Ned Ladigo married Running Dear. Minutes later she died.
Indians discovered a massacred wagon train. The lone survivor was a naked white youth crying for his dead mother and father.
A locket in the boy’s hand, when opened, revealed his name and age—Ned Ladigo, three years old.
Ladigo was accepted as a member of the tribe, and years later he and Running Deer were joined in a tribal marriage that brutally ended when she was murdered. “I must be with her. I must…I cannot live without her.” His hand reached for his knife…
Ned Ladigo snuggled Running Deer to his chest to hear her heartbeat. It pounded erratically, struggled gallantly in its dying effort to find its normal rhythm, failing, failing. No…She mustn’t die. She mustn’t. A scream dashing from his throat was heard by the tribe. “Running Deer, you’re my life, my forever love. You must not leave me.”
Blood spurted from her mouth when she coughed. She struggled to talk. Her voice came to him as a whisper. “I love you Ned, Ladigo. I will always love you. Hold me. Hold me tight, my forever love.”
Running Deer sighed once before she died. Ladigo felt her life leave her body.
No. Please no
Tears flowed from his eyes. They fell upon Running Deer’s and slowly closed their glittering blackness. He held her in his arms.
“I shall hold you forever, my Running Deer. I shall never let you go. I will never leave you. Hear me Running Deer. I will never leave you.” He kissed her lips. They were cold and lifeless.
An elderly woman of the tribe touched his arm. Through tear-soaked vision, Ladigo recognized her as Running Deer’s grandmother. Now she was an all alone woman, now she was without her granddaughter, now she was without anyone. There were no tears in her dark eyes, only a deep grief he knew would remain forever, always in her eyes and facial expression.
“Running Deer is no longer with us in body, Ned Ladigo,” she said in her always quiet voice. “She is now with us in spirit, where she shall always be for all eternity. You must put her remains aside.”
“I cannot. I must hold her forever.”
“You shall hold her forever in your heart. But now you must let her body go. You must.”
Ladigo stood with Running Deer wrapped in his arms. He took three steps and stooped to gently place her among the soft pile of buffalo skins in the wigwam’s corner. He kissed her cold lips, touched her face, before turning to her killer.
Buffalo Man, a jealous lover, stared at Running Deer, blood dripping from his knife. He threw the weapon from him. It landed at Ladigo’s feet. Buffalo Man’s love for Running Deer had never been accepted by her.
“I cannot love you,” she had always said to him. She had even laughed at his proposal. “I never shall.”
“Why, Buffalo Man? Why?” Words choked in Ladigo’s throat, stopping him from saying more. Instead he grabbed the deer antler handle of his Bowie Knife, felt the cold deadliness of its steel blade. He would kill Buffalo Man and then he would take his own life. Without Running Deer there was no need for him to remain alive.
Before he could plunge his knife into Buffalo Man’s heart, the man collapsed to his knees. His ugly face became a deadly sneer, as if a blazing hot fire raged throughout his body. He gave Ladigo a twisted smile of triumph when he spoke. “Stay your hand, Ned Ladigo. I have done my death for you. I have consumed a solution of hemlock from the silver cup that I now bequeath to you…I have cursed the cup…Should you drink from it you also shall die…I doubt that you will ever put the cup to your lips, for you are destined to live a full life…I have slain Running Deer so that in life you may never have her…I shall have her…I join her in death. You…you, Ned Ladigo…will forever suffer from the terrible agony of loneliness, knowing that Running Deer is with me…and she will be mine. My spirit and her spirit will join…she shall be mine…mine…forever.”
Buffalo Man died. In death, his twisted sneer remained.
A fury raged through Ned Ladigo. Barely aware of what he was doing, he stabbed his long knife again and again into Buffalo Man’s dead heart, until he felt his knife hand being stayed by someone’s steel-hard muscled fingers. He then slumped to the ground and sobbed.