Excerpt from So Wide the Sky
The cavalry captain and his scout escorted the woman captive they'd recovered this morning into Fort Carr. As they drew up before the main building, the woman glanced up at the flag she had once thought of as her own snapping in the wintry wind and wondered how she would fit in in this new place.
Just then, a tall mustachioed soldier stepped out onto the building's covered porch. The captain who'd taken her from the Cheyenne in trade dismounted, saluted, then dragged her off his horse. With a hand on her elbow, he maneuvered her to stand before the cavalry officer.
She felt the man's gaze slide over her from her moccasined feet to her buckskin dress, from her vermilioned hair to the star-burst tattoo at the crest of her cheek. Beneath his lingering gaze that tattoo throbbed as if it had been cut and colored only the night before.
"We... gave... goods... to get... woman?" he asked.
The captain nodded. "...trouble... Cheyenne."
The woman strained to understand the two men's words. It had been nine years since she had been taken, seven years since she'd heard English spoken aloud. She was shocked by how little she remembered. Still, she could tell they were discussing the meeting with Standing Pine, her return to the whites, and the ambush that followed.
Around them soldiers, curious white men and what appeared to be the soldiers' wives began to gather. Though she could not understand what they were saying, their murmurs seemed tainted with a mix of disdain and hostility.
Her muscles twitched with a need to run.
From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of the mixed-blood scout standing a little way apart with his close-cut hair and his white man's clothes. His face was bony and impassive, but she recognized the pity in his eyes.
Though her face burned with shame, she dredged up pride enough to raise her head. It was her pride that kept her from cowering as Julia had when the Kiowa took them. It was how she endured the years of beatings, servitude -- and the shame of being marked.
But pride could not ease the fierce thunder of her heart. She was afraid in a way she had never been before of what might happen after this.
The senior officer turned to her. "You... English, girl?"
Sweet Grass Woman shook her head.
"You tell... name... you tell... you come from?"
She didn't know the words for Vih o ots He?e in this other tongue.
When she said nothing, the officer scowled at her.
At the periphery of her vision she could see the mixed-blood purse his lips. He could help her understand and answer, but he would not do that unless the officer asked.
"Me"—the big man thumped his chest—"Major Ben McGarrity."
"You?" He pointed at her.
All at once she understood that what the officer wanted was her English name, not who she was now. He wanted to know who she'd been when she was fifteen and traveling down the Santa Fe Trail with her family.
To Major Ben McGarrity Sweet Grass Woman didn't exist. Had never existed. A shudder ran the length of her back. Only if she could give her English name would she exist for the whites again.
She wet her lips and groped for the unfamiliar syllables. "Cas-san-dra." She spoke so softly Ben McGarrity had to lean closer to hear her. "Cas-san-dra M-M-Mor-gan."
He smiled as if she'd become human again when she gave him her name.
"Her name is Cassandra Morgan," McGarrity announced. She heard her English name echoed in whispers as the people in the crowd repeated it among themselves.
Amidst the buzz came a voice strained with incredulity. "Cassie?"
She turned to where the cavalry captain stood. His face was slack, the bleached-out color of the winter sky.
"Cassie?" His gaze moved over her as if he was seeking someone else in her features. "Cassie?"
She studied him, wondering who he was.
"It's Drew. Drew Reynolds."
Disbelief spiraled up inside her ribs. Drew Reynolds had grown up on the farm adjoining theirs in Kentucky. Drew Reynolds had been her first playmate, her first nemesis. Her first love.
But Drew was dead. She had seen him fall with an arrow in his back during the attack on their families' wagons. She'd seen him die in the massacre where she'd been captured.