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Sun Dancer | Chapter 1

by Amanda Crispel
Sun Dancer

Round-Up Day

The morning mist shrouded the valley where the little colt lay by his mother. His first breath of the chilly mountain air shocked him to a wakefulness he had never felt before. The smells around him delighted and excited him. The comforting scent of his mother, the pungent smell of the turf beneath him, all seemed to fill him with life. Though still awkward, he rose to his feet on his first try. Even in these first few moments of life, the strength coursing through his body stood out for all to see. He had a wild spirit, like the mountains he was born into, and one day his hooves would thunder down the valley, the sunlight flashing off of the golden markings of his painted coat.

Shannon rose early from bed that Saturday morning, round-up day, and her thirteenth birthday. In truth, she was up before the sun and had her gelding, Sugar, ready to ride long before anyone was even out of bed. Every round-up day was exciting, but today was extra special. Today Shannon would be allowed to select her very own foal from the herd, a long standing family tradition. Each O'Connor since the 1875 foundation of the Crooked K ranch in the Black Hills of South Dakota had been given this right of passage into the family business. The anticipation of this very day over the last few months had grown nearly unbearable.

Shannon pulled on her Wranglers and flannel shirt and stepped to her mirror to pull back her silky, black hair, braiding it to keep it out of the way. Shannon inherited her hair and olive skin color from her Native American heritage. Her mother, Mary Two-Red-Feathers O'Connor, was born a member of the Oglala, Sioux tribe of South Dakota. Shannon peered into the mirror and sighed. The green eyes, which were OK, the up-turned nose, which she hated, and the freckles, which at least faded in winter, she inherited from her father, Ian O'Connor.

After finishing her morning wash-up, Shannon headed downstairs. The dawn was just beginning to break and the rest of the house should be up and moving soon. Just to be sure no one dawdled, Shannon started the coffee brewing. The smell permeated the one-hundred year old house and guaranteed all but her little niece would be dragged from their beds by its intoxicating aroma.

"Caffeine addicts," Shannon giggled to herself as she stirred her cup of hot cocoa. Ever since Uncle Jack had taught her that evil trick one Christmas morning, he had never been forgiven.

After a hearty breakfast of flap-jacks, fried eggs, sausage, potatoes, corn bread, and lots of coffee, the riders gathered near the front porch awaiting their instructions. Shannon's father, a small, wiry man with a shock of red hair and bushy mustache, addressed the group, which consisted of family, ranch hands, and a few local friends.

"I thank you all for coming," Ian O'Connor boomed over the general din of anticipation and excitement. "Should be a fine day. Clouds have cleared out. It's soft out there so watch your footing and don't push too hard. Let's just get them in and settled and see where we are."

"If someone don't put a rope on Shannon she's likely to ride old Sugar to his grave," Shannon's brother Mike piped up knowing how excited his sister felt. He knew a little about how she felt from his own experience just three years ago when he had chosen Smoke, a flashy, tobiano, grulla colt.

Shannon stuck her tongue out at her brother as the group had a good laugh. Shannon headed to the barn where Sugar waited. Patience had never been one of her strong suits, and if she had to stand around another minute she was likely to burst. With her father's instructions complete, the group separated and headed out. Even Sugar seemed to have some spark to his step.

The stallion Red Sky and his herd were not hard to find. In the soft ground it was easy to pick up their trail. The horses were holed up in one of the dozens of little draws that threaded the Crooked K. The group entered quietly. Red Sky quickly sensed the intruders and bugled his alarm, but he was little match for the experienced riders in this group. Soon the herd was under control and smoothly heading back to the ranch.

Shannon searched through the moving mass of hide, and hair and hooves. Paints were beautiful horses, but all the flash of color and white made it hard to see each individual separately. Shannon worked up and down one side of the herd searching for "her" foal.

She spotted a little black and white filly on the far edge of the group. She looked up and saw her father looking at her too. With a big grin on his face he waved at Shannon and pointed. The little filly was a beauty, and Shannon knew she would be his choice for her. Then near the center of the group she saw a flash of white and dusty gold. A little palomino colt with striking blue eyes trotted next to his mother. Shannon feasted her eyes on his every stride.

"He's the one," Shannon said to Sugar. "I can feel it."

The colt had no difficulty keeping pace with his mother. A deep chest and powerful hindquarters moved him along with ease. His striking markings could be seen just below the grime of a morning roll in the mud. His color marked the top of his head forming a golden bonnet. A large splotch formed a shield on his chest, and also spread out across his back and over his flanks like a blanket.

The Lakota called this style of marking a Medicine Hat. The tribes of the Plains Indians believed Medicine Hat paints passed on special powers of strength and protection to their riders. Shannon didn't know if she believed this or not, but something inside told her the golden colt was the one for her. A knot formed in the pit of her stomach. The black and white filly was also a beauty. Shannon hated disappointing her father. Hopefully he would understand if she chose differently than him.

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