A Yellowstone Season of Giving

By: Peggy L Henderson

Yellowstone Romance Series Short Story

Chapter One

Yellowstone Plateau, Autumn, 1850

An eagle soared lazily among the clouds, its long, drawn-out call echoing through the valley. The old man stopped and glanced up. Clouds covered much of the gray sky, blocking out all rays of the sun. A cold gust of wind blew strands of his silvery hair into his face, obstructing his view. He grumbled, and shook his head. Gripping his bow firmly in one hand, he wrapped his sheepskin fur tighter around himself. With a groan, he leaned heavily on his bow, and eased himself onto a large boulder protruding from out of the ground. A short woman strode up beside him.

“The eagle knows there will be snow later today,” she said.

The old man glanced up at his wife, and nodded. “Winter comes late this season. It is good that the snow has held off for this long. It has given us more time to prepare for the long months ahead.”

He looked in the direction of the faint sound of children’s laughter. Off in the distance, his sons, along with their wives and children, made their way across the valley. Their destination lay just a few miles around the bend in the river that meandered through the sparse, late-season buffalo grass. It would take no more than a few hours to get there.

“My bones are feeling the cold,” the old man grumbled. “They yearn for a warm fire, and some food in my belly.”

The woman glared at him. “Your bones are constantly complaining. Are they telling you that you are an old man, and no longer fit to make this journey?” She raised her brows.

“Woman, I can still outrun our grandchildren, if I choose.”

The woman laughed. “Then stop your complaining. Soon you can rest by a warm fire, and I know that neither your bones nor your belly will object. Your brother’s wife has never allowed you to go hungry, or left you out in the cold.” Her eyes narrowed on him. “Although at times you truly deserve it.”

“My brother’s wife has rubbed off on you too much, woman. Over the years, you have become as disrespectful as she is.”

The woman smiled, and shook her head. “Pick yourself up, old man, or we may not reach our destination before nightfall.” She gestured with her chin, and pointed into the distance. “There may not be any food left for you when we arrive.”

The old man frowned, and squinted into the distance. “Young people are always in such a hurry.”

“It was you who told them to go ahead. You said you would have no trouble catching up.”

Reluctantly, the old man stood, and gritted his teeth. A dull pain jabbed at his back, but he’d allow the spirits to whisk him away before he admitted to his wife that she was right. He wasn’t as young as he wished he was, and every year when the cold arrived, his bones and joints reminded him more and more of that fact. Even his brother’s wife, with her powers of healing, hadn’t been able to ease the worst of the pains.

Staring after his sons and their families, who were no more than mere dots in the distance, he sighed. He envied their youth and vigor. There had been a time when he was just as young, and full of exuberance, regardless of the weather. Winter, no matter how harsh and cold, had never slowed him down. He glanced up at the eagle, sending a quick thanks to the sky people for giving him a long and fulfilling life. Watching the mighty bird soar through the clouds, he drew strength from its presence. He straightened his back in a determined gesture. The cold would not slow him down this time, either.

“Let’s go, woman, or I might leave you behind,” he said in a loud voice to cover his discomfort.

He led the way down a short incline, and into a grove of nearby trees. They could shorten their journey by heading into the forest rather than following the course of the river through the valley. It was a bit more strenuous, but it would get them to their destination at the same time as his children. He grinned, and nodded his head in satisfaction. No one would call him an old man.

“Not only are you old and stubborn, you are also foolhardy,” his wife scolded from behind him. “What are you trying to prove by taking the more difficult route?”

“Hush your complaining, woman,” he said, and lengthened his stride. “Follow me, or follow your sons.”

The woman easily caught up to him, and matched his strides. “You are as obstinate as the day I first met you.” She glared sideways at him. “Even in your youth, you thought you could do everything. You were convinced that you had been touched by the sky people, and that you were invincible. All it ever did was bring you trouble.” She shook her head, and wagged a finger at his face. “The mischief you and your brother used to cause, and you were the instigator. How did I put up with you for so many seasons?”

The old man smiled at his wife. Hearing her speak of his youth invigorated his heart. She frowned at him.

“You would have never taken notice of me otherwise,” he said smugly, and touched a hand to her head.

Slowly, she smiled at him, and her features softened. Before him stood not an old woman, but the girl he’d lost his heart to shortly before his twentieth summer. He laughed.

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