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by RatDog
Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #1699927
Rough draft, being developed in "Past the Write Baton" Interactive.
Chapter 5: Eating Rattlesnake



"Kill it Spencer! Quick! Before it bites the dog!"


"My Hero!"

"Keep Roscoe away from the snake head, Kaylin. Them things can still bite for a few minutes after you chop 'em off."

"OK Honey. So what are we gonna do with it?"

"We're gonna eat it, what else?"

"It's a rattlesnake, won't the meat be poisonous?"

"No, the poison's all in it's head. All we gotta do is peel the skin off, gut it,and cook it over the fire. I remember seeing a guy do it on some show called "Wild Man" or something like that. I used to watch it all the time with my Dad, back when they had TV."

"I don't know Spence, I ain't to keen on the idea of eatin' rattlesnake meat."

"Don't worry, Kaylin, it's safe if we cook it long enough. Besides, it's been a long time since we had any meat. It ain't easy getting game since we ran outta bullets."

"We still have some canned meat left."

"Those cans we found are pretty old, Kay. All that stuff is from before The War, and we were just kids then. I'm not so sure we should be eating it anymore, we both weren't feeling too good after the last canned stuff we ate, remember?"

"I suppose you're right, Spence. But after we cook the snake you can take the first bite..."

Chapter 5: Moving On

"I am sorry you didn't make it back here in time to see your brother before he passed on, Lance. I really thought he was gonna make it, he seemed to be improving right up 'till the end. I just keep thinking that maybe there was something I could've done better to nurse him back to health."

"It's not your fault, Kaylin, I'm sure you did all you could. It's not like it was in the old days, back when you could bring someone in to the emergency room to see a doctor when they got real sick. Hell, the nearest place I heard of where they even have any doctors left is down in Atlanta. And that place is a war zone, same as Asheville and Charlotte."

"I suppose you're right."

"I am glad I got back in time to help see Spencer off, at least. A woman shouldn't have to bury her husband all by herself."

"I am grateful for that, Lance. I was afraid I wouldn't have the strength on my own to dig a grave deep enough to keep the coyotes away..."

"Have you given any thought about what you're gonna do, now that Spence is gone?"

"I guess I'll just carry on as best I can here. I got the dogs to protect me. I got the garden just about ready to harvest, and the hams from the last boar Spence killed hanging in the smokehouse. I'll be OK..."

"I don't know, Kaylin. It just ain't safe for a woman to be livin' on her own these days. There's gangs of desperate men out there who'd try to take advantage of you. I'm thinkin' it would be better if you came back to Clayton to stay with me and Susan."

"Lance, you and Sue got your hands full trying to provide for your three kids, I'd hate to impose on you all."

"It'd be no imposition at all, Kay. You could help Sue out with our garden, you always were good at making things grow. And it's not like you'd be freeloading, you'd be bringing back the hams, and everything we could harvest before you leave here..."

Chapter 6: Winter on Pine Ridge

"I really do appreciate your offer, Lance, and I don't want you to think I'm ungrateful. But me and Spence lived on this ridge for almost twenty years, and now he's buried on that hill. I don't want to leave him up there all alone. And you know our boy Calvin joined the Peacekeepers when they came through here recruiting last year. How do you think he'd feel if he came back to visit his mama and I was gone? No.. I think I'd best stay."

"But Kaylin, it ain't safe for a woman to be on her own in these times! I feel it's my obligation to look after you, same as I expect Spencer would've looked after my Susan if I had passed on first. I'd never forgive myself if anything were to happen to you."

"Now don't you worry about me, I can take care of myself. And I got my neighbors. Junior's still living in his place up on the hill, and LuAnne and Mickey are right up the road less than a quarter mile away. We all look in on each other. And old Roscoe's still a pretty good watch dog, he gets all the dogs in the neighborhood barkin' to let us know when someone who don't belong here comes around."

"Well OK, Kaylin, if you're sure... Is there anything else you need before I go?"

Chapter 7: Bullets

"Well Lance, If you got any spare ammo for our rifle I'd appreciate it."

"Spence had a 30-30 Winchester, same as mine, right?"

"Yeah, he always was bragging about how he could outshoot you with it, too."

"I suppose he could, he always was a pretty good shot... Well I got two boxes of shells in my pack, you can have 'em both. I got more back at home."

"No Lance, you'd best keep a box for yourself, I wouldn't want to worry about you being defenseless against marauders on the trail."

"All right Kaylin, but you be careful how you use those shells in your hunting. Keep at least half of 'em for defensive purposes. I'll try to bring you more come Spring."

"Don't worry, Lance, Spencer taught me how to trap for food after we ran out of ammo. I plan on keeping all the shells for defense... Hey Lance, why don't you take one of those hams with you for your family? Now that Spence is gone, I can't eat it all myself."

"Are you sure you don't need it, Kay? I'd hate to take advantage..."

"I'd say it's more than a fair trade for the ammo, Lance."

"Well OK, but I'll be sure to bring more shells when I come back to check on you in the spring..."

Chapter 7: A Night of Comfort

"It is getting kinda late in the day, you might want to stay and get a good night's sleep before you hit the trail."

"Here I am asking what kinda work I can do to help you out, and you go on and tell me to take a nap instead, now I know why Spence married you!"

"No, seriously Lance, you'd be doing me a favor by staying. I got something on my mind that I never told nobody, and I sure could use someone to talk to about it now. I think it might go easier if we had something to drink. Would you like a glass of wine? Spence bottled it from last summer's blackberries, probably wouldn't win any medals for taste though..."

"Sure Kaylin, I'd love a glass of wine. Knowing Spence he made the wine more for the kick than the taste, but that's OK with me. So what's on your mind?"

"Well,I guess I'll just come right out and say it. When I met your brother I'd already missed a period, so I'm pretty sure Calvin isn't really Spencer's son..."

"You can't know that for sure Kaylin. Not to be indelicate, but you two were probably doing it pretty regular after you two got together, right?"

"That is true Lance, but in all the years after that we weren't able to conceive another child. And it wasn't for lack of trying, not to be indelicate. And considering how much younger than Spence I am, I think the odds are pretty good it wasn't my fault."

"Even if that's so, why tell me this? Why now, after my brother is gone?"

"Well Lance, I really wanted to have a child of his. You know, to carry on his bloodline. And since you are his brother... Do you know your Bible?"

Chapter 8: Genesis 38:8

"You're talking about where this guy is supposed to get his dead brother's wife pregnant so she can have a child in his brother's name? But that was a long time ago, those folks had different priorities!"

"Were they really that much different than we are, Lance? Civilization has moved backwards quite a bit since the war. I'm sure people a couple thousand years ago could relate to the way we live now, hunting and farming same as they did. Here, have a little more wine, and at least consider the idea, okay? "

"This is crazy, Kaylin! It's bad enough you want me to leave you here all alone, but now you want to have a baby on your own too!"

"You're thinking too far ahead, Lance. Even if it takes, I'd still have until next spring before I needed help getting ready for the baby.... It is something I really want, and you did agree to help me out with anything I wanted, right?"

"No Kay, I couldn't be unfaithful to my Susan like that. If she knew you were to have my child it would break her heart... And she'd probably break my neck!"

"She wouldn't have to know. Spencer's only been gone a few days, so as far as anyone was concerned it would be his child... Come on Lance, I seen you checking me out more than once or twice when you thought I wasn't looking. You're a guy, you can't tell me the thought of what it'd be like to spend a night with me hasn't crossed your mind before. So why don't you just finish your wine and come to bed?"

Chapter 9: In the Morning

"Wake up, Lance. I got eggs, biscuits, and ham steaks for your breakfast."

"Aw Kay, you didn't have to go and make anything special for me."

"No, you deserve it, Lance. Three times in one night!I don't think Spence and me ever did it three times in one night before. I figured you'd need something to recover your strength after that."

"Knowing how bad you wanted that baby I just wanted to make sure it would take, is all. If it wasn't for your circumstances and times being what they are, I'd never have done it with you, Kaylin. And I'd hate for my Susan to find out I had, too."

Chapter 10: Setting the Hook

"Well I won't be telling Susan anything, Lance. If, as they say in the Bible, "your seed bears fruit," it will be Spencer's child as far as anyone else is concerned. But I do have to admit that last night I was thinking on what it would be like if I'd married you instead of your brother. We might have been a pretty good match, if only you'd spoken for me first... But that is neither here nor there, as they say. You've got a perfectly good wife waiting on you back in Clayton, so you'd best be moving on... I'll be just fine here on my own, although I would appreciate it if you'd come back this way in the Springtime to check up on me."

"Sure Kaylin, I'll come back as soon as the cold breaks...You know, I was thinking, I might be taking another hunting trip up this way in November, before Winter closes in. If you want, I could check up on you then..."

"That would be just fine, Lance, I sure would appreciate the company..."

Chapter 7: Wolves and Firelight

You're awful quiet tonight, Calvin. What's the matter, you miss your mama?

That not it, Lester. I guess I just ain't used to the killing... I though being a Ranger would be like being a policeman in the old days, where you'd arrest the bad guys and put them in jail, then they'd get a trial and be sentenced for their crimes.

Yeah,that kinda bothered me when I first joined up too, Cal. You just gotta get used to it. The three men we hanged were dangerous! They damned well deserved what they got! They killed a law abiding man and his wife, then kidnapped the ten year old daughter and raped her. Lucky we caught them before they killed her too!

Still, I'd feel better if we gave 'em some kinda trial, Les. The youngest guy was only seventeen, said he didn't have nothing to do with killing them folks, and he didn't rape the girl, neither!

These are dangerous times we live in, Cal. We don't have policemen or jails anymore, you know that. It's our responsibility to be judge, jury, and executioner, you read the instructions when you took the Ranger Oath. That kid may have been telling the truth, or he may have been lying. Maybe he didn't kill them folks or rape the girl, but either way he didn't do anything to try to stop it, neither! So he's guilty by association, for being part of the gang that did it. As Rangers it's our job to get rid of dirt bags like that, it's for the good of society. End of story.

Yeah, I guess you're right, Lester... Coyotes sure are howling pretty loud tonight, think I'll put some more wood on the fire, make sure they don't get too close.

You know, I think those might be wolves, Cal. Hear those howls? They're a lot deeper than coyotes...

You may be right Les. I heard wolves been making a comeback, ever since the plague. And judging by what I've seen recently I do believe it is true...

Chapter 8: Keeping the Wolves at Bay

We been riding since just after sunup Les, waddya say we make camp here for the night?

"I thought you'd want to press on more, Cal. You're the one who wanted us to patrol this stretch of road so we could stop by and see how your folks are doing."

"That's true, I was concerned when I left, my dad was feeling poorly. But we are still a good two days out, anyway you look at it. No sense in pushing the horses any harder than we have to."

"OK by me Cal, this place is as good as any. Looks like there's a branch down the bottom of the hill, why don't you take the canteens and go get us some water while I set up camp..."

Cal is down at the creek filling the canteens when he hears a gunshot, then a voice calls out, "Don't move, Ranger!"

He looks around, realizes the gunman has Lester pinned down.

"How does it feel Ranger, knowing someone is gonna kill you in cold blood just like you did my boy!"

"Mister, I don't know who you are, but the only men I killed were in the line of duty!"

Cal gets an idea of where the gunman is by his voice, decides to see if he can quietly circle around. He ends up on a small hill, looking through laurel bushes down at the gunman.

"Say your prayers, Ranger, it's time for you to die!" the gunman calls out as he takes aim at Lester...

Chapter 9: Cold Blooded Killer

Cal takes aim and fires at the gunman, hitting him square in the back below his left shoulder at the same time as the gunman fires and hits Lester in the chest. Cal runs down the hill to Lester, as he lies there bleeding.

"Les, I'm here, you're gonna be all right! Just let me get some bandages."

"No Cal, I'm dying...." he gasps, blood dripping from his mouth. "Take care of yourself... and remember what we talked about..."

"Sure Les, but you're gonna be OK, I can get help! Please don't leave me!"

Cal looks down but Lester has stopped breathing and he knows he is gone...

Chapter 10: Cleansing Fire

Cal sits slumped in the dirt next to the body of his friend sobbing for quite a while, then as daylight starts to fade he realizes he has to take action. He looks over at his deceased friend.

"Les, I guess there's not much left to do but honor your wishes now. I remember how we talked about what we'd want done if one of us were to get killed on the trail. I wanted to be buried beneath the tallest tree you could find, so you could tell my momma where I was in case she wanted to come find my grave. And you wanted to be cremated so your spirit could soar up in the clouds and find the soul of your Cherokee wife that got killed by them raiders. Looks like you got out of the digging. I better go get some more wood, make sure it's a hot enough fire to get the job done right..."

Carl watches Lester burn, adding more wood as the night goes on. Eventually the body is consumed, and as the fire burns down low Cal manages to get a little sleep. He awakes when the sun is already up and starts to strike camp. He looks over and sees a turkey vulture circling above the hill, realizes it's coming for the body of the man who killed his friend.

Cal looks up at the sky and speaks, talking to his departed friend. "Les, I know the Code says any outlaw who kills a Ranger deserves to have his body hanged in the nearest tree with a sign around his neck listing his crime, but I'm not sure if my heart's in it..."

Chapter 11: Respect the Dead

As he approaches, Cal sees one of the vultures has landed and is pecking at the body. He chases the bird away and looks down at the dead man. He's thin, dressed in shabby clothes. He searches the body and finds a couple silver coins, which he pockets. He looks in the man's backpack, finds a bag with a piece of jerky and some stale bread in it, and a threadbare flannel shirt. he stuffs these into his own pack.

Cal looks the dead man in the eye. "Mister, judging by what you said before you killed my partner I'm gonna guess you're the daddy of that boy we just hanged outside of Sylva. I aint got no kids, but if I were to have one someday and he ended up like your son, I suppose I might want to kill the Ranger who hanged him... Code says I ought to string up your dead body and leave it for the turkey vultures on account of what you did, but I think there's been enough violence done here."

Cal pulls a camp shovel out of his pack and digs a shallow grave, drags the body over and pushes it in. He shovels the dirt back in on top. He picks up a couple dead tree branches and uses strips of cloth torn from the man's flannel shirt to lash them together in a rudimentary cross that he pushes into the freshly dug earth. "Don't know if you were a Christian, Mister, but at least if any of your kin comes looking they might find your grave."

Chapter 12: Daddy's Gone Hunting (ID #983588)

"I'm grateful you came back to check up on me Lance, I spent too many nights alone since you left."

"I've missed you too, Kaylin, glad to see you're doing OK. I bagged a turkey on the trail and dressed him out just before I got here. Not a very big one, but should be a pretty good meal for the two of us. You want to help me pluck him?"

"No, I can handle that myself, I'll put some water on to boil. Been a long time since I had any fresh meat around here, I sure do appreciate it. I got a tub of water drawn for my bath but you look like you need it more than me. Why don't you go wash the trail dust off yourself while I get this bird ready for the oven...."

A short time later Kaylin knocks on the bathroom door, then enters, carrying a steaming pot: "I brought some hot water to warm your bath Lance, hope you don't mind."

"No, I guess not, ain't like you never seen me naked before. Although the cold water doesn't do me justice... Kay, I can't help noticing that you don't look any different that you did when I left. I guess the baby didn't take?"

"No, sorry to say it didn't. But now that you're here we can always try again. Maybe a few times extra, just to be sure."

"I don't know, Kay, Spence has been gone quite a while now. By the time you had the baby, folks would know it wasn't his."

"I was thinking about that too, Lance, and I got a plan. You go ahead and finish your bath while I tend to dinner. Later on I'll tell you all about it..."

Chapter 13: The Followers of Joe Smith

"...So this Joe Smith, he's a preacher, calls himself a prophet. Says he's a descendant of the man who founded the original Mormon church a couple hundred years ago. He came through here last week preaching and he left me these pamphlets. Said him and his followers were setting up camp in the old Union School building, and anyone interested in joining his church should come on down. I think we should check it out."

"Kaylin, you know I ain't never been much into listening to no preachers. I believe in the Creator and in honoring him by living my life the best I can, but I just can't see myself hanging around with a bunch of holy rollers in some old school building. You never were much of a church goer either, from what I can recollect. So why are you so interested in this now?"

"Here's the thing, Lance. In his religion a man is allowed to have more than one wife, hell, it's even expected of him! So all we gotta do is go down there and agree to join the church and then he can marry us. We don't have to hang around after that if we don't want to."

"I don't know Kay, I'm not so sure Susan would approve of me having a second wife."

"It says in one of these pamphlets that the man is supposed to be the head of his household, and his wives are obedient to him. Susan couldn't really argue with your decision to take a second wife if it was part of your new religion."

"Well I'm not so sure about this idea, Kay, I gotta think about it."

"It's getting kinda late, Lance. why don't we just go to bed. You can sleep on it and then decide what you want to do in the morning..."

Chapter 14: Take Me to the River (ID #1008643)
an addition by: RatDog (58) More by this author
"I sure am glad you agreed to go and let that Mormon preacher marry us, Lance."

"I must admit you were pretty convincing last night about the benefits of having a second wife, Kaylin."

"Well, Momma told me if I found a man who was a good provider and I wanted him to stick around, I shouldn't be shy about using what God gave me to make sure he started the day with a smile on his face..."

"Well, far be it from me to disagree with your momma. Say, we've been walking quite a while now, let's stop and have our lunch. There's a nice shady spot down by that riverbank."

"OK Lance, maybe we can go for a swim after that."

Suddenly a rifle shot rings out and Lance falls to the ground. Kay screams!

Two ragged looking men approach. One of them points a gun at her and calls out, "Don't move, woman, or you'll end up like your man! Darrell, check their packs, see if they got anything good."

Darrell rifles through their belongings, pulls out the bread and meat Kaylin had packed for lunch and takes a bite. "It's some pretty good ham Hiram, you want some?"

"Maybe later, I think I want some of her first."

Hiram grabs Kaylin and pushes her to the ground, tearing at her clothes while she struggles. He pulls out a knife and holds it to her cheek. "It'd be best if you didn't fight me woman, I'd hate to have to cut your pretty face."

Kay is looking up at the man, hate and fear in her eyes, then she hears a faint whirring sound. Suddenly Hiram is gagging, coughing blood, and pulling at the shaft of an arrow that is stuck through his neck.

Darrell stands up, looks at his friend in shock. "What the hell is..."

But he get doesn't finish what he is saying, he falls to the ground with an arrow in his chest.

Chapter 14: Take Me to the River

"I sure am glad you agreed to go and let that Mormon preacher marry us, Lance."

"I must admit you were pretty convincing last night about the benefits of having a second wife, Kaylin."

"Well, Momma told me if I found a man who was a good provider and I wanted him to stick around, I shouldn't be shy about using what God gave me to make sure he started the day with a smile on his face..."

"Well, far be it from me to disagree with your momma. Say, we've been walking quite a while now, let's stop and have our lunch. There's a nice shady spot down by that riverbank."

"OK Lance, maybe we can go for a swim after that."

Suddenly a rifle shot rings out and Lance falls to the ground. Kay screams!

Two ragged looking men approach. One of them points a gun at her and calls out, "Don't move, woman, or you'll end up like your man! Darrell, check their packs, see if they got anything good."

Darrell rifles through their belongings, pulls out the bread and meat Kaylin had packed for lunch and takes a bite. "It's some pretty good ham Hiram, you want some?"

"Maybe later, I think I want some of her first."

Hiram grabs Kaylin and pushes her to the ground, tearing at her clothes while she struggles. He pulls out a knife and holds it to her cheek. "It'd be best if you didn't fight me woman, I'd hate to have to cut your pretty face."

Kay is looking up at the man, hate and fear in her eyes, then she hears a faint whirring sound. Suddenly Hiram is gagging, coughing blood, and pulling at the shaft of an arrow that is stuck through his neck.

Darrell stands up, looks at his friend in shock. "What the hell is..."

But he get doesn't finish what he is saying, he falls to the ground with an arrow in his chest.

Chapter 15: Isabel

Kaylin struggles to get to her feet as a girl dressed in ragged clothes and carrying a crossbow approaches. She's maybe sixteen or seventeen, and has a long scar on her cheek. "Are you all right?" she asks.

"I think so," Kay replies, somewhat in shock from recent events. "Lance!" she calls out, remembering what happened as she rushes over to where he is lying. The girl follows her. "He's still breathing!" Kay says.

"He's lost some blood, but it looks like the bullet went clean through. If we wash out the wound real good and get it bandaged he should be OK," the girl says.

The two work on patching Lance up. "Thanks for saving us, I don't know what would have happened if you didn't show up. My name's Kaylin, what's yours?"

"I'm Isabel, and I have a pretty good idea of what would have happened if I hadn't got here in time. These two bastards ambushed us a while back, killed my father and kept me and my mom chained up like dogs while they used us for their pleasure. Mom lasted about a week, then they decided she wasn't any more good so they killed her. Not long after that, when they were away hunting I managed to pick the padlock on the chain around my neck and make my escape. I found an abandoned cabin up on the ridge and stayed there while I healed up. I found the crossbow in the cabin, decided I'd see if I could track these two dirtbags down and serve them some justice. Lucky for you I did."

"God, that must have been awful!" Kay says.

The man with arrow in his throat starts moaning, apparently he's not dead. Isabel walks over to him, kicks him in the side so he rolls face up. She puts her foot on his chest. He looks up at her, fear in his eyes, while gasping for breath. "Did ya miss me, Hiram? Anything I can do to help you out here? What's that? You want me to get this arrow out of your throat?"

Isabel steps on his head and pulls the arrow from his neck as he moans in pain and loses consciousness. "Sorry, Hiram, looks like I accidentally cut your jugular vein with the arrow. I suppose I could put a tourniquet around your neck but I don't expect that would help you any. Oh well, at least it's not a total loss. I managed to save my arrow," she says, walking back towards Kaylin, while Hiram bleeds out and dies...

Chapter 12: The Road to Teresita

Cal has been walking for two days since he buried the stranger. The bread and jerky are long gone, and he hasn't had any luck finding game. He's hungry, but hunger is not a stranger to him. He can't be more than a day or two from home now. He can live off water until then if he needs to...

"Lester, you'd like my dad. He's a good hunter, and he's real mechanical minded. He even got electricity working in our house so we could run some of the stuff from the old days! And my mom, she's a real good cook..."

"I know what you'd say about now, Les; "Cal, what the hell are you doing talking to me, I'm dead?" and I realize that. But I'm all alone here! I got nobody to talk to, you were like the older brother I never had. It helps me to think that when I talk, maybe from up there somewhere you might be listening..."

Cal continues walking. In the distance he spots smoke along the riverbank. He walks a little closer and he sees what appears to be a woman squatting by a campfire, with a man lying on the ground next to her. He approaches cautiously, not knowing if anyone else is around.

"Hold it right there mister!" a voice calls out from behind.

Cal turns around quickly and sees a young woman, she's pointing a loaded crossbow straight at his chest...

Chapter 13: Introductions

Cal drops his rifle and puts his hands up. "OK miss, I don't mean you no harm, an honorable man."

Isabel keeps the crossbow pointed at him. "I haven't met an honorable man in my life yet, so you'll excuse me if I don't take you at your word."

"But I'm a Ranger, see? Here's my badge."

"Any man can pin a star on himself, that don't prove he's got character... What are you doing out here sneaking up on our camp?"

"My partner got killed a few days ago, and I'm low on food. I was on my way to see my mom and dad, gonna visit them and get some provisions before heading back to the Ranger Station in Bryson City to get reassigned. I spotted your campfire and thought I'd check to make sure you weren't bandits invading our territory."

"OK, sounds like a good story, but from the looks of you I'm guessing you were drawn to our campfire more by the prospects of a free meal than by the chance to fight bandits."

Cal blushes. He tries to think of a clever response but finds himself at a loss for words. "My name's Cal." he says, thinking at least he can introduce himself.

"I'm Isabel. Now turn around and walk on ahead of me to the fire and we'll see what the others think of you before I let my guard down..."

Chapter 14: Family Reunion

"Callie? Is that really you?"


Cal rushes over to greet his mother, they embrace. He looks her in the eye, then looks down at the wounded man lying by the campfire. "What are you doing out her with Uncle Lance, Ma? And where's Dad?"

"Never mind that now Callie, look at you! Been gone a year, I hardly recognize ya! My little boy is a man now!"

She hugs him again.

Cal's face reddens at his mother's words as he looks over at Isabel.

"Thanks Ma, but it seems like you're trying to avoid my questions. Where's Dad? And why are you out here with Uncle Lance? And how did he get injured?"

Kaylin explains how they were attacked by the robbers, and how Isabel saved them.

"OK Ma, but that doesn't explain why you were on the trail with Uncle Lance to begin with."

"Well Callie, I hate to tell you this, but your father is dead..."

"No! He can't be dead! This is a bad joke, right?"

"No Callie, he passed away shortly after you left. That cough he had turned into something worse."

Cal breaks down and cries. Kaylin holds him while recovers from the shock.

"So after Dad died you were on your way to stay with Uncle Lance and Aunt Susan when the bandits attacked..."

"Yeah Callie, but there's a little more to the story... I'm married to Lance now."

"Married? Is Aunt Susan dead now too?"

"No, she's fine... It's just that Lance and me joined the Mormons, they can have more than one wife, you know."

"Knowing you I'm guessing this was your idea, right Ma? Does Aunt Susan approve of this? Does she even know about it?"

Kaylin turns away, not wanting to look Cal in the eye.

"How could you do this, Ma? I'm not sure I even want to know you right now..."

Cal pushes her away, turns and walks away.

"In these times a widow has to look out for herself, Callie, I was just doing what seemed best!" Kaylin calls after him.

Kay starts crying and Isabel approaches her, puts her hand on Kaylin's shoulder. "It's all right, he just needs some time... Do you want me to go talk to him?"

"OK, if you think it will help," Kay replies...

Chapter 15: Aid and Comfort

Cal is sitting on a rock on the edge of the river, staring at the rushing waters. He hears Isabel approaching, but doesn't turn to face her.

"Cal? Are you OK?"

"How would you feel if you just found out your dad was dead and your mom was trying to steal your uncle away from his family as a replacement!"

"I don't know Cal, my mom and dad are both dead, killed by those robbers."

Cal turns around to face her. "Sorry Isabel, I didn't know."

He reaches out and puts his hand on her shoulder to comfort her but she pushes him away and takes a step back. "Back off, I don't need your sympathy. My father wasn't much better than the men who killed him. His main talents were making corn whiskey and drinking it with Mom, then taking advantage of me when she was passed out."

"My God Isabel, it must have been horrible to live like that!"

"Lets just say I didn't cry when those men killed him... I did cry when they killed Mom. She wasn't a mean person, just weak. I think living with Dad all those years musta wore her down... "

"I'm sorry Isabel," Cal says.

He reaches out to put his arm around her again to try to to console her, and again she pushes him away. "Just leave me alone, Cal. I know you mean well, but when a man puts his arm around a woman he usually has more than friendship in mind, and right now I ain't interested in such ideas. Besides, I'm here to try to get you to make peace with your mom."

"But don't you think it's wrong what she did, pushing my uncle to marry her like that?"

"Talking with your mom the last couple days, I get the idea she probably would have married Lance instead of your dad to start with, if he had the courage to ask for her first. And as far as the plural marriage idea goes, there are more honest single women than men around these days, so the Mormon revival kinda makes sense in that respect."

"But Uncle Lance already has a wife and kids! Do you think Aunt Susan is really going to accept the idea of sharing her husband with my mom?"

"That's not for us to worry about. Your mom is a survivor, she did what she did to take care of herself when she was all alone after your father died, and I don't blame her. Now it'll be up to her and Susan to work things out, assuming your uncle survives..."

Chapter 16: Making Peace

Cal and Isabel approach the campfire just as the sun is going down. Kaylin looks up, but doesn't say a word. Lance is awake now, sitting next to Kay, sipping water from a canteen. He puts the water down and speaks softly. " Sorry Callie, I know this all must be pretty upsetting to you."

"Don't cal me Callie! Only Mom calls me Callie, and don't expect me to call you Dad now neither!"

"All right,.. I'll just call you Cal and you can just call me Lance from now on... man to man, fair enough?"

"OK Lance, I can live with that... Think you'll be recovered enough to make the trip back to our house in the morning?"

"Don't be pushing the man, he just got shot! He might need another day of rest before moving," Kaylin says.

"It ain't that safe on the trails, Mom. Besides, we'd be better off at home where Lance can get some proper rest and some good food."

"Your son's right, Kay. it ain't safe out here. And it's not that many miles back, I should be all right. I think if we leave in the morning we should make it back long before sunset, even if we don't push it. And I sure could use a home cooked meal."

"You're not the only one," Isabel says. "But I think Callie needs it the most of all of us. He's looking pretty thin, Kay, looks like's he's gone too long without a good woman's cooking. I'll help you out in the kitchen when we get back, let's see if we can fatten these men folk up."

Kaylin and Lance laugh with good nature at Isabel's remarks. Cal reddens a little at first, then decides to take it in stride and laughs along with them.

Chapter 17: An Unwelcome Surprise

Joel remembered his father's words. "I'm going after the men who hanged your brother. I'm not gonna let them get away with killing him like that! If I ain't back in a week, you go over to Riverton and tell Aunt Mae what I done, and ask if you can stay with her. Those Rangers are dangerous men, so don't you even think of coming after me. If I don't make it back, I gotta know at least one of my boys is still alive to carry on."

Joel remembered forcing himself not to cry as he hugged his father goodbye, that was over a week ago.

His decision to disobey was not made lightly but he knew he could not go to Riverton, knowing his father was somewhere out on the trail and he might be able to help him.

Joel was only fifteen, but he was strong of body and mind. Once he decided on a course of action, God help anyone who got in his way.

After several days of tracking Joel came upon the campsite. His blood ran cold when he saw the grave, with the cross of dead branches tied together with cloth from his father's favorite old flannel shirt. He pulled the cairn rocks off of the top of the grave and started digging away the earth with his hands, fearing what he would find but knowing he must finish digging.

Joel's eyes were blinded with tears as he brushed the dirt from his dead father's face. He wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his sleeve as the rage began to build in him. "I'll get them Daddy! Those bastard Rangers that killed you and Billy are gonna be sorry for what they done!"

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