With a thin, keening shriek, she leapt upon Billy Bob, driving her freshly sharpened metal arrow into his chest. Blood from his punctured lung spattered both of them as they fell back onto the packed dirt of the wikkiup floor. The arrow felt like fire in his flesh as she yanked on it, still screaming. It was snagged on his rib and she could not get it free, and soon he feared she would live up to her name in more than just metaphor. Her strong little hands rained blows on his chest and head. He parried best he could with his fading strength.
There was no help for it, he had to go incorporeal. He’d never done so in front of a live human before, and he had no idea what it would look like, or do to her sanity. Her grief ravaged sobs as she pounded on his bleeding chest sounded halfway to mad already. He said a quick prayer for her as he struggled to keep his mortal form breathing, and then he was passing through her, and she through him. She landed with a resounding thump on the packed dirt floor as he reconstituted himself beside her. He could feel the smallpox in his body and realized that he had combed it from Arrowheart as he passed through her. With a shudder, he threw the disease off into the fire.
She rolled onto her back and looked up at him whole and uninjured once again. She wiped bloody hands on her dress with a shuddering sigh.
“Forgive me. I know better. I am sorry I disrespected you, Brother Owl,” she said, eyeing the bent and bloody arrow he clutched in one hand.
“Bring your gun.” He grabbed her arm, not allowing her to go to her son’s side. She made a puny attempt to pull away but the fight was gone from her, at least for the moment.
“No. I just cured you at no little cost to myself. Your gun, your bow and arrows, and nothing else.” He grabbed them for her without letting go of her arm, and dragged her outside into the frigid night air. As she wept some more he shoved a burning brand into the walls of the wikkiup, and then moved her and the horses a safe distance away from the shelter turned funeral pyre.
“He needs a cairn, not a roasting!” Arrowheart complained. “It’s desecration!”
“Fire keeps the white man’s disease from spreading,” Billy Bob said. “We will make him a cairn in the morning.”
Her keening mourning song cut through him almost as much as the icy wind. Bone and the yellow roan nickered as he went for his bedroll. He threw a blanket over the back of each horse in case the freezing rain started again and took the bedroll to huddle in with Arrowheart and offer what comfort he could.
“What now, Brother Owl?” she asked, as the pyre burned down and dawn started to stain the sky.
“Now, we go to Hertzog’s place. He, like you, has no one. You will nurse him back to health with your too hard jerky and your terrible rabbit stew, and he will live some happy years with you,” Billy Bob said. “Long enough to raise up your next son to a man, I think.”
“You don’t know when you’ll come back?”
“I’m not the Maker.” He grinned and rephrased at her confused grunt. “I’m not the Great Spirit. I’m just the escort service. I’ll come when I’m needed.” If, he thought, he didn’t get un-made after all the meddling he’d done and planned to do.
“I will call my next son Owl Lover,” Arrowheart announced, after they’d finished the hard work of One Tree’s cairn. The sunlight on the ice coated bushes turned the rolling prairie into a sparkling white vista. Arrowheart’s head turned to follow the flight of a large jackrabbit, her smile tinged with melancholy.
“Sounds good,” Billy Bob agreed as she jumped onto the yellow roan. He handed her his spare blanket to wear as a cloak. As he swung into Bone’s saddle he added, “But call him Billy Travis Hertzog in Anglo, if you please.”