With apologies to Raymond Chandler for mangling his title, today’s offering is an inspiration devised by Chuck Wendig to retell an iconic scene in a different genre. I’d read his brief, and thought about a Casablanca-Western variant, but then I got sidetracked into something else, still on a western theme. I’m not sure the title fits any more, but it’s as good as any, and it’s just under 1400 words.
Farewell, My Lovelies
“Okay, you guys, rise ‘n’ shine. It’s time for the meetin’.” The tall, gangly ranger swept through the bunkhouse where the riverboys had slept since their arduous journey across the ranges.
“What, no breakfast?” Huck complained.
“If you hadn’t slept so long, you’d have got it alrigh’.”
“We were tired!” Pip stretched and yawned, and rolled out of his bunk, dragging the blanket off Tug in the process.
“Maybe there’ll be elevenses,” suggested Tom hopefully.
“Mebbe,” said the ranger, with a wink. Tom smiled. That meant ‘yes’ then.
The four riverboys followed Longshanks out of the hut, down the gulch to the spacious ranch house that backed into some tunnels in the cliff behind.
“You boys make yourselves busy while Tom and I go to the meetin’,” Longshanks said. “But don’t stray far, we’ll need you soon.”
Huck, Pip and Tug stared after them, then at each other. “Why did we have to get up, then? Come’on, let’s find where they’re meeting and listen.”
As they entered the round hall, Tom faltered. He’d met the healer, Sitting Moose, when he’d arrived, bleeding and broken; his wounds were hardly visible now and he felt much better. Now Sitting Moose smiled gravely at him and waved to a seat on his left. Longshanks sat on Tom’s left, which made Tom feel better. He looked at the others, who stared at him, some in curiosity, and some in disbelief.
Sitting Moose stood, sending his gaze around the assembly as he spoke.
“Welcome, everyone, although I did not call you here. Something has brought you to ask my wisdom, or the wisdom of my ancestors, for something that troubles you.
“Hank and Tony, you left the hills of gold to ask about those who set off for the mines of the north; Long Ears and Bow Spirit, you have journeyed from the forests with tales of disturbances in the spirits; Kennedy has travelled from the great city of the east, as far as the iron horse would take him before tackling the badlands to find us.
“And here you find a bunch of riverboys, kids to your eyes, but as sturdy as their kind can be, and as valiant, sent to me by the wanderer and escorted by the ranger, as you see.”
“Hawkeagle! You’re here! But why didn’t you come back for me as you said?”
An older man, dressed in soft grey buckskin, with a grey blanket thrown casually over his shoulder smiled. “I am sorry, Tom, but I was delayed. There are events in train that held even me against my will.”
Sitting Moose interrupted. “Those events are part of this story. I will start to explain, but others will finish,” and he told them the short version of the legend of his people, of the spirits who watched over their land and their lives, and the disagreements over the gold, and the power, and the forging of the five tokens of power that were distributed among the tribes and the men. “But then the devil spirit, The One With No Name, saw them all, and forged the Leaf of Doom, in secret, to control all the tokens, and the tribes and the men saw they had been betrayed, and hid their tokens in fear, and they became lost except in memory.”
“Ours weren’t lost, Chief,” broke in Hank. “We heard tell ’twas in the mines of the North, so our party went to geddit, but they ain’t returned. The wolves may have got ’em, or worse, but we ain’t given up hope, we just wan’ your advice.”
“Ours were not lost, great chief, but rather, hidden from view. They form the signs of power that pass from one Chief to another. But there are evil things in our forests, things that take babies in the night, and raid traps and leave blood where blood should not be. Nothing we have done can scare them away, and some of our families wish to leave the trees for the open plains.” Long Ears sat down again after he explained their dilemma.
Then Hawkeagle got up and told them of his investigations into the mysterious wolves that were nothing like the wolves of the plains, harder, more ferocious, and totally unreasonable. “I realised they were being steered by a spirit, one we thought had abandoned our world forever. The One With No Name is back!”
Everyone reacted in his own way. The man of the east stood and clutched for the weapon which would have been at his side, had he not given it up at the entrance, as was polite custom in Sitting Moose’s presence. The woodsmen clutched each other, talking in their own language. The miners grabbed their hats and buried their faces in them, and Sitting Moose, Hawkeagle and Longshanks watched them. Tom did nothing, since he wasn’t sure what was going on, but he fingered the leaf-shaped brooch he hid in his pocket.
Sitting Moose saw him.
“And strangely, a token that was lost has come to light. Tell us, Tom, why you and your companions have come all this way, gaining the support of two such stalwart heroes as Hawkeagle and Longshanks.”
Tom gulped and stood up. “Well, sirs, it’s like this.” And he told how his uncle had found the brooch, and worn it openly until Hawkeagle had suggested he keep it safe, and then when Tom had found it after his uncle had gone off wandering, Hawkeagle had counselled him to bring it here. The journey had been hard, and they had overcome many dangers, not least the flood of the river and the plainsfire that seemed to have been deliberately sparked by a bolt of lightning from a blue sky. “And the wolves, sir, we would never have escaped them without Longshanks!”
“Strange,” said Hank. “Why would them wolves come this far south, the meat’s easier chewin’ where they’re from.”
“Indeed,” said Sitting Moose. “What would attract them? Show us, Tom.”
Tom stood forward and brought out the gold leaf. The onlookers gasped, and Kennedy stepped forward to examine it.
“So,” he said, looking at Tom. “The rumours are true. You lazy southern riverboys use magic to make yourselves rich and try to ruin good hard-working men.”
Longshanks stirred but Hawkeagle held him back. “The riverboys merely found the token, Kennedy, they have done nothing with it. They are blameless in this. I wish it had never been found, but it has, and the One With No Name is after it. He controls the weather, the river, the wolves. He will find it and enslave us all unless we destroy it.”
Arguments broke out as everyone spoke at once. Destroy it or use it to destroy the enemy? Blame the riverboys or the ones who lost it in the first place? Was the iron horse wrecking the forest and the plains or was it the eternal greed of those searching for gold?
Eventually Sitting Moose stood and called for calm.
“We must decide what to do. I cannot take the token, for I fear the temptation to wield it, which would bring disaster.”
Hawkeagle nodded. “We must find a way to destroy it, but the only thing is to take it to Mt McKinley and cast it in the eternal fire there.”
“Mt McKinley— but that’s miles and miles of bad country.”
“Miners know the way, but there be dangers we daresn’t attempt.”
“Someone must take it, though.”
The group fell silent.
Tom stared at the token. A small voice said, “I will take it, although I do not know the way.” His voice.
Sitting Moose sighed, and agreed. “But you shall not go alone. You shall have a companion from the miners, from the forest and from the men here. And Longshanks and Hawkeagle will escort you too.”
“And us!” cried Huck, Pip and Tug, climbing over the window frame and out from behind the curtains where they’d been hiding on the balcony.
Hawkeagle smiled, although Sitting Moose grimaced. “I suppose so,” he said. “You’d best all saddle up at first light and get going. I’ll get the provisions sorted out.”
And as tomorrow dawned, Sitting Moose waved goodbye to the nine riders as they left the camp, in good spirits, laughing as they left, except for Tom, who wondered what on earth he’d got himself into now.
© J M Pett 2016 with thanks to J R R Tolkien