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(Montana Territory, 1876)

two guns

At first light, Custer’s scout walked back to his makeshift camp in red union suit (long johns) and cowboy boots. Sitting down on a fallen tree trunk, the taste of hard biscuits made Derek mumble to himself, “Sure could use some coffee.” Unfortunately, a fire was out of the question in Indian territory. Standing up, stretching again, muscles clearly visible under his johns, scratching himself, he went off to fetch his hobbled horse.

Derek cinched the saddle, knowing full well that his horse always took a deep breath as he did. In a half-mile or so he would have to get off and tighten the saddle again, or else it might roll off if she jumped at anything. Saddlebags and bedroll were secured behind the saddle. The last item to stow on the right side, below the stirrup fender, was his Winchester 1873 repeating rifle in its scabbard. Costing almost 100 dollars, a pretty penny for a scout, Derek’s pride and joy was inscribed with, “one of one thousand” on its 24-inch barrel. Flip-up, adjustable sight made it extremely accurate at long distances. Some might call it extravagant, but when it came to his guns, the self-made black man always chose the best he could afford.

Missing Mamma

With the early morning sun breaking through clouds, Mable picked her way along the shallow river bed, putting each hoof where she instinctively knew the best footing might be. Her rider was not a bad man, but he sure was heavy. Heavier than most. What made up for his weight, to her horse sense anyway, were the oats; he always gave her oats at the end of the day. Mable thought, “I love oats!”

Derek said, “Well, Mable, I’s sees something last week that, if you had told me before, I’s have said you’re plumb loco. My mamma said she’d seen some angels herself, but I always didn’t listen to her much.”

At the thought of mamma, a twinge of pain, not in body, but in his heart, caused the grown man to feel sad. Mamma still looked the same as she always had in his mind: A big, stout woman with a wide smile and kind eyes, sending him off that fateful morning to the smithy shop. “Funny how’s things turn so wrong in life sometimes, Mable. Never figured I wouldn’t see her again. Mamma would have believed me if’n I told her what I’d seen,” the scout concluded.

It’s good to be me

Lifting her head, Mable snuffed the air, sensing something upwind. Derek, feeling it too (as he always did), unsheathed his rifle and cocked the hammer. Up ahead about 200 yards emerged a bull elk with a large rack stepping to the bank, lowering his muzzle into the cool, freshwater as an eagle flew overhead. Brightening, Derek thought to himself, “It is good to be me.”

The largest I’s ever seen

Riding back to the main company of soldiers, Derek cantered up alongside Custer, who questioned him, “What news do you have for me, good scout?”

“Sir, I found the Indian camp. It is the largest I have ever seen.”

“Good! We are in luck then.” Custer said happily.

Derek, surprised, continued, “Sir, maybes you don’t understand, it is the largest I have ever seen, maybe as much as 2000 braves.”

Custer, mustache cocked slightly, said, “Don’t worry good scout, I promise you there aren’t enough braves in the territory to defeat the 7th Calvary!” and with bravado, the blond-haired Captain declared, “Ante up Two Guns, we are men of destiny and glory awaits!”

As Custer and his men rode off in the direction of the Indian encampment, Derek held back further and further. Watching the military pride of America canter by, the former slave had a very bad feeling in the pit of his stomach, thinking to himself, “I’s surely see’n men ride to their death.”

They covered the whole earth!

(Lakota Tribe, Montana, 1876)

Bren had never seen, nor even imagined, the sight she witnessed now. The hills opposite them filled with buffalo, one large moving mass of brown animals. The sound of tens of thousands of hooves pounding the earth caused the ground to tremble, giving Brenzel the uneasy feeling of being in a small, never-ending earthquake.

Glad that Wichapi held her waist, Bren held her friend’s slender arm tightly. The Indian princess remained calm and collected as they watched the spectacle below. As the animals flooded the plain below, the braves, lead by Chaska, entered into the fray. Bows and arrows drawn, on their galloping ponies, they flowed with the moving herd, letting fly arrows when each found his target, animals dropping one by one.

Trapped

As his pony ran at a full gallop, Chaska shot an arrow which pierced deep near the heart of a large running bull, blood spurting furiously from the wound. Yet, instead of the arrow dropping the large bison, it suddenly veered towards his horse, trying to gore it. Chaska, reigning his pony over and away from the bull’s horns, found that he couldn’t get away, the rest of the moving herd forming an impenetrable wall.

The young rider, knowing that falling off his horse into the stampede meant certain death, desperately drew another arrow, letting it fly near the first. Still, the angry bull lunged towards them both, aiming his right horn towards the frightened pony’s exposed belly. Taking his last arrow, notching it to the strong sinew bowstring, Chaska drew it back with all his might, letting it fly so forcefully that it buried itself completely into the tiring animal, finally dropping it in its tracks.

The rumbling subsiding, the last of the heard disappeared over the far ridge. Bren exclaimed to Wichapi, “They covered the whole earth!” Indeed, the whole plain before them lay trampled, littered with dead animal carcasses. Women and children, sent from the village, busily butchered the fallen, thankful for the hunters’ bounty.

The buffalo provide many things

“Our people use the buffalo for many things,” Wichapi explained, “meat, blankets, robes, and for our teepees. We use their horns for making eating utensils, and their sinew for thread or bowstrings. The buffalo are life to us,” she concluded.

Trying to take in everything that just happened, Bren felt unsure of what to do next. “Did you do that?” Bren said in amazement.

“Yes,” Wichapi replied as she began changing her clothes and putting her ceremonial dress away.

“But how?” Brenzel said again in amazement.

Turning again to Bren, Wichapi said, “May I ask you something?”

“Of course, Chapi, anything you like.” Bren said quickly.

Quiet for a moment as she tied the bag to the pony, Bren’s new sister asked, “What happened when I left you to run to get help?”

“Oh, you mean with the bear?” Bren added.

“Yes, I thought the woman would be dead by the time I returned.” Wichapi said.

In Jesus’ name?

Bren felt caught in a way, but in view of the morning’s events, she replied, “I told it to go.”

Wichapi, more curious than surprised, looked at her intently, saying, “And it just went?”

“Well, yes, but not by my own power. I said, “Stop, in Jesus’ name.”

Surprised, Wichapi repeated, “Jesus’ name? What power is that?”

“He is the Son of God, Chapi. I heard my priest use his name once when casting out an evil spirit from a woman. It felt like the right thing to say, and it worked. I really don’t know why.” Brenzel finished.

As if settling something in her mind, Wichapi turned towards her, saying, “No matter now, we’re together and I am happy. Tonight there will be dancing and eating. Come, let us get back to camp!”

Divine consequences

(Court of Heaven, Eternity)

“Yes, I understand,” Dove said kneeling, wings folded neatly at either side. “I am responsible and it is my duty to correct it.”

The elders all said with one voice, “Amen” and the four living beasts said together, “Amen.” Dove rose, bowed, and majestically left the court.

Watching her leave, Michael asked, “My Lord, if she fails again, what do You wish for me to do?”

God Almighty rose as the elders stood with Him, saying, “Her trial is yet for an appointed time. In her weakness, she will triumph and all will be set right.”

“Yes, My Lord.” Michael agreed, bowing low, as the Judge of the Whole Earth left the chambers.

Outside, Thandika, dark skin radiant in the brilliant light, watched with concern as Dove emerged from the Temple. The heavenly building, tall and strong, built from living stones without hands, formed an imposing backdrop as she descended the steps towards her long-time friend. From the colors cascading back and forth through her wings, and feeling her fast-beating heart, Zulu’s covering Cherub knew Dove’s distress.

Some mistakes last for millennia

“Dove, what did He say?” Thandika asked anxiously.

Dove, looking around at the sky, then at the greenery covering the buildings, sighed, “You know, my friend, some mistakes reverberate through our entire existence. I made such an error a long time ago, and no matter how I’ve tried, I cannot fix it. Now I am required to do what I should have done in the first place, and there is no escaping it.”

The tall, black Seraph’s eyes moistened, entering into Dove’s great sadness, like a friend supporting an injured soldier on the battlefield. “Surely, there must be some other way. They can’t mean for you, of all people, to render judgment?” she offered.

Holding Thandika’s hand tightly as they stopped and sat together, Dove’s lip quivered as she said, “Yes.” On the large jasper stone bench, thinking back over the millennia, Dove sat trying to figure out what she could have done differently.

By Hades!

(Year 1252 since Val Hala, on the planet Hala, Realm of Alethea)

“This is a God-forsaken place,” 3 thought to himself as they watched the first of two sunrises in the equatorial regions of Hala.

Alethea, hearing his thoughts, said in his mind, “Yes, but we will reclaim all of it someday. The more we plant forests, the more we trap the water, and eventually the forest you see in the north will carpet these lands, too. We think it will only take about 1800 years.”

3, still scanning the valley, said out loud, “You know, Alethea, it makes me uncomfortable when you do that.”

“Sorry,” she said in a melodic voice, “It is just that we’re not used to talking much around here.”

On the edge

Standing on a jagged ridge, overlooking the plain below, 3 wondered why, precisely, dragons were showing up on Hala once again. Almost 1300 years before, all dragons and everything else of the war, were either banished to Hades or destroyed. These leviathans, the great fire-breathing lizards of Hades, hideous manifestations of fallen arc angels, wreaked havoc during the rebellion. Practically invincible, they could only be killed by piercing their armor plating at a very precise place near their hearts. The trick was to put a javelin in that spot without being burnt to a crisp.

This morning began cold and misty, bathed by the pale dawn of the first sun. Not enough to break the mist completely, the horizon did, however, start to clear a little, revealing the outlines of the peaks of the distant mountains. However, about 9:17 that morning, the second sun, much stronger than the first, would rise like clockwork, elevating temperatures 80 degrees in the space of a few minutes. Then, like a revelation, all before them would be crystal clear.

Alethea

Alethea, dressed in her armor, stood motionless; a curious blend of the formidable and the feminine. A full head taller than 3, Alethea’s beauty made anything she wore, even armor, a fashion statement. Hair so blond, it ran almost white, streaked with shimmering orange highlights, the color of Hala’s sky, fell well below the small of her back when not braided in a Finnish plait.

Eyes, almond-shaped, contained irises of deep sea green. Her nose, equine in nature, led invariably to her wide, perfectly-formed lips. However, it was the ears that she was particularly proud of; for though completing her porcelain features perfectly, adorned with various jewels, they ended in classical elven points.

Seeing her again caused 3 to remember the Rebellion, where on a brink of defeat, in a place much the same as this, they fought together in a desperate last effort to turn the tide. He thought of the terrible weapons Beauty employed to such devastating effect upon them. Emotional amplifiers so powerful they vaporized entire legions, reducing them to mere dust. Truly, the Seven Realms could ill afford another such conflict.

Foul Breath

At about 9:21 a.m., as the barren landscape brightened quickly and the mist vanished, 3 looked over the plain with Alethea. “The trackers said it was here yesterday,” he said, looking right, then scanning left.

“It is near, I can feel it,” Alethea warned, as her wings fanned out fully.

Instinctively raising his golden javelin and shield as his skin crawled, 3 said, “Somethings very, very wrong.” Then, sniffing the air, he shouted, “Behind us! Sulfur!” Alethea wheeled around, seeing an enormous head, bearing razor-sharp teeth, gliding towards them. Fire in the form of molten spittle ejected from the mouth of a large red/green speckled dragon appearing suddenly behind them. Blasting them both, melting the very ground around them, 3 shielded them from the infernal heat.

As the beast drew his head up and readied for a second blast, Alethea flew up, flanking it. 3, unharmed, moved quickly to one side, lifting up his spear. Then, behind him, another unearthly cry pierced the morning, causing 3 to exclaim, “By Hades, there’s another one?”

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