The Fifth Horseman
A Magnficent 7 - Highlander - Wild Wild West Crossover
by Terrance K. Harrington
Part IV: First Rain
"It was the damnedest thing I'd ever seen," Gordon remarked. . .
The brash young Confederate agent sat completely unruffled on his horse, facing about 25 gunmen. Artemus Gordon and two of his men stood, catching their breath, behind his mount. About 30 feet closer to the forest, another two Johnny Rebs sat, waiting.
At the head of the gunmen rode a tall, slender man with long dark hair, a neatly trimmed beard and mustache, and deep-seated, brooding eyes. Strangely, as the man's jaw worked fiercely, he appeared confused about a course of action. . . it was an appearance he didn't look like he made very often. When he spoke, his words were thickly accented and harsh.
"Who are you, and why are you aiding these spies?"
The Reb leader looked casually around at Gordon and his Secret Servicemen.
"I'm not really aiding anybody, sir,' the Southerner stated flatly. "As to who I am, I am a fortune-teller without peer. Would you care to know your future?"
Every one of the gunmen looked at each other in puzzlement. The tall man stammered, "Wh-what?!?"
"Your future, sir. Would you care to know what your future is? I really am quite good at prognostication."
"I have no time for games, fool! State your business, and be quick about it!"
The Southerner cocked his head to one side, smiling strangely, "Why, sir! I do believe you are also quite good at the art of seeing what lies beyond. Although you miss the mark a bit narrowly. About having no time, that is."
"What are you talking about?"
"Are you the man responsible for the town of Aurora?"
Now, all eyes were upon the Southern agent, and all murmuring ceased. The tall man narrowed his eyes.
"What do you know of Aurora?" he asked dangerously.
"My gift, this evening, is for the one responsible for that unfortunate hamlet. My talents tell me you are the one I seek."
The tall man sat imperiously in his saddle, "If you have seen Aurora, you know that I am not one with which to play childish games."
The Confederate smiled at the tall man, "I knew I was right about you! And, as promised, I shall tell you of your future."
"I know my future, already, idiot!" the tall man growled.
"Humor me, nonetheless, I ask you. . ."
The tall man snarled, "Very well. What is my future?"
"You don't have one."
The Confederate produced a derringer from his right sleeve, and fired, knocking the tall man from his saddle. His men reacted quickly, without much hesitation, but still much too late. From the forest, rifle shots cracked, and men fell swiftly. In seconds, it was over. . . the Southerners had fired completely around their leader, never once even grazing him or the Union agents. The Southerner turned to the three men behind him.
"And what, pray tell, has such three distinguished looking gentlemen running in the night, and what business have you with these villains?" he pointed at the fallen group.
"We are escapees from the mines," Gordon lied.
"Unlikely," the Reb laughed, "Your hands are too soft and manicured for a miner."
Gordon frowned. "We're here from Washington, looking for a band of Confederate trouble-makers."
"Well, sir, I'd say you found us! Now, the question is. . ." he began, as his men appeared, armed to the hilt, from the surrounding woods, ". . . what are you three planning to do with all us?"
One of the three thought strongly about going for his gun, but a wave of the derringer in his direction appealed to his common sense and self-preservation. He slowly raised his hands.
"We thought you were with this group," Gordon nodded toward the fallen riders. "We were reconnoitering their camp when we were caught."
The young Reb's smile vanished, "I'd not cross a road to spit on the grave of such as these. They are without honor and mercy." He told Gordon about the town and its fate.
"Dear God!..." Artemus whispered.
"I'd say you were my prisoner, sir, but we really have no provisions for it. I reckon I'll either have to shoot you, or set you free."
As they spoke, his men rummaged through the pockets of the fallen. One pulled a pouch from the tall man's pockets, picked a couple of papers from it, and quickly handed them to his leader.
The young man frowned as he read. "Change of plans, boys! Get the wagons and equipment together." He handed the papers to Gordon.
"How far away is your closest Yankee fort?"
Gordon's eyes widen with shock as he read the paper, "Too far to do us any good."
"Then, sir, I suggest we gather the remainder of your men. I think we shall need them. . ."
JD had joined the group in the saloon, curiosity getting the best of him. Like Buck and Nathan, his jaws dropped as Gordon continued his tale.
"We pulled off a pretty good raid on the main camp. Your Mr. Standish and his group had some impressive firepower in their small arsenal, and we were able to make short work of those soldiers still in camp. The captured men were badly beaten, but would live. . . and Mr. Standish was correct. . . we did need them. . . "
Between them, the Secret Servicemen and the Confederate group made excellent time, reaching the town of Sandstone within a day's ride. The group took up fortifications to the north of town, along the path trouble was coming. And, they did not wait long. . .
"What was in the papers that was so urgent?" JD asked.
"Marching orders, Mr. Dunne," Ezra said, taking a slow sip of whiskey. "Orders for a regiment of troops to take the 'strategic city' of Sandstone, by whatever force was needed."
Buck frowned. "I've never heard of the place."
"Neither have I," West offered.
"That was just it," Gordon added, "Sandstone was nothing but a small crossroads town leading nowhere in particular. The papers we found were for a military exercise."
"I don't understand," Nathan shook his head.
"Target practice," Ezra grimaced. "The entire community was to be used as target practice for an army-in-training."
West's eyes widened, this time.
"You mean, another massacre?"
"Correct, sir. They meant to kill or capture every man, woman and child in Sandstone, and the surrounding area, for the simple purpose of practicing their skills."
"What kind of people were these?" JD shouted.
"Monsters, Mr. Dunne," Ezra said. "If only that were the worst of it. . . "
Duncan McLeod managed to catch up with the woman he, Chris and Vin had encountered earlier. He convinced her that she'd be safer riding with him to Four Corners. Seeing that he had escaped the Dark Riders, she tended to agree. They rode toward their intended direction, but Duncan stopped when a familiar sensation overcame him.
"Ride on ahead, in that direction," he pointed.
"But. . ." she started to argue.
"We don't have time for this. Just go!" he hissed. She had a concerned look in her eyes, but she complied, if unwillingly.
As soon as she was out of sight, a tall man on a rather large horse came out of the trees, in the direction Duncan was staring. Unhurriedly, his horse pranced up beside McLeod's. The rider was lean, with a cat-like grace in his bearing. He had angular features, a beard and mustache, closely cropped, and the darkest eyes Duncan had ever seen.
"Duncan McLeod of the Clan McLeod," was all the Scotsman would say.
"Kin of Conner?" the tall man asked, accent thick with the life-long practice of another tongue.
"I've heard of him. An old acquaintance of mine, the Kurgan, has an score to settle with him, I think."
"Aye. I've heard of this Kurgan. Are you like-minded with him?"
"We are cut of similar cloth, shall we say."
"Then you are no friend of mine." Duncan deftly drew his katana from its back-slung scabbard.
"Stay your hand, immortal. I'm not after heads, today."
"Then, what is your goal, today."
"War. I have come to wage war on these filthy, short-lived mortals."
Duncan was taken aback.
"It's against our laws to needlessly kill mortals!" Duncan sputtered.
"Laws for fools," the tall man scoffed. "These insignificant beggars, shadows of real men, ought to worship the ground we tread. We are as gods to their wisp-like nature. Fragile beasts with greatness walking among them. Today, they learn a near religion.. they begin to learn the truth."
"Just because you say so," Duncan sneered.
"No, just because I and some friends say so. . ." at a wave of his hand, several dozen mounted troops emerged from the trees.
"Impressive," Duncan commented, "but not enough to scare the mortals."
"I have more," the tall man stated.
"Who are you?" Duncan inquired, unable to fight a growing fear in his breast.
"My men call me Walter Drakeson."
"That's not your real name."
"No, it is not," Drakeson smiled, darkly. "I was born Mo'esh in the Ural Mountains ages past, when mortals appreciated the strength and cunning of their betters. I have lived as a king wherever I have traveled, Duncan McLeod. In the Balkans, the peasants revered me. . . feared me . . . as the Dragon's Son."
"The Devil's Son. . . " McLeod choked.
"That is one interpretation," the tall man conceded.
"Prince Slaus. . . "
"I always hated that sloppy contraction of a proud name. It is actually Vladislaus."
"Ah! A reputation well earned, I assure you. But, they never called me 'Butcher'. I was called Tsepish in the local tongue. . . ."
"My God. . . 'Sepish'. . . ." Duncan pronounced without the soft "t" beginning.
"Yes. . . the Impaler. . . Vladislaus Dragwyla, Son of the Dragon. And, soon to be a king once more!. . ."Part 5
Send Terry a wire!
Back to Dust Trails