Panting heavily from his exertions and with the cleaver in hand, he turned to face
the rear opening of the wagon. His pursuer was nowhere in sight. Nathan stood
and waited, holding the cleaver in a white-knuckled grip, his attention focused on
the opening above the wagon’s tailgate.
Suddenly, there was a soft ripping sound to his right. He wheeled around to see
the worn canvas cover being parted by a thin, wicked-looking blade. He was
raising the cleaver, making ready to strike, when a large brown hand came lunging
through the rip and clamped itself solidly around his small wrist. Hard, strong
fingers held him in a grip of steel and then began to squeeze mercilessly.
Nathan let out a cry of anguish as he felt his wrist bones grinding together. His
fingers opened involuntarily and he heard the cleaver go clunking to the plank
flooring of the wagon bed. The lancer’s head appeared through the gap he had
made—that hated, rotten-toothed grin breaking across his face again. He pushed
his head further into the wagon and his left hand—brandishing the long, thin
blade—came with it, followed quickly by both shoulders. He stretched his arm out
to the side and widened the gap. The tattered canvas that framed him began to
flap in the wind. The man’s eyes roamed over Nathan’s naked body, and he began
to giggle softly to himself as he made ready to climb into the wagon.
His eyes streaming tears, Nathan darted his head forward and sank his teeth into
the back of the lancer’s hand. The man howled in surprise and released his grip.
Nathan threw himself back, moving deeper into the shadows toward the front of
the wagon. His attacker was no longer grinning. He transferred the long-bladed
knife to his right hand, and used his left to rub at the deep and bloody marks that
Nathan’s teeth had imparted. He glared at him with a baleful intensity that
promised there would be payment for those marks.
Nathan was backing further away when his feet encountered a coil of rough hemp
rope that lay on the wagon’s floor. He lost his balance and went staggering back
into the supplies piled up behind the wagon’s driving seat. His hands flailed out to
the sides to arrest his fall and his fingers brushed against and then closed around
an object that was all too familiar to him. Ahead of him, the lancer was cursing
softly as he widened still further the tattered, makeshift doorway he had made in
the wagon’s cover, and began climbing over the side rail.
“No mas, senor!” Nathan called out.
“Oh yes—more, little one. There will be much more, I promise,” the man answered,
the crooked, evil grin returning to his face. Then he saw what the boy was holding
and the oily grin vanished.
It was the second pistol.
Nathan held it out straight before him. He reached for-ward to wrap the palm of his
left hand around the big, dog-eared hammer and hauled it back, through the faint
click of half-cock and on to the louder snap of the fully cocked position.
The lancer spread his hands in appeal. “Nino—do not be so stup—” His words
were abruptly drowned out by the great, barking roar of the Hawken.
Nathan staggered back under the gun’s harsh recoil, his legs and shoulders
slamming painfully into the stacked box-es. For an instant, he could see nothing
through the great shroud of smoke that filled the wagon’s interior. When the
smoke began to drift away, he saw his attacker was no longer there.
He was dimly aware of heat on his face and—as his hearing returned—of a faint
crackling sound. It took him a moment to register that the wagon was afire, or
rather its canvas covering was—the Hawken’s impressive muzzle-flash had set
light to the torn, tinder-dry canvas.
With the big pistol still in hand, Nathan made his way back to the rear of the wagon
and out over the tailgate. He stumbled around to the side and saw the lancer he
had shot lying there, sprawled out on his back with arms spread wide. His eyes,
though sightless, were open, and there was a look of pained bewilderment on his
face. A patch of deep, dark red was spreading slowly across the front of his tunic,
and there were matching patches creeping out from beneath his back, seeping
into the ever-thirsty ground below.
At eight years old, Nathan Delaney had killed his first man.
The violent account of one man's rise to notoriety as an infamous
gunfighter of the Old American West.
In 1846, Nathan Delaney is only eight years old, when he is
caught up in the turbulent struggle of the Mexican-American war.
Travelling with a troop of Texas Rangers, Nathan quickly loses
his innocence and childhood in the harsh, arid wastes of the
Texas borderland in a series of brutal skirmishes between the
hard-bitten Rangers and their Indian and Mexican foes. The war
on the border is every bit as grim and brutal as the landscape it is
fought over, and there are acts of savagery and torture on both
sides. It is neither a time nor a place for a small boy, and with the
Ranger troop surrounded on all sides and greatly outnumbered,
Nathan must quickly learn to outgrow the boy in order to survive.
Twenty years later, in the aftermath of another bloody and brutal
conflict - the Civil War - Nathan is trying his best to put the years
he has spent as a Confederate guerrilla fighter behind him. He
has arrived in the small town of Taylor's Mill, with a view to settling
down to a life of peace and prosperity. Fate, in the form of a
beautiful young woman, and an unwanted confrontation with
some of the town's rougher elements, conspires against him
however, and Nathan is soon forced to go on the run. With a
string of Bounty Hunters dogging his trail, Texas seems the ideal
place to head for, and once there, Nathan is given the
opportunity to range even further by joining the famous Montana
cattle drive, led by the legendary Nelson Story.
With nothing to look forward to except stampedes, flooded river
crossings and multiple confrontations with hostile bandits and
Indians - and with a particularly determined Bounty Hunter still
dogging his trail - Nathan will have plenty of cause to wonder
whether he has made the right choice or not.
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