Knight of the Ribbons - Chapter 3

April faded into May. It was a lonesome country now, and Clay and Rod Anderson lived off the land and off the supplies they had loaded on their pack animals in Independence, Missouri. There Anderson had bought himself two mules, and the mules and the donkey packed his life behind him. As for Clay, his horses took turns carrying him and carrying his supplies. The tallgrass prairie waved belly-high around them, and there were times it was all they could see but for a myriad of wildflowers dotting the prairie in nearly every shade of color. Big, odd-looking deer with rope-like tails and huge ears sometimes bounded out away from them, then stopped to watch them pass. He had to go on his slim knowledge of the West, all gleaned through reading, to guess that these were the half-tame mule deer he had heard so much about. But they didn’t seem all that tame, just almighty curious. Flocks of ducks and geese sometimes blackened the sky with their numbers, heading for some lake or pond, and always and everywhere the songbirds trilled in the tall grass.

The pair had to be more careful now, for they rode in Indian country. Both of them had purchased revolvers in Independence, two pairs of Colt .44 Armies that rode in pommel scabbards hung from their saddles. Clay had also found himself a Colt Dragoon that now sat in a crossdraw holster on his left hip, its nearly five pounds, when fully loaded, comforting even though he had never had much cause to use pistols.

Neither Clay nor Anderson was a man of the wide open spaces. Although neither had lived in villages, cities or towns, they both came from the civilized areas east of the Mississippi, where companionship or at least other human souls could almost always be found within five miles of any point on any road they chose to travel. So here in these vast, empty spaces there was an eerie sense of aloneness, of desolation, that ate at them both, that made them shrink even in the face of its austere beauty. This loneliness made them grow closer, and although neither man talked much Clay began to think of Anderson as his best friend—perhaps his only friend.

They were lying in bed early one morning, the sun only a rosy light slashing the rim of the eastern horizon, when they heard the rumble of thunder. Since neither man had brought any kind of cover other than the tarpaulins in which they packed their supplies, they both moaned and pulled themselves deeper into their blankets.

The rumble continued on, deep-voiced and hollow but distant. After a moment, Anderson rolled over and sat up, his hair sticking in every direction. Clay, who had felt him move, pushed his blankets down and squinted up at him. "What?"

For a long moment Anderson just sat there, unmoving. Finally, he said, "Well? Listen to that thunder. It ain’t stopped—has it? And it’s gettin’ louder."

Clay took his attention from Anderson and listened, and then he lunged straight up. "What in the name of—"

The older man was scrambling up out of his blankets, and Clay did the same. Bewildered, they looked around and tried to place the sound. There were no thunderheads in the sky, no sign of lightning on the skyline all around their vast, unpeopled world.

"Better get the horses gathered," Anderson warned. "Whatever this is it ain’t good."