Castle Roland

The Runner

by Arthur


Chapter 1

Published: 14 Jan 16

The Runner

Copyright © 2016 by Arthur
All Rights Reserved

Author's Note: This story may contain sexual references not suitable for those under a certain age. All characters and names are fictitious and bear no resemblance to those living or dead. The copyright remains the property of the Author and may not be used for profit without his written permission.

The sun was shining down on the slender young figure now drenched in the sweat of hard work. Around the solitary figure the desert was barren and empty. A light breeze stirred small grains of loose sand and caused a few small tumbleweeds to make their first movements of the day.

The mound of freshly turned sand intimated that the young teen had just buried someone and his tired and solemn stance indicated it may have been someone close.

A closer look at the teens face would have revealed sadness, not for the one that was lost, but for the lack of knowledge about the required ceremony for the dead. A strong warrior deserved better than an unmarked place in the searing desert that would never be seen by another living person, that is if there were any others still living.

Runs-Slow lifted his head to the heavens. All he could do was offer the Creator a prayer of thanks for the life of his father and his own gratitude for the blessing of his own continued life, not that he had much to look forward to now that he was the sole survivor of the sickness that had wiped out the last remains of his village and all who had lived there. There was little hope of a normal life left.

With the midday sun starting to beat down on his bare head and the faint traces of tears that no young warrior of the Apache should be showing, Runs-Slow let his mind go far back to the time when he had been given his name by the youth of the village.

It was not the name that was given to him at his birth but one that the other youths had laid upon his head after the test of manhood. The name he was forever-after known by except for his father, mother and his absent cousin.

Runs-Slow lifted his hand to the single Eagle feather tied into his hair. The memory of that final day of the test returned to his mind and he could not stop a small smile from briefly showing on his sombre face. There were not many fourteen year olds that wore the single eagle feather of the warrior and this one had been presented to him personally by the chief. No mean feat and a high honour which had elevated his place within the tribe.

It had taken three days for him to go from the laughing stock and joke of the youths of the village to a respected young man worthy of wearing the eagle feather of the warrior, something no other young teen of his age group could boast of.

The test of manhood had been a hard and dangerous trial. Of the seven trialists, only Runs-Slow returned from the three days of non-stop running with his mouth full of water and was loudly applauded as he spat it out into the wooden bowl to show he had not taken any for himself over the three days.

Oh yes, his lips were swollen and chapped; and his breath caught in his dry throat and his steps were more of a stagger than the smooth, loping stride his people were renowned for. Had it not been for the small gift his father gave him, he may well have not made it back.

It was a large well polished piece of Eagles Blood Jasper. Runs Slow had carried it in his hand on a piece of string wrapped around his fingers. Every time he wanted to swallow the cooling water and give up, he would glance at the red stone and somehow find new strength. It was as though his father had given him the very power of Eagle in the stone.

One and a half days out into the searing desert and when he came to the markers set out by the Elders, he then turned around the pile of stones and started his run back. It was a total of nearly one hundred a fifty miles.

Runs-Slow was not as tall as his contemporaries and so fell behind the leaders quickly. His shorter steps however were those of someone with a standard of fitness not seen since the old days when the Apache were feared in most of the known lands of the America's.

After the first day Runs-Slow could no longer see his other runners. He was now alone with the desert, the thirst and the hunger. This for Runs-Slow was far more than just the test of manhood, this was his own test for the approval of his once great warrior father and the spirits of his fearsome ancestors.

For Runs-Slow there was also the spectre of the feats of his older cousin, a boy who had beaten all others in the manhood trials two years ago, even though he was two years younger than them. Again it appeared a tear would fall as he remembered his cousin who had been more like a brother than anyone else.

His cousin had left the village a year ago to travel north for work with his father. They were both going to try to make it across the border. It was the last Runs-Slow ever saw of Joseph Two Toes. He hoped his cousin would have been proud of him for finishing the manhood trial in victory, now he would never know.

At his birth Runs-Slow had been named Peter. Now all called him by the name called out loudly by the youths of the village when he came in last and well behind the other runners.

The single fact that he had been the only runner to arrive back at the village with his mouth still sealed tightly and full of the sweet water that the others had used to help them return safely, was the deciding factor that led the chief to award him a single Eagle feather in recognition of his honest and honourable effort. All the others would have one last chance the following year.

Now there would be no next year for anyone that had been in the village. Peter, now called Runs-Slow, was the sole survivor of a once proud and determined people. Only the faint hope that his cousin may still be alive somewhere in the city of the white man gave Runs-Slow any hope. He had to try to find his cousin. If he found out that he too was no more, then he would have to end it all for himself. He could not bear the thought of being the last Apache in all the wild lands of the southern deserts.

It took a little time before Runs-Slow made any move to leave the graveside. With slow steps he made his way back to the huddle of small huts that were once called home.

It was time to pack his few belongings and start his journey in search of Joseph. How far he had to go was in Creator's hands.

Runs-Slow entered the old trailer that was called home. With hands that did not want to do as he wished, Runs-Slow began the job of readying his personal items. There was not much to put into the old and well worn backpack. It was only when he got to those few clothes that were a symbol of his Apache ancestors that he took the time to regard his present position.

The traditional breech cloth, his thigh length moccasins, the old worn red headband that was once the mark of his warrior father. Finally the most important of all, his own personal Chanupa, presented to him in private by his father on the day of the manhood trial.

With great care, Runs-Slow pulled on the backpack. At the last minute he had decided to become one with his ancestors and dress as they had so long ago. Although there was now no one to see him, Runs-Slow wanted to take this last trial as an Apache warrior. Not for him were the restricting clothes of the white man, if he was to fail in this ultimate trial then it would be as Apache.

In his backpack was a single change of clothes. Those were from the white man store and would be used only if the need was dire. Runs-Slow was Apache. This last search would be as his ancestors lived, win or lose he would travel as Apache.

He had taken great care to place his Chanupa within the folds of his store bought red shirt and secure it firmly with a set of white shoe laces. It was as safe as he could make it. There could be no saving his spirit if the Chanupa was broken or lost.

Runs-Slow looked to the wall above the single doorway. His father's rifle sat on two pegs, the old leather ammunition belt hung from another. The belt was almost full of the brass cartridges and there was another full box on the shelf below. They would have to be enough, he did not have time to go looking in the other houses for more.

Runs-Slow tightened the old red headband to make sure his long flowing black hair was kept out of his eyes. The straps of the backpack were tightened so the pack would not interfere with his movements once he began to run.

In the entire small village, there was not a single horse for him to use. His own strong young legs would be his only means for travel until he could get lucky enough to perhaps find a stray horse for himself.

Runs-Slow left the trailer and closed the battered door carefully. There was little inside for anyone to steal, but old habits died hard. Looking up into the afternoon sky, Runs-Slow set his face to the north. He knew there was a town only sixty miles away. He could run all night and be there in the early morning tomorrow. Runs-Slow took the first steps to find his lost cousin.

As the sun sank into the west and the first stars of the night shone their pale light ahead, Runs-Slow had found his pace. The backpack sat firmly on his narrow shoulders, the rifle was held at the trail in his left hand and his long black hair swayed behind him. His pace was steady and ground consuming as his slender strong legs propelled him towards the distant town.

As the darkness fell, the first strong rays of the quarter moon began to rise over the eastern horizon and light his way. In the far distance, Runs-Slow heard the first high pitched calls of the coyotes as they came out of the dens to look for food.

Runs-Slow had little fear of Coyote. They were not his totem, his clan was wolf. They would not hurt him and would perhaps help guide his steps into the night. One never knew with Coyote, he was not known as the trickster for nothing but Runs-Slow did not fear him like others did.

The chill of the desert night air had little effect on Runs-Slow as he got into the ground consuming stride the Apache were well known for. Around him the faintly shimmering light from the quarter moon lit his way as he directed his loping strides towards the far off town. It was there he hoped to find a few more things that would help him on his long search for his brother.

In the vastness of the desert it was not only the stars and instincts that directed him. From time to time, almost as though they were watching over him, the coyote would call in its high pitched yip. As if on auto pilot, Runs-Slow would slightly alter his course in their direction.

It was with little surprise that, as the first rays of a new dawn began to colour the night sky, Runs-Slow found himself on the top of a faint rise and looking down on the remains of the town not more than an hour's gentle run away. He would soon cut that time with a last full effort of his slender legs.

The sun had now risen enough to throw a bright light on the scene before him as he slowed just a half mile short of the town. The town marked the north western edge of the reservation and serviced a few hard scrabble farms. The population had never been much more than a few hundred people.

Being fully aware of how the town's folk viewed the Apache, especially the Chiricahua, although the Mescalero and Jicarilla were just as feared, Runs-Slow stopped and looked for a place to watch until he was sure there would be no chance of ambush.

If you were to ask any modern man about the old fears that the name Apache inspired, most would laugh and say that was long ago and that now they were harmless. Only a careful man would look at the fear in those same eyes to see the real truth, even today. And Runs-Slow was not about to make any mistakes.

Once he had found a good place to rest and watch, Runs-Slow shrugged off the old pack and rested the 30.30 rifle across his knees. After opening a pocket on the side of the pack, he took out a long piece of dried meat and began to chew slowly and accompanied it with a few sips of water from the bottle on the other side of the pack. He watched as he ate.

Below him, in the centre of the town, he could plainly see a few bodies lying in the street. It was not a long street as the town consisted only of a service station, a small pharmacy, two mercantile shops and the trading post. The sealed road curved into the town from the main highway and then ran back to rejoin the main highway only a mile down the road.

One of the mercantile shops and the small wooden house beside it were now in ashes and the shop remains still showed a faint wisp of smoke in the dying embers.

Those bodies he could see, had been out in the hot desert sun for some time. Even though he could make out the faint sickly smell of death on the soft morning breeze, he still did not want to take chances.

Runs-Slow sat for some time to watch and listen. There was no need to hurry, it would only lead to mistakes and he could not afford to make any if he wanted to find his lost cousin.

Runs-Slow had sat for nearly an hour without seeing any movement in the town apart from two very nervous Coyote that scuttled from one building to the other before running back out into the open desert. Runs-Slow took that as a sign that there was no one left and began to pack up to move into the small town to look for anything he could use on his trip north.

Runs-Slow moved slowly and was fully alert. The two fires had to have been started by someone and he did not want to be surprised by being careless. He moved into the town watching every shadow or window for movement. Slowly he made his way to the open door of the trading post. It was to be his first stop before investigating the rest of the buildings.

The trading post was more likely to hold anything he may need. While it was often used to market the trinkets and arts of the Apache to any passing tourist, it also served to supply most needed goods for the reservation.

Runs-Slow walked in the open door and looked around. Most of the shelves and glass cases were filled with his people's arts and crafts but at the rear were the goods that could be bought for the reservation. On the back wall was a glass fronted case holding a number of rifles and shotguns and on the bottom shelf were a few handguns. The draws below held most of the ammunition for the weapons above. Runs-Slow would check them out last.

The first thing to catch his eye was a two strand choker necklace. It looked out of place among all the other bead work and this had caught his eye. While it seemed useless to his survival, Runs-Slow was still Apache and a bead necklace was still a thing of beauty if it was right. This one he liked.

Runs-Slow let a smile form on his lips for the first time in days. The strange green jasper beads of the necklace took his eye. Seconds later it was fastened around his own neck. He glanced at a nearby mirror and smiled again, it looked good on him. It was time to get serious.

Runs-Slow began to collect everything he thought he may need. Once it was all in one place by the door, he would go through it and decide what he would finally take with him. He had to think of how much he could carry but for now it was just fun to gather all the things he had never been able to have as a reservation Apache.

After half an hour he was surprised to see the large pile of goods stacked near the door. He knew he would not be able to carry it all, but it had been fun gathering it, if only to satisfy his own desire to at least once in his life be able to take whatever he wanted.

Runs-Slow walked to the open door and looked out. It was time to get serious and find some form of transport. While he was quite prepared to run all the way to Canada if that was where his cousin was, he did not set aside the possibility of finding some transport to help him. It was time to look at the service station. If there was nothing there he would have to go out and look at some of the hard scrabble farms further from town.

The sun was almost at its zenith as he stepped out towards the service station. He didn't realise how much time he had spent having fun in the trading post. Runs-Slow carried only his rifle, he could move faster and quieter without the pack for now.

The service station proved to be locked tight and the steel roll-a-door was padlocked. A quick thrust with the butt of his rifle soon put paid to one of the large glass windows and Runs-Slow was stepping into the coolness of the station restaurant.

Runs-Slow turned his nose up at the stale smell of cooking fat; he could see where rats had started feeding on anything left out. He decided to move further inside and then through to the workshop. As it turned out, it was the right move.

Runs-Slow had barely entered the workshop when he saw just the thing he needed to move forward. He had only once in his life ridden a motorcycle and he had fallen off that one, but this one was a quad painted in desert camo colours. If he could not ride this then he might as well stay afoot.

What he found even more exciting was parked near the closed door of the workshop. It was a small quad bike trailer that would hitch onto the back of the quad. While the bike looked used the trailer was new. It appeared it was being set up for this very bike. Now Runs-Slow would be able to carry far more than he had planned.

For the rest of the afternoon, Runs-Slow was busy. He was well aware he would need a lot of fuel for the bike and this problem was solved after a good look around the station. He had managed to get fuel up with a hand-pump and fill not only the bike but five, four gallon plastic containers. These he placed at the front of the small moulded plastic bodied trailer.

After a few false starts, Runs-Slow finally got the bike started and hitched up the small trailer. His next stop was the trading post for some of the goods he had piled at the doorway. After that he would look for dry foods to take with him. The first three items of food he wanted were flour, sugar and salt. Anything else he would decide on when he saw it.

Now that he had the bike and a trailer, he was not as limited as before. Runs-Slow looked over the large pile of goods he had gathered at the trading post. Most was not wanted and had just been a flight of fancy but there were items of great need. These he began to set aside for loading.

Once he had sorted out what he wanted to take, it was time to look for food stuffs he could keep for long periods. The only food he could not resist was a large slab of smoked bacon he found hanging in the remaining mercantile store. After that, he searched every place he could get into for as much jerky as he could find. After picking up an old cast iron cooking pot and a skillet of the same metal, he returned to the bike to finish loading.

His old pack he had put aside; it carried his personal things along with a small amount of emergency food. He had picked out a new pack for other things.

Runs-Slow had selected a few extra weapons. A shotgun for birds, a heavier rifle and two .38 revolvers. He had never used revolvers before but saw no harm in having them just in case. One went into his old pack right at the bottom, the other was placed on top of the new pack that held the extra clothing he had selected to take and where it would be easy to get. The shotgun and rifle were placed in the trailer and he had strapped a fringed leather gun scabbard to the handle bars for his father's Winchester where it was good and handy for quick use.

Runs-Slow took a final look at his preparations. There was now only one final thing to look for. He had noticed his bare butt sweated when sitting on the plastic seat of the quad. He returned to the mercantile and went into the boys department. After looking around he found two pairs of white cotton trouser that were about his size; stripping off his breech cloth, he dampened a cloth and wiped himself down then dried off with a new towel from one of the shelves. Next he slipped on the light cotton trousers and looked for a good belt to hold them in place. Once done he took up his damp breech cloth and left to get the quad.

Runs-Slow drove his new find to the last house in the street. It was now late in the day and he had decided to make use of one of the houses for the night. He was not all that happy about staying in the same place as so many dead, but it was far too late to move out onto the open highway and he could do with a good night's sleep before venturing north.

After looking at the few houses in the small town, Runs-Slow selected one he thought was the best and parked the bike and trailer behind the building. He had discovered a rubber tarpaulin that would fit over the top of the trailer to keep everything dry or free of sand. He had also found a large square of rubber coated canvas to use as a tent fly for his nightly camp.

It was not hard to find the bedroom in the small house. Once he had prepared and eaten a hearty meal, which was the first in many days, Runs-Slow settled onto the closest bed just as the sun sank and first of the night creatures called out. He would be up early and well away from the town before sun-up tomorrow morning.

As he began to drift off to sleep; he thought about the lands he would have to cross as he headed north. First would be the Zuni lands, after that he would be into the Navajo and after that into the lands of the Ute. None of those tribal groups had much friendship with the Chiricahua. He would have to be alert and careful just in case.

The sound of the bike echoed in the still morning air, as yet the first dim greyness of early dawn was still an hour away. Runs-Slow wanted to be well away from the town before the first rays of the sun appeared in the east.

As he was still unfamiliar with the workings of the quad and did not know the capabilities of the trailer, Runs-Slow kept his speed down and watched the road in front of him with sharp eyes. His old pack he had fastened onto the back of the quad seat so that in an emergency, if he had to leave the bike in a hurry, he would at least save those items that were the most important to him.

While the main highway was empty of all traffic, Runs-Slow did not travel faster than 30 miles an hour. His concern for the trailer kept his speed down. Along the side of the road he would occasionally pass a wrecked vehicle, the bodies still inside. He did not stop to check, but kept on with his own mission.

Stopping only for jerky and water at midday, Runs-Slow made good time through the afternoon and was sure he was not far from the start of the Zuni lands. In the distance he could just see the rising hills that marked the boundary. He decided to keep going until he was closer and then make camp for the night before venturing into the Zuni lands. He wanted to be wide awake and alert before entering into another tribe's lands.

An hour before dusk, Runs-Slow turned the quad off the highway and into the barren lands at the side. After driving a short distance, he found a good place to set up his small camp for the night.

First he searched the surrounding ground to make sure there were no snakes close by, next he collected dry sticks and wood for a small cooking fire. Once the fire was going, he set about opening a can of beans and poured them into his small cooking pot. The skillet was next and a thick slab of smoked bacon was set in it to cook.

While his meal was cooking, Runs-Slow pulled out the large square of canvas and tied one end to the bike and the other to a mesquite bush. It was not ideal but would do to keep him dry and warm during the night. The addition of a brand new bed roll was all he needed.

By the time he had finished his preparations his meal was ready. He barely made it in time to stop from burning the bacon, but even then he would have eaten it. He knew better than to waste anything in this unforgiving land.

The next morning after a quick meal of corn mush and coffee, Runs-Slow packed his small trailer, started his bike and was headed towards the Zuni lands now less than an hour away. The highway followed the natural curvature of the land for most of the way. When he finally came to the small mountain range he would have to climb them slowly and then he would have a good run for a couple of days on more open rolling semi desert.

Runs-Slow guided the quad up the first part of the twisting road as it turned back on itself a number of times. He was about halfway up when he caught a flash of reflection in his peripheral vision. It was ten thousand years of instincts that led him to take the actions that he did.

At the flash of the reflexion, he instinctively slammed on both the foot and hand brake of the quad without closing the clutch. The bike lurched to a halt and stalled in the middle of the road. At the same time he reached for the 30.30 and it was that same instance that probably saved his life.

As his hand closed around the stock of the rifle, Runs-Slow felt and then heard the hot wind of a bullet pass far too close to his head. It was also the sharp crack sound of the bullet that hastened his dive off the bike and into the dust and scrub by the side of the road.

As Runs-Slow hit the ground in a roll with the rifle clasped tightly to his chest, he heard the distant boom of the shot. Subconsciously he marked the direction and continued to roll until he was well hidden in the mesquite and scrub. He was now covered in sand and dust as he lay as still as stone. It was time to take stock and not make any sudden moves until he had worked out where his enemy was.

Slowly he lifted his head to check on the quad and trailer. Both were stalled in the same position he had been in when he dived off. As best he could judge, he was now concealed by an outcropping of rocks from the shooter. It was time to start tracking down the culprit.

Generations of primordial knowledge and instinct now took over. It was as though all his ancestors were filling his young head with knowledge as he rose up enough to look around. His clothes were covered in dust and sand which would help to conceal him as he moved.

Runs-Slow began his stalk. At times he moved like a snake and others like a lizard as he made his way forward and around the hillock ahead of him. At no time did his head rise above the surrounding scrub. His steps would never raise the faintest of dust or move even the smallest of stones as he worked his way towards where he thought the ambusher was hiding.

Runs-Slow had been moving for about twenty minutes when he caught the first scent of others. There was a mixture of tobacco, old sweat and the faint smell of soap. The scent was off to his right and Runs-Slow kept moving until the faint breeze no longer carried the scent to him. He should now be behind the ambushers, he was sure now there was more than one.

It was the muffled sound of voices that told him he was close. Easing forward, he looked between two large rocks and saw below him three young men. Only one of the men had a rifle, the other two were wearing only handguns in a holster at their hip. He stopped to listen to them talking and at the same time looked for a good place to set his own ambush.

With care and patience that only generations of learning could teach, Runs-Slow settled down between the two rocks and behind some scrub mesquite. He had a perfect line of sight but would be well hidden from the three men below. He now took the time to listen to their talk.

"Come on Jimmy, you got him fair and square. We all saw him drop like a stone, let's go get that stuff and get out of here."

"No." The rifleman replied, "I said half an hour and it's not up yet. He looked like an Injun and you know what my pop said about how sneaky they were. We wait for half an hour and that's that."

The other young man cut in. "For god's sake Jimmy! You got him dead centre. We all saw him tossed off the bike. Besides, when was the last time you missed anything at that range."

"Shut it Lenny. You know what it's like out here now. We don't trust no one or nothing. We wait the full time to make sure he's not playing possum. Now just wait and you too Chris. No more jabbering, we wait and that's final."

Runs-Slow watched as the two others fell into silence. They were not real happy about it but it was obvious that the one called Jimmy was in charge.

Runs-Slow eased the lever on the 30.30 to cock the action. He had to move slowly so as not to make too much noise. When the rifle was loaded and cocked, he eased the barrel between two branches of the mesquite bush and took careful aim. At the sound of the shot, Runs-Slow watched the reaction of the three young men. Had it not been so serious it could have almost be comical.

The bullet ploughed into the rifle carrier's thigh and went right through. The rifle was flung from his hands and fell down the hill smashing the scope at the same time. The young man screamed in pain as the bullet went through and through and he fell back trying to stop the flow of blood from his badly damaged leg. The other two stood stunned at the unexpected assault.

Both men grabbed for their handguns and tried to find out where the shot had come from. Instead of finding a target, all the got was a muffled voice from somewhere high above and behind them. They were caught flat footed and they knew it. The voice called out again. "Drop your guns and hold your hands on your head."

The reaction of the two men was almost a foregone conclusion as they both drew their handguns and started firing blindly up the slope. Neither of the men saw the next shot but they did hear it hit something soft. There was also the sudden halt to the screaming of Jimmy.

As one, the two men turned to look at their friend. In the centre of his chest was another hole that was oozing fresh blood. Their actions had just cost the life of their friend. The two men looked back up the slope again and still could not see the shooter. With a sense of fear, they dropped their now empty guns and placed their hands on their heads. There was little else they could do.

Runs-Slow saw that all three were wearing a patch on their left shoulder. It was like a flag and had a white strip above a red strip and at the left side was a blue strip with a single white star. He now knew why they had tried to shoot him without talking first.

Runs-Slow called down again but stayed hidden where he was. "Walk to that big stone and sit down cross legged. If you move I will shoot you both."

Runs-Slow waited for the two men to move to a large rock and sit down. Once they had crossed their legs he stood up and moved down closer. He could see the shock on the two men's faces when they saw how young he was but it did not take away the fear in their eyes as they realised who was standing before them. Of all the native tribes in the country, they had shot at an Apache. Even they knew that was not a wise thing to do and especially if you missed him.

Runs-Slow had no intentions of making a discussion. His sole purpose was now revenge. That they had shot at him was bad enough. To have missed him was foolhardy. They would now pay the price of their ignorance and stupidity. Runs-Slow now saw the new world as it truly was, only those with the skill and determination to survive deserved to do so.

Runs-Slow gestured with his rifle for the men to stand and head towards his quad. He kept far enough behind them so as not to give them any chance of turning on him. The men carefully navigated the slope until they were on the flat surface of the roadway. With another gesture from the rifle, they started to walk towards the stalled bike.

Once at the bike, Runs-Slow told them to sit once again while he went to the trailer to find rope. Keeping one eye on both men he searched around for the roll of thin rope he had placed in the trailer. Once he had the rope, Runs-Slow told the men to lay down head to head with their ankles crossed and their hands behind their backs. From that position they could not attack him without giving him plenty of warning.

With practiced hands, it took little time to have both men bound by the hands and the loose end tied tightly around their necks. If they tried to escape the rope it would tighten and choke them. Runs-Slow left their feet free, they would have to walk in front of him as they finished the ascent and then the climb down onto the flat land below. Runs-Slow had no intention of giving them a lift on the bike or trailer.

Runs-Slow placed the two men in front of the bike and told them to start walking up the rest of the rise. Leaving the bike in a slow idling speed, he stayed behind them to keep watch. He could see by their demeanour that they knew they were beaten. There was now only the problem of what would happen to them in the future. Runs-Slow had no intention of telling them of their fate.

With the slow pace of the two walking men, Runs-Slow found it took an extra two hours to make it down the other side of the divide between his lands and that of the Zuni. When they were finally on the flatter land, he pushed them forward until the two men were nearly dropping from thirst and weakness. The heat of the day was now at its fullest and Runs-Slow had little compassion for the two captives.

For another hour he pushed them forward until they were out into more open and desert like land. The Zuni lands were really little different from his own. Mainly desert with scrub and sand interspersed with the occasional high butte or deep arroyo. Nothing much changed in this part of the country.

Runs-Slow had work to do. He called a halt and told the two to lay down on their stomachs. With a little more rope he fastened their legs by crossing one inside the other and tying the outer leg back onto their tied hands. It left them totally hog tied and unable to move without once again choking themselves if they tried to move too much.

Runs-Slow had other things to do and so left the men trussed up. He then took his rifle and hunting knife and left the men to suffer under the sun.

The two men were now in a bad way, they had had no water during the long walk and the young Indian seemed inured to their suffering and took off alone into the vast desert landscape. It would be two hours before they saw him again.

Runs-Slow had been fortunate in his hunt, he had managed to shoot a small buck. After skinning it he took what meat he could carry and made his way back to the small camp where his prisoners waited for him. They were now seriously dehydrated and their faces were blistered from the harsh sun. Runs-Slow ignored them.

Runs-Slow set to work preparing the fresh meat for drying after setting aside some for his meal. The hide he had folded so that none of the raw flesh was open to the sun. He had something else planned for the hide.

While his dinner was slow cooking in the small cast iron pot. Runs-Slow set about finding eight thick lengths of wood from the scrub around the camp. When he thought he had found the right pieces, he set about sharpening one end.

Once the long pegs were made, he took up the hide of the deer and began to cut long strips about an inch wide. He then placed each strip into a bowl of water he had placed to the side.

By the time he was finished with his strange chores, his meal was ready. Runs-Slow sat down to enjoy the fresh meat. His prisoners could only look on in awe and desire. They had had neither food nor water all day and the sun was now taking its toll on their bodies. Runs-Slow ignored their searching looks and enjoyed his meal in silence.

When he had eaten his fill, Runs-Slow set about the next part of his plan. Looking the two men over he moved away from the small camp with the stakes to find the right piece of land for his plan. Once found, he set about setting the eight stakes deep into the ground and checking they were firmly in place and could not be removed. With this done he returned to camp and spread out his tarp with his bedroll underneath. The men would stay bound until the morning.

Even though he was sure of their bounds, Runs-Slow still slept with one eye open and one ear listening, but the two men were too far gone to fight their present position.

With the first light of dawn Runs-Slow, for the first time, gave the men a little water. It was just enough to raise their flagging spirits but not enough for them to fully recover. Their bindings had left them cramped and they found it difficult to move their limbs. This was another part of Runs-Slow's plan. He was alone and they were larger than he was, he could take no chances for what he still had to do.

After eating and drinking his coffee, Runs- Slow released the men's legs and told them to stand up and walk ahead of him. Their hands were still fastened tightly behind them and the tightness of the neck rope caused them to breath only with great difficulty.

Once he had them near the stakes, Runs-Slow told them to sit. With a speed that belied his size and age, Runs-Slow had their boots off and with a jab of his rifle, had them on their backs. With quick and sure movements, Runs-Slow bound their legs with the wet, green hide to the bottom two stakes. The two men suddenly realised what the young Apache was about to do but it was already too late.

Using the butt of his rifle, Runs-Slow stunned both men before they could make a move. In the time it took the tired and weak men to recover, it was already too late. Both their hands were tide tightly to the other two stakes with the wet, green hide.

There was only one thing left to do; Runs-Slow cut away the rope from their necks and replaced it with the same wet hide. Next he cut all of their clothing off them and threw it to the side. They were now totally naked to the hot sun that was rising ever faster in the early morning sky.

Runs-Slow took a last look at the two men who had dared to try and shoot him from cover. The last thing the two men ever saw was the retreating back of a young Apache. Never once did the young teen look back.

The last the men knew of Runs-Slow was the disappearing sound of the quad as it headed north and away from their coming misery and slow death.

For Runs-Slow there was only one win, he now had two extra handguns. The slow death of the two men never again crossed his mind. They had got what they deserved as far as Apache law went and for Runs-Slow, that was the only law that now counted.


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