Old Bill and the two mules had been stumbling south, half-blinded by snow, for three days. When he came over the top of the rise and looked into the valley below, he passed his hand over his face. He must be hallucinating.
He looked again. Sure enough, that was a valley below. The snow was thinner there. A herd of elk had worked large patches clear. The wolves patrolling in the snow beyond the herd were breaking through, snow almost to their hocks.
He studied the layout. Elk, snow melt for water. Bound to be Injuns. He passed his hand over his face again, warming his eyes, and looked again. Sure enough, smoke rose near the hills at the valley’s southern end.
He was coming in peace with little more than the mules and his clothes. They’d feed him, sure. Had probably already seen him. “C’mon, you mules,” he said.