Amalia let the door slam and dropped the bag of laundry in annoyance. The tribe said she and the children were living on their charity, but if that was so, why did they treat her like a servant? She was about to go into the kitchen and check the beans she had left soaking when she heard a splash from the back room. She paused. The children were supposed to be at riding practice, or was it archery today?
“Hold still. I’ve almost got all the dirt out.”
Through the partially open door, Amalia saw her ward Diana swirl a rag in a bowl of murky water, wring it out and bend over someone lying on a lumpy mattress.
“You’re too rough. Leave the dirt in. It’ll make a nice tattoo.”
Amalia pushed the door open. Her adopted son Will raised himself on one elbow, his face and arms bloody where they weren’t already turning purple. He raised his chin and gazed at Amalia in defiance.
“I told him not to,” Diana said, jumping to her feet and knocking over the bowl of bloody water. “Dammit!”
“Watch your language and clean that up.”
“Don’t talk to her like that, Mother. She’s trying to help.”
While Diana scurried to find a towel, Amalia settled her gaze on Will. In the three years he had been under her care, Amalia had learned to pick her battles wisely, but this was too much. “I can’t believe with the danger we’re already in, you’ve got no better sense than to go picking fights—”
“I didn’t pick anything. They were harassing Diana.”
“She can handle those girls on her own. You’re too protective.”
Will started to run a hand through his long sandy hair, but finding it matted with blood, he wiped his fingers on the blanket instead. “It wasn’t the girls. It was the boys. Ba’leetso and them.”
Amalia’s stomach clenched and she felt suddenly cold. “So what did you. . . did they. . .”
Will smiled through his swollen lips. “They won’t try it again any time soon.”
Diana pushed her way into the room and began mopping the floor with a piece of dirty laundry. “I tried to make him stop, but Will wouldn’t let me use my gun.”
“Oh, God, no.” Amalia said. “They’d have killed us all by now.” She watched in silence as Will laid back against the pillows and Diana scrubbed the cracked linoleum with a stained shirt. “I’m going to talk to Hashbidi-chii. Will you two be okay?”
“I’ll shoot them if they come here,” Will said. “And I don’t care what you say about not killing Nativists.”
Amalia had no doubt Will meant what he said. She would have to make her errand fast.
Luckily she found Hashbidi-chii at home and the wise woman knew why she had come. “It was bound to happen eventually,” she shrugged.
Amalia knew only too well. Since the new Southwestern Republic had fractured into civil war, the young people on the reservations had become increasingly militant. An Anglo name or hairstyle was enough to get one banished from some places, and if you weren’t of native blood, you were nothing.
Hashbidi-chii set aside her beadwork and patted Amalia’s hand. “We who remember your sister wish you no harm, but we can’t hold the young people in check much longer. It’s the times.”
Amalia snatched her hand away. “Where would we go instead? You know we can’t go home. The United States took everything. Am I to drag the children to a squalid refugee camp or throw myself on the mercy of a drug lord with a private fiefdom?”
“They say your children are good with horses and weapons.”
“No.” Amalia shook her head. “The fighting groups are political, racial, religious, or all three. Hispanos Unidos would take Diana but not Will. The white supremacists would take him, but not her. Besides, they’re too young too be fighting. Will is only fourteen and Diana is barely old enough for her puberty ceremony, which I suppose the tribe won’t let her have now.”
Hashbidi-chii ignored this last remark and said, “Unitas doesn’t care about race or religion, and they don’t let anyone under sixteen fight unless they’ve already been fighting for someone else.”
Amalia’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know this?”
The wise woman looked away. “People talk.”
“Yes, but not so much.”
Hashbidi-chii picked up her beadwork again with a sigh. “We’ve known each other a long time Amalia. Believe me when I say this reservation is not your destiny.” She waved hand at the door. “Or those children’s, either.”
“What is our destiny then? To be nomadic mercenaries? If the tribal leaders are putting you up to this, you can come up with a better lie than that.”
“Unitas isn’t your destiny, but they will lead you there. They have a base in Jonasville. Go or don’t go, but I think you know what will happen if you stay here.”
Amalia did know, and in spite of her angry words, she knew Hashbidi-chii wouldn't steer her wrong. Deep in thought, she walked across the scrub to the dilapidated shack the tribe had given her.
Inside, she found Diana had bandaged Will’s injuries with passable skill and was now bent over his bowed head with a pair of shears. Locks of snipped hair lay in soft waves on the floor and on Will’s pants and sleeves. Without looking up, Diana said, “It’s okay, Auntie. He asked me to.”
Will didn’t move as Diana’s scissors snipped close to his scalp. “They’re a bunch of murderous, cock-sucking bastards, and I won’t dress like them or wear my hair like them ever again.”
Amalia chose for once to ignore his street language and merely said, “Good, because we’re leaving tonight.”