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Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross
cover design © 2005 Ardy M. Scott.

 

 

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Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross
historical novel

 

Dr. Florence Byham Weinberg

 

 

 

Chapter one

  Her first raid as an Apache woman warrior!

Ahuila smiled in spite of her intense concentration. None of the ten in her father's raiding party knew she was there, least of all Naiche, her father. He'd ordered her to stay behind with the rest of the tribe. Raids were too dangerous, he insisted, though he'd been her trainer. Of course he'd say that—she was the last member of his family and he loved her—but a father could love too much, for too long. She'd seen sixteen summers and was ready to take her slain brother's place. Besides, this raid was far less dangerous than most.

She'd disobeyed.

For three days she'd followed the horses on foot, loping undetected in their wake. By day her wiry body responded to the enormous demands she placed on it. Each night her skills were tested to the utmost as she crept with practiced stealth toward the raiding party's camp. She had become her brother, in a way, but she'd always bested him at riding, shooting the bow or hurling a lance, and why not? Her guides and guardians had all been men since her mother's death ten years earlier. She dressed like them; moved like them. They treated her with more respect than she'd earn as a chieftain's daughter.

Twilight befriended her as she inched forward, downwind of the horses. It was second nature to study the path ahead: no rustling leaves or rolling rocks, never a snapping twig. There, in a clearing ahead, her father's raiders were cinching multi-colored saddles on the horses once again. Their preparations for battle were unmistakable. She watched them mount, then saw her father point south.

Her pulse raced. This was it; they were going for the attack. She licked her lips in anticipation, proud of her father's skill and poise as he set his course with an air of regal assurance. When the party started off at a trot, she stayed close behind, no longer stealthy. They'd not hear her now. Their attention was trained ahead, on the unsuspecting caravan, its belly exposed like a fat bison, ready for gutting.

* * *

Father Gabriel groaned and changed position to ease his aches. He'd slept on the ground hundreds of times—discomfort was his constant companion—but it wasn't the unyielding earth or cold, damp air that kept him awake. Nor was it the rushing of the nearby stream. Countless risks to the caravan marched across the stage of his mind like theatrical scenes, every waking moment producing some new worry. The distance they had yet to cover was at least seventy leagues, all the while trying to control an unwieldy mob.

So much to comprehend all at one time! Too much, in fact. Three missions, including all his brothers in Christ; wagons loaded with the furnishings of their three churches; the military escort, native guides and a small group of neophytes—Indians being instructed in the Christian life—and of course the herd of horses, mules, burros, sheep and cattle.

The Apaches could well attack the caravan at any moment, unprotected as it was in the dark. The streamside offered no protection. They'd be after the horses, of course, and anything else they could plunder. He groaned again as he considered the folly of crossing this wild territory in such a clumsy way. Yes, there was the military escort sent him from the Béjar Presidio on the San Antonio, but the soldiers were spread too thin to do much good. There were also a few Indian scouts, but of what use were they?

And yet, thanks to the unfortunate chain of events that seemed to escape anyone's control, this was what he—Fray Gabriel de Vergara, President of the three East Tejas missions and leader of this motley caravan—had been compelled to do in order to reach the San Antonio River.

Reach it he must, if the missions were to survive at all.

He changed position once again. So far, his prayers had worked; there'd been no attacks. He knew he should pray every waking moment. Perhaps this was a good time. The black cave of the heavens was hung with millions of brilliant jewels, glittering through interlaced pine branches, and the moon was down.

No sooner had be begun his prayer than he heard a low whistle, then another and another. Sentinels! They were signaling, warning each other of an Indian attack, just as he'd feared. Within a few heartbeats the quietude became a cacophony of shrieks and whoops as pandemonium erupted everywhere at once. Shouts and curses, more high-pitched howls and the sound of hoof beats filled the night air. In those few moments it took him to come completely awake, he'd somehow laid his hands on his heavy staff in the dark and now was standing many yards from his sleeping place. How had he gotten there? He couldn't remember getting to his feet. His shock became anger. Gripping his staff like a cudgel, he backed up against the wagon containing the caravan's most precious of treasures, the life-size statue of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Sorrows, destined to grace the new church building. No mercy would be shown to those who threatened her.

A younger Gabriel would have rushed into battle, but his years of training and discipline restrained him—barely. This was his place. His prayer, now spoken aloud, lifted above the confusion and noise.

"God, give me the strength to face martyrdom with courage! Help me not to disgrace our Franciscan forefathers!"

* * *

Only minutes earlier, Fray Marcos had staggered over to sit, exhausted, against the bole of a cypress tree. He rubbed his damaged feet through bulky bandages of homespun, wincing when his fingers passed over several large cuts. He'd chosen to walk barefoot all day. Now both feet were swollen and the bandages were too tight.

He—Marcos Ygnacio Romero y Emperador—was merely Fray Marcos now, only a cog in the vast machinery Spain and the Church had set in motion to colonize the New World and convert its inhabitants. Fresh from the Franciscan College at Querétaro in México, his studied humility blended with the joy of participation in such a vast and worthy enterprise. He'd joined the three missions from eastern Tejas after they'd settled on the Colorado River. There he'd been made assistant to Father President Gabriel, but harsh conditions had forced the missions to move once more. Their path south to new locations on the San Antonio was fraught with danger.

Suddenly he shivered, but not from the cold. A foreboding knifed through him. There'd been too few soldiers in the escort ever since leaving the Colorado. How could they hope to protect the entire caravan? The land was unexplored and unmapped, and only one of the soldiers could be spared to scout the terrain ahead while underway. Further, the caravan was large and unwieldy. It invited attack at any time, but especially at night. This night? He'd asked the same question ever since they'd started the trek.

His concentration was broken by something climbing the inside of his left thigh. He leapt painfully to his feet, yanked up his habit with a suppressed yelp and slapped at the offending creature. The dying campfire gave him just enough light to see it was a millipede. Thank God, a millipede! A centipede would have stung him badly.

The bandages seemed tighter than ever, now that he was standing. Just as he stooped to loosen them, there was a whoosh near his head, then a thud behind. Arrow! He dropped automatically to his knees, twisting to look back at the same tree he'd just been using as a backrest. An arrow shaft quivered there, colors vibrating red and yellow, precisely where his head had been a moment earlier.

In the next instant he heard whistles, low warnings from the sentinels. Warnings? Too late! The attackers were already there, within the campsite. His twisted on his knees, but his feet were so injured he knew he couldn't run, or even fight. He was defenseless. He sprawled on his stomach and tried to crawl toward deeper shadows, but his robe was too restricting. Panicked, he hitched both knees forward together, first one side, then the other, clawing at leaves and anything else he could use to pull himself along, but to where? Was his attacker even now charging forward for another shot?

A second arrow whooshed overhead, caroming among the trees, followed by the explosion of a musket close by. He pressed himself even flatter against the pine-needle cushion of the forest, and held his breath as he visualized his own body riddled with arrows.

He'd never thought of dying this way.

* * *

Ahuila glanced skyward as she loped behind the raiding party. The moon was already on the western horizon, but the glowing canopy of stars gave her night-trained eyes more than enough light to keep up with the horses. She thought of the booty from this one raid. It would make the tribe rich. Maybe her father would give her a new pony before the rest were sold to the Spaniards—her tribe called all the pale skins Spaniards—in the north, always hungry for high-quality horses from Spain and anxious to buy goods of any sort.

The hour it took to reach the caravan seemed to pass in a minute. She slowed when the raiders, holding their horses to a dead walk, approached the quarry with utmost caution. They seemed to slip through trees and shrubbery like whispering spirits, scarcely moving the foliage. Even the horses sensed the need for utmost silence.

Other animal noises gradually grew louder: snuffling, snorting, bleating, the shuffling of many hooves and an occasional squeal from a jostled horse. There were many animals in the caravan, more than just horses. Blending with all their sounds was the rushing of a stream ahead, but nothing else.

Four of her father's men separated from the group of ten. They'd follow the usual raiding plan, making a lightning inspection of the caravan's animals before stampeding as many horses as possible.

The remaining six tethered their horses in a grove north of the caravan. Three would probably move on foot toward the stream, where they'd signal the attack. She visualized them creeping in among the sleeping men. They'd shoot, stab and maim as many as possible, then seize objects of value wherever they could. There'd be so much booty they'd only be able to take along a few prize pieces but if the raid went well they could return for more, perhaps that very night.

She'd already decided how she could contribute. She'd wait on the northern perimeter and mind the tethered horses, making sure they were undisturbed.

She heard the cry of a screech owl from the streamside and her pulse sped to a new high. The tribesmen were in position; they were moving forward. Once again she pictured them, slipping unseen through the trees without a sound, but then she froze. A whistle! Then another, and another. Sentries, giving the alarm. One of her father's raiders must have been seen.

All stealth was abandoned as Apache war cries ripped the night. Her own cry blended with those of her brother warriors, and for a moment she raced forward, forgetting she had only her knife. No! She stopped short beside the horses as she focused on the sounds of battle. She could almost see the arrows and lances fly as the handful of defenders shot their guns into the darkness, hoping to hit shadows.

When cries and screams mixed with the warriors' whoops, she smiled, arching an eyebrow. Many deaths would mean even more booty. They could return and finish off the stragglers, then take much more. They could take everything.

There—the sound of a gun, but just one. Good! That meant the caravan was not well-protected. In a matter of heartbeats, her suspicions were confirmed. The warriors came running from the melee, four carrying something: a saddle, bridles, boots, a cloth bag filled with unknown riches. She came out of hiding then and helped every man mount, handing the booty up to him and slapping each horse's rump to get the animal off to a fast escape.

The last one was her father. She saw his surprise and sudden anger, but there was no time to make excuses or wait for the likely reprimand. That would come later. His stern look struck her like a blow, even though she'd prepared herself for such a confrontation. She held her head high.

Finally he handed her the silver-adorned saddle he carried, then mounted his bay gelding and took the saddle back. She slapped the bay's left haunch and he sprang away after the others, but not soon enough. As she turned away, she saw one of the enemy running towards them from the main camp, a vague blur as he passed in and out of the shadows and among tree trunks. He came from the very direction the first five warriors had taken in their escape. They'd passed him, but now her father was heading the same way, directly toward danger. Naiche had no lance, just the bulky saddle he held with one hand.

She reached out as if to pull her father back from danger.

* * *

Sergeant Fernando Alonso repositioned the saddle serving as his pillow. He propped one hand on the saddle pad, his usual mattress, and tucked the worn wool blanket around him, but rest would not come. He was uneasy. Too many trees grew near water; the sounds of the stream masked lesser noises and his bones told him an Apache raid was due this night.

The caravan was extremely vulnerable, a lumbering behemoth that had surely been seen by any number of enemy scouts. Who among those savages would not think to take advantage of the situation? He'd made sure his best men were keeping watch, but they were too few, spread too thin. Smart attackers could infiltrate and begin killing before any alarms were raised. In the confusion, they could loot freely.

Ah, well, any raiding party would wait until the moon set.

He rose to stoke the nearest fire, then returned to his spot. At least here, where most of the men were sleeping, he'd see something when the action began. He was almost dozing when he heard a screech owl, but… it was not an owl. The imitation was excellent, but not good enough. Apaches! A series of whistles around the camp perimeter told him his sentinels were already alerted to the attack. He rolled to the left and grabbed his loaded musket, then reached for his boots, but a movement in the shadows caught his eye.

There! A raider in front of a tree, at the limit of the firelight. The man stood motionless, looking toward the area where Fray Marcos had settled himself only minutes earlier. Then the warrior began to draw his bow, aiming that way.

"No you don't." The sergeant's words came as the musket hammer fell, but the Indian was gone. The shot had missed! There was no time to reload. Cursing at his own miserable aim, Alonso charged out of cover without his boots, barefoot. The attacker was running north, away from the stream, escaping. Were the raiders' horses there? It would fit the pattern of Apache raids: lightning attack, noise and confusion, looting, killings if possible, then escape. All in a matter of minutes. He ran with abandon until a sharp stone forced him to hop a few yards. Nevertheless, he continued on through the trees and into the open, where he saw half a dozen attackers mounting their horses. There was only starlight, but it was enough to see they all held bulky objects. Stolen booty! They must have been stealing it even before the sentries put out their warnings.

One was helping the others mount.

He snapped the musket up against his cheek, but the trigger was slack. He hadn't reloaded, and they were already moving, getting away, coming his way. Two galloped past him, then three more. Finally the last made his break.

"Bastards!" he roared, and waved his arms at the final horse and rider. The animal swerved abruptly, then stumbled. It went down with a crash and the raider was thrown, along with his booty.

Alonso reversed his musket, holding it like a club, and lunged for the figure on the ground.

* * *

Ahuila stood breathless, watching the unfolding scene as if each movement were many heartbeats long. She heard the man's bellow, saw him waving his arms in the faint light, saw her father's bay veer and go down, knew it had stepped into a hole by the way it stumbled. She watched Naiche's body fly in a wide arc and heard the heavy impact on rocky earth. Then the shadowy figure was upon him with a club in both hands. He brought it down with the roar of a bull bison.

Her hunting knife was held for ripping as she ran to help her father.

 

 

Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross Copyright © 2005. Dr. Florence Byham Weinberg. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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Author Bio

Born in the high desert country of New Mexico, Florence loved exploring the wilderness on foot and horseback. Those grandiose landscapes formed her sensibility. Hidden pockets of unexpected greenery tucked away near springs in folds of barren mountainsides spoke to her of gentleness and beauty in an otherwise harsh world.  She published her first poem in a children's magazine shortly after she learned to read at age four; wrote her first 'novel' at age six, entitled Ywain, King of All Cats. She illustrated the 'book' herself.

Before settling in San Antonio, Texas, she traveled extensively as an army brat during World War II. With her husband the brilliant scholar and teacher, Kurt Weinberg, she worked and traveled in Canada, Germany, France, and Spain. After earning her PhD, she taught for twenty-two years at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, and for ten at Trinity University in San Antonio. She published four scholarly books, many articles and book reviews, doing research in the U.S. and abroad.

When, after retiring in 1999, she was freed from academe to devote herself to writing fiction, she produced eight novels, ranging from fantasy to historical romance and mystery. Three are in print as well as one in press: a historical romance about the French Renaissance, published in France in French translation, and two historical mysteries, starring the eighteenth-century Jesuit missionary Fr. Ignaz (Ygnacio) Pfefferkorn, two set in the Sonora Desert and one in an ancient monastery in Spain.

Her favorite animals are horses—an intense love affair over many years—and cats, her constant companions. She enjoys music, traveling, hiking, biking, gardening, riding and swimming.

TTB titles: Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross
The Storks of La Caridad

 

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