Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Half-Moon had risen in the dark sky,

And the gnarled badlands of southern Utah were bathed in pale light....

Emerging out of the inky blackness of the rocks, the figure topped out on the sandstone plateau in which the valley of Quivira was hidden. Far below, in the long valley behind them, a horse nickered and stamped in agitation. But this evening they had left the horses unharmed, just as they had slipped past the cowboy who guarded them without running a knife across his throat. He sat there still, hand on his gun, the ground around him damp with tobacco juice. Let him sit; his time would come soon enough.

Now, with animal stealth, they scuttled along the wide mesa far above the valley floor. Though the moon laid a dappled byway across the sandstone, the figures avoided the faint light, keeping to the shadows. The heavy animal pelts on their backs draped down over their sides, dragging along the rough rock beneath them. The figures moved on, silent as ghosts

After an eternity of movement they stopped, as if possessed of a single mind. Ahead, a well of darkness loomed: the tiny valley of Quivira. Far below, at the base of the canyon, the little stream shimmered in the moonlight. From the higher ground away from the stream, a faint glow arose from the dying campfire, and the even fainter smell of woodsmoke reached the figures peering down from the canyon rim. Their eyes moved from the fire to the dim figures that lay around it.

Several tents ringed the camp, pallid in the dim moon-light. A number of bedrolls lay near the campfire, seemingly flung down at random. With the tents closed and darkened, it was impossible to count the number of the company. They stared long, bodies motionless. Then they eased forward along the brow of rock.

With consummate stealth they moved along the top of the canyon, pausing now and then to look down toward the sleeping expedition. Occasional sounds drifted up from below: the call of an owl, the babble of water, the rustle of leaves in a night breeze. Once, a belt of silver conchas clinked around the midriff of one of the figures; otherwise, they made no noise in the time it took to reach the top of the rope ladder

Then one of the figures glided to the edge of the cliff face and glazed down the thin ladder. It disappeared back beneath the brow of rimrock. The figure looked out, into the valley. He was almost directly above the camp now, and the glow of the fire, eight hundred feet below, seemed strangely close, an angry nugget of red in the darkness. A low, guttural sound rose out from deep within his frame, at last dying away into a groan that resolved itself into a faint, monotonous chant.....