Convert this page to Pilot DOC FormatDisclaimers: Xena Gabrielle, Argo, Ephiny & everyone else mentioned from the show are property of MCA/Universal pictures, as we all know. There is a bit of subtext, nothing big but if it bothers you... :-( sorry.
"What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies."
The agony in her side was persistent, she’d long since given up on trying to drown out the pain. As it was she was having to dig deep into her last reserves just to stay conscious. She’d lost a lot of blood and she knew it, but she’d have laughed at the irony that the bullet which was causing her torment was also keeping her alive...if it would not have hurt so much. She raised her dark head and peered with piercing, ice-blue eyes, darkened with pain at her goal, so close , yet so agonizingly far away. ‘C’mon, what’s ten more feet to the fearless Zeen “Lawless” Zamorra?’ She gazed at the barn again, it looked so small, so far away, but it was dark and hopefully dry. The driving rain had stopped a half an hour ago and now it was just spitting and the cold wind was whipping her raven hair painfully across her face. ‘The one time it decides to rain in this Godforsaken desert and my own men take everything from the last hold-up and leave me for dead.’ The cold early March wind picked up and sent a chill down the wounded outlaw’s spine, resulting in a streak of colorful language as she struggled with the barn door...
* * * * * *
Part I. Chapter 1: Discovery
Jim walked out to the barn as the first rays of sun lit the vast Texas sky. This had been his routine for the past five years, ever since Andrew MacGab had gone to South Carolina and hired him and a few others to work on his cattle ranch in Texas. Jim was a free man, always had been and he worked for fair pay and free shelter. MacGab was a gruff but fair man, his wife Corra was kind and soft-spoken, and their two daughters, Rielle and Lilly were the sweetest young women he’d ever met. Lost in thought, Jim didn’t notice the broken latch as he pushed open the large door and lit the lantern inside the dark barn...There was the unmistakable sound of a pistol being cocked behind him, then a low, rich, cold female voice drawled, “Don’t move or I’ll put a bullet in your skull.”
‘Damn! Damn! Damn!’ Jim stood frozen, the lantern still in his left hand. “Yes ma’am, I don’t mean no harm.”
Zeen watched the pistol shake in her hand and cringed, thinking, ‘I’m supposed to be the best damn gunfighter this country’s ever seen and now I can’t even keep a steady hand!’ A tremor of pain shot through the tall outlaw’s side as she fought to stay on her feet, hold her pistol steady, and keep down a wave of nausea. “Bring me some water then saddle up a horse.”
“Do it!” the outlaw growled. ‘Zeen you’re foolin’ yourself, you can barely stand much less ride!’
“Yes ma’am,” Jim said, not daring to look over his shoulder at the intruder. He walked out and filled a waterskin, certain that the gun was still trained on his back. He reentered the barn slowly and was quite surprised to see the intruder collapsed on the dirt floor. He saw that her clothes were soaked through with blood and the woman’s face was so pale that she looked like a goddess, carved from pure marble. “Oh Lord! The poor child been shot!”
* * * * * *
Rielle, Andrew MacGab’s eldest daughter, was enjoying the luxury of sleeping late since the rest of the family had gone to the next town to shop for spring supplies. She felt safe enough, their hired man, Jim and his wife and children were there so she wasn’t completely alone. She was fully enjoying the quiet serenity of the early morning until it was shattered by someone frantically calling her name, “Miz Rielle! Miz Rielle, ya got ‘t come quick!!” Jim called, shaking the young woman. It was nearly impossible to wake Rielle up in the morning, she’d slept through more than one stampede before. “Miz Rielle, ya got ‘t get up now!”
Rielle rolled over and mumbled something incoherent, then finally popped open one mist-green eye when Jim wouldn’t stop shaking her. “Wha...? Jim, it’s barely sunrise. What’s going on?”
“Ya got ‘t come quick now child, there’s a lady in the barn ‘s been shot. She’s lookin’ deathly pale Miz Rielle.”
Rielle rubbed a hand across her eyes, still half asleep and muttered, “Someone got shot in our barn?”
“Rielle!” Jim nearly shouted in exasperation.
The young strawberry-blonde finally sat up and pushed the warm covers away. “I’m coming, just let me put on some decent clothes.”
“Thank ya, I’ll wait outside.”
Rielle reluctantly got out of her warm bed and walked over to the small straight-backed chair where she had discarded her riding pants and plain white blouse the night before. She hastily dressed, threw on her barn jacket and hat headed out the door where Jim was waiting for her.
* * * * * *
Jim handed Rielle the woman’s pistol after he had emptied it and pocketed the bullets and said, “Hold on ‘t this ‘till we get her in ‘d house.”
Rielle briefly examined the weapon, then shoved in the waist band of her pants. “Jim, do you think this woman is dangerous?”
“Yes Miz Rielle. Even with a bullet in her I believe she dangerous. C’mon now ‘fore she dies.” Jim led her to the barn, whispering for her to stay behind him. This slightly miffed the young woman but she knew that Jim was only trying to keep her safe. The large man cautiously opened the barn door and peered inside, he released the breath that he’d been holding when it was apparent that the woman was still unconscious but breathing. “Okay, c’mon Rielle.”
Rielle stepped around Jim and stared at the fallen woman. For a moment a picture flashed in her mind; the woman was deathly pale, lying in a sarcophagus and Rielle was there refusing to say good-bye ...“Let’s get her in the house! Now!”
Jim easily lifted the tall woman and carried her to the house with Rielle close behind. He carried her into the small spare bedroom and laid her on the bed. Jim went to boil some water and Rielle stayed by the woman’s side. ‘God, why does she seem so familiar? I know I’ve never met her before, I’d have remembered...’ Rielle’s thoughts ceased when she found herself staring into unfocused , yet impossibly ice-blue eyes, eyes that she’d seen before, if only in a dream.
Zeen opened her eyes slightly and felt a presence beside her, oddly though, she did not feel threatened by it. The wounded outlaw tried to shift when she realized that she was on a soft bed and not the dirt floor of the barn. The movement sent a jolt of burning pain through the woman’s entire body.
Rielle saw the woman’s eyes suddenly darken and snap into focus and she immediately tried to calm her, “Relax, relax you’ll be okay.”
Zeen focused on the mist-green eyes of the young woman who had softly spoken to her, and for a moment she felt as if she had looked into those eyes a thousand times before. The outlaw blinked, and tried to sit up, causing another stab of pain. “You should’ve left me where I was kid.”
‘Kid?!’ Rielle narrowed her eyes and said, “Hey, it wasn’t my idea to drag you up here! I was interrupted from my rare opportunity to sleep late because you decided to try to bleed to death in my barn!”
The outlaw’s cold ice-blue eyes flashed and she used all of her strength to snap, “Do you know who you’re dealing with little girl?”
The young woman’s green eyes darkened and she said with a smirk, “Yes, I’m dealing with someone who’s in a very bad position to argue with anyone at the moment.”
Zeen stared at the young woman who’s eyes were narrowed under the wide brim of her hat. ‘Wonder if she’d have that attitude if she knew that she was talking to a ruthless criminal.’
The door burst open a moment later and Jim entered with an arm-full of clean bandages and some water. “Miz Rielle, is everythin’-”
“Where’s my gun?!” Zeen snapped.
Jim swallowed under the icy stare and said, “I guess it’s still out in the barn, ma’am.”
“You’re lying,” the outlaw growled. “I want it back.”
“Well you can’t have it back yet,” Rielle cut in angrily.
Both Jim and Zeen snapped around to stare at the young woman in disbelief. The gunfighter’s jaw dropped to the ground, no one had told her ‘No,’ in a long, long time. Zeen narrowed her icy gaze on the young woman and growled, “I don’t suppose either of you know how to remove a bullet without allowing the rest of my blood supply to drain out of that damned hole.”
Jim and Rielle exchanged looks, then the young woman said, “I guess you’ll have to talk one of us through it.”
‘Great! I get to chose between the little girl and the guy I threatened to kill!’ Zeen looked from one waiting face to the other, she was about to pick the large man when the young woman , Rielle threw off her hat, revealing a cascade of rumpled, red-gold hair. The lamplight caught the gold highlights causing a halo effect around the young woman’s head, and for the first time, Zeen noticed how young and innocent Rielle really looked. “You do it...Please.”
Rielle nodded and spoke no words but her kind green eyes told the hardened outlaw that she would do everything in her power to ease her pain and keep her alive. ‘Been a long time since I’ve met someone who values my life, and to think a complete stranger...’ Somewhere in the darkness of Zeen Zamorra’s hardened heart a ray of light broke through and the ice slowly began to melt.
* * * * * *
“Are you up to this?” Zeen asked, seeing Rielle’s face pale at the sight of her wound.
Rielle swallowed thickly and looked at Zeen with grim determination in her green eyes. “I’m up to it. Are you?”
Zeen sighed and answered, “I don’t really have a choice.”
“Yeah, I guess you don’t...um?”
‘Great! She wants to know my name! Zeen Zamorra, the thief and murderer. Yeah, she’ll really want to help me when she finds out who I am,’ Zeen thought. “I’ll tell you after.”
“ ‘After’,” Rielle muttered. “What if...”
Zeen saw the sudden doubt in the young woman’s eyes and said, “Hey, you’ll do fine.”
“Yeah, okay. Where do I start...?”
Zeen was sure that she would pass out again, dark spots blurred her vision as she fought for consciousness. She was fighting so hard that she barely heard Rielle’s comment. “S-sorry, what’d you say?”
Rielle concentrated on staying calm and keeping her hands steady, though it was clear to her that the woman’s ghastly wound was infected. “I found it, the bullet. What do I do next?”
“Try to get it out with the tweezers...slowly,” Zeen said through gritted teeth.
“Jim, get the bandages ready.”
“Yes ma’am, I’ve got ‘em right here.”
Rielle attempted to extract the bullet from the inflamed flesh with the tweezers but it was to no avail and she saw that it was causing the woman extreme pain. “I can’t...it’s not coming out.”
“Listen to me.” Zeen caught Rielle’s eyes and said sternly, “You can do this. You’ll have to get it out with the knife.”
‘Oh God! That’ll kill her,’ Rielle mentally groaned. “That’s going to kill you!”
‘Could be.’ Zeen looked the young woman in the eyes again and said, “No it won’t. I haven’t died yet so that’s not going to kill me.”
“Ma’am,” Jim cut in and handed the outlaw a small tin flask.
Zeen drained the flask of strong whiskey and sighed as it burned its way down. “Thanks.”
Jim nodded and went back to his chair on the other side of the room. Zeen turned to Rielle and said, “Go on, get it out.”
* * * * * *
Rielle had finally managed to extract the bullet without the woman losing more blood, but the woman still passed out the second it was out. The young woman was now concerned with the infection in the wound, as it was still very inflamed and the older woman’s temperature was rapidly climbing.
** Zeen was trapped in a dark, hot place...She couldn’t see a thing but she could hear them and feel them closing in on her. Her breathing became ragged as she heard them drawing nearer, their anguished, maddening cries roaring in her ears, accusing her, cursing her, haunting her. They were coming for her now, to take her life as she had taken theirs. Nameless, faceless reminders of the past pulled her farther into the darkness and closer to the hell that she had created for herself nearly ten years past, when she’d pulled the trigger on an outlaw not unlike herself... ** “No! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Rielle shot bolt upright in her chair across the room, awakened by the sudden cry from the bed. She lit the lamp and wandered over to the bedside, the woman was sweating heavily and mumbling in her sleep. Rielle reached out to check the woman’s fever, causing her to start thrashing about wildly crying, “No! Don’t take me! Stop! I’m sorry!” Rielle jumped back, barely missing a powerful punch to her midsection. Shaking her head, she walked across the room and retrieved her chair, placing it next to the bed. She managed to run a cool cloth over the woman’s forehead despite her wild thrashing, Rielle then spoke in low soothing tones, eventually calming the feverish woman. Rielle finally allowed herself to rest when Zeen’s breathing was regular and her mumbling had stopped.
Zeen squinted in the early dawn light and marveled that she was still alive. ‘Three or four more days and I’ll be gone, they won’t even remember that I was here.’ Zeen rolled her head to the right, surprised to see the young woman, Rielle dozing in a straight-back chair beside her bed. ‘God, did she stay there all night?’
“Hi,” Rielle said sleepily, peering at Zeen with half closed eyes.
The outlaw nodded curtly and mumbled, “Water please.” Rielle was instantly up, pouring a glass and handing it to the woman. Zeen drained the glass and was surprised that it was cool despite the heat in the small room. ‘Maybe I still have a little fever.’ She turned her gaze back to Rielle, who was watching her through heavy lids. “Did...uh...Did you get any sleep last night?”
“Yeah, after...yes,” Rielle answered.
Zeen narrowed her eyes and asked, “After what?”
Rielle rose from her chair and said quickly, “I’d better check those bandages...and the infection.”
“Hey!” Zeen snapped, stopping the young woman in mid step. “After what?”
Rielle sat back down with a sigh and said, “Your fever was extremely high, you were delirious...I guess you were having a nightmare or something because you were screaming and thrashing about like a mad woman.”
Zeen looked at her hands and asked softly, sounding almost fearful, “Did I hurt you?”
Rielle shook her head and placed her hand on the woman’s shoulder, causing her to flinch. “Sorry. You didn’t hurt me at all. You calmed down after I...after a while.”
Zeen nodded, then looked Rielle straight in the eyes and said, “Thanks for saving my life.”
The outlaw sighed and looked out the window, not wanting to see the young woman’s reaction, she muttered, “Zeen...Zeen Zamorra.” She heard the young woman’s sharp intake of breath and readied herself for the fury and hatred that was sure to come. ‘Since when did I give a damn about what people think of me?’
“Zeen Zamorra? The Zeen Zamorra? Lawless Zamorra, fastest gun in the west...or any place else for that matter?” Rielle gushed. ‘I can’t believe this! They’ve made her out to be some sort of evil entity who plagues the countryside robbing and killing in cold blood! I think someone must’ve exaggerated because all I see is an angry even vulnerable woman.’
Zeen turned an icy glare on Rielle, which instantly melted into a look of confusion when she saw the warm smile on the young woman’s face. “You’ve heard of me, that’s no surprise. So how come you’re not running for your life? I am after all a cold-blooded killer you know.”
“If you’d wanted to kill me I think you already would have,” Rielle said simply.
“Yeah, well you took my gun away,” Zeen muttered.
“If you were a cold-blooded killer you’d have found another way,” Rielle responded stubbornly.
Zeen narrowed her eyes and hissed, “Yeah, well I’m a ruthless outlaw so you’d better watch your back!”
Rielle just smiled lazily and said, “I’m going to get your breakfast now. Don’t do anything stupid like trying to get up.”
Zeen just stared at the young strawberry-blond as she left the room and muttered, “ ‘Don’t do anything stupid??’ ‘Don’t do anything stupid!’”
Jim threw a glance over his shoulder at the sound of Rielle’s musical laughter. “Morning Rielle.”
“Morning Jim. Mmm, you’re cooking this morning?”
“Yes ma’am...I didn’t think you got much sleep last night.”. “Thank you Jim...I’m starved and there’s a cranky outlaw upstairs waiting for her breakfast.”
“Yep, Lawless Zamorra, the gunfighter of Ghost Creek, the Dark Plains rider, the fastest gun alive!” Rielle said as Jim’s face grew grim.
“I knew dat woman was dangerous Miz Rielle. You best let me tend to her ‘till she can leave.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary Jim,” Rielle replied.
“Rielle, dat woman’s a murderer and a thief, she ain’t safe ‘t be around,” Jim said sternly. “I don’t want mister MacGab ‘t come back home ‘t find his house robbed an’ his daughter killed.”
“Jim, I am not a child. My father left me in charge of the house while they went to Sawmill. I think I can take care of myself!” Rielle shouted. If there was one thing she couldn’t stand it was being treated like a child. “And don’t you think that if Zeen Zamorra wanted me, or you for that matter, if she wanted us dead don’t you think that she’d have killed us already?”
“Calm down now Rielle, I’m just sayin’ she’s a dangerous person and you should be careful. Them people don’t give a damn about who they’s hurtin’ as long as they’s hurtin’ someone.”
“There are some people like that,” Rielle agreed. “But I don’t think Zeen’s one of them anymore.”
Jim turned back to the food and said, “Just be careful Rielle.”
* * * * * *
“I heard that argument and you don’t have to worry...I’ll be out of here by nightfall,” Zeen muttered as Rielle entered with a tray laden with food.
Rielle nearly dropped the tray when she heard the dry comment and she quickly said, “You most certainly will not! Like it or not, you need to rest and make sure that the infection doesn’t get worse, and those stitches...”
“Okay! I’ll give it another day or two.” Zeen got a look from the young woman then added, “Or three.”
Rielle flashed a charming smile then said, “Well, here’s breakfast...I didn’t know what you like so I brought some of everything.”
The outlaw grunted at the sight if the amount of food that was piled up on the tray and said, “Thanks, but there’s no way I can eat all that. I’m likely to bust some stitches.”
Rielle grinned broadly and said, “Oh don’t worry, I’ll eat what you don’t finish. Now eat up...Do you want that biscuit?”
Zeen nearly cracked a smile but caught herself and muttered, “You can have it.”
“Thanks.” Rielle took the biscuit and ate it before the outlaw’s sharp eyes could even catch the movement.
“Huh, the only thing I’ve seen disappear that fast is money,” Zeen drawled, this time allowing a small grin to break out onto her face.
“They’re really good! Do you want me to go get one for you?” Rielle replied, trying not to look as embarrassed as she actually was.
“No, sit down and eat some of this stuff. I sure as hell can’t eat it all.”
“Okay but don’t let me eat it all, you’re the one who needs to get her strength up,” Rielle said, sliding her chair over to Zeen and the food.
‘Geez, I must’ve lost some of my edge along with half my blood supply yesterday! The boys would fall over dead either from shock or laughter at this little slip of a girl ordering me around. Hell, if one of them so much as looked at me the wrong way they’d be in pain for a week...if not dead,’ Zeen mused. She was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of Rielle’s voice. “I’m sorry, what’d you say?”
“Nothing, I mean are you okay? You looked a little dazed,” Rielle said through a mouthful of bacon.
Zeen gave a lop-sided grin and said, “I’m fine.”
“You haven’t eaten much,” Rielle commented.
Zeen glanced at the demolished tray and burst out laughing at the innocent comment. She then started cursing through her laughter because of the pain it was causing her.
‘Cold-blooded criminal? Nah, not now,’ Rielle thought. She had frozen in mid chew and stared at the laughing woman. “What? Is there something on my face? Hey, you’re hurting yourself you big goof! Zeeeen! What’s so funny?”
Zeen caught her breath and answered in her normal fashion, “Nothing. No. I know. Nothing.”
“Okaaay...if you say so.”
“I say so,” Zeen declared. “So...you don’t look like a cattle rancher to me.”
“Oh I’m not. I’m a cattle rancher’s daughter,” Rielle said in a sarcastic tone.
“Where’s your family?”
“In Sawmill getting spring supplies.”
“Aren’t they a little late?”
Rielle shrugged and said, “We didn’t have the money earlier.”
Zeen nodded in understanding, then was unable to suppress a yawn and was immediately told to go to sleep and once again warned about doing anything ‘stupid’. “What if I have to go to the out house?”
Rielle rolled her eyes and said, “Well I can’t stop you, but be careful...Oh and we have indoor plumbing. The washroom’s down the hall and if you have to go do it now because I have to take a long, hot bath to relax a little.”
“Go ahead, I’m going to sleep now of my own will, before you club me over the head and render me unconscious,” Zeen said sarcastically, dodging her own hat which Rielle hurled in her direction.
* * * * * *
Chapter 2 : Getting to Know you
It had been four days since Zeen Zamorra had shown up half dead in Andrew MacGab’s barn in the small town of Cherry Creek, and Rielle could tell that the outlaw was getting restless. Zeen was up and about despite Rielle’s protests and the young woman took this as a sure sign that Zeen would be leaving soon. ‘If I ever hope to get out of this place I’ll have to go when she does. I just hope she can wait a few more days until Lilly and mom and dad get home.’
Zeen crept down the hall silently, she glided across the wooden floor without making a sound. She had searched almost the entire house for her gun and still had not come across it. The kitchen was the only place in the house she hadn’t searched yet. The outlaw peered around the door frame and spied Rielle at the stove with her back turned to her.
“I hate it here,” the young woman stated, her back still turned to Zeen.
Zeen froze, not sure if the young woman was talking to herself or if she had somehow heard her enter the hall. Zeen coughed just to make her presence known in case it was not before.
“Yes, I was talking to you Zeen,” Rielle said, turning to face the outlaw.
Zeen sat at the table and questioned, “How’d you know I was there?”
Rielle shrugged and muttered, “I dunno, just knew.”
Zeen shrugged and gladly took the cup of tea offered by Rielle. ‘What’s to hate around here?”
Rielle sat across from the gunfighter and answered, “Everything.”
Zeen took a sip of the tea and said, “Why? It’s safe, your family’s here, it’s...”
“It’s dull and my family, my parents want me to be something that I don’t want to be. There’s nothing here for me,” Rielle burst out. “My father already has my life planned for me! I’m supposed to marry Peter Williams who lives on the next ranch, and that new school house down the road...that’s for me as soon as it’s finished! There’s a whole world out there and I’m trapped in Cherry Creek, destined to be a simple-minded farm boy’s wife and a school marm!”
Zeen stared at Rielle from over her cup and thought, ‘What brought on that outburst?’
“I’m sorry...I just feel trapped here,” Rielle muttered.
“What makes you think that any other town’ll be different?” Zeen asked.
“I don’t know. I guess if I travel around enough I’ll find one that’s different,” Rielle answered. ‘Hint, hint.’
“It’s too dangerous out there for you to be traveling alone,” Zeen said, actually concerned that Rielle would run away. ‘A good kid like her doesn’t need to run into someone like me out there.’
‘Oh you big dumb outlaw, take a hint!’ Rielle thought. “I’m a grown woman, I can take care of myself.”
Zeen leaned across the table so that her piercing blue eyes were inches from Rielle’s soft green ones, and said, “I’m guessing that you’ve never been farther away from here than maybe the next town. You don’t know what it’s like out there, I do and let me tell you, if you go out there by yourself you’ll wind up either dead or...doing what you have to do to eat.”
Rielle looked the outlaw straight in the eyes, her gaze never faltering, and said, “What do you care?”
Zeen glared icily at the stubborn woman, then pushed away from the table and went off to brood in her room.
That evening, as Zeen was still brooding, she heard a knock at her door. “Come in.”
Rielle entered the room with Zeen’s pants, black leather duster, and her gun. “I cleaned these for you. There’s a hole in the coat because of the bullet. I couldn’t do anything for your shirt so you can keep that one, dad won’t mind. Here’s your gun too.”
“Thanks,” Zeen said coolly, taking her things from the young woman.
“You’re welcome,” Rielle muttered as she turned to leave. “Oh, by the way, do you own a palomino mare?”
“Argo?!” Zeen jumped up. “Where is she?”
“In the barn,” Rielle answered calmly. ‘She’ll be gone by tomorrow. Damn!’ the young woman cursed. “She showed up a few hours ago. I’d have told you sooner but you were brooding.”
“I wasn’t...I have my gun now ya know!” Zeen growled, growing more irritated by Rielle’s unconcerned shrug.
“It’s empty,” Rielle stated. “And you wouldn’t shoot me.”
‘I wouldn’t,’ the outlaw’s mind stated quite simply. “The hell I wouldn’t! I’ve done it before! And what the hell good is a gun with no bullets?”
Rielle looked at the hardened outlaw with soft mist-green eyes, and said, “You’ve done it before but would you do it again?”
Zeen looked at the floor and muttered, “I’m going to check on Argo.” As she stomped out the door without her heavy black duster, she heard Rielle mutter, “It’s cold out there.”
Zeen slowly made her way to the barn, cursing the cold air, the pain in her side, the bastard who’d shot her, and Rielle for being right...it was cold out there. The gunfighter entered the barn and despite the sharp pain in her side she ran to Argo, her only true friend for the past few years. “Argo! I knew you’d get away girl, but how’d you find me?” The golden mare gave an amused snort and nudged her mistress lovingly. Zeen checked the mare over thoroughly and was satisfied with her condition and surprised that Argo had brushed ‘till she shined and well fed and watered. “Well girl, we’ll be outta’ here by sun up tomorrow.” The horse nodded approvingly and listened patiently while her mistress spoke. “Argo, I don’t know where we’ll go, but it won’t be like before. Yeah girl, I can’t do it anymore, the stealing and the killing...I just don’t know what else to do. I’m wanted in at least two states, one of which I wasn’t even in when the crime was committed. I don’t know...it’s time for me to start making up for...everything.”
Outside, Rielle moved her forehead from the barn door, pulled her jacket tighter around her shoulders, and knocked lightly on the door. ‘So the outlaw is going to reform!’
“Come in,” Zeen muttered, annoyed that her time with Argo was being disturbed.
Rielle opened the door and tossed Zeen her black coat. “You’ll catch a fever out here in the cold.”
Zeen caught the big coat easily and raised a dark eyebrow at the young woman. “Thanks mom.”
Rielle moved farther into the barn and sat down across from the outlaw. “There’s food inside and I need to check your bandages. Does it still hurt Zeen?”
Zeen’s eyebrows disappeared behind her dark bangs and she said with a slight grin, “Uh...how long were you outside the door?”
‘She couldn’t have heard me,’ Rielle thought. “Um...not long...I just came to give you your coat. Why?”
Zeen forced the grin off of her face and said, “No reason.”
Rielle stared at Zeen for a moment, trying to read her unreadable expression, then shrugged and muttered, “Well, come in soon unless you’re planning to ride off in the middle of the night with no food and no bullets.” She looked up to see an amused sparkle in the outlaw’s piercing blue eyes and a grin tugging at the side of her mouth. “ Not that you couldn’t get food and bullets if you wanted to.”
Zeen’s eyebrow arched higher. “Mmmhmm.”
“What? What’s so funny?” Rielle demanded.
Zeen rose silently, walked over to Argo’s saddle bags, pulled out a small mirror and tossed it to Rielle, who picked it out of the air with surprising ease. “A vain outlaw? That’s not surprising.”
“Oh it’s not for me, I rarely use it...but I think you should take a look,” Zeen replied.
‘Do I want to?’ Rielle asked herself. The young woman raised the mirror and blushed a deep crimson at her reflection. Across her forehead was the swirled impression of the barn door. “I um...fell! Yeah, I didn’t...that wasn’t me knocking on the door before...I hit my head! It’s not funny! Zeen stop laughing!”
“Damn! Damn! Damn! That - oww!” Zeen howled in between fits of laughter.
“Will you shut up?! Zeen!” Rielle cried, kicking the outlaw in the behind. “I don’t wanna’ have to put those stitches back in, Outlaw!”
“I’m sorry. That is just the...the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Zeen said with instant calm, her eyes though, still danced.
‘How’d she do that?’ Rielle asked herself. “So...the big bad outlaw isn’t all that dark, huh?”
Zeen’s shield went up instantly and she said icily, “Oh I’m dark all right, as dark as they come kid. It’d be a wonder if I ever feel anything but darkness ever again.”
Mist-green stared into ice-blue and the gentle young woman said to the older, hardened outlaw, “I don’t believe that, not about you.” ‘Because for some reason I feel like we’ve been through this before.’
Zeen broke their gaze and Rielle got up to leave. “Hey Rielle...What do you care?”
The young strawberry-blond stopped at the door, more from hearing the outlaw speak her name than anything else. ‘So, she does know my name.’ She turned and answered simply, “Everyone deserves a second chance Zeen...even you.”
Part II. Chapter 3 : Whither Thou Goest...
Zeen sat close to the fire, trying to get some warmth from the flames but the night air still chilled her to the bone. ‘Guess I got a little too used to that warm house...forgot what it was like,’ she thought. She got up to check on Argo, slipping the mare an apple that she’d purchased at a small market along the road. She patted the mare on the shoulder and sighed, “You’re a good girl Argo.” The horse nudged Zeen in the chest, pushing her towards the fire. Zeen complied and went back to cleaning and shining her guns. A slight sound sprung the outlaw’s sharp senses into action, she took up her gun and crept around the side of the old ruin that she was using for shelter...
Rielle choked back a scream as she was grabbed around the neck from behind. When the pistol clicked she managed to get out, “Zeen, it’s Rielle!”
The outlaw loosened her death-grip on the young woman and spun her around roughly. “Are you suicidal??!! Don’t ever sneak up on a wanted criminal! What the hell are you doing here anyway?”
“I followed you,” Rielle said so softly that the outlaw’s sharp ears barely caught the sound. Rielle refused to look into Zeen’s fiery eyes, afraid of the anger she would see in them.
“I followed you,” said a bit louder. “I’m coming with you.”
“Oh no you’re not! No way kid, I don’t think so.”
“But-” Rielle started to protest.
“No, I’m taking you back home now,” Zeen said firmly.
“No Zeen, please!” Rielle looked up at the outlaw with tears threatening to flood her eyes.
‘That won’t work...’ Zeen sighed and said, “Look, I’m tired and I don’t need the argument...we leave first thing tomorrow and you’re going home if I have to tie you to my horse, ya got that?”
Rielle drew a shuddering breath and nodded slightly.
“C’mon over to the fire. I don’t have much food and well, I’m probably the worlds worst cook so if it’s bad...I wasn’t expecting company.”
Some time later, Rielle broke the silence by saying, “Zeen?”
“What?” Zeen said gruffly, not looking up from her gun polishing.
“I’m sorry if I made you mad. I shouldn’t have...I just thought...,” Rielle stuttered, not sure of what to say for once.
Zeen barely glanced at Rielle and shrugged, she then stood, pulled a thick blanket out of one of the saddle bags and tossed it to Rielle. “It’s getting late. Try to get some sleep, we leave at first light.”
Rielle watched as Zeen pulled her coat tighter and tipped her hat over her eyes and she realized that the outlaw had given up her only blanket. “Zeen?”
“Go to sleep,” Zeen muttered.
“This is your only blanket,” Rielle stated.
“I know. Keep it, I’ll be fine.”
“Thanks Zeen, ‘night.” “Good night Rielle.”
* * * * * *
Rielle watched the ground rush by beneath them and remembered why she hated to ride...it wasn’t the speed really, just the height. She closed her eyes and clung to Zeen’s waist tighter, hoping that they would stop soon. ‘Why does Argo have to be so tall? And why on earth are we going so fast? She’d probably have done better if she had tied me to the horse...at least then she could breathe,’ Rielle thought. “Oh Lord! Zeen!”
“What?!” the outlaw snapped, stopping the mare and turning a little to look at Rielle. “You’re not gonna’ be sick are you? ‘Cause if you are-”
“No! No, it’s not that, I-”
“Are you hurt?” Zeen asked, a little worried and very irritated.
“No, I’m...I’ve been better, but are you okay?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m kind of...scared...of heights and-”
“What heights? We’re in Texas!”
‘Ugh, big dumb outlaw!’ Rielle mentally groaned. “The horse, Zeen. Your horse is tall.”
“Oh. So what’s your point?”
“Nothing, nothing. Let’s just go already,” Rielle said, exasperated.
“No,” Zeen said stubbornly. “What were you going to say?”
“Get off it Zeen. I don’t even remember what I was going to say now,” Rielle muttered.
“Sure ya don’t,” Zeen grumbled.
“You’re stubborn, aren’t you?” Rielle said as Argo fidgeted beneath them. “You’re going to get us both thrown!”
“Fine! I’ll drop it!” Zeen said loudly.
“Fine! I was just going to apologize for holding you in a death-grip and probably making your wound worse!”
“Oh,” Zeen said softly. ‘Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!’ she chided herself. “I’m okay...I’m sorry for yelling at you but-”
“You don’t have to apologize...it was my fault too. I guess I’m just as stubborn as you are.”
“Yeah well,” Zeen muttered.
“Really though, have you been taking care of that?” Rielle asked seriously.
“Yes, it’s healing quickly. Stop worrying, okay? This is small, I’ve had much worse before.”
The gunfighter’s blue eyes darkened and she answered coldly, “Yes.”
* * * * * *
The two travelers stopped around midday to rest and eat a sparse lunch. Rielle had been pacing back and forth for about ten minutes, seeming to hold a conversation with herself. “Hey! Would you stop that? You’re making me dizzy!”
“What?” Rielle stopped abruptly.
“That pacing and mumbling.”
“I wasn’t pacing!” Rielle said, then looked at the path that she had worn in the ground. “Okay, I’m trying to think and I’m frustrated! So what if I was pacing?”
“Like I said, it’s making me dizzy,” Zeen muttered.
“Here’s a solution; look somewhere else!” Rielle said, annoyed.
Zeen rolled her eyes at the young woman and said, “There is nowhere else to look!”
“Fine,” Rielle said calmly. “Then look at me, there’s something I want to say to you.”
“What?” Zeen asked warily.
“Why don’t you let me go with you? I know it’s dangerous and sometimes hard, but...”
“I’m a wanted criminal Rielle! There are bounties on my head...I’m sure you’ve seen the signs, “Zeen ‘Lawless’ Zamorra, wanted dead or alive,” and then whatever price they get for hunting and killing me. Rielle, they shoot to kill and they don’t care who’s in the way...I have to worry about keeping myself alive and I can’t afford to worry about you.”
“So in other words, I’d just be a useless tag along,” Rielle muttered in a hurt tone.
“Rielle, you don’t ride-”
“Doesn’t mean that I can’t.”
“You don’t hunt-”
“I can cook though.”
“I bet you can’t fight-”
“I’m pretty good with a quarter staff.”
“A what? What good is a staff against bullets? I bet you’ve never handled a gun in your life.”
There was complete silence from Rielle for a few moments, then she said, “Don’t underestimate me Zeen...you don’t know me well enough to doubt me.”
‘She did handle saving my life pretty well,’ the outlaw mused. She sighed and said, “You’re a good person Rielle, I’m not. You deserve better than cold nights on the hard ground, and hot days with little water and whatever small amount of food I can scrounge up...my temper, and the unnecessary threats to your life.”
“I’m stronger than I look Zeen,” Rielle replied.
“Then there’s me, I’ve been robbing banks and killing innocent people for ten years now...sometimes I lose my temper, I could hurt you.”
“Zeen, you may not think so but I see a good person in you...I don’t know what made you the way you were but you have the power to become the person who you really are inside.”
Zeen looked away from the compassionate green eyes before her and muttered, “I wish I could see what you do Rielle.”
Rielle placed a hand on the outlaw’s shoulder and this time the woman did not flinch. “Look at me Zeen Zamorra, give yourself a chance. You hear me?”
Never one to back away from a challenge, Zeen said, “I will.”
“Good,” Rielle said with her soft smile. “Now, you can take me home if you want to...but I won’t stay there...because I can’t.”
“Just try,” Zeen said, wondering why Rielle had suddenly narrowed her eyes. “Rielle wh-”
The outlaw was cut off by the bang of the pistol that Rielle had drawn out of nowhere and fired past her head. Zeen could smell the smoke that was floating around the barrel of the gun. The gunfighter’s first instinct was to draw her own weapon but she was too stunned to do so. “Wh- what the h-hell? Why the hell did you do that?”
Rielle gestured for Zeen to look behind herself, which she did slowly, trying to keep one eye on the young woman. When she saw the rattlesnake lying a half a foot away from her, she spun back around and stared at Rielle who had already put her gun away.
The strawberry-blond shrugged and said, “Uh...lucky shot? I brought the gun just in case. I really wouldn’t use it on a person...ever.”
‘Lucky shot?? God, I should’ve heard the damn thing behind me!’ Zeen thought. “Why’d you let it get so close?”
“I didn’t see it ‘till it was right there,” Rielle answered simply.
“Well that was a damned good shot! You were taking quite a chance...if you had missed...”
“The snake wouldn’t have and you’d be poisoned,” Rielle finished.
“Yeah. Thanks Rielle,” Zeen said, then added without thought, “I owe you big time.”
“You’re welcome,” Rielle replied. “And normally I’d say you don’t owe me anything, but now I’m going to take you up on your offer...”
‘Oh shit! Damn me ‘n my big mouth!!’ Zeen cursed to herself. “Guess we’ll be heading out to Cisco to pick up some money that I have stashed there. Then we’re getting the hell outta’ Texas.”
‘We? We?’ Rielle thought that she had heard wrong. “Did you say ‘We’ ?”
“Yes, I said, ‘We’,” Zeen muttered, then was knocked over by Rielle’s bear hug.
“Thank you Zeen! I swear I won’t be any trouble!” Rielle cried.
“You’d better not be or I will send you home...Rielle, I can’t breathe...Rielle, I really don’t want that dead snake smeared all over my coat...Rielle can you hear me? I have this hard outlaw slash gunfighter image to keep up you know, and hugging does not go along with the job description.”
The young woman let go of Zeen and said, “This is great! Now I can write stories about what I see! I’ll be seeing the world, meeting new and interesting people...Hey Zeen?”
‘Oh God help me, she’s a chatterbox!’ Zeen thought. “Yes Rielle?”
“Where will we go after we leave Texas?”
“I don’t know, maybe South Carolina.”
“South Carolina? How come?”
“That was my home...before.”
“Oh,” Rielle said softly. “Well, I’m sure your family will be glad to hear that you’ve changed.”
Zeen gave a bitter laugh and said, “I haven’t changed yet.”
“Yes you have Zeen, yes you have.”
* * * * * * Chapter 4 : A Good Deed
Rielle had kept up with Argo’s steady pace for hours, stopping only once for a short rest. The young woman was determined to prove herself to Zeen so she kept herself as quiet as possible, trying not to ramble on and on like she usually did and she did her best to ignore the burning that had spread through her legs and back. ‘I’m not going to give her a reason to send me home.’
“Rielle,” the quiet outlaw broke the silence between them. “Get up here with me.”
Rielle hadn’t noticed the outlaw stiffen in the saddle as her sharp senses picked up on something. “Why? I’m doing just fine down here.”
“I don’t doubt that but there’s something going on up ahead and I want to check it out,” Zeen said dryly.
Rielle blinked a few times then managed to stutter, “You...you’re letting me go with you?”
“Well if you want to wait here-”
“No! I’m coming, I was just-”
“C’mon!” Zeen reached down and hoisted Rielle onto Argo’s back with amazing ease. She kicked the horse into a gallop and they headed off in the direction of the noise.
Minutes later the trio came upon a group of rough looking men who were gathered around a crude pen which contained a ferocious looking black stallion. Zeen cursed under her breath at the sight of the wild horse. It was obvious that the animal had been whipped into its frenzied rage. “Hey boys, whatcha’ doin’?”
The men spun around at the sound of Zeen’s low, cold voice, then laughed nervously when they saw her piercing blue eyes blazing through the shadow cast over them by the brim of her black hat. One bold man stepped forward and said quickly, “This doesn’t concern you little lady so why don’t you just head on home.”
‘Ooo! Big mistake buddy!’ Rielle thought as she felt Zeen tense up in front of her. The young woman wisely chose to let go of the outlaw, and waited excitedly to see what would happen next.
Zeen calmly climbed down from Argo, stretched to her full six feet, and strode over to the man who had spoken to her, well aware of the eleven guns pointed in her direction, one of which was on her side. ‘Brave kid,’ she thought of Rielle. She fixed her icy gaze on the man who she was now towering over and said through her teeth, “I’m not little and I’m no lady...ya got that?”
The man swallowed and shook his head at the menacing woman who looked like Death it’s self, tall, dressed head to toe in black, and her eyes were unnatural, cold and almost wicked. ‘She’s more fierce than that crazy stallion over there,’ the man thought nervously.
“Now,” Zeen addressed the group in a cold voice. “I want in on the fun...what’re you doing with that horse?”
The group exchanged glances and decided that it would not be wise to refuse this woman’s request. “Well, it’s like this; whoever can stay on that crazy beast for a count of ten wins fifty dollars.”
“Fifty dollars? You boys don’t value your lives very much, do you?” Zeen drawled lazily. “Look, I’ll make a deal with you. Put your guns up, I’m not lookin’ for a fight.”
Reluctantly, the group did as they were told and the short man spoke up again, “What kind of a deal?”
‘This is going to make a great story! I just hope she doesn’t do anything-’ Rielle’s thoughts were cut off as Zeen began to speak again.
“I ride that horse for a count of twenty, then I’ll take it off your hands for you. What do you say?”
‘Stupid!!’ Rielle nearly shouted her thought out loud.
The men whispered between themselves for a moment, then the short man said, “Twenty-five count and it’s a deal.”
Just as the two were about to shake on the deal, Rielle called Zeen over, greatly irritating the outlaw. “What do you want Rielle?”
“Are you crazy Zeen?” Rielle whispered through clenched teeth.
“What are you talking about?” Zeen’s voice had taken on a very low, controlled tone.
“You can’t ride that crazy horse, you’re wounded remember!”
“Hush! I know that Rielle, but they’re beating that animal just to make a lousy fifty bucks! Should I allow that to go on?”
Rielle let out a sigh and muttered, “No.”
“I’ll be fine. Okay? I’m pretty strong.”
“That’s an understatement,” Rielle muttered.
Zeen gave her a raised eyebrow then turned back to the men. “Deal.”
The outlaw walked into the pen with no expression on her face. The stallion was watching her with fiery black eyes as he fought against the four large men who were trying to restrain him. ‘Okay horse, this is for your own good so try not to kill me.’
‘This is crazy!’ Rielle thought as she watched Zeen approach the wild horse. ‘She could have scared all of them away and taken the horse...but I guess that would be like stealing and she doesn’t do that anymore.’
Zeen felt the familiar rush of adrenaline as she neared the large black stallion, she could feel the horse’s anger and fear and she knew that he would put up a fight. ‘Well now, I haven’t lost a fight yet and I don’t feel like starting a losing streak anytime soon.’
Everyone watched in suspense as Zeen got closer to the horse. Everyone was sure that the woman would lose the bet, everyone except for Rielle. As Zeen got ready to climb onto the horse, Rielle noticed something that the rest of them hadn’t; the look on Zeen’s face. The outlaw’s eyes blazed with more fire than a whole group of wild horses and a sort of feral grin had broken out on her face. ‘That horse hasn’t got a chance,’ the young woman thought with a smile.
Zeen climbed onto the struggling stallion and nodded for the four men to let go of their binds on the animal. The men scattered as the horse started rearing up and kicking, trying to throw Zeen off of his back. The outlaw was having a grand time despite the fact that with every kick, twist, and jump from the huge stallion a sharp pain shot through her side. ‘If I bust these stitches Rielle’ll kill me...but God this is fun!’
Rielle shook her head at the sight of Zeen being tossed around like a rag doll, but she knew that the woman was winning the fight. ‘Only five more seconds left!’
“Okay horse,” Zeen managed to say, as the horse kicked wildly and screamed its protest. “Let’s give ‘em all a shock. What do you say?”
The horse reared up one last time and then gave up the fight and calmed down. Zeen rode the stallion around the ring a few times , then flashed a crooked grin over the group of stunned men to Rielle. The young woman returned the gesture and Zeen brought the horse over to the rail and pulled him to a halt. “Well?”
“Deal’s a deal, I suppose,” the man grumbled. “He’s yours, but can I ask how you tamed that beast?”
Zeen shrugged and answered, “I have many skills.”
The man nodded and opened the gate to let Zeen ride out. “Thanks boys...Oh, and if I ever see you whipping another animal for sport again, I won’t be so nice. Ya got that?”
Some of the group glared at Zeen, some of them nodded, but all of them kept their mouths closed while she passed by them.
“Well,” Rielle said as Zeen rode up alongside her. “What are you going to do with that horse?”
“Well,” Zeen drawled. “Unless you want to keep him, I’m going to find someone who will take care of him.”
“Well you’d better start looking then because Argo here is tall enough for me! That horse has got to be twice Argo’s size!” Rielle said quickly.
“Yeah he’s big all right, but he doesn’t need me on his back right now so slide back while I get on Argo,” Zeen said, gracefully sliding out of the stallion’s saddle.
“Oh, I’ll walk Zeen,” Rielle said, about to jump down from the golden mare’s back.
“No, no, stay up there Rielle. You need a break ,” Zeen said, stopping Rielle’s movement. “Plus, I don’t want you walking alongside that stallion, he kicks.”
“No kidding,” Rielle muttered, but stayed where she was.
Zeen held onto the stallion’s lead rope with one hand and took Argo’s reigns in the other, Rielle held onto Zeen. “I told you there was nothing to worry about.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Rielle replied over Zeen’s shoulder.
Zeen raised an eyebrow , though Rielle couldn’t see it , and said, “Oh you weren’t?”
“Nope, that horse didn’t have a chance,” Rielle said.
“You sound sure of that,” Zeen commented. ‘Been a long time since anyone’s had faith in me.’
“I was,” was all Rielle said.
Zeen just shook her head and wondered why Rielle trusted her so freely. The young woman had just accepted her without passing judgment on what she had heard about Zeen’s not so distant past. Zeen snapped out of her thoughts at the sound of Rielle’s panicked voice. “Huh? What’s wrong?”
Rielle held her hand out in front of Zeen’s face, it was covered in blood. “Rielle, are you hurt?!”
“No! You’re bleeding!” Rielle yelled in Zeen’s ear.
‘Damn, the stitches broke!’ Zeen cursed to herself. “Calm down! The stitches broke, I’ll be fine.”
“Aren’t you going to do anything about it?”
“Yeah, as soon as we get to camp,” Zeen replied dryly.
Rielle rolled her eyes and muttered her annoyance under her breath, Zeen could have sworn that she heard the young woman say, ‘Big dumb outlaw.’ but she wasn’t in the mood to argue.
* * * * * * Chapter 5 : Nightmares, Memories, and Bedtime Stories
Rielle tied off the end of the stitches that she had just redone then whispered to Zeen who had sat perfectly still through the painful procedure, “It’s done.”
Zeen muttered a thanks and watched Rielle cross to the other side of the fire to retrieve something from her bag. The young woman came back across , sat down next to the gunfighter, and shoved a clean shirt into her hand. “What’s this?”
“A clean shirt. I brought an extra one of dad’s in case you needed it,” Rielle answered. “Give me the other one, I’ll see if I can clean it up.”
Zeen complied, then shook her head and laughed as she thought, ‘It’s been a long time since anyone’s taken care of me, it feels...different.’
“Zeen,” Rielle said , bringing the older woman out of her thoughts. “You look like hell, try to get some sleep.”
Zeen raised an eyebrow at the bold young woman who imitated the gesture then spun on her heel with a laugh and went over to her bed roll on the other side of the fire. Rielle settled into her notebooks and started the story of Zeen Zamorra and the wild black stallion. On the other side of the fire Zeen went about cleaning and polishing her guns for a while before drifting off to sleep.
It was the same dream she always had, guns firing through the thick smoke, flames pouring out of the shops on both sides of the street, the screams of the innocent people that she and her men were killing for nothing more than their money...this time though, when the breeze came in and swept the thick blanket of foul smoke away, Zeen recognized one of the bodies among the faceless others...Rielle...
Rielle was up instantly, her gun drawn, her notebooks on the ground at her feet, forgotten for the moment. She quickly scanned the campsite for any intruders that Zeen may have seen but there were none and she quickly discovered that the outlaw was still asleep. “Nightmares.”
“Nooo! What have I done?!! Rielle...WAKE UP! C’mon Wake UP!” Zeen cried from the other side of the dying fire.
Rielle put her gun away and walked over to Zeen. She knelt down beside her friend and prayed that she did not startle the woman out of her sleep, despite what people may have thought about her traveling with an outlaw, Rielle did not have a death wish. “Zeen, I’m right here.”
Zeen’s dream abruptly shifted to one she had never had before yet it seemed somehow familiar...There was a war going on outside and she wanted to be out there helping but she had to help Ephiny deliver her son...then they brought her in, wounded. Everyone told her to let the young woman pass over but she couldn’t, wouldn’t give up on her. She told her friend to fight, but Gabrielle passed on and she just started shouting, “Wake up! C’mon Gabrielle, wake up! Wake up!”
“Zeen,” Rielle said softly. “I’m right here.”
The outlaw tossed in her sleep and began sobbing again...She couldn’t let her best friend go, she needed Gabrielle too much, so she ignored the sorrowful looks directed at her and began to breathe for Gabrielle. “Breathe Gabrielle! Don’t leave me! Breathe!” When her efforts failed and she thought that she had lost her best friend forever, she sobbed louder and pounded on the young woman’s lifeless chest... Rielle reached out to comfort the sobbing woman and got the briefest flash of a scene, perhaps a memory, when she touched Zeen...She was in a beautiful place and her loved ones, all the people she had lost, were welcoming her. It was a peaceful place but something was missing, she couldn’t quite figure out what but...Xena. She heard her friend’s cry and knew that she did not belong in this place...Rielle shook her head, blinked, a few times and called to her friend once more, louder this time, “Zeen wake up. I’m okay.”
Still deep in her dream, Zeen stopped breathing for a second...Gabrielle’s eyelids fluttered, the warrior knew what she saw. “Gabrielle?!” A second later, the little bard took a gasping breath and came back to life. The warrior didn’t know whether to fall to her knees and thank the gods or to fly to Mount Olympus and thank them face to face. She didn’t do either, she just held onto her friend and didn’t let go...
“Zeen, wake up,” Rielle said once again, shaking Zeen’s shoulder.
Zeen’s blue eyes shot open and she found herself staring up at Rielle’s concerned face. “Rielle?” She asked, not sure if she was still dreaming. She reached up and tentatively touched Rielle’s face and seeing that she was really there, threw her arms around the startled young woman in an enormous hug.
Rielle returned the hug, then whispered to Zeen, who still hadn’t let go, “Hey, you okay?”
Zeen shook her head and immediately released Rielle. Attempting to put up her walls and failing miserably, she said, “Yeah, I’m fine...sorry if I startled you.”
“You didn’t startle me Zeen,” Rielle started, unsure if she should push Zeen about her nightmares. ‘The worst she could do is close up and refuse to tell me anything,’ she told herself. “It uh...it sounded bad Zeen.”
“It was strange, bad at first. I thought I...God, I never killed women and children.”
“I know,” Rielle said with compassion.
“But when the smoke cleared I saw...I had...God Rielle, I...”
“Zeen, it’s okay,” Rielle said softly.
“No! Rielle I swear if I ever hurt you...,” Zeen said intensely, looking Rielle straight in the eye.
“If you ever did, it wouldn’t be on purpose,” Rielle said softly. “Are you okay now?”
“Yeah, it was just so strange...like a memory or something, only I’m not sure if it was mine or not. It was like, like...”
“Like another lifetime,” Rielle finished absently.
“Yeah,” Zeen sighed. “Another lifetime.”
“Try to get back to sleep, huh?” Rielle said. Then with a grin, she added, “You still look like hell.”
Zeen cracked a slight grin, then sighed and muttered, “I doubt I’ll sleep again tonight.” She pulled out her pocket watch and muttered, “Only seven hours ‘till sun up anyway.”
Rielle shook her head at her friend, got up and walked to the other side of the fire to retrieve her bed roll. Zeen watched Rielle drag the bed roll across the camp and place it next to her own. “What’re you doing?”
“I’m going to try to get you to go to sleep and I don’t want to have to shout across the camp to do it,” Rielle answered. “Get comfortable.”
“What are you going to do?” Zeen asked getting comfortable anyway. “Sing to me?”
“Uh no...you’d never get to sleep. I’m just going to tell you some stories...if you don’t mind.”
Zeen shrugged and said, “It can’t hurt.”
‘Wow, I never thought she’d actually agree to this,’ Rielle thought with a smile. Then in her best soothing storytelling voice she began, “This is the ancient tale of Zeus and the lightning bolts. We begin a long time ago when all people had four legs and two heads. One day Zeus, the king of the gods, threw down lightning bolts and split everyone in two. Each half now had two legs and one head, but the separation left each side with a desperate yearning to be reunited, because they each shared the same soul. Ever since then, all people have spent their lives searching for the other half of their soul.”
Zeen was silent for a long time before she said, “That was good...do you believe the story?”
“What do you mean?” Rielle asked puzzled.
“Do you believe that two people can share the same soul?” Zeen asked.
Rielle nodded and answered, “Yes, I do.”
“Then what would happen if your half of the soul was dark and nearly dead? I mean what would happen to the other half?” Zeen asked, her voice devoid of any emotion.
“That person should pray that they find their soulmate so that the darkness and death would be overpowered by the bond...and so that they both would be complete,” Rielle answered seriously.
“Do you think God hears murderers?” Zeen asked, an edge to her voice. “Do you think he would give someone like that such a gift?”
Rielle looked at Zeen for a moment, her mist-green eyes filled with sadness for this woman who had given up almost all hope for herself. She then asked her friend, “Has anyone ever called you a quitter, Zeen?”
Zeen looked at Rielle through narrowed eyes and answered, “No.”
“Because you’re not a quitter, right?”
“You never give up a fight?”
“Then don’t give up on yourself,” Rielle finished.
Zeen stared at the ground for a moment, then muttered, “You never answered my question, the one about someone like m...a murderer getting such a gift.”
Rielle took a deep breath and began to answer Zeen’s question in the form of a story. “There’s a legend in my family that dates back to perhaps the very beginnings of my family’s origin,” she began. The young woman motioned for Zeen to lie back down, then began to tell the tale. “Long ago, when the gods ruled the earth, the three Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos had another soul to weave into the tapestry of life. Clotho had just begun to weave this thread into the tapestry when Atropos accidentally cut it in half while removing another thread. Clotho and Lachesis were very upset by the mistake and all three argued about what to do until Atropos suggested that Clotho weave the two halves separately. So, for many years the thread was woven separately and the two people who each possessed half of the soul lived separate lives. One half of the soul was a dark and angry warlord, who destroyed many lives just to satisfy her own anger. The other half was a bright and spirited village girl, who was peace loving and pure of heart...Both the cold warrior and the warm village girl lived their separate lives but were left with a certain feeling of emptiness. One day, Clotho noticed that the two halves of the thread were weakening, so with Lachesis’ consent, she began to weave the thread together. Soon the soul was again one and the warlord and the young girl who shared her soul met, for it was their Fates-determined destiny. The warrior and bard changed each other’s lives and each grew stronger as the years went on. When the two finally passed on to the Elysian Fields, their soul survived and it still runs through the Fates tapestry of life to this day. So, in every generation, the warrior and bard are destined to be reunited.”
“So,” Zeen said after a long silence. “They balanced each other out.”
“Yeah, two halves are unbalanced but put them together...”
“And you have a perfect whole,” Zeen finished Rielle’s thought.
“Exactly. So you see what I was saying? I mean I answered your question?” Rielle asked hopefully.
“Yeah, you did... thanks,” Zeen said with a yawn.
“I’m glad,” Rielle said as she settled into her bed roll. “Try to get to sleep Zeen.”
The tall woman stretched out on her back and put her hands behind her head. She watched a star shoot across the broad night sky, and felt something that she had not felt in a long time...peace of mind. “There’s the Big Dipper.”
“Y’know, I always thought it looked more like a bear,” Rielle sighed.
“A bear?” Zeen turned to look at Rielle with a slight frown which softened when she saw the dreamy look on the young woman’s face. “Yeah you would see a bear. That doesn’t surprise me.”
Rielle looked over at her friend with a mock glare and said, “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that where everyone else would see something as dull as a water dipper, you’d see something more imaginative. You look at the world in a different way than most people do, you see what’s beautiful instead of what’s bad,” Zeen explained. “I only hope that traveling with me doesn’t ruin that for you.”
Rielle was quite speechless for a second before she said, “You won’t ruin it Zeen, you’ll help it. Staying in that one-horse town would have ruined it. You’re letting me experience life...what it’s like out there.”
“It’s cruel out there,” Zeen muttered.
“I know that and I accept it, but it’s not always cruel, Zeen. Look at the world right now, right here, it’s peaceful. I know it may not be peaceful tomorrow or the next day, but you have to take the good with the bad...and if we go through a toilsome week sometimes, one peaceful day would be worth all of the trouble.”
Zeen stared at the sky for a while and thought about her young companion’s words. “You’re a descendant of the bard, aren’t you?”
Rielle blinked a few times at the sudden change of subject, then said, “Yes, I’m even named after her...all the first born daughters are. Her name was-”
“Gabrielle,” Zeen said, her voice barely a whisper.
“In your sleep you were-”
“I know,” Zeen said firmly. The outlaw turned to her friend and said, “My right name is Xeen, with an X. Xeen Cyrena Semois...I changed my name after a few people threatened to find my family.”
“You have a beautiful name regardless of how you spell it,” Rielle stated.
“Thanks...you can thank some distant relative in my family tree for it,” Zeen said as she drifted off to sleep.
Rielle glanced over at her friend and whispered, “Thank you Xena.”
Part III. Chapter 6 : Cisco
The rest of the three day trip to Cisco was for the most part uneventful. There was the odd threat here and there but Zeen proved more sinister, so they had no problems. During the days, Rielle would walk alongside Zeen and Argo and talk, tell stories, and ask unending streams of questions to which Zeen would answer with a grunt, a shrug, or an, “I don’t know, Rielle.” The young woman figured that Zeen wasn’t listening to half of what she was saying, but she spoke anyway and was delighted when her companion spoke to her in full sentences. At night, the two would set up camp and fall into an almost customary routine. Zeen would unpack their belongings from the saddle-bags and set up, then Rielle would prepare their supper. A while later, they both would clean the dishes, then Zeen would take care of Argo and polish her guns while Rielle worked on her latest poem or story. By and by, they would gaze up at the stars and usually end up in a friendly disagreement on exactly what the patterns in the sky looked like. Tonight there would be no star gazing though, because Zeen had sent Rielle into town with a handful of money and told her to rent a room at the ‘Palace Inn.’ Rielle had asked why they both couldn’t go and Zeen had said that she would be recognized in the broad daylight, but that she would meet her in the tavern at dusk.
Zeen slipped into the inn through the kitchen door and silenced the cooks with one hard glare. She then peeked over the swinging doors that led from the kitchen to the tavern, and scanned the room, there were very few people inside since it was still too early for the dinner crowd. She spotted Rielle sitting in the shadows near the back of the room...
A small grin crossed Rielle’s face as she thought, ‘One day I’ll let her think she’s surprised me...but not today.’ She placed her mug on the table and without turning around said, “What took you so long? I’ve been sitting here for a half an hour, Zeen.”
Zeen stopped in mid-step and stared at Rielle’s back for a moment thinking, ‘How the hell does she do that?’ She shook her head and took a seat across from her friend. “Sorry, I had to take care of Argo.”
“Uhuh,” Rielle muttered, hiding a grin behind her mug.
“Can I ask you something?” the outlaw asked, taking her friend’s mug and draining the rest of its contents.
“Sure Zeen, go ahead,” Rielle said, motioning for the barmaid to bring more drinks.
“How is it that I can sneak into the governor’s mansion while his whole family is asleep inside, and rob it clean, but I can’t sneak up on you?”
Rielle bit back a grin and shrugged. “I dunno.”
Zeen shot her friend an uncertain look, then lifted her arms and took a whiff of the air around herself. “Do I smell that bad?”
Rielle laughed and said, “That’s foul Zeen! Put your arms down, you don’t smell bad. You smell like...leather...and spice.”
“Then how the hell do you know I’m there without looking?” Zeen asked, irked.
“Maybe you’re losing your touch,” Rielle teased.
“Bullshit!” Zeen snapped. “Thanks,” she muttered to the barmaid who had arrived with their drinks.
“I was joking Zeen,” Rielle replied.
“Oh...you’re not gonna’ tell me how you do it, are you?”
“Nope, you’ll figure it out.”
“Yeah sure...you eat yet?”
“No, I was waiting for you.”
“What a surprise,” Zeen said with a grin. “Order something for me too, huh? I have to go talk to someone over there.”
“Be right back,” Zeen said, then headed off toward the bar.
Sal was busily wiping down the bar in preparation for the dinner crowd, when a shadow fell over the shining surface. The man looked up and nearly knocked over a neat row of shot glasses when he saw the outlaw grinning down at him. “Zeen! What’re you doing here?!”
“Shh!! The world doesn’t need to know that I’m here!” Zeen growled.
“S-sorry, O Great Gunfighter!” Sal squeaked nervously. “What can I do for you?”
“I need a shot of whiskey and any news you’ve got regarding me,” Zeen drawled.
The chubby, graying man rubbed his beard then quickly poured Zeen’s drink upon seeing her icy glare. “Here you go, O Lawless One.”
“Sal, my name is Zeen...just call me Zeen, okay?” Zeen said calmly.
“Sure Zeen, whatever you say,” Sal said with a nervous smile.
“Hey Sal, I think you need this more than I do,” Zeen muttered, sliding the glass over to the bartender/inn keeper/salesman, who downed the fiery liquid. “So, what’s the latest news on me?”
“Um...well...the uh latest news...let’s see,” Sal stammered.
“Sal,” Zeen warned.
“Well, some of your boys-” “They’re not my boys anymore.”
“Figured. Anyway, they were by a few days ago, bragging about how you were dead, how one of ‘em shot you and they took all of your...um...earnings?”
“Waitaminute! One of my men shot me?” Zeen exploded. “Of course! Darren, the little bastard wasn’t at the hold-up!”
“Now Zeen, we don’t need trouble...”
Zeen was quite ready to grab her guns and hunt the traitor down, when she glanced up and caught Rielle’s reflection in the mirror behind the bar, they locked eyes for a moment in the reflection, then the outlaw sighed and said, “There won’t be any trouble, Sal.”
The man let out the breath that he had been holding and said a silent prayer to whatever angel had just saved him...little did he know that she was sitting in the back of his tavern eating her supper. “Good, good!”
“Anything else? Promise I won’t lose my temper.”
“A stranger came in the other day, said Eastowe is headed this way. He said she heard about your...uh...passing, and was furious that she wasn’t the one to send you to Kingdom Come. She’s headed after your boys, but...”
“Damn,” Zeen cursed. “She’ll take down everything in her path, women, children, everything.”
“Oh great! Wonderful! We’re all gonna’ die!” Sal cried. “Would you like to buy a customized tombstone?”
“No one’s going to die Sal...at least none of us. When Eastowe comes, we’ll be ready for her,” Zeen said in a low, icy tone that matched her cold eyes.
“We?” Sal asked weakly.
“Yeah, my friend and I...I’ll need some backup,” Zeen muttered, already formulating a plan.
“Best friend,” Zeen said, looking Sal straight in the eye.
‘You’re taking an unnecessary risk on your life, Sal,’ the man said to himself but went on anyhow, “You would put your best friend on the line?”
Zeen was quiet for a moment and when she looked up, Sal saw a trace of sadness in her eyes. “She’s an adult Sal, she can choose to fight or she can choose to stay in a safe place...and if I know Rielle, she’ll want to be out, helping others to safety.”
Sal studied Zeen for a moment and for the first time he saw someone other than a ruthless outlaw, he saw a part of the real Xeen. “You’ve changed.”
“Yeah, I’m fighting for the good guys now...I can’t thank Rielle enough for...saving me.”
“You’re lucky to have found her.”
“Luck? Nah, destiny,” Zeen said more to herself. “So, how far away is Eastowe?”
“Three maybe four days away, unless she and her gang takes the train.”
“She won’t, it’s not her style. She’ll ride in and start shooting, that’s what I did. Three days’ll be enough, she won’t get far once she gets here,” Zeen said, then turned around and headed back to her table. Sal watched her until she disappeared into the shadows of the back of the tavern. Shaking his head, he went back to polishing the bar, where to his surprise, he found a shiny gold piece sitting beside Zeen’s shot glass.
“Everything okay?” Rielle asked as Zeen sat down across from her. The young woman had observed the scene at the bar, and was quite aware that her friend was upset by something even though she wasn’t showing it now.
“Yes, everything’s...,” Zeen started, not meeting Rielle’s gaze. “No, trouble’s on its way.”
“What kind of trouble?” Rielle asked calmly, though the prospect of a new adventure was exciting.
When Zeen finally met Rielle’s gaze, her blue eyes were glacial and dark. “My worst enemy’s coming to town...to pay her respects.”
“Pay her respects? To who?” Rielle asked, suddenly not so excited.
“To me,” Zeen answered flatly. “Y’ever hear of Eastowe?”
“Cal Eastowe? The one who’s responsible for the Black Creek massacre? The one who rides through towns and kills everyone in sight just for the fun of it?” Rielle asked, her expression grim.
“Yeah, that’s the one. She’s not after me though, she thinks I’m dead...” Zeen explained her conversation with Sal to Rielle, who listened with great fascination.
“So, do you have a plan?” the young woman asked when Zeen finished telling her the story.
“Yes, but we’ll have to go to Artemis,” Zeen answered.
“The goddess?” Rielle asked, perplexed.
“No, the town.”
“I didn’t even know there was a town called Artemis,” Rielle muttered.
“Yeah, well get a good rest,” Zeen said. “We leave at dawn.”
“Dawn?!” Rielle gasped, her face going white.
“Dawn,” Zeen repeated with a grin. She began to eat her dinner, ignoring Rielle’s stricken expression.
* * * * * * Chapter 7 : Wake Up!
‘Ugh, this is absurd!’ Zeen thought as she called Rielle’s name for the fifth time, “Rielle, c’mon get up!” The young woman simply rolled over, turning her back to Zeen, and began to snore lightly. ‘That’s it!’ Zeen thought with a wicked grin. “Rielle, you’ve brought this upon yourself!” The outlaw grabbed onto one short, well muscled leg which was dangling off the side of the bed and gave it a good tug, causing her young friend to fall to the wooden floor with a resonate crash. Rielle simply wrapped herself in the blanket which had landed on the floor beside her and continued to snore softly. “Oh that’s it! Now I’m mad!” Zeen growled as she stomped across the room and snatched the water pitcher... “Rielle, this is your last chance to get up before you get an ice-cold bath!”
“Not now mother,” Rielle mumbled in her sleep.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn ya,” Zeen muttered, then dumped the pitcher of cold water over the slumbering woman’s head.
Rielle shot bolt-upright on the floor and spluttered, “Ahhh!! What the...why am I? Zeen! What’d you do that for?!”
“Morning Rielle,” Zeen said with a sarcastically sweet smile. “It’s past dawn.”
“Morning!? I just went to sleep! Why’d you have to throw that ice-cold water at me? You could’ve just called me y’know.”
Zeen lost her smile at Rielle’s last statement and struggled to keep her temper down. “Rielle I called you half a dozen times and you didn’t wake up! I dragged you out of bed and you didn’t wake up! What else was I supposed to do?”
“Hey! You don’t have to yell Zeen!” Rielle yelled.
“You’re the one who’s yelling Rielle, and don’t complain to me about a headache today. I warned you not to drink all that ale,” Zeen said coolly.
“Oh don’t worry, I won’t complain...I just won’t say anything!” Rielle growled.
“Good! Now get dressed if you’re coming. I’m leaving in ten minutes with or without you,” Zeen barked over her shoulder as she stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
“Well,” Rielle muttered, wiping the water from her face with the blanket. “She’s in a bad mood.”
* * * * * * Chapter 8 : The ‘Amazons’
The trip to Artemis took three and a half long, silent hours. Both Rielle and Zeen were in a foul mood and each stubbornly refused to start conversation with the other. The two were now on the outskirts of a seemingly deserted town when Rielle finally broke the thick silence between them, “Zeen, this is a ghost town...there’s no one here.”
“It’s not a ghost town, Rielle,” Zeen muttered. “Gimme your gun.”
Rielle gave her friend a look but handed her gun over anyway. “Where is everybody?”
Zeen swung off of Argo’s back and began to walk beside Rielle. “They’re here. In fact, we’re surrounded.”
The young woman scanned the dark, vacant looking buildings for any sign of life and saw nothing. “What kind of people are they? Ones that only come out at night?”
Zeen ignored Rielle’s snickering remark and muttered, “Put your hands up to show that you don’t have a weapon.”
Rielle did as Zeen instructed but remained doubtful until two women came into sight with guns pointed at them. The young woman cast a worried glance at her friend who looked unconcerned.
One of the women stepped forward and said with a grin, “Zeen Zamorra?”
Zeen grinned back at the blond woman and drawled, “Hey Ephie.”
“What are you doing here? We heard that you were dead,” Ephie said, sounding mildly surprised. “We shouldn’t have believed that, huh?”
“No, I’m alive and well. Could you put the guns away?”
“Sure, sorry.” Ephie signaled for all of the guns to be put away then turned back to Zeen. “So what brings you here? You know Losa doesn’t like hiding...uh...”
“Outlaws?” Zeen said with a raised eyebrow. “Criminals?”
“Yeah.” Ephie shrugged.
“Eph, I don’t hide from anyone...ever,” Zeen said coldly, though Rielle noticed that her blue eyes danced with mischief...Ephie didn’t notice.
The blond woman unconsciously took a step back and stuttered, “I...of course not...I didn’t mean to-”
“She was just playing with you. She’s really not mad,” Rielle spoke up.
Ephie glanced over and seemed to notice Rielle for the first time. “What?”
“She’s just joking with you,” Rielle answered, then said to her friend, “Bully.”
Ephie stared at the small young woman with the red gold hair and the kind green eyes and knew right away that she would be a friend. She wondered why someone who was obviously so...good, would be with Zeen Zamorra, unless...
“Ephie, this is Rielle MacGab...my friend,” Zeen said.
“Joking?” Ephie repeated, still staring at Rielle. “Friend?” The woman looked at Zeen and asked, “Your friend?”
“Yes, my best friend. No, I did not kidnap her, she followed me, and yes, I was joking with you.” Both Ephie and Rielle were now staring at Zeen, who ignored it and muttered, “We need to see Losa.”
“Sure, c’mon,” Ephie said, leading them to the tavern which was filled with people. “Take a seat, have a drink. I’ll go talk to Losa.”
“Thanks,” Zeen said flopping into a chair and motioning for Rielle to do the same.
“Um, Zeen?” Rielle said, observing the room.
“Yeeess?” Zeen drawled, her mouth quirked in a half grin.
“There are no men here,” Rielle stated.
“None live here.”
‘How do I explain this?’ Zeen asked herself. “You like all of those old myths, right?”
“You ever hear of those women-warriors, they were called-” Zeen started to explain.
“Yeah, the women in this town are like the Amazons. They live independently, some get married and leave, but this is their community, they run this town and defend it. Not many people know about them, that’s why when they see strangers approaching they make it appear as if this is a ghost town,” Zeen said, noting her friend’s wide-eyed expression.
“This is strange...like de`ja` vu,” Rielle muttered. “I know these people...or at least it feels that way. Like Ephie, she seems so familiar.”
“I know what you mean,” Zeen said, then shook herself. “Here comes Losa, she’s sort of like the-”
“Queen,” Rielle finished.
“Zeen, Rielle, welcome to Artemis,” Losa said politely. “What brings you to our town?”
“I need your help with something,” Zeen replied.
“Eastowe is headed to Cisco to go after my ex-partners-”
“Ex-partners?” Losa questioned.
“Yeah, I’m in a different line of work now,” Zeen said with a glance at Rielle.
Losa caught the glance and questioned, “Oh? And what line of work would that be?”
“The one where I help people...not hurt them,” Zeen replied seriously.
“What made you change your ways, Zeen Zamorra?” the dark haired woman asked. She studied Rielle for a moment and thought, ‘Or should I ask who?’
Zeen glanced at Rielle once again, then answered softly, “One person’s faith in me, Losa. That changed me, that saved my life.”
For all of two seconds, Rielle battled the urge to hug her friend, then gave in and almost knocked Zeen over as she flew into her arms. The gesture did not go unnoticed by anyone in the tavern. Neither Zeen or Rielle noticed when the whole room went still and silent while the occupants held their breath in anticipation of what Zeen Zamorra would do to the young woman who was risking her life by doing such an absurd thing...everyone knew that Zeen Zamorra was the fiercest gunfighter alive and her temper was as fast as her gun...Jaws dropped around the room as the outlaw gently returned her companion’s embrace and wiped a few errant tears from the young woman’s face. Losa watched the exchange with mild fascination though she wore a thoughtful expression. She had known Zeen Zamorra before and she had seen nothing in the woman’s cold azure eyes but darkness, now she saw kindness and warmth. She no longer saw a ruthless criminal bent on destruction, she now saw a compassionate, gentle person. ‘Even if the gentleness is reserved only for Rielle...it’s still there. They remind me of the story of the Bard-Queen and her warrior companion,’ Losa mused. “Zeen, you and Rielle will have our help. Do you have a plan?”
Zeen let go of Rielle, turned back to Losa and said with a grin, “Oh yeah, I’ve got a plan.” She then became aware of the silence in the tavern and cast an icy glare around the room, which promptly came back to life as the piano player, who momentarily got caught in the sinister glare decided that pounding out “The Entertainer,” was a whole lot safer than getting into Zeen Zamorra’s business.
* * * * * * Chapter 9 : Here Comes Trouble
The sound of hoof beats racing into town as the two ‘Amazon’ scouts returned after two days of watching for Cal and her gang, warned everyone that she would be in town soon. The two women ran to the inn, which was acting as a sort of center of operations. “Zeen!” one of the women called breathlessly.
“Yes?” Zeen said, barely glancing up from the pile of rifles she was loading.
“Eastowe’s at the most two hours away and she’s got a small army with her.”
“And Darren and the rest of the old gang? They know she’s coming yet?” Zeen asked.
“I don’t think so,” the other scout answered. “Their camp was still set up outside town.”
“Where’s Rielle?” Zeen asked Ephie, who had just come downstairs. “Cute dress, Eph.”
“Funny,” Ephie muttered, feeling ridiculous in the frilly hoop skirt. She had refused to wear the bonnet. “Rielle’s upstairs helping the others get into their ‘costumes’,” Ephie answered.
“Well, we’ve got an hour and a half at the most, so tell them to hurry up, will ya,” Zeen said. “And tell them that their guns are ready.”
Ephie shot Zeen an extremely annoyed look, not especially looking forward to fighting her way back up the stairs. She had tripped three times on her way down because of the absolute size of her skirt. “Zeen, it’s hard enough to walk in this thing on flat ground...”
Zeen raised her right eyebrow, gave Ephie a wry grin and said, “All right Eph, I’ll go get her. Take care of the rest of these guns for me, huh?”
“Yeah, thanks Zeen,” Ephie said graciously, heading for a chair then thinking better of it.
“Hey Eph?” Zeen called from the stairs. “That tent’s not going to get in the way of your shooting, is it?”
Ephie opened her mouth to say something, but Zeen quipped, “I’m thinking that we can just hide everyone under there instead of shipping all of them to the next town.”
The blond woman narrowed her eyes, grabbed an apple off of the table next to her, and fast-pitched it in Zeen’s direction. The outlaw let the flying apple speed dangerously close to the back of her head before turning around and snatching it out of the air with her left hand. “Thanks Eph,” she said, taking an exaggerated bite of the fruit.
Ephie’s jaw dropped in amazement and she stammered, “H-how’d you do that?”
With a shrug, Zeen answered, “I have many skills.”
Upstairs, Rielle was patiently helping a group of unhappy ‘Amazons’ get into their ‘costumes’. “This is stupid!” one woman muttered.
“I feel like a damn priss,” another complained.
“How do other women wear these things all the time?” a short woman in a long dress muttered. “Aww Em, you look so cute...like a little school marm,” another woman teased.
“Shut up Dana Solari! You have to wear one too!”
“Ladies please!” Rielle called. “We don’t have much time. Now, if anyone needs help with their dress come over here.” The young woman was instantly swamped by a dozen women who couldn’t figure out how to get into their ‘costumes’. ‘God help me!!’
Zeen pushed passed the crowd of women in the hallway in search of Rielle, and was quite amused with the complaints that were coming from the women. “Hey.” Zeen grabbed a young woman as she ran out of one of the rooms. “Where’s Rielle?”
“Down the hall,” came the breathless reply as the woman took off again.
‘Down the hall, she says,’ Zeen thought, rolling her eyes. “Big help.” She fixed a hard glare on her face and was pleased when the hallway almost instantly cleared. She went farther down the hall, stopped in front of a particularly noisy room, and pushed the door open...
“It’s not going to kill you, it’s just a...” Rielle’s voice trailed off for a moment. “Complain to Zeen about it.”
Dana Solari rolled her eyes and complained, “She’s downstairs loading guns. She doesn’t have to go through this torture...I think she’s doing this just to...What’s so funny?”
“You were saying?” a cool, low voice whispered in Solari’s ear.
The dark haired woman nearly jumped ten feet in the air, then spun around to face Zeen’s mock glare. “Nothing! We were just chatting.”
Zeen raised her eyebrow and muttered, “Mmmhmm. What’s with the mob in here?”
“There were a few problems with the dresses,” Rielle answered, sounding slightly agitated.
“Oh, I see,” Zeen said with a grin. ‘Amazons.’ “We’ve got less than two hours, so as soon as you’re finished up here go down to the tavern and get your guns.”
“She’s that close?” Rielle asked, worried.
“Yes, so the sooner we’re ready the better.”
“Everyone else is safely out of town?” Rielle and Dana asked at the same time. The rest of the women listened intently to the conversation.
“Yes, Sal and Ephie took care of that,” Zeen answered, then turned to the rest of the women in the room. “You think you can manage on your own for a while? I need to talk to Rielle.” The women filed out of the room quickly and Zeen sat down in the chair across from her companion. “What’s wrong?”
Rielle met Zeen’s concerned gaze with surprise and quickly said, “Nothing.”
“Rielle, I can tell that something’s bothering you,” Zeen said, then added softly, “Talk to me.”
Rielle let out a long sigh, and not meeting Zeen’s eyes asked, “Why is Eastowe your worst enemy?”
Zeen took several breaths before answering, “My gang and I had just robbed a train transporting military supplies up north, and we knew that selling the weapons would bring a whole lot of money. As always, after any big hold up we’d celebrate...we all had too much to drink and some of the guys thought it would be fun to harass the people in the nearest town, Eastowe’s town. So they rode off and by the time I was sober enough to ride into town it was too late...they had burned it to the ground. Cal was the only survivor, she was just a kid. She saw it all, watched her family and friends die...that young girl’s life was ruined and it was all my fault.”
Rielle watched as her friend’s eyes reflected guilt, shame, sadness, pain and regret and she felt an overwhelming compassion for Zeen. She wiped away the single tear that trailed down Zeen’s cheek and said softly, “You can’t blame yourself for what those men did.”
“Rielle, they were my men! I let them go! It never would have happened if-”
“Shh,” Rielle silenced Zeen, placing two fingers on the woman’s lips. “It did happen, you can’t change that, but it was your men’s actions that killed those people, not yours.”
“They were my responsibility.”
“They were grown men, right?”
“Then they were responsible for their own actions.”
“True, but I still feel responsible for all of those lives, Rielle. In a way I am responsible.”
“Yes, in a way you are...but not directly,” Rielle assured her disheartened friend.
“Rielle,” Zeen said, looking into mist-green eyes that she had known forever. “I don’t know if God exists, but if He does, I thank Him for sending you to me.”
Rielle smiled with tears in her eyes and said, “Funny, I thank Him every day for sending you.”
‘I don’t deserve her friendship, I know I don’t...but I need it, I need her and I won’t lose this...the one good thing in my life,’ Zeen told herself. “Why?”
“Because I need you, and because we made a promise,” Rielle answered simply.
“You n...A promise? What promise?” Zeen asked, trying to remember a promise that she may have made. One word echoed in her mind, an ancient promise made by two hearts that shared the same soul, ‘Always.’
“Always,” Rielle said as if agreeing with Zeen’s thought.
“Rielle,” Zeen said suddenly, desperately clutching her young companion’s hand. “Promise me something?”
Rielle looked sadly at her protector, best friend, soulmate, and whispered, “I can’t.”
“Please Rielle! You don’t have to fight! I can’t risk...” Zeen desperately pleaded.
“You won’t lose me Zeen,” Rielle assured her friend. “You can’t let Eastowe or your men see you, ya know?”
“I know,” Zeen sighed, bowing her head.
“Hey,” Rielle lifted her friend’s chin up and met her eyes. “I’ll be fine...I never told you, but I’m a crack shot.”
“Huh?” Zeen grunted.
With a grin, Rielle said, “Remind me to show you the shot glass trick when this is all over.”
“But you said-”
“I can shoot and not kill if I have to shoot at all,” Rielle replied. “Now get downstairs and get those ladies ready, okay.”
Zeen got up from her chair and headed for the door, where she stopped and said to Rielle, “Always.”
“Always,” came the soft reply.
* * * * * *
Eastowe and her gang stormed into town firing their guns in the air and howling like mad animals. The blond outlaw had blood in her dark eyes and was eager to rip Cisco apart before she killed off Zeen Zamorra’s men. The woman scanned the town which was relatively quiet except for a few bustling men and women, and thought, ‘Oh, this is too easy. We’ll be outta’ here before they even know what hit ‘em.’ “Here comes trouble,” Cal muttered to herself before letting out a piercing cry which meant only one thing...Attack!
The ‘Amazons’ managed to hold their fire until Eastowe and her gang moved to the center of town where they were surrounded by the hidden women...
Eastowe let out a violent stream of curses when some of her men started going down. She wasn’t sure of exactly where the shots were being fired from but she thought that she saw some of the towns women with rifles in their hands. “Something’s not right.” The blond outlaw rode into the center of her gang and ordered, “Burn it down!!”
Inside the tavern, Zeen gave Ephie the signal and at once the ‘Amazons’ were pouring out of the buildings on either side of the street and shooting at the enemy. Rielle watched out the window as a full-scale battle erupted outside, and winced every time someone fell to the ground with a bullet in them. She could hear Zeen firing her gun in front of the building and decided to do her part in the fight. The young woman grabbed a water jug from behind the bar and slipped out the door, disappearing into the thick black smoke from the burning buildings.
Cal hastily bolted around the side of the inn, reloaded her guns, and cursed Cisco and whoever had warned the people that she was coming. She stood with her back against the wall for a moment and listened to the sounds of the battle around the corner, knowing that she was losing the fight. ‘Something about this town isn’t right...’ Eastowe’s thoughts trailed off as she heard a sound behind her. Through the gunsmoke and the black haze caused by the burning buildings, she saw easy prey...
Rielle kneeled beside the wounded man who was clearly one of Eastowe’s men, and gave him some of the cool water that she had with her. “Take it easy, I’m going to get you inside and take care of that wound.”
“Oh, I don’t think either of you are going anywhere,” a taunting voice said from behind.
Rielle spun around to face the barrel of Eastowe’s gun. “Cal Eastowe?”
“Yes,” Eastowe answered with a maniacal grin. “And you are...Dead?” The blond outlaw laughed hysterically, then abruptly stopped and put her fallen man out of his misery with one shot.
Temporarily deafened by the blast, Rielle yelled, “Why’d you do that? That man could have lived!"
Cal frowned and said, “I was being generous...he won’t feel any pain ever again. You on the other hand...why are you smiling little girl? Are you looking forward to a slow, torturous death?”
‘No. Are you?’ Rielle thought, continuing to smile. “I’m not going to die anytime soon, Eastowe.”
“And what makes you so...” Eastowe’s voice trailed off as she saw a reflection in the window in front of her. At first, she thought it was Death staring at her through the reflection, but then she realized that she was staring at something more sinister than Death itself, she was staring into the Arctic-blue eyes of Zeen Lawless Zamorra...The woman spun around, gun in hand, and cursed when she saw nothing behind her but thick black smoke. ‘Oh wonderful! Now I’m being haunted by the ghost of my enemy.’
Rielle used Eastowe’s distraction to her advantage, grabbing the dead man’s rifle and cracking Eastowe hard in the jaw with it when she turned back around. Eastowe reeled back from the blow but recovered quickly, pointing her gun at the young woman who did likewise.
“You’re not going to shoot me little girl,” Cal said in her most taunting tone of voice.
Rielle nodded and said evenly, “You’re right, I’m not going to shoot you.” Then, in a blinding movement, Rielle spun her rifle around catching Eastowe’s in the motion and sending it flying three feet away where it landed with a blast.
Eastowe glared at the small young woman for a moment, then rushed at her with a six inch blade that she had produced out of seemingly nowhere. “You’re dead!!”
Rielle raised an eyebrow and let Eastowe get close enough to cut her before she swung her gun around and smashed the blond woman on the side of the head, knocking her out cold.
A thundering in the distance and Zeen shouting her name brought Rielle back to earth. She looked up to see Zeen running towards her with a worried expression on her face. “Zeen? What’s wrong?”
“Rielle!” Zeen said as she caught up with her friend. “There’s a stampede headed this way! We’ve gotta move now!”
Rielle looked at the gun in her hands and threw it down in disgust, then said to Zeen, “What about her? She’s still alive.”
Before Zeen could answer, the herd of frenzied Longhorn cattle tore around the corner and headed straight for them. “No time! C’mon Rielle, get inside!”
“But Zeen, we can’t just-”
Zeen grabbed Rielle by the shoulder and said, “You’re bleeding! I’m taking you inside now and taking care of that wound...She’ll get what’s coming to her.”
Rielle gave her friend a puzzled look, then suddenly felt a sharp pain in her stomach. “Zeen?”
Zeen caught Rielle as she fell and carried her into the building in front of them, just as the stampede reached where they had been standing.
* * * * * *
Rielle awoke hours later to find herself in a warm bed at the inn. She glanced across the room and saw Zeen looking out the window at the moonlit sky.
“How are you feeling?” Zeen asked without turning around.
Rielle had to grin as she said to herself, ‘She’s finally figured it out.’ She tried to sit up, then changed her mind when she felt a sharp pain shoot across her abdomen. “I feel like hell.”
The dark haired woman turned around and started to say, “I’m sorry Rielle. I should have-”
“Don’t you dare apologize Zeen Zamorra!” Rielle said, a slight edge to her voice. “It’s just a scratch and it wasn’t your fault!”
The outlaw blinked in surprise, then grinned and muttered, “You up to visitors? Ephie and the others are worried about you...somehow they heard about your new use for a rifle.”
“I couldn’t kill her, so I just...”
“Yeah, well it was pretty amazing Rielle,” Zeen said sincerely. “So not only can you shoot...but you can use a gun as a staff!”
Rielle smiled for a moment before she got serious and asked, “Did she die?”
Zeen sighed and answered, “Not sure. All that was left was her trampled hat, there was blood on it and on the ground, but...”
“There was no body?” Rielle questioned, not knowing whether to feel relieved at the possibility that Cal Eastowe was not dead because of her, or to feel upset that the murderess was still alive.
“No, it’s possible that she just got dragged out with the herd and we’ll find the body later, or...” A knock on the door ended the conversation as a crowd of ‘Amazons’ led by Ephie entered the room and started talking to Rielle all at once.
“So Rielle,” Ephie said with a grin. “You faced the Texas Terror, and kicked her ass!”
Rielle laughed and said, “No, no, no! Let me tell you what really happened...” The group settled themselves on the floor around Rielle’s bed and waited excitedly to hear her story. Zeen stayed in her chair by the window and shook her head when her friend started to spin a suspenseful, adventurous tale. Zeen was surprised when Rielle almost completely left herself out of the story and made her into a...hero.
* * * * * * Chapter 10 : Leaving Town Four days later, the people of Cisco were busy rebuilding the few shops that had been damaged during the battle with Eastowe. Word had gotten out that the outlaw Zeen Lawless Zamorra had been responsible for saving the town, thanks to a few ‘Amazons’ and a certain young storyteller. The people had called Zeen, Rielle, and the others heroes and had insisted on holding a celebration in their honor, The celebration had lasted well into the night, and now Zeen, Rielle, and the ‘Amazons’ were slowly preparing to leave town.
“Zeen...I’m going to die,” Rielle groaned.
“It’s just a hangover, Rielle,” Zeen muttered.
“No no...I’m dying,” Rielle insisted. “Remind me never to drink again, especially with the ‘Amazons’.”
Zeen glanced over at the group of women who looked like they had been dragged through Hell and back, and shook her head. “Some people never learn.”
Ephie and Dana walked over to say good-bye to their friends, looking as if they would keel over at any second. “Great party, huh?”
“Don’t talk to me about parties, Ephie,” Rielle grumbled.
“Was there a party?” Dana asked, holding her head. “I thought I got trampled by that stampede.”
“Know how ya feel,” Ephie and Rielle muttered in unison.
Zeen walked up beside Rielle and grinned at the pitiful looking group. “Good morning Ephie, Dana.”
“What are you so cheerful for?” Dana grumbled.
“She doesn’t have a hangover,” Ephie said.
Still grinning, Zeen said, “You’ll live.”
“Easy for you to say,” Rielle muttered, lightly back handing Zeen in the stomach. “Oww!!”
“Hey Eph, Dana,” Zeen said in a serious tone. “Thanks for helping with this, and thank Losa for us when you get back.”
“No problem Zeen,” Ephie said with a smile, then added, “Next time you need our help though, no dresses.”
“No dresses,” Zeen agreed with a laugh.
“Promise?” Dana asked.
“No dresses, I promise,” Zeen said. She exchanged handshakes with Ephie and Dana, then Rielle spoke.
“I’m going to miss you two, all of you actually,” the young woman said.
“We’ll miss you too, Rielle,” Ephie said. “You and Zeen have to come visit soon.”
“Yeah, we’ll show you how to party Artemis style,” Dana told her with a grin.
Rielle groaned in exasperation, then laughed and hugged her new friends. “We’ll visit, but I’ll leave the partying to y’all.”
“Sure you will,” Zeen teased from atop Argo.
“What’s that supposed to mean? You think I can’t just kick back and watch everyone else party?” Rielle asked, indignant.
“No, I don’t think you could do that.”
“Well I could...I bet you couldn’t keep from trying to start a fight with me everyday.”
Ephie and Dana watched in amusement as the two headed off, arguing the whole way out of town. “I don’t know how on earth that girl did it Dana, but I see a light in Zeen that wasn’t there before she came along.”
Dana Solari just shrugged and said, “Some things are just meant to happen, I guess.”
* * * * * * “Ahh, what a perfect ending to the story,” Rielle said. “The hero and her sidekick head off into the sunset after defeating the enemy.”
“Rielle, the sunset’s behind us and partner sounds better than ‘sidekick’, don’t you think?”
Rielle thought about it for a moment, then said, “Yeah, I like the sound of that.”
“Hey,” Zeen called, getting her young friend’s attention. “When we get to South Carolina, my family may not want to have anything to do with me.”
“I don’t think that will happen Zeen, but if it does we’ll find somewhere else to go...maybe California.”
“California? Why would you want to go there?”
“Adventure Zeen,” Rielle answered as if Zeen should have already known the reason. “Can I ask you something?”
‘I was wondering when she’d get around to this,’ the gunfighter thought. “Go ahead Rielle.”
“What happened?” was all the young woman asked.
With a deep breath, Zeen began, “About ten years ago, an outlaw by the name of Marcelino Cortez rode through Charleston and held up the bank that my father was working at. My older brother and I went to try and help, leaving my mother and little brother at home. I should’ve known that Nick wouldn’t stay put but I wasn’t thinking about that, my thirteen-year-old brother followed us. Cortez killed everyone in the bank, including our father and when he came out, Nick tried to stop him. The bastard shot and killed my baby brother right in front of me! I killed Cortez, and it felt so easy, it even felt good. After that, I left home and started robbing stores. I built up a gang and we started robbing banks, then trains, then we figured, ‘What the Hell’, and took whole towns...that’s when the murdering of innocent people started.” Rielle was quiet for a long while before she said the only thing that she could say, “I’m sorry Zeen.”
“So am I,” Zeen said sadly. “So am I.”
Part IV. Chapter 11 : The Homecoming
Rielle knocked on the kitchen door of the ‘Charleston Inn’, her heart pounding almost as fast as she was sure Zeen’s was. Zeen had chosen a dark corner in the back of her mother’s inn to sit in, hoping not to be noticed by anyone in case her mother told Rielle that she did not want to see her outlaw daughter. The young woman glanced over her shoulder to the dark corner, where to anyone else the only evidence that someone was sitting there was the orange glow from the cigar Zeen was smoking, but Rielle did not need to see Zeen to know that she was still there. The door to the kitchen swung open, revealing a tall man with jet black hair and oddly familiar blue eyes. “May I help you?”
Rielle stared at the man for a moment, then stammered, “I...can I...I need to speak to Cyrena.”
The man regarded her with pale blue eyes, not even close to the brilliance of Zeen’s, but still familiar. ‘She’s young, scared of something, and far from home,’ he said to himself. “I’ll go get mother, wait just a minute. I’m Demitri Semois by the way.”
“Rielle MacGab,” she said, shaking Zeen’s brother’s hand.
Demitri disappeared into the kitchen for a moment, then reappeared with Zeen’s mother. Cyrena was a kind looking, middle aged woman with dark hair and pale blue eyes. “Hello, may I help you?” Cyrena asked, kindly. The older woman quickly studied the young woman before her and knew immediately that she liked Rielle.
Rielle had to smile through her nervousness at Cyrena, she could already tell that she liked Zeen’s mother. “Hello Mrs. Semois-”
“Cyrena please,” the woman insisted.
“Cyrena, can I talk to you about something?” “Of course,” Cyrena said, leading Rielle in the direction of Zeen’s table.
The young woman halted suddenly and spun to face the older woman. “I’m cold! Can we sit by the fire?”
“Of course dear,” Cyrena said. ‘Something’s up with this little one.’
Zeen watched as Rielle and her mother sat down at a table near the fire and began to speak. The outlaw prayed that Rielle could persuade her mother to at least talk to her.
Rielle took a sip of the warm spiced cider that was placed in front of her and sighed. ‘Oh that’s good! I could get used to this place.’ With a quick glance in Zeen’s direction, which Cyrena did not miss, Rielle began to speak, “It’s about your daughter.”
Cyrena took a deep breath and asked, “Is she hurt? In trouble? Causing trouble?”
“No, she’s fine, staying out of trouble,” Rielle answered with her radiant, angelic smile.
“You don’t look like someone who’s an outlaw Rielle,” Cyrena stated. “How do you know my daughter?”
“She’s my friend,” Rielle said quite simply.
Cyrena raised both eyebrows and said, “Not to be rude dear, but you just don’t seem like the type who hangs around...criminals.”
The young woman looked Cyrena straight in the eye and said, “I’m not.”
“Explain to me what you’re saying Rielle.” Rielle explained to Zeen’s mother everything that had happened, starting with Zeen showing up wounded in her father’s barn and ending with their battle with Eastowe. She did her best to convince Cyrena that her daughter had changed, and when she was finished, Cyrena said, “Is Zeen here?”
“Yes, she’s here.”
“Bring her to me please.”
Rielle practically ran to her friend’s table and dragged her up by the arm. “C’mon you big oaf! She wants to see you!”
“All right Rielle! I’m coming, hold your horses!” the outlaw grumbled through a broad smile.
All Cyrena had to see to convince her that what Rielle had told her was true, was the sight of the young woman dragging her tall, intimidating daughter by the arm towards her...and the look of gentleness and adoration in her daughters eyes. ‘I have the distinct feeling that Zeen was saved body and soul by that young lady.’
The outlaw stood face to face with her mother, keeping a firm grip on her companion’s small hand for comfort. “Mother.”
Cyrena smiled with tears in her eyes and hugged her daughter tightly. “I’m glad you found your way back.”
“Me too, mom. You can thank Rielle for that,” Zeen said, wiping a few tears from her mother’s face and fighting to hold back her own.
‘I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to cry...Damn! I’m crying!’ Rielle said to herself. The young woman joined the hug and said, “Don’t give me all the credit Zeen. I only showed you the way, you did the rest yourself.”
Zeen grinned and said teasingly to her best friend, “Yeah well I may not have, had you not stubbornly insisted that I could change.”
“First of all,” Rielle started, her mist green eyes dancing. “You are just as stubborn as I am. Second of all, I also insisted that you are a good person, which you are...most of the time.” “Most of the time?” Zeen questioned, eyebrow raised, grin tugging the corners of her mouth.
“Mmmhmm. I seem to recall waking up on the floor in a puddle of ice-cold water which a certain someone threw at me,” Rielle tried to sound angry but her giggles were making it quite impossible.
“Well, if you hadn’t dr-mph-” Zeen’s retort was stopped by a small hand smacked over her mouth.
Cyrena stared for a moment in disbelief, then burst out laughing in amusement when Rielle said to her, “So mom...can I call you that?”
“Yes dear, of course you can,” Cyrena answered with a smile. “I’d be honored.”
Rielle blushed, then said, “Thanks mom, I - oww!”
“What’s the matter Rielle?” Cyrena asked, concerned.
Rielle waved her hand in the air ‘accidentally’ hitting Zeen in the face, and said, “That big brat bit me!”
Zeen feigned innocence and said, “Who me?”
Rielle stuck her toung out at her friend then stepped behind the hysterically laughing Cyrena and asked, “Was she always such a brat?”
“She had her moments,” Cyrena answered. “Let me get some supper for the two of you.”
“That sounds great! I’m starved!” Rielle said excitedly.
“As usual,” Zeen muttered.
Demitri looked up as his mother swept into the kitchen, wiping tears from her eyes. He immediately rushed to her side and asked, “Mother, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing ‘Mitri! Your sister’s out there with that sweet young lady Rielle.” Demitri frowned and said, “Zeen’s here?”
“Yes dear, go talk to her.”
Zeen gave her brother a crooked grin as he approached their table, and said, “Hey ‘Mitri, have a seat.”
The tall man sat down and studied his sister for a moment. She still appeared dark and intimidating at first glance, but there was something different about her as well. “Welcome home, sis.”
‘Home?’ Zeen thought about home for a moment, then with a gentle smile at Rielle, she said, “Thanks ‘Mitri, it’s good to be back here...but I can’t call it home anymore because home is wherever my best friend is.”
Zeen gave her brother a hard glare and then threw her hands in the air saying, “Yes! Why is that so hard for everyone to believe?!”
“What?” Demitri blinked innocently. “You’ve had that reaction before, sis?”
“Don’t push it ‘Mitri,” Zeen warned.
“Okay, okay I get it! Big bad Zeen Zamorra can give it but she can’t take it,” Demitri quipped, not realizing how close he had come to a mug of ale in his face.
Rielle let go of Zeen’s arm and said, “It’s not that she can’t take it, it’s that she won’t...I’m lucky though, I’m the only one allowed to tease her and stay in one piece.”
“Oh yeah?” came the low reply from her friend.
“Yeah,” Rielle said, wiping a glob of butter onto Zeen’s nose.
Demitri choked on his ale and couldn’t stop coughing through his laughter. He finally had to excuse himself and ran, wheezing, into the kitchen where he said to Cyrena, “That is not my sister out there, it’s some big softy in Zeen’s body...she’s wrapped right around that girl’s finger!” Cyrena smiled and said, “Your sister owes that young girl her life ‘Mitri...and quite honestly, I think Rielle’s adorable.” The woman smiled at her oldest child and headed back into the tavern with two plates of steaming food, which she placed on the table in front of Zeen and Rielle, abruptly halting their tickle-fight.
Rielle caught her breath and said, “Thanks mom, you just saved me.”
“No problem sweetie,” Cyrena said with a warm smile. She studied her daughter with the same smile, noting how bright her blue eyes were and the color in her cheeks caused by her laughter...and the butter on her face. “Zeen dear, there’s something on your face.”
Zeen wiped the butter away with her sleeve and muttered, “Yeah, Rielle thinks I’m Zeen ‘Napkin’ Zamorra.”
“Hmm, well I thought I had taught you better than to use your sleeve as a napkin,” Cyrena jokingly scolded.
“Considering the company I used to keep mom, I think one would pick up some bad habits.”
Cyrena cringed at the thought of the company that her daughter used to keep and of how she remembered Zeen the last time she had seen her. “Then pick up some habits from your present company, I trust that she has some good ones.”
“Yeah,” Zeen agreed with a glance at her friend. “Making food disappear is one of them.”
Cyrena looked at Rielle’s almost empty plate and laughed. “I hope you enjoyed that dear. Doesn’t Zeen feed you?”
Rielle looked up with a satisfied grin and said, “It was excellent! As for Zeen feeding me...she gets the food, I cook it.”
“Ahh, I see,” Cyrena said. “So...are the two of you planning on staying on a while?”
Zeen looked at Rielle for a moment, seeming to share her thoughts. ‘Stay on a while, get reacquainted with ‘Mitri and mom. We could use a little break, maybe even help out around here for a while. It wouldn’t be so bad for a short time, really.’ Rielle gave her friend an encouraging look, knowing that it would be good for Zeen, for the both of them to stay and rest for a while. She wanted to see her friend happy, and she really liked Cyrena and Demitri, she knew that they would help Zeen get her life back together. She gave Zeen a slight nod to tell her that she agreed, and waited for her friend’s answer. Zeen saw Rielle’s nod and turned back to her mother. “Yeah, I think we’ll stay on for a while...until we head out to California.”
* * * * * *
She gently eased her battered body out of the train car before anyone noticed her, and breathed a sigh of relief. ‘California! I’m virtually unknown in these parts...and there’s enough gold here to make me a very rich woman! It should be easy enough to steal that gold from these simple-minded fools since there’s no one to stop me.’ The woman took a painfully deep breath of the California air and muttered tauntingly to no one in particular, “Here comes trouble.”
The End...For now:-)
Return to the Fan Fiction area