Part 13 of The Agents of the Vault is here! Grisom, Charlie and a reluctant Leland head out to find Doris!
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Agents of the Vault
By Grant Baciocco
There was no real sleep for anyone in those remaining hours before the sun started to crawl across the prairie floor in the east. Leland had not been untied and being hogtied made it difficult to get any rest. His arms and legs ached. Charlie and Grisom were unsympathetic. Grisom kept watch as there was still the threat of the Pinkertons finding them. Charlie’s wound kept him awake, but even if he hadn’t been hit by that arrow, he would have been awake with worry about Doris. He’s wanted to set out immediately, but Grisom had been right. There would be no way to track the indians in the dark.
When it was finally light enough to leave, they had the cart packed. Leland was happy to be stretched out in the back of the wagon as they’d finally untied his hands from his feet, though he was now tied to the wagon. They rode out to where Doris had been taken. The indian’s buffalo hide disguises were scattered where they had lain in wait. Grisom hopped off the wagon and looked them over closely. Finally he stood.
“Pawnee.” Grisom said solemnly.
“Well that’s fantastic.” Leland piped up from the back. “Nothing more I like to do than start my day tracking down some Pawnee injuns.”
Grisom let the buffalo skin drop to the ground. He walked around where the skins were looking for tracks. After a few minutes of following tracks for a few yards from the circle, he pointed south east. “They went that way. Probably camped near the Platte river.”
Grisom turned back towards the wagon and climbed back in. “River’s about half a day’s ride from here, I’d figure.”
“We’re headed away from Yankton.” Charlie said quietly.
“We are.” Grisom replied.
“And since we’re headed back partially the way we came, we may run into the Pinkertons.” Charlie said, the realization dawning on him.
“We may.” Grissom said, matter of factly.
Charlie was silent for a minute as the cart rambled on. “We don’t have to go after her, if it’ risks the trunk.”
Grisom smiled, “Kid, there are some things more important than that trunk. You’re prairie fire is one of them.”
Charlie smiled at Grisom. Still he couldn’t help but feel slightly guilty for sidetracking their mission of getting the trunk to Yankton. He was pretty sure that a true Agent of the Vault would sacrifice anything to keep the historical artifacts safe and sound.
They rode most of the morning in silence. Leland had fallen asleep with the rocking of the wagon and Charlie found himself dozing as well. It wasn’t until the sun was high overhead and Charlie heard a loud whoop, that he roused awake. He looked around nervously.
“Easy.” Grisom said quietly. He pointed straight ahead where, about 20 yards ahead, two indians on horseback were approaching the wagon. “Scouts.”
Charlie shifted uneasily.
“Take it easy kid, they aren’t posturing hostile. They are just checking us out.” Grisom said as he slowed the wagon. He then reached behind them and slapped Leland on the shoulder.
Leland sputtered awake, “What? What’s happening?”
“Shut up Leland. We’ve got company.”
Leland craned his neck around and saw the riders approaching. He sighed, “This is where it all ends. Fantastic.”
Grisom back handed him. “Shut up, or we’ll leave you with them.”
When the scouts were close, Grisom brought the cart to a halt. He whispered out of the side of his mouth, “Hands up. Do NOT reach for you gun.”
Charlie nodded and raised his hands along with Grisom.
The scouts approached stone faced. One stopped in front of the cart, the other made a long slow circle, inspecting everything about the cart. Glaring extra long at Leland, who refused to meet the indian’s gaze. The investigating scout then met back up with the other scout at the front of the wagon.
“Where are you going?”1 one scout asked.
Grisom cleared his throat and spoke back in the best Pawnee he could remember. “We come to see your chief. We believe your braves may have taken something from us in a raid last night.”
The two scouts looked at each other. “We do not know of this.”
Grisom nodded, “Perhaps not. But we would like to speak to your chief.”
The two scouts conferred with each other for a minute. “Why is the man in back there bound?”
Grisom turned and indicated to Leland. “He is a thief. We are taking him for trial in city.”
“You travel with a thief. Perhaps he is the one who took what you are missing.”
Grisom shook his head. “No. What was taken was a prairie fire.”
At those words were spoken, the scouts got nervous. This, to Grisom, was a clear indication they had the right group of Pawnee.
Grisom continued, “We only want to speak to your chief. We come bearing no harm.”
The scouts again spoke softly with each other for a moment. One of the scouts looked at Grisom.
“You will ride with us to camp. But first, all guns must be given to us.”
Leland spoke up from the back, “Don’t give them your guns! Don’t be fools.”
Grisom pulled out his pistol and reached back and clocked Leland in the head.
“Fine. We will turn over our weapons. We will want them back when we leave.”
The scout nodded as the other one rode up and began collecting the firearms. Two pistols and a shotgun from Grisom and Charlie’s pistols. The scout carefully looked over the contents of the back of the wagon and then returned to the other, dividing up the guns between them.
“Follow us.” Said the first scout and Grisom started the horses following them as they rode towards the river. After about 10 minutes Grisom and Charlie could see the village ahead. One of the scouts let out a whoop and a minute later, two braves rode up to meet them. They stopped for a moment as the scouts and the braves talked softly. The scouts handed the guns to the braves and then rode back past the cart.
“Where are they going?” Charlie asked.
“Back out to their post. We’re in their hand’s now.” Grisom replied, indicating the two braves. One of the braves motioned for them to continue and they did. After a few more minutes of riding, they were at the camp.
“Rest your horses here.” The brave said, a squaw came towards them with two water buckets. She placed them down for the horses to drink.
One brave dismounted. The other took his horse, and the guns and rode off. Grisom and Charlie climbed down off the wagon. Charlie gingerly favoring his leg.
One of the braves looked at him, “What’s wrong with his leg?”
“One of your arrows from last night.”
The brave nodded. He motioned to the squaw and barked out an order.
Charlie looked at Grisom, “What did he say?”
“You are to go with her to their medicine man. He will look you over.”
“I don’t think I want—“
Grisom cut him off, “Go. This backtracking will make it longer until we see a real doc. Their medicine man is better than nothing. I think they want to help us.”
“But what about what Leland said?” Charlie whispered tersely to Grisom. “Keeping us healthy just so they can torture us?”
“Don’t believe anything Leland tells you. Ever.” Grissom replied, putting a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “Now go with her.”
Charlie nodded and started hopping in the direction of the squaw who walked to him and let him put his arm around her shoulder to help him walk.
The brave indicated that Grisom should follow him. At this moment, Leland came to and looked around.
“Grisom. Hey! Where are you going?” he whispered.
“To see the chief.”
“And you’re going to leave me here?” Leland replied, indignantly.
“Someone has to watch the gold and the trunk.”
“Untie me then.”
“Not going to happen. If they start messing with our gear, you holler and I’ll come running. Otherwise you stay here and shut up.” Grisom replied. Then with a smile added, “You cause any trouble, I’ll leave you here. You know what they do to white men don’t you?”
Leland slunk down in the back of the wagon as Grisom walked away after the brave. They came to a large tent in the center of the village. All around the Pawnee people were curious as to the three white men in the camp, but other than lingering stares they went about their business. The brave motioned for Grisom to stand outside and he ducked into the tent. A moment later he reappeared, holding the tent flap open for Grisom to enter.
Inside the tent it was dark and smoky from several small bowls of smoldering sage. At the far side of the tent sat the chief. A large imposing man, older than most of the men he’d seen so far wearing elaborate, ceremonial robes. The brave indicated a spot for Grisom to sit and he did, removing his hat and bowing reverently. The Chief returned the bow, but eyed Grisom wearily.
“Why are you here?” the Chief said after a moment.
“Some of your men have taken something that belongs to my friend.” Grisom answered.
“The one with the hurt leg?”
“Your friend, the boy, was in possession of a sacred thing. A thing belonging to the land. A prairie fire.”
“Yes. That is correct.”
“My scouts saw the prairie fire running along side your wagon as you crossed the land. I sent them to retrieve it.” The Chief said. He stared at Grisom. “How did he come into possession of such a thing?”
“His father’s father was given the egg of the prairie fire, by the mother who was dying during the great drought many years ago.”
The Chief nodded solemnly.
“It is not right for man to keep what belongs to the earth, especially one so sacred as a prairie fire.”
Grisom nodded. “Yes. I agree with you, Chief. But this prairie fire was not born in the wild. She was born with man, so man is all she knows.”
The Chief’s eyes narrowed, “What is the boy’s purpose with it?”
“Purpose? To protect it. Keep it from men who’d take it away. Men who would use her for bad purposes. Harness it’s fire for war. Attempt to make more and use them in battle.”
The Chief shook his head and looked to the dirt floor of the tent. “These things must not happen.”
Grisom nodded in agreement. “Yes. You are correct. That is why the boy is protecting him.”
The Chief nodded. “You have two large trunks in the back of your cart.”
Grisom nodded. “Yes. One is filled with gold. Gold stolen by the man who is bound in the back of the cart. The other trunk must get to Yankton. The big city north of here. Inside of that trunk is an item of great importance.”
The Chief looked at Grisom, “You seem not like the other white men we have encountered. You seem not bent on greed. Taking the land, making it yours.”
Grisom smiled, “That is true. My life is preserving history.”
The Chief nodded. He called out to the brave who had been standing outside the tent. The brave entered and crossed to the Chief. The Chief spoke quietly to the brave. He nodded and then crossed and exited the tent.
“You must know, the reason I sent braves to capture the prairie fire is because I believed it was traveling with men because it had been captured. My braves thought the boy had been sleeping and the prairie fire was escaping. We meant only to capture to release onto the prairie later tonight when you had ridden on.” The Chief was quiet. “The prairie fire has been missing from the plains for many years. My braves were surprised to see another one.”
“Another one?” Grisom asked, raising his eyebrows. “You mean you have seen another one?”
Grisom’s question was answered when the brave returned to the tent and held open the flap and in came Doris and another prairie fire behind her. Doris saw Grisom and leapt into his arms, kissing his face repeatedly.
Grisom held her away from his face, “Okay, okay. I’m glad to see you.” He began petting Doris who whistled happily and snuggled down into his lap, but he was staring at the other prairie fire.
The other prairie fire stared back. Sniffing wildly in the direction of the newcomer that his fellow prairie fire was whistling over. Grisom held out a hand but the prairie fire took a step back. Doris looked quizzically at him and whistled three low whistles. The other prairie fire took a tentative step toward Grisom. Grisom, again, held out a hand. The prairie fire sniffed at it.
“Pahaat has lived near our tribe for decades. He is free to come and go, we do not hold him, yet he prefers to stay amongst our people. He has been our great secret.” The Chief said.
Grisom nodded, scratching behind Doris’ ears, “Much like Doris here has been the boy’s great secret.”
The Chief continued, “We believed him the last one. When we saw yours we wanted to get them together. Perhaps they are the last two prairie fires alive.” The Chief was quiet for a moment then added, “We would like to release them into the prairie where hopefully they can bring the population back.”
Grisom nodded, “That is not up to me. Or up to you. I think this will be a question for Charlie, the boy. And for Doris.”
At the sound of her name, Doris perked up and looked at Grisom, stopping her pawing game with Pahaat.
The Chief stood, Grisom rose as well, Doris tumbling to the ground and tackling Pahatt. The Chief looked at Grisom, “We shall ask the boy.”
“Yes.” Grisom nodded. “But remember, he is a boy.”
The Chief laughed. “As we all were until life opened our eyes to it’s grand design.”
Grisom nodded and stepped aside so that the Chief could exit the tent first. The brave motioned for Grisom to follow. Doris and Pahaat scampered around Grisom’s feet.
The Chief, Grisom and the brave walked across the village. Doris and Pahaat tumbling and roughhousing as they walked behind them. The Chief led them to where the medicine man was. The brave stepped inside the medicine man’s tent and a moment later reappeared.
“He will be out soon.” The brave said.
Suddenly from across the camp there cam a whoop. A brave came riding through the village of tents towards the chief. Others in the Pawnee tribe scattered as the brave thundered up to the Chief. The brave hopped down from his horse and crossed to the Chief. He whispered in his ear.
The Chief looked at Grisom, “You have those that follow you. Brave say that they found your camp. Found buffalo hides my braves left. Headed this way just now.”
Grisom scoweled. “Pinkertons. The greedy, evil men I spoke of.”
“Brave say woman rides with them.”
Grisom smiled, “This women is their Chief but she is greedier and more evil than the other white men you have met.”
The Chief smiled for the first time.
“We must go quickly. They are after the trunk. We must get away from you, your people before she finds this village. She will bring nothing but trouble to you. Blood.”
The medicine man’s tent opened and Charlie came out. He was limping, but not as much as before.
“Good as new.” Charlie said to Grisom. “Almost.”
At the sound of Charlie’s voice, Doris let our a screech that had all covering their ears. She barreled over to him, crawled up his leg and clung to his neck.
“Hey there girl!” Charlie said, hugging her tight. “I was worried about you.”
Doris replied with repeated licks on the face.
Grisom turned to Charlie, “Glad to see you’re okay kid, but we have to get a move on.”
“Why?” Charlie replied in between being slobbered on by Doris.
“Jane is on her way.”
Charlie nodded, “Well, I got Doris, so I am ready go.”
“Kid, I want you to meet Pahaat.” Grisom stepped aside and revealed Pahaat who’d been sitting on the ground next to Grisom’s feet.
Charlie’s eyes grew as wide as saucers. Doris stopped her outpouring of affection and turned to see what Charlie was looking at. When she saw Pahaat, she shimmied down Charlie and tackled the other prairie fire.
“There’s another one?” Charlie asked.
Grisom nodded, “Yes. And the indians think maybe they should stay together.”
“Stay together? How am I going to handle two of them?” Charlie replied with a laugh. He looked from the tumbling prairie fires up to Grisom’s face. The moment he locked eyes with the older man, he realized what was being suggested. Charlie’s heart sank.
“You didn’t promise that did you?” Charlie demanded.
“No,” Grisom replied, “Of course not. I told them that it’d be your decision and you’d decide what’s best for Doris.”
Charlie looked down at his friend, playing roughly with Pahaat. They batted at each other’s tails and tumbled wildly around in a ball.
He looked back up at Grisom.
Grisom smiled, “It’s up to you kid, but we gotta hurry. Jane and her men are en route now. We need need to get going or there’ll be no way we can escape without her seeing us.”
Charlie looked again at Doris. He clicked his tongue and she immediately stopped roughhousing and trotted over to him.
“Hey girl,” he said, patting her between the ears. “Listen, Do you want to stay here with Pahaat or do you want to come with us?”
The Chief chuckled. He looked at Grisom, “He talks to it?”
Grisom nodded. “Yes. And she understands him. Does Pahaat understand Pawnee?”
The Chief shook his head, “No one has ever thought to talk to it. Just an animal.”
Grisom shook his head and pointed to his temple, “Very smart.”
They both looked back down at Doris. First she took a few steps towards Pahaat, who got into a defensive position, assuming a tackle was incoming. But then Doris turned and looked back at Charlie. She looked him in the eye.
She then slowly walked towards Pahaat and embraced him. Their tails entwined for a moment. Then Doris whistled to him. He nodded and whistled back. Then in a heartbeat, Doris ran back to Charlie and scampered up his leg and arm to take her spot on his shoulder.
Charlie looked at Grisom, “She’s made up her mind.”
Grisom shook his head with a smile, “It would appear so.”
“Grisom,” Charlie said, “Tell the Chief I will bring her back. But she is not ready to stay just yet.”
Grisom nodded and relayed Charlie’s message to the Chief. The Chief nodded and said to Grisom, “I understand. He seems to have a good heart. We look forward to the return of the other prairie fire.”
Grisom nodded to the Chief and then turned and helped Charlie limp back to the cart.
The Chief sent a brave after them. “Chief say we take you west around big rock. Best to avoid those who chase you.”
Grisom nodded, “We’ll be happy for the escort.”
Moments later Charlie, Doris and Grisom were on the cart. Leland, was thankful they were on their way, and they headed out of the Pawnee village.
1 Translated from Pawnee.
©2015 Grant Baciocco/Saturday Morning Media – www.SaturdayMorningMedia.com