Thursday, January 12, 2012

Chapter 139:Descent

Bugger me with a broomstick, I haven’t been this knackered since...well...since I can’t remember since when. What time is it, couple hours before dawn, yeah? If that?

Bender swung down from Swagman’s back, his eyes warily searching the lightless maw of the mine opening in the dark ahead. He and Lily and Bari  had stayed within the sparce vegetation, worried that at any moment they might be cut from their saddles by gunfire if they were spotted. He knew what lay ahead as they travelled to the mine, but his heart still squeezed with foreboding when he saw it in front of him, close and dark, like the constricting throat of a great reptile. He shivered, steeling himself. He’d never liked close places, never liked the feeling of being trapped, buried, suffocated. He gritted his teeth, tossing Swagman’s reigns over a gnarled pine bough.

“How you holdin’ up, mate?” He said softly over his shoulder, giving Lily a hand down from Mercury’s back as Saint tethered Jersey to what was left of a felled cottonwood. “How’s your head”

“Alright.” Saint grunted, pulling War Bonnet up behind and securing him with the others."Head doesn't hurt too much anymore. Shoulder’s worse...but I still don’t think any bones are broke.” He rotated his arm, grimacing.

Bender gave him a nod of sympathy. Once the fight’s over and the heat’s out of you, you really feel it. He hoped Saint was right about the extent of his injuries. The three of them were pretty much stretched as thin as possible at the moment. If any of them got badly injured, it might be the end of all of them. He knew if they were going to rescue Jesse and get out of this with all of them alive, he was going to need Saint.

Lily, still gripping the carbine, stepped close to him. He couldn’t see her face in the silver-edged shadows, but her shoulders were set, determined. He’d wondered if she’d be able to pull the trigger if she had to, but in her current state of desperation over her brother, he had begun to believe she would. Miss Lil’s stronger than anyone thinks. Stronger than she thinks.

“So...” Bender whispered, moving closer to Saint and speaking so both he and Lily could hear. “They’re likely waiting for us, yeah? I mean, wouldn’t you?”

Saint cocked his head. “Maybe. They have to know we’re gonna come after him.”

“We’re probably walking into a trap.” Lily breathed, her voice shaky. “They don’t even have to do this, I’ll do whatever they want...”

“They planned on killin’ me, Little Miss. And they already tried to kill you, back at the Green. There ain’t gonna be negotiating with them. We have to get Jesse and get out of here and to hell with everything else.”

I never thought I’d say this, but... “Bari’s right, Miss Lil. They mean us harm, and that’s the fair dinkum oil.”

Lily nodded tightly. “What happened to Miss Loveless? Does she know all this is going on?”

Saint shrugged. “She does if she went back to her saloon. It looked like a tornado went through there.” He turned and crept forwards towards the mine entrance. “Let’s go.”

They slunk around the edges of the rocks and sparce trees, keeping to the shadows in case anyone was looking for them. Bender watched the darkness swallow Bari as if the man was sinking into a giant vat of India ink. He took a deep breath the way he might if he were diving, pulled Lily closer to himself, and followed.

“We’re gonna have to strike a light eventually.” Saint whispered. “But I remember there were no chasms in this section. Believe me, I looked when we were here before.”

Once his eyes adjusted, Bender was surprised that he could at least see shapes outlined in the moonlight spilling through the entrance of the shaft. He gazed intently around, looking for signs of movement.

“How are we going to know where they took him?” Lily asked softly. “Even if we could see?”

“We’ll figure it out.” Saint said, his voice flat, impatient. Bender knew that what he said was just words, just a little comfort and hope that he clearly didn’t entirely believe but hoped the others would. I know exactly how you feel, mate.

There was a sharp click of flint on steel, and a tiny flame flared in the darkness, throwing shadows chaotically across the rough hewn rock surrounding them. Saint held the glowing charcloth against a bit of dried fiber, blowing it until it flared to life in the lid of  his tinder box. He had stuck a quirly between his lips and caught a bit of the tiny fire on the end of it, coaxing it through the tobacco.

Bender scowled. “Mate...”

“Don’t start. If we need anything in here right now, it’s a live ember.” He held the glowing tin down near the floor, sweeping it back and forth. Bender gave him a glance and quickly returned to watching behind them. Well, it’s a good thought, I’ll give him that. It’s not like we have much else to go on.

“See here...” Saint muttered. “Those?” he gestured over the jumble of footprints he was illuminating. “That ain’t a workboot. That’s a man’s dress shoe.”

“Galloway.” Lily spat.

“Right.” Bender nodded, squinting in the darkness. “And that might be Jesse’s boot...the bloke’s got big feet...”

“That’s him, I recognize it.” Saint pointed. “See? He has a hole in one of them, and a cracked sole. I’m always tellin’ him to buy new boots. And there...got to be a leather Indian shoe.”

“Who’s that?”

“Crow we were playing poker with. He was wearing moccasins. Which considerin’ how rocky it is around here, surprised me.”

“You’re easy to surprise.” the soft male voice in the entrance to the cave said, amused. “And moccasins are quiet.”

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