The Sacrifice

Part 1 of the Sacrifices, Storms, & Retribution trilogy

by Bean


"Saynday was coming along,

and all the world was black as

midnight. There was no sun on this side of the world, and all the

people were in darkness. The sun belonged to the people on the

other side, and they always kept it near them, close by, so that

nobody could take it from them.

As Saynday was coming along, he met some of the animals.

There were Fox and Deer and Magpie. They were all sitting

together by a prairie dog hole, talking about these things.

"What's the matter?" said Saynday.

"We don't like this world," said Fox.

"And what's wrong with the world?" said Saynday.

"We don't like all this dark," replied Deer.

"Now, what's wrong with the darkness?" asked Saynday.

"It won't let things live and grow and be happy," said Magpie.

"Well, I guess we'd better do something about it, then,"

- Kiowa story

Chris was leaning against the post with his hat pulled low over his eyes. Anyone looking would think he was almost asleep by his relaxed posture. Vin knew better. He had come to know that posture, just like a snake waiting to strike. Chris just wasn’t the relaxing type.

Vin, on the other hand, was quite relaxed. JD was sitting on the stairs tossing a knife into the bottom step over and over. The sound and the heat combined were almost hypnotic. They had just finished lunch and he had taken Chris’ usual spot in the chair outside the door of the saloon. He had his feet up and was studying the dirt that had accumulated on the toes of his boots. Hard work on such a full stomach. They could hear the call of cattle that were being driven through town. By the sounds of them, they would be coming through the middle of town any minute. "Good thing I didn’t polish up my boots yet…" mused Vin with a wry smile. Chris gave a spit in reply. Just then the doors to the saloon opened and out stepped Judge Travis and Josiah with Buck not far behind. Ezra was close on Buck’s heels.

"I can’t remember when I last had a meal that good," Judge Travis exclaimed as he patted his distended stomach. "but don’t tell that to Mary or I will have an awful lot of explaining to do!" A hoot of laughter followed his comment.

"Why, I must say that I am glad we took our refreshment before this cloud of grime and filth came through the doors to land on our comestibles." Ezra pulled a clean linen handkerchief out of his coat pocket and put it to his mouth as the first of the cattle started to come down the street.

"Wow, would you look at all them cows" exclaimed JD.

"Somebody is sure gonna make a pocket full of change with those beauties" Buck grinned, with his toothpick poking rakishly out of the corner of his mouth.

Josiah, Vin and Chris just watched silently as the street slowly filled with bawling cattle. They could see all the townsfolk coming out to watch the procession. Buck gave a nod to Nathan as he came out of his office and leaned on the railing up above the street. Mary Travis soon joined them. " I hope your lunch was okay, but I want you to know, I would have been happy to have had you over myself" she said to the Judge. The boys all managed to look the other way and not give away the Judge’s comment. Just then the cowboys started coming through. They looked like a decent lot. The ones on their side of the road gave a nod, and a couple lifted a hand to their hat at Mary. This elicited another spit on the ground from Chris, and smiles from everyone else, including Mary.

"Why they look like the bunch from out at the Esperanza place," said the Judge. "They were up North for quite awhile. At least a couple of years. They haven't brought a heard through town for over three years now. Nice group of fellows, last I remember. Hard workers. Honest. Carlos treated them all like family and they seemed to repay him in kind. It was a real shame, him passing on so unexpectedly. I've been told that Hank seems to be handling everything just as good if not better than old Carlos. He really taught that one well. Looks like they have put together an exceptional lot."

"All I can say is, the man that put this herd together sure knew what he was doing!" came from Buck, along with a smile of appreciation for the cattle being paraded in front of him. "I sure wouldn’t mind a steak out of that one over there." He pointed to a fat heifer.

"I find it hard to believe that you could even think about eating after the unmannerly display you just so recently put on for us." Ezra rolled his eyes in disbelief.

Chris and Vin exchanged amused glances at the same time Mary and the Judge smiled at each other. A low whistle escaped from Buck. He straightened his body perceptibly, hitched up his pants and moved forward to the edge of the porch. He tipped his hat back for a better look.

"My, my, what have we here," was Ezra’s response.

"Well, would you look at that," Josiah finally spoke.

Chris tipped his hat back and gave his neck a few twists to un-crick his neck and put a cheroot in his mouth.

Vin didn’t move. At the back of the herd came a solitary rider. There was a bandana over her mouth, but there was no mistaking that it was a woman. Women rode just a bit different than men. The way they sat a horse, the way they held their bodies. They could see she wasn’t dressed like most women. She had on pants and a duster like the men before her, but it was her hat that got the first attention.

"Look at that Vin,"said JD. "She’s wearin’ your hat!"

She didn’t seem to notice the men at all, but she gave a slight nod to Mary and the judge. She had almost gone by when Vin rose fluidly from his chair and to the front of the steps. She could not have possibly seen the movement yet she turned her head. Their eyes met, and a silent acknowledgement of some kind passed between them. It caught everyone’s attention, and they were all taken with looking from Vin to the rider and back again. There seemed to be a certain charge to the very air surrounding them. Vin put his finger to his hat. The woman gave him a peculiar look, then suddenly made a motion of her hand by her face. She had her fingers closed and made a slightly circular motion away from her cheek, turned back in the saddle and leaned her horse into a canter to catch up to the rest of her group. Everyone was still agape at the exchange. Chris gave Vin a penetrating look, and then watched the departing woman. Josiah had a smile on his face as he shook his head watching.

"Well, gentlemen, that, was Hank Esparanza," said the Judge with a big grin.

"Hank?" Buck almost yelled, with a snort.

"That would be the strangest looking Hank I have ever seen" replied Ezra.

"Otherwise known as Hannah." Finished the Judge.

"What was that thing she did with her hand?" asked JD.

"It was a Kiowa sign." Vin replied and stepped out into the street to watch the departing figure.

"Struck down in his prime, I would say" Quipped Ezra as he turned to go back into the saloon.

They were all starting to go their own separate ways when they heard another set of hoofbeats coming fast down the road. Vin stepped back up just as four men slid to a stop in front of them.

"Busy place today." Said Josiah with a glance at the new arrivals.

"My name is John Watts and I’m a Texas Ranger. I’m looking for Mr. Vin Tanner. Was told he works in this town helpin' keep the peace. We got some business needs tendin’ to. You, sir, must be Judge Travis." He stepped down from his horse and held out his hand for the Judge, who hesitated only for a moment before he took it and shook.

Chris had stepped up in front of Vin and the other five had positioned themselves accordingly. They looked relaxed, but each muscle in every body was poised and ready to move at a moment's notice.

Vin couldn’t help but look back down the street to the retreating cloud of dust. It seemed like a vision to him. What had happened? He wasn’t sure, he just knew he had to pursue that woman, whoever she was. He could barely pay attention to what was being said in front of him until he heard the name Tuscosa. That got his attention fast.

"…Eli’s brother is claiming that Mr.Tanner is responsible for the disappearance of his brother as well as the death of Jim Black, back in Tuscosa" the man was saying.

The other three men were still mounted and watching what was now seven, as Nathan had come down to join them. It was a tinderbox of a situation.

"Well," said the Judge, "I am sure that this can all be settled peaceably. There were extenuating circumstances in the death of Jim Black and I can assure you that Vin Tanner did not cause the demise of Eli Joe."

"I was pretty sure that you would say that Judge." John took a long look at one of the mounted men. "We were told that you were in pretty tight with Mr.Tanner and his friends. I can see that’s true, but I have always believed you to be a reputable man. I have been sent here to take a second look at this reprieve you have granted Mr.Tanner and to further investigate the death of Eli Joe. To help me do that I have brought along Judge Richard Carter, soon to be a member of the United States Supreme Court. He has a bit more authority than a circuit judge."

One of the men alit from his horse and straightened out his jacket. He was a tall man with a serious look to him. Chris decided at first glance that he didn’t trust or like this man. He usually had a good feeling for people, and he sure didn’t feel good about what was going on here now. The tall man nodded at the other two and they did the same. He walked up to Judge Travis also and held out his hand.

"No hard feelings I hope Orin, just doin’ my job." This was obviously Judge Carter.

The other two must be his hired help, thought Chris. Nobody was relaxing.

Judge Travis slowly accepted the offered hand. "No, no hard feelings Richard. I am just a little puzzled that this could bring you all the way from Texas. I heard you were being kept pretty busy back there." The judge looked thoughtful.

As Chris stepped forward the other two men moved their hands slightly to their sides. This caused all of the other men to do the same and the tension could be cut with a knife. A look from Carter and the two dropped their hands. The seven didn’t. Chris could sense the looks on everyone's faces. JD, serious. Buck and Ezra…probably with those silly grins on their faces, just daring someone to make a move. Hell, Ezra had been known to instigate a fight by a simple teasing wink at the wrong moment. Who knew what those two seem to find amusing about these types of situations? Josiah would have that introspective look he always gets before a battle. Nathan would be grim. As a healer, he detested that part of him that hurts, sometimes kills, his fellow man. And Vin? Vin would have picked his target long ago and wouldn’t lose sight of it for anything. Nothing could distract Vin. Chris had no idea how wrong he was this time.

"I’m the man responsible for the death of Eli Joe" Chris spat off to one side of the street. "Self defense."

"And you would be?" asked Watts

"This would be Mr. Chris Larabee" offered Judge Travis as Chris spat again.

"Any witness’ to that account?" Watts again

"Nope." Chris could be really talkative when he wanted.

Watts and Carter exchanged a long look.

"Well Mr. Larabee, I am afraid we are going to have to…." Watts never got to finish his sentence.

"I’m Vin Tanner, let’s get this settled up here and now." Six heads turned in disbelief at Vin’s voice. Mary and the Judge looked at each other. Chris grabbed Vin’s arm and hissed in his ear,

"Not here and not now Vin, definitely not with these men…I don’t trust the feel of this at all!"

Vin gave Chris a long look.

"I hate unfinished business Chris. I want it over. I’ve got nothin’ to hide."

"You sure?"

"Little late to shut my mouth now, don’t ya think?" Vin tried a smile, but Chris was reluctant.

"I will not trust these men, there’s something not right with them, but I will respect your decision. We’re behind you." Vin gave him a grateful look. This had been hanging over his head for too long. He hadn’t realized it before just this minute how much he wanted this particular burden off of his shoulders. He stepped forward.

Vin lay on the cot looking at the ceiling. He was stunned. How could this have happened, he thought? There was a lot of commotion on the other side of the bars but he could barely hear it. He was totally lost in his thoughts. The jailhouse seemed full of loud people. He never realized how many people could fit into the jail room. He didn’t think he had ever been in a room with this many people in it before besides a saloon. He supposed he never would again. He saw Chris and heard him yelling. Chris either yelled or was totally silent when something confused him, which was a rarity in itself. Everyone seemed to be talking at once, and the Judge was doing everything possible to remain calm. Wasn’t his fault. Didn’t anyone realize that? The judge hadn’t even been there. They had made sure of that. Vin thought he was just going to explain his side of the story. It had somehow become an impromptu court hearing. Overruled him, they had said. Only a circuit judge, they had said. One week to live, they had said. Hard to believe, that part. In seven days a rope would be put around his neck and he was to swing like a common criminal. They had said that was what he was. A common criminal hiding behind a softhearted judge and a deadly gunfighter. A cold-blooded murderer they had called him. His mother would have been sorely disappointed with that. The commotion seemed to be getting louder if that was possible. The judge understood more than any of them the corruption that ran rampant in politics. This Judge Carter obviously had someone with money, with a grudge against Vin Tanner, behind all of this, but he couldn't make the other men understand it.

"What are you gonna do?" Chris was yelling

"You can’t let them hang Vin, he didn’t do nothin’ that didn't need doin'" JD was hollering.

"We can’t just sit here and let this happen, we gotta do something!" Buck was yelling.

"No way they can get away with this" Nathan was pounding his fist against the desk.

"I find it quite unimaginable that there isn’t something we can come up with to resolve this dilemma!" Even Ezra was yelling. Not like Ezra to yell.

"We have to quit yelling, get calm, and then try to think of something!" Josiah was yelling.

"Orin, what are we going to do? We have to do something, maybe the Governor could help but I don’t know the governor and how will we even reach him in time?" Mary was even getting into the swing of things.

Everyone was yelling over everyone else. It struck Vin as funny in a perverse way.

"I don’t know how to reach him either!" Judge Travis had to yell to be heard.

"I do." A voice so quiet it caught the attention of everyone spoke.

The heads all turned as one.

Vin went still at the sound of that voice. It was her. He knew without looking. He slowly lifted his hat brim with a finger and there she was. She stood just outside the door, where her face was in the shadows and where she could lean on the door jam. How long had she been standing there and how much had she heard? How much did she know? Why was she here?

"What?" spat out Chris in his typically good mannered way.

"I do."

"You do what?" growled Chris. He wasn’t known for his patience.

"I know Governor Hill, and how to reach him." She still hadn’t entered the room.

"Feel like sharing that information with anyone in particular?" He could be downright rude when he wanted.

She stood straight and walked into the room. She took off her hat and walked up to Mary. She was as calm as just about anybody Vin had ever seen before.

"I was real sorry to hear about your husband Mary. He was a good man. How’s Billy?"

"He’s doin’ as good as one could hope Miss Hannah, thank you for asking."

"Well, send him on out to the ranch and we’ll get him to ropin’ some cattle when he’s of an age. Be happy to have him." She then turned to the Judge. She patted Mary on the shoulder as she turned away. Vin got a good look at her.

She had dark hair with a hint of red to it that was in a thick braid down her back. It came almost to her waist. He knew that the Kiowa took great pride in the length of their hair and figured she must have cut it when her father had died. Her coloring was not as dark as he first thought. It came more from the outdoors than her skin tone. She was older than he was; maybe Chris' age, but she held herself well and didn’t bend her head to anyone there. He had a feeling she never bent her head to anyone. She had a strength and mystery about her that permeated the room. Everyone seemed to feel it.

"How are you Judge?" He shook her outstretched hand. Her quietness seemed to help calm everyone else in the room.

"Are you done with the pleasantries now?" Everyone but Chris, as he clamped down on his unlit cheroot.

Orin Travis ignored him for the moment. "I’m doing fine Hank. Did you have some information that would help us with this seemingly hopeless situation we find ourselves in?"

"I think I do, sir."

"Well, why don’t we talk about that then." The Judge sat back down behind the desk as Chris looked like he was ready to kill someone or something. What ever, or whoever moved first. Buck and Josiah each put a hand on his shoulders hoping to calm him a bit.

"I’m pretty sure that I can help your friends here." She glanced to Chris, then slowly looked over each of the men. "I would need a few men, but I know Governor Hill, where he’s at right now, and I have something that he would be willing to negotiate with. He's always been the bargaining sort, if the bargain was right."

"I appreciate your offer Hank, but I know that the governor is reputed to be a fairly corrupt and indecent individual. How can you be sure that you can persuade him to see our point of view?" The Judge wanted something to grasp at. It was desperation that drove all of them at this point.

"Trust me" was all she said.

"How long would it take?" Chris was on the edge, but he needed something tangible to grasp onto as well.

"How long does he have?" She was talking like he wasn’t even in the room.

"Seven days startin’ on the morrow."

"I can do it in five. Two days there, one day for business, two days back. Hill’s at the Governors place just over in Durango. Tried to negotiate for some of my cattle last week. Wouldn’t sell to him, he wasn’t to happy ‘bout the whole thing."

"If you fail that only leaves us with two days to come up with another plan."

"I’m not likely to fail." She was now staring directly at Chris, and he right back at her.

"If she does Chris, we won’t need two days to figure out how to break Vin out of here. We have the keys. Sorry Judge, just pretend you didn’t hear that." Josiah gave a fairly convincing look of contrition over to the Judge.

"We've got to take the chance Chris, what have we got to lose?" There was Ezra, the consummate gambler.

There was a subtle change in Chris’ posture. Vin knew him well. She had won. Even if Chris didn’t know it yet.

"What do you need, 'Hank'?" His eyes never left hers, and he almost spat her name out with a touch of contempt. One had to give her credit. She matched his intense look right back with one of her own, then looked at each of them in turn.

"Him, him, and after a moments thought she pointed again, And him."

"Buck, Nathan, Ezra…"

"You got it Chris." Buck was unflinching in his loyalty.

"This should prove to be quite interesting." Ezra was also, he just showed it differently.

Nathan gave a barely perceptible nod.

"Well Hank, you seem to know what you're about here. I will wish you luck, but please be careful. I have heard he is a dangerous man. I won’t be easy until you return. And again, please be careful." The Judge reluctantly held out his hand again and she took it with a steady grip.

"I’ll be back," she said with conviction "and I won’t fail." She shot Chris a look, slapped her hat back on her head and turned to go.

"One more thing" She stopped at the doorway without turning.

"What?" Chris was ever tactful.

"If the preacher wouldn't mind...."

Chris looked at Josiah but he was already moving to go.

"One never knows when they might need a prayer or two"

She said it so quietly that one would think that they didn’t really hear it, but it made Chris’ head snap back around and Josiah watched the departing figure with a look of thoughtfulness on his face. Vin had said nothing all this time, and to be truthful, he thought maybe they had all forgotten that he was in the same room with them. He wanted to break his silence but she was gone before he could open his mouth. Everyone else started to go about their business while Chris took up his position outside the door. Nathan came up to him finally and put his hand over Vin’s. Vin had not noticed that he had been holding onto the bars and he realized his knuckles had gone white. He was thankful for Nathan’s support but didn’t know what to say. He soon left also and Vin was alone once again.

Supper came and went and Vin couldn’t get Hannah out of his mind. It was like he had known her all of his life. He felt like they were connected somehow, or had known her before and was destined to know her again. When he was with the Kiowa, he had heard of things like this. He had never believed you could feel those things for a person you didn’t know. Vin had always been a loner. He wasn’t used to having thoughts of someone else consume him so. He was the levelheaded one. He was pondering all of this when he felt her. There was emptiness one minute, and then, there she was. Right in front of him. She had deep blue eyes that were gentle and full of compassion, but other emotions were there as well. Emotion Vin wasn’t sure he understood. They were the kind of eyes that a man could get lost in, and he had a flashing memory of a medicine woman he had known long ago. He could reach out his hand and touch her if he wanted. Did he want to? He didn’t know. They looked at each other for what seemed like a long time. He felt that familiarity with her again and was bewildered by it. It was a strange communication, but he was content with it. He was not uncomfortable and that too, was amazing. He realized she had made the hand motion to him again and without thinking, returned the gesture. This seemed to relax her somewhat.

"You’re friend is fierce in his loyalty. I waited for him to be somewhere else to come." Her voice felt so familiar to him.

"He has a good heart, just sometimes he ain’t good with people."

It felt like they were somewhere else, sometime else. It was very disorienting.

"Why help me?"

Josiah, JD and Ezra had come into the room, but stayed away from them when they realized she was there. Chris was back at the door but was listening to every word she said.

She leaned against the cell in a posture eerily resembling Vin's own and started to talk...

"Saynday was coming along, "

Vin smiled, as he remembered many a Kiowa story starting out this way, with trickster Saynday and all of his adventures.

She started again.

"Saynday was coming along,

and all the world was black as

midnight. There was no sun on this side of the world, and all the

people were in darkness. The sun belonged to the people on the

other side, and they always kept it near them, close by, so that

nobody could take it from them.

As Saynday was coming along, he met some of the animals.

There were Fox and Deer and Magpie. They were all sitting

together by a prairie dog hole, talking about these things.

"What's the matter?" said Saynday.

"We don't like this world," said Fox.

"And what's wrong with the world?" said Saynday.

"We don't like all this dark," replied Deer.

"Now, what's wrong with the darkness?" asked Saynday.

"It won't let things live and grow and be happy," said Magpie.

"Well, I guess we'd better do something about it, then," said Saynday.

Vin finished the last sentence with her in unison.

They looked for a long moment at each other, and then she turned to leave. A movement from Vin stopped her. She turned back and he touched her face.

It seemed like a million words were understood when none were spoken.

She walked out and Ezra and Josiah followed after giving Vin a thoughtful look of their own. Chris watched, lost in his silence.

They had ridden hard since before the break of day. The men were impressed at her endurance, but even more impressed by the care for her mare. They alternated walking, cantering and leading their horses throughout the day. They covered a lot of ground that way and yet they didn’t exhaust the horses. Hannah seemed to have a routine, which included watering down the mare and having conversations with her while they were walking. She was obviously experienced at being on the road, and wasn’t given to lots of rest stops. Even though Ezra would under normal circumstances preferred a more leisurely pace, considering the mission they were on, he was exceedingly impressed with Hannah’s stamina and drive. He was looking forward to their evening stop though. One could only push so hard before falling over. He looked to Buck and Josiah. He figured the same thoughts must have crossed their minds as they were looking at the level of the sun in the sky. It was like she had read his mind when Hannah turned back to them and said,

"We'll pull up just ahead. There is a copse of trees and a stream just over that rise. We should be able to gather enough wood to have a fire and a hot meal." Those were the first words she had spoken to them all day.

"I think that sounds about right." Buck was never one to turn down a hot meal.

As they all agreed she turned back to the road and they continued on. When they reached the small grove, Hannah strung a picket line and immediately unsaddled her horse. She dug around a bag until she came out with a couple of brushes and started currying her horse. Josiah opened his canteen and offered it to her.

"No sense in keepin’ the mare goin’ if you’re gonna fall over from neglect." He looked the other way, but kept the canteen held out. Hannah gave a bit of a snort and accepted the offer.

"I suppose you’re right. I’m just a bit pre-occupied. I’ll be done right quick. Maybe you could gather up some wood and get the fire goin’. I’ll dig through the bags and find us something decent for supper. Thanks for the water." He had turned to look her in the eye as she offered the canteen back. He took it silently, nodded, and the three went off in search of firewood.

They had finished eating and were stretching out in front of the fire. Josiah had a pot of coffee going and each seemed to be lost in their own thoughts. Buck was the first to break the silence.

"So…Hank...Miss Hannah, why in the blue blazes would anyone call a pretty girl like you Hank anyway?" He gave his best "I’m a charming guy" smile.

She gave a chuckle before she looked up at them. "Well, I suppose my father figured if some men knew ahead of time that they were dealing with a woman, they might think they could get one up on me. He wanted to give me every advantage possible to have a successful cattle operation built on my own merits. People never knew I was Hank until the last possible moment. In the beginning I did the majority of negotiating through either letters, or another person. I would only be there when the papers had to be signed, or money needed to be exchanged. By then it was usually too late for someone to back out of an agreement. Although I must admit, I offered some the chance. Only a couple did. Some men just can’t bring themselves to deal with a woman in business matters. The name just stuck. I've been dealing with some of my customers for over ten years and they still call me Hank. I kind of like it. Offers me a certain anonymity I suppose. Another identity so to speak."

"That would be most advantageous in some situations. I admit Miss Hannah, I have wished for such a thing a few times myself." Ezra looked quite serious, but Buck laughed anyway.

"And was Governor Hill one of those unenlightened men who think women belong on the lower rung of the ladder?" Josiah reached out to pour some more coffee. He offered to everyone, Hannah and Ezra both waved him off, Buck gave a nod of thanks. Nathan took some and kept the thoughtful look on his face. Hannah’s look had turned introspective at the mention of the governor.

"Some men are just rotten inside I think. They see nothing beyond their own needs and strive to take advantage of everyone they come in contact with. And when they can’t, they just get downright mean. It eats away at them like a sickness they can’t shake. They become obsessed with trying to wrong imaginary slights. I try not to deal with those kind of people but sometimes it can’t be helped."

Josiah stared into the flames as he spoke "The Good Lord put all kinds of people on this earth, and they ain’t all pretty. That is a fact."

Nathan sighed "Ain't that the sad truth."

Ezra looked thoughtful "So, I am accurate in assuming you have come into contact with Governor Hill before, and knowing the nature of the beast, so to speak, you have a contrivance to help our Mr.Tanner out of the jeopardous predicament he presently finds himself in?"

"Yeah, I'm curious about that also." Buck sat up straighter. Josiah & Nathan sipped their coffee silently and didn't press Hannah to speak. It took her a minute to gather her thoughts.

"Yes, I have a plan. But I think you need to hear a little bit of my history to fully understand what I have in mind. The more you know I think, the better off we will be. We have to work together on this or else it won’t work. Our window of opportunity will be short, and there is a specific role for each of us." She tossed the rest of her coffee out and looked out at the empty night.

"Do go on dear lady. I think I speak for all of us when I say that my interest is peaked."

She looked into the fire as she started to speak. "My mother was Kiowa and my father ½ Mexican. It took them a long time to find a place that would accept them and let them live in peace. When they did, they repaid people by working hard and becoming successful. They gave back to their community tenfold. A new peace existed between the townspeople and the Kiowa Apache that were in the area. There were benefits for all. The Kiowa didn’t have to raid, my father supplied them with enough cattle each year to feed and clothe the entire tribe plus extra for trading. He did that not only for my mother, it was just the kind of man he was. That helped give the Kiowa a different view on outsiders to the tribe. My mother spent part of each year with her tribe, and when my brother was old enough, he chose to stay with them. My father supported his choice even though it broke his heart at the same time. He was a strong and good man, my father."

She took a deep sigh before she went on.

"The townspeople were grateful that they were left in peace and did all they could to help my father’s cattle business grow stronger. They brought in new buyers whenever someone went out of town, and they spread word about the quality of stock my father had. When my brother left, my father put all of his energy into teaching me the cattle business. He needed someone to carry on after him and I was it whether I liked it or not. I loved it. I especially looked forward to our trips to the market, it was all very exciting for a young girl.

When I was twelve, we went to the big cattle market in Durango. It was so exciting for me; I had never been away from home other than to the Indian camps and Four Corners. I thought it romantic and marvelous, all the commotion and all the people rushing here and there. I felt so grown up."

Ezra smiled "The big city does seem to have that effect on a young person if I recall correctly"

She continued"I was at the market with my father, but I couldn’t sit still so I went down to the pens to see all the cattle that were gathered there. I had never seen so many cattle all in one place before. A young man followed me down to the pens and every time I looked he was behind me. I got scared so I turned back to find my father. The next thing I knew, someone had grabbed be from behind and covered my head. I was tossed into a dark room and I could hear the door being bolted. I remember thinking that all I wanted was to see my father’s face just one more time. I wouldn’t let go of that thought. I’m not sure how long it took, it felt like days, my father said hours, but however long it took, suddenly there he was, holding me and promising to never let me go again. I never knew ‘till years later that I had met Gordon Hill. Apparently I had caught his eye and he was determined to have me for his own. My way of dressing had made him mistake me for someone’s slave, or an outcast and thought he could just take me and compensate with money if anyone raised a ruckus. This brought an angry toss of coffee onto the ground from Nathan.

She continued " He didn’t know my father though, his persistence. And Gordon still to this day can’t keep his mouth shut about anything he considers to be a conquest. Someone heard his bragging and of my father’s frantic search, put two and two together and that’s the end of that story. I will never forget, as we were riding out of town, I looked up and he was at the hotel window watching us. I have never felt such a repugnant look in my entire life.

He has let it be known ever since, at each yearly market, that he would welcome me to his side, and should I accept he would leave me wanting for nothing ever again. I never accepted. That was 20 years ago. A long time to covet something."

Grim comprehension started to dawn on the men’s faces as they realized what Hannah’s bargain was going to cost. Then she laid out her plan. They went to their bedrolls with unreadable looks on their faces.

Chris hadn’t said a word in three days. He just sat at the door staring at the street. Mary had brought him some meals and tried to coax him into conversation, but he was having none of it. The Judge occasionally sat with him but JD did his best to steer clear. He had been the wrath of Chris’ bad humor enough times to recognize the danger signs. At the moment, JD was at the desk reading the biggest book Vin had ever seen. Nobody had been too talkative lately it seemed. Vin jumped as JD slammed the book down on the desk.


"Having problems son?" The Judge had come in with a basket.

"I’ve been reading this here book of law hoping to find something to help us out, but some of the language…..well I just don’t understand it all!" JD looked dejected.

"The language of the law can be very frustrating sometimes JD, even for a man who studies and practices it every day. Don’t feel bad. You gave it a good try. The other boys should be back in two days, and let’s hope they came up with something. Here Vin, Mary sent this over for you. She says none of you have been eating all that well, and to be honest, she’s giving me quite a hard time over it. Please take it." He held out the basket and Vin took it but set it down unopened.

"Just don’t seem to have much of an appetite Judge, but thank Mary for me. I do appreciate it." He sat back down on the cot.

"I'll tell you one thing" said Chris, he stood up so fast the chair fell over. "In 4 days, if Vin ain't out of that cell legally, he'll be outta there come hell or high water and nobody is gettin' in my way." He stomped outside to light another cheroot. The Judge and JD could do nothing but stare after him. Vin just lay back down looking up at the ceiling. He was fingering a bag that was on a leather string around his neck, but it wasn't his. He didn't remember the trade, but somehow, he had her amulet bag and his amulet was gone. He couldn't remember a time when he was without his amulet, and had always thought that he would feel lost without it, but somehow, this one felt very good in his hand and next to his heart. He wondered if he would see her in this life again.

They had ridden into town under cover of darkness on the second night. There was a decent hotel on the far end of the main street and they managed to get a couple of rooms as well as some hot baths and a good meal. Hannah had stayed up in her room to be as unnoticed as possible. The fewer people who saw her the better. Ezra had paid for the rooms, Nathan carried their small bags up, while Josiah brought her up some dinner. Buck had gone down the street to check out the town. They all gathered in her room while she ate.

"See anything engaging out there Josiah?" asked Ezra.

"Looks pretty quiet right now" he replied from his perch on the window ledge.

"So Miss Hannah, what's our next move?" asked Nathan.

"Well, I am going to need to stay out of sight for tonight and tomorrow morning, just to be on the safe side. We need surprise on our side. Gordon is planning a big dinner party tomorrow evening at his mansion. Seems he's to celebrate running for his second term this year. I knew about it before we came, got an invitation believe it or not, and that is why I was so sure we could make this work. Ezra is going to go shopping, now you know why you had to come!" she gave a laugh. "Here's the plan. Nathan, you will have to have all of the horses ready to go at exactly 9:00pm. It will have to be done quietly, without alerting any of Gordon's men. Josiah, you will be waiting for me right there in front of his house just in case something goes wrong. Be a part of the woodwork. If I am not out of that house by 9:30 on the nose, you will leave without me as quickly as you can, get everyone out of here fast. You will have to be the responsible one in this matter. Keep your head and keep going until you are back in Four Corners. Ezra will be at the saloon engaged in an entertaining game of keeping a close watch on those hounds of his. Buck will escort me over there, and I am sure that he will be given due compensation for losing my company for the evening."

Buck had just walked back into the room. "I think I will be able to get a pretty good layout of the place from one of the lovely young ladies across the street as well. That should help us out a bit if something goes wrong."

"Please Buck," Hannah looked hard at each of them " all of you, you have to promise that if something goes wrong you will leave as soon as possible. You don't know what these people are like, and with the law behind them, they are impossible to deal with. As soon as I get that paper signed and into Buck's hand, you have to be ready to ride like the devil is behind you, because he just might be, and nothing is more important than getting that paper back before..."

"It's okay Miss Hannah, we know why we're here, don't worry." Buck put a hand on her shoulder. She gave him a grateful look. She looked long out the window. "It's going to work. But please do not underestimate these people, especially Gordon. Once he has what he wants he could very well renege on everything, so the most important thing is getting the paper and you all out of town as soon as possible. You have to promise that this is the priority...please." They all looked at each other, then at her. They slowly nodded their agreement.

Ezra was in his glory. He was sitting in the salon of the dressmakers, and she was pulling out every gown she had. He thought he was being quite witty and charming as he prattled on about his sister coming into town for the Governor's dinner party, and how she absolutely must be the best-dressed girl there. The dressmaker was quite pretty herself, and was beside herself to have such a well-spoken and obviously citified man shopping at her establishment. She was pulling out all the stops. He finally settled on a gorgeous deep green gown that was fit for a queen. 'Well, appropriate,' he thought to himself. 'She carries herself like one'. He marched off to the hotel with his purchase in tow.

Buck, meanwhile, was doing what he does best. Getting to know the local girls. He was filled with a wealth of information about the Governor, as well as his men by the time he left the saloon. The more he heard, the less he liked. He had a nasty look on his face on the walk back to the hotel.

Josiah had been forming his own opinions from the front porch of the hotel. They were about the same as Buck's.

Nathan had gone to check out the horses, as well as the escape route, and had planned to spend some time at the local doctor's office later on in the afternoon. He liked to do that whenever he got the chance. He always picked up some new trick, or new medicine that he could use in his own practice. It was his way of schooling.

They were all convening at the hotel about the same time. They met on the porch and did some more looking around before heading up to their room. Hannah had two envelopes ready for Buck when they got there.

"Buck, this envelope needs to be delivered to Gordon's house in about an hour. That should keep his little mind occupied for the rest of the afternoon. There is a clean suit in your room for our 'date', and I think that you and I should be ready to go at 5:00. "

"And the other envelope?" asked Buck

She held it for a moment longer then looked him straight in the eye.

"This is for Vin. If something happens to me, anything, please make sure he gets it. I need you to promise me that."

Buck took both of her hands in his, knelt down next to her and looked straight back in her eyes. "I will promise that Vin gets this letter Hannah, but I also promise that you will be the one giving it to him. " He gave her a surprisingly gentle kiss on the forehead as he was standing up and pocketed both of the envelopes. He left the room without looking back.

"Well Miss Hannah, if I may illuminate your disposition a bit, I would like to show you the lovely fruit of my labors this afternoon." And Ezra proceeded to pull the gown out of the box with a flourish. "It is rather exquisite if I do say so myself, and you did say you needed to look stunning. What do you think?"

"I think it is just perfect Ezra." She fingered the fabric.

Josiah had been leaning by the window and stood straight. "Are you sure about going through with this? There is still time to try to figure something else out."

She looked at each of them. "Has anyone come up with any other idea?" No one answered. "Well, that's it then. We do it my way. Just the way it is. And there will be no regrets or second thoughts from this point on. Agreed?"

They looked at each other and as one said "Agreed"

"That's that then." She said again. " I think I will start getting ready, and the rest of you should get some rest. It will be a hard ride tonight. You will need your strength."

They opened the door to leave and Hannah spoke just one more word. "Thanks." She turned back to gaze out the window.

Ezra never took his eyes off of her until the door finally closed.