friends. They reached another river. As they began to cross, they discovered it was only shoulder deep and not very wide, although it was cold.
It took them two days to get close enough to the distant mountains to see that they ran from east to west, the same direction as the horses were traveling. Cherokee said, “It is good that we do not have to cross mountains in the winter. I remember ice and snow. There is none of that here.”
“Look, Cherokee,” said Sunee. There are some pine trees to the left of that stream. It looks like a good place to rest for the night.”
“No,” said Natas. “I want to keep going.”
“I think we should stop,” said Cherokee. “We’ve had a long day.”
“No,” shouted Natas. “I say when we stop.”
Cherokee and Sunee looked at each other, but did not speak. Natas galloped on, expecting that they would follow him, not seeming to care whether they did or not. The two young horses moved quickly into a gallop, following behind the red horse. Soon it began to get dark.
“Natas,” called Cherokee. “We must find a resting place where we will be protected from wild animals.”
“Stop if you want to. I’m going on,” saidNatas.
Cherokee and Sunee did stop. They could hardly see the rolling hills and the red and white oak trees on their right. But they moved into what shelter they could find and grazed on some dry grass. Once their bellies were full, they rested, standing up, head to tail. Both wondered why Natas was being so difficult.
“Cherokee,” asked Sunee, “Why do you suppose Natas has such a backward attitude? He doesn’t seem to like people at all and sometimes I wonder if he is tso tsi da na wa, our enemy.”
“I don’t know,” answered the young stallion. “He does seem to think more bad thoughts thangood ones. Let’s rest and then go on tomorrow.”
There was no moon and few night sounds. Cherokee missed them. He was more comfortable when he could see by moonlight and hear familiar noises. Although he rested, he did not sleep. Soon his senses became aware of a quiet swish, swish, swish in the dry grass below them. He raised his head and flicked his ears trying to pick up a sound he recognized. Although he watched and listened carefully, he never knew what passed below them that night.
The sun rose bright and warm the next morning. Cherokee led Sunee down to a fast moving stream for a morning drink. They crossed the stream and continued west.
“I wonder where Natas is,” said Sunee.
“Perhaps he has decided to travel on his own,” answered Cherokee, silently hoping that that is what he was doing. He was beginning to doubt the friendship of the red horse.
“He was a little cross, but I liked him,” said Sunee.
“Maybe we will see him again on our journey,” said Cherokee. “Shall we go this way or that?” he asked Sunee.
“Would we be following the sun whichever direction we take?” asked Sunee.
“Yes,” answered the stallion. “If we travel to the left, we will be going away from the mountains, and if we go right, we will be going into them. But they do not look as high as our mountains at home. You choose.” he said generously.
“Let’s go away from the mountains,” said Sunee. “It seems to me to be the right way.”
“Alright.” answered Cherokee. And off they started at a slow trot.
They crossed another river that we know as the Arkansas River. They traveled away from the Ozark Mountains, continuing west and south, once again alone together. Then one day in late January, they saw great rolling hills cloaked in tall hardwood trees in the distance.
The horses trotted up the first incline but struggled to clear a higher ridge. Once atop it, they saw some springs foaming and bubbling below them.
“I think I have a surprise for you,” Cherokee said to Sunee.
“What is that?” she asked.
“Follow me to the water down there and I will show you.”
It was much easier going down than up and it didn’t take them