A Fantasy-Western Serial
It all started here, but feel free to begin wherever you like.
It was an hour before dawn when Reed returned. As he came through the front door, he found Anna waiting for him, her arms crossed and her hair standing up in all directions. She was wearing a robe and looked like she hadn't been able to sleep much either. He realized he was still wearing the hat, so he quickly removed it and offered it to her. To his surprise, she chuckled and then laughed.
"No, no, you hold onto that. Daddy hasn't worn those in ages, but they aren't half bad on you," she said, admiring the clothes on him. "What possessed you to try them on?"
"I had to get some fresh air," he said, "Did I wake you?"
"Well, it is mighty hard to sleep with someone wandering around your house all night, then coming down to find him gone with no idea of where he had gone to," she emphasized, "but I'm glad you're okay. I was worried maybe those men had come back--"
"Anna," he interrupted.
"What is it? You look a little on the green side, if you'll excuse the pun."
He wasn't sure what she meant by that, but went ahead with what he wanted to say, "The Sheriff, the man you are looking for. He is your father."
"Yeah, so he is," she said. "How did you know that?"
"I heard news of him."
She bit her lip, tears welling up in her eyes. "I don't care what anyone said. My daddy is alive, do you understand me? Alive. And tomorrow I'm gonna find him and bring some order back to this outhouse of a town."
She left the room and was up the staircase before he could think of a reply. A few seconds later he heard her door slam. Reed wandered back to the living room. As he passed the window he knocked over a frame and caught it before it hit the ground. It was a human picture. The man who had traded with his village had such a device and he had seen a picture similar to it. It was the most fascinating of human magic. In the picture was a younger Anna and a man who must be her father, for they had similar features, especially the eyes and in their smile. He looked proud and very happy. Reed had not meant any harm. He had only wanted to tell her. Perhaps he still had a lot to learn about humans.
Anna whistled as she came down to breakfast an hour later. She was packed and ready to go, which was fine with Reed. She offered him food and he politely declined everything but a bowl of strawberries.
"I wasn't sure if you ate food," she said, watching him eat them one by one as she finished her fried eggs and bacon, "I mean, you're a plant and those are plants right?"
"I am not a strawberry bush."
"But you are a plant."
"You are eating other animals," he said, pointing to her breakfast.
"Heh. You got me there," she said, "So do you eat animals?"
"I have eaten fish. I could try others, I suppose."
"The Xylem don't have any laws or anything for eating animals?"
"Not that it matters anymore," he said, and they finished eating in silence.
"I've got something for you before we head out," Anna said, "Wait here."
She returned with a pair of boots. As she brought them closer he saw they were nearly filled to the top with soil. She reached her hand in and let the soil drop from her palm back into the boot. It dawned on him what they were for and he admired her ingenuity.
"This way you won't have to worry about finding good soil in the desert," she said, "And you won't have to hop around in that pot."
They both laughed at the thought. It felt good to do so.
"I packed a canteen full of it too, in addition to your water. Just in case."
"Thank you," he took the boots from her.
"I have a good feeling about today, Mr. Reed," she said.
He could see the hope in her eyes. Her smile reminded him of the little girl he had seen in the picture frame, and of her father beside her. For her sake, he hoped they were just rumors. He hadn't told her what he had seen at the saloon. It wasn't important.
The rich soil felt good between his roots as he pulled on the boots. The first few steps were a little shakey because he wasn't used to using something else to walk on the ground. They felt clunky. However, he discovered that the longer he walked in them, the more he liked them and the easier it was to keep balance without feeling the ground directly. He could see why humans had adapted to their use; it could be the reason why they were able to adapt to all kinds of terrain and even scale the great mountains.
He donned the long coat and hat again and went outside. They would give him protection from the desert sun during the hottest parts of the day. Anna was busy in the small stable getting the horses ready. He also made sure to drink more water than he thought he would need before they left. This time he felt more prepared for what lay ahead. In the back of his mind, he still wasn't sure what to do with himself now that his race were no more. Distracting himself with human problems seemed to be helping him. He felt more alive now than he had in the past few months, even when Willowbark was still alive.
A pang of regret stung him again. Why hadn't they gone to the humans for help? Willowbark had forbidden him to leave the village to look for soil. He wished now he would have broken that vow and gone anyway. Maybe he could have saved him. But he couldn't have left him alone in his sickness. At that point he needed nearly constant care. No, Reed wouldn't have been able to leave Willowbark alone like that. He would have been dead either way so it was better that at least he wasn't alone in his last moments... alone like Reed was now.
He stopped staring at the greenhouse as he felt a hand on his shoulder. Anna was already on her horse and ready to go, the saddlebags packed. She smiled down at him. "Abe's saddled up for you," she pointed to a palamino standing nearby who was munching on a hanging plant. "Abe! Sorry, Mr. Reed. I swear he's more like a grazing bull than a horse."
Reed hoped Abe wouldn't try to eat him for a snack along the way. Maybe he'd be better off walking. He steered clear of Clark who was eyeing him suspiciously and snorted loudly as he passed. The other horse didn't even seem to notice him.
"Clark are you still giving him trouble?" Her stallion whinnied in reply. "Hush you. Saddle-up, Mr. Reed. Maybe we can make it all the way to New Olive before Noon."
"I'm afraid you folks won't be leaving town anytime soon."
Blocking the way back into town was the man from the saloon. The man who killed two men. The man who was now pointing his gun at the two of them. Nine men flanked him but only he had his gun drawn.
Anna rode Clark forward. When they did not move out of her way, Clark whinnied, backing up. "Good morning, Mr. Reinheart. What brings you out from under your rock this lovely morning?"
"I mean to talk to your friend." Reed felt those eyes on him again even though he was looking directly at Anna.
"He's just passing through. If you'll excuse us, we'll be on our way."
Reinheart took hold of Clark's bridle and the stallion snorted. "I'm afraid you don't have any say in the matter, Miss Daniels."
"You just try and stop us."
The hammer clicked back as he aimed his gun at her heart. "Don't tempt me," he said, just loudly enough for Reed to hear.
She did not back down. "I'm not afraid of someone like you."
"You should be."
The gunshot flew wild as Clark neighed, rearing up wildly. Reinheart lost grip on the bridle and fell. He barely rolled out of the way before Clark's hoof could slam down through his skull. "Reed!" she shouted. "Follow me!"
Abe yanked out the plant he was chewing on as Reed mounted, locking his boots into the stirrups. He grabbed the reins and followed Anna's lead as they fled through the back, squeezing through the alleyway between the greenhouse and her house. Shots rang out behind them, shattering hanging pots and glass, ricocheting off the brickwork as Reinheart screamed out orders.
As soon as they were in the open air, they charged into a full gallop, darting past alarmed pedestrians and carriages. Reed leaned into the gallop and used one hand to hold down his hat. Once they broke free of the town they kept going, heading south-east with the sun rising on their left.
Now that Reed had the hang of riding, he enjoyed himself. He had never felt anything like this. His heart beat strong as the wind rumbled in his ears so loud he could hear nothing else. He had been born a son of the earth, but now he was reborn to the Great Winds, blasting past cactus and dried plants, kicking up dust devils that swept over the cracked ground. He thrust out his hat and called out a victory whoop that carried as far as the South Wind could take it.
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