Always finish what you start.
Trouble on the Smoky Hill Trail
A Pearl Brothers Western Adventure Book 1
by Andrew Weston
Genre: Historical Western Action Adventure
Something wasn’t right.
Whatever that something was, Alfred Johansen couldn’t immediately figure it out, as those moments between the end of a dream and half-wakefulness always left him feeling sluggish and unbalanced. Nonetheless, he knew his home intimately, and an air of latent menace pervaded the somber tranquility of the night. Unsettled, he shuffled quietly to the edge of the mattress so as not to wake his wife, stilled his breathing, and strained to listen over the wheeze of her gentle snoring.
To no avail.
No matter how hard he tried, the source of Alfred’s unease continued to elude him.
His sense of alarm increased. Heart thudding, Alfred levered himself up onto his elbows, and a gentle breeze cooled the sweat now forming across his brow. An unexpected sensation, seeing as how he religiously shut the doors and shuttered the windows every night before retiring.
While Alfred and his family reaped the benefits of the security offered by their small community of just over a dozen homesteads, all of them scattered in close proximity on the northern side of Walnut Creek, forty-five miles west of Alexander, Kansas, there was always a danger to living here. The nearest town, Gove, was twenty miles away to the north. A good full day’s ride by wagon, or less than half that on a good horse maintaining a steady trot. And even though the new Wells Fargo coaches still braved the old Butterfield Overland Express route, or the southern Santa Fe Trail running past Dodge, they were still too far away to be of help at times like this. So you had to learn, and quickly, to sort out problems yourself.
Highlighting Alfred’s predicament.
Procrastinating would achieve nothing.
He decided to go and check, just in case, and reached toward the bedside table where he kept his old 1839 model Colt Paterson, which had been converted to fire .44 Henry Rimfire cartridges. Just holding it would help to calm his jitters.
Except it wasn’t there. Oh, for pity’s sake. I must have left it out in the kitchen.
Irritated, Alfred swung his feet out of bed and almost tripped as his sock snagged a splintered floorboard. Scuttling forward a few paces, he bit back a curse and turned to stare at Rita, his wife. His night vision allowed him to make out the shape of her form beneath the covers. She hadn’t moved. Good. I don’t want to upset her unduly. . .
That thought died in his head as he caught sight of the window. One of the shutter’s was open, and the small rocks his wife used to weigh the fabric down and hold them in place were missing, allowing the cloth to swing free. Drawn like a moth to a flame, Alfred padded across to the window, brushed the cloth aside, and peered outside.
A half-moon peeked from behind purple clouds, heavy with the last snows of spring. By its light, Alfred could see the stones clearly, laid out in a neat line in the dirt, next to a tight cluster of footprints. Vilken (What)?
Withdrawing from the window, he started for the door and tried to reason things through. Who would be snooping about at this time of night? People around here know we don’t have much, and that our community is self-sufficient.
A barely audible thud, from deeper inside the house interrupted his musing. Somebody’s definitely moving about. One of the girls perhaps? Has something spooked them? He glanced toward the bedside table. Is that why my gun is missing?
The twins, Margit and Astrid, were coming up on seventeen years old. Precocious to a fault, they were spirited, reckless, and way too bossy for their own good.
Tsking quietly, Alfred relaxed a little. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve told them not to put themselves in danger by investigating things for themselves. Come morning, Ill. . .
Another sound, this one laced with hushed voices along with a stifled squeal of protest intruded. For some reason, just hearing it turned Alfred’s stomach, and his protective instincts finally kicked in. Djävla (Goddamit). I’d better arm myself.
His father’s shotgun hung from a couple of hooks above the fireplace out in the main room. Alfred wasn’t the marksman the Pearl brothers were, but that old gun would be forgiving enough in this situation to even things out a little. Indeed, the mere sight of it had been enough to douse the heat of troubled egos—with other settlers heading west, and wandering bands of Lakota and Cheyenne—several times over the past two years they’d been putting their little community together, so he had no doubt it would act as a deterrent now.
If he got to the darn thing, that was.
As cautiously as he possibly could, Alfred depressed the latch with his thumb, and prevented it from rattling by using both his hands to maneuver the bar into position. Once open, he lowered the lever and left the door ajar, before tiptoeing silently out into the short hallway leading from the bedrooms and into the living area. Whatever was happening, the sounds coming from his daughters’ room were becoming more frantic. Swallowing his anger, he began imagining all the terrible things he would do to anyone trying to take advantage of his daughters’ virtue, and quickened his pace until he was nigh on running. Just hang on, girls. Hang on for a minute or two . . . huh?
It wasn’t until Alfred was halfway across the room that three things hit him in quick succession.
Shootout at Russell Springs
A Pearl Brothers Western Adventure Book 2
The second book in a brand new Western adventure series from Andrew Weston!
A tornado tears through the open plains of Kansas, leaving death and destruction in its wake.
Yet that force of nature isn’t the only thing that might ravage the land.
The Plains Indians are massing in their hundreds. Cheyenne, Comanche, Lakota, Kiowa, and Arapaho. All of them, turning their eyes toward the foreign settlers who encroach ever further into their ancestral hunting grounds with each and every passing year.
Already on the run from the law, the notorious Reno Gang also come calling, thinking that the residents of Elder Grove will be no match for a bunch of murdering horse thieves.
And just who are the two strangers from the east that come to town, acting all friendly, yet asking sly question about the Pearl brothers?
One thing’s for sure. . .
Another storm is brewing. And when it strikes, not everyone will walk away.
The spirits must have been looking down on Set-ankeah and smiling, for there, not more than two hundred yards away and bordered on three sides by a grove of cottonwood trees, sat a small group of whitewashed homes that could only belong to homesteaders.
And Set-ankeah didn’t like homesteaders.
They had two faces; false tongues; bad medicine of the most poisonous kind. They promised much, but gave very little. In fact, they gave nothing while taking everything . . . As he had learned to his cost, back when they knew him better as Sitting Bear, or by his more familiar Kiowan name, Satank.
And they were never satisfied. Always wanting more when they already had so much that they could never possibly use it all.
Set-ankeah and his warrior party were heading south, toward the ancient burial grounds just north of the Napeste River, for the great gathering of the principle chiefs, war chiefs and medicine men of the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and of course, the Kiowa. That gathering would decide the future of their ancestral hunting grounds once and for all, and of the accursed white man who dared to settle on them.
With good reason.
Nearly seventy summers had passed since Set-ankeah was a child, and the plains were filled with buffalo for as far as the eye could see; more than twenty since the greatest of many waves of immigrants flooded in from the east, bringing their fences and their trails and iron roads that cut across the grasslands at will. And now the buffalo upon which they depended for their very way of life were nothing but a shadow of what they once were. All thanks to the white menace that couldn’t be trusted.
Set-ankeah remembered this wood and the spring at its center from the days when he first became a warrior. It was a good place to spend a few days, relaxing in between hunts. A place to rest their horses. To sing songs and tell stories.
Yet the white settler had built their homes right in the middle of it. Even worse, they’d erected their fences and planted crops as if assuming the right to treat what belonged to everyone as their own. Especially the water.
No, this was too good an opportunity to miss. And Set-ankeah intended to make a statement. One that would send a clear message to all those who trespassed upon their land.
“What do you want to do, brother?” That question from Red Hand, his second, so named for all the blood he had shed.
Set-ankeah unclipped his spotted antelope robe, folded it neatly, and tucked it beneath his riding blanket. That done, he removed his feathered tomahawk from his belt, raised it in both hands toward the sun, and began chanting, invoking a blessing from the spirits who always watched over him.
Red Hand grinned, fiercely. Set-ankeah was the principle chief and shaman of the Qkoie-Tsain-Gah—otherwise known as the Koitsenko—a warrior society of the Kiowa’s most violent and skilled Dog Fighters. Therefore, he understood the significance of that gesture only too well.
Wheeling his mount, Red Hand uttered a yodeling cry, prompting an instant response from the fifteen other members of their party. Shrieking in reply, they spurred their mustangs, and within seconds, the ground shook to the thunder of hooves.
Wise to the ways of the warrior, Set-ankeah allowed his braves to build up a head start. As he’d learned when rising through the ranks, the first few seconds of a battle were vital. And if you were in a position to make adjustments when and where they were needed, then all the better.
His gaze roved the scene before him, taking in the sum of three main dwellings, a large barn where the white man no doubt kept some of their livestock, and several smaller structures within a fenced compound. Smoke curled from chimneys positioned at the far end of each home. Good! They have not yet emerged to begin their day and will panic when they realize death comes for them.
And panic they did.
Men with pale skins, long white shirts and heavy pants began emerging from doorways, some holding onto hats, all of them clutching rifles and shouting. Women in blue or grey dresses scuttled through those same doorways moments later. Clucking like hens, they had their hands full, ushering screaming children toward sheds built alongside each house. Somewhere, a dog started barking.
The men hadn’t made it off their porches before the first of Set-ankeah warriors leaped the outer fences. Scrambling to a standstill, the homesteaders commenced firing, some standing, others taking the time to kneel before letting off a shot. None of them accurate.
Set-ankeah spurred his pinto to greater efforts and leaned low, over its neck. Ignoring the mane now tickling his face, he whispered in reassuring tones about the honor they would soon earn together.
Movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. The brave riding next to him must have been hit, for he lost control of his horse. Grimacing in pain, he clutched at his side and fell, seconds later, before rolling away into the grass. Iron Jacket!
Set-ankeah bared his teeth. He knew all of his warriors intimately, and Iron Jacket had earned his name after being shot many times. But his medicine was strong, for he had survived on each occasion. Set-ankeah prayed that would be the case now.
Uprising in Comanche Country
A Pearl Brothers Western Adventure Book 3
The third book in a brand new Western adventure series from Andrew Weston!
It took the Pearl brothers considerable time and effort to shape the region around Elder Grove into a safe haven for all. For settlers. For travelers. Even for the Plains Indians who constantly roam the prairie in pursuit of buffalo.
But when a bunch of marauding army deserters commits a heinous act that rouses the massed tribes to anger, it puts all that hard work in jeopardy. Yes, the hornet’s nest has been stirred. So much so, that even the Comanche are provoked to war.
And their sting is deadly indeed.
How the Pearl brothers will react remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure. Nobody will escape unscathed.
The sun was already sinking below the horizon to the west when Black Crow called Broken Arrow to his side and asked him to spread the word that they would be stopping for the night. A wise choice, for the banks of the creek were gentle, and dotted with willow and birch trees that would provide a natural barrier, and mask their presence from anyone hiding in plain sight out on the prairie.
Leaving Broken Arrow to his task, Black Crow trotted east, along the creek for half a mile or so to ensure the way was clear. And, once his eyes had adjusted to the dark and he was satisfied that no dangers awaited them, he turned and worked his way back along the water’s edge to find their small group had just finished erecting their shelters for the night, and were now tending their fires in preparation for the evening’s meal.
All seemed well, though Black Crow was irritated by the fact that Broken Arrow hadn’t yet set sentries on top of the bank to watch over the surrounding plains. The latest full moon had passed only two nights ago, so there would be plenty of light to see by once it had risen. And as Broken Arrow should know, it was always best to be in position beforehand, so that you could read the land and its creatures before the transition from day to night reached its inevitable conclusion.
He was just about to call out to Broken Arrow and suggest that, perhaps it would be a good idea to think about security, when those birds roosting in the trees and grasses along the creek fell abruptly quiet. Moments later, they were followed by the crickets.
Born to the plains, everyone noticed. Some paused in their work and took a quick look around, while others sat up in order so to study their surroundings more thoroughly. A few of the more vigorous ones clutched at tomahawks and knives.
Black Crow slid his Spencer carbine from its sheath and drew Broken Arrow’s attention by using the call of the burrowing owl. The signal for caution.
Broken Arrow glanced back and nodded. Drawing his own rifle, he spurred his pony forward, and had just started up the northern bank when thunder erupted from the tree line.
The sting of hot lead bit into Black Crow’s left shoulder and side, making him yelp and sending him spinning from his mount. Caught by surprise, he landed heavily, face down, winded, and so consumed by pain that he was completely helpless to prevent his mustang from rearing up and bolting.
Unable to move for the moment, Black Crow spat out blood and one of his teeth, hunched down into the dirt, and braced himself for the bullet that would end his life.
It never came.
He peeked up through the stalks of grass in front of him, the endeavor making his head swim and his stomach churn. But it was worth it as he realized that his enemy couldn’t see him. Nor would they, for the moon wasn’t yet high enough to illuminate the ground clearly, and the light from the scattered fires was too low.
Yet he wouldn’t leave his fate to chance. All it took was for one person to have noticed what had happened, and they’d be across to finish him off.
Grabbing his rifle—which was mercifully still within reach—Black Crow bit his bottom lip and began dragging himself toward a nearby blueberry thicket, hopeful that he might be able to do something from there that would help those of his people who were still fighting back.
He could hear them over the din of gunfire. The older ones, yelling war cries as they died; women screaming, but resisting just as ferociously; children hollering in terror.
And that’s what upset him the most. The utter futility of their efforts in the face of a relentless barrage. They must be using repeating rifles? So that means. . .?
The withering swarm of bullets stopped as suddenly as it began. Black Crow spotted movement along the far bank, close to where Broken Arrow fell. A glint of light reflected in dark eyes. Creaking harnesses. Uniforms with yellow stripes. Blue shirts!
Black Crow was horrified. What is an army patrol doing out on the plains after dark? Don’t they realize my people. .
A muffled squeal broke his train of thought.
Peeking out from his hiding place, he discerned more than a dozen soldiers prowling the far shore. Those still on horseback scoured both sides of the watercourse, guns at the ready, for anyone who might still wish to oppose them. Those on foot went methodically from body to body, pausing momentarily over anyone they suspected might still be alive, whereupon their long knives would stab down, removing any doubt.
An astronomy and criminal law graduate, he is the creator of a number of internationally acclaimed, bestselling works. Andrew also has the privilege of being a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.
When relaxing, Andrew devotes some of his spare time to supporting animal charities, and writing regular reviews and articles for Amazing Stories and the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
More recently, he has turned his eye toward the creation of the ultimate western adventure, something that blends the very best elements of “The Dark Tower” with “Once Upon a Time in the West.”