The sequel to a bestseller.
The soldier rose from the ground; his body racked with pain and his mind confused. He had no idea how long he'd been unconscious or where he was. He pushed his body into a sitting position and looked around to get some idea of his surroundings, all he could see was a mass of bodies torn apart from shells and bullets.
There was something else that he could feel; something not of this world had been here of that he knew, but his mind could not recall what had happened. Then he glanced at the closest body and saw the face of a man who had been burned alive. At this point, he had a vague memory that made him retch; "Oh Lord, we were fighting a force greater than man has seen, and I hope never to meet them again. They were evil beyond my worst nightmare."
He slowly got up and began to walk around, after a few steps he fell, his legs too weak to support him as he stumbled. Glancing around he saw a broken rifle on the ground; he picked the gun off the ground to use as a crutch, and he began to walk among the bodies.
He stumbled across the torn bodies of young men whose legs and bodies had got torn apart; it was plain to see that many hadn't died from the bullets but the loss of blood from the savage wounds of broken limbs and stomachs wounds.
Through tired eyes, he cried at the loss of these young lives. Before he could think what was going on, he was sick. Wiping his bloody hands across his face, he cried out "Lord, what happened? What have we done? All I can recall is endless fighting; we'd been fighting for so long I forgot what the war was over. One thing I am sure of is that it wasn't worth the deaths it caused, Lord. Why did you save me? There must have been more worthy men you could save; I was only a farmer before the war with no money to show for my years of struggling to feed the family. I doubt they are alive now."
Leaning on the gun he began to rise, his body aching as he fought to keep his balance and move. Through the foggy light, he saw a group of men wandering; from this distance, he couldn't see any uniform details, but the men appeared not to care about whose side they had been on only a few days ago; all they wanted was to get away from the horrors on the field.
The damp fog began to seep into his aching body despite the rising, and he sought a coat to cover his body. As he viewed the masses of bodies on the ground before him, he thought "It is not right, but they won't mind if I take a jacket as they do not need the coats."
All the bodies were so covered in blood from the battle it was impossible to make out what the coats got designed for, you could as easily chose a military jacket as you could select from a man of the cloth. All he wanted was a long coat, the nature of the former owner was not significant. Officers were issued thick jackets whereas a soldier got a thinner jacket that was waterproof. The soldier didn't care, he picked the one closest to him and put it on.
On the battlefield, the few survivors wandered picking the clothes of the dead off their bodies and trying to get some direction, but the war had taken men from their homes and forced them to fight in a strange land.
Men who days ago would have killed each other now walked side by side like the walking dead, none of the men seemed to know who they are, or where they were.
Without thinking, he crossed himself and said, "Will the country come back from the dead, Lord? All this death and destruction and for what? Are we better people now than before?"
He watched as the group gathered, and then as if by some message the men walked into the distance. He followed from a distance, he had no home or family, so any town would be better than living with the mass of dead he was standing in.
The men strolled, their minds trying to come to terms with the carnage they witnessed around them; in many places, streams ran red with the blood of the dead. Men gazed at the hills in the distance as if they some force pulled them to the limit of their endurance.
Days passed as the troupe walked to the hills, nobody knew what was beyond the hills; all they wanted was to get away from the carnage.
One man called to the crowd, "Does anybody recall where we are?"
Another voice answered, "The last place I remember being in is Richmond; we ended the battle fighting a force of demonic beings."
He stood for a while thinking what he could do after seeing so much death and destruction; those images would never leave his mind, the problem was how to cope with what remained of his life?
The soldier was far away in thought, so far that he almost missed a man asking him, "Can you save my soul, Father, after all this death?"
He blinked, and replied, "I am sorry, I'm not a priest, I only picked the coat as its warm and not to ripped by shells. I know how you feel, I was seeking a reason to all this death for myself, and I doubt I'll find one."
The stranger wiped the blood from his hands and yet on his way; rejoining the rest of the travelers. The longer the journey took, the fewer men would end it as thirst, injury and disease took their toll on the band. Finally, they made a town, walking down the street most of the men headed for the saloon to drown out the pain and misery. One of the men called over to the soldier, "If you're not a priest do you want to join us?"
The soldier thought for a few seconds, then he replied, "Thanks, but I'll pass; I don't think beer will ease my pain even if I spent my life drowning the pictures I see when I close my eyes."
The soldier turned to walk down the street; he had no plan in mind as to where to go, or what to do, then a lone voice called to him, "Do you think our paths will cross again?"
The soldier blinked in the heat, then replied, "Of that, I have no doubt. We will part company here, and you may take up arms to try to fight evil, and I may choose another way to fight the evil we have witnessed, but I am sure we'll cross paths again as I feel another path is opening for me." He strolled down the street thinking, "We saved Richmond, but at what cost? What did we unleash that was so evil we needed to band with the Union to hold back the forces of evil?"
At the edge of Richmond, the soldier came to a church; for some reason, he paused to cross himself and walked in. Shell holes scarred the old wooden doors, and the hinges bent from the force, but he pushed hard and slowly found his reward; the doors opened, and he saw the inside of the church bathed in the glory of the new dawn light.
He walked down the aisle to the altar and sat in the front row, only one thought crossed his mind, "Why me, Lord?"
The soldier glanced at the floor and saw an old battered Bible, picking it up, he saw the blood-stained edges of the pages; he thought "The people who came here for help in time of need were desperate and now they are gone. I can't imagine the horrors they knew, all I know is there has to be another way, Lord."
As he sat looking for a guide to where his life could go, a tiny bird flew in through the shattered window and rested at his side, the bird's wing got broken in the escape, and blood oozed from its side. The soldier tried to pick the injured bird up, but it fell to the floor and died, in his sadness, he cried out "Why, Lord? The poor bird never harmed anyone."
He sat in silence thinking of what to do next, outside he could hear the noises from the bar. He looked at the image on the wall, and said, "I know it isn't the right thing to do, Lord, but after all we witnessed I cannot blame the men for getting drunk as they need something to forget the horror. Their way is not my way, that's why I came to you, Lord. I need to find a way to help people cope with the horrors of war, not go on the rampage. I wish I could lay my gun down but this is a lawless land, and some men will take advantage of a man with no weapon. I realize this goes against your word, but you can see into my heart, and you know from now on I won't kill with no cause as I've seen too many lives lost in the war."
The man walked to the place where the broken altar stood and crossed himself before turning to step out of the broken doors and onto the street. Stepping outside he was met by the heat of the day, and a group of men fell through the doors of the saloon, as they landed one of the men shouted, "Are you coming with us?"
The man shook his head and replied, "No, I have my way to walk, but I am sure that we will meet again."
With aching legs, the man stumbled down the street to the makeshift shed that had once held the horses; the horses had long since gone to the war, but there was one remaining. One poor animal was in the shed; he was not in good health, so the soldier took pity on the beast and gave him some water and hay to try to aid his recovery. The two companions rested together while the soldier took a sip from his canteen as he thought what lay ahead for them. He was tired, and the horse was not up to traveling for distance anymore, so what he had to do had to start nearby.
The soldier raised his body and strolled to the door as the last of the other men poured from the saloon. One man called out, "Have you changed your mind; we're heading to Atlanta to join up with some stragglers from the war to fight the last of those creatures we saw here?"
The soldier smiled and said, "You have a destination in mind, and I have a destiny. I think the Lord is calling to me to do his work that's why I went to the church not the bar when we arrived. We are heading in different directions, but I feel we shall meet later; whether for good or evil is to be decided at a later time."
The soldier watched as the group headed out of town, a band of men with a destiny that nobody knew where it would lead them. He looked to the distance and said, "Lord, I am your servant now. Your work is my destiny; I will go where you wish if you will guide me through this unruly land. I understand your desires, but many won't see your light, and more will not want to see the light of your goodness. I will carry my gun, but only to defend myself, Lord, I've seen too many men die to wish to add to the cost of our freedom. One day, I hope to build a mission house to bring worshipers to your existence, until then I am at your service."
The hot sun beat down on the soldier as he walked to the stable to greet his horse; "I'll call you, Pedro, my friend; we have a hard and treacherous road to tread so we'd better get on our way."
The tired soldier and his aging stead slowly walked out of the town; they had no idea where the Lord would take them on his travels, the soldier knew that it would be to bring light to the darkness left after the war. The road became rocky and dried the more distance he put behind them, from this point, he realized there would be no looking back until his work got done.
The friends took to the road at a slow pace, the journey ahead was long, and they were tired; for now, they needed to find a place to rest as the sun beat down relentlessly on the parched earth around the travelers. It was a long time before the soldier saw what he sought, in the distance there appeared to be a small cavern that he could defend if necessary, not that he thought they would come under attack out here.
"Pedro, from here I have no idea where we'll go, other than where the Lord wishes us to travel. Before us is a wilderness of lost souls, I hope to bring some light into their lives; we've all lost a lot that we cannot replace in the last four years. The one thing I don't understand, and I probably never will, is why did the Lord choose me for this task?"
The sun beat down on the soldier and his new friend as they traveled across the country.
Sweat burned his eyes with salt, and the heat dried his mouth, but he wasn't going to stop doing the Lord's work for a moment; he had found a purpose that he found worthy at last.
The track was broken, and it drained their energy as they fought to maintain their balance, and to keep moving.
Day after day, the pair went on, days passed with no sign of life other than their constant companions - buzzards - waiting for them to fall by the wayside. The soldier blinked and felt the salt crack on his eyelids, but he looked into the sun and yelled: "You'll have to wait; I won't give up, the Lord has given me a task, and I will do his work."
The soldier crossed himself and thought "I hope I'm worthy of the Lord's work; I don't think we can keep on much longer." Day after day, he stumbled on, the rest periods had become more often and long as the journey took its toll on the friends. One night, the soldier poured out the last of the water he'd gathered during the cold nights, and he said to Pedro, "If we don't come to a town by nightfall, today will be our last, Pedro." Noting the sadness in his tone, Pedro snuggled his master, as if to say, "Thank you for the journey, my friend, it's been a nice time."
The soldier felt the hot breeze creeping along the gulley he’d found to take their rest in before the sun crept over the rim. He glanced at Pedro and whispered into his ear, “This could be our last day, my friend if we don’t find some shelter today. I don’t know what the Lord wanted from me, or if HE feels I’ve done as much as I can, but I hope we can find a town today.”
The soldier picked himself off the floor for what he thought was the final time, and dragged his tired body onto the dry road; he had no idea what, if anything, was in their path. The only certainty was if he didn't find a town today, tonight the buzzards would be feasting on their carcasses. Tired and aching as they were, the soldier and Pedro trudged down the path, the broken stones cutting into their feet and the dried sweat in their eyes making focusing hard; more than once they tripped and fell off their track, but desperate as they were they needed to find some food and water today, so they kept going,
The relentless sun beat down on the already tired friends making progress slower than it could have been. Each step they took seemed to take an eternity as they stumbled up the next hill; he didn't know why he kept moving and had long ago stopped caring. His only thought was he didn't want them to die in the desert.
The soldier tried to keep his mind active, but it kept wandering, thoughts about his past life - what he could recall - flashed into view, and he sighed as he thought of what he'd lost in the war.
As he tried to focus his mind, the questions of why he'd got spared, and why he'd gone into the church, not the bar occupied his thoughts as they walked.
As the sun rose, he caught sight of a glint on the horizon; he whispered to his friend, "It doesn't appear big enough to be a town, Pedro, but if it's only a barn we can rest there for a day."
The soldier dragged his tired body up the slope, never letting his eyes wander from the sight in front of him in case it disappeared; the closer they got, the lighter his heart became because it meant the friends could take some deserved rest in comfort for once.
Though the sun was beating down, and his lips were cracked and dry, the soldier bravely endured the pain as he struggled to keep Pedro, his horse, moving; he knew if they stopped, they would probably not have the energy to go on.
As he topped the rise, the soldier bent low with pain and exhaustion; he said, "Pedro, we made it; may the Lord be thanked for this shelter. The sun will keep the heat up, but at least we won't be out in for a few hours; take your time, my friend, you have plenty of hay to eat while I seek out some water for us."
Tired, aching, and weary, Pedro took a couple of mouthfuls before he collapsed on the floor, and fell asleep. The soldier lay with his friend for several minutes before the shriek of a crow woke him, getting to his feet, he shielded his eyes from the blazing sun and watched as the bird flew in a circle, looking at the crow, he said, "Why are you doing that, I don't think there are any people near?"
He had no desire for people, but his curiosity was roused, why would a bird circle unless there was a source of food to be found; that meant possible human contact.
"Lord, the last thing I need now is human contact; I had more than enough of their sins over the previous four years. I want some peace but finding peace in these troubled times is going to be hard. I don't want company, but Pedro and I need some food for the journey so we can do your work, so I suppose that means meeting people. I can't have everything, all I want is to stay out of trouble as I'm too tired to fight."
He walked back up the hill to the stable where Pedro lay dozing, "We can rest a while in the town ahead, Pedro; I would instead travel on a train of wagons, but we can't choose our companions when we do the Lord's work."
The horse trod slowly into the village, his rider urging him on despite knowing his pain.
Their ride had been long, and the tracks were rough and dry, but they kept going.
Pedro, the horse, hobbled and stumbled on the rocky road as the pair moved slowly into the village.
The pair came to the village center where the bar was, the man got down and patted his friend; "We can rest here for a day or two, Pedro. Our journey is long, and we're not getting younger, but the work of the Lord never ceases."
The Preacher took a look along the road they had traveled and thought Lord, your work is worthwhile, but at times I wish I could rest my bones, the way goes on forever. The Preacher took down his saddlebag and pulled out his Bible. The man of God had been on the road for so long he forgot the last village he went to, or from which direction he'd come; the Lord was guiding his travels.
He glanced behind him to see Pedro sipping the water from the trough slowly through parched lips, "I'm sorry that you've had to endure this torment," he said as he patted his friend. Pedro looked up from drinking with sad, tired eyes and returned to sating his thirst.
The Preacher left his friend and walked to the saloon doors, as he entered he paused to cross himself, "Lord, you've sent me a challenge I may not be able to fulfill this time, but I will try."
The saloon's noise died as the man on the Lord walked to the bar, he brushed some of the sand off his lorn brown coat, and said, "Can I have a glass of water, please?"
At the back of the room was the poker table, and the man dealing was the worst of the worst of the gamblers, Dick Sanders. Even the pit bosses stayed away from Sanders, men who tried to take Dick Sanders on, usually made the journey to the cemetery. The presence of Sanders meant nothing but trouble, so when he put the cards down and stood up, the room went deathly quiet.
"Well, what do we have here? I don't recall asking for a Padre in my town!"
The barman out the glass of water on the counter, and reached down for the hidden gun, expecting a gunfight, but Don Miguel saw him and shook his head. The barman stopped what he was doing, but kept his hand near the stock of the gun.
The Preacher said, "I don't know who you are, or what you've done. I do not think I am any threat to you, so keep your hand off your gun, or you will regret the next thing you do!"
Sanders sneered at his cohorts, "Look at that, if that wasn't a challenge, then my name isn't DIck Sanders and this ain't my town! What're you going to do Padre?"
"I won't do anything unless you do. I am a man of God and wish you no harm, but don't think you pose a problem to my soul if I need to kill you. I made my peace with God, and he knows what's in my heart."
The Preacher realized the situation needed to be handled carefully, so he placed his Bible gently on the bar, leaving his left hand on the cover.
The next thing Sanders did was the biggest mistake of his short life, as he reached for his gun.
Before he'd cleared leather, the Padre reached down to use his swivel holster and fired. The bullet tore into Sanders' hand, and he dropped the gun to the floor.
The next few seconds flew past, those at the scene didn't believe what they'd seen as Sanders lay before them clutching his gun hand. The crowd gathered around watching as the blood seeped into the sawdust and formed clogs of red amid the yellow dust.
As the Padre tied his gun down again, the barman asked, "As a man of God, how do you live with carrying a gun, as it goes against your reading?"
The Preacher smiled as he took the first sip, then he replied, "As I said, I've made my peace with the Lord. He'll take care of my spiritual needs, and he allows Mr. Colt to allow me to protect my physical needs. I won't kill a man unless it's in defense of life." Looking at the writhing figure on the floor, he finished, "That is why you're clutching your hand, not your stomach, sir. If I felt the need to have killed you, I would have done so on a clear conscience."
The Preacher finished his drink and was about to pay for it when the barman stopped him, "No payment is needed, friend, he had that coming; he's made our lives hell since he and his gang moved here, your payment is his silence."
The Preacher surveyed the town he was leaving, then said, "Pedro, our work here is done. The word of the Lord has been shown to be stronger than the speed of the gun."
Pedro, his horse, just neighed and looked at the rough track ahead. The work of the Lord never ceases, and the road is always hard.
The Preacher raised his hat and crossed himself, then whispered, "Lord, one day will it be possible for me to feel that you are happy with my work for you, and allow me to lay my hat down? Pedro is old and tired, and I am unable to ride for long these days as my back aches so much.
Lord, I know your work will never finish as the more Pedro, and I travel, the more people we find sinning against your word, would it be possible for you to give me a young friend to help, and to continue when I cannot go on."
He looked at the approaching hills and sighed. The road he had chosen was hard, and pleasures were few, but he knew he had found a calling, and he must go on preaching the word of the Lord as long as he could. He patted Pedro's aching shoulder, and said, "It would be nice, my old friend, if we could lay down to rest and be able to set a church up; to have a church rather than to be always traveling would be nice. I am past caring about female companionship. The Lord is my companion, and I no longer seek human friendships."
The dry land made travel hard for Pedro and the Preacher, so the Preacher got off often so Pedro didn't suffer too many hardships. He knew Pedro didn't have long to live, so he wanted to ease the pains his friend sustained on a daily basis. The Preacher's only joy was the honest friendship of Pedro if he lost Pedro he knew he'd be lost without his friendship. Though he didn't wish to think of the obvious, he realized the day was approaching. "We can rest here a while, Pedro, the Lord alone knows our destination, it could be near, or it could be days away, so there's no rush."
The friends sat on the side of the road, Pedro sniffing the air and the Preacher laid on his back, his mind tracking their time together and their travels. "We've covered many miles, Pedro, and yet there is more work to be done; I feel neither of us is of this world for long. Do you think that we'll die on the road with no resting place for our soul, Pedro?"
"I know you can sense the presence of the people following us; I've noticed their presence too for some time. I don't think they'll attack; they're more interested in where we are heading I guess. If they wanted to attack, they've had many opportunities, and yet they stay out of sight. There is the possibility that they are a wagon train, but we are far from the routes and heading away from the towns and cities, Pedro."
He sat watching the hills, his hand resting on his gun as he studied his Bible, "Don't worry, Pedro, if they make a move I can take at least one down before they get us."
For some reason, Pedro didn't react to his friends' words this time; he only kept his eyes on the hilltop. The two of them gazed into the haze coming over the top of the hill, and Pedro neighed, "Steady boy, let's see what they want before we make a move."
The rider came over the top of the hill, his horse at the trot and his gun tied down; the Preacher's gaze moved to the hilltop, but he saw no glint to show a gun was pointing his way, so he eased the pressure on his trigger.
With a hundred meters to go, the rider dismounted to tether his horse to a bush. After getting down, he carried on by foot making no move to go for his gun which was within reach; still unsure, the Preacher put his pistol back in its holster. "Preacher, as you see I come to you unarmed and in peace; I seek nothing but your company for our train as we travel the same path, and you need protection as the area is riddled with men who'd shoot first and not ask any questions."
The Preacher glanced in the direction of the stranger, then replied, "Thank you, my son, we do need protection as neither of us are young and can get attacked easily. I cannot always rely on the grace of the Lord, or the speed of my reactions to keep me alive. I don't know where I am heading; I leave it to the Lord to guide my travels. I am doing his work, so the Lord knows where his works need to get done the most."
"Even so, it's better to travel in a train than alone, my friend. Our caravan could use a preacher to keep our souls intact for the perilous journey ahead; we can be of service to each other."
"I thank you for your kindness, Pedro and I are tired and too old to travel much longer; I wish to find a place to set a ministry up and gather a regular flock; I realize this will be a hard task in such a godless country, but it's my wish."
"It's a noble desire, father, and we wish more people shared your wishes as we've got run out of more towns run by vicious landowners than we care to count. All we want is to settle down and grow crops, in a way our goals are the same, father. I see you carry a pistol, how does that fit in with your belief as a man on God?"
"I'll use the pistol only in defense; my Bible will protect my soul when I crossover and Mr. Colt protects my body when I can't calm a raging war. I would prefer not to use it, but if I need to I will, I have faith that my conscience is clear if I need to kill somebody."
"What do you think is the cause of most of the trouble you get, your faith, or being a man of God?"
"I've found that many men make the mistake of thinking that as a man of God, either I won't draw on them or that I will be slow. I turned to the Lord after the war. I saw too much blood spilled not for it to have any effect on my soul. I know good men who took to the gun after the war as the result of killing people. That could easily have been me if I hadn't visited the church, not the bar. I tried to find an answer more than drown out the pain."
"I think we'd better get back to the trail, father; I don't like being in the open too long in these parts, you never know who's watching."
The two men rode back to where the wagons had halted; riders had taken posts on nearby hills in case of a surprise attack, though there was nobody in sight.
When the friends neared the wagons, the man said, "I'm sorry, father, I never asked your name."
"Don't worry, Pedro and I have been on the road so long I've forgotten my name. When you don't talk to many people, you forget many things, the one thing I never forget is the Lord's love for me."
The preacher tied Pedro to the last wagon in the train and watched as stumbled on legs that would no longer support his weight; Pedro looked up, and the Preacher smoothed his head. With tears in his eyes, the Preacher said, "I know, my friend, your time is near we both know it. The Lord is calling you to him, and I'll say yes, Lord when does ask for you to join him. Thank you for your company on this part of my journey,"
The wagons moved slowly over the hard ground, the leader of the troupe kept watching the hills as if he was expecting trouble, but so far, none had come. He called out, "Preacher, why do you think we are not being followed?"
The Preacher replied, "I'd venture that there are better pickings in the area, and we pose little threat; I wouldn't get complacent, I'm sure we'll see somebody soon enough. When they do get here, I feel we'll be asking for the Lord's help to stave off the attack."
"In that case, it's a good thing we have a Preacher among us."
"I'm not a Preacher, only a soldier seeking peace amid the horror of a war that cost us too many lives. I only came across the word of the Lord because I got drawn to a church, not the bar. I can ask from the Lord, but I don't feel my words will have more meaning than anyone else's."
"I'm not so sure, you said you got drawn to a church, that could be your calling, my friend, anyway, we'll need all the help we can get our hands on; I hope the Lord isn't against you using the gun on your hip."
"No, sir, he isn't; I have faith that HIS word handles my soul while Mr. Colt will guard my mortal body. I won't kill without reason, but I will defend myself with a clear conscience. I can't condone the killing I did, but I will do no more unless I am defending somebody."
"But isn't that what you fought for in the war?"
"In the beginning, I believed in the cause, the longer we fought, the less I thought the reason justified the cost we'd had to pay; then at the turning point of the battle for Richmond, our Generals unleashed an unearthly foe that to this day is still making us pay the price. I heard reports of men being burned to deny these devils their payments, and there is talk that they are heading across the South ahead of our forts. I feel the draw of the work of my Lord to tackle these beings wherever they go. If you will excuse us, it's been a hard day on the road for Pedro and me. We'd appreciate a space to rest our tired bones after we've had a drink to go to bed on, I have the feeling tomorrow is going to be just as hard as today. The road is long, dry and rough, and we need as much rest as we can afford to take. I doubt Indians will attack the train as we're not carrying valuables, but we still need to watch the hills, so we're aware of their movements."
The Preacher ambled with Pedro to the back of the caravan and took place where he could sit and pray. Then he said, "Lord, please look after the people in this train, and look after Pedro as he will be with you soon."
The night was calm with only the slightest breeze as if all of nature knew something sad was happening; then as Pedro laid his down he sighed and passed away, his tired body no longer able to carry on the Lords' work with his master.
The Preacher sat cradling his friend and sobbed into his matted mane, "Farewell, my friend, today you part this life, but you will always be in my heart."
A few hours later, and the sun tried to cheer the day up, but it appeared if even the sun didn't want to come out to say farewell to Pedro this morning. The preacher carried the body of his friend out of sight of the caravan and put him to rest in a shallow grave, and then he sat for a minute or two in prayer before the other people rose for breakfast.
As he walked back to the caravan, he passed the caravan master who said, "I'm sorry about Pedro, the two of you were close friends, that bond will always be there; I know as I still feel the loss of one of my first horses, even though it is many years since he passed over. The pain never goes, and it should not go, we can only hope to live the life our close ones would wish us to. What are your plans now?"
"My priority is to get a horse as my journey for the Lord is not over, and I have a hard road ahead. I heard from a man in the last town I visited that there are men headed from Fort Harborough, their destination is to Fort Karnak. I think those souls will be in need of a man of God when they get to their destination."
"I assume you know what the locals call the area, and why."
"if you mean Boca del Infierno, yes I know of the name and its meaning. The area is not called Hells' Mouth for no reason, to the North you have Cheyenne, to the West are the Kiowa peoples, and to the South are the Apache. The only route out is the route in, and more aggressive Indian tribes you could not mix. Other than that, there's the Kiowa legend of the Grey Ones, people who live in caves on the hills that even the goats can't get to as they appear to cling to the face of the cliffs as improbable as it would seem."
"This doesn't bother you?"
"I never said I wasn't worried, but working for the Lord causes conflict wherever I go, why should this journey be easier or harder than any other?"
"Do you believe in the legend?"
"I've seen many things, some I wished I hadn't, and weird as it may seem I do believe in the stories as we released some evil creatures a while back, and we have no way of knowing how they will change to suit their needs. I want to travel with your wagons and give you the word of the Lord, but the Lord has called me, so I must go where HE leads me."
"You are crossing dangerous territory, aren't you worried about the Indians?"
"My concerns are more about crossing Quantrill's guerillas than any tribe; you can talk with men who have values, but with men, with a limited vision hell-bent on vengeance you have little to speak of ."
"As I can't change your mind, all I can do is wish that the Lord can walk with you as I think you'll be in need of his help in the next few months."
"Of that, I have no doubt, but I need to go where the Lord wishes me to go not where I'd like to go. Are we far from the nearest staging post?"
"I'd say we're no more than a days' travel at the most; it won't be much as we're beyond the control of the law here. You could trade for a horse, or you can wait for the weekly stagecoach."
"I have only the Lords' word to trade; I have few needs, so money is scarce. With the news, I have heard my journey isn't one that needs to be done quickly as the fort needs to get rebuilt from the floor after the recent attacks and fires,"
"By the look of things, you've got your mind set on the journey. May the Lord travel with you, you're welcome to travel with us, I have no idea where we'll end up."
"I thank you, but I need to do Gods' work, and he is my guide. If his work needs to get to Hells' Mouth, then that is where I must go."
The Preacher climbed on the wagon at the rear of the train and crossed himself as they left Pedro behind, as he took a last glance at Pedro's resting place he thought; "Soon his body would be food for the birds, one died so others may live; such is nature."
The Preacher said a prayer of thanks for the life of his friend and tried not too hard to think of where his trail was leading; other men had gone before him, and none had been able to stand the dry heat or the constant Indian threat. He hoped being a man of God would help him, but he held no illusions of what he was heading for, a land where only the devout and stout of mind and body could hope to survive.
The dry land made the wagons travel at a snail's pace on the final day of his time with the caravan; there wasn't much too see other than a land wrecked by battles with nature and the weapons of man.
Looking at the disappearing land he thought "Time is all I have, Lord. Your work will be done, and I hope you will be pleased with the work of this mere mortal. I don't know what your plan is for me, but I think I am destined to follow this path."
The wagons bumped along the road; even the carrion stopped following the travelers when it became easy to see they were heading to an area that held little hope of food.
The burning sun began to drop below the horizon, and the temperature dropped rapidly as the wagons approached the station; the station was no more than a few sheds and a telegraph post.
The train came to a halt, and the wagonmaster returned to the back; "This is the staging post I mentioned, are you certain you wish to change here? You're welcome to stay with us."
The Preacher climbed down from the caravan and thanked the man for his help; then he commented; "I am sure, I have time on my hands and a new destination to travel to, the work of the Lord has no time limit; only a need to get done."
The two men walked to the telegraphers' office to ask when the next coach heading South was coming. After several minutes checking the timetables, the clerk replied, "You're lucky, there is one due out in the morning if it arrives."
The Preacher enquired, "What do you mean if it arrives?"
The clerk shrugged and said, "Out here, we are always at risk of being held up by guerrillas on the run. Last month we had two bands stage a gunfight outside; the fight went on for the afternoon and into the evening before they decided that they were well matched and left."
The wagonmaster asked, "If this coach doesn't arrive, when is the next one coming through?"
The clerk smiled and commented, "That's a good question, we're not on a regular route, we only get visitors if someone like you is heading South. That reminds me, I never did ask why are you heading this way?"
The Preacher wiped his hatband clear of sweat and replied, "I need to get to Fort Harborough as I hear they have a train heading to Fort Karnak, the Lord's work needs to get done where HE sends me. I am aware of the nature of the area, and the legends of the Kiowa, but Satan moves swiftly where the Lord has no ground to fight."
The clerk smiled, then said, "That explains a lot. Your arrival comes at a time when the army is bringing some prisoners down to Fort Harborough. As much as I admire you, and the need for the work to get done, some of these men have no place for the Lord in their life."
The Preacher smiled, crossed himself and commented, "A few months ago, I would have been one of those men but I lost so much in the war that I needed to have something to hold onto, or I would have joined the bands of men roaming the area with no wish other than to fight a lost war forever. Do you have a well close, I need to fill my water bottle if I am staying the night?"
The clerk smiled and replied, "Yes, it's out the back, but you can have a drink with me if you wish."
"No, thanks for the offer but I haven't drunk liquor for months, and I have no wish to have some now."
"The only bed I can offer is the floor as most people who come here pass through with no more than a drink of water for their horses."
"The floor will do fine, thank you, if you saw where I'd slept before I joined the caravan you'd understand."
The wagonmaster commented, "If you are set for the night, I'd like to get over the hills before midday, so we'll be on our way."
The Preacher thanked the wagonmaster for his kindness and wished him well for his journey, as the train pulled away from the station, he turned to the clerk and asked, "When did you get the message about the prisoners?"
The clerk stopped to think, then replied, "It must have been about a week ago, is there a reason you asked?"
"Nothing serious, I was wondering if I'd know any of the prisoners, the men I left said they were coming this way."
"I can't say there will be anyone you knew, but there is a good chance as this is the collection point for all men going to Fort Harborough; God bless them, they'll need all the help they can get."
The Preacher walked around the back to the water pipe and ran a mug of water, then he stopped and stared into the distance; he was right the prisoners were on their way.
He walked around to the clerk and said, "I thought you said they were coming tomorrow?"
The clerk looked startled as he replied, "That's what I got told!"
"Unless my ears betray me, I can hear a coach approaching at high speed. I would have liked the rest, but the work of the Lord is never done, and the sooner I get to Hell's Mouth, the sooner I can start to rebuild the church I have planned."
There was a silence as the hills muffled the sound of the hooves from the station, then the coach appeared. When the team had drawn to a halt, the man riding shotgun got down and unhitched the horses before he led the team to the water trough for a well-earned drink.
While the horses drank, he went over to the clerk and said, "We're sorry for being early, there is an outbreak of smallpox in the area, and we needed to leave without being fully prepared." he took a glance at the Preacher, then said, "Are you our passenger? I can't guarantee the conduct of the men, pastor."
The Preacher smiled, then commented, "I wouldn't worry about the men's conduct, I may carry the Lord's word now. Not long ago, I would have been one of the men you are moving. If you are worried about my willingness to shoot, I am more than capable of killing in defense, though I'd prefer to make a convert to God's word."
The man replied, "That's good to know as we'll be heading into a land where the white man is the enemy; I don't mean to dissuade you, but I don't see you getting many converts in Hell's Mouth."
"That will only prove the power of the Lord more, the greater the challenge, the greater the victory."
"I'll give you credit, you need balls even to go where we are headed, we've no choice, but you could have stayed with the wagons and been miles away by now."
"You are wrong; I have no choice either, two days ago the Lord came to me in my sleep and asked me to go with you. I figured if HE asked me to go there, then HE has a good reason and who am I to question his judgment?"
"Okay, it's time we're heading out, if we leave now we can get to Fort Harborough before the light goes; I don't want to be in the open when we have Indians and renegades on the loose. I'd keep your pistol cocked and ready for the rest of our journey; we have no idea who we'll run into."
"Is it far to the Fort?"
"No, if we had a new team, we'd get there in two hours, but our team is tired and hungry, but we can't delay any longer as news of the outbreak needs to be taken to the fort in case they get some illnesses."
With his gun hanging by his side, the Preacher got into the carriage and waited for the team to start pulling the coaches; the coaches jolted to a start, and the horses moved out. It was easy to feel the tiredness in their bodies as the carriage bumped over the stony ground. The Preacher never took his eyes off the hills, or his hand off his pistol for the entire five-hour ride to the fort. On arrival, the team got taken to the stable to have a well-earned rest after such an arduous trip.
The driver and the shotgun walked over to the offices to see the Officer In Charge of the fort, Captain Jonas Dawson, they paused for a second before knocking as they knew the news they brought was terrifying.
After a minute or two, a voice from inside the office called them in, and there sat Jonas Dawson, head in his hands, "Hello, gentlemen, I believe we have some guests of the Union heading to Fort Kernan in your charge."
The driver replied, "Yes, sir, but our news is more important than our prisoners, at the station we left there is a smallpox outbreak, and several people have died."
Jonas sighed, then lifted his head, "I got told that for my sins I'll be the Officer in Charge of the convoy to Fort Kernan; this is my punishment for striking a superior to defend a lady's honor. I will take charge of your prisoners once I've had the opportunity to see who is going on this journey to hell with my men."
While Jonas and his men took their last look at the fort which had been their home for the previous four months; none of them had any illusions about what they were heading for, so they visited the chapel where they found the Preacher deep in prayer, all they could hear were the words, "Why me, Lord?"
Now finished, on sale within a week on Amazon and Draft2Digital.