Thursday, July 27, 2023

Chapter 4 of The Eagle’s Claw – A Guest Post blog post #610



Last week, Don Morgan, a fellow Okie, posted Chapter 3 of his novel The Eagle’s Claw. Today, we’ll see part of Chapter 4. The narrative is rather long, but I hope you’ll stay with it to the end.




By Donald T. Morgan

Chapter 4

Blood and gore from the Chandler boy’s dead horse gunked Román’s arms all the way to the elbows. His grandmother had roused him early to beat the sun to Blind Man’s Arroyo, hoping to reach Pedro before predators did. Once the horse was butchered, they hauled heavy chunks of meat on a travois back to the gowa where they jerked what they couldn’t eat right away.

The sun was at its high point before his grandmother got around to cooking a meal. As soon as they finished eating, she told him to wash up and go to the white man’s ranch.

He bolted outside, claiming he had to go for his run. She couldn’t object to that. She was the one who insisted he “train” every morning. Nobody else did, but then no one else had a grandmother who lived in the past.

At the base of the yellow-hued bluff that gave Rising Rock its name, he went into a loose-limbed trot to warm his muscles before breaking into a run. In his mind’s eye, others raced alongside him on this steep path where he imagined the Ancients had ascended from the underworld. They’d fought the Indah in these mountains. Indah—the outsider, the enemy. Once, that was anybody who wasn’t one of the People. Now it meant the white man.

The trail reached a hogback and dropped into a shallow canyon before looping back to the south. Pride demanded his ragged, rubber-soled sneakers beat the same steady rhythm at the end of his race with the sun as at the beginning. Upon re-entering the glade, he paused to peek through the door of the wickiup. His grandmother was gone.

Still huffing slightly, Román considered hiding out instead of going to the ranch house. He could claim the man hadn’t given him anything. That was no good. He had a strong hide-behind-face, but she could see through it every time. Surrendering, he rinsed away sweat and blood with water from a pot and walked down the rutted wagon road to the small meadow where he’d hobbled the mare last night.

Great piles of eiderdown clouds mushroomed high over the Chacons, an uncertain promise of a break in the weather, as the paint slipped into her easiest gait. Román placed a hand over his flat belly, exploring the hard knot that grew with each step. Yesterday there’d been a need. Today he could think of a hundred reasons not to go to the white man’s house.

Once he turned off the highway onto the gravel road, the ranch headquarters loomed before him. He reined in and stared. The big, white building must be like living in the Reformed Church down in the settlement. He tried to match the house to the man he’d seen yesterday. That hadn’t been a hiding man. Must be the woman who wanted to live in a fortress.

If the rancher didn’t give him a trinket, he’d have to swipe something for Cane-Woman. And if the man wanted his flashlight back, he’d have to steal it from his grandmother. They were turning him into a thief. He made his lips a firm, straight line and set his expression. Ready now, he kicked the paint into a walk.

A clock chimed from somewhere inside the house as he dismounted and dusted his jeans. A sly glance at the big, black car in the drive revealed the skinny, dark-haired girl he’d noticed yesterday perched on one sleek fender watching him intently.

“I saw you yesterday. You’re Román aren’t you? My name’s Teresa. Why did you just sit there on your horse? Took you forever to come down the drive. Doesn’t your horse know how to trot? Princess does. Princess is my pony. She’s a buckskin.”

Didn’t the girl ever take a breath?

“You don’t talk much. You talk American?”

Her monologue left him flustered, but he wasn’t about to let her see. She was an addle-brain who didn’t know any better than to chatter at strangers.

“I’ve been waiting for you for simply hours. Daddy said to bring you inside when you showed up, so come on.”

“Inside?” His gut churned like a mare in foal.

“Course. You don’t expect them to come out here, do you?” She dashed away, banging the screen behind her. Román staggered up the steps but ran out of steam at the door. She reappeared, an impatient look on her angular face. “Come on! What’s the matter with you?”

The room was big and airy, not dark and dank like he’d figured. Pictures hung on the walls. The rug, as thick and soft as a buffalo robe, would make a good place to sleep. He stayed on the girl’s heels until she skipped through an open door and announced he was here.

Rigor mortis attacked his muscles; stupefaction, his brain. The impulse to run came too late. Mr. Chandler loomed before him.

“Hello, Román. We’re glad you came by.”

He doesn’t talk, Daddy.” She turned to her yellow-haired mother. “Really, Mommy.”

“Hush, child.” The woman sat in what must have been the biggest chair in the world with an open book on her lap. She was awful old to be studying like some school kid.

The girl stared at him rudely. “You act like a foreigner.”

“You’ll have to excuse her,” the rancher said. “She’s forgotten her manners.”

He already knew that. Román was glad he didn’t have a candy-stick sister like this one. She yammered like a cross squirrel as they followed her parents upstairs.

The white boy sprawled on a huge bed in a room bigger than Cane-Woman’s wickiup. The injured boy had thrown the covers back to reveal trousers that looked so soft and flimsy they’d rip if he tried to sit saddle. The right pant leg had been hacked off to accommodate a big cast. Román nearly giggled at the sight of five pink toes poking out of white plaster.

“This is the rascal who caused all the commotion last night,” Mr. Chandler said. “Román, meet Paul.”

The boy on the bed grinned despite pain lines framing his broad mouth. “Thanks for coming to the rescue.” Paul shot a hooded glance at his father. “Wasn’t supposed to be over there, so they wouldn’t have found me till buzzards started circling.” The white boy gave him a look. “How come you didn’t say anything when I saw you up on the bank of the arroyo?”

“He still doesn’t,” Teresa said.

Her brother ignored her. “Why didn’t you let me know you were going for help?”

When Román answered with a shrug, the little girl simpered. “See, what did I tell you?”

Mr. Chandler cut in. “Well, everything came out all right. Paul, don’t you have something…?”

Paul burrowed under his pillow and pulled out a small box. “Here, this is for you.”

The reward he had come for. But he was struck dumb. He couldn’t move. Teresa shoved his arm. “Go on, open it. It’s real neat. Wish I had one.”

Román lifted the lid on the box holding a gleaming band of silver inlaid with sky blue turquoise, faultless except for a delicate copper webbing.

 “It’s a friendship ring.” Paul lifted a silver chain hanging around his neck.  “There’s only two of them just alike. And see, I’ve got the other one. Means we’re friends.”

The blonde woman spoke up. “There’s a chain in the box so you can wear it around your neck until it fits.”

Teresa went into a pout. “How come I can’t have one? Can’t I be friends too, Daddy?”

“We’ll see, honey.”

Román turned his new treasure over in his hand. For sure, Cane-Woman would take it long before the ring fit his finger. Mrs. Chandler looped the gleaming circlet through the chain. Her fingernails—red as wild strawberries—tickled his neck as she fastened the clasp.

“It sure is pretty.” He knew from teachers at school the whites liked you to take on over their things.

“Aw, it’s nothing,” Paul said. “Sit down and talk to me. I get bored doing nothing all day.”

“I come play with you,” Teresa said.

“Big deal. Paper dolls yet. Come on, sit down.”

All Román wanted was escape, but he collapsed on the nearest chair when Mr. Chandler applied pressure to his shoulder. As the others drifted out of the room, Paul settled back on his pillows and indicated a plate on a bedside table.

“Have a cookie.” He made a face. “Mom makes good ones, but she still has trouble getting sugar, so they’re not as sweet as I like them.”

Román took one and thought it tasted great. Then he sat woodenly, his eyes darting around to inspect model cars and airplanes lining shelves on the walls and hanging from the ceiling… until the questions started. Whites always asked questions. Where did he live? Did he have brothers? The white boy was as rude as his sister. Soon Paul knew he was orphaned and lived with his grandmother in a gowa. Román glanced at the radio beside the bed when somebody started crooning about a prisoner of love.

“You dig Perry Como?”

“Who?” Did the kid know he wiggled his toes when he talked?

“Perry Como. The guy singing. Teresa says she’s gonna marry him someday.”

Then the Indah boy started in on his name, pronouncing it a couple of times and asking if it was Spanish. “It’s a killer-diller name, but I’m gonna call you Ro, okay?”

“Guess so.” Could one person steal another’s soul by changing his name? What would the kid think if he knew Román was really Roan Orphan, a name no white man would ever hear.

The brown machine on the table started in on “I Love You for Sentimental Reasons.” He knew that one. Somebody called Nat King Cole sang it on a portable radio at the schoolyard.

Paul must’ve got tired of trying to steal his mind and decided to play a game. He hauled out a checkerboard and started teaching Román something called chess. He had no idea what the kid was babbling about, but he wasn’t about to sit through it again. When it was clear he was lost, Paul backed up and went over the rules once more.

Román grasped the mechanics of the game but didn’t make much sense of it until he looked upon the little gadgets as warriors. Even then, the Indah boy ended up winning. Like in real life.

Finally, Mr. Chandler came to the doorway. “Can I borrow your guest a minute?”

Román jumped up; Paul made a face. “Okay, but come right back.”

He trailed the rancher down the stairs and out to the corral where Mr. Chandler nodded to two ponies. “Aren’t they beauties? Fine stock, good build, recently broke. The black’s to replace the pony we had to shoot.”

What would the white man think if he knew most of Pedro ended up in their wickiup?

“And the chestnut is yours.”

His hide-behind-face cracked. “Mine?”

Mr. Chandler indicated leather hanging over the corral fence. “And there’s a new bridle and saddle. You can take them with you when you leave.”

This would take some thinking. Cane-Woman would trade the horse before the next sunset. He stalled, claiming he’d have to fix a place for the pony. The rancher told him to leave the horse in the corral until he was ready to take him home.

Román glanced to the west and was surprised to see the sun about to drop over the horizon. His grandmother would be fretting over the reward. Besides, he had some planning to do. The ring was one thing, but he’d put up a fight for the horse.

“I gotta go.” He almost forgot his manners. “Thank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome, son. Why don’t you say goodbye to Paul before you go.”

The white boy wasn’t willing to let things end that easily. “Come back tomorrow, okay?” Román shook his head. Paul worried his lower lip between his teeth. “Well, how about the next day?” When Román stood mute, he frowned. “Well, sometime this week. I’m gonna be stuck here forever.”

A bubble building in Román’s chest burst in a flurry of words. “Can’t come back. She won’t let me.” He was doing this wrong. Why wouldn’t they let him work it out for himself?

“But the gelding, son,” Mr. Chandler said. “What about him?”

His heart stuttered in his chest. He’d been stupid and lost the big horse.

“Well, let’s see what tomorrow brings,” the rancher added. “We’ll work something out.”

The room closed around him. The air thickened. He bolted. Fleeing down the stairs in a headlong rush, he shot through the front door. Only when he was on the paint did Román glance back. The rancher and the little girl watched from the porch.

The sun abandoned the sky, and a single blue-white diamond popped out overhead. The paint pranced homeward, inspired to a faster pace by the cool air and a second helping of grass from the white man’s yard. Román fingered the silver and turquoise ring suspended around his neck on a thin chain.


Don’t know about you, but I’m snared. Please let Don know what you think.

Stay safe and stay strong.

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it!

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Twitter: @dontravis3

See you next Thursday.



 New Posts every Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m. US Mountain time. 

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