The Woodsman Magazine

Chapter 11 Part 2

Abbey turned and started upstream. Her act had convinced the woodsman, she
was sure of it, and she wasn't about to turn around now and let him see the
tears rolling down her cheeks.

Abbey wanted to turn and wave. But she wouldn't, because she couldn't find
the strength to look him in the eye again. Besides, the last few times she'd
said good-bye to someone close to her it turned out to be ... forever! She
remembered to wave good-bye to her father the night he was ... well, she
never saw him again. And with Tom, oh Tom, that seemed so long ago, she
couldn't even remember the conversation at their last meeting. Only that she
told him to hurry, and that was the last she remembered.

A shiver ran through Abbey and she snapped back from her daydream. Enough!
she thought, now is not the time. Now she had a job to do, she had a river
to run.

Boss waited in the underbrush at the river's edge until Abbey disappeared
into the shadows. The sun had barely come up and the shaded river bank was
still dark. But no sooner did he watch her go around the bend, out of the
shadows and into the daylight for just a second, to see the last flowing
fleck of her hair shine bright in the morning sun before she disappear up
river, did the first canoe with three Sioux warriors appear at mid-river
down stream.

Abbey beat them around the bend, Boss thought, he hoped. He held his
position and watched three more canoes, all made of birch bark and all
containing three men, come around the corner. Lastly a final craft appeared
much farther behind the others. It may have been close to the others but
Boss got the sense that it didn't belong with the others. There was just one
occupant in this canoe.

Boss's attention turned back to the man sitting in the middle of the lead
canoe, to Dull Knife. This man was one of the most talked about of all Sioux
enemies. And there were, indeed, a dozen warriors. Each painted as fiercely
as the next.

Boss knew he must escape, for there would be no bartering or dealing for
safe passage, or even for his life, with this group. They were looking for
scalps and thirsty for blood. The great white woodsman Boss Stalker ...
Agewate Nitagewinine and brother to the Chippewa would be a grand coupe
indeed. For Boss knew it was his name that came up often in the stories the
Sioux told around their campfires. It would not be an easy task for Boss to
lose them, but he didn't want them to follow Abbey and he knew they were
looking for someone.

The Sioux moved closer. Boss could hear their muffled voices as the
conversation passed among the canoes. They were fine birch bark canoes.
Probably stolen from the Chippewa along the way. Boss had heard of a summer
hunting and berry camp near the mouth of the St. Croix, far up north on the
Mississippi, that had been wiped out. Perhaps the Sioux entered Chippewa
land up north at night overland, then picked up canoes, supplies, and scalps
as they went. They could have raided the camps and then moved downstream on
the big river to trade and raid as they went, until they reached where the
Black River entered the large river, then they turned and headed north
again. This is a large group of warriors and could easily overcome the
sparse population in the berry camps of Chippewa along the way. The only
real difficulty they might have had was sneaking past the Winnebago village.
Though there are those among the Winnebago who are friendly with Sioux.
Their chief Black Hawk the most obvious.

Boss turned and stepped into the woods away from the river. He moved through
the thick underbrush snapping off limbs and small sapling tops as he went.
The trail would be easy to follow. For the race and, perhaps, his destiny
were at hand.

The Sioux spotted Boss's camp and smoldering fire pit and moved into shore
without hesitation. They beached their canoes and were up into Boss'
deserted camp in seconds, and soon there after they were screaming along the
woodsman's trail.

Boss' track laying technique was one similar to what smart old whitetail
bucks use quiet frequently. The double back. This enables the quarry to stay
ahead but keep watch on the trackers as he went. The trail moved along the
edge of a wide overgrown swamp near the base of the tall forest ridge.
Dogwood, speckled alder, and pussy willow crowded close to, and hung over,
the trail, and the underbrush closed in so tight in places it seemed almost
like a tunnel through the thick woods. Brown thrush colored woodcock pulled
their long bills from the mud next to the trail and flushed at Boss' feet
every couple of steps. The small flycatchers fluttered from perch to perch
before him, their zig-zag flight easy to pick out from the other birds. Boss
knew them all. There were yellow warblers, and the wood thrush who's call
was one of the most beautiful and mystical in all the north woods.

Boss spooked a doe and twin fawns from a thicket just a few feet off the
trail to his right. His heart skipped a beat when, at first thought, he
imagined the heavy sloshing through the mud was the whole Sioux party
charging after him. Boss was also glad it wasn't another moose, for this was
a dangerous time of year to confront a full grown bull moose. Rutting season
was still a ways off but the moose can go crazy at any time of year. The
giant animal's bellow was a frightening sound and the powerful body of
muscle and madness weighed more than a half ton. The Sioux war party would
be of no concern if the woodsman ran into one of those big black raging
swamp moose along the river here somewhere.

Also while running through the woods, and in spite of the following danger,
Boss took note of the many deer tracks and old tree rubs the whitetail bucks
left the autumn before along the swamp side trail. He couldn't help it,
that's just the way he was, always on the scout for buck sign, that was the
deer hunter in him. He made a mental note to some day return to this back
river swamp to hunt big bucks. Perhaps next year when he came to retrieve
more of Abbey's belongings.

"Abbey!" Boss said out loud. "I better keep my mind together."

Boss had to make up time, had to make tracks, which, luckily, was easy in
the soft muddy soil on the path. There were several dead-falls to cross or
detours to be made around thick briar patches that grew down the sloping
ridge, their thorny vines crossed the trail and on into the swamp.

After moving a good mile or so along the swamp edge Boss stopped and made
several exaggerated foot prints leading into the swamp. Mud oozed up half an
inch on his moccasins. But then, instead of going farther into the swamp he
turned, jumped back over the trail into the underbrush on higher ground. He
moved up to the top of ridge side and walked in a crouch through the pines
and into a patch of scrub oak. He headed straight back in the direction he'd
just come. Only now he was fifty yards higher and hidden in thick brush. He
could look down over the swamp trail and remain almost invisible.

Soon Boss spotted the movement through the greenery along the path below.
The Sioux were walking in single file. They all stopped when the first two
warriors in line stooped to the ground to inspect the trail more thoroughly.
They were the youngest of the group. Young men in their teens. They looked
so determined. So interested, so anxious to catch the woodsman. "If they
only knew," Boss whispered to himself as he crouched in the underbrush. The
thick growth of stems and tiny leaves waved gently before his eyes. The
scattered trunks of the stunted scrub oaks, some never grew more than eight
inches around or twenty feet high, were all around him. Though he dared not
move, he would wait until the warriors below had passed. They still had a
long walk to the far end of the slough before Boss's trail moved into the
slew and he headed up the ridge and back. Hopefully by then he'd put a mile
or two between them.

The warriors began moving again. They all went quietly. None dreamed they
were so close ... but then Dull Knife, who stood near the middle of the
line, stopped dead in his tracks right below the woodsman. He didn't look up
toward Boss, in fact he had his eyes closed. Boss held his breath. The
warrior was looking for the woodsman. But not with his eyes ... with all of
his senses. Boss had seen hunters use this technique. He did not flinch and
barely let breath escape his mouth. And he tried to think of something else.
He'd seen big bucks save their large racks of antlers and tender backstraps
by reading a hunter's mind. Boss began to think about his pipe and about how
good a smoke would taste right now. He thought about a river pike cooked
slow on a spit above a crackling evening fire. He thought about the loon he
heard calling from off in the distance. He thought about everything but the
Sioux who were hunting him.

Then, after a few minutes, Dull Knife opened his eyes. Once again the
warrior stared directly up at the woodsman. Boss didn't move. He stood so
frozen, not even the blink of his eye would give him away. Dull Knife held
his stare for what seemed an eternity, then he turned with a grunt and
continued on; though he was hungry for cooked fish as he took the pipe from
his pocket.

Boss stayed ahead of the band all morning in this manner. But not very far
ahead of them ... and he still didn't know how he would throw them off his
trail completely. How he would make a clean getaway.

It wasn't very much longer when Boss moved through the woods on a ridge top
near the river again that he chanced a glance over his shoulder. The band of
Sioux had fallen farther behind. He could no longer see them or even hear
them. Maybe that's the way he would lose them. Simply out run them. Maybe
he'd given the Sioux more credit than they deserved. He had assumed they
would stay with him tighter than wet buckskins. And they did, for a while,
but not anymore.

Boss shook his head and smiled with self satisfaction. He'd beaten the great
Dull Knife, again. But then, as Boss turned around to resume his trek along
the river ridge, he stopped short and gulped. For he stood face to face with
the Sioux war chief Dull Knife himself. The warrior wore a grimace to match
the ugly scar across his face, murder flashed in wild renegade eyes. It
added to his advantage and legend and truly did strike fear into the hearts
of his enemies. The muscles beneath his tight copper skin and silver arm
bracelets were coiled tight like a lynx on the ambush.

Now, the two men stood but a few yards apart among deep forest shadows.
Boss took unconscious notice of how quiet the woods had fallen. It were as
if the forest was holding its breath. Just as he himself was doing. It was
the calm before the storm. Boss would wait for Dull Knife to make his move.
That was just the way the woodsman did things, he didn't ever start the
fight, but he sure wouldn't ever back away from one either.

Besides, Boss knew this would be no ordinary fight. He knew of all the
enemies he'd ever encountered, in all of his life, this one man, this
fierce, committed warrior would be his toughest challenge. For it would be a
fight to the end and there was no way around it. Boss supposed he'd known
this all along, known this is how it would end.

"Even an old buck makes mistakes and ends up loosing his horns," the Sioux
warrior said in reference to Boss's track laying technique. "... and so it
comes to this. I knew you would one day again be a worthy opponent. That day
is today."

Boss was a little surprised. The warrior pulled a long thick blade knife
from a sheath at his side. The shining blade glistened in the afternoon sun.
"You remember me?" the woodsman asked.

"I do," the warrior said. "Your size and cunning, the hair on your head and
face and the many bear claws you wear. Only the white woodsman who the
Chippewa call Agawate Nitagewinine has the strength to slay MaKwa the great
bear."

Boss stared back and sensed just a touch of hesitance on the warrior's part.
He was sizing Boss up, but taking his time.

"Dull Knife your reputation as a mighty warrior runs wide and far," Boss
said. The woodsman didn't really think he could talk his way out of a fight
but he felt he should at least try. He figured he had nothing to lose
considering the hair he saved might be his own. "But a reputation will not
fight this battle. For to be truthful I am not looking for a fight today.
Only quiet, safe passage through. Let me pass and we both live to fight
again, to see another sunrise."

Facing this enemy head on, one on one, was far better than running from the
lot of them. But now Boss knew why he'd gotten so far out ahead. It was part
of the trick. It allowed Dull Knife to leave his warriors and do a little
double backing of his own.

Boss pulled the knife from his belt. Not another word would pass between the
men. Each silently committed to life and if necessary ... to death.

Dull Knife jumped into a full charge. He was strong and powerful, a man of
the wilderness like Boss, and though three inches shorter than Boss he was
not as quick on his feet. Or so it seemed. Boss side-stepped his lunging
attack, but then he barely got his nose out of the way as Dull Knife's blade
stuck out at him as the warrior stumbled past. It was the move that years
before the trapper had used to put that scar on Dull Knife's face. The
warrior would never forget it and even developed it to use in his own battle
tricks.

But the woodsman had stayed out of the way and reached out to grab Dull
Knife's left arm and pull the warrior off balance.

Boss twisted Dull Knife's wrist. The warrior winced. Boss fell backward to
the ground pulling his opponent with him. But before Boss pulled the warrior
down on top of him, he stuck up his legs and catapulted Dull Knife above and
over him, slamming the Indian hard on his back on the forest floor.

Boss was quick to his feet, but so was Dull Knife. The warrior was up
quickly and didn't hesitate to charge again. But this time, instead of
lunging wildly with his blade, he made a quick step to his left. The warrior
kicked out a foot, hooked it behind Boss's knee, and jerked the legs out
from under the woodsman.

Now it was Boss who landed on his back. His breath whooshed from his lungs.
Dull Knife, with blade raised, dove head long on top of the sprawled
woodsman. Boss dropped his own knife and grabbed Dull Knife's right wrist
with both hands to hold the wicked blade away from his face. Never before
had the woodsman felt such strength in a man, seen such determination as now
in the warrior's eyes. Dull Knife had gotten the upper hand.

So intent was the woodsman's concentration on the blade and on the warrior's
face behind the knife he didn't see the rock in Dull Knife's other hand
until an instant before it crashed into his head. Boss' world went black.
The woodsman lay unconscious for several seconds. When he woke, Dull Knife
was straddling Boss' chest, holding the knife in front of him. Boss was
dazed and could barely move. His mind screamed for him to get up and fight.
But he couldn't focus or think clearly. Everything above him, the tree tops
and branches, even the fluffy white clouds that floated through the blue sky
looked fuzzy and blurred.

"So, great woodsman ... it is decided," Dull Knife said, his voice almost
cheerful at the thought of letting the woodsman's blood. "Now you can tell
those along the trail of Spirits who is the mightiest of warriors in this
world."

Dull Knife raised the blade over his head. He wanted the woodsman to see it
coming. But before the warrior struck down his deadly weapon a wild scream
erupted from the approaching band of warriors still off in the woods. The
war hoot startled Dull Knife and caused him to hesitate. His attention drawn
away from Boss for but an instant. It was all the opening the groggy
woodsman would get, but it was all he needed. Boss' finely honed survival
reflexes took over.

Boss flinched as the warrior's blade flashed downward. The knife came down
so fast. Boss managed to dodge away. He felt the bite of Dull Knife's blade
cut along the top of his shoulder. A glancing blow and not fatal. He heard
the warrior's wicked laugh. Just like a cat, Dull Knife enjoyed toying with
his prey. But the horrible laugh and the cutting blade help clear the
woodsman's racing mind. And once again Boss proved quicker than the enemy.
Boss scooped up his knife that lay on the ground next to him. Dull Knife
waved his bloody blade unaware that Boss was focused and armed. This time it
was the warrior who miscalculated, who underestimated the enemy. He would
not get another chance to use his knife, for Boss' left hand came up and
grabbed the laughing warrior by the throat. Boss squeezed the smile off Dull
Knife's face and before the warrior could react, Boss's blade came up and
sliced deep into the Dull Knife's chest. With a flick of his wrist, Boss
twisted the blade, and the life, out of the war chief's body.

The forest filled with the warrior's screams. Dull Knife rolled off Boss and
fell heavy to the ground. He covered the wound with his hands but he could
not hold back the blood. It ran from his chest and between his fingers, it
ran across his hands and down both arms. Dull Knife screamed out his
surprise, then he moaned out his anguish as he struggled to stay conscious,
to stay alive. But the battle was lost and the end was ... here! Boss
watched without pity as the warrior tried to get to his feet and couldn't.
The woodsman watched as the warrior's fierce, confident expression had
changed to one of anguish and even fear as he slumped over and fell onto his
back. His chest heaved full in a last desperate breath. Boss watched as the
warrior's blurry eyes faded to a dull gray but did not close. Boss had seen
this before, in other men he'd killed, and he knew that though the eyes were
open, the warrior was no longer seeing in this world, but looking along the
path of souls in the next.

All the while Boss stood helplessly and watched, because though he didn't
like starting fights, he sure wasn't crazy about ending them either.
Boss was snapped out of his momentary reverie by the approaching band of
Sioux. He wasn't out of this yet, not by a long shot. They had heard Dull
Knife's screams and assumed their plan had worked. They figured Dull Knife
had gotten around on the woodsman and was probably slicing off the white
man's scalp at that very instant.

Several minutes passed before the group of trailing warriors topped the
little ridge and moved with caution onto the bloody battle ground. Leaves
and trees and underbrush were covered with splashes of blood. But there was
no one around. Their mood became solemn. Something was wrong. The smell of
death hung around them. Then one of the young men stooped to inspect a pile
of leaves beneath the largest of the oaks.

The young warrior jumped back and howled his shock, his dismay. The others
ran to look and soon the entire group stood mute and mortified over the body
of their fallen leader. They were in shock. They just couldn't believe,
couldn't comprehend this unexpected turn of events.

Then the young warriors began to scream out their rage, their indignation,
up to the tree tops. Their leader had been murdered. They would catch this
woodsman. He would pay. He would roast over a smoky hot fire, die a thousand
times as hot coals would be poured onto his naked chest and body. The
woodsman would pay for this great loss, this great sorrow he had wrought on
the entire Sioux nation. He would pay, all right. His ears, fingers and toes
would be cut off with a dull blade. His genitals would be sliced open slowly
with a broken clam shell, and they would skin the flesh off his body in long
fine slices, each warrior seeing who could make the woodsman howl in pain
the most. Death would be this woodsman's only escape and it would come slow.
Boss heard the screams go up as the band of Sioux jumped into hot pursuit.
They left two of the youngest members to stay with Dull Knife's body. They
would keep the devotion while the others extracted revenge.

Boss knew now he probably couldn't lose them. Sioux, like the Chippewa, were
good trackers. And now they were fueled by the desire for revenge, it would
make them undeniable, relentless. It was unlikely he could fool them with
the double back trick again and he knew he couldn't out run them, not all of
them anyway. Oh, how he wished he'd held onto his rifle.

In spite of his wounded shoulder Boss was now running faster than he'd run
all day. How quickly the worm had turned. He'd been so far out ahead, so
confident, just an hour before. But now, such a short time later, he was
being pushed.

Boss moved down a ridge side through the thick cover of an ancient stand of
birch trees. Huge, white giants living in clusters, crowded together. Under
normal conditions, this discovery would be of great importance. But for the
present, the huge trees served only as cover from a trailing enemy.
Boss moved through the trees and splashed through a small feeder stream that
ran into the river just a short distance away. He never even chanced a look
behind him. He knew the warriors were coming. Their shouted words and foul
threats echoed through the woods.

Boss figured if he could just hold them off, just stay ahead of them for
another few hours. He could make his escape under cover of darkness and be
half a region away by dawn. He reveled in this new glimmer of hope. But
first he had to hide, had to rest.

Boss moved up the opposite ridge side. The brush was thick and tugged at his
clothes. Once on top he stopped, bent at the waist with his hands on his
knees, he gasped for breath. His head shifted from side to side looking for
escape. To his great surprise he stood at the edge of the wolf clearing.
He'd run in one big circle all day. The den, the black opening in the side
of a sand face hill top was just a couple of feet around. The area was
deserted. The pack had heard his approach and scattered.

Then, behind Boss, a blood curdling screech erupted on the little ridge top
opposite the gully and stream that the woodsman had just passed through. One
of the Sioux stood just 100 yards away and stared across the deep gully. He
had already caught up. He looked so young Boss thought as he stared at the
bare chested warrior with long buckskin leggings and a steel head hatchet he
meant to use on Boss in his hand.

Boss' plan to stay ahead was now a moot one. Then another young warrior
appeared next to the first. He too was heavily armed and painted for war.
But Boss could see anticipation and apprehension in their expressions. For
they had found the enemy, and he was at hand. They stood watching Boss, not
sure what to do, and kept looking back over their shoulders for the rest of
their band. Boss could tell they were thinking it wouldn't hurt to wait for
the others to catch up. There was obviously a great respect for the woodsman
who had just single handily killed a most powerful of their war chiefs.

Boss turned his back on the two young warriors and scanned the ridge top for
a deer trail, checking the lay of the land. If he ran down the hill, one of
the chasing warriors might get ahead of the other and Boss could kill them
one at a time. Provided the time spent doing it didn't allow the entire band
to catch up. His earlier glimmer of hope had disappeared as quickly as at it
had appeared. In its place was spawned a thought of dread. Maybe this is
just my time, Boss thought. The simple irony being that he would soon join
Dull Knife and the spirit wolves on the same trail.

Then, to Boss' great surprise, a wolf pup popped its head out of the den
hole just a few yards away. The little critter gave a yip in Boss's
direction. The idea, as crazy as it seemed, came to Boss immediately. The
wolves! Boss heard the two young Sioux warriors move down the opposite ridge
side and splash through the stream. They weren't waiting any longer, and the
shrieking screams from the remaining members were getting closer now, too.
Boss ran to the opening, dropped to his knees and looked in. Darkness. A
hole full of darkness and wolves before him and a blood thirsty savage band
of cut throats closing in from behind. Life was about choices and this was
surely a time for one. Boss made it ...

Boss could barely get his shoulders through the entrance to the den. Broad,
muscular shoulders came in handy for wielding an ax or canoe paddle, or
hefting a fat little buck across them, but no good for getting into tight
places. For the first time in his life the woodsman longed for a smaller
body.

The sound of the young warriors charging through the woods was getting
louder. Boss was already having a few reservations about this wolf hole
idea. There was no telling how it might come out. Maybe he'd get all the way
inside and get stuck to die a lingering death of hunger and thirst, or die
of slow suffocation in the tight little hole in the ground. Maybe once
inside a wolf would come and bite off his face while he lay stuck and
defenseless. Maybe the Sioux would grab his legs before he got down the hole
and they would break the bones in his feet or cut off his toes or something
equally terrible. The approaching screeches for blood, for vengeance from
the Sioux were getting closer still. Boss knew he had no other choices. He
couldn't outrun the younger men. He knew what he had to ... Boss plunged
ahead into the hole, into the blackness with a vigor that surprised even
him.

The sand around the edges of the wolf hole was soft and Boss managed to
wiggle through the opening and move down the narrow, sloping black tunnel.
The tunnel beyond the entrance was no larger. He squirmed along on his belly
with his arms out in front of him inching his way through the earth like a
worm escaping a morning robin. Farther and farther he moved. With his hands
he clawed and cleared the dirt at the same time, pulling himself ever deeper
into the blackness. Breathing was difficult. Once he could feel the sides
with his feet, and he was sure he was all the way inside the hole, he
stopped to rest. He wanted to collect his thoughts, stave off a raging panic
that now washed over him. The hole was close, confining, and oh so
terrifying. He was being squeezed tight by the narrow sides. His breathing
was fast, his heart was pounding. He wanted to scream, to wake up, for this
was surely some kind of nightmare.

The damp musty smell of wet sand and earth filled his nostril. A pungent
stench that, combined with the horrible smell of wild wolves, made him want
to wretch. Boss closed his eyes, swallowed hard several times and fought off
the urge to vomit. This was all so unsettling. Seconds later he opened his
eyes, it wasn't a dream, blackness was all around. A hole, a hole, his mind
was racing. I'm stuck in a hole he thought. A second later he lost the
battle with his panic and his stomach contents erupted onto the tunnel floor
ahead of him. He screamed out but his voice was muffled.

Boss' racing mind kept telling him this was all insanity. Breathing was
becoming more difficult. The tunnel walls were literally closing in on him.
It felt like his breath, his very life were being squeezed out of him. He
didn't think he could continue ... this was certain death, this idea, this
plunging down a hole in the ground. He had to get out.

Yes, Boss decided, the thought of fresh air and sunlight flashed through his
mind, he would go back before it was too late. He'd take his chances with
the Sioux. He might be able to talk his way out of it. After all he was the
Boss Stalker, Agawate Nitagewinine, he was big magic. He had killed their
war chief. Maybe a face to face meeting would back the lesser warriors off.
At the very least, come night fall, he could escape from them.

Boss knew if he didn't get back out of the hole soon he would die anyway.
What was he thinking when he crawled down here he wondered? What would he
tell the Sioux? He would think of something. But then, when he tried to go
back, he couldn't move. Couldn't maneuver or wiggle his body backward, up
the downward slope of the tunnel. And on top of everything else, his left
leg was cramping up. He tried to stretch it out, wiggle his toes. He fought
through the pain, but to what? He was still stuck deep in the ground. Sweat
poured across his face and stung as it ran into his eyes. He stifled another
scream well back in his throat, but then wretched a second time. He knew a
second scream would be harder to hold back, too.

"Sweet mother of mine," Boss whispered alone in his new world of blackness
and fear. "What have I gotten myself into this time?"

Boss closed his eyes and tried to get hold of his runaway fears. Outside,
behind him, he could hear the Sioux gathering around the den opening. They
were debating if one of them should go down after the woodsman. Boss only
heard bits and pieces of the anxious and angry conversation. But the
consensus amongst the Indians was that it took a powerful warrior to kill
Dull Knife. And Boss didn't even desecrate the body by lifting the scalp.
There was certainly something different about this woodsman. Something
magical and none of them were about to go chasing down a hole in the ground
to catch him. They would wait.

"Great Spirit, who sends the Spirit Wolves back across the path of souls,"
Boss prayed out loud while lodged deep in the belly of the ridge. "Send them
here to me, before I meet them on the trail. Or least ways if my time has
come to run with that pack ... let the end come quick."

Then Boss took a deep breath. He knew what he would do. What he had to do
... go forward! Go deeper into the hill. It was the only way out. If that
made any sense he thought. He seemed to be acclimating some to his
predicament and his surroundings. Boss reasoned that sooner or later there
had to be some kind of living den. A room to live in. But how far in was
it? He covered his vomit with loose sand and crawled forward deeper into the
hole. He had to find the room. If it even existed.

Boss could still hear the muffled shouts of the Sioux as they talked about
the woodsman's madness to dive down a wolf's tunnel. They had figured out
who Boss was from the many stories and descriptions of the big, bearded
woodsman. It would take a man like this man, to kill Dull Knife. They also
knew the Chippewa referred to the woodsman as Agawate Nitagewinine and
considered the woodsman a blood brother. This was all the more reason the
Sioux wanted his scalp and his hair to tie and weave among their own long
strands of black hair. All of them would take a piece of the scalp and
Boss's long brown hair to have as his own. But first, they had to capture
him, then torture him. The Sioux were thorough when it came to inflicting
pain on a prisoner. Especially a white trapper who was blood brother to
their mortal enemy.

Boss shook his head and pulled his way several more yards into the tunnel.
His buckskins were now soaked with sweat and caked with sand. His mouth and
nose were filled with sand and he could feel the fear slowly welling up
inside him again. The blackness, the tightness of the hole, the blood
rushing to his face and head. But then came a picture of what the Sioux
would do to him if they ever got their hands on him again.

Boss had seen it himself, years before when he came unexpectedly onto the
just vacated campsite of a Sioux war party. At first Boss didn't recognize
the black charred body of the victim as human. It had been stripped naked. A
long, pointed pole had been shoved into the victims rectum, through his
body, and out the mouth. The stake was then hung over a fire and the victim
was roasted slowly on the spit. Boss had heard it can sometimes take hours
before a man finally dies. All the while he wiggles and screams on the spit
to the delight of the tribe. The fire pit was still smoldering when Boss had
arrived and the corpse was earless and toe and fingerless. The mouth was
agape and frozen in an eternal, yet silent scream.
Boss gasped and snapped out of his nightmare. A shiver raced through him at
the thought of the tortures. In spite of his suffocating position in the
grave-like tomb, he was now glad he hadn't gone back into the Sioux hands.
Then Boss smelled the smoke and knew he had only one chance and little time.
He pulled himself through the tight black tunnel again. His panic propelled
him onward. If he was to die crushed under the ridge top he would do it on
the move and trying to escape. He would keep going until the last breath of
stale air pushed through his aching lungs.

The smoke inside the tunnel was getting thicker by the second. The Sioux
were filling up the end of the tunnel with smoldering grass and green sticks
from the fire they'd built in preparation for the woodsman's capture. They'd
smoked many a critter from a deep, dark den before. Even bears and badgers.
They doubted that even the great white woodsman, friend to the Chippewa,
could breath smoke for long. Boss dug harder, moved deeper ... he fought the
urge to scream again.

Then abruptly the tunnel opened into a wide open area in front of him. Boss
popped his head and shoulders through and with a great effort pulled his
whole body out of the tiny tunnel and into the cave. It had taken a long
time, too long, and had been a grueling, torturous task but he finally found
the living quarters. It was large enough that he could actually sit up and
move his legs and arms around and wiggled all the cramps out. The floor was
covered with soft, almost fluffy wolf hair. It was where the pups had been
born. Though this litter was grown enough to live outside the den, too.
There were no wolves present. He began to feel along the room's sides, top,
and floor, and in spite of the growing smoke, he began to smell, to feel
fresh air blow against his face.

As Boss felt along the far side of the little cave another tunnel opened in
the wall. It moved directly away and angled upward. The closer he moved his
face toward this opening, a new but equally tight tunnel, the air became
cooler, fresher. He wasn't sure where it lead, but it was fresh air and away
from the Sioux who were now shouting down the entrance he'd first crawled
down.

They mocked the woodsman. Shouted that Boss was trapped like a dog in a wolf
den. This thought amused them. They taunted Boss about the foolish Chippewa
who held him in such high regard. They would save the woodsman's eyes so
even after he was long roasted he could see the silly expressions on the
Chippewa faces when they discovered the burned and desecrated body of the
woodsman.

Those young men were mad Boss thought. He was desperate again. This new
tunnel, a rear escape tunnel turned out to be a little larger then the first
one. Boss had a little more elbow room but not much. And once inside it, he
had to fight off a panic attack again.

"Will I ever see the light of day again?" Boss asked himself.

He inched his way along, pulling himself slowly ahead, for going up the
tunnel was much more difficult than moving down. Then Boss realize the
tunnel was getting smaller, tighter. He could barely move his shoulders
through. He closed his eyes, trying to push back the fear.

The air still felt so thin, smelled so dirty. Boss was tired and making
painstaking slow progress, but there was no turning back. Escape or die, and
never surrender to a warrior, not even if the warrior were himself.

That's when Boss felt another presence there in the hole with him. Was it
one of the pups he wondered ... he hoped. Was it the pup who showed him the
way from the beginning. He wondered, but then it was gone. Disappeared just
like that, where could it have gone in the tight tunnel. Or maybe it was the
spirit wolf he prayed for, but where was it leading him, he wondered, was it
to escape and life, or suffocation and death. Now Boss wiggled and pulled
with all of his might. He kicked and pushed with his feet, the tunnel was
narrowing still and many roots now hung down slapping him in his face ...
but now, when he stared ahead, the distance somehow didn't seem so black.
And the air, indeed, was getting fresher.

Boss pushed and pulled, digging at the dirt like a shrew staying two steps
ahead of a chasing puff adder. He willed himself, squirmed, groaned and
fought off despair yet again. The fleeting thought flashed through his mind
that maybe his prayer had been answered and the wolf had come to truly lead
him to a quick suffocating death.

Where was the wolf now? Boss' mind raced as he struggled on. So this is how
its suppose to end ... buried alive in a vacant tunnel already smelling of
the stink spawned from other deaths, other defeats? This fight was no longer
about the Sioux. It was about him and his ability to overcome obstacles in
his life. The ability to survive on his own.

Then through the darkness, from somewhere out in the forest rose the
mournful howl of a lone wolf.

Boss knew the wolf was talking to him. He pushed and pulled with renewed
strength and vigor. The howl grew louder. He pulled and struggled and then
... his head and shoulders popped through an opening and into a thick
curtain of moss hanging down over the door of the escape tunnel.

Dusk had fallen gray and shadowy over the wilderness, Boss had been chased
all day and stuck in the tunnels for some time. To his utter surprise he was
out of the ground and looking down a steep hill at the ...

"River!" Boss exclaimed.

Boss had tunneled clear through the ridge top. The Sioux were a good fifty
yards away on the opposite side of the ridge. They had no idea, no thought
at all, he'd done this. Boss wasted little time sliding through the forest
pines down the steep sand slope toward the river and freedom.

Boss sliced quietly into the inviting stream. The cool, clean water felt
wonderful after his hours of confinement and near hysteria. He must have
dunked his head twenty times trying to get the sand out of his hair.

It was no wonder the Indians consider the wolf magical and mysterious ...
spirit-like, to be able to live like that underground. The thought of the
confining cave drew a shudder through the woodsman's body.

Boss crossed to the far side of the river to drift in the deeper water and
darker shadows. He drifted slowly along with the current, hidden by the
dusk. He'd grown quickly accustomed to the cool water and it felt soothing
to his tired muscles. As he moved downstream he looked up through the trees
to the ridge top above. He could see smoke streaming up through the tree
tops and sparks rising up into the darkening sky. The flicker of flames were
a bright orange and yellow. The Sioux had themselves a real bonfire going as
they waited for a guest of honor who would never show up. At least not this
night he wouldn't.

Boss took some pride and smiled at the thought of how he'd gotten away. He
thought about how a dozen Sioux warriors couldn't take him and he escaped
with barely a scratch at that. But that wasn't the only pleasant thought
that flashed through his mind. Now that he was free from thoughts of
survival and his emanate demise, a host of notions crowded his conscious.
Not the least of which was the woman. He turned his attention upstream and
longed to see her, to feel her arms around him, to know she was okay, too.
But first ...

Boss moved across the river again and made his way upstream to the canoes.
The woods were now shrouded in darkness as the moon was just barely rising
above the eastern pines.

Boss used his hatchet to disable all but one of the canoes. They were
indeed, Chippewa canoe's the Sioux had stolen somewhere. He plundered as
many weapons and supplies as he could from the Sioux canoes and dumped it
all in the deep river water. There were no rifles. Then he pushed his own
craft out onto the quiet current and into the darkness. He moved through the
night, his craft cutting a silent V against the slow current. At the last
minute he turned back and looked at the Sioux canoes all now with gaping
holes in the bottom.

"Were there four canoes this morning?" Boss asked himself. "Or five?

"Abbey!" Boss said her name out loud when the realization hit him.

Without another second of hesitation he plunged his paddle deep into the
current. There was one more canoe to find and the woman to save ... he hoped
he wasn't too late.

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