Chapter Two - The Español Becomes a Man
I was knowledgeable of bows and arrows, having played with them as a child, but had never hunted with one. Californianos hardly ever ate game, although it was hunted for sport, but as long as I was in Deer Meadow's village, I figured that I would have to learn to do both. Like the loss of privacy, that was not a very pleasant thought, but I had endured worse. I suppose that Deer Meadow would think that my life as a hacendado would be most strange, too, if she were to visit the rancho.
By the time the sun had set, I had walked a half a mile or so beyond the camp, finally getting used to my borrowed footwear. Not offering as much protection against the rocks as my boots did, I still was able to see the benefit of the soft hide shoes to stealthy tracking. And once I learned to step properly in them, the rocks were not a problem.
Later, I realized that I was very fortunate in my amateur hunting, to have come upon a small herd of deer so close to the little village, but at the moment, I exulted in being able to get meat for the widow so quickly.
Freezing in place, I let the deer relax and start grazing again before I slowly drew back the bowstring and took aim, freezing again and again, every time the deer looked around in suspicion. Finally, I had drawn the arrow back as far as possible and when the largest buck had turned to just the right position, I released it. Luck was riding on my shoulder that night, even though at the time I did not think so. My shot hit the big buck, but it was not a killing shot. He was startled at the slight breath of noise that the release of the arrow made and jerked forward, just enough for the arrow to strike right in front of his flank instead of in his heart.
Irritated, I started off after the animal, following the best I could in the waning sunlight. Later, I had to wait a short while for the three quarter moon to rise over the eastern mountains before resuming the chase. Knowing the deer would die fairly soon, because of the bloody trail I was following, I was worried about other animals making claim on the carcass before I could get to it. Chuckling to myself, I realized that I probably should have just chalked my failure to bring down the deer immediately to my inexperience, and simply gone back to camp. But my pride and stubbornness would not let me. By the position of the moon, it was about midnight before I finally came upon the animal and found he was not quite dead. I now regretted my unfortunate shot for the suffering it caused the animal, but I was soon able to rectify that problem. Using my knowledge of the butchering of cattle, I bled and dressed the deer out as best as I could, with a stone knife I found at the bottom of the quiver, and then I pondered my dilemma. Two miles is a long way to drag a fully-grown buck.
Having no ax to cut tree limbs and lash them together for a travois, I finally decided, in my bull headedness, that I would simply see how far I could carry the deer before tiring. Dressing him out helped lighten the load, and using the knife to remove the head made the carcass even lighter. However, I found that the answer to my question was, not very far. Carrying and then resting, and repeating the cycle, got me within a mile of the camp. My shoulders were aching and my back was sore and stiff.
I met the man I presumed to be the leader of the tribe, with two of the other Indians he had been talking to the previous afternoon. Dropping my load, I straightened up and folding my arms, gazed intently at him. "For Deer Meadow," I said, in my halting knowledge of his language.
"You took weapons. I said that captives have no weapons. "You left camp, you were not supposed to leave camp," the leader said enigmatically.
"You said help Deer Meadow, I helped Deer Meadow," I retorted, partly in his language, partly in mine. "Deer do not fall dead if I spit at them, so I took the bow and arrows. You did not say I could not leave the camp, you only said not to escape. I came back, as you can see."
Glowering at me, I got the impression that the man was trying to figure out what to do about my defiance. Finally, his face brightened and he began laughing. "Very good joke on me," he said at last. "You do possess the guardian spirit of the fox. Clever like a fox. Your name will be Fox,” and he gave the pronunciation of the word in his language.
I caught the irony of the situation and began to laugh with him, but for a different reason. Reaching down, I started to haul the deer into the camp. At a motion from the leader, the other two came over and took it from me, carrying it the rest of the way to Deer Meadow's house.
When we reached the encampment, most were asleep, but Deer Meadow and her three children poured out of the little house and stared in amazement at the large buck the two men dumped in front of her dwelling. She stared up at me, looked at the deer and looked at me again. Then she got a knife, cut off a haunch and pointed to another little house just beyond hers. Assuming that she was giving a gift to another unfortunate family, I picked it up and took it to the other abode, laying it just inside the entrance.
An older woman looked up at me, saw the offering and gave a soft cry of delight. I pointed to Deer Meadow's house. She understood and nodded. Returning to Deer Meadow, I saw that the men had left, and the camp was quiet, except for the soft sounds of Deer Meadow fixing an early breakfast and her children murmuring softly at the windfall that had suddenly come their way. I could not help but feel pleased, since I supposed that they had been living on the generosity of others in the recent past.
Going into the back end of the house, and gently pushing my way past the children, I made myself as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, and lay down for a few hours of sleep. Even as tired as I was from the exertion of the night, deep sleep never came, but the rest did much to help my tired muscles feel better.
The next morning, I sampled some deer stew. Surprisingly, it was quite good, although it seemed a bit bland to one used to heavily spiced food. I nodded my thanks and she filled the container with more. It had been a long time since my last meal, and I gratefully accepted it.
I noticed that there was a tribesman who kept wandering near Deer Meadow's dwelling periodically, glowering at me. Trying to place him, I was unable to remember having seen him the day before. After breakfast, I asked directions to a stream or pond, as I had not cleaned up from the previous night. Deer Meadow sent her youngest child along to show me.
At a placid pool, I took the steel knife that had been hanging in Deer Meadow's little house and carefully tried to shave with it. That, too, was an inconvenience that I added to the growing list that made pueblo life look better and better. Until I got a decent razor, I was afraid that my efforts would be less than desirable to me. Mentally, I shrugged and washed my face and hands in the cold water, after taking a long drink. Pulling off the shirt, I washed as much of the blood of the deer from it, as I could. Wringing it out, I put it back on wet, shivering a bit in the cool mountain air.
About the time that I had finished and was beginning to get up, I heard a soft footfall behind me and pivoting around, saw the mysterious watcher charging me. I simply danced back out of the path of his charge and he continued into the pond with a tremendous splash. Deer Meadow's son laughed softly. The boy had been staring intently at what, probably to him, seemed like an idiot trying to scrape his face with a big hunting knife.
I reached out my hand to the man and braced myself to haul him up. Refusing my help, the Indian scrambled up the bank on his own. "Why did you attack me?" I asked, curious at his behavior. I still could not remember seeing him before, nor could I remember anyone whom I might have unwittingly insulted, although not knowing the customs of this tribe, there was no telling what might be construed as insult.
He glowered at me, dripping on the bank. It took a great deal of effort to keep from laughing, but I managed to maintain a straight face. "You are in Deer Meadow's house," came his simple reply. Looking at him quietly, I tried to figure out why that would cause him to want to attack. Then it suddenly dawned on me. Idiot, I thought to myself. I realized that the man was in love with Deer Meadow.
Turning to the boy, I ordered him back to his mother's lodge. When he had left, I turned again to the Indian. Haltingly, in his language and in sign, I tried to convey my theories. "Are you wanting to marry Deer Meadow?" He nodded, glowering a bit less than before.
"Perhaps we should work together, instead of fighting," I suggested. His jaw dropped in shock. "I only wish to find my horse and go home. You wish to have Deer Meadow as your wife."
He nodded. "I have loved Deer Meadow for many years, but she married another. There was no one I wished to marry instead. So I went away for eight years, but returned recently and found that Deer Meadow's husband had died. Just as I made ready to court Deer Meadow, you were given to her and you go out and find a deer for her family the first night." He sighed. "How can I not think that Deer Meadow might take an Español for a husband, if he can provide so well?"
I sighed, too. "May I ask your name, or is there a custom against it?"
"Eagle Wing," he said simply.
"The leader calls me Fox," I returned, using the Indian name. "Eagle Wing, what would it take for me and my manservant to be allowed our freedom and you to get Deer Meadow for your wife?"
"Some act of great courage for you and my asking, for me." He looked at me in amusement. "I think that Bear Killer is already a bit pleased with you after last night."
I just chuckled. "If you were familiar with the customs of the Spanish, you would realize that I have never killed a deer before. I am beginning to think that I was very fortunate last night."
"Your guardian spirit was helping you," was his simple answer.
"Eagle Wing, if it is not something that would be against custom, would you help me with this act of great courage?" I asked bluntly.
"Yes, Fox, I will. I, too, want to impress someone." He did not have to say who, and we walked back to the camp together. That was when he began to laugh, explaining that his arrival in camp with wet clothes would bring the laughter of many.
"Then why not sneak off to your house and change?" I asked, again curious.
"Because a good joke should be enjoyed by many," he said. "You are the one who had been laughed at because you were 'less than a man' yesterday and you have fought two men and bested them and gone out at night and killed a deer."
"But I only fought one man," I protested.
"Everyone in camp knew I was going to find you to fight you. You beat me without laying a hand on me, Fox," he laughed again.
When they arrived in the middle of the camp, I noticed that much activity was taking place, almost as though some members were planning to move. Bear Killer was watching the activity, but turned when he heard our approach. Looking Eagle Wing up and down, he laughed. Looking at me, he said simply, "Fox, I see you beat Eagle Wing. And now you are his friend. You are indeed a most unusual Español."
Reaching behind him, he handed me my sword and the saddlebags from mine and Bernardo's horses. "Remember, you are still captive, but I trust you to do what I have told you to do. Deer Meadow still has need of help." I nodded and thanked him for his trust, realizing there was very little else I could do. Not having been asked if even wanted this kind of obligation, nevertheless I would follow through on it. I had never walked away from a responsibility yet and I would not this time, either.