Windblown Saviour - Chapter 9 - Spitting Feathers

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Chapter 9 – Spitting Feathers

It all caught up with me then and I sat down suddenly on the dusty ground, my legs giving way beneath me as the shock hit.  

I'd fought again.

I was whole.

I was unharmed.

While Henry continued to cackle madly and dance around like a drunken fool, I sat there, stunned and unable to move, my hands shaking, rifle cradled in my lap and feeling sick to my stomach.

After a few minutes, Henry calmed down, stopped jigging around like a cat on a hot tin roof and helped me to my feet. We caught the loose horses and stripped them of their gear and saddles and I rubbed them down and fed them, stabling them in with Delilah.

The act of tending the horses together with the homely smells of horse and feed, and a few moments spent bandaging up Henry's damaged arm calmed me, and I began to feel more sure of myself again. We'd gained several more guns, some horses, and some good kit, but I felt none of the elation that I used to feel after a gunfight. The fear and adrenalin had left me feeling hollow and tense rather than empowered and the overriding sentiment that ran through my mind was one of relief: relief that I could still walk and that I was uninjured.

After scouting back along the trail to make sure there weren't any more horses tethered nearby or any signs of any other riders, I prepared some food and we sat down to talk about what we had to do next.

Initially, I was all for sitting tight and weathering the storm that we both knew would eventually come our way, but Henry had other ideas. His dander was up and he was thirsting for revenge after being attacked on his own ground.

He was well aware that our position could now be known to the whole of Tennant's gang and he wanted to go on the attack in order to try and maintain the slight element of surprise we now had, Tennant likely assuming his men would have dealt with us and removed the threat we posed. I finally acquiesced, seeing the wisdom in his words and knowing deep down that I had to fight, despite my fears.

We started making plans then. All thoughts of staying out of the way and riding the storm were forgotten in the wake of Henry's anger and my growing resolution to put things right. We had no choice now but to go on the offensive. Henry outlined what he'd learned from his recent visit to the town, and it seemed we had twin problems of not only Tennant's toughs parading around the town pretending to be the law, but the cowboys on his ranch as well.

He had a crew of roughly twenty men, recently reduced by three, but still far too many to handle in one go. It appeared Tennant had set up in the long empty sheriff's office, one of his men masquerading as the newly appointed lawman in case any so-called 'authority' in the form of a State Marshall turned up. This meant Tennant and his men could be 'deputies', using their usurped position to ride roughshod over the townsfolk and essentially take what Tennant wanted when he wanted it.

"That's our first stop," said Henry after some minutes of discussion.

"What is?"

"Tennant.

"The only thing to do with a snake is cut the head off it. We need to go straight to the source of this misery. If we take out Tennant, the rest of his operation will fall apart."

"You say 'we' too easily old man. Are you absolutely sure they were Tennant's men?" I asked for probably the third time since we'd killed them.

"Yes, they were regularly in the Sheriff's office when I was in town and rode off for Tennant's ranch several times. If they'd been someone else's men, the law or just a bunch of desperados they wouldn't still be alive to tell the tale." He sighed deeply.

"You still have reservations son?" he asked quietly, but carried on without letting me answer, knowing my mind seemingly better than I did and making it as much a statement as a question.

"I understand why, and if you run away now, I'll not blame you. But if you do, you'll spend your whole life running; running away from the law and your past, but more importantly running from the man who stares back at you from the mirror every time you shave. You have a chance to be able to look yourself in the eyes again without flinching from the darkness that you see in them.

"You have just proved yourself in a fight and proved it well. You saved my life and proved your skill with a gun. But, above all of that, you now have the chance to beat the man who beat you."

I looked into the faded and weathered eyes of the old man in front of me and saw only the truth in them. I nodded slowly sealing the deal and we began to gather ourselves and our kit for the days ahead.

An hour later, the deer roughly quartered and stowed in a sack hanging from my saddle, we mounted our horses and rode back towards Mimbres and whatever fate had left in store for us.

Once we came almost within sight of the town, we moved up into the hills to the south of Mimbres and spent some time watching what was going on from the nearby hillside. We chose our camp carefully so that we had a good vantage point, but would be unlikely to be detected and made sure that our tracks were erased before making ourselves as comfortable as we could.

We'd got there early one morning, and once we were set up we crawled to the top of the ridge overlooking the town, making sure to stay low and hidden near the summit. Henry produced an ancient and battered old telescope from somewhere in his saddlebags so we could try and work out what was happening. His arm was still stiff from the injury but he seemed unworried by the minor flesh wound, being more intent on his revenge as he looked through the glass at the town below.

Unfortunately, there was little or nothing happening, as the townsfolk were staying off the streets and, after many fruitless hours, we watched glumly as the sun started to wane and knew we had to do something before we lost the advantage of surprise.

Henry suggested he head into town and see if he could find out where Tennant was, using darkness as a cover to make contact with a few of the townspeople he knew he could trust. Reluctantly I agreed, but he pointed out that I was an unknown at present, and should be kept secret until we declared our hand fully.

So, as the sun dropped into the hills and the shadows lengthened, Henry saddled his horse and threaded his way carefully down the trail towards the town on his own leaving me watching anxiously from the top of the hill.

It had been a warm day and the night was clear and calm. As darkness fell, my determination to stay awake fell by the wayside and I dropped gently into sleep, my head on my saddle. Thus it was that Henry found me as I dragged myself awake the following morning, my gun seeming to leap into my hand as he stumbled into camp, falling to his knees before me.

My gun fell from my suddenly limp grasp as I looked down at him. They had stripped him from the waist up, tarred him and feathered him before sending him bootless into the dusty wilderness. A fresh downy covering of feathers covered his chest, face and back, the edges of the tar blistered and angry where it met bare flesh. His eyes found mine, shame and pain warring for precedence on his face. I knelt down next to him and gently bathed the wounds with cool water in the pale morning light.

"Thanks, son." He spoke hoarsely, pain causing him to tremble in shock.

"What happened?"

"I made a mistake. One of the men I thought I could trust ran straight to Tennant's phoney Sheriff as soon as I'd finished speaking with him and they caught up with me in a back alley. Tennant was there and recognised me as the man who'd rifled his brother's body after you killed him. He wanted his brother's guns back; apparently, he'd given them to him as a gift. I told him I'd lost them in a game of cards and he did this to me. Dear God, look what he did."

The old man's voice broke and he looked to the dusty ground, his frame still shaking with shock and pain.

Once I'd tended his wounds as best as I could I laid him back against a tree. As he reclined the rough bark caused him to hiss in sudden pain as it rubbed his tender back. For some reason that brief sound was the final straw and anger roared through my head in a tide of red misted hate. Without a second glance back at the old man, and ignoring his shouts of warning and protest, I belted on my guns, saddled my horse and rode down the hill to town, and Tennant. 

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