Western Short Story
The young white woman, three-years a captive before the chief took her at 17 as his woman, had given birth to a male child she called Tiko San, and now she stood at the very edge of a Mesa Verdi cliff in rugged Colorado, the baby raised over her head as if ready to jump, the ultimate statement of her life and the only way to get the attention of the baby’s father, a Sikasika Blackfoot Indian named Snake Bite, chief of his tribe, mean as all Hell from the start of things.
Her name, forbidden to be said again, was Eileen Bradock, and once said, was never spoken or heard again, supposedly.
Tiko San, in her mind, meant youthful family connections: Timothy Ivo Kieran O’Brian, family, for the Tiko part, and the San, for her half-brother, Steven Aiden Nolan, obviously still seeking her in the wild west of America, because he was relentless in searches until death was pronounced with deadly proof, nothing less than a body.
The Sikasika brave, who brought the alarm to Snake Bite, said, excitedly, “She stands at the mountain edge, your child above her head. The wind could blow them over the edge in any rush of air. They’d be dead before they hit bottom, that long way down.” He actually shivered in front of Snake Bite, a most fearsome leader, bent to rage before good sense.
The young brave continued; “I would have gone up there but feared I’d make her leap off with the child.”
Snake Bite, unnerved, said to the brave, “I will go, get the child and throw her off the cliff, for her own good, better than being beat continually by my hand for this threat.”
The young mother saw him coming, climbing the rugged rock face of the cliff, and stayed at the edge, a mere foot away in front of her, the precipitous fall full of defiance holding forth in her mind. She did not shiver, did not waver, did not loosen her hand on her son, his son, even as she caught a glimpse of him climbing toward her, the climb a most torturous one.
She stood there, showing no fear of the potential fall to her death or her child’s death, at length being away from the hands of the meanest man she had ever known. There was more than the wild swing of his open his palm hard and harsh as a whip, a blow to the side of her head, a punch to the stomach, all scoring her and saying, precisely as meant, “I am king of this mountain, of this world, of these beneath me. My word is the law of the land.”
And child or no child, he would soon push her over the edge, her and Tiko San. He could not conceive of any member of his tribe getting in the way of his aims, death to her who stood against him. His hate, as we suddenly find out, was working on a young brave of the tribe, long in love with the captured white woman and her half white child, long in the shared memory of her treatment at the hands of the cruel chief, an upstanding young brave named Arrowhead.
Once, beside a lake, she had whispered her name to him: “I am Eileen Bradock.” It was never spoken or heard again; Eileen Bradock, but Arrowhead carried the soft echo of it in is head, along with the blows he had seen end up on her body.
He forgot neither, as he grew into his own becoming, strong, alert, handsome, his memories making him his true self; upright, steadfast, courageous, alert, aware of cruelties that abounded in his tribe, that swung from the top, came down like thunder on all women , on all children, on any weakened souls and especially on any who dared dance the fiddle or the drum talk about the chief. The imbalance of cruelty hit him most, even as a love for the white woman grew in him, as her treatment became measured above all others. Her name, said that one time beside the lake, echoed its frequencies with a constant touch, a reportable touch, a beseeching touch for rescue by a savior who loved her above all things, brought incessant repetitions in his mind; Eileen Bradock! Eileen Bradock! Eileen Bradock!
It would not remain still; it kept up its chatter, its warning, its daring,
Arrowhead rose to what he was becoming: a Sikasika Sioux chief in his own right, who grasped his trusty bow, filled his quiver, set out for the mountain, for Eileen Bradock, for Tiko San, for Snake Bite climbing the mountain well ahead of him, for this was the day Arrowhead heard of the impasse on the nearby cliff-edge, eventually saw the scramble of Snake Bite starting up the mountain, knew what was he was destined to do, and saw the love of his life atop the cliff-edge, her child above her head, her arms straight up, her stance the same as it had been for the hours of daylight, like a mark against the very skies,
Tiko San was still above her head, she was still at the edge of the cliff. Death for both was certain, even before Snake Bite would get there to enact his own law, his own punishment, bring absolute doom to the love of his life as he scrambled from rock to rock, scaled sheer faces of the cliff, hung in perilous space himself in order to attain his next solid grasp onto the face of the mountain.
Madness drives such men, and love. There are no other answers. Even rock walls are negotiable I such extremes of the heart and the soul, in the hands, arms, fingertips of the staunch or the driven.
How had Eileen Bradock managed that? What spirit, or what energy, had entered her, enabled her to make that climb, to dare that climb, to envision that climb, to carry a loved child that high into the sky?
It was sure that she had spotted Snake Bite on his way up, had not sent en emissary to do his bidding, to administer his hate and death pronouncements onto the flesh, to show who was king in this drama? It was seen that she had not budged an inch; she was inimitably strong and persevering; little would move her; she would not allow her child or herself to be scored anew by the same old terror.
And then, by all the graces she could remember, by her parents calling her home from the fields for mealtimes, she saw another shadow on the mountainside making its own headway up the cliff face; Arrowhead, her one solace besides her so, was ascending too, though somewhat behind Snake Bite who was surely stronger than him. He was closer to her. He was mere scaling feet away from her and Tiko San, She gathered herself, her spirit her love, her energy, into the frame of his body, felt her soul swell of its own accord, felt the air soon to rush about her ears, when Arrowhead unleashed his spectacular shot up the mountainside, against all odds, catch Snake Bite working his fingers closer to the top, spin suddenly in the air, wondering what had hit him, who had hit him with a single arrow shot, who had trespassed on his kingdom.
Snake Bite did not see Arrowhead below him, did not see him on the way down as air filled his ears, filled his lungs, as his last look toward Eileen Bradock saw her draw her child close to her breasts, step back from the very edge of Death itself.