First, a little background.  What you're about to read is actually a series of scenes from a planned and much longer fic ("Comanche Moon"), which takes place two years after the Seven first got together and leads into my version of their future.  The story finds them requested by Judge Travis to investigate allegations by an old school friend of his--the Agency doctor, recently mysteriously dead--that the government agent for the Comanche Reservation in the Indian Territory is permitting, and profiting by, irregularities including, but not limited to, the clandestine sale of whiskey to his charges.  To give themselves more chances to learn the truth, the boys have split into two groups: Chris, Vin, Josiah, and Nathan going openly to the Agency HQ posing as rustlers with a small herd of "hot" beef to sell, and Buck, JD, and Ezra slipping over the Reservation boundary in the guise of whiskey peddlers with a wagonload of "trade" liquor (all but one barrel of which is actually water).  Much to their astonishment, the latter have been ambushed and unofficially arrested, not by Indian Police, but by a sort of informal posse--almost a war party--of young Comanche braves and taken, whiskey wagon and all, to their camp.  In the altercation leading up to their capture, Buck was overwhelmed and soundly beaten.  We join their journey in progress...



JD kept turning in his saddle, looking back at Buck, anxious and troubled at his best friend's state.  The Comanches had lashed the gunslinger's wrists to his saddlehorn, his ankles to his stirrups; it was mostly those bonds and his body's instincts that were keeping him on Plata's back, his head and shoulders bowed forward over her neck.  He had enough awareness left to correct when he felt himself sliding out of the saddle; he'd give a hitch and a yank, bracing his hands on the pommel, and pull himself back up, but it was done automatically, and he didn't seem to know where he was or what was going on around him.  His eyes stayed mostly half closed, and when they did open briefly they were glazed with pain.


Ezra kept his face front, but his eyes were never still and his quick mind was constantly considering and discarding possible courses of action.  There were fifteen or twenty of the Indians, far too many for three unarmed prisoners to hope to elude even if all of them had been physically capable of it.  One was driving the wagon, not too skilfully, assisted by a pair of mounted companions who had dropped lariats over the leaders' necks and were riding close at their heads.  The gambler observed that their dress was a combination of rather shabby buckskin, emphasized more by heavy fringing than by beadwork or other colored decoration, and assorted items of European-style clothing--flannel and calico shirts, woolly vests, hats variously decorated, trousers and jeans with the crotch and seat cut out to allow the traditional breechclout to be worn.  All of them preferred moccasins to boots or shoes, and all wore at least one or two items of jewelry--silver and brass, tooth and shell.  One or two had cut their hair short, but most kept it long, at least to the shoulders, loose or braided.  The one who seemed to be the leader might have been in his later thirties; his hair was studded with silver discs under a U.S. Cavalry hat adorned with eagle feathers, and there were little amulets on his arms over his calico hunting shirt, as well as a quill breastplate and a sleeveless waistcoat covered with beads.  He carried a double-barrelled shotgun and a skin quiver hung over his right shoulder, bristling with arrows feathered in red and white, along with a short buffalo lance, and rode a trim-legged claybank with a Jennifer saddle and single jaw rein.  Unlike most of the others, his eyes were not obsidian-black but soft brown; perhaps he had Mexican blood--Ezra had heard that the Comanches perhaps more than any other Plains tribe were given to adopting and intermarrying with captives of every race they encountered.


The party kept up a steady jogging pace for six or seven hours, and just as the sun was disappearing they raised a camp of cone-shaped tents, about forty of them, their light exteriors half luminous in the gathering dusk and sometimes lit from within, like Japanese lanterns, by their central fires.  Oval and conical shelters of brush or grass were interspersed among them.  As Ezra got closer he could see that most of them were rolled up a couple of feet at the bottom and tied, to allow the breeze full play.  Their entrances faced the rising sun, but the smoke flaps at the top of each were ingeniously tilted by adjustable poles to open downwind.  It wasn't until he was actually in the midst of them that the gambler saw how shabby most of them were, the skins dirty brown, sooted and greasy from a thousand cookfires and with little of the brave decoration he had expected.


Men, women, and children converged upon the returning party, gathering to stare at the three white men in disconcerting silence where Ezra had expected both physical and verbal abuse; from his visits to the Seminole village and Kojay's camp on the Reservation the Southerner knew that Indians rarely met any break in their daily routines without at least a lot of exclamation and discussion.  One of their escort appeared at Gambit's side and grasped his arm in a clear signal to dismount; Ezra carefully threw a leg over the pommel and slid down, finding his balance with difficulty as his feet hit the ground.  He could hear a grunt as Buck was unceremoniously pulled from his mare's back and an indignant "Hey!" from JD.  When he looked around, he saw that Wilmington was being held erect, three warriors being required to keep him on his feet, while two others restrained JD.  Retain your self-control, Mr. Dunne, he thought, catching the youngest's eyes with his own and concentrating all the force he had into conveying the message.  Only by concealing all our assets--and our vulnerabilities--will we have any possibility of escaping whatever may be intended for us.


The leader of the party said something in his native language, and the three regulators were herded toward a small twelve-pole lodge, the inhabitants of the camp falling away on either side so that Ezra began to feel rather like Moses parting the Red Sea.  Inside were a smooth, hard dirt floor with a fire pit in the center, a clay water jar, and several piles of robes and blankets spread in a circle around the perimeter.  The skins were pegged down tightly all around, presumably to make escape more difficult.  A knife snapped down between Ezra's wrists, cutting his bonds, and a moccasin planted in the small of his back propelled him across the intervening space to land on his hands and knees beside the fire.  JD and Buck hit the ground seconds later, the youngest almost on top of him in a tangle of limbs, as if the Indians hadn't quite allowed for his lack of weight.  Instantly Dunne rolled aside and scrambled around to go to Buck.  As Ezra pushed himself up he saw that Wilmington's eyes were open again, but dull and unresponsive; as he watched the lids slowly slid shut.


"Help me get him under some of these blankets, Ezra," JD requested.


"Are you certain?" the gambler responded.  "Who knows what manner of vermin may inhabit them?"


"Vin says horse Indians are clean people," the kid retorted.  "He says when they get bugs in their beds they lay 'em on top of red-ant hills and let the ants take care of it.  We gotta keep him warm, Ez, and prop his feet up.  That's what Nathan'd do--I think."


"In that I concur," Ezra admitted.  "Very well, you take his feet."




Standish fished his watch from his pocket and peered at the face in the faint glow of the fire.  Just a few minutes to midnight.  He restored the timepiece to its place, moving carefully so as not to disturb JD, and looked toward the heap of bedding that was Buck Wilmington.  Buck was unconscious now, deeply so; he hadn't stirred or made a sound in at least four hours, hadn't responded at all the last two times JD had tried to rouse him and offer him water.  At last, exhausted by emotional stress and the long day he'd had, the boy had fallen into a light uncomfortable doze, his head resting on Ezra's chest.  The gambler had slipped one arm around his shoulders to support him, without thinking about it, and sat vigil, over a decade of habit enabling him to ignore the advancing hour.


Through the partly translucent wall skins he could just make out the silhouette of a guard sitting cross-legged just outside the pegged-down doorflap.  He considered his options and found them limited.  He still had his derringer in its hidden spring-clip rig; the Indians apparently hadn't thought such a thing could exist, and they hadn't bothered to search him for it.  He had a knife, too, in a riveted case inside his boot.  Not much, and none of it good for distance, except perhaps the knife, which was more for fighting than throwing and in any case would only take out one enemy before it lost its usefulness.  There were only two shots in the sleeve gun, and no chance in hell he'd be able to reload from the little stock of extra rounds he kept in his pocket.


His emerald eyes moved from Buck to JD and back.  Who would have thought that in the year of grace 1880 they'd be in peril of their scalps from reservation Indians?  But he could spare his friends, if he found the courage to do it.  A bullet to each one's head--the derringer was so light, the Indians might not even hear it.  If they didn't, he could reload, and put himself out of reach too...


But he knew he wouldn't, not till there was no other possibility.  If he killed one or both, and then some unexpected providence occurred--how would he ever face the survivor?  Or Chris Larabee, or Vin?  He understood that by putting off the inevitable he doomed himself.  If he didn't use the derringer until the last moment, there'd be no opportunity to reload with a round for himself, and the Indians, cheated of two victims, would almost certainly take out their fury on the only one left to them.  Ezra had his share of physical courage--in his line it was a necessity: knowing that his skill at cards laid him open to an accusation of cheating every time he sat down at a poker table, he'd long since had to face up to the possibility of danger.  But he'd never really considered that he might end up on the receiving end of Comanche torture--and he'd heard stories enough to know that it would be unpleasant.  He hoped he'd be able to make a good end, but he had his doubts.


For heaven's sake, he thought, why am I automatically assuming the worst?  Surely havin' come through so many impossible situations with these gentlemen should have taught me that things need not always be as dark as they seem...


And yet, if the Comanches are indeed demoralized to the point of purchasin' liquor for the purpose of escape...why have they used us in this fashion?  It seems more to be expected that they would have welcomed us into their midst, as Mr. Larabee suggested when he first originated this masquerade.  That they chose rather to treat us as enemies and prisoners certainly bodes less than well for us.


And as to the other...roll the dice enough times and inevitably you will come up snake eyes.  Even such as we cannot overcome every situation.


It is always a mistake to divide our forces, I have noted.  We are never so successful when we are less than seven, than when we stand together.


He came alert at the sound of voices outside, an exchange of words in the Comanche language.  The doorflap was swept aside and an Indian entered the lodge and paused just inside, whether to study the whites or give them time to adjust to his advent was unknowable.  His hair had gone gray and his brown skin was seamed and gullied from years of exposure, but his back was still straight and his shoulders square-set.  He wore a white man's gray coat, worn to a frazzle at the collar and cuffs, with a gold watch chain across his stomach, above bleached elkhide leggings with Spanish-style belled bottoms, pulled in just under the knees with woven garters, and moccasins with skunktails, strings of blue beads, and small metal jinglets sewn into the heels.  His headdress consisted of a wolf head with grinning teeth, combined with feathers, the braids trailing out from under it wrapped in cloth with a black crow-tassel tie on one, and two strings of bear claws hung down on his chest.  Flattened silver and gold coins hung in his ears.  This is a person of consequence, Ezra understood at once, and drew himself up straighter to meet the man's regard.


The change in his position roused JD, who woke with a start, looking around in sleepy confusion, then coming taut as he registered that they weren't alone.  Ezra glanced quickly down at his youngest partner; he was pale, his eyes huge in the dimly-lit lodge, but his lips were firm set and his jaw clenched--he'd read enough of Indian ways to know how vital it was never to show fear before them.  Ezra put on his best poker face, meeting the Comanche's gaze as it studied the two of them with a sort of penetrating calm.  Then the man's attention shifted to Buck and the gambler felt the tension rise in JD's back and shoulders.  The boy shuffled quickly back on hands and knees, setting himself at Buck's side, as near to being between his injured friend and the Indian as he could get.  Ezra took breath, then rethought and maintained his silence.


"You keep away from him," JD said, his voice tight and flat.  "I ain't lettin' you hurt him."


"Mr. Dunne," Ezra cautioned quietly.


"No, Ezra.  This's between me and him.  It's what Buck would do for me, so I gotta do it for him."  JD didn't take his eyes from the solemn brown face.


Unexpectedly the Indian spoke in English.  "This man...your brother?"


JD blinked, hesitated, started to speak, rethought and finally said quietly, "Yes.  My older brother."  His left hand went back to Buck's face, fingertips just touching the skin.  "You ain't hurtin' him, you hear?  You try and you gotta go through me."


"Mr. Dunne, don't antagonize him," Ezra warned.


The Comanche flicked his gaze back to the Southerner, something glinting in his eyes--amusement? respect?  Then he addressed JD again.  "Comanches not hurt your brother, little warrior," he said.  He turned his head slightly and snapped out a string of words in his own language, and a couple of women came in, one carrying a buckskin packet of some kind, the other a leather bucket of water.  "My women care for him now.  You wait."


One of the women was perhaps Maude's age, the other much younger, not more than twenty.  Despite their sacklike dresses of trade calico, they moved gracefully and their backs were straight as gun barrels.  They knelt beside Buck's bed, conferring in Comanche, the older one briefly peeling back the gunslinger's eyelid before they began spreading out the contents of their packet.  Ezra's nose wrinkled briefly at the unmistakeable odor of bruised arnica.  He had known Nathan to use it to help his patients' bodies deal with sprains, concussions, and bruises both exterior and internal, and had seen it produce astounding improvements in a very short time.  Perhaps there is some hope, after all, he thought.  But if they are willin' to care for him, why did they injure him to begin with?  Or is this just their way of guaranteein' that he will be strong to provide them with better sport?


The man in the wolf headdress watched the women work for a moment, then returned his attention to Ezra and JD.  "Fox Eyes," he said unexpectedly.  "Give me hand."


Standish blinked.  "I beg your pardon?"


With a faintly amused expression, the Indian reached out one long arm, snagged Ezra's right wrist in a firm but gentle grip, and flexed it.  Automatically the spring-clip activated and the derringer dropped into the gambler's palm.  The Indian deftly twisted it free and studied it with deep interest, obviously recognizing it as a firearm, although Ezra doubted he had ever had much occasion to encounter this kind of weapon.  How did he know it was there?


"Fire and smoke in palm of hand," the Indian murmured in satisfaction.  "Chart."  He met Ezra's eyes again.  "You come."


Standish hesitated.  "I prefer to remain with my friends."


"Come," the Indian repeated patiently.  "We talk."


Don't antagonize him, Ezra's advice to JD rang through his mind.  Remember you are in his power.  He can call a dozen warriors to his aid in an instant, if you give him cause.  "Do you guarantee their safety while I am gone?"


"Yes."  There was no hesitation about the reply.  "They stay safe until you come back.  I give word."


He may be an aboriginie and a savage, Ezra thought, and yet there is somethin' about him...the aura of a born gentleman.  Dare I trust him?


I must.


JD's eyes were switching from one to the other, with an occasional quick glance at Buck and his nurses.  "Ezra?"


"I believe I shall be secure enough, Mr. Dunne," the gambler told him.  "In any case, I am the only one of us presently suited to such actions.  Remain here and watch over Mr. Wilmington."


The kid waited a breath or two, then nodded.  "Watch your back."


"I shall certainly endeavor to do so," Ezra agreed, and rose cautiously, alert for the possibility of cramps in his legs after his long vigil.




It was just after sunrise when Ezra returned to the lodge, to find the sentry gone from his post and the interior rich with the fragrance of hot food.  Buck was sitting up against a reed mat supported by a tripod of poles, blankets draped loosely over his lower body, a compress tied against his head giving him an even more rakish look than normal; JD sat beside him with a terrapin-shell bowl cradled in his lap and a tin cup on the earthen floor beside him, twins to those from which the gunslinger himself was eating and drinking.  A heavy iron pot with a bail handle sat on the fire, bubbling and steaming gently, and beside it was a blackened coffeepot.  A shallow basket woven of fine grass held a generous heap of corncakes.  Ezra picked out what he thought was the aroma of venison and turkey, along with the bland smell of some starchy root, and the heavenly rich scent of coffee.  "Ezra!" JD exclaimed.  "You okay?"


"I am quite unharmed, Mr. Dunne, thank you for your concern.  And you?  Mr. Wilmington?  You appear far more hale than when last I saw you."


"I don't know what them Comanche ladies done," Buck admitted, "but Nate can take lessons from them any time.  I got a little bit of a headache, but it ain't nowhere near what I'd have figured on."


"You remember what befell us, then?" Ezra inquired.


"Yeah, it's comin' back.  Bunch of young braves ambushed us about a day into the Reservation.  I remember tryin' to pull one of 'em off the kid, then it all gets kinda mixed up.  He says we're in their camp, been there since about sundown.  Where you been all this time, ace?  The kid was frettin' about you."


JD didn't bother to deny it.  "I have council with our host," Ezra replied, settling himself beside the fire and reaching for the spoon that floated in the pot.


"Host?" the kid repeated.


"His name is Eagle-That-Sees-Afar," said Ezra, filling a bowl with a heaping portion of stewed meat and potato-like roots, "and he has been--after a fashion--expectin' us.  It seems he has foreseen our comin', or at least our existence, by means of a dream, or perhaps more than one."


Buck frowned in bewilderment.  "How's that come?"


The gambler wore a bemused, quizzical look, as if he wasn't quite sure he had experienced what his memories seemed to be telling him he had.  "It seems that, some years ago, the gentleman had a son.  A boy named He-Tans-Skins, with light hair and eyes like the sky.  A boy we know as Vin Tanner."




The Indian had escorted Ezra to another, much larger tent, outside which a small fire burned cheerfully in the night, with a man sitting beside it whom the gambler recognized as the young brave who had led the party that had captured them.  The older man settled himself cross-legged with his back to the door of the lodge, with the young man on his left hand, and indicated to Ezra that he should sit on the other side.  When the gambler complied, the young man produced a short pipe with a red-stone bowl and a stem wrapped around with beadwork, a long tassel of horsehair hanging from its midpoint, gathered in with bits of blue ribbon.  He teased a hot coal out of the fire and lit the tobacco already packed into the pipe, which he handed to the older man.  The latter offered it to the earth and the sky before taking a slow draw on it, then passed it to Ezra.  The Southerner had heard enough in the course of his varied career to know that being invited to smoke with Indians, any Indians, was a sign of honor and acceptance.  Carefully he copied the ritual gesture of his host, then sucked cautiously on the mouthpiece.  The tobacco was very strong, but he managed not to cough.  He passed the pipe back, taking care not to let it touch the ground, and waited while it went to the young man for his turn.


Ezra was surprised when the latter spoke, in English--very decent English, though flavored with a thick accent.  "I am Goes Ahead.  My father is Eagle-That-Sees-Afar.  You are Fox Eyes.  We have waited for you."


"I regret to say I don't understand," Ezra replied.


Eagle-That-Sees-Afar went into a lengthy monologue which the gambler guessed might be intended to recount what had happened in the other lodge.  Goes Ahead waited politely for him to finish, then explained, "Many years ago, when my youngest brother was still only an untried boy, my father dreamed dreams of his future.  He saw my brother with the friends who were to be his family after he went away from our lodges.  He spoke of them, later, to my brother.  One was a young boy with hair as black and sleek as a Comanche's.  Another was a long man who smiled easily but whose heart was filled with a power that made him fight for those who were weak or used unjustly.  And a third had eyes green and quick like the eyes of a fox, and held smoke and fire in the palm of his hand."  He smiled faintly.  "He did not guess that we would come to know you also.  But then my guardians told me to take warriors to the Red Otter River and look for sign of a wagon heavily loaded and alone, with two men on horses riding alongside it.  They told me we must follow the sign and bring you to our camp, alive, when we found you.  When we saw the barrels in the wagon, we thought you were whiskey sellers.  Some wished to kill you, but I would not permit it.  It was not until we brought you here and I told my father about you that he spoke to me of his dreams.  Then we looked in the wagon and saw that only one of the barrels held whiskey.  So we knew you could not be what you seemed.  You are my brother's friends, the ones our father dreamed about, so you are the friends of the Comanche also."


Ezra wasn't a particularly superstitious man, still less a religious one: he acknowledged the existence of luck and chance, but had never put much faith in the concept of direct divine intervention in human affairs.  He listened with something that was partly disbelief, partly astonishment, and partly, deep down inside, a sense of vindication.  He found it difficult to credit that Goes Ahead's father could have dreamed about men he had never met, particularly years ahead of the fact, yet his entire career had been grounded on an ability to estimate the character of others, and while he had little experience with Indians in this regard, body language and intonation were constants; he had no doubt that the man believed what his son was rendering him as saying--or that the son was translating the father's words exactly as they had been given to him.  What was so incredible about it, after all?  Didn't Josiah talk of dreams and visions and put stock in the appearance of his crows?  Hadn't Vin mentioned Indian mysticism?  Why should Ezra accept their beliefs--as he had learned to do over time--and not those of the Comanches?  Simply because Josiah and Vin were his compatriots and these were not?  However impossible it seemed, there was one thing he couldn't deny: Eagle-That-Sees-Afar had known about his sleeve rig, even known how to operate it.  Something had provided him with that knowledge, with information that he should by all logic and reason have had absolutely no means of acquiring--yet he had.  And if that much was to be granted, why not grant that this too may have come to him in a dream--and if it had, surely he could also have foreseen something of the future by the same means.  And yet...The gambler hesitated, puzzling over the information, confused.  He felt as if there was something he was missing, something that should be very plain to him but wasn't.  "I must apologize for my ignorance," he said slowly, "but I can recall no instance of ever havin' met any of your people before today.  How can I be a friend of your brother?"


"He was not always a Comanche," Goes Ahead replied.  "He did not become one of us until after he had left the lodges of the Texans.  My father saw him, too, in his dreams.  He says my brother grown to manhood is not tall, but slender and straight, only leaning a little against things.  He wears his hair long and loose about his shoulders, and his eyes are the color of the sky and keen like the eagle's.  He is a tracker and a long shooter; he does not use the kind of small gun that can be carried at the waist.  His name when he lived with us was He-Tans-Skins.  He told us he had promised his mother never to forget he was a Tanner, so we gave him that name to bind the pledge."


Tanner? Ezra thought incredulously.  Mr. Tanner?  Vin?  These are the Indians who raised him?  Good Lord, what must the odds be that a party led by his foster brother should be the one that chanced to encounter us?


Or is it chance after all?  Goes Ahead says "his guardians" told him to seek us out...another dream?


"I know such a man," he admitted.  "He is just as you describe him, and his name is Tanner--Vin Tanner."


"Is he your brother too?" Goes Ahead asked.


Standish scarcely had to think about his answer.  "Yes.  We--he and I--are two of seven.  The others, the men who are with me, are of that company as well.  The oldest of us would call him a shaman, I think.  He has always insisted that somethin' far greater than ourselves brought us together, that we were destined to ride as one.  Often when he speaks to or of one of us, he will use the word 'brother.' "


Eagle-That-Sees-Afar had been listening closely; no doubt he understood English much better than he spoke it.  He interrupted briefly with another flow of speech.  "My father asks if one of you--the one my brother is closest friend to--is like a length of shadow in man-shape."


"That is Mr. Larabee," Ezra confirmed.  "He dresses in black to mourn his family, who were slain by evil men long ago.  He is our leader, and he and--your brother--often seem to speak without usin' words."


The older man sighed softly and spoke in Comanche, allowing his son to translate.  "My father says that his dreams told him my brother would walk a long hard road and know great sadness, but he would also know hidden, powerful things that are not given to most men.  He says his guardians charged him with making my brother ready for what lay before him, training him in the skills he would need.  He told my brother that he would have his own good life in time, and must not despair.  He did not dare to hope that he would be allowed to know that his dreams had been true, but he is pleased that this day has come, that he has met the brothers of his son."


"He should be proud," Ezra said evenly.  "His son is among the bravest, most honorable men I have ever been privileged to know.  He is a fine tracker and a marksman without equal.  He does great credit to the Comanche people.  And he has never forgotten you.  He speaks of you rarely, but always with affection and longing.  His time with you was perhaps the happiest he knew between his mother's death and our comin' together."


"My son's life...good now?" Eagle asked in English.


"Yes," Ezra assured him.  "He has a home in the town we protect, and friends.  There is much respect for his skills and his character.  The man who pays us--a white judge, a man known for his devotion to justice--thinks highly of him."


"He come with you?" the older man pursued.


We came to help them; surely they have some right to know that.  "Not with us exactly, but he is not far away.  Mr. Larabee made a plan.  We three--the boy and the big man and I--were to pretend to be whiskey sellers; we hoped that your agent, who takes money from such men to permit them to deal with you, would betray himself by demandin' payment of us.  The rest, Mr. Larabee and your son among them, were to go to the Agency town at Lawton and seek other ways of learnin' the truth.  We made a promise to Judge Travis, who is our chief over Mr. Larabee, that if your agent was failin' in his duties, as the government has set them, we would find proof of it, so he would be removed from power and a more honest man set to watch over you."


Eagle's eyes showed his pride and happiness.  "The spirits have been kind to me, to allow that I shall see my best-loved son one more time before my eyes close forever," Goes Ahead translated.  "I am very pleased, indeed, that he has found a family, and stands strong for justice.  Even when he was a boy I saw the greatness in him.  Had he stayed with us, he might have equalled Quanah."


Ezra was fascinated.  The longer he sat with these men, who had been Vin's father and older brother for what must have been a significant period of his life, the more of his friend he saw in them--Vin's gravity, his natural dignity, his grace, and his sly humor.  "I would like to know more of my friend, your son, in his youth, if your customs permit you to speak of him," he observed.


"I will tell you of him," Eagle agreed, and began to speak in a sort of half-singsong storytelling mode, while Goes Ahead continued to translate.




Outside Lawton, Vin woke with a start, fully alert, with no intervening muddle of semiconsciousness.  Somewhere off to the west a wolf gave tongue, a deep throbbing bay that set the cattle shifting nervously, their horns clicking against one another.


Years among the Indians had trained the ex-bounty-hunter to remember his dreams.  The one from which he had just awakened was clear and sharp in his mind.  //"Father?"// he murmured in the Indian language.


"No," said Josiah behind him, "only me, Brother Vin."


Tanner sat up, turning in his blankets.  "Weren't what I meant," he said.  "You hear that wolf?"


"I heard him.  He must be just heading back to his den."


"Maybe so, maybe not," the Texan replied.  "Maybe ain't a regular wolf at all.  I just been dreamin' 'bout somebody I ain't hardly thought of in years.  Seen him plain as I see you."


The big man peered keenly at him, his training in subjects mystical responding to what Vin hadn't quite said.  He knew the wolf was, or had been, Vin's spirit-guardian during his time as a Comanche brave.  "Who would that be?"


"My Comanche pa, Eagle-That-Sees-Afar.  Seen him growed older, like he'd be about now.  Ez was with him."


Josiah's eyebrows went up.  "What would Brother Ezra be doing in your adopted father's company?"


"Don't know," Vin admitted.  "But I got a notion it was a true dream."


More to come...