders.
When he felt Ravenhawk begin to wash his back, Antonio had to place his two hands under the water to keep his hardening boyhood from showing, a faint flush of pink coloured his cheeks as the soft hands worked on his back, it got only worse when the thin strong fingers of Ravenhawk began to work on his hair and scalp, suddenly Antonio felt something hard poking into his back or to be more precise, into his crack, Antonio shuddered at the feeling.
Ravenhawk had not planned to wash the teens hair it had just naturally happened and now his boyhood was hard and touching the softer skin of Antonio's buns, even in the cold water, the feel of Antonio's skin was warm and alluring, Ravenhawk had to shake his head to bring himself back out of the place he had begun to dream in, dropping his hands from Antonio he suddenly dived under the water to break the spell he had been under, Antonio followed suit.
It was a few silent minutes before the teens could look at each other, their embarrassment at their first touch was still fresh in their minds, even though both had wanted to go on, neither wanted to make the first move but both acknowledged that the first fence had been broken, it was now a matter of when and where and who got up the courage first.
Ravenhawk was first to leave the water, naked as the day he was born, he strode out of the small river and went to dress in clean clothes, he decided to dress as he often did at home, his breechclout, leggings and deer skin shirt along with is calf length moccasins, for Antonio he got out his last pair of jeans and flannel shirt, Antonio's sneakers were beyond wearing, the sweaty smell alone made them useless, Ravenhawk pulled out his spare moccasins, he would have to show Antonio how to put them on.
Slowly Antonio came out of the water, his hands covering his boyhood, even as cold as the water was he was still hard and erect, the embarrassment showing on his face as he looked at the clean clothes waiting for him, how would he put them on without letting his bits be seen by Ravenhawk, he finally came to the point where he decided he had little option, besides, was it so hard to let the boy he really liked see his bits, perhaps not.
Once dressed, Antonio found it strange to be wearing jeans without underwear, the roughness of the denim worked on his tender parts, it did not help to make his boyhood go soft, as he sat on the ground and watched as Ravenhawk showed him how to fasten the long moccasins, Antonio began to think about sleeping arrangements, Ravenhawk could not continue to sleep out by the fire while he had the comfort of the thick buffalo hide blanket, there had to be a time when they would have to share it.
Ravenhawk looked at Antonio now that he was clean and better dressed, his body was reacting and he then knew this was the boy he had waited for, it would now only be a matter of finding the right time to mention his feelings, Ravenhawk thought Antonio would have to let his hair grow longer, the short city look did not suit him, he would tell Antonio what he thought when they stopped in the evening to make camp.
Antonio watched as Ravenhawk tried to plait his long black hair, taking a chance, Antonio offered to do the plaiting for Ravenhawk, much to his delight, Ravenhawk let his hair go and turned around so Antonio could reach it, the act of plaiting the teens hair did not help the rigid hardness in Antonio's jeans, the long black hair was soft under his touch, it was like having an erotic episode, little did he know he was having the same effect on Ravenhawk.