Winds of Change – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 14

This is the first of my new Portal Worlds series. 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 14 Winds of Change

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THE ENTIRE family came down to the loading docks to see Gisele and her two granddaughters off on their buying trip to Junction City. Neither Giselle or Jeanne showed any sympathy for either Carolos or for Iris this morning: Carlos appeared sullen and he winced at the loud noises the rivermen were making as they prepared the boat for the trip up river. Iris was pale and heavy eyed and she avoided looking at him or standing anywhere near Carlos.

Bethany frowned at the pair and whispered to Jeanne, “What’s wrong with them?”

“Lover’s quarrel,” Jeanne replied succinctly. “They’ll get over it.”

She flung her arms around Bethany and hugged her hard, before handing her sister a sealed letter. “Don’t read it until you’re alone, okay?”

“Why, what is it?” Bethany asked. “What’s wrong? Are you in trouble?”

Her sister gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I’m not in trouble, and I’m going to be very happy. Please believe that. I love you Sis.”

She gave her father a dutiful peck on the cheek before following her grandmother and sister up the ramp.

Michael St. Vyr rolled his chair back toward the street, stopping at the edge of the wooden walkway where his carriage waited.

“Mom convinced me the pair of you should a little time alone without all of us in your faces, so Carlos and I are going to stay in town for a couple of days,” he told Bethany and Alec.

“Mike—” began Alec.

“No, you take a little time for yourselves boy,” St. Vyr said, holding up a hand to stop him. “Those yahoos Johnson hired are still licking their wounds from being run off Ruby Canyon. We’ve got time before they start something else.”

“Thank you, Papa,” Bethany said, bending down to kiss him. She slipped her had under her husband’s arm and looked up at him. “It’s going to be fun, having just us at the ranch.”

“Henry’s got a report for us,” St. Vyr told Carlos as they watched the carriage roll away. “Let’s head over to the Hotel and find out what he’s learned.”

The found Henry sitting in a dark corner of the bar at the Hotel, sipping a whiskey.

“Better if we’re not seen keeping company,” Henry said dryly to St. Vyr. “So far no one’s noticed that I came into town with Alec, so they haven’t associated me with you and they talk to me.”

Henry took a sip of his whiskey. “Sometimes I get some mighty queer notions hanging around the bad elements in town.”

“Oh? What kind of funny notions?” inquired Carlos.

“How much do you know about a gent named Lutz?”

“Jeramiah Lutz?” demanded Michael.

“That’s the name.”

“Why, he owns the local bank,” Michael said slowly. “Kind of a fussbudget; nobody really likes him because he’s a sharp operator. I wouldn’t borrow money from him. He got rich on foreclosures. Why?”

“Well, the rumor is he got a man named Franks on the payroll.”

Max Franks?” Carlos demanded.

“Yep, I think that was his handle.”

Carlos swore. “That’s the gent who was hanging around Iris when we went to the revue, and later at the wedding reception. I told her he was un hombre malo, but she didn’t believe me.”

“Word on the streets is when he wants to foreclose on a farm or a mine claim, Lutz uses Franks to convince folks to give up on paying back a loan.”

“Well, that’s interesting,” Michael said, “but I don’t see as it’s got anything to do with what we asked you to find out.”

Henry took another sip. “Maybe nothing, but Franks doesn’t just work for Lutz. On his own time, the word is he makes spending money by robbing honest miners. This may not have anything to do with what you wanted to know either, but last night Franks spent some time at Lutz’s house and later he was having a drink with Ben Sykes.  I was too far away to hear what was said, but looked to me like he was giving him orders.”

“Sykes is a gutter rat who beats up honest men for money,” Michael stated. “If everyone wasn’t afraid to testify against him he’d have been locked up a long time ago.”

“The miners look away when I asked about Sykes,” Henry added. “I think he’s forcing them to do something. Something they don’t want to do, but they are afraid not to do what he wants.”

“He’s not smart enough to organize the high-grading,” Carlos said thoughtfully.

“Jeramiah Lutz is,” Michael said. He looked at Henry. “Can you find out more about what Sykes is making honest miners do? Without putting yourself in a hole, I mean?”

Henry nodded. “Probably. Right now, most of them think I’m just a nosy old man who used to be a hard rock miner, so they talk to me. What are you going to do?”

“Watch Franks,” Carlos said. “When he leaves town, I want to follow him. If I can locate his hideout, maybe I can find proof he’s the one running our miners off their claims. I need to pick up a couple of good trackers from the ranch; Red and maybe Durango if Alec can spare them.”

Miller shook his head. “If you’re waiting for Franks to leave town so you can follow him you’re wasting your time. He got on the same steamer your fiancée did.”

“What!” Carlos exclaimed in outrage.

The two older men exchanged an amused glance. Both of them knew Madonna was more worried about Franks paying court to Iris than whatever else he might be up to on his trip up river. Michael St. Vyr shrugged. “Relax, son. What if Franks is on the steamer? None of my girls is silly enough to fall for a slick charmer like Franks. Even if they were, Mom would send him on his way.”

After a brief struggle, Carlos agreed. “Well I think I still need those trackers. I want to look at where the three miners were robbed. Maybe we can find where Franks came from. It’s been pretty dry up in the hills, so the tracks should still be there.”

Accordingly, he rode out to the Tricorn that afternoon, intending to leave in the morning for the hills. Alec was happy for him to take the two trackers with him.

Durango was a short, thin man of Hispanic ancestry who fancied himself one of the Vaqueros he read about in the western romances smuggled through the portal. He dressed in tight pants, a loose shirt and a large sombrero. His boots carried huge roweled spurs that jingled when he walked. Despite his fancy dress, he was excellent on a trail. Red was a tall, skinny carrot top whose freckled face always showed sunburn. He had learned to track as a boy when finding game for the table because if you missed a shot you might not eat that night.

When the three men arrived at the first claim that had been raided, it was late afternoon the next day. A hand cranked dry washer still stood up the hill from where the men had worked, although it was listing badly to one side, and pieces of the broken sluice box were scattered along the shore of the bubbling creek. Most telling was a dark splotch of dirt where a body had lain. Up the hill by a rough built wooden cabin there were two freshly dug graves.

The man who had reported the attack to Carlos had taken the time to bury the two dead miners before he came into the headquarters of the Lucky Strike.

“I’m through,” he said, spitting on the floor. “It ain’t worth it Madonna. Them claim jumpers was on us before we could blink. They just up and shot Jase and Carl point blank. They’d have got me too, except I was up the hill skinning out a pronghorn I’d just shot. I had time to get undercover, but they cleaned us out of everything but this.” He dropped his own small bag of gold nuggets on Carlos’s desk.

“What will you do, Lin?” Carlos had asked him.

“I ain’t figured that out yet. But I got a daughter over to Copper City. I figure I’ll go spend some time with her and the kids.” He had signed the quitclaim papers on the mining claim and stomped out.

They dismounted and baited the tricorns before beginning a slow sweep around the camp, looking for the trail the raiders had made coming into camp. It was dusk before Red found it; a faint scrape of several tricorn hooves following each other and leading back into the canyon.

“I wouldn’t recommend following it in the dark boss,” he told Carlos. “I’d just as soon catch whatever we find in daylight.”

Carlos nodded and went to unsaddle his own mount and unload the pack tricorn. Durango was already making up a fire in the cabin’s fire pit.

The trail into the canyon the next morning was dark and spooky. It wound a serpentine path under overhanging vines that hid the sun, and sticker bushes tore at their clothes. It was impossible for more than one tricorn to travel it at a time. After flipping a round flat disc to decide who would be the trailblazer, Durango led off, followed by Carlos with Red bringing up the rear with the pack animal.

They finally came out into a shaded valley of lush green grass. A sparkling creek gurgled merrily through the center of it. At the far end of the valley, they could barely make out a cabin, a barn, and what seemed to be a fenced garden in the distance. Red had stopped when he exited the opening in the bushes, moving just enough so the others could come off the trail.

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