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Rain Shadow

By:Cheryl St.John

Rain Shadow
Cheryl St.John

       Prologue



Nebraska, 1875

An unfriendly wind carried the pervading stench of scorched wood and  canvas. Two Feathers, crouched in an outcropping of boulders, ignored  the odor as well as the rocks biting through his moccasins, his  attention focused on the ruinous scene below him.

The charred skeletons of two dozen covered wagons lay on their sides  like so many smoldering carcasses on the Nebraska prairie. Thin gray  trails of acrid smoke curled into the darkening sky. Growing bolder as  night drew near, black scavengers circled overhead, occasionally  swooping toward the scattered bodies of the slain whites.

He examined a few overturned rocks. A small war party had lain in wait  earlier. The arrows in the bodies were Crow. Two Feathers wasn't worried  that the band would return. They had scalped and looted and were long  gone.

Ominous thunderclouds had obliterated the setting sun the better part of  an hour ago, and the purple sky boasted the unmistakable aura of rain.

Through the stillness a pitiful wail carried, wafting with the dry,  acrid stench of gunpowder. The sound had grown weak-at times almost a  mewling-but its effect was no less profound than the first time Two  Feathers had heard it.

Several yards from the violent scene, Two Feathers saw a small figure  take a few reeling steps and crumple on the short-cropped buffalo grass.  It was a girl child, tiny and dark-haired. The sun, her foremost enemy  earlier, had disappeared, and now her true peril began.

The Indian gestured to the spotted pony behind him, covered the velvet  nose and whispered a command. The animal stood unmoving, its eyes  watchful. Two Feathers crept stealthily from his hiding place, silently  closing the distance between his horse and the child.

Catching sight of the lithely muscled Indian dressed only in deerskin  leggings, a knife at his hip, her dark eyes registered surprise. Her  head rolled tiredly, but the soft keening lessened.

She was no more than three or four summers, dressed in the muslin and  aproned fashion of the whites. Her exquisite hair, near black and  flowing, held bits of dry grass and twigs. A heart-shaped gold locket  with a stone Two Feathers didn't recognize dangled from a chain around  her neck. Was the ornament a bauble to pacify her during the day's  journey, or perhaps a mother's last frantic attempt to leave the child a  shred of her identity?

Two Feathers crouched over her.

She stared back fearlessly, her stormy violet eyes taking in his angular  features, his beaded headband and the two red feathers dangling over  his left ear.

What had she seen here this day? How much had she been spared? Her lack  of fear showed a brave and strong spirit. Wandering away from the others  as she was, he imagined a parent thrusting her from the wagon when the  attack came. He would have done the same. He would have taken any  measure to save his own child-had she lived.

"Mama," the girl child managed in a raw-throated voice, and touched the  feathers. Was she asking for a parent or was his long, black hair  familiar? She placed a dirty palm on his mahogany cheek, and his  warrior's stoic heart admitted her.

To the west, an enormous dark cloud covered what little remained of the  sun, and rumbling thunder shook the ground. He couldn't leave her to  die. Not this child with a strong spirit and will to live. Wakon Tanka  had spared her for a reason.

Lightning forked from the dark sky, punctuating Two Feathers' decision.

There'd been no movement near the scattered wagons since he'd come upon  them. If anyone lived through the massacre, he would soon be dead. Once  darkness settled on the plain, the night predators would close in. The  child would be prey to scavengers and the ominous storm.

He didn't know which wagon the child belonged to, and if he ventured any  nearer, a dying white man might mistake him for one of the Crow  attackers and shoot. With deft movements, he plucked her from the ground  and ran silently to his waiting pony. She didn't weigh as much as most  game he brought down and gave less resistance.

Astride, the girl in one arm, he kicked the pony with a moccasined heel  and skirted the carnage of the wagon train. A jagged streak of lightning  pierced the sky, momentarily illuminating his granite-cut features.  Before the rain fell, Two Feathers pulled a deerskin from his bundle and  covered the sleeping child. His child now.                       
       
           



       

His Rain Shadow.





Chapter One




October 1894

Smoke, like an eddying black caterpillar, spiraled endlessly past the  excursion car window. This train was one of the three needed to  transport performers, orchestra, cowboy band, staff, tents, props,  wardrobe and livestock. Rain Shadow grew tired of watching the  variegated red and gold trees of western Pennsylvania reel past and  closed her eyes. The steady lurch of the locomotive chugging along the  iron rails wore on her nerves. She pulled a gold locket from beneath the  neck of her deerskin tunic and thoughtfully fingered her only piece of  jewelry.

It was time.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show had finished a five-month season in  Brooklyn and was on its way south to winter quarters, a trek they made  each fall. If she were going to prove herself, it was time. She had the  entire winter ahead to prepare. When the show opened again in  Philadelphia next April, she would shoot the pants off Annie Moses  Butler-the famed Annie Oakley.

"Are you hungry, daughter?"

Rain Shadow opened her eyes and accepted an apple from Two Feathers.

He studied her face a long minute. "You are planning your contest?"

"Yes."

"What if you lose?"

She took a bite of the crisp, sweet apple. Losing was something she'd  never let herself think about. Covertly studying Annie Oakley, Johnnie  Baker and the other sharpshooters, Rain Shadow had developed her skill  over the years. Under Two Feathers' tutelage, she was confident her  precision and timing had surpassed the others'. "I won't."

His coal black eyes, unclouded by criticism, bespoke indulgence.

How could she make him understand? How could she tell the father who had  nurtured and provided for her since childhood that she wanted to give  her son a real family? That she wanted Slade to have a home and go to  the white man's school the way she never had? If she proved herself a  better shot than Annie Oakley, she was certain her remaining relatives  would be proud to claim her.

Instead, she touched his arm. "You know I'm not ungrateful. You've  filled every corner of my heart with your kindness and taught me  everything you know. Both of us are caught between two worlds. You  remember the way it used to be, but I plan for the way it can be.

"When I claim my position as champion sharpshooter, I won't leave you.  Together we'll learn how to live a new life. Aren't you tired of living  one grand performance after another?"

He grunted and pulled a knife and a whetstone from the satchel at his feet.

Rain Shadow watched his dark, scarred warrior's hands sharpen the blade  in deft strokes. Of course he was. She knew the alternative would be  unbearable for Two Feathers, a Sioux who lived by the direction of his  guardian spirit-a spotted eagle. Reservation life was like imprisoning  the proud, freedom-loving Indian in a cage.

The Lakota loved the earth, and all things born of it, the soil itself,  and their attachment to it grew with age. Old people sat on the ground  to experience being close to a mothering power, many even removed their  moccasins to feel the sacred dirt on their feet.

The ancient way of life was rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Towns  and farms and railroads had presumptuously erased the hunting grounds.  The sounds of birds, gourd rattles and ceremonial chants were usurped by  tinhorn saloons, clanging steel and the rumble of wagon wheels. The  white man's song of progress was louder than the red man's Sun Dance.  Rain Shadow had often wondered if it was her white-eyes heart that lent  her foresight.

More than grateful to Two Feathers, she loved him as the only parent  she'd ever known. He was a man trapped between two cultures. The entire  purpose of the Wild West Show was to recreate a piece of the Old West as  it had been, and Two Feathers was as happy with the show as he could be  anywhere. He no longer had a home and a people. For now the show was  the only place she belonged, as well.

Rain Shadow's thoughts shifted to her seven-year-old son on the train  ahead of this one. She wanted a full life for Slade. She wanted him to  feel the acceptance she had never known. If he were to succeed, he must  be given every opportunity to learn and grow and prosper in the white  man's world.                       
       
           



       

He needed a family. She would find him one. Somewhere she had  grandparents, aunts or uncles, maybe cousins. She loved Two Feathers and  appreciated all he'd done for her. Desiring to meet her flesh and blood  family was no reflection on him. Something was missing, though, and if  she could find it, she would feel whole. Using the locket as her only  source of identity, she'd asked in every city and town the show had  toured. Having been unsuccessful at locating relatives on her own thus  far, she would let them find her. As soon as her story made the  newspapers and dime novels, whatever family she had would seek her out.

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