Iron Wolf’s Bride
by Author Karen Kay
Despite the warmth of the evening, the marble flooring of the foyer was cold beneath Jane’s slippers. She was gazing forward, looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows which graced the manor’s entryway. Lacy, white curtains framed the windows, and, as Jane reached out to touch their softness, she recalled the feel of a smooth, deerskin bag that Iron Wolf had given her upon their marriage. She’d had to leave it behind.
Iron Wolf… How she wished that this evening were already over.
Biting her lip, she looked forward once more, out the window. There were so many carriages out there; there must have been fifty or more of them, carrying the cast from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show here tonight. And, one by one they pulled into the sweeping driveway of her uncle’s red-brick mansion.
The hour was early evening, and the many lanterns—which were scattered here and there along the brick drive—shone with a hazy light into the mist of the darkness, causing small pockets of foggy light to glitter, as though held there by a ghostly hand. It caused the carriages to be appear to be as dark and as dreary as a funeral procession.
A shiver rushed over Jane’s skin as she realized that the ghosts from her past had come to haunt her tonight. Iron Wolf would be amongst these people, and her tension because of this knowledge was so great, she held onto Nathaniel with a tight grip on his arm. Luckily, he didn’t seem to mind and he patted her hand, his touch reassuring and gentle.
That her uncle had invited the entire cast of the Wild West Show to his estate was to Jane not to be believed, especially because tonight should have been the celebration party of her marriage to Nathaniel. But, her uncle had explained that because the musicians had already been hired and an assortment of cooks were still on hand to provide the dinner, the original form of the party had changed from being a quiet dinner party to a ball and a sit-down dinner.
Why was her uncle honoring Bill Cody’s Wild West Show? Didn’t he disdain those public gatherings which he labeled as “spectacles”? Was it because Jane’s sister, Luci, performed with the show? Perhaps.
And, of course Luci would be present here tonight, as would Luci’s husband, Wind Eagle. Blue Thunder would also be present…and Iron Wolf. There would be little chance she could avoid her former husband this evening, since he and his two friends were known to be Buffalo Bill’s most popular act—popular, that is, with the ladies.
During The Wild West’s long run, the threesome’s performances—which included not only daring feats of horsemanship, but also expert marksmanship—had gained steady popularity. Indeed, a few years past, the three young men had added the American Indian style of singing and dancing as part of their entertainment. From there, and because of that, the number of tickets sold to those of the female gender—young and old—had tripled the income of the show, if one were to believe the newspapers. Indeed, her uncle had informed her that Buffalo Bill had asked the three young men to entertain this small gathering of London’s “elect” which was to be present here tonight.
At the moment, she could do little more than wonder how she was to get through the evening with her emotions still intact. Pray, it might be the greatest acting performance of her life, since she was upset with them all: her sister, Wind Eagle, Blue Thunder and especially Iron Wolf. But, she would sooner die from the heartbreak they had caused her than to openly show the hurt of their two-and-a-half-year indifference. She promised herself that she would paste her most cordial smile onto her countenance, and she would grin as though her life depended upon it…and perhaps it did.
Jeremy, her son, would not be present at the festivities tonight, and for this Jane was indebted to Marci, who would attend to him and ensure his bedtime schedule remained the same as usual. More commonly, Jane saw to her son’s nighttime storytelling and to the delightful chore of tucking him into bed. Often, when there was a party, Jeremy was permitted to attend it.
But not tonight. Tonight she needed every bit of her attention focused upon her smile and getting through the evening without grief and tears.
Suddenly her heart seemed to stop. There he was, exiting a carriage and stepping toward the house in the casual manner he seemed to have perfected. His friends, Wind Eagle and Blue Thunder, as well as Jane’s sister, Luci, flanked him on either side. Suddenly Jane’s breathing stopped and her heart raced, reminding her that she had not yet healed from the wounds Iron Wolf had inflicted upon her.
How innocent she had been back then, although, if she were to be honest, she would admit to wishing to be that happy again. Ah, if life could only be like that once more.
She sighed, noticing at the same time that her sister, Luci, was dressed as she usually was when she performed with the show—as a boy—and Jane was startled to witness it. Surely, Luci didn’t have to still pretend to be someone she was not, did she? Didn’t she realize that dressing as a boy here would give away her true identity?
Whatever the reason for the disguise, it made Jane feel uneasy. Was there a continuing danger to Luci and to herself, as well, that demanded her sister continue the disguise?
But, she quickly forgot the question, when, seeing Iron Wolf walk slowly toward her, Jane’s attention came away from her sister to focus squarely onto her former husband. He wore his best clothing tonight, she noted, and he looked so handsome that she could not suppress the soft gasp which fell from her lips.
A tanned-buckskin shirt and leggings seemed to caress his casual movements, and she realized she had rarely seen him dress in this manner, for Buffalo Bill provided the cotton shirts and trousers that the American Indian performers wore. His style of buckskin clothing was adorned with beads set in round designs of orange, blue and yellow colors, and the same scheme was repeated on his breechcloth and his moccasins. She caught sight of the several feathers that were fastened together and fell down from the back of his head, disappearing from her view as Iron Wolf stepped readily forward. He had left his hair loose and long tonight, the whole of it thrown over his shoulders. There was no bow in his hands or quiver full of arrows upon his back, but still, she could see that he was armed, for a colt .45 was neatly tucked into a holster that fit around his lower waist.
He had painted two streaks of red upon his cheeks, but he wore no other war paint. From this distance, Jane’s stomach was already reacting in turmoil toward him, warning her of the danger he presented her. But, she had no choice but to ignore it. She had promised herself that she would play her part of a happy young lady tonight and nothing would distract her from that, pretense though it was.
The havoc of her emotional fears and grief, however, was so great, that when the four of them walked into the foyer, Jane thought she might faint. But, she mustered up the act she had decided to present them, and, as she and Nathaniel paced toward the four of them, her grip on Nathaniel’s arm was so tight, it might have been made of iron instead of flesh and blood.
She smiled at all four of them briefly, then said, “Luci, Wind Eagle, how are you?”
“We are well,” answered Wind Eagle.
“Good, I am glad to hear it.” Jane smiled again, but couldn’t quite look at Iron Wolf as she continued, “Iron Wolf, Blue Thunder, you are both welcome here tonight.”
Blue Thunder nodded. Iron Wolf, however, did nothing and said nothing, causing Jane to look up at him briefly. In that glance, short as it was, she saw that he did not gaze at her, but had cast his glance upon her hand which remained clutched upon Nathaniel’s arm, while Nathaniel’s hand covered hers.
And then, before she could look away, Iron Wolf thrust his chin forward and stared down his nose at her, looking at her as though she were made of something distasteful. He didn’t smile; he didn’t say a word. And, the expression on his countenance—outside of disgust—was so blank that little other emotion could be seen there.
He continued to remain silent, though his brief look at Nathaniel could have melted steel. But, instead of speaking, he turned quickly away from Jane and Nathaniel, following the other performers into the ballroom. And Jane, glad to have the first introductions accomplished without error on her part, sighed. Hopefully, the rest of the evening would go as planned.
To say that Iron Wolf was upset would not have done justice to the fury raging within him. Who was that man? Whoever he was, he had been touching her. And worse, she had let him, had perhaps encouraged him, for her hand had rested on that man’s arm.
What had happened here in this strange country of England? Was his wife’s love for him so lacking that she had placed another man in her affections? He blew out a breath in revulsion. It might be so.
Well, let them both look at and try to rationalize the performance he had this moment decided to give in this foreign and hostile place. Their music featured both Wind Eagle and Blue Thunder as the vocalists in their trio. Wind Eagle also kept time with a buffalo-hide drum and Blue Thunder accompanied the rhythm by shaking two different rattles. While Iron Wolf also sang at times, he usually played his flute in these performances. Also, he had become the group’s dancer.
For this, Iron Wolf was grateful. His part in their performance tonight would allow him to give the presentation of his life. She might not like what he was about to do, but he would ensure she would never again relegate him to the back recesses of her mind.
Áwicakeya, he dared her to forget about him again…ever.
Jane didn’t wish to view Iron Wolf’s and his friends’ act of drumming, singing and dancing. Indeed, she wished she could be anywhere else but here, looking on. But, it was not to be.
The gala which should have been her wedding party had turned sour. Not that it was anyone else’s fault. It was she, after all, who had postponed her wedding, and all because of one man, her former husband, Iron Wolf.
Servants had arranged the front of the ballroom into a stage for the performers, who were billed under their English names: Charles Wind Eagle, Luke Blue Thunder Striking, and of course her former husband, Michael Iron Wolf. Chairs were clustered around the stage in five different rows. After this performance, a ball was scheduled to follow, and, immediately after that, a sit-down dinner.
As the three men stepped forward, Iron Wolf turned so he was facing forward. He caught her eye, and Jane drew in her breath sharply. His look at her was so hostile, she had no choice but to look away.
Soon, the music began. Both Wind Eagle and Blue Thunder were singing. Blue Thunder took the lead with the song’s high-pitched intro. Wind Eagle followed the lead, singing the same minor-keyed melody. Wind Eagle beat out time on a hide-covered, hand-held drum, and Blue Thunder shook the two different rattles. Iron Wolf wasn’t singing, instead he was playing his flute, but it wasn’t long before he began to dance. Indeed, he was the only one of the three men who was dancing.
Too soon, it became evident that Iron Wolf was fashioning his performance to be much too personal, and Jane caught her breath as he stared directly at her while his dance took on a sensual, sexual nature, his hips jutting forward in time to the music. Jane stirred uneasily, for a passionate sort of excitement was arising within her, and she didn’t wish to experience it.
As his dance continued in much the same manner, she wondered how much of this she could take. Already recollections of their lovemaking from their not-too-distant past were materializing in her mind, and the reminiscence of their lovemaking flooded her body with an unwanted, yet passionate response. As she watched, she couldn’t control the unwelcome, yet soul-stirring excitement which burned like fire over her nerve endings. It was too much and she knew she had to get away.
But she couldn’t jump up suddenly and run from the room. Her uncle, her aunt and even Nathaniel would be scandalized. Briefly, she looked over her shoulder, searching for a reprieve. But, all she saw were her uncle, Buffalo Bill and her uncle’s moneyed friends, who were standing or sitting toward the back of the room.
There was no comfort to be found there. Looking forward again, her eyes met Iron Wolf’s angry and openly hostile gaze. What did he have to be angry about? It was she who was the victim of his scandalous affair.
Still, she wished now that Nathaniel hadn’t picked the front section of seats in order to watch the entertainment. She had nowhere to go.
Luckily, Luci had taken up a position on Jane’s left while Nathaniel reposed on her right, and, despite Nathaniel’s presence beside her—perhaps because of it—Iron Wolf’s gaze at her did not allow to her look away. All the while, his blatantly passionate dance made love to her. Even his flute playing did not detract from the explicit, carnal manner of his movements.
Unfortunately for Jane, his dance was causing her usually conservative composure to shatter. Suddenly, Iron Wolf squatted down on one knee, jutted his hips forward briefly, then jumped up with a vigor that proclaimed his youthful prowess. The suggestive movement caused her heart to leap, and Jane wished she were embarrassed by his antics. The truth was, however, she wasn’t. She was responding to it—unwillingly, yes. But, she was reacting to it all the same, and in kind.
She had to look away. She tried to do so, but found it was impossible. He was seducing her in front of everyone here, plain and simple. With his legs spread apart, he fell down into a partial side-split, and, taking the mouthpiece of his flute out of his mouth, he held his hands up in the air as he slid back up into a standing position. He then fell into a dance step—up and back, standing straight, then hunched over—all the while rocking and jutting his hips forward in so sensuous a manner, and in such an apparent, sexual way, it took Jane’s breath away. Parts of her body appeared to be out of her control, being awakened by Iron Wolf’s display, and, try as she might to suppress the stirred-up lust he was causing, she couldn’t. She gulped nervously.
Luci reached out to take Jane’s hand into her own, and Jane was glad of her presence beside her. At last the music became low and soft, allowing Iron Wolf to speak out in English, and he said,
My wife, what has happened to us?
My wife, I have waited for you.
My wife, did you wait for me, honor me?
No, you did not.
And yet, my wife, I give you all of me now.
Will you take me?
It is not too late, my wife; it is not too late for us.”
His gaze was direct and piercing, and there was no doubt that his poetry was for no one but her. In response, Jane could barely move; she couldn’t speak.
After his few words, the performance ended and he stepped quickly toward her. But, Jane wasn’t about to confront him. Not here, not now.
She jumped up as though there were a wound-up coil within her, and, turning around toward the entrance of the ballroom, she ran out of the room as fast as she could, aware of, but unable to look at the many curious glances sent her way. She didn’t stop, nor did she pause. Instead, she fled out into the foggy, darkened night, running along a pathway which led toward the gardens. There was a labyrinth there that she knew well. She intended to lose herself in it. Now.
Iron Wolf followed her. It was time to learn what was happening here. Who was that man?
He intended this to be his first question to the woman who should be, and still was, his wife. His second question to her would be why she believed he, her husband, had betrayed her. But this could wait.
He noted that she had fled into a maze that was flanked by fragrant bushes which were taller than a man, and, were he not the scout and tracker he was, he might have become lost within these high shrubs, for the paths intersected one another and led in multiple directions. But he didn’t lose his way. He found her soon enough.
Once he had discovered her, he spoke out softly, so she might become aware he had followed her. “What is going on here? Who is that man you were touching, the one who sat next to you? What is he to you?”
Jane spun around, the look of surprise on her countenance quickly turning to anger. She didn’t pause an instant, though, as she accused, “How dare you follow me!”
“I am your husband. It is my duty to follow you.”
“Well, you can go away now. I came here to be alone.”
Iron Wolf didn’t leave. Instead, he repeated his question, for he intended it to be answered, and he asked once more, “Who is that man?”
“The one you touched. The one who sat beside you tonight.”
“He and I were to be married today.”
She turned her back on him and Iron Wolf didn’t speak; he couldn’t, for he felt as though she had punched him in the gut.
She added, “We didn’t marry today, as it turns out, because I would like my sister to be a part of the marriage ceremony. So we have postponed our wedding for the time being. And now you see that I, too, might marry another, as you have.”
Although he wished to speak out loudly, to rage the truth at her, he found it impossible to find his tongue, and so he paused until at last he was able to say, “My wife, you have become like a wild pony in my absence. How can you marry another when you are already married to me?”
“Am I? Do you forget you divorced me? And, how dare you call me ‘wild,’ when you…when you…” Her voice caught.
He ignored the insult and said instead, “You have now accused me of this too many times. Who has told this to you?”
“No one has ‘told’ it to me, as you say it. It was written up in the newspapers, and I have the divorce papers that you signed, or have you conveniently forgotten that? And, how dare you seduce me in front of all these people tonight; you, who are married to another. Is she here tonight? Does she care that you looked at me as you danced as though you were making love to me?”
She spoke so swiftly that he took a moment to understand all she had said, and then he asked, “Do you speak of the white-man’s newspapers where you saw my ‘wife’?”
“Who showed this to you?”
“Does it matter?”
He sighed. “Hau, hau, it matters. I would ask you again, who has said this to you?”
“My uncle, if you must know.”
“Your uncle who owns this house?”
Iron Wolf took a moment to collect his thoughts, then said, “You are wrong to believe these people, even if they be family.”
“So you can say easily enough. But, my uncle is beyond reproach and I am certain he wouldn’t lie to me. Besides, you forget that I have evidence of your betrayal of me.”
“No,” he countered, “what you have is ‘proof’ that is a lie. And, now I say that it is good you did not marry that man this day, for had you done so, you would have committed a grave error, one I could not easily set aside. So now, you must decide and choose between one or the other of us: me—your husbandor that man. For, even in my society, a woman may have only one husband.”
“I have already chosen, and that man is not you.”
“Hau, then I will go.”
“But before I go, I wish to see these papers you have mentioned to me many times. I would witness these lies with my own eyes.”
“They are not lies.”
He raised his voice. “I say they are, and if you continue to tell me these untruths, I will say that you are a woman of no honor, who tells lies, as well.”
“How dare you shout at me, and how dare you say I am not honorable!”
He blew out his breath in an attempt to control his temper. At length, he said, “I am a man who must be convinced. Show me the papers you speak of, for I tell you true: I did not place my written name on anything. I have no other wife, but you. Why would I want another woman when the one I have is the sweetest, the most beautiful woman I have ever known or seen? I ask you, why would I throw away the woman of my heart, for, if I were to do that, would I not destroy her and myself, too?”
He noted that the compliment, spoken as it was from his heart, might have found its target. However, she did not respond favorably, and she turned her back upon him.
He encouraged, “Show me.”
When she turned around, she was crying, and his heart sank to realize that his raised voice and unkind words might have caused her grief. Still, what he’d said had been true.
“Do you really think I stoop to tell fibs? That I don’t have these things in my possession which show you betrayed me and then married another?”
“I would see them.”
She paused, as though she seriously considered his demand, even against her will. At length, she said, “I suppose that might be a fair request. So follow me. I will show you, although I am certain you are already aware of what I am talking about.”
He nodded, but he said nothing except, “Show me. I will do as you ask and follow you.”
She turned around then and stomped out of the maze. And, Iron Wolf, astonished again by the obvious—that this was no act and that his wife truly hated him— trailed after her.