Janet stood with her back against the outer wall of the schoolhouse as the angry man approached her with his gun leveled at her chest.
“Now what was ya saying about me?” he asked her with a snarl on his dirty face.
“I said you were a lazy, good-for-nothing, crazy...”
“That’s enough!” the man interrupted. He pulled Janet by her hair and led her to the doorway of the schoolhouse. Cory was also being led inside by the other guard and was looking very sorry he had ever agreed to the twins’ plan.
“What’s this?” the posse leader asked as they came into the main room. The posse members were at the back of the room, looking over a quickly drawn map of the fort and surrounding area. The members of the town were all tightly packed into the front of the room, sitting on the chairs and tables used by the school.
The Pawnees were lined up along the wall with a couple of guards staring at them with their guns ready and aimed to kill. It was an incredibly tense room, with no one daring to make a sound or complaint. The young children were crying and the babies fussing, but the adults stood stone faced and still.
“We found these two running around outside,” one of the guards explained.
“And this one has a bad mouth,” the other guard said, pushing Janet towards Gressing.
Janet looked for her parents in the group and tried to smile. Her mother looked confused, and seemed worried as to the whereabouts of her other child. Janet’s father just looked straight ahead at Gressing, not showing any emotion.
“Have them join the others, and search the area again,” said Gressing angrily. “We can’t let children run around and get in our way.”
With that, the gate guards left again and went back to their post. Janet and Cory quickly went to their respective parents, and Gressing turned to warn the entire group.
“No one had better be trying anything tricky, or people will get hurt,” he growled, focusing primarily on Janet and Cory.
“You have no right to speak to us like that,” Bishop Stewart calmly protested. “We have done nothing wrong and are trying to cooperate with you. We are not hiding any fugitives, and we are not breaking the law.”
“You are savage lovers,” Grissing responded, now yelling. His face was red with frustration as he stormed back and forth from one side of the room to the other.
“I was told to bring this killer back to camp, and I aim to do just that. Why on earth you would want to protect this Indian is beyond me. And why you let dozens of them live near you makes no sense at all either!”
“They haven’t done anything wrong either,” the Bishop answered, nodding toward the line of Pawnees, still facing the guns of the posse.
“All of us are children of God–me, you, everyone in your posse, and Indians, too. We are all equal in His eyes.”
Grissing spat on the ground at the idea that an Indian was equal to him and turned his back on the Bishop. A couple of Pawnee women, however, gave the Bishop a quick smile in appreciation for his willingness to stand up for them.
They were used to this kind of unfair treatment from so many but had always found a friend in the people of the fort. Both sides had made good friends and had worked together for several years now. The Bishop silently prayed that the man the posse was searching for would be found soon, before anyone was hurt.
Jonas was almost out of energy and breath when he finally saw a dark shape in the distance that looked like a group of horses. He stopped to catch his second wind and looked back at Thunder Ridge. He had been running as fast as he could for several long minutes now and had actually made good progress. All around him stood the high sagebrush and gnarled trees their wagon had scraped by on their way to the fort. The wagon trail he was running along was full of rocks and holes, and Jonas was worried about stumbling and hurting his legs or ankles. But as he ran, he prayed for protection, and even though the trail was full of dangers, he continued to run as fast as he could.
As he ran, Jonas grew closer to the horses, and soon he could make out the figure of a man sitting near a campfire. He started to yell to get the man’s attention.
“Help! Help!” he cried, breathing hard and starting to stumble a little now. He saw the man stand and start running toward him. Soon, he could see that it was definitely the Judge. He had his long gun in hand and looked with concern at the dusty young boy who soon stood by his side gasping for air.
“What’s going on boy? Is there trouble?” he asked, bending down to look into Jonas’ eyes.
“A whole posse of men,” Jonas said, gasping in between words, “came into the fort, and they’re holding everyone in the school with guns.”
The Judge put his hand on Jonas’ shoulder and led him back to the camp. “Now just breathe easy and calm down a bit boy. I need you to tell me all the details here. Just take your time,” he said.
Jonas began to breathe slower as they walked. As they got closer to the camp, he noticed another man looking at them from behind one of the horses. It was Dan Whithers, the Pawnee he and Janet had seen with the Judge at the fort. He was standing with his gun ready, and looked intently at Jonas as he and the Judge sat down on a rock by an extinguished campfire.
“The boy says the posse has taken the fort,” the Judge informed Dan.
“The village?” Dan asked Jonas, referring to the Pawnees. His family was one of the six that lived there.
“They brought all of them up into the fort and then rounded up all the families in the fort and forced them into the school. They are looking for some Indian who escaped from them. He’s some murdering rebel or something who’s been causing problems for the military, and they think we know where he is,” Jonas blurted out, anxious for the Judge to come up with something to help.
The Judge and Dan Whithers looked at each other long and hard before anyone spoke.
“Can’t we come up with something? The posse said they’ll kill all the Pawnees and then start with the fort families unless we hand him over, but we don’t know where he is!” Jonas exclaimed. He was frustrated that no one was saying anything.
“They said they would start killing people unless this runaway shows up?” The question came from a pile of blankets over by the horses. Jonas jumped at the sound and looked around quickly to see where it was coming form. Dan and Judge only sighed.
“What do you think we should do?” Dan turned towards the blankets. Then a face emerged from the pile, and Jonas watched in amazement as a young Pawnee warrior stood up and walked towards him.
“Who is that?” he asked the Judge. He was pretty sure he knew, but he wanted to hear the explanation anyway.
“This is David Star Eagle, boy. He is the one everyone is looking for,” the Judge admitted.
“And he isn’t a murderer,” Dan added, looking with pride at this man who now sat next to him. “He is a hero.”
“Hero? Because of him, my family might get hurt,” Jonas said. “Besides, the posse said he had killed some people or something.”
“I led my people against the military to get the food, supplies, and water that had been promised to us,” David Star Eagle explained. “They wanted us to leave our land and go north into a place we did not know and leave everything we own behind. So we started the move, but even though we had been promised food and water and supplies for the journey, they refused to give them to us. Our women and children were hungry and needed blankets and water. We were slowly dying of starvation and exposure. The military leaders were keeping or selling the supplies sent for us. I led a group of our young men against the military to get the supplies we had been promised. We fought hard but were too weak and without weapons. We were soon all either dead or captured. Then they came and forced the rest of my people to leave their homes. I was captured but was able to escape,” concluded David, his face worn and exhausted.
Jonas had never heard this side of the story. He did not realize that there were reasons for the Pawnees’ attack on the military fort. No one had told him that they were just very hungry and upset at being forced away from their homes and not receiving the supplies as promised.
“What do you want us to do?” the Judge asked David.
“They’ll kill you if you go back,” Dan said quietly. He was obviously worried about his own family but torn by the idea of his friend being hurt as well.
David looked up at the sky for a moment. He seemed to be searching for an answer in the clouds. Suddenly, a calm, relaxed expression crossed his face. He bowed his head and closed his eyes and smiled.
“I will go to the fort with his young boy,” he gently said. “I was willing to give my life for my people before, and I am willing to do the same now.”
Jonas merely stared at the man. How could he be so calm when he had decided he was going to die? This was definitely not the “savage” his family and the posse seemed to fear and hate. He would have to explain to Janet how wrong she was.
“Do you want us to go with you?” the Judge asked David. Both he and Dan had accepted David’s decision with a nod and moistened eyes but neither would try to talk him out of it. They knew he was a man of honor–a man of courage.
“Walk with me to the base of Thunder Ridge,” David said. “From there, me and the boy will go alone.”
David then stood and took a long, deep breath. The Judge, Dan, and Jonas also stood, and the four of them slowly began to walk down the trail Jonas had so recently ran along.
“We could try to rescue you once the posse has left the fort,” Dan suggested to David.
“And the Pawnees and their friends will die because of it? No, my friend, let this be,” he said with a tired but firm voice.
They walked the rest of the way in silence with David taking the lead and walking with his head held high. Jonas had many questions but knew this was not the time to ask any of them. At the base of Thunder Ridge, the small group stopped, and David embraced both of his friends.
“My only request is that you find my family and tell them that I died with honor and for my people,” he said. The Judge and Dan both promised to do so.
“Come on, Jonas, let’s go get your family out of harm’s way,” he said, putting his hand on Jonas’ shoulder. Jonas looked briefly at the Judge, who nodded for him to go along with David. Then the two of them walked together up the small, steep hill that led to the fort.
“When we get within a few feet of the walls, I want you to stay behind and hide behind one of these large rocks up ahead. Don’t come out until you see the posse leave--all right? David whispered to him.
“Thank you, sir,” Jonas whispered back, looking up at David. “Thank you for what you are doing.”
David smiled down at him and then motioned for him to go on ahead and take cover among the bunch of rocks they were approaching on their right. Jonas made his way to the rocks and crouched down behind a large boulder. David waited for him to get settled, then he looked back over the expanse of land, desert, and mountains he had called home. After a moment, he turned and walked slowly toward the gate of the fort.