Two miles below the Valoryvale twelve men were bedded down on a ridge above the Feather River and they were supposed to doze right off and get up at 5 A.M. and kill Indians.
Curl Watne tipped his flask taking a fiery nip of whiskey and King would have shot him if he saw that. No drinking before a fight, he insisted.
Watne wished to hell he was back in Iowa. Wished he was hitching the team to a plow, getting fields ready for corn. Instead he was on a rocky ridge overlooking a river, waiting to kill, all for a sack of gold. King promised a thousand dollars for a year’s work.
God damn the gold. Get it. Get back to your wife.
He hadn’t signed up for killing–just tending mules and helping build the big flume; nothing about killing Indians for their horses. There was a lot he wouldn’t be able to tell Martha.
Sabbah slept dreaming he was awake and seeing everything from a cloud. The thin-lipped moon kissed the crest of the big silver mountain beyond their camp. Not a puff of wind disturbed this peaceful night. The stars made countless tiny campfires overhead. The small band of Indians slept in Long Green Valley beneath the mountains by the whispering river, six Pah Utes lying in a circle of grass, his cousins, and his son. Thirty ponies stood a short distance off, their legs hobbled with rawhide, unaware they were being watched. Together they had traveled over the big desert to the big cold river at the base of the silver mountains. The People journeyed here each summer to hunt deer. Sabbah was dreaming of the good hunt that brought them here and the fat deer they would bring home to wives waiting by the pale blue lake three long days away in the east. And he was dreaming of rifles that shout six times. The white man said he would trade thirty rifles for thirty horses.
Something inhaled sharply and his dream spirit quickened. That part of him knew–Something is watching you! Awaken, don’t move! Let the illusion of sleep continue.
Above the river the falcon slept on her eggs until a stone rattled down the cliff sounding just like a snake. Small pebbles hit her chest startling her into a short, wobbly flight and what she saw next was worse than an invasion of snakes.
The horse gods were riding along the high rim of the canyon, making a shower of stones.
When she returned to her eggs they were all smashed. She circled the nest screaming wildly. She clenched cold gravel in her talons and let it go. She could not bring her eggs back to life. Now she would never show the young flyers the joy on the wind.
She jumped skyward and when she did she remembered her lost mate. Her sickness returned as if the smashed eggs were inside her stomach.