After that first night of discovery, the two boys had somehow found their long searched for companion, they had now been travelling for two days and were walking the horses along a soft verge next to an old gravel road, where there was a roadway there had to be a town somewhere along it.
The last two nights had seen the boys enjoy many new pleasures, Antonio seemed quite happy to take the passive role in their new found friendship and Ravenhawk was only too willing to accede to his new role as hunter and protector, Antonio found that he was quite happy to work around the camp each time they stopped.
As they moved, Ravenhawk began to teach Antonio about the natural world as his people had seen it, the raft of information had Antonio enthralled as many of the myths about the Native American were dispelled one after another.
As they rode in the quietness of the new world, Ravenhawk would glance back at Antonio and a small soft smile would come to his usually firm lips, there was now a softness to his features as his feelings increased for the boy more each day and the nights became an adventure on their own.
By mid morning the road had widened and become covered in black top, Antonio's question just before they fell asleep last night still brought a smile to Ravenhawk's face, he had just finished bringing both of them to another fulfilling and satisfying climax, Antonio was curled up in his arms, his head resting on Ravenhawk's chest.
Antonio had lifted himself up on one elbow and looked down at the relaxed features of his friend, he then asked.
"You have done it to me four times now; does this make me your wife?"
Ravenhawk had looked up into the soft eyes above him and a smile broke out on his face, his dark eyes glinted in the fading firelight.
"In our way you would be called a Berdach, it is like a male wife but not a wife, is that what you would like to be?"
"Would it make you happy if I was?"
"Yes, it would make me very happy, it would satisfy my two spirits and I would then have someone very special to protect, it would fulfil my life to protect you."
"Good, then I will be your Berdach and you can protect me and keep me safe, I would like that, what would I have to do as your Berdach?"
"Just as you are doing now, set up the camp each time we stop while I go out to hunt or stand guard over you, there is much you will need to learn but I can show you everything as we work together, I must tell you that my spirit has very deep feelings for you and I will never let anything hurt you."
"Thank you, I have wanted to do those things with you since you first helped me, I guess that means my spirit likes you as well."
"That is good, if we have two happy spirits then we have little to worry about, now we must hurry, there is a town not far ahead and we can spend some time searching for goods that we may need for the winter."
Antonio nodded his agreement, he was now happy that he had something certain and was happy that Ravenhawk wanted him along, he was now aware that he was looking more and more like Ravenhawk, he had found the skimpy breechclout to be far more comfortable than the heavy jeans and had decided not to change once his clothes were dry.
He had found that his thighs were a little painful after the first day without protection from the course horse hair but now was feeling comfortable in his partial nakedness, it felt right and he was satisfied with how things had turned out.
Mid afternoon found the two boys sitting on the top of a small rise, below them was a small deserted country town; the oppressive silence even reached them from their vantage point half a mile away.
Even at this distance, they could make out the many bodies lying out in the open although most of them looked as though they had been well picked over by wild animals and carrion birds, Ravenhawk led them down the hill, there should be good pickings in the town and the first thing he would search for was some means of transporting anything they found.
Ravenhawk felt that a vehicle would be of little use where he was planning to go for the winter, he would have to look around in the hope of finding a wagon or trailer of some kind so that he could use the horses instead of relying on finding fuel.
The hollow clopping of the horse's hooves on the blacktop of the street echoed in the still air, only the occasional bird call interrupted the silence. Both Ravenhawk and Antonio held their rifles in their hands as they walked down the solitary main street, already the town was looking derelict, dust and dead leaves were scattered along the street, silent cars were parked haphazardly along the shopping area.
The silence was almost oppressive as the two boys looked for the right type of store to investigate, finally they came to the very centre of the small town, both boys slid off their horses and looked around at the desolation, even the cats and dogs had disappeared and the feeling of death hung silently in the air.
"What do we do now?" Antonio asked Ravenhawk.
"I need to find something to carry our goods, the travois are hard on the horses and are slower than a wagon, I will go and look for something if you can start to collect other things like tinned food, salt, flour, sugar, perhaps we should try coffee as well, I haven't drunk it before but perhaps we should start."
"Anything else we may need?"
"You could get some things for yourself and when I get back we will look for more ammunition and stock up on good arrows, there will come a time when the rifles may not be of any use."
"Ok, I will get started, where should I put everything I find?"
"Just stack it outside on the sidewalk, it will make it easier to load, I will find a house to stay in tonight so we have plenty of time, keep your rifle with you while I'm away just in case."
"Ok, well I better get started; I would not want my Warrior to get angry because his Berdach is lazy."
Both boys laughed and then went their separate ways, Antonio to do the shopping and Ravenhawk to find some sort of wagon. The rest of the afternoon passed quickly for Antonio as he went from store to store in search of the many things he thought they might need, he left the sports store for Ravenhawk to search has he himself was not that good with weapons and things of that nature.
Ravenhawk had searched through the town for a wagon and had had no success, finally he had concluded that he would have to go outside the town to one of the farms to find what he wanted, he did not like leaving Antonio alone in the town but there was no other option, leaping up on the Pinto he set out for the edge of town.
Ravenhawk was lucky, only a half hour from town he came across the first farm, the front paddock was filled with ripening corn and next to the house was a large barn and a corral with five large horses in it, this was a good indication that there may be some sort of wagon somewhere, Ravenhawk dismounted and began his search, the barn was his first option.
From the inside of the barn came the lowing cries of hungry cattle, opening one of the wooden doors, Ravenhawk looked inside, along both walls were wide stalls and in each one were two cows, Ravenhawk threw open the second wooden door of the barn and then began to release the cattle.
After the first stall was open, Ravenhawk made sure he was well out of the way as the two cows ran for the open as soon as they had space, they had been very hungry for some time, next, Ravenhawk began his search both inside and outside the barn, it was not long before he found a well used old fashioned wagon in a small shed behind the barn.
Ravenhawk began looking over the old wagon, while it was by no means new, it was well serviced, he had no idea why it was still used in the modern world as most farmers had made full use of tractors and trucks in their day to day working on a farm.
Ravenhawk had finished checking the old wagon and concluded it was fit to use, all he had to do now was work out how to hook up two of the large horses in the corral to the old wagon, something he had never done.
It was late in the afternoon before he finally got everything ready to his satisfaction, the two large horses seemed happy in their place between the shafts, the placing of the many straps and buckles had confused Ravenhawk for some time but now he was happy with what he saw, taking his place on the rough wooden seat, he snapped the long reins and got the wagon moving, the Pinto happily followed along by the side of the wagon, he would stop to pick corn before he made the last move towards the town.
Antonio was feeling nervous as darkness came down, he had not heard from Ravenhawk and was becoming a little scared to be here all on his own as night moved in, he had worked hard during the afternoon and now had large piles of goods stacked under the verandas of a number of stores.
Antonio had begun his shopping by making a list, the more he thought about what they might need, the longer the list became until finally he thought he had enough, he even added a few tasty treats for them, the only thing he was sorry about was the lack of power, all the ice cream was now melted and useless, still, he had a great quantity of candy to make up for it.
As he was growing really worried about the disappearance of his friend a very small sound made him jump and look around for danger.
It was in this nervous state that he heard the faint clop, clop of horse's hooves on the hard surface of the street and the strange crunch of metal wheels, Antonio tried to peer into the darkness in the direction of the noise, was it Ravenhawk or some other person coming, his nerves were on edge as he saw the first faint outline of two large horses and a wagon, sitting up on the seat was a solitary figure, from the small size he knew it was his Warrior returning.
Antonio let out a long pent up breath as the wagon drew closer, the tension leaving his body as he felt a renewed hope and that Ravenhawk had arrived back safely.
Ravenhawk drew the wagon to a halt beside the nervous looking teen, he almost let a smile come over his lips as he saw how nervous and anxious Antonio looked but his better judgement took over, his feelings for Antonio were far too great to make fun of him, it had been a long time since he himself had felt the first fear of a lonely dark night.
"Aho brother, did you have a good day shopping?"
"Uhm, Aho Ravenhawk, yes I did, I think I have everything but the ammunition, I don't know much about it so I thought I would wait for you."
"Good, well we can carry a lot more now we have this wagon, but it will be slower, do you think you could learn to drive this?"
"I don't know, I've never tried."
"Then I will teach you in the morning, let's go and find a house to sleep in tonight."
"Ok, I was getting pretty worried when you didn't come back during the daytime."
"It took me a while to work out how to attach the horses to the wagon and then to pick some corn, come on, jump up here and let's find that house."
"Why do we need corn, and what about all the stuff I've put out on the sidewalk?"
" The corn was a special gift from the Creator to our people, it would be disrespectful to ignore it and leave it to rot, and I somehow don't think anyone will steal the goods you have collected before morning."
"Yes, that's true."
Antonio climbed up on the seat beside Ravenhawk, it would be nice to sleep in a real bed for a change, he gave the slender form of Ravenhawk a sidelong look, it would be even better now he had someone to share the bed with, he hoped his boyfriend was not too tired to have a little fun before they went to sleep.
Antonio had no worries about a little play before sleep, Ravenhawk could think of very little else all day, there had been a picture in his head all day of a new position he wanted to try with his young Berdach, it turned out to be so much better than looking down on the slim tanned back, the expressions on his face and the way his eyes squinted as Ravenhawk entered him were much more fun.
The sun had been up for an hour the next morning when the two boys came out, they had had a cold shower but the fresh bath soap had made up for the cold water, Antonio followed Ravenhawk to the small back garden where they had staked out the two large horses, most of the tack had been left on them to make it easier to get them back in front of the wagon.
Half an hour later and the horses were walking back to the centre of town so the boys could load up the supplies Antonio had placed out for them, Ravenhawk went through most of it and then added only a couple of items of hardware in case they had to end up building their own winter cabin, the hammer, saw and axe as well as a large box of nails may come in handy.
After some consideration, Ravenhawk went to find some gardening tools, he was well aware that there were other towns to look at but if things went sour they would have most of the basics if needed.
The last stop was at the small mom and pop general store that had a sports area, here Ravenhawk began to collect box after box of ammunition, he also picked up another recurve bow and then they both carried a huge amount of boxed arrows to the wagon, everything was now loaded on the wagon including all their packs from the travois.
Ravenhawk piled some of the long willow poles on top of the loaded wagon, you never knew when they may come in handy, as an afterthought, Ravenhawk went back into the store to inspect the small wrack of rifles and shot guns, he spied a pair of 10 gauge double barrel shot guns, they would do as bird guns, the carrying of the four large tin boxes of ammunition took both of them, one on each metal handle.
Ravenhawk got up on the wagon and waited until Antonio got up beside him, he then began to teach Antonio how to handle the double reins, after a quick walk around the town, Antonio looked comfortable with the horses, Ravenhawk would ride alongside when he was not out in front as a van guard or looking for a camp site.
The load on the wagon was quite impressive, a large modern tent that packed into almost nothing, the tools and weapons were joined by carton after carton of canned goods, meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and soups, most would not be used while they travelled, it was to be held for the winter months when hunting would be far more difficult.
Added to the mass of canned goods were, much to Ravenhawk's surprise, smoked and dried meats, great slabs of smoked bacon and two large smoked ham legs, there were also many round tubes of some meat Ravenhawk had never seen before, Antonio had told him they were called salami, a spicy preserved meat that did not need cooking, Ravenhawk was a little sceptical about eating the strange looking rolls.
It was the two cartons of candy that most caught his eye, like any teen he had a very sweet tooth, it would be pleasant to be able to chew candy whenever he felt like it, it was a scarce commodity around his grandfather's house, there was only one more thing Ravenhawk wanted to collect, much to Antonio's surprise, Ravenhawk came out of the small supermarket with an arm load of tobacco.
"I didn't know you were a smoker?"
"It is for ceremonies, I will show you next time."
Antonio accepted what Ravenhawk said and turned back to the job in hand, with a flick of the reins the wagon began to move.
By midmorning the wagon and all their cargo with Antonio perched up on the seat and Ravenhawk mounted on the Pinto alongside, left the town for the last time, they would travel until close to dark and then make a light camp for the night, the boys had a combination of jerky and candy to chew along the way, the silence of the surrounding prairie and hills made them think they were the last people left on earth after the slaughter of the virus.
For three days they travelled slowly South West, there had been no sign of any living humans although there were plenty of animal signs along the way, most of their way was along the side of the old roadways that would eventually become nothing more than weed gatherers as the years passed by.
The distant mountains seemed no closer but the going was easy and neither of them wanted to turn off the roadside and head towards the mountains just yet, neither of them knew a way over or around the towering mountains ahead of them, they just followed the road in the general direction and hoped they would find a way over.
On the night of the third day things began to change, Ravenhawk stood away from the small fire they had lit and lifted his head towards the North, taking a deep sniff of the fresh chilled air he suddenly knew they would not make the mountains in time, they would have to find a hideaway, winter was coming a lot faster than he had first thought.
Returning to the fire where Antonio was laying out the thick buffalo hide for their bed, Ravenhawk took one more look up at the night sky, far to the North he saw a faint green shimmer, it was barely noticeable if you were not looking for it, breathing out he went to join his Berdach.
"Winter is early, we will have to find a place very soon, we're not going to make it over the mountains until next spring.
"Why would you think that?"
"When winter gets here we can spend more time in bed to keep each other warm."
"Is it only the warmth you are thinking of?"
"I didn't think so."
Ravenhawk slid into the warm cover of the thick hide and pulled the willing teen close to his chest, for the next hour there was very little thought of sleep but, as the two sweating bodies lay back after their exertions, Antonio snuggled in as close as he could get, the winter promised some very interesting times.
The next morning Ravenhawk looked around before starting out on another days travel, he was not sure where they were, it could have been South Nebraska or more likely North Colorado, whichever it was they still had a long way to go and the morning chill in the air was a definite indication of winter, it was time to look seriously for a winter home.
The strange little convoy moved forward, each mile South West brought them closer to a warm place, Ravenhawk rode the Pinto out in front with Antonio, now well used to guiding the pair of horses attached to the wagon, his gelding was tied to the tail gate and the Appaloosa wandered wherever he liked but always close to the Pinto.
They had had no problems with the old wagon, while it looked well used it had also been well looked after, the wheel bearings were well greased and all the moving parts well maintained, only the creaking of the old springs and the clop, clop of the horses hooves made any sound in the silence of the open wilds.
It was mid afternoon when Antonio saw Ravenhawk lift his hand as a sign to stop, he watched as the teen seemed to listen and look around for something that had caught his attention, it was now difficult to tell the two boys apart except for the shorter hair on Antonio, they were now both dressed in a breechclout with a shirt that was belted at the waist and their long moccasins, Antonio's hair was slowly growing long which made them even more alike.
Each afternoon when they stopped, Ravenhawk had insisted that Antonio practice shooting with the smaller 30.30, he was now reasonably good and could hit the small temporary targets that Ravenhawk set out for him, eight out of ten times and even the two misses were still close enough to hurt anyone attacking them.
Ravenhawk had pulled his 44.40 from the fancy beaded scabbard that lay across his knees as he rode and was looking towards some far off trees, Antonio did not hesitate to also pick up his own rifle from the seat beside him, it was then he noticed both the Pinto and the Appaloosa were looking in the direction of the trees with their ears pushed forward in the same direction.
Ravenhawk sat still, he made no attempt to move forward, the land around them seemed to become silent as the two boys watched intently, there was no indication of anything wrong as far as Antonio could tell but he was not about to ignore Ravenhawk's superior skills when it came to their safety.
For the next five minutes they sat and watched, finally Ravenhawk eased the Pinto forward but did not take his eyes off the tree line, as they moved closer Antonio thought he caught a faint movement in the trees, just as he was about to call out to Ravenhawk, the boy lifted his rifle to his shoulder and called out loudly.
"Come out and don't do anything silly."
There was no answer from the darkness of the tree line but Ravenhawk did not lower his rifle, instead he sat as still as a rock and waited.
After a few more minutes, Antonio saw more movement until a young man of about twenty years old stepped from the trees, he had a girl of about the same age just behind him, both held double barrel shot guns in their hands but, at this range they were of no use to them against the boys rifles.
"Stop there." Ravenhawk called out to the pair.
The young man raised his shot gun to his shoulder even though he must have known he was out of range, in a deep voice that had the slight slur of the country in it, he called back to the two boys.
"What you doing on my land Injun, we don't take kindly to your sort in this state."
Antonio watched with a certain nervousness as Ravenhawk just sat and looked at the pair before answering.
"We're passing through; we're not here to cause trouble."
"You come onto my land and that's causing trouble, now get before I fill your ass with buckshot."
"You do know that there has been a big disaster in the land?"
"Yep, but me and my sister don't mix much with other folk so we didn't get sick like all them townies, now get moving off my land."
"Put your shotgun down so we can pass and we will leave you alone."
"Not going to happen, you go back the way you come, this is all my land now and you can't cross it."
"Those days are long gone, there is no government left to back up your claims." Antonio called out.
"That means there's no law against shooting Injuns neither."
"I'm not an Indian but, if I had the choice I would rather be one than an ignorant bumpkin like you."
"Shut your mouth boy, you biting off more than you can chew."
The loud sound of Ravenhawk's rifle stopped all further conversation, the bullet slammed into the ground close to the young man's feet, the sudden shot caused the young man to step back and look closer at Ravenhawk.
"What you think you're doing boy?"
"You had your chance, drop your guns and move aside, this land belonged to my people long before you white eyes came along, now back off so we can pass or the next shot will not be so low."
Antonio had never seen such a threatening hard look on Ravenhawk's face, this was a new side of his friend he had never seen, the hard stare and underlying threat of violence seemed to finally get through the young man's head, this was not a store Indian, this was something far more dangerous, something from long years past.
Ravenhawk's rifle aimed unwaveringly at the older teen, the girl had not moved but she did have the same hard look in her eyes as the boy had had, Ravenhawk gestured one more time for them to drop their shotguns, as the two weapons hit the ground he made another gesture for them to step back away from the fallen guns.
Antonio watched carefully as the two strangers kept walking backwards until Ravenhawk was satisfied they could not reach their weapons without him being able to react first, turning his head, Ravenhawk nodded for Antonio to get the wagon moving while he stayed behind until Antonio was far enough away to be safe, Ravenhawk had few illusions about what the new world would be like, he had heard and in some cases seen it all before although not in quite the same situation.
As Antonio drew the wagon further away, Ravenhawk kneed his Pinto closer to where the two shotguns lay on the open ground, with a glance at the two figures standing as still as statues, he slid to the ground and knelt down to look closer at the two guns, with a casual ease he slung his own rifle over his shoulder and picked up the nearest shotgun, flipping it open he checked the loading.
Ravenhawk looked at the young man again then flipped the shotgun closed after taking out the two shells, he walked over to the girls gun, once he had done the same check and keeping one eye on the pair, Ravenhawk went to the nearest tree and smashed both guns as hard as he could against the trunk until they were both broken, it was harder than he thought it would be, it looked so easy in the movies he had seen.
Ravenhawk called the Pinto and leapt up on its back as he kept watch on the two who were now giving him very hard stares.
"Don't even think about it, this time I have left you with your lives, next time it will be different."
"How are we supposed to defend ourselves now that you've broken our guns?" The teen asked.
"You should have thought about that the first time."
Ravenhawk ignored them from that moment on and turned the Pinto to follow Antonio and the wagon which were now well clear of any danger, he was well aware that he was now leaving two enemies behind him but there was little he could do about it now, it was better to get some distance from them and continue on their own path.
Two days later and Ravenhawk had almost forgotten the incident, they were now travelling parallel with a large forrest of tall trees, they had left the side of the road and turned more towards the far off mountains, each night was colder than the last, they did not have much time to find a winter home and he did not want to get caught out in the open.
By late afternoon they were winding their way through the old forrest, the road they were on was now just a dirt track and, as Ravenhawk looked about for any danger or a good place to make camp, he saw the slightly overgrown marks of an old one lane dirt trail leading off to the left, Ravenhawk called out for Antonio to stop the wagon and wait until he had been to have a look along the narrow and overgrown trail.
Ravenhawk followed the old trail for five minutes and, as he turned a sharp bend, he saw the cabin tucked under the tall trees, out front there was a large cleared area with long grass and an old water pump stood alone in the yard, there was a rough lean-to on one side and another building that looked like a storage shed on the other.
The cabin looked solid and well built if a little old, the wooden shingles on the roof looked good and all the windows still had their glass panes, he could see that the front door was locked with a chain and padlock, it looked to be just the place they were looking for, the winter might be comfortable after all, Ravenhawk turned the Pinto back towards where Antonio waited for him.
A half hour later found the two boys standing outside the locked door, the wagon was pulled up close to the narrow veranda for ease of unloading all their goods, Ravenhawk had taken the heavy sledge hammer from the back of the wagon and was approaching the door, it was obvious what the hammer was for in the absence of any key, suddenly Antonio called out.
"Wait, most people leave a key in places like this, my Dad had a cabin for fishing and left the key up on the door sill, look there first, no use breaking things if you don't have to."
Ravenhawk lowered the heavy hammer and began to search close around the door, he found the key tucked under an old flower pot standing beside the door step, with a smile at his boyfriend, he put the key in the lock and was happy to hear the solid click as it sprang open, the padlock removed, he then grasped the metal latch and pushed the door open, a soft rush of warm air smelling of wood and old fires greeted his nose, it was a comfortable and welcome feeling.
Inside the cabin the boys saw that all the pieces of furniture were covered with dust cloths but the cabin had a well used and homely feeling about it, the front room was large and had a huge fireplace at the centre of one wall, the kitchen area was part of the same room in an open plan setting, two doors led off to the right hand side which the boys thought must be to at least two bedrooms and another led to the outside.
On the walls of the main room were stuffed hunting trophies and pictures of large catches of fish, there was also a solid looking gun case hanging on the wall, it was filled with a variety of high powered rifles, to the side were a number of fishing poles with a large cabinet with wooden doors.
The front of the large room was nearly all thick glass windows that looked out onto the open yard and they had seen thick wooden shutters on the outside wall before they came inside, the cabin was just what they were looking for, they could see the winter out in warm comfort.
Antonio began to unload the wagon as Ravenhawk went to inspect the two outbuildings, the lean-to was mostly filled with dry firewood but there was enough space to partially put the wagon under cover, there was a small corral attached behind the lean-to, it would be enough for the horses that pulled the wagon, the others were used to the open range and would all find a good place to hide if they needed to.
The closed shed soon revealed a small generator, an almost brand new Skidoo and a stack of plastic fuel drums, most of which were still full, there were also some farm tools hanging on the walls and what looked like a larder or root cellar attached to the back wall, there was also enough space for the horses to come into if they wished.
After starting up the generator he inspected the rest of the shed, it looked dry and weather proof, whoever had built this cabin and outbuildings had made sure it would stand for a long time, Ravenhawk returned to the house to help uncover the furniture.
When they finally uncovered the furniture, they saw it was all well made and would have been expensive at one time, the heavy table and chairs along with deep soft leather arm chairs were all top quality, this cabin had once belonged to someone with money, it was just what they were looking for, while Antonio continued with the unloading, Ravenhawk set about starting a good fire in the huge fireplace.
With a fire roaring in the hearth, Ravenhawk went to help unload the wagon, he would then take it to the lean-to and release the horses to feed in the open with the other three after he had hung all the tack on the wall to keep it clean from dirt, inside the house he could faintly hear Antonio moving things around, it was almost dark when Ravenhawk stepped back inside the now warm as toast cabin, the smell of cooking meat made his mouth water.
Antonio had cut two thick slabs of ham and placed them in a large skillet on top of the wood burning stove, the electric lights gave the cabin a warm feeling after the many nights out on the road, it was good to have a place to call home for a while and no more chilly nights, Antonio also placed a pot with rice on the stove and then looked through some cans for vegetables to heat up, he was just putting the canned vegetables on the stove when Ravenhawk returned from the lean-to.
Antonio turned to Ravenhawk with a huge smile on his face, he had learnt so much in such a short time with Ravenhawk, he opened his arms and hugged Ravenhawk as the other boy looked around the now clean and warm cabin.
"Your Berdach has a hot meal ready for you, are you happy with his efforts?"
Ravenhawk returned the smile and hug.
"Perhaps but I will have to see how well he has cooked first and, if he has done well I might be able to give him a special reward."
Ravenhawk grasped the two small globes of Antonio's butt as he spoke, it was plain to see where this was going to lead later in the night, Antonio laughed and pulled away from the grasping hands, his body was tingling from the touch and squeeze, they had yet to look into the bedrooms but that could wait, the food was ready and both boys were now very hungry after their long day.