Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
"Looks like those hombres headed right into the canyon, T. That shoe with the piece chipped out of it shows plain enough," Texas Ranger Jack Blanchard told his buckskin paint gelding. Blanchard had dismounted and was carefully studying the hoofprints left by the horses of the men he'd been following for the past three days.
Blanchard glanced up at the lowering sun as he swung back into the saddle.
"We'd better get movin', or else those renegades'll be able to slip away from us under cover of dark," he muttered, as he pushed the paint into a trot.
The canyon into which Blanchard had tracked the men had a clear stream running down its center, a stream which emptied into the Red River, not far to the north. Blanchard knew he had to find his quarry before they reached the Red and swam their horses across to safety in the Indian Territory, out of reach of Texas law.
Blanchard's deep blue eyes scanned the canyon from side to side, his gaze missing nothing as he attempted to spot the six men he was after before they were able to put a bullet into his back.
When a flock of crows, squawking in protest, suddenly rose from a thicket halfway up the canyon wall Blanchard instantly rolled from his saddle, grabbing his Winchester as he dove from his horse and slid on his belly into a patch of scrub and mesquite. Rifle slugs tore through the brush over his head.
Blanchard came to one knee, aimed, and fired just below a puff of powdersmoke. He heard a scream of pain and saw a man half-rise from his hiding place, then tumble down to the canyon floor.
Blanchard aimed and fired again, then was slammed back against the rock wall behind him as a bullet plowed high into his chest. While the Ranger hung there, paralyzed with pain, another slug tore into his belly. As Blanchard clawed at his bullet-torn gut and began to jacknife, yet another slug took him in the chest, knocking him back against the rocks a second time. Blanchard slid halfway to the dirt, then toppled onto his side.2
Jack Blanchard's eyes half-opened, slowly, his vision blurred as he stared up at a rough, unfamiliar surface. As he became more aware of his surroundings, he sniffed slightly at the familiar scent of woodsmoke, which was mixed with several other odors he could not identify. He sensed, rather than felt, a heavy pressure across his chest and belly, and a dull ache, far different from the sharp, paralyzing pain he had endured when those bullets had torn into him. When his vision cleared somewhat, he realized he was gazing up at the cracked rock roof of a cavern.
Blanchard moaned as he stirred slightly. Instantly, a man's face appeared above the gravely wounded Ranger... the sharp-featured visage of a young Comanche warrior.
"You are awake," the Comanche noted in passable English. "That is good."
"Who... who are you?" Blanchard stammered. "And where am I?"
"I am Blue Hawk," the brave replied, "and you are in a cave, not far from where I found you where you had fallen."
The Comanche pulled back the blanket covering Blanchard, revealing the Ranger's upper torso. An evil-looking mixture of herbs and roots covered Blanchard's chest, another was plastered across his belly.
"I have to change these poultices," Blue Hawk explained, "This will hurt."
Blanchard grimaced and yelped as Blue Hawk pulled the dressings from his torso, the dried poultices pulling away bits of flesh and dried blood.
"Your wounds are healing well," the Comanche noted.
"How... dunno how... I was gut-shot," Blanchard protested. "Man can't survive takin' a slug in his belly, I've always been told."
"That is true in most cases," Blue Hawk agreed, "but a belly wound can be survived... especially with Comanche medicines. White men aren't as wise as they think they are when it comes to doctoring."
"Stay quiet. You still need your rest," Blue Hawk ordered. He pulled a fresh batch of the herbs and roots from a pot simmering on the fire and pressed the still-steaming poultices into the bullet holes in Blanchard's chest and belly.
"Now you'll drink this," Blue Hawk ordered, as he filled a pottery mug with a foul-smelling brew.
"That smells awful," Blanchard protested as the Comanche held the mug to his lips.
"It tastes even worse," Blue Hawk assured him, "But it will help you to rest some more, and also regain your strength.
"All right," Blanchard conceded, as he took a long swallow of the brew. Almost immediately, his eyelids grew heavy, and his head fell back.
"That's right, Ranger," Blue Hawk whispered. "Sleep is what you need."
When Blanchard next awoke, the pain was almost completely gone and while he still felt tired, he also felt much stronger. The poultices had been removed from his chest and belly, his wounds now merely covered by some light bandages.
Blue Hawk immediately sensed the Ranger had awakened.
"How do you feel?" he asked as he placed a hand to Blanchard's forehead. "Your fever is gone."
"Much better," Blanchard admitted. "I'm kinda hungry, though."
"I told you those medicines I gave you would help you recover, Ranger," Blue Hawk answered. "I'll have some stew dished out for you in a minute."
"How'd you know I'm a Texas Ranger?" Blanchard demanded.
"I found your badge in your shirt pocket when I removed the shirt to treat your wounds," Blue Hawk explained. "But while you know my name, I don't know yours," he added.
Still covered by a blanket from the waist down, Blanchard shifted to a half-seated position, leaning his back against the cavern wall, his legs stretched out in front of him.
"It's Jack. Jack Blanchard."
"Well, eat this, Jack Blanchard," the Comanche ordered, as he handed the Ranger a tin plate full of steaming venison stew, along with a mugful of an herbal brew.
As Blanchard eagerly devoured his first meal since being shot, he gazed curiously at the Indian.
"How long have I been here?" he finally asked.
"Sixteen days," Blue Hawk answered.
"And you stuck with me all that time?"
"I did," Blue Hawk confirmed.
"That just doesn't figure," Blanchard protested as he swallowed another mouthful of stew. "Why didn't you just let me die, or finish what those renegades started and kill me? You could've finished me off real easy."
Blanchard was well aware of the animosity between the Texas Rangers and most Indians. He himself had killed his own share of Comanches and Kiowas during his Ranger career. And he had seen many of his Ranger comrades succumb to Comanche arrows or bullets.
"There is only one reason," Blue Hawk explained. "I left the Territory reservation to find the white men who attacked my village and killed my wife, son, and two daughters. I followed their trail into Texas."
"What's that got to do with not killin' me?" Blanchard persisted as Blue Hawk paused.
"I was getting closer to those men. I could feel it," the Comanche continued. "Then just before the sun set sixteen days ago, I heard the sound of gunfire in this very canyon. Before I reached the scene of the battle, the firing had faded away, and there were no men left in the canyon, except two, one who was already dead, and one badly wounded who carried a Ranger star in his shirt pocket. The dead man I knew was one of the men who had attacked my village. Since it was clear you had killed him before you were wounded, I knew that the Great Spirit wanted me to care for you, until you recovered or were taken by Him. And that if you survived, you and I were fated to hunt down those men together."
"Well I've got to say I'm grateful. Surprised, but grateful," Blanchard admitted. "But what'd this hombre I downed look like?"
"Dark of hair and eyes, both so brown as to appear black," Blue Hawk answered. "Tall and heavy, with a scar under his left eye. Your bullet took him just under his heart."
"Blue Hawk, did you recover my horse and saddle?" Blanchard excitedly asked.
"I did," Blue Hawk replied, "Your horse is staked outside, along with my pony, and your saddle is cached in the back of this cave."
"There's a leather-bound book in my saddlebags. Would you get it for me?" Blanchard requested. "I know who that man was, but I want to make sure of it."
"I will do that," Blue Hawk agreed. He disappeared to the rear of the cavern, just beyond the fire's light, and returned shortly with the book in his hand."Here you are, Ranger." Blue Hawk handed Blanchard the book, which had two leather covers loosely held together by a length of string.
"Please. Since it appears we'll be ridin' together, call me Jack," Blanchard replied as he took the book and flipped it open.
Blanchard quickly thumbed through the book, which was his copy of the Ranger's Fugitive List, otherwise known as the Ranger's Bible. It contained the descriptions of every known wanted man in the state of Texas. Blanchard stopped about a third of the way through the book.
"Sure enough, that was Mack Duquesta," he exclaimed. "He was one of the Horton outfit. That means there are five of 'em left."
"I do not know their names," Blue Hawk quietly answered, "But I do know that the spirits of my wife and children cry out for justice, and will not rest until it is obtained. And my own soul cries out for revenge on the men who murdered my family."
"I can tell you their names," Blanchard stated. "Holt and Bob Horton, the two cousins who lead that bunch. Then there's Dave Smith, Ryne Durant, and Sledge Bascomb. And there's not a decent bone in any of 'em."
"We will be on their trail again soon enough. And they will not slip away again," Blue Hawk fiercely declared.
"How soon can we get ridin'?" Blanchard asked.
In response, Blue Hawk took the now-empty plate from Blanchard and set it aside. He hunkered alongside the Ranger and removed the bandages from Blanchard's chest and belly.
"Your wounds are healing very quickly," the Comanche noted. Indeed, the bullet holes were now merely puckered scars, still livid but beginning to fade. "You still need some time to recover your strength. I would say within two days."
"That's too long," Blanchard protested. "Those renegades already have a better'n two week jump on us."
"That is true. But I have been studying their habits and following their trail for nearly two months now," Blue Hawk answered. "I will know where to find them."
"Guess I don't have much choice," Blanchard shrugged. "And I reckon a couple of days more won't make much difference."
"That's right," Blue Hawk agreed. "Now you should get more rest."
"I don't need rest as much as I need coffee," Blanchard protested, adding as he ran a hand over his whisker-stubbled jaw, "And a bath and shave."
"I can get the razor and soap from your saddlebags, and there is a pond right outside this cavern where you can bathe," Blue Hawk explained.
"I sure appreciate that," Blanchard answered, tossing aside his blankets and coming to his feet. He swayed only slightly as he stood up, then steadied himself.
Once Blue Hawk handed him the razor and bar of yellow soap, Blanchard headed outside. T, his paint gelding, nickered a greeting as he saw his rider standing in the doorway of the cave.
"Sure is good to see you again too, ol' pard," Blanchard called to the horse.
"Ranger, I mean Jack," Blue Hawk spoke from where he stood alongside Blanchard.
"Yeah, Blue Hawk?"
"That is a fine pony you ride. I must admit had our trails crossed under different circumstances, I would have killed you for your horse. You would have died with my arrow in your belly, for killing a white man to steal a horse as fine as yours would bring great honor to any Comanche warrior."
Blue Hawk chuckled softly as he glanced at Blanchard's unruly thatch of thick blonde hair.
"And taking a yellow scalp such as yours would bring even more honor, as well as being powerful medicine."
"Well, I might have had something to say about that," Blanchard disagreed with a laugh of his own, "But I'm sure glad things didn't happen that way. We'll ride as partners until we catch up to the Hortons. Then once that job is done we can go our separate ways."
"That is the Great Spirit's will," Blue Hawk agreed.
"Seems so," Blanchard concurred. "Meanwhile, I'd better take that bath."
"And I will have coffee ready by the time you are done," Blue Hawk announced.
"You know how to brew coffee?" Blanchard asked in surprise."I learned many of your white man's ways living on the reservation, including how to speak your language," the Comanche stated. "I found your Arbuckle's in your saddlebag, so it will be waiting for you. I will have a cup myself."
True to Blue Hawk's word, at sunup two days later the unlikely pair, a Texas Ranger and a Comanche warrior, rode away from the hidden cavern.
For nearly two weeks they followed the trail of the Horton gang, swimming their horses across the Red River numerous times as they followed the renegades from Texas into Indian Territory and back. It was late afternoon on the twelfth day after leaving the cave when they pulled their horses to a halt on a low ridge.
"We're gettin' close to those hombres. I can feel it in my gut," Blanchard stated as he pushed back his Stetson to scratch his forehead. "We're gonna catch up with 'em by tomorrow at the latest. I'd bet my hat on it."
"We are even closer than you think, Jack," Blue Hawk answered. "Do you see the mouth of that arroyo in the distance... say about nine miles off?"
"I do indeed," Blanchard replied. "You sayin' that's one of Horton's hidin' places?"
"It surely is," Blue Hawk confirmed. "And my 'gut', as you put it, tells me they are in there."
Blue Hawk slid from the back of his tough pinto war pony. He dug in his saddle pouch, then pulled off his deerskin shirt and leggings, stripping to only his breech clout.
"What're you doin'?" Blanchard asked, as he also swung from his saddle.
"Getting ready for battle," Blue Hawk replied. The Comanche brave broke into a chant as he began to smear crimson and black war paint on his face and chest.
When Blanchard dug into his own saddlebags, then peeled off his own shirt, Blue Hawk broke off his chant and stared at the Ranger in puzzlement. Blanchard had taken off his good, spare shirt and was shrugging into the shirt he had been wearing when he was shot... the shirt that was now bullet-torn and bloodstained.
"Now it is my turn to ask. What are you doing, Jack?" Blue Hawk queried.
"Simple," Blanchard explained, as he pinned his badge to the shirt. "When we ride up on the Hortons and their men, I want those renegades to think they're seein' a ghost... my ghost, the ghost of the man they thought they'd killed back in that canyon."
Three hours later, Blanchard and Blue Hawk were bellied down under the cover of thick scrub as they studied the Horton gang's well-concealed hideout in the arroyo.
"Looks like there's still only the five of 'em," Blanchard muttered. "There's six horses in the corral, one for each of those hombres plus Duquesta's cayuse."
"It appears they are all in the cabin," Blue Hawk added, "and there seems to be no back way out." The only building in the arroyo was a ramshackle structure built right against the draw's steep wall. The arroyo itself was a box, ending in steep bluffs not many yards beyond the shack.
"You're right about that," Blanchard agreed. "But there's also no cover for at least a hundred yards around that cabin. We'd be sittin' ducks if we tried to rush that shack."
"That is not a large problem," Blue Hawk disagreed, as he set aside the Winchester he carried, the rifle that he'd taken from alongside Mack Duquesta's body when he'd found the dead outlaw and the wounded Blanchard. He pulled his bow from over his shoulder and an arrow from its quiver, twisting some oily creosote branches around the arrowhead.
"You want I should act like a primitive savage and strike some rock on flint until I get a spark, or do you have a match, Jack?" Blue Hawk asked with a grin.
"I've got a match right here," Blanchard replied as he dug in his shirt pocket and came up with a lucifer. He struck the match on his belt and handed it to the Comanche.
As Blue Hawk lit the arrow and notched it onto his bow, one of the outlaws stepped from the cabin's door and stood rolling a quirly.
"Blast it!" Blanchard muttered. "That's Sledge Bascomb. Blue Hawk, he'll see you before you can hit that cabin."
"Don't worry," Blue Hawk calmly replied, as he pulled back the string of the bow and released the arrow.
Bascomb gave a scream of shock and pain as the flaming arrow ripped into his stomach, driving him back against the cabin wall. He slumped to the ground, his shirt still smoldering where the blazing missile had pierced through it to bury itself in the outlaw's middle.
Instantly, yells and curses of surprise came from inside the shack, the door flinging open.
"Keep them inside that shack while I get another arrow ready," Blue Hawk ordered Blanchard.
The Ranger swept the front of the cabin with rifle fire, one of his bullets tearing into Dave Smith's gut as the outlaw stood framed in the doorway. Smith clutched his belly and jacknifed across the sill, writhing and moaning in pain. Unseen hands dragged the gut-shot renegade inside the shack and slammed the door shut.
While Blanchard tossed aside his now-empty rifle and grabbed Blue Hawk's Winchester to keep the outlaws pinned down, Blue Hawk swiftly made and shot three more fire arrows into the cabin's front wall. The tinder-dry logs quickly caught, and aided by a stiff breeze blowing up-canyon, the flames spread rapidly, the entire front wall of the shack soon a mass of flames.
"That should smoke 'em out of there real quick," Blanchard noted in satisfaction.
He handed Blue Hawk's rifle back to the Comanche and picked up his own Winchester.
"You men in there!" Blanchard shouted as he and Blue Hawk reloaded their weapons. "This is the Texas Rangers. Come out with your hands up, or else you'll roast in there. Come out shootin', and we'll cut you down before you can run fifty feet."
The only response was a volley of lead from the shack's two windows, bullets slicing through the brush sheltering the lawman and Indian.
"No point in wastin' our bullets until that fire drives 'em out of there," Blanchard said as he dropped to his belly and sighted on the cabin door. Alongside him, Blue Hawk did the same.
As the flames climbed the cabin's wall and began licking at the roof, the heat and smoke inside soon became too much for the outlaws to bear. Their curses changed to strangled coughs and their firing trailed off.
"They will be coming out at any moment," Blue Hawk noted.
Three minutes later, the cabin door was ripped open and three men emerged, stumbling as they attempted to run from the burning building, still firing their Winchesters in a desperate attempt to down the Ranger and Comanche.
Blue Hawk took careful aim and fired. His bullet tore into the center of Bob Horton's chest, slamming the outlaw back against the burning cabin. Horton screamed in terror as his clothes caught fire, then the dying renegade pitched to his face, attempted to drag himself a few feet, and finally shuddered to stillness.
Blanchard levered and fired his rifle three times, all three of the slugs ripping through Ryne Durant's belly. Durant was stopped in his tracks as the bullets tore through his middle. He doubled to one knee before toppling onto his side, hands clamped to his gut.
As Holt Horton, still firing, charged at the Ranger and Comanche, Blanchard and Blue Hawk fired as one, Blanchard's bullet hitting Horton in the face, Blue Hawk's in the chest and stopping in a lung. Horton was smashed onto his back, dead.
"I guess that takes care of all of 'em," Blanchard muttered as he came to his feet. "Smith sure ain't still alive inside that shack." Virtually the entire cabin was now engulfed in flames.
Cautiously, Blanchard and Blue Hawk approached the shack. Neither speaking, they removed the dead men's gunbelts and holsters, then dragged the bodies to the cabin and tossed them inside. That blazing shack was now the Horton gang's funeral pyre.
Silently, Blanchard and Blue Hawk watched the cabin as it burned until it was merely a pile of smoldering timbers, sparks and smoke curling into the dusk.
"My family has been avenged," Blue Hawk whispered.
4Blanchard and Blue Hawk spent that night in a shallow draw about two miles from the arroyo where the Horton gang had met their fate. They had driven the outlaws' horses before them and picketed them on a good-sized patch of grass. Now, early the next morning, they were eating breakfast before preparing to move on.
"I'd best write up my report for Austin before we head on out, Blue Hawk," Blanchard explained as he dug a sheet of paper and the stub of a pencil out of his saddlebags. "And I'd better write a receipt sayin' those horses are rightfully yours."
The Ranger and Comanche had agreed Blue Hawk would receive possession of the outlaws' horses as some compensation for the loss of his family and a token of appreciation for his assistance in nursing Blanchard back to health and helping him track down the renegades. The outlaws' guns would be taken back to Austin by the Ranger.
Blanchard hesitated before adding, "In fact, I'd best ride along with you until you get back across the Red and into the Territory. Anyone who sees a lone Comanche drivin' six shod horses on this side of the river is liable to shoot first without botherin' to find out about the ownership of those broncs until it's too late."
"You are right," Blue Hawk agreed, "So we will ride together for one more day. Tomorrow I will cross back to the reservation."
While Blanchard wrote a brief report and the receipt, Blue Hawk made a scant breakfast of jerky and cornmeal. Once they had eaten and cleaned up their campsite, Blanchard handed the receipt to Blue Hawk.
"Don't let anythin' happen to this, at least until you get back home," Blanchard warned.
"I will make sure of that," Blue Hawk agreed as he tucked the receipt into a pocket of his
A few moments later, the pair pointed their horses northeastward, back toward the Red River twenty miles away.
The Ranger and Comanche rode steadily all day, the six horses they were herding slowing their pace. Sundown found them a few miles short of the river. The reined in alongside a clear creek, which watered a grassy glade.
"This is as likely a place as any to spend the night," Blanchard observed. "Plenty of grass and water for the horses."
"You are right, since we can't make the river tonight anyway," Blue Hawk agreed. "We can get a good night's rest and finish our journey in the morning."
Blanchard swung out of his saddle, then yawned and stretched. He loosened the cinches and pulled the saddle from his horse's back.
"Reckon that feels a mite better, eh T, boy?" he asked the paint as he scratched the horse's ears.
"I reckon it's time I got rid of this shirt, too," the Ranger chuckled. He was still wearing his bullet-torn, blood-stained shirt.
"I agree," Blue Hawk smiled as he climbed from his pony's back. "Frankly, Jack, you smell."
Blanchard pulled his badge from the shirt, peeled off the ruined garment, and tossed it in the creek, watching until it floated out of sight. As he turned back from the stream, he whirled, his hand dropping for his Colt, too late. An arrow hissed across the clearing and thudded into the middle of the Ranger's belly, burying itself deeply in his gut. Blanchard grasped futilely at the arrow's shaft as he staggered back against his horse's side, doubled over, then spun to the ground, landing heavily on his back.
As the Ranger fell, a war-whooping Comanche burst from a clump of redberry juniper, his knife in his hand as he prepared to thrust the blade into Blanchard's heart. Blue Hawk raced to Blanchard's side and grabbed his fellow warrior's wrist, stopping the fatal blow.
"Dark Bear, no!" In his native tongue, Blue Hawk screamed in grief and anger.
"Blue Hawk, why did you stop me?" Dark Bear asked in puzzlement. "I have freed you from your captor and killed our enemy. Now I will take his scalp."
"This man is not my enemy, but my friend," Blue Hawk replied, "He helped me kill the men who murdered my family. Without his help, they would not have been avenged."
"But he is a white man, and a Texas Ranger," Dark Bear protested. He had seen Blanchard pull the badge from his shirt before tossing it in the creek.
"He is also a brother," Blue Hawk retorted, as he knelt alongside Blanchard. "And I will protect him as best I can."
"Jack, I am sorry," Blue Hawk murmured. "Dark Bear is my cousin, and he did not realize what he was doing."
"It's all right, Blue Hawk," Blanchard half-whispered. "I don't think any of your Comanche medicine will help me this time, though."
The Ranger's hands were still wrapped around the arrow's shaft. Surprisingly little blood was running from the wound to trickle over the flesh of Blanchard's belly. However, inside he was bleeding heavily.
"I am afraid you are right, my friend," Blue Hawk sorrowfully answered. "But I will stay with you until your soul flies to the Great Spirit. And may there be a curse on Dark Bear until he makes amends for what he has done."
"Does Dark Bear understand English?" Blanchard asked.
"Very little," Blue Hawk answered.
"Then tell him this for me. I understand why he put this arrow in me. Had things been reversed, and I saw a Comanche and a white man together, I might have done the same as he did, and put a bullet in the warrior to save the white man's life. Dark Bear did what he thought was right. I hold no malice toward him. And I don't want a curse on him."
Blue Hawk repeated Blanchard's words to his cousin in Comanche. When he was finished, Dark Bear responded, his first words calm, then his voice rising as he glared at Blanchard and gestured angrily. Dark Bear's eyes glittered as he fixed his gaze on the dying Ranger.
Blue Hawk answered Dark Bear in equally harsh tones, then turned away from his fellow Comanche.
"Dark Bear offers his thanks for your forgiveness, and as is your wish I will not curse his spirit. However, I will not do as he requests and allow him to to take your scalp!" Blue Hawk spat. "He also feels he has earned your horse and weapons."
Blanchard let out a deep sigh. Blood was now trickling from the corner of his mouth.
"Let Dark Bear take my scalp," Blanchard replied. "After all, he earned it. He shot me fair and square, thinking he was saving you. Just wish he'd got me in the chest rather'n the gut. I'd've died quicker and it wouldn't hurt so much. Your cousin has the right to take my scalp. But he'll have to wait until I'm dead. That won't be long now."
"But what of your horse and weapons?" Blue Hawk questioned.
"My horse is yours. You said yourself under different circumstances you would have killed me for him.I know you will treat him well," Blanchard answered. "And my rifle and Colt are also yours. Let Dark Bear take my Bowie knife as a trophy."
"That is more than fair, Jack," Blue Hawk agreed.
Blue Hawk repeated Blanchard's statement for Dark Bear. Dark Bear nodded his understanding to the Ranger.
"Blue Hawk, I must ask one more favor," Blanchard said.
"What is that?" Blue Hawk replied.
"Just make sure someone gets word to Ranger Headquarters what happened to me. Don't tell 'em how I died, though, or they'll come after Dark Bear. Just tell 'em I died of wounds suffered while trackin' down the Hortons and their bunch."
"I'll do that," Blue Hawk promised, "And I am grateful that you do not want revenge on Dark Bear."
Blanchard shuddered as a wave of agony wracked his body. Sweat was beading on his forehead and running down his chest and stomach, mixing with the blood around the arrow's shaft.
"I won't be hangin' on much longer, Blue Hawk," he told the Comanche. "We made a great team, though, didn't we?"
"We did indeed, Jack," Blue Hawk answered. "And may the eagle fly your spirit to the Great Spirit."
"Thanks, pardner," Blanchard whispered.
"I will not be able to bury you as is the white man's custom," Blue Hawk continued. "However, I will give your remains a Comanche death ceremony."
"I'd be grateful for that," Blanchard weakly answered. "Reckon...it's time to see... what's on the... other side of... the Great Divide."
Blanchard's body was wrenched in pain, the Ranger rolling onto his side in a final death spasm. He let out a long groan, then his body went slack.
"You were as brave and honorable as any Comanche warrior, Texas Ranger Jack Blanchard," Blue Hawk sorrowfully whispered.
True to Blanchard's word, Dark Bear was allowed to take his scalp, but out of respect for the dead Ranger the Comanche sliced it carefully and cleanly from the skull. Once that was done, Dark Bear took Blanchard's Bowie and departed, leaving the grieving Blue Hawk alone with his dead companion.
Blue Hawk gathered dried branches and stacked them to prepare for his Ranger compadre's final journey. Once he had sufficient fuel, he lifted Blanchard's body gently from the ground and laid it reverently on the pyre. He picked up Blanchard's silver star on silver circle badge from where it had fallen from the Ranger's hand and placed it on Blanchard's breast.
The preparations completed, Blue Hawk lit a length of dried mesquite and touched it to several spots at the base of the pyre. As the flames quickly rose, he broke into the Comanche death chant, the mournful dirge seeming to mix with the sparks rising into the dusk sky. When the flames reached Blanchard's body, a single tear rolled down Blue Hawk's left cheek.