By Christine Boone
Dorothy sat at her writing desk, staring at the blank piece of paper and letting the tears roll down her cheeks.
"Why am I still crying?" she asked herself. "I thought I had all this settled in my mind yesterday." Bitterly she realized that what may have been settled in her mind, was nowhere near settled in her heart. She knew she should start writing her book. She had looked forward to this day for months, but now she dreaded what it had come to represent. Her research with Cloud Dancing was finished. She had no more excuses to visit him. But how could she put her friend down on paper? It would be such a flat picture of a dear friend.
"Dear friends. Is that what we are?" she thought. The townspeople seemed to think there was a lot more to it than that. Were they right? Were they seeing something she felt in her heart more clearly than she was? Yesterday she had allowed herself a time to daydream. Was she in love with Cloud Dancing? She had tried to imagine herself in his arms, loving him. If she closed her eyes, she could do it. But when she opened them, he was still Cheyenne and she was still White. The last time they had met, he had held her hand when he told her that they both lived with crazy people who condemned their relationship. When she pressed him to tell her exactly what their relationship was, he had said they were friends. She knew in her heart anything more was impossible. He was not allowed to live in town and she could never give up everything she had to live on the reservation, even if it were allowed. She knew they would never be able to live in peace anywhere, and she knew she was not strong enough to try. So she sat and cried.
"OK," she told herself sternly. "I know if I keep seeing him, I will surely fall in love with him, and that will just hurt both of us. It's best that I don't see him at all. I'll put everything I love and admire about him on paper. Then I'll just have to edit it to be sure my feelings don't show through. Maybe it will make my book more alive, and help people see the Cheyenne for the kind of people they really are and how important it is to save them and all their knowledge and tradition. Maybe this way I'll be able to help him and his people." With her mental picture of him firmly in mind, she began to write.
Elizabeth finished packing away her mourning dresses in one trunk and her good dresses in two other trunks. All her worldly possessions except her few very plainest day dresses and personal articles went in the last trunk. She had made arrangements for them to be shipped to her late husband's sister in Philadelphia. Elizabeth knew Margaret was a good woman at heart. What she could not use, she would give to the poor. Nothing would be wasted.
Her day dresses and the rest of her belongings went into her suitcases which she quickly closed. She checked the cloth pockets she had sewn into her undergarments. All the money she had in the world was sewn into those pockets. It was probably a foolhardy thing to do, carry that much cash on her, but even after all these years, she still didn't trust people enough to leave the money safely in the bank. She knew her sister-in-law would be livid when she discovered she had left for Colorado, and she was afraid that somehow she would have the power to close her bank account. The safest thing in her mind was to carry the money on her. If she was killed for it, she wouldn't need it anyway. If it was stolen .…. well, she had left Colorado penniless, and she would arrive back there in the same condition. She had chosen her plainest dresses so she wouldn't attract attention. She was still a striking looking woman despite her nearly thirty-five years, but not the type that attracted much male attention. The carriage was waiting for her. She took a quick last look around the room she had lived in for the last fifteen years, closed the door and hurried to the street.
As surely as she knew she was doing the right thing, she couldn't help being nervous about what she would find when she arrived in Colorado Springs. She knew she didn't belong in Boston, but she wasn't sure she would fit in any better there. The train trip would give her time to adjust her thoughts to the new life she was beginning, or was it the old life she was taking up again? She knew it would be different, but would it be too different? Could she adjust all over again?
As the miles of plains slipped behind her, she thought about what she had heard about Michaela Quinn. In Boston she was thought of as the black sheep of the Quinn family. Elizabeth had met her sister at a party the year before Roger died. Rebecca knew all the Boston conventions, as did all the Quinns. However, what drew Elizabeth to her was the fact that while she was conventional on the surface, she was a rebel underneath. The older sister Marjorie was the rebel on the surface, a fact which caused great grief for their mother. Michaela had decided to become a doctor, something lauded by her father, also a doctor, but frowned upon by her mother. However, after Michaela had moved to Colorado Springs and set up her own practice, mother and daughter had reconciled, and her mother had turned her disapproving eye on Marjorie. Michaela's marriage two years ago to Byron Sully had nearly derailed the reconciliation, but all the Quinns now spoke lovingly of Michaela and Sully. Rebecca had spent her whole life mediating between her family members. It was her descriptions of Michaela and Sully and Colorado Springs which had turned Elizabeth's heart westward again.
Her heart felt like it was in her throat as she stepped onto the platform at the station. From the train she had seen places she thought she might have recognized although she knew this was wishful thinking on her part. She knew very little would be the same as it had been eighteen years earlier. She took a deep breath and asked the station master if he could recommend a place to stay. After settling into a small room at the hotel, she headed for the bank. She would open an account using a different name, and that would hopefully keep her money safe for her.
Preston Lodge barely looked up as she stepped into the bank. When she asked if she could open an account, he looked a little more interested, but it wasn't until she handed him all her cash that he was really interested. He became positively gracious. Her years in Boston had taught her how to deal with such men. She could be gracious too, but she was very careful to be sure every detail of their transaction was recorded with copies for both parties.
After completing her business and turning down an offer of dinner from Preston, Elizabeth walked slowly around town. A few people looked at her, but none of them unkindly. She walked past Dr Quinn's clinic several times, but she did not want to meet her until she had more time to size up the climate of the town. Most of all she wanted to ride out to the reservation, but she knew that would have to wait a few days.
Time crawled as she waited and watched in town. She had seen Michaela Quinn three or four times, and had once seen her walking with Sully. She tried to look through them to see if they could be trusted, but she still didn't feel secure enough to approach them. Finally she could wait no longer. Elizabeth walked down the street to Robert E's livery and asked if she could rent a horse.
"Do you have an old nag named Lady who acts like a lady and wouldn't dream of throwing her rider? It's been a long time since I've ridden a horse. It would also be helpful if she knew her way home too, in case I get lost."
Robert E laughed. "Well, her name's not Lady, but she'll treat you well. I don't know if she's smart enough to get you home if you're lost. Where are you planning to ride?"
"Oh, not too far." She paused. "Which direction is the Palmer Creek Reservation? Is it safe to ride near there?"
"Take that road out of town," Robert E pointed. "Take the right hand fork, and it's a few miles farther on. It's safe enough if you're not an Indian. Some of those soldiers are pretty trigger-happy, but they won't bother you any. I wouldn't try to ride onto the reservation. I haven't heard about any trouble lately, but you never know how those Indians will react to a stranger." Elizabeth thanked him, mounted the horse, and rode slowly in the direction he had pointed.
The reservation wasn't hard to find. When she neared it, she left the road and kept to the trees. She finally tied the horse and headed farther on foot. As she started up a little rise, she was startled by gunshots and a small Indian boy tumbled down the embankment at her feet. Angry voices and crashing brush followed him. She quickly stepped forward and covered the motionless little body with her skirts. Two soldiers appeared in front of her.
"What on earth are you doing, shooting at an unarmed woman and scaring her to death?" she shouted at them.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am. We didn't see you."
Well then why were you shooting at me? Or are you in the habit of shooting at noises in the woods?"
"No, Ma'am. We were shooting at an Injun boy who was trying to run away from the reservation."
"A boy! You were shooting at a child?" Elizabeth stood in front of them in righteous indignation. "How dare you .….. a child!"
"Well, Ma'am, these little savages need to be kept in their place. If they get too uppity, they'll grow up to give us big problems."
"Well, I didn't see any 'little savages' around here, so I'd appreciate your leaving me in peace. Who is your commanding officer?"
"Um, Sargeant O'Brien, Ma'am, but I don't think you need to tell him about this mistake. We'll be getting back to the reservation if you don't mind."
"I guess if you can assure me I can feel safe walking around in the woods without worrying about getting shot, I don't need to talk to Sargeant O'Brien right now." The two soldiers practically fell over their feet hurrying away from her back over the rise.
Elizabeth quickly stepped away from the fallen child and was surprised to see him looking up at her, wide-eyed but silent. She smiled at him and motioned his silence with her lips. A quick check showed he had been shot in the shoulder and was bleeding heavily from both the entry and exit wounds. She heard a noise and quickly covered the boy again with her skirts. Byron Sully stood right behind her.
"We have to hurry. They may come back looking for him." Sully quickly took charge.
Elizabeth tore a strip from her slip and tried to fashion a dressing firm enough to stop the bleeding. The boy was moaning in pain and losing consciousness.
"You are safe. We will care for you," Elizabeth crooned in Cheyenne as she finished the makeshift bandage. She didn't even realize what she had said until she saw Sully staring at her. He looked back down at the unconscious boy.
"Do you have a horse?" she asked hurriedly. "Where will we take him?"
"I'll take him to our house. Can you find your way back to town?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Get Dr. Mike and tell her what happened. We'll meet her at the house."
Fortunately riding the horse had felt natural to her, and she was able to race back to town. Even in her agitated state, she remembered to walk the horse into town and calmly stop at the clinic. Michaela was alone, and grabbed her bag and started to run out the door when Elizabeth told her what happened.
"Wait!" Elizabeth called. "Don't run. If the Army comes here looking for him, you don't want anyone to remember seeing you run out of the clinic. You're just going home after a day at work."
Michaela stopped. "Thank you. What is your name?"
"I'm Elizabeth Grant. I'm from Boston, a widow. I'm new in town."
"Please come out to the house with me. I'll take the wagon. You can follow on your horse."
Elizabeth started to refuse, but remembering her encounter in the woods with Sully thought that maybe she needed to talk to him again before he had a chance to talk alone with Michaela. Where had the words come from? She hadn't spoken Cheyenne in nearly twenty years, and yet they came out completely naturally when she looked down at the Indian child in distress. She didn't even know if he was Cheyenne, but the words seemed to calm him. Had Sully understood what she said?
The child had regained consciousness by the time they reached the house. Michaela cleansed the wound and redressed it. The whole time, Sully spoke softly to the boy in Cheyenne, calming him and assuring him he was safe. While he spoke, Sully watched her. She was surprised that she understood most of what he was saying. Was he watching to see if she understood? She tried to keep her face still, even as memories flooded back to her. When she couldn't prevent the tears from running down her cheeks, she turned away from the table where they were working and went out on the steps.
After awhile Sully came and sat next to her.
"How is the boy?" she asked quickly to forestall any questions he might ask.
"He'll be fine. Dr. Mike gave him something to help him sleep. We'll have to figure out how to get him back on the reservation as soon as he's well enough to travel. How did you happen to be there?"
"I had ridden out that way and was just walking in the woods when the bullets started flying around me."
"And how did you have the presence of mind to shield the child from the soldiers?"
"Instinct, I guess. It was obvious they were shooting at him. I had to protect him. How were you there?"
"I am not allowed on the reservation, but I go out near there to visit a friend. I was on my way home. I saw the whole thing." There was a long pause, and Elizabeth saw all the questions in his eyes. She looked away from him.
"Did you tell Michaela what you heard out there?"
"No. I thought you might want to explain it first, although it's none of our business if you don't want to tell us."
Just then Michaela appeared on the porch and sat down beside Sully. They kissed.
"He'll sleep for a while now. I take it you've met my husband, Sully."
Elizabeth laughed. "Well, not formally. We sort of ran into each other in the woods."
"Sully, I'd like you to meet Elizabeth Grant, a widow from Boston. So what are you doing in Colorado Springs?"
Elizabeth took a deep breath and looked at them. "It's a long story," she said. "And not for everyone's ears."
"Well, why don't you stay for dinner and tell us ……. if you want to, that is," Michaela added quickly. "Brian will be spending the night at a friend's house."
Elizabeth took another long breath and finally decided, "Yes, I'd like that."
Dinner was over and the dishes were finished. It was obvious the time had come.
"Let's sit by the fire," said Elizabeth. "Long stories should always be told in front of the fire." As she sat on the floor and stared into the flames, she felt the last eighteen years melt away. She finally felt she could trust Michaela and Sully, Michaela by reputation and Sully spoke Cheyenne and kept her secret even from his wife. If there was any place left on earth, here was the place she could bare her soul.
"Michaela, the reason I am here has something to do with you. I met your sisters in Boston, and hearing from them about you made me determined to come back to Colorado as soon as I had the opportunity. I hadn't intended to say anything quite so soon, but Sully heard me speaking Cheyenne to the little boy when he was shot. I didn't even know I remembered the words, but they just came out of my mouth when I held him.
"My parents, my older brother and I were one of the first White families in this area. My father had a trading post and traded with the White explorers and the Cheyenne. I don't remember the trading post, but this is what I have been told. When I was about two years old, some White men came to the trading post, killed my father and my brother, set fire to the store, and took my mother away. I was hiding under the porch and they never saw me. I was wandering around in the ashes a few days later when two men from Black Kettle's band found me and took me back to their camp. The words I said to the boy today I believe were the words they said to me when they found me. Even with all the fear and hunger I was feeling, the words were a comfort to me. I didn't understand them, but I understood what they meant. When they couldn't find my mother's body at the trading post, they looked for her in the surrounding hills. A week later they found her, beaten to death where the men had left her. They buried her with my father and brother.
"I was adopted by a family who had lost a daughter and raised as a Cheyenne child. I do remember that time, and it was the happiest of my life. When I was older and we had more contact with the Whites, we realized that if they knew I was living with the Cheyenne, they might try to take me away. I was always very careful to stay concealed when there were Whites around. By the time I was about seventeen, I was betrothed to a man named Little Bear. I couldn't imagine being happier."
Sully took in a sharp breath, but he said nothing.
"At some point, the Whites must have found out about me because some missionaries came to camp to barter for me. It was the first time I had faced Whites since my real parents died. I was terrified. My parents gave me the choice of going with the missionaries or staying with my family. Of course, I chose to stay with my family.
"Shortly after that, when I was out riding one day, the missionaries kidnapped me. They said they were going to take me back to my White relatives so I could be properly brought up. They said I was a wild savage. I guess I acted like a wild savage. I refused to eat. I fought like a madwoman and ran away at every opportunity. They finally took away my shoes and kept me bound in the bottom of a wagon. I bit and scratched. I had lumps all over my head from being knocked out with a rifle butt. Finally I was so weak from not eating that I couldn't fight any more, and I started to eat. They took me to a city. They must have put something in my food there, because I fell asleep and when I woke up, I was in Boston.
"I was terrified. Once I was in Boston, I knew I couldn't get back to my family even if I did escape. I was too deep in White territory. They never did return me to my White family. Maybe I had no relatives left, or maybe they didn't want me. A missionary widow took me in and 're-educated' me. I knew my only hope was to become invisible and so I adapted. I became White, but all the while I dreamed Little Bear would rescue me. After a few years, I realized he couldn't rescue me any more than I could escape to him. I was trapped.
"Finally I was 're-educated' enough that it was time to marry me off. The widow's brother said he would marry me. I don't think he loved me any more than I loved him, but maybe he thought he was making credits with God. Anyway, he seemed to care for me in a paternalistic way. He fed me and clothed me in beautiful dresses, and I, in turn, was his hostess at his many charity functions. We never slept together which was fine with me. I think he still thought of me as unclean, and I never told him I was a virgin.
"I dreamed about Little Bear often during my marriage until the day I read about the Sand Creek battle. I was terrified that Little Bear had been killed, but, of course, there was no way to find out. Four years later, there was the battle at Washita. The reports said all the braves were killed. I knew in my heart then that Little Bear was surely dead, and I would never see him again. My heart died with him.
"A year ago my husband died suddenly. He was much older than I, and I had always known he would die before me. I knew that as soon as he died I would leave Boston and come back to Colorado. But after Washita, my heart went out of that plan, and it was a real shock when he died. He must have trusted me somewhat, because he left me his entire estate. It wasn't even in a trust. I lived through the prescribed year of mourning and the day it was over, I shipped my belongings to my sister-in-law, took all the money out of the bank, and took the train out here.
"I had to laugh when I went into the bank to open an account. Mr. Lodge scarcely noticed me until he saw my money. When I turned over all that cash to him, he almost fell over himself being solicitous. Is he really that slimy, or was that just my first impression?"
Sully and Michaela both laughed. "No, your impression was very correct," they said nearly in unison.
"I went out to the reservation today to see for myself what it was like. I was appalled. Is it really as bad as it looks?"
"It's worse," Sully said bitterly. "Animals shouldn't have to live like they're being forced to live."
"When I left Colorado, everyone was free. I can't believe how it's changed. Isn't there anything you can do?"
"That's why I'm not allowed on the reservation. I was causing so much 'trouble' trying to improve conditions that they banned me."
"Why did you stop causing trouble?"
Sully paused. "Elizabeth, there was one man who survived Washita."
"Little Bear?" Elizabeth jumped up with hope in her heart.
"No. Cloud Dancing. They were going to move him from Palmer Creek to the Oklahoma Territory. I agreed to the banning in order to get Cloud Dancing back."
"Cloud Dancing," Elizabeth breathed. Little Bear's older brother. Strong, proud, a leader of his people even when he was young. "He's living on the reservation?"
"How can he do it? He was so independent and proud."
"He still is, Elizabeth. But he's surviving just like you survived in Boston. He's adapting. He's trying to become invisible."
"No!" she cried. "He shouldn't have to do that. This is his country. We are the visitors here." She buried her face in her hands to try to blot out the pictures forming in her mind.
"Not any more. There has been a war. The Whites won and the Cheyenne lost. We are killing them all off, little by little."
After a long pause, Sully stood up. "I'm going to bed. I want to ride out to the reservation early tomorrow to let Cloud Dancing know we have the boy and he is going to be all right. We'll need his help when it's time to get the boy back home."
Michaela stood up too. "You will spend the night, won't you? It's too late to ride back into town tonight. You can have Colleen's room."
Elizabeth paused. "Well, I didn't bring anything..."
Michaela interrupted her. "I have an extra nightgown, and I think there's a brush of Colleen's in the drawer."
Elizabeth didn't sleep much. Every time she closed her eyes, she was back in camp with Little Bear and Cloud Dancing, or she was feeling Little Bear dying, or she was wondering if Cloud Dancing would hate her for leaving his brother when they were betrothed. Did they even know she had been kidnapped? Did the Whites tell them she had decided to go of her own accord? Or did they just think she had decided to leave and make her own way somewhere?
She was up as soon as she heard Sully start downstairs.
"Sully, please don't tell Cloud Dancing I am here. I want to see him, but I am not sure he would be happy to see me."
Sully paused. "All right. I was going to see if he could get a pass to come for dinner tonight. I'm sure he would like to see the boy so he can report to his parents. Do you want to stay for dinner too? Do you think he would recognize you?"
"I would like to stay. I don't think he would recognize me. It has been eighteen years since he saw me, and I'm not sure how much he noticed me even when we lived in the same village. I really would like to see him again. If he is not angry with me, I want to hear about Little Bear. Just don't tell him who I am."
The day dragged on for Elizabeth. Half of her wanted to see Cloud Dancing, to hear about Little Bear and her family, to hear everything about their life after she had been taken away. The other half was afraid to see how Cloud Dancing must have changed. It would erase all her fantasies of how things would be in Colorado and would put a face to the reality of her situation. After all the years of waiting and hoping for freedom, was she strong enough to face the fact that there was no freedom here for her, that there may not be freedom for her anywhere?
As it got closer to dinner time, she found herself sitting by the window watching the road. She fell asleep, and woke with a start as Sully and Cloud Dancing walked up the stairs to the porch. Michaela was already opening the door.
"Wait! I'm not ready for this," she thought desperately as she turned to face the door.
Michaela introduced them. "Cloud Dancing, I'd like you to meet Elizabeth Grant from Boston. She's the one who found the little boy out by the reservation."
"Yes, I know. Sully told me all about it. Thank you very much," Cloud Dancing said as he shook her outstretched hand. Elizabeth almost cried. He was older, but he had the same low, calming voice, the same strong presence, the same kind eyes. Did they recognize her? She didn't think so.
"The boy is Little Raven. He is Arapaho. I was able to let his parents know he is recovering after Sully first spoke to me. They are anxious to have him back, but realize he is in good hands until he is well enough to travel. May I see him?"
Michaela led Cloud Dancing upstairs to Brian's room. Sully hung back a little to let Elizabeth know he had not told Cloud Dancing who she was.
"I won't say anything, but I think he would be happy to know who you are. He misses his family and tribe. There are no others like him on the reservation. Even though you are White, you shared a time with him, and he would be happy to have someone to talk to about happier times and people you both knew."
"I'll think about it," said Elizabeth.
Little Raven recognized Cloud Dancing and broke into a big smile when he saw him. Although he was pale and weak from the blood he lost, he was able to sit up and had eaten some soup and bread. He wiggled into Cloud Dancing's lap and hugged him tightly. Elizabeth's eyes teared up and she didn't know why.
After a little negotiating, it was decided that Little Raven could come sit at the dinner table and eat with them, but then would have to go back to bed and get a good night's sleep. Dr. Mike convinced him that food and sleep were the keys to getting strong enough for the trip back to the reservation.
At dinner Elizabeth could hardly keep her eyes off Cloud Dancing. Fortunately, Little Raven was feeling well enough to provide quite a diversion so she hoped he was not noticing her staring. As soon as they finished eating, Elizabeth tucked Little Raven back in bed while Michaela started the dishes. Sully and Cloud Dancing were deep in a discussion of how to smuggle the child back onto the reservation under the eyes of the soldiers. Sully even wondered if they could hide him under her skirts again when she and Michaela visited the reservation to take supplies. Elizabeth laughed and said she would be happy to do it if they thought the idea would work.
Finally Cloud Dancing sat down at the table opposite her and said, "Mrs Grant, I could not help noticing you watching me at dinner. You look familiar to me, like someone I have seen somewhere but cannot remember where. Do I look familiar to you also? Have we met before?"
Elizabeth was held in the grip of his eyes, then dropped her eyes to the table, and whispered in Cheyenne, "I am Trading Girl, betrothed to your brother many years ago."
Cloud Dancing jumped to his feet almost knocking over his chair. Elizabeth also stood and turned her back to him. "I am sorry. I did not come back to rekindle your grief. I should not have told you who I am."
"Why did you come, and where have you been for so many years?"
"It's a long story if you want to hear it." She turned a little to see if he was interested. He just nodded slightly, walked over to the fire and sat on the floor in front of it. Elizabeth walked over and sat on the floor a little separated from him. She told him the same story she had told Michaela and Sully the night before. By the time she spoke of Sand Creek and Washita and the years after that, she was struggling to keep her voice from breaking. The tears were flowing down her cheeks and she was only whispering when she finished. Then she sat there quietly and waited for Cloud Dancing's response.
At last he cleared his throat and said, "Little Bear would have been proud of you."
"Cloud Dancing, can you tell me about the years I missed with my family and Little Bear? How did he live and what did he do after I was taken?"
"Shall I tell you in Cheyenne?" he asked.
"Yes. If there are parts I don't understand, I will ask. I want to be able to close my eyes and go back and live the years I missed," she whispered.
For the next two hours, Elizabeth sat with her head on her knees and her eyes closed listening to stories about the people she loved most in this life. Cloud Dancing made them come alive for her in ways that all her dreams and fantasies never could. The longer he talked, the stronger his voice grew, as if he was receiving strength from the memories of his loved ones to continue his battle. The only time his voice grew soft and distant was when he spoke of riding to Washita with Michaela and Sully and finding the bodies of the entire tribe on the grass near the fort.
Suddenly Elizabeth turned to him. "Cloud Dancing, I want to go there. I need to see where this happened. I need to be able to say good-bye to Little Bear and my family. Sully, you can take us there, can't you?"
"Well, I don't know... Yes, I can take you there. It's over three hundred miles from here. It may take a week to ride each way. It may be difficult for Cloud Dancing to get a pass for that long, but we can try."
"Cloud Dancing, you will come too, won't you? Will it be too painful for you?"
"It will be painful, but I will try to come with you. I last spoke to Snowbird there. I have talked to her spirit many times, but sometimes it fades. Perhaps the spirit will be stronger there where we last spoke and where she died."
Three days later, Michaela declared Little Raven well enough to travel. It had been decided that the best way to get him back home was in a box of supplies. Michaela made frequent trips to the reservation in the wagon, and her next load would contain one extra box. Little Raven understood all too well the danger he was in and the danger the women would be in smuggling him home, and he promised to be still and quiet, no matter how uncomfortable he became. He had already apologized more than once for being so foolish as to try to run from the soldiers. For better or worse, he had learned the soldiers' lesson: causing trouble could get you killed.
The smuggling operation was accomplished without a hitch. They were able to talk to Cloud Dancing who told them he was negotiating for a pass to the fort near Washita. The sergeant was afraid to authorize a pass for so many days to him, so he had telegraphed his superior officer. They were waiting on his reply.
Elizabeth could hardly control herself for the next week. She had moved all her things to the Sully's home and taken up permanent residence in Colleen's room. Michaela insisted, saying she was happy to have someone to care for Katie who could also assist in the clinic. For her part, Elizabeth was happy to have something to keep herself busy, and she enjoyed being able to practice her returning Cheyenne language with Sully. In their home she could be herself. She was not completely White, but she was not completely Cheyenne either. With them she could be both. Sully especially understood her feelings, having also spent several years with Black Kettle's band. Except for her impatience waiting to leave for Washita, she was very happy. In town, she was introduced as the widow Mrs Grant from Boston. Nothing was said of her former life near Colorado Springs. The townspeople seemed to think she fit right in with the somewhat unconventional attitudes of Michaela and Sully. No one asked any questions.
Finally Cloud Dancing sent word that he had received his pass. They could leave in two days. Dorothy was going to care for Katie, and Brian would stay in town with Matthew while they were gone. Michaela was having second thoughts about leaving Katie for so long, but she felt strongly that she wanted to visit Washita again to see if she could erase some of the nightmares she still occasionally experienced regarding the massacre.
As they got close to Washita, everyone became quiet, lost in their own thoughts of what had taken place here three years earlier. Elizabeth rode close to Cloud Dancing. When she told him she felt guilty about asking him to come to such a painful place, he assured her it was his decision to come, and he was at peace with it. He was quiet as he was trying to feel the spirits of the people killed here.
As they topped the last hill and looked down on the grassy plain, Elizabeth was amazed at how beautiful and peaceful it looked. Without a word, they dismounted and walked down the hill. Finally Cloud Dancing stopped and pointed to a spot in the grass. "This is where we found Little Bear. Snowbird was just over there. She was still alive and we talked before she died. I would like to talk to her again."
Elizabeth knelt down on the spot where Little Bear died. She tried to feel his spirit with her, but it was difficult. At last she just started quietly talking to him. She told him about her kidnapping and how she had tried to escape to come back to him. She told him about her life in Boston, and how she dreamed about him even when she knew he would be unable to come and rescue her. Finally she told him how she had died the day she learned he had died. She lay down on the ground where he had fallen and believed she could feel his arms holding her. He did not speak to her, but she felt his love in his arms.
Nearby Cloud Dancing knelt where Snowbird had fallen. He was talking to her also. Michaela and Sully stood a little way off in each other's arms while Michaela tried to make peace with all the ghosts she felt. As a doctor, death was hard for her to accept, and the death of so many had left her feeling helpless and with a profound sadness and guilt she had never been able to shake. Watching Elizabeth and Cloud Dancing talking with the spirits of their loved ones, she gradually began to feel the living presence of her friends. Their mortal bodies were gone, but their spirits were still alive. Finally she knelt and spoke with Black Kettle who had given her her Indian name "Medicine Woman", with Snowbird, and with all the others who were her friends. She begged forgiveness for not being able to stop the massacre and for not being able to feel their presence since that day. She thanked them for everything they had taught her, and promised to use that knowledge to help others. She asked them to share their strength with her.
After a while, Cloud Dancing rose and went to Elizabeth. He took her hand and helped her up. He felt more at peace than he had in a long time, and he was happy to see that same peace on Elizabeth's face. He took her in his arms and held her there for a long time. Finally Sully motioned that he and Cloud Dancing should go and check in at the fort before they headed back to Colorado Springs.
That night as they sat around the fire after dinner, Cloud Dancing told Elizabeth, "Snowbird told me your family was happy that you are back in Colorado Springs again. She was happy for you also."
"Little Bear did not speak to me, but I felt his love as I lay in his arms. Maybe I have been away from the spirits too long to be able to talk to them yet. I want to hear his voice. I want to hear him say he forgives me for going away. I know you told me he knew I was taken, but I want to hear it from him. Do you think I ever will?"
"If you go to quiet places to talk to the spirits, after a while they will come to you. They are with you. You just need to practice listening to them."
Michaela spoke up. "For the first time since the massacre, I was able to feel the spirits of my friends. I was able to speak to them. I did not hear them speak to me, but I could feel the peace they were giving me. Perhaps with more practice, I will hear them speak to me too."
"I am sure you will, Michaela. The spirits will speak to anyone who is ready to listen."
That night Cloud Dancing moved his blanket next to Elizabeth and slept with his arms around her. She spent a peaceful, dreamless night.