"They were both made in a ceremonial fashion…"
Brevet Major Henry J. Wilson looked up from the student files he was reading to scowl at the door. What did the man want now? Three weeks as a plebe instructor at West Point and Wilson was ready to chuck it all and ask for reassignment in Vietnam, and all because of one young, skinny officer with an attitude. Newly promoted Captain David Langstrom, the most close-minded, bigoted, pain-in-the-butt asshole Wilson had ever met. How Langstrom had ended up at the Point was a complete mystery to the soon-to-be Major, but Wilson sincerely wished someone else with plenty of clout would notice and kick the man's can off the grounds.
A second, shorter knock followed. Impatient son of a bitch, too. "Come!"
The door opened and Langstrom entered, followed closely by one of the new plebes. Now what!? Wilson silently demanded of the officer, but he studied the cadet. Ironhorse, Paul. The boy had intrigued Wilson since the day of his arrival, three days past the regular reporting date, but then, Ironhorse had had a good excuse – he'd been in Mexico city, winning an Olympic Bronze medal for the United States in the decathlon.
When he'd read the memo that arrived concerning the boy's late arrival date, Wilson had expected an ego-centered rich kid. What he got was a quiet Cherokee boy who was three times the soldier of the other plebes in his class, and twice many of the upperclassmen. Ironhorse would make a fine officer, if Wilson could drag him out of his self-imposed segregation. Despite his academic and athletic successes, the cadet didn't seem to believe he was equal to the rest of the white world, and, given the conditions the boy had grown up in, Wilson wasn't surprised. In fact, he wondered if Ironhorse was even comfortable with the Red world.
The cadet needed to trust at least one white man, and Wilson had decided after his first meeting with the boy that he was going to be that man. He would not let the potential he knew was there be buried, destroyed, or neglected by its owner.
Since Langstrom appeared to be ignoring his need to salute, Wilson responded to the sharp execution of the cadet before he asked, "What can I do for you two gentlemen?"
"Capt— ah, Major," Langstrom said. "I have a serious situation to discuss with you concerning this plebe."
Wilson's eyes flickered to Ironhorse. The young man stood in a rigid attention stance, his eyes locked on the far wall, and although his face remained impassive, the muscles along his jaw pulsed in controlled anger. "At ease, cadet," Wilson said, earning a disapproving look from Langstrom. "And what infraction has Cadet Ironhorse committed?"
"He has been keeping non-regulation edged weapons in his room, sir."
Wilson's eyebrows climbed. That didn't sound like something the young man would do. Something deeper was up. Wilson sighed silently. "Oh?"
"Yes, sir." Langstrom opened a leather case Wilson hadn't noticed the man was carrying, and sat it on the major's desk. "As you can see, sir. These are not anything we might have issued – not that cadets are allowed to keep issued weapons in their room in any case."
The major caught the triumphant expression in the captain's eyes. The man simply had a problem with anyone sporting a deeper shade of brown than himself, and given the man's blond hair and fair skin, that mean every African American, Mexican American, most Eastern Europeans, and now, obviously, Native Americans.
"I see," Wilson commented, staring down at the two "non-regulation edged weapons" carefully stored in the case. "And how did you locate these, Captain?"
"I was conducting a spot inspection of Cadet Ironhorse's room, sir. I was told he might be hiding contraband."
"And did you find anything? Besides these, of course."
"No, sir," Langstrom admitted, his voice strained.
Wilson looked to Ironhorse. "Cadet, would you explain to me where these weapons came from?"
"Sir," Ironhorse said, coming to attention. "Those were a gift from my grandfather. I brought them with me. They have been in my room, in that case, since I arrived."
"Were these made especially for you?"
"And do they have any other purpose beyond the utilitarian one of edged weapons?"
Wilson watched Langstrom's eyes narrow. Ironhorse wasn't picking up on the major's attempt to help him, or he was ignoring it. This boy's got a persecution complex! "Please elaborate, cadet."
Ironhorse's jaw tightened further and he hesitated slightly before he spoke – long enough for Langstrom to intervene. "You were given an order, cadet!"
Black eyes flickered momentarily to the captain, and Wilson had to fight back a smile at the utter contempt and dismissal they held. At least the boy knew an asshole when he saw one. Langstrom's opinion didn't mean a thing to the plebe. It was only what Wilson thought that mattered. The major's opinion of Ironhorse took another positive jump forward.
"Sir, those 'edged weapons,' as you're calling them, represent my heritage."
"Explain," Wilson commanded, genuinely interested in understanding the young man better.
"Sir, the tomahawk was my people's most lethal weapon, prior to the white man's introduction of firearms."
Langstrom started to comment, but Wilson held up a hand to silence him. "And this?" he asked, pulling the battle baton from its leather sheath.
Ironhorse's face reddened slightly. "Sir, my grandfather is a shaman—"
"A medicine man?" Langstrom asked with a snort of derision.
"Yes, sir," the cadet ground out. "He wanted to give me something that would embody the power of my heritage – something that was also mine alone. He prayed for a vision and what he saw was that." He nodded slightly to the knife. "They were both made in a ceremonial fashion, and include items sacred to my people, and myself."
"And I suppose you believe all this mumbo-jumbo?" Langstrom asked. Ironhorse remained silent. "I asked you a question, cadet!"
"Sir, I—" He stopped short. "I don't know exactly what I believe, sir, but I do know that my grandfather believes."
"And you think these weapons are going to give you some sort of supernatural power on the battlefield?"
"That will be enough, Captain," Wilson interrupted. "Why didn't you place these in storage along with the rest of your civilian belongings?"
"No excuse, sir," was all Ironhorse offered.
"And there's one other item, Major," Langstrom said. He turned to glare at Ironhorse. "Take out that necklace."
The Cherokee forced back an objection, and reached up to draw out from under his shirt a small leather pouch suspended from a leather thong. A gold crucifix was entangled with the leather.
"That," Langstrom said, pointing at the medicine pouch, "is jewelry, and also not permitted. Sir, I would like this cadet placed on—"
Langstrom spun around until he was nose-to-nose with Ironhorse. "Just because you're some hotshot athlete—"
Wilson raised his voice. "Enough!" The captain turned back to face him. It amazed the major that it had taken the boy this long to finally show his anger. "Langstrom, what are the rules concerning cadets keeping religious items in their rooms?"
The captain drew himself up. "Catholic cadets are allowed to hang crucifixes, and all cadets may have a personal copy of the Bible, and whatever other prayer books are required of them by their Christian faith. Jewish cadets may hang a Star of David, keep their books and their little hats and what have you."
Wilson looked back to Ironhorse. "Are you a Catholic, cadet?"
"My mother was, sir."
"And do you have a crucifix hanging in your room?"
"But you wear one?"
"Captain, what are the regulations concerning crucifixes being worn?"
"Again, sir, crosses, crucifixes, and the Star of David are acceptable. But leather—"
"Cadet, do you believe in God?"
Ironhorse paused, then responded. "Sir, I was under the impression that a Christian religious affiliation was not a requirement for entry to West Point."
"Point made, cadet," Wilson said, suppressing a grin. Ironhorse still hadn't caught on. Stubborn kid. "Do you believe in traditional gods, spirits, or forces?"
"Sir, I have my own beliefs, some from the your world, and some from the Indian."
"And are these weapons and your leather pouch there part of that?"
"Thank you, cadet." Standing, Wilson walked around his desk to stand in front of the plebe; however, his words were directed to Langstrom. "Cadet Ironhorse, since West Point is not in the business of teaching any particular religious faith, and respects the religious convictions of all of its students, I am going to tell you this once, and just once. Is that understood?"
"As a Native American, you are entitled to your beliefs just like the next man. However, you will have to abide by the same regulations as every other cadet here. Therefore, you will hang these religious items on your wall as soon as you get back to your quarters. And I'm sure they will remain there until your graduation. Is that understood?"
"And as far as your pouch there goes, so long as it is not a danger to you or any other cadet, I will consider it an Indian crucifix or Star of David. Is that understood?"
Wilson turned, snapped shut the leather case, and handed it back to Ironhorse. "Good, now get the hell out of my office, cadet, you're wasting my time."
"Yes, sir." Ironhorse accepted the case, his eyes meeting the major's. A look of real appreciation shown in the back depths. With an about face, he exited the office, shutting the door behind him.
"And now, Langstrom, we're going to have a little talk…" was the last thing he heard.