Chapter 1: First Meeting
Fate sometimes reached out to pull the strings attached to her path, much as Ida wasn't all too inclined to believe in such.
It wasn't so much as the bumping of a shoulder on the street or the switching of a partner in a dance, but rather opposite jail cells. There were four in the dusty jail, two on each side of the small room off the front of the building. She had been tossed in there three days ago, and set to hang in another three. She could still remember the almighty scramble she had taken to gather the money out of that safe, risking the cuts that were scarred on her arms by breaking and climbing out of a window once that front door had been busted open. White hats, desert, and a satchel full of cash. Still, with how open it was, and deputies riding around on horseback, it didn't take much for her to get cornered in behind the general doctor's practice. Days of wandering had slowed her reflexes, much as she was always a fast runner, before someone had a rope around her legs and she was suddenly tasting dirt. She could remember the boot pressed onto the top of her hand, eventually her back and pressing the air out of her lungs, the satchel pulled from around her shoulders and tossed onto the ground, dollar bills peeking out from under the flap as it landed within eye sight.
At the click of a loaded revolver, she had exhaled heavily, raising her free hand up in surrender before she was hauled to her feet.
It seemed that had put her right where she needed to be. Three days worth of rough sleeps, and the lump of dread in her gut at the prospect of death.
Her father would be proud—this is exactly how he wanted to go out, not shot in the back by some bounty hunter like he did. However, the thought didn't weigh much, considering she was hoping he was having a fitful sleep six feet under.
It was on that third day that the door to the jail's cells was kicked open—not with the force of breaking, but because the man opening it had his hands full. Ida had been leaning against the bars of her cell, arms resting leisurely around the bars as she watched the odd bird fly over the small patch of sky she could see from the tiny window at the end of the room. Though, she found herself shifting back, hands resting against the bars as three men entered the room. One was a bounty hunter, if she could place her bets. She knew the type. The other was the sheriff, looking more disgruntled than he usually did. Then, there was likely her new neighbor, who appeared to be barely conscious, blood leaking out from under his hair and down the side of his face.
“How much you say this one goes for again?” the sheriff asked once they were both in the room, following along behind the bounty hunter as he practically dragged his bounty in.
“Poster that matters most to me said five thousand,” he replied, casting Ida a glance as he moved toward the cell across from her.
“Five thousand?” the sheriff asked, eyes bugging out of his head, “The hell're you doin' here? Look around you, we ain't even got more than two thousand, and we can't exactly spare all of it.”
“Well, you weren't the one chasin' him around the damn desert, let alone havin' to worry 'bout that gang he runs with. A cell's a cell, far as where Arthur's concerned. Now, can ya open the damn thing?”
Five thousand dollars. You don't get bounty hunters just looking to make a week's pay at that price, but somehow this one had dragged him into this jail instead of peddling him off to some government officials. They surly had the money to pay him, too. Still, eventually the cell was opened and the outlaw was dumped onto the bunk, a dull grunt being the only thing signifying he had been taken in alive. With a sigh, the bounty hunter started to walk toward the front of the jail, the sheriff pausing to smack a hand against the bars near her face.
“Show's over, thief. Stay by your bunk.”
Ida took a step back, raising her hands silently with a rather indifferent expression before he turned and walked off after the bounty hunter, closing the door behind him. She sighed, moving back to how she was before with her arms through the bar, turning to glance back toward the sky through the window. However, she did find her gaze lowering to glance toward her unconscious companion, blood and bruising appearing on his face as he lay, limp, on the bunk.
Fate had a way of bringing people together, but it wasn't so much about Ida and this Arthur as it was about her and Dutch.
Arthur had really only been in the cell for a day or so—second last day of her life, if the town had anything to say about it, when there had been some sort of commotion out near the front of the jail. Horses pulling up wasn't an unfamiliar sound, deputies ducking in and out, but not often enough for a town like this. Ida hadn't thought much of it, and it seemed Arthur didn't, either, considering neither really sat up from their bunks. More often than not, she had found herself trying not to think about the rope that was waiting for her as each hour ticked on. Though, there was some sort of stirring up front that had her gaze falling from the ceiling toward the door on the other side of the room. Some muffled voices, a clatter and a loud thud, then heavy foot falls moving toward them. Ida could feel her heart in her throat, but it seemed that Arthur was expecting something like this. She heard him sigh, her gaze moving toward him as he gathered himself up a little woozily as he approached the door to his cell.
As he did so, the cell room's door was opened, two masked strangers walking in. Interested, Ida shifted so that she was sitting up, dark eyes following the two men as they approached Arthur's cell.
“'Bout time,” Arthur muttered, his voice low and rough—first she'd heard it, much as that really was from a lack of trying.
“Patience, son,” the black-haired man stated, his voice registering deep in Ida's gut as her eyes widened. It put her back to a time she had broken away from the family, to a city and a couple days running with a charming if not overly ambitious man.
She knew that voice. It had her rising to her feet, approaching her cell door as she tilted her head. All she could see was the back of his head as he opened the jail cell, the other man shifting around behind him, casting glances back toward the front of the jail. He stepped aside as Arthur's cell door was opened, Ida's gaze solely on the black-haired man, catching the side of his face and a moment of eye contact. There was no recognition—she was just another outlaw, and he wasn't there for her. Shit, she had to draw attention to herself.
As he moved forward to escort Arthur and his other companion toward the outside world, she found her legs moving forward before she was gripping the bars to her jail cell and finding her voice for the first time in days.
“Dutch van der Linde?”
Despite the disuse, her voice was rather sturdy and clear. Though, there was a slight shake of desperation to it, watching as they all stilled somewhat before Dutch was turning to look back toward her. There was a sharpness to the glare he shot her, hearing his name in full most likely like nails on a chalkboard in that situation. She swallowed, holding his gaze as she almost begged him with her eyes to remember. This was the last thing she expected if she knew she was going to be offered a chance to escape the hangman's noose, but she certainly wasn't going to give it up for anything until she knew it had passed.
Though, as it seemed, fate had put her exactly where she needed to be. Dutch's expression shifted, at least from what she could see in just his eyes, but the tension melted somewhat in surprise.
“Well, I damn well don't believe it...” he started with a quick huff, “Miss Ida O'Donnell.”
“Dutch,” she greeted back in return with a nod of her head, reaching a hand out toward him once he had moved to approach her cell. She gripped it in return as he covered it with his free hand. “Long time no see...”
“Oh, indeed! Here I'd been thinkin'...”
“Dutch?” the man she didn't know the name of yet spoke up from behind him, Ida meeting his gaze as Dutch turned to glance toward him, her eyes moving toward Arthur as he seemed to be studying her as well. She didn't like the spotlight—been told all her life to avoid it, and she did her best to. Still, it might just save her life.
“This really the time?” he continued, “We ain't exactly got a lot of it.”
“I agree,” Ida replied, swallowing down the tightness in her chest, “Sheriff's deputies don't linger long, but they check in every day. I don't know how often. I just...I'm set to hang tomorrow, and I hate to ask this for old time's sake, but...”
She squeezed her fingers around Dutch's hold, meeting his gaze as he looked toward her, her request clear. There was a pause, some debate in his gaze—who knows what situation his gang was in now, but she wasn't looking for a permanent place where she couldn't take one. She didn't exactly have anywhere to go anymore with her father dead, but she wouldn't impose if she knew she would. Plus...well, she'd turned down the offer from him before for a reason that still stood.
Still, the sound of that cell door opening was as close as she could describe to freedom.
Last time she had talked to Dutch, he had mentioned a small group he ran. No more people than she could count on her hands. However, it appeared that wasn't the case this time, if the fully fledged camp that she was greeted with was anything to go by. They were situated in a small clearing through a thick gathering of trees, wagons and tents set up around a couple campfires. She had noticed someone standing guard, but seemed to take in her presence with a glance. Sitting on the back of Dutch's horse might have been enough of a message that she didn't mean any harm—trouble wasn't a great way to pay back someone who had just saved your life. There had been some idle chatter between the three riders, Ida trying to follow along but it was hard to focus with what was going on and the previous days in the jail catching up to her.
Dutch seemed rather excited to have her riding along, Ida not too sure on the reason just yet—it wasn't that they were close friends, she couldn't pretend that. A week compared to the amount of time he had likely spent with some of these people wasn't anything to be impressed by, much as he had made some sort of impression during that time. She had learned a good bit, and stole a good bit. It might have kept her on the path she did, that was until she thought she had fallen in love with someone who loved her back. It had her turning down his offer to come run with him, that she had talent and, well, he wasn't wrong about the fact that she didn't want to stay in that city. However, she had thought...well, it wasn't important anymore.
That ended about a well as most things in her life did—the guilt over it not really leaving her, even years later. It always sat in her chest, shifting weight down into her gut if she let it sit for too long. What was she to do now? She wasn't sure. Ida only knew for certain was that she couldn't show her face around that town anymore, the sheriff had gotten a good look at her. If she were to move on, it would have to be away from there. Not that the town held much there for her, but the idea of moving again sat strangely in her mind. Wandering around, sleeping under the sky and in the odd saloon. Even if she hated the place, she used to have a home to return to. Familiar faces, ones she could trust, much as that just became her siblings in the end.
Wandering alone, truly alone, was something she still hadn't gotten used to. Couldn't let go of that lifestyle, either, in the end. It put into motion an interesting series of events, if her current situation was anything to go by, but it was hard to tell if that was where she wanted to be.
Still, she took the help that was offered. To wash the grime off her face and arms, put some food in her stomach that she had almost forgot about. Far as the sheriff was concerned, they weren't looking to spare much for a prisoner that would be dead within the end of the week. Waste of food. There were some interesting people, too. She only somewhat knew Dutch, Arthur by name from that bounty hunter's irritated explanation, and the other man that rode with them had been called Hosea at one point in their journey back to camp. Then there was Grimshaw, who watched over her settling in somewhat at her arrival.
A tough woman, and she wasn't too sure if she wanted to figure out just how much.
So, it was a bit of a relief to be able to sit down in Dutch's tent once she had been given a bowl of stew, Ida just liking the idea of having something in her stomach more than the taste of it at that point. Something to chase off the fog around the edges of her mind, and the emptiness in her gut. There was another woman there, looking to stand out among the rest of camp—hair a deep red, her gaze coming across as somewhat suspicious. Really, it was hard to shake the feeling of her eyes on her, especially after Dutch had sat down across from her on his cot as she ate.
“Quite the interestin' situation you've found yourself in, Miss O'Donnell,” he started, there was some lightness to his voice, friendliness, but she couldn't help but feel like there was something else to it. Nothing that made her too overly uncomfortable, but more that she might start to wish that he'd just spit it out.
“Outlaws get hanged all the time, I wouldn't say it's all too interesting,” she returned, offering him a grin in good nature, “I was robbing a safe and I got caught. They found some of my older bounties and considered that I'd been running free long enough.”
“A safe?” he asked, tilting his head slightly in interest.
“I don't know where the money went after they took it off me, might've gone back in there but I'm not sure,” she replied with a soft shrug, “Last I saw it was in the doctor's practice, looks like he'd been making a little something on the side, but it certainly wasn't worth getting hanged over.”
“Is that what's gotten you out this far? Robbin' safes? Last I had talked to you, it seemed like you were talkin' about marriage.”
Ah, there it was. Married women usually didn't find themselves waiting to be hanged for a string of robberies through a number of states, at least that's what had been grumbled at her from time to time during her stay with the local law. She found her expression falling slightly, struggling to keep interested indifference but there was some tension to her brow.
“Didn't work out,” she explained, “Something got in the way, ended up heading back home. My father was shot in the back for the trouble he caused, and my brothers had went before him. I've seen no other way since, I suppose.”
“My condolences,” Dutch replied, shifting back as she shook her head.
“Didn't bother me none to see him go, he was a nasty man,” she explained, “Though, trying to pick up the pieces was a struggle.”
Indeed. Couldn't keep their home, couldn't hang around it because of the lawmen. She had to keep moving and...well, she was just a petty thief. She had to reach a little higher than pocket change and that was likely what had that boot stomping down on her in the end. Dutch seemed to weigh that himself a bit, too, Ida meeting his gaze a moment before she was scooping the last of the stew into her mouth.
“Where to next?” It was a good question.
“Not anywhere near that town, that's for sure,” she remarked, a touch sarcastic—they were close, but out far enough to ease some anxiety about that. Still, it was the nearest town, so that would be an issue.
“Wise choice,” he returned, Ida offering a small grin at the returned sarcasm before she shrugged slightly again.
“I don't know yet, I hadn't been thinking I would survive until the end of the week this morning.”
“Well,” Dutch started, “You're safe here, and there are a number of people in here who share your...line of work. For...old time's sake, my offer still stands, should you find yourself unable to move on.”
“Would I be allowed to think on that?” she asked, tilting her head as Dutch shot her a look that suggested that her question may have insulted him slight.
“'Course,” he replied, “Ain't keepin' anybody prisoner here.”
A relief, if not an interesting thought. Most gangs she had come across, she wasn't sure if they let people come and go freely. Perhaps Dutch didn't either, but at the moment he seemed fine with either outcome. However, she wasn't certain if that would change. She had watched the gang for a bit when she had first arrived, the way Dutch carried himself. They respected him, though she had yet to know in what ways. Still, she found herself nodding lightly.
“...Well, in that case, thank you. I appreciate that.”
She'd just have to see. Really, that was all she could do in the moment.
Chapter 2: First Horse
Here's the second chapter! Hopefully the people who have been reading this have been enjoying it. Feedback is always welcome. c:
The coffee was hot and bitter against her tongue, a taste she had been getting used to. Really, if there was one thing that she could depend on not really changing day by day, it was the coffee she found sitting by Pearson's fire every morning. Ida still didn't really venture too far out of camp, and she really didn't mind lingering around. Granted, it was taking a while to get to know everybody, the odd greeting tossed her way and those who hung around for conversation, and there was no telling when the novelty would wear off and she would find herself wanting to do more. Really, it was hard to tell if she should be more friendly for the duration of her stay, or if she should keep her distance. There was no mistaking what had gathered all these people, who they were in the eyes of society. However, she also knew that she wasn't likely to be greeted with any more degree of warmth or welcome from the outside world either. Still, there was a part of her that was debating on if she should stay or not.
She had remained for a week, and it was starting to stretch later into the second one. At some point, she figured she should have some sort of answer. Still, one thing was for certain: she needed a horse.
Staying or going, it would make life easier and she knew borrowing would get old and irritating pretty quick. Though, as luck would have it, there was a familiar figure that she kept seeing around. She had only seen the tail at first, then the actual horse. She wasn't sure the breed, but Ida had found herself taking her morning coffee and wandering off toward the edge of camp more and more as the days went on. She had felt silly at first, but more and more her hunch was proven right as the horse would be found grazing across the way on most days. The climate didn't allow for a great amount of grass to grow, but there was still a fair amount around the area that the gang was staying in.
Naturally, it attracted animals.
So, like every morning for the last while, Ida found herself wandering off into the bush after gathering some coffee to go watch this horse. As she stood a good length away, she couldn't help but feel like she should attempt to approach. Still, there was one thing that was holding her back. She had never broken a horse before. Her family never raised them, just bought them off stables and that was that. Ida had a horse of her own before she was captured, the animal being taken to a local stable and she knew there was no way she was going to get it back. So, really, in light of that, it was hard not to feel like this was an opportunity she was hesitating on.
However, she didn't really get to think on that too long before she heard some footfalls approaching from behind. Ida took a glance behind her, raising an eyebrow as she held the tin cup in her hands. It was empty, but she was busy watching the horse graze to really turn around and head back. She was expecting one of the women, Abigail (at least, that's what she thought her name was) had been up and around when she had woken that morning. However, as she caught sight of the black hat and blue shirt, she couldn't help the mild surprise.
Here she had been thinking that he had been avoiding her, not that he was around camp all too often, but perhaps she was getting ahead of herself in the moment there. Still, she found herself taking him in for a moment as he stepped out toward her, Ida giving a short nod and smile.
“Miss O'Donnell,” he greeted back in turn, hands coming to rest against the gun belt he wore around his hips.
“Nice morning,” she returned with a somewhat amused smile—was there a point to this or was he just looking to make small talk?
“Sure...” he agreed with a small nod, Ida taking in his expression for a moment before she found herself turning to incline her head toward the horse.
“What do you make of him?”
She found a small huff of a barely contained chuckle escaping at the somewhat confused question, Ida just nodding her head. Shifting on her feet slightly, she found herself watching on with her head tilted.
“He's been here every morning, must like the grass,” she started, letting the words hang a moment as she debated within herself on if she really was going to do what she was thinking. Yet, she wasn't sure if she would have much of a choice sooner or later. “I think I might take him for myself.”
“From the wild?” Arthur asked, Ida turning her head toward him as he glanced toward her, “You ever broken a horse?”
That earned another chuckle, albeit a little more awkward as she found her hand moving to rub at the back of her head slightly. They had horses growing up, couldn't really do much without at least one, but any horses she owned were stable bought and broken. They usually just needed to learn to trust them—perhaps it would be the same with a wild horse, but...
“No, and I think that's where my problem lays,” she explained, letting her arm come back down so she could cross them over her chest, “However...I guess there's a first time for everything.”
“If you're lookin' to get bucked off, sure,” Arthur returned, the sarcasm not lost on her. She didn't take much offense to it, considering the small pull upwards it put to her lips. In a way, she was used to dry wit. Had been surrounded by it a good chunk of her life.
“I think that is what has me just watching him instead of getting him a saddle,” she returned, “I'm not too sure where to start, if I'm being honest.”
There was a bit of a pause, Ida finding her gaze lifting from the horse grazing, oblivious, in the grass in front of them and toward her companion. Really, she wouldn't blame him if he just shrugged her off, bid her good luck if he was inclined before returning back to the inside of camp. However, he seemed to exhale softly, glancing down toward her after a moment before lifting his gaze back toward the horse.
“Calmly,” he started, “You're not gonna catch a spooked horse on foot very easily, so it's best you let him know you're there—calmly. Might be easier with a lasso, but that might stress him out more.”
“He's not going to run at the sound of my voice?”
“He might,” Arthur replied with a shrug, “He might let you near him. Gettin' up on a wild horse is hard, and stayin' on even more so. I wouldn't expect more than a sore back and some dirt on your clothes, but if you're lookin' to try, well...”
“I don't know...” she admitted, the little pit in her stomach speaking for her in the moment as she stared back out at the horse. He wasn't overly large, and he didn't seem too anxious about their presence in the moment. She just wasn't sure about the balance part.
“...Well, I could try,” Arthur offered up after some pause, Ida raising her eyebrows at him slightly as he turned his head toward her again, “Hey, I'm the one who's broken in a couple horses here out of the two of us.”
“No, no, I understand that, I just...you'd do that?” she asked around a small, somewhat breathless chuckle, “I...no offense, but I had assumed you weren't all that interested in what I was involving myself in.”
“Well, to be fair, I only followed you out here because someone noticed you sneakin' off every mornin',” he admitted, Ida letting out another short chuckle but didn't seem all too offended. It was odd behavior, she had to admit, and she had only been there over a week.
“But you need a horse, don't you?” he continued, looking back out toward the horse in question, “Figure gettin' it here for free instead of from a stable might be easier in the long run.”
“Not that the nearest one in town is available for me,” she remarked, gaze flicking up to the fading bruise on his forehead, “or you, considering what room we were sharing.”
“Not for a while, at least,” he said, shifting before letting out a small huff, “So, ya want that horse or not?”
“...I'd be honored,” she replied after a small inhale, a moment's debate. It could be worthwhile to learn how to do it herself, but since she had never seen anybody break a horse in, well...
“Wouldn't go that far...” Arthur muttered in return before he was stepping forward.
Ida placed her cup down before following out after Arthur as he made his way toward the small clearing she had been overlooking, the air still cool from the night but the morning sun was nice once she had stepped away from the shelter of trees. Really, she was half expecting the horse to bolt the closer they got, as she had figured it would every time she contemplated doing this herself a couple times before. Though, she found her pace slowing as Arthur seemed to get more careful, his steps evening out. Ida found herself doing the same, the movement rather natural to her—she was used to moving without making much sound, it was how she often got her scores.
However, those didn't have her needing to be out in the open and hoping they don't bolt.
Finally, once they got close enough, Ida found herself hanging back somewhat as Arthur moved forward. As expected, the horse noticed, lifting his head and swishing his tail as Arthur greeted him with a soothing voice. She wondered if that actually did anything, and maybe it did, considering the horse was staying put. He was doing so anxiously, however, tossing his head back and rearing up slightly to stomp his hooves onto the ground. She wanted to move forward, part in a sense of pride that was being threatened at having someone else do this for her, and in part of wanting to observe exactly how someone did this. However, she remained still, watching as Arthur got closer and closer. The horse seemed to calm himself until Arthur would move, then he'd be sidestepping and tossing his head back. However, the outlaw didn't hang back as much, keeping that soothing voice as he continued to walk toward the agitated horse. Lots of compliments, but it appeared the horse was staying put. Ida was starting to realize that she would have been too hesitant, each stomp and snort making her think the horse was going to bolt. The actions continued with the distance closing in between Arthur and the animal.
He's going to run.
However, as the thought entered her head, Arthur had gotten close enough to throw himself onto the back of the horse. Immediately, the animal started to kick and thrash, a flurry of distressed sounds and neighing as Arthur continued to try to calm him as he tried to keep his balance with each turn and kick of the horse. She wasn't sure how long it went on for, likely no more than a minute, but eventually the animal tired himself out. The horse stopped bucking, prancing around and tossing his head back as Arthur continued to try to calm him, but it seemed he had won. Eventually, the horse slowed almost completely, letting out an exhale as he seemed to visibly relax.
“There...” Arthur sighed, patting the horse on the neck as Ida found herself moving forward finally.
“Oh, I definitely wouldn't have been able to do that,” she replied around a light chuckle, “Not with such finesse.”
“Ah...” he replied, almost dismissive as she walked a little closer, “I think you should get on him, now. Get him used to carryin' you.”
Moving forward with a little more confidence, she approached the horse as Arthur swung his leg over and dropped back down onto the ground. Carefully, Ida raised her hand toward the horse as Arthur stepped aside, anxiety seen in the stallion's eyes as he huffed but seemed somewhat settled. Carefully, she patted the side of his neck, a small smile touching her face. The animal seemed to calm some as she did so, before Ida was able to hoist herself up onto his back with some struggle without the aid of a saddle. There were a few moments where she feared he might knock her off, the way he shifted and jerked a bit under her. However, she kept up her quiet shushes and patting, eventually letting him settle before she tried to steer him anywhere.
“He's lookin' like a fine horse,” Arthur remarked, Ida glancing toward him momentarily as she trotted him around.
“I thought so, too,” she commented, slowing him slightly. There would likely still be some adjusting to each other, but he was better than no horse. “I, uh...thank you. Even if this is just a means to an end, I appreciate it.”
“Eh, it wasn't much of anythin',” Arthur replied, his words giving a light pull to the side of her lips. He had a habit of dismissing, huh? She'd have to note that down, she supposed. “Might wanna get him back to camp and hitched, we got some extra saddles that you can use.”
“I...suppose I will do that.” Did this mean she was supposed to stay? Gave her a place to sleep, a horse and saddle—was this a mistake? She wasn't sure, but the onslaught of questioning thoughts had her somewhat relieved to take that short ride into camp.
Chores were inevitable, she should have known.
Susan was relentless, and, honestly, Ida found herself not really minding having something to do. Much as she wasn't sure if she was staying, she found herself getting restless regardless. She didn't want to risk leaving camp yet, and with her face out in the area, she figured it was best she remained hidden in there for now. Still, she couldn't really hold off the frustration as she fumbled her way around patching up some clothing. Three other women in camp had joined her—Tilly, Karen, and Mary-Beth, if she remembered their names correctly.
Really, she had spent her time just listening in on them talking. Some idle chit-chat, some conversation about the area they found themselves in—stories she didn't really have a part in, but she was happy with the company regardless. Still, eventually the voices of camp had fallen into the background and she kept trying to close up a rip in a pant leg, only breaking out of her state at the sound of Karen's voice somewhat louder in her direction.
“So, you an' Dutch?”
Ida lifted her head, blinking hard a moment as she let out a small huff, “I'm sorry—what?”
“You an' Dutch?” she repeated, “Ain't every day we get someone new stayin' with us, and he sure seemed happy to see you. There a past to that?”
“Karen...” Mary-Beth interjected around a small sigh, close to a warning as the blonde turned to shrug at her slightly.
“What? I'm just askin'...”
“Yes and no,” Ida stated, seeing the intention behind it. She doubted any of them meant anything by it—if anything it was somewhat amusing. “I know him, we had a week together—nothin' romantic or anythin' like that. I was...with someone at the time, but...well, I think he still thinks I'm a better conwoman than I really am.”
There was a pit in her stomach at the mention of her previous relationship—if she could even call it that in hindsight. It always left some sort of twist of resentment and guilt, a touch of anger, too. Still, that wasn't the question and she hadn't spoken in detail about it for a long while. She had no intention on changing that in the moment.
“Here we had been thinkin'...” Mary-Beth started, trailing off with a small smile—yeah, Ida should have figured how it appeared at points. Dutch was a busy man, she didn't linger around him too much but each interaction was friendly. Maybe that was enough to put thoughts in peoples heads at points?
“No,” she confirmed again with a small chuckle, “I...don't think I ever thought of him in that way. He taught me a lot and I respect him for that, but...no.”
“You ever try tellin' Molly that?” Karen asked, her voice a little bitter. Ida found herself frowning slightly, sewing forgotten for a moment.
“Irish, red hair,” Tilly supplied, “She's been...a little insecure, I guess.”
“Her and Dutch are...?”
“Yeah, since she arrived here,” Tilly stated, “Suppose you haven't had time to know who's who.”
“I'm better than I was when I first showed up a week ago, but I'm still learning,” she replied with a soft nod, picking up the pants again, “Though, if it'll be a problem, I'll speak with Molly.”
That seemed to be an answer enough, Ida being able to focus back on the task at hand. Yet, well, the whole exchange had her wondering. She trusted Dutch's intentions to not be...well, in line with what he was doing with Molly. Good lord, she wasn't going to get into that—no. Still, if she could ease some of the tension around Molly and possibly make things clearer to the people around her on her actual relationship with their leader, it was all the better.
She supposed it was too lucky for her to believe her worries would remain on what to name her horse.
Chapter 3: First Ultimatum
Sorry for the wait to anybody who is following this story, it's been a busy last couple months. This chapter is a bit of a filler, but it's setting things up for future things I have planned.
As always, proof read but unbeta'd. There will be mistakes.
Feedback is greatly appreciated!
Molly O’shea was a woman that Ida really wasn’t sure how to approach.
She had seen her around camp, mostly lingering almost outside it. Ida could understand, considering she found herself (trying to) do the same at points, but her need came from uncertainty on if she was staying. Considering Molly’s relationship with Dutch, she had assumed she had found a place with them. Plus, Ida had been giving her a wide berth, nothing from her own making but rather that she reminded her of someone she would rather forget. Though, Karen’s bitter comments and Tilly and Mary-Beth’s somewhat distant regards to her, Ida had started to get the idea that Molly might be on her own not by her own choosing.
Or perhaps she was. It was hard to piece together, considering she couldn’t bring herself to ask and battled with herself over why she needed to know these things if she hadn’t any real plans on staying.
It was a question that lingered in the back of her mind and liked to push itself forward when she would find herself regarding the people and camp around herself. Admittedly, she was getting a little paranoid, too. She didn’t doubt that the camp was safe, what with the armed guards that she often saw being shifted out every night and the type of people who inhabited it. However, they were still fairly close to town. It wasn’t close enough to cause concern, and she doubted Dutch would have been so happy to include her if it was too close. Still, it always left Ida with the question of ‘what next?’ and she really didn’t have much of an answer.
Moving with them kept her somewhat safe and offered at least some friendly faces, something she hadn’t had in a long while, but that meant joining and she wasn’t sure what that would bring about. Still, if she stayed behind when they moved, she could just be an easy target for the local law to pick up. Put her right back where she started.
It was something she would need to have an answer for as the days dragged on, and it lead her trying to take on the Molly situation herself after all.
A couple days had passed since Karen had mentioned it, Ida turning the situation over in her head and was leaning this way and that over if she should even bother trying to address it in the long run.
Though, it seemed she had found her answer as she approached the red haired woman as she sat on a rock a ways off from Dutch’s tent, fanning herself lightly in the afternoon’s heat. Even in the shade of the trees, Ida had found it very hot at points and it was one such afternoon. (Which might make this choice all the worse, but she figured she would be waiting for the right time forever at that point.)
“Miss O’shea?” she asked once she had approached, tilting her head, “Can we talk a moment?”
Molly had turned to glance toward her, looking somewhat surprised and then suspicious all the more. Really, Ida had to wonder if Karen was really just making assumptions, there had been no glares across camp or anything to really hint that she was feeling the way Ida was assuming she was. Then again, she could just be carrying it very well.
“Sure, Miss O’Donnell. What for?” She knows my name?
Ida moved to cross her arms over her chest, letting out a sigh as she tilted her head back to bump against the bark of the tree behind her.
“I suppose there’s no easy way to ask this, so I just will,” she started, glancing back down toward her, a touch sheepish, “I...I was talking with some of the other women in camp, and, well...I just wanted to ask if you’re worried about the relationship I have with Dutch?”
“ Should I be?” Molly returned, narrowing her gaze--more confused than angry. Ida immediately shook her head, natural response. She knew where she stood with him, at least on her side, and it was still at the point where she didn’t really know him.
“Karen had brought it up, and I felt that I should...I feel like I’m making a fool of myself, but I just felt like I should assure you that I don’t feel anything for Dutch outside of something close to respect and companionship, I would say.”
Molly let out a huff, barely there, as if she was holding back a sigh behind the attempt. She glanced away from her toward the trees she had been staring at before, shaking her head.
“‘Course it was Karen, she’s made her opinion of me quite clear,” Molly muttered, placing her fan down in her lap as she glanced back toward her, “I don’t have much opinion on you, Miss O’Donnell, but I wasn’t worried about you taking Dutch from me. I love him and he loves me.”
“I know,” Ida replied with a small nod. She could see it clear as day that she loved Dutch, and Dutch...well, she shouldn’t really look too deeply into the affairs of others. Was never her place, and she had seen enough of the results of that first hand once before and vowed never to do it again. “I thought it was silly, but I suppose asking is better than sitting with some incorrect assumption.”
“Well…” Molly started, sounding like she was trying to pick her words. Perhaps she felt just as awkward about the situation as Ida did. “I appreciate you askin’ me instead of just lettin’ that form your opinion of me.”
Ida nodded softly, “I...I know you probably don’t get along with the other women, at least from the assumption I’ve gathered so far, but...I don’t have a side. If you need to ask me anything, you can.”
Molly narrowed her eyes slightly, Ida’s expression dropping into a frown at the shift as she wondered if that had somehow been the wrong thing to say.
“I don’t need your pity , Miss O’Donnell,” she stated, Ida raising her eyebrows in mild surprise.
Was it pity? She didn’t think so, but...well, perhaps it sounded fairly close to it.
“It’s not,” she returned, shaking her head, “I was just offering it to be something other than us being strangers in the same camp. I’m not coming from a place of pity, I’m just...trying to make sure things aren’t sitting in a bad spot.”
She’d done that her whole life, it felt like.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Molly returned, still a little tense but the bite had eased off a bit. Ida exhaled softly out of her nose, pushing off the tree slightly to give her a small nod.
“Then I won’t,” she returned, “I’m sorry to bring this all to you.”
It was pointless, she just wanted to get out of there. Molly had offered a small nod, Ida taking the gesture as a good time to leave. She sighed out a small breath as she wandered back toward camp, the image of a dark haired woman appearing in her mind. For a few moments, she was in the back street somewhere, the sting of a hard slap still lingering on the skin of her cheek.
In the moment, however, she found herself making a beeline toward her still unnamed horse.
Ida wasn’t sure what was worse, the feeling of that lawman’s boot planting itself into the small of her back or the feeling of hard ground winding her for what felt like the hundredth time that evening, scrambling back to make sure she was out of the way of angry hooves coming to stamp back down onto the ground. That once peaceful horse that liked to linger around camp felt like a stranger, sometimes, considering how he seemed to flip from fine to complete bastard at the tap of a heel.
He didn’t run in those moments, though, it was strange.
“You okay?” Oh, an audience. An amused one from the sounds of it. That had just made this worse than the lawman’s boot.
Ida couldn’t say it wasn’t unexpected, he’d caught her a couple times trying to get used to riding this new horse, Arthur dropping in and out of camp but she didn’t find his company too terrible when she chose to gave it.
She had wondered why a couple times, but considering she had gotten a face full of dirt and grass stains on her clothes, she was starting to understand the answer to that.
“Sure…” she muttered around a small huff, not really bothering to gather herself to a stand as she rested an arm against her knee, “I don’t think I’ve met someone, man or horse, more ornery than my friend here.”
Some days he had no issues, some days it felt like she was doing everything wrong. A sigh ripped from her as she heard Arthur approach a little closer to where she was sitting, her eyes on the way her horse seemed to calm, huffing out a breath himself, ears twitching as he seemed to regard the both of them.
“He’s still got some wild in ‘im, that’s for sure,” Arthur returned, Ida feeling something solid tap her shoulder. She glanced over to see his hand, palm up. She regarded it a moment, glancing up toward his face. He seemed relaxed, the gesture genuine even with the amusement in his expression. She let out a small chuckle, taking the offering as she allowed him to help her to her feet again.
“Tyrant,” she muttered, swiping off some dirt from the shirt she wore.
“I’m gonna call him Tyrant,” Ida stated a little clearer, letting out a small chuckle, “I was...trying to come up with something cryptic or...meaningful, but look at him.”
“He ain’t gonna outgrow it?”
“No, it’s exactly what he is. Tyrant.”
The new voice made her jump slightly, Ida glancing behind herself to see an older man walking out toward them, not too far off. Hosea, if she remembered correctly. Again, another face she had yet to really bond with too much. Between Grimshaw’s chores and the newly named Tyrant, she didn’t have much time to really put herself out there. Still, she found herself smiling lightly, nodding.
“I’m glad someone agrees,” she said, taking a glance back toward her horse.
“Never said I disagreed,” Arthur muttered, still close enough for her to pick up on as the remark pulled a small huff from her before she was glancing back toward Hosea who had approached the both of them more fully.
“Is this where you’ve been disappearin’ to in the evenings?” Hosea asked, Ida raising her eyebrows slight before she shrugged, making a vague gesture toward the horse.
“When he allows,” she replied, letting her hand fall back to her side. Really, she wasn’t sure if anybody had noticed it outside of Arthur when he’d catch on the odd couple times.
Though, his tone didn’t sound like she was doing anything they disapproved of. If anything, she took on the whole thing in hopes of getting one thing off their plate when it came to her. That or she didn’t want to give another thing she owed Dutch over. She wasn’t sure why, but she also knew that she didn’t like the idea of being in debt to anybody she didn’t fully trust. Still, those thoughts remained rather quiet in her mind and didn’t really find their way out of her mouth most days.
“Well, I hate to drag you away from that, but Dutch and I wanted to have a word with you, Miss O’Donnell,” Hosea replied, taking a glance toward Arthur but it appeared he wouldn’t have any fuss over that.
Why would he?
“Sure,” she said with a nod, “Let me hitch my horse again and I’ll come see you both.”
Aside from a small huff, Tyrant seemed to have flipped again, letting her take his reins with ease. He was a handful, but she couldn’t say there wasn’t a touch of fondness for him, even if he left her sides and back aching in the night sometimes.
“I reckon once he trusts you more, he’ll be fine,” Arthur commented, causing Ida to glance behind her from where she was leading him back toward the camp.
She could feel a comment lingering on her tongue, a question on if he meant Dutch or the horse, but instead she just found herself giving him a soft nod and continued on to where they kept the horses.
Really, she couldn’t help but feel like she was back in the same seat she was all those weeks ago, sitting in Dutch’s tent with a great level of uncertainty on what she had gotten herself into. Perhaps that was a touch dramatic, and that uncertainty had lessened some, but she wasn’t sure what he was about to ask of her. Plus, she didn’t really know where Hosea stood with everything, much as he had been decent with her during the odd interaction. However, Dutch really seemed to trust him, the two of them obviously close from what she had been able to witness.
However, she wasn’t quite expecting something close to a ultimatum once she had sat herself down in Dutch’s tent.
“We’re thinkin’ it’s best that we move soon,” Dutch explained, glancing toward Hosea, “Law seems to be gettin’ antsy and with the new arrivals, yourself included, it leaves us a little...nervous.”
Ida had seen some new faces, but it was hard to tell who was new and who wasn’t from what she had been able to gather. Still, hearing that...
“There’s a town not too far from here on the way to where we’re thinkin’ of goin’,” Hosea continued, “We could send you that way, if that’s what you want, or you can pack up and move with us.”
“I…” Ida started, letting out a short sigh through her nose as she trailed off, “I’ve never ran with a group this big and anybody who wasn’t family.”
“We are a family,” Dutch returned, “and you haven’t been causin’ anybody grief durin’ your stay. Hell, I think Grimshaw would be sad to see you go, what with what you’ve been doin’ for her.”
“I...all respect to Miss Grimshaw, but I can’t be a chore girl,” Ida stated, “I’ve been keeping myself sane with this horse when I can, I need somethin’ more than camp.”
“New place, new opportunities,” Hosea chipped in, Ida glancing over toward him as she pressed her lips into a thin line. Chance to prove herself beyond that, too. Should she want. It wasn’t outright stated, but she couldn’t help but feel that she would have to prove she could be trusted with something outside of cleaning clothes and carrying buckets. Not that she expected that to stop.
“I suppose…” she started, glancing back toward Dutch, “with some distance from the town I was set to hang in, perhaps I could be more at home here.”
She’d lived with thieves, conmen, and murderers all her life. Her father and brothers were certainly among them, and Ida...well, she wasn’t excused from that, too. She didn’t enjoy thinking about it, and her father had always spoke ill of gangs and spoke highly of the idea that they would only need each other. That was, until her eldest brother had a hole put in his head for trying to bite off more than he could chew with another local crew and led a nice bread crumb trail right back home for criminals and bounty hunters alike. Her younger brother had been hung, her father shot in the back and hauled onto a horse.
She would have joined them in the long run, had it not been for Dutch. Perhaps she owed him that much.
“I’ll move with you.”
Let’s see how much of a mistake this’ll be. Really, she couldn’t help but note how the voice in her head was oddly bleeding into what her father’s had sounded like.
Chapter 4: First Move
Pretty motivated this weekend so here's the next installment. I managed to plan out several chapters and solidified how certain things happen, so hopefully things will come a little consistently if life allows.
As always, unbeta'd but proofread. I also went back and fixed some inconsistencies in the previous chapters but the events haven't changed any so you don't need to reread if you don't want to.
Feedback is greatly appreciated! Thank you all for the kudos so far!
Ida’s first impression of camp was how big it was compared to what she had been told all those years ago by Dutch, and she couldn’t help at how impressed she was about how quickly they managed to pack it all up.
Tents became poles and boxes, things being tucked and stacked away in caravans to head off into who knows where. She certainly didn’t, not completely. She’d heard about Dutch needing to move on from a failed investment out in their current part of the country, some debate between him and Hosea about where to go next. Toward some mountains, further into the heat and out west, Ida wasn’t sure and she tried not to pry into their conversations.
She had been stationary for most of her life outside of the short bit she had managed to break away from the family. She could still see the figure of her father, stumbling over some of the rocks of his home when she had mentioned heading out on her own for a while.
“Family’s all ya got , girl, and you’ll realize that soon enough when ya come crawlin’ back ‘ere. All we ever damn well needed and it’s gonna be on MY terms on if yer gonna be seein’ that again after all this.”
The memory put a bitter feeling in her gut, but she didn’t get to linger in it long before Grimshaw had come up behind her, voice stressed and harsh.
“Free ride’s over, missy! Time you get to work, there ain’t no time for standin’ around!”
Much as the tone made her want to snap back at her, Ida found herself once again grateful to not have the distraction, so she just gave her a tight lipped (barely there) smile before nodding and heading toward where Tilly was working on packing up the wagon she had been sharing with them. Really, they had the place in wagons by the time Dutch decided they were going to head out toward some trading post Hosea was talking about.
Blackwater, New Austin.
Actually riding out toward their destination was another thing Ida had never really experienced. A group this big, moving around without much suspicion? Well, she had her doubts. She had rode out with her brothers every now and again, but it was rare for the whole family to actual leave home. Her father had made that known throughout her life, either too drunk or angry at them to stomach a ride with them all.
So, Ida really was all too happy to ride along back on Tyrant, giving the horse the chance to move his legs and get some energy out. She was nervous about him, admittedly, and it didn’t mix all too nicely with her irritation over how this whole thing was pulling all her thoughts about her family to the surface. It felt that ever since she had agreed to join them, it opened up a gate to let all of that through and she was growing exhausted.
However, for once, Tyrant seemed to relent to being ridden for the most part. There were a few shifts and almost tantrums, but for the most part he hadn’t decided to kick her off his back wholly for once. Really, he seemed like a sturdy horse, keeping up behind one of the wagons easily enough as Ida tried to keep up with the conversations that faded in and out around her as people moved up and down the line.
It was busy but lacked chaos, it was something to watch in her opinion.
The whole thing was new and much like she had learned through pickpocketing, you tend to learn quite a bit by just letting people move about you. She could see the hopefulness with the other women, Ida trying her best to give an opinion when asked but for the most part she wasn’t sure where they were going to end up. Wasn’t her place, she figured, considering how recently she agreed to ride with them all. She didn’t see Arthur, Dutch, or Hosea much, the three of them leading out in front with the wagon and seemed to be in conversation about something.
Despite the uncertainty about the whole thing, she found herself just taking in everything as she leaned against the horn of Tyrant’s saddle and kept her eyes around herself as they continued to ride.
“Goddamn bastard ‘f a man…”
Abigail was all clenched teeth and harsh tugging against the thread and needle she had all but almost tore apart boxes to get to, the camp not settled by any means as Dutch had declared at their small stop in order to sort some things out. With weather and location permitting, they had stopped for a day or two, Ida wondering if it had to do with the newcomers that had appeared along their journey. A woman they had found along the road, and a man that Dutch had found at one of the local saloons before they had left.
Ida figured she should consider herself among the two of them, considering her being yet another recent addition. Still, she had given an answer and she didn’t see much of a reason so far to change her mind on it.
However, it appeared there was still no shortage of drama as Abigail had saught them out after a while, her young son in tow, who now took up drawing in the dirt with a stick as his mother seemed to be taking some aggression out on some unfinished project that she had found among their things.
“He’s bein’ a drunk fool…” Tilly supplied around a small sigh, Ida keeping her head down as she just continued to listen as she worked on repairing a blanket for Tyrant’s saddle.
“Oh, I know. It’s nothin’ new,” Abigail returned, “Just wish he’d not have to carry on like that in front of the boy, he’s broken his heart enough.”
Ida found her gaze lifting toward Jack who was sitting on the ground, his back to them as he seemed to have his attention on what he was making in the dirt. Initially, she had been rather surprised to see a child wandering freely among them, most people greeting him like family. No doubt he had it rough in an environment like their current, but she hadn’t seen too much of his father. John, as she’d been introduced, but she had yet to really talk much with the man.
It was a big group, it had her struggling to keep names and faces together, much less trying to form bonds with people who she had yet to know the personalities of. Though, it felt like the women had welcomed her in enough, outside of the distant Molly but...well, she had a feeling that was a different thing on its own.
“Y’all do me a favor,” Abigail continued after a pause, Ida turning her gaze toward her a moment, “Don’t go runnin’ off to get married anytime soon, it’s not worth it.”
Despite herself, Ida found a bitter scoff escaping before she felt eyes on her. She glanced up to some curious gazes, realizing that had been louder than she intended.
“Oh, I’ve been down that road,” she explained, “I agree, it’s not something I’ve been looking to approach again.” Anytime soon.
“You were married?” Mary-Beth asked from where she had been sitting behind them on a box, Ida not really enjoying the door this conversation was opening. Still, she spoke up…
“Well, no, but almost,” she replied, “Some men don’t need drink to act like fools. There’s...a story to it all, but it’s not one I enjoy going over, but I can say I can relate to the frustration. I was...sold on one idea presented to me when the reality was not even close to what I had been believing.”
“I can certainly understand that,” Abigail stated, shaking her head as she glanced back down at what she was fiddling with in her lap.
“Oh, you’re both so cynical,” Mary-Beth stated, “Well...I guess I can understand why, but there’s nothin’ wrong with hopin’ for somethin’ better.”
“It’s not some romance novel, Mary-Beth,” Karen stated, Ida shrugging.
“It’s not her fault,” she replied, glancing over at Mary-Beth, “I suppose there’s nothing wrong with hoping for something better, but I know I’m not really hoping for it in that part of my life. I’m more hopeful about where it is we’re traveling to.”
“Does this mean you’re stayin’?” Tilly asked, shifting so she could meet her gaze as Ida glanced over at her, “I mean, I noticed Miss Grimshaw pressing a little harder on you than before.”
“I suppose,” Ida stated with a nod, “She told me...the free ride’s over, much as she made sure it didn’t really feel like one, but...well, I told Dutch and Hosea I would ride with them to this new town. New town, new opportunities.”
“Well you better be gettin’ used to new towns,” Karen stated, making Ida let out a short chuckle.
“They were looking to hang me in the previous one, so it’ll be better than that regardless of how this turns out.”
Would it? Well, time would only tell. Still, she had made some sort of decision regarding where she was wanting to stay, it wouldn’t do much use to doubt it completely. Still, she was a bit of a doubter by nature, considering how she was raised. Gut feelings had kept her alive thus far, the rest was left to turn over in her head with indecisiveness. It was something to work on, but…
Well, she never had such a wide range of company before. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed in some way.
Still, she was hopeful about her situation, which was a first in a long while.
As exhausted as she felt, it was hard not to really take a bottle when it was offered.
Spirits were high, if not a little impatient, but Dutch moved about the space with confidence and his ambitions for them all were not hard to miss. He seemed to be happy with their direction, the uncertainty gone and it allowed for people to relax some. They’d be moving again within a day or so, Ida taking that statement as fact and found herself trying to keep her mind on that and not the feelings and memories the situation brought about, not to mention the earlier conversation with the other women.
It wasn’t hard to take a bottle when it was offered.
Still, it also wasn’t hard to fall into similar spirits as the people around her, sipping on the beer as she listened to the stories and songs. In moments like this, it was easy to forget that they were a group of outlaws, but she figured she didn’t have room to judge with all she had done. Really, it was rather enthralling to listen to the stories, believable or not. All she really had were the ones her brothers and father liked to boast about, and her own but...well, she had a hard time sharing as it were.
She watched the faces around the campfire that had been set up, taking in the expressions and conversations. Ida found her gaze lingering on one of the more familiar faces, not having seen Arthur much throughout the move but she couldn’t help but watch as she seemed to be joking (or mocking) something Sean had mentioned. She had seen the odd amused look or chuckle tossed her why when they would have the chance to talk before, but the grin on his face this time was different.
He looked relaxed, but tired at the same time. It was something that had her stare lingering for a moment too long before she caught herself, letting out a small sigh through her nose and finishing off her beer. She could feel something twisting in her chest and gut, Ida doing her best to shove the feeling down.
Bidding a good night to Karen, whom she had been sitting beside, she made her way toward the wagon again where Abigail lay asleep with Jack at her side, the earlier conversation echoing in Ida’s mind as she let out a sigh.
If only she was better and shoving aside her thoughts, it felt like in the dust of the wagons it kicked up more than just dirt and sand.
Useless thoughts, anyway.
Chapter 5: First Confrontation
Blackwater was less a trading post and more like a small bustling city.
It was hard to miss the touch of excitement that brought about when she would catch conversation about the nearby city, the opportunity it held. Ida had spent most of her life living near such small towns that the idea of that even had her a little excited, admittedly. Still, she was mostly trying to keep her head above the rush to get camp settled, the area a little more lush than she was used to, but still very much felt dry and hot at points. Still, they were becoming well situated in the space they had found, Ida keeping her head down as Grimshaw directed her way into making the place livable.
Eventually, it started to look a lot more like the camp she had spent her previous weeks in, the tents and wagons set back up, campfires situated more solidly. It took a couple days and Ida couldn’t help but wonder how many times they had to take it down and set it up in their lifetimes. Still, it wasn’t hard to feel boredom making itself known as the camp began to settle, the chores she had taken up had already become monotonous in the previous camp and it was hard not to feel like she wanted to do something more along the lines with what she had been doing for most of her life.
It certainly wasn’t laundry, sewing, and refilling basins.
Luckily, it seemed that she wasn’t alone in feeling that way, Ida catching the way Mary-Beth talked about the place. It really was just working up the motivation to leave for a bit, but as the days passed Ida couldn’t really hold back the urge.
“I’m going into town,” Ida stated, coming to lean against one of the support poles keeping the tarp over the wagon as Mary-Beth glanced up from the book she had been reading, “Did you want to come?”
“By yourself?” she asked, tilting her head as Ida nodded, taking a glance around herself.
“With you, if you want. I’m not planning on...stirring up any trouble, but if we’re supposed to be keeping our eyes open, I imagine I’m not going to see much staying in camp all the time.”
“That is true,” Mary-Beth stated, regarding the other woman for a moment as Ida could feel her restlessness starting to shift into some frustration over the idea of not being able to do something, “When were you leaving?”
“Now, if possible,” Ida replied with a small smile, “I have Tyrant saddled, and you seemed to talk a lot about seeing what Blackwater held…”
Again, there was a pause as she seemed to think it over before Mary-Beth was putting the book aside, offering her a small smile in return as she got to her feet.
“I am gettin’ a little bored…” she remarked as if admitting some secret, Ida letting out a soft chuckle as she turned to head toward the horses.
“Do you have a horse?” she asked, glancing over as Mary-Beth fell into stride beside her.
“No, but I can borrow one for a bit,” she replied, Ida giving her a small nod before she continued toward Tyrant.
Blackwater was certainly more than just a trading post, Ida taking in the buildings around her as she tried to keep her and her horse out of the way of the wagons and riders going about their business. It was a growing city by the ocean side, it made sense for the place to be growing in population and size. She tried to keep an eye on Mary-Beth as the two of them rode along the streets, taking in the buildings, the shops, saloon, sheriff’s office, and those that were still being built.
“It’s certainly busy…” Mary-Beth said as she rode a little closer, Ida giving her a small nod as she took in more of the sights.
“Lots of different people…” Heavy pockets. There was certainly something she could do in this town, it was just finding the time to prove it. At the moment, with Mary-Beth in tow, it wasn’t quite the time for it.
They had wandered around a bit before Mary-Beth mentioned visiting the general store for something she needed, Ida lingering outside as she watched the street from on top of Tyrant, the horse seeming somewhat calm for once but there was always that concern in the back of her mind that might have her landing on the cobblestone in front of the somewhat crowded street. Still, he seemed fine and she had to trust that he was. For now. There were a number of people who passed by, some looking to not be worth much of a second glance in her eyes while others wore clothes and carried themselves in ways that caught her interest.
There was opportunity in the town, if she could see it she had no doubt people like Dutch and Hosea saw much more.
“It certainly won’t be hard to get supplies,” Mary-Beth commented upon returning back outside, her tone light.
Ida knew it was rough in camp sometimes, stressful. Even she could feel it and she hadn’t been there for more than a month at that point, but it was nice to be out for a bit. Ida could also admit to some newness at the feeling, too. It wasn’t that she hadn’t wandered around on her own for a while after her family’s deaths, she had seen quite a bit and travelled some distance, but she had avoided cities for the most part. Not that Blackwater was a city at this point, but it had potential. It really depended on what their plans were for the stay they were having, Ida knowing she could certainly try to empty some pockets herself but she had yet to see the gang in a new place.
“One less thing to worry about,” Ida replied after a moment, her hands resting over the horn of Tyrant’s saddle as she took in the street in front of her. However, the somewhat relaxed expression on her face shifted, brow tensing as a frown pulled gently at the sides of her mouth.
She could hear Mary-Beth talking in one ear as she moved toward the horse she borrowed, Ida’s eyes on the street across from them. Much like themselves, there was someone who looked like they had just turned up, his clothes standing out somewhat as rugged and well worn. She knew that wide brimmed hat, the jacket. For a few moments, she was back in that jail cell, sitting on the cot as the very same man talked lowly to her. A deputy. He had been particularly interested in her, or at least very much interested in seeing her swing. Seemed to take some joy from it, considering the jovial and almost amused way he used to talk about seeing her die.
Sadistic curiosity or more of a personal reason, Ida hadn’t figured out but he had made her skin crawl then and seeing the side of his face in that very street put the feeling right back in her.
“Mary-Beth…” Ida started slowly, causing the other woman to glance up at her curiously at the warning in her tone. However, she didn’t look back at Mary-Beth, watching the man across from them as he seemed more wrapped up in conversation with the man and woman in front of him.
Good, keep it that way.
“Ida? Is everything alright?”
“I…” she started, taking in a breath and dropping her gaze to look back at Mary-Beth, “I’m...I’m going to need you to get on your horse and head back to camp.”
“Why? What’s going on?” she asked, now sounding more alarmed. Ida glanced back up as the deputy in question seemed to be wrapping up the conversation he was having, Ida knowing he would inevitably turn around and she wanted to not be there when he did.
“There’s someone here I know,” she explained, glancing back over at her as Mary-Beth pulled herself back up into the saddle, “I just…”
Looking back up with a little more panic, her gaze met the familiar one she was dreading. There was some confusion in his gaze, before dawning realization as Ida jerked a little more upright, pulling on Tyrant’s reins as she turned the horse around. Nearly bumping into Mary-Beth, she caught her gaze one last time as she could feel her heart starting to race hard in her chest.
“Go-- go! ”
Without a chance to really direct or look at her fully, Ida squeezed her legs around Tyrant before she was spurring him into a run. There were some alarmed shouts as she tried to take sharp corners, knowing the action was likely stressing her horse out. Still, she cleared through some streets and up a road before she was able to turn off into the plains, making a run toward the river as she pushed her horse to go faster. Casting a quick glance over her shoulder, she could see someone on horseback quickly gaining that most definitely did not look like Mary-Beth.
“Damn it,” she cursed under her breath, turning her gaze back out front as she steered Tyrant closer to the river. If she could get across it and into the trees, she might be able to lose him but out in the open like this? Good luck.
As if to further prove her point, the sound of a gunshot filled the air, Ida’s body tensing as she waited for the impact of the bullet. However, the quick whizzing sound that she heard gave her all the more reason to keep pushing to get into that river as the bullet had missed. She was moving pretty fast, Tyrant carrying her across the grass easily enough but with the bullets that rang out behind them and the running, she could tell he was getting upset. She certainly was, too. The seconds moved by like minutes, but eventually the ground gave way to rock edge as Ida tried to steer Tyrant toward a dip so she could get to the bank.
Eventually, she did find one, steering her horse somewhat unsteadily down it before trying to push him further toward the water. However, another shot rang out, much closer than before. It missed again, but it hit very close to Tyrant’s legs and he had enough. Ida could feel him shift, slowing as he was just in the river before he was kicking out with his hind legs and rearing up sharply.
Losing her grip, Ida felt herself toppling backwards, landing on the hard rocks of the river as her spine protested, water soaking into her clothes. Weaponless and now horseless as Tyrant took off down the bank, she tried to gather herself up quickly. However, her pursuer was very much on her tail, already off his horse and charging toward her before she could really find her feet. Ida was expecting a bullet, however she was met with a swift boot to the side of her ribs, the action sending her falling into her side in the ankle deep water.
She struggled to get a breath in for a few moments, instinctively reaching up when she felt him trying to drag her back toward him, kicking and swinging her free arm.
“‘Nough!” the man above her snapped, kicking her again and stilling her movements as she tried to take a couple breaths in, “You’re a rather easy woman to track, Miss O’Donnell. Moving in a big group like that.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she ground out, letting out a low groan at the feeling of that same boot stepping down on her side with some pressure.
“Don’t play dumb with me, woman,” he snapped, “We’re both too far into this for that. You remember me?”
“How could I forget?” she muttered around a sigh, letting out a pained sound as she shifted.
“You remember my family? ” he snapped, pressing down harder with his boot, “I bet you don’t remember all who your daddy and brothers have killed, houses you burned down. Some with whole families…”
“I was never in control of what they did…” she replied, stopping in her resisting as soon as her family was mentioned, “My father and brothers are dead, one hung for his crimes. I think that was settled, I never burned down houses.”
“But you killed people, can’t leave that one aside,” the deputy returned, removing his gun from his belt, “Missed your execution by only a couple hours, figure one right here will suffice.”
With a shove by the boot still pressed into her side, he rolled Ida onto her back as she groaned again in pain. However, she did manage to sit herself upright, finding her ground again somewhat as she held her side, expecting a bullet at any moment as she did so. He had the upper hand, but he seemed to be savoring it. That could play well into her favor.
“Am I going to get any last words?” she asked, watching him over the barrel of the gun as he seemed to weigh that before letting out a short huff.
“Naw, I’m thinkin’ you’ve said more than enough,” he stated, Ida hearing the click of the hammer over the sounds of the river.
She waited a few moments, her heart racing. A mistake that could have cost her, leaving her lifeless on that river bank, but she was right about the deputy seeming to savor the whole thing. This was personal, he was alone. He was going to play this for what it was worth, and she was going to use that to give a last fight if this was how she was going to go. Pain fading into the background, she found herself lunging forward as the loud echo of a bullet rang in her ears, colliding with the man’s torso as they fell back onto the bank of the river. She received a hard hit to the face, her hands moving up to grip at his weapon as he fired another shot into the air.
Straddling him, she drew back and punched him hard in the face. Once, twice, before he was dazed enough to loosen his hold on the gun. She ripped it from his grip, scrambling back as she tried to climb to a stand, her legs giving out under her for a few moments. It was enough for the deputy to regain his upper hand, throwing himself onto her as he straddled her hips, hands coming down to grip tightly at her throat. Ida let out a weak noise as she couldn’t take in a breath around her hammering heartbeat. She could feel it in her face, hear it in her ears.
With some effort, she shifted her hand between them, shoving the gun up under his belly before firing off a shot. Instantly, the pressure was off her throat, leaving her to gasp and cough as the deputy rose back up, holding his bleeding stomach with a groan before, almost without thinking, Ida raised the gun back up and fired a shot between his eyes.
There was almost no noise outside of the shot she fired, watching almost dazed as the man in front of her collapsed, dead, onto the ground. She sat there for a few moments, forcing air into her lungs around the aching in her ribs. There was no doubt her mind that someone had heard the commotion, her mind returning pretty quick as she pulled herself upright, letting out a high pitched whistle that she could only hope Tyrant would obey.
“God damn bastards,” she ground out, cursing not the sheriff and his deputies of that town, but her family.
Even with them dead she was still dealing with their damn messes.
She heard a weak neigh from behind her as Tyrant reappeared, Ida quickly working on removing the deputy’s gun belt, deciding she was going to keep the gun until she could get back to camp. However, she was very aware of the sound of approaching hooves, Ida raising up as she loaded her weapon, gun belt held loosely in her free hand as two figures on horse back appeared on the ridge above her.
“ Whoa! Whoa! ”
The familiar voice broke through easily enough into the dazed feeling that had settled about her, Ida blinking before she was able to see two familiar faces as they steered their horses down toward where she stood with a body bleeding into the river by her feet. Arthur and another man, Charles, whom she had yet to really interact with.
Until now. A hell of a situation for it.
“The hell happened here?” Arthur demanded once he had taken in the scene around him, Ida keeping her hold on the gun but let it come to rest by her side as she turned to look toward the body, “Mary-Beth came chargin’ into camp, talkin’ about how you was chased off by some feller…”
“He’s a deputy,” Ida explained, her voice rough from the abuse on her throat, “From that town we left couple days ago…”
“Are there more?” Charles asked, dismounting and stepping toward her as Ida shook her head, rubbing a hand against the soreness around her throat, still not able to stand up completely straight with her ribs.
“He was alone…” she started, “Really wanted to see me hang when I was in jail, was able to recognize his face when we were on the street. He was going on about...something that happened years ago with my family, wanted me dead over it. It was personal, I don’t think he’s…”
“You tell him ‘bout us?” Arthur asked, his tone tight, “Where we are?”
Ida shook her head, “No, I played dumb. Got kicked in the ribs for it. He was asking around, he knew I had left with a group but he has...had no idea.”
“You’re hurt,” Charles stated, pulling Ida’s gaze from Arthur’s stern one as she felt him touch her shoulder, seeming to look her over a minute, “We should get you back to camp.”
“Sure, thank you…” Ida muttered, turning back toward Tyrant. What she was thanking him for, she wasn’t sure. The concern, maybe. She didn’t know, her head wasn’t quite there in the moment as she pulled herself up onto her horse.
“Dutch’ll love this…” Arthur muttered once Charles was back on his horse, Ida casting him a glance. Partly in offense, partly in apology.
She’d just wanted to leave camp for a bit.