New World


by
Tisienne Blue



Part Four



February 13, 1778

Zephyr was fairly sure that the only member of the tribe who was surprised by the feather-shaped charm Cordaha had made with part of the antler his brother had offered her was Chance himself.

Even their Shaman had grinned, his wizened face wrinkling mightily when Chance had nearly toppled into the fire on receiving it.

Then again, Chance had been completely baffled by the fact that the girl had accepted the antler in the first place. Thrilled… but baffled.

Cordaha had been her usual teasing self, though… offering first a set of beads made from the slender tips of the branched bone… then a collection of six long, thin pegs for Chance to slip through the slits in his loin cloths.

Zephyr had watched, laughing silently as his younger brother flushed and stammered his thanks for the work of the girl’s hands, and it was good work.

There was more reason than her looks that Cordaha was so sought after, after all. Her mother had taught her well and Cordaha had a definite talent for women’s work. Her buckskins were always the softest and most desired in the tribe, and had been since her twelfth turning.

Chance’s near self-immolation had occurred moments later when the girl had thrust the mating charm at him with a challenging look, which he had to admit would have been the way to get Chance to accept it even if he hadn’t been entirely moonstruck by the young woman.

It was no surprise to Zephyr, therefore, that Chance and Cordaha now stood before Chief and Shaman to be joined by tribal law and by the Gods themselves.

He knew Chance still didn’t understand why the girl—woman, he corrected himself, smiling at the slight swell of her stomach—had chosen him, but Zephyr knew.

Chance was strong. Chance was smart. Chance was attractive, and Chance was going to be one of their best warriors very soon. Everyone knew that much.

But what only he, their parents and Cordaha seemed to realize was that… Chance was possessed with a spirit of wondrous tenderness. He had a heart that would never become cold or even slightly darkened. And when he loved, he did so completely and without reservation.

Cordaha trusted him. He would belong to her, just as she would to him, for all the days of their lives, and he would never put her aside or cause her to do the same to him.

That wasn’t something that could be said of any other brave.

The fact that Chance didn’t see it was irrelevant. Cordaha had seen it all her life, and… Zephyr would be surprised if she hadn’t settled on his brother as a child and simply kept it to herself until Chance was old enough to know his own heart.

The smile on Zephyr’s lips dimmed slightly, although his happiness for Chance and Cordaha hadn’t diminished at all.

He wanted what they had.

Love.

Fierce need.

Completion.

He wanted everything his father-of-body swore didn’t matter.

And perhaps Hank was right. It might be better to choose a mate based upon fortune or social standing, but…

Hank seemed to think that Zephyr—or Alexander, rather—would one day choose the White Man’s world and leave the tribe. That he’d abandon his family simply because his other family possessed a certain ‘standing’.

In fact, Hank seemed to believe that Zephyr would also marry in the White way, and do so with whomever Hank and his wife chose.

He knew Hank didn’t understand how Zephyr could be left cold by females. After all, such a thing was not only frowned upon by Hank’s people, but also by Hank’s God.

Zephyr wasn’t entirely sure of what the phrase ‘burn in Hell’ meant, but it didn’t sound like something he wanted to experience. Fortunately, his Gods weren’t quite so mean-spirited.

He blinked quickly, then laughed as Chance swung Cordaha up into his arms and around in circles until the girl complained that their ‘brave to be’ was getting upset, and he watched as his brother set the young woman down as though she were the finest and most fragile eggshell instead of the strong, courageous woman she was.


~*~*~*~*~


“I told you, didn’t I?” Zephyr asked a few hours later as he and Chance sat beside the bonfire watching the Partnering Dance.

Many of the couples currently displaying their talents for each other would soon drift off to display other, more private talents… and there would likely be a good number of children born in less than a year, as well.

Then again, that was the purpose of the dance to begin with.

“You did,” Chance said grudgingly, “And I guess that means I owe you.” He frowned slightly, then shook his head and smiled. “If I ask you how long you knew, I won’t like the answer, will I?”

Zephyr laughed softly, his eyes turning to Cordaha on the other side of the bonfire, admiring her wide smile as she accepted the other womens’ gifts for the child-to-be. “Probably not,” he admitted, “So why don’t you not ask. That way we won’t have to fight on your Bonding Night. I’m just so… so happy for you, Chance. Really.” He swallowed hard against the envy that filled him yet again.

Brown eyes closed for a moment and Chance held back his sigh as he rested one hand on his brother’s shoulder.

“You will find him, Zephyr,” he said softly, somehow knowing it was true. “I can’t say when or where, but… you will find him. And he will be the luckiest man who ever existed because when you love, you do it fully.”

Chance smiled at his brother’s stunned expression. “What? You thought I didn’t notice?” He shook his head. “Any man would be lucky to have even a portion of the love you bore for Jesseh. I… I never understood until Cordaha carved that feather for me, though.”

A small frown creased Zephyr’s forehead as Chance continued.

“He was to you what she is to me, but Zephyr… Father and the Shaman wouldn’t have Bonded you. I don’t know why, but I’m sure of it.” Chance sighed and kissed his brother’s cheek. “I think the Gods have a true mate for you, Zeph… and I know this is the last thing you ever expected to hear me say, considering Cordaha and I went from nothing to Bonded in just over two moons, but… you need to be patient.”

Zephyr sighed as well, then shrugged. “It’s been a long time, Chance. And I still think about him. If I’d been there…”

You’d be dead too! Nothing would have changed!” Chance’s hand slid from the closer shoulder to the farther and he held his brother tight in a one-armed hug. “Well, some things would have. Our parents would be filled with sorrow now… we would possibly be starving because you wouldn’t have been here to make those… the wood things that change where the water goes…”

“Shunts,” Zephyr offered unthinkingly.

“Yes. Those.” Chance agreed. “And… I never would have had the nerve to offer Cordaha that antler. I only did it because you dared me to.”

“And you would have made me pay if she’d refused it,” Zephyr answered, deliberately stepping away from his darker thoughts.

Chance laughed loudly, then nodded. “I would have. Of course, I have a feeling you wouldn’t have told me to do it if you hadn’t known how it would turn out… and now we’re back to you not telling me how long you knew she… thought of me. Before.”

Well, his brother was right. They’d gone full-circle in the last little while. “Fine,” Zephyr said, feeling much lighter than he had in days, “and speaking of your woman, you might want to go admire the offerings for our father’s grandson… or granddaughter. Otherwise you may be spending your Bonding Night on the other side of the teepee.”

He laughed loudly himself as his brother quickly rose and dashed off.

Maybe Chance was right.

He hoped so, anyway.

Hoped the Gods had chosen someone for him, someone who could and would love him the way he so dearly wanted to love and be loved.

And if it took some time to find that man… well, Zephyr was nothing if not patient.

Of course, he was also frustrated.

Jesseh had been gone for… too long. And Zephyr hadn’t even kissed another male other than his brother and Father since, and that was… definitely not the same.

It was almost enough to make him wish he could have casual relationships, but…

“I want to be in love again,” he whispered, not realizing—even as he spoke—that he was hoping for even more.





Part Five



09 April, 1779

There was clearly more involved with my journey to Father’s than I had thought. That is why it has taken so long for said journey to begin.

Walter—for he pointed out quite correctly a month ago that I have been living in his home for quite a while and spend more time with him than his own son deigns to, so formal manners are a bit rude—insisted that I be outfitted appropriately for the area in which I will be traveling and abiding.

He assures me that the pertinent receipts and such will be forwarded to Mr. Fortesque, whom he calls Reginald! They are apparently somewhat acquainted from long ago… more so than I had thought.

I find myself a good bit put off by the attire Walter selected, although the leather feels surprisingly good against my skin and Hank and his wife claim that I look rather dashing in it. Still, it makes me wonder whether the hoped for Society in Texas will be quite what I’d hoped.

I began allowing my hair to grow in an unseemly manner shortly after the first night I dined with Hank’s family. It seems that letting one’s tresses become womanishly long is the accepted fashion in the West, and while the length is somewhat disturbing to me, I do wish to fit in and be as stylish as I may.

There is one benefit to the growing length. It seems to be taming the wild curls a bit. Perhaps it is the weight of it.

I do not know, but as the train has gotten farther away from Boston, I have noticed that the attire and appearance of my fellow passengers has changed, as well.

There are mostly men using this form of conveyance, although I have seen the occasional family, complete with small children! Those passengers tend to ride for only a few days, however.

It amazes me how very LARGE this country is. I have been traveling for nearly eight days now, at speeds that would shock my peers in London, and yet I am only slightly more than half the way to my destination.

I am truly glad that Walter and Hank agreed to this, rather than the wagon trip they originally suggested. I have no idea of how long that would have taken, but if I were to guess, I would have to say MONTHS!

Hank apparently has a son who lives in the West and I have been told that the boy—Alexander is his name—might perhaps meet me when I arrive at my destination, although it is far from certain.

Hank is not sure as to whether Alexander will have received his missive regarding the subject, and so there is some question.

It would have been unforgivably rude to pry, but I can not help wondering just how and why Hank allowed his only son, and the heir to his business, to live so very far away from home, especially since Walter let it be known that Alexander is but a year older than I!

There are many other mysteries to consider about this trip, as well, not the least of which is… if Father is so very interested in having me come to stay with him for the next four years, why did he not arrange for escort to his estate. Ranch. His ranch. I must remember to use the American word.

It has been thirteen years with only once-yearly letters from Father. I can not say that I know the man, to be honest. And yet I also can not help but wonder at his seeming disinterest regarding my arrival.

I suppose I shall understand once I meet him. Perhaps he is simply unable to draw himself away from his endeavors and has no servants who are able to provide sufficient protection.

But if that is so, I also must wonder at Hank and Walter being so certain that an eighteen year old young man will suffice.

I have heard dark stories on this train.

Tales of the ‘Injuns’ and their violence towards White men.

If even a quarter of these fantastical reports are true, then I fear for my safety once I have left this Iron Horse in the Arizona Territories.

Of course, as I have come to realize, these Americans take great joy in shocking one when they can. It is entirely likely that the stories are simply that.

I suppose I will have to wait and see.

William




There was simply nothing else that William felt worth recording over the rest of the trip. After all, he sincerely doubted that he would care, years later, that he had read four of the six books he’d insisted on bringing… or be much concerned with his own horror at the state of the sanitary facilities on board.

He did note that the land they traveled through grew rougher and less occupied as the journey continued, and that while the other passengers were still within the bare limits of cultured, their mode of speech was decidedly common.

Of course, he’d already said something to that effect in his journal, so there was no need to repeat it.

The train arrived in Painted Desert just at sunset on his fifteenth day of travel, and he chose to take it as a good omen that the sky was lit in glorious layers of colours he’d never even imagined.

He stood on the top step of the parlour car and simply stared until he was shoved slightly from behind.

“I… I am sorry,” he murmured, taking the three steps quickly, fingers clasped tightly around the handles of his bags, “It is so… breathtaking!”

The slightly sweaty man who’d pushed him snorted. “Yeah,” he said, shouldering his way past the slight form as soon as possible, “but maybe you should be breathless somewhere that don’t block everyone tryin’ to get off the train.”

William flushed, even as he wrestled his bags to the side and cleared the entry. “I… you are correct, sir. Heartfelt apologies.” He blinked as the man snorted again and crammed a leather hat with an oddly wide brim onto greasy, lank hair before striding away.


~*~*~*~*~


An hour later, there was still no sign of Alexander Summers.

Of course, William did have a contingency plan and he was more than happy to put it to use, since it involved a room at the local boarding house. Bed was sounding more appealing than anything else to him, though it was still quite early in the evening.

He supposed that to be due to more than a fortnight sleeping upright, his back crimped, neck twinge-ing, body sore from the constant rough motion of the train.

He looked about for a few moments, hoping to find a carriage—wagon, he reminded himself—available for hire, and found himself blushing brightly a few moments later when his question to the stationkeeper about the same was met with a derisive look and rude tone.

“Only a mile inta town,” the wizened old fellow sneered. “Young fella like you can make it in no time.”


~*~*~*~*~


The blisters on his heels matched the ones on his palms by the time he arrived at the only location in Painted Desert that offered rooms.

If he’d been any less worn out and miserable, William might have objected to the fact that it was not a rooming house of the variety he’d expected, but rather a tavern of sorts with rooms above.

As it was, however, he truly didn’t care that there were loud voices, sour-smelling smoke, poorly played piano ‘music’, and a variety of women of dubious morals about.

“B-barkeep,” he stuttered, finally getting the man’s attention, “I require… that is to say, I would like to let a room for the night. And a bath. I… I can pay.”

The grizzled man behind the bar smirked around the butt of the cigar between his teeth. “Yeah? Only got the one room left and if yer not takin’ one of the girls with ya, it’s gonna cost ya extra.”

“I honestly don’t care,” William answered wearily, drooping against the bar. “I have just spent more than two weeks on the bloody train, then walked here from the station. If I am not able to bathe and sleep very soon, I will most likely lose consciousness right here, my good man. I… pardon my plain speech. I am truly…”

The barkeep frowned, then took a closer look at the boy. “Faith!” he hollered out, calling the closest clientless saloon girl, “Kid’s had a rough night. Take him up to the red room and get him settled in. Wants a bath, a bed, and I’m guessing some food that hasn’t been sitting around for days.”

William swallowed hard, even as the raven-tressed woman gave him a penetrating look. “I… I thank you, good sir. H-how much do I…”

Faith laughed and wrapped an arm around slender but surprisingly strong shoulders. “Not to worry, kid. I’m gonna take care of you real good. Say a buck for the room and stuff and another dollar for my… services… for the night?” She glanced at Jake to make sure she wasn’t taking too much advantage and smiled when he nodded.

“Sound fair, kid?” Jake asked quickly. He felt badly for the poor guy, after all. Not enough to give him the kind of rates he’d give a local, but still.

William swallowed hard and nodded. “I… oh, yes. I… please, may I go there now?”

Faith smiled and gave Jake a wink. “Sure, kid. Just need to pay up and we’re all set… not here!” she snapped when the boy would have gone for his money. “You’ll give me the buck for the room once we’re in it. I’ll bring it down to Jake. When I come back up, some of the guys will bring in the tub. They’ll fill it and leave, then I’ll help you bathe. Do not let anyone see where you keep your money—not even me—or how much of it you have.”

“I…” William blushed again, deeper than he’d done in ages. “Sadly, two dollars will come close to leaving me penniless. However at this point, I do not mind it. Please, I…”

He was blushing due to the very large lie he’d just told about his financial state, but Faith didn’t know that.

In fact, she thought he was ashamed of how little money he had.

Her arm tightened around his shoulders again, just for a moment, and she smiled. “Let’s get you upstairs then. And don’t feel bad, okay? Sometimes it just makes sense to bust yourself. Been there. Done that.”


~*~*~*~*~


If he hadn’t been so very exhausted, he would have panicked at the idea of the girl being in the room while he bathed.

He’d never been unclothed in front of a woman, after all, or not since before he’d learned to dress himself, and even then it had only been his governess.

Still, he was that exhausted, so he’d slipped the travel-worn clothing from his body and slid into the smallish bath with a groaned sigh of sheer pleasure.

That groan echoed again moments later when he felt slender, gentle fingers untangling his hair, then somehow wetting and lathering it. “Oh… my,” he mumbled.

Faith grinned and once again thanked God that she’d been available and in the right spot when the young man had walked into the bar.

She hated her ‘job’. Hated it with a fiery passion, in fact, though she never let it show.

She hated the anonymous and random touches, hated the groping hands and the foul breath that accompanied them, hated that she had to offer herself up to anyone with fifty cents and a hard on.

Some nights she couldn’t help but wonder what her life would have been like if her parents hadn’t died on the trip West… or what might have happened if the rest of their wagon train hadn’t shunned them and left them in the middle of nowhere once they’d gotten sick.

She knew she was lucky that one of the horses had gotten away and come back a few days later, but it hadn’t been strong enough to pull their wagon and her parents had been deep into the sickness by then anyway.

She’d been too young and weak at the time to even bury them.

All she’d been able to do was take her own clothes from their covered wagon and set it alight as funerary rites before forcing herself to mount the horse and ride away.

She figured she’d been lucky to find her way to Painted Desert, though by the time the horse had followed the water-scent and gotten her there, she’d been sun-dried and little more than skeletal.

Even so she’d managed, and now—six years later—she at least had a place to call home.

Her parents would have been mortified by what their little girl had become, and she knew it. Especially with Father being a preacher, but… Faith figured God would forgive her, even if nobody else would.

“Does that feel good, baby?” she purred suggestively, forcing her mind back to the present, “I’m not gonna stop, okay? I just need you to lean forward a little so I can rinse it…”

And there was no way he would ever tell this angel in human form ‘no’, so William shifted as much as he could, straightening just a bit.


~*~*~*~*~


Two washes and three rinses later, William was close to proposing marriage to the young woman.

Not in truth, because as attractive as she was, he simply didn’t know her that well, but… she’d bathed him and washed his hair!

She’d rubbed long and deep at the tense muscles of his shoulders…

And now… well, now she had him laying face down on the slightly scratchy sheets as she straddled his naked form and moved those unbelievably talented hands on his back.

He would have sworn that she was finding and eliminating every single ache he’d acquired on his trip.

Or he would have sworn it had he been even remotely verbal.

“Prrrffffft…” he mumbled as everything he’d been through lately disappeared into slumber.

Faith laughed softly and slid to one side of the young man whose name she still didn’t know.

She wouldn’t have to spread herself for anyone that night, and that was an even better payment than the dollar the boy had already given her.

She lay beside him, still wearing her shift though her ‘work gown’ was draped over the chair near the fire, drying from the splashing of the tub water earlier.

This was the perfect night, as far as she was concerned.

She’d looked after the kid, bathed him, put him to bed… and now she could sleep, too.

He’d never gotten the meal he’d paid for, but she’d be sure he did in the morning… or the afternoon. Whenever they woke up.

One arm reached down, pulling the blankets over them both and she closed her eyes, even as she thought again on the past.

If things had gone differently, would she even now be married to a young man like the one beside her? Or even the same young man? Would they have children?

Probably not, she admitted silently. The boy didn’t seem to be terribly interested in females.

Granted, he was worn to a nub, but… his cock hadn’t even twitched when she’d stroked it while bathing him, and…

And that was fine, she thought with a smile.

Maybe she should marry him for that alone.





Part Six


April 11, 1779

He’d only been three days out of camp when his horse had gone lame.

Fortunately, he’d been able to pry the pebble from the frog of her hoof and she would recover, but her pace had been necessarily slowed, which had in turn slowed him as he rode the spare horse he’d been leading for Hank’s young friend’s use.

There wasn’t much he could do other than continue riding and hope that the kid—William, his father-of-body said—would have the sense to wait.

Then again, any boy Hank liked was probably having a time of it by sampling the girls at the Lucky Strike Saloon.

Zephyr sighed again and forced himself not to urge the horses faster, even though he could see the flickering of torches and just barely hear the tinny music floating across the sand. Permanently injuring his favorite mount wouldn’t do anyone any good, after all, and he’d be damned if he was going to ride double with whatever mindless lug Hank had pressed him into ‘escorting’ to El Sangre.

Bad enough that he’d have to spend weeks with the boy. There was no need to be any closer to him than he had to.

“Zephyr!” the stableboy greeted him with a grin when he finally stopped and dismounted, “I heard about the latest raid! Was that you that stopped it? Did ya get them good?”

Zephyr laughed and ruffled Jack’s hair. “Nah. I wasn’t even around here for that. But I’m sure whoever it was got the job done.”

The boy started to answer but that was when he caught sight of the limping horse. He frowned, suddenly all business. “What happened to her? Durn it, Zephyr, you know better than to keep her walking if she’s hurt!”

He almost laughed at the fact that he was being scolded by a twelve year old but he managed to hold it in. Jack might be young, but he was already rivaling the stable master in skill. Then again, the man was Jack’s Uncle and had a vested interest in teaching the boy everything he knew.

“Picked up a stone four days back,” he admitted. “I got it out and it looks like she’ll be fine but I couldn’t leave her in the desert and… I was supposed to be here two days ago to meet someone on the train.” A thought occurred to him and he gave the boy a hopeful look. “You don’t know if he’s still here, do you? Young guy. Came in from Boston. Name of William O’… something.”

Jack snorted, sounding more like his Uncle than a twelve year old should. “At least you had your mind on the important stuff and didn’t push Rain. But she needs a good few days in a stall, plus some nice, hot mash, right girl?” He grinned at the horse and Zephyr could have sworn the horse grinned back.

“I know, Jack. I know. And she’ll get it. But the kid?”

The boy shrugged. “Dunno. Might be here. Some English guy’s got all the Lucky Strike girls fighting over him, though, so that’s all I’ve been hearing about. Might could check there.”

A few coins changed hands and Jack led the horses into the stable, giving Zephyr another grin as he did. “Try not to get shot at this time.”

Zephyr chuckled, pushing his braid back over his shoulder. “I still don’t understand how I was cheating in a card game I wasn’t even playing,” he reminded the boy.


~*~*~*~*~


“Frank,” Zephyr greeted the barkeep, ignoring the sullen stares from the patrons who hadn’t heard of him yet, “got a whiskey for me?”

“Ya sure ya should be drinkin’ the fire-water?” the man answered with a chuckle as he poured out a shot. “Heard you Injuns can’t hold yer liquor…”

Zephyr laughed, eyes crinkling at the corners as he slammed back the harsh rot-gut. “Maybe not, but we can hold your liquor just fine.”

Frank chuckled and poured another dram for the young man. “Yeah, I keep forgettin’ that part. So what brings ya ta town, kid? Didn’t think ya were due through here for another few months.”

Full lips stopped smiling and Zephyr looked away at the reminder of his yearly trip to Hank’s Boston. “I was supposed to meet someone at the station a couple days ago, but Rain picked up a rock. Wondering if he’s still here. Oh, and if I can get a room for a couple days til my girl’s fit to ride.”

The older man shrugged and looked around the main room. “Buncha folk still here from the train, kid. Know what he looks like?”

A heavy sigh left him and he repeated everything he knew, which wasn’t much. “About my age, came in from Boston, name’s William… something. Um, brown hair, I think…”

“Not an old friend, then,” Frank said with a wry grin. “Doesn’t sound like anyone I’ve seen, but look around. He might be here and laying low.”

“Great,” Zephyr muttered, turning to sweep his eyes over the crowded room. “And maybe I can get killed for something happening outside, while I’m at it.”

The barkeep chuckled quietly. “If anyone can do it, ya can. And ya can have the blue room. That suit ya?”

He nodded. “Wherever. Hey, Faith around? Or did she finally wise up and move on?” He knew she hadn’t, of course. Hell, they talked about it every time he was in town and had a few minutes to spare, but Faith would never leave. Not when leaving meant taking charity from someone… and not when the girl knew so well that nothing came for free.

Frank laughed and shook his head. “Nah, she’s here. Red room. Some English guy who’s really good at cards. Started out with a buck, and last I heard he was up to thirty. Without getting called a cheater… or being used for target practice. Go figure.”

“And yet he’s not down here playing?”

The barkeep shrugged at the young man’s arched brow. “Nah… he only played that one night. Doesn’t have that… hunger for it in his eyes. Guess he just needed some cash because once he cleaned everyone out, he quit. Bought a couple rounds for the house, paid for the room for a few days, then hired Faith on for the duration.” He shrugged again.

And it was odd that Faith had agreed, Zephyr told himself. He knew how much she despised what she did. Then again, maybe she figured it was better to be with one man for a few days than a regular procession. It’d be that much less ‘work’.

“If you see her, tell her I’m here?”

Frank nodded. “Ya got it, kid. Know she’ll be happy ta see ya.”


~*~*~*~*~


Zephyr chuckled to himself as he carried his saddlebags up to the blue room. He knew the White men who’d been staring at him were wondering just what Frank was doing, welcoming an ‘Injun’ to the saloon, much less greeting him like an old friend and giving him a room.

Fact was, Zephyr and a few of the tribe’s other braves had saved the old man only two years earlier, and ever since, Frank had welcomed all of them to his place of business.

They’d had no idea that the man being hunted across the desert between Red Sands and Painted Desert owned the Saloon and Frank hadn’t volunteered that information until the raiding party chasing him had been dealt with, but he’d never hesitated to welcome any one of them like family since.

It made things easier, Zephyr acknowledged; especially because Frank had passed the story to the rest of the townspeople.

Now Zephyr and the five other warriors were more than welcome whenever they had need to come into this town, unlike just about every other Native in the area.

Hank had been pleased to hear of it, too, if only because now he could send letters to ‘Alexander Summers’ care of the Post Master for Painted Desert and have some surety that they would actually be held and delivered whenever Zephyr made it into town.

That wasn’t often, of course, but it still allowed his father-of-body to feel less disconnected than he would have otherwise.

That was a good thing, too, Zephyr knew.

He’d been lucky that Hank hadn’t insisted he return to the White world completely, once the man had known his son lived. Of course, he’d also been lucky that the man hadn’t known until Zephyr was nearly ten turnings of the wheel. But his father-of-body had been surprisingly fair about it all, after he’d traveled from Boston ‘to see the boy and if he is mine, I’ll do right by him’.

Zephyr figured it was the fact that he and his cousin Devon looked almost enough alike to be twins that had truly convinced Hank… and the equally clear fact that Joyce had never lied about who he was and where he’d come from, and had seen to it that Zephyr—or Alexander, as Hank insisted upon calling him—spoke unaccented English and read it, and knew as much as she’d known of the world… the world before her wagon train had been attacked and she’d entered into her new life.

It had been a good two or three years after meeting Hank that Zephyr had come to understand why the man had required his presence but not his Mother’s.

Hank and Joyce were both much happier apart than they’d ever been together, and when Hank claimed that his first wife was dead, it was nothing short of the truth.

His Mother was not the woman Hank had married. Not after many turnings Bonded to Rupeh-hey.

That Zephyr’s father-of-body had barely acknowledged Chance’s existence had been expected. That Hank continued to ask about the younger brave when Zephyr visited had not been. Perhaps the man continued to care for his former wife… enough to ask after her other offspring, in any case.

He smiled as he put his few things away, setting the small bladder of rendered deer fat on the table beside the bed for later use. Somehow, being in what the White men called ‘a proper bed’ always made him a little… aroused. It would be best to have supplies on hand, so to speak.

He unraveled his braid and slowly combed long, thick fingers through the heavy mass of waist-length hair before quickly making two much smaller braids at his temples and leaving the rest to hang.

“Red room,” he reminded himself as he stretched, moaning softly at the popping sounds released by his weary spine.

He would listen at the door, and if Faith and her mysterious Englishman weren’t… busy… maybe he’d knock and see whether the girl could be spared for a short time.

They hadn’t had much chance to talk in the last few months, after all.



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