Madeline Baker

Tales of Western Romance

June 3, 2016


THE SPIRIT PATH ~ Two-time winner of the Paperback Trader’s Romance Readers Award for Best Indian historical.

Romantic Times said:
Poignant, sensual and wonderful. Madeline Baker fans will be enchanted.

Original Leisure Cover

Inside Cover

EC Blush edition

THE SPIRIT PATH

6-3-16
The Medicine Man
Strong and wise beyond his years, Shadow Hawk was the spiritual leader of his people, but he had seen a troubling vision that even he could not understand.

The Spirit Woman
Beautiful and infinitely desirable, she seemed to beckon Hawk away from the Lakota, drawing him to an unknown place where passion and peril prevailed.

The Path of Love
Together despite all odds, Maggie and Hawk discovered a shared destiny that would conquer time itself and unite them body and soul.

Romantic Times said:
Poignant, sensual and wonderful. Madeline Baker fans will be enchanted.


Chapter One
Dakota Territory, 1872

“She is not here.”

Shadow Hawk frowned at the aged medicine man sitting across from him. “Not here? I do not understand.”

“She is not here. She is not of the People.”

Shadow Hawk was silent a moment. Not of the People. What did it mean?

But before he could put the question to Heart-of-the-Wolf, the wizened old medicine man leaned forward and gazed intently at Shadow Hawk, his dark eyes probing deep into the younger man’s soul. “How brave are you, Cetán?”

Shadow Hawk cocked his head to one side, puzzled by the question. Then, with a hint of a smile, he lifted a hand to the necklace of bear claws at his throat, then dragged a well-callused thumb across the ragged Sun Dance scars that adorned his chest.

Heart-of-the-Wolf nodded. “You are a man of strength. You have killed matohota and sacrificed your blood and your pain to Wakdn Tanka. But I ask you again, Shadow
Hawk, how brave are you?”

In a movement uncharacteristically graceful for such a tall man, Shadow Hawk rose to his feet, his hands curling into angry fists as he glared down at the medicine man. “I do not understand your answers or your questions.” He thumped his chest with his fist. “I am Shadow Hawk. I have proven my courage at the Sun Dance Pole. I have counted coup in battle. I have taken the scalps of our enemies, the Crow and the Pawnee. Why do you question my courage now?”

Heart-of-the-Wolf nodded, unruffled by the younger man’s outburst, and after a moment Shadow Hawk sat down again.

Heart-of-the-Wolf took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. When he spoke, he chose his words carefully. “I have been the eyes and ears to the future of our people for more than forty years, Cetán, but each day it grows more difficult for me to guide the Lakota. The strength is going from my legs, my eyes grow dim. Only my heart remains strong.

“These are trying times for our People. I fear the wasichu will soon cover the land of the spotted eagle like the prairie grasses in the summer. Our People look to you to be their next holy man. And so I ask you once again, Shadow Hawk, how brave are you? Do you possess the courage to travel the Spirit Path and see what the future holds? Are you strong enough to make the journey? Are you brave enough to enter the Sacred Cave and seek the vision that lies within?”

Shadow Hawk gazed at Heart-of-the-Wolf, wondering at the sudden chill in the lodge. Had the small fire crackling in the center of the lodge lost its warmth, or was it the medicine man’s words that had turned his blood to ice?

The Cave of the Spirit Path. Its legend was woven deep into the fabric of his people’s history, but he knew of no one who had entered the Sacred Cave and returned to tell the tale…

He looked at Heart-of-the-Wolf sharply. “You have been to the Sacred Cave! That is how you knew we were in danger two summers ago. That is how you knew the wasichu were coming last fall.”

Heart-of-the-Wolf nodded. “I fear worse things lie ahead. I need you to be my legs, my eyes.”

Shadow Hawk lifted a hand to the necklace of bear claws at his throat. There were many kinds of courage. Did he possess the kind of courage required to follow the Spirit Path, to face the unknown? The proud words he had spoken earlier tasted like ashes in his mouth.

“You need not answer now,” Heart-of-the-Wolf remarked softly. “What I ask is not easy, but remember, I do not ask it for myself, but for the People.”


Chapter Two

Leaving the medicine man’s lodge, Shadow Hawk caught his big calico stallion and rode into the hills. He needed time alone, time to think.

Shadow Hawk gave the horse its head, and Ohitika, the brave one, ran effortlessly, its long legs eating up the miles as it climbed higher and higher, gliding over the low, grassy hills like an eagle skimming the sky.

Shadow Hawk put the medicine man’s question from his mind. He knew the answer to that. What Heart-of-the-Wolf asked of him might not be easy but it was a great honor, and a sign of the old shaman’s faith in him, that he would trust such a momentous responsibility to another. Shadow Hawk would go to the Cave of the Spirit Path when the time was right and look into the future, but it was not the future that haunted him, it was the woman in his vision.

Shadow Hawk drew Ohitika to a halt at the crest of a tree-studded rise. It was here he had first seen the Spirit Woman. He had been fourteen at the time and earnestly seeking a medicine dream to guide him on the road to becoming a warrior. Even now, eleven summers later, he could remember that day.

It had been Wazustecasa wi, The Moon When Strawberries Are Ripe. The sky had been blue and clear, the air warm. Clad in nothing but a clout and moccasins, he had stood on the blanket his mother had made for him, his arms raised, his head thrown back as he gazed up at the sun. Three nights and four days he had waited for a vision. He had offered tobacco to the four directions, to Mother Earth, to the Great Spirit Above, but he had seen nothing, heard nothing.

Weak with hunger, his mouth and throat dry from lack of water, he had uttered a final prayer to Wakán Tanka, begging for a sign, a vision, to guide him through life. He had been about to give up when the shadow of a huge black hawk had fallen over him. Mesmerized, he had stared at the shadow on the ground and, gradually, his image had merged with that of the shadow of the hawk until they were one. He had legs and wings, hair and feathers. And he could see for miles as though he were looking through the far-seeing eyes of the hawk. Time lost all meaning and he felt as though he was soaring, gliding, chasing the wind.

For a long while he was alone in the skies and then, to his surprise, he was leading other birds—sparrows and jays and one lone eagle, leading them away from the blood-stained claws of a vulture. Using the keen eyes of the hawk, he had searched for a haven of safety, away from the sacred land of the Lakota into a land northward. But before he could find refuge, the eagle overtook him, and then, before he had time to wonder what it meant, the shadow of the hawk was gone and he stood on the mountain, alone.

He had stared after the hawk until it was out of sight and then, too weak to remain upright any longer, he had dropped to his knees and closed his eyes. It was then he had seen the Spirit Woman’s shadowy image for the first time.

He had not mentioned the mysterious woman to Heart-of-the-Wolf when he told the medicine man of his vision. Perhaps he had only imagined her after all.

Old Heart-of-the-Wolf had interpreted his medicine dream. The first part of the vision meant that he would be as strong and wise as the great black hawk so long as he followed the Life Path of the Lakota.

“And what of the second part?” Hawk had asked.

Heart-of-the-Wolf had not answered right away. When he did speak, his voice was troubled. “You will lead our people away from our enemies.”

“I hear doubt in your voice.”

Heart-of-the-Wolf nodded. “It may be that you will not lead the people yourself but that you will lead the eagle who follows in your shadow. But know this, you have been chosen by the Great Spirit to be a leader of our people. You shall have a new name. From this day forward you shall be known as Shadow Hawk.”

He had been twenty when he saw the woman’s ghostlike image a second time. It had been summer again, during the time of Wiwanyank Wacipi, the Sun Dance. Tethered to the sacred pole by two lengths of heavy rawhide fastened to skewers embedded in the muscles of his chest, he had danced forward and back, offering his blood and his pain to Wakán Tanka, beseeching the gods of the Lakota to bless the People through the coming year.

Staring at the sun, he had pulled against the rawhide, his teeth tightly clenched to hold back the groan that rose in his throat. One last jerk against his tether and his skin had given way, freeing him from the Sun Dance Pole. He had stumbled backward then dropped to the ground, his chest warm with his blood.

As he lay there, his eyes closed against the pain, the Spirit Woman’s image had appeared before him. He had not been able to see her face clearly, only the glow of sun-gold skin and a riot of curly hair as black as the wings of his spirit bird. And even as he watched, the shadow of the black hawk he’d seen in his vision seemed to merge with the woman and he heard a voice echo in the back of his mind, the voice of the shadow hawk.
She is waiting for you. The words were no more than the merest whisper, yet they rang loud and clear in his mind. You cannot fulfill your destiny without her.

He had seen her for the third time just before going to Heart-of-the-Wolf’s lodge that morning and he could not attribute the vision to fatigue or loss of blood this time. He had gone into the woods to pray and as he gazed heavenward he had seen her face, her mouth full and red, her eyes as blue as a midsummer sky. Who was she? Why did her image intrude on his prayers and dreams? What power did she have over him, that he could not forget her. What magic did she possess that made him think of her day and night? What did she want of him?

One mystery at a time, he thought with a wry grin. He would venture into the Cave of the Spirit Path and seek the answers to Heart-of-the-Wolf’s questions, and then he would seek to unravel the mystery of the Spirit Woman.

His mother, Winona, was waiting for him when he returned to his lodge. She never seemed to age, only to grow more beautiful with the passing years. He smiled at her as he took a seat and reached for the bowl she offered him.

“You have seen the woman again,” she said, and it was not a question.

“Yes.”

“Could not Heart-of-the-Wolf tell you what it means?”

Shadow Hawk put the bowl aside. “We did not speak of her. He wishes me to go to the Cave of the Spirit Path.”

Winona stared at her son, one hand over her mouth to cover her astonishment.

Shadow Hawk smiled at her. “He wishes me to be his legs and eyes.”

Winona shook her head. “Heyah!”

“I must do it.”

“Heyah,” his mother repeated. “No.”

“What would you have me do?”

“No one but a holy man must enter the cave. For another to do so means death,”
Winona said fervently. “If Heart-of-the-Wolf has lost his power then it is time our people found a new medicine man.”

“He has not lost his power. His heart and his mind are still strong. Only his legs and his eyes grow weak.” Shadow Hawk gazed at his mother for a long moment. “I will be the next medicine man.”

“He has made his decision then?”

“Yes.”

Winona stared at her son for a long moment and then she smiled, her eyes filled with quiet pride. “It will be good to have a holy man in my lodge.”

Shadow Hawk nodded soberly. To be a Wicasa Wakán, or holy man, required much learning and carried a great deal of responsibility. Holy men had to be able to interpret dreams and visions, to settle disputes, to be well versed in knowledge of the Lakota gods. Wakán Tanka was the supreme God who ruled over all; four gods ruled beneath him: Wi, the sun, ruled the world; Skan, the sky, was a source of power; Maka, the Earth, was the mother of all living things; Inyan, the Rock, was the protector of households. It was Skan who judged a man’s spirit at the time of death.

Shadow Hawk took a deep breath. He had learned much from old Heart-of-the-Wolf and he felt a deep sense of pride that the old medicine man considered him worthy to succeed him, but it was the Spirit Woman who occupied his thoughts most often these days.

“When I return from the cave I will ask Heart-of-the-Wolf to tell me of the Spirit Woman,” he remarked, putting his thoughts into words. “She troubles me, Iná. I would know what she wants of me.”

Winona shook her head as she squeezed her son’s arm affectionately. “Sacred caves and spirit women! Wagh! Forget this wasicun winyan who haunts your dreams. It is time you took a wife.”

Shadow Hawk took a deep breath and loosed it in a long sigh. His mother was right. It was far past time when he should have taken a wife. But none of the Lakota maidens drew his eye. Many were beautiful. Many had looked at him with warm eyes. All would make fine wives and mothers. But his blood did not heat at their nearness, his heart did not beat fast for any of them. And so he remained alone, a man apart. He had war honors. He had been gifted with a vision and endured the pain and the reward of the Sun Dance. But he had not found a woman to share his lodge.

Perhaps the fault lay in him. Perhaps he was meant to live alone, or to be one of those men who was neither man nor woman.

Shadow Hawk shook his head in disgust. He was a warrior. He had proven himself in battle many times. He had counted coup more than any other man in the village. He would not sit with the women. He would not live his life alone.

A wry grin turned up the corner of his mouth. Perhaps his mother was right. Perhaps it was time to take a wife.