Sometimes Love Means Letting Go – Part 10

Posted by on Jan 30, 2019 in Roots and Branches, Short Stories, Sometimes Love Means Letting Go | 0 comments

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Early May 1902

 

It was the first day of spring round-up, and instead of being out with the rest of the hands—and the majority of the family—Sandy was stuck at home, sick. Rachel Marshall had done what she could with her herbs and limited Healing ability, so while he was no longer puking his guts out, he was still feverish and weak as newborn, and dizzy as heck to boot.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Sandy was supposed to be leading the branding crew this year, and Jack and Rose were supposed to go along to help for the first time. However, after three weeks of fever and chills and nausea, Sandy knew he wasn’t going anywhere. Then Mr. Jim had gotten one of his funny feelings. “Something’s going to happen,” he’d said. “Don’t know what or when, but I can feel it in my bones.” That got everyone worried. When Maggie had ridden out from town a few days later after having one of her precognitive dreams, one filled with gunshots and flames and stampeding cattle, not only were the kids made to stay home, the ranch was stripped of workers in order to better defend the branding camp.

Sandy was left to hold down the fort as the sole adult.

He was still in bed, feeling puny, when Rose strode purposefully into his room, a large raven perched on her shoulder. The sight of her and that big black bird always stirred memories of her mother. But her words pushed all thoughts of Raven from his mind.

“Hawk? There’s a large group of men coming this way. Longfeather doesn’t recognize any of them.”

Suddenly alert, he sat up too quickly. While he waited for his head to stop spinning, he asked, “How far out? Did your friend happen to notice if they were armed?”

The bird squawked conversationally.

“They’d just left the big road from the city, and yes, they were armed. Heavily.”

Damnation. It’s just me and the kids here, and that certainly sounds like trouble coming. But who would—

His thought broke off. The Bryants had recently passed on unsettling news, that some of the more prejudiced locals had begun speaking openly against the use of Talents. How the Talented weren’t to be trusted, and certainly shouldn’t be allowed to settle in their community. And those who already lived there? Well, they needed to be convinced to leave, by whatever means necessary.

Mama had called a family council. Because if it were Talents who were being targeted, it was only a matter of time before the Sixty Seven would be paid a visit.

“We do have the largest concentration of Gifted individuals in the area living here,” she’d said with an unsteady little laugh.

Kat had thought that most folk would ignore such voices. “It isn’t logical to target Talents,” she’d stated. “Too many people have been helped by Healers or Finders and the such. And we aren’t totally lawless here. Surely the sheriff will step in if things get out of control.”

Mr. Jim had merely shaken his head. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that—most people aren’t terribly logical when they’re afraid of something.”

“Though if they’ve half a brain, they ought to know better than to try anything with us,” Jon had remarked with a twisted smile. “Because they’re going to end up in a world of hurt if they do.”

Well, obviously, they don’t have half a brain, was Sandy’s cynical thought. Because I bet you dollars to donuts that’s who’s on the way here now.

“Rose, I want you to go get the other kids and meet me in the gathering room. Now.”

Her eyes widened. “You think something bad is going to happen?”

“I do.” Jim had been right, Maggie too. Just not about the where. “Oh, and Rose?” She paused, one hand on the doorframe and a question in her eyes. “Send for help.”

She chewed a moment on her lower lip, then gave a deliberate nod. “I’ll send Longfeather, Pete, and Sunny. Longfeather will get there first and alert them that something’s wrong. Pete will be able to talk to them, and Sunny will be back up in case something happens to Pete.” And with that she darted from the room.

Sandy sank back against his pillows and wiped sweat from his forehead.

Okay. First thing to do is get yourself out of your bed. He sighed, stood up, and grabbed for a bedpost to steady himself. The dizziness was so bad he nearly lost what little lunch he’d had.

This does not bode well.

 

Less than an hour later Sandy heard a hallo from the front of the house, and he stirred himself from the couch to the porch. There was a band of about two dozen men waiting in the parade. All of them wore masks. Well, that definitely isn’t a welcoming committee.

One of them had dismounted and was now approaching the house. The big chestnut he’d ridden in on looked oddly familiar to Sandy. Isn’t that Miller’s horse? he wondered. Couldn’t be. Owen Miller was the newly elected sheriff of Albany County. Surely the sheriff himself wouldn’t be leading such a party.

Sandy leaned against a porch post dizzily. But if it is, I guess that would answer the question of whether or not the law will step in to protect us.

The other man spoke first, sounding quite friendly, almost jovial.  “Good afternoon, Black. I was wondering if your lovely mother was available.”

Dang. That’s definitely Owen Miller. Sandy had heard the man’s voice far too often to not recognize it.

After Da had passed on, Owen Miller had been one of Mama’s more persistent suitors, despite his numerous complaints against the family “taint.” Why the man had kept coming over when it was obvious he despised Talents, Sandy still wasn’t sure, but it probably had had something to do with Mama’s money.

“You’re about four years too late for that, Miller,” he quipped with a smile.

Miller stopped mid-step and stiffened, obviously startled. Didn’t expect to be recognized, did you? Sandy thought mirthlessly. Guess you forgot how often you were out here, chasing after Mama.

“I meant that I was hoping talk to her.”

Sandy’s smile turned malicious. Owen Miller was also the only one of those suitors that Mr. Jim had ever tossed out of the house forcibly.

“Thought Jim Steele told you that you weren’t to bother her ever again.”

Miller snarled beneath his mask. “I’m not here for personal reasons, Black. Where’s your mother?”

Probably not smart to bait the man so much, Sandy told himself. “Not here, I’m afraid. She’s off with the branding crew. I’ll let her know you dropped by though. What reason should I give for your little visit?”

“I’ve an offer for this property that she really needs to hear.”

I don’t need to be a Seer to know that’s not the truth. “She won’t sell. She told you that years ago. Repeatedly.”

A harsh laugh. “I don’t think you get the whole picture here. Despite our disagreements in the past, I’m trying to do your mother a favor, making sure she gets a good price for her land before she’s made to leave.”

“Made to leave? And who’s going to make her?” The words slipped out before he could stop himself.

“Why, these fellers right here.” He gestured to the men with him. “Just tell your ma that she has until the end of the month to leave on her own. After that, she’s fair game.”

Despite his weakness, Sandy could feel Fire burning at his fingertips. “Did you just threaten my mother?”

There was an uneasy muttering from the gathered men. Miller’s voice became oily smooth. “Not a threat. More like a friendly bit of advice. See, the thing is, we normal folk don’t like having your kind around here, and we’ve decided to start cleansing the county, so to speak.”

“My kind?”

Miller lifted his mask enough to spit into the dirt with violent force. “Freaks,” he growled. “Injun-lovin’, devil-spawned freaks. The whole damn lot of you.”

It was through sheer willpower alone that Sandy didn’t set the man on fire right then and there.

“Tell you what,” he managed to force out. “I’m going to go back inside my house now, and I’m going to pretend I didn’t just hear that load of bull leave your fat mouth.” He raised his voice so that everyone could hear him. “I’ll warn you all just this once: the others aren’t far away. We’ve already sent for them to come back. If you’re still here when they return, you may live to regret it.”

A voice from the band called out, “We ain’t afraid of you witches.”

Several horses shifted restlessly.

“Fool,” someone else hissed nearby. “Jim Steele’s as unTalented as you or me, but I don’t want to be here when he shows up with a gun.”

Well, at least one of you seems to have a bit of sense.

“Go away, Miller,” Sandy said aloud, not having to feign the weariness in his voice. “We’re not leaving. This is our land. We were here long before you showed up, and we’ll be here long after you’ve gone.”

With that he turned his back on the man and walked away as arrogantly as he could while shivering with fever.

He’d reached the open doorway when a single shot slammed into his back like a brick.

Somehow he managed to close the door behind him and drop the bar in place before collapsing against it in pain. Across the gathering room, Robin stood all alone, staring at him wide eyed.

“Where are the others?” he demanded in a low, shaky voice.

She pointed toward the kitchen. “The tunnel. Jack said those men would go after the barns next, and they went to stop them.”

Sandy tried to take a step, and instead found himself on the floor, a scream lodged in his throat. He could feel a tiny trickle of blood down his lower back, and pain. Pulsing waves of pain.

“Go get them,” he ordered his niece through gritted teeth. “It’s not safe.”

She just looked at him and smiled. “Rose said you’d say that, and to tell you they’d be real careful.” Then her smile slipped. “You don’t look so good. I’m gonna get you some of that tea Mrs. Rachel left you. You just stay there, ’kay?”

Before he could say more she was running for the kitchen on near-silent feet. As soon as she was out of earshot, he allowed a moan to escape.

Oh mercy. There had been no warning before that shot, nor words after: whoever had pulled the trigger wanted him dead. And if that’s how they’re thinking about me, how will they deal with the children?

He could hear cabinet doors being banged shut and water running. His niece may be only five, but she wasn’t stupid.

Actually, none of those kids are stupid, he reminded himself. They’re young, but they’re smart, and they’re plenty dangerous.

Outside he heard the shouting of instructions, followed by a surprised bellow of pain. Adult male, he realized with shock. Our defenders have struck already.

Robin was back with a hot mug of some sort of herbal mixture. She pushed and pulled on him, trying to help him sit up enough to drink it. Sandy attempted to maneuver himself so that she couldn’t see his back, but she seemed distracted enough on her own.

“Uncle Sandy?” she started.

“Yes, Birdie?”

“I was thinkin’—can I call my friends too?”

Sandy shivered involuntarily, thinking of the creatures the dainty little girl could talk to. “That’s an excellent idea. Tell them to protect the entrances to the house. Just don’t leave the house yourself to go talk to them.”

“ ’Kay. I go do that.” As she vanished from his view once more, the clock on the mantel chimed the hour. Two o’clock. Rose had sent for help an hour ago. That meant the message should have reached the camp by now.

An hour, hour and a half at the most. Can I hold out that long?

 

To be continued . . .

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