"You know how it is with you and Steve and Trampas. The three of you are friends. More than that. Like three forks from a mother stream, like it was the same blood flowing through you." - Judge Garth, "The Woman From White Wing", season 1

Three Forks, One Stream

Looking back, he can't remember exactly when their friendship began, only that it seemed that it had always existed. Steve, the charmer, the wild kid with the gentle heart, a sucker for the lost and alone. Trampas, with the laughing smile and dancing eyes, always jumping headlong into trouble without thinking first. And himself, the mysterious one, the sensible one they called him, keeping the other two out of jail.

Like three peas in a pod, like the three forked river that ran past Shiloh and fed into the mother stream. Three sections of a whole.

There was nothing they could have done different that day, no way they could have seen it coming. They'd broken horses a hundred times, ridden the same stretch of ground. There was no reason for the particular horse Steve rode to rear, no reason for Steve to hit the ground just under the stomping hooves. The Virginian heard the sickening crunch of bone even before he saw the blood, the twisted limbs, the look of horror frozen into Trampas' eyes.

It was Trampas who reached Steve first, who knelt in the dirt and held the lifeless body in his arms, rocked him like a broken doll while saying nothing, making no sound. And it was The Virginian who tore Trampas away from the mangled body that had been their friend, and got him inside.

They buried Steve up on the hill under a white cross, lowered his body into the ground and packed down the dirt. When the weather warmed, Betsy planted flowers across the grave, a silent flag of color marking the life of a man.

They didn't talk much about Steve after that. He supposed it was too painful for Trampas, and there were times when a lump swelled in his throat and he shoved it aside, forced down his anger over another senseless death, another friend lost.

He never found out what happened to Steve's belongings. Some were buried with him, and when summer came Trampas took his horse up to the mountains where the wild herds ran and turned the animal loose.

Every now and then it would come back, for an extra meal, company perhaps. Trampas always fed it, standing silently, eyes staring off into empty space as his hand brushed the animal's coat. And finally after a while it stopped coming.

It was that spring when he noticed the river bank had swelled with the early rains, washing away the middle fork, merging the two remaining closer together. He showed Trampas but the younger man said nothing, only stared at the water with an unreadable expression. After a while Trampas sank to the edge of the bank, and he noticed a faint tremor running through the broad shoulders. There was nothing to say, no words that could repair what happened. There was only one thing he could do.

So he sat down beside him, put an arm around his shoulder. And they cried together.