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Debt of Honor

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"Kill me so I might die and be reborn a new man.  Kill me so the hatred inside me can die."

 

Lieutenant Duncan MacLeod rode through the battle, his attention focused on finding one man.  A man he had once called brother.

Around him members of his cavalry unit clashed with the mixed group of renegades.  The occasional pop of rifles told him the Indians would have many dead to bury before the day was through.

He felt the squeeze around his heart.  It wasn't supposed to be like this.  This wasn't why he had joined the cavalry.  He had taken the posting in order to help bring peace to both the Indians and the whites.  It wasn't supposed to lead to slaughter.

His senses tingled.  The man was close.

A flash of sunlight startled MacLeod's usually calm mount and the bay gelding reared.

There.  Ironhorse.

Slipping from the saddle, MacLeod ran forward, pistol in one hand, saber in the other.  "Ironhorse!" he yelled.

The shaman-turned-warrior stopped.  In his hand he held the bloody scalp of one of the soldiers.  "Fallen Eagle!"

MacLeod stopped, unsure as to what his next move should be.  Ironhorse held a long-blade knife, more than sufficient to take his head if he chose.  "Brother, please, you have to stop this."

"It is too late," Ironhorse said, bolting to his war pony and rolling onto the roan's back.

"Ironhorse!"

Duncan ran back to his gelding, the horse leaping into a gallop as he stepped into the stirrup.  Leaning low over the horse's withers, McLeod used his heels to spur the animal after Ironhorse.  The roan sidestepped, then stumbled in a prairie dog hole.  He reached the fallen man, yanking the bay to a stop.

"Damn it, Ironhorse, we have to talk!  You're my brother!"

"You are a white man.  I am one of the People!"

Duncan's eyes narrowed.  "That's not what you told me when you found me and brought me to your fire.  That's not what you told me when I gave you horses for the woman you called your sister."

Ironhorse paused, his gaze fixed on the battle that still raged in the meadow. "I know," he replied, his voice catching.  "And when we found the village destroyed, and your wife dead, you turned your back on the People and joined with the whites!"

Sliding out of his saddle, Duncan stalked toward Ironhorse.  "I did not abandon the People!  I just realized that there could be no peace if there weren't people speaking for the People among the whites."

"And so you bring your soldiers to destroy us?"

"No!  I wanted to talk, to offer you peace—"

"There!" Ironhorse shouted, pointing to the ongoing battle.  "There is the only peace the whites understand!"

"But it doesn't have to be like this!  We— You can make a difference, if you'll stop trying to be a martyr!"

Ironhorse's black gaze shot back to MacLeod.  "I have traveled the corners of this earth, and it is the same in all places – men killing men.  Us, killing each other. I was a healer, a shaman man, but now there is no room for healing, only killing.  I am a warrior.  I kill."

Duncan took another step closer.  "Aye, a warrior is all I've ever been, but I cannot die, and neither can you."  He pointed back to the fighting men.  "But they can."

Above them, a lone eagle rode the thermals, its hunting cry piercing the air.  Ironhorse looked up.  "The whites are killing my people.  I must stop them."

"They are all your people, brother."

Ironhorse looked back to MacLeod, his expression confused.  "You are my brother, an ever-living one, like I am.  You are white."

"I am Duncan MacLeod, a man."

One of the soldiers whooped and fired his rifle, others joining in.  The renegades were dead.

"I only wanted to try and make them understand," Duncan said.  "But they won't listen.  They're blinded by hate and fear."

"I cannot kill them all," Ironhorse sighed.  "They will rule this land.  Our day is past.  It is time I learned that lesson."

Duncan studied the man, watching the pain in his eyes.  He remembered his own pain when he was banished.  Losing his clan had been the hardest thing he had ever experienced and now Ironhorse wasn't just losing a clan, he was losing an entire people.

"Ride with me.  Help me teach them," McLeod pleaded.

Ironhorse shook his head.  "I have much to think about, much to learn.  I must be… reborn."  He stepped up to MacLeod, reaching forward to grab the tip of his saber.  "You will kill me."

"No," Duncan said, shaking his head.  "No, I won't take your head, brother."

"Not my head.  Kill me so I might die and be reborn a new man.  Kill me so the hatred inside me can die."

MacLeod hesitated.  Was that what Ironhorse really wanted?  Would Ironhorse shift, force him to take his head?

"You who are my brother," Ironhorse said quietly, "you must do this."  The man dropped to his knees in the tall grass, his head falling back, trusting Duncan not to take his Quickening.  He stared up into the blue sky, watching the eagle circle.  "It is a good day to die."

MacLeod nodded.  Then, grabbing the hilt of the saber in both hands he drew it back.  "It is a good day, brother."

With all of his strength MacLeod swung the saber, catching Ironhorse in the upper chest, severing his throat, but not his neck.

Ironhorse fell back into the grass, dead.

MacLeod lifted the blade, pointing it at the sky.  "What kind of god are you?" he cried weakly, tears choking his throat.  "To let them kill each other… kill the women…"  He dropped to his knees, his head hanging down as sobs shook though him.  He had lost another woman, another brother, another people.  He had no home.  No one.  It was time to go, back to Europe, somewhere, anywhere to escape the Americans and their bloodlust.

Pushing himself to his feet, Duncan turned and walked unsteadily to his horse.  He climbed wearily into the saddle, then turned it back toward the soldiers who waited for him.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Sitting on a Roman-nosed pinto, a man watched the cavalry officer gallop back to join his men.  Duncan MacLeod.  Fishing into his saddlebags, the man drew out a leather-bound book and opened it to where a pencil marked the next empty page.

Taking up the pencil he noted carefully in the ledger: Today Duncan MacLeod, a U.S. cavalry officer, took the head of the one called Ironhorse, an Indian medicine man.

He closed the book and returned it to the saddlebags.  He would add the details later, when he was back in town.

He smiled.  Another of the devils was dead.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Crickets chirped quietly in the orange-purple dusk.  Ironhorse moaned, then opened his eyes, staring up at the first stars.  He was alive – again.

Climbing to his feet, he looked down at the ugly scar across his chest.  MacLeod had cut it close, but no matter, it would be gone by morning.

Using his knife, Ironhorse reached up and cut off his braids, throwing the hair into the grass.  He was no longer Ironhorse.  He was just a man.  Healer, warrior, it didn't matter.  He would leave that name behind until it was time to fight again.

The End