There was a gunshot and a shout, then a swirling mass of Blackfeet and horses. Paterson slammed into a warrior, knocking him down. He grabbed a rock and smashed the Blackfoot’s face with it. He dropped the rock and raced the few feet to where his frightened son stood. He scooped up the boy with his left arm and ran.
The darkness was both a blessing and a curse. In the little light thrown off by the almost-dead fires, he could not be distinguished from the Blackfeet. At the same time, he couldn’t really see where he was going.
He ran, moving by instinct to where McKagan waited with their saddled horses. He heard more neighing and the stamping of hooves and hoped Painted Dog had made off with the Blackfeet ponies and stolen Nez Perce horses. With luck, he and his companions would be mounted and on the trail before the Blackfeet could muster any kind of resistance or counterattack—hampered by being afoot.
Paterson tripped over a rock, but caught himself on his right hand before he hit the ground. He continued to run, dodging shadowy Blackfoot warriors. A shot rang out, then another. His son gasped and went limp. “Hold on, boy,” Paterson said. “We’re almost there.”
“That you, Lije?” McKagan suddenly whispered from behind a boulder as Paterson raced up to where his partner waited with their horses.
“Yes, dammit. Who the hell you think it is?”
“You said …”
“To hell with what I said,” Paterson panted. He stopped and started to set his son down. “Here we are, boy. We’re …” Paterson’s howl of agony tore through the darkness that refused to fully give in to the faint light. It was followed by a string of curses that shocked McKagan.
“Lije? What is it, Lije?” McKagan asked, worry and fear fighting for dominance in his voice. He shut up as he realized the boy was not moving. He knelt next to Paterson, who was bent over his son. “Dear Lord, Lije,” McKagan whispered. “He’s …”
“I know what he is, dammit,” Paterson hissed, jaw clenched so hard it hurt. He paid it no mind. He ran a hand over Sky Walker’s bloody head, pushing the hair away from the shattered forehead.
Painted Dog ran up, puffing. “Damned Blackfeet got most horses back. Near got me, but I got one of …” He stopped when he realized something was dreadfully wrong. “Is it … the boy?” he asked in hushed tones, not wanting to use Sky Walker’s name.
McKagan stood and pulled Painted Dog away. “Yes,” he said quietly. “Reckon we best let him be for a bit,” he added, though he was unsure of what to really do.
“Look after him,” the Nez Perce said.
“What’re you gonna do, Painted Dog?”
“Watch for damned Blackfeet. Maybe they come. Maybe not.” He spun and slipped off.
McKagan stood there, nervously shifting from foot to foot.
Paterson was unaware of the passage of time. He sat frozen – eyes unseeing. Pain lay like a cold piece of granite in his chest.
Suddenly Painted Dog ran up. He laid a hand on Paterson’s shoulder. “Blackfeet come.”
Paterson shook himself from his trance. He glanced up, eyes glittering darkly in the sun that pushed tentative fingers into the deep canyon. He nodded. He lifted his son, rose, then trotted back several yards, placing the body gently in the “L” created by a large fir and a boulder. He realized with a start that Black Feather stood nearby, face frozen in fear.
“I brought her,” Painted Dog said. “The other woman is gone under.”
Paterson nodded. “Stay here and watch over my boy,” he said, turning toward the woman. Then, with a dark, grim expression on his face, he trotted back the way he had come. He took a position kneeling behind a rock. He pulled his rifle from across his back.
Painted Dog and McKagan flanked him, the former standing behind a lodgepole pine, the latter behind a boulder ten feet to his left.
Paterson slid his rifle over the rock, and surveyed the field. A hundred yards or so ahead and a bit off to the left, away from the river, were the horses. They were bunched up in two knots—the Blackfeet ponies in one and the stolen Nez Perce horses in the other—amid the trees and rocks. Two Blackfeet watched over them, as best Paterson could tell. Seven or eight other warriors were moving toward their position, slipping between trees and rocks. He could see three bodies in the Blackfoot camp.
A lead ball clipped the boulder, spraying his left cheek with tiny shards of rock. “Bastard,” he muttered, and fired.
A Blackfoot warrior fell, a chunk of his head missing.
Paterson turned, and leaned his back against the boulder as he reloaded. His eyes came to rest on the fir tree where his son’s body lay. A deadness encircled his heart. He spun, snapped the rifle up, and fired, not caring if he hit anything. He dropped the weapon and stood. With a piercing howl—an inarticulate wail of pain and rage—he bolted forward.
He jerked out his pistols and fired as soon as a warrior popped out from behind a tree, bow in hand. One lead ball found its mark, but only wounded the Blackfoot in the arm. The warrior dropped his bow.
Paterson crashed into the man, sending both sprawling. He ripped out his knife and slashed the Indian’s throat, bringing forth a fount of blood. He did not notice.
He leaped up and darted forward, heading for the next Blackfoot he spotted. Several bullets and arrows flew past him. He paid them no mind.
He shifted the knife to his left hand and snatched out his tomahawk with the other. He skidded to a stop, bringing up the ‘hawk to block a Blackfoot’s wild swing of his stone-headed war club. Paterson jerked the tomahawk down and to the right, tearing the war club from the warrior’s hand. In the next instant, he jammed the knife deep into the juncture of the man’s shoulder and neck. The warrior screeched in shock and surprise. Paterson whipped the tomahawk forward, and the blade bit deep into the side of the warrior’s head. The Indian fell, the weapon stuck in his skull.
Paterson bent and grabbed the hilt of the tomahawk. He placed a foot against the dead warrior’s chest and jerked the weapon free. He looked around with blood-crazed eyes. He was dimly aware of Painted Dog grappling with a Blackfoot off to his left and McKagan to his right, kneeling next to a dead Indian while trying to reload his musket.
Paterson instinctively ducked as a warrior swung a war club—a horse’s jaw attached to a stout wood handle—at him. As the warrior stumbled, Paterson dropped to the ground and with his legs swept the Indian’s feet out from under him. The Blackfoot landed hard. In a moment, Paterson was on top of his chest. He plunged his knife deep into the man’s right eye socket. A scream erupted from the warrior’s throat, then abruptly stopped as Paterson cleaved his forehead with the tomahawk.
An arrow tore through the collar of his shirt at the back of his neck, grazing the skin. Another sliced a furrow across one bicep. A third knocked him sideways as it hit him in the side, sticking lightly in a rib. He rose and jerked the arrow free, tossing it down with contempt.
“Ain’t no Bug’s Boy can kill this ol’ chil’,” he bellowed. He stalked forward. “Come on out, boys. This ol’ hoss is half froze to raise hair on you.”
Three Blackfeet materialized from behind rocks and trees. One carried an iron-tipped lance, one a stone-headed war club, and the last a pipe tomahawk. They advanced warily.
With another howl, Paterson charged.
Two of the Blackfeet moved to the side, but the one with the lance stood his ground. He thrust his spear forward. The blade sliced through Paterson’s shirt and tore a jagged channel along the ribs on his left side, right where the arrow had hit.
Paterson slammed to a halt and jerked his body to the left, yanking the lance, which was stuck in his shirt, out of the Blackfoot’s hands. At the same time, he swung his bent leg up. His knee and thigh caught the warrior in the stomach. As the Indian doubled over and fell, Paterson jammed the knife to the hilt into the base of the warrior’s neck, driving him to the ground. The knife went with him.
Paterson yanked the lance out of his shirt with his left hand and tossed it aside. As he bent to pull his knife free, a Blackfoot plowed into him, knocking him down. He lashed out with an elbow, and rolled to the side. Without thinking, he drove the knife into the Indian’s chest. It was not necessary—the Blackfoot was dead, Painted Dog’s arrow sunk deeply into his side.
Paterson shoved the man off and rose. The third Blackfoot was running toward the horse herds, while the two pony guards were racing toward him. The fleeing Blackfoot yelled something as he reached his two companions. The two turned and joined the other in his flight.
Paterson sprang after them. As he ran, he saw a bullet kick up dirt to the right of the three Blackfeet. Behind him, Paterson could faintly hear McKagan curse at having missed. Ahead, two arrows just missed the fleeing Blackfeet.
The warriors realized Paterson was gaining on them, and they skidded to a stop, and turned as one.
Paterson did not slow. He simply barreled into them before they could move apart. He scrambled to his feet and unleashed the full fury at his son’s kidnapping and killing. His knife and tomahawk whirled in a furious attack that had the Blackfeet reeling. They could not counter the flashing blades or the maniacal rage of this white devil. They fought back with a fierce desperation, striking out with war club and tomahawk and knife. But they were no match for Paterson’s furious assault.
Paterson hacked and slashed, and kicked the trio of warriors. One went down, then another. The third spun and tried to flee, but Paterson pounced on him. In a raving bloodlust, he chopped the downed Blackfoot unmercifully.
Suddenly a small sound behind him drew his attention. He jerked his head around and saw one of the other Blackfeet trying to rise. In a flash, Paterson was on him, his bloodlust raised afresh. He hacked the Indian to pieces and went for the other one.
“Lije!” McKagan shouted, “Lije! Stop, dammit!”