Okay, folks. I call this the story that nobody wants. For some reason, stories with Indians kidnapping pioneer women are cliché. But I love it, so here's a teaser. If anyone ever decides to publish MORNING SUN, I'll let you know. (Zondervan is actually looking at this manuscript as we speak/type/read.) We'll see what happens. (I'm still learning how to format these posts, so if paragraphs are run together, forgive me.)
By Sandi Rog
May 23, 1870
Watch out for them snakes. They'll crawl into your boots at night.
Anna van Stralen trudged behind three wagons. She could still see the ticket agent in Cheyenne, gnawing on his toothpick and leaning on the counter as he said those words. She had slept with her boots on, and after three days of travelling with these settlers, her feet punished her.
The sun's heat bore down on her head, and her stylish city hat offered little protection from its hot rays. A tumbleweed brushed against the hem of her dress, mocking her with its spindly limbs and dry branches. Just like the desolate bush, she might blow away, far away over the brown hills of sandy terrain.
Dust from the wagons assailed her. If only she could ride with Beth. But Al, Beth's husband, refused. None of the other settlers were willing to help Anna because they were afraid of the horrible man. She cringed. He was all too familiar.
Had Anna been willing to pay more, he might have allowed her to ride with them, but the valuable stone she offered had been pricy enough, and she wasn't about to sell anymore of her mother's jewelry. She smoothed her hand over her dress, the only one she had time to make. She'd sewn the jewels into its bodice. It had been a tedious task, but at least thieves wouldn't find them.
After sewing in secret and saving every penny, she needed all the money she could spare for her new life in Denver City. Stashed in a pouch, her earnings hung from her waist under her dress. She'd put her paste jewelry in her carpetbag. It should come in handy to mislead thieves. Anna thought to give one of her fake stones to Al. It likely would have fooled the brainless brute, but in all fairness, Anna owed them for allowing her to travel with their wagon train.
How could Beth endure being married to such a man? Beth's name turned over in Anna's mind. It ended with a dreadful "th," but so far, Anna had been able to pronounce it just fine. She'd finally mastered English quite well over the last six years, but anytime she became nervous, her tongue fumbled a bit.
Anna's carpetbag grew heavy, so she changed hands. Still too heavy, she wrapped her arms around it and hugged it to her chest. Not wanting to be in the way, she kept a comfortable distance between herself and the others. Two wagons could have fit between her and the one she followed.
She should have gotten off the train near Julesburg. Had the ticket agent in New York told her Cheyenne's connection to Denver City wasn't reliable, she might have listened to the man on the train who encouraged her to get off with him. "I can ensure your safety," Mr. Kane had said, lips turning up beneath his handlebar mustache. His eyes swept over her and then to her face. "That is, if you're not meeting someone."
Anna had forced a smile, shifting uncomfortably under his steady gaze. "Thank you for your kind offer, Mr. Kane, but I'm meeting my fiancé." With that, she bid him good day.
Her conscience bothered her dreadfully for having told such a blatant lie.
But she couldn't think of Julesburg right now. It would only make her more miserable.
Besides, home—Denver City—was just hours away. A bit of discomfort was worth the trouble in light of that fact. She thought of the photo of her papa—the only remembrance she had left—wrapped safely in her carpetbag. Thought of his face staring back at her. Thought of his smile as he talked about Denver City when they'd first arrived in America. How his eyes sparkled. She knew they must be sparkling now.
"Our dream will finally come true," she whispered.
She squinted and glanced up into the blue sky. It took her breath away every time she looked at it. She'd never in her life seen so much sky in one place.
She pressed her dry, chapped lips together, aching for something to drink. Dizziness swept over her, and her feet faltered.
Denver City. Almost there. Her new home.
Her head pounded with each step as she chanted the words. The ground spun. The sounds of locusts and other insects buzzed in her ears. Her mouth felt sticky and her head ached. If she didn't get water soon, she might faint. And if she fainted, would anyone notice? She'd never fainted before. What would it be like? She didn't want to know.
"Lord . . . please . . . I need water."
Short screams and shouts from all sides snapped Anna to attention. All around them swarmed a colorful parade of Indians.
"Arm yourselves!" Al shouted from the buckboard of his wagon. He aimed his rifle. An Indian fired, and Al's rifle dropped.
Beth's screams carried through the air.
None of the other men dared raise their rifles and no more shots fired. One man jumped from his wagon, his hands high in the air. Savages bounded onto the wagons, while three others held their weapons on the men. The women and children screamed.
Two Indians galloped toward Anna.
Hugging her carpetbag, she tried to run, but her feet shot down roots and held her to the ground.
Dust and two painted warriors surrounded her in a stunning array of colors. Ironically, it brought to mind the tulip parades in Holland. The horses tossed their wild heads and their manes danced with feathers. Paint circled their eyes, handprints waved on their chests, and flashes of lightning streaked across their flanks.
The Indians circled her. The sun reflected off their silver armbands. They looked her up and down. Not daring to turn, she felt the gaze of the savages burn into her back. Their torsos, other than a breastplate made of small tubing, were bare and painted. Quivers slung over their backs with rifles at their sides. Would they use their weapons on her?
The screams and cries of the settlers faded into the distance, replaced by the horses' snorts and the crunching of their hooves. She felt as if the entire world vanished, and only she and the colorful intruders existed beneath the great big sky.
As they came around again, Anna's gaze moved daringly to one Indian's face. Half covered in a black mask of paint, he brought to mind the appearance of a bandit. Only this bandit would likely steal more than her paste jewelry. The mask had a thin, white stripe below it, accentuating the black that covered his eyes. Red stripes of paint slashed across his cheeks and chin as if a knife had taken its pleasure on his face. His bright eyes snagged her attention and held her captive in his fierce gaze.
Unable to move, all she could do was hold her breath and wait for the Indians to do something, wait as her heart thundered in her chest. The screams of the settlers had diminished to cries. Thankfully, no more gunshots had gone off. She didn't dare look toward the wagons. Fear paralyzed her. Lord, please keep Beth safe.
The other Indian moved closer. Long, dark braids draped over his shoulders. Feathers protruded from his head like a fan. He circled her, and the pounding in her head beat faster every time he came a little closer. He held a stick with feathers, and when just a foot away, he jammed the stick into Anna's hair, painfully forcing it loose from its pins.
"Take down," he said.
Anna dropped her carpetbag. With quivering hands and eyes welling with tears, she untied her small hat and yanked on the pins. Would they scalp her? Hair cascaded over her shoulders and down her back to below her waist. For the first time in her life, shame swept through her for having so much hair. Vanity hoarded all these golden locks, her crown of glory. Greed for this treasure would now cause her demise.
"Running Cloud!" The Indian with the feathered stick straightened and put his fist to his chest. He pointed at Anna. "You! Walks Alone. Gift to White Eagle." He pointed to the bandit-looking Indian, the one called White Eagle.
The meaning of his words slammed into Anna. She'd never get home.
Running Cloud dropped his feathered stick and dismounted in front of her. Anna found the ability to move and turned to run. He seized her by the hair, jerking her to a stop. He yanked her around and grabbed her arms in a biting grip. She tried to twist away, pushing against his powerful limbs.
White Eagle dismounted and strode toward them. Buckskin leggings with fringed flaps emphasized his height. He was much taller and broader than the savage who held her in his clutches. By his scowl and the fierce look on his painted face, Anna knew she was doomed. White Eagle reached out and Anna screamed, but he grabbed Running Cloud's wrist.
Eyes wide with surprise, Running Cloud turned, releasing his hold on Anna. White Eagle jerked him back and shoved him to the ground. Running Cloud raised his hands, palms up as White Eagle towered over him.
Anna turned to run, but White Eagle caught her by the arm and swung her around. Screaming, she shoved, but he held her against him. His hair and feathers cascaded onto her shoulder, and his painted face came inches from hers, emphasizing his bandit-like mask, the white stripe beneath it, and the red slashes on his cheeks and chin. Leather and sage assailed her senses as his breath feathered against her cheek.
"Lord help me," she whispered, wishing she were the type that could faint.
Heavy breathing blocked out the sounds around them. A dangling feather tickled her face. His fingers slid up her neck and onto her chin, causing her breath to catch in her throat. They glided across her cheek and tenderly brushed his feather away.
Their gazes met. Behind dark lashes, warm blue-green eyes swept over her from his gentle, almost sympathetic gaze.
There was a man buried beneath that mask of war paint.