Chapter 8 - Unwelcome Company
A few hours later I staggered out of the woods near the cabin, the young deer draped over my shoulders. Henry, on seeing me approach from his position on the porch, moved towards me with a welcoming smile on his face.
As I moved to lift the deer off my shoulders, something slammed into me from behind, the force of the blow twisting my body and throwing me to my knees. As the noise of the first shot echoed off the rocks, Henry grunted and staggered backwards, the noise of a second shot catching up with the bullet a split second later as his hand flew to his shoulder to clutch at a bloody wound.
I shrugged off the deer that had blocked the bullet meant for my back, surged to my feet and ran forwards, bodily lifting the old man up as he staggered and ran for the cabin door, adrenalin coursing through my veins and lending wings to my steps. Shots zipped and pinged from the rocks around us, and as we reached the cabin I threw him in through the open doorway, slamming the door shut behind us, bullets splintering the wooden frame as we took shelter.
"Bar!" gasped Henry from the floor, pointing at the stout wooden beam that lay by the door. I slammed the bar into place and then bolted the door top and bottom.
The cabin was built for defence; stout walls, solidly crafted door and narrow windows that allowed any defenders to shoot out without leaving themselves open to fire.
"Are you okay?" I asked shakily. "How badly are you injured?"
"It's just a flesh wound son, don't worry. I can still move it enough to shoot that scum outside."
"How many?" I whispered. My hands were trembling and I could feel panic beginning to ebb up through my body as I waited.
"Two or three, I think," said Henry. "The bastards must've tracked me back from town. Get to the window and see if you can take a couple out."
Henry wrapped a wad of linen around the flesh wound in his left shoulder and then moved to the back of the cabin, opening the hidden door quickly to retrieve another rifle and several boxes of ammunition.
He closed the shelf door and then walked over to where I stood, shaking like an autumn leaf in a storm, visions of Tennant's beating flashing with brutal clarity across my mind. He put a steadying hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes.
"Now is the time you make your choice lad. You can either let them beat you, or you can fight. Being scared is fine, I'm as scared as I'll ever be right now, but these men ain't here to play cards."
I nodded, his soft tone a balm to my shredded nerves. Gathering myself I grabbed a box of ammunition, lifted my rifle from its holster and moved to one of the windows.
As I looked out through the cross shaped opening in the shutters I saw nothing but scrubby trees and bare rocks. Henry moved to the other window at the front of the cabin, motioning curtly for silence. The wound in the muscle was beginning to clot, blood moving in a slow ooze from the wad of fabric as he tested the movement in his arm. Clumsily lifting his gun and cursing the pain, he waited, watching the trees patiently. I did the same.
There was a warning rattle as someone dislodged a loose rock and I swung my rifle towards the sound, mentally tracking someone moving in the area. After a few seconds the dark shape of a head appeared from behind a rock and I adjusted my aim.
"Wait for the clear shot boy," whispered Henry. "One of 'em will get careless at some point and show himself; when he does, take 'im down."
The head ducked back behind the lichen crusted outcrop of stone and then suddenly the man broke cover, like a partridge flushed from hiding, heading towards a larger rock and a better position; head down, arms pumping and feet pounding.
As he ran, I aimed, squeezed the trigger and caught him in the thigh, sending him sprawling to the ground. As I chambered another round, Henry fired at the crawling man, finishing him off to sprawl in twitching death among the rocks.
"Got the bastard," cackled Henry. "Nice shootin' boy!"
We both ducked as a volley of retaliatory shots peppered the front of the cabin, splinters raining down on us from the shutters as the attackers tried to wreak revenge for their fallen comrade.
Flashing a quick look through the shutters I spotted two plumes of smoke, Henry doing the same.
"Two more I reckon," he said quietly.
We played a waiting game then, watching intently from the windows for movement from the hill to the side of us, Henry occasionally darting across to one of the other windows just to make sure there weren't any others. A few minutes later, the two men decided to make a break for it and rose from cover, both firing as they retreated back from the cabin.
"We've gotta get 'em boy, or they'll come back with others!" shouted Henry over the din.
I nodded and we both ducked as a few more shots whistled into the wooden walls.
"Now," said Henry, and as it suddenly went quiet we sprang back into place at the windows.
Immediately, I found a target. As the two men turned and ran away towards the woods I fired, and Henry's gun boomed next to me. One man went down and didn't get up, the other kept running, jinking desperately between the trees as he reached the edge of woods. Swearing, I ran to the door and threw the wooden bar away from the brackets that held it.
As I yanked it open, a horse sped down the trail away from the cabin, a man lying low on its back. I fired quickly, pumping the lever that reloaded the gun, the gradient of the slope throwing off my aim as bullets kicked up spurts of dust around the fleeing figure, and there was a metallic clang as one shot hit a stirrup. Henry joined me and began blasting off round after round at the fleeing man, none finding their mark.
As Henry swore away next to me, shot after shot cleaving the air as he shot rapidly from the hip, I calmed myself, took careful aim and fired again. As the roar of the gun rent the clean air of the mountainside for a final time, the rider spasmed up out of the saddle and hit the dust in a disjointed sprawl of dead limbs.
Despite his wound, the old man danced a malicious little jig of joy behind me, scuffing his feet in the dust in gleeful rhythm. I, however, looked on the fallen men with sadness. My quiet life in the mountains was over and I could almost feel the future standing beside me with a gun in its hand...
...but was it pointed at me?
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Windblown SaviourHistorical Fiction
(Historical Fiction / Action) - Gunslinger: I may be feared and admired, but I call nowhere home. My gun and my skill define my existence. I was born fast, and endless practice has made me the best. For now. A brief rush of adrenaline. Noise, the s...