Archivist's note: This comes from the Lyric Wheel.
"DAMN." Ezra stood up from the sextant just as lightning snaked from the crystal blue sky down to the barren ground of Independence Pass, barely visible off in the distance. Sudden storms were nothing unusual this high in the Rockies -- above ten thousand feet, you took your chances on blizzards in July -- but usually, Ezra thought, scratching his head where hair used to be, twenty years ago, the skies turn black -before- the storm rolls in. Not after.
He looked at his assistant, a Chinese man he'd picked up cheap when the railroad'd gotten done. "Lin. Pack your things and leave. I'll catch up back in Twin Lakes, but that looks bad. Hurricane-like at the very least. Meet up at Sign of the Gypsy Queen."
"Mr. Ezra, sir," the smaller, darker man protested, his long braid twitching almost like a cat's tail.
"I said -at,- Lin, not -in.-" Ezra reassured him. Lin had taken to drink when Ezra'd first met him. The Mandarin had lost his sons in a collapse in a mine, and his wife to typhus soon after. He found it easier to just not patronize a place of temptation such as the Sign, rather than go in and have to force himself to withstand.
The patrons of the Gypsy Queen thanked him for it, too. Temperance hymns were all well and good, but most preferred their music in tune.
"We'll be moving on from there. Mr. Kingsman can wait a couple days for his survey."
The young man bowed his head. "Yes, sir," he replied obediently, and went to pack up the mule and equipment from the day's work. Half an hour later, he was headed down the hill to the small town.
Ezra watched the lightning get closer and closer, finishing the very last details that needed him and him alone, no assistant. He had just finished when an unholy sound of blackness and banshee wail of wind ripped up from over Aspen way, loud enough to make him wonder if Gabriel was going to be blasting a trumpet call to arms next. He looked up to see lightning smokes on the hillrise: trees struck, and burning. The blackening horizon promised rain soon after, though, and that the fire wouldn't last long. He packed up, and following Lin's model, left.
He rode like blazes down the hill, his horse finding paths in the sudden flashes of lightning that he wouldn't have even thought to look for; a couple times he thought they were going to go over ravine edges and into the rocks and death's arms below.
But they didn't.
He gasped as they came to a stop in front of the only tavern in Twin Lakes, a town of maybe 250 halfway up the hill to Independence Pass, the last stop settlers made before trying to clear the Pass and head for Aspen. General store, stable -- not even a livery stable -- tavern with rooms.
No one spent more time in Twin Lakes if they had to.
It wasn't that the town was awful or anything. The altitude made you sick, but you adjusted after a week or so. Most miners, like settlers, passed -through- town on their way to Leadville, rather than stay there, so the bar fights were kept to a minimum. It wasn't dry and dusty like Granite got, being right on the shore of twinned lakes. Jebediah, the man who'd started the general store and named the town, hadn't been a man for much creativity in nomenclature. His sons were Jeb, Ed, and Ian. Iah didn't sound right, Jebediah'd said, when he'd asked Ezra to do the christening. His daughters were Faith, Hope, and Chastity -- all who worked in Leadville, now, down at the Gilded Lily, finding that a town of a thousand had better prospects for a woman who worked hard, knew how to balance the books, and could spot a light 500 weight of flour at 150 yards. But it was dull -- which had been why the three sisters had left -- and it was rocky, and there was no land flat enough to eke a living out if you didn't provide service settlers or miners needed.
Ezra's was the surveyor, lawyer, lawman, and jack of all trades for the town. His office was next to the tavern; he found it convenient, come quitting time, and it certainly saved wear and tear on shoe leather for the poker games.
He'd come in just about two days after Nicholson and Kingsman had.
The two men he'd followed in were even more unusual than Ezra. These days, people didn't look more than twice at a white man with a Chinese assistant.
But a white and black man traveling together were odd enough to make a whole town blink and then set their eyes elsewhere for a time.
The two had kept to themselves, mostly, taking out a claim and working it, bringing their ore through to have Ezra weigh it, and move on to Leadville to sell and bank it, moving back. More often than not, it was only one of them coming through, the other sticking to the claim to guard it. They bought their supplies local -- which Jebediah liked, caring more for the color of his customers' money than for the color of their skin -- and they kept their horses well cared for, unlike some as came through. Ezra'd 'acquired' more than a few steeds when he and the local folk had taken a dislike to horse whippings in the main street, and Kingsman, quiet like most times, had doctored the horse back to health, taken it over Granite way, and sold it into the livery there, if not to a ranch in between. Nicholson, though -- Nicholson let the owner know what he thought of folk as picked on poor dumb animals because they weren't man enough to pick on -him.-
People, Twin Lakes folk figured, being smaller than horses, weren't going to bleed as much when -they- got whipped. So so long as Nicholson kept guns out of it, no one much cared what he did.
Ezra didn't let on as it was more likely that Nicholson or Kingsman'd bring swords into it.
The tall, balding man dismounted, and handed his reins to Lin, who was waiting by the mule and his own horse.
"Take 'em on over to MacHale's, Lin; untack 'em, groom 'em, settle 'em for the night. Head home. I'll see you in the morning, right?"
Lin nodded, and waited for Ezra to pull the last of his notes and figures off the horse. The older man locked away the papers for the night, booked the hours, and waited.
Had to figure that Nicholson and Kingsman'd follow down the hill as soon as the Quickening ebbed enough to let them walk again. He -hoped- they would, anyway.
If Whitefeld and Perkins had won, he might just forget the order of his oath and go hunting.
Ezra sat at his desk, ostensibly writing and filling in notes on the survey of the new mine claim that the Immortals had hired him to survey (oath or not, he was not going to turn down a job that kept his cover -- and roof -- intact). Every once in a while, he popped open his pocket watch, examined its blue-circled face, snapped it shut, and set it back down on the desk next to the bottles of whiskey and rum.
Scotsman that he was, there was no way Nicholson would want anything else.
Kingsman'd just bitch that rum was a piss poor substitute for Boom Boom.
Lyrics contributed by Kick Air (Thanks, love!) astericks (*) indicate lines used
Sign Of The Gypsy Queen
*Lightning smokes on the hillrise
*Sign of the gypsy queen
Get my saddle and tie it on
Sign of the gypsy queen
Shadows movin' without a sound
Sign of the gypsy queen