Friday, October 7, 2011

Fighting For Love: Chapter 1

Headed East: December 1861/January 1862
Music: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Martina McBride (Lou & Kid)
Danger Zone, Kenny Loggins (all)
All for Love, Rod Stewart (Lou & Kid)
Our Solemn Hour, Within Temptation (all)
Can't Find My Way, Phil Collins (Buck)

Lou and Kid
Lou: Promise me somethin' Kid? Promise to never ride on without me again. If there's any trouble, I wanna face it with you.
Kid: I promise. As long as you promise not to interrupt me again.
Lou: For how long?
Kid: Just as long as I gotta say what I gotta say.
Lou: This ain't gonna be another of your practice speeches is it?
Kid: *clears throat*
Lou: Sorry.
Kid: (down on bended knee) Louise... McCloud... Will you... marry....
Lou: *gasps and kisses him* Yes!

Lou stole quick glances at her still newly minted husband by the fire while gathering wood to keep it burning through the night. Kid was staring pensively into the flames while waiting for the rabbit on the spit to finish roasting. She wondered what he was thinking about. After all this time, she knew better then to pester him about it. She’d learned, the hard way, to trust him to tell her, when he was ready. In the meantime, she’d practice some patience.

She hurried back to the fire and dropped her load of wood near their bedrolls. She was shivering in the harsh wind rolling across the Nebraska plains. December had just begun and while there wasn’t any deep snow, yet, the cold had definitely set in. Not the best of times to be traveling.

At least she didn’t have to deal with those pesky skirts. They let the cold in way too easily for comfort. And, despite the fact they were still officially honeymooners, she was back in her disguise as a boy. Not a problem in the middle of the wild plains tonight, but they’d have to remember to be careful the next time they came to a town. It had been a while since they’d had to act as if they were just two friends, not lovers.

But the return of her disguise was the only way. She wondered if that was what was bothering Kid. He hated to see her in danger and where they were headed danger was all they could expect. If both of them survived this war it would be a miracle.

Kid had decided to wait for the Pony Express to completely shut down before heading back to Virginia to join the Confederate Army. It wasn’t that he believed in slavery, but he couldn’t leave his birthplace, his home undefended. He wasn’t alone in his feelings. Even General Robert E. Lee, who’d been offered the command of the Union Army in the war, had expressed similar sentiments when turning down the assignment. He’d then left Washington, D.C. and joined the Confederate Army.

Kid had hoped by waiting the war would be over before he had to make a decision. Unfortunately, a war many had expected to end nearly bloodlessly in weeks, if not days, was instead turning into a protracted, bloody conflict. So, Kid had packed up and prepared to ride back to Virginia.

But, when they’d gotten engaged, Kid had also promised Lou he’d never leave her behind again when riding into danger. That meant only one thing. She was headed to war, too, even if it wasn’t her 'Cause'. She would rather have stayed in Nebraska Territory, bought a spread with their savings and settled down to raise her brother, sister and any children she and Kid had. But that wasn’t to be. Not yet.

Kid sighed as she settled down next to him, then turned and gathered her into his arms.

“Cold?” he asked.

“Not now,” she whispered tilting her head up to receive his kiss.

“Make sure you eat plenty of that rabbit, it’ll help keep you warm,” he said as he ran his hands up and down her back. “I’ll never be able to thank Buck enough for that buffalo robe he gave us at our wedding. It’ll sure help keep us warm in the next few months.”

“I’m more grateful for the medicines he gave me,” Lou responded as she began stripping the meat off one of the rabbit’s legs. “I have a feeling we’re going to need them in the coming fight.”

“I know,” Kid sighed. “I still wish you’d stayed in Rock Creek with Rachel, or even gone to Omaha and stayed with Emma and Sam. You’d have been safe there, with your brother and sister.”

“Kid,” Lou snapped, “we’ve been over this. I love Jeremiah and Teresa with all my heart. But, they’ll be safe. Sam and Emma will take good care of them. But you won’t be. I know where I have to be.”

“I’m sorry, Lou. I know I promised and I’ll keep my promise. But this is hard. It’s nice having you with me now. But knowing that in a few days you’ll be in danger, because of me, is tearing me apart. And, I’m not looking forward to having to pretend you’re my brother!”

Lou snorted. “You think I am? Now, come here and warm me up, cowboy.”

She smiled at him seductively while dragging him down for a kiss.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m a newlywed and I plan to enjoy that status for as long as I can. Now, are you coming to bed? Or are you going to sit here brooding some more?”

The devilish glint she loved so much returned to his eyes as he quickly followed her into their snug double bedroll. Even in the worst of times, they’re “dancin’” had always cheered him up.

The next morning, Lou and Kid packed the last of their dishes into their saddlebags, kicked dirt over the dying embers of their fire and mounted. They were headed east. But, to get to Virginia to join the Confederate Army they had to cross thousands of miles of war torn territory, evading capture by Union troops and dangerous vigilantes on both sides of the fight along the way. It was going to be the longest ride of their young lives. And that was just the beginning of this trip into hell.

Buck and Teaspoon
The lonely Kiowa half-breed sat on the bunkhouse porch brooding. Teaspoon had officially closed the way station the day before. The only true family Buck had ever known had flung itself to the four winds. If they met at all during the coming war years, it would be over the barrel of a gun. That was a thought that pained him so deeply he didn’t know how to handle it. So, he tried not to think it. His impassive face was already creased with too much sorrow, after the deaths of his two best friends and adoptive brothers.

First, Ike McSwain had been killed trying to protect his love from herself. It was a loss Buck had never recovered from. Then, Noah Dixon had been killed in one of the first unofficial battles of this war. He hadn’t even been in the blue uniform he’d so longed to wear. The Union Army hadn’t let him join because he was a Negro. Maybe if they had, he wouldn’t have been killed in the skirmish with Pearson’s Raiders.

Buck had no idea what to do with himself now. The folks of Rock Creek had treated him well enough, despite his “red skin”, but he just couldn’t see himself staying here. Not with the rest of his Pony Express family gone or leaving. He had no idea where to go. The previous year he’d made the permanent decision to live as a white man, not an Indian. But right now, that left him with few options. All he knew for sure was that he needed some time to think.

The door behind him clattered shut as Teaspoon exited the bunkhouse tying on his gunbelt.

“Buck, the invitation’s still open. You can come with me to Texas. I’d love to have you along, son,” Teaspoon said, laying a hand on the Indian’s shoulder.

“I can’t Teaspoon. I just can’t. I’ve lost too many of you already. I can’t face the idea I might end up shooting at my brothers in a battle.”

“Well, any ideas what you’re gonna do instead? You can’t just sit here. The place is sold.”

Buck sighed. “I think I’m going to head into the hill country. Do some thinking. Pray. Ask the Spirits for guidance and protection. When the war’s over, I’ll come back here. I know that’s what Lou and Kid are planning, too. Just to see. Maybe Jimmy and Cody will forgive them and come back, too.”

“That’s an awful big maybe, son,” Teaspoon sighed. “Those boys have a lot of grief and anger in them right now and this war ain’t going to help ‘em cool off.”

“I know Teaspoon. But I’ve gotta have hope. It’s all I’ve got left right now.”

“Hmph,” Teaspoon harrumphed, patting Buck on the shoulder again. “I know what ya mean, Buck. I know what ya mean. I can promise ya this. I survive the fight and I’ll be back.”

With that the grizzled and greyed former Texas Ranger, U.S. Marshal and adoptive father of the Rock Creek Pony Express Riders picked up his saddlebags and hopped off the edge of the porch. He ambled over to his horse, checked the saddle straps and mounted up.

He looked at Buck as if he were about to say something else, then harrumphed again and wheeled his horse toward the south, taking off at a gallop.

Buck watched him leave with what to some would have seemed no emotion. But if they’d looked closely enough they’d have seen the sheen of tears in his eyes.

Once Teaspoon’s form had disappeared over the horizon, Buck slowly climbed to his feet and walked into the bunkhouse. For a moment he felt older than Teaspoon. He started to pack up his belongings. He’d say goodbye to Rachel, who was staying on as the full-time teacher at the Rock Creek schoolhouse, then head into the Rockies.

Kid and Lou
Kid and Lou trotted across the Kansas prairie, eschewing their preferred flat out gallop because there were no relay horses to switch to in a few miles. It was important to keep these horses in good shape for as long as possible. Their beloved Katy and Lightning had been left behind. These former Express ponies had been purchased specifically for this trip. Neither could have faced losing their equine friends to battle. The short delay this provided in their trip was something they both silently approved of. It meant more time together before the world intruded.

Suddenly, gunshots from over a hill to the north interrupted their silent, companionable reverie. The couple pulled up sharply and looked at each other for a split second, communicating silently. Then both unholstered their revolvers and turned their horses toward the ongoing sounds of gunshots.

When they crested the hill they saw two young men, about their age, maybe a little older, hunkered behind a couple of trees shooting wildly at a pair of red-legged raiders. Stories of the Red Legs had made it as far as Nebraska Territory months ago. The name came from the reddish color of their leggings. They were vicious and, though purportedly Union supporters, were not officially part of any military unit.

Kid motioned for Lou to circle around behind the pair, while he rode in from the front. Once he could tell Lou was in position, creeping up behind, Kid fired a warning shot over the raiders’ heads and shouted, “You’re surrounded, drop your guns!” in his soft, southern accent.

“Did you hear that Harris? We’ve got us another Johnny Reb out there, thinking he’s going to save his rebel friends.”

Harris responded, “Well, Tommy, I guess we’ll have to show him just how welcome he and his kind are in the great Free State of Kansas!”

The two started shooting at Kid who slipped to the side of his horse, a maneuver Buck had taught him, using it as a shield while shooting at the pair of Red Legs under the animal’s belly. He hit Tommy in the chest, killing him, just as Lou shot Harris in the leg. Harris dropped his gun and grabbed his wounded leg. Lou hopped off her horse and kicked the gun away from the fallen raider. She never looked away from the dangerous man, keeping her gun aimed at his heart and the trigger cocked.

Kid looked at him and said, “We don’t want no trouble. Take your friend and get out of here, before we change our minds about letting you go.”

Harris nodded jerkily and limped over to heave his friend onto the back of his horse.

The two men Lou and Kid had just rescued peeked out from behind their shelters timidly. Lou smiled and said gruffly, to disguise her voice, “Y’all can come on out now. We ain’t gonna shoot ya.”

As Harris rode off, the two men appeared on opposite sides of the wooded area they’d been hiding in. At a single glance it was obvious they were brothers. Both were tall men, with thick locks of dark brown hair that had been allowed to grow slightly too long and square jaws. The obviously younger of the two men also sported a long, bushy mustache and matching eyebrows.

The elder brother quickly approached Kid and Lou, putting his gun away as he strode toward them. He held out his hand and introduced himself.

“Thank ya kindly for your help, gents. I’m not sure we’d have gotten away without it. My brother and I aren’t exactly the fightin’ type, if you know what I mean. I’m Orion Clemens. This is my brother Samuel,” he finished pointing to the younger of the two men.

The normally exuberant William F. Cody sighed and shifted on the bench of the wagon he was driving. He hated the slow pace and the constant view of the horses rears in front of him. And he didn’t just mean the four legged animals pulling his wagon. He was an experienced scout, skilled horseman and excellent marksman with the buffalo gun resting on the wagon’s bench beside him. This was the best use the U.S. Army could find for him?

He sighed again. As frustrated as he was with doing nothing but driving a wagon all day, then loading or unloading it, at least he was contributing. After Noah’s death he’d had to do something. He couldn’t just walk away from the fight for his country’s life and for the rights of all Americans to live free. He just wished it would be a little more exciting.

At least this meant he probably wouldn’t be shooting at Kid and Lou, or Teaspoon, who’d all said they were going to join the Confederate Army. It seemed strange that just a few weeks ago they’d been celebrating Lou and Kid’s wedding. Then, right there on the church steps, everything had fallen apart.

“Private, be prepared to pull up at the next river crossing. We’ll be stopping there for the night before heading on into Fort Leavenworth in the morning.”

“Yes, sir!” Cody flashed a flamboyant salute to the Lieutentant. The Lieutentant grimaced and return the sloppy, exaggerated salute with a West Point sharp one then rode off to inform the next wagon in the train.

Cody shook his head as he watched the fresh-faced Lieutentant ride off. That man was so fresh faced and new he squeaked. And if he didn’t learn to go with the flow a bit more he wasn’t going to last out here in the bloody states of Kansas and Missouri.

Then Cody glanced down at the young man, boy more like, riding alongside him. He already felt protective of the slender youth, probably because the kid reminded him so much of Lou in those early days. Cody’s eyes narrowed as he thought about that and carefully searched his companion’s face. No. It couldn’t be. Not again. Or could it? If Lou had thought of it, surely other women had as well. He knew many women felt just as strongly about the war as he did.

He mentally shrugged and returned his eyes to the horizon, searching for bandits. Even if his suspicions panned out, so what? As long as he, she, whatever, did the job he’d, she’d…. argh! Cody groaned to himself. He’d have to figure out fast just so he’d know what to think to himself. But he wouldn’t say anything to anyone as long as the job got done.

“Stay sharp,” he warned his companion. “We’re too close to Missouri for my tastes. Quantrill and his raiders have been acting up lately. Normally they wouldn’t attack an actual Army convoy, too many guns for their taste, but…”

Just as his voice trailed off a volley of gunshots rang out from the trees ahead and the hills behind. Cody slapped the reins into young Thatch’s hands and grabbed up the buffalo gun at his side. Thatch slapped the draft horses into a run, not something they could maintain for long with the heavy weight they pulled. Cody and the other armed teamsters starting shooting back.

Cody’s first shot made the raider directly in front of the wagon duck. Thatch then ran the man over. Cody quickly looked around for another target and saw a raider about to shoot the guard on the wagon behind him. It was a long shot, but long shots were Cody’s specialty. If he could clear the path ahead, then maybe they could outrun the main body of the raiders behind them. He carefully sighted down the length of his rifle, took a slow breath, held it and squeezed the trigger. With a soundless shout the second raider dropped to the ground. Cody let out his near trademark yip of success before looking for another target even as he started to reload his rifle.

The jangle of multiple bridles and the pounding of hooves coming from the south caught his attention. He turned, ready to start shooting again, but quickly noticed the blue uniforms.

“Reinforcements!” he yelled. “Coming from the south!”

That’s when he noticed the young Lieutentant looking around frantically, trying to figure out what to do. Cody jumped from the still rapidly rolling wagon, rolled himself a few times before gaining his footing and ran to the man.

“Sir, I think we should circle the wagons until the cavalry gets here!”

“Good idea, private. Thank you.” Lieutentant Daniel Holmes took a deep breath, then let out the call, “Circle up!”

Lou and Kid
The three men and disguised woman decided to set up camp by the copse of woods, rather than try to move on that day. Kid looked with dismay at the sleeping arrangements, as he realized the presence of the other two men would deprive him of his wife that night. And, more important, deprive her of the heat of his body. She was so small she needed the extra warmth.

He sighed, then glanced around quickly to make sure she wasn’t watching him. Once he’d ascertained she was in the wooded area gathering fire wood he quickly stuffed their buffalo robe blanket inside her bedroll. She’d need it more than he would.

Then, he started getting some food going. He found a large flat rock and placed it in the middle of the burning branches of the fire, to heat up. Then, mixed cornmeal, salt and water together to make cornpone, a form of cornbread he would bake directly on the flat rock in the fire. He also placed a pot of water with ground coffee beans in it on the edge of the fire to begin heating.

Meanwhile, the Clemens brothers were taking care of the horses, unsaddling them, brushing them down, watering and feeding them. As Kid was about to place the first cornpone on the hot rock to bake, Samuel walked up and watched.

“Cornpone. Looks great. My favorite meal in the world is catfish and cornpone.” Samuel sighed.

“Yeah,” Kid responded. “Too bad I haven’t seen any catfish since October.”

“Hey ‘Rion, we got any of that catfish still left?” Samuel shouted to his elder brother.

“Shore do. In fact, we got so much of it left we gotta eat it in a hurry or it’ll go bad on us. Can’t think what made us catch so many to begin with.”

“Well bring it on over and we’ll add it to the supper pot,” Samuel grinned, getting excited.

“What smells so good, Kid,” Lou asked, walking up to the group with an armful of wood for the fire. She began stacking the wood near the fire, within easy reach of the bedrolls.

“Cornpone,” Kid grinned. “With catfish, looks like.”

“Yum. Good thing it’s your night to cook, Kid,” Lou said, turning to the Clemens brothers. “He makes the best cornpone I’ve ever ate. While I’ll manage to burn boiling water.”

The group laughed companionably as they waited for supper.

“So, what brings you two out here?” Kid asked, after they’d all cleaned their plates.

Samuel and Orion looked at each other then, surprisingly, the younger spoke up.

“We’re headed west, to Nevada. Thought we’d try our hand at silver mining,” Samuel said, slightly subdued.

“Aren’t you from Missouri?” Kid questioned. “I’d expect you’d’ve preferred to take up arms, on one side or the t’other. I hear things are pretty bad there.”

Orion nodded in agreement, then looked strangely at Samuel who winced slightly.

“Well, the thing is, I did join up for awhile. Turns out I’m not made to be a soldier,” he said forlornly.

“What happened?” Lou asked quietly, strangely thinking about Jimmy in that moment.

When neither man answered at first, Kid looked at Lou then told the brothers, “We’re not judging. Each man’s gotta make his own decision in this conflict. We’ve got family on every side and in between.”

Samuel nodded sagely and smiled quietly before beginning to tell his story.

“I know exactly what you mean, Kid. I was working as a riverboat pilot in the Mississippi when the war broke out. My co-pilot was from New York. When the first shots were fired he was all Union. Told me I was no good, ‘cause my pa’d owned a single negro. Even though I tol’ him he’d wanted to free the man. Couple months later, we were down in New Orleans when Louisiana seceded. He was the loudest secessionist there, puttin’ me down ‘cause I was too Union for wantin’ to free that negro. But just a few weeks later, he was coming after me in a Union gunboat, wearing a blue uniform. Talk ‘bout ‘in between’!”

The group laughed together over Samuel’s account. But, then the tall, soft spoken man got serious again.

“But, I wasn’t kiddin’ when I said I’m not cut out for war. I actually joined up with a Confederate unit, Marion’s Raiders we called ourselves. After weeks of slogging from camp to camp and doing nothin’, we got word the enemy was headed our way. We hunkered down and waited, ‘til finally we saw a single man topping the nearest rise. Several of us fired at once. The man went down and died shortly. Whether he was the “enemy” I’ll never know. He was all alone and unarmed,” Samuel finished quietly, not looking at any of his companions, but staring morosely into the fire’s flames. “That’s why ‘Rion and I are headed west. Figure that’s the best way to stay out of things.”

The group sat quietly for a few minutes. Then Orion looked across the fire at Kid and Lou. “So, where are you two headed?” he asked.

“Back to my home state of Virginia,” Kid responded. “We’ll be joining the Confederate Army, hopefully the cavalry, as soon as we get there.”

“Good luck to ya, then,” Samuel said, looking at Kid and Lou. “You’re better men than I am.”

James Butler Hickok was just as bored as his erstwhile friend Cody had been. But he had more patience. At times he thought he should’ve stayed with Rosemary Burke and helped her with her abolitionist movement. But something about that idea had just stuck in his craw. Maybe it was the sneakiness of it all when outright war had broken out. Maybe it was the fact that because of her foolhardy actions his friend Noah had died. He didn’t blame her, exactly, for Noah’s death but he couldn’t quite forgive her either. So, he’d headed back to Missouri and joined up.

At least driving horses was something he knew how to do, though he’d rather be riding them. He already missed his days as a Rider with a longing that was stronger than anything, except maybe his love for Lou. But, Lou was married to his best friend, Kid, now. So, riding and shooting would have to suffice.

It was a good thing Hickok not only liked to shoot but was good at it. He was driving ammunition and supplies to Wilson’s Creek where a major offensive was planned against the secessionist Missouri State Guard, led by Confederate Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch. Fighting would commence any day. Jimmy wasn’t sure if he wanted to be a part of it or not. But, he was ready to shoot, when called upon to do so.

He slapped the reins against the horses rears to chivvy them along, “Come on boys, let’s get a move on. There’s a war waitin’, don’cha know?”

Kid and Lou
Kid gazed down at the pixy features of his beloved wife. Awake or asleep, she was the most beautiful woman alive in his eyes, even with her freshly re-shorn hair. He fingered the few strands lying across her forehead and almost cried. She’d been so proud of her hair as it had started to grow out. That she’d sacrificed it, and so much more, for him made him want to rip something apart. Or maybe shoot something, like his adoptive brother Jimmy would’ve done. But he couldn’t. They’d both had their say and this was the only compromise they could both live with.

Gently he began to shake her awake, then changed his mind. Kid leaned down and began to kiss his way from her forehead, across her face, down the side of her neck. Suddenly she started squirming and gasping beside him.

“Kid! Stop that. You’re ticklin’ me!” Lou demanded, gasping for breath between giggles.

“I love waking up to the sound of your voice,” he whispered in her ear. “I wish we could just lie here forever, but it’s time to get up, sleepy head.”

“Not just yet, Kid. We’ve got time to take a few moments for ourselves,” Lou replied, pulling his head back down to hers for a slower, deeper kiss. “The train doesn’t leave until noon, anyway.”

They’d camped outside St. Joseph, Missouri, last night, after making their way through raider, bushwhacker and outlaw infested Kansas. Today they’d catch the noon train east, headed for Richmond, Virginia and a date with the war.

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