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||Twilight Times Books
||November 15, 2005
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The year: 1731. Three Franciscan missions struggle to establish themselvs on the San Antonio River despite Apache raids. Missionary Fray Marcos and an Apache woman warrior, Ahuila, fall in love. They must work out their fate in the face of cultural conflicts and prejudices.
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.
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?
A second arrow whooshed overhead, caroming among the trees, followed by the explosion of a musket close by. He pressed himself even flatter against the pine-needle cushion of the forest, and held his breath as he visualized his own body riddled with arrows.
He'd never thought of dying this way.
* * *
Ahuila glanced skyward as she loped behind the raiding party. The moon was already on the western horizon, but the glowing canopy of stars gave her night-trained eyes more than enough light to keep up with the horses. She thought of the booty from this one raid. It would make the tribe rich. Maybe her father would give her a new pony before the rest were sold to the Spaniards—her tribe called all the pale skins Spaniards—in the north, always hungry for high-quality horses from Spain and anxious to buy goods of any sort.
The hour it took to reach the caravan seemed to pass in a minute. She slowed when the raiders, holding their horses to a dead walk, approached the quarry with utmost caution. They seemed to slip through trees and shrubbery like whispering spirits, scarcely moving the foliage. Even the horses sensed the need for utmost silence.
Other animal noises gradually grew louder: snuffling, snorting, bleating, the shuffling of many hooves and an occasional squeal from a jostled horse. There were many animals in the caravan, more than just horses. Blending with all their sounds was the rushing of a stream ahead, but nothing else.
Four of her father's men separated from the group of ten. They'd follow the usual raiding plan, making a lightning inspection of the caravan's animals before stampeding as many horses as possible.
The remaining six tethered their horses in a grove north of the caravan. Three would probably move on foot toward the stream, where they'd signal the attack. She visualized them creeping in among the sleeping men. They'd shoot, stab and maim as many as possible, then seize objects of value wherever they could. There'd be so much booty they'd only be able to take along a few prize pieces but if the raid went well they could return for more, perhaps that very night.
She'd already decided how she could contribute. She'd wait on the northern perimeter and mind the tethered horses, making sure they were undisturbed.
She heard the cry of a screech owl from the streamside and her pulse sped to a new high. The tribesmen were in position; they were moving forward. Once again she pictured them, slipping unseen through the trees without a sound, but then she froze. A whistle! Then another, and another. Sentries, giving the alarm. One of her father's raiders must have been seen.
All stealth was abandoned as Apache war cries ripped the night. Her own cry blended with those of her brother warriors, and for a moment she raced forward, forgetting she had only her knife. No! She stopped short beside the horses as she focused on the sounds of battle. She could almost see the arrows and lances fly as the handful of defenders shot their guns into the darkness, hoping to hit shadows.
When cries and screams mixed with the warriors' whoops, she smiled, arching an eyebrow. Many deaths would mean even more booty. They could return and finish off the stragglers, then take much more. They could take everything.
There—the sound of a gun, but just one. Good! That meant the caravan was not well-protected. In a matter of heartbeats, her suspicions were confirmed. The warriors came running from the melee, four carrying something: a saddle, bridles, boots, a cloth bag filled with unknown riches. She came out of hiding then and helped every man mount, handing the booty up to him and slapping each horse's rump to get the animal off to a fast escape.
The last one was her father. She saw his surprise and sudden anger, but there was no time to make excuses or wait for the likely reprimand. That would come later. His stern look struck her like a blow, even though she'd prepared herself for such a confrontation. She held her head high.
Finally he handed her the silver-adorned saddle he carried, then mounted his bay gelding and took the saddle back. She slapped the bay's left haunch and he sprang away after the others, but not soon enough. As she turned away, she saw one of the enemy running towards them from the main camp, a vague blur as he passed in and out of the shadows and among tree trunks. He came from the very direction the first five warriors had taken in their escape. They'd passed him, but now her father was heading the same way, directly toward danger. Naiche had no lance, just the bulky saddle he held with one hand.
She reached out as if to pull her father back from danger.
* * *
Sergeant Fernando Alonso repositioned the saddle serving as his pillow. He propped one hand on the saddle pad, his usual mattress, and tucked the worn wool blanket around him, but rest would not come. He was uneasy. Too many trees grew near water; the sounds of the stream masked lesser noises and his bones told him an Apache raid was due this night.
The caravan was extremely vulnerable, a lumbering behemoth that had surely been seen by any number of enemy scouts. Who among those savages would not think to take advantage of the situation? He'd made sure his best men were keeping watch, but they were too few, spread too thin. Smart attackers could infiltrate and begin killing before any alarms were raised. In the confusion, they could loot freely.
Ah, well, any raiding party would wait until the moon set.
He rose to stoke the nearest fire, then returned to his spot. At least here, where most of the men were sleeping, he'd see something when the action began. He was almost dozing when he heard a screech owl, but… it was not an owl. The imitation was excellent, but not good enough. Apaches! A series of whistles around the camp perimeter told him his sentinels were already alerted to the attack. He rolled to the left and grabbed his loaded musket, then reached for his boots, but a movement in the shadows caught his eye.
There! A raider in front of a tree, at the limit of the firelight. The man stood motionless, looking toward the area where Fray Marcos had settled himself only minutes earlier. Then the warrior began to draw his bow, aiming that way.
"No you don't." The sergeant's words came as the musket hammer fell, but the Indian was gone. The shot had missed! There was no time to reload. Cursing at his own miserable aim, Alonso charged out of cover without his boots, barefoot. The attacker was running north, away from the stream, escaping. Were the raiders' horses there? It would fit the pattern of Apache raids: lightning attack, noise and confusion, looting, killings if possible, then escape. All in a matter of minutes. He ran with abandon until a sharp stone forced him to hop a few yards. Nevertheless, he continued on through the trees and into the open, where he saw half a dozen attackers mounting their horses. There was only starlight, but it was enough to see they all held bulky objects. Stolen booty! They must have been stealing it even before the sentries put out their warnings.
One was helping the others mount.
He snapped the musket up against his cheek, but the trigger was slack. He hadn't reloaded, and they were already moving, getting away, coming his way. Two galloped past him, then three more. Finally the last made his break.
"Bastards!" he roared, and waved his arms at the final horse and rider. The animal swerved abruptly, then stumbled. It went down with a crash and the raider was thrown, along with his booty. Alonso reversed his musket, holding it like a club, and lunged for the figure on the ground.
* * *
Ahuila stood breathless, watching the unfolding scene as if each movement were many heartbeats long. She heard the man's bellow, saw him waving his arms in the faint light, saw her father's bay veer and go down, knew it had stepped into a hole by the way it stumbled. She watched Naiche's body fly in a wide arc and heard the heavy impact on rocky earth. Then the shadowy figure was upon him with a club in both hands. He brought it down with the roar of a bull bison.
Her hunting knife was held for ripping as she ran to help her father.
Order Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross from Twilight Times Books
Her first raid as an Apache Woman Warrior!
A riveting novel of historical fiction about a Franciscan Friar, Fray Marcos, and an Apache woman warrior, Ahuila, August 12, 2006
Reviewer: Midwest Book Review: 5 stars:
A riveting novel of historical fiction about a Franciscan Friar, Fray Marcos, and an Apache woman warrior, Ahuila, August 12, 2006
Reviewer: Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA) - See all my reviews
"Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross" is a riveting novel of historical fiction about a Franciscan Friar, Fray Marcos, and an Apache woman warrior, Ahuila. Set in the area of the San Antonio River in 1731, this tale of both the clash and attraction of two cultures is sure to transport its readers. Author Florence Weinberg is writing in her element, which includes a vast and studied background history of the American Southwest, particularly the San Antonio area. She has also taught and traveled in Canada, Germany, France and Spain, in addition to teaching French and Spanish at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N. Y., and Trinity University in San Antonio. The complexity of the underlying cultures, both Native American, (multi tribal including Apache, Comanches, and others), and European (including French and Spanish influences), is fully explored in this well- researched historical novel. Characters are more than believable, there is a fascinating love story, and action is packed with portent. If you like historical novels, you will love "Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross." But even more, if you appreciate a fine historical novel built on absolutely faultless research, "Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross" will draw you in as surely as a hummingbird is drawn to its blossom. This is a fine example of the genre, one of the best of its kind. In addition, the reading of this book will help to preserve Las Misiones, a group of four colonial era Spanish mission churches in San Antonio built during the 18th century. A portion of the proceeds from the purchase of the book go to Las Misiones Capital Campaign, led by Old Spanish Missions, Inc. to restore the churches of Mission San Jose, Mission Concepcion, Mission Espada, and Mission San Juan. A form for voluntary donations is found at the end of the book, or those who are interested may contact Las Misiones Capital Campaign, P.O. Box 28410, San Antonio, TX 78228.
Apache Lance, January 7, 2006
Reviewer: Anne K. Edwards: 4 stars
Something different and something definitely worth reading. A tale of two people from the two cultures that dominated the American southwest at the time that Spain lay claim to it.
Ahuila, an Apache woman, comes into contact with the Franciscan monks who are working to establish new missions in her tribe's territory. She is drawn in particular to one called Fray Marcos because of his golden hair. Hiding her identity, she joins the group and watches him and bides her time. She plans to offer him as a sacrifice to her father's spirit.
Fray Marcos was a former member of a minor aristocratic family until he felt the call to serve God. Much against his family's wishes, he joined the Franciscans and was sent to serve in the Spanish territories in the New World. He notices Ahuila watching him and begins to worry about his own feelings. Such feelings can cause him to be forced out of his Brotherhood.
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. I'm glad I had the chance to read it.
Must Read for Southwest History Buffs, January 2, 2006
Reviewer: Kathleen Muldoon "Writing Instructor" (Texas): 5 stars
Weinberg has written a fast paced story of the founding of three of San Antonio's historic missions. While the main characters are fictional, Weinberg's research is impeccable as applied to the setting and background for Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross. If you like learning history while at the same time being entertained, don't miss this novel by Florence Weinberg, a rapidly rising star in San Antonio's literary community.
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