CHAPTER 3

Colonel Drayden shook his head doubtfully, leaning his elbows on the desk. "Moses, you and I have worked together for more years than I can recall. I'm pleased to call you my friend. And, believe me. There is no one else I'd rather have by my side, when facing the Sioux. But, in all good conscience, I just can't let you go. Look at you! You're all done in, man! What good would you be to us, or to those troops out there, in your present condition?"

Moses stared down at the glass of whiskey in his gnarled, work toughened hand. He was indeed bone weary, worn down to a nubbin. However, his sharp blue eyes glinted with life. Slowly, he raised those eyes, until they were level with the colonel's. The eyes narrowed to slits, and Moses' face grew taunt.

"I'm going, colonel. I can either do that as an army scout, or as a civilian. Makes no difference to me." He said softly.

Yet, soft as his speech at been, there was a trace of menace in the old scout's voice. One which made even a tough, seasoned old campaigner like the colonel back up a bit.

"Aright, Moses." The colonel sighed, realizing he was being blackmailed by his own pig-headed scout. "Have it your way. I want you mounted on a fresh horse, ready to leave, in twenty minutes. Head over to the sutler's store. You can tell them I said they're to give you with whatever supplies and ammunition you'll need. Now," Drayden finished brusquely, barely hiding the trace of a smile on his lips, "get the hell out of my office! I have work to do."

On the parade ground, a dozen troopers stood at attention beside their horses. Behind them was an ambulance wagon and a flat bed wagon. The latter, was for hauling back the bodies for burial. In front of the soldiers, stood Sergeant Striker. He turned and gave a salute when Colonel Drayden approached him. The two officers acknowledged with return salutes. With Drayden, was Captain Sandy MacDonald. The blond haired Scotsman, formerly of the Scot's Guards, was to be in charge of the post, while the colonel was away. Drayden, foregoing the usual formalities, smiled and shook MacDonald's hand.

"Captain, I know the post will be in good hands while I'm gone. I want you to post sentries on each of the walls, 'round the clock. With only a fraction of the men on duty, I know that's a tall order. I'm sure you'll manage, though." Drayden reassured him.

"Aye, you have my word that, colonel Drayden. I'll do better than my best, sir, to make sure this post is safe from attack. Even if I have to take a turn on watch, m'sel." MacDonald affirmed.

"Sergeant." Colonel Drayden said, pulling on his riding gloves.

"Sir!" The Sergeant barked back, coming to attention.

"Order the troop to mount." Drayden said, then looked around. He caught sight of Moses leading a saddled dun horse from the stable. "Mr. Trey!" He barked out sarcastically, still smarting from bowing to Moses' pressure. "If you would like to join us, sometime today?"

"Prepare to mount!" Yelled Striker, gathering the reins of his own horse. "Mount!"

The bugler sounded Boots and Saddles. As one, Sergeant Striker and the dozen troopers mounted their horses. Colonel Drayden did likewise. As the colonel looked up, he saw Moses Trey, wearing a fresh buckskin shirt, already mounted, and headed out of the gate at a slow, steady, ground-eating jog.

In line with the rest of the troop, three young privates nervously sat their horses, side by side. This was to be their first enemy engagement. Private John Featherly glanced at his friends, Luke and Billy. Giving them an encouraging smile, he said in a low voice, "Don't worry, fella's. This what we've been waiting for, isn't it? A little action?"

"Quiet in the ranks!" Screamed Sergeant Striker, walking his horse up and down in front of the troop, jerking its head up at every turn. "This ain't no Sunday school picnic we're goin' on, boys! You're in the calvary now. So, I expect you all to behave like the professional soldiers you are. Got that? I hear one more word, and that man's goin' on permanent dung detail, the minute he gets back here." Striker paused for effect, then maliciously added, staring right at John, "If he gets back."

John didn't have time to think about what his sergeant might mean, by that remark. For suddenly, the colonel said conversationally, "Sergeant, form column of twos and head them out."

The mounted soldiers formed into a double line of six, as the Sergeant shouted, "C Troop! Forward...Yo!"

Raising dust with their going, the rescue of the fort's supply train was on. Fifteen mounted men and two wagons loped out of the open gates of Fort Cole.

Captain Sandy MacDonald stood there, watching them go, until they were merely a dust cloud on the horizon.

"Close the gates!" He shouted, heading off to see to the watch detail. Passing the now empty C barracks, MacDonald wondered how many of those men and boys would be returning to those bunks.