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Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross [MultiFormat]
eBook by Florence Weinberg

eBook Category: Historical Fiction
eBook Description: In the year 1731, three Franciscan missions are struggling to establish themselves on the San Antonio River despite Apache raids. The story explores a crucial time in San Antonio history, featuring courageous settlers, missionaries, Indian converts and fierce Apache attacks.

eBook Publisher: Twilight Times Books, Published: 2005
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2006


2 Reader Ratings:
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"This is a tale I wouldn't hesitate to recommend. It offers a look at several conflicts that would have occurred during this period between cultures and the individuals from those cultures. Talented author, Florence Byham Weinberg has created a wonderfully lifelike cast of characters with definite personalities who will pull you into their world and make you believe it could have happened exactly like this."--Anne K. Edwards, mystery author and Editor-in-Chief Web Mystery Magazine


Chapter I: THE MOON IS DOWN

Her first raid as an Apache woman warrior!

Ahuila smiled in spite of her intense concentration. None of the ten in her father's raiding party knew she was there, least of all Naiche, her father. He'd ordered her to stay behind with the rest of the tribe. Raids were too dangerous, he insisted, though he'd been her trainer. Of course he'd say that--she was the last member of his family and he loved her--but a father could love too much, for too long. She'd seen sixteen summers and was ready to take her slain brother's place. Besides, this raid was far less dangerous than most.

She'd disobeyed.

For three days she'd followed the horses on foot, loping undetected in their wake. By day her wiry body responded to the enormous demands she placed on it. Each night her skills were tested to the utmost as she crept with practiced stealth toward the raiding party's camp. She had become her brother, in a way, but she'd always bested him at riding, shooting the bow or hurling a lance, and why not? Her guides and guardians had all been men since her mother's death ten years earlier. She dressed like them; moved like them. They treated her with more respect than she'd earn as a chieftain's daughter.

Twilight befriended her as she inched forward, downwind of the horses. It was second nature to study the path ahead: no rustling leaves or rolling rocks, never a snapping twig. There, in a clearing ahead, her father's raiders were cinching multi-colored saddles on the horses once again. Their preparations for battle were unmistakable. She watched them mount, then saw her father point south.

Her pulse raced. This was it; they were going for the attack. She licked her lips in anticipation, proud of her father's skill and poise as he set his course with an air of regal assurance. When the party started off at a trot, she stayed close behind, no longer stealthy. They'd not hear her now. Their attention was trained ahead, on the unsuspecting caravan, its belly exposed like a fat bison, ready for gutting.

* * *

Father Gabriel groaned and changed position to ease his aches. He'd slept on the ground hundreds of times--discomfort was his constant companion--but it wasn't the unyielding earth or cold, damp air that kept him awake. Nor was it the rushing of the nearby stream. Countless risks to the caravan marched across the stage of his mind like theatrical scenes, every waking moment producing some new worry. The distance they had yet to cover was at least seventy leagues, all the while trying to control an unwieldy mob.

So much to comprehend all at one time! Too much, in fact. Three missions, including all his brothers in Christ; wagons loaded with the furnishings of their three churches; the military escort, native guides and a small group of neophytes--Indians being instructed in the Christian life--and of course the herd of horses, mules, burros, sheep and cattle.

The Apaches could well attack the caravan at any moment, unprotected as it was in the dark. The streamside offered no protection. They'd be after the horses, of course, and anything else they could plunder. He groaned again as he considered the folly of crossing this wild territory in such a clumsy way. Yes, there was the military escort sent him from the Béjar Presidio on the San Antonio, but the soldiers were spread too thin to do much good. There were also a few Indian scouts, but of what use were they?

And yet, thanks to the unfortunate chain of events that seemed to escape anyone's control, this was what he--Fray Gabriel de Vergara, President of the three East Tejas missions and leader of this motley caravan--had been compelled to do in order to reach the San Antonio River.

Reach it he must, if the missions were to survive at all.

He changed position once again. So far, his prayers had worked; there'd been no attacks. He knew he should pray every waking moment. Perhaps this was a good time. The black cave of the heavens was hung with millions of brilliant jewels, glittering through interlaced pine branches, and the moon was down.

No sooner had be begun his prayer than he heard a low whistle, then another and another. Sentinels! They were signaling, warning each other of an Indian attack, just as he'd feared. Within a few heartbeats the quietude became a cacophony of shrieks and whoops as pandemonium erupted everywhere at once. Shouts and curses, more high-pitched howls and the sound of hoof beats filled the night air. In those few moments it took him to come completely awake, he'd somehow laid his hands on his heavy staff in the dark and now was standing many yards from his sleeping place. How had he gotten there? He couldn't remember getting to his feet. His shock became anger. Gripping his staff like a cudgel, he backed up against the wagon containing the caravan's most precious of treasures, the life-size statue of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Sorrows, destined to grace the new church building. No mercy would be shown to those who threatened her.

A younger Gabriel would have rushed into battle, but his years of training and discipline restrained him--barely. This was his place. His prayer, now spoken aloud, lifted above the confusion and noise.

"God, give me the strength to face martyrdom with courage! Help me not to disgrace our Franciscan forefathers!"

* * *

Only minutes earlier, Fray Marcos had staggered over to sit, exhausted, against the bole of a cypress tree. He rubbed his damaged feet through bulky bandages of homespun, wincing when his fingers passed over several large cuts. He'd chosen to walk barefoot all day. Now both feet were swollen and the bandages were too tight.

He--Marcos Ygnacio Romero y Emperador--was merely Fray Marcos now, only a cog in the vast machinery Spain and the Church had set in motion to colonize the New World and convert its inhabitants. Fresh from the Franciscan College at Querétaro in México, his studied humility blended with the joy of participation in such a vast and worthy enterprise. He'd joined the three missions from eastern Tejas after they'd settled on the Colorado River. There he'd been made assistant to Father President Gabriel, but harsh conditions had forced the missions to move once more. Their path south to new locations on the San Antonio was fraught with danger.

Suddenly he shivered, but not from the cold. A foreboding knifed through him. There'd been too few soldiers in the escort ever since leaving the Colorado. How could they hope to protect the entire caravan? The land was unexplored and unmapped, and only one of the soldiers could be spared to scout the terrain ahead while underway. Further, the caravan was large and unwieldy. It invited attack at any time, but especially at night. This night? He'd asked the same question ever since they'd started the trek.

His concentration was broken by something climbing the inside of his left thigh. He leapt painfully to his feet, yanked up his habit with a suppressed yelp and slapped at the offending creature. The dying campfire gave him just enough light to see it was a millipede. Thank God, a millipede! A centipede would have stung him badly.

The bandages seemed tighter than ever, now that he was standing. Just as he stooped to loosen them, there was a whoosh near his head, then a thud behind. Arrow! He dropped automatically to his knees, twisting to look back at the same tree he'd just been using as a backrest. An arrow shaft quivered there, colors vibrating red and yellow, precisely where his head had been a moment earlier.

In the next instant he heard whistles, low warnings from the sentinels. Warnings? Too late! The attackers were already there, within the campsite. His twisted on his knees, but his feet were so injured he knew he couldn't run, or even fight. He was defenseless. He sprawled on his stomach and tried to crawl toward deeper shadows, but his robe was too restricting. Panicked, he hitched both knees forward together, first one side, then the other, clawing at leaves and anything else he could use to pull himself along, but to where? Was his attacker even now charging forward for another shot?

Copyright © 2005 by Dr. Florence Byham Weinberg.


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