The Feather and the Tomahawk
By Maz McCoy
They rode hard. Hooves pounded on the sun-beaten earth. Sweat covered horses breathed heavily. Ten men, ten horses, running, running fast. Kid Curry hung onto his horse, eyes focussed on the outline of his friend far ahead. Don’t lose sight of Heyes. Just don’t lose sight of Heyes.
What the heck had they done? Heyes said his friend Manny had a plan; a plan that could see them all with enough money to head to San Francisco. It sounded great. They’d talked about Frisco for a while now but just when they thought they had the money for the train fare something happened…like needing to eat or wanting to feel a soft pillow beneath their heads. And then they’d met Manny. Heyes was excited; their new friend had a lot of plans and ideas for ways to make them all rich. For some reason Heyes trusted Manny. Kid wasn’t as enamoured with the young Texan as his friend but he trusted Heyes’ instincts. Guess he’d been wrong about that.
The riders headed towards the woods at the foot of the distant hills. Heyes was up front, riding next to Manny. Kid rode at the rear eating their trail dust and hanging on.
They’d robbed a bank. What a stupid idea! What the heck had Heyes been thinking? THEY’D ROBBED A BANK! Guess Heyes hadn’t been thinkin’ at all. Had Heyes known all along? Had Manny shared his brilliant idea with him days before? He hoped not because if that was true he’d kill Heyes himself instead of letting a posse do it for him. When Kid realised why he’d been asked to ‘wait there and hold the horses’ outside the bank he’d caught hold of Heyes’ sleeve.
“What’s goin’ on?” he demanded, not letting his friend go.
“We’re getting that stake I told you about,” Heyes replied, pulling at his shirt, anxious to follow his new friend inside.
“Leave that to me, Kid.”
“I gotta go.”
“Heyes!” But it was too late. His friend broke free, walked away and followed Manny inside.
Before Kid knew what was happening all hell broke loose. The men burst out of the bank with Manny and Heyes in the lead. The rest followed, whooping and hollering like it was the fourth of July. Damn idiots. If the sheriff hadn’t known what was going on in his bank he soon would from all the noise they were making. The reins were grabbed from him, Heyes yelled, “Come on, Kid!” and they rode for their lives. Then a shot was fired.
Kid looked at the back of his friend’s head and the now all too familiar black hat Heyes had started wearing a few weeks ago. People started shooting at them. Bet this wasn’t in your big plan was it, Heyes? He cast a glance over his shoulder. The posse had given up a few miles back but no one was convinced they were safe. He didn’t think he ever would feel safe, not after this. He had the feeling he’d be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life and all thanks to his friend.
As they reached the woods Manny pulled his horse to a halt and the others did the same, gathering round their self-appointed leader. The damn idiot was still smiling; still laughing. He’d sure like to wipe that smile off his face.
“I told you we’d lose ‘em!” Manny punched one of the other men on the arm.
“How much did we get, Manny?” a boy, named Wheeler, asked.
“I don’t know we’ll count it later. We’re heading into the woods. If we get split up meet on the other side. You all know the rendezvous point, right?” There were mutters of agreement and heads nodded.
Heyes edged his horse closer to Kid’s. He smiled. “Told you we’d get that stake for California. I can almost smell the ocean.” Kid met Heyes’ eyes with an icy glare. “What’s the matter? Don’t you want the money?”
Kid did not reply, just shook his head and looked away. It was then Heyes noticed the beads of sweat running down his friend’s face and the pallor of his skin.
“Kid, what is it?”
“Come on, Heyes we gotta move!” Manny beckoned.
“Hang on! I think Kid’s…” He moved his horse around his friend’s mount.
“Come on!” Manny urged.
“Just a minute!”
Kid still hadn’t spoken. Heyes studied his friend’s face and then he saw the blood.
“You sure about this?” Manny asked, casting a suspicious glance in Kid’s direction.
“Yeah. You guys go on. We’ll catch up with you.”
“If you don’t, we’ll split the money without you.”
“I know. We’ll be there. Go on.”
“You sure he’s worth it? He didn’t want in on this in the first place.”
“He’s my friend.”
“If you say so, but he ain’t much of a friend if he loses you your share.” Manny turned his horse away and headed back to the main group. Heyes heard them ride off before he reached Kid.
“Surprised you didn’t go with ‘em.” Kid met his friend’s gaze.
“You’re hurt. I’m not gonna leave you.”
“Don’t do me any more favours, Heyes.” The dark haired young man stayed silent. “What about the money?”
“We’ll get that when we meet up with them.”
“Sure we will.”
“I don’t give a damn what Manny said!” Kid grimaced and rested a hand on his wounded thigh.
“D’you reckon the bullet’s still in there?”
“Course it’s still in there, you only see one hole don’t ya?”
“Let’s find somewhere to rest up then we’ll see what we can do.”
“I don’t need you to do anything. You’ve done more than enough already.” Kid turned his horse and headed into the trees not waiting to see if Heyes followed.
A rocky outcrop shaded by the canopy of trees provided a good place to rest. Heyes couldn’t miss the amount of blood soaked into Kid’s right pants leg as he helped him down from his horse. How much blood loss was too much? Did they need to find a doctor? He had no idea how serious Kid’s wound was. He’d never treated a bullet wound before. Neither of them had ever been shot before. There was that time back at the home when Billy Trigg…
Kid cussed as he hobbled away from the horses and sank to the ground leaning his back against the rocks. He’d tied his bandana around his leg but it was almost indistinguishable from his pants now that both were soaked in blood. He rested his head back and closed his eyes.
“It’ll be dark in an hour. Maybe we should rest here tonight. What do you think?” Heyes asked as he finished tying up the horses. “Kid? He cast a glance over his shoulder. “Should we make camp?” No answer. Heyes walked around the corner of the rocks and… “KID?”
His friend lay on his left side breathing rapidly. Heyes knelt beside him. “Kid?” There was no reply. He shook his friend but Kid was unconscious. He looked at Kid’s leg. The wound was still bleeding. Heyes pulled off his own bandana and wrapped it around Kid’s thigh. His friend groaned as Heyes pulled the cloth tight and tied it but he didn’t wake up. Heyes ran a hand across his mouth then looking down at his hands saw they were smeared with Kid’s blood. What was he supposed to do now?
Hannibal Heyes sat in the dark listening to his friend’s shallow and laboured breathing. He placed a hand on Kid’s forehead. It was damp with sweat and warm, too warm. There was nothing he could do to help. He’d even forgotten to put essential supplies in their saddle bags despite assuring Kid that he would do just that. As much as he hated to admit it he knew he’d let his friend down. He’d been excited about getting enough money to finally head to California. Finally they could start a new life out west. He’d been too caught up in Manny’s enthusiasm and confidence to see it for what it was. Today he’d become a bank robber and a thief, and he’d made Kid one too. He’d let down the only person he cared about. A sudden gasp from Kid drew his attention back to his friend; a friend he prayed would make it through the night.
Something roused Heyes. He hadn’t even realised that he’d dozed off but as he stirred from sleep, still sitting with his back against the rocks he became aware of something or someone nearby. He opened his eyes to the darkness and…
Something solid pressed against his throat pushing him back against the rocks and he gasped.
“Neehay awaw.” Fighting for breath, Heyes reached for his throat and found the handle of a tomahawk pressing on his windpipe. Heyes lashed out but the Indian was too quick and dodged the white man’s flailing arms and pressed harder against Heyes’ throat. Heyes reached for his gun but found the holster empty. He tried to kick out at his assailant but was lying at the wrong angle. The weapon pressed deeper and his boots missed their target. Heyes’ head swam and he felt himself losing consciousness.
Another Indian stepped into view and spoke harshly to the first. The tomahawk wielding Indian snapped something in reply then loosened the pressure on Heyes’ windpipe. Heyes gasped for breath and held his throat as he stared at the man before him. He had long dark hair tied away from his face and an angry scar ran down his left cheek. He leaned in closer and Heyes’ felt his breath on his face.
“Neehay awaw. Cow. Boy.” At least that’s what it sounded like. Heyes definitely heard the word cowboy but the rest was lost in a haze of gasping for breath and paralysing fear. It was then Heyes spotted his Schofield tucked into the Indian’s waistband.
The second Indian said something and Tomahawk sat back on his heels and gave Heyes a knowing smile. Brown eyes met brown eyes and he glared at the tomahawk wielding Indian. The second man moved towards Kid.
“Get away from him!” Heyes yelled, at least he would have had he been able to breath properly. Instead his words came out as a pathetic rasp.
The other Indian ignored him. Instead he reached down and placed a hand on Kid’s forehead. No doubt feeling the heat from Kid’s fever he looked at Heyes and said something before turning his attention to Kid’s leg. When he pulled a lethal looking knife from his waistband Heyes felt the panic rise in his chest.
“Don’t touch him!” He fought to move and quickly discovered that Tomahawk had a similar knife of his own. The point waved in front of his eyes. Tomahawk said something that was clearly a warning. Heyes looked at the second man and could do no more than watch as he cut off the bandanas from around Kid’s leg. He ripped open Kid’s pants leg and the long johns beneath and examined the wound. Heyes would swear that the Indian’s next words, aimed directly at him, were disparaging. He pointed to the wound, then at Heyes and he sure sounded unimpressed.
Tomahawk said something in reply but the second Indian who had a single long feather tucked into his hair shook his head. He stood up and Heyes noticed that he was clothed in a buckskin tunic and pants. Coloured beads swayed silently against his chest. The moccasins both men wore must be the reason Heyes hadn’t heard either man approach.
Feather spoke, Tomahawk nodded and sat further away from Heyes. Heyes cast a glance at Kid’s gun belt wondering if… Tomahawk chuckled and when Heyes looked at him he moved his arms away from his body revealing Kid’s Colt tucked into his waistband beside Heyes’ gun. He smiled and said something Heyes somehow understood; just his luck to run into the Indian version of Kid Curry. Tomahawk sat back on his heels and watched Heyes. Heyes looked around but Feather had disappeared.
A million thoughts ran through his mind as Heyes tried to work out a way to escape. What did they want? Was it the horses? Why hadn’t they just taken the horses? If they were going to kill them why didn’t they just do it and go? Why was Feather taking an interest in Kid’s wound? Maybe they wanted them for some sort of ritual? He’d heard stories about Indians and what they did to white men but he thought that was all in the past. He looked up and found Tomahawk staring back at him.
“What do you want from us?” Heyes asked. No reply. Heyes looked across at Kid then back at the Indian. Tomahawk smiled, grabbed a handful of his own hair, raised his knife and moved it slowly across his forehead. He smiled knowingly at Heyes. He wouldn’t really scalp them would he? Would he? Heyes swallowed hard.
It wasn’t long before Feather returned. He carried a bunch of leaves and a few pieces of tree bark. Heyes watched in fascination as the Indian knelt down, cleared an area of ground and started making a fire. Tomahawk said something and Feather shot him a look. Clearly they were in disagreement about something.
Once flames appeared, the Indian balanced his knife on a small stone with the blade pointing into the fire. A worrying thought struck Heyes.
“You’re not gonna…”
Feather looked up at the sound of Heyes’ voice. He said something and pointed to Kid’s leg.
“You’re not touching him!” Heyes made a move towards him, felt a hand on his shoulder then found himself face down in the dirt. “GET. THE. HELL. OFFA. ME!”
Tomahawk ignored him. With his knee pressed firmly into Heyes’ spine he pulled the young man’s hands behind his back and despite Heyes’ struggling his wrists were soon bound with rawhide. Heyes continued to cuss and squirm. He felt something pulled tight around his left leg, and then he was flipped unceremoniously onto his back. He groaned as his body weight forced his shoulders back into an uncomfortable position. He scowled at Tomahawk as the man tied the other end of a long piece of rawhide around his own ankle. The Indian pulled at the rawhide and Heyes’ felt his leg move. They were bound together. Tomahawk smiled and Heyes could almost hear him saying “Try and run away now, Cow Boy.”
Dismissing Heyes as an annoying distraction Tomahawk spoke to his companion. Feather had laid out the leaves onto the inside of a piece of bark. Despite his anger, Heyes watched in fascination as the man crushed up some of the leaves then took a piece of cloth soaked in water and squeezed the fluid onto the leaves. He mixed the water and leaves together, working them into a paste, and then beckoned Tomahawk. Tomahawk shook his head.
There was a short exchange between the men. Heyes had argued enough with Kid to know they were disagreeing about something. Feather pointed at Kid’s leg. Tomahawk pointed at Heyes. Feather pointed at his shoulder then at Tomahawk. Tomahawk snapped something back but when Feather pulled aside his tunic to reveal an ugly scar on his shoulder Tomahawk gave a heavy sigh. Reluctantly he moved towards the wounded white man. As he did so the rawhide around Heyes’ leg pulled tighter. Tomahawk grabbed the cord between them and pulled sharply. Heyes was dragged across the ground so that the Indian could reach Kid’s side.
Feather took the knife from the fire then Tomahawk listened as the other Indian appeared to be giving him instructions. When he reached across and placed one hand on Kid’s shoulder and the other on his wounded leg Heyes knew what they were going to do. Feather picked up a small piece of wood and forced it between Kid’s teeth. He took the knife and…
Feather looked up at Heyes’ words. He said something, his tone almost soothing. He repeated whatever it was he said, meeting Heyes eyes as he did so, then turned his attention to the wound.
Kid cried out the minute the knife touched his flesh. Heyes looked away unable to watch his friend suffer. He hoped the Indian knew what he was doing. Tomahawk held Kid down as his friend worked on the wound. Kid groaned with every twist and turn of the blade. Heyes closed his eyes but his ears were not so easily fooled.
Suddenly Feather cried out and Heyes squirmed into a position to see what had happened. Feather held up a bloody bullet. He smiled at Heyes as he showed him the distorted slug. Heyes breathed a sigh of relief then found himself dragged once more as Tomahawk decided he was no longer needed and moved back to his position beside a flat-sided boulder. Somehow Heyes didn’t feel the need to complain this time.
The young white man kept his eyes on the Indian as Feather placed his crushed leaves mixture into the open wound. Kid moaned but did not wake. His chest rose and fell in rapid succession and Heyes didn’t think he’d ever seen him look so pale. Once the wound was packed with the poultice, Feather wrapped larger leaves around Kid’s leg and held them in place with two strips of rawhide. Feather sat back on his heels and surveyed his work. He nodded, clearly satisfied then he looked up at Heyes.
“Thank you.” Heyes didn’t know if the man understood him but he seemed to for he nodded an acknowledgement.
Feather pointed to the horizon then moved his hand in an arc high overhead and then down again to the horizon again. He repeated the action then held up two fingers. He pointed to Kid’s leg. Heyes must have looked quizzically at him because the man repeated the gesture. Realisation hit Heyes.
“Two days? Leave that on for two days?”
Feather nodded; maybe he understood what Heyes was saying after all. Maybe they both understood English? Feather pointed to the horizon once more, moved his hand above him and then stopped and held up three fingers. He made a gesture. Heyes followed his every move then nodded.
“Remove it on the third day?”
The Indian nodded and Tomahawk grabbed Heyes and dragged him back against the rocks. He turned him back onto his stomach and then to Heyes’ surprise the rawhides were removed from his wrists. Hannibal Heyes was uncharacteristically lost for words. These men, who from all he’d heard should be trying to kill him, had probably just saved his friend’s life. They’d done more for Kid than he could and now they were untying him. It didn’t make sense. Tomahawk sat Heyes back against the rock, and then removed the tie around their ankles.
As Heyes sat contemplating the men’s actions he failed to see Feather sorting through their saddlebags. It was only when the contents of his own bag were tipped out in front of him that he was pulled from his thoughts.
Feather looked angry. He ranted as he pointed to the shirts, pants, and rolled up socks. He picked up Heyes’ dirty shirt and waved it at him as he gestured at the pile of belongings.
“What?” Heyes asked.
Clothes were tossed around. Kid’s saddle bags were emptied. More yelling. Heyes looked at Tomahawk hoping for an explanation but the Indian simply smiled at him and shook his head. He’d obviously seen Feather like this before. The Indian bent down in front of Heyes and held out a canteen. He turned it upside down but no water ran out. Angrily he waved it in Heyes face then pointed to Kid.
Heyes nodded. “Yeah, I know, I let him down. You don’t hafta tell me I know! All right? I know!”
Feather looked Heyes directly in the eye and shook his head. Heyes was stunned to see the look of disappointment on the Indian’s face. Tomahawk remained silent as his friend stood up and walked away stepping over Kid’s inert form as he did so. He returned a moment later with an animal skin. He held it out to Heyes who took it warily but soon cool refreshing water was trickling down his throat. Before Heyes could thank him Feather took back the skin, stepped away and with his back to Heyes knelt beside Kid. Although he couldn’t see, Heyes knew he was giving Kid a drink too. Heyes closed his eyes no longer fearing them.
Heyes didn’t realise that he’d fallen asleep until he found himself waking up. It was beginning to get light. His neck ached because he was still sitting against the rock and had dozed off at an awkward angle. Slowly he pulled himself upright and rotated his neck to ease the muscles as he looked around. There was no sign of either Indian. He looked across at Kid and watched anxiously for his chest to rise and it did. A steady rhythm too. He was sleeping peacefully. Heyes smiled and moved towards him. He placed a hand on the blond man’s forehead. His friend stirred. “Kid?”
Kid’s eyes moved beneath closed lids then he blinked. Two blue eyes looked up at him. “Heyes?”
“Yeah. I’m glad you’re all right.” Kid shifted position then gasped in pain as he moved his leg. “Take it easy you had a bullet in there.”
“I did?” Kid’s eyes narrowed as he tried to remember.
Heyes shook his head. “It wasn’t me.”
Kid looked around but saw no one else. “Who?”
“I don’t think you’d believe me.”
Kid studied his friend’s face. “What happened?”
“I let you down.”
“It didn’t mean about the…” Kid struggled to think, his head seemed lost in a fog.
“It’s okay. I want you to know I’m sorry. I shouldn’ta got you involved in the robbery. I shouldn’t have got involved in it either. It was a stupid thing to do. I was wrong. I shoulda listened to you.”
Kid smiled, weakly. “’Bout time you realised that.” He raised his head enough to look down at his wounded leg. He scowled. “What’s with the leaves?”