White Crow - Historical Fiction
At the hot springs, the women were on their knees, scrubbing the wet, heavy linens on the rocks in the hot, smelly, water. With their sun-browned hands and a rock, they rubbed and washed the fabric to a bright white. There was a sense of pride that their Don had three carts of linens. The other ranchos were envious of such wealth.
As the four-armed vaqueros smoked and talked, they appeared casual and unaware, but they had positioned themselves so they could keep an eye on their charges and the surrounding area.
The children were playing chase when the bandit leader fired the first shot. The women dropped the linens and immediately ran to the children. The men shouldered their muskets ready to meet the threat.
From the trees, five horsemen came charging down the hill. As the horse's hooves churned clods of sod into the air, Ortiz fired his musket, the heavy lead ball striking one of the guards in his leg.
Behind the bandits, Crow raised his rifle and fired. The ball hit Ortiz between the shoulders. Dead, he fell from his saddle. Crow let out a hair-raising war-whoop and charged down the hill.
Hidden by the hill, the second group of bandits, having heard the shooting, charged. From behind the bandits, LeRue aimed at the last villain in the group and pulled the trigger. His shot hit the bandit dead-center in the small of his back, knocking him from his saddle. He gripped his rifle in one hand and drew a war-hawk from his belt with the other. As he caught up with the unsuspecting bandits from behind, one by one, he began to kill them.
At first, the guards at the hot springs could not believe their eyes. The bandits were charging, chased by a wild man on horseback, a rifle in one hand an axe in the other. As he caught up with the bandits, he began to kill them with his axe. The guards, quickly regaining their senses, joined the fight. It was over in moments. Seven bandits lay dead or dying as their horses fled across the fields.
Crow and LeRue rode up to the group at the springs. The women were comforting the children, while two men tended to the wounded guard. From the group, one man, younger than the rest but better dressed, greeted their rescuers. He saw before him, two men. The tall one had broad shoulders and a full beard that enhanced his blue eyes. He wore his thick black hair in a pompadour that was caught up in a woven net at the nape of his neck. The second man was a bit smaller. His beard could not hide the smile on his face as he said in Spanish, “Hola, me llamo Jacques LeRue, y esto es Isaias Crow. ¿ Habla usted Inglés? (Hello, I am called Jacques LeRue, and this is Isaiah Crow. Do you speak English?)”
The young man, handsome with a gracious smile, replied in English, “I am Carlos Batista.”
Crow stepped down from his saddle. “My compadré and I were on the hill when we saw the bandits. It looks like we got them all. How's your man? Is he going to make it?”
“Yes, I think he will have supper with his wife tonight. Thanks to you, we will all go home.”
“We are going to San Diego. Is it far?” asked Crow.
“It is several days ride from here. However, first, I must take you to my father, Hernando Batista. He would never forgive me if I did not bring you home so that he could thank you for what you have done.”
“That is right kind of you. We have been traveling a long way and could do with a rest. Perhaps we could buy some supplies?”
“But of course. We will finish here and return to the rancho.” Carlos turned to one of his men. “Take one of the horses. Tell my father what has happened here. Tell him that we are all safe, but will be later than usual. Go now!” He called to one of the men tending to the wounded man, “José, collect the weapons from these bastardos. See if you recognize any of them.”
The sun was beginning to cast shadows as the oxen plodded along pulling the three carts stacked high with the washed linen. Alongside each ox, one of the older boys would occasionally encourage the beast with a long staff. The children and most of the women sat atop the linens on the first two carts. The wounded man lay under a blanket on top of the linens in the last cart.
Later, as the procession began to climb a hill, Crow saw a man on horseback appear at the top accompanied by six armed men. Crow and LeRue immediately readied their rifles.
“It is my father! Do not shoot!” shouted Carlos.
The horsemen arrived in a cloud of dust. One man pulled up next to Carlos. Crow saw the concern mixed with anger on the face of the man. “You are all right, Carlos?”
“I am fine father, thanks to these two men.” Reining his mount around, Carlos continued, “This is Isaiah Crow and his compadré Jacques LeRue. They saved our lives with great courage.”
The older man, tall and lean, his dark face clean-shaven, maneuvered his mount between Crow and LeRue and offered his hand to each man. In English, he said, “I am Hernando Batista. I thank you for saving my son and my people. We will escort you back to the rancho. We will have something to eat, and we can talk.” Next, Hernando greeted each of the guards, “I hear you fought bravely. You each will be rewarded.” He moved to the cart and the wounded man who tried to rise. “No, no, stay still. We will take you home. Your family knows that you live, and they are waiting.”
Hernando nodded at his son. Carlos raised his hand and motioning toward the hill called out, “¡Vamos a casa! (Let us go home!)”