Disclaimers: This is Uber. The characters are my own, this takes place in the Northwest during the 1800s.
Subtext: Nope, none. Fits under General or Romantic Friendship.
This was originally my first fanfic to post on the net; I was not pleased with the first version so I slowed down and told the whole story. Hope this version is more enjoyable!
Thanks to Alicat for the suggestions on how to make this better :)
Email only constructive comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Violence: Not much, about the same level as the show.
Subtext: Nope, none. Fits under General or Romantic Friendship.
This was originally my first fanfic to post on the net; I was not pleased with the first version so I slowed down and told the whole story. Hope this version is more enjoyable!
Thanks to Alicat for the suggestions on how to make this better :)
Email only constructive comments to me at email@example.com.
She teetered on her horse, barely keeping consciousness. The steed ascended the hill slowly, conscious of her owner's agony and unsteady state. She gripped the reins tighter as she felt another dizzy spell overtake her vision, speckling it with black dots.
"Farther," she repeated to herself in a mantra. She had to get over the hill before nightfall; she wasn't sure she was going to see the dawn but perhaps she could die with a shred of dignity left. The farther from town, the less likely they were going to find her body and scalp her to claim their bounty. To at least rest in peace was all she could care about anymore.
The horse broke the crest of the hill, descending down the other side. The black spots in her vision subsided long enough for her to get one last view from the vista of the hilltop upon her native land. Lush pines dotted the valley bellow, the forest broken by small green meadows dotted with barns and farmhouses. A blanket of fog above enveloped the small valley, like the arms of a protective mother.
"My home," she gasped, in little more than a whisper, then falling forward, catching the horse's mane with her trembling hands. She struggled hard against keeping consciousness and giving into the darkness that had been looming since the raid at Orwell.
It was a gloomy day to begin with. Thunderstorms rattled and shook the countryside outside of the boom town of Orwell, which consisted of a saloon, a hotel, a church, an apothecary's office, and the brand new bank. Out not very far away were a smattering of little farms that were mainly self sufficient. Saturday was always market day in Orwell, with many families from the farther reaches of the country staying overnight and going to church the next day before heading back out to the farm. It was a small enough town not to be bothered with by the ruthless bandits that raided the bigger towns and left destruction in their wake.
Unfortunately, their lucky streak ended when Rochelle "Storm" Keane and her band of outlaws entered town one dark evening. She was a formidable figure herself---a tall, raven hair gunslinger that could outshoot them all. Dressed in a black oilskin drover and brown felt outback hat, she blended into the darkness behind her.
And like lightning, her and her posse managed to cart off the bank's meager store of gold and gems in safekeeping, along with a nice collection of raided liquor from the saloon.
Sheriff Manning vowed not to let the posse off that easy. Although he was too late to stop them from carting off the town's treasure, he did fire off a few shots with his new Colt revolver as they rode out of town. Little did he know he had shot the posse leader herself...
A day and a half later, she struggled to get as far out of reach as she could from the manhunt that was sure to follow her as soon as market day convened and the hounds from the farms could be brought to track her. The rest of the bandits had galloped off to the next town, leaving their dark, wily leader in the dust.
The sun had gone down thirty minutes earlier, and Storm knew it was time to fold her cards. She opened a weary eye, then directed her golden steed to a thicket of bushes.
"Go on," she hoarsely commanded her horse. "Go." She tried to dismount gracefully, but once she transferred her weight to her leg she collasped out of the saddle, her left boot caught in the stirrup. It would have spooked most horses, but then again Atalanta was a calm mare, unlike her dark and mercurial human companion.
She took the last bit of her energy and freed her boot from the stirrup. "Go," she whispered one last time, rolling under the thicket. Hidden at last, she let herself slip into the darkness that her body was so desperate to embrace.
The little blonde could barely hear the cocks crowing, but she could hear it, and it could only mean one thing: wake up and start doing chores. Life on the Russell farm started at dawn and ended at dusk, no exceptions made, and for good reason, since there was no such thing as welfare back in the "good ol' days."
She rolled over, yawned, stretched her limbs, and made herself get up. She wasn't a morning person by nature, but that was her problem, and no one else's. She got up, changed into her work clothes, and went downstairs to help mother cook breakfast. She had a feeling of trepidation coursing in her veins; she didn't dare look her mother in the eye anymore, for she could only feel betrayal eminating from her mother's stern hazel eyes.
"Good morning, Heather," her mother, Adelaide, greeted. "Mr. Wakefield is back from his supply run back East. We arranged the wedding for Friday."
Shock registered on the young girl's face. "Mama, I'm not ready to get married!"
"You're seventeen. You're old enough. Most girls get married off when they're fourteen or fifteen."
Heather stood there, mouth agape, and she tucked a strand of strawberry-blonde hair behind her ear. "Mama..."
"Don't 'Mama' me, young lady. You're young, you're strong, you're ready to have children."
She wanted to cry right then and there. She remembered watching several women in the community die in childbirth; one was a girl not much older than her. However, she knew it would make Mother only madder if she broke down, so she swallowed her tears, and asked, "What do I need to do to help?"
Without missing a steady stroke of beating the biscuit dough, her mother replied, "Get Josephine and go gather berries from the thicket. Mr. Wakefield must be welcomed properly."
Heather nodded. "Yes, Mama." She walked out of the house, grabbing a basket on the way, and set out to search for her little sister Josie.
"Josie?" she hollered, walking around the barn. "Josie!"
A girl of fifteen peeked her head out of the chicken coop. "What?"
"Mama said we need to gather berries."
Josie rolled her eyes. "One moment, let me put the broom away."
It was a homely little dirt path through the green pastures of the Russell farm. It was not much further where the berry thickets were, but first they'd have to cross into a brief but very dark section of conifer forest that had frightened both of them as little children. Every night they could hear the wolves howl and chortle, and where exactly in the wooded forest beyond the berry thicket they existed they didn't know, but it was a very real possibility.
They got out of the woods very quickly. "Wow! Look at all the berries this year!" Josie exclaimed.
Heather got too close to one thicket, for a great number of birds furiously flew out into the air, away. She was amazed at how many flew away---it was as if they were coming from a magician's hat, an endless stream.
"Are you excited about marrying Mr. Wakefield?" Josie eagerly asked.
"Very," she said, trying not to let her anxiety and sadness show through. She circled around to another thick patch of berries, when her foot hit something very solid under the bush. "What the heck..." she muttered, bending down to look what she hit. It gave a little bit, but was very solid and didn't give too much. "Oh my," she sighed.
"What is it?" Josie rattled off, rushing to her sister's side. "Oh my---you think she's alive?"
Heather grabbed an arm, dragging her out from under the berry thicket. "I don't know," she seriously said. "I don't know if that's perspiration or--"
She was interrupted midsentence by a tortured moan. "I think that answers our question," Josie said. "She's sure big," she said.
"And beautiful," Heather said, dragging her completely out of the thicket. "What is she doing in men's clothing?"
Josie's eyes got wider. "She must be an outlaw or something!!!" She glanced at her sister. "What should we do? We can't shelter an outlaw!!!"
Heather put a hand out. "Calm down."
"Um...okay," Josie replied. "But seriously?"
A red speck above her right breast caught Heather's attention. Opening her drover further, she saw a dark red spot that had spread across her shoulder and spanning to her lower sternum. "I bet you she won't live long enough to be brought to justice."
Josie shrugged, walking a few feet and picking up her brown outback hat. "H.P. Dawson and Son," she said, fingering the hat. "Boston, Massachusetts."
"A Yankee, I gather," Heather said, kneeling by the outlaw and putting a hand on her forehead. "She is awfully feverish," she mentioned. The outlaw mumbled some jibberish, trying to flail weak limbs.
Heather turned her head to the outlaw. "Shh..." she cooed, missing the funny looks from her younger sister. It seemed to have calmed the delirious outlaw, whose facial expressions had turned quite pained in her fit of delirium. Her facial muscles relaxed, as she fell out of her fit of hallucinations to more peaceful rest.
Heather searched the pockets in the drover, curious what such an outlaw would carry with her. There wasn't much, save an yellowing letter and a pocketwatch. She carefully extracted it, opening the letter carefully.
It was a child's handwriting, clearly; it was signed by someone named Miles and dated twenty years previous. She glanced at the outlaw---she couldn't be too old, could she? The letter must have been from a brother or a cousin, she guessed.
Josie looked over her shoulder. "Rochelle?" she said in shock. "It wouldn't be the Storm Queen, would it be?"
"Tall, dark, and probably dangerous---I'd say so."
Josie got the most excited look on her face. "This is our fortune! You've seen the bounties, haven't you? This is our break!!!"
"We can't just turn her in."
"And why not?" Josie pestered.
A look of sadness overcame her sister's features, which spoke volumes more than Heather's rather stiff and calculated answer. "She'll be dead soon enough. Let nature take her course."
Josie blinked. She didn't understand why her sister felt so compassionate for the injured outlaw, but then again Heather had always been a softie for injured animals, even the not-so-nice animals. She remembered the wolf cub Heather adopted one summer when their father Frederick Russell was back east attending his father's funeral. She was so heartbroken when he came back and shot the half-grown pup---
Even Josephine herself had gotten attached to the little pup. Both of them cried tears for days while Frederick lamented on how easy it was to make girls cry.
Heather carefully folded up the paper and slid it back in her jacket, then focusing her attention on the pocketwatch. The numbers were Roman numerals--it was quite new, she noted, examining the crystal and seeing not many scratches at all. Hers and hers alone. Turning it over, she saw a small inscription--"R. Keane." She considered taking it as a token of meeting the outlaw, then debated whether it was morally right.
She'll be dead sooner or later, her words came to haunt her. I'm the only one who'd give a damn about the pocketwatch, she further deduced, not returning it to the outlaw's jacket.
"Let's finish collecting our berries and go back before Mama gets worried and comes chasing us with the spoon," said Josie.
"Okay," Heather reluctantly admitted. She pulled herself from the unconscious enigma, intensely curious but knowing there was no room for curiosity anymore. She put the pocketwatch in the small pocket of her apron, and proceeded to pick berries alongside her sister. She could not help but wonder about the adventures of the outlaw, of how it would feel to live on the road, to travel far and wide and see the world, for Heather had known little except this small farm and the weekend venture into the nearest town, Nixon.
Mr. Wakefield's carriage came rolling to the Russell ranch in the early afternoon hours in time for a late midday dinner. Heather came down the stairs in a frilly light green and white dress, the type of clothing she hated with a passion, prefering her brother's trousers to silly dresses, but Mother would see to it that Heather appeared to Mr. Wakefield as being ladylike.
Mr. Wakefield himself walked through the double doors at the front of the house, and was greeted with a hearty handshake by Heather's father, Frederick, and a light kiss on the cheek by Adelaide. "Glad you could make it, Mr. Wakefield."
"And there is my bride-to-be, waiting for me at the base of the stairs!" he said, walking over and giving Heather a kiss on the cheek. "How does the lady do?"
"Just fine, Mr. Wakefield," she said, faking her joy at seeing him. Mr. Wakefield was an older man, easily twenty years older than her, with a scratchy black handlebar mustache, mutton chops, and thinning, receding hairline. He was a dull man, she decided that during an earlier encounter, and her parents arranged the marriage only because he thought she was pretty and he was rich. Marriage was solely business arrangement back then---no one cared whether there was any passion within. The romantic love spoken by French and English poets was all but a joke in reality.
Adelaide went to the kitchen, leaving just the three of them in the living room. "Please, make yourself at home. Dinner will be ready soon. Would you like a drink?"
"Yes, a glass of Scotch." Mr. Russell went to the other side of the room, opened the liquor cabinent, fetched a bottle of Scotch and two shot glasses, and poured the drink on the makeshift counter on top of the cabinent. It was rather humiliating to not have a butler to attend to such duties, but he had to make due with what he had.
"So, Mr. Wakefield, how was your trip back East?" her father asked. Heather let herself drift to thoughts of that stranger she encountered in the berry thicket. To be free; to live life as a bird, to soar in the headwinds, uninhibited by social restraints, it must be heavenly! If only I had a hope to be free... she mused, her thoughts drifting towards a certain beautiful outlaw. To die and have no grave may be grave; but once one dies, does that make the difference? Adelaide came into the room. "The roast is cooling right now," she announced.
Heather could feel her stomach rumble. And Mama told me not to eat too much, it makes a bad impression on men. What am I to live on? And this corset itches like mad, and I can hardly breathe. I would trade this torture for a life of freedom. Everyone would think I was nuts, but I knew I was different from everyone else the day I was born. Her younger sister, Josephine, came in and announced the meat was cool enough to slice. The four seated occupants in the living room, which had been made into a makeshift parlor, got up and went to the dining room.
Dishes were passed around, and globs of food were spooned onto plates. A grace was said, then they ate. I really hope she lives. To watch a legend die before us... Nevermind the Storm Queen was terrible. There was a certain vunerability that saddened her as the outlaw flinched in her delirium.
Weren't those famous words "Give me freedom or give me death?" She glanced at Mr. Wakefield, which made her sick to her stomach. Guess I won't need to worry about eating too much.
The main meal was finished, and dessert was dished out. Heather knew it was costing a fortune for her family to feed Mr. Wakefield meals that were up to his par of excellence. She felt quite guilty but knew it was best for all. Thankfully, Mr. Wakefield was kindly enough to pay for the wedding. Maybe I should have taken up the bounty. But...but my damn conscience won't allow it.
"May I have this dance?" Mr. Wakefield asked Heather after the after-dinner chat.
"Yes." She felt his large hands on her waist and hand, and internally cringed. He's so disgusting. I don't care if he's from the upper crust! But she did as he asked, and shoved any appearance of her true feelings deep down inside so no one could see. It was what was expected of all women---although the menfolk called them hysterical and over-emotional, they were blissfully ignorant of the conscience their women had to hide every day of their lives. Oh, the hypocracy!
Nighttime feel soon, but not soon enough. Mr. Wakefield departed an hour before dusk, and her and Josephine went upstairs to the small bedroom they shared.
"You're going to get married soon, sis! Isn't that exciting?!"
"Very," Heather said, trying not to add a dash of sarcasm that felt very tempting.
"He gave you such a pretty emerald and pearl necklace. They match the color of your eyes," Josephine said, the necklace in her hands. "Too bad he's marrying you and not me!"
Too bad, Heather sighed to herself. "Hey, sis, what's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing," she said, adding a touch of saccharine sweetness to it.
"Something's wrong," Josephine said. "You can't fool me."
I could let out some of it, I suppose. Heather whispered, so her parents couldn't hear, "Remember how we used to go outside and run around, pretend we were little warriors, fight mock battles with tree branches along with Roger and Sheridan? And how we used to go play cowboys and indians in the pasture? And when Pa taught me how to shoot a rifle."
Josephine sighed. "You were one good shot, as I recall."
"Josie, I'm not ready to grow up," Heather said, trying to force back tears. "I've always wanted to see the world, be free to hunt and those other 'unladylike' things. But once I marry, I'll never be able to do that. Wives are expected to stay inside all day, cooking and cleaning, raising children."
Josephine rolled over on her side and wiped away the stray tear. "You look beautiful in that dress and with that necklace. So many girls would kill to marry a rich man like Mr. Wakefield, Heather. Count your blessings."
She doesn't understand. What did I expect? "What if I die in childbirth? I'm not ready to leave quite yet! Mr. Wakefield make it clear that he wanted lots of children. And you know who has to bear them...."
She thought she saw a tear in Josephine's eye. "I'm not ready to lose you either, sis---"
She couldn't hold those stubborn tears back any longer.
The crickets strummed their serenade, the frogs croaked their concertos to the surrounding grassland, as Heather snuck out of the house to the thicket in the middle of the night. It was irrational, it was dangerous, and it held lots of potential for getting into lots of trouble should her parents find out, but the curiousity of whether the outlaw still there (alive, hopefully) got the better of Heather. Hiding a canteen of liquor under her nightgown, she snuck outside, quietly making her way to the berry thicket under the light of the moon, which had barely began to wane.
It was exciting to do something so forbidden, Heather noted, winding her way through the small patch of forest via route memory. She came to the spot of thicket where she saw the outlaw last, but she wasn't there. If not there, then where?
Before she could figure it out, she felt a hand over her mouth, dragging her back into the forest. Before she could register what was happen so she could knee whoever grabbed her, the hand was moved away from her, and she couldn't see who had done so in the dark of the forest.
A hoarse, weak voice croaked, "What the hell is a nice girl like you doing out in the woods at night?"
It was definately a woman's voice, deep and husky. Could this be the Storm Queen, also known as Rochelle Keane? She dared not ask.
"I guess you're alive then," Heather quietly whispered.
She heard the outlaw grunt but no other acknowledgment besides that. "Here's some liquor if you need something to drink." She handed the canteen to the outlaw, unsure of where she was until she butted her in the stomach. "Sorry--"
"Don't apologize, I could use a drink," the woman sighed.
She sounds like hell. But I knew that. She could hear the outlaw gulp the liquor, then gasp when she needed breath. "Ah," she said, a little strength returning in her voice. "Thanks." She heard the outlaw shuffle a little bit, then still again.
"Um...here's your pocketwatch," Heather said, fishing it out of her apron and slowly reaching into the darkness to hand it to the outlaw.
She felt a warm hand brush against hers, large and expansive yet gentle as it gently pried it out of her smaller fist. "I don't know why you insist on giving it to me," the outlaw sighed.
"And why would that be?" Heather querried.
"When are the dogs coming?"
She heard a groan, partially of confusion and partially of pain. "You went through my things. You know who I am. Aren't you going to go claim your bounty? It's a damn mighty fine sum---worth more than any of the gold you'll ever find around here, lass."
"Whatever," the outlaw gasped, tiring.
"And just why are you playing Devil's advocate?" Heather prodded.
"Leave me alone," the outlaw snapped. Heather heard rustling; the outlaw was moving away, then towards her again. "You forgot something."
She was left alone with the pocketwatch in the woods. She could easily see the berry thicket from here; she decided to call it quits for the night. Creeping back into house, Josephine heard her sister.
"Where were you?" Josephine asked.
"I thought I heard something outside."
Josephine shook her head. Crawling close, she whispered, "You went to the berry thicket, didn't you?"
Heather blushed. "Does..."
"You're lucky they have no clue."
"Goodnight," Heather whispered, rolling over.
"My sister, always flirting with danger," Josephine whispered to herself.
Early morning. The sun struggled to break through the fog over the small, reclusive valley--a symbol of the American dream, dreary and gray now but hopeful about the future, that the sun would shine upon them and their progeny.
There had been a fairly brief but terrible windstorm earlier in the morning before dawn, and when the old man of the house, Frederick, looked out, he could see a fence post down and the cattle trying to determine how to break free of their pasture to greet the neighbor's bull.
"I'll be back sometime past noon, Adelaide," he told his wife, hurrying to get up and get dressed so he could keep the cows from escaping.
"What's going on?"
"The wind storm knocked down a fence post and the cows are trying to get out." He slipped on his overalls. "Bye."
He shook awake his two sons, Roger and Sheridan. Roger, the older brother, was tall and lanky with fair wispy flaxen hair. He was sporting a scraggly set of sideburns, but they looked much better than before---time would fill them in soon. Sheridan, who was fourteen, still had a boyish charm about him but he already was two inches taller than Heather.
The three men of the house walked out of the house, entering the barn. Roger grabbed the ax, Sheridan the wire clippers, and Pa led them to the section of pasture where the cattle gathered.
"Shoo!" Roger screamed at them, picking up a stick and prodding them away. "Shoo!" The cattle mooed at him in protest but backed away from the hole in the fence.
"I don't like the looks of this," sighed Pa, tugging on the fence post. "We'll have to dig a new hole, this one's shot."
Sheridan rolled his eyes, but kept his face stoic in the midst. It was going to be a long day.
Noon time was dinner time a century ago, and the men of the house looked forward to the huge midday dinner with gusto. Roger and Sheridan left for the house, leaving Pa to jerryrig the fence for the interim until after dinner.
He carefully set the wire clippers next to the ax, when a metallic glint caught his eye. Curious, he walked towards it, fishing the mysterious object out of the grass.
"A pocketwatch. Doesn't look like mine." He examined the crystal, intrigued. "I wonder whose it is." He turned it over carefully in his palm to see if there was an inscription. "R. Keane."
He felt his brain scramble to put the pieces together, for there was something about the name that struck a familiar but terrifying chord within him.
There she was, on her horse, gun in hand as her and her band of bandits rode into Nixon. A fearsome sight---the unnatural woman decked in those funny canvas pants ("de Nimes" they called them, hence "denim,") and a black oilskin drover and brown outback hat. Dark hair and eyes blue like the Hope Diamond, she was not to be reckoned with---either she got her way the first time, or she got her way after she dispensed with you.
Frederick and his brother James had to make a supply run into town, for the misses had run out of salt and no one could take another night of unsalted soup nor pork. Usually their wives would do the bartering, but a recent visitor to their neighboring homestead warned of a certain outlaw on a vicious streak in the vicinity. Not wanting their women to be endangered, James and Frederick opted to do it instead. Besides, they could sneak into the saloon and have a guy's night out.
As feared, Nixon was next on the infamous Storm Queen's hit list. With rifles and pistols in hand, the men of the town tried to prevent her from reaching the bank, but her steady arm weeded out each and every one of them who was fool enough to stand in her way.
"JAMES!" Frederick yelled as his brother raised his rifle, threatening the outlaw. The tall, deadly woman turned around in her saddle...he could see the horror in slow motion...extended her arm and shot James in the heart.
"NO!!!!!!!" Frederick screamed, as her and the bandits had finished pillaging the bank, they rode away, into the darkness of Night.
R. Keane. The proper name for the bitch who shot his brother. He gripped the watch: he so desperately wanted to throw it out the window, but in a perverse way it was his ticket to catching her. A keepsake, so to speak, a way of bragging. A momento of hope that next time the outlaw would come close enough for him to exact his revenge.
"To hell with the cattle," Frederick growled. "I'm going to get the men and hounds out to find her."
"Where are you going?" cried out Adelaide as she watched Frederick fish the gun from out under the bed.
"Time for revenge," he growled, ferally, caressing the shotgun.
"Revenge?" Adelaide cried out.
"The Storm Queen has returned." He went downstairs, Adelaide hot on his heels. "I'm going down to Harding's ranch. We're on a manhunt."
His wife watched him walk away, shotgun in hand, to the uncertain future.
William Harding was an old Englishman, who spent many a summer day in his youth running with the hounds in search of Reddy Fox. He had passed the knowledge of the sport down to his son Richard, who took Frederick Russell's offer of half the bounty for finding the Storm Queen.
Outside, a pack of assorted hounds, namely bloodhounds and Catahoula Leopard dogs, barked at the sight of humans.
"Yes, yes," Richard cooed. "We are going on a hunt today." They walked further to the stables, where the Harding horses were kept. "Baker is a calm horse," Richard said. "I recommend you ride him. I'll take this tempest on the ride," he said, pointing to the spirited stallion snorting in the next stall over.
After saddling the horses, Richard asked, "Do you have any scent?" Frederick got out the pocketwatch. "Oh dear," Richard said, aghast. He was rather comical in appearance in a dull way---his red hair would remind one of Reddy Fox. One would have to understand the other half of the bit to understand the ironic pun on Richard's appearance.
"Yes," Frederick said. "Too close for comfort."
They had just finished cleaning up the dinner dishes. The children had no idea where Pa was, despite Adelaide's constant badgering, when he burst through the door with a shotgun at hand and mumbled something about revenge.
Said Roger: "I think he's going out to avenge Uncle James' death."
"That was about ten years ago, wasn't it?" asked Heather.
"I don't remember any of it," said Josephine and Sheridan.
"You both were too young to remember," said Roger.
Josephine looked about the kitchen. Roger and Sheridan had left a while ago to finish up repairing the fence; Adelaide had gotten a case of dizziness after watching Frederick leave, a pinch of smelling salts by her dresser should she swoon. Josephine had brought out a tiny portion of leftovers for the barnyard cats; she loved spoiling them much to her parents dismay. Most were rather feral, but one of them took a real shine to Josephine, a ginger tabby she named "Spunky."
She decided to check on Mama; Mama was just a little flustered at the moment. She peeked into her own bedroom, wondering what she did with the pocketwatch she had last night.
It was nowhere to be found. Could that be why Pa is out on a manhunt? she realized with horror. Oh no.
Storm still felt rather dazed and confused, as she rested under the berry thicket. At least she could remember the encounter with a certain foolish young blonde the previous night, so she knew she was going to pull through whatever weakened her. She had no idea how she got here or where she was, but she did remember she was on her way to Orwell before she found herself in the berry thicket bleeding and exhausted.
She had picked some berries to munch on earlier; they made for a mighty fine breakfast and made her realize how urgent it was to get a good meal in soon.
She heard hounds in the distance. "As predicted," she sighed. "Damn." She struggled up and stumbled out of the thicket, trying to figure out where the nearest creek would be. Through the woods she ran, trying to find a place where the hounds wouldn't find her. Jumping in a creek would lose her scent, if she could only find one.
Seeing a clearing up ahead, she figured it must have some water. Alas, she was right; it was a small clearing large enough for a decent stream to float by. She stumbled into the creek, and let the current float her downstream. The further, the better; dusk was nearing and maybe they'd give up for the night.
Approaching a bed of reeds, she decided to hide within them for the night. Wedging herself, she let her exhaustion fall upon her wearied body, into a tired, dreamless sleep.
She was roused out of her rest when she heard voices approaching. "I have no clue where she went," Frederick sighed. "We had her trail until we hit the stream."
Richard Harding shook his head. "She could have crossed over to the other side at any point. It's getting dark, we best resume the search at daylight."
"Yeah," Frederick grumbled. "I'll get my revenge soon."
The men and hounds disappeared into the forest, and Storm let out a small breath of relief. "Whew."
Heather laid in bed, letting the heated exchange between Mama and Pa repeat in her head. Mama was quite angry that he came in so late; she was frightened the outlaw had nabbed him just like James. Pa was angry that he was hot on her trail until reaching a cold dead end at the creek.
She thought about sneaking out of the house again. She wondered where the outlaw was---oh, the trouble her curiosity led her into!
She went to the berry thicket, following the faint prints from the moist soil in the forest. She trailed it for a while, until hitting a dead end at the creek.
"She must have jumped in." Guessing she would have went downstream in her weakened condition, she followed the stream for a long while, stopping at the bed of reeds. I think I found her.
Storm was rustled out of her sleep with a vague feeling that she wasn't alone. She had an uncanny ability to detect danger in her sleep---it rarely failed her and never gave her a false warning.
It was the blonde again.
Is she alive? Heather asked herself. She saw the dark head move. She's going to catch cold there! "You're going to catch cold if you stay there," Heather scolded.
"Well, where do you suggest I go then?" Storm retorted.
"First you got to get out."
"Not until you tell me where you're taking me."
"The barn is sheltered."
Storm snickered. "Oh yeah, sure. The farm."
"No one disturbs the hayloft. I'm the only one up there."
The outlaw raised a dark brow but said nothing. She felt a sneeze coming; it escaped her before she could hold it. "Shit," she cursed under her breath.
"See?" Heather pointed out. "You better get out now."
Storm sighed. "You win." She struggled to get up, but managed to get to her feet, staggering out of the reeds and onto dry ground. "Whoa," she said, unsteady.
"Here," Heather said, giving her a shoulder to lean on.
"I don't need help," Storm protested, but secretly she was relieved, she still had problems with her equilibrium.
"Whatever," Heather said, not moving away.
Heather made sure not to backtrack the tracks; she took an alternate route to the barn in the event the men decided to retrace their steps from the previous day.
The barn was rather empty. "Unfortunately, the loft is on the second level," Heather whispered.
"I can make it."
Heather climbed into the loft, offering a hand to Storm, but she shrugged it off and lept onto the loft like a cat, silent, sleek, and effortless.
"You better get out these clothes. Here, I'll get you one of the blankets."
Before Storm could protest, Heather had already disappeared. You're going too much out of your way for me, she silently thought to herself.
The strawberry blonde reappeared, two horse blankets in tow. "Here. Now let those clothes dry out." When the raven hair outlaw refused, Heather growled, "Now," preparing to take the drover off for her.
"I can get it myself," Storm snarled. I don't know why she bothers to give a damn about some outlaw like me.
Heather took the garments and hung them to dry, out of sight from anyone else who would enter the barn. The outlaw curled up in one of the horse blankets, shivering. "Um...what's your name?" she whispered rather bashfully.
"Could you help me get these boots off?"
The blonde knelt down and worked to free the boots from her feet. After a few tugs on each, they came off.
"Thanks," Storm rasped, shutting her eyes.
Heather unfolded the other blanket and draped it over the drowsy outlaw. "Sweet dreams," she whispered, then clamoring down the hayloft and sneaking into the house before her parents could catch her.
Mr. Wakefield's carriage arrived that morning at the Russell farm. Frederick left the house to greet the wealthy enterpreneur properly.
Heather saw a strangle glint on the dresser; alone in the room, she dared to approach it. It was Storm's pocketwatch.
I must have dropped it somewhere. Shoot! She slipped it into her corset before anyone could catch her, and left the room abruptly.
She entered the kitchen hearing Frederick boasting about how he was hot on the Storm Queen's heels. "And I even found her pocketwatch!" Pa exclaimed. "I'll be back in a moment."
Oh boy. Bad timing, Heather thought. Mr. Wakefield's bulldog face beamed when he saw his bride-to-be. Feeling his eyes focusing on her made Heather sick to her stomach.
Frederick walked down the stairs livid. "It's missing! I've been robbed!"
"Robbed?" Mr. Wakefield declared.
Frederick opened the drawer below, where the silver was kept. "Weird, it's still here."
"You sure you were robbed?" Mr. Wakefield said.
"I don't know who else would have taken it," Frederick replied, shaking his head. "I was about to take the hounds out and resume where we left off in our manhunt yesterday."
Mr. Wakefield shook his head. "About five years ago she murdered the sheriff of Beckett. Pure revenge, he had managed to break up her previous posse, and that woman doesn't forget any wrong done to her. Right before his murder she took his revolver from his bedstand and left a note saying 7-3-6: the dimensions of his grave. The next day he was riding out of town to a homestead when a sniper shot knocked him dead!"
Frederick looked on his dresser to see if there was any premonition of his death on the dresser. None was to be found. "Maybe she thought we'd never notice."
"The Queen of Robbers was wrong."
A horse was galloping towards their homestead in the distance; it was Harding. "One moment, let me get Roger and Sheridan." He left the house and grabbed the elder boy. "You go with Richard and find the outlaw. I have company to attend to."
"Take the steed and the rifle. A knife would be handy too."
"The best of luck to you." Roger left with Harding a few minutes later, rifle over his shoulder, riding away towards the forest in search of the outlaw.
"Trusting your boy to take on the outlaw?" Mr. Wakefield asked.
"He's almost a man now," Frederick said, "and a damn good shot."
That's what they all said before they died, Mr. Wakefield ruefully thought but said nothing. "We should probably get the whole town looking for her. Fifty God fearing citizens combing the woods for the demoness should provide results."
Frederick shook his head. He probably blew his chance to claim the bounty himself--she was a public danger and withholding public knowledge was a terrible thing. What if she was back to raid Nixon again? People were bound to get hurt.
With the men of the house gone, Heather went into the barn, citing the excuse she needed to gather eggs for the huge meal that was to await Mr. Wakefield upon his return. She edged her way up to the hayloft, to see the outlaw was still there, pretending to sleep, but one blue eye gave her away.
"They're gone for now."
"For now," Storm sighed. "Where's the dogs?"
"Resuming the search where they left off last night. Stay here for now, no one has a clue."
The dark outlaw nodded but said not a word.
"I can see your mind at work. You plan on leaving for good tonight, aren't you?"
The outlaw said nothing, but Heather didn't miss the look of affirmation in her eyes. Little passed by the strawberry blonde. "You can't leave me here," she stated.
"And why not?" Storm asked, rising to the challenge.
"I am not marrying that man."
"Someone else you are smitten with?"
"It's not that, it's--"
"The only reason why my parents are having me marry that man is because he's rich."
"And that's a bad thing?" Storm asked.
"Stop playing Devil's advocate with me," Heather growled, blonde brows furrowed. "I'm not some commodity like beef or pork to be traded!"
Fiery little girl. "Ah, so I see you figured out what marriage is, haven't you?"
Heather gulped, and mewled, "Yes," her eyes tentatively looking up into Storm's to see if that was the right answer.
The tall woman with the raven colored tresses grinned. "I was not always a bank robber."
"I suspected that."
"I got married twice."
Alarmed green eyes looked at her. "You what? But you're hardly the image of the housewife in a corset!"
Storm shook her head. "Maybe I should say one and a half times. The first man I married at eighteen--well, I didn't marry him. The pastor read my husband-to-be the vows, and as he took his breath to repeat them, he fell down and died of a heart attack."
"The second one I married at nineteen. I miscarried my first and only child when he came home from the saloon drunk, angry, and convinced I had cheated on him."
"He was a low level bank robber, who scored small hits and blabbered his tricks of the trade to his buddies when he didn't think I was listening. But I was. Sick of his escalating alcoholism, I planned to rob a bank to secure financial freedom."
"And so you started your career."
"Not quite," Storm said, waving her hand. "I had it carefully planned in my head for a certain day when I was forced to put it into action early. To get revenge for the child that he claimed wasn't his, he sicced his gang on me."
"To rape me, I'm sure. Unfortunately for them I was a good marksman since I was little and Paul left a revolver in the nightstand drawer, loaded. As they burst into the bedroom door one early morning, I grabbed the gun from the nightstand and began firing. They never knew what hit them."
"I knew Paul would come soon to see his plan of revenge executed on that 'little whore that I unfortunately call my wife, God damn her' so I grabbed a pair of his trousers, his shoes, his shirt, his duster, tucked my hair up under a hat, ran to the barn, took the horse, and ran away."
"Whoa," Heather said.
"Paul told the sheriff that his little bitch shot the five dead men outside the bedroom door, and I've been on the run ever since."
"And part of that plan is to run tonight."
"Yes, I am strong enough to go. But only a fool would run from this barn in stark daylight unless they were desperate."
Blue eyes regarded the girl. "Yes?"
"I refuse to marry that man."
Storm Keane shrugged. "Your choice, hon."
It was a busy day getting ready for the wedding. Adelaide was making last minute changes on her bridal dress, and had made a trip to Nixon to go get the family jewelry out of the safe deposit box for this special occasion. Josephine went to go get roses from Mrs. Englebert (she was so nice to offer an assortment of her beautiful white and pink roses), so no one was expected home until past noon.
Frederick, Roger, and Sheridan were out in the fields like any other day working. Because no one was near the house, Heather took advantage of the fact she could sneak out some of her possessions and hide it under the hay. The jewelry was to be left behind, of course.
Night came, and Heather could not wait until the whole family went to sleep so she could sneak out. She spent her evening writing a letter to Josephine by kerosine light.
Sorry I left so abruptly. I just can't marry him. Anyways, the chemistry is right between you and Mr. Wakefield. You two seemed to really enjoy that dance Wednesday night, and it would be a shame if he married a girl that doesn't love him back when he could have married someone who did.
I'll be okay, sis. I know what I'm doing. Please don't worry for me, I promise to come back sometime. I'll never be happy until I see the world for myself, I just can't content myself with staying in this little world. I've tried to tell them since I was a little kid, and Mama left me with no options but to do this for the marriage.
Tell Mama, Pa, Roger, and Sheridan I love them too.
She folded the letter and hid it for the time being. She turned off the kerosine lamp and went to sleep.
Hours later she woke up, took the letter out of it's hiding place, and stuck it beneath Josephine's pillow. Josephine was in a deep sleep, so Heather decided she could probably give her sister a kiss on the head and not be noticed, then she snuck off to the barn, to get a new start on her life.
She was not used to traversing the rough ground between the barn and the house in the darkness of night, but she was determined, and feeling her way with her shoes, she managed to steer clear of the treacherous gopher holes that dotted the path.
Heather saw the outlaw up in the hayloft, pretending to be asleep. "There you are," Rochelle said quietly. "Here. I got you a coat and some trousers so you aren't trying to run around the countryside in a frock."
"That would be terrible, wouldn't it?"
"I'll give you some privacy. I'll go down there. Meet you below." Then she climbed out of the hayloft.
Heather climbed out of her nightshirt and into her new outfit quickly. "Hey, these fit perfectly."
"Take the dress with you. We'll need to hide it." Heather appeared over the hay crib, then climbed down.
"Let's go!" The outlaw hissed through clenched teeth. The farm girl followed her behind as the outlaw quietly slipped out of the barn.
They quietly travelled the worn path through the fields to the woods and adjoining berry thicket, where Heather found the outlaw days earlier. Heather tried to talk once, but the woman shot her a glare that promptly reminded the girl that idle chatter would reveal their getaway, and ruin each of their chances to leave. For Storm Keane, the stakes were much higher, but she simply pointed to the house, pretended to hack a cough the way Mr. Wakefield did by put a closed fist to her mouth, and the farm girl kept quiet for the rest of the walk.
Storm wandered past the berry thicket into the woods that Heather was frightened to wander into. The farm girl grabbed her hand, forcing Storm to surpress an instinctual panic that overwashed her body. A horse neighed, frightening Heather, who hid behind Storm.
"It's okay," the outlaw whispered. "It's just my horse Atalanta."
"Pretty name." In the dappled moonlight of the forest, Heather peered over Storm's shoulder to see a majestic golden mare approach them. The saddle was left untouched, and Storm mounted from the left side.
"Ever rode a horse before?"
Heather shook her head.
"Here, I'll help you up." As the girl approached the right side, Storm growled. "You always mount a horse from the left side."
"I didn't know that."
"You know now."
"Why is it that way?"
"Once upon a time, when men wore swords into battle, the only way not to hit the horse with the sword and scabbard was to mount them from the left side. The rest is simply tradition."
"Come on," she said, offering her hand, which the blonde tentatively took. "You'll have to hold on stronger if you want to get up here."
The blonde grabbed her hand tightly, letting the outlaw hoist her up in back of her. Long, strong fingers grabbed the reins. "Yah!" and the horse broke into a gallop, forcing Heather to grab Storm's waist to keep from falling off.
Funny. I usually hate it when people touch me, but she doesn't seem to bother me one bit, as if she was a long lost companion.
Deep into the night and the dappled forest they rode, the moon waxing over from one side of the mountains and threatening to dip under the mountains on the other side of the valley when they stopped.
"I have to stop every once in a while so I walk around and get feeling back in my legs."
"Ugh, me too," Heather grimaced. "I am so sore."
"You will be until you're used to it."
A faint glow shimmered over the mountains, lavender streaks ruining the even navy blue that clouded the sky. As lighter and lighter shades of lavender started turning red with every passing minute, Heather's stomach decide to make itself known that it was being neglected. Storm felt the strawberry blonde shift behind her.
"Hungry?" she simply asked.
"I don't have anything to eat."
"Figures," Heather grumbled. "It's okay."
"Well, out in the woods we catch food for dinner."
"Cool!" Heather beamed. "I've wanted to hunt for a while, but Mama said it was unladylike and she prohibited me from doing it."
"What do you usually hunt with?"
"Bullets are too noisy and expensive when you're on the run." The outlaw fished a knife out of her duster while she held the reins with her other hand.
"A knife?" Heather asked incredulously.
"Yes, a knife. Quiet and reusable. This is a throwing knife you see at the circus."
"The lady on the spinning wheel act?"
"Yes. I grabbed them right under a clown's nose and no one was the wiser."
"You stay with the horse," Storm said, dismounting. "I'm going to scare up some breakfast. Can you make a fire?"
"Good. I hate raw meat."
"Ice Queen" Keane came back with two squirrels in her hand. She set them down next to Heather, who was having a difficult time trying to get a fire started.
"It's hard to make a fire when you don't have the fireplace flint!"
Storm fished two rocks out of her pocket, and banged them hard against each other, a spark flying off them and igniting the brush. "There."
The tall outlaw walked a few yards away to field dress the squirrels. She skinned them, got rid of the entrails, and skewered them on a spit to cook.
A roaring fire greeted Storm. "Great. The trick to roast squirrel is to do them to a turn." Heather watched her wily new found friend deftly cook the meat. "It will probably be tough and gamey," she warned, "but you eat what you can get on the road."
"I won't complain." The squirrels were roasted to a turn and dissected with a knife to eat with their fingers. "You're right, it is gamey."
"I'll get you a real meal when we get to a town--"
"I wasn't complaining. Beats boring roast beef any time!"
Storm quietly smirked. They finished what they could and put the leftovers in a knapsack to eat later. They doused the fire, buried it with dirt, and were on the road again. It was not far when Heather felt the outlaw tense.
"What is it?" she whispered.
Storm was quiet for a few moments, until both of them could hear the yelping of dogs. "Hounds!"
A resigned sigh came out of Storm. "We're too close to make a clean getaway."
"Shh," she said. "We can make it across this clearing but once we hit the woods the hounds will outrun us."
The Storm Queen shrugged her shoulders. "One isn't an outlaw without having to face the prospect that one day you'll be caught, publicly humiliated, and hung like a dead cow in a slaughter house."
"No...you fought so hard to get better and now this! It's all my fault!"
The young girl wrapped her arms tightly around Storm as the horse accelerated across the field, shooting right out of range of the hungry hounds.
They ran out of clearing, and as soon as the horse disappeared into the woods, Storm jumped off. "Take the horse and go!"
Heather nudged the horse, who took off at a slow gallop, carefully avoiding snagging her hooves in the roots and thick underbrush of the woods.
The outlaw scrambled in the other direction, trying to find a stream desperately. She could hear the hounds behind her panting and baying, louder with each step she took. She willed herself to take larger strides (not that the well conditioned outlaw wasn't taking large bounding strides already) but long legged dogs were simply too much, and one of them snagged her trousers with his tooth, felling the outlaw ungracefully to the ground.
Heather worried when she saw the outlaw disappear out of sight. How am I going to survive in these woods? she panicked to herself. The baying of the hounds got fainter. God tell me she got away.
Storm felt herself surrounded by the dogs. She struggled to get up, but they were on top and to the side of her, ripping at her clothing with their teeth. A telltale sound of hooves clamored not far behind.
"Well, well, if it's not the bitch who raided the henhouse," a coarse masculine voice growled. "I wonder what would suit you more---letting the dogs rip you apart or shall I get revenge myself? Oh, I think I'll take the latter."
She saw past the wagging, hungry tails of the hounds a short man with graying blonde hair and mustache. "Taking my daughter will be the last crime that you will regret the most."
"I didn't take your daughter!" The Storm Queen growled indignantly.
"Tell me where she is!" he thundered, waving a revolver around wildly.
"I don't think you want to shoot the dogs, do you?"
The short man turned around. "Richard, call them off. Our quarry has been trapped."
"Dogs!" a man with a high tenor voice bellowed, and the dogs got off.
A black gelding galloped beside the bay that the short man rode. "You found her."
"Yes sir I did, Mr. Wakefield."
The fat man twitched his salt and pepper mustache. "Trying to steal my wife. Tsk, tsk," he growled. "You're a dead woman, you know that?"
The Storm Queen stared at him defiantly, but said nothing.
The other man, Frederick, finished the train of thought. "You can do one last thing before you tell Satan hello for me."
"And that would be...?" Storm tersely growled.
Frederick jabbed a finger at her. "Tell me where my daughter is."
"I know no one by that name."
"That's a flat lie," Mr. Wakefield said under his breath so Frederick could hear.
The short man got off his horse. "We'll have to do this the old fashioned way, then," he said, waving a billy club in his hand. "Let's see....a notorious outlaw like you sees a little girl about to marry a wonderful husband, a rich one at that. What do you do? Kidnap her and demand a damn fine ransom that could pay your retirement!" He waved the billy club menacly.
"Even outlaws have their standards and that would be one I would not dip to," Storm growled.
Frederick slapped her in the knee with the billy club, making her howl momentarily until she bit her lip, and kept silent.
"Unnatural woman like you probably raped her," Mr. Wakefield groused. Frederick whacked her again, this time in the shin.
"I am telling you the truth, damn it!" Storm growled.
Two blows rained down on her this time. "Tell me where my little girl is."
"Here, Daddy," a small voice cried out, emerging from the brush.
"She lied!" Frederick growled, staring at the outlaw. He raised his gun...
"No, Daddy, no! She did not take me!"
"I don't spare outlaws," he growled, cocking the hammer with his thumb. "Hope you like it hot!"
She grabbed a rock and threw it wildly, hitting Frederick in the wrist, illiciting a cry of pain as the gun dropped to the ground and fired, spooking the horses.
"Whoa! Easy!" Mr. Wakefield cried out to his horse, who had in fact been hit.
"No woman beats me!" Frederick growled, kicking Storm. Another rock rained down on him, this time in the side of the head.
"What demon has possessed you?" Frederick cried out to his daughter.
"Just leave us alone!"
"Not possible," Mr. Wakefield growled. "You will come back and you will marry me and make my bed warm at night...."
She picked up another rock and beaned Mr. Wakefield in the head with it, knocking him off his horse. "You make me want to vomit! I'm not naive enough not to know what SEX is!"
The last reasonably conscious man of the team, Richard, gasped. Where would such a decent young woman learn about that?
Heather yelled at Mr. Wakefield, "Josephine would love to marry you. It's a match made in Heaven. Now if you let us go---"
Mr. Wakefield had gathered enough wits about him to respond. "Outlaws die. That's the law of the land, and I can't believe an innocent girl like you could defend such a vile, pitiful creature!"
"I'm not giving up without a fight."
"Fine," Mr. Wakefield sighed. She'll come back when she realizes I got rid of the Storm Queen and she'll starve to death in the woods. He raised his gun, and was pelted by another rock that doubled him over. She grabbed the revolver out of Storm's holster.
"Follow us and I'll shoot." The two conscious men simply stared at her. "Come on, Storm. Time to go," she said, helping the injured outlaw up. She saw that the men simply stared, and she waved the gun. "I'll shoot you next, Richard."
The young man paled. "Come on Mr. Russell," he addressed Frederick. "Let's get out of here."
They led Mr. Wakefield and his horse out of the woods, back to the homestead.
"Come on, Storm, you're bleeding."
She glanced at her new friend across the campfire. She got hurt because of me, Heather thought to herself, her companion on the opposite side, asleep.
She poked the embers with a stick. Free at last. Think I upset him pretty badly, but it will work out for the best. I know it in my heart.
She glanced up when she heard the blankets rustle. "Hey, aren't you going to go to bed?" Rochelle asked. "I tend to like getting early starts."
"Ah." Heather took the hint, stuck the branch completely in the fire, and crawled over to Rochelle's side, where they shared the only blanket they had. "I am pretty sleepy."
"Sweet dreams to you too."
Their worlds faded to black, as they let Morpheus take them....
1st version, written 7/21/99, finished 7/22/99.
2nd version, started 6/27/00, finished 5/27/01.
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