Western Fiction posted November 13, 2010


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Two stallions fight for dominance

The Battle On Teewinot Range

by Realist101

An eagle rode the updrafts almost a mile above the band of mustangs grazing the coming grass of the mountainside. Below him, the shaggy mares grazed the new growth, ignoring the antics of the yearlings who were busy testing their legs, flying along in bursts of speed up and down the length of the huge meadows.

The time was at hand for the breeding season and the stallion stood, a gleaming sentinel over his charges. He grazed sporadically and circled the herd, jealous and demanding, determined not to lose any of them. His nostrils flared as he tested the winds for predators and any other stallions that might come to challenge his authority.

He was considered aged, but the great horse was still powerful and in command. The winter had taken a heavy toll on the whole herd, who were now lean and hungry from months of foraging on dry twigs and pine needles down in the valleys below. They grazed eagerly on the new grass, it was heaven on earth for all as the warm sun filled them with renewed strength and zest for life.


Far out across the vastness, Cal Green sat comfortably astride his paint colt, while they both gazed out at the herd. He could see the stallion without his binoculars, the white horse stood out brilliantly against the meadow and as he counted the mares, Cal could see that there were three less than last spring. The mountain lions and wolves had taken a toll, as was nature's course. Even their bones would have been utilized; nothing was wasted in the wilds of the Tetons.

He soon took leave, there were cattle to tend and he had seen signs of a grizzly too. Mt. Teewinot was coming to life again and memories of his ancestor, John LaRue came to mind with this thought. Sighing, Calvin gently nudged his colt into a slow lope as they headed back to the branding site.

Tanka was as smooth as a favorite rocking chair, his canter so even it could almost put you to sleep. Cal sat his saddle in amazement. Each time he asked something of his colt, the little horse came through like a trooper. He had heart and Calvin couldn't believe he'd found a horse as good as Bighead had been. Big was dead, but would live on in spirit, the one faded photo of him still hanging beneath the magnets on Cal's refrigerator door.

And the man who had killed his old horse was dead too. A drug dealer from Jackson Hole. Greene had been tagged a hero in his hometown, but he didn't feel like one. After all, his friend and partner had been murdered along with his horse, but life went on, he had thrown himself into his work and now time was beginning to heal the wounds of loss and sorrow.


"Whoa, T." Calvin had taken to calling his new horse simply T. It was a good nickname. Sweet as tea. He laughed inside and gently touched the colt's neck as he stepped off his back.

"Hey ya, Cal! How's it hangin'?" The other hands were at the branding hot and heavy. He dived in, they had fifty calves left and the day was almost done. The crew had gotten used to their friends short excursions off to himself. They knew he had to sometimes be alone, even in the middle of the intense workdays.

"Saw the wild ones just now." Cal lifted the legs of the calf, stringing it's hooves together and the brand came down on it's flank. They were using freeze branding these days, it seemed things were changing faster than they could keep up.

"How far out?" The others were interested because the stallion had belonged to a neighboring ranch just across the county. He had gone off one year and hadn't been spotted 'til just weeks ago. He had accumulated quite a herd of mares too, over time. Some of the ranchers complained that the stud was stealing mares from right beneath their noses.

"Not far ... he's over on the meadows. I seen him with twenty mares. He's lost three this year." Cal swung his lariat and it settled around the neck of yet another bawling calf. This one was a fighter. It kicked and lunged ferociously, landing a hoof square in Calvin's groin.

"God ... DAMNit!" He fell instantly to the dirt, pain shooting up his belly like fire. Laughter rang out, even as his buddies reached to help him and he cussed at them as well as the cantankerous calf.

"Hey Cal, how's it hangin' now?" More guffaws and teasing ensued, while he sat hunched down, trying real hard to not let on just how badly the kick had really hurt.

The day ended with each calf branded and reunited with the cows. Inside the bunkhouse, small talk and banter had became serious as the crew tried to figure out how to go about catching the thieving stallion.

"Well, we could build a trap. Put some mares out, just watch from somewhere?" Cal knew none of the ranch horses could outrun the stud. He had seen him run. And he'd seen how wary he was. Never resting, always circling and testing the winds.

"Or, just let him be. Keep the mares up more?" Don Beasley was the practical one of the group. He was the oldest too, by at least ten years. He was Brock's right hand man. And his wife's brother.

"Naw, we need to get him back and hopefully old Foley will geld him this time. That'll cool his jets." Laughter broke out at this suggestion, but they all knew Beasley was serious. A rogue stallion was a menace to everyone's herds. He had to be caught.

Cal sat, eyes closed, seemingly asleep. But he listened and tried to imagine how to capture an animal as wary and fast as Foleys stud. He wondered if Tanka could catch him. But this thought faded off slowly as he fell asleep and he did not dream.


Before the dawn, Calvin woke and slowly eased up from his slumber. He rubbed his eyes as his stomach growled like a cornered bobcat. His favorite meal was Mrs. Brock's breakfasts. She was the best cook around and was one reason Mr. Brock could always hire the best hands.

"You up, Cal?" Beasley roused himself and stoked the fire as his breath puffed into the cold air of the bunkhouse in shivering wafts.

"Yup. I'm thinkin' we oughta try to find the wild bunch and stake 'em out today." Calvin really wanted to see if Tanka could outrun the big horse.

"Well, the rest of 'em can handle the fences. It might work. I'll see what the boss man says."

"Sounds like a plan." Calvin splashed icy water onto his face and the cold hit him like a blast of wind from the North Pole. He pulled his clothes and boots on as the resident cat rubbed around, trying to garner a handout.

Slowly, the rest of the crew quietly readied for the coming day as the sun brought the world to life.


*******


Dawn brought to the mountains a golden light that illuminated the air and the chill in the spring morning was invigorating for every living thing on Teewinot. The mustangs had spent the night grazing the green grasses and taking turns dozing, even as a cougar had found them and had watched from a safe distance. But the stallion had stood all night, stomping his front hooves in warning and the big cat knew he was detected so had left them in peace. Surprise was his greatest strength and he knew full well the pain from a horses strike.

Now that daylight lent safety, the lead mare called softly to her foal and decided to move on to a higher lea. The rest of the herd began to follow quietly behind her; they trusted her judgment, knowing she would take them to better grass and fresh water too.

And even as she walked away from him, the stud was undecided as to whether to allow her decision to stand and he flung his head at her in an attempt to show dominance. But the old mare grazed, walked, grazed and walked some more, in the direction she wanted to go and soon, they were across a rise and in another meadow. The stallion pretended he had made the decision by circling the old mare, showing her he had given her permission and was still the boss. True to her age, she ignored him, finally laying on her side to soak up the warm April sun and dream of younger days.


It was late in the day, when a sound reverberated across the valley that made every creature within miles raise their heads and listen. It was the bugle of another stallion. A dark horse, a young roan who was a bachelor from another herd. He had been run off before, his inexperience leaving him bewildered and beaten. But now, he had grown and was a powerful stallion in his own right. And he had come to challenge the old stud and take his mares from him.

The roan's call was answered with the appearance of the white stallion and the old horse went straight at his young challenger, his tail a flag of defiance and his nostrils flaring with rage. He was a picture of beautiful strength. In just a few weeks, the green grass of Wyoming had given him new vigor and his testosterone was in high gear. He would not allow another stud near.

Above the meadow, unnoticed by the preoccupied herd, Calvin Greene and Don Beasley sat their horses, watching in amazement, as the two studs faced each other, the fire in their bellies raging for the coming battle.

"I put my money on the old man." Foley spoke softly and spit his tobacco out, not once looking away from the wild horses.

"I ain't bettin'. Now's the time to be gettin' down there, don'tcha think?" Calvin just wanted to catch the big white horse.

"No, let'em be. This is a show." Both men sat, curiosity getting the better of them as the roan arched his neck, prancing sideways toward the white.

The stallions met then, clashing like titans, teeth raking the other's neck and forelegs. The white horse shrieked in fury and snaked his head down to slash at the roan's underside. He was met with strikes as fast as lightening, the black hooves of his rival connecting to his head. He almost fell, but was righted and back on top of the younger horse in a flash. His teeth latched onto the back of the roan's neck and he began to shake the horse with everything he had. They both went down together, a mix of blue and white, a blur of fury in the grasses. The guttural sounds of the fight carried far; the cougar heard it and was wise enough to know that now would be the time to snatch a foal. He began the stalk and staying low, he followed the sounds of the battle.

And as the cowpokes watched from a mile away, the teeth of the emperor clamped down onto the left foreleg of the young roan, snapping the bone like a twig. It was over, but the victor, his white coat red with blood, took the three year old down and like battering rams, his front hooves crushed the young horse's skull into a pulp of brain and bone. He didn't stop until there was nothing left.

Completely winded, his call to the mares was shrill and excited. He had won one more time, and would be the king of the mares for another season, with strong and beautiful foals. And maybe this year there would be another white stud colt born to be an heir to the Teewinot herd.

He circled his band, even getting the attention of the old lead mare and he bit her once, hard and fast, just to reinforce his dominance.


"I'll be damned. That was some fight." Cal had dismounted T and stood in awe and disbelief at the violence he had just witnessed. He had seen stallions fight, several times. But never had any of them gone this far.

"We ain't catchin' 'im. We need to just leave that one." Foley and Cal spoke no more. They had witnessed nature's fury and decided to let her be.


*******


As the sun descended, the ever-watchful cougar crept upon the dead roan, pulling its carcass into a craggy ravine, where out of sight, he fed. And when he was sated, he scratched a litter of dead leaves and dirt over it to save the remains for another day.

The big cat climbed onto a sun-warmed ledge, where, as he dozed, his purr sang a song of wild, innocent contentment, while the mountains kept watch, in the light of the springtime moon.




Recognized


More adventures with Calvin Greene and his colt Tanka. This story connects with "The Lonesome Pines Of Mt. Teewinot" and "The Horseman" which is a story I wrote that is published in "GreatFallsLittleWord". Thank you for reading and to Photobucket.com for a great photo!
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