The first time I saw him, I thought he was a drunk who had fallen asleep on the road before reaching his intended destination. Then I saw the chains and I wondered what did he do to deserve such a treatment. Herod’s men had a fondness for abusing people, but even in their cruelty the usually had reasons for their deeds, so I surmised that the man shackled to the fountain had somehow displeased Redemption’s owner.
I liked his courage, if nothing else.
Things got clearer when the shooting contest began. Herod took the stranger to Kid’s gun shop and when they stepped out the younger man had a weapon in his belt. Seeing him upright I noticed that he was dressed like a preacher, but despite this, his stance, the way his hands were positioned made me think that his life had been spent in something besides prayers. I guessed I was right when he won his match drawing and firing before his opponent had a chance even to blink. They chained him again and he sat where they left him looking miserable and his expression saddened after he had talked to the mysterious lady that was in town for the contest.
I’ve never seen someone like her before. She was tall, beautiful and resolute and she acted like no woman I had met before. In my experience women had two roads to follow: being respectable, getting married, having children that wasn’t my case or being a whore which was.
She didn’t look either and I envied her apparent freedom from both destinies.
But I was more intrigued by him. When I wasn’t working I found myself looking at him down in the dirty street. He was a handsome man, indeed, with honey-brown hair and a strong figure, somehow disguised by the wild grace with which he moved. What really caught me was his gaze, though. He had bright aquamarine eyes that stood out on his tanned and dusty face. They showed such a sadness that made my heart ache to know what had made him feel like that and – much to my astonishment – made me wish of being able to take the sorrow away. My long years of whoring had hardened my heart and frozen my feelings, but the warm gaze of that stranger was causing something inside of me that I wasn’t sure I liked.
Men like to talk, as much as they like to fuck, so I collected more information about him. His name was Cort, nobody knew if he had a family name. He had been running an orphanage somewhere in Mexico, until Herod had given order to drag him to Redemption to participate, willing or not, to the shooting contest. Rumors were that he used to rode with Herod and that his leaving the band had been an offense that the town owner hadn’t forgotten. Cort didn’t seem to mind of being manhandled and I wondered why. He never resisted, nor complained when they teased or taunted him, giving him food barely enough to keep him alive, or making him beg for water in the dry climate. The only person he talked to was the Lady and she didn’t seem nicer to him. I was puzzled and I didn’t like this at all.
Not at all.
Since that day’s prize for the winner was a night with one of us, we were all watching the contest from the Bordello’s windows. When Cort killed Spotted Horse thanks to a second bullet that the blind boy had tossed to him, Sandra, the girl chosen to be the reward whistled.
“I could have faired worst. After a nice bath, I won’t mind taking care of the preacher.” she said smirking and all the others laughed.
I simply couldn’t, without even knowing why.
After the fight they chained him to a fence, leaving him there for the rest of the afternoon. The lady had witnessed the contest and soon after I had seen her riding away in haste.
When the night fell Herod’s henchmen came to drag Cort to the whorehouse to “claim” his prize with them as captive audience and it was the first time I saw him resisting. Ratsy, and the others with him, began to beat him into submission. They discovered quite soon that reaching their goal was easily said than done. They hit with fists, trying to push him inside, but despite their efforts he refused to enter. They tried to haul him but they succeeded only when Ratsy rendered him unconscious knocking his head with the gun’s butt. When the preacher got limp in their grip, they dragged him inside for the show. Watching them transporting him upstairs to be raped, made my guts contract.
I know that a woman cannot rape a man, that he’s going to gain some pleasure from the thing, but what they had planned to do to him was at any rate a rape.
As they entered Sandra’s room, I decided to act.
Kid was next to me, half-drunk, with his girl Mattie on his lap not in a similar shape. He wasn’t paying attention to the surrounding so I choose him as a scapegoat.
I got up and went toward a big man who was reaching his table with two pints of beer in his hand. I trampled him, moving away before he could see me. He didn’t fall, but spilled the liquid onto his shirt. He cursed and when Kid looked at him with a stupid grin on his face, he bellowed: “What are you laughing at, fucking asshole?”
His words had the desired effect when the youngster removed Mattie from his lap and charged the burly man with a fury nearly enough to make up for the difference in size. The move caused the desired effect. Few moments after the first fist, the whole room was an unbelievable mess of rumors, fighting and shouting. While everyone was either looking at or participating in the fight, I climbed the stairs and hid in a dark corner right before Ratsy and other two daft sods stormed out from the room, followed by a half-naked Sandra.
The three men beamed at the commotion and hurried to join it, while she decided to simply assist. I sneaked unnoticed into her room, locking the door behind me, putting a chair under the knob for added security. When I turned I saw what they had been up to, before my arrival. They had chained the preacher to the bed and from the state of his shirt and trousers there were about to strip him and proceed with the show. He was still out cold, his head turned to the left with honey-brown hair covering his face. If I had needed more reasons to help him, his helplessness broke whatever reserve I had. I tucked his clothes in place, and then tried to wake him up. I uncovered his face and I stopped to watch him closely. He looked so innocent and young, like an angel who had traveled a long road in the humans’ world, getting his wings burned. I laughed at my own foolishness and lightly brushed his face with my hands. He moved, but nothing more than this and I began to worry about the wisdom of my acts. I had to hurry and I ended up doing something I had wished to do since I first saw him. I kissed him full on the mouth. Before being fully awake, he responded to my assault parting his soft lips so I could taste him. All of a sudden his eyes sprang open and thinking that I was the whore he had been brought here to have, he glared at me, breaking the kiss.
“Go away,” he growled and arched his body to push me away.
“Hush, Preacher. I’m here to set you free. Ratsy and the others aren’t here anymore.”
He looked at me in disbelief, and then he glanced around, taking in that we were alone in the room.
“Why?” he asked and his voice was deep and kind.
I thought idly that if I had such a voice talking to me about heaven, I might have attended the Sunday service more often that I did.
“Because I don’t think that they have the right to do this to you,” I answered instead.
“I thank you, but what if they find out?”
“Nothing if I go with you. Listen, I’m not trying to attach myself to you, but I was thinking to go away from here and we can help each other.”
He pulled at the shackles.
“I’d be pleased to be of some help, but Ratsy has the keys of my bracelets.”
“No problem,” I replied, taking a hairpin from my mane and beginning to work on the lock of the cuffs. Sensing his curiosity, I explained.
“When I was too young for the job, I used to be a thief. I hope this is not shocking you, Preacher.”
His reply was tinged with a smile: “Since you’re in bed with me and we’re going to travel together, you can call me Cort. And about your previous and present carrier as you have probably heard through the grapevine, I hadn’t always been a preacher and my former experience as a bank-robber prevents me from throwing the first stone.”
“Good. I would have hated being lectured.”
When I finally got the best of the lock, I opened the cuffs, biting my lips in order not to gasp at the scars the metal had left on his wrists. He lowered his arms with a sigh of relief, and then he managed to sit up, but stopped before getting onto his feet.
“No, as long as you can convince the room to stand still.”
Putting my hands in the hair on the back of his head, I found a bump where Ratsy had hit him. I reached for the basin near the bed and wetted a washcloth that I pressed on Cort’s head.
“Yes. Thank you,” he replied managing to stand up, with only a little swaying and I found this encouraging.
“We better use the window. We can walk by the porch’ roof and go down from there,” I offered and he nodded.
“Oh, shit,” Cort said as his head throbbed in pain because of the movement and I hid a grin, but he had expected my reaction and smiled back. I nearly gaped. I had already discovered that under the dirt of the streets there was a handsome man, but I wasn’t prepared for the effect of that expression had on him, or on me, for that matter. It should have been considered against the law. Ignoring the confusion he had brought in my insides, he stepped toward the window and while he moved with care, he seemed steadier by the moment.
“Go left, my room is two windows in that direction.”
He got out and made his way toward destination. I followed him, careful to be silent, even if, considering the noise coming from downstairs, my precaution was probably unnecessary. As we arrived he entered by the window I had left open and sat down on the floor.
“How do you feel?” I asked watching him pale under the tan.
“Need a little rest. My head is spinning and this short walk had been a real feat, I can assure you.”
“Sit there and relax while I gather my things.”
Cort’s eyes acknowledged my words. I was going to turn when he asked.
“Sorry if I didn’t ask before: what’s your name?”
“Alizon, as you probably know I’m Cort.”
We looked at each other with similar lopsided smiles. It was a kind of strange making presentation like the respectable people we certainly were not. I hurried to collect my few belongings while Cort closed his eyes. A loud crash startled us both.
“What’s happening downstairs?”
“I prepared a little diversion to buy us time and bring Ratsy and the others out of the room for a while.”
“I guess it’s working.”
“It wasn’t so hard. Convincing someone to start a fight it’s not exactly difficult in this town.”
“I think so when the chief of the community would teach some tricks to the devil himself,” Cort spat and his gaze sparkled of anger.
“Nice guy, isn’t he?”
I put few things in a carpetbag, collected my money from its hiding place and then I changed my ‘work clothes’ with riding pants and I didn’t bother to hide myself in the process. I noticed that Cort’s gaze was on me. He was looking at me like a man, rather then like a preacher and I was glad. It was refreshing to be looked at, not just leered. I took my gun and some bullets from a drawer.
“Do you know how to use that thing?” he asked me when I loaded the weapon with unskilled hands.
“Enough not to kill my feet.”
“Would you mind if I take it?”
“I thought you didn’t want to use a gun,” I said stunned.
“I still don’t, but since we need a weapon, it would be better if I handle it.”
“All right. I give you credit for your superior skills,” I answered. I hadn’t meant to tease, but I cursed my stupidity when I saw him growing sadder. I shrugged and closed the bag. By the time I reached him, he looked better and got up with just a little swaying. We got out from the same window and went to the left extremity of the porch roof. He climbed down first and landed gracefully, before gesturing to throw him the bag. I obeyed, and then I followed him. I was moving very carefully because I wasn’t used to mountaineering and I was glad for his help to reach the ground. His big hands felt great on my ass, more than a man’s had in years. The racket in the whorehouse went on, so our steps alarmed no one. As we reached the dry goods store, we stopped and Cort asked me: “Do you have a horse?”
“Shit, no. Never had,” I replied suddenly thinking to the very particular that could prevent our escape.
“I’d hate to say this, but we should steal one. We cannot simply walk away. They would catch us in a flash.”
“But you can be hanged for that.”
“What do you think Herod would do to me if I get caught? We have not a lot of choice.”
Cort’s face turned into stone while I was watching him and the gun appeared in his hand.
“You can take mine. It’s the sorrel in the third stall of the livery stable.”
I turned startled because I hadn’t heard her coming. It was the mysterious lady who was looking at Cort with something resembling a smile.
“Why?” he just asked,
“Because you need it more than me. If I win the contest, the prize will be enough to buy a whole herd of horses. If I am to die, I won’t need a horse anymore and better with you than under the ass of one of Herod’s thugs.”
Cort stared at her for a while.
“When you’ll be in front of him, look at his face, not at his hands. His mouth twitches when he’s about to draw. Be ware of his men, too. As you know, he likes to change the rules, especially when he knows the value of his opponent,” he said at last.
“Good luck and thank you for the horse,” he concluded.
“Thank you for your piece of advice. Good luck to you both,” she replied and walked away in the darkness of the street.
The stables were dark, but I managed to light up a lantern. Cort found the Lady’s horse and saddled it, then brought it out. He closed the door before helping me to mount. Then he climbed up in front of me and we rode away from Redemption.
Mattie had helped Kid to reach the doctor’s house. The old man let them in and brought up some light. He examined the guy’s right shoulder, founding it dislocated.
“This is going to hurt,” he informed his patient, just before grabbing him and putting the bone back in place. Kid cursed and passed out could. The doctor bandaged him, securing the arm to the chest to prevent dangerous movements, and then took a good look at the minor bruises on his young face.
“In a few days, he’ll be as good as new, but he’s not going to use that arm for a while.”
“Good!” The girl replied, “He’s not going to challenge Herod.”
Someone knocked at the door.
“It’s open,” Doc answered and the Lady got in.
“How’s he?” she asked and Mattie was puzzled and a little jealous at her concern.
“Not bad, everything considered. A dislocated shoulder. Painful but not fatal.”
“Good. So he won’t be able to fight tomorrow.”
“Not a chance.”
“Good,” The Lady repeated, echoing Mattie’s words. “So I’ll have my chance to challenge Herod.”
“Weren’t you supposed to meet the preacher?”
“Not anymore,” she said smiling. When the Doc was about to ask how she knew she waved his question back. “You’d better ignore it. Tomorrow everything will be clear.”
“All right. I know that nothing I could say is going to make you change your mind. Just be careful. I already lost a friend. I wouldn’t want to lose his daughter, too.”
“I’ll do my best,” she answered on her way outside. The old man sighed.
We had rode quite fast for a couple of miles, before reducing the pace to a speed that could be easily maintained for longer periods, bearing in mind the double weight.
I was amazed at Cort’s ingenuity to remain in someone else’s path to fool a search and I wondered how could he see so well in the darkness. The moon was high in the sky, but in my opinion he might well have cat’s blood. My travel companion hadn’t talked during the ride but I surmised that he was tired and needed all his strength to pay attention to the road. From time to time he stiffed his spine and, as the night went by, I felt his back’s muscles trembling fighting weariness. Around dawn he spoke with a hoarse voice.
“I think we better stop before I fall from the horse. I’ve trouble to see straight.”
“All right, but where?”
He looked around, pointing to some rocks nearby that could provide a sort of shelter and he spurred the equally tired horse in that direction. Once there I dismounted first, so did he, managing with some difficulty not to fall. I took the blanket from beyond the saddle and arranged for a sleeping place near one of the stones, while he tended to the horse. Cort walked slowly toward me, stumbling once. I helped him to ease onto his back, and then I gave him some water. He was so tired and sore that I think the he was asleep before touching our “bed”. I snuggled close to him under the small blanket and felt asleep in his warmth.
I dreamed of him. Strange, isn’t it?
Ratsy was snoring loudly when he was kicked.
“What the hell?” He swore then as he focused his demeanor changed “Oh, Mr. Herod, didn’t know it was you. Do you need something?” He managed to say, trying to regain his wits, despite the hangover.
“Where is Cort?” Redemption’s owner growled.
“Cort?” Ratsy replied still dazed.
“Yes, Cort. Remember that big fellow, with blue eyes and chains? You were supposed to guard him.”
“Oh, yea. He’s upstairs. We had him secured to a bed because he wasn’t cooperating.”
“Cooperating in what?”
“We wanted him to collect his prize. The whore you offered to the winner of yesterday’s contests.”
“Where is he exactly?” Herod added, not even trying to hide his annoyance.
“If you’d like to follow me,” Ratsy blabbered, sensing how this was the line between anger and murder in his master’s line of dealing with people. Staggering to a standing position, he somehow reached the first floor and after a while he was even able to recall which was the room where they had brought the preacher. He tried the door but it remained shut. Puzzled, he tried again but still unsuccessfully. While his addled brain refused to work properly about a solution for the contingent problem, Herod decided to act. He pushed Ratsy away, drew his gun and pulverized the lock. Through the resulting hole he pushed away the chair keeping the door shut and slammed it open. The view wasn’t one of his likings: the only sign of Cort’s presence in there were the shackles on the bed.
“We… We left him here, Mr. Herod, as you can see…,” Ratsy attempted to say but his stammering words faded as he spotted the empty bed.
“Oh, really Ratsy? That’s kinda strange ‘cos’ I don’t see anyone in here.”
Herod’s words were cold, just like his eyes when he drew his gun once again, shooting the other man without even flinching. A single bullet between the eyes and everything was over. Redemption’s owner stepped over the corpse and headed downstairs to find some of the others.
As the sunlight woke me up, it took me a few minutes to collect my thoughts and to remember the reason why my mattress was as hard as the ground, or rather it was the ground itself. Cort was still sleeping and I looked at him. Despite the dark circles under his eyes and three days stubble, he was still the most handsome man I’ve ever seen and – believe me – I can consider myself an expert of male specimen. His hair was tousled and dusty, but it looked soft and I didn’t resist and run my hand through it. I was right, it felt good. Damn the dust. The touch was feather-like, but he woke up and gave me a sleepy smile.
Damn, he shouldn’t do this. It isn’t fair turning a girl’s insides into jelly with so little effort.
“Good morning, Alizon.” He said and the melting went worst.
“Good morning, Sleeping Beauty. Slept well?”
“I sort of passed out, I guess.”
“Nearly. Suppose it has something to do with that cute bump on your head.”
“Yea. Think so.”
“Where do we go from here?”
“There’s a town called Afterthought at a half day ride from here. We could head there and then decide where to go next.”
We collected the few things we had used to sleep, drank from the flask and ate some of the dried meat the Lady had in the saddlebags. Not my idea of breakfast, but better than starving. Cort wolfed down his part in moments and I guessed it was because he was actually really hungry. At last we mounted and made our way toward our destination.
Herod was really angry of Cort’s escape, but decided to start the researches after the duel in the morning. Kid had challenged him, but since the doctor had said that he was in no shape to draw a gun, he was going to face the Lady. He wasn’t actually afraid, the only gunsligher he had ever been afraid of was Cort, but he was cautious nonetheless and prepared his weapon with the greatest care.
The half-day ride took us more than expected because we were caught in a shower midway. When we finally reached Afterthought, we were both drenched and Cort was coughing and sneezing. We left the horse at the stables, before stumbling into the saloon. The owner wasn’t overly pleased of the poor conditions of our clothes, but I credited them to the bad weather and asked a room for Mr. and Mrs. Anson. It was too soon for dinner, so I asked for a bath first and then for a dinner for two, abundant I pointed out. We were shown our room, small but cozy. When a couple of boys arrived with the tube and the hot water, Cort insisted that I was first. After the road it was heaven and I purred in delight. With a lot of reluctancy I got off to be replaced by Cort. I swear I wanted to turn my head when he stripped, but I cannot resist and I observed him with delight removing layer after layer. The sight made me emit a wolf-whistle. Cort looked at me puzzled and, if my eyes were right, blushing.
How could he be so unaware of his charms?
By the way I offered myself to help him and he while he tried to refuse, he didn’t argue that much and I enjoyed every single moment of the bath, even though he felt asleep while I was washing his hair. So much for my planned seduction! I decided for limit myself to touch him without seeming too hungry and I woke him up to have dinner. He wrapped himself in a spare blanket I found in a drawer and waited for the meal. We were both hungry so we ate everything in a heartbeat, sending grateful thoughts to the cook. Cort managed to eat nearly everything that I shoved into his plate, but only hunger had made his eyes stay open. He yawned throughout the meal and when he had finished he was already half asleep. I led him to the bed, taking a mental note to do this again when he was better, with a different goal than tucking him in. He ruined my plans falling asleep probably the very second his head touched the pillow but I decided to forgive him. As long as he was better after a good sleep.
The fight was scheduled at 10 a.m. and Herod was dead on time. He laughed to himself at the thought of his choice of words. He strode down the street, his men at his sides, his shining guns in their holsters.
Helen was ready, too. The nervousness she had felt before seemed having evaporated in the unforgiving sun. This was the time when everything would come to an end. She saved a stray thought to the preacher and the saloon girl she had helped to run away from Herod’s idea of hell and she wished them good luck. It was just a moment. Soon, too soon, it was time to kill.
Cort woke up coughing the following morning. I gave him water, but he went on shaking, until he had no breath left. I touched his forehead; it was cold and clumsy.
Fucking great, he was feverish.
I climbed down the bed, dressed quickly and headed downstairs. The saloon was nearly empty, only an unknown man behind the counter and three people having breakfast.
“Is there a doctor in town?” I asked to the man at the bar.
“Yes, but I saw him riding out of town yesterday to reach a farm where a woman was having labor. He said he didn’t know when he’d come back.”
“Shit!” I muttered, shocking the man.
“What’s the matter, Madam? How can I help you?”
I turned and saw a man looking at me with kind eyes.
“I’m no doctor,” he continued “but I had acquired some skills and maybe I can help you.”
I looked at him doubtful until when I decided that letting him have a look at Cort wasn’t going to damage him. I nodded and he followed me upstairs, saying something to his wife and kid. She smiled the same sweet smile and I noticed in that moment that she was Apache and their child was a half-breed. The man had courage, I thought.
We reached the room in time to hear Cort coughing. We hurried inside and I went next to him to water him. He drank greedily and returned to lean on the pillows. He was drenched in sweat, his eyes at half-mast. The man approached to the bed and put his hand on Cort’s forehead, then neat his throat. With soothing words he coaxed my drowsy companion to open his mouth to take a look there, before turning toward me.
“I think he has flu. It shouldn’t be serious, he needs to stay warm and rest a lot. I have something in my room that may be helpful.
“I thank you very much Mr. …..”
“Francis, Harold Francis.”
“I’ll be right back.”
True to his word, he returned in moments. He removed the sheets from Cort’s chest and blotted it dry with a cotton cloth, and then prepared a sort of bad smelling poultice that he spread on his skin, before covering it with some wool. Cort stirred slightly, but as the substance started to react to his body heat, his breathing seemed to get easier. I thought Francis had finished when he produced from his bag an ointment that he used on Cort’s wrists, deeply wounded by the shackles. When he was apparently satisfied, he bandaged the scars with soft cotton.
“I don’t know how to thank you, Mr. Francis. You helped me very much. May I give you something for your help?”
“No, that’s not necessary. I did it with pleasure. If you need something else, just let me know. I’ll return later to check on him.”
Unbelievably at loss of words, I greeted him and went back to bed to see how Cort was faring. He was still feverish, but he was sleeping and I surmised this was for the best. I sat next to him, waiting.
Ellen’s eyes were focused on Herod’s mouth, while her hands were ready on the mother-pearl handles of her guns. The clock stroke ten and the contenders drew. As predicted, only one remained standing.
It was kind of strange being seated next to a bed hosting a man. Not that I never did that, but not in similar circumstances. I barely knew him and I was hoping that he would get better soon and not only so that I could have him. This calm was something I hadn’t experienced often in my life and I welcomed it for once. I let my own restlessness relenting for a while. Cort slept the day long, barely waking up from time to time, asking for water. In these occasions he gave me a tired smile that was worth the hours spent watching over him. The more I remained with him, the more I wanted to know him better. Sometimes he was caught in a nightmare and he trashed in his sleep. He didn’t talk, but it seemed so painful for him that I usually took his hands in mine to let him know that I was there. This seemed soothing him somehow and I realized during that long, strange day, that I was falling in love with him and I hadn’t a bloody idea of what to do about the whole thing.
The townspeople of Redemption were shocked.
Their master was lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood.
That meant freedom.
What a strange sensation.
A new one, indeed.
It was middle afternoon when Francis’ wife knocked to our room, asking me if Cort or I needed something. She had her husband’s gentleness so I asked if she could stay with Cort for a few moments, while I went to buy something at the dry-goods store. She accepted and I went out. The store was just two building from the saloon and I indulged in observing the good on sale. I’ve been in Redemption’s, but since it was well-know what I did for a living, the tightlipped pillars of the local congregation, always looked at me with distaste, probably because their loving husbands spent more of their spare time at the whorehouse, than at home. I didn’t care what they thought about me, but I hated being stared at. Out of an impulse, I bought a cotton dress for me, green and white, very simple but I liked it. Then I picked up a shaving kit for Cort and a new shirt. I was tempted not to buy a nightgown for him, since my plans about his future, involved something for which clothes would be a hindrance, but I resisted to urge to let the garment on the shelf and purchased it. Grinning like a cat that was hopefully going to steal the cream of her life, I paid my purchases and returned to the hotel.
Cort was still out and the Indian woman was reading a bible. I envied her, I never learned how to read and I was barely able to write my own name. Too bad that now it was too late for me.
“He’s been quiet. Your husband is a very nice patient.”
“He’s not my husband and he’ll probably never be, ” I bitterly added to myself, regretting my need to hide the truth to someone who had been so kind to me. It never bothered me before and I wondered why I was so upset.
Herod’s men were just as stunned as the townspeople.
Their leader, their shield, their key to power was lying in the dirty street and it was unlikely he would get ever get up. He had been shot in a contest he himself had started and they were positively at loss of ideas. They looked at each other in disbelief. Showing pride, violence and cockiness with someone like Herod providing the protection of his personality was different from trying this yourself, thinking with your own head.
And there was the mysterious Lady, the woman who had shot Herod.
Her steel blue gaze burning holes in their minds.
They didn’t know what to do.
I spent part of the evening, dining and chatting with the Francis’. The man was a preacher, who was headed north, in a new founded village whose people had asked for his services. He had previously worked in the Indian territories where he had met his wife and where he had learned some of the skills he had used to help Cort. Now he was waiting for a caravan that was supposed to arrive soon. I knew that he was curious about Cort, and me but he asked nothing and I began to like him for that. I’ve never been overly fond of Churchmen and the like. In my experience they were either overzealous in their attempt to redeem the Magdalene, or even too much eager to taste a bit of her medicine. He was different and I enjoyed this strange evening, so “normal” and thus so unlike those I used to spend dragging men to my bed, or pushing them away afterward. I relaxed in this unusual experience and I spent one of the best evenings of my life.
The Lady decided for everyone declaring loud enough to be heard from a great part of Redemption.
“Move away from here before I change my mind and shot you where you stand.”
There was a buzz of activity while Herod’s men, without stopping to think that they were many and she was alone, reached hastily for their horses and rode away from Redemption in a cloud of dust.
The next day Cort was faring better, while Francis returned to take a look at him. He was still weak and coughing, but he managed to stay awake a little more. The preacher was friendly and I actually saw my companion smile at him. When we were alone in the room, I sat on the bed next to Cort.
“Thank you very much for everything, Alizon,” he said, taking my hand. “I’m sorry being such a bother for you.”
“You’re not and even if you were, it’s not like I don’t enjoy some peace in my life.”
“I guess that the both of us didn’t have a lot of it,” he observed and his tone was half serious. The small smile I’d seen before was back and I returned his expression in kind.
I felt silly, grinning like an idiot at a man I barely knew but – at the moment – that wasn’t really important, as long as I can be next to this particular man.
Later in the afternoon I was watching out of the window, when I saw two of Herod’s henchmen stopping at the saloon. I slid out of sight and hurried to grab by bag looking for the gun. I tried to be as quiet as possible, but Cort must have heard me and opened his eyes.
“What’s wrong, Alizon? Why are you looking for the gun?”
It wasn’t my intention telling the truth, but I was so upset that I ended up spilling it anyway.
“I saw two of Herod’s thugs in town. They’re coming here.”
In moments his face turned to stone.
“Give me the gun” – he ordered “and go away from the room. Stay with the preacher and let me alone. Now!”
“I cannot leave you here to face them.”
“You must! Go away! Now!”
Not really knowing what to say to question his strategy, I ran away from the room. The sound of the lock of the door was ominous. I reached the preacher’s room and I knocked hastily. The man’s wife came to open with a puzzled expression that became concerned when she saw me.
“Would you mind if I stay here for a while?” I asked and she let me in without a second thought.
“I saw two men arriving at the hotel and I don’t want, I cannot be seen here. They… they are trouble.”
“And your husband?”
“He remained in the room.”
“But why isn’t he with you?”
“I …. I cannot explain. It’s a long story,” I replied, horribly concerned by what could happen or be happening to Cort. I knew that he was quite capable of taking care of himself without having to bother about me, but I cannot help feeling like alone and empty without him.
“Stay here, while I call my husband,” the woman said heading to the door.
“No! Don’t run any risk.”
“I won’t. They don’t know me. Let me go.”
She was out of the room before I could stop her and I heard her steps vanishing in the silence of the first floor of the hotel. A few moments passed, while I paced back and forth. She was back in a few moments that have seemed hours.
“Good news, the two men just stopped to drink a beer and rode away. They said few words about a man who had been shot by a woman in a town called Redemption, but they didn’t seem sorry for him.”
Who would? was my first thought, then something more surfaced.
Herod had been killed!
So the Lady had used Cort’s piece of advice wisely. I shook the woman’s hand, before sprinting out of the door, running to my room. I knocked at the door yelling my head off.
“Cort! Open the door! It’s me! It’s me! Please open the door!”
I heard sounds coming from inside, footsteps and the key moving in the lock, then I caught a glimpse of Cort’s gaze as he opened the door just a few inches, the gun in his hand.
“What happened? Why didn’t you stay safe with the preacher?” he growled.
“Herod’s dead! We’re safe! We’re safe!”
“What do you mean, safe?” He asked dumbfounded.
“The preacher’s wife told me that the two men who came riding weren’t looking for us. They said that they left Redemption because Herod had been shot by a woman. We’re free.”
His aqua gaze was fixed on me, as if trying to believe. Then he dropped the gun, falling on his knees. I bent down to look at him. I moved the hair fallen to hide his eyes, putting my hand on his forehead. He was hot and sweaty, his breathing uneven. I helped him on his feet, leading him toward the bed where he collapsed. I covered him with the quilt and gave him water, while he tried to calm the wild beating of his heart. When he was better he said:
“I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to drop on my knees like that. I feel like a damsel in distress at the sight of her shining knight coming to the rescue.”
“How do you know about such novels?” I asked stunned. Being unable to read had actually prevented me from appreaciating the joy of romance books, but there was a girl at the brothel who spent much of her earnings in them.
“I got nothing else to read at the mission. An old woman had left her library for the children, but she didn’t mention her tastes. I had to keep them in my room. It would have been kind of strange teaching the children to read using ‘The maiden and the barbarian prince.”
I started to smirk, but I was suddenly lost in guffaws, joined by Cort in moments. When the mirth subsided, he closed his eyes for a while, taking a deep breath.
“Herod’s dead,” Cort whispered to himself and as he looked back at me I saw ice in his gaze. “I know that I shouldn’t say this, but I’m happy he died. He was evil and he finally got what he deserved. I know I should ask forgiveness for my thoughts but right now all that I can think of is that there’s one less cruel animal on the face of the earth.”
“I don’t see why you shouldn’t be happy that he’s dead. If there’s ever been a man deserving to get shot, that was Herod and I’m not going to waste a single tear on his grave,” I observed.
“As a preacher I was taught to forgive and turn the other cheek. I tried and tried and tried to feel differently, but he was the one who showed me the road to hell and gave me a shove toward it.”
His voice was hoarse and not for the fever. Of that I was sure, looking at his angry gaze that told me that it would have been unwise to press him any further to tell me what he had meant. I took his hands, instead, massaging them. He had big warm hands, roughened by use and yet soft in the middle. He didn’t seem to notice at first, but after a while I felt him relaxing under my touch. The fever has broken and he was cooler, even if I can feel the trembling of the exhaustion through his skin. In the end he returned my touch lightly, until it faded into sleep. I kissed him, going out to thank the preacher’s wife.
When I arrived at their room, they were both present and their worried smile was something that I haven’t seen before addressed at me. People tend to think that whores aren’t entitled to feelings, so their kindness did something to my resolve to hide my identity and a I ended up telling them how and why Cort and I arrived in town. I didn’t betray Cort’s secrets, but I reveled pretty everything of the rest.
“This is a cruel story.” Francis said and he put concern in his words. “What are you going to do now that threat to your live seems to be over?”
“I don’t know. I must talk to Cort about this. We helped each other in a moment of need and desperation, but I’m not sure about how he feels about all that thing.”
“May I ask you something, Alizon?” The man’s wife, Wild Flower, demanded”I know that you and Cort aren’t married, but are you in love with him?”
“Is it so plain to see?” I asked self-consciously, not even bothering to deny the truth.
“Yes, quite,” she replied with a sympathetic smile. I shrugged, trying not to get accustomed to it, knowing that I wasn’t going to find such kindness again. On the other hand, it was such a warming sensation, that I just couldn’t help but enjoy.
That evening Cort woke up a bit more himself and was able to eat something.
“I said to the preacher and his wife why we’re here. I didn’t talk about you, though. Do you mind?”
“No, I don’t,” he answered somehow sadly. After a while, he added: “They’re such good people. I … I don’t deserve their trust.”
“My sins cannot be forgiven. Not by a holy man.”
“You told me you were a bank robber. I’ve been a thief and a whore, but I don’t think we had lot of choices. My mother was a whore who was killed at a young age by a drunken customer. I cannot read or write and nobody will ever consider me as a wife. So what? We survived and that’s what matters.”
“I killed people and while I don’t feel sorry for most of them, there’s one death that’s haunting me. Herod made me murder a padre, down in Mexico. He was a very good man that saved and cured us after we got shot by the federales who were waiting for us outside a bank. Seeing that he was trying to convince me to change my life, Herod threatened to kill me if hadn’t shot the padre. I obeyed and my life turned into hell. I left Herod; I became a preacher to beg for God’s forgiveness for my unforgivable sins but my past returned with a vengeance. I used to run an orphanage and when Herod’s men came for me, they burned down everything. I’m not sure, but I think I saw the children running away. At least I hope so, I don’t want to have also their lives on my soul.”
He paused, his eyes haunted and pained by the sorrowful memories.
“And when Herod had me hanging from a rafter in the saloon I nearly hoped to die to stop the pain, but it didn’t work. The Lady saved my like and I was back in my nightmare. Nothing had really changed. I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t going to draw, but I couldn’t just wait to be slaughtered. I often wonder why God gave me a talent for killing and a conscience, too. It would have been so much easier being either a bad gun, or a cold-hearted bastard as Herod.”
“Life is not meant to be easy for people like us. We do what we have to in order to survive. Sometimes we make mistakes.”
“Mistakes? I killed a man who saved my life!”
“The actual mistake was following Herod, but I’ve seen the effect he has on people. He is – or better – he was devious but charming as hell. He knew very well how to manipulate people and from what I saw, you were the probably the only one who opened his eyes about that bastard’s true nature. He made you kill that man because of your attempt to live your own life. He wanted you back to his hell. The padre’s life is a stain on his heart, much more than on yours.”
“Do you think so?”
“Yes I do. And now that he had died, you’d better try to go on with your life.”
Cort remained silent for a while, while his thoughts fought with his feeling. I could read everything in his eyes, so clear and open, despite the weariness and the fever.
“How could I ever thank you enough, Alizon, for what you did for me,” he said at last, while his expression softened a little.
“It was a pleasure and you helped me to decide something really important. Your courage in defying Herod gave me strength.”
He looked at me and when he realized that I wasn’t lying, smiled. It was just a small smile, but it gave me hope. He took my hand, placing a gentle kiss on the palm. I ended up smiling like an idiot to him.
The following day Cort was definitely better and got up to have breakfast. When we were eating, the preacher came in to check on him. Cort was wary in his presence and when the older man checked the scars on his wrists, he asked: “Aren’t you curious to know how I got these?”
“Of course I am, but I’m not going to ask anything that you’re unwilling to share. And despite what you may thing, I’m not judging you or your companion.”
Cort looked at me, a question in his eyes. Understanding his intentions, I greeted him and the reverend and got out from the room.
After a few moments in which only silence filled the room, Cort started to narrate. The preacher listened to his words without a sound and Cort wondered if that was due to shock or disgust. He didn’t want to know, so he kept his eyes downcast, focused on his hands.
“I’m sorry for what happened to you.”
“Why should you? It wasn’t your fault.”
“I feel sorry for the pain you experienced. I don’t think that you’re evil, but that man you talked about, Herod certainly was and he was proud of it. He made you do horrible things for the sake of his madness.”
“How can you say that? You barely know me, I could have lied to you.”
“Don’t think that I’m an innocent fool trusting everyone because of my mission. I know enough about you and I’m rarely wrong judging people. How old were you when you joined Herod?”
“I think 12 or 13.”
“You’re not sure?”
“No,” Cort admitted somehow shy to share this part of his life. “I grew up in the streets, where someone tended to me, but those who did weren’t my parents. They told me once that they found me in a basket; sometimes they had other stories so I’ve never been sure of who I was, or who I actually am. As a matter of fact I don’t have a surname, either.”
“So you’re just Cort?”
“You had a tough life, really tough. Sometimes I think that my youth was heaven compared to that of most of people I met in my life. I’ve been loved and cared for and I was so happy at having received so much that it seemed natural to me sharing this love with someone else.”
“That’s why you became a minister? To give love?”
“Yes, sort of what you did?”
“Me? How could you say so?”
“It was clear in your words that you wanted to pay for the pain you caused and you choose to do this through love.”
“I never thought this way.”
“I guess you should. Maybe you didn’t realized it before, but you’re a good man.”
“I’m not merely a sinner. I’m a murderer. I killed someone who helped me.”
“I’m not saying you’re or were an angel. You surely did bad things, wrong ones, but you tried to make amends and you were and are sorry. You were very young when you took the wrong way and you were exposed to a powerful and evil man that used you for his own dark goals. You are to blame for your sins, but you were pushed toward them and Herod was the one who really murdered that Padre. You pulled the trigger, but the soul behind that crime was Herod’s.”
“He laughed. I still remember his cold laughter echoing in my brain, soon after the shot. It was the worst thing. His derisive laughter at the man bloodied on my feet and he laughed even harder seeing my distress.”
“What happened next?”
“I rode with him for a few days more. One night I waited for him to be asleep and went away. I didn’t see him again, until his men found me at the mission I was running near Hermosillo.”
“Now that you’re free from his influence, what are you going to do?”
“Don’t know. I haven’t a house, work or money.”
“Would you like to come with us?”
“I’m headed north with my family to work in a newly founded town. We’re waiting for a caravan to take us there. Would like to come along?”
“But what would I do there? I cannot be a preacher and I don’t think they’ll need a gunfighter.”
“Can you read, can’t you?”
“Yes, I used to reach the children back at the mission.”
“You could do this, teach. I was asked to bring a teacher with me, but until now I wasn’t able to find one willing to go this far.”
Cort froze ad the other man’s words, thinking at the promise they contained. A new life, teaching, helping children in their road to life. Not without guilt, but surely without fear.
“Can you give me some time to decided?”
“Yes, we’re going to stay here for another week.”
“Thank you,” Cort said and the older man smiled at the spark of hope he saw in those sad eyes.
When I returned to our room, Cort looked better than I ever saw him, it was as if speaking with the preacher had triggered something in him. He smiled at me and ….. Damn, I never wanted to fall for him and this is was I ended up doing. I didn’t simply fall; I crumbled.
“Alizon, what did you plan to do after rescuing from the brothel?” Cort asked me abruptly, startling me out of my thoughts.
“Not sure. I hadn’t planned that far. But why are you asking?” I said but I wasn’t sure I was going to like the answer.
“The preacher offered me to join him in his journey north, as a school teacher.”
My heart sank. He had needed me to escape from Redemption, but now that he was going to get a new life, he surely didn’t a whore as luggage.
“When are you going to leave?” I asked, masking my feelings below an indifferent tone.
Damn! Damn! Damn” was the singsong in my mind.
It hurt like hell not to show how much I was upset, how much I wanted him to stay. I sat down, trying to avoid his eyes.
“Next week,” he said and when I really feared I was going to ran out of the room he added “would you to come with me, as my wife?”
I must have looked like the idiot I felt, because he grinned.
“Are you kidding, aren’t you? This is not something to joke about. It’s serious.” I knew I was betraying myself utterly, but I just couldn’t stand his words.
“I’m serious. Never been more serious in my life. I know I should be kneeling in front of you with a ring, but presently my legs are a little wobbly and it would be embarrassing not to be able to stand after my proposition.”
I tried to answer to his smile, but I couldn’t.
“But… you cannot really mean to marry me. I’m a whore and I’ve been a thief… and…”
He silenced me very effectively with a kiss that made my toes curl in appreciation.
“Do you remember how we met, don’t you?” he asked me in a deep sensual tone “Was is at the Sunday’s office? Or at Redemption’s Spring Fair? Do you remember who I am? Were you listening when I told you about my past?”
“Yea!” I replied, trying to remain coherent under the assault of his mouth and hands, doing wonderful things to my skin. “But now you’re going to get a new life and you don’t need me.”
“That’s true, I don’t need you, but I love you and I want to be with you. If you don’t share my feelings, I’ll accept it, but if you do, please don’t say no.”
“I don’t know…” I stammered. “I … I”
“A simple yes, would do just nicely.”
Well, that was unfair. How could a girl concentrate while kissed by the sweetest lips under the sun? I tried to collect my remaining wits to forge an answer and I came out yelling “YES!”
I grabbed him on the back of his neck to pull him closer. I kissed him deeply and he replied so hotly that I feared I was going to burn from the inside. I let my hands roam all over him, forgetting words, promises and travels, reveling in the sensation of his flesh. The silky texture under my touch was making me crazy, as did his hands exploring every inch of my body. I thought fleetingly that for the first time in years, I was making love and being made love to, instead of fucking and be fucked for money and I treasured the feeling. He abandoned his exploration for a little while, taking him time in undressing me, showing that his dexterousness didn’t apply only to gunplay. I returned the favor and when we were both naked, we took a moment for a visual exploration. It didn’t last long, though, because our mutual urgency overwhelmed curiosity and we clung to each other. He eased me onto my back on the bed still kissing me, separating my mind from my body quite effectively.
“Are you sure you were a preacher?” I asked hoarsely and he laughed against my skin.
“Not all my life. Before that, I was a sinner, don’t forget it.”
I lowered my hand between our bodies, taking hold of him and he gasped. His caresses and mine became more intimate and when he finally took me it was heaven. I moved with him, using my skills to make his experience as much wonderful as it was for me. We went on in a frenzy, unable to contain the passion and the fire burning deep inside. Our kisses were hungry and I ravaged his mouth in time with his ravaging of my body. Orgasm took us nearly at the same moment and we lost our battle with awareness for more than a while.
I was cuddled in his arms and I decided that I wasn’t going to get up anymore. Forever. His breathing was still a bit ragged, but it was nonetheless so good listening to the heartbeat under my ear. It was such an odd feeling this closeness, the feeling that he felt for me and that he thought that I was a woman deserving respect that I wanted to cry and this was exactly what I ended up doing. I was silent in my crying, but when my tears began to dampen his chest, Cort put a finger under my chin, looking into my eyes.
“Is there something wrong, Alizon? Did I hurt you?” he asked and the concern in his voice, made me weep even harder.
“No, Cort, never. It’s just so unlike what I had until now, that I was afraid it wasn’t real. I’m sorry, but I’m so unused to tenderness that I was scared… And so happy.”
Cort hugged me and petted me, his hands now comforting instead of seductive. I loved him even more for this and when I told him so, he put me as close as two people can be without being in the same skin. The morning went on, so did afternoon, but we missed a good part of it, falling asleep in each other’s arms.
It was nearly dinnertime when we finally woke up. The noise downstairs intruded in our slumbers and I reluctantly opened my eyes. Seeing Cort’s sleepy face, made me wish to eat him with a spoon.
“You’re just too nice to look at,” I told him and he giggled, making a cute high-pitched sound so different from his rumbling voice.
“What now? Are we going to spend the whole day in bed or crawl out in search of something to eat?”
I considered the options and I was sorely tempted to forget the food and taste him, instead, but my stomach began to rumble in a very convincing way and we both laughed.
“Repast first, then we can think at something else to do with our time,” he said and I replied
“I think I have a couple of ideas.”
“I bet you have.”
I swatted him playful on the rump and he chuckled while he dressed for going downstairs.
“What a waste,” I thought glimpsly, but decided to follow his lead.
The sooner we ate, the sooner we were going to return to our room, I reasoned and I dressed as fast as possible.
We spent a quiet evening, eating and giggling like naughty children. From time to time Cort one hand under the table touching my knee and I was half embarrassed and more than half curious where he was headed to.
I felt strange, excited and happy.
I was afraid, too.
I knew a lot about sex, but I was utterly ignorant about love. The feelings bubbling inside me were really new and I had a real hard time coping with them. But as soon as Cort was on my side, I wasn’t going to complain.
The following day, after few sleep, some sex, some cuddling and lots of fun, we were going to meet the preacher, when I saw three men riding into town, at a relaxed pace, but they looked alert and dangerous. They were busy tying up their horses at the post in front of the saloon, when we stepped out of the door. Cort looked up and when his eyes met the ones of one of the strangers, froze. I felt the tension in the arm I was holding onto. Before I could say something, he gently herded me toward the steps and down the main road.
“What’s the matter, Cort? Did you know that man?” I asked when we weren’t at earshot from the saloon, anymore.
“Not personally, but having gone the same way made me able to recognize someone planning a robbery, when I saw one. They have something nasty in mind and they were checking the place, before placing their move.”
I didn’t ask how could he be so sure, I didn’t need it, but I was afraid of what he was going to do about the whole thing.
“We must warn the Marshall. I really don’t care that much about the bank, but people get shot during robbery and I cannot stay here and pretend that nothing’s happening.”
“What if the marshal doesn’t believe us? We’re strangers in this town, just as much as the three men at the saloon?”
“He can sod off, but at least I’ll have warned him.”
“All right. Let’s go then, I think I saw his office down the road.”
We arrived in a few moments and the lawman was there. He was a young man with red hair and freckles, one you would imagine playing trick at school and looking angelic afterward. I wondered who made him the marshal: his mother perhaps?
“Good morning. May I help you?”
“Good morning, Marshal,” Cort said. “We came here because we think that there’s something wrong. We saw three men at the saloon who look like trouble. We thought that you should know about them.”
The friendly expression turned serious.
“What do you mean by trouble?”
“They had no good to sell or trade on their horses and sported well kept weapons in their holsters. They were looking at your bank with an interest that didn’t seem due to the emergency to make a deposit.”
“Mr. Anson. Cort Anson.”
“Mr. Anson. I’m grateful for your concerns but why should I believe you? You’re a stranger just like them and as far as I know you could have been holding a grudge against three decent men who came into town just for a beer.”
“Right. I could even be a bank robber myself trying to defeat concurrence. I just wanted to inform you of their presence. What you’re going to do about it, it’s none of my business. Do as you please.”
Cort’s voice was even, but I heard the unsaid ‘and fuck you in the process’. He knew all too well that the marshal was right, but explaining why he knew the purpose of the three strangers would have been awkward, not to mention dangerous.
“Good-bye then. Have a nice day,” he said at the marshal turning toward the door.
“Please wait. I need to know something more about them. Where did you see them and how they look like, exactly?”
“They were entering the saloon, three men in their thirties. Two with brown eyes and hair, average height. The other, the leader I guess, had dark blond hair and green eyes. As tall as me.”
“They have money. Their clothes, even if dusty from the road, are good ones, as are their boots. The blond one has a silver studded belt,” I added telling the particulars I was accustomed to notice in my trade.
“Many thanks to the both of you,” the marshal said. “I’ll check them out.”
Cort’s expression relaxed and he gestured as he was doffing a hat he wasn’t wearing. We returned in the street and I lead him to the store. As we passed the threshold he looked like a child at Christmas, wandering from rack to rack, touching the fabric, smelling the soaps and taking in everything with curious eyes. I wished I were the richest woman on earth to buy everything he wanted, just to keep that look on his face. He looked so young and handsome that I was breathless. The shop-owner must have been thinking the same, because she was gawking at him, a little dazed. She recovered as soon as she saw me. I winked at her and she smiled. Oblivious to the result he had on women, Cort kept observing, until I coaxed him into choosing some warm clothes for our planned voyage north and I had the swear on my honor (I had to laugh at this) that I would let him pay me back as soon as he was paid for the new job. I agreed and when the shopping was over, we returned to the hotel.
We were nearly arrived when we spotted some action near the bank. Two of the men we had seen before were approaching without hurrying, as if they having a walk in the sun. Cort looked at them, then for the leader and finally for the marshal.
“It’s happening too fast. The marshal won’t stand a chance.”
Without further words, he gave the parcel with our clothes and got down on one knee to collect two stones. He weighted them, assessing the situation before standing.
“Go around the corner, Alizon, please,” he said, concentrating on the street. The three would-be robbers were closer and ready to fight, drawing their guns. The marshal was ready, too, but his opponents had spread so far that it would have been nearly impossible beat the three of them without help. Cort made the first move. His well-aimed stone rendered one of the bad guys unconscious and before the one on his right side could react, he suffered the same fate. The leader turned to shot the origin of the commotion, but was stopped by the marshal hitting his gun arm.
“Should I call you David, my Dear?” I asked when I had my breath back.
He chuckled and gave me a light kiss of the nose.
“Sound nice. Let’s go and see if the marshal needs help.”
As a matter of fact the man was shacking the wounded men, asking for some patrons’ help to haul them toward the jail. When we approached, he welcomed us with a big grin.
“Thank you Mr. Anson for the warning and your help. You saved my hide, didn’t you? Are you looking for a job as deputy, by chance?”
“I thank you for the offer, but I’m heading north to teach.”
“You don’t look a lot as my old school teacher. He was thin, shy and zealous. Thank you anyway.”
“It was a pleasure and three against one is hardly fair.”
We greeted him in return and walked back to the saloon. Before anyone could ask questions, we hurried to our room and locked the door. I got rid of the parcel, throwing it on the bed and started to wildly kiss Cort. I was nearly out my mind and close of being of my clothes, when we heard a rap at the door.
“Fuck!” we both muttered and soon laughed together.
“Yes? Who’s there?” Cort asked, his voice quite normal, even if hoarse.
“It’s me, Francis.”
“Come in,” Cort replied, opening the door.
The preacher was concerned about what had just happened, but when he saw that we were fine, he relaxed. We took the opportunity to inform him of our decision to join the caravan and he was even happier when we asked him to marry us, before the arrival of the rest of the company. We decided to dine together to settle the particulars and when he left us, we were more than ready to finish what we had been doing before his arrival.
The following day we were reached by the marshal who thanked Cort once again for his help and informed us that the bank’s owner having known his part in preventing the robbery had decided to pay our stay at the hotel. I was really glad because it was a way to keep my savings for our new life and to convince my soon-to-be-husband that he wasn’t taking advantage of me. I had to laugh at this: it was more like the other way around, with me jumping him as much as I could. Not that he minded I might add.
Strange sounding words for me.
Even stranger when the soon-to-be became my actual husband.
Mr. and Mrs. Anson, wed in a summer day, the bride wearing a green and white dress and white flowers in her hair and the groom with black trousers and jacket and a light blue shirt matching his eyes.
I know this is a dream, the greatest of my whole life and I do not intend to wake up. Never.
When the rest of the caravan arrived, we left heading north.
It was a long road from the searing cold of the south, hard to bear, but there was nothing to complain about from my point of view. While I didn’t feel ashamed by my past, nobody in the caravan knew about us and this suited me fine. Cort’s skills expressed in providing fresh food for everyone and nobody asked where a schoolteacher had learned such trade. As expected the weather grew colder and colder, but we managed to reach our destination just before the snow.
The funniest thing was that we didn’t know the name of the place we were headed to, ‘cos’ the inhabitants had yet to agree on a name. Or, at least, they hadn’t when they had asked for new people.
When we finally arrived, we were greeted by a newly painted panel reading: “WELCOME TO MYSTERY, ALASKA!”