The Mysterious Mesa, Part Five, Horses of a Different Color

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Nate peered into the growing darkness as long as he could, trying to catch a glimpse of the herd of horses huddled together on the far side of the field. He and his companions had dined well on barbecued antelope meat, and were enjoying a well-earned rest.

Gonzalo sat cross-legged a bit too close to their campfire, trying to get enough light to read the book that Nate had given him, Don Quixote in the original Spanish. He was obviously quite amused by the comedy, and often chuckled, occasionally even laughing aloud in delight at Cervante’s wit.

TS-TMM-P5-clwT’cumu was busy crafting a handle for the nine-inch-long claw he had cut from an attacking demon’s foot. It was a perfect natural blade, slightly curved, and razor sharp. Using his stone knife and awl, he carved a choice piece of hickory wood, making a hole in one end deep enough to house the claw’s knobby base, similar to the way it had fit into its original home. Once the blunt end of the claw was jammed firmly into the handle, he wrapped straps of wet antelope hide around the joint in a tight, binding pattern. When the leather finished drying it would be a deadly weapon.

With the knife completed, T’cumu went through the same process with the long, two-pronged horn he had taken from the strange antelope he had shot for their dinner. He wasn’t sure exactly what it might be good for, but he was pleased with the shape and feel of it in his hand. It could certainly deliver a fearsome blow if applied properly. T’cumu smiled at his handiwork, feeling a bit smug in the knowledge that he was a far better knife and tool maker than poor Ni-T’o, who could never hope to match his skills.

It had grown too dark for Nate to see anything beyond the light of the campfire, so he rejoined the group.

“Sounds like you’re enjoying the book, Gonzalo,” he said, pleased that he had thought to give it to his friend.

“Cervantes was a very naughty fellow!” Gonzalo said with a laugh in his voice. “Had he written this in my time, he might have gotten in trouble! The book is a treasure, and I thank you again for providing me with such an unexpected pleasure.”

“Well, I had my enjoyment from it, and it was just taking up space in my saddle bag. I’m just glad you’re so tickled with it.”

“You must be a highly educated man to be able to read this in Spanish. It is plain that you know much of the arts and letters. Your father, the teacher’s doing if I recall? He must have been a very wise man.”

Nate sat down between his two companions, and stretched out comfortably against the log they had dragged into place for just that purpose. His face took on a bit of a wistful quality as he recalled his youth, something he rarely did since traveling through time.

“Well, my pappy was a well-to-do fellow. He spent his early childhood in England, then moved to Boston where he studied at a fancy school. He would never have ended up leaving civilization for Texas if he hadn’t met my mother while she was visiting relatives in Boston. She was an auburn-haired beauty, and well worth any sacrifice, he always said. She was a fine woman, my mama, the daughter of a very successful rancher and horse breeder. Grandpappy wasn’t much educated, but he was the cleverest old coyote you ever saw, and he had a good deal more money than the uppity folks on my paternal side ever dreamed of. I wanted to be a rancher too, but my older brother was in line to take over, and we didn’t see eye to eye much. Once I came of age and was beginning to do a bit too much hell-raising around home, Pappy packed me off to Boston to attend the same school he had.”

“An education is the greatest gift a man can give his son.”

TS-TMM-P5-rpblctxs“Yeah, well, At the time, I didn’t appreciate it so much, but now I reckon I do. I only lasted three years at the school, I just couldn’t abide those upper-crust city slickers. That life just wasn’t for me, and once I had learned what I wanted to, I hit the road. My folks were mad as hell, and they stopped sending money, so I needed to get a job. The United States Army was recruiting, and took me on even though I am a Texan, not an American. I knew horses well, so I became a cavalry scout. I’d been doing that for about five years when I ended up here.” He turned to Gonzalo. “How about yourself, Gonzalo? You obviously obtained an education back in Spain.”

Gonzalo nodded, his face also taking on a wistful expression. “My father was a minor noble, a count, and my mother the daughter of a vintner. They had plenty of lands and wealth. We were most fortunate. My brothers and sisters and I were raised on a large winery in Seville, a lovely province in the warm south of my country. We always had teachers, and knew the Bible and the classics nearly by heart. I feared I should never read such beauty again, until now.”

“How did you end up in the Americas?”

“Ah, it is a story quite similar to yours! I was a younger son, and there was really no place for me in the family business. Besides, I was born with an urge to wander, so on my sixteenth birthday my father gave me his sword, I got on my horse, and rode to the port of Cadiz. I joined the army there, and since I was good with letters, they shipped me off to England to serve in the Spanish embassy. After that posting ended, I met de Soto, and decided to follow him. Unlike that evil man, I didn’t seek blood and gold, I sought only adventure, a young fool, naive to the cruelties men are capable of. I learned far too much of greed and sin, and was considering deserting his party even before we were whirled away through time to this primeval land.”

“A fellow deserter. We truly are a pair.”

“I am curious, why did you leave your fellow soldiers behind? You never speak of them as if they were evil, like de Soto and the worst of his lot.”

“No, they were fine enough fellas, mostly. So were the Cherokee we were escorting. Good people who didn’t deserve what we were doing to them. That’s a long, sad tale, I just don’t have the heart to tell it right now, maybe another time. The lot of us ending up here probably wasn’t much worse than where we were taking them, better maybe, since now they are free once more. I only left because I got in a bit of trouble with one of their chiefs . . .”

“Ah! Let me guess! A woman must have been involved!” Gonzalo exclaimed with a wink and a knowing grin.

Nate couldn’t help but laugh.

“Guilty as charged! She was the chief’s daughter, a darn pretty little thing of eighteen years, and horny as a cat in heat. I resisted as best I could, but her pappy caught us smooching, and all hell broke loose. I swear, her innocence is still intact, we was just a-kissin’ and a-huggin’ like a couple of damn fool kids! Sure, maybe she was a bit young for me, but not by any more than I seen many another man obtain! Anyway, the chief and his boys came after me with their tomahawks, and I had to beat a very hasty retreat. I was lucky I got out of there with Poppy and my pistol, I had to leave behind some things that I sure might like to have about now, such as my musket, and my spyglass. So, I declared myself retired from service in the US Army, and set myself to wandering. It was only a few days later that you saved my sorry butt from T’cumu’s game snare.”

Gonzalo smiled understandingly. “You are a good man, Nate, I believe the father acted too strongly, but men’s blood runs hot when it comes to their precious daughters. He probably regrets it by now, and most likely has forgiven you. Perhaps someday you can return for your lost possessions.”

“Yeah, I have a few things in mind regarding that. It’s still a good ways down the road.”

Nate felt like changing the subject, so he looked over to T’cumu, who was contentedly fondling his new claw knife.

“That’s a fine Arkansas toothpick you got there,” he said, pointing to the deadly looking weapon.

“Real sharp,” T’cumu replied in English, then went on a bit in his native tongue.

Nate was still struggling with the strange language, but caught most of what T’cumu said, something about finding the same demon, and killing the damned thing with its own claw. Nate grinned at the young warrior’s ruthlessness, and did his best to reply in the tribal tongue, even though it would probably sound a bit broken.

“T’cumu strong. Kill bad thing with sharp knife,” was what he thought he was saying, but both T’cumu and Gonzalo, who himself was fairly fluent, burst into laughter.

Nate’s cheeks flushed a bit and he stammered out, “What? What’s so funny?”

“What you say—” T’cumu tried to answer, but then went into another fit of laughter.

“Aww, come on. Help me out here, Gonzalo!” Nate was growing more embarrassed as they continued laughing.

Gonzalo clapped his hand over his mouth and took a deep breath through his considerable hawk’s beak of a nose. Thus calmed down, he leaned close to Nate, eyes bright with merriment. “We know what you were trying to say Nate, but . . .” Gonzalo paused to stifle another round of laughter. “But, what you said was ‘T’cumu tickle bad thing with his sharp penis!’ ”

“All right, I get it.” Nate’s face had taken on a nice rosy blush. “I guess I better study up on my injun vernacular before I say the wrong thing to the wrong people!”

Nate started laughing, too, and his friends ended up giving him a proper language lesson until it was time to turn in.

****

Nate didn’t sleep much that night, and took the majority of the watch. At dawn he was peering into the gloom to see if the herd was still there. They were, and he breathed a sigh of relief. They had found a bounty of useful goods on the mesa, but nothing compared to a fresh population of horses. This was his future as a horse breeder, a calling he had always wished for, that would now be an important factor in keeping humanity alive in this hellish world of giant man-eating lizards. Nate looked at what he already considered to be his herd, and smiled in the wan light.

Gonzalo was making breakfast while T’cumu joined Nate in his vigil.

“Good horses?” T’cumu asked. His English was improving rapidly, but still needed work.

“I don’t know yet. We need to get a better look at them.”

“Sun up soon. We go look.” T’cumu was almost as excited as Nate about the discovery. He had become an excellent rider under the tutelage of his two friends from future times, and had grown very fond of the beasts.

TS-TMM-P5-stwGonzalo had concocted a simple but tasty stew from the meat of T’cumu’s ‘unicorn’ antelope and a variety of herbs the multitalented tribesman had gathered. It was hot, and good, made even better by the chilly breeze blowing across the mesa from the nearby ocean. It was the first time any of them had actually felt cool since their arrival in the bizarre world of the incredibly distant past, and they relished it.

“Great stew, Gonzalo!” Nate said between mouthfuls.

“Very good!” T’cumu agreed.

“Thank you, my friends.” The compliments made the repentant former conquistador smile. “A soldier should be able to cook himself a decent meal on the trail, one of the only comforts he may find. In any case, the real thanks must go to T’cumu for providing all the ingredients! If it wasn’t for him I’m afraid it would be corn cakes again.”

They had all had enough of corn cakes, and would happily feed any of those leftover from their exploration to their horses when they were reunited two days hence. Meanwhile, the mesa’s sometimes strange, sometimes familiar plant and wildlife was proving to be a cornucopia of delicious comestibles.

Gonzalo eyed Nate from across the small cookfire. During the weeks they had been traveling together they had all formed a bond of friendship despite their very different backgrounds, and Gonzalo had come to know Nate’s moods as well as Nate had come to know his. This morning Nathan Tucker, son of a horse breeder, had only one thing on his mind. The man’s eyes rarely left the herd.

“Now that we have regained our strength, shall we go have a closer look at our visitors?” Gonzalo asked, knowing fully well what the answer would be. He smiled at the resounding chorus of “Yes!” from his companions.

Shortly, the three men were sneaking through the open woodlands bordering the flower-dotted field. Under the cover of a wild hedge, they managed to get within twenty yards of the wary animals.

They were close in size to Gonzalo’s Arabian stallion, Flavio, but much stockier, with a heavier head, thicker neck and legs, and a more rounded belly. They came in various shades, gray, dun, bay, buckskin and roan, just like the modern horse, but instead of having a variety of markings, they sported stripes in a darker shade of their base coat. The stripes ran down their legs, and along their back from behind the ears down to the flanks. Their muzzles were all dark. Their ears were erect, and roundish. They had stiff, upright manes that flopped over at the top like a cock’s comb. Nate and Gonzalo both thought they were attractive in an odd way, not as graceful as their own horses, but with a strong, rugged, beauty.

“Well,” Nate said quietly. “There’s a horse of a different color.”

“They somewhat resemble the wild asses of North Africa. Or, perhaps, more closely, the striped zebra,” Gonzalo commented.

“Maybe so, but just by looking at their ears, I’m pretty sure these are horses, not an ass or a donkey, and really wild, not feral like a mustang.”

The three men settled down on the cool grass in the shade to watch for a while.

Nate rubbed his chin, deep in thought. “I need to figure all this out.” Nate said in English, which helped him think better than his second language, Spanish, could.

Gonzalo followed most of it, but T’cumu could only catch a few words, and waited patiently, knowing that Gonzalo would translate for him later.

“When I was still back with the Cherokee, the people from the twentieth century told us that what they call the ‘Pre-Mounds’ tribes, like T’cumu’s people, came to North America from Asia sometime around twelve thousand years ago.”

“That is a very long time, in my old life I might not have believed it. But here we are many millions of years before our own centuries, in a world full of monsters. Unfortunately, I have no choice but to believe in them.” Gonzalo frowned, the memory of the dangers they had faced chillier than the morning breeze.

“I’m still not sure I believe any of this! I keep hoping to wake up in a big feather bed in Texas to find it was all just a nightmare,” Nate said with a bitter laugh. “Now, Gonzalo, it has always been my understanding that the first horses were brought to North America by you Spaniards. During your travels here, did you ever see any horses other than your own, or any evidence that there might be any?”

“No, never! The tribes we met along the way were all intrigued by the horses, they said they had never seen anything like them.”

“That’s what I thought. So, here’s the strange thing— That old geezer of a witch-doctor back at the village said that he had seen horses before!”

“He also said they were delicious.” Gonzalo added, with a grimace.

“Which might be why Ni-T’o, and T’cumu here, had never seen any until we came along, because the dang fool injuns ate ’em all up! So, I figure that there were horses in North America a long, long time ago, before Europeans brought them back, and we are looking at them! ”

“A native North American horse. Fascinating.” Gonzalo said, gazing thoughtfully at the colorful beasts as they feasted on the mesa’s plentiful grass.

The herd had spread out over the field, and a mare with what was probably her yearling filly had wandered away from the rest, not far from the watching men.

Just then, T’cumu tensed, and gave his tribe’s signal for danger, a flat palm, thumb up, moved back and forth toward the direction the trouble lay. This was a gesture that his new friends had come to learn well, and they immediately followed the motion with their eyes.

About fifty yards away from their position, the forest wall curved around the field to the northwest. There was something moving there, something large. The men watched in horror as not one, but three, menacing-looking creatures leaped from their cover and rushed the mare and yearling that had become separated from the herd.

“The lions!” Gonzalo gasped.

Three lionesses closed in on the surprised mare, surrounding her. The mare screamed a warning cry as she spun in a panicked circle, trying to find a path of escape. Her yearling was already fleeing, and was headed almost straight toward the men. The lionesses made their charge, and the mare went down quickly, the big predators opening her throat, and proceeding to tear hungrily into the hot, bloody flesh.

“Holy shit!” Nate said, struggling to get up as quickly as he could while reaching for his lariat. “This is our chance!”

Gonzalo and T’cumu were both readying their bows, in case the lions decided to follow the yearling. Fortunately, the big cats were engrossed in their meal, their goal accomplished, they took no interest in what was happening elsewhere in the wide field.

Nate steadied himself as the terrified young animal drew nearer to their hiding place in the brush. He would only get one chance, and he had better not miss. The familiar feel of the rope in his hand soothed his nerves. He had done this a thousand times before, learning the trick of it as a youth on his grandfather’s ranch.

“You two, get ready. I might need your help.”

T’cumu and Gonzalo stowed their weapons, satisfied that the lions were too busy gorging themselves to take notice of the strangers down the way, and prepared to follow Nate’s lead.

The yearling drew nearer, a pretty little buckskin with dark, reddish-brown striping. It was coming closer, and closer, and in a few seconds it would pass within ten feet of the waiting cavalryman.

“Steady, steady now . . .” Nate said under his breath, preparing to make the critical throw.

The target came into range. Nate stepped expertly out of the brush, his lasso flying cleanly over the yearling’s head. Once in place he pulled it tight. The frightened creature slowed, then tried to run, but was caught by Nate’s weight dragging her backwards.

“Dang, she’s strong! Here, you two take the rope, and whatever happens, don’t let go!”

Once the rope was firmly in the grip of his friend’s strong hands, Nate took another line from his belt, a simple rope halter. Coming from behind, he rushed in and pulled the halter over the yearling’s head, securing it before she had a chance to turn and bite. Now, with greater control, he put his weight into it, preventing her from rearing up. Despite his well-practiced techniques, she managed to give him a painful nip on his forearm, and he had to stifle a yelp, not wanting to alert the lionesses, which were still way too close for comfort.

“All right, I want you two to get on either side of her and hold on as best you can. Watch out for kicks! I’m going to lead her into the woods, and I need you to stop her from spinning around. Keep her on course.”

Gonzalo, well experienced himself in such matters, translated Nate’s instructions to T’cumu in the man’s own tongue. T’cumu, always a quick study, followed Gonzalo’s lead, and soon they had their weight guiding the struggling young horse. The procession reached cover, then moved as quickly as they could through the underbrush until they emerged in open forest.

“What are those lions doing?” Nate asked, holding the yearling’s head in a firm, but gentle as possible, grip.

T’cumu looked back, his sharp eyes able to pick them out through the brush and distance.

“Eating!”

“I don’t think they will follow us while engaged in such a lovely meal.” Gonzalo added.

“Hell’s bells, I hope not, we have enough trouble as is!” Nate exclaimed, feeling more than a bit annoyed at the lions for eating one of his precious herd! Even so, that was a problem for another day. They were in no position to take on a bunch of deadly predators at the moment. “Let’s double on back to camp and get this little girl settled in. We might as well start breaking her today.”

Gonzalo explained to T’cumu what had Nate said, and the young tribesman grinned from ear to ear.

“I will help!” he proclaimed, his voice full of excitement.

“You bet you will! We have a lot of work to do.”

Nate took a deep breath, his fast thinking had won their party a very unexpected, and welcome prize.

“We are the luckiest fellas in the New New World, a brand new horse just about jumping into our laps!”

Now that the danger had passed, Nate was beginning to feel elated. He had wanted very much to capture one of the odd-looking wild horses from the moment he had set eyes on them, and his wish had been, most unexpectedly, answered. He was so happy he mumbled a little prayer of thanks to the God he sometimes thought it might be prudent to spend a bit more time believing in.

They arrived back at their camp after a long struggle moving the captured animal. Nate scanned the wide field.

“All the horses are gone, along with the lions. I guess they followed the herd,” he said in Spanish so that T’cumu could follow better, the young warrior being more proficient in Gonzalo’s tongue than English at this point.

“Is that not a good thing? The herd will lead them away from us,” Gonzalo asked him.

“Yeah, I suppose so. It’s just that I hate to think of the horses being preyed upon. They’re worth far more than gold in this cockamamie place.” Nate’s face was grim with worry.

Gonzalo scratched his bushy beard as he studied his friend. “You mean to capture the whole herd eventually, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do. Think about it, Gonzalo. We now have something none of the other people in this world have, a whole bunch of horses. It’s a big advantage.”

“As a fellow horse soldier, I can certainly see that. It is much better to flee the great dragons on horseback than on foot.”

“It’s not just the dragons I’m thinking about . . .”

T’cumu, who had been listening intently, nodded his understanding. “People,” he said in a low, serious tone. “City people.”

“Exactly. Those big critters are deadly, but nothing’s more dangerous than people. Especially people who could raise an army some five-thousand strong overnight, if they wished to.”

“The Sun Warriors,” Gonzalo said, remembering the war-like would-be rulers of the City of the Pyramids.

“Or other sects. There’s still a lot about the city folk we don’t know. I think we took them cussed Rattlesnake Priests out of the picture, but there were still more pyramids besides the Sun and the Raven.”

“The Ravens are friends,” T’cumu said hopefully.

“For now,” Nate replied. “I don’t trust any of them as far as I could toss them, including that witchy Raven Priestess.”

“Really?” Gonzalo’s voice took on a sly, teasing tone. “What was that word you used last night? Ah, yes . . . you seemed to trust her enough for a bit of smooching!”

“That was her idea, not mine!” Nate protested, not wanting to admit that the Raven Priestesses’ lithe and mysterious figure often haunted his dreams, and a lot more than smooching happened in that ethereal realm. Determined to change the subject, he made his voice sound serious. “Look, I been doing a lot of thinking. Now that we have found this place, we need to start planning long-term about what’s best for us, and for T’cumu and Ni-T’o’s people. If we and our allies all had horses, the advantage would go to us.” He thought for a moment, then added with a pleased grin “Why, we would be the First Cavalry of the Cretaceous!”

Gonzalo and T’cumu grinned back in whole-hearted agreement.

“Well, it’s all well and good to ponder on, but meanwhile we have this here little beauty to manage, and I have a feeling she’s going to be a handful. Luckily, I learned my horse training techniques from Texas’s best,” Nate said confidently, looking forward to the job.

****

First, they erected a temporary paddock from brush and branches. Nate kept the yearling well tied to a sturdy tree within, there would be no escape for the still very upset animal. Once the paddock was secure, Nate began working on getting the wild yearling used to being on the lead, and obeying his instructions.

An hour later, a bruised and bitten Nate handed the rope to Gonzalo with a bitter sigh. “I hate being right all the time. She’s a double handful. She kicks, she bites, she’s the meanest, sneakiest little cuss I ever saw.”

Gonzalo smiled encouragingly at his tired friend, but couldn’t resist giving him a bit of a ribbing. “Are you still sure she is not a donkey?”

“Well, if it wasn’t impossible, I’d say she was a mule. At this point I am no longer sure she’s even a horse, but maybe another of this world’s demons from hell. One thing for sure, she’s the stubbornest little cayuse I have ever tried to break.”

Cayuse? I don’t know that word.”

“It’s an injun word for a horse like this, wild, mean, and not very pretty.”

“Ah. Well, until we determine whether she and her kind are actually horses or not, perhaps we should call them ‘cayuse’! I rather like the sound of it, a bit like the Spanish ‘caballo‘ mixed with the English ‘horse.’ ”

Nate chuckled, wiping the sweat from his brow onto his sleeve.

“Ya know, I kind of like it too, it fits. The ‘mesa cayuse,’ a brand new breed. Anyway, it’s your turn to take her on. Maybe you’ll have better luck.”

“Of course! We Spaniards are renowned for our skill in horse training. I am certain my techniques will be just the thing to tame our little cayuse.”

Nate just smiled and said, “Have at it. And good luck. You’re going to need it whether you know it or not.”

Another hour later, a bruised and bitten Gonzalo handed the rope back to Nate with a bitter sigh. “I hate it when you are right all the time, Nate! The creature is a demon from hell, an unnatural monster in horse-form. My best efforts have yielded no progress!”

Nate couldn’t help but laugh aloud, but resisted giving his sensitive friend a further ribbing.

T’cumu had been quietly observing the proceedings. Without a word to his friends from the future, he entered the paddock with an armload of various fruits. With a confident look on his handsome, young face, he strode toward the cayuse yearling, who stood glowering at him from the far side of the paddock, ready for another round of biting and kicking.

“I guess it’s his turn,” Nate said, looking on skeptically.

“Here, take the lead rope, T’cumu!” Nate called to him, but T’cumu just shook his head.

“I don’t need it,” he replied in nearly perfect Spanish.

Gonzalo and Nate looked at each other and shared a shrug. Nate tied the long rope to the tree, and the two of them vacated the paddock before they could receive any further injuries from the dangerous creature within.

T’cumu stopped a few feet in front of the yearling, and to Nate and Gonzalo’s amazement, sat down. Murmuring something in his tribe’s tongue that they couldn’t catch at that distance, he began to lay out the food he had brought. Then he just sat there, continuing to chant in a low voice.

The cayuse stared at him for a while, ears laid back in warning, and favored him with an unfriendly snort. When her visitor didn’t seem to even notice, she grew curious, and took a step toward him. Fearless T’cumu didn’t move a muscle beyond a slight swaying to go with his chanting. The wild yearling came another step closer, then another.

Gonzalo, worried for his young friend’s safety, began to call out a warning, but Nate shushed him. “Let them be, Gonzalo, shouting at him to be careful is just going to rile the damn thing up again. Let’s just see how this plays out.”

Gonzalo nodded his agreement, but still fretted. The cayuse was standing directly over T’cumu now, in range for a nasty bite, or a kick that could seriously injure the unprotected man on the ground. T’cumu just kept chanting, cool as a mountain stream. The yearling filly sniffed him then, running her nose all up and down his head and torso, but T’cumu didn’t flinch. She eyed him for a long moment, then seemed to make a decision. With a snort, she bent down, and began sniffing at the food that T’cumu had brought. Continuing his crooning song, he lifted a particularly ripe-looking persimmon up to the yearling’s mouth.

Nate and Gonzalo both cringed, expecting T’cumu to receive a nasty bite as payment for his kindness, but the cayuse took the fruit from his hand as pretty as you please, and chomped on it contentedly. When she finished that one, he held up another, which she also took readily. While she ate, the daring young warrior reached a hand up to gently stroke the soft, dark hair around her muzzle. She flinched a little, but he kept up the chant, and petted her again. This time she leaned into it, and he began to stroke her long face, then scratched behind her ears while she nickered with pleasure.

Nate and Gonzalo turned to look at each other in stunned disbelief.

“Nate, you know that my eyesight is not what it once was, but now I fear I am seeing things!”

“Well, mine are still pretty sharp, and I’m seeing it too, although I’m still not sure I believe it.”

They both gasped as T’cumu slowly rose to his feet while offering the yearling another choice fruit. As she ate, he continued to gently stroke and scratch her head and ears. After a minute, he picked up the remaining fruit, and began walking with it, holding it before her. After a brief moment of hesitation she followed. T’cumu led her a short distance, then paused to give her another treat. This time he went to her side and began to rub her back, in a way that he often did to Bella and the other horses that they particularly relished. The young cayuse was no different, she leaned into him, urging him to continue. After another little while, he went back to her head, and talked with her in soft tones, his face close to hers.

Nate and Gonzalo’s hearts filled with trepidation once again as T’cumu took hold of the short lead hanging off her rope halter. With a smile and a gentle tug, he began to walk. After a moment of hesitation, she followed along just as pretty as a picture, the odd striping giving her stocky build an exotic charm. As they made a turn past his speechless friends, T’cumu grinned.

“T’cumu technique!” he proclaimed, unable to keep a note of pride from his voice.

****

To be continued…

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