He Who Calls Thunder

The first breath of revival always hurt, but drawing in the hot, wet air of a freshly occurring monsoon storm didn't make it any easier. Connor opened his eyes and blinked away the rain, wiping his face with his hand. He locked eyes for a moment with the startled Apache scout who apparently had been raiding Connor's pockets, then the young Indian ran off in terror, calling for someone. Connor shrugged, noting that he had already been robbed of his saber and some of his clothing. He sat up, looking for the sun and seeing only a bare glint of it in what he decided must be the west. He peered through the pelting rain, and nodded to himself. Yes, those were the Tucsons, not the Rincons, therefore it was afternoon -- the head injury must have made it take longer than normal to revive. His heart skipped a beat as he saw the body of Private Fenwick near him, and he wondered if the tall Mr. Goddard had gotten away, or if he were just laid to rot somewhere else.

Connor scrambled to his feet as he felt the sensation of another Immortal approach. Without his saber, there wasn't much he could do to defend himself, but he didn't intend to die lying down, especially not in the rain. Connor saw the pair almost before he heard them. The scout had returned, still wide-eyed, followed by another Indian -- this one, Connor guessed, much older than he appeared. The other Immortal eyed him for a moment, then nodded. "I am unarmed," he said in flawless English. "I do not intend to fight you."

Connor opened his arms and shook his head. "I have been disarmed. But I do not wish to fight anyway."

The elder Indian said something to the boy, who hurried back the way they had come. He gave a bare nod toward Connor. "They call me He Who Calls Thunder."

Connor gave it only a moment's thought before introducing himself. "I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," he stated firmly, "of Glenfinnan, on the shores of Loch Shiel in the Highlands of Scotland."

The Indian raised an eyebrow. "Do all White men have such long titles?" he asked, a smirk crossing his face.

Connor laughed a generous and relieved staccato laugh. "No. Just the Scots."

He Who Calls Thunder nodded with a smile. "Follow me. We will talk."

The Indian camp was several miles further into the foothills, and the two ageless men walked much of it in silence as the rain diminished, then finally stopped. Thunder had reassured Connor that Fenwick's body would be somehow returned to the fort, so that it would not become coyote or buzzard food.

Connor received many stares as he entered with Thunder, in much the same way the Lakota had stared at him when Duncan had first invited him into camp. That had faded, Connor recalled, the more he had visited the Lakota camp, and despite his different appearance, they had adopted him as well. He had hunted with them, eaten with them, learned some of their language and many of their ways. Until now, he had not remembered how good that had felt. Connor doubted he would get the chance to assimilate here.

Thunder led the way to his quarters, opening the tent flap for Connor to step inside. Connor was still hesitant, never fully turning his back on the other Immortal. Thunder gestured for Connor to take a seat to one-side of an already-stoked fire, then sat down himself, his back ramrod straight, his long black hair carefully braided and settled over his shoulders. "I am Apache," Thunder stated quietly, "and I have been nothing else for over 500 years." Picking up a ceremonial pipe, he stroked his fingers down its length. "They call me He Who Calls Thunder because Thunder is the one who throws lightning. I 'catch' the lightning, so they think I must call down Thunder." He smirked. "They have seen much, perhaps too much, but..." Thunder gave a self-effacing shrug. "I like being a legend."

Connor grinned. He liked this man already. "I have been alive three and a half centuries, but I have traveled far and tried to fit in where I can. Even with the Lakota Sioux," he added, hoping the name-dropping would be a positive rather than a negative.

"Oh?" Thunder raised an eyebrow, but there was no animosity in his gaze, only surprise.

"Can't say that I did a great job fitting in, but they accepted me as I was." Connor watched the Indian fill the pipe with tobacco, then light it and take a deep pull from its mouthpiece. Connor knew what he needed to bring up, as much as he did not want to. "There was a ranch in the valley below," he began, "a Mexican family. The mother and father were killed brutally last night."

Thunder's gaze raised from the pipe's end to Connor's eyes. "And you think the Apache were involved." His gaze turned hard. "No, you assume the Apache were involved."

"No." Connor returned the steely gaze. "No assumptions. But I want to know the truth."

"My people," Thunder said, gesturing to encompass the camp, "did nothing to anyone in the valley last night. We were holding ceremonies here."

Connor gave a slight nod. "That's all I wanted to know." He leaned back.

"You believe me?" Thunder raised an eyebrow again.

"You looked me in the eyes, you told the truth." Connor shrugged. "Why shouldn't I believe you?"

Thunder snorted. "Because I am Apache."

"And I had friends who were Sioux. And they told me the truth. I thought I had friends in the army then, and they lied to me, and killed the Sioux." Connor stared hard into Thunder's eyes. "The propensity for lying has nothing to do with your heritage."

Thunder nodded, leaning back against a rolled blanket and taking another puff of the pipe. He offered it to Connor, who slowly inhaled from the mouthpiece, but released little smoke. "It's been some time since you smoked," Thunder said with a laughing smile. Connor nodded, blushing around the ears. "At least you didn't choke. The tobacco is fresh, and strong." They smiled at each other, and Connor handed back the pipe. Thunder settled himself even more comfortably, as if waiting for Connor to ask a question, and Connor took advantage of the anticipatory silence.

"Why did you kill my men and myself?"

Thunder shrugged nonchalantly. "Not all were killed. One, but the other got away. And you survived." He grinned.

"But one died." Connor did not return the smile, his mouth caught in a hard line instead. "You killed a man."

"Our scouts heard the sounds from the ranch in the valley, the cries of attackers and victims alike," Thunder replied defensively, "and we had no way to find out what had happened. Our scouts were looking for danger to us, nothing more. They thought they would be rewarded for killing soldiers, as they would have been in some Apache camps. But not in mine. We are different here. And they are being punished for their presumptions." Thunder broke into a grin again. "Although I think seeing you revive was more than punishment enough for Swift Bear."

Connor couldn't help but laugh. "Perhaps so." He turned serious again. "Maybe between the Apaches and the military, the murderers will be taken care of."

"Perhaps." Thunder nodded thoughtfully. "We don't want them here any more than you want them in the valley."

"I think the perpetrators were White men." The hair on Connor's neck prickled, as it always did when he worried about tipping his hand too far. "The bodies were ripped open and left to rot, it seemed very deliberate. And senseless, because the first wounds would have left them dead. It just doesn't seem like an Indian act."

Thunder pursed his lips. "Perhaps. No guarantee, but perhaps."

"An act against Mexicans too, no other motive apparently," Connor added. "Nothing was taken." He shook his head. "As a Scot, I know how that works -- prejudice against a people. And no matter who is the victim, it's not right." Connor raised his gaze to Thunder's face. "I know you must have some grievances with the White Man to be so vigilant in your attacks."

"They are invading our lands." Thunder shrugged.

"But you've lived here with the Spaniards..."

Thunder shook his head. "Not peacefully. We fought the Spanish for over 200 years for this land."

"But was it yours to have in the first place?" Connor asked pointedly.

Thunder sat up tall again. "We claimed it."

Connor shook his head. "You didn't answer my question."

"It is not yours in the first place, either," Thunder replied emphatically. "The Spanish claimed it in spite of the natives here. They ceded it to the Mexicans, and you bought it from them. It was stolen property that the White Man bought."

Connor rubbed his temples, then sighed. "And Indian fought Indian for it for a long time before the Spaniards came," Connor surmised. "Just like my people, the Scots, with clans battling each other for territory. The Indians who have sat on this territory the longest are the Papago. According to your logic, this land should be theirs."

Thunder snorted with cynical laughter. "They are weak, pitiful. They give in too easily to others."

"Because you breed yourselves as warriors and they do not -- because your war strength is greater than theirs -- that justifies your claim to the land?" Connor raised an eyebrow imperiously. "That reasoning justifies the White Man's claim as much as it justifies yours."

Thunder shifted uneasily, remaining silent for a long moment. He took another pull from his pipe. "We are tired of being pushed around by the White Man."

"I can understand that," Connor replied, "but the fact is, the more you fight, the harder he will push. And the stronger his urge to kill your people will be."

"And if we do not fight, he will kill us anyway," Thunder said quietly. "Like at Camp Grant."

"The attack on Camp Grant was mostly Papago and Mexicans..."

"They were residents of the place you call Tucson," Thunder countered, "and supplied by White men."

Connor nodded slowly and sighed again. "Yes, yes they were. But you are forgetting the White commander at Camp Lowell who sent a warning to the White commander of Camp Grant -- who tried his best to send troops and medical help. It was not their fault that it arrived too late. The attackers had planned well, and were stealthy in their attack." Connor shook his head. "The military is simply...lacking. Good men are rare -- most are tired of war, after our Civil War. Those willing to stay are commanding out here, but the men they are leading are often looking for a place with less law and morals than where they came from. Keeping the peace, protecting both the citizenry and the Indians who want peace, is...well...nigh unto impossible." Connor gave an acerbic grin. "I think I'm ending up agreeing with you more than I'm disagreeing, He Who Calls Thunder, in spite of my best intentions."

Thunder smiled back with a nod. "We are both seeing more of the other side. But I do not think we would be able to convince others to see as we do." He handed the pipe to Connor, who accepted it a bit reluctantly.

"Especially not since I'm dead," Connor remarked. "In the eyes of Fort Lowell, anyway."

"You cannot go back." It was a statement, not a question.

"No." Connor puffed the pipe thoughtfully before handing it back to Thunder. "I must retrieve my sword, in secret, from the fort. It belonged to my first teacher, I cannot leave it. But after that..." Connor shrugged.

"I have men who can lead you away from here." Thunder gestured toward the blankets. "I can give you a few things for your journey." His gaze was serious as he leveled it at Connor. "But where will you go, Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod?"

Connor was startled that the man had remembered his full name, and was honored by the deference with which it was spoken. He had made a friend here. "My first student is still on Lakota lands -- the death of the tribe drove him onto Holy Ground, as he was tired of the killing, mortal and Immortal." Connor's ears reddened. Sometimes Duncan's retreat made Connor feel ashamed, as if he hadn't done enough to prepare Duncan for the world. Even though his kinsman was nearly 300 years old, Connor often felt the need to protect him, as if Duncan were a younger brother rather than just a student or fellow clansman. That is how close their relationship had become, and more often than not, Connor was grateful for it.

Thunder was still nodding slowly at Connor's words. "I can understand his feelings. I had heard a few tales of a White Man turned Red, living on the land of the Ancient Ones, but I did not believe them." Thunder's eyes met Connor's. "But knowing he is Immortal, knowing his story..." he shrugged. "Now I can believe it."

"I will retrieve my teacher's sword tonight," Connor informed the other man, "and leave tomorrow."

"Eager to get away?" Thunder leveled his steady gaze at Connor.

Connor shrugged. "No use staying. They think I'm dead. If they found me alive, with you..." He shook his head. "It wouldn't look good."

"You'd look like a traitor." Thunder seemed amused by this idea.

"And you'd look like you were out to kill soldiers, rather than just happening on them," Connor added seriously.

Thunder nodded. "True enough." The Apache sat back again, puffing contentedly on the pipe. He again offered it to Connor, who politely refused. "Will you be able to find your way back here from the fort in the dark?"

Connor nodded. "Probably. If not, I can at least get to the foothills and hide in the trees and brush until dawn breaks." Connor noted Thunder's half-hidden smile, and grinned himself. "You don't believe I can find my way back," he acknowledged. "Maybe I can, maybe I can't. I learned more from the Lakota than you think."

Thunder nodded, his expression still bemused. "Then we will see you when we see you." He plucked a small doe-skin pouch tied with a thong of the same material from among his belongings and offered it to Connor. "For protection on your mission tonight, and on your journey," Thunder explained. He smiled in a self-depreciatory way. "White men might call it a good luck charm."

Connor graciously accepted the sign of friendship, his expression a mixture of surprise and gratitude. He shrugged, trying to make light of the serious moment. "I need all the luck I can get."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Connor waited until dusk to begin making his way down to the fort, watching the sky in the west slowly turn from turquoise to deep summer night blue as he hiked. The Apaches had given him some civilian clothes -- presumably stolen from someone they had attacked at some point, but Connor let the matter go. He didn't want to get caught in his uniform, and the clothes were a dark color and would aid in camouflage. Connor made his way slowly, taking his time. He moved silently as the Lakota had taught him when he was trapping, finding places to hide himself where possible, and finally coming upon the fort shortly after midnight.

As he approached his former quarters, he felt the warning of the buzz -- and knew it worked the other way around as well. He looked around cautiously, hiding himself in the row of cottonwoods, but he saw nothing. Connor's heart raced. So near to shelter, and yet so far -- and he had to make it back out again too. And all that with Sanders knowing he was here, and maybe turning him in as a deserter, if not just outright beheading him. Connor took another look around, but saw only the flickering lamps in windows from the overnight sentries -- at the garrison, the corral, the hospital, the telegraph office. But no movement, no sign of Sanders.

Connor silently dashed for the porch, eager to have refuge behind the ocotillo fence. Once there, he tested the door. Unlocked. Connor pondered whether this meant they had already gone through his things -- he had left no word of next of kin to send his things to, and they might have just divvied them up. He silently hoped the katana was still there. But the unlocked door also meant they had moved Simona and Maria to someone else's quarters, or perhaps took them into town to stay -- and he wouldn't have to tiptoe past the room they slept in. Connor stole inside and headed into his bedroom, the buzz still upon him. A shadow darker than the darkness of the room caused him to freeze.

"I thought you'd probably be back tonight," Sanders' voice said. "You left this." Sanders held out his hands, the katana laid across them. "I'm guessing that's the blade you carry when you're not a soldier?"

"Mmm hmm." Connor gratefully took Ramirez's sword from the younger Immortal.

"We came to look for signs of next of kin," Sanders explained. "You don't have much here, but I saw this -- managed to keep others from seeing it so you could come back for it."

"Thanks." Connor wasn't sure of Sanders' motive, but so far, so good. He pulled on his boots, which he'd been doing without since he'd forded the Rillito -- partly to walk more quietly, partly to let his trouser legs dry.

"You got a camp?" Sanders asked. "Out in the foothills?"

Yeah." Connor wondered where the conversation was going.

"Commander heard some rumors in town, wanted me to go check out the Garcia ranch tonight -- could be the culprits coming back. I can ride you out there on my horse, no one would ever know. It'd save you some time." As far as Connor could tell, Sanders was sincere.

"That would be a help," Connor replied as he drew a belt from the armoire and worked a makeshift holder for the katana's sheath. "Thanks."

Sanders shrugged. "My teacher said if we come across a good one of our kind, we should stick together."

Connor nodded. "Good philosophy."

Connor skirted the fort until he was well past the Commissary stableyard, and he was soon met by Sanders, who pulled Connor astride the horse he was riding. They rode in silence, the only sounds that of the horse's hooves and the nocturnal desert creatures: the call of the owl, the cry of the coyote. The afternoon storm and the evening sun had left even the midnight air hot and musty, and the horse labored under both the heaviness of the atmosphere and its dual riders. As they approached the ranch, the pair heard a skittish nicker from off to their right. Sanders stopped their horse.

"Over there," Sanders pointed, his voice low, "two horses. Maybe the murderers are back."

Connor and Sanders dismounted, loosely tying the horse to a nearby mesquite. Lantern light flickered through a window in the ranch house. Either the culprits had returned to raid, as Sanders thought, or news had spread and someone was looting the place. Either way, it needed to be stopped. The two men crept up to the door, which was open an inch. Connor pushed it open the rest of the way, shuddering as its creak broke the silence.

A figure leapt out of the dark entryway, knife held aloft; the blade glinted in the moonlight as it came down, but Connor caught the hand that held it. The force of the attack knocked both men to the ground. As he struggled with his attacker, Connor heard Sanders enter the ranch house, followed by the sounds of more fighting. Connor finally managed to throw his opponent, who grabbed and ripped Connor's shirt before tumbling away in a hazy cloud of dust. Connor leapt to his feet, facing off with his attacker who had not dropped the knife. The man made a run at Connor, who grabbed the knife-wielding hand and, ducking under the man's arm, twisted the hand around to plant the knife deep in the man's own abdomen. Connor gave the knife a twist, opening the wound further, before leaving the man to fall with a dull thud. Blood quickly spilled onto the packed earth as Connor briefly checked his katana -- still securely lashed to his side -- and rushed inside to aid Sanders.

Sanders' own struggle had taken its toll on the house: broken lanterns, overturned furniture and spilled blood. The other looter had also been carrying a knife, but Sanders had grabbed one of the kitchen knives and made quick work of the thief. After the adrenaline rush, Connor wanted to laugh. Don't challenge a man who's an expert with sharp objects. Especially if you're not. Connor smiled at Sanders, who was staring at him.

"What's that?" Sanders motioned to the shadow hanging from Connor's neck, revealed by the torn shirt.

Connor clasped the pouch with one hand. "A gift. From a friend."

The moonlight from the window glittered in Sanders' angry eyes, and Connor could see him putting the clues together. "You're one of them," Sanders said accusingly. "A squaw man. I bet you even helped them kill Fenwick."

Connor shook his head slowly, but rested his hand on the katana's handle. "We were attacked by one set of Apaches," he explained, "but I was rescued by another. He gave me this." Close enough to the truth, Connor thought. And if it keeps us from fighting...

Sanders shook his head violently, finally drawing his saber. "Only good Indian is a dead Indian," he growled as he advanced on Connor, who drew his katana. "Second best is keeping them limited on the reservations, or under close eye like our scouts. But them wild ones....they're the ones we're supposed to be getting rid of, not pussy-footin' or playing friendly with."

Connor sighed in his throat. "It doesn't have to be that way...."

"Yes!" Sanders shouted, finally striking out with his weapon. "Mortals are no different than us, it's kill or be killed. And them damn Injuns deserve to die."

The clash of steel on steel rang through the dank night air. Connor let Sanders drive him backward out of the house, hoping for an advantage with some moonlight shed on the scene. Once outside the door, Connor turned the tables, driving Sanders back with a few hard blows. More focused on his sword than his feet, Sanders stumbled backward over the prone body of the first attacker, the fall sending the sword clattering out of reach. Connor placed the katana's edge at Sanders' throat.

"It can stop here," Connor said quietly. "If you swear to not follow me, and don't hunt the Apache. There's a difference between justice and slaughter."

The fury still burned in Sanders' eyes. "I will hunt them as long as I live," he spat bitterly.

Connor twitched his lips. "You got that right." He lifted the katana, then brought it down. "There can be only one."

Winds began to swirl around the house, reminiscent of the earlier monsoon storm. Connor could feel the electricity building in it, pulsing until it finally erupted in electric sparks and bolts, trapping him in its current. He could hear windows breaking on the house, see the lightning hit fence posts, smell the scent of mesquite trees burning, but he couldn't move. Thoughts and memories shot through him, including scenes of a familiar Sioux village being raided, its people massacred. Briefly Connor caught a glimpse of other soldiers in this scene, and he wondered which one was Kern. Connor winced in pain as the electricity stabbed him again, cried out to the night as the energy pulsed through his body. As suddenly as it had begun, the electricity dissipated, and Connor fell to his knees. He remained there a few moments, gasping for air as he dedicated his victory to Duncan and the memory of Little Deer, then dragged himself to his feet and ran for the trees. The Quickening had spooked the cavalry horse, which had pulled from its tethering and run from the scene. The two thieves' horses had been better tied, and Connor cut free the less-nervous of the two and raced toward the shallow fording spot in the river, then toward where he thought the Apache camp was.

The Apache went on guard at the rapid approach of an unfamiliar horse. He Who Calls Thunder emerged from his tent as the Immortal buzz began, and he worked to quell his tribesmen's fears. Connor pulled up short in front of Thunder and quickly dismounted.

"I saw the storm," Thunder commented, waiting for an explanation.

"One of the soldiers was a little too eager to hunt Indian-lovers....starting with me." Connor took a deep breath. "We were out at the ranch. Caught either the killers returning or looters. They attacked, we fought back. They won't be looting again."

"And your shirt was torn, and the other solider saw your good luck charm," Thunder guessed. Connor nodded. "Did you get your sword?"

"Yeah." Connor patted the katana handle at his side.

"And now you have a horse." Thunder nodded toward the animal. "I can have supplies and a guide ready for you in the morning. I suggest you ride during the early hours but find shelter for the afternoon -- maybe sleep. Start again as the sun is going down, when it's not so hot."

Connor nodded thoughtfully. "Good plan. But I can do without a guide -- I won't put any of your people more at risk. The supplies are appreciated, though."

Thunder pursed his lips a moment before speaking. "Be careful, Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." A smile crossed his face. "And if the Holy Ones smile on us, we will meet again."

"Hopefully in more tolerant and peaceful times." Connor returned the smile, then let himself be led off to get some sleep before his journey.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

February, 2000

Connor stood motionless outside the open metal gate, pretending to read the posted leaflet that briefly detailed the history of the Fort Lowell Hospital, while he steeled himself for the reality. He'd seen the ruins from outside the chain-link fence, but still he had to collect his strength to go inside. The Reunión de El Fuerte was the one day a year when the gate was opened and you could actually walk around inside the ruins. The fort hospital was the best preserved of the old buildings, and even it was crumbling with the wind and weather, in spite of the tin ramada sheltering it and the fence now preventing human vandalism.

Connor had already done this preparation a few minutes ago, at the corral, trying to push the ghosts of his memory aside as the re-creationist explained the saddle on display and the uniform he was wearing. Connor already knew how the wool uniform breathed, and that they'd used light saddles because of all the extraneous supplies a cavalry man carried. He had been paying more attention to the corral wall, still six feet tall in some places, in others completely missing. The sadness had truly overcome him then, and he'd left perhaps sooner than he should have. Maybe he'd go back and take a second look. After the hospital.

Taking a deep breath, Connor finally moved his feet to take him inside. The rooms were smaller than he'd remembered, and there were some names carved into the adobe bricks now, the results of vandalism before the fences. Connor shook his head as he made a slow, thoughtful circuit of the walls, then emerged back through the gate. They were planting cottonwoods, he noted, trying to recreate the officers row. Except now the only building along Cottonwood Lane was the 37-year-old reconstructed Commanding Officer's Quarters, which served as the Fort Lowell Museum. The parade grounds across the way were now a soccer field and picnic areas. Connor had seen the run-down house that was the best preserved of the real officers' quarters across the street, the bits left of the band quarters just off to this side of busy Craycroft Road, and the homes that had been constructed out of the remains of the Commissary and the Post Trader's Store after the fort had been abandoned in 1891. It all left him a little cold, but he was glad that someone -- even now at this late date -- was thinking of preserving this bit of history.

Connor glanced around at the various displays of the re-creationists outside the museum -- weaponry, uniforms, saddles. He didn't stay long, and decided to visit the museum itself some other time, since it was open to the public year-round. Today the fort was too crowded with people, and his head was too crowded with memories. Connor had always known the adobe structures weren't meant to last, but these few lingering remnants made it seem all the more obvious how much had returned to the desert or been claimed by souvenir-seekers in just over 100 years. With the fort as part of his personal history, Connor felt an emptiness in seeing its deteriorated state. The Commissary and its grounds were up for sale, and the neighborhood was petitioning the city to buy it, but Connor knew that would never happen considering its hefty asking price. He considered purchasing it himself and donating it to the city, just to keep it in the right hands, but he wasn't sure it was worth liquidating some of his own assets just to preserve this little chunk of his memory -- and a property that had been altered greatly since he'd lived with it, no less. Connor shook his head. No, he wouldn't buy it. He couldn't buy his way back in time, no matter how much he wanted to sometimes. He'd just have to settle for reuniting with it once in a while.

With one last glance around, Connor made his way back to his rental car. He was due to visit Jack Blackfoot -- once known as "He Who Calls Thunder" -- at his home in Apache Junction, a couple of hours north of here. That he was looking forward to. Memories were better shared, and they could talk about other times too, rather than staring in solitude at the ruins of what once had been home.

Maybe he'd come back next year. Maybe he'd actually go in the museum, next time. And maybe the Commissary would still be up for sale -- and just maybe he'd change his mind about buying it.

 

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I went on the Reunión de El Fuerte tour this past February. I can't explain it, but something about the Fort just captivated me that day, and from the moment I first glanced at the uniforms I could not shake the image of Connor standing before a mirror, dusting off his uniform. And so a fanfic was born. :^)

 

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