We want no white men here. The Black Hills belong to me. If the whites try to take them, I will fight.
Tatanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull)
Death hovered outside the window of the ranch's main house. In time, the glass would no longer hold back the darkness of eternity and Morning Flower Woman would be swept away into the world beyond.
Thirteen-year-old Blue Fox understood this all too well, but still refused to accept his mother would die. Even as she gazed at him now, her eyes like black coals peering from hollowed sockets, he refused to believe she would leave him.
Staring at her visage, Blue Fox shivered. The thin, frail form clinging to life was but a shell of the strong woman she'd once been. He lifted a cool, wet cloth and gently wiped her brow.
"Come close to me, Blue Fox," she whispered in her native Lakota.
Blue Fox tingled with dread, but moved closer at her urging. Sour breath made bile rise in his throat. He touched her arm, the skin loose and sweaty, then jerked away as though burned.
Her fingers beckoned him closer. With every ounce of will he possessed, Blue Fox slid onto the bed facing his mother. Her skeletal arm curled around his small frame.
"I will leave you soon, Blue Fox," she rasped.
"No." His voice echoed against the emptiness of the unfamiliar room. "You'll get better. You just need more rest. And more broth. I'll get you some." He tried to get up, but she held him tight in her death grip.
"You will hear what I must say."
"You need your strength." He tried to pull away again, but she kept him where he was.
"I am beyond help, my son. The Great Spirit has chosen to take me, and I am ready. My only regret is that I must leave you." Her voice wavered. Blue Fox's throat tightened and he tried hard not to cry.
He closed his eyes and forced a happier vision of his mother into his mind. A smile lit her face and large, almond-shaped eyes sparkled in the sunlight that warmed their village. She laughed, a sound that made Blue Fox feel safe, loved. He ran into warm arms that surrounded him like a blanket, her soft whispers like a gentle breeze against his skin.
A tear slipped down his cheek and splashed to the bed linen. He opened his eyes and watched the wetness spread across the stark whiteness of the sheet like the disease ravaging his mother's body.
"You are strong, Blue Fox. I have faith you will find your place in life. You are here with Ben and Sarah because the time of our people will soon end. It may not be tomorrow or the next day, but the Lakota will not survive much longer as they have always lived. Free. Unhindered by borders or white man's laws. Of this I am certain." She paused, struggling for breath. "But you, Blue Fox, must learn to live among those who remain. The whites."
"But, ina, Mother, I don't want to live among them. I want to return to our village." Blue Fox ached with despair. He only wanted to be with his mother and her people, sharing her love and guidance.
"You do not listen, Blue Fox. Like me, the Lakota are dying. I will not allow you to die with them. That is why you are here at White Oaks with Ben and Sarah..."
"But I don't want to be here!" Blue Fox interrupted. "You'll get better. I know you will. You just need rest and lots of food. Then we can return to our village. Together."
"This is not to be, Blue Fox. You must accept that I will die. You will be alone, except for Ben and Sarah." She took a shuddering breath and tears slipped from her eyes.
"You must believe I know what is best for you. These are good people and I trust them with your life."
"But they're white!" he shouted, making the bed shake.
"As was your father," she reminded him.
Her words silenced him. He didn't remember his father; he was too young when he'd died. And now she, too, would leave him. All he remembered of his young life was Morning Flower Woman and the Lakota.
"But I have never been white," he whispered. "The only reason I speak their words is because you force me to."
"With good reason, as you will learn." Seconds passed before she spoke again, her voice barely a whisper. "If I could change what is to happen, Blue Fox, I would. But I cannot. Therefore, I must do what is best for you. These people will give you what the Lakota cannot. A future."
Blue Fox knew his mother had made up her mind and there'd be no changing it. They'd had this discussion many times in the last two months since their arrival at White Oaks.
Silence enveloped the room. His mother's arm protectively around him, Blue Fox wanted nothing more than to stay surrounded by her wisdom and love forever.
Her arm tightened and she sucked in a deep breath. Blue Fox closed his eyes and held his breath as he waited for her to exhale. Her body quivered and air slowly leaked from her mouth.
Blue Fox was unable to move. Unable to accept that his mother was truly dying. That she would leave him.
Breathe, he commanded in his head again and again. Seconds passed. He opened his eyes; hers were wide and brimming with tears.
"I love you, Mother," he whispered. Hot tears spilled over his cheeks.
She raised her hand high enough to caress his wet face then took another shuddering breath. Slowly, the air issued from her lungs one last time and her hand fell limp to the bed.
"Mother," Blue Fox cried. "Mother. Answer me!" He shook her, but she just stared.
Deep in his heart Blue Fox knew she'd never again say his name, never again smile or laugh. Shaking, he stared at what remained of Morning Flower Woman of the Lakota Sioux.
He slid from her grasp and off the bed. Unable to look at her unseeing eyes, he ran past Ben and Sarah who had entered the room, down the stairs and out of the house to the barn. He threw himself into a wall--pounded, kicked and yelled, his face soaked with tears.
"Why? Why? Why?" he cried over and over. He pounded whatever he came into contact with--screamed and yelled, kicked and punched until he had no energy or voice left.
Exhausted, he curled up in a pile of hay like an abandoned kitten.
"I'll never be white," he whispered. "I am Lakota."