Chapter 2

An eventful awakening

I woke up from pain in my head. I couldn't remember what had happened at first and then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. I remembered having seen two men at the bar in my saloon and then something had hit the back of my head and I had fallen to the ground unconscious.

I snapped my eyes open and hurriedly looked around. I was lying on my left side with my feet in my corner and my back to the wall; one of my deerskin blankets was over me. How I had gotten there was a mystery to me. It was daylight, I could tell that, and I could also tell was that somebody was loudly snoring from the other side of the Saloon.

The first thing I thought about was where my weapons were. I looked around next to me for my bow and knife, but found nothing.

So they've taken my only weapons, have they? I thought, I can protect myself without them!

Feeling someone watching me, I looked up and to the left and found a young man, not much older than myself, staring at me. He had dusty brown hair that matched his deeply suntanned features. His blue eyes were almost unnerving, but I stared right back at him matching my brown eyes for his blue ones. He smiled slightly, but the smile immediately faded when the snoring stopped abruptly.

I looked in the direction that the snoring had come from and saw an older man with rough features lying on the ground. When he sat up, he saw me looking at him and grinned crookedly.

"Looks like our little woodsman's awake, aye?"

I said nothing, but rather sat up and leaned against the wall, thinking of a way, any way to get away from these men. It was then that I noticed both my knife and my bow were lying next to the older man on the ground. The older man looked over at the younger one, ignoring me for the time being.

"Where's Hunt?" He barked at the young man.

"He's outside bringin' in the horses, Boss," The young man drawled lazily, "Jus' like he always does."

The boss nodded, seeming pleased with the answer. He stood up, stretched and then shifted his gaze back to me.

"Well, boy, I'm a-wonderin' what yer doin' out here all by yer lonesome."

I glared at him as I replied, "You can keep on a-wonderin' then, mister."

The grin on the boss' face turned into a scowl.

"Ain't you the bold one." He said, "I think you'd be wiser in telling me what I want to hear."

"I think you'd be wiser in not telling me what to do!" I retorted, jumping to my feet, "But it seems to me that you don't got the sense enough to stop orderin' people around all the time."

The boss immediately started reaching for the six shooter belted at his waist, when a harsh voice from the doorway stopped him.

"Porter! Hold your fire! The lad's not armed and you're no murderer."

Porter looked hard at me, took his hand off his gun butt and turned toward the front door.

"So, yer takin' sides with a useless whelp are ya, Hunt? I should-a known you would."

Hunt, a tall man by any standards, easily filled the doorframe. He was not at all an overweight man, but what weight he had was all muscle. Although I had heard the younger man talk about Hunt getting some horses, Hunt struck me as more of a woodsman than a horseman. He had piercing green eyes and close-cropped dark brown hair with a handlebar mustache. He glanced at me before he turned to Porter.

"I'm not taking sides with anyone, Porter." Hunt said icily, "You should know that by now."

"He's right, Boss." The young man piped up, getting Porter's attention.

"You stay out-a this, Dusty!" Porter snapped, turning back to Hunt. "Now, both-a you listen to me: There ain't gonna be no more fightin' between us. We're pardners, so let's act like it fer once."

The whole time the three of them were talking, I was slowly edging my way towards the back door of the Saloon, hoping to get away from them. I had almost reached the door when Porter stopped speaking and I was about to dash outside when his voice stopped me.

"Stay where y'are, boy." Porter threatened, "Or I swear I'll put a bullet in ya."

I hesitated, not quite certain if I should obey or not. Then I noticed the six-shooter in his hand and fully understood what would happen if I tried to leave. Halting my movement towards the door, I stood stock still, watching with apprehension as Porter held the gun steady on me.

"Now, you move over here." He said, motioning with his gun, "And you'd better move carefully or you'll regret it."

I strode slowly forward and halted about three feet in front of Porter, the whole time acutely aware of the gun trained on me. Being in such close proximity to Porter was almost unbearable. He stunk so badly of garlic and whiskey that I longed for a breath of fresh air.

Something I noticed was that I was half a head taller than Porter was; though he was much heavier. I was nearly six foot, whereas he must have been only five and a half feet tall.

"What's yer name, boy?" Porter questioned, still holding the gun. "You'd better speak quickly, I'm not in the best of moods."

It being the West like it was, folks usually didn't start asking questions of others, but me being at gunpoint like I was, I had to answer or I would die. I swallowed before replying to Porter's question,

"Name's Jerem Bannan."

A quizzical look flitted across Porter's face and it took him a moment before he continued with his questions.

"What're you doin' way out here all by yerself?"

I was hesitant to relate my whole story to him, so I just came up with a quick answer.

"The wagon train that I was with left me behind." I told Porter, hoping that that answer would satisfy him.

It must have, because he looked me over carefully and then holstered his six-shooter, commenting loud enough for the other two to hear,

"Not surprisin' that they left ya behind. You can't even take care o' yerself or nothin'."

It was then that my fuse broke. I dove at Porter, hatred towards this man surging through me. I wasn't sure exactly why I was angry at him but I didn't care; I just pounded into him mercilessly, bitterness towards my parents coming out in the blows. But my fury didn't last very long. One minute I was hitting Porter with everything I had, the next minute I was thrown off of him and onto my back. I was struggling to regain the breath that I had lost, when I found myself looking down the barrel of a Winchester rifle. But it was not Porter who held the rifle, it was Hunt.

"Stay still, lad." Hunt said coolly, "You've had enough excitement for today."

I chanced a look over to where Porter lay on the ground and saw Dusty helping him up. When Porter stood up, he glared at me through the bloody wounds that I had inflicted upon him. He was in a murderous mood, there was no doubt about that and I hated to think what he might have done if Hunt and Dusty weren't there.

"Tie him up and put him in the corner." Porter growled through clenched teeth. "I'll deal with him later!"

He stomped outside, ignoring Dusty who followed. Hunt sighed and shook his head. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a rag, which he handed over to me.

"Here, clean your hands off with that."

I obeyed willingly, wiping the blood off my hands. Hunt looked straight at me,

"As much as I like you, lad, I need to do what Porter said." He chuckled slightly, "Though, I admit, it'll be more for his protection than yours."

He stepped behind me still holding his rifle and proceeded to tie my hands.

"Do you have any idea who Porter is, lad?"

I shook my head,

"No." I said.

"Kenneth Porter is one of the worst outlaws in these parts." Hunt explained, "He won't easily forget what you did, but neither will I. That took guts, lad, guts that most people don't have nowadays."

He paused, leading me over to my corner,

"Go ahead and sit down, lad. What on God's green earth made you jump on him?"

I thought on that for a few seconds, before I answered.

"I don't know," I told him. "I honestly couldn't tell you why I did that."

"But surely you have some idea?" He insisted.

"Well, I guess it's just that his last comment kind of pushed me over the edge."

He looked at me quizzically,

"What do you mean?"

I still hesitated to tell him about my parents but somehow, I knew I could trust Hunt. So, I briefly explained how I'd gotten into the old town in the first place, and how I'd survived all by myself. I could tell Hunt was a little surprised.

"You mean you've managed this long without a gun?" He asked.

I nodded, remembering that Ma and Pa hadn't even asked if I'd wanted one.

"Do you know how to use one?"

I nodded again. "My pa," I told Hunt, "He was a gunsmith. I helped him with his work and so I know a lot about guns."

Hunt glanced around and then looked back at me.

"Listen, lad, I know that Porter will try and get a chance to get back at you. I like you, son, you've got sand, but you'll need more than that if you're going to face Porter. If you act nice for a while and don't start anything, Porter will lay off. He's done it before. Once Porter starts seeing that maybe you aren't so bad after all, you'll get more freedom. But for now, you'll have to stay tied up in that corner. I'm real sorry, lad, but that's how it is."

Hunt paused.

"Something else you should know. Porter's touchy. He'll take anything you say and twist it, making it seem like you said something bad about him. He'll especially do that since you've attacked him. Talking won't get you anywhere with Porter, or Dusty for that matter, so just don't bother trying."

While Hunt had been talking, I had sat down and made myself as comfortable as possible. From my position, I looked up at him.

"Thank you, Mr. Hunt."

I could see a change in Hunt's eyes. Instead of the iciness that had been there when he had talked to Porter, there was gentleness, and warmth, both of which had probably not been there for quite some time.

"Please call me Lucas or Luke, if you prefer."

I nodded, "I'll do that, Luke, as long as you call me Jerem every once in a while."

Luke Hunt smiled a slow smile as he turned to go.

"I like you, Jerem, I really do. Don't you do anything you'll regret."