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Thread: Grace by Ant Other Name...a short story and early Christmas present to everyone.

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    Grace by Any Other Name...a short story and early Christmas present to everyone.

    SCENE: A timber fort under construction somewhere along Montana’s Bozeman Trail. A light snow is falling on the crude timber wall and hastily made shacks housing the soldiers and workers. A young lieutenant James David McAffee is in his shack putting a few more logs into the open door of his cast iron stove. He pours another cup of hot coffee in his tin mug and sits back in his chair to finish writing his dispatches.

    “What was I thinking”, he says to himself. “I was smart enough to be in the Army Engineering Corps and dumb enough to volunteer to build this wood cutting camp”. I guess someone was needed to do it, but all I have gotten out of it is a frozen ass, frozen fingers, frozen face, and bad coffee, but I think it would be wise to leave that out of my report.

    “Lieutenant”, we found something for you”, blasted the familiar voice of the Sergeant Major from just outside his door.

    “Don’t stand on ceremony, Sargent major, bring it on in”.

    The door swings open and two figures wrapped in just one buffalo skin robe are pushed in and fall to the floor. He can see they are both old. A man and a woman….Lakota Sioux, but very old and near frozen to death. “They were found out near where we were doing some cuttings. I think they might be scouts for Red Cloud. We searched them, but they had no weapons on them. Only ceremonial fetishes and heathen things like that.”


    “Go get our scout, maybe he can find out why they were out looking over our cuttings” “


    Yes, Sir, but you know it would be even easier if we just took them out beyond the wall….”

    “Just go get the scout, Sergeant”!

    As the sergeant leaves he looks in their eyes and they both seem resigned and distant. No fear or even pain. Yes they are shivering, but they look different than someone lost out in the snow….and besides, Indians don’t get lost out in the snow. Everything Indians do has a purpose to it. He motions for them to get near to his fire in the stove to get warm. They do so and when they do so, he locks eyes with the old man. He sees no enemy there, and he does not see hateful eyes looking back at him. Instead he sees an ancient wisdom there.


    As they await the scout, he takes the bowl of warm stew he was eating and hands it to the woman. She looks surprised, but quickly dips a spoonful into the old man’s mouth, then takes one herself. They now readjust themselves and share the bowl of stew as they are beginning to be warmed by his stove. The old man looks over their shared robe at him, and then goes back to eating.


    A pound at the door and without waiting for a reply, the Sergeant Major returns with the scout who wears an Army tunic with corporal stripes.. All eyes in the room look up as they enter. He notices both the old man and the woman’s eyes narrow a bit in anger when they see him. Not surprising since he is working for the Army and they may think he is a traitor because of it.


    The scout goes over to them and immediately starts talking to them in their native tongue. It is easy to tell they are both not happy with the conversation. After a brief pause and seeing the old man give the scout a “go away” gesture with his hand, the scout turns to the Lt.


    “They are scouts for Red Cloud just as you thought. He says his name is Two Wolves. They are here to spy on us and tell what we are doing. You should kill them now.”

    All the time he is talking the two sit there near the stove sharing the stew. Not saying a thing or seeming to care.

    “Thank you, Corporal, as usual, you have been a big help”.

    “Sergeant Major, and extra ration of meat for this man”. On that, they both leave.


    Being an engineer and of an inquisitive mind, he knows something does not add up. Feeling this is true, he takes some paper from his desk and pen and ink. Sitting down on the floor with them in the same manner they are, he draws a bunch of trees and two stick figures, then gestures to then they represent the two. Then he gives them a questioning look, asking, why were you there?

    The old man understands and immediately gets another piece of paper and starts to draw. He draws the same image the lieutenant did but much smaller in a corner, then draws several high hills. On one of the high hills near the other end of the page, he draws a figure on a man lying prostate on an elevated platform. He also draws a circle for the sun and a line going from the man to the sun and up in the sky. Now all is made clear. His engineer’s mind fills in the blanks.

    The old man, with a woman in attendance was going to his death ground when a snowstorm blew up and they took refuge in the trees they were cutting. That was how they wound up in his cabin this night. The lieutenant nods to them his understanding, puts another two logs in the stove, then lays out two extra blankets he has on the floor for them. He motions in sign language, they can continue on their journey when the storm is over, and for right now they are guests in his lodge. There is no war between them.

    The woman looks kindly at him and gives a slow downward nod to him, closing her eyes as she does. They can stay here for the night. Tonight, there is no war. He feels this old man has done a lot of hard living, seen much death, and also saw some peace. He has earned the right to die honorably on a day of his own choosing. They all settle in for the night, though he does ensure his Spencer rifle is tucked up in the corner near him. All now settle in for the night.
    Last edited by Retirednsmilin308; 09-10-2019 at 01:00 PM.

  2. #2
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    Sometime before dawn, when the darkness still rules the earth and it is at its coldest, he is awakened by a warmth from the fire in the stove and a soft murmuring. Some new logs were put in the stove and the fire is raging and warming the entire cabin. So warm they have shed their buffalo robe.

    He sits up and sees the Two Wolves give something to the woman, then begins chanting again. The light from the raging fire makes seeing easy. The woman nods to Two Wolves in agreement, then picks up the piece of paper he drew on earlier.

    Turning to Lt. McAffee, she hands him the object Two Wolves gave her. It is a carved stone fetish of two wolves resting on a large stone attached to a leather necklace, and on either side of it are two small feathers of white and brown. She places it lovingly in his hand and then shows him the paper Two Wolves drew.

    She points to the distant hill with the figure on a man lying on it and motions with her hand…NO. She then places both her hands flat on his cabin floor as if to say, HERE! He wants to die here. Here, where he is warm, fed, and there is no war. This takes him aback, but he agrees, due to his age and honorable life, he has earned that right, so he nods to her in the slow way she did to him, with eyes closed as he does.

    Taking the fetish necklace, he puts it around his neck and goes to lie down again, but the woman stops him, takes the necklace softly in one hand, opens his shirt with the other hand an places it against his sin, then closes everything up again and gives it a soft pat. Ahhh, OK, it must go against the skin. Thank you. All communicated without one word being spoken by either of them.

    He drifts off to sleep hearing the murmuring of Two Wolves singing his death song. As he drifts away, he knows there is something holy and right about what he is experiencing right now.

    He lies in his cot and through drifting eyes sees the woman put an arm around Two Wolves and gently weep in a quiet but sad way.

    The Lt. wakes to a start as he gets up to the warmth of fresh wood on the fire instead of the usual half dead embers he has to stoke. He rolls around to sit up and sees something few white men see. She has dressed the now dead two Wolves in a way to carry him on past this life, and having finished, she patiently waited for him to wake up. The fetish dances free on his chest and he gets dressed. Though it be stone he does not feel any chill from it. Probably just slept on top of I, I guess. She gets up and follows him outside after he is dressed.

    The camp outside is stirring in their usual morning routines. Bugle calls are forbidden and unnecessary out here. Every man knows his job and what to do.

    “Sergeant, release their horses and send two men in my quarters to retrieve the body of that Indian who died on my floor last night”. He knows he has to talk this way to maintain his command presence. “When that is done, send them on their way. They are not scouts and will give us no trouble”.

    Yes, Sir. .. young shave tail might just get us all killed. How the hell does he know they are not scouts, he thinks…

    Sergeant, I think I will go on the reconnoiter today. I think I might be getting cabin fever.

    You think that smart. You are the only officer within 50 miles of here.

    Knock off the bull$#@!, Sergeant. You think I don’t know my way around here and will stumble into some trouble is what you mean, right?

    Yup, Lt., that and the fact I don’t know $#@! about engineering.

    Well, I’d just as soon get lost killed or froze out there than have to drink one more cup of this crap they call coffee or this warmed over horse manure they call Army stew. Hell, we might get lucky and run into an elk. Now wouldn’t that be nice.

    Alright, just be careful and wear that buffalo robe you got.

    I wouldn’t even dream of leaving here without it. Now make all the preparations for reconnoiter detail.

    He then looks respectfully in the near distance as the old woman thanks the body of two wolves on a travois through the snow to some destination unknown to him.
    Last edited by Retirednsmilin308; 09-10-2019 at 12:48 PM.

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    He leads the reconnoiter detail and skillfully scans the area for just the right clump of three to cut. This Montana territory out here on the boarder is not at all like it is back east, he thinks to himself. Here the trees grow strong and tall like everything else out here. The territory affects everyone who sees it in some $#@! way. Oh, well, can’t think on that now. Got to find the right area of trees.

    Coming to one of the few flat areas he notices an excellent forest off to his left past the clearing. These look real nice. Damn, its cold. Pulling both ends of his buffalo robe even closer together across his chest.

    Corporal, there off to the left. He commands as he point that direction. Those look real nice.

    The whole detail now changes direction and heads that way.

    Looks like it might take us about…..

    The impact of the slug hits him square in his chest and in mid-thought. He falls and is half knocked off his horse. Landing in the snow he gasps for breath as the wind got knocked out of him from the slug. With his left hand he puts it over the impact and a large lead ball rolls out into it. He can’t really look, but feels it with his fingers.

    Too far away, or the powder was too wet he thinks in a microsecond.

    Struggling to get up he feels a sharp pain on the side of his head then the world around him goes detached as a slow twilight carries him away to darkness.

    A young warrior stands over him and thinks, “What traitor of a woman made such a wonderful robe to one of our enemies.” Rolling the limp enemy on his back he starts to take the robe from him and tears his shirt in the process.

    As he tears the shirt struggling to get the robe off his slain enemy, he now thinks of all what will be said of him as he goes back with the robe and whatever else he may claim from this white soldier.

    Then he is dumbstruck. He stares in disbelief at what he sees. He can’t move. Though a brave young man, a terror takes over him. He unleashes a scream and runs away from the entire fight as fast as he can in the snow. He needs to get away and get away now. How did his enemy get such a sacred medicine and now it is angry with him. He runs, runs, and runs again. Mortal fear of an angry spirit drives him on. The sounds of the quick and sudden battle becomes more distant as he goes.
    Last edited by Retirednsmilin308; 09-10-2019 at 12:49 PM.

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    Form on me!

    Screams another sergeant not too far behind the reconnoiter party. This party has the wood cutters, wagons, and some seasoned troops all battle ready. Their job is to come to the relief of any reconnoiter details if trouble starts.

    Trouble started.

    Spurring their horses on the sergeant in charge has done this many times before….and too often. As a reb officer we had the same basic job. Now that the Yankees are in need of men on the frontier, he volunteered. The Yanks did not mind one bit ex-rebs getting shot up out here.

    Riding on he already knows what he will find. Bodies in the snow. Stripped, mutilated, with anything they might sell or trade taken away. Then there is always the smells. Men tend to $#@! and piss themselves when they die, red or white. Red & white like the blood on the snow that is always there too. At least in this winter weather the smell is not so bad.

    Not a moment to waste as he comes upon the scene. He sees all he expects to see. They call Indian victories massacres because no one is left alive by them.

    Skirmishers! A few men set themselves up to the right and left of the scene, Spencers at the ready, looking outward.

    Private James, go back and tell the wagons to come up! We won’t be bringing any timber back in them today.

    Dismount! Let’s take these souls back for a Christian burial.

    As they all busy themselves to their respectful but grizzly task, he scans the area and notices movement about one hundred yards off to the left. Chambering a rounds, he walks slowly that direction to investigate. It looks like the snow was moving. Creeping slow and cautious as a seasoned soldier would do, he stops to take in what his eyes are transmitting to him but his mind is not understanding.

    Not fifty yards away are two wolves. One white and one brown. They are pressed to and have wrapped themselves around the motionless body of an officer. An officer he knows and recognizes. The brown one is around his feet and legs and the white one is on his side with a paw over his chest licking at the center of his chest. This is not how wolves behave. This is different.

    Lowering his carbine, the wolves stand up, look directly in his eyes, then both tug at something around the fallen officer's neck, and then bounce off in the snow.

    Getting closer to his Lt. he can see the tell-tale of breath he has not noticed before.

    Firing his chambered round in the air he screams, “ He’s alive! The Lieutenant is alive”! Three men quick!.
    Last edited by Retirednsmilin308; 09-10-2019 at 12:52 PM.

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    As the Lt. is picked up and carried to the on-coming wagons a small stone amulet is seen by the men over the deep red and purple chest wound he has. They don’t know, but both white and brown feathers it used to have attached are gone.

    A hand goes to move the amulet away, and another hand stops it. “medicine….best leave it alone, is said. He was saved and kept warm by two wolves. Best leave it alone. Damnedest thing you ever saw”.

    A train of six wagons rolls away in the distance from a scene of battle that will be repeated many times more in the future. What will not be repeated are the two white and brown wolves watching them from the tree line. Each with a feather of their respective color in their mouths taken from the amulet, setting each down in the snow they then make their way back into the trees together.

    Two feathers lay in the snow as a new fresh white blanket starts to cover and embrace them. Better these feathers be buried in the snow this day than the kind white soldier he blessed in the last hours of Two Wolves' life. This protection will follow him until his time comes.


    “The worst enemy of us all is the evil we allow to dwell in our hearts and continually feed”.


    RetiredNSmilin308 – author, September 7th, 2019.
    Copyright 2019


    Merry early Christmas, my friends.

    May there also be no war between us.
    Last edited by Retirednsmilin308; 09-10-2019 at 01:27 PM.

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    Good stuff Retired.
    Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.
    Robert A. Heinlein

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