A Pan-full Of Trouble – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 9

Warriors of St. Antoni is the first of my new Portal Worlds Serials. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni you got tough or you died. The only defense is a gun; your security is your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her sister, Iris chooses between an arranged marriage with a beloved friend and an outlaw. Jeanne and the son of her greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

Technology to find and open gateways to alternative worlds was found on earth in the late 21st century. Those expecting to get rich off the tremendous resources on these new worlds controlled Access to them. People talk though, and it wasn’t long before the new technology became common knowledge and unregulated Portals cropped up. Illegal settlers passed through Forbidden gates looking for new places to live and find adventure and liberty.

With only the technology they could carry or build from raw materials on St. Antoni they built a new way of life.  To survive they must rely on themselves. The learned to master deadly plants and animals. On St. Antoni, Adventure was a one-way trip to a hardscrabble life and Freedom meant relying on yourself for food, a roof over your head and safety.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Chapter 9 The Highgraders  https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

DAWN WAS just breaking when Iris entered the dairy goat barn to be greeted by eager bleats of welcome. She had a small dairy herd, only about twenty grown nanny goats and King George. There was a larger herd kept for meat and wool up in the hills. But these were hers. She knew every one of them by name and their quirks. Evolution on St. Antoni had taken a slightly different track than it had on earth. Iris’s goats were larger and hairier than those of earth, and both sexes carried heavy horns curving alongside their faces. She braced herself when King George butted her playfully as she went by. Despite her fragile appearance she was sturdy enough not to stagger when the large animal knocked against her. She opened the milking stalls as she moved into the barn and each nanny goat went to her favorite one. King George followed her up to the gate that separated the milking stations from the feed bins, bleating at her imperatively. She loaded up several buckets with feed made from native grass seeds and walked along the line scooping some into each bin. When she reached the end, she sat the bucket down and allowed the King of the barn to scarf up what remained in the pail. She then dumped an armful of hay made from native grasses in the bins. The spiced cheeses she made from the milk her goats produced were highly prized.

By this time, Patrice and her assistants had arrived to help milk. One man checked the separation tank to make sure it was clean and that all the drains leading into the other two tanks were shut. Another of them started the fire under the small homogenizing tank below the separation tank. The milk produced from her goats would be run through a separation tank to pull out most of the butterfat and then through the homogenizer tank before being poured into glass bottles and sent down to the deep cold cellars to chill. This evening when it was cool enough to travel, the milk and butter products would be loaded up and taken into the town icehouse where they would be stored for sale to the town or loaded onto a steamer to be taken into one of the larger city-states for the same purpose.

As soon as each goat finished being milked, Iris let her loose to run back out to the enclosure. She had just finished supervising the scrubbing of the tank for tomorrows milking when she heard Paco scream a welcome to the man who had just arrived.

She felt a sharp stab of excitement and took a deep breath before she turned to face the new arrival. Paco’s cousin, Carlos Madonna was a figure out of the romances she liked to read. He was a tall, well-built man with a shock of curly dark hair and melting brown eyes. Although Carlos spent much of his days inside the Lucky Strike in his role of supervisor, he worked outdoors a lot checking the progress of the miners who share-panned for gold on the St. Vyr claims along the river and streams in the mountains above the ranch.

Carlos set Paco down and moved towards Iris who was drying her hands on her apron.

“Good morning,” he said, filling his eyes with her.

“Good morning,” she responded, willing her voice not to squeak. “Did Margo know you were coming?”

“Probably, since Mike sent for me,” he said. “Do you know what he wants?”

Just then, King George, tired of being ignored, butted Iris in the behind. Surprised, she stumbled and would have fallen if Carlos hadn’t stepped forward and caught her. For just an instant, she rested against him, feeling that strong lithe body against hers. With a gasp, she caught her breath and pushed away from him.

“Thanks,” she said. She turned and smacked King George smartly on his nose in retaliation before opening the gate to the goat pasture just outside the walls. All the dairy goats except George streamed out into the pasture where they would spend the rest of the day.

“I suppose Papa just wants a report,” she said hesitantly in response to his question as she closed off the indoor gate. George bleated in protest at being left behind.

“Hush up,” she told him. “You know you aren’t allowed in here until the flowers have quit blooming!”

In fact, Iris was almost sure a general report wasn’t all Michael St. Vyr wanted, but she wasn’t about to say so. “Have you had breakfast?” she asked.

“No, I left too early for the cooks to be up,” he admitted. “Come and join me in the kitchen, I’m sure Tia Margo will be awake and cooking.”

She lifted her hands. “After I clean milk and other less savory stuff off, I’ll be there.”

After breakfast, Jeanne, Bethany and Alec departed for River Crossing and Michael St. Vyr summoned both Iris and Carlos to the Den.

“Why do you suppose he wants both of us?” Carlos asked her as he opened the door.

“Come in and sit down, both of you,” Michael said genially.

Iris sat with her hands folded tightly in her lap and her lips pressed together. She was a tall woman, but the oversized chair made her seem delicate and fragile. Carlos cast a curious look at her face before he too sat in one of St. Vyr’s massive chairs.

Michael steepled his fingers together and regarded the young couple over them out of narrowed eyes. “The doctor was out here last week,” he said. “That bullet in my spine moved since the last time he looked at it.”

“Papa why didn’t you say something?” Iris exclaimed. “Are you in pain?”

“What else did he say?” asked Carlos. “Is it dangerous?”

“The answer to both questions is yes. The pain is increasing and if it moves closer to the spine, it could cause my lungs to shut down and I will die.”

“He’s an old quack!” Iris cried, coming to kneel by his chair. “We’ll go into Junction City and get another opinion—”

St. Vyr reached out and stroked her bright hair. “No darlin’. That won’t help, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t have told you, but you need to know why I want to get this done as soon as it can be.”

Carlos frowned at him. “Get what done?”

“I need to be sure my girls are safe,” St. Vyr said simply.

Carlos’s frown grew. “Surely you don’t doubt that I will stand by them?”

Mike smiled at him. “I know that boy. Just as I know you don’t need what I’m about to propose as an incentive to do that. But you see, I regard you as the son I never had and I want you to be taken care of too. If all my girls marry other men, it might be their husbands wouldn’t feel that way about you. That’s why I want the two of you to get married.”

Iris jumped to her feet and stepped back from her father. “I’m not a side of meat!” she cried.

St. Vyr tried to hide his exasperation. He said, “I know that girl. But the pair of you have been making goo-goo eyes at each other for the better part of a year and neither one of you seems to want to do a thing about it. I’m just pushing it along a little.”

Carlos too, stood up. “Michael,” he drawled, “I won’t do this if Iris is opposed to it.”

“That’s the whole point,” St. Vyr said. “I don’t think she is opposed to marrying you. I think she’s just being—a woman. They take funny notions.”

He turned to his daughter. “Iris, let’s have the truth now. Do you dislike Carlos here?”

“No of course not,” she said. “But—”

St. Vyr held up a hand to stop her. “Wait, I’m not finished. Are you afraid of him for any reason?”

“No, I’m not afraid of him. In fact, I think he’s a fine man. But that isn’t the point. He doesn’t care for me that way, and I don’t want to be married to a man who—”

“You’re saying he’s never courted you,” St. Vyr pursued ruthlessly.

His daughter made a frustrated noise. “Papa, you don’t understand.”

“I understand better than you think,” her father retorted. “I’ve been married three times, remember.”

He looked at them consideringly. “All right, here’s what I propose. The two of you will announce an engagement and spend time together. That ought to keep the wolves away for a little while. If after three months, you still aren’t convinced, I’ll drop the entire matter. Hell, I may be dead by that time anyway.”

He looked at Carlos who had been watching him in silence. “Is that agreeable to you?”

“Yes.”

“Iris?”

“Oh, all right Papa it will be as you say,” she said submissively. “Was there anything else? If not, I need to turn over my cheeses.”

At St. Vyr’s nod, she practically ran from the room. He looked over at the man he regarded as a son. “You will have to court her to convince her that it’s her you want and not the third of the mine and ranch. Think you can do that?”

Carlos chuckled. “It won’t be hard—I always loved her, you know. How much of that story you fed us just now was the truth you old rascal? Did the Doc give you the long face?”

“Not really, but he said the bullet had shifted,” he admitted. “You got any problems at the Lucky Strike?”

“Some. My biggest problem is I’m not two people. I can handle the High-graders and the crew scaring our people off the placer claims but not at the same time. I have a good idea who is behind the scare tactics. I think it’s Max Franks and his gang. The high-graders are a different kettle of fish. I need an investigator to find out who is behind it; because I’m sure it isn’t just a few men slipping a little dust or nuggets into their pockets. It’s too organized, and the amount that seems to be missing each night is too consistent for that.”

 

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