Chapter 1: Dutch screws up. Again.
The first time you meet Arthur Morgan, he’s slouched in one of the velvet chairs outside your father’s office with his dirty boot kicked up on the mahogany coffee table.
You’re initially taken aback to see someone so.... Unusual, sitting in the lobby but you recover swiftly enough to politely clear your throat.
“Are you lost, sir?...”
The man startles, his gaze meeting yours as he’s pulled from a daydream.
“No miss, I’m right where I need to be.” He shoots you a lopsided smirk and you’re surprised to note a good natured humour in his voice.
You return the smile and wander closer, lifting your skirts as you walk. The man looks like a naughty schoolboy waiting to speak with his headmaster.
“Are you here to see my father?” You ask, stopping short of the nearest chair.
The man shrugs lazily. “If that’s the feller that told me t’make myself at home then I guess so.”
You laugh, brief and bright, as you gesture at his foot. “That sounds like him, although I doubt he meant for you to muddy the furniture.”
Taking his boot off the table, the stranger rises from his seat and extends a hand. “Arthur. Arthur Kilgore.”
You’re hesitant to touch his hand for fear of the dirt that seems soaked into the skin there, but you feel rude to decline and instead offer your name as you shake hands.
The man, Arthur your mind supplies, begins to speak but is cut off as your father’s office doors open and laughter spills out.
“Very good, Mr Smith, very good!”
You hear your father’s deep voice, filled with humour, and curtesy a little at his approach. It’s clear he’s rather taken with the group of men he was meeting with and he embraces you tightly.
“Gentlemen! My daughter, my most prized and beloved of possessions!” Your father’s arm is tight around your shoulders as he presents you to them, and you flush under the attention.
“Pleasure to meet you, gentlemen.”
You’re taken aback when the tallest of the men, a dark haired chap in a blood red waistcoat takes your hand and presses a chaste kiss to it.
“The pleasure is very much ours, Miss.” He says, voice baritone and scratchy. “Enchanté....”
It’s clear this man is trying to impress your father as opposed to you, but you smile politely and bear the unwanted attention.
“Mr Smith is taking care of some.... Business, for me.” Your father says, as though it’s some inside joke you’re simply too feeble to understand. “You might see his colleagues around more often!”
Your gaze is almost magnetically pulled to Arthur when you reply; “I think I’d rather like that.”
The second time you meet Arthur Morgan, he’s in high spirits with a healthy pocketful of cash.
The task your father had requested of him and his friends had gone smoothly and a troupe of them are scattered around the house.
Today is the day of your father’s annual garden party; a day spent in a haze of expensive wines and uncomfortable dresses for you, but a business opportunity for him. You know he’ll be drunk by now and the party’s in full swing outside; spilling out from the house and into the grounds.
You’re not fond of the occasion, the women are stuffy and the men are lecherous which means there’s never really much for you to enjoy. At least, there wasn’t before....
You’re aware the rest of the group your father strong armed into assisting him are floating around throughout the gardens, drinks in hand, but you’re yet to spot Arthur.
It takes you twenty minutes of subtle searching before you spot him, admiring your father’s horses in the nearby stables. He’s dressed in a fine white button down and black pants, his dirty blonde hair swept back into a neater form than you remember. He’s halfway through a cigarette when you reach his side, his gaze distant.
“I thought you’d decided not to come, Mr Kilgore.”
Your voice makes him jump and he reflexively reaches for his hip, only to grasp as nothingness. He tries to play off the move as though he’s cocking a hand on his belt but you’re not an idiot, you know he was going for his gun.
When he realises you’re no form of a threat, he relaxes his posture and smiles around the cigarette between his teeth.
“Ma’am.” Arthur nods politely.
You feel bashful for being so forward, but Arthur seems to be quite comfortable with your demeanour. “Are you not enjoying the party?”
Arthur looks over your shoulder at the distant hubbub of lords and ladies (and Dutch) and wrinkles his nose a little.
“I ain’t big on parties,” he shrugs “just needed t’clear my head.”
You nod, understanding fully. “I feel the same way, honestly. Father has the bashes every year, but they seem to get less and less enjoyable.”
Arthur huffs a laugh, smoke billowing from between his lips. “Must be a hard life, stuck in luxury all day.”
You can taste the bitterness in his words and feel guilty. “That’s not what I meant, Mr Kilgore.” You mutter, turning away.
“I’m just playing’ with you,” Arthur shakes his head, warmth creeping back into his voice. “I’d have tipped myself a long time ago.”
His honesty startles a laugh out of you and you lean over the fence, resting your elbows against the white painted wood.
Arthur turns with you, eyeing up the herd of well groomed horses that are grazing peacefully nearby, despite the ruckus of the party.
“You got some beautiful animals y’know...”
You smile warmly, nodding. “My horses are everything. Father hates them, he thinks they’re beastly but he doesn’t understand how gentle they can be.”
As though on cue, a dapple grey mare lifts her head towards the two of you and nickers softly.
“I know. My Bodacea, she’s a mean old girl to anyone but me,” Arthur laughs softly. “She’s an old gal but I’d trust her with my life.”
Arthur has a distant look in his eyes, his words laden with fondness as speaks about the horse. You can tell he’s a soft thing under an intimidating shell; it’s quite charming really.
You’re about to ask more, but you’re silenced by a scream that shatters the evening air. Both you and Arthur spin around, you more out of fear and Arthur clearly from reflex.
The sound of glass smashing and more shouting follow the screams and before you’re aware of what’s going you’re already starting towards the house with Arthur hot on your heels.
“Ma’am I really think you should stay here,” he says, though it’s more of an order than a request. “I can see what’s goin’ on.”
“With all due respect, Mr Kilgore,” You shrug the man off and continue. “It’s probably just my father causing problems again.”
Arthur doesn’t seem convinced, but relinquishes your arm from his grip. The two of you hurry towards the veranda where the majority of the noise seems to be emanating from. Whatever you’re expecting, it’s nothing close to the sight that meets you.
Stood in the centre of the veranda is a tall, stocky man with one hand clasping a revolver and another holding your father by the back of his shirt. Around his neck is a pine green scarf, a symbol of the gang he represents, you realise.
Beside you, Arthur swears under his breath and tucks you behind him as the stocky man begins to speak.
“I ain’t here t’cause issues,” he shouts, addressing the party. “But there will be issues if you don’t do exactly as I say.”
There are a few murmurs throughout the crowd and you notice that Arthur is scanning the sea of faces for his friends.
“Old man here ain’t been the most upstandin’ citizen y’all thought him to be,” Says Green Scarf, lazily. “And he’s been fuckin’ with a good friend of ours.”
A gaggle of what must be at least twenty men step through from the doorway behind him, all dressed in similar garb. You watch in horror as they permeate the crowd, rough housing with anyone that attempts to stop them.
“He got some of his little delinquents t’take somethin’ very important from said good friend.” Sneers Green Scarf, shaking your father by his shirt. “We know y’here Van Der Linde! Come on out, we just wanna talk....”
A chatter of laughter from the newcomers follows the man’s final words.
Arthur tenses all over, you can see his jaw flexing at the mention of this elusive Van Der whoever.
You’re taken aback however when Green Scarf gives a signal with his revolver and seemingly sends his men to work. The gang of hooligans begin to turn over tables, smashing glasses and throwing punches as they move. Women are shoved and pulled by lecherous hands as they try to flee the confines of the gardens and men cower instead of helping their wives.
Your father shouts for you as Green Scarf pulls him back into the house, but Arthur is quick to grab you before you can follow.
“Let go of me!” You snap, wrestling with his strong grip. “I need to help him!”
“Y’aint goin’ anywhere,” He growls, tugging you back towards the paddocks. “Wait by the stables, I can try an’ help ya daddy but you gotta stay hidden.”
“What? Why?! He’s my father, I don’t know what they’ll do to him! I don’t even know who they are!” You exclaim, fighting against Arthur.
“They’re bad people, Miss. We ain’t the nicest but them.... They’re bad news.” Arthur mutters, tugging you into the stables. “Stay here and stay quiet.”
And with that, he’s sprinting back towards your home.
You stare after him, dumbfounded. That’s my father, your brain shouts, we can’t just leave him!
You know deep down that it’s far safer to let this stranger risk himself to assist you, to let him go barrelling into a wall of guns, but you can’t bear the thought of innocent people dying for you.
You can hear the sounds of chaos from the gardens still. The men that Green Scarf sent out are whooping and hollering as they fight with bystanders to trash your home. You can see over the nearby hedges and realise the doorway to the veranda is unguarded; it’s the only chance you’ll get to sneak inside.
Hiking your heavy skirts up and steeling yourself against the pain of your corset digging into your sides, you approach the door as stealthily as possible. The other men seem to be too interested in their violence to notice you sneak past and you take full advantage of the distraction.
Slipping into the foyer, you’re horrified to see your father slumped on the bottom of the staircase, blood flowing from a gash on his forehead.
“Oh my god!” You cry, rushing to his side. “What happened?! Who are these people?!”
He groans as you try to lift him to his feet and his weight is too much for you to bear alone. “I never meant for any of this...” He mumbles, eyes swimming with unshed tears. “He shouldn’t have even known it was me!”
“Who?!” You shake him by his shoulders, tears welling in your own eyes. “Please, Daddy we have to get out of-“
You’re cut off when a fist closes in your hair, pulling your viciously away from your father’s side with a shout of pain. The man dragging you is Green Scarf, you realise with dread as you blink away tears to look up. “Let me go!”
The stranger laughs and drops you at his feet. “We gave you plenty of chances, old man!” He crows at your father. “Give back what y’took or else it’ll be her head on the line!”
You glance up at your father, wild eyed and confused as to what’s happening, but he doesn’t meet your gaze.
“I can’t.... I-I’m sorry.”
Your heart plummets to your stomach; the man that’s sworn to protect you, the one that should love you unconditionally, won’t spare you from death for something so seemingly small?
A revolver cocks beside your head and you feel the cool steel of the nozzle press into your temple.
“So be it.” Says Green Scarf, coldly.
You’re about to scream, to shout, to cry out in desperation and fear, but the shot that rings out isn’t the one you’re expecting.
The hand of Green Scarf, gripping the revolver, is shattered by a bullet that whizzes uncomfortably close to your face. The man squeals in pain as blood sprays across your cheek and forehead; you’re thrown to the floor as he releases you and your vision goes dark for a few seconds as your head collides with the marble floor.
Dimly aware of shouts and gun fire, you try to drag yourself to the stairs, but you can feel yourself slipping in and out of consciousness every time you attempt to move. Someone shouts your name as they lift you from the ground, sweeping you into a bridal-style lift, but all you can do is succumb to the darkness of sleep, surrounded by the scent of tobacco smoke and blood....
Chapter 2: Blackwater.
Apologies for such a late update! I’ve been suffering with bad writers block, but I’m also a student and have a full time job so I’m a little short for time.
I’m pretty much winging it on the Blackwater Massacre and what actually happened, so please don’t come for me if you don’t like it!
Reader’s character is modelled on my undying love for Elizabeth Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, please keep that in mind for the way her speech is written; I’m from the U.K. and can’t ever write my characters with proper accents!
It’s nighttime when you finally wake.
Above you, a blanket of silvery stars litter the dark sky, twinkling mischievously as they duck behind wispy clouds.
Your head is swimming as you sit yourself up, hand reaching up to cradle the swollen lump over your brow. You wince in pain and have to take a moment to steady yourself as nausea washes over you.
The air is still, only disrupted by the gentle choir of cricket chirps as you try to regain your composure.
And there goes that composure.
You shout in surprise, practically falling off the tiny cot you’re laid in and look up to discover a familiar, albeit bemused face.
“Mr Kilgore!?” Your voice is probably three octaves higher than normal thanks to the shock, but you try to recover as swiftly as possible. “Mr Kilgore, what on Earth is going on?! Where is my father?!”
You kick off the scratchy woollen blanket tangled around your legs and stumble to your feet. Your dress is rumpled and you notice you’re no longer wearing the corset you were squeezed into this morning, instead covered by a loose collared shirt.
“Did you undress me?!”
“What?!” Arthur looks mortified and shakes his head vigorously. “No! O’course I didn’t! Abigail said you’d be sore if y’slept in that thing so she changed you int’that!”
Your head is throbbing and frankly, you’ve had enough of guessing games already.
“Mr Kilgore, with all due respect I’d like for you to take me to my father.” You snip, disentangling yourself from the blanket and trying to make sense of your surroundings.
You’re stood in what is practically the middle of a field; behind you, a sheer rock face is shielding tents from passerby’s and strong winds. Sleeping bodies litter the floor, curled up on blankets or cots as they dream, peacefully unaware of your rising panic.
“I...” You turn on the spot, suddenly aware you’re no longer in the grounds of your own home. “Did you kidnap me?” You ask in horror, looking over at Arthur. “Oh my lord, you’ve taken me to have your way with me and sell me to someone haven’t you?!”
Arthur looks like he’s stuck between reacting in absolute shock or laughing himself stupid.
He chooses the latter.
“What are you laughing about?!” You cry, eyes welling with frustrated tears as your voice rises to a shout. “Take me home!”
Arthur reigns in his laughter when he catches sight of your face and sobers up rather quickly. He stands from his perching stool by the side of the cot and extends a hand as though he’s trying to settle a spooked horse.
“Hey, hey take it easy...” He says, voice low. “We don’t wanna wake anyone up, let’s jus’ slow down a second.”
You wipe your eyes roughly, wary of Arthur’s form as he moves closer. He’s a large man, bigger than perhaps you’d previously noticed when he’d been swathed in his suit shirt and slacks at the garden party.
Oh god, the party!
“What is going on, Mr Kilgore...?” You can feel an icy cold trickle of dread sliding down your spine. “Where is everyone? Why aren’t I at my house?”
Arthur’s expression is one of sympathy but he gently guides you back to the cot and sits you down, crouching in front of you.
“Miss,” he clears his throat. “I- uh, y’daddy....”
Your eyes flicker across the cowboys face as you try to decipher what he’s about to say.
“After y’passed out everyone started shootin’ and uh, we had to get out and you were hurt....” Arthur rubs the back of his neck and sighs, “I don’t know what happened t’your daddy, darlin’.”
You stare blankly at him, tears flowing silently. “What...?”
“They set fire t’the house by the time we got out, we couldn’t go back.”
It feels as though the wind has been knocked out of you. You can’t breathe suddenly, the world fades around the edges and you tip forwards a little. Arthur catches you by your upper arms and carefully steadies you.
“I’m real sorry....” he mutters. “Dutch didn’t wanna just leave y’there.”
“But you did?” You look down at him tearfully.
“No! No I- It was a mess, we didn’t even get a chance t’think.” Arthur sighs and you notice for the first time how tired he looks. “You were the only one we could carry.”
Tears splatter onto the fabric of your skirt, but you don’t say a word. The silence hangs heavy between the two of you and Arthur squeezes your arm in an awkward display of support.
“Get some sleep,” he says, voice no louder than a murmur. “Y’gonna need it.”
Arthur leaves you be, but sleep evades you. You think it’s more thanks to exhaustion (and a healthy head injury) than actual willingness to sleep.
Every time you close your eyes, your mind conjures up blurred memories of the party. You can see the vague form of your father lying sprawled at the foot of the stairs, you can remember the bitter scent of blood and smoke in the air and the burning grip of someone holding onto your hair. It makes you feel queasy but you can’t stop the thoughts tumbling around in your brain....
This is not how today was supposed to end.
You don’t see much of Arthur over the next few weeks.
He, like most of the men in camp, seem to be focused on their next heist. You’re left in the care of who you assume is the camp mother, a Miss Grimshaw. She’s a rather sour older lady with a penchant for working you and the other girls as hard as possible. There’s a grudging respect for her, you realise it must be a difficult job to keep everyone in line, but it doesn’t make anything sweeter when you’re yelled at for missing a pair of Uncle’s undergarments in the washing pile.
It takes you a little while to get acquainted in such a foreign setting. It’s not much of a shock when Arthur reveals his true name to you, seemingly bemused by the way you’ve taken to calling him ‘Mr Kilgore’ when you’ve had the opportunity to speak. He explains the reason for the aliases, but you’re reasonably understanding. They’d be pretty awful crooks if they were honest, you think.
Out of the rest of the camp members, the girls are warmest, offering you help with clothing and fixing your hair when it’s needed. They don’t say a word when they hear you crying some nights, understanding your loss all too well, but simply ensure you have more than one cup of coffee in the morning to cheer you up.
Uncle, as he’s affectionately known, is helpful for relieving the quiet moments in camp, when you have too much time to think everything over. His ridiculous stories have you smiling a little more than you have been since the Incident.
Javier and Charles are strong, silent types; Charles more so, as Javier is keen to drink and pick at his guitar around the campfire in the evenings. You often hear him singing from your cot, but you don’t like to intrude on the rest of the camp’s downtime so you keep your distance.
Abigail is kind to a fault but you can tell she has a fiery heart, which is often directed at her love, John. Jack is the sweetest thing you think you’ve ever met.
The rest of the camp’s residents are not what you’re expecting at all, with the exception of one Micah Bell; a nasty piece of work that you’ve done your upmost to avoid. It had taken a while for the girls to coax you into spending time with them; you’ve always been nervous around new people but you’ve no idea what to expect anymore. The others, like the Reverend, Davey and Mac, Lenny and more, are all kind and quirky in their own ways. There’s no doubt some of them are vicious, but it’s rarely directed at each other. They’re like their own family.
Part of you is jealous.
With the passing of your mother earlier in the year from pneumonia, you’ve never felt more alone. The loss of your father is just the sour icing on the stale cake.
The camp is very quiet this evening. The men, bar Reverend Swanson and Uncle, are off on their long-planned boat heist. You know Hosea and Arthur are working on something separate, although what that is you’ve no idea. Everyone is very secretive about their plans, you’ve noticed.
You’re sat with Mary-Beth and the other girls besides the main fire when all hell breaks loose.
It starts with the thunder of hoofbeats drawing closer, although initially all of you are excited;
“Oh that must be them!” Mary-Beth squeals as she leaps to her feet, thrilled at the idea of a successful night.
Karen, Jenny and Tilly laugh at her enthusiasm as they follow suit. You’re about to join them when a shout shatters the contented air around you.
“Pack up, now!”
It’s Lenny, looking battered and bruised as he leaps off of Maggie’s back.
“What’s going on?” Mary-Beth asks, confusion evident in her tone. “Where is everyone?”
“Didn’t you hear me?!” Lenny’s voice is strained as he begins throwing things into boxes and wagons. “Dutch’s plan’s gone t’shit! Pack up everythin’!”
The girls exchange panicked glances with you and Miss Grimshaw’s voice cuts through the night like a whip as she appears at Karen’s side.
“Girls, get moving! I don’t wanna see a single one y’standin’ around!” She snaps, ushering the lot of you off in different directions. “Jenny, Mary-Beth, you get Dutch’s tent stripped! Karen and the rest of you, pack up everything that’s not tied down!”
You’re set to work immediately but you catch a brief snippet of the conversation Lenny is having with Miss Grimshaw as you hurry past.
“What in God’s name is going on?!” She hisses at the boy, clutching him by the arm tightly.
Lenny looks horrified but manages to choke out, “Its bad, real bad! I don’t know what went wrong, but it’s gone t’hell!”
As though the universe decides to punctuate Lenny’s fear, gunfire rings out into the dark night. A lot of gunfire.
There’s a tense silence that falls across the rest of you, but you’re all quick to speed up your packing without complaint.
Lenny and a now considerably more sober Swanson begin to harness the horses to their carts while you and the other girls throw whatever you can manage into the back of them.
Even Uncle seems to understand the urgency as he helps with whatever he can.
Miss Grimshaw’s shouts are drowned out by the arrival of more men in camp, but this time they’re not as unscathed as Lenny.
Mac is pulling Davey from his horse the second they skid to a halt, blood soaking through the front of his brother’s shirt. Davey can barely stand by himself, so Mac drags him to the nearest available surface and props him against it, setting to work on stemming the flow from a nasty looking wound.
After the Callander brothers, it’s Bill Williamson on board Brown Jack. He’s splattered with blood but doesn’t seem to be injured himself from what you can see.
“What’s going on?” You ask, icy dread settling in your stomach. “Where is everyone?”
Bill shoves his way past you, anger radiating from him in palpable waves. “Fuckin’ law knew we was there!” He snarls, “It was a fuckin’ set-up! They cornered us, Dutch ‘n the rest of ‘em are trapped!”
It’s clear that the job hasn’t just gone wrong, it’s monumentally fucking screwed.
Everything that happens next is a blur. You know you’re automatically doing what you’re told, but it feels as though your mind is separate from your body’s actions. Mac is screaming for his brother to stay awake, Bill is shouting at Karen and Miss Grimshaw seems to be trying desperately to keep everything together.
The second everything the group can manage is packed away, you’re herded into the wagons and driven from the campsite quicker than you thought possible.
Mac is back on his horse, rifle in hand, whilst Davey is laid flat on the bed of the wagon you’re in, wounds wrapped as sufficiently as Revered Swanson could manage while you keep pressure over the dressing. Abigail, Mary-Beth and Jack are nestled in the other wagon, tucked up safely besides their worldly possessions.
You hear Bill mention Arthur and Hosea from his seat up front and your attention is diverted from pressing on Davey’s injury.
“....Said he was goin’ t’check out some house scheme with Hosea,” Bill grunts to Uncle, who’s sat next to him. “I ain’t seen ‘em since yesterday, I’m guessin’ they got a plan?”
The thought of Arthur and Hosea being tangled up in this mess makes your stomach turn. Two of the kindest men you’ve met so far being riddled with bullets is just another traumatic experience to add to the list.
From the other wagon, Miss Grimshaw shouts across to Bill, explaining the failsafe plan Dutch had informed her of, should everything go wrong.
You can barely hear her over Davey’s groaning, but you’re vaguely confident you’re headed Northwards, although where exactly North remains to be seen.
You glance down at Davey, your hands covered in his blood as he struggles to breathe....
“We know you’re in there, Van Der Linde! Give it up, this is over!”
A Pinkerton Agent, sheltered by his hiding place opposite the Blackwater Saloon, is shouting over to the crew of men huddled behind the old building’s walls.
Bodies are littered across the cobbled streets outside; many of them innocent bystanders caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Inside the saloon, said Van Der Linde is desperately plotting his best escape route.
“They got us surrounded, where the hell else can we go?!” Charles hisses, sweat trickling from his brow.
Micah begins to snap back at Charles, but Dutch hushes him.
“Boys, there ain’t no use in fightin’ with each other.” He shakes his head. “We got enough people to fight with right now.”
The Pinkerton Agent starts shouting off demands again and Javier peeks around the corner of the bar to scope out the situation.
“It looks like we’ll have to rush them,” Javier murmurs, “There’s no other way.”
A few of the gang swear under their breath and begin reloading their weapons.
Dutch nods to Javier and takes a deep breath.
“It’s been an honour, boys.” He says, glancing around the group. “We shoot our way back to the horses and we meet up with the others in Tall Trees.”
And with that, Dutch Van Der Linde and his gang of crooks open fire on the streets of Blackwater.
The escape is horrific.
You’re not sure how it happens, but on the trip up into the nearby forest Dutch and the other boys manage to catch up to the rest of the gang.
They’re battered and bruised, but alive. John has been shot in his arm, but he insists it’s nothing as he rides past your wagon, waving off Abigail’s screams for him to “get back here, you moron!”
Arthur and Hosea appear shortly after Dutch’s return, oblivious to the mess they’re walking into. You watch from your space in the wagon as Dutch gives them a brief rundown of the disaster, not unaware of the way Arthur’s expression darkens as he listens.
They don’t get much of a chance to regroup before bullets begin to rain through the trees again.
A gang of men on horses are barrelling towards you, guns drawn and shouts filling the air as they advance.
“Move on, Susan!” Dutch yells towards the front of the party, “We got company! Head North until y’run out of path, we’ll keep them off!”
Dutch shouts to the men nearby and you watch in horror as they turn tail to retaliate on the law that’s fast approaching.
“They’ll be alright,” Jenny says softly, leaning out of the wagon to watch them go, although you don’t miss the fear in her voice. “They always-“
Jenny doesn’t get a chance to finish her sentence.
Jenny doesn’t get a chance to do anything other than slump lifelessly forward as a bullet tears through her forehead and lodges itself in the side of the cart.
There’s a brief moment of horrified silence between you, and the others in the cart, before Karen and Tilly simultaneously begin screaming.
The arc of blood spray has flicked across your chest and face, and you’re doing your best not to vomit. You can’t bring yourself to scream, too numb to react as you hear Bill swear from in front.
“Shit, they got Jenny!” He shouts to the wagon in front, where Mary-Beth and Abigail are peeking out from.
Jenny’s body slumps forward and topples from the wagon before anyone can reach her.
“Oh my god?!” Karen sobs, scooting backwards to get as far from the blood as possible. “Oh Jesus Christ, we can’t leave her there like that!”
“We ain’t got a choice,” says Bill, voice low and full of grief. “If we stop we’ll end up like her.”
Karen wails in protest but you share a look with Tilly. Bill is right; if you stop moving the law will leave you looking like Swiss cheese by the time they’re done with you.
“Stay down back there!” Uncle calls over his shoulder as you, Karen and Tilly huddle up in a far corner. All three of you are trying to take up as small a space as possible, but with Davey still fighting for life by your feet the room to manoeuvre is restricted.
You’ve never been this terrified. Not even watching your mother heave her last breath as she clung to your hand, not even when the O’Driscoll gang had tried to kill you and your father hadn’t even attempted to stop them.
The sounds of bullets piercing tree trunks and the shouts of men will haunt your dreams, you think as you watch the others on horseback get smaller and smaller on the horizon....
It feels like hours until you see any of the men again. Miss Grimshaw has taken it upon herself to slow up the wagons to a more reasonable pace when it seems as though the law has fallen back.
You’ve no idea where you are, but there are huge boulders and a heavy blanket of snow lining the pathways as the wagon wobbles up an incline.
Karen seems to have cried herself into a stupor of sleep and is resting her head on your shoulder when you hear Dutch’s voice ring out.
“Miss Grimshaw?” His scratchy voice booms off the walls of the rocky hills, “Is everyone accounted for?”
You crane your neck to try and see who else is with him, but do your best not to disturb Karen’s slumber. You can just about make out a group following behind; although who that consists of remains to be seen.
Dutch pushes his horse past your wagon and it’s Hosea, right behind him, that steadies his stallion near you.
“Are all a’you okay?” He asks, aged face lined with worry as he spots the blood on you. “Is Davey.... Still here?”
You blink back tears but nod affirmatively. “Davey is sleeping, but we’re okay.”
“Jenny’s gone.” Tilly says softly, “Stray bullet hit her, she didn’t have a chance.”
Hosea’s mouth is set in a grim line but he sighs quietly. “Damn shame.”
“What happened back there, Hosea?” You ask, wiping your cheeks.
“It was an ambush,” The older man shakes his head solemnly as he turns Silver Dollar on the spot. “Someone set Dutch up, me and Arthur had no idea what was goin’ on until we were headed back to camp. Mac was waitin’ there to tell us where to go but by the time we’d caught up with Dutch, Mac got separated an’-“ Hosea cuts himself off with a sigh. “Everythin’ that could go wrong, went wrong.”
You’re not sure what you can say to that, but Hosea clearly doesn’t expect an answer to make it better.
“Is Arthur okay?”
“He’s fine. His mare, Bodaciea.... She fell.”
You squeeze your eyes shut against hot tears again; Arthur adored that horse, you’d had the pleasure of meeting her a few times since your arrival and she’d been nothing but sweet to you. You know he’ll be heartbroken.
Hosea kicks Silver Dollar along, following Dutch up to the front. The others have begun to filter in through the trees; all except Mac, Sean and John.
You gently remove yourself from Karen’s grip and reposition her on Tilly so that you can shuffle forward to the wagon’s mouth. Careful of the gore still clinging to the outer wood, you lean over to call for Charles.
“Where are John and Sean?”
“No clue. Sean got knocked out but we didn’t get a chance to grab him and John was with us one second, then suddenly we couldn’t see him. Javier said he thinks he must’ve gotten separated on the way up into the mountains.” Charles shrugs, shaking his head. “There’s a storm on its way, we won’t even be able to see each other in about half an hour.”
You nod, afraid for their safety but knowing it’s useless to search right now. The weather is already beginning to turn; a sharp wind cuts like ice through the gaps in the wagon’s covering, blowing snowflakes into your face. You shiver and rub at the thinly covered blanket around your shoulders.
It’s going to be a long ride....