Merry was horrified by her daughter's behavior. She grabbed Christina, managed a weak smile for her father, then whispered to her son, "Go with your father." Merry's husband had abruptly turned and disappeared inside Gray Eagle's tipi.
The moment she was separated from her brother, Christina started crying. Merry lifted the baby into her arms and tried without success to soothe her. Christina hid her face in the crook of her mother's neck and wailed her distress.
Merry's friends surrounded her. No one dared ask about the child until a full accounting had been given to her husband and her chief, but they smiled at the baby and patted her soft skin. Some even crooned the sleeping chant to the little one.
The shaman caught Merry's attention then. She immediately hurried over to stand in front of the holy man, then affected a rather awkward bow.
"Welcome home, my child," the holy man said in greeting.
Merry could barely hear the old man over the screams of her daughter. "I have missed you, Wakan," she said. Christina's wails became ear-piercing, and Merry gently shook her. "Hush, baby," she said. She turned back to the shaman and said, "My daughter roars like a lioness. Perhaps, in time, she will learn…"
The incredulous look on the shaman's face stopped Merry's explanation. "You are ill, Wakan?" she asked, worry sounding in her voice.
The holy man shook his head. Merry noticed that his hands trembled when he reached out to touch Christina. "Her hair is the color of white lightning," he whispered.
Christina suddenly turned to stare at the shaman. She soon forgot her distress and actually smiled at the strange-looking man whose ceremonial feathers seemed to grow out of the top of his head.
Merry heard the shaman gasp. He did seem ill to her. "My new daughter is known by the name Christina, holy one," she said. "If we are allowed to stay, she will need a Dakota name, and your blessing, too."
"She is the lioness," the shaman announced. His face broke into a wide smile. "She will stay, Merry. Do not worry about your child. The buffalo will protect her. The spirits will counsel your father, and your husband as well. Be patient, child. Be patient."
Merry wished she could question the shaman further, but his order to wait couldn't be ignored. His reaction to Christina puzzled her. She wasn't given more time to worry about it, however, for Sunflower took hold of her hand and pulled her toward her home.
"You look exhausted, Merry, and must certainly be hungry. Come into my tipi and we will share our midday meal together."
Merry nodded. She followed her friend across the clearing. Once they were settled on the soft blankets inside Sunflower's home, Merry fed her daughter and then let her explore the tipi.
"I've been away such a long time," Merry whispered. "Yet when I returned, my husband didn't come to me."
"Black Wolf still loves you," Sunflower answered. "My brother has mourned you, Merry."
When Merry didn't comment, Sunflower continued, "It is as though you have returned to us from the dead. After the attack, when no one could find you or White Eagle, some believed you'd been swept away by the river. Black Wolf wouldn't believe that. No, he led the attack against the outcasts, thinking he would find you in their summer village. When he returned without you, he was filled with grief. Now you've come home to us, Merry, yet you bring another man's child with you."
Sunflower turned to look at Christina. "You know how much your husband hates the white man, Merry. I think that is the reason he didn't come to your side. Why have you taken this baby for your own? What happened to her mother?"
"Her mother is dead," Merry answered. "It's a long story, my friend, and you know I must first explain to my husband and my father. I will tell you this much," she added in a firm voice. "If the tribe decides against accepting Christina, then I must leave. She is now my daughter."
"But she has white skin," Sunflower protested, clearly appalled by Merry's fierce announcement.
"I've noticed the color of her skin," Merry answered with a smile.
Sunflower saw the humor in her friend's comment and laughed. The sound was immediately imitated by Christina. "She's such a beautiful child," Sunflower remarked.
"She'll have a pure heart, like her mother," Merry said.
Sunflower turned to reclaim a clay jar Christina had just overturned. Merry helped her scoop up the healing herbs the baby had sprinkled on the ground. "She's a very curious child," Merry commented, apologizing for her daughter.
Sunflower laughed again. The tipi looked as though a strong wind had just passed through. The baby echoed the sound again.
"It isn't possible to dislike such a joyful child," Sunflower remarked. The smile soon faded when she added, "But your husband, Merry. You know he'll never accept her."
Merry didn't argue with her friend. She prayed Sunflower was wrong, though. It was imperative that Black Wolf claim Christina as his daughter. The promise she'd given Christina's mother couldn't truly be fulfilled without her husband's help.
Sunflower couldn't resist the urge to take the baby into her arms. She reached out for Christina, but the little one scooted around her and sat down in Merry's lap.
"I would like to rest for just a few minutes, if you'll watch Christina for me. I warn you," Merry hastily added when
Sunflower nodded eagerly, "My daughter gets into constant mischief. She's too curious to be fearful."
Sunflower left the tipi to gain permission from her husband for Merry and Christina to stay with them. When she returned, she found Merry sound asleep. Christina was curled up against her mother's stomach. Merry's arm was draped over the baby. The little one was also sleeping. Her thumb was in her mouth, and one of Merry's braids rested on her face.
Merry and her daughter slept for several hours. The sun was just setting when Merry carried Christina down to the river to bathe. Sunflower trailed behind with fresh clothing in her arms.
The baby loved the water. The day had been hot and sticky, and the child seemed to delight in splashing in the cool water. She even allowed Merry to wash her hair without making too much fuss.
Merry had just emerged from the water with her daughter when Black Wolf suddenly appeared. He stood on the bank with his hands resting on his hips—a challenging stance, yet Merry could see the tender expression in his eyes.
He confused her, giving her this show of affection now. Merry turned away from her husband to dress herself and Christina.
Black Wolf waited until Merry had finished her task, then motioned for his sister to take the child away. Sunflower had to pry Christina's hands away from her mother. The little girl screamed in distress, but Merry didn't argue with the command. She knew Sunflower would look after her child. As soon as they were alone, Merry turned to face her husband. Her voice trembled as she told him everything that had happened to her since being taken captive.
"At first I thought their leader, Gray Cloud, wanted to keep us so that he could barter with you. I knew your hatred for each other was fierce, but I didn't think he meant to kill us. We rode for several days—nights, too, when the moon was bright enough—and finally made camp above the brown valley of the white trails. Gray Cloud was the only one who touched us. He boasted to the others that he was going to kill your son and your wife. He blamed you, husband, for his dishonor."
Black Wolf nodded when Merry paused in her recitation, yet didn't offer any comment. Merry took a deep breath before continuing. "He beat our son until he thought he'd killed him. Then he turned on me."
Merry's voice broke. She turned to look at the river. "He used me the way a man uses an unwilling woman," she whispered.
She started to weep then, for her shame was suddenly overwhelming. The memories tore at her heart. Black Wolf reached out to take her into his arms. His touch immediately calmed her. Merry sagged against his chest. She wished she could turn around and cling to her husband, but she knew she needed to tell the rest of her story before she sought his solace.
"An argument broke out among them, for they'd seen the wagons below. Though Gray Cloud was against it, in the end it was agreed by the others that they would attack the whites and take their horses. Gray Cloud stayed behind. He was furious because they went against his decision."
Merry didn't have enough strength to continue. She wept softly. Black Wolf waited several minutes for his wife to go on with her story, then gently forced her to turn around to face him. Her eyes were tightly closed. He wiped the tears away from her cheeks. "Tell me the rest of this," he commanded, his voice as soft as a gentle wind.
Merry nodded. She tried to take a step back, but Black Wolf increased his hold. "Your son awakened and began to moan. He was in terrible pain, husband. Gray Cloud rushed over to our son. He pulled his knife and was about to kill White Eagle. I screamed and edged closer, as close as the rope binding my hands and legs would allow. I cursed Gray Cloud, trying to goad him into turning his anger on me. My plan distracted him. He used his fist to silence me, so fiercely I fell backwards. The blow made me sleep, and when I next opened my eyes I saw a white woman kneeling beside me.
She held White Eagle in her arms. Christina, her baby, was sleeping on the ground next to the woman. Black Wolf, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me until my son opened his eyes and looked at me. He was alive. It was the white woman who saved him, husband. Her knife was in Gray Cloud's back.
"I didn't know where she'd come from until I remembered the wagons trailing below the ridge. I trusted her, too, from the very beginning, because of the way she held our son. I begged her to take White Eagle away before Gray Cloud's followers returned from their raid. The woman wouldn't leave me, no matter how much I protested. She helped me onto her horse, lifted my son into my arms, then led us into the forest, carrying her own child in her arms. The woman didn't speak again until we stopped to rest many hours later."
"The gods favored us that day, for the renegades didn't chase after us. Jessica, the white woman, thought they might have been killed by the people they attacked. We found a cabin high in the hills and wintered there. Jessica took care of us. She spoke the missionary's English, yet all the words sounded very different to me. When I remarked upon this, Jessica explained that she had come from a distant land called England."
"What happened to this woman?" Black Wolf asked, frowning intently.
"When spring arrived, White Eagle was well enough to travel again. Jessica was going to take Christina back down into the valley, and I was going to bring your son home to you. The day before we planned to leave, Jessica went out to collect the traps she'd set the day before. She didn't return. I went searching for her. She was dead," Merry whispered. "A mountain bear had caught her unawares. It was a terrible death. Her body was mangled, barely recognizable. She shouldn't have died in such a way, Black Wolf."
"And this is why you have the white child with you?" Black Wolf asked, though he was already nodding over his own conclusions.
"Jessica and I became sisters in our hearts. She told me all about her past, and I shared my own with her. We made a promise to each other. She gave me her word that if anything happened to me, she'd find a way to bring White Eagle back to you. I also gave her a promise."
"You wish to take the child back to the whites?" Black Wolf asked.
"I must raise Christina first," Merry announced.
Black Wolf looked stunned by his wife's statement. Merry waited a moment before continuing. "Jessica didn't want Christina to go home to this place called England until she was fully grown. We must make Christina strong, husband, so that when she does return to her people, she'll be able to survive."
"I don't understand this promise," Black Wolf confessed, shaking his head.
"I learned all about Jessica's family. She was running away from her mate. She told me this evil man tried to kill her."
"All white men are evil," Black Wolf stated.
Merry nodded. She didn't agree with her husband, yet she wanted to placate him. "Every day Jessica would open a book she called her journal and write inside it. I promised to keep this book for Christina and give it to her when she's ready to go home."
"Why did this man try to kill his wife?"
"I don't know," Merry confessed. "Jessica believed she was a weak woman, though. She spoke of this flaw often, and she begged me to make Christina as strong as a warrior. I told her all about you, but she told me little about her mate. Jessica had the sight, husband. She knew all along she would never see her daughter raised."
"And if I'm against this plan?" Black Wolf asked.
"Then I must leave," Merry answered. "I know you hate the whites, yet it was a white woman who saved your son. My daughter will prove to be just as courageous in spirit."
"Her daughter," Black Wolf corrected, his voice harsh.
Merry shook her head. Black Wolf walked past her to stand next to the river. He stared out into the night a long while, and when he finally turned back to Merry, his expression was hard. "We will honor this promise," he announced.
Before Merry could show her gratitude, Black Wolf raised his hand. "Sunflower has been wife for three summers now and still hasn't given her husband a child. She will take care of this white-skinned baby. If my sister isn't willing, another will be found."
"No, we must raise her," Merry insisted. "She's my daughter now. And you must also take a hand in this, Black Wolf. I promised to make Christina as strong as a warrior. Without your guidance—"
"I want you back, Merry," Black Wolf said. "But I won't allow this child into my home. No, you ask too much of me."
"So be it," Merry whispered. Her shoulders sagged with defeat.
Black Wolf had lived with Merry long enough to recognize that her stubborn determination was now asserting itself. "What difference will it make if she is raised by you or by another?"
"Jessica died believing you and I would raise her daughter. The child must be taught the skills needed to survive in the white man's world. I bragged to Jessica about your strength, husband, and I—"
"Then we'll never send her back," Black Wolf interjected.
Merry shook her head. "I would never ask you to break your word. How can you ask me to dishonor my pledge now?"
Black Wolf looked furious. Merry started to cry again. "How can you still want me for your wife? I have been used by your enemy. I would have killed myself if I hadn't had White Eagle with me. And now I'm responsible for another child. I can't let anyone else raise her. In your heart, you know I'm right. I think it would be better if I took Christina away. We'll leave tomorrow."