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He flexed and rolled his shoulders one final time to see if the deer would shift on him, and when it didn't, he began the way back to El Rito, sure that his burden would stand the test by staying put for the entire walk down through the quiet, wooded foothills of the Carson National Forest and Tierra Amarilla.

Once he found the proper and comfortable rhythm for his stride, Emmett settled into the march and walked with the silent and stern, but graceful, determination of a man in a footrace with darkness and fatigue. He instinctively knew that if he began to take rest stops along the way, his body would tempt him to lengthen each respite until he gave up the agony of his effort. So he didn't stop at all during the next three hours, refusing to acknowledge the ache, while stepping quickly and carefully along the damp ground, cautiously choosing every spot before planting his feet with a firmness that might have been mistaken for anger by someone who was unaware of the enormous energy which Emmett Grogan had discovered within himself that seemingly timeless afternoon. A vital, spiritual energy which surged through his body, filling him with an invisible physical strength from the moment he aimed his rifle at the wilderness within himself and fired on the target of his own animality.

It was dusk when Emmett stepped out of the woodline and made it across a dusty, dry, fiat field and the rest of the way to the cabin on the outskirts of El Rito. Little Bird stood in the shadow of the back wall and came forward to greet his friend, student, and brother with a strong, silent, calm look of love, and helped him remove the deer from his back which was now screaming with a pain that was only overcome by the ecstasy of Emmett's triumph over himself.

They laid the magnificent buck softly down on a large piece of canvas tarpaulin which Little Bird had spread on the earth at the rear of the house a good hour before Emmett emerged from the forests. Then Emmett stood straight and watched from above as Little Bird checked the inside of the belly of the slain stag for anything that might have been missed and which, if left in the deer much longer, might have spoiled the obvious quality of the meat. But there was nothing, and Little Bird was privately proud that his white brother had cleaned out the innards so well, and he quickly completed his examination of the rest of the animal, pleased with the single, small round hole on the side of the noble head where the .22 bullet had struck and which he knew had felled the deer instantly and painlessly. [end page 375]


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