“Here,” said Emmy, tossing a bundle toward Luciana. She barely managed to catch it before it hit the ground. It was heavy and oblong, and her guess as to its nature was confirmed when she unrolled the cloth-wrapped bundle. A cobalt blue rifle, clean and oiled and loaded. It was bolt action, which she had never used before.
“What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Shoot injuns,” Emmy said with a wink. How was the freckled woman so cavalier about a tribe of savages out to murder them? Or worse...
“Just don’t shoot the wrong one,” Fox said. She snapped open a breech loader and stuffed shells inside.
“They don’t look like they’re doing much of anything right now,” Sergio said, standing with one leg on a rock and leaning out. “I can’t help but notice...they do not have extra horses.”
“Get back you damn fool!” Emmy hissed. “You trying to get shot up?”
Sergio’s mouth twisted at her admonishment, but he did move away from the edge.
“One of ’em’s coming forward,” said Luciana. A brown garbed youth rode away from the group to bellow up at them.
“What’s he saying, Fox?” Emmy asked.
The indian woman’s brow scrunched up as she craned her neck toward the speaker.
“We just want the women,” she said haltingly. “Give them up and we’ll let you go once we’ve counted coup.”
“I think THEY think you’re in charge, buddy,” said Emmy with a chuckle. “How stupid is that?”
“I am guessing they would not really let me go, even if I did agree to such a heinous bargain?”
“Naw, they’d let you go, but they’d count coup first.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Used to mean they’d run up to you and touch you with a stick. For the Navajo, it means they’ll chop off your danglers and keep them as a trophy.”
Sergio’s face paled, then his eyes narrowed. “Castrate me? Are you saying they intend to castrate me?”
“Hit the mark, you did,” Emmy said. “Fox, would you politely decline their offer?”
Fox grunted and dropped to her belly. She shimmied to the edge, braced her weapon between two rocks, and squeezed the trigger.
The Navajo burst into action at the gun’s retort. Their diplomat dropped over from the saddle, clutching his right arm in an attempt to staunch the flow of blood.
“You didn’t kill him?” Sergio asked.
“First shot was a warning,” Fox said.
“A warning they are not heeding,” Luciana said crisply. The indians were dismounting, filling the morning air with their yipping animalistic war cries.
“Don’t worry, Lucky,” Emmy said. “I been in worse scrapes.”
“We have the high ground,” Fox said. “They will have difficulty climbing and shooting at once.”
“That’s why they’re smart enough to have an artillery unit,” Emmy said. Some dozen of the Navajo were remaining on the ground, stringing their powerful bows.
“Can their arrows reach us this high?” Sergio asked nervously.
“Damn straight they can,” Emmy said. “Find a good spot that covers as much of your hide as you can manage and still be able to shoot.”
Sergio seemed reluctant to move. He kept staring down at the Indians below and back at her.
“Hey,” she said with an uncharacteristic kind note in her tone, “we’re gonna get through this, Sergio. Just keep shooting until you don’t see nothing but dead Injuns!”
Luciana crouched between two fir trees, their trunks forming a rough V. There was something so wrong with how calm everything seemed. In a few moments, they would be fighting for their lives but she found herself feeling oddly distant, as if she were watching a play with herself as the main character.
With a shout, a score of Navajo surged toward the base of the hill. At the same time, their fellows loosed a volley of arrows, bowstrings twanging together in one solid hum. Luciana yelped and dove behind her cover. All around her she could hear the impacts as their missiles thudded home.
Hoping that none of her companions had been hit, she got back into position. She thought she would have a few seconds at least while the Navajo drew new arrows, but their speed and skill were not wanting. There was barely time to aim off a shot before the next assault.
Luciana spotted one of the men clambering up the hillside. They were making uncanny progress, and her heart thumped in her chest at the thought of what they would do once they made it to the top.
Jerking rather than squeezing the trigger, she fired her weapon. Immediately she ducked behind cover, but not before she saw the indian man stiffen and roll back down the hill.
“One down,” she said to herself as she drew back the bolt. Another round snapped into place, but she waited until the arrows rained down on their position before rising for another shot.
To her sides, she could hear rapid retorts as Emmy and Fox loosed dozens of bullets at the Navajo. When she dared to take a glance, she saw that they had mowed down over half the attacking force.
Fox had a different tactic. She was focusing on the Navajo pelting them with arrows. Her rifle cracked, white smoke drifting from the barrel, and an archer fell dead to the turf. Smoothly, she reloaded and took aim once more.
Luciana had to duck behind her tree cover once again. She shuddered when an arrow thudded into the ground behind her. Its trajectory would have put it right between her eyes if she’d lingered a second longer.
Willing her hands not to shake, she rose for another shot. The Navajo were less than twenty feet from the top, covered in sweat and howling like animals. At that moment, she had no sympathy for the ‘noble savage,’ and sought only to keep them far away by any means necessary.
Luciana was pleased to see that her shot had found its mark, striking the indian in the chest. He wailed for the first few feet he tumbled, then his head cracked against a stump. Then he was silent but for the sound his body made as it crashed back to earth.
She snapped the bolt back and levered another round into her chamber. When she rose up, there were only a half dozen targets left—but they were almost upon them.
Luciana screamed, her last shot missing badly, and then the big Navajo was on her. Using a club decorated with feathers and skulls, he knocked her rifle out of her hands. She fell backward, slamming hard on her rump.
The Indian raised his club over his head, and Luciana couldn’t look away as death closed in. Luck was still with her, however, as the indian’s foot came down awkwardly on a spent shell. For a moment he swayed, arms pinwheeling as he fought for balance. He pitched over backward and landed with his neck between the two fir trees. His legs kicked wildly, but he was unable to free himself.
Luciana snatched up the man’s club. With a tremendous swing she connected solidly between his flailing legs. His struggling stopped, and his legs drew in weakly in a feeble attempt to ward off more blows.
Pivoting on her heel, she snatched up her rifle while taking in the melee. Fox was being pressed by two hulking Navajo. She had her empty rifle in one hand and a bowie knife in the other, somehow managing to fend off the wild swings of both her adversaries. Some dozen feet from Fox she could make out the Marshall fanning the hammer on her pistol, each and every shot finding its mark. Bodies fell like rain before her tight lipped, no-nonsense assault.
For a moment she couldn’t see Sergio, then she spotted him scrambling backward on hands and heels. He was followed closely by an Indian with one arm hanging limp, crimson staining his skin from shoulder to fingertip. His other limb seemed hardy enough to crush the little Italian’s skull under the weight of his stone tomahawk.
Luciana had one shot left, so she brought the stock to her shoulder and vowed to make it count. She drew a bead on Sergio’s aggressor, led her target a bit, and fired. The Indian tumbled to the ground, sliding over the steep slope and disappearing from view. Angry shouts and cries of pain seemed to suggest the body had struck a few of the Navajo on the way down.
“Emmy!” shouted Fox. She was being forced back toward the edge of the hill, her attackers growing more bold with each swing. In desperation she flung her bowie knife at the man closing in on her left flank. The Navajo dodged to the side and her missile hit nothing but dirt, but it bought her a few seconds while Emmy reloaded.
The Marshall didn’t bother raising her pistol. As soon as the last bullet slid home she snapped the revolver shut and fired from the hip. The Navajo cried out as they were blasted with a volley, Emmy fanning the hammer until her chamber was empty. When it was, the two men lay on the dirt, one dying, one dead.
“Everybody all right?” Emmy called out.
“I’m in one piece,” Luciana said.
“I’m all right,” Sergio said. Fox grunted, ripping one of her knives out of the chest of a fallen adversary.
“Are they preparing for another assault?” Luciana went to the cliff side and peered over carefully. The Navajo were in full retreat, not bothering to take the bodies of their fallen. Some of them did stop to help their wounded companions, but by and large it appeared to be a rout.
“Woo hoo!” Emmy pumped her rifle in the air. “That’s right! You stick your tails between your legs and you run!”
“You ought to keep shooting at them,” Luciana said with a snort.
“Waste of ammo. They’re leaving, we’re breathing. Seems like a victory to me.”
“Stand, white man,” Fox said, helping Sergio to his feet. “You fought well today.”
“I can’t believe we’re alive,” he murmured.
She grinned, her eyes gleaming in the morning light. “You must have Crow blood.”
Sergio swallowed hard, too shaken up to be offended. His dark eyes found Luciana and his cheeks flushed. “My lady, if not for your timely intervention, I would surely have been slain.”
“De nada,” Luciana said, gracing him with a smile. He was handsome in a way, but a bit on the scrawny side for her tastes.
“Yeah, don’t fall over yourself thanking me and Fox or nothin’,” Emmy said, her green eyes mere slits. I only shot a dozen of them Navajo myself.”
“A dozen? You killed nine of them, Andicopec.” Fox bent low and used a dead enemy’s hair to clean the blood from her knives. Luciana looked away, her stomach twisting in knots.
“Oh, and I suppose you killed more’n me?” Emmy put her hands on her hips and scowled. “Coulda sworn that was you I heard going ‘Emmy, help!’”
“I was at a tactical disadvantage,” Fox said sheepishly.
“Tactical disadvantage, my ass,” Emmy grumbled. “I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’m not much for sticking around to see if they have more friends in these parts.”
Everyone nodded their assent. Emmy and Fox went around looting the corpses, operating with cold blooded efficiency. So insect like was their behavior that Luciana felt her skin crawl. The Marshall would be pulling off a pair of purloined leather boots while Fox was prying the dead man’s mouth open to look for gold teeth. Apparently, both women weren’t too happy with their take; A couple of decent metal knives, a hammer head without a handle, and one pair of fairly worn boots.
“Damn injuns ain’t got shit on ’em.” Emmy spit in the dirt.
“Do you have to do that?” Luciana grimaced. “It’s disgusting!”
“Oh, I’m sorry if I ain’t one a you petticoat wearin’ faintin’ at the sight of a spider type of gals,” Emmy said with a sneer on her freckled face.
“I don’t faint at the sight of spiders, Gringa, I can assure you of that.”
“Oh, so you don’t care that there’s a big, hairy one climbing on your foot?”
Luciana laughed. “Please, I am a professional card dealer, Marshall. You will have to get up much earlier in the morning to bluff me.”
“Who said I was bluffing?” Emmy’s expression was so utterly deadpan that Luciana couldn’t resist a quick glance downward. Her eyes widened in shock when she bore witness to the black and yellow hairy creature sitting placidly on her boot. With a shriek, she fell backwards, kicking both feet wildly. Emmy doubled over with laughter, and even Sergio seemed to be having a giggle at her expense.
Luciana stood up, spewing a stream of vulgar Spanish.