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Shade Harper

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About Shade Harper

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  • Profession
  • Marital Status
  • Birthdate
    March 13, 1845
  • Age Range
    Early 30s
  • Height
    5' 11"
  • Hair color
  • Eye Color
    Dark Blue
  • Playby
    Robert Fuller
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  1. Shade Harper

  2. Bess and the Cowboy

    Summary After bring a string of horses to the Atwood estate so that Mr Atwood can choose a mount for his daughter, Cecilia, Shade heads to the White Rose Inn to get a room for a couple of nights. End Goals Character meeting, start of a friendship, introduce Bess. @Witchy
  3. Welcome Basket with Cattle

    Shade tensed and let his hand holding the lariat drop although he did not drop the rope. He kept both hands well away from his guns, the six-gun on his hip and the Winchester 1873 in its saddle scabbard. Lakota continued to watch the bellowing cattle but was too well trained to move when his rider was not telegraphing signals with his hands or legs. However, his ears moved back and forth as he sought to catch all the noises in the area. Still wary and not fool enough to assume that just because the girl was young that she had no idea how to use the gun in her hands, Shade nodded toward the milling cattle. "I'm from Lost Lake Ranch. That beef carries our brand. I'm going to get them out of your garden." And, he thought, providing I'm not shot, I'll be telling Kate Hale what she can do with her welcome baskets in the future. "Mrs. Hale asked me to stop by and bring some things for the Redmonds." Hell, Shade thought, the garden utensil brandishing, gun-toting teenage may have already dispatched the Redmonds. Just as she figured, those fourlegged vandals were some of his. He claimed he was going to take care of them too. She almost asked him why then did he allow them here in the first place, but he'd just lie anyhow. He also mentioned Mrs. Hale too. And even more, he knew their family name. That gave her pause, but she did not take her finger off of the trigger, though continuing to hold up the heavy horse pistol level was becoming a bit of a strain. "So you say, mister! Hardly means it is the truth. After all, I could say I know President Grant but doesn't mean I actually do now," she pointed out with what she believed to be firm logic. "Also we did not enter into any bargain or purchase with that woman," she also added, so he would realize she caught him outright in a baldfaced lie. Shade practically snorted his derision at her logic. "Mrs. Hale is a good woman. You did not have to enter into a purchase agreement for her to send what she calls housewarming gifts." That was about as much explaining as Shade was inclined to do at the moment. "Now, you can take a look in the basket and the sack, but unless you plan on shooting me in the back, I'm gonna move that beef away from the back of your house and out to the meadow where I can pick 'em up on my way back to the LLR." Shade shifted his weight and gigged Lakota into a walk, planning on guiding him around the recalcitrant girl. So it was a welcome basket? She had heard of those of course, not that the family had ever been on the receiving end of one but still. Her resolve was weakening, just maybe he wasn't actually the thread she had figured him for. Slowly she began to lower her pistol as she searched for the right words to say next. He was moving closer but intended on going right past her to begin round up the cattle or leastwise that the man's declared intentions. Her keen eyes studied the man's features as he came closer.
  4. Welcome Basket with Cattle

    Shade guided his big smoky dun gelding along the trail toward Kalispell at a slow jog. Every now and then he would twist around in the saddle to make sure a large wicker basket tied precariously behind the saddle was still secure. He was less than thrilled about being given the task of delivering the welcome basket to the homesteader that Kate had met in town, but he was also too well-mannered to argue with the older woman when she set him on the task. A short distance from where Lost Lake Trail intersected the main road to Kalispell, he spotted the trail that angled off in a northerly direction. It would have been a much shorter ride had Shade just cut across Harper's Meadow and followed one of the game paths onto the Redmond farm. Considering that to be very rude, he opted for taking the long way around. It wasn't long before he came to a gate set into a fence across the trail. Leaning down, he caught the lever and sidestepped Lakota through it, making sure to close it behind him. The hinges creaked, and the gate seemed to sag a bit. He wondered if he should ask about sending some of the ranch's men over to help mend it. The trail wound through the rolling meadow, and for a bit, Shade forgot about the onerous task he was on. The day was beautiful, and so was the landscape. As his horse topped a low rise, he spotted the farm and its main outbuildings. As he got closer, a commotion from the rear of the house caused him to slow Lakota to a walk and guide him around the side and to the back. He blinked at the scene of mild chaos. A girl of maybe fifteen years of age was attempting to drive several large, bad-tempered steers out of the garden. The cattle, accustomed to being herded by dogs or riders on horseback, were not cooperating. Shade almost physically moaned as one of the animals broke past where he sat his horse. The brand on its haunch was the distinctive LLbrokenH of Lost Lake Ranch. "Hey!" Shade called to get her attention. At the same time, he pulled the ties loose on the welcome basket, grabbed it and leaned down from the saddle to drop it gently on the ground. This was followed by the canvas sack of items that Kate had sent along with the reusable basket. "Brandishing garden utensils won't get you anywhere." He backed Lakota up and pulled his lariat free of its loop. Already both spooked and angered by this bovine invasion of her lovely garden, the girl practically jumped when a man's voice (a stranger at that) barked out from behind her. Instantly Clara spun about to see some mounted cowpoke no doubt angry that she might actually scare his stupid cows! What was he doing? She couldn't quite tell what sort of equipment he might be dropping onto the ground but no matter, instantly the girl knew she had to spring into action to defend herself. She dropped the hoe at her feet as both hands went for the canvas sack on her hip. Clumsily at first, she struggled to open it enough so she could stick her right inside and get a firm grasp on the heavy pistol within. Then she gave it a tug...got it caught for just a second before the long barreled Colt Dragoon emerged. The cowboy hadn't noticed yet as he was going for his lasso, no doubt he was planning on tossing that over her and dragging her around for his merriment just like that dime novel she had read last year where the villain seized the helpless young miss. Well, she wasn't helpless as this jasper would soon find out! Holding the big gun in both hands now she raised it up and leveled it at the invader, then used her thumb to cock it, so it was ready to fire in case she really had to. "Alright mister, you drop that rope and don't try anything foolish, or I will shoot you off that fine horse of yours!" she shouted, hoping her voice sounded as fierce as her pugnacious spirit.
  5. The Gauntlet

    As Montana was opened up for settlement and people of wealth began flocking to the area for the spectacular vistas, hunting, and other recreation, Kalispell had grown along with it. The Belle-St. Regis Hotel was a three-story edifice that offered various levels of accommodations and services. It was a masterpiece of understated elegance and comfort. The first floor offered comfortable rooms at a nightly rate most travelers, including cowboys off the range, could afford. The second-floor rooms and parlors came at a higher price, and the third floor offered several luxurious suites. Other services included an attached saloon, a cafe, and an elegant restaurant offering fine cuisine. There was also a gentleman's club, a lady's club, meeting rooms. Hot baths, barbers and hairdressers, and a laundry service were all included. The Belle-St. Regis was the region's premium five-star establishment, yet it had taken the course of not excluding the average man or woman. Shade had been slightly intimidated by the building's elegant brick exterior and more so with its posh interior decor. However, a good meal and the convivial company of his companions had relaxed him. The twins had been well-behaved although excited by being allowed to join the adults in the dining room. After the meal, Kate and Ezra excused themselves saying that Cody and Nettie needed their naps. This left Shade, Quentin, and Harriet to enjoy their coffee and drinks. Although Harriet still had reservations about Quentin and Shade, she was feeling quite euphoric over the court win. The judge's stipulation that she remain in Kalispell and take on the job of oversight on Lost Lake business, Harriet still felt it was a win. There were so many unanswered questions swirling around the deaths of Chance Harper and his family. Judge Mandrell could have put their entire estate into probate and appointed a guardian for the children. Overall, she counted it a win. Shade took a sip of his bourbon, enjoying the smooth feel of the liquid and its velvety burn as it slid down his throat. He watched Harriet swirl the contents of her brandy snifter around. The woman had done a great job for them and looked ready to stay for the long haul. It was quite likely she would be needed again. Holding his cut crystal whiskey tumbler up, Shade tilted it in a salute to the woman seated across from him, "To you, Miss Mercer. Thank you for keeping my brother's legacy intact." "Please call me Harriet. As I am to be your watchdog for an unknown period of time, formalities will quickly become tedious," Harriet responded. "The Harper Legacy isn't entirely out of the woods yet. There are the conditions the Judge set to be dealt with." Nodding, Shade grinned, "And one of the first ones is to find a suitable female companion and caregiver for the little'uns. Something we need to do with or without the judge's stipulating it. Kate loves the children, but she has other work that's vital to keeping the ranch running. She can't do that and wrangle the twins too. I'm just not sure where to start." Harriet smiled at the two men, "I might have an idea on that, but I need to think about it for a little while before presenting a solution." Quentin smiled. "I am sure it will probably be as creative as whatever magic show you just put on in the courtroom to leave us in the shape we are in..." He then stood, picking up his saucer and cup from the table. "...now if you will excuse me, I need a refill on my tea." Quentin turned and made his way past the tables, heading for the far end of the bar where the bartender had the kettle and items to add to his tea.
  6. The Eyes of Justice

    Oliver Mandrell nodded as if satisfied. He had met Quentin Cantrell previously when the man had requested the injunction to stop Tyndall from doing anything until he could find Shade Harper and bring him back to Kalispell. Cantrell had done what he set out to do. The judge hoped the man realized the enormity of the task he was taking on. Shade Harper had been an interesting riddle to try solving. Oliver had known the Harpers, including John Caleb and Isadora, Shade's parents. He'd always felt that Caleb Harper had done his younger son a disservice with his unyielding refusal to allow him to come home. It seemed the boy had grown into a decent man despite that. But, Oliver did not think either man could do the jobs they had inherited alone! The judge cleared his throat, "Since I am certain that Miss Mercer has covered reading the wills to you both, I will skip the fine print. Mr. Cantrell, Mrs. Regina Harper left you her shares in all of the family's shipping, mining, and timber businesses. Your percentage is to remain two-percent less than a controlling interest, thus protecting the children's assets. You are the designated manager of their shares until they come of age and can legally do so themselves." "Mrs. Regina Cantrell Harper’s remaining assets are to be divided equally amongst her children. Should there be any minor children at the time of her death and should her husband, Mr. Chance Harper, predecease her, their paternal uncle, Mr. Jesse Shade Harper, is to act as their legal guardian and administrator of their estate." " Mr. Chance Harper left the majority of his assets to his children, to be divided equally amongst them. It also left them exactly one-half of Lost Lake Ranch and building sites for homes of their own should they choose to remain on the ranch. To Mr. Jesse Shade Harper, Chance left half ownership of Lost Lake Ranch, its primary facilities, and Blackbird Lodge. The will further stipulates that Mr. Shade Harper will be the legal guardian of any minor children and co-trustee of their estate." "As a judge, I feel that my job is to uphold the wishes of the deceased as long as those wishes do not contravene any laws. However, I would be derelict in my sworn duties were I not to address certain concerns brought forth by your pasts." Oliver Mandrell's eyes settled on both men, "Therefore, I am going to add a few stipulations which will be reviewed and adjusted, if necessary, in six months. First, Mr. Harper and Mr. Cantrell, you will share custody and guardianship of the minor children. Although Mr. and Mrs. Hale will remain in residence at the ranch, a suitable female companion and caregiver needs to be hired to see to the needs of the children. This caregiver will have no responsibilities beyond the care of the children. The ranch must show a clear profit of no less than six-percent at the end of a six month period. All business profits should remain steady or increase. Mr. Jesse Shade Harper will remain clear of criminal activities and charges." Mandrell paused in his discourse, "I further stipulate that Miss Harriet Gene Mercer will continue as the estate's legal representative as well as having oversight on its management. Let us hope that I do not see any of you for the next six months. The court is adjourned." Harriet rose along with everyone else as the Judge exited the courtroom. Her expression did not mirror how stunned she was at his pronouncement. She had expected conditions to be set. He had intimated as much to her during their meeting the day before. Harriet had not expected to be one of those stipulations! She began gathering her files and papers together and sliding them back into her attaché case. "I suggest we adjourn to the hotel dining room to discuss this turn of events. I will meet you there." Shade watched Harriet sweep from the courtroom in a rustle of expensive skirts. He did not miss the tall, silent form of her Oriental friend gliding out of the door in her wake. He glanced at Quentin, "Well...." Quentin nodded, hands already reaching up to tug at his tie and loosen it from his shirt collar. "Yeah, I know...I was not expecting some of that either..." Quentin undid the collar button and stuffed the tie into a pocket. "...and yes, I saw her shadow also. She spent a lot of time with him yesterday..." Quentin grinned as he saw Shade' eyes cut over towards him. "Hey, I trust her, but I never said I was naive...I kept an eye on her as best I could when we got to town." Cantrell exhaled noisily then lightly punched Shade' shoulder. "Come on...let's go get our irons from our room...I feel naked standing around like this." Shade grinned back at Quentin. Like the older man, he'd already loosened his tie and tugged it off. With the trial over, he felt oddly lighthearted. For the moment, his brother's children and their inheritance were safe. He could deal with what it meant to now find himself part owner of the immense spread later. Now was the time to celebrate getting past the first major hurdle. They could also worry about Harriet and her mysterious Oriental friend later as well. She had done a good job for them. "Agreed. We also need to let Kate and Ezra know the Judge's ruling," Shade said, then gave Quentin a friendly clap on the shoulder, "I need lunch! Couldn't eat a dadblamed thing this morning." He fell into step with his friend as they headed out of the courthouse and on to the next challenge.
  7. The Eyes of Justice

    Shade shifted restlessly as they waited for the Judge to start speaking. He had been surprised and pleased when Mandrell dismissed Tyndall's lawsuit. However, he was more than a little uneasy when Judge Mandrell stated he still had concerns. Harriet Mercer seemed quite relaxed, so he tried to still his concerns. "Mr. Harper, you have had quite the illustrious career," Mandrell spoke suddenly, his cool gray eyes fixing on Shade. "The dossier that Miss Mercer has put together is, shall we say, colorful? It appears that you have a history of walking on the edge where the law is concerned, young man!" The judge put his reading glasses back on and thumbed through the dossier he had just referenced. "Cutler's Raiders - acquitted. You ran more than one rather elite gang in various range wars. Most recent legal trouble seems to have been in 1871, Willow Colorado." Mandrell peered over the rim of his glasses at Shade, "You were charged with murder. It appears you were within hours of meeting the hangman when you escaped. You were lucky to get yourself cleared, and the charges dropped. However, it seems that you have also made strong impressions on the people you worked for and worked with. Marshal Troup from Laramie wrote a glowing endorsement to my inquiry. The stagecoach company you were working for also had nothing but glowing words to say about you. I would like to hear why I should trust you to raise two small children and manage their property. Particularly, I want to know about Cutler's Raiders." Shade cleared his throat, "I didn't know what kinda man Randolph Cutler was, Your Honor, not at first. When the war ended, I was a kid without a lot of work experience. He offered me work - he was supplying ranch hands to the bigger spreads in Texas. What I didn't know was that he was also putting in men that would feed him information and, admittedly, I inadvertently did the same thing. I was long gone from Texas when I heard about what had been going on. In 1869, I turned myself in so I could clear my name." "As far as Cody and Nettie are concerned, I'd give anything if their parents were still alive and I'd come home under different circumstances. But it is what it is. I will do everything in my power to keep them safe, raise them right, and protect their inheritance. I believe in working for what I get. Being given something like half the ranch doesn't sit right so I'll do everything I physically can to earn what Chance and Regina left me."
  8. For Whom the Rooster Crows

    Shade had just filled two water buckets and started down the barn's corridor when he spotted movement. His first reaction was alarm that he'd allowed himself to be so distracted as not to notice someone else enter the barn. Ezra had already finished the milking, fed the cows, and left while Shade had been readying fresh water buckets and daydreaming. He shook his head. Fortunately, the new arrival was Adalwin Stahl, Harriet Mercer's driver. The man had offered some good insights when they had all discussed the attack on Chance and Regina. He was also good with Harriet's team of big vanners and his own rather unpredictable gelding. Shade was inclined to trust him, but Shade still needed to be more careful. "Mr. Stahl," Shade stopped next to the man, "good to see you're feeling better, but I'd have taken care of your mount." He nodded at the two rows of stalls, "I won't get them groomed before breakfast, just fed and watered. Figured I'd groom 'em and turn them out to graze while I clean the stalls." There was a slight shift of stance, a tensing of shoulders that told Stahl he had startled the other man, though the words were spoken totally calm. "Mr. Harper," he returned the curt greeting. "Need a hand with those and the stables?" his eyes went down to the entire row of horses, H.G.'s team needed looking after too. "Putting them out to graze will be great, especially for Wilhelm, he detests stables with a passion." Shade turned toward the stall where the horse stood munching his feed. To most, the horse probably appeared nondescript. He saw a rich mahogany bay coat that was well cared for, black mane, tail, and stockings, a strong body with powerful haunches and good sloping shoulders. The horse's head was a bit long for Shade's taste but had good bone structure. The cowboy smiled as the horse's ears twitched nervously. Horses usually didn't like being stared at for long periods. To them, that much focus meant a predator was sizing them up for dinner. "Quite a bit of Mustang blood. I bet he was brought in on a roundup and not handled properly. Mustangs make great mounts. They're very intelligent, strong, unmatched endurance, agile, but they need gentled, not broken. It's also best to cut out the older horses and let them go back to the wild." Horses were in Shade's blood, they were his comfort zone. He was a good cattleman, but far better with horses. "You know more about him than I learned in one year with his majesty," Stahl replied. It was amazing what Shade could tell about the horse in just a short time. There was a familiarity when he spoke about them, something he was utterly assured of. Stahl wondered how much of his life Shade had spent rearing horses. "He needs patience, though." He cast a look down the row, taking the cue from Shade on where to start with the work. "They're all the better for having some time taken with them," Shade replied, "unfortunately, some people don't have the patience or the time. It's like supplying the US Cavalry with remounts. The army doesn't always allow the time needed to gentle a wild horse properly. There are costs too. The less time spent breaking and training, the less feed and care that animal requires, and the less the army has to pay for it." Shade pulled an empty water bucket from one of the vanner's stalls and hung the fresh one in. Someone had taken the time to have one side of all the water buckets flattened, or had had them made that way. Each stall had a hook and a narrow wooden shelf. The buckets slid onto the shelf, the flat side resting against the wall and the handle looped over the hook. A determined horse could pull the bucket loose, but it would take more effort than it would for buckets that were just hung on pegs in the stalls. It was a clever and practical design. The two men worked quickly and soon each horse had a fresh bucket of water. Shade returned to the end of the barn where the tools were stored and lifted a wheelbarrow off its hook. He checked to make sure it was clean before wheeling it to the feed room to fill with oats and cracked corn. It must have been standard operating procedure because the sound of the wheelbarrow elicited a couple of excited whinnies from the Hales' horses. "This is easier than hauling buckets back and forth," Shade told the other man as he set to measuring enough feed out of the big barrels into the wheelbarrow. He glanced at the German and gave a slight shrug of his shoulders. What little they had spoken as they worked had been somewhat formal. "You can call me Shade if you like," he offered, a genial note in his voice. "I can't help feeling that <em>Mr. Harper</em> is my father or brother, especially here." There was a strange dichotomy about Mr. Harper... Shade... that Stahl could not help but notice as they worked. On the one side, he was at home in this place, moved about with a sense of familiarity but underlying there was a hesitance that came out even more clearly in his words. "Shade," he repeated the man's first name, "My name is Adalwin, but you might find it easier to call me Stahl. It can't be easy for you to be back here." The words came out more clunky than Stahl had liked, the words seemed too direct, too straight to the point, yet finding a better way to phrase them seemed impossible, at least in English. "How are you holding up?" Although it was common practice to address a man simply by his surname, it seemed rude to Shade, so he tried pronouncing <em>Adalwin</em> the same way that Stahl had. No matter how hard he tried, it simply did not sound right when spoken in his slightly rough, deep voice. Finally, he shook his head and grinned at the older man, "Okay, Dal it is." His pronunciation of <em>Dal</em> sounded more like <em>dale</em> instead of <em>doll</em> giving a good strong ring to the name when coupled with the man's surname. Dal... <em>Dale</em>, there was something about the way Shade spoke that name, that elicited a small smile from Stahl. The name was new, but oddly it did not feel foreign. He could not say why but he had the strong feeling he'd keep the name Shade had just given him. Stahl's last question had been uttered directly but not unkindly. At first, Shade was hesitant to respond, his instinct was to hold such feelings close and private. It was how he'd been raised. It was also not in his nature to lie, so he gestured at the barn, waving his hand to indicate the land beyond it, "I'd put away how much I loved this place while I was away. Now that I'm home, it's confusing. I feel at home and out of place all at the same time." Shade paused, not sure how to explain, "It was never meant to be mine, even in part." And that was the crux of it. The ranch, the land, all of the family's assets were supposed to have been Chance's and then it would have gone to his children. Shade had grown up here, but he hadn't worked for it. It went against his grain to simply be given half the ranch. "Coming home into one's fatherhouse to find it empty..." Dal could understand that all too well. The way Shade's shoulders sagged, he could almost see the burden that was on the other man now. "It may not have been <em>meant</em> to be yours, but maybe you were <em>meant</em> to be here now," Dal said softly. "So the children still have an uncle, a family to take care of them, to make sure they grow up safe. Someone to make sure, they still have a home." "Maybe," Shade conceded with a note of doubt lingering in his voice. "It is what it is. For now anyway. The Judge might have a different idea." Part of him dreaded the hearing. He'd never had many good brushes with the judicial system. Backing down or running were not options either. "What about you? Kind of far from home for you." Shade couldn't help but wonder what would send someone like Dal, an obviously well-educated man from a foreign nation to the American frontier. "The Judge is H.G.'s task, and I have the feeling that she will make him see things her way," Dal replied. He could hear the doubt in Shade' voice, the pain would not go away for quite some time. Were Chance and the family buried decently, he suddenly wondered. They might have to scrounge up whatever passed for a pastor in these parts and have a service there for Shade and the others to attend. The question Shade asked chased away those thoughts. He had sometimes been asked when people noticed he was a doctor, or he was a soldier or both. The accent gave the rest away, though he had rarely told them much. Somehow Shade deserved an answer, honesty always went both ways. "During the ride here I heard that you killed a man in these parts, Shade." Dal began, without any judgment in his voice. "Somewhere over there, they will have me wanted for a similar crime, for killing a man, a Major of no mean estate and title, and leaving the troops before they could court-martial and shoot me for it." It was the truth as much as it would remain. Even if by some smart thinking someone pointed out to them that it was exceedingly unlikely Stahl could have won that illegal duel, the fact that he had left, made it fact that he had to be the killer. Which was best that way. Shade scooped another bucket of feed out of the barrel and poured it into the wheelbarrow. Then, he looked up, regarding Dal steadily out of his blue eyes. "Murder or self-defense?" His voice echoed Dal's lack of judgment. For Shade, who had been on both sides of more than his share of gunfights and no doubt would be again, the circumstances mattered. There was something about that calm question that reached Dal more than had any question asked about that night ever. He grabbed a bucket, keeping up the work, for a moment he was silent. "It was not self-defense, it was not my life he threatened," he replied emptying the bucket into the wheelbarrow. "One might call it murder. I did not give him a fair chance. He had already caused one death and was about to cause another, which, like the first, would never be laid at his feet." Continuing to regard the other man steadily, Shade thought about what Dal had just said. Most of the men he'd killed had been cases of self-defense. They had either challenged him or pulled their gun on him first. There had been others that he'd shot to save someone else. Of those, he'd been the one to draw first or challenge the other man first. Shade was quick-tempered but had a fairly strict personal code when it came to drawing his gun. He'd never broken that code without regretting it later. "The first man I killed, the one when I was seventeen...he'd tried to rape Regina Cantrell the day before. The next day, he shot at her. It wasn't self-defense. I was putting down a rabid dog." Shade surprised himself by his last admission. With those words, he realized that killing Calvin Steelgrave would never haunt his conscience again. He might have to face the fallout from it someday, but he realized his soul was clean when it came to that day thirteen years ago. Seventeen...the words took Dal by surprise. At seventeen Shade had been forced to kill a man to protect Regina Cantrell, probably the very same woman, married to Chance and now deceased in an Indian raid. At seventeen, Dal's life too might have changed. He could have gone from worrying about passing Latin and Greek exams to seeing his father judged and imprisoned for life, and the family's possessions taken away. Death, in the form of killing or being responsible for it, had not entered Dal's life for some years to come. For which he was grateful. He regarded Shade with new respect now, seeing that the man had been forced to make a life-and-death decision at such a young age and come out on the right side of it. No matter how angry or helpless Dal might have felt back then, in 1850...he doubted he could claim the same, had the test come to him. "Standing up to a man willing to commit such a crime...that takes courage," he said. The work had never quite stopped for both of them, though the wheelbarrow was now nearly full. "I too was young, when I left home," he said, surprising himself. "Hearing your story reminds me that I was lucky there, though it did set me on the path of becoming a soldier." Regina Cantrell...her rescue and the death resulting from it might have been the reason Shade left his home, and in turn, her death was what brought him back to this place, with all the dangers that came with it. Suddenly Dal realized that he was not sure anymore if he could just wander on, ride off come morning and forget about the people he'd met. For the first time in almost four years, he felt that he should stay and help. Strange though that was. Soldier or not, Shade felt that a man who had become a doctor would not willingly take someone's life lightly. He dropped the bucket he'd been using to scoop the feed out of the barrel. "This could be a good place to settle down in. There's good land to be had. You could make a good life here." Shade then offered a smile and added, "We'd better get these broomtails fed before we're late for breakfast. I understand that Miss Mary, the cook, has a strict policy regarding meal times." He winced and chuckled as his stomach growled in response to the mention of food. "Then we better not give Miss Mary any reason to have our hides," Stahl replied, taking the other bucket and joining Shade distributing the food to the horses.
  9. For Whom the Rooster Crows

    Originally published on Sat Oct 28th, 2017 @ 5:03pm Shade had gotten to bed very late the night before. He'd spent the time after dinner and before the twins' bedtime in getting to know them a bit. After the twins went to bed, the adults stayed up talking about the status of the ranch and filling in Ezra and Kate on what had transpired during the journey from Wyoming to Montana. When he finally returned to his bed, Shade expected one of two things. He would be restless and, even though he was exhausted, he would get very little rest due to the strangeness of being back home. On the other hand, Shade had gone without regular rest for several days and had not slept at all the previous night making it a real possibility that he would oversleep. Having been taught that a person only laid in bed if they were seriously sick or injured and the habit of a lifetime had Shade stirring just before sunrise. He rolled out of bed, shivering a little in the coolness of the predawn morning, shaved, washed up and dressed. Stopping back by his bed, he pulled his gunbelt off the peg he'd hammered into the wall next to the headboard the night before. Before fastening it on, Shade remembered Nettie's warning about no guns at the table and grinned. He was likely up and about long before breakfast would be served, but just in case, he looped the belt over his shoulder instead of strapping it on. To Shade's surprise, he was not the only person awake and stirring around the house. Lamps, affixed to sconces along the walls, had been lit in the hall, the family room, and its adjoining dining area. Shade had learned the night before that the family rarely used the breakfast room that was across from the family room. It had been turned into a lady's parlor for taking tea with guests. The kitchen was also a blaze of light, and the smell of baking bread emanated from the area of the large cook stove. A woman was seated at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. Her strong face with its wide, slightly flattened cheekbones, suggested she had Indian blood in her background. Hair, the color of rich peat, hung over her shoulders. Two sleepy looking children sat at the table, sipping hot chocolate and watching the woman peel potatoes. The woman rose to her feet and wiped her hands on her apron. Despite wearing flat-soled moccasins on her feet, she stood taller than Shade. She wore dark brown trousers and a cream colored blouse. Shade guessed her age to be somewhere around forty, but she had the kind of timeless features that made it hard to tell. Besides, he was hardly an expert at placing a woman's age. "Mr. Harper, I'm Mary Hannaford. I cook and manage things for Mrs. Kate. Before that, I worked for Mrs. Regina." She offered her hand and gripped Shade's firmly. "These are my young'uns, Ellie and Noah." Shade was initially surprised that she knew his name but then realized that if Mary had worked for Regina, she likely knew Quentin. By the process of elimination, she could've guessed who he was. "Ma'am," he touched his hat brim respectfully, "Please just call me Shade. Mr. Harper doesn't feel quite right...here." "Then Mr. Shade it is. Please call me Mary. The twins call me Miss Mary even though I'm a widow, so that's fine too. Breakfast won't be for about two hours yet, but there's fresh coffee and rolls if you like," Mary told him, resuming her seat and her task. Shade had learned from Kate the night before that, as a general rule, the ranch's employees did not work on Sundays or holidays. The hands rotated doing essential chores such as feeding and watering the livestock. Mary and the other women employed at the house had voluntarily given up part of their Sunday to help Kate get things organized for their arrival but had not stayed. He turned to the large stove that took up most of the wall that divided the kitchen from the family room. The coffee pot sat on the side that was coolest where it would stay hot but not scorch or burn. He snagged a large cup from the cabinet next to the stove, filled it and took a sip. The liquid was close to heaven in a cup. According to Ezra, Chance and Regina had expanded the importation of high-end coffees and teas from Celeste and Diego de Sylva's plantations in Brazil. Celeste was one of John Caleb Harper's younger sisters and their aunts. Over the last few years, they had started supplying local shops and general stores along with buying a supply for the ranch. The difference in taste was phenomenal. Shade inhaled the fragrance of the coffee and smiles appreciatively. Just as he finished the coffee, Shade's stomach let out a low growl. He grinned sheepishly, "Two hours, huh?" The woman laughed, and both children giggled, "Take a couple of rolls with you and don't be late. I don't hold up breakfast and let it spoil because you men can't make it to the table on time." Mary split open two rolls and spread them with butter and honey before wrapping them in a napkin for him. "There are metal cups up there too. Take some coffee with you but remember to bring my cup back, you hear?" "Yes, ma'am!" Shade fixed himself another cup of coffee and took the napkin wrapped roll Mary handed him. He set the items down on the counter and slid the gunbelt off his shoulder, strapping it snugly around his hips and securing the holster ties around at mid-thigh. In the foyer, he had to set the coffee and rolls down again so that he could pull on his jacket. Finally, he stepped out of the house and walked out of the courtyard and down to the main barn. Inside the barn, he shrugged out of his coat and took a moment to eat the rolls and gulp down the coffee. He used the napkins to wipe his mouth and wipe out the cup and hung it on the peg with his coat so he wouldn't forget it. The last thing he wanted to do was get off on the wrong foot with the cook! Next, Shade took a walk down the barn's main hall, noting what was there and where everything was. He had entered through a large tack and feed room. Presumably, the doors at the other end opened into a paddock or yard. Box stalls lined both sides of the barn, stopping well short of the other set of doors. At the end of each row of stalls, large frames held fresh feed hay and straw for bedding. Pitchforks, shovels, and rakes hung on the wall. Just inside the barn door, on the left, was a flagstone area with a watering trough and hand-pump. Next to it was a bin filled with water buckets. At the tack and feed room end of the barn, there were several stalls designed for grooming and saddling. Shade had noted heavy rings affixed to the posts. Lightweight chains with snaps on both ends were attached to the rings. A person simply backed a horse into the open fronted enclosure and clipped the chains onto the animal's halter. They could then easily walk around the horse to groom and saddle it or go clean the empty stall. All of the stalls were occupied. The ones down one side held Harriet's team, Stahl's bad-tempered gelding, Paladin, and Lakota. The stalls on the far side held several more horses including a striking red-roan Appaloosa gelding, a beautiful rose-gray mare, and a big black and white gelding with Medicine Hat markings. In the largest stall on the far side, the one closest to the doors, two milk cows stood, idly munching on hay. Brass holders had been affixed to each stall. Cards with the animals' names neatly printed on them had been slid into the holders. A milking station had been built next to the stall between it and the hay bins. Shade assumed the main herd of milk cows was housed in the big cow barn in the valley. Two cows would take care of most of the main house's needs. The barn had looked much bigger from the outside, so Shade looked around, finally finding a door behind the hay bin that led into a large shed attached to the side of the barn where wagons and buggies were kept. There was another huge shed on the other side of the barn. The rear of it was fenced and could be used for livestock if needed while the front was open to a large grazing paddock. Having satisfied his curiosity, Shade returned to the inside of the barn, rolled up his sleeves, and headed over to the stalls. The concern he'd felt at having broken the Cowboy Code by not taking care of his horse before taking care of himself the night before was assuaged somewhat as he entered Lakota's stall. The big smoky-dun stallion made a soft whuffling noise at him as Shade ran his hands over the horse's neck and shoulders. He ran his hands down Lakota's legs, noting with satisfaction that they were cool to the touch. Shade then performed the same check on each of the other horses to make sure they'd taken no harm from the hard journey. He'd had just pulled on his gloves and started toward the watering trough with the buckets from two of the Gypsy horses' stalls when the main door to the barn was rolled open, and Ezra walked in. The older man set his mug of coffee on an upturned wooden barrel and grinned at Shade, "Miss Mary said you were already up and out. I thought you might sleep in." "In that house," Shade said with a wry note in his deep, gravelly voice, "I wouldn't dare. I'll take care of the stock, Ezra. Not enough time to groom all of them before breakfast, but I can get 'em fed and watered. Come back and groom 'em after. We always used to take care of the Snowlight stock ourselves." Ezra scratched his head and thought for a moment, "Nothing's changed there, Shade. Unless one of us is down sick, we don't ask the hands to take care of the stock up here. The older man smiled at Shade, "Okay, boy. Guess you might as well jump back in. I'll do the milking. Don't forget the chickens. Their coop is just beyond the paddock, closer to the house. Glad for the help." "Might need to borrow a couple of saddle horses," Shade told him, "I'd like to give ours a few days of rest." "The Appaloosa is mine, and the rose-gray mare is Kate's. That big paint belonged to Chance. He'd make a real good remount. Good stock horse, but strong-willed and spirited. Not to everyone's taste." Ezra said and nodded to the big gelding, walking with Shade down to the stall to take a closer look. Shade glanced at the name affixed to the door, "Harlequin. Quite a mouthful," he said and grinned, admiration in his voice as he looked at the horse. It was like Chance to have chosen a flashy mount like the paint. "We call him Harle," Ezra told him, pronouncing the shortened form of the name as har-lee. "Good animal. Spanish Mustang and Quarter horse cross. The dappled-gray over there," Ezra nodded at the next stall, "was Regina's. Good stock horse too, but a little light-boned to carry a man's weight. Arabian. Thought I'd offer him to H.G." Curious, since Arabian horses were rare in the west, Shade slid open the stall door to look over the gray. He couldn't help admiring the animal's beautiful delicately-shaped head with its slightly concave face. The horse was around fifteen and a half hands in height, light-boned, and a mottled dark and silver gray. His long, flowing mane and tail were silver. Definitely a stunning looking horse, but as Ezra said, he was more a lady's mount. Even though Shade was not a big man, the gelding wouldn't hold up under his weight out on the range. Shade turned to the stall that housed Chance's gelding. Speaking quietly to the big gelding, Shade slid the door open and stepped into the stall. The horse was big, standing just over sixteen hands. That was fine with him. He'd always liked a big horse, finding that most of them had better temperaments than smaller animals. The gelding's mixed blood wasn't readily apparent. His conformation showed the powerful hindquarters, strong shoulders, and shorter back of the Quarter horse breed. His neck was slightly longer than usual for the breed and held a bit of an arch, traits inherited from his Spanish Mustang bloodlines. Harle's head, however, was less refined, a bit larger than was characteristic of the average Mustang. Harlequin's base coat was white with black markings and black points including a flowing black mane and tail. His head was white from just below his eyes to his muzzle. The white continued on his face, ending in a point at the center of his forehead. From his eyes up, he was black, giving him the distinctive markings that made it appear he was wearing a hat. Hence the term Medicine Hat marked paint. Harle's left eye carried a distinctive blue ring around the iris, making the eye appear blue. A blue eye was uncommon, but not detrimental. A horse with blue eyes could see just as well as one with normal dark eyes and was no more prone to eye disease than others of their kind. Shade peeled the horse's lips back and looked at the teeth. No sign of Galvayne's Groove, a dark brown mark that appears and fades at predictable ages, meant the horse was under ten years of age. The teeth were starting to slope and meet at an angle instead of at the verticle, so he was likely over four years old. He slipped his hands in and pulled the horse's mouth open, looking for cups, marks, and stars, as well as wear on the teeth. Shade glanced back at Ezra, "About seven or eight?" Ezra nodded, "Just turned eight." Shade had always been an incredible horseman. It seemed that the years had not changed that. Shade smiled, "I like him, and I'll need a spare once I get to workin' the range. Left my bay in Wyoming with the Shermans. Brimstone was gettin' on in years." A wave of homesickness for the Sherman ranch hit Shade, but he pushed it down. "Best get to work. Miss Mary warned me about being late." He let go of the horse's head, gave him a pat on the neck and stepped out of the stall. "Alright if I claim Harle as my remount?" Ezra laughed, "Oh yes, Mary's a stickler for being on time for meals." The older man shook his head, "You don't have to ask me, boy, but yes, consider him one of your string." Ezra patted Shade on the shoulder, "I best get to the milkin', so Mary doesn't shoot us both." He turned and headed off to take care of his chores leaving Shade to the business of getting the horses fed and watered. From outside the barn came the sounds of two roosters heralding the start of the day. Shade grinned and turned to start the job of ferrying water and feed to the impatient equines.
  10. Echo of Another Day

    Shade walked along the downstairs hall and a short cross hall at the end. Curious, he turned to his right and opened the door, walking into the room that had been Chance's and, later, Chance's and Regina's. At least it had been until after the deaths of their parents in 1868. The room felt a bit sterile to Shade although it was nicely decorated. It just had that hard-to-define not used feel to it. He shook his head and exited the way he had come walking the short distance to the other door. He found a large tin of matches on the mantel over the fireplace. It took a couple to light the lamps. For a moment, he considered lighting the wagon-wheel style fixture that hung from the ceiling, but then decided it was too much effort to lower it, light all its lamps, and raise it again. He'd never much cared for the overhead lighting, felt it was too harsh and bright. The bedroom furniture was the same as when he'd lived there. A large, oak sleigh bed, two side tables with polished marble tops, a large dresser with a mirror, a chest of drawers, and a small oak gun stand and rack - one he had made in shop class at school. His old wardrobe was gone, probably stored out in one of the barns. Two rocking chairs with ottomans now sat in front of the fireplace, and a small sofa was set under the big window that overlooked the rear of the house. To the left of that was a door that led out to the room's private terrace. The chair and ottoman cushions and the pillows on the leather sofa were all quilted in the prairie star pattern. The bed's piecemeal quilt was also done in the same pattern. The colors ranged from a pale sky blue to dark midnight blue resting on a pristine white background. No curtains or drapes were hanging over the windows which suited Shade. He preferred the clean look of the wooden shutters. The biggest change was the addition of two doors to the right of the bed. The first one, set into the wall a few feet to the right of the headboard, led into a small closet. Small though it was, it was still far larger than Shade needed. He didn't have much in the way of personal belongings to store. To the right of that and facing toward the front of the house was the door that led into the private bathroom and water-closet, along with another, even larger clothes closet. With the tour of the bathroom and privy complete, Shade returned to the bedroom and quickly unpacked his saddlebags and bedroll, storing them neatly away in the smaller closet. He placed his rifle on the gun rack, then put his clean shirts, jeans and other clothes away on the dresser, leaving out a change for after he'd cleaned up. After enjoying a shave with the readily available warm water, Shade turned and eyed the large clawfoot tub and the nearby standup shower. The Shermans had showers out back of their house for use in the summer and Kate had warned Shade that the hot water was unreliable in the showers here. Still, he did not want to take the time to draw a bath so stripped off his dirty trail clothes and stepped into the shower, closing the half-door behind him. The operation appeared to be simple and straightforward. There were three pull chains, one for hot water, one for cold water, and one that pulled both of the other two, allowing a mix of hot and cold. Taking a deep breath, Shade grabbed the third chain, managing not to yelp too loudly when icy cold water rushed in a torrent from the showerhead. Still, it felt good to wash the dust and grit off, despite nearly freezing himself several times and grabbing the hot water chain by mistake once. At least he was clean and presentable. Shade grabbed one of the large thick towels and dried himself off. He then returned to the bedroom to don clean blue jeans and a dark blue bib-front shirt. A few minutes later, he'd polished his worn boots, blew out the lamps, closed the shutters and crossed to open the door to the hall. Shade paused for a moment and looked back into the room where he'd spent a good part of his childhood. It was going to take awhile to get used to everything again, to being home, and to being in charge. He sighed as he closed the door, "God, Chance, I hope you knew what you were doing. Hope I'm up to the job you left to me."
  11. Echo of Another Day

    Originally published on Wed Oct 11th, 2017 @ 3:57pm "Ezra will see to your gear and get the horses taken care of. We'll sort out introductions inside," Kate said firmly, "I don't want to let dinner burn." Before Kate could disappear inside, Harriet gestured to Adalwin, "Please, could we get Mr. Stahl sorted into a room? I think he may have taken cold during our journey." "Sorry to hear that. We'll get you settled immediately," Kate said and turned to call out to someone inside the house, "Mary, could you show Mr. Stahl to the lower guest room and get him some tea." She smiled at the man, "We'll send you a dinner tray when it's ready." Stahl gave the young woman that came outside, presumably Mary, a smile and thanked Harriet and the silver-haired lady. He muffled another cough and followed the young woman across the courtyard, disappearing through a door set into the breezeway. Shade lingered on the front terrace, watching as Kate Hale took charge of Harriet and her sister. Quentin followed, holding the hands of the two small children which he assumed were the twins, Cody and Nettie Harper, his niece and nephew. It was Kate's voice calling his name from the doorway that finally got him moving. Until then, Shade had not realized how reluctant he was to step inside the house. It was almost a relief to see that things had changed. Not the big things, of course. The walls of the foyer were still plastered and painted a pleasant cream color. Exposed timbers and ceiling beams added a rustic touch. The floor was made from knotted white pine, stained a golden hue, and polished to a high shine. Colorful rugs added warmth to the room. To the right was the main staircase that spiraled up to the second floor. Across from the foyer was the formal great-room, but Kate led them to the left, down a short hall and into the less formal family room. The main thing Shade noticed was that the decor had improved. The portraits of his mother's ancestors that used to adorn the walls were gone. Shade had always felt that their sole purpose was to stare disapprovingly at small boys. In their place hung oil paintings and watercolors depicting the local flora, fauna, and scenic landscapes. The family room was dominated by a massive fireplace on the left. A huge oil painting of Lost Lake hung over the fireplace. It was so well done, Shade could almost feel the wind blowing off the mountains and across its waters. Inset in the rear wall were huge plate glass windows interspersed by doors leading out to the rear terraces. Dark wood shutters hung from iron tracks like the ones often used to hang large barn or warehouse doors. Duplicate shutters were attached to the home's exterior walls and provided protection during inclement weather. Well-made but comfortably worn leather and wood sofas and chairs were scattered around the room, including a grouping in front of the fireplace. A large heavy wood dining table and chairs, worn by many years of use, stood to the far right. Just beyond that was the kitchen. On the other side of the kitchen was the formal dining room. Shade was pleased that a smaller dining area had been added to the massive family room. It somehow made it seem warmer and cozier. Shade's fear of familiarity gave way to a feeling of comfort as he looked around. It was the same, yet Chance and Regina had put their stamp on it and in the process made it more of a home than he remembered. Being home wasn't nearly as unsettling as he had expected it would be. "Kate, this is my sister, Josephine," Harriet was saying, introducing her sister to the older woman. "I am sorry to bring unplanned guests..." "Pleased to meet you, Miss Josephine. I'm Kate Hale. Don't fret about it, Harriet," Kate gestured into the family room, "the more, the merrier, although I am sure you both would like to wash the trail dust off. There's a washroom at this end of the breezeway, just across the hall, and another one down the hall on the right, just past the main stairs." Harriet smiled. She had been sure of Kate's non-nonsense welcome, but she was happy to hear it anyway. "I know where the one in the breezeway is. Josephine, there are clean towels and washcloths in the cupboard." She directed her sister down the hall and headed for the other washroom, discreetly giving Kate time to introduce the children to their new uncle before overloading them with more strangers. "Cody, Nettie, this is your uncle, Shade. You know how your Uncle Quentin is your mother's brother?" Kate waited until she got identical, simultaneous nods before continuing. "Well, Shade is your father's brother." Two pairs of blue eyes looked up at Shade. The girl's eyes were light blue and intense like Chance's had been, but she had her mother's golden brown hair. The boy's eyes were deep blue, like Shade's, and his hair was raven black. Although their hair differed in color, in texture it was thick and wavy with a tendency to curl at the front. Both children wore matching haircuts although Nettie's was not cropped quite as short and was brushed into a much more feminine style. With the delicate features of the extremely young, it was difficult to tell which of their parents they favored the most. Shade found both of them disconcertingly beautiful children. Shade kneeled so that he was at eye level with the children, "Howdy," he said, tipping his hat to Nettie before pushing it back, so it didn't shadow his face and eyes. "It's good to meet you both." Cody shrugged closer to Quentin's leg and gripped his hand tighter. His dark blue eyes were a bit baleful as he spoke, but his voice was polite, "Hello, sir." He refused to offer his hand to shake. Shade didn't push. Nettie, on the other hand, was obviously the bolder of the two, at least in the current situation. She stepped closer to Shade and tilted her head to study him. "You need a bath." Her statement was made calmly and matter-of-factly. Shade chuckled and grinned, "You're right Tigress. Been a long spell on the road." The little girl pointed to a heavy timber that ran to a ceiling beam providing support for the upper floor. Shade could see pegs driven into it. "No guns at the dinner table," Nettie stated firmly. Shade's lips twitched, "Yes, ma'am." Quentin grinned. "You heard her..." He slipped his hand from both children and unbuckled his Schofield and slid off his jacket to be able to shrug off the rig for his smaller Colt. Quentin checked the hammer loops and then turned around to see Cody standing behind him with both arms outstretched. He gently draped both belts over his arms, watching him grunt and show some effort with his determined expression as he held them. Quentin nodded and then scooped him up, walking over to the pegs and leaning so Cody could hang both from a pair of pegs at the end. He moved back to let Cody free his arms and then set him back down. "Good job, Trooper." Under Nettie's commanding gaze, Shade rose to his feet and unfastened his gunbelt. Like Quentin, he checked that the loop was fastened over the gun's hammer before hanging it on one of the empty pegs. He looked over at Kate, "Guess the little'un is right about needing clean up too. Where do you want us?" Kathryn pursed her lips, regarding Shade and Quentin steadily. She was well aware of the terms of Chance's and Regina's wills. They had sat down with the Hales since they wanted them to know they were being included in their final wishes. To her way of thinking, there was no time like the present for handing the job of running things over to the children's guardians. "Well, I don't know, boss," Kate drawled, dark eyes sparkling, "Where do you want to be." She relented slightly at Shade's worried expression, "Chance and Regina kept the upper suite of the guest house exclusively for Quentin's use. Miss Harriet usually stays in the front guest room upstairs when she doesn't stay at the Belle-St. Regis in town. By rights, you should take over the master suite upstairs, Shade." Shade paled slightly and shook his head, "No...I couldn't." Softening her voice, Kate stepped closer, easing the two children slightly out of earshot. She placed her hand on Shade's arm, "Ezra and I have been staying in the middle room upstairs, near the children. I took the liberty of packing up everything in the master and putting them in the storage barn where they'll stay safe, cool, and dry. They aren't there anymore, Shade." He shook his head again while his mind raced. He gave a rapid mental review of the lodge and its available rooms. They needed the Hales nearby. The children were used to them and very attached as well. It would be cruel to make another major change to their lives so soon after losing their parents. Shade slanted a glance at Quentin as he made the decision, "We need you and Ezra here, Kate. I'd count it a great favor and an honor if the two of you took the master suite permanent-like. Since Quentin and Mr. Stahl are in the guest wing, the Mercer sisters can take the other two rooms upstairs. I'll take my old room down here." "Then it's settled," Kate said. "In anticipation of your arrival, Mary and I cleaned all of the rooms, changed the linens, and put clean towels in the bathing rooms. There's one attached to each bedroom now. When Chance had the house remodeled to put in the whole-house heating and plumbing, he cannibalized some of the extra bedrooms to make closets, water closets, and bathing rooms. It's all very posh and grand now with galvanized iron and copper pipes, even if the boiler breaks down more often than it works." She didn't mention that she'd also packed up her and Ezra's things and left them in the schoolroom, ready for them to move back into their comfortable home in the valley below the main house. Shade smiled and visibly relaxed, "That's good then. Quentin and I will get everyone's bags sorted and get cleaned up ourselves." He nodded to the older man as Kate stepped over to where the twins were chatting in low voices with one another. "I'll get these little monkeys cleaned up for dinner and let the ladies know where they are staying in case they also want to change clothes." Kate ushered the children out of the room and toward a door across the hall which hid the shallower stairs that had always been called the children's stairs. The door could be locked, and there was a lockable wrought iron gate at the upstairs entrance as well. Several of the stairs on the winding main staircase had been engineered to squeak loudly, making it next to impossible to sneak up and down them. The only other stairs were located in the south hall, just off the guest wing. Shade and Quentin headed toward the foyer where Ezra and one of the hands had dropped their gear and bags. With the two of them carrying everything, it would only take one trip to get everything sorted.
  12. Homecoming

    Originally published on Tue Oct 10th, 2017 @ 3:57pm Lost Lake Trail ran from the outskirts of Kalispell through nearly two miles of rolling meadows dotted with forests, a preamble to entering the foothills of the Chogun Mountains. The towering ranges and peaks of the Rockies loomed on every horizon. Chogun was the Blackfoot word for blackbird, and most locals referred to the mountains as the Blackbirds. They were an impressive range on their own, made more spectacular with the Rocky Mountains at their backs. The road continued west to where the boundary of the Harpers' property, Lost Lake Ranch, was marked by an impressive arched gate and a series of sturdy fence posts set roughly six feet apart. Beyond the gate was the two-mile expanse known as Harper Meadow which included the rolling foothills of the Blackbirds. Six-foot high log and mortar walls provided support for the heavy wrought iron entrance. The name of the ranch and its registered brand told visitors they were at Lost Lake Ranch. The ranch's name and brand were also made of wrought iron. The actual gate was also six-foot high and made of timber and mortar. It moved on small steel wheels, like a train's, set on a low train-track type rail. The entrance was high enough and wide enough to allow the passage of large wagons or several animals abreast. Traditionally, the gate stood open, and no wire was strung between the fence posts. This only changed when the meadow was reaching capacity for the amount of livestock it could support and over-grazing threatened to damage it permanently. The only other time the gate would be closed and wire strung on the waiting fence posts was when the Harpers needed to keep their livestock separate from other animals grazing the meadows. Shade and his traveling companions met no obstacles after leaving Kalispell until they passed through the gate at Lost Lake Ranch. There, a ranch hand that was working on settling a herd of glossy black Angus cattle broke off from his task and rode over to stop them. It would soon be dusk, and the men were getting the animals bedded down for the night. Near a rise and close to a treeline, Shade spotted two log cabins, one slightly longer and larger than the other. They were new since his time at the ranch and likely for use by the hands when animals were grazing the meadow. The rider pulled his horse to a stop on the trail in front of them, tipped his hat respectfully, and said politely, but firmly, "This here's private property. There's hotels and a livery stable back in Kalispell." "This is Mr. Quentin Cantrell, and I'm Shade Harper. We're expected," Shade responded mildly. Another rider trotted his mount over and caught the tail-end of the conversation, "They are expected, Tommy," the older man said to the one that had stopped them. "Ride on ahead to the ranch and let Mr. Hale know they made it." The man named Tommy whirled his horse around and set his heels to his flanks, galloping toward the foothills. "Sorry for that," the man said, tipping his hat to them. "Can never be too careful. That was Tommy Lightfoot, and I'm Sage Miller, night foreman. The Hales are at the lodge, ride on through." Miller wheeled his horse out of their way, and Shade rode back to the coach. He looked up at Harriet Mercer, "Are you okay to drive 'em through the pass, Miss Mercer?" He knew from their conversations that she had been a frequent guest at the ranch, but he wasn't sure how often she'd driven over the pass, especially with night creeping in. "I can manage, Shade. The team is used to the road. Thank you." Harriet glanced at the man seated beside her on the driver's box. Stalh had started coughing before they reached Kalispell and she was pretty sure he had contracted a head cold or flu. Shade sent Quentin to keep an eye on things from the rear while he turned Lakota to lead the way. The road led through the fertile Chogun Valley where he noted herds of grazing livestock, including a small group of bison, and buildings that all seemed in good repair with fresh coats of paint. More riders were tending the herds, but there were no more challenges to their passage. Apparently, the men trusted Sage Miller's authority to let them pass. They crossed a wide, sturdy bridge that spanned one branch of the Chogun River. From there, the road began climbing through the foothills toward the pass, following the course of the river. There had always been a rough trail or game path through the lower end of the Choguns. Long before Shade had been born, the locals began calling it Ishmael's Gate, named after his grandfather. Shade was pleased to see that it had been widened and packed into a well-maintained road. The cliffs to their right as they road west had been shored up with stout railroad timbers and gravel. On their left, the edge of the road and the drop to the river, now several hundred feet below, was marked by a whitewashed split-rail fence. Each fence post was topped by a carriage lantern that had been recently lit. Even with being so high above the river, its roar was easy to hear and would have deafened any effort at conversation. The road itself was rather curvy as it had to follow the contours of the mountain with some of the curves being very sharp switchbacks. Despite the fence marking the edge of the gorge and the flickering light of the lamps, Shade would not like to make the ride at night. Another bridge spanned the river and a short distance from there, it and the river forked. The west fork would lead to another valley and a small lake. It was where the majority of the ranch's main facilities were located, the larger barns, paddocks, corrals, cabins, and bunkhouses. Shade chose the north fork which rose steeply through the spectacular landscape of the mountains. They passed into a small circular valley called Snowlight Basin. In the gathering shadows, they passed fenced in paddocks, a large barn, and a few other outbuildings. Several yards past the large barn, the hard-packed dirt of the road passed through two stone pillars topped by lanterns and into a large stone-paved courtyard. Shade mirrored his horse's sigh of weariness as he pulled him to a stop, waiting for Harriet to expertly turn the team, and pull them to a stop before actually dismounting himself. Turning, he looked at the house where he had grown up, and as always, was stunned by its rugged grandeur. The entry was covered by a steeply inclined metal roof supported by a frame made of massive logs and timbers. Two towering oaks had been carved to look like they had grown up through the stones. They stood to each side of large double doors that had a scene depicting antlered elks and forests. The lower floor of the main house and adjoining guest house had walls of heavy river stone while the remainder was made of beautifully dressed logs, carefully joined, to ensure a sturdy structure that could withstand the worst weather the northwestern Montana mountains could throw at it. The house was grand but still offered the impression that it, like the mountains that cradled it, had always been there, standing strongly against the elements. Shade knew that if you were looking up at Snowlight Basin from the lake, you had to know the house was there to be able to see it unless fires were lit and you could see the smoke drifting upward on the wind. The double doors opened just as Quentin rode up and dismounted. The men had barely completed looping the reins over a timber hitching post when two small figures came running out and across the front terrace. "Uncle Quentin, Uncle Quentin! You're home," a little boy and little girl cried out in unison. An older man and woman followed them, stopping just short of the hitching rail. The man nodded a greeting while the woman surged forward to wrap her arms around Shade in a powerful hug, "Shade," she breathed, dark eyes glistening with tears, "Oh, welcome home." Ezra Hale extended his hand, first to Quentin and then to Shade. He smiled, his eyes lighting with warmth, "Welcome home, boy."
  13. Spirits

    Originally published on Sun Oct 8th, 2017 @ 1:59pm Shade rolled over, trying to get comfortable on the hard ground. After turning over again and becoming entangled in his blankets, he flung the covering off and sat up. He scrubbed at his face with his hands and pushed an errant lock of hair off his forehead. Shade was well aware of his sleep patterns. Most nights, he was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow or the underside of his saddle, depending on where he was sleeping. He never slept deeply unless he was seriously injured or very sick, but he did tend to sleep still and quiet. Shade was never the type to transition slowly from sleep to wakefulness, usually simply going from being asleep to being awake. That was why he knew he would not sleep for the remainder of the night. A coyote barked in the distance. Other nocturnal animals kept up a cacophony of sounds in accompaniment. Shade sighed and muttered, "Guess you wouldn't let a fella sleep, huh?" Of course, it wasn't the fault of the night animals, they were just going about making their living. The wind rustled the branches of the trees that surrounded the camp, making Shade happy that he was wearing his jacket. Daytime temperatures had been in the high nineties, but at night it dropped into the low fifties, maybe even the high forties. "Dadblameit, don't this beat all," Shade complained quietly and got to his feet. Reaching down, he picked up his boots from beside his saddle. He also grabbed clean socks from his saddlebags, pulling off the ones from the night before, and padded barefoot to the nearest boulder. He propped his hips there, pulled on his socks and boots. He took a moment to make a neat roll out of his blankets which he left lying across his saddle. He'd laid his bed out between a couple of boulders close to the picket line where he could keep an eye on the horses. It was unlikely there were Indians in the area, but if there were, the horses would be too tempting for them to pass by. Shade picked up his gun belt and rifle and walked toward the picket line. After checking on the horses, he slipped quietly into the main camp. Everything was quiet. Shade glanced up at the waning gibbous moon. From its position, he figured the time to be well after midnight. He could have taken out his pocket watch to confirm it, but that seemed like cheating. It was too early to stoke up the fire and fix coffee, dawn was still a few hours off. Shade stared off through the trees at the meadow beyond. It was too dark to see the wagon although he could make out the Devil's Watchtower rising above the land. With the barrel of the rifle pointed safely at the ground, Shade set off across the meadow. He moved quietly but did not bother to disguise his footsteps. As he walked, his spurs jingled softly, muffled by the meadow grass. It was doubtful anyone in the camp was awake and would be disturbed by his passage. It was doubtful but true, Jo found herself unable to sleep. The cushions she and Harriet were sleeping on did not hold a candle to the beds at home in San Francisco. It was more than just the lumps for Josephine. As she lay there, listening to the soft, even breathing of her sister next to her, Jo found her thoughts wandering to Chance and Regina Harper, along with their two children, taken so early from this world. With her thoughts tossing like a boat on the ocean during a storm, Jo quietly slipped from her makeshift bed, taking an item from her personal belongings and weaving it about her fingers as she quietly exited the carriage, so she didn't wake Harriet. Perhaps walking around the meadow at night was not the wisest thing, not with any manner of poisonous bugs and snakes out, but it didn't make much difference to Jo as she started walking quietly toward where she knew the burnt out wagon rested in the dark. With any luck, the pants and boots that her sister had placed out for her would protect her feet and legs against most things, even just enough to prevent death. Suddenly, in the dark, Jo's ears picked up the faint jingle of metal on metal up ahead of her, spurs perhaps, if she had to wager a guess. It didn't fully occur to her that it might be either Mr. Harper or Mr. Cantrell. Instead, her mind opted for the dangerous intruder version of the truth, so Jo carefully bent down and picked up a large stick off the ground, wrapping her fingers around it firmly. Shade's movements through the tall meadow grass had silenced most of the usual cacophony of nocturnal insects. Fortunately, his eyes had quickly adjusted to the dark. Then again, even though the moon was in a waning gibbous phase, its light was enough to cast faint shadows. The sky was mostly clear, only an occasional cloud briefly obscured the moonlight. Deep down inside, Shade had known where he was going from the moment he rolled clear of his bedroll. He stopped at the wagon, on the side farthest from the Devil's Watchtower formation. Another step closer and a faint breeze brought the remnants of a scent his way. Shade raised his head, going still, and sniffed at the air. Tobacco, with a subtle hint of sage and other herbals. Quentin had been here fairly recently. He turned slowly, but saw no sign of the older man, although he did pick up other smells including the odor of wet, charred wood. Shade exhaled abruptly, clearing his sinuses of the accumulated smells only to pick up another one as the wind changed again. This time it was the faint scent of roses. He also caught the faint sound of grass stalks swishing together. Harriet smelled of citrus and spice. The newcomer had to be her sister, Josephine. Unconcerned, Shade turned back to the wagon, reaching out to lay one black-gloved hand its frame, and bowing his head. He stood that way for a moment or two, then pulled his hand away and removed his gloves, tucking them into the belt at his waist. Once again, he lay his hand on the husk of the wagon. This time, as if contact with his bare hand released them, memories began to flow, and he almost gasped in pain. Regina laughing at him while trying to improve his swimming skills. Chance stepping between him and his father, taking the blame for another of Shade's pranks. The ghosts of the children caused a tear to form in the corner of one eye although it remained there, not slipping free to roll down his face. He had never met Chance and Regina's eldest two children. He'd chosen to stay away from the ranch, to keep drifting. Shade did not move or speak when the soft footsteps stopped close by. As she grew closer to the wagon, the burnt wood still somehow sharp in the cooler night air, the moonlight gave Jo a clear enough look to see that the person walking ahead of her was only Mr. Harper. She let the stick fall gently to the ground, stepping over it quietly. There was a moment where she paused, not wanting to disturb the man but there was something about his body language that suggested he was hurting. She couldn't imagine the pain he was suffering, standing in the very spot where his family had been killed. The questions surrounding those untimely deaths made things that much worse as well. Stepping up to his side, Jo's expression was one of understanding as she touched his arm gently, her rosary beads still woven through her fingers. "I'm afraid there's very little that I can say that can ease your pain. I wish it weren't so." Shade had to take several slow breaths. The simple kindness and gentle words came close to breaking the iron control that he was exerting over his emotions. His face was set, and the expression in his eyes was bleak although a small muscle jumped in his jaw as he gritted his teeth. "It's alright," he finally said, his deep, gravelly voice somewhat rougher than usual. "Can't go around it, just gotta push through it." He glanced at Josephine for a moment and then, without really understanding why since he tended to keep things to himself, he said, "Chance asked me to come home several times after our parents died. Most recently, just a few months ago. Wouldn't have done any good here, but I should've at least gone home to see him, Reggie, and the kids." Jo barely knew this man, Shade Harper, but she felt like she could hear the grief in his voice, buried beneath the grit she'd noticed early on into this journey. The pain behind his eyes though, that she could see and it made her heart ache in her chest. She nodded, understanding what he meant about dealing with the pain. She'd lost her own parents when she was but a child herself. Mother's illness had made her passing expected, and Jo had been able to say her goodbyes before, and she'd been even younger when her father had been killed in a duel two years prior, and she couldn't recall mourning for him very much. It had been nearly twenty years ago now. Chance had been his brother, she remembered Harriet's tale that night over dinner. "There was no way you could have known what was going to happen." God had a plan for all of them. If Mr. Harper had been meant to visit his brother and his family at that time, he would have found his way home then. She didn't voice that thought. However, not everyone shared the same faith, and she was unsure which Harper followed. "Are you a religious man, Mr. Harper?" She asked. It took Shade a second to mentally process her question. Considering his alleged line of work, it wasn't one he was often asked. "Lapsed Catholic," he said with a wry note in his voice. "Went to church a few times with the folks I was living with for a while back in Laramie. If you're askin' if I believe in God, before this, I'd have said yes. Now, not so sure." Shade's voice had hardened again as he finished speaking and he was glad his hat helped shield his face and eyes. Jo nodded softly. Her fingers running over the smooth beads of her rosary. "I can understand that," she replied. "however, I asked as I thought I might offer a prayer for your family but I didn't want to offend you at the same time." She told him. Catching sight of the rosary in Josephine's hands, Shade let his hand slip into his pocket, fingers finding the cool stone beads of the one he'd carried since the age of sixteen. It seemed so very long ago that his mother had given him the rosary as one of his birthday gifts that year. He might not regularly attend Mass, but it reminded him of her soft voice with its Spanish accent, her kind dark eyes, and gracious beauty. Despite the situation, he smiled. Turning his dark blue eyes to the young woman, he gestured at the wagon, "Prayer never did any harm, ma'am. They would think kindly of you for it." Jo smiled, seeing his own smile, something she had not seen too much of in the few days since their unexpected introduction. "Good." She said, glancing down at the meadow floor for a few wildflowers to lay on the floor of the wagon. Spotting a small gathering of delicate purple flowers growing at one of the wheels. Moving to pluck a few from the earth, Jo didn't see the rock that caught her boot, sending her to her knees and her rosary scattering in the grass. "Oh for crying out loud.." She muttered as she slid her fingers through the grass, hoping to find the chain. She absolutely had to find that rosary, it had belonged to her mother, Evelyn until she'd passed away when Jo was only ten and had belonged to her maternal grandmother before that. In fact, it was the only thing that she owned that had been passed down from that side of the family as they'd disowned Evelyn when she'd fallen pregnant. There! Her fingers grasped the cool metal chain and brought it out from the grass. Her brow furrowed in confusion as the chain in her hand was not her own. Jo's rosary was made of silver with small pearls, the one she'd found was not quite as refined with rougher-looking blue stones. Another quick comb through the grass gave Jo her own rosary, and she rose to her feet. "Mr. Harper, look." Surely it had to have belonged to one of his family. Otherwise, finding the second rosary here at this exact spot was a huge coincidence. Shade had been on his way to help Josephine back to her feet when she called his attention to what was in her hand. He was proud of the fact that his hand didn't shake when he took the object from her. He tipped his hat back and breathed out a shaky sigh. The rosary was heavier and more rugged than average. Isadora Harper had had several heavy, and her in her opinion, hideously ugly candlesticks melted down to make the chains and crucifixes. That made each rosary a heritage item because the candlesticks had been in her family for hundreds of years. His father's had had beads made from polished agates, Isadora's had been made from freshwater pearls. The one Shade now held had beads fashioned from Montana sapphires. The stones were found in abundance around the Bell Mountain Range, but these, a deep cornflower blue in color, had been found on the Harper ranch in the rugged Chogun Mountain Range. The gems had been roughly polished to bring out their color but had not been cut and faceted, allowing some of their natural origins to show. Isadora had wanted the rosaries to connect her menfolk to the land where they were born as well as the faith in which they'd been raised. Reaching into his jean's pocket, Shade brought out the rosary he'd carried with him since his sixteenth birthday. It too was made with a chain of dull, heavy silver with a plain, but beautifully wrought crucifix. The beads were made of blue river stones, slightly darker in color than Shade's eyes, and worn smooth from being carried, held, and touched over the years. The jeweler that had crafted the beads had only polished the rougher edges off of them and shaped them slightly. Isadora had not thought cut, faceted, and polished gemstones suited her youngest son. He held both rosaries out for Josephine to see, "Our mother had them made for us and gave them to us when we turned sixteen. She also had one made for herself and one for our father." "They're beautiful," Josephine remarked quietly, seeing the almost matching chains. She couldn't help but reach out and trail a finger over the rougher stones. The craftsmanship that went into each piece was exquisite. "Mine belonged to my maternal grandmother, it's the only thing I have from that side of the family." She explained, making sure that her own rosary was wound firmly around her fingers as she did not want to lose it again. "I know you may not believe in God very much these days, but this may be His way of telling you that you are on the right path." She offered him a warm smile in the dark, not oblivious to the pain he must be in. "I believe you'll find your place in the world, Mr. Harper." Yes, she had faith in that, even if he didn't right now. Shade tucked both rosaries into his pocket. His niece or nephew might want to keep Chance's rosary. He also thought he might offer his to the other child, but not right off. Shade wasn't an expert on child-rearing, but he figured they were still dealing with the aftermath of their family's death. The time to offer keepsakes would present itself. "If this," Shade waved a leather gloved hand at the wagon and meadow, "is God's way of setting my feet on another path, I coulda' done without it." His voice was slightly rough with emotion, but he felt he held the fury well in check. Reaching out, he grazed the charred wagon frame with his hand. "I was alright with my place in the world, Miss Mercer," he said and meant it. Shade had lived hard after leaving Montana at age seventeen, but he'd always landed on his feet. After a few moments of silence, Shade glanced up at the sky, noting the location of key constellations and the moon. He nodded back toward the camp, "You may want to go and try to catch some sleep. We'll be pulling out in less than four hours." "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you," Jo said gently, feeling now like she had overstepped, which she had tried to avoid. She felt for the man. There was no greater loss than that of family, even if you did not always get along. "I believe you." She stated quietly as she looked out across the meadow bathed in moonlight and shadows. Turning back to the charred wagon remains, Jo stepped quietly back to it, resting a hand on the door frame, her rosary wrapped around her other hand as her fingers slid over the pearls. Her prayers were quiet, a simple blessing of peace for the departed. Green eyes slid over toward Mr. Harper, a nod was given at his suggestion. Sleep would be wise, even just a few hours of it, if she got any at all with her sister's snoring. "Of course." She told him, giving him a small smile. "Good night." She said before making her way back through the meadow toward the carriage. "Good night, ma'am," Shade replied. He watched Josephine make her way across the meadow toward the camp. Shaking his head, he turned back toward the wagon. Shade couldn't figure out why she felt she'd offended him. He was pretty certain he'd been speaking mildly. Shade shrugged and grinned, "I was never that good at figurin' women," he told the wind, although in his heart he was speaking to Chance. "Don't worry about your little'uns, big brother, we'll take care of 'em."
  14. Around the Campfire

    Harriet's voice faded into the night. For several moments, everyone remained silent, then Shade cleared his throat, "Thanks, Miss Mercer." "Please," Harriet waved her hand, "at this point, there is no need to stand on formalities. Call me H.G. or Harriet." Shade offered a slightly lopsided grin, "Thank you, Harriet. Call me Shade. Easier than keepin' which Mr. Harper you're talkin' about straight." Even though she was clad in trousers, he couldn't make himself refer to her by just her initials. There was nothing masculine about her. He handed Harriet the arrowhead he had been looking at and selected another one from the items he'd collected from the meadow and around the wagon. He also handed that one to her. "Notice anything?" Reaching to the lamp nearest her, Harriet turned up its flame. Between the campfire and the lanterns they had lit, the campsite was quite light and cheery. She studied each arrowhead in turn, then lay them side-by-side and tilted her head. Harriet was not an expert on Indian craftsmanship, but even she could see the differences. "They are both completely different?" Shade nodded and said, "Even allowing for minor differences in workmanship, each tribe tends to have standards. The width of the base, materials, whether the edges are barbed or smooth, even the knapping tends to be similar within a tribal population. Elders teach the next generation how to do these things. The variances might be significant if the attackers were from two widely separated populations, like say the Cheyenne in eastern Montana would be distinct from the arrows knapped by the Cheyenne in western Wyoming. And, of course, the workmanship would be slightly different from tribe to tribe. There's only so many ways you can do flint-knapping." Harriet nodded her understanding, noting with interest that although Shade retained his cowboy drawl, it had not been as pronounced as usual. "This arrowhead's base is much wider, this one is longer and thinner overall. You think they are made by members of different tribes? You suspect a combined band of Indians? Do the local tribal nations trade with one another?" "Not generally for weapons," Shade answered. He pushed his hat back a little and sighed slightly, "I think the arrowheads were either knapped by different tribes entirely and bought or not made by Indians at all." Stretching out a hand, he snagged the coffee pot and refilled his cup, taking a long sip from it before setting the pot back on the fire grate and leaning against the log at his back. He pinned Harriet with his fierce blue eyes, "Do you suspect this Tyndall snake and the Steelgraves?" "I dislike speculating without more evidence," Harriet said primly, staring grimly at the two arrowheads in her hand before passing them over to Adalwin. "I do think the possibility bears consideration, though." Now, Harriet turned her gaze to Quentin. "Mr. Cantrell, you said something about the different shell casings while we were at the Watchtower? It looks as if you found some other items as well?" She gestured at what looked like broken lantern bits and a dark, oblong object that she could not see clearly. Quentin sat back, leaning against the side of his saddle as he pointed at the pile of brass casings. "Just the quantity more than the quality. Ammunition is expensive for most Indian tribes, plus in a lot of places they can't buy any because they are Indians. This amount of used ammunition is a lot for two armed adults...Indians tend to wait for a shot because that's how they were taught to hunt. That also doesn't address why one or more of the attackers had revolvers." Cantrell then pointed at the broken lantern. "It also looks like someone used that lantern to pour the oil on the wagon before burning it. Indians aren't concerned if something catches fire during a battle, but they usually loathe to purposefully set fire to something like a wagon because there are usually a lot of useful things to take. Ammunition, food, blankets...any of that kind of thing can be looted." Cantrell then sat up and lifted the short oblong object. "And this...this is a half-smoked cigar. I know neither Chance or Reggie smoked, so that leave one of the attackers..." Cantrell glanced over at Shade. "Do you know any Indians who would throw away half a cigar?" Shade raised an eyebrow. He was both surprised at Quentin's knowledge regarding Indians and impressed with his logic regarding the items found. It substantially increased his respect for Regina's older brother. "Indians throw nothing away. They'd salvage the tobacco that had not burned and use it somehow." He fell silent after answering Quentin's question. The next observation he had to offer was painful to say and would be painful for those who had known Chance and Regina to hear, but it had to be said. "I examined the horse's carcass, the hide had the LL bar H brand. Looks like it was shot which could've happened in the melée. Indians would not have targeted the horse and would have taken the wagon and its contents. Indians have a tremendous respect for their own dead, but not for their enemies. The dead would have been left where they fell, not dragged into the rear of the wagon and burned. Considering all of these things, nothing in the army's report makes sense." Stahl had listened quietly, eyes on the different speakers, letting all the details sink in. "So we have two different types of arrow, suggesting either two different Indian tribes or another maker entirely. We have attackers, who were not careful with their ammunition, something that you say Indians are always careful with, there is a half-smoked cigarette, and on top of that there is the army claiming that this was an Indian attack." He summed it up, more to sort the facts for himself, line them up and make sense of them. "Could they have been hired? The attackers I mean, get some hired guns and maybe even find one or two outcast Indians, or other of their sort, to make it look what it was meant to look like?" he asked eventually. "Because what reason would the army have to lie about this incident? And... regarding the cigarette you found, do you know for absolutely sure, that there was no one else traveling with them? Someone who might have smoked?" He understood that his companions were sure and whose feet to lay the blame for the attack, which compelled him to ask all the more. Shade sighed and used a stick he'd been poking at the fire with to draw an abstract pattern in the dirt. Stahl had asked intelligent questions that made sense. There was just no easy answers and did any of it dovetail in with the attacks on himself and Quentin? He addressed what he felt he knew to be facts. "I only showed two of the arrowheads that I found. I have quite a collection but need time to study them more. Some might be the result of hunting parties, not the attack. Either way, there were more differences in workmanship than could be accounted for. The ammunition is really pivotal because of the revolver casings. As Quentin said, Indians don't use revolvers. Another thing, if it were an actual Indian war band, they wouldn't have had white men with 'em." Breaking off for a moment, Shade's eyes went rather distant as he thought of the past few years. "It was never the family's practice to take someone along on the yearly run to Missoula except, on occasion, the Hales or their children. I can't say about Chance and Reggie. Haven't been home for a lot of years." "Could someone have hired the attackers?" Harriet repeated Stahl's question, "Absolutely. The who and why will have to be determined, and that won't be easy. I am less inclined to believe the army fabricated the report but they may have taken the evidence here at face value to suit an agenda of their own. It would not be the first time that the U.S. Army had its own plans. It might even be innocent, a young and inexperienced commanding officer, for example. As far as Chance and Regina traveling with someone else - they never did except, as Shade said, for the Hales. Ezra Hale has been the ranch's foreman for thirty-odd years. I have never known either Ezra or Kate to smoke." Harriet paused and shook her head. Reaching up, she pushed strands of her hair that had escaped from its braid back from her face. "We have more questions than any way to answer them at the moment, but they needed to be asked. The Harpers' deaths may have nothing to do with the lawsuit and attempts to stop Shade and Quentin from reaching Kalispell." For the most part, Jo had been quiet during dinner, which had been good despite some earlier reservations about eating a wild bird. She'd never had grouse, but it hadn't been bad. She would admit to, however, not loving the log she was sitting on. In fact, she was fairly sure there was a splinter in her backside, and no amount of shifting or wiggling would dislodge it. A lot of what Harriet had said, mostly the lawyer aspect of it, hadn't made a whole lot of sense to Jo, but then she'd never really paid too much attention when her sister had gone on with legal-sounding words. She understood enough to get the background, however, and she gave it some thought. "This is why you are going home," Jo asked, looking at Shade as she recalled their conversation on the train in the dim sitting quarters. It was less of a question and more of a statement really. "Also, is it normal to find that many arrowheads after an attack? Regardless of the inconsistencies, you're finding here. And, please forgive me as I mean no ill, but how many Indians would it take to kill two adults and two small children?" Shade looked slightly confused for a moment as he processed her questions, finally shaking his head, "The size of the raiding party isn't indicated by the number of arrowheads or spent shell casings found. One Indian can carry twenty or more arrows in their quiver, and in a well-planned attack, three or four men could've discharged a large amount of ammo." He gestured in the general direction of the Devil's Watchtower where the ruined wagon lay, "Both Chance and Regina were good shots. I would bet my last dollar that the two older children weren't bad either. At the very least, they could've reloaded for their parents. If the raiding party was small, Chance and Reggie could've handled them. The fact that Chance was trying to get to a defensible place suggests that he felt the odds were against them. Some of his decision was likely based on the fact they did have the children with them, but all things being equal, Chance wouldn't have run. If it were only Indians looking for plunder, he'd have handed it over. Walking to Poison might've been rough, but doable." Harriet listened to Shade's words and his opinion of the situation. He made sense. She frowned as she considered everything she had heard and seen that day. There were many reasons why the soldiers had not come to the conclusion that the identity of the attackers was unknown. She also understood why Marshal Cory had not launched a full investigation. Indian attacks fell under the army's jurisdiction, not the town marshal's. Besides, this area was closer to Poison than Kalispell. Scott Cory might have ridden down to have a look around, but in the end, he would have had no choice but accept the army's findings. White settlers were quick to believe that Indians were always the culprits. Shade's response was more reasoned. Harriet sighed softly before speaking, "We need to keep this evidence confidential and secure, perhaps share our theories and findings with Marshal Cory although there is little he can actually do right now." Quentin had leaned back, head and shoulders resting against the saddle while he thoughtfully puffed on a cheroot. He tugged it out and stared at the glowing end as he blew out a slow stream of smoke. "If...and I do mean if...this Marshal Cory is trustworthy we might share our suspicions with him...otherwise we keep all this to ourselves. One of the few advantages we have right now is that they don't know what we know. I don't want to give that away." Shade nodded his agreement with Quentin, "Scott Cory used to be a good man, but that was many years ago. People change." He started to lever himself off the ground, "Good dinner, ma'am," he said to Harriet, "I'll clean up." Harriet shook her head and stood up, dusting off the seat of her britches, "Thank you, Shade, but no. You and Quentin are pulling double duty with guiding and guarding as well as you are doing the lion's share of caring for the horses. The least I can do is the cooking and clean up." She gestured at Stahl to stay put as he made to rise before gathering the used dishes. Harriet scraped the few leftover bites of food on the plates into the fire. The rest, she wrapped securely to carry up and place in the stream for keeping cold. The grouse would be good with breakfast. Leaving the campfire, she made her way up and into the rocks.
  15. Turn of the Wheel

    As if in a trance, Shade moved closer, reaching out to rest his hand on the wagon's charred side. Wind and rain had scoured away the smells of death, and he was grateful. Shade had once helped search a burned-out farmhouse after an Indian raid near Laramie. The unique scents associated with the dead in that house had remained with him to this day. It was something he never wanted to experience again. The only scent remaining was the faint acrid smell of burned wood. Shade glanced down at the ground. Here, the long meadow grass had been charred to the earth leaving dirt and rock exposed where it met the stonier ground leading to the rock formation. A few yards east of the wagon and rock formation, Shade could see the rib bones of a large animal peeking through new shoots of grass. Cantrell dismounted and let the reins go. As they dropped the horses just stood in place, grazing on the grass in front of them. He slid his pistol back into its holster and walked up beside Shade. He stood looking at the wagon silently, feeling the weight of what it represented. Absently he reached up and tugged his hat off and held it at his side and ran the fingers of his free hand through his hair as he inhaled and then let out a long shaky breath. His arm came up, and one hand rested on Shade's shoulder, giving a squeeze once. Shade met Quentin's eyes, his own expressing gratitude for the older man's understanding. He hoped that Cantrell knew that he felt the same. They shared more than the trail north. The two men shared the pain of having lost those they loved. Shade frowned and pointed to the bones in the grass, "One of the horses." No doubt he would find scraps of hide amongst the skeletal remains, but he was in no hurry to inspect the carcass. Predators and carrion eaters would have picked it clean. Finding evidence of whether the animal had been an incidental casualty of the attack on the wagon would be next to impossible. Instead, he pointed past the wagon to the outcropping of massive boulders and spires of rock. "People call this formation the Devil's Watchtower. The region's Indians have many names for it. The one over there," Shade pointed to the south formation, "is called Wadi's Well because of the spring. It's long been considered a place of peace, a sanctuary." He rested one black-gloved hand on the wagon, "Chance was trying to reach the Watchtower. It's defensible. There's a narrow entrance where the rocks have tumbled together, no way in from the back, top or sides. One or two people can defend against a large party. Most Indians in the region avoid it, believing the nooks and caves to harbor evil spirits. Tribal names vary, but all have one thing in common, they refer to monsters or evil creatures that live in the dark places. It's bad medicine, bad luck." Something caught his attention, and he dug at an item embedded in the wagon's frame managing to pry loose yet another arrowhead for their growing collection. Harriet dropped to the ground from the driver's box, pausing to dust off the seat of her britches before approaching the wagon, stopping not far from where Shade stood. He'd stopped speaking and stood with one hand resting on the wagon and his head slightly bowed. He was so still that it seemed as if he were not breathing. Her misty gray eyes darkened slightly. She might be a hard and cold businesswoman, but she was not cruel by nature. Harriet instinctively knew that the younger man would not welcome her touch. Against all expectations, she understood that. He might have made a connection to Quentin Cantrell, but he was a long way from being comfortable with the rest of them. After giving Shade a few more moments, she asked, "What are you searching for, Mr. Harper?" Shade glanced back at Quentin and then at Harriet, noting that her crisp, cold voice had softened marginally. He gestured at the wagon and the ground around it, "Evidence. Something isn't right, doesn't make sense..." his voice trailed off making it clear that he knew something wasn't right about the deaths of his family, but he wasn't sure what didn't fit. Nodding, Harriet pulled the bandana from around her throat. She was an attorney. The concept of evidence was something she understood. Leaving Shade to look for the more obscure things that only a man raised to this life would see, she began looking for more obvious bits and pieces. Quentin began to walk around the wagon and the area nearby. Occasionally his foot would scuff on the ground. Every so often he would kneel, and his fingers would scrape at the ground. After several minutes he stood and looked in his hand at a pile of various objects. He placed the hat back on his head so his free hand could push and sort through the things in his palm. Finally, he looked up. "Shade...are the Indians who live around here well off?...I mean money wise?" Shade shook his head, "Financially, no. They have it a little better regarding feeding themselves because they never relied as heavily on the buffalo. Some of the nations were also willing to learn agriculture as white men settled the area. In general, they're more willing to barter and trade with us for what they need." Cantrell nodded. "That's about what I figured...I'm beginning to think something's wrong with this picture."

About Sagas of the Wild West

Sagas of the Wild West is a roleplaying game set in the American Wild West. It is based on the classic television and movie westerns of the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. The stories evolve around the women and men in a fictional version of Kalispell, Montana.



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