Howdy! Welcome to another terrific Tuesday!
Big news! At least for me. THE EAGLE AND THE FLAME has just been released. Am not going to say too much about it, except to say to be sure to leave a comment, cause I’ll be giving away a free e-book to one of you bloggers.
This is a rather long excerpt (Prologue and First 2 Chapters). So without further ado, here is the blurb and excerpt (prologue and first two chapters). Please enjoy!
THE EAGLE AND THE FLAME, by Karen Kay
A vision foretold his tribe’s doom. Is the flame-haired beauty the trickster or his true love?
Lucinda Glenforest’s father, a general who’d fought in the Indian Wars, taught his flame-haired daughter to out-shoot even the best men the military could put up against her. When Luci’s sister is seduced and abandoned, it’s up to Luci to defend her honor in a duel. Although she wins, the humiliated captain and his powerful family vow vengeance. The sister’s only hope is to flee and hide until their father returns from his overseas mission. Out of money, Luci hatches a plan to disguise herself as a boy and use her sharpshooting skills in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
The chief of the Assiniboine tribe has a terrifying vision, that someone called the deceiver, or trickster, spells doom for the children of his tribe. He enlists Charles Wind Eagle to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, in hopes of appealing to the President of the United States for help, and to find and stop the deceiver. When Wind Eagle is paired with a girl whom he knows is disguised as a boy, he believes she might be the deceiver. Still, she stirs his heart in ways he must resist, for he has a secret that can never be told, nor ignored. And Luci can never forget that her father would destroy Wind Eagle if she were to fall in love with him.
Forced to work together, they can’t deny their growing attraction. Will Luci and Wind Eagle find a way through the lies to find true love? Or will they be consumed by the passion of deception and slander?
Warning: A sensuous romance that might cause a girl to join the rodeo in order to find true love.
The Wild West Series
The Assiniboine Sioux Reservation
“Run! Run to them! Help them!”
Ptehé Wapáha, Horned Headdress, couldn’t move. It was as though his feet were tied to the ground with an invisible rope. He attempted to lift his feet one at a time. He couldn’t. Bending, he struggled to remove the shackles that held him prisoner. It was impossible.
Straightening up, he looked down into the Assiniboine camps from his lofty perch upon a hill, and he watched as a cloud of dust and dirt descended from the sky to fall upon the children of the Assiniboine. Helpless to act, he stared at the scene of destruction as each one of the children fell to the ground, their bodies withering to dust. Still, he stood helpless, unable to act in their defense. He heard their cries, their pleas for aid. He reached out to them, he, too, crying. But he couldn’t move; he couldn’t save them.
The cloud lifted. The children were no more; their bones had returned to the earth. Instead, in their place arose a people who appeared to be Assiniboine outwardly, but within their eyes, there showed no spark of life. They appeared to be without spirit, without heart; they were broken—mere slaves.
From the cloud of dirt came the sound of a whip as the people cowered beneath its assault. Then arose the lightning strikes and the thunder. One by one even those soulless people fell to their knees—a conquered people, their heads bowed in fear.
And, then they were no more. All was lost; all was gone.
What force was this? Who or what was this faceless power that had killed the Assiniboine people and their children? He knew it not.
He cried, his tears falling to the ground, but even the essence of this, his body’s grief, was barren. His proud people were no more.
Jerking himself awake, Ptehé Wapáha, Horned Headdress, chief of the Rock Mountain People, sat up suddenly. His sleeping robes fell around him and sweat poured from his body. Tears fell from his eyes as he came fully into the present moment.
At once, he realized that what he had seen had been a mere dream, and, while this might have comforted a lesser being, Horned Headdress knew that there was more to the nightmare. It was a vision, a warning from the Creator: this was what would come to pass if he and his people didn’t act. And now.
But, what was he to do? He didn’t know who this enemy was.
It was then that, wide awake, he beheld a vision unfolding before him as the Creator spoke to him in the language of the sacred spider. And, as the spider weaved his web, pictures of a future time appeared upon that maze, as though it were a backdrop for the images.
Astonishment and fear filled his soul. But, he soon came to realize that the Creator had not warned him in vain, for, upon that same web appeared visions of deeds that would thwart that future evil, if he could but do them.
He must act, and with speed. This he vowed he would do. But how? He was no longer a young man, conditioned to the rigors that would be required. He could not perform the skills necessary to accomplish what must be done.
But there are two youths among our people who can. The thought came to him as though it were his own, but he realized that the words were from the Creator. Moreover, he saw with his mind’s eye, that there were, indeed, two young men who were strong enough and proficient enough to undertake this task.
With a calmness of purpose, Horned Headdress knew what he would do, what he must do….
“Our way of life is endangered, and our people might well be doomed, I fear—all our people—unless we act.”
Twenty-year old, Wa?blí Taté, Wind Eagle, of the Hebina, the Rock Mountain People of the Nakoda tribe, listened respectfully to his chief, Horned Headdress. The chief held an honorable war record, was honest beyond reproach and was known to be wise at the young age of fifty-two years. On this day, Wind Eagle and his ?óla, Iron Wolf, were seated in council within the chief’s spacious sixteen-hide tepee. There were only the three of them present: Horned Headdress; himself, Wind Eagle; and Macá Mázasapa, Iron Wolf, the chief’s son.
“The White Man is here to stay,” continued Horned Headdress. “Many of our chiefs speak of this. Already we have seen changes that are foreign and confusing to us, for their customs are not ours. I have asked you both to this council today because I have dreamed that our people will not long exist if we do not act as a united people. But allow me to explain.
“As you both are aware, the annuities, promised so easily in treaty by the White Father, did not arrive this past winter to replace the hundreds-of-years-old food source, the buffalo. Because of this, too many of the young and the old did not survive the harsh snows and winds that inflicted wrath upon this country; a worse winter cannot be remembered, not even by the very old. All our people are grieved, for every family amongst us lost loved ones, and, I fear that if we do not become like the beaver and act in a fast and well-organized manner, we, as a people, will perish from the face of this earth.
“The Indian agent is partly to blame for this; he put us at a terrible disadvantage, for our men of wisdom and experience, who have always ensured that our people remain alert to future dangers, were rounded up and placed in an iron cage that the agent calls jail. He used Indian police to do this; they were young men from our tribe who listened to this agent’s poisonous tongue, and, feeling they knew best for our people, acted for the agent and not us. They helped him to disarm us, not realizing that their people had need of their guns and their bows and arrows not only to defend their families, but to hunt for food. Later, these same young men lamented their actions, for they learned too late that the Indian agent is not our friend.
“Some of our young men, like yourselves, escaped by hiding until the danger passed. Then, stealing away into the night, these men left to find food and bring it back to supply us with needed rations. But in many cases, the food arrived too late, and the evil face of starvation caused the death of too many of our people.
“We have heard this agent laugh at our plight, but what are we to do, for we have no one else to speak for us to the White Father? We chiefs have spoken often of this matter and have pondered who among us might seek out the White Father and express our grievances.
“Recently I received a vision from the Creator. I have now seen that the danger is not in the past; I have learned that our children have a terrible fate and we might lose them all if we remain here and do nothing to change our future.”
Wind Eagle nodded solemnly; no words were spoken, as befit the purpose of this council.
“I believe I know what must be done,” continued Horned Headdress. “I have seen in vision that there is a white man whose name is Buffalo Bill Cody, who is now visiting our Lakota brothers to the southwest of us. I am told that this man, Buffalo Bill, is not a bad man, though he pursues fame and approval, as well as the white man’s gold. Further, I am told that he searches for those among us who can perform feats of daring, because he would take the best that we have and parade those youths before the White Man. It is said to me that this is the manner in which this man purchases the necessities of living.
“I have discovered that he offers a home for those whom he chooses, as well as the white man’s gold and silver which can be traded for clothing, food and other comforts. He is soliciting youths who can perform trick riding, or who can run as fast as the wind or those who can shoot with precision. He also is asking for young men who are unparalleled in tests of strength and brawn. Wind Eagle, you have proven yourself to be unequalled in shooting the arrow straight, accurately and with a speed that no one in all the nations can match.”
Wind Eagle nodded silently.
“And you, Macá Mázasapa, my son, are the best horseman in all the Nakoda Nation, performing tricks that even the finest riders of the Plains, the Blackfeet, admire.”
Iron Wolf dipped his head in acknowledgement.
“I am now asking you to act for me on behalf of your people; humbly, I would implore you both to travel to the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Reservation and enter into those contests sponsored by this man, Buffalo Bill.” Horned Headdress paused significantly as though he were choosing his next words with care. “I have seen in vision,” he continued, “that the White Father, or a man representing him, will attend one of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows. If I could, I would go in your place, but there are reasons why I cannot. I am no longer a youth who might compete against other youths. Also, I am needed here to counsel our sick and our needy and to act against this Indian Agent on behalf of our people, for this man is still here, is still corrupt, and every day denies our people the food and supplies that have been promised to us by treaty.”
As was tradition in Indian councils, neither young man spoke, both kept their eyes centered downward, in respectful contemplation. Not only was it the utmost in bad manners to interrupt a speaker, but it was a particular taboo to volunteer one’s opinions with an elder of the tribe unless asked to do so. At length, Horned Headdress continued, saying, “I have seen into the future, and I believe that both of you will be accepted by this showman. I ask you this: when the White Father or his representative comes to this show, ask for a private audience with this man, who I believe will grant your request. But beware. I have also seen that all will not be easy for you, for there is a deceiver there. You may come to know this person by being part of Buffalo Bill’s show. Have a care, and do your work well, for this deceiver might be the greatest threat to all the Indian Nations. This trickster, if not recognized and stopped, may bring about death and destruction to our children in ways that our minds do not comprehend. Look for this person, discover who it is, man or woman. Be alert that if we do not learn from what tribe he or she hails, this deceiver could bring disaster not only to us, but to all the Indian Nations, and we, as an Indian people, might die in spirit forever. Identify this person as quickly as you might and disarm him or her, for I do not speak lightly that the fate of our children rests with you.”
He paused for a moment. “And now,” he continued, “I would hear what you wish to say about this burden I ask you to shoulder, for I would know if each one of you stands ready to pit your skills against this ill wind of tragedy for our people.”
Now came the chance for each young man to speak, and they both agreed that they would be honored to bear this responsibility. They would go at once to their Lakota brothers in the south, and yes, they would use all their cunning and strength to prevent any future harm that might befall their people.
Horned Headdress nodded approval. “It is good,” he acknowledged, before adding, “Seek out another young man from your secret clan, the Wolf Clan, once you have been successful in joining Buffalo Bill’s show. Take him into your confidence, for I have also seen that three is oftentimes better protection against evil than two.”
Both young men nodded.
“Wašté, good. Now, listen well, my young warriors, and I will tell you what I wish you to say to the white man’s representative, and what I wish you to do.…”
Wind Eagle looked out from his lofty perch upon a stony ridge, which sat high above the winding waters of the Big Muddy, or as the white man called it, the Missouri River. He faced the east, awaiting the sunrise, his face turned upward, his arms outstretched in prayer. Below him unfolded numerous pine-covered coulees and ravines, jagged and majestic as they cut through the mountains, a range which appeared to never end. The huge rock beneath his moccasined feet felt solid and firm, and, as he inhaled the moist air of the morning, he gazed outward, welcoming the beauty of the Creator’s work.
He sought a vision to guide him on this vital quest for his people. Also, he hoped to ease his troubles, for as Horned Headdress had so elegantly said, the shared tragedy that had destroyed so many of their people had also struck Wind Eagle personally.
It was true that starvation had been the ultimate weapon employed by rogue forces within and without the tribe. Because both the Indian Agent and the Indian police had acted against the people, Wind Eagle’s grandfather had died in those cages the white man called jails. At the time, Wind Eagle and his father had been gone from the village on the hunt for food. But game was scarce, causing his own, and his father’s, absence to extend for too long a time. When they had returned to their village, they had found that many of their friends were now gone. Even his beloved grandmother—the woman who had raised him—had been weak when Wind Eagle and his father had returned. For a short while, it had appeared that she might recover, but it was not to be. Too soon, she had left this life to travel to the Sandhills, where she would join her husband. At least, they would journey on that path together.
It was only a few days past that Ptehé Wapáha, Horned Headdress, had spoken to himself and Iron Wolf, setting the two of them into action. Quickly, they had made their plans and had talked of nothing else for the past two days, and, if they were both picked by the Showman to be a part of the show, each individually knew what his part would be in this vital task. Failure was no option; the life of their people must continue.
Because no delay could be spared, they were to leave this very night to set out upon the trail to the Pine Ridge reservation. They would travel by horseback, the both of them taking two or more of his ponies with him.
But no such journey could commence without first seeking a vision, for only in this way could a man communicate with his Creator. And so Wind Eagle began with a prayer:
“Waka?tanka, hear my plea. I come before you humble, having given away my best clothing to the needy. As is right for my appeal, I have bathed myself in the smoke of many herbs, and have spent many days in prayer. Show me, guide me, to see how I might best aid my chief and my people.”
Then he sang:
“Waka?tanka, wacéwicawecioiya, (Creator, I pray for them)
Waka?tanka, ca jéciyata, (Creator, I call thee by name)
Waka?tanka, ca jéciyata,
Waka?tanka, unkákí japi. (Creator, we suffer)
Waka?tanka, oi?iya. (Creator, help me)
He closed his eyes, inhaling deeply as the sun peeped up from above the horizon. Already, he could feel the sun’s warming rays, and he sighed. It was good, and he became quiet, merging himself with the spirit of Mother Earth, hoping that he might be gifted a vision. Perhaps Waká?ta?ka was attuned to the cries of His people, for Wind Eagle was not left long to linger. As he opened his eyes, he beheld a pair of bald eagles—his namesake—dancing in the cool drafts of the air. Beautiful was their courtship ritual as they climbed ever higher and higher into the airy altitudes of the sky.
Then it happened, the dance of love: locking talons, they spun around and around, spiraling down toward the earth in what might seem be a dive to their death. Still, neither let go of the other, embracing and holding onto each other in their twirling spectacle until the very last moment. From that courtship dance, the pair would mate and form a union that would last their lifetime, and out of that union would appear a new generation of bald eagles. So it had been for thousands of years past; so it was now.
Entranced by the exquisiteness of this show of nature, he didn’t at first see what was before him, didn’t realize the two eagles were now hovering in the air, within his reach. The sound of their flapping wings, however, was loud in the cooling mountain breeze, and, lifting his vision to encompass them both, they spoke to him:
“We, the eagle people, are sent here from the Creator to tell you that He has heard your plea. He has told us to say this to you.
“Learn from us, for we, the eagle people, marry but once, and for all our life. Heed the advice of your heart, since it will lead you on a path that will ensure the well-being of your people. Beware the past mistakes of others. Beware also the one or the many who would hide within the cloak of deceit. Be strong, remain alert, for the way to help your people will be fraught with great danger.
“Opportunity will soon be yours, for your skill is the best in all the Nations. Use this to learn about your peoples’ secret enemy, for it will be through this venture that will appear the chance to free your people from a coming darkness. If you are successful, your acts of valor will be spoken about throughout the Indian Nations.
“Trust your heart, for there is one there who might help you to find peace within your mind and spirit.
“We have spoken.”
Wind Eagle outstretched his arms toward the eagles, and he might have sung his song back to them, but the two birds had already lifted away from him, soaring higher and higher into the sky. Once more, the eagles locked talons, repeating the ancient courtship ritual dance.
Breathing deeply, he watched their magnificent show with respect, until at last the eagles plummeted to the earth, breaking away from one another before striking the ground. Coming together again, they climbed high over the rocks, alighting at last upon their nest. Here, they would love, ensuring that their species survived well into the future.
What was the meaning of their verse? He would relay his vision to his chief, of course, for only in this way could he assure the success of his task. But, before he left, he sang out his thanks in prayer, saying:
“Waka?tanka, I thank you for the vision you have given me.
“Waka?tanka, I honor you. I honor your messengers.
“And now I would seek out my chief that I might ensure I understand fully your instruction to me.”
So saying, Wind Eagle stepped back from the ridge and retraced his steps to his camp. The day was still young, and he felt renewed with purpose.
An infamous dueling field outside Bladensburg, Maryland
May 20th, 1888
The early morning’s cool, gray mist hung low over the dueling field’s short grass and the woods that surrounded it. The lawn and woods-scented air was heavy and moist here at the Bladensburg contesting grounds; and, because this notorious spot lay only a few blocks from Washington DC proper, the atmosphere was further flavored with the scent of smoke from the fires and the wood-burning stoves of the numerous houses in the city. The earth felt mushy and wet beneath her footfalls, and the grass both cushioned and moistened the leather of her boots, as well as the bottom edge of her outfit. There was a chill in the air, and Lucinda Glenforest wore a short jacket of crushed velvet gold over the flowery embroidered skirt of her cream-colored, silky dress. Her bonnet of gold and ivory velvet boasted a brim that was quilled, and the satin bow that was tied high on top, fell into inch-wide strings that tied under her chin. The color scheme complemented her fiery, golden-red hair that had been braided and tied back in a chignon that fell low at the back of her neck. The entire ensemble had been strategically donned in the wee hours of the morning to allow for freedom of movement, which might be more than a little required for the sedate “battle” which was to take place.
Beside her reposed Lucinda’s fifteen-year-old younger sister, Jane, whose condition being only a few months in the making, was, for the moment, hidden. But soon, in less time than Lucinda liked to consider, the consequence of Jane’s ill-fated affair would become evident.
“Don’t kill him, Luci.”
The words served to irritate Luci; not because of Jane’s concern for the swine who had done this to her, but because of Luci’s involvement in a situation that should rightly involve male members of their family. But their father, General Robert Glenforest, had left for the Island of Hawaii on the urgent business of war, and this, because their family had no brother to uphold its honor, left only Luci to contend with the problem. The fact that she possessed the skills to tackle the dilemma was hardly the point.
Being the eldest child in a military family, Luci had been fated to mimic her father’s profession, for General Glenforest had made it no secret that he had hoped his firstborn would be a boy. To this end, he had carefully schooled Luci into the more male occupations of war, of shooting, of defense and of strategic planning. Luci’s own inclinations—which had included dolls and pretend dress-up—were of no consequence to her father. With the feminist movement in full swing, General Glenforest had found favor in openly proclaiming that he hoped Luci would follow in his footsteps, or if this weren’t quite possible, to marry a soldier as like-minded as he. He went further to state that he hoped his daughter would thereafter advise her husband wisely.
As Luci had grown older, she had protested, of course, but it hadn’t done her any good, especially since she enjoyed and stood out in the sport of the shooting gallery. Her prowess in these matches had earned her many a trophy over her male counterparts, and, as time had worn on, she had gone on to win and win and win, even those matches where the man she was pitted against was years older than she.
Now, while it might be true that Luci enjoyed the thrill of shooting matches, it was not factual that she shared other traits of the male gender. After all, she was well aware that she was not a man, and outside of the marksmanship that she excelled in, she held few common threads with the male of the species. Indeed, she often found a boy’s rather crude sense of humor extremely gross and very unfunny.
So it was that she had mastered a defense against her father, her resistance being to dress up and to act in as ladylike a manner as possible. Indeed, she flaunted her femininity, had done so even as a child, especially when her father was in residence. Her rebelliousness had earned her a treasure, though. She had come to love the manner in which she adorned herself. Even her day dresses protested the current trend of the dark colors of black, brown and gray; none of that for her. Her clothing consisted of vivid hues of blue, coral, pink, yellow, green and more. Indeed, she flaunted the style of the walking dress, cutting her version of that style low in the bodice. Tight waists, which hugged her curves, ended in a “V” shape over her abdomen in front and the beginning arc of her buttocks in back. These and other attributes of her clothing asserted her female gender quite vividly. Her bustles were soft and feminine, and were generally trained in back, adding to the aesthetic allure of her costume, while the overall effect of her skirts, draped in gatherings of material, fell like a soft waterfall to the floor.
That this style was considered to be a woman’s attire for only evening gatherings bothered her not in the least. Although she had often heard the whispered gossip doubting the truth of her maidenhood, no one dared to repeat such lies to her face.
Her father, when he was in residence, accused her of playing up her feminine assets too well. But when he had gone on to criticize her too greatly, Luci had merely smiled at him; revenge, it appeared, was sweet. Truth was, left to her own devices, Luci might have made much of her own inclinations, for her heart was purely girlish. Indeed, secretly at home, she enjoyed the more womanly chores of baking, cooking and sewing.
It did bother her that her abilities with a gun appeared to frighten suitors, for at the age of nineteen, she had never known the amorous attentions of any young man; no boyfriends, no male interest in her as a young woman. She’d not even experienced a mild flirtation with a member of the opposite sex. Indeed, it might be said that she was nineteen and ne’er been kissed.
So it was with reluctance that Luci answered her sister’s plea to “not kill him,” saying, “I promised you that I wouldn’t, Janie, and that’s all I can assure you. You must admit that the brute deserves no consideration whatsoever. If father were here, you know that he would demand a Military Tribunal for that man, since both our father and that viper are military. Even a firing squad would be too good, I’m sure. To think, that skunk told you he wasn’t married—“
“He did propose to me.”
“How could he? Janie, he was married when he proposed to you. He’s nothing but a lying thief.”
“He’s not a thief!”
“He took your maidenhood, didn’t he?” Lucinda whispered the words. “Once lost, it’s gone forever. You must see that he deserves to be killed.”
Jane blushed. Still, she persisted, entreating, “Please don’t do it, Luci. Please. I love him so.”
This last was said with such urgency and dramatics, that Luci’s only response was a sigh. If it were up to her…
She still remembered back to a few weeks ago, and to Janie’s confession.
Luci had found her blond and beautiful fifteen-year-old sister locked in her room, grieving. On enquiry, Jane had confessed her problem. “I’m pregnant, Luci. We had planned a June wedding. But now?…”
“Pregnant? Had planned a June wedding?”
“He’s married. I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t. He told me he loved me, and that we would be married in June. But when I came to him to tell him of the child, he laughed at me.”
“He laughed? You’re telling this to me truly? He honestly laughed?”
Jane cried and seemed unable to speak. She nodded instead.
“Who is this man?”
Jane hiccupped. “I…promise me that you won’t kill him.”
“How can I say that to you in view of what has happened? And with Father gone. Now, tell me, who is this man? You know I’ll find out one way or the other.”
“I suppose you will. But please, I can’t reveal his name to you unless I have your word that you won’t kill him.”
Luci paused. She could force the issue, but she would rather not. Perhaps it was because Jane was more like a daughter to her than a sister, for Luci had taken on the role of “mother” at the age of four, when their own mother, shortly after giving birth to Jane, had passed on to the heavenly plane. Plus, their father had never remarried. Luci uttered, “I will do my best not to kill him, Janie. But that’s all I can promise.”
Sniffing, Jane blew her nose on the dainty handkerchief in her hand, then at length, she admitted, “I guess that’s good enough. I think you might know him. It’s Captain Timothy Hall. But please, don’t be angry at him. I love him so.”
Of course Luci knew the worthless snake. He had once courted Abagail Swanson, one of her best girlfriends, who also had been underage at the time. Luckily for her friend, she had discovered the truth of Hall’s marital state before he’d been able to inflict permanent damage on her.
What was wrong with the man? Was his twenty-year-old wife already too old for him? Was he a pervert?
Oh, what she would like to do to him if the society around them would only allow it.…
Well, that was all in the recent past; what was done was done. Today was the day he would pay. Today, that no-account slime would contend with her, and Luci pledged to herself that her sister’s honor, as well as that of their family, would be avenged.
Once again, she thought back to the last few weeks. In less than twenty-four hours after her talk with Janie, Luci had challenged the bearded, black-haired degenerate, and had done so in as public a place as possible, a garden party. He had laughed at her, of course, when she had confronted him, and, using her gloves, she had slapped his face.
“You’re a two-timing scoundrel, Captain Hall, and I challenge you to a duel. Make no mistake, I will protect and defend my family’s honor.”
“You? A woman? Dueling me?” He snickered. “I wouldn’t stoop so low.”
“Low? Are you a coward, then? Is your problem that your spine runs yellow? You know that no man has ever bested me in the skill of the shooting gallery.”
His answer was nothing more than a loud hiss.
“My second will act at once, setting the time and place of the duel. And hear me out, if you don’t show, I will ensure that all the country in and around Washington DC, as well as your wife, will know not only of your misdeeds, but also of your cowardice. And this, I promise.”
Still, she thought, he might not come. For now, she awaited her second, as well as those in Hall’s party. She picked up her pistol—a Colt .45—checking it over carefully, swearing to herself what she would do to him if the wicked man didn’t show.…
“The rules for this duel are as follows,” declared Sergeant Anthony Smyth, a tall, dark-haired gentleman, who was Luci’s second. Smyth was an excellent marksman in his own right, which was one reason why Luci had picked him to preside over the duel. That both he and his wife were close family friends had aided Luci in making the choice. But Smyth was continuing to speak, and he said, “The match continues to first blood, and, regardless of how minor the injury, the match then ends. No further shots are legal, and will not be tolerated. The twenty paces, which were agreed upon in writing, have been marked out by a sword stuck in the ground at each side of the field. When I drop the handkerchief that I hold in my hand, you may each advance and fire. Lieutenant Michaels is on duty as the official surgeon.” Sergeant Smyth glanced first at Luci, then at Captain Timothy Hall. “Are there any questions?”
When neither she nor Captain Hall spoke up, Sergeant Smyth continued, “Then it is begun.”
Luci glanced down the field, estimating her distance, as well as determining where exactly she would place her shot. Having already decided that a shoulder injury would be the easiest to heal, she calculated the precise angle that would be required to obtain that “first blood,” and end the match. Next to Captain Hall stood his older brother, James Hall, his second.
Behind Luci, well to her rear and out of shooting range, sat Janie, who had brought a blanket to cushion the soft ground upon which she sat. Refreshments of cinnamon rolls and coffee, with plates and coffee cups, decorated a table next to Janie. As was expected by the rules of conduct for all matters concerning dueling, both Janie and Luci had brought the refreshments for the participants today, including that serpent, Captain Tim Hall.
Luci hadn’t easily consented to the early morning snack, but her friend, Sergeant Smyth, had already determined that the duel would follow the rules of personal combat exactly, making her obligated to provide the food and drink.
She sighed as she awaited the signal to begin, but she never once glanced away from her target. To do so might be fatal.
Smyth dropped the handkerchief, and both duelists fired at will. Luci’s shot hit Hall in the shoulder, as she had intended, while Hall’s volley missed her entirely.
“First blood has been taken,” called out Sergeant Smyth. “The match now ends as formerly agreed upon. All participants are to put down their weapons, and all are invited to coffee and rolls, which they will find at the far side of the field. A surgeon is on hand to deal with your wound, Captain Hall.”
Luci turned away, setting her gun down on the table next to her.
The explosion was unexpected. The match was finished, wasn’t it? If so, why was Captain Hall still firing at her?
Hall’s next shot hit her in her left upper arm.
“Stop this at once!” shouted Smyth. “Halt! This is illegal!”
But Luci ignored her second in command; she was in a gun fight and under attack; his words didn’t even register with her. With the quick reflexes of one who is in command of her weapon, she grabbed hold of her Colt, turned, and carefully aimed her shot to do the most damage to Captain Hall without killing him.
She sent her answering bullet at Captain Timothy Hall, placing the slug high up on his thigh, intending the bullet to miss, yet graze his masculine parts. His loud cry indicated she had been successful. She turned her pistol on Hall’s second—James Hall—who had picked up his own gun, as though he might consider using it against her, also, illegal though it was.
“Captain Hall, you and your brother must cease this at once. You will be reported. You and your second will likely be court martialed if you continue firing,” Sergeant Smyth yelled, as he hurried toward Luci, his own Colt drawn and aimed at the two culprits. But his threat fell on deaf ears. Hall had fallen to the ground, his shrieks indicating he was in too much pain to be of any more use in a gunfight. Hall’s brother, James, however, looked ready to continue the match, except that when he espied Luci’s Colt pointed directly at him, as well as Smyth’s drawn weapon, James Hall instead dropped his gun and held his hands up in surrender.
Luci nodded. But that was all that she did. Without letting her guard down, she kept her weapon trained on both the Hall brothers as she paced to where Jane sat at the side of the field. Bending, Luci grabbed hold of her sister by the arm and pulled her up. Then, without turning her back on Captain Hall and his brother, she made her retreat toward the street, where her coach awaited.
“Make a report of this at once,” she instructed Smyth, as well as Lieutenant Michaels, the military surgeon. “Let all know what a cowardly slime Captain Hall truly is. My father must be informed, and he will thank you both for doing so.”
Without cause to do more at the moment, Luci and Jane slowly withdrew, Jane leading the way to their coach, for Luci never once turned her back on her opponent. That the screams of Captain Timothy Hall wafted through the air was music to Luci’s ears. By measured retreat, they gained the street and the carriage, and Jane practically flew into her seat within.
“Driver!” yelled Luci as she quickly followed her sister into the conveyance. “Take us to the army telegraph office as quickly as possible!” Seating herself with care, she continued, declaring to Jane, “We must send Father word of this at once.”
“Why, you’re hurt!”
It was true. The exact extent of the damage was yet to be determined, and it was only now, within the relative safety of their coach, that Luci realized her arm hurt unbearably.
Yet, to Janie, all she said was, “It is only a scratch, soon healed. But come, Jane, please tear off a part of my petticoat, and give it to me to tie, that I might stop this bleeding, for I fear it is staining my blouse.”
“Leave it to you to consider only the damage to your clothing,” scolded Jane as she did as instructed. It was also she who tied the tourniquet. “As soon as we arrive at our home, I will summon our surgeon to attend to you at once.”
“After we send that telegraph to father,” amended Luci. “I fear we have not heard the last of Captain Hall and his brother. Though I feel assured that Mr. Smyth will also telegraph word to our father on any channel available to him, he may not be able to do this at a speed that could be required to ensure our good health.”
“What do you mean?”
Luci sent her sister a cautious glance. With the duel having gone as badly as it had, it was not in Luci’s nature to instill even more alarm in Jane, especially considering her delicate condition. Nevertheless, a word of attentiveness might be in order.
To this end, she patted Jane’s hand, smiled at her and said, “When Captain Hall heals from the wound I inflicted upon him, he might feel compelled to seek us out for daring to expose his base nature to his fellow military officers. A man who would flaunt the rules of honor cannot be trusted. And I fear—”
“Luci, please,” Jane cried, tears in her eyes. “What he has done is wrong, so very, very wrong, but please do not keep degrading his character to me. A scoundrel he is, I have no doubt, and I feel terrible that he has hurt you, but I am, after all, carrying his child. I wish I weren’t, Luci, but it is done, and I must bear the consequences of my actions. However, I fear that, as he is the babe’s father, he may have rights that even I don’t understand. I should try to discover a good trait he might possess, for I fear that I may have to deal with him in the future.” She pulled out a hanky from her purse and blew her nose. “Is it possible that he might have some logical reason as to why it was necessary to continue to fire at you when he should have stopped? Perhaps it was a reaction he could not control?”
“He fired two illegal shots at me, Janie, not one.”
“Oh, how hard it is to love a man so much,” Janie uttered with so much heartfelt passion that Luci was reminded of her sister’s youth—and the hardship of being pregnant at so young an age. “I know it’s true enough that he lied to me, but that doesn’t make him all bad, does it? I once found good in him. It must still be there. Oh, Luci, it hurts to love him so. It hurts.”
Momentarily, Luci felt at a loss for words. She made up for that lack by patting Jane’s hand instead.
“It will get better,” she assured Jane at last. “I know it might seem now as though the hurt will never heal. But it will.” She sighed. “It will. And perhaps you are right. Maybe in the future we might be dealing with a good man. I guess one could say that only the future will declare the truth of his character. We can hope, Janie, we can hope.”
Luci averted her gaze to stare at the closed, royal blue curtains that fell down over the windows of the carriage. Enough said. She would send this telegram to their father, then wait and see what might unfold. Reaching over to pull that blue, velvet curtain away from the window, she watched as the sun came up in the east.
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