“GIT THE HELL OUTTA HERE AFORE I TURN YA TO BUZZARD BAIT!”
Warren Mears’ face, from what could be seen among the bandages, was as pale as these wrappings, as he wrenched his horse’s head around, and frantically spurred it to gallop off eastward, getting away as fast as he could from a furious Gil Favor.
That guide’s eyes turned deadly, as he studied the back of the man rushing away into the distance. It wasn’t that difficult a shot, the raging man considered, as his right hand slipped down to his rifle in its saddle holster. Gripping the stock as he calculated distance and windage, Gil abruptly snarled, and let go of his rifle, straightening up in his saddle as he balefully stared after the other man, now a few hundred feet and still going strong.
A cold smile suddenly appeared on the older man’s lips. Judging how that asshole was treating his horse, it was extremely possible that animal was soon going to become lame, or even run to death. And if that happened, its master was going to follow right after in extinction. A man stranded on the prairie, miles from any water holes and much further from any signs of civilization, was virtually doomed. Of course, there was the million-to-once chance of encountering Indians, who might actually help a white man who was totally alone, and possibly had valuables on him….
Snickering over this, Gil glanced once more at where Mears had gone, only to see that he’d disappeared into one of the minor folds of the prairie. Keeping a grim eye for several minutes on the spot at the horizon where that man had vanished, Gil finally turned his horse away, and put it into a canter. As he headed back towards the wagon train, the Westerner brooded over it all.
You did not hurt a white woman. Ever.
It wasn’t even like Mears had been drunk or shot off his pistol by accident. There had been enough witnesses that night to see that man rushing at his wagon while showing a crazed face, pulling out a pistol from under the wagon seat, to then turning around to aim this weapon at Tara Maclay standing across the clearing, and shoot her.
Right after that young woman had fallen to the ground, another guy close to Warren -- Andrew somebody -- who’d been collecting buffalo chips for his fire, had thrown a good-sized clod right at the attacker’s head, hitting him dead on in the face. By the time Mears had cleared away the dried manure from his eyes, he’d been brought down by the closest men there, who’d knocked away the pistol, and pummeled him into submission.
That beating had ended with Mears being gagged, wrapped in rope, and shoved into his wagon, as the train had then debated the man’s fate.
Looking around the bare, treeless plain stretching away forever into the distance, Gil snorted to himself that only the fact that there just wasn’t any place to hang Mears had kept that man alive then for the first half-hour. After that, tempers had cooled down slightly, while alternatives were discussed. Even if he wasn’t executed, nobody wanted Mears to stay with the train, under guard the whole way, until they got to someplace with laws. Taking a separate ride by horse with that offender to the nearest Army post meant a side trip of at least several hundred miles for anyone from the wagon train, along with even more delays as a hearing or a trial was carried out. Plus, there was always the possibility that nobody there would believe their story, or that Mears might talk or bribe his way out of any justice.
It had finally ended with that man being sent into exile, with just one horse and what he could stuff in his saddlebags. The guide had nearly exploded when Mears had whined for another pistol or rifle for self-defense. Gil’s savage question snarled then of “Sure, which orifice of yours do you want me to shove it in all the way, you bastard?” had finally shut the man up, along with Favor’s icy threat of killing him on sight if Mears even considering following the wagon train.
As he came over a minor ridge to see the wagon train before him, Gil put his horse into a gallop, as he searched for a specific wagon among those rolling over the prairie. He finally found it, and turned his horse towards it.
Xander Harris on the wagon seat was carefully picking out their route, making sure they were taking the smoothest possible path, but he nonetheless winced at every bump and jolt despite all his best efforts. Hearing hoofbeats on his right, the young man looked over there, and his face tightened at seeing Gil Favor riding towards their wagon.
“Whoa!” barked Xander, pulling back on the reins to stop the horses, all the while ignoring the stabbing pains this caused in his hands. As the wagon came to a halt, Xander grimly watched Gil come nearer.
Approaching the wagon, the older man couldn’t help himself, as he glanced at Xander’s hands wrapped around the reins he was holding, and the red stains that had seeped through the bandages around that teenager’s knuckles, where all of the skin had been scraped off.
While Gil sometimes considered Rowdy to be a total pain in the ass, that younger man’s reply to the trail boss’ demanding an explanation for dragging Xander off Mears before that teenager had beaten his friend’s attacker to death with his bare hands had made Favor admit to himself that the Texan was indeed a man to ride the river with.
“Kid’s gonna have enough bad memories in his life, boss. He don’t need to remember how he killed a man barehanded, who wasn’t even fightin’ back, even if it was deserved.”
The forbidding expression shown to Gil by Xander at that moment had the older man acknowledging that maybe it was for the best, after all. Gruffly clearing his throat, the guide spoke, “I’ve got something to say. Need to pass it on.”
Real menace in his gaze, Xander studied the other man on his horse for a few seconds, until the teenager leaned back in his seat, until the back of his head was by the canvas sheet across the front of the wagon, protecting the inside from weather and providing some privacy. Still intently looking at Gil, Xander called, “Wils, someone wants to talk to you.”
There was a short pause, until the sheet was pushed aside, and a young woman’s head poked out by Xander on his seat. Finally noticing Gil, Willow Rosenberg slowly nodded at him, her face still swollen and red from her near-continuous crying.
Again clearing his throat, Gil brought his horse a few steps closer to the wagon, until he could look directly into the wagon and at the redhead. He spoke as kindly as he could, “Missy, I sent him off, and he ain’t coming back, not if he knows what’s good for him.”
Then, Gil sent his gaze beyond Willow, to where another young woman was lying on her back on a thickly padded cushion of sheets and quilts, a large bandage wrapped around her chest, with a pale face and her eyes closed. Not sure if he was being heard, Gil determinedly went on anyway, “You got my word on that, Miss Maclay.”
Tara didn’t show any sign of life for a moment, until her left hand lifted in a feeble wave of recognition and acceptance. An instant later, Willow was by Tara’s side, grasping her hand and bestowing numerous kisses on the wounded girl’s fingers.
That was all Gil could see, since right after, Xander swept the sheet back in its position, hiding the two girls from sight. Not that Gil didn’t already have something else to consider, namely how Xander was now at extremely close range giving the older man a molten-eyed gaze of pure death on the hoof.
Gil calmly looked back, to say clearly, “You take care of your family, son.”
Xander blinked, and instantly transformed himself from a stone-cold killing protector back into a comical teenager with a wide grin on his face, as he said earnestly, “Always, sir.”
Nodding with satisfaction, Gil turned away his horse, and trotted off, hearing from behind himself, a gaily-spoken command of “Gee-up!” and the creaking and rattling of a covered wagon starting its journey again.
As he rode through the other wagons of the train, the guide considered what had happened back there, and then he just shrugged. Gilbert Favor was a hard man. This was something he didn’t regret or boast about, merely living with it, but Gil still looked at life straight on, and he accepted whatever came. Some people might consider that wagon with three young people to be containing an abomination against nature, but frankly, Gil just saw pure love there. And there was all too little of that anywhere.
The guide snorted at how soft he was getting, and then he put it out of his mind. Something that helped was seeing Warren Mears’ former wagon now being driven by Andrew -- what WAS his last name? -- proudly at the reins, and giving Gil a cautious nod. Deadpan, the trail boss flicked a casual salute at the young man, and saw the other’s chest swell up so much that he seemed about to float clear off his seat. One of the things that had been done before Mears had been thrown out of the train was extracting a full confession from that man that had been witnessed by at least twenty people who had attached their own names to this and also another document. Namely, the signing over all of Mears’ property, which included his wagon, stock, and everything else he couldn’t take with him.
Gil grinned. Xander Harris, Willow Rosenberg, and Tara Maclay were going to be pretty well-off when they got to Sunnydale, easily setting up their domicile. Plus, the man was sure that whatever else those people’s lives consisted of and what kind of strange life they’d share together, it would be a happy and loving home.
A flicker of motion out of the corner of his eye distracted Gil from his thoughts. Turning his head to squint through the dust caused by the wagon train, the guide recognized Rowdy coming from his lookout on another ridge further to the right of the wagon train. There was a fairly large creek on the left that would have kept Mears from circling in that direction past the wagon train, and if he’d tried that on the other side…. Well, Gil hadn’t heard any shots, and Rowdy was pure hell with his rifle.
Putting up his hand, Gil waved at his friend, receiving in turn another casual wave from Rowdy. Bringing down his hand, Gil started to head towards the front of the train, all while considering that they’d better keep an eye out for several days, but after that, it wasn’t likely that Mears would--
Another flash of motion caught Gil’s eye, this time from the back of one of the wagons creaking along. Puzzled, the guide stared at the vehicle. It was easy enough to know who it belonged to, as after so many miles, each cart had been battered enough by the trip and the weather for all to be as individual in their appearances as people’s faces. This was the Summers wagon, and right now, a white….rag?….was being fluttered at the end of somebody’s arm from the back of the wagon.
In the next instant, Rowdy Yates galloped up to the rear of the still-moving wagon, and bringing his horse to walk next to the right rear wagon, that man leaned over. Gil blinked at what happened next, as someone with blonde hair reached out, to fling her arms around Rowdy, and drag him off his saddle, as both people fell back into the wagon, which kept on solidly moving, as if nobody at the front had noticed anything. Rowdy’s horse with its empty saddle had been well trained, so it continued to trot along with the wagon.
The guide abruptly stopped his own horse, jerking back on the reins hard enough so that the animal shook its head in protest. The rider didn’t notice this, as his eyes were now squeezed shut in pure frustration, while the man yanked his Stetson off his head and then pounded his hat several times against the saddle horn. Finally opening his eyes, Gil Favor lifted his face to the heavens, and despairingly called out to whatever was listening.
“We’re not even halfway there! Please, let this be the end of everything strange that’s been happening!”
The Good Lord respondeth not.