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Flintlock Trail

As they awoke one morning a week after they had made their own camp, George Stroud hurried through the chill to Jacques Maxwell's lodge and entered. He grabbed a cup of coffee as he squatted by the fire. "Yellow Crow's gone," he said flatly.

"Are you certain she didn't just go down to ze rivair for some water?" Maxwell asked. He was concerned, but not too worried. "Or back into ze bushes to relieve herself?"

"Her pony's gone, too."

"She give you any indication she 'ad somet'ing to do? Some special task or somet'ing?"

"Nope. Not a goddamn word."

"Did she seem to be un'appy being 'ere?"

"Nope. I thought things was goin' just goddamn fine. When I roused myself this morning, the fire was burned down some, meaning she never stoked it up. I went out to look for her, and couldn't find her. Then I checked the horses, and her pony was gone."

"Zut! Allors!" Maxwell muttered. He looked at Dancing Water. "You know anyt'ing about zis, woman?" he asked roughly. When she hesitated, he said, "Don' lie to me again, une putain!" he snapped.

Dancing Water nodded. "She want to go home."

"Why now? And why sneak out like dis, eh?"

Maxwell's eyes were narrowed in anger. He cursed himself inwardly for having let his guard down so much.


"Zat putain, she went to told Great Bear and ze warriors where we are, non?" Maxwell asked, voice furious.

Dancing Water hung her head, but did not say anything.

"Zut! Ce cradingue un pot à tabac une petite putain--that dirty, dumpy little whore," Maxwell snarled. He swung toward Stroud. "Saddle yourself an 'orse, mon ami, and chase after zat bitch. Ran her down, and when you caught her, kill 'er."

"I don't know as if I could kill a woman, Jacques," Stroud said indecisively. "Not one I been layin' with regular for some weeks."

"Zut! Zen ran her down and bring 'er back 'ere. I'll take care of zat salope-bitch. Now go. Allez! Vite, vite!"

Stroud hurried out, running across the light coating of snow toward the horses. The other men saw his flight and began drifting confusedly toward Maxwell's lodge.

"What's up with George?" Lepari asked.

Maxwell explained it in a few short, profane sentences. Then he added, "You boys better stay wit' your women for now. Keep zem from running away."

Stroud galloped past them on his way out of the village. His face was white from cold, fear and anger. He was glad for the little snow that had fallen overnight. He would be able to follow Yellow Crow's tracks relatively easily, though it shouldn't matter. She would be heading for Great Bear's village, and Stroud knew in what direction that lay.

Back in the camp, Maxwell had paid no heed to Stroud's departure. "Tie ze damn women up if you 'ave to, but keep zem 'ere."

"Shit, I say we let 'em go if they're of a mind to," Beecher said. He felt betrayed, even though it hadn't been Singing Flower who had gone to pass the word of their whereabouts. He knew he had been the one who insisted the hardest to take the women with them when they left the village, so he figured he should take at least some of the blame.

"Ze Crows might not be so eager to attack us if we 'ave zeir women wit' us. Or maybe zey won' care, I don' know. Who can tell wit' zese savages." He paused, then added, "And be ready to fight, eh? It might come to dat."

An hour after he had left, Stroud came thundering back into camp. The men in the camp heard the commotion and boiled out of their lodges to see what they faced. Close on Stroud's heels were an estimated two dozen Crow warriors, led by Great Bear and Blue Smoke.