She knew it was going to be hard finding Sepp and his detail up in the hills. She just hadn't realized how hard.
reposted and edited from the The Road to Deadwood Forum:
reposted and edited from the The Road to Deadwood Forum:
"Shit," she thought at one point, "these boys are pretty goddam good."
She had figured that Sepp would use every trick he knew to stay hidden from both the miners and wandering groups of hostiles or bandits. And by God, he didn't disappoint her.
Sepp had been trained by the same old rangers and hunters who had taught Dio how to not make obvious trails; to move noiselessly; to leave no evidence of having passed by or where you were going. When she talked to the men in the gold camps, asking if they had seen any bluecoats, they could only tell her vague stories about grim and silent riders who seemed to move like ghosts, suddenly swooping out of the dusk to grab a suspected deserter for a "little chat," or pouncing without warning on small groups of road agents or horse theives.
The only signs she could find were the occasional blurred and masked set of tracks, more often than not suddenly vanishing into a creek bed or over a rock face. And every now and then, Dio came across some freshly mounded dirt, marked with a bit of board or a slab of bark stripped from a nearby tree, and bearing grease pencil inscriptions such as "unknown hostiles," or "deserter," or "unknown bandit, executed 1876."
Dio would spend several days or a week at time, trying to pick up Sepp's trail. When she ran out of supplies, or the signs were cold or nonexistent, she returned to Deadwood, making a brief visit to rest her horse, pick up fresh ammunition and food, and maybe even do a few loads of washing in order to raise some needed funds. But within a day or two, she would be heading back into the hills to continue the search.
Even as she tried to follow Sepp's detachment, she knew she had to be as careful and cautious as they were. One time, Dio thought she had found their trail. She had come across the tracks of a small group of shod horses, hidden as much as possible, deliberately obliterated or made misleading by means such as backtracking in streams--all the tricks that someone like Sepp would be using. But when the freshness of the tracks told her she had caught up with the group she was following and that they were probably just over the next hill, she didn't simply go riding over the ridge like some feckless greenhorn. Instead, experience and instinct told her to tie her horse some distance away, and silently belly crawl up the slope to take a look first. There, she saw not a squad of army scouts and troopers, but a little band of Cheyenne warriors, resting a small herd of horses they obviously had stolen from some white settlers or miners--hence the tracks of shod horses, rather than shoeless Indian ponies. As quietly as possible she backed down the hill on her stomach, made a dash for "rented hoss" as she called her mount, and got the hell away from there as quickly as she could.
Meanwhile Sepp also made some stops in town--but always by himself, never bringing in his detachment. This was partly to keep them from falling prey to the trouble that lay waiting for tired, thirsty, recreation-starved soldiers in a place like Deadwood, but also to conceal how small his detail actually was. During the course of one of these stops in town to pick up supplies, he learned the truth--that Dio was alive, that she was in this town--this miserable little boomtown--and that she was out in the hills looking for him. On discovering this, he left a note with an elderly Chinese gentleman who lived next door to Dio's laundry, telling her to stay put, that he would come find her, that going out into the hills on her own was too dangerous.
And it certainly was dangerous.
Inevitably, Dio let her guard down for just a moment while taking a rest and was surprised by a miner who thought he could have his way with her. As he worked on undoing his trousers, he never saw the sudden flash of the boot knife that caught him in the throat. With a second and third quick slash, Dio cut his jugular vein and then sat panting, as she watched him bleed out. Seeing the man die before her eyes, Dio 's rage grew--every flint-hearted banker, drunken bastard, lecherous swine and greedy prick she had ever known in her jumbled life became personified in this gasping, wreck of a human, staring at her with terror and pain in his eyes. That look of terror grew as she told him what she was about to do.
When he finally expired, she grimly stood up and began taking everything he had...horse, gun, gear, clothing, and finally, the kind of mementos she had learned to take from a fallen enemy when she rode with Sepp's Apache and Tonkawa rangers.
The next day, when a party of prospectors stumbled upon the naked, scalped, and emasculated body of a white man whose throat had been cut, they assumed it was evidence of yet another attack by hostile Indians. When they noted that his chest had been opened and some major organs removed--and apparently left out to feed the wolves and coyotes--they were convinced that here was a clear message from the Sioux, telling interlopers such as themselves to leave the Black Hills or suffer the consequences. A couple of them did actually decide to give up and return to Iowa that night.
Even as the frightened fortune hunters were packing their gear to head back east, a small figure in buckskins and a battered, broad-brimmed hat slowly rode into Deadwood, leading an extra horse and cradling a new carbine. The old slouch hat was curiously decorated with a few wild daisies stuck in the band. Her saddle had even more curious decorations--a scalp and what appeared to be a severed set of male genitalia.
Deadwood was not a place for those who were faint of heart or weak of stomach. Dio was neither. And she had no intention of going anywhere else.