A Note From Your Author: This story is meant for an adult audience. There may be (will be) offensive language and themes.
About: After Zetti Sweetwood’s husband is murdered by the Moraday boys, she sets out to get revenge with the help of her friend, Dove. It isn’t long before she learns there was a bounty out for her husband, and she begins to uncover the truth about his mysterious past.
View the Table of Contents for all chapters.
Zetti stroked the horse’s neck and eyed the convict she set free. He had led them down a rocky slope toward a river. There he had tied two strong looking horses to a cottonwood, both fine brown saddlebreds. They looked nervous at first, but Dove started cooing sweet things in their ears, working her magic until they settled down.
“Where’d you get these horses?” asked Zetti.
“Don’t matter, do it?” Jesse had gone about stuffing his pipe with tobacco and now sat smoking it atop a small boulder. “Where are you gals headed?”
“Don’t matter, do it?” She opened one of the saddlebags to find supplies neatly tucked inside: rations, a flask, ammunition, a currycomb, a picket pin, horseshoes and nails. She peered over the saddle at Dove and mouthed “cavalry”.
Dove’s eyes got big.
“I just meant that I’d be happy to accompany y’all.” He had the pipe perched in the corner of his lips and spoke around it. “Ain’t proper for two women to be travelin’ alone.”
As Dove stifled her laughter, Zetti swung around to face him. She forced a smile. “Well, ain’t you the gentleman?”
He grinned and tipped his hat. “It’s how my mama raised me.”
“Sure it is. Sure. It. Is.” Zetti looked over her shoulder and gave Dove a wink. “Listen, Jesse, we’re headed east. That alright with you?”
“Don’t see why not. Harder to catch me if I don’t know where I’m goin’,” he said.
Zetti bit her tongue and nodded along.
Jesse smudged out the burning tobacco with his thumb and stuffed the pipe into his pocket. “Suppose we ought to absquatulate before them cavalry boys wisen up.”
“Thought you said it don’t matter where ya got the horses,” said Dove.
“It don’t. A horse is a horse, ain’t it?”
“Sure is,” said Zetti before her friend could say a word more. “Now, would ya be kind enough to excuse us? I need to discuss some… delicate womanly matters with my partner.”
“Certainly,” he said.
The two women walked closer to the shallow river and whispered between each other.
“I have a plan, Dove. We just gotta put up with him til tonight.”
“He’s kinda off his mental reservation, don’t ya think?”
“Sure, but you and me gonna have two horses at the end of this.”
Dove’s face lit up at the idea, but then she crossed her arms and became more uncertain. “What if them cavalrymen catch up to us?”
Zetti thought for a moment. “We’re in enough trouble as it is. Don’t think the horses make much of a difference now.”
“You got anything that’ll knock him out good?”
“I might have somethin’,” Dove said with a smug grin. She always carried a small case with medicines, powders, and tinctures, just in case. Even when Zetti told her to pack light, she had insisted on bringing it along.
They returned to Jesse and the horses, fastened their bags to the saddle, and set off. Zetti led them east with Dove in the saddle behind her. Her eyes darted across the horizon in search of riders but only saw the oily summer mirage crouching over the dry earth. Hot Springs felt years away.
Well into the afternoon, Jesse brought his horse up next to theirs. “I’ve been itchin’ to ask about that sword of yours.”
“I ain’t gonna scratch.” Zetti nudged their horse ahead of his, but he simply matched their pace.
“Come on now. You went after the sheriff and set me loose. Must be somethin’ special.”
“Must be,” she agreed.
Jesse scratched his bearded chin and frowned. “Ya can’t frame a man and not tell him why. That ain’t right.”
“Zetti don’t owe you nothin’,” said Dove as Zetti grew tense.
“Never said she did.” He shut up for a few minutes, but it didn’t last long. “You know any good trail songs?”
“No,” they said in unison.
“Well, you’re in luck. I’m a mighty fine baritone myself.” He cleared his throat and began to bellow out a song. “Come along boys and listen to my tale, I’ll tell you of my troubles on the old Chisholm trail. Come a ti yi yippee, come a ti yi yea!”
Dove sighed and rested her chin on Zetti’s shoulder. “We best be done with him tonight,” she whispered.
“Oh, a ten-dollar hoss and a forty-dollar saddle, and I’m goin’ to punchin’ Texas cattle—come on now! At least help me out with the chorus. Come a ti yi yip—”
“Hush up,” said Zetti, voice sharp enough to cut him off. She sat up straighter in her saddle, her gaze fixed on something in the distance. Pulling back on the reigns, she brought the horse to a stop. “Look.”
Black smoke had blossomed against the horizon. Faint shouts reached their ears. They watched in silence as the smoke grew thicker and stretched up into the stark, blue sky. Finally, Jesse pressed down on his hat and said, “Could be cavalry.”
“Could be,” said Zetti. She turned her horse north, thinking it best to avoid the situation altogether. Jesse followed without protest.
They rode with an unsettling quiet, the sounds of the horses’ hooves and occasional snorting amplified. Every rock, clump of sage, and lone, twisted juniper looked like a good place to hide behind. The swirl of heat made Zetti imagine silhouettes on the horizon. She drew the revolver and handed it to Dove. “You keep an eye out,” she said.
The smoke kept rising, but they made a wide path around it without incident. Eventually, it faded altogether, but the scent of it seemed to follow them for a long time. Finally, the afternoon sun began to turn golden. Stripes of orange and violet appeared in the sky. For a moment, Zetti’s shoulders relaxed, and she took in that wide, wild beauty with a small smile.
That night, Jesse pressed Zetti a second time about the sword. She and Dove had been leaning against a saddle, chewing on salted pork while he fed the fire. She leveled her eyes on him and swallowed down the lump of hard meat. Then, she washed it down with a swig of whiskey from the flask she found in the saddlebag.
“This sword was my husband’s,” she said. “Them Moraday boys killed him.”
Dove gently nudged her with an elbow. “Ya don’t have to tell him nothin’, Zetti.”
“Moraday boys, huh?” Jesse laughed. “I got a bone to pick with Nels myself.”
This got Zetti’s attention. She sat up and leaned forward, a hard line etched between her eyebrows. “Why’s that?”
“I struck gold up in Colorado. Nels came along and claimed it was on his land. Found out later he don’t own no land. Tracked him down in Little Gulch, and he had his boy throw me in jail just like that.”
“I thought ya said it was for attempted murder,” said Dove.
He grinned. “That might have played a part, too.”
Zetti crossed her arms and leaned back against the saddle once again. She was reconsidering her plan to knock him out cold and take the horses when she heard the snap of a twig in the brush. She curled her hand around the hilt of the sword. Dove must have heard it too because she had the revolver out in a hurry.
Heart thumping in her chest, Zetti called out, “Who’s out there?”
A shadow slowly rose up from the sage brush, and Zetti’s grip on the sword tightened.
Read Chapter Seven
If you’re enjoying the read, be sure to hit that like button. Maybe leave a comment. Tell a friend. It makes my day when you do. ;)
© Sarah Day and Lit Bear, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.