Chapter 1 — Fort Robinson
November 13, 1890
Corporal Matt Davys pressed his ear against the heaving chest of the sick cavalry horse, his eyes closed in concentration. The horse’s breaths sounded like the wind rushing through the sagebrush, whooshing and whistling, changing direction and timbre every second or so. There was another sound, ominous and barely audible: a harsh, dry murmur.
“Yes, sir, I hear it,” Matt said to Lieutenant Harding as he straightened up next to Molly, his regular mount for the past eighteen months. At twenty-five, Matt was young for his rank, having made corporal after only eight years in the peacetime Army. He was tall and slim; his skin was darker than many of the other colored enlisted men in Troop K, so dark that his friend Jim claimed he was a menace when they were together on night guard duty.
Next to him, Molly stood shivering in the clean straw of the horse stall, her eyes closed and her breath swirling around them in the cold of the Nebraska early winter. Lieutenant Harding and the gouty old veteran, Stable Sergeant Johnson, looked on. Like all the officers in the regiment, Harding was white. His small moustache was peppered with gray, and he stooped slightly, the result of an injury acquired at Shiloh, twenty-eight years before.
“She gonna be okay, sir?” Matt asked.
“Hard to say. My guess is lung fever.”
“Lung fever,” Matt repeated carefully. “Yes, sir.” He leaned against Molly’s shoulder, feeling the heat of her fever through his woolen uniform shirt and overcoat. She didn’t respond, but he hoped that she took some comfort from his presence.