I was embarrassed when Fawn Eyes joined me in my bedroll that night. I'd grown comfortable being with her while the whole tribe was around us, but my father was different. He would know exactly what we were doing, and that made me feel guilty, as if I was somehow being disrespectful to him. He gave me a wink when she took my hand. As the light disappeared to the west, I gathered up the blankets, and we walked to a place where I could barely see the glow of the fire. It was there I made love to my wife, under the emerging stars. In English, I told her I loved her, and promised to take care of her. She may not have understood the meaning of my words, but my smile delighted her. I was happy, and I was in love.
I held on to the tiny sliver of happiness until the dawn broke over us. Father didn't say anything as we joined him for breakfast. I was pretty sure he knew what we'd spent the night doing, even if my sleepy eyes didn't give me away. Within hours of packing up and riding, I recognized the markings of our property.
When we rode in to our dooryard, Shimaa and my brothers came outside. My brothers stared in curiosity, and Shimaa looked angry. Fawn Eyes hid her face against my back, and held me tight. I helped her down and she clung to me. She went with me as I lead the horses to the barn to take care of them. It was cowardly on my part, as I should have introduced my wife to my mother and my brothers. I allowed Father to break the news for me.
Even before I had the saddles off the horses, my brother Thomas came to confront me. He was twenty and often my nemesis. He stared at Fawn Eyes as she pulled the blanket from the back of the horse and put it where I pointed.
"You married an Indian squaw? His voice was insolent and disbelieving, and I felt my anger at his rudeness. "Boy are you stupid!"
"Our mother is an Indian, or did you forget?" I thought that would be enough to put him in his place.
"That's different, Mother's also Spanish, don't forget. You've got yourself a pure bred Apache bitc..." I hit him before he could finish running her down. Thomas had at least six inches and thirty pounds on me, but I took him down hard. In seconds we were scrapping in the dirt, and I landed several punches to his smug face. Father and Henry came to split us up. Father didn't even ask what we were fighting about.
Fawn Eyes rushed to me, and wiped the blood from my lip. Thomas sneered at us, even as Shimaa roughly cleaned the cuts I'd given him. I had the last laugh, when he was forced to move out of our room, so I could have a private place to be with my wife.
It was the next day that Shimaa took me aside and told me what she'd discovered from a long talk with Fawn Eyes. We'd been tricked. Fawn Eyes was not Ten Wolves' daughter, but he'd adopted her for the purpose of binding the Whitlock clan to his tribe.
Fawn Eyes was indeed a member of the tribe, but her story was a sad one. A Comanche raiding party had killed her father, and abducted her, her mother, and sister. They were taken back to enemy territory, and all were given to Comanche men as wives. She'd suffered rape at the hands of her kidnapper for four months, before a Lipan raiding party was able to steal her back. She came back without her mother and sister, and she believed she was carrying the enemies child within her.
As it turned out, we had not gone through any wedding ceremony. Chief Ten Wolves had told her if she slept with me, I would take care of her.
Shimaa was gentle as she explained that Fawn Eyes was an innocent pawn in what happened. She was afraid of what would happen to her baby if she stayed with the tribe, and she was a woman with no family to take care of her. She genuinely cared about me, and wanted to be my wife.
When Father came to talk to me, he told me I had two choices. I could send her back to the tribe, and Ten Wolves would have no choice but to accept her. Or I could marry the girl, knowing she carried someone else's child. He said it wouldn't be until next spring before we could make the trip to El Paso and have a priest marry us. I wanted her. I was naive and I thought love was enough to make it all work out.
The next day Thomas complained that we shouldn't be allowed to share a room, because we weren't married yet. Father looked him in the eyes and asked him if it made any sense to shut the barn door after the wolf had already come inside.
"Your brother's going to be the one to take care of her. He's promised to marry her, and his word is good enough for me." His support got Thomas off my back, but Father wasn't going to let me get away with shirking my duty.
"You're going to have a family, and that means you need a home of your own." I was given a rough plot of land, and that very day I set about clearing it for our own house. I soon longed for the days of riding the fences. I cut down trees, cleared underbrush, confronted snakes and hornets, and went home exhausted every night. Making love with Fawn Eyes was the only thing I looked forward to. In my heart and mind, she was my wife, even without the ceremony.
She blended into our family well enough. Shimaa had someone to help with the household chores, and no matter how much my brothers enjoyed funnin with me, they left her alone. I did my best to learn the words of her language, so we could talk.
My days were spent immersed in work, and as days and weeks ran together, the only clear measurement of time passing, was the amount of work I was getting done on our house. It grew from a cleared space, to a stone foundation. It became a two-story framework, and then the walls and roof were added.
I tried to ignore it, but time was also measured by the baby growing inside Fawn Eyes. I secretly hoped that she was wrong about being with child when she was rescued, and the baby was mine. But the speed it grew dashed those hopes.
My brother Thomas surprised me near the time the baby was due to be born. He'd made a cradle for the baby, with a cotton stuffed mattress, and a W carved into the headboard. It was his way of apologizing for what he'd said about my girl. It was a reminder that family mattered above all.
Our house was recently finished when the baby decided to be born. He came into the world in November, on one of the coldest nights of the year. Shimaa was there to help with the delivery, but I felt completely helpless as Fawn Eyes screamed with the pain. I'd seen so many calves come into the world, I thought I'd know what to expect. Cows don't scream and call your name.
I held her hand and wiped her brow for hours, as she writhed in agony with each contraction. Sometime in the early morning, the child stuck a foot out. I knew it meant it was breech. It was dangerous for cows, and the look on Shimaa's face told me it was even more so for women. She made me help pull the child from her, urging me to be gentle but firm. Fawn Eyes screamed as her son came into the world.
The cord was wrapped around his neck, and I hurried to untangle him so he could breath. Soon her screams were replaced with his, and I was grateful to see his color go from blue to pink. I'd helped bring our son into the world!
I thought of him as ours right from the start. It didn't matter that he didn't look a thing like me; he looked like her, and he was beautiful. I fell in love with him as quickly as I'd fallen in love with his mother.
At sixteen I was a husband and a father, and we moved into our home. I'd built it bigger than my father's house, because I imagined filling the space with lots of children.
Fawn Eyes didn't name the baby for me, but she gave him an Apache name that meant first foot out. It was common for babies to be named by their mothers, and then receive their warrior names later. It disturbed me to think of my son as a warrior. I wanted better for him. I thought about sending him East so he could have an education. I thought about him becoming a rancher like his father and grandfather.
He was three months old when I took him from his exhausted mother, late one night. I held him, and rocked him, and his big brown eyes stared into mine in the dim firelight. I kissed his round cheek, and felt the solid weight of him in my arms, and I loved that little boy. I dreamed of teaching him to ride, and carrying him on my shoulders. I wanted to tell him all the stories my father had told me. I wanted to see him grow up to be a man of honor. And I wanted him to have brothers and sisters, and a big family to always take his side and love him when I wasn't there.
Two months later, I was looking forward to several things. It was spring, and we'd soon have to round up the herd and bring them in. I had my seventeenth birthday coming up in two months, and we were making plans to ride to El Paso and see me officially married to Fawn Eyes.
We'd set the date, and planned to leave that week, when she changed her mind. We could communicate well enough, but I just knew that what she was saying had to be wrong. I couldn't be hearing her right. She told me she didn't want to marry me, and that she wanted to go back to the Comanche. She wanted to return to the father of her baby, and stay with him.
I couldn't even stay and listen to her reasons. I fled the house, and ran to the barn. I took my horse and rode away, trying to deny that it could all end like that. I'd done everything right, and she was taking everything I offered, and throwing it away. I wound up on a bluff, overlooking the river, and I considered throwing myself off to end the pain. I didn't understand how I could love them so deeply, and still lose them.
Shimaa found me there. I didn't ask how she'd tracked me; in my eyes the woman could work miracles. She sat beside me, looking out over the river for an hour, before she said a word. She took my hand in hers, and the words she spoke were a mixture of English, Apache, and Spanish.
"I would spare you this pain my son. It tears at my own heart. Fawn Eyes loves you."
"No! She couldn't love me and do this!"
"Fawn Eyes loves you. But her love is not greater than her fear."
"What could she possibly be afraid of? I've taken care of her, and I've taken care of our son, and I just want to marry her and be a family!"
"She has lost her family. She is still very young. She needs her mother. She cannot see your future, and what you promise frightens her."
"What? Are you saying a future with me scares her?" I couldn't grasp her meaning.
"Fawn Eyes is Apache. First Foot is Apache and Comanche. They are both of The People. You are a white man, with a white man's future."
"I'm your son too."
"Yes. But you are a white man in the eyes of other white men. They will see you as their equal, and they will see Fawn Eyes and First Foot as savages. I have seen these things in my lifetime. I have been scorned, as were your brothers before you. White men trust only what they see..." She laid her weathered hand on my cheek. "... you my son, trust what you feel."
"I can keep them safe. I can make sure no one ever hurts them."
"No. No one in your world will see them and love them the way you do. No one in your world will feel them the way you do. Fawn Eyes knows this, and she fears what the future holds if she lives in your world."
"What do you mean, 'my world?' This is my world—this ranch and this land. My world is that house I built for my family. My world is cattle, and horses, and the range. It doesn't matter what color or breed someone is out here. A good horse is not known by its color, but by its heart and its strength. The same is true of a good man or woman."
"I am proud of you, my son. You see with your heart, and not your eyes. Your father learned these things, but you have always known." She again took my hand.
"Your world is changing. Your father speaks to me of these changes, and what they mean. There will be war within this country, and across this land. The People are going to be pushed aside to make room for the white settlers. In my lifetime I have seen their numbers grow. I have seen hunting lands replaced by farms and towns. Treaty after treaty is broken by the white leaders. She stared out over the river, and her eyes were a thousand miles away.
"I have seen the wagon trains and I have seen the way we are shunned when we go into their towns. It is only going to get worse. Already many tribes in the east have disappeared or been boxed in on reservations. Our ways are not their ways, and they see us as less valuable and important. Some believe we are not even human." She squeezed my hand.
"My son, this is your world. You will have to find your place in it. Fawn Eyes and First Foot are going a different way. Their future is not your future."
"That doesn't make any sense! Their place is with me; they're my family." My brothers had always admonished me on my tears, but Shimaa told me it took a brave man to show his heart. I cried, knowing she would understand. In the circle of her arms, I cried for the family that was being ripped away from me.
When my tears had all run out and dried, I went back home. I knew it was no use to argue with Fawn Eyes. I looked at the woman who should have been my wife, and I felt her pain. In silence I gathered her to me, and held her tight. I took her into our bed, and made love to her, and promised I would love her forever.
I would learn forever can be a very long time.
There was no way I would let them go alone. Father and I decided to ride with them to Comanche territory, and see them safely to their new home. The baby was bundled and tied to her back, and she rode behind me, the same way she'd come to me almost a year ago.
We brought along a cow, and several other gifts she would carry into her new life. It offended me, to think of paying her kidnapper to take her from me, but Shimaa did her best to change my way of thinking. We were going to keep secret, that she had been my woman, and instead we would put forth the lie that she had merely worked for us. We were going to present her as a woman who had value and deserved respect.
When we camped, we didn't share a bedroll. It was possible that we could be observed by scouts, several days before we reached what I was thinking of as enemy territory. I tried to talk her out of leaving along the way, but she was surprisingly stubborn. It was on the fourth day we were confronted with scouts. She did most of the talking, and they lead us another half day, until we met up with a larger group.
It was in this larger group that I saw my replacement. He separated from the group, and rode forward to get a better look at Fawn Eyes. Then he looked at the baby, and smiled. It took all of my resistance not to attack and kill him. Without a word to me, he helped her from the back of my horse and onto his. I imagined knocking him to the ground and slitting his throat with my hunting knife.
She kissed my cheek, behind the cover of the bundle she reached for, and our eyes met and held for just a moment. Those large brown eyes would be embedded in my memory for the rest of my life. Then she took the gifts, the baby, and my whole world, and rode away with a man who would probably ravish her as soon as the sun went down. I had no choice but to let her go.
I stared at their backs, and imagined taking Father's rifle and shooting him in the back of the head. I knew I could make the shot, but I also knew it wouldn't make her return with me. The scouts escorted us out of their territory, and three more days of hard riding brought us back home.
The days were filled with hard work, with bringing in the herd, calving, and repairing fences damaged over the winter. I kept busy, and took on any extra work.
At night, I was alone in the house I'd built for my family. I looked at the cradle for the baby, and her dresses which were right where she'd left them. I smelled her scent on the pillow beside mine. I ached for her.
I lost weight, and my clothes hung from me. Shimaa was worried, and Father did whatever he could to encourage me to eat. My birthday approached, and I dreaded the day. I couldn't think of any reason to celebrate. I'd waited for two months for her to return, and she was still gone.
I made the decision on my own, and when I told Father, he agreed to let me go. I would join the cavalry, and tell them I was turning eighteen instead of only seventeen. Shimaa wept silently when I told the rest of the family, but I could tell my brothers agreed with my choice.
And so it was just days before my seventeenth birthday, that I rode into the garrison just outside of Austin, and signed up with the regiment under Colonel Marsh. I lied about my age, and told him I was turning eighteen in three days. Captain Olander, who looked over my enlistment papers, studied me like he knew I was lying.
"Happy Birthday, Private Whitlock. Go see the quartermaster, and he'll get you what you need." Even his half smile spoke of some secret amusement. I stabled my horse and found my place in the bunkhouse. My life in the military had begun.