Between Guns and Arrows (Preview)

Chapter One

Ben Wheeler gave his horse a gentle kick and urged the gelding to catch up to his brother Tseena’s horse. The mare wandered through the tall grasses like she was swimming in a golden sea, the winds moving the grain like waves. Ben imagined that must be what a ship looked like, parting the waves, driving through the waters, though he’d never actually seen the ocean to know for sure.

By rights, it should have been Ben’s horse transporting the antelope—it was his kill—but the gelding had a particular nose and wouldn’t abide carrying anything dead. It didn’t seem to mind if Tseena’s mare bore the burden though, and fell into step easily alongside the other horse, with accustomed familiarity.

From here, he could easily see the river that ran by the summer encampment. This was a thick ribbon of blue cutting across the prairie, not too deep, though there were places a man could stand up to his waist. After two days on the hunt, the idea of a swim to cut the dust and cool his skin was exactly what Ben wanted more than anything. Whether he would get that pleasure remained to be seen.

But while the antelope had been caught early this morning, it had taken most of the day to bring it back to the tribe. The delay made for less daylight to finish dressing the meat properly, and there would be the hide to prepare. Pleasure must wait on work, especially given the bulk of the men were away on a raiding expedition. That Ben had not been included in this, being left behind to see to the women and children and to protect the old ones, still rankled.

They forged the river, Tseena’s mare balking at his command to ride on. She wanted a drink, and Ben couldn’t blame her. There was little enough water in the grasslands. Tseena sighed and allowed her to have her head and Ben’s gelding, seeing the mare drink deeply, followed suit. Ben stared longingly at the water, reaching down to let it flow through his fingers. His brother snorted and turned his attention to the opposite shore.

“Peekwi!” Tseena called to his big brother, “Look.”

He pointed to the settlement and a lone figure that was running toward them, stumbling through the grass and nearly falling. Ben shaded his eyes as the figure took on a decidedly female shape and then morphed into their baby sister, Huutsuu.

From the movement of her mouth, it was clear she was shouting something but was too far away for Ben to make it out. The urgency, however, was unmistakable. The brothers glanced at each other, both frowning, and kicked their mounts, their rest stop canceled.

“Mother…”

Ben urged his gelding to a run and pulled up just in front of his little sister, who was gasping for breath.

“Mother,” she repeated, “she’s sick… Fever…”

Ben didn’t wait to hear more. He reached down and grabbed her arm. She swung onto the back of the horse like she had when they were children, and it was all a game. Only this was no game. His sister was near tears, her face twisted in worry.

That she wasn’t talking, wasn’t chattering in his ear like the sparrow she was named for, frightened Ben more than any words would have. He kicked the horse again. Tseena rode close in beside him and they raced through the encampment, causing more than a few curses to follow them, especially when they nearly dislodged the antelope from his brother’s mount in their haste. To waste the life they had taken was a grave insult to the dead.

Did such things matter now?

At his mother’s teepee, they dismounted, only to be stopped by a withered hand coming through the flap in the tent, followed by the imposing figure of a village elder.

“Stop!” Mupitsukupʉ hissed. “The last thing she needs is a clattering of colts bursting in. She sleeps now.” The old, wrinkled face was grave, but the bright eyes behind the glare brimmed with affection for the brothers. “One at a time.” She tapped Ben on his shoulder. “Peekwi, you’re the oldest.” She stepped aside and let him enter the darkness of the tent.

His mother lay in her furs, sweat beading her face as she slept. The sleep was fitful and she moaned and fretted at the coverings that warmed her. He set his fingers on her forehead and withdrew them quickly as if he’d been burned.

“I have seen this once,” Mupitsukupʉ said, her voice heavy with the burden of telling them these things. “When I was a little girl, a fever attacked our tribe. We lost near half of the men and women to it.” She paused and added, “And most of the children.”

Ben looked down at his mother. Only fourteen years older than he was, she was still a beautiful woman. Her daughter had inherited that beauty in full measure. But now, she seemed only thin, the strength gone from her, her features drawn and her eyes hollow.

“Is there nothing you can do?”

Mupitsukupʉ knelt next to him, her old bones protesting each movement. “I know some herbs, some unguents, but this… this is beyond my skills.”

“The medicine man?” He swallowed the bile that rose at the mention of that medicine man. The feud had raged silently for years, but Ben’s anger for the man wasn’t worth the cost of the woman who raised him. That he wasn’t even there with the tribe now was only one more way the man fell short in Ben’s estimation. He had traveled to care for the chief of a neighboring tribe, which was presently without a medicine man.

Mupitsukupʉ lifted her hands, palms open. “I have no way of knowing. When I was a child and the fever ran through the camp, the medicine man was a fool and did nothing. I have lived to see two more replace him, but I do not know what knowledge was passed from them to now.”

She lay a hand on Ben’s shoulder and caught his eye.

“I do feel that this medicine man, the one we look to now, is no fool, Peekwi. He’s a good man, but even the best of men cannot defeat all ills. Nor can they reverse death.”

The old wound ached again, but Ben forced the grief from him. The old woman spoke truly, for he had seen the medicine man do what the one previous could not. What mattered now was his mother.

“Wrap her tightly.” He spoke around a thick lump in his throat. “I will bring her to him. To wait on him may well cost her life.”

Mupitsukupʉ nodded and smiled at him, though her eyes were still full of shadows. “You are a good man too, Peekwi.”

Ben stood and turned to leave. Even the best of men cannot stop death.

He stepped out of the teepee to tell his siblings his plan but caught sight of Kwihnai standing at the edge of camp. Ben found his hands clenching into tight fists. He had to force his finger to open, to remind himself there was no time for old rivalries or grudges. Not now, when his mother’s life lay in the balance.

“He’s been talking about you to the council of elders,” Huutsuu hissed, her brow furrowed as she watched Kwihnai turn and walk away, vanishing among the lives of the tribe.

“He always is.” Ben shook his head and leapt onto his horse, as though these things didn’t matter.

“But they’re beginning to listen,” his little sister cautioned him, her hand coming up to touch his arm. “You should be wary, my brother.”

Tseena emerged from the tent flap, their mother in his arms. He passed her to Ben, who settled her on the horse in front of him. Tseena mounted his mare and offered a hand for Huutsuu to climb behind him. The antelope was gone. Doubtless someone else would tend to the meat, to the hide. What one brought was for all. As such, the responsibility would be easily passed to the others to assume.

He had deeper responsibilities weighing upon him now.

It was appalling how little she weighed, as though his mother’s spirit had already fled, taking with it the very flesh from her bones. Ben turned his horse toward the hills, urging him into a gentle trot.

His thoughts were full of worry. The medicine man might not even be there when he arrived. Even if he were, there was no guarantee he could help.

Even the best of men cannot stop death.

Chapter Two

Although there were several tribes dotting the plains, at this time, there was but one medicine man for all of them. Because of this, even when raiding one another for horses or livestock, even in times of war, there was an unspoken truce when it came to the healer.

The medicine man was currently nursing the son of a chief, or Ben wouldn’t have risked his poor mother’s health by taking her so far, especially on horseback. Right now, he didn’t figure he had a whole lot of choice. She wasn’t doing well. To leave her where he’d found her, in the limited care of the old woman, would have killed her as sure as hauling her across the prairie.

How to transport her was something of a problem. He settled on taking her on his horse on an easy lope. It would be less jarring on his mother and easier on the horse, and that beast needed to sustain his pace if it was to get her to the medicine man that day. Using a travois or some other means would have been gentler, he supposed, but they would be forced to make camp for the night with a sick woman on their hands—a sick woman who was fading fast. They simply didn’t have the time for such caution.

As he rode, he had a lot of time to think. His mother half-dozed, fretful but weary enough to lie complacent in his arms. In the Comanche way, he held himself with the stoicism of his chosen people, but his thoughts passed in a whirlwind, hard to grasp, too intangible to make sense of.

Something was niggling at him. Some half-memory dimmed over time, but it kept itching at his mind like it was important. The last time he’d thought of it was as his wife lay dying, furs wet with sweat as she shook in the sullen heat. To have that happen again…

In the end, he shoved the feeling aside and concentrated on getting his mother out of danger.

As the four of them neared the other tribe, several of their warriors, expecting a raid, gathered their rifles and rode out to meet them. Ben’s brother draped the reins over his mare and rode in with his hands lifted to show he wasn’t reaching for his gun. One of the braves urged his horse to meet theirs, but his weapon was pointed up, not at them. When he saw two women with the men, he lowered his rifle and gave Ben a hard stare.

In the end, he decided to ignore Ben entirely and spoke to Tseena as though the white man was not there.

“What are you doing here?”

Tseena looked at Ben. He was the elder brother by some years and had already proven himself a capable hunter, warrior, and leader. But sometimes, the best way to lead was to not puff yourself up and make others pay their respects. Knowing this, Ben said nothing, so Tseena drew himself up, a boy trying hard to be a man, and answered the warrior.

“We are here to see the medicine man. Our healer is an old woman, and she has gone past her knowledge.”

The man gave Huutsuu a lingering look and then turned to examine the face of their mother. After a long moment, he turned to the men behind him and threw one hand in the air. Whatever that meant, the others turned their mounts and walked them back to the encampment, glancing over their shoulders at Ben’s long yellow hair with curiosity and no small amount of contempt.

“The last time a white man came to our camp, he was leading others and they fired on us without warning or provocation.”

Now the man did address Ben directly. Ben’s eyebrow lifted. Well aware of the time constraints on his mother’s health, he chose his words carefully, so as not to provoke the man, while at the same time clarifying his position within the tribe. “My name is Peekwi—”

“I know who you are. We all know who you are.” The man chewed the inside of his lip briefly and reached a decision. “You cannot enter. Give the woman to him.” He gestured at Tseena. “He can take her to the medicine man.”

Ben swore under his breath. “This is my mother.” He shifted his burden slightly, drawing her closer to him. Tseena reached out, his hand going for his rifle. Ben’s voice was steady, his gaze unwavering on the stranger. “I will speak with the medicine man. You will not stop me.”

The stranger locked eyes with him. Distrust and hate radiated from him. For a long, tense moment, the world seemed to hold its breath. Even the wind died, allowing the dust kicked up by the horses to settle.

All at once, the warrior nodded. He wheeled his horse and led the way back to the settlement.

The rest of the way to the compound was spent in silence, not that anyone had a particular desire to talk. Ben was wrapped up in that persistent memory just as his mother was wrapped in her blanket. A different time, so many years ago, another bundled loved one.

His wife and child, fevered, delirious. The boy had been crying non-stop despite the heat of his brow and the useless flailing of his tiny arms. The medicine man had danced and driven the spirits away, but in the end these efforts had made no difference. The herbs had done nothing but ease their suffering a little before his beloved fell to the illness that claimed her. She’d lived just long enough to mourn.

It was after she’d died that the elders started listening to Kwihnai. It was only a bit of uncertainty at the first, but with slowly growing attention. He’d claimed Ben had brought the illness on his wife and child, that it was a white man’s sickness. The problem was, Ben wasn’t sure he was wrong. Everyone had heard of white men interacting with people and disease spreading in the wake of those meetings.

Of course, few Comanche had any dealings with the whites, except maybe at the end of a rifle. But Kwihnai used fear like another might use a weapon. He knew how to aim it, how to make it rise in one elder after another.

When Ben’s mother had expressed her desire to adopt him, the elders of their own tribe had agreed, though reluctantly. But most of them were dead now and the old men who led this particular tribe weren’t as easily swayed, many resentful of Ben’s place within his tribe.

Now, riding through this particular camp, Ben held his mother tight as they passed between the tents. The looks he got ran from irritation to hostility. There was no welcome there for any of them. Not with his mother carrying the sickness that could spread so easily to any one of them.

He slid off his horse and passed his mother into his brother’s arms, horrified again at how little she weighed. Tseena didn’t wait on Ben, but brought their mother straight into the medicine man’s teepee. Ben followed more slowly, wary of the hostile glares behind him.

Ben and Tseena were summarily evicted from the shelter. Only Huutsuu was allowed to stay with the ailing woman. Ben had expected this and took no offense. The space was small, crowded, and dark. It was better to leave the man room to work. Ben drifted to the edge of the camp while he waited and stood facing the open plain, not wanting to see anyone. There might be a truce between him and this particular tribe for the medicine man’s sake, but it was a fragile one. Starting a fight wouldn’t save his mother.

The smell of roasting meat made his mouth water and his throat felt dry from eating dust on the trail all day. His painful suppressed memory sat somewhere just behind his eyes; he couldn’t reach it. It was still too far away, too hard to grasp, feeling more like a dream he’d once had than anything real.

He felt more than saw Tseena come to stand next to him. They waited in silence, the sun chasing down the last of the light and gathering all the colors of the sky to itself.

The sunset was orange and blue, a promise of a clear day tomorrow, and the heat from the plains rose and vanished as if the ground sighed in relief. Still, neither Ben nor his brother moved a single step. They could have been carved of stone, two grim-faced warriors in a fight to the death with an enemy they couldn’t grasp, much less confront properly. All they could do was wait.

So it was, time became their enemy.

When the flap of the distant teepee was thrust back, Huutsuu came out, her hands clasped in front of her. Her face showed Ben the answer he’d been dreading. Ben and Tseena exchanged an uneasy glance and met her halfway.

The medicine man followed his sister out but went no further. He stood just beyond his tent flap for a long moment, staring at Ben.

“She’s a lot more comfortable with the herbs the medicine man gave her,” Ben’s sister said, trying to put a brave face where her fears showed. She turned her head to look uncertainly at the old man behind her.

“It is a white man’s illness.” The old healer sighed. “There is nothing more I can do.”

Ben gave the man a hard look. Ironically, he was the one person that didn’t look at Ben with suspicion in his eyes. He seemed almost embarrassed by his lack of ability to heal her.

“I am sorry.”

Ben’s anger dissipated a touch; the man truly did sound like he regretted not being able to do more. But then, too, he had been sorry when he’d failed to help Ben’s wife and child. Being sorry hadn’t helped them, either.

Worse, the old man had fought against Ben’s idea of getting help from the white men, despite the idea that it was a white man’s illness. It seemed to Ben that was obvious, but he’d listened to the old man and to the decision of the tribe and done nothing.

And his wife and son had died for his indecision.

Not again. Never again.

The light of the dying sun slipping under the horizon left the medicine man’s eyes in deep shadow, hollow pits that hid under his brow.

“I am tending to the chief’s son.” He broke the staring contest, looking past them at something they could not see. “You can stay the night here, but in the morning, you must go. You cannot be allowed to spread the white man’s illness among these people.”

The healer turned his back to Ben and his brother and returned to the deep shadows between the teepees. Huutsuu bit a knuckle to stifle her sob, but the sound won through all the same.

“Stay with her.” Ben nodded to the tent. “We’ll be out here with the horses.”

He crossed to their mounts, Tseena close behind him. They didn’t say anything—after all, what was there to say? They took their blankets and ropes off the horses who snuffled and searched the ground for any shoots of grass missed by a human foot. Once they were settled, Ben and Tseena sat on the edge of the encampment, listening to the far-off song of coyotes echoing across the prairie.

Tseena stretched out after a time and slept. Ben sat cross-legged, staring out into the darkness. The memory waited for him out there somewhere, and the pain came with it. Old pain. Loss. Death. He cast his mind out like a net, trying to snag it, drown it, bury it, but that fish slipped through and he was none the wiser.

His mother would die and there nothing he could do about it.

The same as his wife. The same as his child.

He was tired of being unable to stop death. Of feeling helpless.

The horses stomped and whuffled and the coyotes gave up their song. The night was still and quiet. Finally, as night fell, as if emerging from the dust at his feet to settle over him, the memory came. A memory he had been told was the foolishness of a child addled by trauma—a memory from nearly twenty years ago which he should have heeded when it was his wife and child dying.

He bowed his head and gave in to the sorrow.

Chapter Three

20 years ago

His sister Amanda was sick. She couldn’t play. She couldn’t even walk, and Momma wouldn’t let Benny talk to her, either—said it was too hard on her to have a little boy caterwauling away in her ears. That was confusing, because Pa said caterwauling meant bein’ loud and wailing. The oxen that pulled the wagon did a fair bit of that, all Benny wanted to do was tell Amanda all about the trip she’d been missing by stayin’ in the back of the wagon.

The thing was, there was so much to explore. There were frogs and snakes and a river that ran beside the trail like a bright blue line God had painted down the middle of a gold background. Sometimes the river was so wide he could barely see the reeds waving on the other bank, and other times it looked like he could have walked through it in a few steps.

The grasslands spread out as far as he could see, and the floor of the earth rippled and changed from golden shadows to yellow highlights and back again. Did Amanda see the sky from the back of the wagon? Did she see the deep blue and the perfect white clouds that drifted across the ceiling of the world? You could stand in the sunlight and you could see that the world was round as a ball.

That was what he wanted to tell her. Only she was too sick to see it all. Benny just wanted to tell her what she’d missed. When he’d tried to lift himself on the back of the wagon, he’d caught a glimpse of her. She was asleep, but not in a good way, not like she was gonna wake up. She was sweating hard, though the air was cool and the breeze kept Benny’s hair moving in concert with the tall grass that hid his feet and tickled the bellies of the oxen.

She was missing that, too. The oxen had become Benny’s friends in the past weeks. Sometimes he even helped with them. Old Roy pulled the cart next to Rolf, but where Rolf plodded along at a sedate pace, oblivious to the world, Roy kept stealing mouthfuls of grass with each step, throwing them off stride and constantly turning the wagon south by just a little bit.

Pa would curse Roy and Momma would warn him to watch his language in front of the children. And Amanda was missing it all.

Benny pulled up a waving reed that Roy had managed to miss somehow and peeled it bare. He stuck the clean end between his teeth and worried at it. It hadn’t occurred to him that Amanda wouldn’t wake, not ever. But it suddenly struck him that maybe there was a chance she wouldn’t, that she’d be buried somewhere under the grass and she’d never see the blue sky and the white clouds that puffed and rolled into puppies and turtles and all sorts of images if you squeezed your eyes real tight. The thought made a sick feeling come into his stomach that didn’t go away until he saw the settlement ahead.

He saw the town from a hilltop. It weren’t much. Pa said it was a tradin’ post that overgrew itself, but there was supposed to be a doctor there, so that’s where they had been heading since Amanda took sick.

The town was small, a lot smaller than Charleston, where they’d come from. But there were buildings made out of wood and brick like they intended to stay, giving the dusty gathering of structures a reassuring look. He also spotted what was surely a saloon, maybe two. Benny wasn’t real clear what a saloon was, only that it was a bad sort of place. Momma said so, though Pa gave her a side-long look when she did.

Pa whipped the oxen to keep them moving. Their thick hide was matched with thicker heads and they tried to stop at the edge of the town like they was sayin’ they got Amanda this far and that was it.

Pa got them moving again, he always did, and Momma even got out and helped by pulling on Roy’s nose ring. Benny wanted to but she wouldn’t let him.

It wasn’t long before they reached the doctor’s house. Benny was told he couldn’t come in so he took a place under the wagon, in the shade and played with the tall stem he’d picked. He’d chewed the end of it nearly off, but there were still layers to strip out.

Pa took Amanda from the wagon, Momma hovering around him like a momma cat when Benny picked up a kitten. She told him to stay there and Pa said he had to guard the wagon while they were gone so nobody walked off with it. That made Benny feel important and brave and it took his mind off his sister. She looked so small and frail in Pa’s arms as they hurried her to a building with a sign hung over the porch.

It wasn’t long before his pa came out with his momma trailing behind.

“Benny,” Pa said sharply. “You’re going to have to help your mother.”

He looked questions at his momma, who tried to smile though there was a lot of worry in her eyes.

“We gonna stay here a day or two,” she informed him. “We don’ have the money for no hotel, so we’re stayin’ in the wagon here. Your pa’s gonna find a place to care for the ox, but you and me gotta get the wagon set for the night.”

For the next three days, Benny and his momma and pa lived from the back of that wagon. Pa had taken the ox out of harness and brought them to a stable that charged “too damn much” for keepin’ ‘em. Momma though it was funny that they got a hotel and the humans didn’t. She didn’t laugh about it when Pa was around, though.

On the second night, Pa went to a saloon and Momma’s face was tight the whole time. When he got back to the wagon, he seemed like he had lost his balance somewhere and Momma pretended to be asleep.

On the third day, Amanda walked out of the building with the sign over the porch on her own two legs, and she was smiling at Benny and waving. She looked awake now, but a little unsteady on her feet, like Pa had when he went to the bad place.

Benny was bursting with all the news of the wonders he’d seen and she’d missed, but he held back because she looked so pale. But the old man said she was good as new, whatever that meant, and they could go again.

Pa got the oxen back; that involved a lot of the words Momma didn’t like, but she was too busy fussing with Amanda to warn Pa that there were children around.

They got moving that day, though the pace the ox set was barely moving at all. It was slow enough for Benny and Amanda to walk beside the wagon as they had done before she got sick. The old man said walking would be good to get her color back, and she seemed to get better every day.

After a week, Amanda was back to her old self. She even gave him a playful shove as they walked alongside the wagon, looking for sticks they could use for kindling that night. He almost got mad but she was grinning so big, he had to grin back. She was playing again, and that was the best sign of all. She stopped a moment to stick her tongue out at Benny, but a moment later, her expression changed to one of confusion and shock.

She coughed.

Only it wasn’t a cough like when she was sick. This cough ended on kind of a watery gurgle as she spat up blood. So much blood. Her knees buckled and gave way and she fell, face down, a confused look in her eyes.

Something long and narrow stuck out of her chest.


“Between Guns and Arrows” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Ben Wheeler was just an innocent child when he witnessed the violent death of his parents in a terrible massacre. Although he was rescued and raised as one of the Comanche, he never truly felt like a member of the tribe. The day his mother falls into grave illness, Ben desperately searches for a doctor in the nearest settler town, hoping to save her life.

Little did he know that his departure would ignite a deadly storm…

A surprising turn of events will result in Ben meeting Julie, the doctor’s daughter, who thankfully has some medical knowledge. With no time to waste waiting for her father’s return, Ben brings Julie to his mother. What they never expected, though, was that the sight of a lady on an Indian’s horse would cause guns to be drawn and daggers to be uncovered.

Julie’s life will soon be in the literal crossfire…

Ben and Julie will find themselves in the middle of a terrifying battle. Ben realizes it is too late to stop the bloodshed; if he wants to save both his mother and the woman he’s falling for, he must throw himself into the carnage. With the clock now ticking faster, can they survive this spiraling outbreak of violence?

“Between Guns and Arrows” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

9 thoughts on “Between Guns and Arrows (Preview)”

  1. An excellent fast paced story of a Ben trying to save his mom. Loved the preview. Can’t wait to read the book.

  2. Looks like it’s going to be a super read
    Complex family dynamics when caught between different cultures where past hurts through mis trust and mis deeds corrupt new alliances
    Looking forward to going on another journey of discovery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *