Thirty-two-year-old mixed blood John Strobaw, known to the Sioux as Medicine Hair, returns to his Turtle Crick Farm after a six-year exile on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Grief-stricken at the loss of his mate and lover Matthew Brand, known as Shambling Bear, at the Battle of Wounded Knee, he struggles to become a farmer again while fighting an internal battle to let go of the past and face his future. Will that future be with his best friend Winter Bird or with Pretty Face, an outrageous flirt who hasn’t yet decided who he is?
But before he can come to grips with this, John faces several battles. Will his former friends and neighbors accept him now the Indian War has come to an end? Can John forgive those same friends and neighbors after the murderous ambush of the Sioux by the 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee? Or survive the hostility of an Indian-hating sheriff named Charles Landreth and protect himself against the mindless fear and loathing for Two Spirits, men who love men?
Bird rode in as dusk was falling. After a good meal of antelope steaks and vegetables from the field, the three of us stripped and made for the okinare. I was relieved the boys were at home with their father.
Ethan was as rampant as a stallion on the prod before we even got the heated rocks moved inside the little hut. Winter Bird didn’t even let us work up a good sweat before he went on the attack.
“You tame that dog between your legs.”
I couldn’t see Ethan’s expression in the dim light, but I sensed his shock. “What? Why?”
“That Army captain over there sees you waving it around his wife and sons, he’ll shoot you or hang you from one of the cottonwoods.”
“I can’t help it. I see a good-looking man, and it happens. I got hard just talking to Gideon.”
“You call him Captain Haleworthy,” Bird snapped.
“Captain will do,” I said. “Look, Ité ...”
“Ethan,” he said.
“All right, Ethan. Even by the time I was your age, the white man’s thinking about Two-Spirits had already started to change the tribes’ attitudes. You can’t have reached eighteen summers and failed to realize the whites kill a man for thinking and acting like that. If you show yourself like that around his children or his wife, the Captain will kill you without even bothering the law about it.”
“But his wife’s a blood.”
“She’s still his wife, and his attitude is his not hers. I’m warning you, Ethan. You wave that thing around the whites, and you won’t live long. Otter died hanging from that cottonwood out there twelve years ago. And he was very careful about how he acted. You don’t let a man see your interest in him. Not that sort of interest. Your own people might put up with that kind of behavior, but the whites won’t.”
“Then how will I ever find a mate?”
“One day, you will find a man who shares your interests. And when you do, you will know it.”
Ethan sighed. “Like you two? I know both of you share my nature, but you won’t give me the back of your hand. Much less your che.”
Bird made a hissing sound. “Are you the kind of man who tangles with anyone available?”
Ethan paused. “Yes, and so were you before you got old.”
I laughed aloud. Bird joined in more reluctantly.
“Yes,” I admitted, “I had my share of experiences, but it meant nothing until I found the one I loved. Then it held meaning.”
“But you learned things with others. Things that made it good when you found Bear.” Ethan paused even though I don’t believe he saw me wince at his thoughtless words. “I haven’t been with anyone. All I’ve done is jerk my own pole.”
“Enough!” Bird’s voice was hoarse. “Meet me in the hayloft in an hour, and I’ll show you everything you need to know. And some of it you might not like.”
“Do you mean it?”
Ethan’s hopeful words struck a chord deep inside me, but I couldn’t identify the emotion.
Bird’s voice became harsh. “Aye, I mean it. You’ve sweat out the stink of horses and cattle by now, so go bathe in the crick and get ready.”
If anything, Ethan’s erection was even larger as he rushed through the doorway. Winter Bird’s sigh held a note of sorrow.
“I’m sorry, John. I’ve tried to wait for you. But the boy is getting to me.”
“I understand, my friend. I hoped he would provide some relief for you.”
He flashed me a look I couldn’t read and fell silent. When he spoke again, it was in Lakota. “I don’t want relief, Medicine Hair. I want you. I hope my teaching that randy youngster a thing or two doesn’t get in the way of that. But I have needs too.”
“Winter Bird,” I answered in the same tongue, “my heart aches because I see you hurting. Nothing you do with that youth will alter the way I feel about you. Be gentle with him.”
“Nay, I’ll be rough. Mayhap I can turn him away from this road he seeks to take.”
I shook my head. “No, his shadow is cast. You can make it easy or hard for him, but you cannot change him. If you hold no feelings for him, make that clear from the start.”