Words on Wednesday

Posted: Wednesday, February 07, 2007 by Travis Cody in
4

Well, this is it gang. The last part of Outlawed, chapter one. If you're new to my place, here are links to what has come before.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four


Outlawed

Chapter One
Raid

continued...

Clay was angry with himself. He knew there was something he should have done to prevent the gunplay. He could not figure out what that might have been. As he worked on the stagecoach harness, removing four of the animals from the team, he repeatedly glanced at his brothers. His mind replayed the shooting. Each time, he did the same things and saw events unfold in the same sequence. He couldn't find the place where he could have done anything differently.

That could mean one of two things. Either he had been correct in his assessment of the situation and simply miscalculated, or he had misread it entirely and nearly been responsible for the death of his brother.

Clay suspected the latter possibility to be true.

He had been sure the 'gunner was bluffing. He had been sure the man would lower the shotgun and toss it aside. Clay never got the feeling that the 'gunner had the guts to pull the trigger, so he hadn't tensed the extra notch all gunmen possessed that kept them one move ahead and alive. He probably could have put a pullet through the 'gunner's hand; he was that good with his weapon. Even easier would have been to simply kill him and be done with it. He was fairly good at that, too. Instead, he had waited and Wade was shot.

It didn't matter that Wade had been careless or that Wes had also been slow.

Clay felt a momentary twinge of regret for the shotgunner's family. They would never know how sorry the McCords were, or how much they hated the necessity of killing to stay alive. No matter how much he chased it back to the original reason for these raids--his father's unjust execution--he still had trouble feeling anything but sadness at any life ended. Clay's attitude had developed over the years into the him-or-me of the outlaw well schooled in gunplay. He tried to be first to fire, to kill for self-preservation.

None of that erased a mother's grief as she buried a son.

Clay sometimes wished he could leave some small token for the families, something that would ease their sorrow, if not make them understand. Such thoughts were always short-lived. If he dwelled on them long enough, he would only erode his own edge and become useless to his family. What he and his brothers did might be beyond redemption in the eyes of Crown supporters, but he had to hope that those who had been unjustly treated, in grossly unfair situations, certainly must understand.

That was as much reasoning as Clay could muster when his spirits sank. Even so, it did much to get him through the tougher days. He could weather the shootouts and the hiding, and the slogging through swamps to disguise a trail, just so long as he could convince himself that there was one person in the kingdom who sympathized. He banked away his own fears and aversions deep within, hidden beneath a practiced bravado copied from his own brothers. He refused to register the age of the dead 'gunner. To realize that, at age 20, he too could die served no purpose.

"Pay attention," admonished Brant, shoving him hard.

Clay kept his balance and dodged out of the way of the harness as it crashed down where moments earlier his hands had been. He felt his face flush bright red as he went back to work. Not only was he guilty of overconfident negligence, he was clumsy as well. He knew better than to think during a raid. Wade always said the thinking was done before and after; all you needed in the middle was quick and sure reflexes, and conviction. The first two you got through practice and pre-planning, the last from the memories of loved ones lost.

Belief was half the battle; confidence would win the war.

What you couldn't do before you went in, you sure as hell weren't going to learn in the middle of a fight.

Clay scowled and led two horses back to where his own stallion was tethered to an oak tree. Brant followed with two more. They would leave the King's Line stage the last two animals. The tactic would prevent the raid from being reported immediately, although as soon as possible, a mental image would be relayed. Clay took a grim satisfaction in that.

It had been Clay's suggestion to raid a small station several days before, just to see if it could be done and to gauge just how well the Crown was prepared to meet the potential communications breakdown. The McCords had been surprised to note the quality of the stock they appropriated from the station. The horses had been first rate, worthy of the McCord brand. Indeed, the animals had probably been bred from stock that could trace its origin back to McCord equines.

It had been Wade's practice to augment their own herd with selected equines from Vargus proper. They "requisitioned" Crown horses, bred the best with their own, and eventually resold the offspring to the Crown at premium prices. There were a number of ranchers in Vargus who knew the value of a horse bred by McCords, and who were unafraid to deal. Over the years, Wade had developed a number of ways to get the horses to those ranchers.

The entire process was a continual source of amusement to the McCords, and further confirmation of Wade's declaration of victory.

Still, the theft of the relay animals had been a warning of sorts. Clay wasn't so sure now who the original tactic actually benefited. By now, McCord stock was so thoroughly ingrained throughout the realm that the practice was fast becoming undesirable. A McCord horse beneath a Crown trooper was still a McCord animal, fast, strong, tough, and possessed of its fair share of the magical essence of Vargus. Providing the chaser with suitable chasing tools was not the best way to remain uncaught.

Reaching Tiebeau, Clay threaded ropes through hooks on the bridles of the Crown horses and then mounted. He looked to the front of the coach to see what progressed, holding the ropes tight in his left hand, keeping his right free and near the grip of his pistol. He was skittish and irritated with himself for behaving like an amateur. He had been raiding with his brothers for four years, since he turned 16, and never before had anything so unsettled him. Not even the time he'd been shot.

He caught Collin's look, meant to assuage any guilt he felt, and looked away. Having his behavior excused did very little to lessen his disgust with himself.

Fortunately, he had Brant. At 22, Brant's even nature was such that his presence alone was enough to calm even the older McCord men. He could stall arguments, soothe hurt feelings, and say the right thing in the right situation. He was always cool and reasoned.

Brant guessed that Wade wouldn't blame anyone but himself when he had the chance to think the whole thing through. And what did it really matter, anyway? It was too bad about the kid with the shotgun, but hell. Brant had learned long ago that a foolish man alone against ten is a dead man. Bravery is knowing when it pays to be cowardly.

Brant led his two captured horses past Clay, pausing to tap the younger man on the thigh. Soft, hazel eyes met troubled gray ones. The communication in that look did more for Clay than a thousand words of praise from Wade.

Clay was still frustrated, but he had himself back in control.

4 comments:

  1. TopChamp says:

    Glad he sorted himself out - guilt's a bad feeling.... - sucked me in again! I like it. Are you going to post more?

  1. Dana says:

    :sits down and reads and reads and reads:

  1. Turnbaby says:

    MMMMMMMMMMM

    I have been savoring--glad you put it out there--still reading

  1. Travis says:

    Topchamp: Thanks! I don't know if I'll post anymore. It doesn't really work too well as a serial.

    Dana: Well?

    Turn: I'm glad too.