Years ago, when I was writing Rachel and the Hired Gun, I wrote some short vignettes about Sager, Rachel, and Sid Taggert. I was discovering how to learn about my characters--how to listen to them. I thought I'd share them with you here in case you're interested in a bit of their backstory.
Circle Bar Ranch, Dakota Territory - Summer 1854
Before he was a hired gun for Rachel’s father, before he was even Sager, he made a vow of vengeance…
Eyes of the Wolf stood as straight as the ropes binding him allowed. The hot summer wind dried the blood around his neck and wrists, gluing his flesh to the rope restraints. He looked at his surroundings, intent on finding escape. His captors had tried everything to prevent him from running. First they took his moccasins, then they bound him, and finally they stopped giving him water.
They stood about him now, slouching and inattentive in the heat of the ranch yard. A man came out of the house, tall, with dark hair graying at the temples. Sid Taggert. He exchanged words with one of his men, then shoved him aside and walked to the edge of the porch. Sid Taggert stared at him a long moment. No one moved. No one spoke.
Then he stepped hesitantly off the porch and barked an order at one of his men. Eyes of the Wolf made out the words “cut” and “rope.” The man argued. Impatient, Sid Taggert unsheathed his own knife. Eyes of the Wolf didn’t look at the knife, didn’t take his eyes from his mother’s murderer. Why he’d been brought here, he didn’t understand. But if it was his time to die, he would do so like a man.
Eyes of the Wolf felt the tremor in Sid Taggert’s hands as he sliced the taut rope that bound his feet to his hands and neck, keeping him hunched over. Sid Taggert’s knuckles dug into the raw flesh of his neck as he sawed at the rope. Freed, Eyes of the Wolf slowly straightened. His back spasmed, protesting the new position. At fourteen summers, Eyes of the Wolf was taller than most of the boys in his village. He was almost taller than his brother, Blue Thunder.
He didn’t like being shorter than his enemy.
Sid Taggert stared at him a long while, his eyes speaking lies that could not be believed. His hand came up to touch Eyes of the Wolf’s cheek. Eyes of the Wolf slapped it away, glaring his hatred at the man.
“Good God. You are my son. You have your mother’s eyes. You are the very image of her.” Sid Taggert wept. What kind of man wept before his enemy? “They did find you. You’re finally home.” Sid Taggert’s words made no sense to Eyes of the Wolf. He’d been home when the murdering band of white savages had slaughtered his mother and injured his sister, shooting them in cold blood. Murderers who belonged to this man.
Sid Taggert cupped Eyes of the Wolf’s face. Eyes of the Wolf jerked away. He took a step back. And another. Then spun on his heel and began to run, barefoot, across the ranch yard. The gravel and dried weed stalks hurt his scabbed feet, slowing him. One of his captors caught him, knocking him down. The man gripped his neck and slammed his head against the ground, shoving his face into the dirt and gravel. Dehydrated and weak, Eyes of the Wolf hadn’t much fight left in him. He grew still. Resisting was pointless. For now.
He wouldn’t always be surrounded, watched. He would wait for that time.
The man was suddenly yanked from his back. Eyes of the Wolf pushed himself up and turned over. He tried to spit out the grit, but his mouth was too dry. Sid Taggert and the man who had tackled Eyes of the Wolf shouted at each other. They spoke too fast. He couldn’t make sense of their words. One of the men went inside the house, and the others went to another building.
Something moved into Eyes of the Wolf’s line of vision. The sun was in his eyes. He squinted to focus. A white buffalo. Blue Thunder had seen its coming. A white buffalo will stand between you and your enemy. Peace will follow when you hear the truth, he had said. This had long been foretold, but Eyes of the Wolf had forgotten it until now.
“Who is he, father?” Eyes of the Wolf heard the white buffalo say. He felt the hairs crawl up the back of his neck. Animals do not talk with white man’s words. The scene before him blurred. He blinked, but his eyes were too dry to clear his vision.
“He is your brother, son,” Sid Taggert answered.
Son. Eyes of the Wolf tried to focus again. The white buffalo moved toward him, resolving himself into a boy. Eyes of the Wolf had never seen a child so white. Hair the color of sand, skin like mother’s milk. It was a wonder he could live, being so colorless.
But he wasn’t entirely colorless. His eyes were like a gray sky on a stormy day. If he was the white buffalo Blue Thunder had envisioned, he was a portent not of peace but of vindication.
A humming started in Eyes of the Wolf’s head. The song of his ancestors. They were coming for him, coming to steal him from his enemy. Darkness shrouded his vision. As he surrendered to it, he wondered how it was that a murderer could have made a white buffalo child.
No matter. One day, Eyes of the Wolf vowed, he would kill Sid Taggert. He would avenge his mother and sister.